Friday, September 10, 2010

The Three Sexes

                                                         The Three Sexes

In Plato's image we were once eight-limbed and double-sexed, but were bisected by the gods who feared for their power. Moved by erotic desire, we now perpetually and unsuccessfully seek our "other half."

Plato speaking:
First of all I must explain the real nature of man, and the change which it has undergone - for in the beginning we were nothing like we are now. For one thing, the race was divided into three; that is to say, besides the two sexes, male and female, which we have at present, there was a third which partook of the nature of both, and for which we still have a name, though the creature itself is forgotten.

For though "hermaphrodite" is only used nowadays as a term of contempt, there really was a man-woman in those days, a being which was half male and half female.

And secondly, each of these beings was globular in shape with rounded back and sides, four arms and four legs, and two faces, both the same, on a cylindrical neck and one head with one face one side and one the other, and four ears, and two lots of privates, and all the other parts to match. 

They walked erect, as we do ourselves, backward and forward, whichever they pleased, but when they broke into a run they simply stuck their legs straight out and went whirling round and round like a clown turning cart wheels. And since they had eight legs, if you count arms as well, you can imagine that they went bowling along at a pretty good speed.

The three sexes arose as follows. The males descended from the Sun, the females from the Earth, and the hermaphrodites from the Moon, which partakes of each sex, and they were round and they went round, because they took after their parents. 

And such was their strength, energy and arrogance, that they tried like Ephialtes and Otus in Homer - to scale the heights of heaven and set upon the gods.

At this Zeus took counsel with the other gods as to what was to be done. They found themselves in a rather awkward position; they did not want to blast them out of existence with thunderbolts as they did the giants, because they would be saying good bye to all their offerings and devotions, but at the same time they could not let them get out of hand. 

At last, after racking his brains, Zeus offered a solution. I think I can see a way, he said, to put an end to this disturbance by weakening these people without destroying them. What I propose to do is to cut them all in half, thus killing two birds with one stone, for each one will be only half as strong, and there will be twice as many of them. 

They can walk about upright, on their two legs, and if, said Zeus, I have any more trouble with them, I shall split them up again, and they will have to hop about on one.

So saying, he cut them all in half just as you or I might chop up some apples. And each half was ready he told Apollo to turn it's face, with the half-neck that was left, toward the side that was cut away - thinking that the sight of such a gash might frighten it into keeping quiet - and then to heal the whole thing up. 

So Apollo turned their faces back to front, and pulling in the skin all the way round, he stretched it over what we now call the belly - like those bags you pull together with a string - and tied up the one remaining opening so as to form what we call the navel. 

As for the creases that were left, he smoothed most of them away, finishing off the chest with the sort of tool a cobbler uses to smooth down the leather on the last, but he left a few puckers round about the belly and the navel so to remind us of what we suffered long ago. 

Now when the work of bisection was complete it left each half with a desperate yearning for the other, and they ran together and flung their arms around each other's necks, and asked for nothing better than to be rolled into one. So much so, that they began to die of hunger and general inertia, for neither would do anything without the other.

And when ever one half was left alone by the death of it's mate, it wandered about questing and clasping in the hope of finding a spare half-woman- or a whole woman, as we should call her now a days - or a half man. And so the race was dying out.

Fortunately Zeus felt so sorry for them so he devised another scheme. He moved their privates round the front, for of course they had originally been on the outside - which was now at the back - and they had begotten and conceived not upon each other, but like the grass hoppers. 

So now as I say, he moved their members round the front and made them propagate among themselves, the male begetting upon the female - the idea being that if, in all these clippings and claspings, a man should chance upon a woman, conception would take place and the race would be continued.

So you see how far back we can trace our innate love for one another, and how this love is always trying to reintegrate our former nature, to make two one, and to bridge the gulf between one human being and another.  

I first became acquainted with this story of Plato's years ago; after watching the movie "The Butcher's Wife". In the movie the main character, played by Demi More relates that her granny, who had psychic powers says she must find her "Split Apart,"her other half.  Besides being a delightful movie which I enjoyed immensely this led me to seek out the story of the "Three Sexes" by Plato.  I hope you enjoyed the re-telling of Plato's tale.
Brightest of Blessings