Every civilization has something that captivates its members. Our current civilization has either music or movies. The middle ages had religion. The Romans had powerful generals. The ancient Greeks had stories and plays. There is one thing in common with each of these. The answer is simply myth. Some movies are just different adaptations of myth. Religion is just one big belief that has its origins in myth. The generals would try to become similar to the gods in myth. The ancient Greeks stories would rely heavily on myth.
What this essay is interested in however is myth in ancient Greece. Just like a language can have many different dialects, their can be many different myths about the same subject. One question that many people have asked and that has been addressed by myth is “Where did humans come from? ” My favorite answer to this was written in Plato’s Symposium. It is a little difficult to establish who is the author of this myth. It is true that most myths do not have authors but even if we know who the author is without a shadow of a doubt, this is an exception.
The problem arises because, the book is written by Plato, however, he tells us that it is Aristophanes who tells the story. We also can’t know if this account is true since there is a great gap between the time that the story was told by Aristophanes and the time it was written down by Plato. Apparently the symposium (Greek for drinking party) where Aristophanes spoke took place around 416B. C. but there is evidence that Plato did not write it down until after 385B. C. Around this period in time all the stories that were written were usually entered in contests as plays. This would have been no exception.
The Symposium mainly focuses on talk of Eros, Greek for passionate love. It is from this that Aristophanes speech on the origin of humans comes from. The one thing that people must realize when they read this short myth in the Symposium is that this was an extremely new thing during that time. Most people already had their beliefs set out. They would be passed down through many generations; people had no reason not to believe the old myths. This new myth was well thought out and made a lot of sense, it took into account a lot of what the Greeks believed and experienced in real life.
It is for these reasons that this book would have revolutionary for anyone to read it in that period of time. This myth also for the first time took into account that love was natural and explained that love is just the joining of two people to form one being. The genre of the book is a little difficult to pinpoint. Mainly the whole book is a discussion on love and is philosophy. The tale I looked at could be construed as a divine myth however the gods do not play too important of a part in it. For this reason I would classify it as a folktale since it teaches something to the people who read it.
The myth takes place as the fourth set of speeches in a total of seven in Plato’s Symposium. It starts off with Aristophanes explaining what human nature was like in the past. It was very different from the present time. He goes on to say that there were three types of human beings on earth. First were the males, no different than now. Second were the females, also no different than the present time. The third was a combination of the two, an androgynous figure. This human was made up of both male and female elements. The shape of these creatures was very different; they were completely round.
They had four hands, four legs, two faces, four ears and only one head. The faces were exactly alike. There were also two sets of sexual organs. They walked upright but when they wanted to run they would perform cartwheels using all eight limbs. The reason for there being three kinds was simple. The male was an offspring of the sun. The female was an offspring of the earth. The androgynous creature was an offspring of the moon. Since they were like two individuals in one, their strength and power was enormous. They had great ambitions and made an attempt on the gods.
They tried to make an ascent into heaven to attack the gods. On account of this, Zeus (the head of the gods) and the other gods met in council to decide what to do. They couldn’t just kill all humans since that would mean no more worship and sacrifices by the humans. After some great thought, Zeus came up with a plan. He decided that if the androgynous humans lost their power they would stop misbehaving. To do this he would cut them in two. With doing this not only would the humans be less powerful, but also it would benefit the gods because there would now be more humans to offer sacrifices.
Zeus then proceeded to cut them in half and ordered Apollo to turn the androgynous humans face and neck towards the newly formed wound. Apollo healed the rest of the wound and made a mouth and a stomach and a naval. He smoothed out the wrinkles on the humans and shaped the breasts. Since each of these humans had been cut from two, they longed to reunite with their other half. Theses humans would reunite and throw their arms around each other but would do nothing else until they died. Zeus decided that their genitals must be moved to the front in order to reproduce more efficiently.
He made the man’s genitals on the outside and the woman’s on the inside, this was in order that when a man and woman would embrace they would conceive children together and if a man and a man would embrace there would be no children but still satisfaction. This is the source of the desire of humans to love one another. He explains that if a male were split from a woman, he would be a heterosexual. If a woman were split from a woman she would be a lesbian. If a male were split from a male, he would be male-oriented. It is these men that become politicians and leaders because they love humans similar to themselves.
He continues explaining that there is a danger that if humans don’t continue to keep order they will be split once again. Whoever opposes love is hateful to the gods, so we must embrace love. It is at this point that Aristophanes starts mentioning that homosexual love is what they should find if they are nice to the gods. It seems that this is what suited his company best. As I had stated earlier in the essay I liked this tale very much. The reasons are a little complicated but I will try to explain as simply as I can. First of all, I enjoy stories.
I would like to make a future out of telling stories so I know how hard it is to come up with a new idea. Also if you are writing a story you must make it interesting to the people who will read it, to accomplish this it has to be something that the people can relate to. In the twentieth century, this story is quite original. It is also quite entertaining. Even though we can agree on this, how many people reading this are going to know the different myths about human creation in ancient Greece. How many of the people reading are going to know about Zeus and Apollo.
How many of the people reading are going to know about sacrificing for religion. And the most important, how many people in the modern world are going to think that homosexuality is a good thing. Now let us go back in time to the year 385 B. C. Everyone knew his or her own culture. Everyone knew of Zeus. Everyone knew about all the old myths of creation. Then this guy named Plato comes out with a story and this story is unlike anything that’s been heard of before. But this story makes sense. It accounts for a lot of the things that can’t be explained in other ways.
On top of that it teaches you what you should do in order to be better. I feel that this would have just turned their world on its side. It would have caused a lot of people to think about what they always took for granted. It’s for this reason that I enjoyed this story. Just knowing about some of the myths taught to us in classes on Greek myth lets me enjoy this work. If I knew all the myths, maybe I would change my mind or maybe I would like it even more. Although I did enjoy the story, I feel that that is all it is, a story and nothing more.
I like to have answers for everything and the only way I can trust my answers is if there is proof. To believe myths and stories of the like there needs to be faith since there is no real proof. It is for this reason that I can’t take this myth or even any other myth to be the truth about the creation of humans. But I do admit that it sounds a whole lot better than the theory of evolution. I feel that not everyone is like myself, so myths are a very good thing because it gives them something to believe in.
Other people can have faith without proof, which is clearly shown by the popularity of religions in every culture of this world. It is for this reason that they are not only good but needed as well. Who knows, maybe one thousand years from now, Plato’s Symposium will be the only thing remaining from our civilization. Perhaps someone will find it and think of it as a bible. They would think that Plato’s account of the creation of humans is true. Maybe from this book a whole other set of myths could arise. Anything can happen, just like in myths.