08 January 2012

Plutarch On Love (Repost - 15 February 2008)

I was reading Plutarch's Dialogue on Love when I got to thinking. Daphnaeus, who plays the part of Plutarch, seems to have some very good things to say about sexuality, responsibility, and self-satisfaction.

The modern notions of human sexuality would be completely alien to the ancient Greeks as their notions are alien to people living today. People from Greece, today, complained about Oliver Stone's movie Alexander for portraying Alexander the Great as a homosexual, yet not only does the film not portray Alexander as homosexual (even considering the one minute deleted scene where Alexander and Bagoas are getting ready to have sex) but the concept didn't exist in his time that exists today. What happened between a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, or a woman and a woman and a man (I don't need to go through all the combinations) was a seperate sphere of society as what happened at home to keep your duty to the state. People persued sexual liasons outside the home, with members of the same sex and the opposite sex and at the end of the day went home and (at least tried) to be good spouses and to have children and raise them right. Sex could be about individual physical pleasure but it also was a show of power and authority one person held over a subordinate. How would you show you are someone's superior -- through sexual acts.

The ancient Greeks made it clear: you are free to express yourself sexually any way you want, but society runs by order and every member of that society has a duty to fulfill (a dharma) to keep that order in place and assure everybody is happy and safe. And what is one of the primary duties a Greek citizen has to uphold the order? That would be to create and maintain a good home and to have children. What you do at home is for the children, not for you; what you do outside the home is for you, but at home you have a duty to your children because they are the future of the state and maintaining the order of the state is your duty. When you put it like that notions of homosexuals and heterosexuals seem unimportant. Marriage isn't about love, it's about children; it's about admitting there's something bigger and more important than your petty self-endulgence and your personal enjoyment. I think in our culture ruled by materialism we have forgotten this.

And what did Plutarch say? Protogenes is going on for hours about how women are incapable of feeling love and that the only true love that can exist is betwen two men (actually between a man and a boy), and that it is only begrudgingly he fulfills the lawful requirement of having kids with his wife. After courteously letting him talk for a long time Daphnaeus chuckles and retorts something to the effect of "well, Protogenes, you say that you cannot know love except the love that exists between two men but we all know what happens between you and your wife when you get home, and you certainly don't seem to be reluctant or antipathetic about it."