Aristophanes professed to open another vein of discourse; he had a mind to
praise Love in another way, unlike that either of Pausanias or Eryximachus.
Mankind, he said, judging by their neglect of him, have never, as I think, at
all understood the power of Love. For if they had understood him they would
surely have built noble temples and altars, and offered solemn sacrifices in
his honour; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to be done: since of
all the gods he is the best friend of men, the helper and the healer of the
ills which are the great impediment to the happiness of the race. I will try to
describe his power to you, and you shall teach the rest of the world what I am
teaching you. In the first place, let me treat of the nature of man and what
has happened to it; for 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 the union of the two, having a name
corresponding to this double nature, which had once 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, and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking
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
now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and
over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all,
like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was when he
wanted to run fast. Now the sexes were three, and such as I have described
them; because the sun, moon, and earth are three; and the man was originally
the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, 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
thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods; of
them is told the tale of Otys and Ephialtes who, as Homer says, dared to scale
heaven, and would have laid hands upong the gods. Doubt reigned in the
celestial councils. Should they kill them and annihilate the race with
thunderbolts, as they had done the giants, then there would be an end of the
sacrifices and worship which men offered to them; but, on the other hand, the
gods could not suffer their insolence to be unrestrained. At last, after a good
deal of reflection, Zeus discovered a way. He said: "Methinks I have a plan
which will humble their pride and improve their manners; men shall continue to
exist, but I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength
and increase in numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more
profitable to us. They shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue
insolent and will not be quiet I will split them again and they shall hop about
on a single leg." He spoke and cut men in two, like sorbapple which is halved
for pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a hair; and as he cut them one
after another, he bade Apollo give the face and the half of the neck a turn in
order that the man might contemplate the section of himself; he would thus
learn a lesson of humility. Apollow was also bidden to heal their wounds and
compose their forms. So he gave a turn to the face and pulled the skin from the
sides all over that which in our language is called the belly, like the purses
which draw in, and he made one mouth at the centre, which he fastened in a knot
(the same which is called the navel); he also moulded the breast and took out
most of the wrinkles, much as a shoemaker might smooth leather upoon a last; he
left a few, however, in the region of the belly and navel, as a memorial of the
primeval state. After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his
other half, came together, and throwing their arms around one another, entwined
in 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 the 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 been always their position, and they sowed the seed no longer
as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one other; and after the
transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the 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 in
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 indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half. Men who
are a section of that double nature which was once called Androgynous are
lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this breed, and also adulterous
women who lust after men: the women who are a section of the woman do not care
for men, but have female attachments; the female companions are of this sort.
But they who are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are
young, being slices of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them,
and they are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most
manly nature. Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not true;
for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are valiant
and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that which is like
them. And these when they grow up become our statesmen, and these only, which
is a great proof of the truth of what I am saying.