The Origins of Eros: Myth of the Androgynous by Arisotphanes in Plato’s Symposium
They had two heads, four arms, two sexes, four legs. They were like this, human beings, before suffering the wrath of the gods. Aristophanes told this story to his friends, during a symposium.
Eryximachus had recently concluded his speech on the duplicity of Eros, that dwells on all beings: humans, animals, plants and even gods! A duality that was generated between opposites, as medicine and music demonstrated, two arts that were in balance between harmony and disharmony. Still, the number “two” is not at the origin of human nature, nor at the origin of Eros, says Aristophanes.
Before the two kinds of Eros, masculine and feminine, they were in fact three, together with the androgynous. In the Golden Age, the human figure was round, with two heads, four arms, two sexes, four legs. The male was born from the sun, the women from the earth and the androgyne from the moon. In this form, humans moved by rolling, challenging the gods for vigor and greatness, even climbing the Olympus!
Despite the insolence that distinguished them, the gods could not afford to destroy these creatures, because they were offering many sacrifices, nor could they overlook their temperament, because they challenged their omnipotence. So the gods decided to curse them, dividing them into two. From that moment the halves of human beings constantly long to return to their original shape.
They began to cling, spending their entire days groped again and again and again to come back to be the primitive form from which they were split. In vanity of their act, human beings began to die. They were not concerned about hunger, or thirst, or about work, nor they paid attention to the activities necessary to survival.
One day Zeus, moved by all that doom, decided to give them the satiety given by the union of the genitals. Whether they were females and females, males and males or females and males, the union of their genitals brought them to satisfaction. Human beings returned to work, to feed themselves and to dedicate themselves to all other treatments for their survival.
According to Aristophanes, in that moment Eros was born: an ancient force that would push the halves of humans to return again a unique and perfect creature, so virtuous to defy the gods!
Aristophanes describes Eros as a magnetic force that drives human beings to complete their imperfection. This story was the response to an absence that we still feel enduring in our depth. As if it were a curse or a debt to pay to archaic natural forces. It is a constant feeling of being in the middle, incomplete without the presence of the other. In fact, we can not say “I” without at least one “You” from which we can distinguish. This is our condition.
We do not exist without the gaze of the other. The answer to our “who are we?” is a continuous connection with the other; be it human, animal, plant or divine. So it happens that the others tell us who we are. It happens that the environment tells us who we are. It happens that our beliefs tell us who we are.
The answer to the question “who are we?” is the result of a continuous negotiation that finds its challenges when it collides with words. Words based on the dense categories of pre-established meanings. Words always struggling to fit comfortably. Words struggling to contain our essence. Getting “who we are” is a performance under, on and beyond our skin frame.
On the bottom of our question remains a divine force: Eros. A power that forces us to life, through desire. This damned gift that Zeus has inflicted on us. For Sappho, Eros is “a crawling beast” manifested on the body when “a cold sweat covers me, trembling seizes my body, and I am greener than grass. Lacking but little of death do I seem” (Sappho).
Through Eros we desperately approach the perfection of our origins, when our limbs were many and firmly fused with the other. “Who are we?” is a question that propels us to survive, but life is something else. Yes, life lights up when we enjoy our presence thanks to the other. We reach satiety when we join with the other. Just then, finally, we are not only us. “Who we are” no longer matters.
All that matters is the reconstitution of the mythological being who gives space to the “I” for recognizing itself thanks to a living relationship with a “You”. But this relationship is not always satisfying, this happens when something in the meeting, for some bizarre reason, does not work. It happens something immediately perceived as a lack that can not be filled.
We can feel it directly to the skin, like a primal instinct. When we do not reach the primal being, immediately dissatisfaction takes over. So we move away from the splendor of life and return quickly to perceive its incompleteness. Between “who we are” and the other, there is a delicate bond that satisfies us only when we can enjoy our mutual presence.
When we are the other and the other becomes us, only in that moment the human primordial being can afford to challenge the gods. If “who we are” is a performance, life shines when comes into contact with what is going on below, on and beyond our skin. This is the reason why identity is transformation.
“Two heads, four arms, two sexes, four legs” is a metaphor and paradox together. It is a metaphor because this meeting is much more than an outpouring of love, but it becomes a survival device that provides us with an image to define the necessary bond that is woven between what is below, on and beyond our skin.
The other, our half, is not merely a partner, but it is also a fellow human, an animal, a plant, a god! That is something human, something that has to do with our environment and even something that does not exist but that can be imagined! It is a paradox because this meeting is about the original relationship between “I” and “You”.
“I” emerges only from the relation with the other, and vice versa. In spite of every egocentric conception, the ego is an emergency that arises only and solely from a relationship. In fact, it is said that identity is fluid and in constant transformation not because there is uncertainty in it, but by virtue of the fact that it responds to a relationship and only in it is able to emerge.
The ego is an emergency, that is not only something that emerges as bubbles from the bottom of the ocean, but also as an emergency need, like a primitive need to satisfy. Identity is fluid and is governed by a curse, the one from Zeus, led by Eros. It is something bigger and older then all of us, is a legacy with which we were created and from which there is no defense, because it coincides with our connection to life. Eros is our survival device. But this is not all.
We have to point out that Eros is not a survival device because it guarantees the fulfillment of the desire of the proliferation of the species. Indeed, far from this belief, the myth told by Aristophanes makes clear that without the fulfillment of Eros, humans did not dabble in other activities if not for a desperate attempt to return to the primitive form by being excited by effusions.
This attitude would soon drive humanity to extinction. The satisfaction of the outpouring was a gift granted by the mercy of Zeus against humanity unability to take care of business profits to survive. The genitals were, therefore, aims to bring human beings to satisfaction of their desire, or to an ephemeral condition of completeness enough to come back to worrying about the activities useful to their lives.
Throughout its life, every human being feels on its skin a deep sense of incompleteness and it experiences the desire that drives it to find a relationship with the other. In this performance of life, the human emerges to itself and to the Other in a stream from which depends its survival.
The human being that denigrates the fluidity of identity and who judges the outpouring of his desire by imposing similar hierarchies and row labels against life, kills. The human being who remembers having two heads, four arms, two sexes, four legs and moves towards life, loves.