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

  • Robert S. Sturges
Chapter

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Amid Peri Hunt Dition 214c 

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Notes

  1. 2.
    David Konstan, Friendship in the Classical World (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 53; this entire chapter, pp. 53–92, is helpful in this context, and see also Aspects of Friendship in the Greco-Roman World, Journal of Roman Archaeology Supplementary Series 43 (Portsmouth, RI, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  4. 4.
    Plato’s dialogues cannot be dated precisely; the early manuscripts of his works arrange them thematically in groups of four, not chronologically. Most scholars believe that those dialogues, like the Lysis, that remain close to the historical Socrates’ methods, must for that reason be dated to the early stage of Plato’s career, while the development of Plato’s own philosophical doctrines, first using Socrates as his spokesman and then diminishing or eliminating Socrates’ role, occurs later. For the complexities of this relationship, see Daniel W Graham, “Socrates and Plato,” Phronesis 37 (1992): 141–165CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    Eleanor Winsor Leach, “Absence and Desire in Cicero’s De amicitia,” Classical World 87.2 (1993–1994): 3–20 does find an erotic undertone in the desire for what is absent, as well as in Cicero’s political desires.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  40. 67.
    But compare Carl P. E. Springer, “Fannius and Scaevola in Cicero’s De amicitia,” Studies in Latin Literature and Roman History 7 (1994): 267–278 for a suggestion that the friction between these two interlocutors, and therefore their personalities as well, are better developed than is usually supposed.Google Scholar
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    John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), p. 222.Google Scholar
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  43. 72.
    The standard study of Aelred, Aelred Squire’s Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1969), has little to offer on the subject of Aelred’s sexuality. More useful for my purposes is Brian Patrick McGuire, Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rievaulx (New York: Crossroad, 1994), which offers a sensible assessment of Aelred’s erotic desires and behaviors, concluding both that Aelred, while a courtier at the court of King David of Scotland, probably had at least one passionate (and in Aelred’s view, sinful) erotic attachment to another man, pp. 48–50, and that throughout his life his primary emotional attachments were with other men, pp. 105–118, 142, though in the monastery “he could transfer his sexual energies in this area to a calmer desire for companionship,” p. 113. For a full consideration of the evidence, see McGuire’s essay “Sexual Awareness and Identity in Aelred of Rievaulx,” American Benedictine Review 45 (1994): 184–226.Google Scholar
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    See Jordan, Invention, pp. 92–113; Keiser, Courtly, p. 236, nn. 19–20. See also the discussion of this topic in Robert S. Sturges, Chaucer’s Pardoner and Gender Theory: Bodies of Discourse (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000), pp. 47–59.Google Scholar
  52. 79.
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    Yannick Carré, Le Baiser sur la bouche au Moyen Age: Rites, symboles, mentalités, à travers les textes et les images, XI e –XV e siècles (Paris: Le Léopard d’Or, 1992), finds that the late medieval kiss typically unites the carnal with the spiritual (“réalise l’union du charnel et du spirituel”), p. 325. Carré briefly discusses the kiss in Aelred’s Spiritual Friendship, but places his emphasis on the metaphorical nature of Aelred’s spiritual kiss, p. 130, n. 6.Google Scholar
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    This is only a claim about general tendencies, and is not intended to deny agency or authority in certain cases to those who were gendered feminine. See Joan Cadden, Meanings of Sex Difference in the Middle Ages: Medicine, Science, and Culture (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1993), pp. 167–227. For a nuanced view of these issues in Aelred’s periodGoogle Scholar
  57. see the essays collected in David Townsend and Andrew Taylor, eds., The Tongue of the Fathers: Gender and Ideology in Twelfth-Century Latin Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1998), especially the editors’ introduction, pp. 1–13, as well as the works of Carolyn Walker Bynum, especially, in this regard, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982). Bynum specifically discusses Aelred’s appropriation of the image of Jesus as mother, pp. 122–124, and points out that Aelred’s medieval biographer/hagiographer, Walter Daniel, records Aelred’s understanding of himself as a mother to his monks, p. 124. See also McGuire, Brother, on this point, pp. 96, 123,Google Scholar
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