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Plato (427-327 B.C.E.)  
 
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The Laws

When we come to Plato's last work, the Laws, however, all tolerance has vanished. The book, though cast in the form of a dialogue between an Athenian, a Cretan, and a Spartan, lacks the drama, wit, and poetry of the earlier dialogues; it is primarily a dry setting forth of a detailed law code for an ideal city.

Love as an inspirational value has all but disappeared. Plato's spokesman, the Athenian, argues that all physical expressions of love between men should be rigorously repressed. To support this view, he maintains that homosexual relations are not procreative, that they are unnatural since male animals do not engage in them, and that they do not promote courage in battle since the passive partner assumes a feminine role unworthy of a soldier and the active partner is seeking pleasure instead of inuring himself to pain.

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Plato wishes to introduce a law prohibiting male relations. He admits that this will be exceedingly difficult since most virile young Greeks will reject the proposal as absurd and impossible. He notes in response that some athletes do practice continence as part of their training. Most likely, however, such behavior can only be effectively banned through the introduction of some religious taboo such as exists in the case of incest.

Here we have a chilling prophecy of what was to happen four centuries later with the advent of Christianity. But one cannot credit the Laws with much appeal; liberals and conservatives alike have been repelled by this repressive society which forbade foreign travel, commerce, or religious dissent, and subjected all citizens to a discipline akin to that of a military barracks. Modern critics have, indeed, found in it a prototype of twentieth-century fascism.

Plato's Successors

Plato thus stands in the paradoxical position of having written some of the most enthusiastic pages on homosexuality in all literature and some of the most negative. After his death, the Platonic Academy in Athens carried on his pedagogical traditions. Plato's first successor was his nephew. After him, the headship passed to Xenocrates.

The young Polemo came to Xenocrates' class to mock, was enchanted, shed a wife, and becoming the older man's lover, inherited his post. He in turn, loved Crates, who lived with him, succeeded him, and shared his tomb. The Platonic pair entertained another Academic couple at their table, Crantor and his eromenos, Arcesilaus. So for a full century, from 339 to 240, leadership in the Academy passed from lover to beloved.

The Influence of Plato's Doctrine of Love

Plato's doctrine of love had great influence on later Greek thought, most notably on Plutarch, a devoted Platonist who celebrated male love in his Lives and followed Plato closely in his own panegyric on love in the Erotes.

His authorship of "On Education," the only essay on this topic to come down to us from antiquity, has been disputed. But the essay, which was widely admired in the Renaissance, is thoroughly Plutarchian (and Platonic) in its endorsement of the pedagogic eros.

After noting that some severe fathers may disapprove of their sons' having lovers, the author commends the practice, citing the examples of Socrates, Plato, Xenophon, Aeschines, and a multitude of others who approved of chaste male loves as a way of "guiding adolescents towards culture and political leadership and excellence of character."

Less original than Plutarch is Maximus of Tyre, a rhetorician who lectured in Rome about 180 C.E. Of his forty orations, four (18-21) extol the Socratic eros as a path to honor and virtue. But Maximus not only echoes the Laws by decrying intercourse between men as sterile and unnatural, he consistently denies that there was anything physical in any of the loves of those he invokes as models. Thus the love of Achilles for Patroclus was not carnal, and the loves of even such poets as Sappho and Anacreon were, he maintains, as pure as Socrates'.

Though the impact of Plato's erotic dialogues on later Greek culture was very great, they seem to have had little influence on Latin writers, and they remained unknown in the West in the Middle Ages.

Their rediscovery was a major event in Renaissance literature. Ficino's epochal Commentary on the Symposium (1475) and his translation of the dialogue made "Platonic" love fashionable throughout literary Europe, but he minimized the homoerotic element.

Castiglione's The Courtier (1518), a highly influential work, completely "heterosexualized" Platonic love, thus obscuring its real origins.

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