Erotics of Friendship: From Plato’s Lysis to Aelred of Rievaulx

  • Robert S. Sturges


In this chapter, I describe the intersection between one particular form of male-male desire and the philosophical-dialogue genre. It occurs in the line of influence extending from Plato’s early work Lysis through the philosophical dialogues of Cicero—primarily On Friendship (Laelius de amicitia) and the Tusculan Disputations (Tusculanae disputationes)—to certain medieval dialogues: the Spiritual Friendship (De spiritali amicitia) of Aelred of Rievaulx and the epitomes of Aelred’s work by his adaptors, Thomas of Frakaham and Peter of Blois. This line of influence is clearcut: Cicero’s debt to the Lysis (by way of Aristotle, Xenophon, and Theophrastus) in his own writings on friendship (and on other relations between men) is widely acknowledged,1 and Aelred in turn discusses his own debt to Cicero directly (while Thomas and Peter essentially rewrite Aelred). These works continued to be read and to exert an influence long after the Middle Ages, but the specific tradition I am concerned with here—that which can be traced to Plato, and in which the dialogue form is used to discuss friendships between men—is most potent in this direct line from Greece to Rome to the European Middle Ages.


Socratic Dialogue Modern Reader Dialogue Form True Friendship Passionate Love 
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