The sources from which our information has hitherto been drawn--speeches, poems, biographies, and the dramatic parts of dialogues--yield more real knowledge about the facts of Athenian paiderastia than can be found in the speculations of philosophers. In Aristotle, for instance, paiderastia is almost conspicuous by its absence It is true that he speculates upon the Cretan customs in the Politics, mentions the prevalence of boy-love among the Kelts, and incidentally notices the legends of Diocles and Cleomachus; 3 but he never discusses the matter as fully as might have been expected from a philosopher whose speculations covered the whole field of Greek experience. The chapters on Philia in the Ethics might indeed have been written by a modern moralist for modern readers, though it is possible that in his treatment of "friendship with pleasure for its object" and "friendship with advantage for its object," Aristotle is aiming at the vicious sort of paiderastia. As regards his silence in the
[paragraph continues] Politics, it is worth noticing that this treatise breaks off at the very point where we should naturally look for a scientific handling of the education of the passions, and, therefore, it is possible that we may have lost the weightiest utterance of Greek philosophy upon the matter of our enquiry.
Though Aristotle contains but little to the purpose, the case is different with Plato; nor would it be possible to omit a detailed examination of the Platonic doctrine on the topic or to neglect the attempt he made to analyse and purify a passion capable, according to his earlier philosophical speculations, of supplying the starting-point for spiritual progress.
The first point to notice in the Platonic treatment of paiderastia is the difference between the ethical opinions expressed in the Phædrus, Symposium, Republic, Charmides, and Lysis, on the one hand, and those expounded in the Laws upon the other. The Laws, which are probably a genuine work of Plato's old age, condemn that passion which in the Phædrus and Symposium he exalted as the greatest boon of human life and as the groundwork of the philosophical temperament; the ordinary social manifestations of which he described with sympathy in the Lysis and the Charmides, and which he viewed with more than toleration in the Republic. It is not my business to offer a solution of this contradiction; but I may observe that Socrates, who plays the part of protagonist in nearly all the other dialogues of Plato, and who, as we shall see, professed a special cult of love, is conspicuous by his absence in the Laws. It is, therefore, not improbable that the philosophical idealisation of paiderastia, to which the name of Platonic love is usually given, should rather be described as Socratic. However that may be, I think it will be well to deal first with the doctrine put into the mouth of the Athenian stranger in the Laws, and then to pass on to the consideration of what Socrates is made to say upon the subject of Greek love in the earlier dialogues.
The position assumed by Plato in the Laws (p. 636) is this: Syssitia and gymnasia are excellent institutions in their way, but they have a tendency to degrade natural love in man below the level of the beasts. Pleasure is only natural when it arises out of the intercourse between men and women, but the intercourse between men and men, or women and women, is contrary to nature. 1 The bold attempt at overleaping Nature's laws was due originally to unbridled lust.
This position is developed in the eighth book (p. 836), where Plato directs his criticism, not only against what would now be termed the criminal intercourse between persons of the same sex, but also against incontinence in general. While framing a law of almost monastic rigour for the regulation of the sexual appetite, he remains an ancient Greek. He does not reach the point of view from which women are regarded as the proper objects of both passion and friendship, as the fit companions of men in all relations of life; far less does he revert to his earlier speculations upon the enthusiasm generated by a noble passion. The modern ideal of marriage and the chivalrous conception of womanhood as worthy to be worshipped are alike unknown to him. Abstinence from the delights of love, continence except for the sole end of procreation, is the rule which he proposes to the world.
There are three distinct things, Plato argues, which, owing to the inadequacy of language to represent states of thought, have been confounded. 1 These are friendship, desire, and a third mixed species. Friendship is further described as the virtuous affection of equals in taste, age and station. Desire is always founded on a sense of contrast. While friendship is "gentle and mutual through life," desire is "fierce and wild." 2 The true friend seeks to live chastely with the chaste object of his attachment, whose soul he loves. The lustful lover longs to enjoy the flower of his youth and cares only for the body. The third sort is mixed of these; and a lover of this composite kind is torn asunder by two impulses, "the one commanding him to enjoy the youth's person, the other forbidding him to do so." 3 The description of the lover of the third species so exactly suits the paiderast of nobler
quality in Greece, as I conceive him to have actually existed, that I shall give a full quotation of this passage: 1--
"As to the mixed sort, which is made up of them both, there is, first of all, a difficulty in determining what he who is possessed by this third love desires; moreover, he is drawn different ways, and is in doubt between the two principles, the one exhorting him to enjoy the beauty of the youth, and the other forbidding him; for the one is a lover of the body and hungers after beauty like ripe fruit, and would fain satisfy himself without any regard to the character of the beloved; the other holds the desire of the body to be a secondary matter, and, looking rather than loving with his soul, and desiring the soul of the other in a becoming manner, regards the satisfaction of the bodily love as wantonness; be reverences and respects temperance and courage and magnanimity and wisdom, and wishes to live chastely with the chaste object of his affection."
It is remarkable that Plato, in this analysis of the three sorts of love, keeps strictly within the bounds of paiderastia. He rejects desire and the mixed sort of love, reserving friendship (Philia) and ordaining marriage for the satisfaction of the aphrodisiac instinct at a fitting age, but more particularly for the procreation of children. Wantonness of every description is to be made as much a sin as incest, both by law and also by the world's opinion. If Olympian victors, with an earthly crown in view, learn to live chastely for the preservation of their strength while training, shall not men whose contest is for heavenly prizes keep their bodies undefiled, their spirits holy?
Socrates, the mystagogue of amorous philosophy, is absent, as I have observed, from this discussion of the laws. I turn now to those earlier dialogues in which he expounds the doctrine of Platonic, or, as I should prefer to call it, Socratic, love. We know from Xenophon, as well as Plato, that Socrates named his philosophy the Science of Love. The one thing on which I pride myself, he says, is knowledge of all matters that pertain to love. It furthermore appears that Socrates thought himself in a peculiar sense predestined to reform and to ennoble paiderastia. "Finding this passion at its height throughout the whole of Hellas, but most especially in Athens and all places full of evil lovers and of youths seduced, he felt a pity for both parties. Not being a lawgiver like Solon, he could not stop the custom by statute nor correct it by force, nor again dissuade men from it by his eloquence. He did not, however, on that account abandon the lovers or the boys to their fate, but tried to suggest a remedy." This passage, which I have paraphrased from
[paragraph continues] Maximus Tyrius, 1 sufficiently expresses the attitude assumed by Socrates in the Platonic dialogue. He sympathises with Greek lovers, and avows a fervent admiration for beauty in the persons of young men. At the same time he declares himself upon the side of temperate and generous affection, and strives to utilise the erotic enthusiasm as a motive power in the direction of philosophy. This was really nothing more or less than an attempt to educate the Athenians by appealing to their own higher instincts. We have seen that paiderastia in the prime of Hellenic culture, whatever sensual admixture it might have contained, was a masculine passion. It was closely connected with the love of political independence, with the contempt for Asiatic luxury, with the gymnastic sports, and with the intellectual interests which distinguished Hellenes from barbarians. Partly owing to the social habits of their cities, and partly to the peculiar notions which they entertained regarding the seclusion of free women in the home, all the higher elements of spiritual and mental activity, and the conditions under which a generous passion was conceivable, had become the exclusive privileges of men. It was not that women occupied a semi-servile station, as some students have imagined, or that within the sphere of the household they were not the respected and trusted helpmates of men. But circumstances rendered it impossible for them to excite romantic and enthusiastic passion. The exaltation of the emotions was reserved for the male sex.
Socrates, therefore, sought to direct and moralise a force already existing. In the Phædrus he describes the passion of love between man and boy as a madness, not different in quality from that which inspires poets; and, after painting that fervid picture of the lover, he declares that the true object of a noble life can only be attained by passionate friends, bound together in the chains of close yet temperate comradeship, seeking always to advance in knowledge, self-restraint, and intellectual illumination. The doctrine of the Symposium is not different, except that Socrates here takes a higher flight. The same love is treated as the method whereby the soul may begin her mystic journey to the region of essential beauty, truth, and goodness. It has frequently been remarked that Plato's dialogues have to be read as poems even more than as philosophical treatises; and if this be true at all, it is
particularly true of both the Phædrus and the Symposium. The lesson which both essays seem intended to inculcate is this: love, like poetry and prophecy, is a divine gift, which diverts men from the common current of their lives; but in the right use of this gift lies the secret of all human excellence. The passion which grovels in the filth of sensual grossness may be transformed into a glorious enthusiasm, a winged splendour, capable of soaring to the contemplation of eternal verities. How strange will it be, when once those heights of intellectual intuition have been scaled, to look down again to earth and view the Meirakidia in whom the soul first recognised the form of beauty! 1 There is a deeply rooted mysticism, an impenetrable soofyism, in the Socratic doctrine of Erôs.
In the Phædrus, the Symposium, the Charmides, the Lysis, and the Republic, Plato dramatised the real Socrates, while he gave liberal scope to his own personal sympathy for paiderastia. 2 In the Laws, if we accept this treatise as the work of his old age, he discarded the Socratic mask, and wrote a kind of palinode, which indicates more moral growth than pure disapprobation of the paiderastic passion. I have already tried to show that the point of view in the Laws is still Greek: that their author has not passed beyond the sphere of Hellenic ethics. He has only become more ascetic in his rule of conduct as the years advanced, importing the rumores senum severiorum into his discourse, and recognising the imperfection of that halting-point between the two logical extremes of Pagan license and monastic asceticism which in the fervour of his greener age he advocated. As a young man, Plato felt sympathy for love so long as it was paiderastic and not spent on women; he even condoned a lapse through warmth of feeling into self-indulgence. As an old man, he denounced carnal pleasure of all kinds, and sought to limit the amative instincts to the one sole end of procreation.
It has so happened that Plato's name is still connected with the ideal of passion purged from sensuality. Much might be written about the parallel between the mania of the Phædrus and the joy of medieval amorists. Nor would it be unprofitable
to trace the points of contact between the love described by Dante in the Vita Nuova and the paiderastia exalted to the heavens by Plato. 1 The spiritual passion for Beatrice which raised the Florentine poet above vile things, and led him by the philosophic paths of the Convito to the beatific vision of the Paradiso, bears no slight resemblance to the Erôs of the Symposium. Yet we know that Dante could not have studied Plato's works; and the specific love which Plato praised he sternly stigmatised. The harmony between Greek and mediæval mysticism in this matter of the emotions rests on something permanent in human nature, common alike to paiderastia and to chivalrous enthusiasm for woman.
It would be well worth raising here the question whether there was not something special both in the Greek consciousness itself and also in the conditions under which it reached maturity, which justified the Socratic attempt to idealise paiderastia. Placed upon the borderland of barbarism, divided from the Asiatic races by an acute but narrow line of demarcation, the Greeks had arrived at the first free notion of the spirit in its disentanglement from matter and from symbolism. But this notion of the spirit was still æsthetic, rather than strictly ethical or rigorously scientific. In the Greek gods intelligence is perfected and character is well defined; but these gods are always concrete persons, with corporeal forms adapted to their spiritual essence. The interpenetration of spiritual and corporeal elements in a complete personality, the transfusion of intellectual and emotional faculties throughout a physical organism exactly suited to their adequate expression, marks Greek religion and Greek art. What the Greeks worshipped in their ritual, what they represented in their sculpture, was always personality--the spirit and the flesh in amity and mutual correspondence; the spirit burning through the flesh and moulding it to individual forms; the flesh providing a fit dwelling for the spirit which controlled and fashioned it. Only philosophers among the Greeks attempted to abstract the spirit as a self-sufficient, independent, conscious entity; and these philosophers were few, and what they wrote or spoke had little direct influence upon the people. This being the mental attitude of the Greek race, it followed as a necessity that their highest emotional aspirations, their purest personal service, should be devoted to clear and radiant incarnations of the spirit in a living person. They had never been taught to regard the body with a sense of shame, but rather to admire it as the temple of the spirit, and to accept its
needs and instincts with natural acquiescence. Male beauty disengaged for them the passion it inspired from service of domestic, social, civic duties. The female form aroused desire, but it also suggested maternity and obligations of the household. The male form was the most perfect image of the deity, self-contained, subject to no necessities of impregnation, determined in its action only by the laws of its own reason and its own volition.
Quite a different order of ideas governed the ideal adopted by mediæval chivalry, The spirit in its self-sufficingness, detached from the body, antagonistic to the body, had been divinised by Christianity. Woman regarded as a virgin and at the same time a mother, the maiden-mother of God made man, had been exalted to the throne of heaven. The worship of woman became, by a natural and logical process, the correlative in actual human life for that worship of the incarnate Deity which was the essence of religion. A remarkable point in mediæval love is that the sensual appetites were, theoretically at least, excluded from the homage paid to woman. It was not the wife or the mistress, but the lady, who inspired the knight. Dante had children by Gemma, Petrarch had children by an unknown concubine, but it was the sainted Beatrice, it was the unattainable Laura, who received the homage of Dante and of Petrarch.
In like manner the sensual appetites were, theoretically at least, excluded from Platonic paiderastia. It was the divine in human flesh--"the radiant sight of the beloved," to quote from Plato; "the fairest and most intellectual of earthly bodies," to borrow a phrase from Maximus Tyrius--it was this which stimulated the Greek lover, just as a similar incarnation of divinity inspired the chivalrous lover, Thus we might argue that the Platonic conception of paiderastia furnishes a close analogue to the chivalrous devotion to women, due regard being paid to the differences which existed between the plastic ideal of Greek religion and the romantic ideal of mediæval Christianity. The one veiled adultery, the other sodomy. That in both cases the conception was rarely realised in actual life only completes the parallel.
To pursue this inquiry further is, however, alien to my task. It is enough to have indicated the psychological agreement in respect of purified affection which underlay two such apparently antagonistic ideals of passion. Few modern writers, when they speak with admiration or contempt of Platonic love, reflect that in its origin this phrase denoted an absorbing passion for young men. The Platonist, as appears from numerous passages in the Platonic writings, would have despised the Petrarchist as a vulgar
woman-lover The Petrarchist would have loathed the Platonist as a moral Pariah. Yet Platonic love, in both its Attic and its mediæval manifestations, was one and the same thing.
The philosophical ideal of paiderastia in Greece which bore the names of Socrates and Plato met with little but contempt. Cicero, in a passage which has been echoed by Gibbon, remarked upon "the thin device of virtue and friendship which amused the philosophers of Athens." 1 Epicurus criticised the Stoic doctrine of paiderastia by sententiously observing that philosophers only differed from the common race of men in so far as they could better cloak their vice with sophistries. This severe remark seems justified by the opinions ascribed to Zeno by Plutarch, Sextus Empiricus, and Stobæus. 2 But it may be doubted whether the real drift of the Stoic theory of love, founded on Adiaphopha, was understood. Lucian, in the Amores, 3 makes Charicles, the advocate of love for women, deride the Socratic ideal as vain nonsense, while Theomnestus, the man of pleasure, to whom the dispute is finally referred, decides that the philosophers are either fools or humbugs. 4 Daphnæus, in the erotic dialogue of Plutarch, arrives at a similar conclusion; and, in an essay on education, the same author contends that no prudent father would allow the sages to enter into intimacy with his sons. 5 The discredit incurred by philosophers in the later age of Greek culture is confirmed by more than one passage in Petronius and Juvenal, while Athenæus especially inveighs against philosophic lovers as acting against nature. 6 The attempt of the Platonic Socrates to elevate without altering the morals of his race may therefore be said fairly to have failed. Like his republic, his love existed only in heaven.
47:3 See Pol., ii. 7, 5; ii. 6, 5; ii. 9, 6.
48:1 The advocates of paiderastia in Greece tried to refute the argument from animals (Laws, p. 636 B: cp. Daphnis and Chloe, lib. 4, what Daphnis says to Gnathon) by, the following considerations: Man is not a lion or a bear. Social life among human beings is highly artificial; forms of intimacy p. 49 unknown to the natural state are therefore to be regarded, like clothing, cooking of food, houses, machinery, &c., as the invention and privilege of rational beings. See Lucian, Amores, 33, 34, 35, 36, for a full exposition of this argument. See also Mousa Paidiké, 245. The curious thing is that many animals are addicted to all sorts of so-called unnatural vices.
49:1 Maximus Tyrius, who, in the rhetorical analysis of love alluded to before (p. 172), has closely followed Plato, insists upon the confusion introduced by language, Dissert., xxiv. 3. Again, Dissert., xxvi. 4; and compare Dissert., xxv. 4.
49:2 This is the development of the argument in the Phædrus, where Socrates, improvising an improvement on the speech of Lysias, compares lovers to wolves and boys to lambs. See the passage in Max. Tyr., where Socrates is compared to a shepherd, the Athenian lovers to butchers, and the boys to lambs upon the mountains.
49:3 This again is the development of the whole eloquent analysis of love, as it attacks the uninitiated and unphilosophic nature, in the Phædrus.
50:1 Jowett's trans., p. 837.
51:1 Dissert., xxv. r. The same author pertinently remarks that, though the teaching of Socrates on love might well have been considered perilous, it formed no part of the accusations of either Anvtus or Aristophanes. Dissert., xxiv. 5-7.
52:1 This is a remark of Diotima's. Maximus Tyrius (Dissert., xxvi. 8) gives it a very rational interpretation. Nowhere else, he says, but in the human form, does the light of the divine beauty shine so clear. This is the word of classic art, the word of the humanities, to use a phrase of the Renaissance. it finds an echo in many beautiful sonnets of Michelangelo.
52:2 See Bergk., vol. ii. pp. 616-629, for a critique of the canon of the highly paiderastic epigrams which bear Plato's name and for their text.
53:1 I select the Vita Nuova as the most eminent example of mediaeval erotic mysticism.