Desire, Pleasure, and Sophocles

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 12 510d-c

“Enjoying something, certainly, requires a desire first and then comes the pleasure. The poet Sophocles, as a matter of fact, was one of those people who enjoy life, in order that he might not criticize old age, blamed his inability to get pleasure from sex on wisdom, pretending that he had happily been freed from those desires as if from some cruel master.

But I insist that the “Judgment of Paris was depicted by the more ancient poets as a contest between virtue and pleasure. When Aphrodite was selected—and she represented pleasure—everything went to shit. It also seems likely to me that Xenophon made up his story about Herakles and virtue for the same reason.”

Ἡ γὰρ ἀπόλαυσις δήπου μετ᾿ ἐπιθυμίας πρῶτον, ἔπειτα μεθ᾿ ἡδονῆς. καίτοι Σοφοκλῆς γ᾿ ὁ ποιητής, τῶν ἀπολαυστικῶν γε εἷς ὤν, ἵνα μὴ κατηγορῇ τοῦ γήρως, εἰς σωφροσύνην ἔθετο τὴν ἀσθένειαν αὐτοῦ τὴν περὶ τὰς τῶν ἀφροδισίων ἀπολαύσεις, φήσας ἀσμένως ἀπηλλάχθαι αὐτῶν ὥσπερ τινὸς δεσπότου. ἐγὼ δέ φημι καὶ τὴν τοῦ Πάριδος κρίσιν ὑπὸ τῶν παλαιοτέρων πεποιῆσθαι ἡδονῆς πρὸς ἀρετὴν οὖσαν σύγκρισιν· προκριθείσης γοῦν τῆς Ἀφροδίτης, αὕτη δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἡ ἡδονή, πάντα συνεταράχθη. καί μοι δοκεῖ καὶ ὁ καλὸς ἡμῶν Ξενοφῶν τὸν περὶ τὸν Ἡρακλέα καὶ τὴν Ἀρετὴν μῦθον ἐντεῦθεν πεπλακέναι.

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