Plato’s Soulmate Concept

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“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with 4 arms, 4 legs and a head with 2 faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search for other halves.”
–Plato’s The Symposium

To me, this notion is poetic and beautiful. Our soulmates are literally our other halves. I’ve yet to meet anyone that’s even close to that. Oh well. In the immortal words of Snow White: “Someday My Prince Will Come”.

So how does it all come about? Plato introduces this myth through the character of Aristophanes in his text “The Symposium”.

Aristophanes describes a ‘primal people’ that had “double bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another” (Wikipedia). They each consisted of three genders: male (from the Sun), female (from the Earth), and androgynous (from the Moon). His speech is an explanation of why people in love say they feel ‘whole’ when they have found their love partner.

These original people were very powerful, powerful enough to pose a threat to the gods! So when they tried to climb to the top of Mt. Olympus, Zeus considered bolting them to smithereens but found that he didn’t want to lose their worship, so instead he chose to cripple them by slicing them in half, separating the genders, and effectively creating man and woman.

Apollo was ordered to do the “clean up job” on what was left of the people. He turned their faces, pulled their skin tight and stitched them up, but he was commanded to not heal their navels (hence we have belly buttons) so that these people would always be reminded of this event.

As a result of this, ever since people were no longer whole, we’ve run around searching for our “other half”, or our “soulmate”, because we are truly trying to recover our primal nature.

Homosexuals (gay or lesbian) are explained as people who were split in half, but both halves happened to be the same gender.

Plato then, through Aristophanes, critiques the view that homosexuals are shameless (gay men was not as stigmatised as it is today… more on that later though). He argues that “many heterosexuals are adulterous men and unfaithful wives”, claiming that when a person truly finds their other half that they never want to be separated from them ever again, it is as inexplicable as it is undeniable- the feeling is “like a riddle”.

The conclusion of Aristophanes speech is cautionary, he warns that men should not neglect their duty to worship the gods and they should always fear them (that is, they shouldn’t fall into hubris), as the result of ignoring his advice could lead to Zeus “wielding the axe again” and having their noses split in half. To find wholeness (and avoid only having half a nose), mankind must “work with the god of Love”.

(Just a disclaimer: Most of this has been paraphrased from wikipedia,  just letting you know in case you were hoping to find new information or insights… when I go to Uni, hopefully I’ll learn so much more and be able to make original posts!)

It’s really sweet isn’t it? This is partly why I love Greece, or Ancient Greece, so much. Their culture is just so rich and fantastical!

Homosexuality in Ancient Greece wasn’t viewed in the same way as it is today. Back then, it was perfectly ok for an older man and a boy to be lovers, the only negative response a gay couple would stem from to adult men being lovers, and even then, the negativity was only directed at the *ehem* passive man in the relationship. To be the passive man was a demeaning role and stood outside the social norm.

Expanding on the notion of boys and older men, boys were considered men when he was able to grow a full beard, furthermore, being in a relationship with a boy under 12 years old was seen as inappropriate.

To the Greeks, homosexuality was an integral part of a man’s life, even in the military! For instance, in the ‘Sacred Band of Thebes’, there was an entire unit reserved specifically for men and their beloved youths.

“Pammenes’ opinion, according to Plutarch, was that

Homer’s Nestor was not well skilled in ordering an army when he advised the Greeks to rank tribe and tribe… he should have joined lovers and their beloved. For men of the same tribe little value one another when dangers press; but a band cemented by friendship grounded upon love is never to be broken.”                

-Wikipedia

Today, homosexuality in the military is a great source of controversy and debate. Modern history has seen pure discrimination have many gay men and lesbian women rejected or discharged from the army. Of course, this is still evolving and we’re moving away from rejections based on sexual orientation, and “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies and hopefully into a place in history where men and women can be openly gay without repercussions.

Comparing this drama with the Ancient history of the Greeks we can see how their opinions differed wildly with today’s. The bonds between homosexual couples in the military were seen positively and this can be seen reflected in Greek mythology, such as Achilles and Patroclus in the “Iliad”. It was said that having a lover in the army would boost morale and desire to protect one another. To give up one’s own life for his lover was seen as a heroic, noble and selfless thing to do.

It is my personal opinion that there is so much that we can still learn about and from the Ancient Greeks. So much of our society and conventions stem from their glorious era and yet, despite being more advanced than they were, we seem to err where they had it right.

Although I don’t intend to join the army, nor do I have much to do in politics (now that I’m 18 I really should start caring more…), I am bisexual and so any news in the LGBT community does interest me.

To me, the gender of your lover doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what colour, gender, income, or appearance your lover has, as long as they make you happy, make you smile, make you a better person, and they genuinely want to spend the rest of their life with you. The way they treat you, the way they look at you, the way they make you feel, those are the important things in a relationship. Money changes and looks degrade as time passes. What is left at the end of the long years is their personality.

A person shouldn’t marry someone else because they’re hot, or rich. A person should marry for love, and because they love each other’s personalities. A soulmate- if such a romantic notion could exist- should be someone that you can wake up in the middle of the night with and not think oh god, now the light is out, why did I marry this person?

Gotta love the Greeks. Can’t wait to visit the country and see the sights. I can’t wait to learn more about their culture and traditions. I’m pretty sure some/most of this post has been inaccurate in places, most of it is research off the internet combined with things I’ve picked up over the years, but when I go to Uni, when I really study the Greeks in all their marvel, then I will be content as a fed-cat, dozing in the golden sunlight.

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