Plato’s Androgyne

7 May

[The] original human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not two, as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman and a union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double nature, which once had a real existence, but is now lost, and the word “Androgynous” is only preserved as a term of reproach. In the second place, the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; one head with two faces looking in opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men do now, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace . . .

The man was originally the child of the Sun, and the man-woman of the Moon which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and moved round and round like their parents. Terrible was their might and strength, and the thought of their hearts were great and they dared to scale the heavens and they made an attack on the gods.

The gods took council and Zeus discovered a way to humble their pride and improve their manners. The would continue to exist, but he cut them in two like a sorb-apple which is halved for pickling.

After the division, the two parts of man [the Androgyne], each desiring his other half, came together and throwing their arms about one another, entwined mutual embraces, longing to grow into one; they were on the point of dying from hunger and self-neglect because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman, as we call them-being sections of entire men or women-and clung to that.

They were being destroyed when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan; he turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not always been their position, and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in the female in order that by mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed and the race might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest, and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted within us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man.

Each of us, when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the identure of a man, and is always looking for his other half…. the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I might say, even for a moment; these are the people who pass their whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has for the other does not appear to be the desire of lovers’ intercourse, but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has only dark and doubtful presentiment.

Abridged from Plato. “Symposium,” Benjamin Jowet, trans,. Great Books of the Western World, 7. p. 157

June Singer; Adrogyny, Toward a New Theory of Sexuality (Anchor Press/Double Day, Garden City, New York ©1976) p 118-119

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