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193 The Animals That Therefore We Were? Aristophanes’s Double-Creatures and the Question of Origins Drew A. Hyland The question of animals in Plato will be, as almost always in Plato, the question of animals. Or rather, questions, many and in multiple registers, regarding animals—this animal or that animal, animals altogether, above all, perhaps, animals in their relation to that most curious and complicated of animals, human being. It must be emphasized: the question of animals, not “the Platonic theory of animals,” not “Plato’s doctrine of animals in the early (middle, late) dialogues,” not even “Plato on animals.” The presence of animals in the Platonic dialogues is always, then, question-worthy, an issue, one might say, of the problematic of animals and animality. One instance of this problematic status of animals—and this one precisely in relation to the being of human being—occurs in Plato’s Symposium, in the famous and often hilarious account of eros, love, by the comic poet, Aristophanes.1 The announced intention of each of the speeches of the Symposium, with the apparent exception of the last one by Alcibiades, is to praise eros, to give an encomium to that phenomenon, whether god or daimon. Aristophanes emphasizes at the very beginning of his speech that he intends to give a very different one from the ones that have occurred so far, different, his opening lines suggest, because he intends to set forth a fundamentally religious account of eros. This begins by chastising humans for their failure so far to appreciate that eros is not only a god but “the most philanthropic” of the gods, literally the god who loves humans the most, and that as a result we should be much more pious toward the god than we have been (189c). So a pious praise of the god, eros, is forthcoming, or so Aristophanes tells us. 12 194 | Drew A. Hyland And yet, immediately after this introduction, Aristophanes seems—but only seems—to change the subject: “It is necessary for you first to understand human nature and its sufferings” (189d). Aristophanes is now going to give an account of human nature and its sufferings. Yet it does, indeed, prove to be an account both of human nature and of eros; for the two, we soon learn, are so intimately connected as to be virtually the same. Or rather, human nature as it is now is virtually the same as human eros, that is to say, now, in our incomplete state, as split beings, recognizing our incompleteness, striving after wholeness. But, we are told, it has not always been so. This striving for wholeness is in fact a striving for a return to a more original state, when we were whole beings, before we were split by the gods and rendered as we are now, incomplete, striving for wholeness, erotic. To know human beings and to understand eros, we must understand our origins; Aristophanes now tells us of our original, very different status, when we were whole beings. He tells us, now, of our origins as a race of most peculiar animals, the famous double-creatures of Aristophanes’s myth. The story is well known and highly comical. We were once beings who were each the double of what we are now, with two heads, four arms, four legs, two sets of genitals, and so on. We came in three versions: a double-male, a double-female, and a male-female combination, called “androgynous” (189e–190a). We are told presently that in our original state we procreated in the ground, “like cicadas” (191b–c), indicating not just an original animality but even a certain likeness to insects.2 Nevertheless, in this double state, we were extremely powerful, capable of rolling along on the ground on our eight limbs at great speeds, of seeing in all directions, of moving in whatever direction we chose. We can pause to note that Plato is already having Aristophanes portray an account of human origins that is in accord with many traditional religious accounts . Our original natures were different from and in ways superior to our present natures. Something happened that caused us to “fall” to our present state. We shall see in a moment what that was. But the difference between our original state and our present natures is perhaps even more pronounced than in traditional accounts—say, that of the Book of Genesis. For we were of superior form and of superior abilities. That is to...


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