Plato’s Symposium is one of the earliest literary pieces that have largely shaped our ideas about love. While reading the Symposium, I thought about the speakers’ definitions of love and whether any of their explanations would be a close version to “modern love”, the love that we know today. It didn’t take me long to realize that Aristophanes’ view on love is quite similar to the version of love that exists today.
In the Symposium, Aristophanes uses the evolution of human nature to explain love. He begins by saying that there were originally three kinds of human beings: male, female, and a combination of two. He also says that humans initially were round, had four hands, four legs, two alike faces, four ears, and two sexual organs. Because of their eight limbs, they were extremely strong. They were so powerful that they attempted to ascend to heaven to attack the gods, which alarmed Zeus and the other gods. In response to this, Zeus cut each of the humans in two to reduce their strength. This modification resulted to the current form of humans. “This, then,” Aristophanes explains, “is the source of our desire to love each other. Each of us is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole, because each was sliced like a flatfish, two out of one, and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him” (191D-E). To Aristophanes, then, love is human’s desire to be whole.
I believe this desire to be whole is an important component of love that we know today. We live in a world where technologically is a large part of the way we communicate with another. With websites like Match.com and apps like Tinder dominating the modern dating scene, hookup culture–a culture that promotes casual sexual interactions–has fast become almost synonymous to modern love. Psychologist Susie Orbach earns that we must not quickly attribute this solely to people’s desire for bodily pleasures. She emphasizes that there is more to modern love than this, saying “attachment is important. My experience still tells me that people, most people, want somebody who is there for them” (Sarah Morrison, 2012). The importance of attachment to modern relationships means that modern love involves the need for another person’s company.
This is primarily caused by present-day technology; nowadays, we cannot go on for a long time without texting, tweeting, or checking our friends’ updates on Facebook. With couples regularly posting pictures of themselves together on social media, technology has also sensationalised the idea of coupledom, which pressures people who are currently not in a relationship to long for someone in their life. Modern love, then, is yearning for some form of attachment, perhaps through casual hookups, non-exclusive polygamous relationships, and many other dating arrangements.
Although Aristophanes talks about love in a very comical way, his metaphors of the human halves excellently depict the behaviour of the typical modern man who is “in love”. As Aristophanes says, “it’s obvious that the soul of every lover longs for something else; his soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle it has a sense of what it wants” (192D). The modern man also does not know exactly what he wants. His soul longs for attachment, but he cannot determine what specific form of attachment he wants, so he explores different kinds of attachment: he dates different people, has casual hookups, and/or engage in open polygamous relationship. Hookups have now become too casual because they quickly give a sense of physical and emotional attachment, even though it’s just a short-term one. More people are now staying away from traditional exclusive relationships because they realize that attachment comes in different forms, and being in an exclusive relationship risks giving up other types of attachment that one can get from people outside the relationship. Modern love is yearning for wholeness. It is a person’s desire for attachment, in any form and through any way, that can make him feel complete. Aristophanes’ definition of love clearly resembles this type of love.
It is amazing to me that an explanation of love provided by someone in the Classical Greek period closely resembles the type of love we have in this modern world.
Cooper, John and D. S. Hutchinson. Symposium. Complete Works. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub., 1997. Print.
Morrison, Sarah. “Modern Lovers: The ‘sexual Body Warriors’ and Pioneers Transforming 21st-century Relationships.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, 12 Feb. 2012. Web. 19 Oct. 2015.