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?”

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Symposium Sex vase

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;

Lyric Aging and Philosophical Relief

Mimnermus fr. 1

“What is life? What enjoyment is there without golden Aphrodite?
May I die when these things no longer interest me:
Secret sex and its moving gifts in bed,
Those blossoms of youth that tug
At men and women alike.

                                              …But then painful old age
Presses down and makes a man ugly and embarrassing.
Cruel thoughts are always wearing down his mind
And he takes no pleasure seeing the sunrise.
No, he’s disgusting to boys and a joke to women too.
That the hard old age god makes for us.”

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ’ ἥβης ἄνθεα γίνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθηι
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Counterpoint

Plato, Republic 329:

“I was once with Sophocles when someone asked him, ‘O Sophocles, how do things stand with you in the old love-making line? Can you still lie with a woman?’ Sophocles responded, ‘Ah man, you should sing a song of triumph for me – for indeed, I have most gladly fled from love as though I had gotten away from a cruel and raving master.’

It seemed to me at the time that he had spoken well on the subject, and I think so no less even today. Indeed, we are granted a certain peace and freedom from such concerns in old age. When our desires relent and finally cease to draw us out, then indeed does Sophocles’ saying come true, and we are entirely freed from many a raving master.

But respecting these things, and our relationships with our friends, my dear Socrates, there is one cause to consider – not old age, but rather the person’s character. If they have their lives well-ordered and are easily contented, then old age is a moderate burden. But to a man of the opposite character, both old age and youth happen to be burdensome affairs.

καὶ δὴ καὶ Σοφοκλεῖ ποτε τῷ ποιητῇ παρεγενόμην ἐρωτωμένῳ ὑπό τινος· “Πῶς,” ἔφη, “ὦ Σοφόκλεις, ἔχεις πρὸς τἀφροδίσια; ἔτι οἷός τε εἶ γυναικὶ συγγίγνεσθαι”; καὶ ὅς, “Εὐφήμει,” ἔφη, “ὦ ἄνθρωπε· ἁσμενέστατα μέντοι αὐτὸ ἀπέφυγον, ὥσπερ λυττῶντά τινα καὶ ἄγριον δεσπότην ἀποδράς.” εὖ οὖν μοι καὶ τότε ἔδοξεν ἐκεῖνος εἰπεῖν, καὶ νῦν οὐχ ἧττον. παντάπασι γὰρ τῶν γε τοιούτων ἐν τῷ γήρᾳ πολλὴ εἰρήνη γίγνεται καὶ ἐλευθερία· ἐπειδὰν αἱ ἐπιθυμίαι παύσωνται κατατείνουσαι καὶ χαλάσωσιν, παντάπασιν τὸ τοῦ Σοφοκλέους γίγνεται, δεσποτῶν πάνυ πολλῶν ἐστι καὶ μαινομένων ἀπηλλάχθαι. ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτων πέρι καὶ τῶν γε πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους μία τις αἰτία ἐστίν, οὐ τὸ γῆρας, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀλλ’ ὁ τρόπος τῶν ἀνθρώπων. ἂν μὲν γὰρ κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι ὦσιν, καὶ τὸ γῆρας μετρίως ἐστὶν ἐπίπονον· εἰ δὲ μή, καὶ γῆρας, ὦ Σώκρατες, καὶ νεότης χαλεπὴ τῷ τοιούτῳ συμβαίνει.

Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

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

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·

Plotinus Enniad 4.4

“How does magic work? It works by sympathy and by the innate harmony of things that are similar and the disharmony of things that are opposite. It also works through the richness of the many powers which contribute to a living thing.

Many things are attracted and enchanted without anyone casting a spell. The real magic is the Love and the Strife which is in the Totality. This is the first wizard and that is the first potion-master—it is by observing this that people come to use his potions and spells on each other.

Because loving is innate and whatever inspires love compels people towards one another, a force of magical erotic art has developed. Some people apply different magical potions to others which pull them together and possess an erotic force. They join different spirits together, as if they were interweaving plants rooted some distance apart.”

Τὰς δὲ γοητείας πῶς; ἢ τῇ συμπαθείᾳ, καὶ τῷ πεφυκέναι συμφωνίαν εἶναι ὁμοίων καὶ ἐναντίωσιν ἀνομοίων, καὶ τῇ τῶν δυνάμεων τῶν πολλῶν ποικιλίᾳ εἰς ἓν ζῷον συντελούντων. καὶ γὰρ μηδενὸς μηχανωμένου ἄλλου πολλὰ ἕλκεται καὶ γοητεύεται· καὶ ἡ ἀληθινὴ μαγεία ἡ ἐν τῷ παντὶ φιλία καὶ τὸ νεῖκος αὖ. καὶ ὁ γόης ὁ πρῶτος καὶ φαρμακεὺς οὗτός ἐστιν, ὃν κατανοήσαντες ἄνθρωποι ἐπ᾿ ἀλλήλοις χρῶνται αὐτοῦ τοῖς φαρμάκοις καὶ τοῖς γοητεύμασι. καὶ γάρ, ὅτι ἐρᾶν πεφύκασι καὶ τὰ ἐρᾶν ποιοῦντα ἕλκει πρὸς ἄλληλα, ἀλκὴ ἐρωτικῆς διὰ γοητείας τέχνης γεγένηται, προστιθέντων ἐπαφαῖς φύσεις ἄλλας ἄλλοις συναγωγούς καὶ ἐγκείμενον ἐχούσας ἔρωτα· καὶ συνάπτουσι δὲ ἄλλην ψυχὴν ἄλλῃ, ὥσπερ ἂν εἰ φυτὰ διεστηκότα ἐξαψάμενοι πρὸς ἄλληλα.

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.

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.

A Terrible, Awful Poem from Martial (NSFW)

Martial, Epigrams 11.21

“Lydia is as wide as the ass of a bronze rider’s horse,
Or a fast hoop that sounds its clattering bronze,
Or a wheel crossed untouched by an acrobat,
Or an old shoe wet with muddy water,
Or as the wide nets that wait for wandering birds,
Or the awnings which close Pompey’s theater to the South Wind,
Or as arm-jewelry slipped off a diseased male-hooker,
Or a mattress separated from its Leuconian stuffing,
Or the old trousers of a British pauper,
Or the foul throat of a Revennian Pelican.
I am reputed to have fucked her in a salty fishpond.
I am not sure: I think I fucked the fishpond.”

Lydia tam laxa est equitis quam culus aeni,
quam celer arguto qui sonat aere trochus,
quam rota transmisso totiens inpacta petauro,
quam vetus a crassa calceus udus aqua,
quam quae rara vagos expectant retia turdos,
quam Pompeiano vela negata Noto,
quam quae de pthisico lapsa est armilla cinaedo,
culcita Leuconico quam viduata suo,
quam veteres bracae Brittonis pauperis, et quam
urpe Ravennatis guttur onocrotali.
Hanc in piscina dicor futuisse marina.
Nescio; piscinam me futuisse puto.

 

Image result for ancient Roman fish

 

 

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?”

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Symposium Sex vase

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;

Lyric Aging and Philosophical Relief

Mimnermus fr. 1

“What is life? What enjoyment is there without golden Aphrodite?
May I die when these things no longer interest me:
Secret sex and its moving gifts in bed,
Those blossoms of youth that tug
At men and women alike.

                                              …But then painful old age
Presses down and makes a man ugly and embarrassing.
Cruel thoughts are always wearing down his mind
And he takes no pleasure seeing the sunrise.
No, he’s disgusting to boys and a joke to women too.
That the hard old age god makes for us.”

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς ᾿Αφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή,
οἷ’ ἥβης ἄνθεα γίνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθηι
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ κακὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

Counterpoint

Plato, Republic 329:

“I was once with Sophocles when someone asked him, ‘O Sophocles, how do things stand with you in the old love-making line? Can you still lie with a woman?’ Sophocles responded, ‘Ah man, you should sing a song of triumph for me – for indeed, I have most gladly fled from love as though I had gotten away from a cruel and raving master.’

It seemed to me at the time that he had spoken well on the subject, and I think so no less even today. Indeed, we are granted a certain peace and freedom from such concerns in old age. When our desires relent and finally cease to draw us out, then indeed does Sophocles’ saying come true, and we are entirely freed from many a raving master.

But respecting these things, and our relationships with our friends, my dear Socrates, there is one cause to consider – not old age, but rather the person’s character. If they have their lives well-ordered and are easily contented, then old age is a moderate burden. But to a man of the opposite character, both old age and youth happen to be burdensome affairs.

καὶ δὴ καὶ Σοφοκλεῖ ποτε τῷ ποιητῇ παρεγενόμην ἐρωτωμένῳ ὑπό τινος· “Πῶς,” ἔφη, “ὦ Σοφόκλεις, ἔχεις πρὸς τἀφροδίσια; ἔτι οἷός τε εἶ γυναικὶ συγγίγνεσθαι”; καὶ ὅς, “Εὐφήμει,” ἔφη, “ὦ ἄνθρωπε· ἁσμενέστατα μέντοι αὐτὸ ἀπέφυγον, ὥσπερ λυττῶντά τινα καὶ ἄγριον δεσπότην ἀποδράς.” εὖ οὖν μοι καὶ τότε ἔδοξεν ἐκεῖνος εἰπεῖν, καὶ νῦν οὐχ ἧττον. παντάπασι γὰρ τῶν γε τοιούτων ἐν τῷ γήρᾳ πολλὴ εἰρήνη γίγνεται καὶ ἐλευθερία· ἐπειδὰν αἱ ἐπιθυμίαι παύσωνται κατατείνουσαι καὶ χαλάσωσιν, παντάπασιν τὸ τοῦ Σοφοκλέους γίγνεται, δεσποτῶν πάνυ πολλῶν ἐστι καὶ μαινομένων ἀπηλλάχθαι. ἀλλὰ καὶ τούτων πέρι καὶ τῶν γε πρὸς τοὺς οἰκείους μία τις αἰτία ἐστίν, οὐ τὸ γῆρας, ὦ Σώκρατες, ἀλλ’ ὁ τρόπος τῶν ἀνθρώπων. ἂν μὲν γὰρ κόσμιοι καὶ εὔκολοι ὦσιν, καὶ τὸ γῆρας μετρίως ἐστὶν ἐπίπονον· εἰ δὲ μή, καὶ γῆρας, ὦ Σώκρατες, καὶ νεότης χαλεπὴ τῷ τοιούτῳ συμβαίνει.

Helen’s Serving Girl Wrote the First Greek Sex Manual

From the Suda

Astuanassa: A handmaid of Helen, Menelaos’ wife. She first discovered positions for intercourse and wrote On Sexual Positions. Philainis and Elephantinê rivaled her in this later—they were women who danced out these sorts of wanton acts.

Ἀστυάνασσα, Ἑλένης τῆς Μενελάου θεράπαινα: ἥτις πρώτη τὰς ἐν τῇ συνουσίᾳ κατακλίσεις εὗρε καὶ ἔγραψε περὶ σχημάτων συνουσιαστικῶν: ἣν ὕστερον παρεζήλωσαν Φιλαινὶς καὶ Ἐλεφαντίνη, αἱ τὰ τοιαῦτα ἐξορχησάμεναι ἀσελγήματα.

Photius Bibl. 190.149a 27-30

We have learned about this embroidered girdle, that Hera took it from Aphrodite and gave it to Helen. Her handmaid Astuanassa stole it but Aphrodite took it back from her again.

Περὶ τοῦ κεστοῦ ἱμάντος ὡς λάβοιμὲν αὐτὸν ῞Ηρα παρὰ ᾿Αφροδίτης, δοίη δ’ ῾Ελένῃ, κλέψοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἡ ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ᾿Αστυάνασσα, ἀφέλοι δ’ αὐτὸν ἐξ αὐτῆς πάλιν ᾿Αφροδίτη.

Hesychius, sv. Astuanassa

Astuanassa: A handmaiden of Helen and the first to discover Aphrodite and her licentious positions.

᾿Αστυάνασσα· ῾Ελένης θεράπαινα ἥτις πρώτη ἐξεῦρεν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ ἀκόλαστα σχήματα

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen vase

As is largely unsurprising from the perspective of Greek misogyny, excessive interest in sexual behavior is projected a female quality. Expertise beyond interest is made the province of female ‘professionals’ (slaves) who may act as scapegoats and marginal figures for the corruption of both men and women. There is a combination of such interest with an excessive emphasis on eating (and eating really well) in Athenaeus where the pleasures of the body are combined.

Athenaeus, Deipnosophists 8.335c

“Dear men, even though I have great admiration for Chrysippus as the leader of the Stoa, I praise him even more because he ranks Arkhestratos, well-known for his Science of Cooking along with Philainis who is credited with a licentious screed about sexual matters—even though the iambic poet of Samos, Aiskhriôn, claims that Polycrates the sophist started this slander of her when she was really quite chaste. The lines go like this:

“I, Philainis, circulated among men
Lie here thanks to great old age.
Don’t laugh, foolish sailor, as your trace the cape
Nor make me a target of mockery or insult
For, by Zeus and his sons in Hell
I was never a slut with men nor a public whore.
Polykrates, Athenian by birth,
A bit clever with words and with a nasty tongue,
Wrote what he wrote. I don’t know anything about it.”

But the most amazing Chrysippus combines in the fifth book of his On Goodness and Pleasure that both “the books of Philianis and the Gastronomiai of Arkhestratos and forces of erotic and sexual nature, and in the same way slave-girls who are expert at these kinds of movements and positions and who are engaged in their practice.” He adds that they learn this type of material completely and then thoroughly possess what has been written on these topics by Philainis and Arkhestratos and those who have written on similar topics. Similarly, in his seventh book, he says ‘As you cannot wholly learn the works of Philianis and Arkhestratos’ Gastronomia because they do have something to offer for living better.’ “

Χρύσιππον δ᾿, ἄνδρες φίλοι, τὸν τῆς στοᾶς ἡγεμόνα κατὰ πολλὰ θαυμάζων ἔτι μᾶλλον ἐπαινῶ τὸν πολυθρύλητον ἐπὶ τῇ Ὀψολογίᾳ Ἀρχέστρατον αἰεί ποτε μετὰ Φιλαινίδος κατατάττοντα, εἰς ἣν ἀναφέρεται τὸ περὶ ἀφροδισίων ἀκόλαστον cσύγγραμμα, ὅπερ φησὶ | ποιῆσαι Αἰσχρίων ὁ Σάμιος ἰαμβοποιὸς Πολυκράτη τὸν σοφιστὴν ἐπὶ διαβολῇ τῆς ἀνθρώπου σωφρονεστάτης γενομένης. ἔχει δὲ οὕτως τὰ ἰαμβεῖα·

ἐγὼ Φιλαινὶς ἡ ᾿πίβωτος ἀνθρώποις
ἐνταῦθα γήρᾳ τῷ μακρῷ κεκοίμημαι.
μή μ᾿, ὦ μάταιε ναῦτα, τὴν ἄκραν κάμπτων
χλεύην τε ποιεῦ καὶ γέλωτα καὶ λάσθην.
ὐ γὰρ μὰ τὸν Ζῆν᾿, οὐ μὰ τοὺς κάτω κούρους, |
dοὐκ ἦν ἐς ἄνδρας μάχλος οὐδὲ δημώδης.
Πολυκράτης δὲ τὴν γενὴν Ἀθηναῖος,
λόγων τι παιπάλημα καὶ κακὴ γλῶσσα,
ἔγραψεν οἷ᾿ ἔγραψ᾿· ἐγὼ γὰρ οὐκ οἶδα.

ἀλλ᾿ οὖν ὅ γε θαυμασιώτατος Χρύσιππος ἐν τῷ πέμπτῳ Περὶ τοῦ Καλοῦ καὶ τῆς Ἡδονῆς φησι· καὶ βιβλία τά τε Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν τοῦ Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν καὶ δυνάμεις ἐρωτικὰς καὶ συνουσιαστικάς, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ τὰς θεραπαίνας ἐμπείρους τοιῶνδε κινήσεών τε καὶ σχημάτων καὶ περὶ τὴν eτούτων μελέτην γινομένας. καὶ πάλιν· ἐκμανθάνειν | τ᾿ αὐτοὺς τὰ τοιαῦτα καὶ κτᾶσθαι τὰ περὶ τούτων γεγραμμένα Φιλαινίδι καὶ Ἀρχεστράτῳ καὶ τοῖς τὰ ὅμοια γράψασιν. κἀν τῷ ἑβδόμῳ δέ φησι· καθάπερ γὰρ οὐκ ἐκμανθάνειν τὰ Φιλαινίδος καὶ τὴν Ἀρχεστράτου Γαστρονομίαν ἔστιν ὡς φέροντά τι πρὸς τὸ ζῆν ἄμεινον.

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.

Bodleian Library, MS. Bodley 264, fol. 101v (detail)

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.