AN EXTREME HOMOSEXUAL MILITANCY
Those who are inspired by this love turn to the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant and intelligent nature; any one may recognize the pure enthusiasts in the very character of their attachments. For they love not boys, but intelligent beings whose reason is beginning to be developed, much about the time at which their beards begin to grow. (Plato, 1937, The Symposium, 181c-d, p. 309)
But when it [the soul of an initiate] looks upon the beauty of the boy and takes the stream of particles flowing into it from his beauty
(that is what is called desireâ), when it is watered and warmed by this, then all its pain subsides and is replaced by joy52 (Plato, 1997, Phaedrus, 251c-d, p. 528f)
In The Symposium, it is not only a milieu close to the oligarchs that is described, but also a milieu in which homosexuality is considered the only way love can become so intense and profound that it can allow one to enter into contact with the world of Ideas. There is no platonic love unless two united bodies permit two souls to love each other.53 Men are the only persons capable of enough maturity to love this way. The love who is the offspring of the common Aphrodite is essentially common, and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner sort of men feel and is apt to be of woman as well as of youths, and is of the body rather than of the soulâ (Plato, 1937, The Symposium, 181 a-b, p. 309).
In this milieu, homosexuality was only part-time, as even Socrates was married. He had also had as a teacher a woman named Aspasia. She was no ordinary woman: she was a foreigner and a courtesan. Exceptionally beautiful and intelligent, she initiated Socrates to the pleasures of the soul by introducing him to sexuality.54 Plato also admitted that a relatively strong love could exist between women and men, like Alcestis who accepted dying in the place of her husband.55 There are two texts on The Symposium: one by Plato and one by Xenophon. Both agree that (1) Socrates did not make love with his students, and (2) homosexual eroticism did play a role in his pedagogical strategy. He used the eroticism that could exist in his relationship with his students to help them sense the Truth and Beauty that surpasses what the majority of citizens could experience. In Phaedrus, an aging Plato dares to describe, in one of his most beautiful texts, the orgasmic pleasure of an adolescent who loses his virginity to a philosopher. This ecstasy is depicted as a moment of extreme intensity during which the adolescent is initiated not only to Love but also to Poetry, to the most absolute Beauty, and to the Truth that he holds in the depths of his being.56
These texts are often presented as hardly reprehensible, to the extent that homosexuality would have been common in ancient Greece,57 and the age of marriage was then that of puberty. Such arguments are only partially relevant. It suffices to read Homer to see the importance of heterosexual relations in Greece, as is evident in the rapport of Hector and Ulysses with their wives. Nicole Loraux58 shows that the Athenians at the time of The Symposium spoke mostly of the virility of the warrior. Warriors were becoming rare, because many died at war. The homosexual militancy of Socrates’s school far surpasses the homosexuality such as it was lived habitually in Greece. Later we discuss Reich, who develops similar arguments when he speaks of heterosexual orgasm. Reich’s idealized heterosexuality was as far removed from the heterosexual practices of his time as the homosexuality of Plato was from the homosexual practices of his epoch.