Love Keeps the World Together: Get Philosophical About Valentine’s Day

Empedocles, fr. 17.23-33

“Come, listen to my stories: for learning will certainly improve your thoughts.
As I said before when I declared the outline of my speeches,
I will speak a two-fold tale. Once, first, the one alone grew
Out of many and then in turn it grew apart into many from one.
Fire, and Water, and Earth and the invincible peak of Air,
Ruinous strife as well, separate from these, equal to every one,
And Love was among them, equal as well in length and breadth.
Keep Love central in your mind, don’t sit with eyes in a stupor.
She is known to be innate to mortal bodies,
She causes them to think of love and complete acts of peace,
Whether we call her Happiness or Aphrodite as a nickname….”

ἀλλ’ ἄγε μύθων κλῦθι· μάθη γάρ τοι φρένας αὔξει·
ὡς γὰρ καὶ πρὶν ἔειπα πιφαύσκων πείρατα μύθων,
δίπλ’ ἐρέω· τοτὲ μὲν γὰρ ἓν ηὐξήθη μόνον εἶναι
ἐκ πλεόνων, τοτὲ δ’ αὖ διέφυ πλέον’ ἐξ ἑνὸς εἶναι,
πῦρ καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ γαῖα καὶ ἠέρος ἄπλετον ὕψος,
Νεῖκός τ’ οὐλόμενον δίχα τῶν, ἀτάλαντον ἁπάντηι,
καὶ Φιλότης ἐν τοῖσιν, ἴση μῆκός τε πλάτος τε·
τὴν σὺ νόωι δέρκευ, μηδ’ ὄμμασιν ἧσο τεθηπώς·
ἥτις καὶ θνητοῖσι νομίζεται ἔμφυτος ἄρθροις,
τῆι τε φίλα φρονέουσι καὶ ἄρθμια ἔργα τελοῦσι,
Γηθοσύνην καλέοντες ἐπώνυμον ἠδ’ ᾿Αφροδίτην·

Plato,  Symposium 192d-193a

“Love is the name for the desire and pursuit of that oneness, that ancient nature we shared when we were whole.”

τοῦτο γάρ ἐστι τὸ αἴτιον, ὅτι ἡ ἀρχαία φύσις ἡμῶν ἦν αὕτη καὶ ἦμεν ὅλοι: τοῦ ὅλου οὖν τῇ ἐπιθυμίᾳ καὶ διώξει ἔρως ὄνομα

Euripides, fr. 388

“But mortals truly have a different kind of love,
One of a just, prudent, and good soul.
It would be better if it were the custom among mortals,
of reverent men and all those with reason,
To love this way, and to leave Zeus’ daughter Cypris alone.”

ἀλλ’ ἔστι δή τις ἄλλος ἐν βροτοῖς ἔρως
ψυχῆς δικαίας σώφρονός τε κἀγαθῆς.
καὶ χρῆν δὲ τοῖς βροτοῖσι τόνδ’ εἶναι νόμον
τῶν εὐσεβούντων οἵτινές τε σώφρονες
ἐρᾶν, Κύπριν δὲ τὴν Διὸς χαίρειν ἐᾶν.

Alexis (fr.386k from his Phaedrus; found at Athenaeus 13.13)

“As I was walking from the Peiraios beset
By troubles and despair, philosophy came over me.
And all the painters now seem to me to be ignorant
About love, and, to put it simply, so is everyone else
Who fashions images of him as a god.
For he is neither female nor male, and again,
He is not a god or mortal; nor is he foolish
Or wise, but he is drawn together from everywhere
And carries many shapes in one form.
For he has a man’s boldness with a woman’s restraint;
he has the senselessness of madness
But the reason of a thinker; he has a beast’s ferocity,
The toil of the unbreakable, and the avarice of a god.
Indeed, by Athena and the gods, I do not understand
What love is, but still it is the type of thing
I have said only without this name.”

πορευομένῳ δ᾽ ἐκ Πειραιῶς ὑπὸ τῶν κακῶν
καὶ τῆς ἀπορίας φιλοσοφεῖν ἐπῆλθέ μοι.
καί μοι δοκοῦσιν ἀγνοεῖν οἱ ζωγράφοι
τὸν Ἔρωτα, συντομώτατον δ᾽ εἰπεῖν, ὅσοι
τοῦ δαίμονος τούτου ποιοῦσιν εἰκόνας.
ἐστὶν γὰρ οὔτε θῆλυς οὔτ᾽ ἄρσην, πάλιν
οὔτε θεὸς οὔτ᾽ ἄνθρωπος, οὔτ᾽ ἀβέλτερος
οὔτ᾽ αὖθις ἔμφρων, ἀλλὰ συνενηνεγμένος
πανταχόθεν ἑνὶ τύπῳ <τε> πόλλ᾽ εἴδη φέρων.
ἡ τόλμα μὲν γὰρ ἀνδρός, ἡ <δὲ> δειλία
γυναικός, ἡ δ᾽ ἄνοια μανίας, ὁ δὲ λόγος
φρονοῦντος, ἡ σφοδρότης δὲ θηρός, ὁ δὲ πόνος
ἀδάμαντος, ἡ φιλοτιμία δὲ δαίμονος.
καὶ ταῦτ᾽ ἐγώ, μὰ τὴν Ἀθηνᾶν καὶ θεούς,
οὐκ οἶδ᾽ ὅ τι ἐστίν, ἀλλ᾽ ὅμως ἔχει γέ τι
τοιοῦτον, ἐγγύς τ᾽ εἰμὶ τοὐνόματος.

Demosthenes, Erotic Essay 10-16

“I will begin to praise first what people see first—the way everyone recognizes you, your beauty, the complexion by which your limbs and your whole body shines. When I search for something to compare it to, I see nothing. But it remains my right to ask those who read this speech to look at you and witness this so that I may be forgiven for providing no comparison.

What similarity could someone offer when something mortal fills its witnesses with immortal desire, whose seeing never tires, and when absent stays remembered? How, when this has a nature in human form yet worthy of the gods, so like a flower in its good form, beyond even a whiff of fault? Truly, it is not possible to seek out even those things in your appearance which have marred many others who had their share of beauty. For either they have disturbed their natural form through some tremor of character or because of some bad luck they have undermined their natural beauty to the same end.

No, we couldn’t find your beauty touched by anything like this. Whoever of the gods planned out your appearance guarded so earnestly against every type of chance that you have no feature worthy of critique—he made you entirely exceptional. Moreover, since the face is the most conspicuous of all the parts that are seen, and on that face, the eyes stand out in turn, here the divine showed it had even more good will toward you.

For not only did he provide you with eyes sufficient for seeing—and even though it is not possible to recognize virtue when some men act–he showed the noblest character by signaling through your eyes, making your glance soft and kind to those who see it, dignified and solemn to those you spend time which, and brave and wise to all.

Someone might wonder at this next thing especially. Although other men are taken as harsh because of their docility, or brash because of their solemnity, or arrogant because of their bravery, or they seem rather dull because they are quiet, chance has gathered these opposite qualities together and granted them all in agreement in you, just as if answering a prayer or deciding to make an example for others, but not crafting just a mortal, as she usually does.

If, then, it were possible to approach your beauty in speech  or if these were the only of your traits worthy of praise, we would think it right to pass over  no part of your advantages. But I fear that we might not trust our audience to hear the rest and that we may wear ourselves out about this in vain. How could one exaggerate your appearance when not even works made by the best artists could match them? And it is not wondrous—for artworks have an immovable appearance, so that it is unclear how would they appear if they had a soul. But your character increases the great beauty of your body with everything you do. I can praise your beauty this much, passing over many things.”

῎Αρξομαι δὲ πρῶτον ἐπαινεῖν, ὅπερ πρῶτον ἰδοῦσιν  ἅπασιν ἔστιν γνῶναί σου, τὸ κάλλος, καὶ τούτου τὸ χρῶμα, δι’ οὗ καὶ τὰ μέλη καὶ ὅλον τὸ σῶμα φαίνεται. ᾧ τίν’ ἁρμόττουσαν εἰκόν’ ἐνέγκω σκοπῶν οὐχ ὁρῶ, ἀλλὰ παρίσταταί μοι δεῖσθαι τῶν ἀναγνόντων τόνδε τὸν λόγον σὲ θεωρῆσαι καὶ ἰδεῖν, ἵνα συγγνώμης τύχω μηδὲν ὅμοιον ἔχων εἰπεῖν.

τῷ γὰρ <ἂν> εἰκάσειέ τις, ὃ θνητὸν ὂν ἀθάνατον τοῖς ἰδοῦσιν ἐνεργάζεται πόθον, καὶ ὁρώμενον οὐκ ἀποπληροῖ, καὶ μεταστὰν μνημονεύεται, καὶ τὴν τῶν θεῶν ἀξίαν ἐπ’ ἀνθρώπου φύσιν ἔχει, πρὸς μὲν τὴν εὐπρέπειαν ἀνθηρόν, πρὸς δὲ τὰς αἰτίας ἀνυπονόητον; ἀλλὰ μὴν οὐδὲ ταῦτ’ ἔστιν αἰτιάσασθαι [πρὸς] τὴν σὴν ὄψιν, ἃ πολλοῖς ἄλλοις ἤδη συνέπεσεν τῶν κάλλους μετασχόντων. ἢ γὰρ δι’ἀρρυθμίαν τοῦ σχήματος ἅπασαν συνετάραξαν τὴν ὑπάρχουσαν εὐπρέπειαν, ἢ δι’ ἀτύχημά τι καὶ τὰ καλῶς πεφυκότα συνδιέβαλον αὐτῷ.

ὧν οὐδενὶ τὴν σὴν ὄψιν εὕροιμεν ἂν ἔνοχον γεγενημένην· οὕτω γὰρ σφόδρ’ ἐφυλάξατο πάσας τὰς τοιαύτας κῆρας ὅστις ποτ’ ἦν θεῶν ὁ τῆς σῆς ὄψεως προνοηθείς, ὥστε μηδὲν μέμψεως ἄξιον, τὰ δὲ πλεῖστα περίβλεπτά σου καταστῆσαι. καὶ μὲν δὴ καὶ τῶν ὁρωμένων ἐπιφανεστάτου μὲν ὄντος τοῦ προσώπου, τούτου δ’ αὐτοῦ τῶν ὀμμάτων, ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐν τούτοις ἐπεδείξατο τὴν εὔνοιαν ἣν εἶχεν εἰς σὲ τὸ δαιμόνιον. οὐ γὰρ μόνον πρὸς τὸ τὰ κατεπείγονθ’ ὁρᾶν αὐτάρκη παρέσχηται, ἀλλ’ ἐνίων οὐδ’ ἐκ τῶν πραττομένων γιγνωσκομένης τῆς ἀρετῆς, σοῦ διὰ τῶν τῆς ὄψεως σημείων τὰ κάλλιστα τῶν ἠθῶν ἐνεφάνισεν,  πρᾶον μὲν καὶ φιλάνθρωπον τοῖς ὁρῶσιν, μεγαλοπρεπῆ δὲ καὶ σεμνὸν τοῖς ὁμιλοῦσιν, ἀνδρεῖον δὲ καὶ σώφρονα πᾶσιν ἐπιδείξας.

ὃ καὶ μάλιστ’ ἄν τις θαυμάσειεν· τῶν γὰρ ἄλλων ἐπὶ μὲν τῆς πραότητος ταπεινῶν, ἐπὶ δὲ τῆς σεμνότητος αὐθαδῶν ὑπολαμβανομένων, καὶ διὰ μὲν τὴν ἀνδρείαν θρασυτέρων, διὰ δὲ τὴν ἡσυχίαν ἀβελτέρων εἶναι δοκούντων, τοσαύτας ὑπεναντιώσεις πρὸς ἄλληλα λαβοῦσ’ ἡ τύχη πρὸς τὸ δέον ἅπανθ’ ὁμολογούμεν’ ἀπέδωκεν, ὥσπερ εὐχὴν ἐπιτελοῦσ’ ἢ παράδειγμα τοῖς ἄλλοις ὑποδεῖξαι βουληθεῖσα, ἀλλ’ οὐ θνητήν, ὡς εἴθιστο, φύσιν συνιστᾶσα.

εἰ μὲν οὖν οἷόν τ’ ἦν ἐφικέσθαι τῷ λόγῳ τοῦ κάλλους τοῦ σοῦ, ἢ τοῦτ’ ἦν μόνον τῶν σῶν ἀξιέπαινον, οὐδὲν ἂν παραλιπεῖν ᾠόμεθα δεῖν ἐπαινοῦντες τῶν προσόντων· νῦν δὲ δέδοικα μὴ πρός <τε> τὰ λοίπ’ ἀπειρηκόσι χρησώμεθα τοῖς ἀκροαταῖς, καὶ περὶ τούτου μάτην τερθρευώμεθα. πῶς γὰρ ἄν τις ὑπερβάλοι τῷ λόγῳ τὴν σὴν ὄψιν, ἧς μηδ’ ἃ τέχνῃ πεποίηται τῶν ἔργων τοῖς ἀρίστοις δημιουργοῖς δύναται ὑπερτεῖναι; καὶ θαυμαστὸν οὐδέν· τὰ μὲν γὰρ ἀκίνητον ἔχει τὴν θεωρίαν, ὥστ’ ἄδηλ’ εἶναι τί ποτ’ ἂν ψυχῆς μετασχόντα φανείη, σοῦ δὲ τὸ τῆς γνώμης ἦθος ἐν πᾶσιν οἷς ποιεῖς μεγάλην εὐπρέπειαν ἐπαυξάνει τῷ σώματι. περὶ μὲν οὖν τοῦ κάλλους πολλὰ παραλιπών, τοσαῦτ’ ἐπαινέσαι ἔχω.

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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Lucretius Tries to Write a Sex Scene: An ‘Epic’ Tawdry Tuesday

Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 4.1105-1120

“And then when they consume the flower of their age
As their limbs are laced together, just when the body senses delight
And that Venus is about to sow the furrows of the feminine field,
They press their bodies together greedily and join their wet mouths
Trying to breathe each other in as they press lips into teeth—
All pointlessly, since they can’t rub anything from there,
Nor can they truly enter each other or leave for a single body.

For this is what they often seem to want and try to do.
That’s how eagerly they cleave to Venus’s re-combinations of flesh
While their limbs become liquid under pleasure’s force.
Finally, once the lust which has amassed in their veins erupts,
Then, for a moment, there is a brief lull in the violent fire.

But soon the rabid hunger and the same madness returns,
And they quest to fulfill what they desire,
But they cannot discover any trick to overcome the pain,
And they remain uncertain, wasting away from a hidden wound.”

denique cum membris conlatis flore fruuntur
aetatis, iam cum praesagit gaudia corpus
atque in eost Venus ut muliebria conserat arva,
adfigunt avide corpus iunguntque salivas
oris et inspirant pressantes dentibus ora—
nequiquam, quoniam nil inde abradere possunt
nec penetrare et abire in corpus corpore toto;
nam facere interdum velle et certare videntur:
usque adeo cupide in Veneris compagibus haerent,
membra voluptatis dum vi labefacta liquescunt.
tandem ubi se erupit nervis conlecta cupido,
parva fit ardoris violenti pausa parumper.
inde redit rabies eadem et furor ille revisit,
cum sibi quod cupiunt ipsi contingere quaerunt,
nec reperire malum id possunt quae machina vincat:
usque adeo incerti tabescunt volnere caeco.

“This is how humans do it. I think.” Pompeii, House of Veii

Nomos Vs. Phusis in the Bedroom

Yesterday, Erik posted that famous passage from Herodotus where Peisistratos runs afoul of the tyrant of Megara, Megacles, when “because he did not want to have children by his new wife, he was having sex with her not in the customary manner” οὐ βουλόμενός οἱ γενέσθαι ἐκ τῆς νεογάμου γυναικὸς τέκνα ἐμίσγετό οἱ οὐ κατὰ νόμον.

As you can probably imagine, there have been many discussions about what his means (e.g. should the negator go with the verb and not the prepositional phrase and mean “he did not have sex with her, as is customary” rather than “he did not have sex with her in the customary fashion?”) A passage from  Diodorus Siculus which Cassie Garrison brought to my attention made me think about this again.

When Kallion, who seems to have been intersex, reaches adulthood, their sexual origins present a particular challenge (D. S. 32.11)

When she reached maturity, she was married to a certain citizen. For two years she lived with her husband, and since she could not endure feminine intercourse, she was forced to submit to unnatural embraces.

εἰς δὲ τὴν ἀκμὴν τῆς ἡλικίας παραγενομένη συνῳκίσθη τινὶ τῶν πολιτῶν. διετῆ μὲν οὖν χρόνον συνεβίωσε τἀνδρί, τὴν μὲν γυναικείαν ἐπιπλοκὴν οὐκ ἐπιδεχομένη, τὴν δὲ παρὰ φύσιν ὁμιλίαν ὑπομένειν ἀναγκαζομένη.

Here, we have an interesting comparison. The passage from Diodorus is clearly interpreted as referring to anal sex whereas there is debate about the Herodotean reference. One act being referred to as “against nature” (phusis) may make us rethink what it means for the other to merely be against custom (nomos), although I expect what both are really about is that intercourse with women was expected to be procreative. the assertion that something is “by nature” is  rhetorical and based on cultural perspectives. What is considered natural is often so in order to affirm what is customary.

In the Herodotean passage, the marriage is an arrangement between noble families from different cities and children were an expectation of this type of arrangement. Hence, engaging in intentionally non-procreative activity would be against custom. In the second passage, Diodorus Siculus is emphasizing the fact that Kallion is not a woman, who, by nature should be able to produce children through sex (from Diodorus’ perspective).

This does not of course mean that we are positive about Peisistratos’ marital activities. We could still be talking intercrural sex vel. sim….

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Unnatural or uncustomary?

The Best Time For Sex? A Holiday Dinner Conversation Prompt

Plutarch, Moralia 653: Table-Talk—Book 3, Question 8: Concerning the Right Time for Sex

“Some young men who had not spent much time in classical literature were criticizing Epicurus, that it was not noble or necessary that he included a discussion about the right time for sex in his Symposium. For, they claimed that it was the worst kind of impropriety for an older man to talk about sexual matters during dinner when youths were present and to work through whether it was better after dinner or before dinner.

To this, some guests added that Xenophon used to take his dinner companions home after dinner not by foot but by horse to have sex with their wives. Zopyros the doctor—a man very familiar with Epicurus’ arguments, said that they has not read Epicurus’ Symposium very carefully. For, he did not put forth the problem as one based on a certain rule or established practice,  and then provide his arguments in its favor. Instead, he roused the youths after dinner for a walk and talked for the reason of instruction, to curb them from their desires, because sex is always a matter which might bring harm and which afflicts those worst who engage after food and drink.

He said, “If, indeed, this discussion were earnestly about sex, would it seem right not to examine the better opportunity and hour for doing these kinds of things? Would it be otherwise right for him to look look for another moment more opportune except at the symposium and the dinner table?”

 

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Περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας

Νεανίσκοι τινὲς οὐ πάλαι τοῖς παλαιοῖς λόγοις προσπεφοιτηκότες ἐσπάραττον τὸν Ἐπίκουρον, ὡς οὐ καλὸν οὐδ᾿ ἀναγκαῖον ἐμβεβληκότα λόγον περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας εἰς τὸ Συμπόσιον· μιμνήσκεσθαι γὰρ ἀφροδισίων ἄνδρα πρεσβύτερον ἐν δείπνῳ μειρακίων παρόντων καὶ διαπορεῖν, πότερον μετὰ δεῖπνον ἢ πρὸ δείπνου χρηστέον, ἐσχάτης ἀκολασίας εἶναι. πρὸς ταῦθ᾿ οἱ μὲν τὸν Ξενοφῶντα παρέλαβον ὡς ἀπάγοντα τοὺς συμπότας μετὰ δεῖπνον οὐχὶ βάδην ἀλλ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἵππων ἐπὶ συνουσίας πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας. Ζώπυρος δ᾿ ὁ ἰατρός, εὖ μάλα τοῖς Ἐπικούρου λόγοις ἐνωμιληχώς, οὐκ ἔφη προσέχοντας αὐτοὺς ἀνεγνωκέναι τὸ Ἐπικούρου Συμπόσιον· οὐ γὰρ ὥσπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς τινος καὶ καταστάσεως τοῦτο πρόβλημα ποιησάμενον εἶτα λόγους ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ περαίνειν, ἀλλὰ τοὺς νέους ἀνιστάντα μετὰ δεῖπνον εἰς περίπατον ἐπὶ σωφρονισμῷ διαλέγεσθαι καὶ ἀνακρούειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἐπιθυμιῶν, ὡς ἀεὶ μὲν ἐπισφαλοῦς εἰς βλάβην τοῦ πράγματος ὄντος, κάκιστα δὲ τοὺς περὶ πότον καὶ ἐδωδὴν χρωμένους αὐτῷ διατιθέντος. “εἰ δὲ δὴ καὶ προηγουμένως,” εἶπεν, “ἐζητεῖτο περὶ τούτου, πότερον οὐδ᾿ ὅλως ἐσκέφθαι καλῶς εἶχε τὸν βέλτιον μὲν ἐν καιρῷ καὶ μετὰ λογισμοῦ τὰ τοιαῦτα πράττειν, τὸν δὲ καιρὸν ἄλλως μὲν ἐπισκοπεῖν οὐκ ἄωρον ἐν δὲ συμποσίῳ καὶ περὶ τράπεζαν αἰσχρόν;

Wine: A Family Planning Secret

Plutarch, Table-Talk 3.5 (652 D)

“Men who drink a lot of wine are rather sluggish at intercourse and they ejaculate semen not at all strong or good for fertilization; instead their attempts at sex with women are cursory and incomplete because of the weakness and frigidity of their seed.

Indeed, however much men suffer because of the cold occurs to them when they are drunk: tremors, heaviness, paleness, sudden jumps in the limbs, senseless speech, a lack of feeling in the joints and extremities. For most men, being drunk results in paralysis, whenever the wine totally expels and defeats the heat.”

οἱ δὲ πίνοντες πολὺν ἄκρατον ἀμβλύτεροι πρὸς τὰς συνουσίας εἰσὶν καὶ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲν εἰς γένεσιν ἰσχυρὸν οὐδὲ κεκρατημένον, ἀλλ᾿ ἐξίτηλοι καὶ ἀτελεῖς εἰσιν αἱ πρὸς τὰς γυναῖκας ὁμιλίαι αὐτῶν διὰ φαυλότητα καὶ κατάψυξιν τοῦ σπέρματος. καὶ μὴν ὅσα πάσχουσιν ἄνθρωποι ὑπὸ κρύους, πάντα συμβαίνει τοῖς μεθυσκομένοις, τρόμοι, βαρύτητες, ὠχριάσεις, σάλοι τοῦ περὶ τὰ γυῖα πνεύματος, ἀσάφεια γλώττης, ἔντασις τῶν Eπερὶ τοῖς ἄκροις νεύρων καὶ ἀπονάρκησις· τοῖς δὲ πλείστοις εἰς πάρεσιν αἱ μέθαι τελευτῶσιν, ὅταν ἐκπλήξῃ παντάπασιν καὶ κατασβέσῃ τὸ θερμὸν ὁ ἄκρατος.

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Kongelige Bibliotek, Gl. kgl. S. 1633 4º, Folio 18r

A Wish To be Invulnerable: The Rape and Sex-Change of Kaineus

When I presented a selection of intersex stories from Phlegon of Tralles earlier this week, I left out what I find to be the most disturbing story, a rape followed by a sex-change. Ovid tells a version of this tale.

Phlegon, On Amazing Things 5

5 “Others tell the story that in the land of the Lapiths the king Elatos had a daughter whose name was Kainis. After Poseidon had sex with her he promised to make her into whatever she wanted. She said she wanted to be changed into a man who was invulnerable. When Poseidon did this—as was right—he changed her name to Kaineus.”

Οἱ αὐτοὶ ἱστοροῦσιν κατὰ τὴν Λαπίθων χώραν γενέσθαι ᾿Ελάτῳ τῷ βασιλεῖ θυγατέρα ὀνομαζομένην Καινίδα.

ταύτῃ δὲ Ποσειδῶνα μιγέντα ἐπαγγείλασθαι ποιήσειν αὐτῇ ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ, τὴν δὲ ἀξιῶσαι μεταλλάξαι αὐτὴν εἰς ἄνδρα ποιῆσαί τε ἄτρωτον. τοῦ δὲ Ποσειδῶνος κατὰ τὸ ἀξιωθὲν ποιήσαντος μετονομασθῆναι Καινέα.

This story is older than Ovid and Phlegon. It is detailed in the fragments of Akousilaus, perhaps alluded to in Homer, definitely indicated by Apollonius Rhodes, and present even in Plato. While the sex-change narrative remains an important element, the main feature of Kaineus’ tale is his hubris–because of his invulnerability he asks to be made into a god.

Akousilaus FGrH 2 fr. 22 [=P.Oxy. 13, 1611, fr. 1, col. 2, 38-96]

“Poseidon has sex with Kainê of Elatos. Then—for it was not right for him [sic] to have children with him nor anyone else—Poseidon turned him into an invulnerable man, who had the greatest strength of the men at that time. Whenever anyone tried to strike him with iron or bronze, [the attacker] was completely defeated.

Then [Kaineus] became king of the Lapiths and was warring with the Centaurs. After he set up his javelin in the agora he was asking to be included in the number of the gods. This was not pleasing to the gods. And when Zeus saw him doing this, he threatened him and raised the Centaurs against him. They struck him straight down into the earth and placed a stone above as assign. Then he died.”

«Καινῆιδὲ τῆι ᾽Ελάτου μίσγεται ΙΙοσειδῶν. ἔπειτα – οὐ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῶι ἱερὸν παῖδας τεκέν οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἐκείνου οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἄλλου οὐδενός – ποιεῖ αὐτὸν Ποσειδέων ἄνδρα ἄτρωτον, ἰσχὺν ἔχοντα μεγίστην τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τότε, καὶ ὅτε τις αὐτὸν κεντοίη σιδήρωι ἢ χαλκῶι, ἡλίσκετο μάλιστα χρημάτων. καὶ γίγνεται βασιλεὺς οὗτος Λαπιθέων καὶ τοῖς Κενταύροις πολεμέεσκε. ἔπειτα στήσας ἀκόν[τιον ἐν ἀγορᾶι θεὸν ἐκέλευεν ἀριθμεῖν. θεοῖ]σι δ᾽ οὐκ ἦεν [ἀρεστόν, καὶ] Ζεὺς ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ταῦτα ποιοῦντα ἀπειλεῖ καὶ ἐφορμᾶι τοὺς Κενταύρους, κἀκεῖνοι αὐτὸν κατακόπτουσιν ὄρθιον κατὰ γῆς καὶ ἄνωθεν πέτρην ἐπιτιθεῖσιν σῆμα, καὶ ἀποθνήσκει.»

In this account, Poseidon seems to be changing Kaineus because of his inability to have children. This makes it rather clear what women are good for from this cultural perspective. In addition, it is interesting that Kaineus as an intersex figure is involved in the war between the Lapiths and Centaurs, a conflict which has its origins in a rapes at a wedding and is often seen as a reflection of the civilized Lapiths struggling against the primitive and violent urges of the Centaurs.

But, as can be seen from the relief below which dates to the early Archaic period, the punishment of Kaineus is a primary motif of the story tradition. In a way, if the sex-change and rape were equally ancient, this is a tale about a women who is raped ultimately being punished for surviving and thriving and exacting retribution for her suffering.

D Scholia ad Il. 264

“Kaineus was a son of Elatos and king of the Lapiths. He was a very beautiful virgin girl before. But after Poseidon had sex with her, she asked to be changed from a young woman into a man. And he became invulnerable, and the most excellent of those alive at the time. And after he stuck his javelin into the middle of the agora, he demanded to be entered into the number of the gods for this reason.

Zeus was annoyed by this request and he arranged the following type of payback from him for impiety. For, even though he was invincible, he made him less while he was fighting the Centaurs. For they were hurling and striking him with pines and oak trees and they drove him into the ground. Apollonius recalls this in the Argonautica saying this, “For the singers used to report the fame that Kaineus was killed by Centaurs, when he alone from the rest of the best drove them, they surged back. They were not strong enough to repel him nor to kill him, but he went under the earth, unbroken, unbent, pummeled by the striking force of powerful pines.”

Καινέα τε. Καὶ τὸν Καινέα. ὁ δὲ Και-
νεὺς ᾿Ελάτου μὲν παῖς, Λαπίθων δὲ βα-
σιλεὺς, πρότερον ἦν παρθένος εὐπρεπής.
μιγέντος δὲ αὐτῇ Ποσειδῶνος, αἰτησα-
μένη μεταβαλεῖν εἰς ἄνδρα ἡ νεᾶνις, ἄ-
τρωτος γίγνεται, γενναιότατος τῶν καθ’
αὑτὸν ὑπάρξας· καὶ δή ποτε πήξας ἀ-
κόντιον ἐν τῷ μεσαιτάτῳ τῆς ἀγορὰς,
θεοῖς τοῦτο προσέταξεν ἀριθμεῖν. δι’ ἣν
αἰτίαν ἀγανακτήσας ὁ Ζεὺς, τιμωρίαν
τῆς ἀσεβείας παρ’ αὐτοῦ εἰσεπράξατο.
μαχόμενον γὰρ αὐτὸν τοῖς Κενταύροις
καὶ ἄτρωτον ὄντα ὑποχείριον ἐποίησε.
βάλλοντες γὰρ αὐτὸν οἱ προειρημένοι δρυ-
σί τε καὶ ἐλάταις, ἤρεισαν εἰς γῆν.
μέμνηται δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾿Απολλώνιος ἐν
τοῖς ᾿Αργοναυτικοῖς λέγων οὕτως· Καινέα
γὰρ τὸν πρόσθεν ἐπικλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ Κεν-
ταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ’
ἄλλων ῎Ηλασ’ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ’ ἔμπαλιν
ὁρμηθέντες, Οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω
σθένον, οὔτε δαΐξαι· ᾿Αλλ’ ἄῤῥηκτος,
ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσσατο νειόθι γαίης, Θεινό-
μενος στιβαρῆσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν.

This story is held up as a wistful impossibility by Plato in the laws. This passage is, well, upsetting.

Plato’s Laws 944d-c

“What then would be the right punishment for someone who has thrown away this kind of a power of a defensive weapon for the opposite? For it is not possible for a person to do the opposite of what they say the god did when he changed the Thessalian Kaineus from a women into a man. For one who throws away his shield, the opposite of this transformation, changing from a man into a women, in some way would be the best of all punishments for this.”

ζημία δὴ τῷ τὴν τοιαύτην ἀμυντηρίων ὅπλων εἰς τοὐναντίον ἀφέντι δύναμιν τίς ἄρα γίγνοιτ᾿ ἂν πρόσφορος; οὐ γὰρ δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ δρᾷν τοὐναντίον <ἢ> ὥς2 ποτε θεόν φασι δρᾶσαι, Καινέα τὸν Θετταλὸν ἐκ γυναικὸς μεταβαλόντα εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν ἦν γὰρ ἂν ἀνδρὶ ῥιψάσπιδι τρόπον τινὰ πρέπουσα πασῶν Εμάλιστα ἡ ᾿κείνῃ τῇ γενέσει ἐναντία γένεσις, εἰς γυναῖκα ἐξ ἀνδρὸς μεταβαλοῦσα, τιμωρία τούτῳ γενομένη.

Image result for ancient greek kaineus
The punishment of Kaineus