Some 2403-2388 years ago, Socrates gathered a group of friends together, as he was known to do. Getting progressively sloshed, the conversation turned to love.
This is a topic we still study today. Perhaps not at banquets, but in front of the TV, reading tattered magazines at the hairdressers, reading Medium articles and new age poets on Instagram. Or at the frontline, as we swipe through potential partners, moving only the muscles in our fingers, asking ourselves – this reality? This future?
So, one of these drunk Greeks gave a really good speech. You should maybe read it.
Aristophanes’ account has always touched me. As a maker I’m drawn to the absurd, surreal and romantic. He tells a story of man before the fall. One quite different from the Christian account we all know.
His speech explains why we describe ourselves as feeling “whole” when we find a partner. Apparently in times before, people looked like crabs: joined down the middle, eight limbs and double faced, turning away from each other. Powerful, spherical creatures who rolled around the world cartwheeling.
Back then, there were three sexes: double males who came from the sun, females from the earth, and male and female couples from the moon. So physically and mentally powerful these unions were! They plotted to take over Mount Olympus, which angered the Gods and resulted in their fall.
Zeus thought about blasting them with thunderbolts, but instead decided to cripple them: by wrenching them apart. Down the middle they were torn, with belly buttons a souvenir of this operation.
And since, we run around: as those who look for women or men, trying to find our other halves and to feel whole again. Love makes us who we are, and once found, is a reminder of both our loss and of our place.
There’s nothing more amazing than finding and falling in love with someone. And we couldn’t know how amazing it was if we didn’t know the pain of its absence.
I was asked to write this article shamefully long ago. I’ve always loved Aristophanes speech. I knew I wanted to consider it in the light of the contemporary day. Since I conceived of this article, I split from a long term partner. It did feel like being ripped apart. Not least for the upheaval in my life, but also the broader unnerving sense of rejection and tearing and misplaced impulses.
Would I forever stumble across the world with a wound rather than a someone at my back (+ mine at theirs)?
The answer is; of course not. I was never specifically shaped for one specific person. Human forms are malleable. We change over time, in reaction to events that occur in its passing. And I could find wholeness in myself.
We’re not jigsaw pieces cut from stiff cardboard. Someone who might fit us perfectly at one point in our lives might no longer fit a change in our shape, as you roll through the fields together. Sometimes that shape change might make you irrevocably incompatible. That’s ok.
The population of Ancient Greece at the time of Symposium being written was around 250,000. Life was more local. You’d be quite geographically limited in terms of who you could interact with. Maybe Aristophanes’ idea of the one ideal was more pertinent then.
Because today, the population of Greece is 600,000. And because of technology, you can quickly and easily form connections with some 7 billion of the growing global population. That’s a lot of people. Take a swipe through Tinder if you want confirmation.
Originally, I intended to write this piece as testament to ‘true love’. I’m now writing from the perspective of having lost that – and already having met many interesting, beautiful people. The world is full of them.
There’s lots of perfect for you now, and maybe later, people in that pool. You’re complete as you are. But if you want, I’m sure you’ll find plenty Miss Rights, and Mr Right-Nows.
- Words, illustrations and photography by Eilidh Page Morrissey.