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Gender-Based Notions of Homoerotic Love: Sappho and Plato’s Symposium Essays

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Gender-Based Notions of Homoerotic Love: Sappho and Plato’s Symposium


The poetry of Sappho, and the speeches in Plato’s Symposium both deal primarily with homoerotic love, although Sappho, one of the only female poets in Ancient Greece, speaks from the female perspective, while Plato’s work focuses on the nature of this love between men. There are several fundamental elements that are common to both perspectives, including similar ideals of youth and beauty, and the idea of desire as integral to both views on love. Despite these similarities, however, there is an important distinction, which can be understood in terms of Pausanias’ concepts of Common versus Celestial Love, where Sappho’s view represents Common Love, and the larger view of Symposium represents Celestial Love. While Sappho’s work is very much grounded in the physical realm, Plato emphasizes that true love is centralized in the mind, and that it is an intellectual and philosophical phenomenon.

Pausanias, who delivers Symposium’s second speech, explains some of the societal norms governing male homoerotic affairs. The rules by which a lover (an older man) and his boyfriend (a young man who has probably not yet grown his beard) may behave are rigid, and strongly enforced by the society’s moral code. Pausanias reveals that the convention of this relationship is pursuer/pursued: “our society encourages the lovers to chase their boyfriends, and their boyfriends to run away: this enables us to find out whether a given lover and his beloved are good or bad” (184a). Pausanias emphasizes the moral element further when he discusses the circumstances under which it is acceptable to gratify a lover. It is acceptable when “the ...


... middle of paper ...


...otional) need of a lover.

Sappho, who represents female homoeroticism, and Plato, who’s Symposium addresses many aspects of male homoerotic love, share some fundamental aspects of love, but their views and objectives are largely different. The latter’s goal is essentially intellectual satisfaction, while the former’s is more directly linked with physical beauty and desire for physical closeness, not characterized by grand moral and intellectual ideals. This is not to say that the love between Sappho and her lovers, was solely based on sexual desire. It is certainly wrong to assume that, in light of the Symposium’s perspective, they were mindless, sex-driven lesbians. I would argue, rather, that this love, is more real, more common, and more universally accessible, whereas the love in Symposium is highly specialized, and accessible exclusively to men.


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