See also Mitchell, R. The Hymn to Eros: University Press of America; and Strauss, L. Introducing Aristophanes Athenians who are not only characters in the dialogue but historical person- ages about whom a great deal is known. At the same time, coherent interpretation will sometimes demand that we be suspicious of the statement of a belief that the historical personage would be unlikely to have held. He is without doubt the most prominent comic playwright active during the Golden Age of the Athenian 34 In addition to Socrates, Aristophanes and Alcibiades, whose speech will be the subject of chapter three of the present work, are the best known.
The fact that both of these played an important role in the actual trial and death of Socrates is, of course, crucially important and suggests that their appearance in this dialogue is not incidental. Aristophanes famously opposes this practice in his written works as would have been well-known to any contemporary audience.
This is not grounds for an outright rejection of the sincerity of this passage but it is grounds for suspicion. He lived through some of the most tumultuous times in Athe- nian history including the height of Athenian power prior to the Peloponne- sian war, the defeat of Athens at the hands of Sparta and the re-emergence of Athens under the auspices of the Athenian league of BC.
Through his comedies, he is known to have been a significant voice in Athenian politics in the sense that serious political commentary is often housed in the obscenity and buffoonery of his fictional creations. He was opposed to any attempt to confer democ- ratic voting rights on anyone but the landowning classes and was also op- posed to any changes in the system of education.
The Clouds of Aristophanes Regarding the relation between Plato and Aristophanes, the situation ap- pears to be very complex. Aristophanes was an older contemporary of Plato and it is likely that they were personally acquainted. As a student and friend of Socrates, Plato would have had every right to feel nothing but resentment for Aristophanes whose play Clouds is cited by Socrates in Apology as a con- 37 M. Aristophanes and the Defini- tion of Comedy. Oxford University Press, p.
However, they will often pro- vide an invaluable touchstone for the proper interpretation of the speech of the character Aristophanes. The value of philosophy, as it is expressed by the character of Socrates in the play, is that it can teach men to argue clearly, distinctly, and rationally, without giving heed to truth or justice.
This backfires spec- tacularly, though not unexpectedly, when, under the influence of Socrates, Pheidippides turns his back on the very ties of family.
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In addition to the comic situation generated by this series of events, a serious point is being made about the divisive potency of philosophy and its capacity to sunder even family relations. Like war, it seems, philosophy can turn sons against fathers and erode the bonds of social cohesion. This turns out to be a disaster as Pheidippides is encouraged to turn against his own father and when Strepsiades himself goes to Socrates for advice, he is saved from committing acts of vice only through his inabil- ity to remember what he has been taught. In other words, he is saved from vice by his inability to be a philosopher.
It is conceivable that Aristo- phanes detects in philosophical eros an eris similar to that of the spirit of war. This is not unreasonable since eris, or strife, is the root of the eristic method used by both Socrates and the sophists. The true extent of their cynicism regarding matters of truth and justice is a matter of debate, though it was certainly advanta- geous to Plato to depict them in this way in order better to develop the con- trast between sophistry and the truly philosophical activity of Socrates.
It is equally clear that there is something to the type represented by Socrates in Clouds even if it is exag- gerated. What is most important for the purposes of the speech, however, is the fact that there appears to be no distinction between philosophy and sophistry in the mind of Aristophanes. And, as we have mentioned, Socrates cites this critique as influencing the views of many as to the nature of his intellectual activity.
So if the type represented by Socrates is accurate, the question becomes to what extent Socrates represents the type. And if he does not, to what extent any difference between philosophy and sophistry is relevant. We might say that Aristophanes views the furtherance of civic vir- tue as incompatible with or threatened by any form of rigorous rationality and so if sophistry constitutes a dangerous and divisive development in Athenian society, so too does philosophy.
In spite of this, however, there is evidence of a fondness in Plato for Aristophanes and his works. Although Plato finally sides with Socrates against Aristophanes in the Symposium, it remains true that the presentation of the comic poet in the dialogue is, on the whole, sympathetic and charm- ing. He is also assigned one of the dialogues central speeches44 to which Socrates in his own speech is keen to respond. Several anecdotes about the relation between Plato and Aristophanes have come down to us.
Gorgias, Republic, Protagoras, Phaedrus. It is literally the central speech of the seven with three speeches either side of it. It may be that Plato admired the comic poet in whose works, even the crud- est of them, can be detected a festivity and affirmation of existence in the face of all that is laughable and contingent about human existence. These points will, I hope, become clearer as we proceed. Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Cambridge University Press, p. All future references are to this edition. The Works of Aristophanes.
Great Books of the Western World vol. Translated from Greek by Benjamin B. This characterisation, of course, brings Aristophanes more into line with Nietzsche than with Plato. Still, his speech retains an inspirational quality that the others lack. Yet it is interesting that this convenience comes as the result of a break in the original order of the proceedings.
It is a chance happening that allows Aristophanes to speak after Eryximachus and before Agathon. More precisely, it is a chance bodily happening, an attack of the hiccups that forces Eryximachus to take the place of the comedian. This is surely significant. After all, he could just as easily have had it that Aristo- phanes was seated on the right hand side of Eryximachus.
In fact, he will not only present eros as a predominantly embodied phenome- non, but will also make it the site of the paradox of human power and frailty. As a result, he will claim that the body itself in its vulnerability constitutes a warning against the excesses of a spiritualised eros. As erotic beings, we are both strong enough to rebel against the gods, but too weak to live with the consequences.
As for the results of this with regard to rationality and So- cratic eros we shall see shortly. In the initial stages of his speech, Aristophanes makes two noteworthy manoeuvres. The first is his rejection of the technicism of Eryximachus. Eryximachus had spoken of a logos of eros which needed to be administered by skilled experts; i. Aristophanes rejects this notion by stating that there can be no such experts in matters of love.
Eros can be neither harnessed, nor instrumentalized, and human beings cannot mediate between themselves and eros. Rather, eros is himself the physician. The obvious conclusion is that human beings are at the phanes, we know from Clouds, is an opponent of Sophism. He is also the only guest in the Symposium who does not appear in the Protagoras and is also the only charac- ter that is not part of a couple of lovers. Henceforth all references will be included in the main text. It can neither be controlled nor rendered intelligible. This being so, Aristophanes is already attacking Socrates by challenging the one area of expertise that he Socrates claims to have Symposium d-e; Lysis c.
As for Aristophanes and Eryximachus, we may already have guessed an important relation between their two speeches from the fact that Plato draws our attention to the reversal of the order in which they speak. But things are even more complex than this. After all, his hiccups did not simply go away of their own accord. Rather, he was forced to seek advice from the doctor and was cured only after applying the pre- scribed remedy. It is only after the application of the third of these that Aristophanes is able to stop. Were it not for this, Aristophanes would have been condemned to pass the night making funny noises.
Thus, in a sense, Aristophanes opposition to Eryximachus is only possible through the logos of the latter. On this see, Mitchell In keeping with the above, Aristophanes offers no logos of eros but a muthos. All of the speakers in the dialogue approach eros from the point of view of their own interests or profession. Eryxima- chus had insisted that the meaning of eros was clear only to experts such as himself, Agathon will later speak of an aetheticized eros, Socrates will an- chor it in philosophy, while Alcibiades will relate it to politics.
Aristophanes is a poet and so thinks about eros in poetic terms and in this way will seek to defend the priority of his own craft and the irreducibility of eros to techne. In a sense, there is nothing all that strange about this. On the other hand, it seems important that the account of eros, for the first time in the dialogue, takes the form of a myth. This is not only important with respect to the speeches that have been but also with regard to those that will come, specifi- cally the speech of Socrates.
We will return to this point later. If Aristophanes is a poet, he is also a poet of the body. Thus he will insist on drawing attention as he already has done to the pathos of the human condition. That is to say, they interrupt the order of the speeches and, equally importantly, they interrupt the attempt to bring eros under the auspices of the discursive.
That they interrupt Aristophanes himself is, in fact, part of his account of eros. Those who claim to discourse in god-like ways, that is, are still subject to the emi- nently fragile materiality of the body. Of course, we have seen how this is turned on its head in the exchange with Eryximachus but it is worth keeping this in mind as we proceed through the speech.
Since the body constitutes an interruption in the flow of speech, it fol- lows that pure rational speech cannot do justice to the complexity of the human situation. Even speech must be more enigmatic if it is, in fact, true that the body is the condition of speech. And so, at the very outset Aristo- phanes claims that myth is most appropriate to the discussion of eros. Eros is not intelligible. It is not subject to understanding but to faith. And here Aristophanes is somewhat evangelical for his speech is not simply for the benefit of his co-symposiasts but for all. In this sense, his muthos is also a quasi- logos even if only in the narrow sense that it is a logos stating that there is no rational logos.
Otherwise put, the logos of Aristophanes is, paradoxically, a logos that challenges the sovereignty of logos. But it does so in a very specific way. It does not wonder, or feel amazement thaumazein because it knows everything in advance. It explains and by explaining dispenses with the need for philosophical curiosity. He opposes the hubris of Eryxima- chus, who thinks he already knows, and can explain by means of logos, while he opposes Socrates because he desires to know.
The point is brought out by the tragic myth that follows. Its stated purpose is to explain the fact of eros by outlining what is most essential to human being. This approach marks an important break with the previous speeches in the following way: In other words, all previous speakers had first of all traced the origin of eros in a cosmological view of the universe and only afterwards outlined the benefits of eros in the human context. First of all, you must learn about human nature, and what has happened to it. Long ago, our nature was not the same as it is now but quite different d.
Translated from Czech by Peter Lom. Stanford University Press, p. It is not a comic myth in spite of the fact that Aristophanes is a comedian. What had been separated is now the same. More precisely, Aristophanes proffers a genealogical account of eros in terms of an anthro- pological account. The previous speakers had understood the divine, cosmo- logical dimension of eros as prior to any impact on human beings. Aristo- phanes, though, foregrounds the human.
His is an account in which humans appear before the gods55 to the extent that the gods are somewhat de- centred. And it will turn out, as the speech proceeds, that eros is only rele- vant or meaningful for human beings. As for the speech, though, Aristophanes tells us that we were not once as we are now. Instead of two genders as we have now, there were three. The first two of these were the all male born of the Sun and the all female born of Earth. The third was a combination of the first two.
These were male-female or androgyne. Aristophanes points out that whilst once this term designated a distinct human gender, it is now used only as a term of abuse e. After all, the androgy- nes are a combination of the two genders and are, therefore, the link be- tween Earth and Sun. In their absence, the two realms are alienated from one another. This sets up the problem and, of course, allows eros to step in as the solution. If these circle-men are meant to represent the original human condition, then it is a condition with which we can no longer fully identify.
Quite apart from the missing third gender, these proto-humans are simply other than we are. These beings were entirely self-sufficient possessed as they were of great strength and the ability to reproduce themselves by themselves c. Nevertheless, it is worth noting as a general point that Aristophanes is the first to foreground the human being in this way. In fact, the gods only appear in his speech in reaction to human agency. Some instances include Theaetetus a, e, d, a and b. In the Symposium, this idea can be found at c-e and also in the Phaedrus, at a-b.
If this is so, it is unlikely to be intended as a compliment. The proto-human circle men contested the superior position of the gods, and would yield to no authority other than their own. Their attack was a state- ment of desired autonomy to the effect that they needed no beings set over them to govern their affairs. This attempted coup is, however, a resounding failure and incurs the wrath of Zeus. Interestingly, though, Zeus chooses not to destroy human beings as he had the Giants whose crime was identical b.
This strengthens the link between human beings and the cosmic gods, the Giants and Titans, and re- enforces the suggested natural conflict with the gods of the city at Olym- pus. This would seem to suggest that the dependence is two-way. The gods need sacrifices from human beings to the extent that they are dependent on them for sur- 57 At c, Aristophanes describes the reproduction of the circle-man. Instead of mating, they simply laid eggs. It seems they did not care for them, not out of ne- glect but because no care was needed.
As such, this myth recounts a time that is prior to any form of human community i.
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As such, the destruction of the race is not an option. According to Leo Strauss, it is at this point that the specifically political aspects of the speech begin to come to the fore. The situation of the Olympian gods, in this myth, is similar to the situation of governments generally. So, it must find a way to control its subjects in a way that limits their power, but not to the extent that they cease to exist as the beings they are.
That is, the gods do not have an independent existence. They are the creation of human kind at a certain point in evolution. At a later time, man evolves to the point where he claims no longer to need gods set over him. He recognises them for what they are, an invention designed to preserve order. As such, he rebels; he will no longer subject himself to the authority of non-existent deities.
Through his rebellion, he will be unshack- led and free to soar to the level of the gods. There are not citizens because there is government, that is, but a government because there are citizens. This kind of idea is found in the works of Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Nietzsche in the 19th century. That is, it may well be the case that Aristophanes does not believe in the gods. He is, how- ever, concerned about the consequences for human community of discovering their non-existence. He reverts to barbarism rather than ascending to divinity. But why is this? The reason would seem to be this; if we take the circle men to be a symbol of the enduring nature of humanity, it would seem that the act of inventing the gods is also a tool by which man civilises himself.
The act of rebellion, then, is characterised by the abnegation of the regulative influence of the gods over us. In losing this, however, we lose justice. Just as the gods need us, so do we need them as a way of preserving peace. Because we voluntar- ily set government over us, we might come to think that we need nothing extrinsic to ourselves to regulate our affairs and so rebel. That is, if the le- gitimacy of government is derived from humans, why cannot each human legislate or herself?
Why do we need government set over us? The answer of course, is that while we may be capable of sovereignty over our own affairs, we do not live as solitary beings. We are communal beings, and we must find a way of living with each other. As such, a principle that can mediate be- tween potentially conflicting sovereignties is required, and what better for this purpose than the Olympian gods, who demand sacrifices and regulate the behaviour of humans.
Whether they actually exist or not may well be irrelevant to their performance of this political function. Without this regu- lating function, rebellion will likely issue in disaster and a total dissimulation of order. This reveals an important paradox in the views of Aristophanes. While humans may be responsible for the authority of the gods in the sense that they restrict themselves and subject themselves to the gods, this is not an historical accident but a human necessity since only through such self- restriction is order possible.
If so, their purpose reprisal. At the moment of victory, one has been imprudent. It is imprudent to win.
Translated from French by Wlad Godzich. Manchester; Manchester University Press, p. The circle men are not representatives of a human nature now abolished. In fact, if they were, it would be difficult for us to identify with them and we would be left wondering as to their function here dramatically or anthropologically. Rather, they represent human nature as it is now. Or rather, they represent one mode of being and one possible de- ployment of eros.
This deployment, though, is both the pinnacle of human strength and the manifestation of the monstrous at the same time. The am- biguity is, then, that the beings, which seem to represent a perfection of the species, also represent its greatest threat. By attacking the gods, they run the risk of destroying the whole race by plunging it into darkness. What we have here, then, is a warning.
If it is the eros of the circle men i. But since we are by nature erotic, it is not possible to nullify this threat by simply excising the erotic. This we shall see shortly. As already noted, Zeus could not simply destroy humans so he comes up with an ingenious plan. He cuts them in half, which has the double effect of reducing their strength so that they are less likely to be troublesome, and doubling their number thereby increasing the honours and sacrifices received by the gods. Here, we are offered an initial sense of the comic poets vision of the truly tragic nature of human existence.
The sev- 66 As a piece of anthropological archaeology, this story has much in common with the Biblical account of the Tower of Babel Genesis 11 in which Yahweh weakens those who would ascend to heaven by confusing their language so that they are no longer able to understand one another.
Yahweh justifies this by saying that with the strength of a common language, there will soon be nothing humans will be incapa- ble of. They pine for their other half to the extent that they disregard everything else in their lives, even their own well-being. In this condition, they die out in great numbers for even if they are united, they do no more than lie together in a non-sexual way mourn- ing the loss of their self-sufficient unity. As a result of this, Zeus takes pity on these pathetic creatures and per- forms a second operation.
This way, those halves that unite with one another will at least have the consolation of bodily pleasure from their union. In the case of a heterosexual union this also has the added ad- vantage of continuing the species. The skin that remains loose is gathered to the front at the point that is now known as the navel e.
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The point of this, we are told, is to act as a constant reminder to the human race of their crime and a warning against future incursions. Physically, humans now resemble the Olympian gods rather than their cosmic counterparts. The circle-men were purely present to themselves whereas now, our very physicality indicates absence and lack. Aristophanes is sug- gesting a mutual dependence here between men and Olympian gods in which alone symbolic wholeness can be regained.
But this is an asymmetrical mutuality, which is attested to by our fragility and dependence upon other human beings. This is important if we remember that the myth of the circle- men is only a myth; that is, we never were circles, and perhaps the gods do not even really exist, so what we see here is an examination of the problem of self-recognition.
Aristophanes is telling us in effect what it is that should concern us, and what we have no right to be concerned with. The circle-men were ambitious and dangerous. They needed pay little heed to their own bodily welfare, to the gods or to each other, and on account of their great strength, they seem not to have lived in anything like a commu- nity or Polis. In other words, they were outward looking. They aspired to 67 In fact, it was Apollo who performed the first operation at the behest of Zeus e. On the other hand, the circle men can be understood as self-sufficient erotic wholes that become intoxicated by their own power.
Thus, they re- belled against the Olympians. This was their act of hubris and it was for this that they were punished. After the operation the second operation , the situation is radically different. These new creatures now look inward. Instead of raising their eyes to the stars, they look inward and downward towards their navels and genitals and are thereby reminded of their lack. In this way, Zeus has re-established control.
In this condition, humans are far more likely to be peaceful since they now find themselves dependent upon each other. It is interesting that whilst these severed halves concern themselves with their own other half, the side effects of their unions include the creation of a polis and the initiation of peaceful society.
This is interesting because it is not the focus of the newly created entities. It goes on in spite of them, so to speak, and is in no way to the forefront of their consciousness. The split humans know themselves to be looking for their other halves, nothing more. In this way, Aristophanes presents us with a myth in which the focus of eros is one thing while its real advantage and benefit is something else and we begin to get a sense of the complex nature of the truth about eros. Eros is of the essence of man yet now, not only is the immediate goal of eros other than before but so is its more deep-seated goal.
As circle-man, our erotic wholeness had been characterised by a lofty ambition that sought equality with the gods in a way, it was a desire for unrestricted autonomy. But if this is the case, how 68 Jacques Lacan makes the point that for the Greeks, the circle was not only a sym- bol of self-sufficiency but also of that which is unlimited. Translated from French by Cormac Gallagher. We noted earlier that the circle-men are not intended as representative of man simplic- iter but merely of a human possibility, of how we might be. Yet even this seems unlikely now.
How, if what is so essential to our being is so different can they the circle-men be said to be in any way like us? Aristophanes claims to be offering a description of the value and purpose of eros. Instead, he offers a revisionary account. In other words, he is offering us an alternate logos. This is probably why is so keen to con- vince his listeners so that they might teach it to others d.
Aristophanes does believe in the circle-men as representing a human possibility; that is, they represent one possible deployment of eros. However, this eros that is characterised by the upward glance is dangerous and must be suppressed at all costs without suppressing eros entirely. For the poet, this deployment of eros will have disastrous results for human beings though, as yet, it is unclear why.
This is why his speech is a myth. It is a poeticisation of the human condition and of human eros since the real aims and real work of eros is always obscured. As erotic beings, we remain something of a mystery to ourselves. We do not know what it is we really want. He reveals what has been heretofore hidden. And yet this is not quite the case either, since the use of myth entails that the most Aristophanes can do is to reveal the fact that the real goal of eros is always in some way hidden; that is, it is forever other than we think it to be.
He describes eros as a kind of blind grasping for a we-know-not-what c ff. He will have to tell us what is behind the myth in order to convince us that the myth is necessary. The culmination of the tragedy, we shall see, is that what we most truly desire is forever unattainable.
For in making such a revision, the poet continues the work of Zeus. Thus, just as Zeus does in the myth, Aristophanes, the poet, attempts to steer our focus away from the stars and downwards towards the body. This is important at least insofar as it generates an ambiguity regarding the simple relationality between the gods and men and regarding the apparent humility of Aristophanes himself.
The reason is, of course, that our nature, left unchecked, stands in direct opposition to what the poet perceives as our good; namely, the capacity to co-exist and to be orderly. Corresponding to the clash of divine authorities, there is a violent and possibly irreconcilable opposition between nomos and physis. Aristophanes is identifying our good with nomos, the Olympians and the laws of the polis while he suspects that eros is perhaps more closely linked with physis and the disordered arrogance of the Giants and Titans.
If Stanley Rosen is right and there are atheistic undercurrents to the thought of Aristophanes, it is difficult to understand what he is up to here. He suggests that it is good that the real goal of human eros should remain hidden from us and yet puts forward the notion that its real aim is the estab- lishment of peaceful, societal harmony. But why should this be hidden from us?
It seems to be a perfectly desirable state of affairs. The only conclusion can be that this is not the real goal of eros.
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The real goal of eros should be hidden from us because it is probably connected with the ambitions of the circle-men and these, we said, are dangerous. But these ambitions are still very much a part of who we are, as is demonstrated by Socrates and his fol- lowers. What is more, if the idea that we should limit ourselves were to be made public, it would most likely be rejected as unworthy.
As we noted, though, it may be that he does not believe in the gods. And even if he does, it seems strange that he too is in possession of this knowledge. It seems more likely that Aristophanes is en- dorsing the poeticisation of reality for the good of man. He endorses piety before gods who are the invention of the poets and, thus, endorses the value of religious belief regardless of whether the gods literally exist.
In this way, he bestows upon his own art form the task of education and the cultivation of the human good. He is attempting to preach a doctrine that encourages the focus of eros downwards towards the body as a way of avoiding the aspira- tions of the hubristic circle-men. Thus, he is opposed to any kind or rational- ism or technicism, but this anti-intellectualism is not blind. He opposes the technicism of the doctor Eryximachus but, more importantly, he is opposed to the rationalism of Socrates, which is, for Aristophanes, the very embodi- ment of hubris.
Through his philosophy, Socrates elevates himself above the rest of society, he displays great ambitions, he questions the nature of piety and justice etc. In other words, he interferes where he has no business. Nevertheless, the dialectic between comedy and the nomos of the polis will turn out to be far more mutually beneficial than it sometimes appears. The difficulty for Plato seems to be that phi- losophers, notoriously, do not mind their own business. The question then is whether philosophy should be given a special dispensation. If so, must this be regu- lated as to who can be a philosopher or how many there can be?
He appears to be completely under the spell of Socrates e. As erotic, we are naturally drawn upwards towards equality with the gods just as our ancient parents, the Giants, had been. This natural impulse is inherently destructive of order though. In warning his fellow symposiasts and us away from Socrates, Aristo- phanes again expresses his fear of what the philosopher represents. If the poeticisation of reality is for the good of man since it is unlikely he is merely trying to protect his own artistic turf must it not be the case that our real nature is something from which we must be protected?
Is Socratic philosophy likely to reveal a terrible secret? Is it the revelation of a dark secret? Aristophanes seems to be telling us that whilst he offers a vision of the real that is not, strictly speaking, true it is at least one with which we can live. The alternative is to follow Socrates and Socratic rationalism. As with the circle-men, this may result in death. Clouds Translated from Greek by Alan H.
This is very significant because of the degree to which justice was understood by the Greeks primarily in terms of kinship. Anyone who dismantles these ties is a warmonger in the worst sense. At d, he asks his listeners to imagine Hephaestus standing over two lovers and asking them what it is they want. What is cru- cial here is that they are unable to tell him. They do not know what it is they want. Hephaestus then suggests that what the lov- ers want is to be united as they are forever. This seems to be based on a pas- sage in the Odyssey in which the god of craftsmanship binds the lovers Ares and Aphrodite together.
This way they will lead a shared life and will also share death as one being instead of two. After a rather lengthy mythic exploration, eros is finally named. The goal of eros is the desire to recapture our original wholeness. We desire to return to the time prior to erotic longing in which we were mighty circle-men. This was a time when erotic wholeness was characterised by a great strength that issued in barbaric hubris. This is what the un-nameable longing longs for; the erasure of longing through erotic wholeness. This passage deserves attention since it seems, at one level, to under- mine the admonition against pursuit of original wholeness that we have seen up to now.
There are one or two points that must be kept in mind. For one 77 The reference to an oracle here is interesting since oracular proclamations are notable, in Greek histories, for their ambiguity. Thus, whilst eros affects us power- fully, its ultimate orientation requires interpretation. Aristophanes is framing the tension between philosophy and poetry as to which is better suited to offer such an interpretation.
Translated from Greek by Robert Fitzgerald. In that case, it is likely that we are supposed to imagine other, substitute forms of wholeness. These are most likely to be the physical wholeness of erotic love — which will as a matter of course give rise to communal wholeness of the city — and the individualistic wholeness that is sought by philosophy as Aristophanes understands this. Remember, at the start of his speech he was very clear that there is no techne of eros.
This was the kernel of his opposi- tion to Eryximachus and Socrates. Now along comes Hephaestus and does exactly what Aristophanes warned against. He mediates between eros and man; that is, he mediates what must be immediate. In a sense, then, he interferes where he has no business. This interference can be further demonstrated by the fact that he asks leading questions. But surely this is sophistry. Hephaestus has ambushed the lovers with his ques- tion. The intimate and immediate nature of the relation between man and eros makes it such that we cannot articulate what it is we are seeking in eros.
In this state, however, we are likely to fall prey to meddlers who come along and attempt to put words in our mouths offering an easy way out of the suffering attendant upon the human condition. And though this attempted mediation may appear desirable, it is by no means clear that it is so. Hephaestus has uncovered the truth of our longing, and while the solution that he offers is appealing, it is not necessarily in our best interests. An example is the Meno, in which the slave boy is asked to confirm or deny the propositions put to him by Socrates.
This approach has been criticised as leading the interlocutor. Under- standing Plato Oxford: Oxford University Press, ch. On Aristophanes physical account, sexuality is this conso- lation of eros. It is the object of our focus whilst what remains out of focus the generation of the polis is what it makes possible. Sexuality is, therefore, a distraction80, which enables us to get on with our real task, i.
Yet, this focus on the body and away from the soul has left a certain uneasiness. We feel that there is somehow more going on in eros and erotic longing. When Hephaestus makes his offer, we are likely to be tricked as Ares and Aphrodite were and to misidentify the true source of happiness. Aristophanes most likely views the offer of Hephaestus as treachery in that it cultivates an erotic techne, which will undo the operation of Zeus.
Hephaestus thus arrogates to himself a position of sovereign authority re- garding the affairs of man. Accepting that erotic desire is for completeness and self-sufficiency, his offer will shift the focus of eros away from the navel i. But to do this can only be detrimental to the common good and the affairs of State since it removes the interdependence that was initiated by the self-restrictive act of truncating eros the operations of Apollo and Zeus and relocating the object of erotic love.
The desire for wholeness is the real aim of eros. Here, Aristophanes is serious but whether giving in to this is in our best interest is another matter entirely. Hephaestus is, in effect, doing the work of Socrates through his offer of welding the lovers together and thereby moving the glance up rather than down but in the mind of the poet, the results of this will spell disaster.
He does not make sexuality the ultimate goal of action but a distraction which possibilises action. His revisionary story tells us that the effects of eros remain hidden to us. By altering the focus of eros, though, we ensure that these effects are positive ones. If, on the other hand, we acknowledge the real focus of eros, the fruits are very bitter indeed. Thus, philosophical man in spite of his great intellectual strength and tremendous arrogance is as much in the dark, with regard to eros, as non-philosophical man. He thinks he wills his elevation to divinity and divine understanding but in fact wills only death and not only for himself but for the entire race.
The fundamental trait of human being, on this account, is blind wandering. We wander into the domain of the gods, who alone have knowledge, but this wandering remains blind and, as such, becomes the cause of immeasurable suffering and destruction if it is not checked by humility. The tragedy for man lies pre- cisely in this dilemma.
He hovers precariously between two positions, nei- ther of which is ideal — between the limited vulnerability of the body and the unlimited desire of the soul. On the one hand, we can be true to our rational nature by giving vent to the erotic desire for wholeness and self-sufficiency, which will result in our destruction or we can create a fiction i. The poeticization of eros is not, then, a luxury or an aesthetic decoration. It is vital to our well-being, something which the disclosvie tendencies of philosophy threatens most deeply.
Socratic eros, in its pursuit of eternal truths, intends the stars in exactly the way the poet warns against. The upward movement of eros seeks to overcome the limitations of the body — in the way the circle-men were more or less indifferent to their own bodies — but this is to seek the destruction of what it means to be human in overcoming these limitations.
It is also worth noting here that Derrida makes much of the image of the circle in relation to the death drive of philosophical eros p. Translated from French by Alan Bass. The laws that make us orderly are set in opposition to our nature, it is true, but this must be so because what is closest to our hearts is a desire for a radical autonomy that turns out to be not liberating but savage and tyrannical.
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If this is what is intended by Socratic eros, Aristophanes draws our attention again and again to the body to remind us that we are not gods. The goal of Socratic eros is not explicitly or consciously destructive, but it will be the outcome of his will-to-truth, in the same way that civilized society will be the outcome of bodily oriented eros. Socrates is indeed ignorant, though not in the way he often claims to be. He is not ignorant because he is not in possession of eternal truths, but because he lacks self-knowledge about what this pursuit entails.
It may seem from what has proceeded that there are two different kinds of eros in the speech of Aristophanes. This would be in keeping with the dis- tinction between heavenly and pandemic eros that was made by Pausanias and Eryximachus. Yet, at the beginning of the present speech, Aristophanes said that his speech would be of a different sort than what had preceded it c.
And indeed it has been, and with regard to the question of a double eros, I think that what Aristophanes has offered has in fact been a detailed psychological account of a single eros. Pandemic eros intended simply pleasure while virtue was the ostensible concern of heavenly eros. Following Pausanias, the doctor Eryximachus put forward the claim that the division between the erotes should better be understood as identifying a higher eros that intends order whether bodily, psychic or cosmic and a lower eros that intends disorder.
This is not the case for Aristophanes. In the present speech, there is only one eros and it is always connected with chaos as opposed to order. It is interesting that Aris- tophanes connects philanthropy with the ministering to the chaotic dimen- sion of human existence and it also reveals a deep truth about eros in his speech. As single, it becomes apparent that there is no heavenly eros. If there is a doubleness in eros, it is only in the ways in which it is deployed.
The aspirational eros of the philosopher is, at bot- tom, no different than the eros of the adulterer. But if this is so and eros always intends chaos, on what basis can a re-orientation of eros proceed? The answer to this question reveals, I think, the deepest paradox in the speech of Aristophanes. As the gods of wine and sex, these are more closely connected with the cosmic gods of physis and chaos and yet in his speech, superiority is assigned to Zeus and Apollo, the pre-eminent gods of nomos and order. So, if there is a tension between order and chaos, Aristo- phanes gives priority to the gods of order in spite of his profession.
But, this cannot be done at the expense of the eradication of the gods of disorder since chaotic eros is so much a part of what we are. It requires a release of some sort. This is why Aristophanes opts for sexuality as a fundamental motif of his speech and it is why he is so keen to bring our attention back again and again to the chaotic absurdity of the body.
It is not, of course, that we need to be told about sex in order to be aware of it, but we do require the poet to constantly keep it in the forefront of our minds. Ostensibly, his work is at odds with the affairs of state and law and or- der since it proceeds by making fun of these and celebrating the irrational yet, at bottom, it is through this kind of opposition that Aristophanes finally endorses the order of the city. Philosophical or Socratic eros concerns itself with knowing what the gods know and so, in the mind of Aristophanes, it represents the aspiration to be a god.
In so doing, however, it constitutes a challenge to the order of the city since it claims that it needs no extrinsic order imposed upon it.
The fruits of this will not be the perfection of the human race but its descent into barbarism. As such, the eros of philosophy manifests an impulse towards tyranny that is ultimately destructive of both the city and itself because of the fact that the mind or spirit is not self- limiting in the way the body is. We remember from the beginning of his speech that he intends to challenge the polis-based order of Eryximachus and Pausanias, yet he ends in subservience to exactly that. In orienting the gaze downwards, he allows the focus of eros to be distracted so that the business of the city can proceed unmolested.
Thus, he takes a role not dissimilar to that of the medieval jester who gives voice to a higher wisdom that constantly hearkens back to our limitations as humans and warns against spiritual excess. In this role, he can vent against the authorities while remaining ultimately subservient in relation to them. What is more, the balance — albeit asymmetrical — between the order of the city and the chaos of comic poetry and the body allows a certain type of attenuated wholeness to be achieved.
In other words, not sex but wholeness is the goal of their love. But we can achieve a limited wholeness in the successful duration of the city in which the two aforemen- tioned parts are held together in tension. Instead, he says, Actually I much enjoyed your speech. Robert Mitchell argues, successfully in my opinion, that this comment dem- onstrates that Eryximachus has understood the challenge to the order of the city in the speech not as a real challenge at all but as a completion of his own account. Far from being sexual, love is the search for that state of wholeness in which sex did not exist.
The Nature of Love, vol. The irony of philosophical activity from the point of view of Aristophanes is that its challenge to order is indirect. Socrates claims to be seeking foundations for notions such as justice, virtue etc. The result is the production of aporiai and a relativism that undermines the possibility of these notions. To put the matter another way, we might say that at stake in the speech of Aristophanes is the question of the interpretation of eros.
He has throughout juxtaposed his own physicalistic interpretation of eros with the spiritual interpretation of the philosopher. We saw that this does not mean that there are two Erotes but that the same single eros can be understood in different and conflicting ways. What was particularly noticeable about these conflicting interpretations was that they entailed both a visible and a hidden aspect.
The physicalistic interpretation intends bodily pleasure ostensibly but through this, facilitates polis and community. By contrast, the spiritualis- tic interpretation intends enlightenment but, as an unforeseen consequence, unravels the social bonds and threatens the dissimulation of the human community. What is curious here is that if Aristophanes identifies these conflicting interpretations with poetry on the one hand and philosophy on the other, his own speech would seem to take a third position which does not fully coincide with either.
Undoubtedly, he accords superiority to the poet but he needs to stand outside his role as poet in order to do this. Eros does not know what it wants so we must interpret the real object of its desire. It seems that there is no right or wrong to this but we can judge these interpre- tations according to what they give rise to. By its nature, eros is a chaotic desire or a desire for chaos. Because of the type of beings we are, it is shown by Aristophanes to be both ineradicable and dangerous. So if the destructive excess of eros must have an outlet, it is better that this outlet should be physical rather than spiritual because while the body limits itself —as shown by the hiccup — the spirit does not.
This is because it recognises no higher order or ordering principle outside of itself. How can it since the problem is not that the philosopher wages war on order in the name of chaos but that he thinks that he pursues a higher order than the order of the polis when, in fact, there is no such higher order.
He interprets eros for us and removes it from its hidden- ness. By hermeneutics in action, I mean the way the respective disciplines interpret or harness erotic desire. The overarching hermeneutic of course reveals the driving force of both to be the same even while one is less damaging than the other.
And because the driv- ing force of both is the same, Aristophanes must conceal the true meaning of eros even as he reveals it. This is why his account of eros is offered as a myth. This need for concealment goes for the poet as much as the philoso- pher since in eros, neither knows what he is doing and ends up doing the opposite of what he intends. Thus, the comic poet, the enemy of order, sus- tains the order of the city while the philosopher will obliterate the human community in his attempt to ground it. Eros, Politics and Philosophy So what conclusions can we draw from the Aristophanic conception of eros based on what we have seen so far?
In placing the speech in the context of the indictment of philosophy, we have been able to draw out a complex the- ory of the perils and possible salvation of existence based on the root sources of erotic energy. Aristophanes is anti-philosophical and, therefore, anti-Socratic. We know that in many of the dialogues Plato is keen to draw a real distinction between the philosophical activity of Socrates and that of the Sophists.
It would be fair to say that any distinction is lost on Aristophanes. As far as he is concerned, there is no difference. The activity of both Socrates and the Sophists is characterised by hubris and, if anything, the work of Socrates is an even more dangerous employment of erotic energy — at least the Sophists were generally con- cerned with political matters and had limited ambitions regarding the meta- physical underpinnings of truth and justice per se. Aristophanes, then, is of the view that philosophy and philosophical matters should not concern us. We would be better off without them.
This, we said, is not necessarily moti- vated by a fear of literal reprisals from the gods but a fear of the dismantling of the social fabric. We cannot help but feel however that there is more to the critique of Aristophanes than a conflation of Socrates and sophism. Even were this the case, the conflation is not necessarily unreasonable. It is often almost impos- sible to maintain any such distinction between Socrates and the sophists.
They have just been defeated by the Spartans and the power of the old, democratic regime smashed. This is to be replaced by the thirty tyrants of whom Plato and Socrates were initially supportive. All in all it is a dark chapter in Athenian history. Aristophanes, in fact, refers to this at a: Apollodorus attacks the concerns of everyday life not only because they are unimportant but because many such as his companion labour under the misapprehension that only they are im- portant.
But how can we ascertain these in any certain way? And if we could, would this obviate the problem of the potentially antisocial consequences of philosophical critique? The point here is that the hubris and potential tyranny of philosophical eros, as understood by Aristophanes, need not be understood as a simple desire to dominate but might instead entail a destructive irresponsibility. Socrates need not have the soul of a tyrant. His critique of the traditional values and foundations of Athenian society may be performed in the best of faith, but it generates aporiai from which perhaps there is no way back.
Is Socrates, then, a model citizen? If we follow Socrates, do we not risk decon- structing the foundations of our cultural communities to the point that there is no longer a way through? This is an important question for the contempo- rary reader in an era in which a culture of critique and a hermeneutics of suspicion more often fragments than re-grounds community.
In the Sympo- sium and elsewhere, Plato makes much of the atopia of Socrates. This does not mean that he bears ill will to his fellow citizens but that because citizenship is not enough for him, he de-centres the individual in the community. But a single Socrates is one thing. This is what Aristophanes fears and with good reason.
In contemporary western society, we are all a-topos and de- centred by our refusal to subject ourselves to any authority other than our- selves. As such, each one becomes his own emperor and community is based on nothing more than physical proximity and the negative injunction not to interfere with one another. In a society that assigns absolute value to the concept of autonomy, how can it be otherwise? I do not mean this as a plea for some kind of simple political conservatism but only to show that the critique of Aristophanes must be taken seriously.
There is a dogma in west- ern societies that if we each challenge stagnant forms of traditional authority we will push through to a brighter tomorrow populated by intelligent, con- discourse. London and New York: This and many other incidents serve to demonstrate the strangeness of Socrates. He is always out of place. And beyond this unconscious dissimulation of human community, there is also the issue of the malicious facsimile of philosophical eros in the hands of those who intend no way through. Aristophanes Clouds is an ex- ploration of these issues and I believe that Plato too is not insensitive.
We know from both the Phaedrus and the Seventh letter that Plato was all too aware of the dangers inherent in philosophy, and especially in the disen- gagement of discourse from presence, or the saying from the said. As such, Plato wishes to defend Socrates but he also ex- 89 The phenomenon of the internet is perhaps a good example here. Learn more at Author Central. Popularity Popularity Featured Price: Low to High Price: High to Low Avg. Available for download now. Only 3 left in stock - order soon. Provide feedback about this page. There's a problem loading this menu right now.
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