Plato's Symposium and the Song of Songs

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Plato’s Symposium is a book of speeches given in honor of Eros, the god of love. Aristophanes, a comic poet, gives the first speech, and the second is given by Socrates. The first speech tells a humorous history of mankind and how it became “whole,” addressing gender issues and sexuality. On a more serious note, the second speech addresses the origin of Eros and his use to humans.

Before launching his speech, Aristophanes warns the group that his eulogy to love may be more absurd than funny. His speech is an explanation of why people in love say they feel "whole" when they have found their love partner. It is, he says, because in primal times people had doubled bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. As somewhat spherical creatures who wheeled around like clowns doing cartwheels, these original people were very powerful. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the "androgynous," who was half man, half woman. The creatures tried to scale the heights of heaven and planned to be among the gods. Zeus thought about blasting them to death with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies.

Zeus then turned half their faces around and pulled the skin tight and stitched it up to form the belly button. Ever since that time, people run around saying they are looking for their other half because they are really trying to recover their primal nature. He says some people think homosexuals are shameless, but he thinks they are the bravest, most manly of all, and that many heterosexuals are adulterous men and unfaithful wives. Aristophanes ends on a cautionary note. He says that men should fear the gods, and not neglect to worship them, “lest they wield the axe again” and we have to go about with our noses split apart.

Socrates’ speech is a dialogue between himself and erotic teacher, Diotima....
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