Introduction

  • Robert S. Sturges

Abstract

The homosexual Greek poet C. P. Cavafy’s great poem of 1917, “In a Town of Osroini,” reminds us that Plato, who wrote his philosophical dialogues in the fourth century B.C., has continued to influence writers many centuries later. At first glance, however, this poem appears to be inspired less by Plato’s philosophy than by the male-male desire that is the motive force behind some of those dialogues: it is the sensuality of Remon’s face, illuminated by the moon, that makes his (presumptively male) friends think of Plato, and what they think of specifically is a character in one of the dialogues, Plato’s uncle Charmides (as the name is usually spelled in English). Charmides was, in his youth (when the dialogue is imagined as taking place), famous for his beauty, “the handsomest young man of the day,”2 and Plato imagines that Socrates’ discussion of the virtue of sophrosune was inspired by the sight of Charmides’ “beautiful body” and “splendid face.”3 Other translations of Cavafy’s poem suggests that it is Remon’s “amorous” or “erotic,” rather than “sensual,” face that reminds his friends of Charmides.4 It is thus the male-male eroticism of Plato’s dialogues that inspires the modern homosexual poet as Charmides inspired Socrates: “I saw inside his cloak and caught on fire and was quite beside myself.”5

Keywords

Arena Nite Lost Metaphor Verse 

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Notes

  1. 1.
    C. P. Cavafy, “In a Town of Osroini,” 1917, in his Collected Poems, trans. Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard, ed. George Savidis (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1975), p. 66. The Greek text appears in Cavafy’s Ta Poiemata, ed. G. P. Savidis, 2 vols. (Athens: Ikaros, 1963, repr. 1997), vol. 1, p. 80.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    C. P. Cavafy, “In a Town of Osroene,” in Complete Poems, trans. Rae Dalven (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1976), p. 68; “In a Town of Osroini,” in Before Time Could Change Them: The Complete Poems of Constantine P. Cavafy, trans. Theoharis C. Theoharis (New York: Harcourt, 2001), p. 61. The Greek term is “to erotiko tou prosopo [τὸ’ερωτικó τou πρóσωπο].”Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    David Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988).Google Scholar
  4. For another major work of historical synthesis, see Byrne Fone, Homophobia: A History (New York: Metropolitan, 2000).Google Scholar
  5. 8.
    Scholarly work on Plato’s use of the dialogue form is voluminous. For some useful guidance, see Michael C. Stokes, Plato’s Socratic Conversations: Drama and Dialectic in Three Dialogues (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), especially the bibliographical survey, pp. 1–3;Google Scholar
  6. Kent F. Moors, “Plato’s Use of Dialogue,” Classical World 72 (1978): 77–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Kenneth M. Sayre, Plato’s Literary Gardens: How to Read a Platonic Dialogue (Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1995); and the essays collected in Platonic Writings, Platonic Readings, ed.Google Scholar
  8. Charles L. Griswold (New York: Routledge, 1988), especially Rosemary Desjardins, “Why Dialogues? Plato’s Serious Play,” pp. 110–125. Also informative is David Sedley’s lecture “The Dramatis Personae of Plato’s Phaedo,” in Philosophical Dialogues: Plato, Hume, Wittgenstein, ed. Timothy Smiley (Oxford: Oxford University Press/British Academy, 1995), pp. 3–26Google Scholar
  9. Francisco J. Gonzalez, “Introduction: The Need for a Reexamination of Plato’s Dialectic,” in his Dialectic and Dialogue: Plato’s Practice of Philosophical Inquiry (Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1998), pp. 1–16. 9. I am not the first to consider these three Platonic dialogues as a group: see Lysis, Phaedrus, and Symposium: Plato on Homosexuality, trans. Benjamin Jowett, ed. Eugene O’Connor (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1991).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Jonathan Dollimore, Sexual Dissidence: Augustine to Wilde, Freud to Foucault (Oxford: Clarendon, 1991), p. 15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 12.
    See Dylan Evans, An Introductory Dictionary of Lacanian Psychoanalysis (New York: Routledge, 1996), pp. 58–59.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Jeffrey Jerome Cohen, Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages, Medieval Cultures 17 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), p. 180.Google Scholar
  13. 18.
    Roger Scruton, Sexual Desire: A Philosophical Investigation (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986), pp. 283, 305–311. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl turns the accusation of narcissism back against the accusers, defining “narcissistic” homophobia as intolerance for “the idea that their exist people who are not like them”Google Scholar
  14. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, The Anatomy of Prejudices (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 33. She also understands homophobia as the desire to preserve sameness, p. 36.Google Scholar
  15. 19.
    Steven Bruhm, Reflecting Narcissus: A Queer Aesthetic (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001) reads the myth of Narcissus as a figure for male–male desire that does not represent a fear of otherness but is rather “continually destroying the political safety promised by sameness,” p. 178.Google Scholar
  16. 20.
    Cf. David Halperin, “How to Do the History of Homosexuality,” in his How to Do the History of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), pp. 104–137, especially his discussion of the category “paederasty,” pp. 113–117. Halperin rightly distinguishes between the tradition of pederasty and those of male–male friendship (pp. 117–121), of inversion (pp. 121–130), and of modern homosexuality (pp. 130–134), but for my purposes here it is more important to point out that deviance—an interplay of sameness and difference—is an essential component of the relationships that fall into most, if not all, of these categories, as the remainder of this book suggests.Google Scholar
  17. 21.
    Mixail Bakhtin, “Discourse Typology in Prose,” trans. Richard Balthazar and I. R. Titunik, in Readings in Russian Poetics: Formalist and Structuralist Views, ed. Ladislav Matejka and Krystyna Pomorska (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1978), pp. 176–198, at p. 176. This essay first appeared in the original version of Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics: Problemy tvorchestva Dostoevskogo (Leningrad: Priboj, 1929), pp. 105–135. A somewhat different version of this essay appears in the revised version of 1963 as a portion of ch. 5, “Discourse in Dostoevsky”: see Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, ed. and trans. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), pp. 185–203.Google Scholar
  18. 23.
    Julia Kristeva, “Word, Dialogue, and Novel” (1969), in her Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, ed. Leon S. Roudiez, trans. Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980), pp. 64–91, at p. 81. For Bakhtin’s own comments on Socrates and the Socratic dialogueGoogle Scholar
  19. see M. M. Bakhtin, “Epic and Novel: Toward a Methodology for the Study of the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination, ed. Michael Holquist, trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1981), pp. 3–40, at pp. 24–26, and his Rabelais and His World, trans. Hélène Iswolsky (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), pp. 121, 168–169, 286.Google Scholar
  20. But cf. Julia Annas, “Many Voices: Dialogue and Development in Plato,” in her Platonic Ethics, Old and New (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999), pp. 9–30, which argues that the polyphonic quality of Plato’s dialogues masks a unitary ethical doctrine.Google Scholar
  21. 24.
    Martin Buber, I and Thou, 2nd ed., trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Scribner’s, 1970), p. 133.Google Scholar
  22. 33.
    Emmanuel Levinas, “Martin Buber’s Thought and Contemporary Judaism,” in Outside the Subject, trans. Michael B. Smith (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), pp. 4–19, at p. 10. See also ibid. “Apropos of Buber: Some Notes,” in pp. 40–48.Google Scholar
  23. 36.
    Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume I: An Introduction, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Vintage, 1980), especially pp. 17–49.Google Scholar
  24. 37.
    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading; or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Introduction Is about You,” in Novel Gazing: Queer Readings in Fiction, ed. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), pp. 1–37, at pp. 2–3. The revised version of this essay, “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay is about You,” in Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedogogy, Performativity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003), pp. 123–151, omits this passage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Robert S. Sturges 2005

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  • Robert S. Sturges

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