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In all this, my friends, methinks I have constructed for you, not without care, a catalogue of lovers, not being myself so love-mad, as Cynulcus has insultingly called me, though I admit that I am a lover, but not “love-mad.” “What need is there to make oneself unhappy by more words when one may keep silence and hide all this in darkness?” So said Aeschylus of Alexandria in his Amphitryo . This Aeschylus is the one who composed the Epic of Messenia ; he was a great man of learning.
Since, then, I believe that Eros is a mighty and most powerful divinity, as is also Aphrodite “the golden,” I will recite the lines of Euripides as I remember them: “Dost thou not see how great a goddess is Aphrodite? Of her thou canst not tell, thou canst not measure how great she is, or how far her power extends. She it is who nurtures you and me and all mortals. And a proof (that you may not learn it from words alone, and that I may show the goddess’s power by facts): the earth is in love with the rain, whensoe’er the dry ground, fruitless in drought, hath need of moisture. And the august heaven, filled with rain, casts itself upon the earth through Aphrodite’s spell. And when the twain mingle as one, they cause all things to grow for us, and nurture them as well,–all things by which the race of mortals lives and flourishes.” Again, the most august Aeschylus, in his Danaids , introduces Aphrodite herself saying: “The chaste heaven loves to violate the earth, and love lays hold on earth to join in wedlock. The rain from the streaming heaven falls down and impregnates the earth; and she brings forth for mortals the pasturage of sheep and Demeter’s sustenance; and the ripe season for the trees is perfected by the watery union. Of all this I am the cause.”
In the Euripidean Hippolytus , again, Aphrodite declares: “And all who dwell between the Pontus and the bounds of Atlas, looking upon the light of the sun–those who reverence my power I honour, but I bring low all who think presumptuous thoughts against me.” A young man who possessed every virtue, beset only by this error, that he failed to honour Aphrodite — to him she became the cause of his destruction; and neither Artemis, who loved him exceedingly, nor any other god or spirit could aid him. And so, as the same poet puts it: “Whoever judges not Eros to be a mighty god is either stupid or, having no experience of good things, knows not of the god who is the mightiest power among men.” Yes, he is the god of whom Anacreon, the poet on every man’s lips, is constantly singing. Hence the most excellent Critias says of him: “Teos brought to Hellas that poet who once wove the strains of song with Woman as his theme, delightful Anacreon, flame of drinking-parties, cheater of women, of flutes the foe, lover of the lyre, full of delight, healer of pain. Never shall love of thee grow old or die, so long as a slave-boy solemnly bears round water and wine mingled for the cups, dispensing toasts from left to right, — so long as feminine choirs do their ministry in holy night- long vigils, and the scale-pan, daughter of bronze, sits upon the high peak of the cottabos to receive the drops of Bromian.”
Archytas — the one who wrote on the theory of music — says, according to Chamaeleon, that Alcman led the way as a composer of erotic songs, and was the first to publish a licentious song, being prone in his habits of life to the pursuit of women and to poetry of that kind. Hence he says, in one of his songs: “Once again sweet Eros, to grace Cypris, overflows and melts my heart.” He says, too, that Alcman fell immoderately in love with Megalostrate, who was a poetess and able to attract lovers to her by her conversation. He speaks thus of her: “This is the gift of the sweet Muses, which she, happy maiden, the golden-haired Megalostrata, hath shown forth.” Stesichorus, also, was immoderately erotic and has composed that type of songs; these, as is well known, were of old called “paideia” and “paidika.” So active was the pursuit of love-affairs, since no one regarded erotic persons as vulgar, that even a great poet like Aeschylus, and Sophocles, introduced in the theatre love themes in their tragedies — the first, that of Achilles and Patroclus, the second, that of the boys in Niobe : hence some call the tragedy “Paederastria;” and the audience gladly accepted such stories.
And Ibycus of Rhegium, also, cries out and shouts aloud: “Only in spring grow the quinces and pomegranates, watered by streams in the inviolate garden of the Maidens, and the swelling grape-blossoms thrive beneath the shade of the vine-shoots; but for me there is no season when love lies quiet; all aflame, like Thracian Boreas ‘mid the lightning-flash, he from my boyhood hath darted love upon me from Cypris, darkling, unflinching, with scorching madness, and hath kept my heart under fierce sway.” Pindar, too, being immoderately erotic, says: “May it be mine to love and to yield to love in due season. Pursue not, my heart, that action as something to be esteemed beyond measure.” Wherefore Timon in his Satires has said: “There is a time to love, a time to marry, and a time to stop it for good,” and not wait until some one utters the line of this same philosopher: “Now, when his sun out to be declining, he begins to recline in the lap of pleasure.” When Pindar calls to mind Theoxenus of Tenedos, with whom he was in love, what does he say? “Meet it were, my heart, to cull the flowers of love in due season, in thy prime; but whosoever, once he hath seen the rays flashing from the eyes of Theoxenus, is not tossed on the waves of desire, hath a black heart forged, in cold flame, of adamant or of iron, and having no honour from Aphrodite of the quick glance, he either toileth brutally for wealth, or else through some woman’s boldness his soul is borne along on every path while he serves her. But I, to grace the goddess, like wax of the sacred bees when smitten by the sun, am melted when I look at the young limbs of boys. And so, even in Tenedos, Persuasion came to dwell, and Charm reared the son of Hagesilas.” Altogether, many persons prefer liaisons with males to those with females. For they maintain that this practice is zealously pursued in those cities throughout Hellas which, as compared with others, are ruled by good laws. The Cretans, for example, as I have said, and the people of Chalcis in Euboea, have a marvellous passion for such liaisons. Echemenes, at any rate, says in his History of Crete that it was not Zeus who carried off Ganymede, but Minos. But the Chalcidians just mentioned assert that Ganymede was carried off by Zeus in their own country, and they point out the place, calling it Harpagion; in it grow excellent myrtle-trees. Even his quarrel with the Athenians was given up by Minos, though it had arisen over the murder of his son, because he loved Theseus and gave him his daughter Phaedra to be his wife, according to Zenis (or Zeneus) of Chios in the History of his native land.