Plato the Pederast

I am of opinion that the credit which Plato has acquired in the world is the greatest satire upon the understanding of mankind. We scarce ever hear him spoken of but by the appellation of the divine, the immortal, or the god-like Plato. Nay some have carried their admiration to such a pitch of extravagance, as to say that he was particularly and supernaturally inspired. – Amongst the Fanatics of this stamp we may reckon some of the Fathers, and the learned Monsieur Dacier, who wrote his Life, and translated some part of his works. – Notwithstanding this, he was, to speak after a very celebrated writer, the most wild and inconsistent [p.xvi] author that ever wrote, who instead of a rational system of philosophy, raised by the observation of the phoenomena of Nature, constructed a fantastic hypothetical one of imagination, and corrupted the true springs of kowledge. His disciples, many of whom were men of learning and ability, contracted the errors of their master; they implanted them into those of their own time, and succeeding ages have adopted the infatuation. He laid a flimsey foundation for science, upon which the latter Platonicians have raised a superstructure that is altogether grotesque and uncouth. – There cannot be a greater instance of the blind partiality of mankind for this philosopher, than the distinguishing that friendship or affection, which has nothing sensual in it, by the appellation of Platonic Love, when he was as much addicted to a certain unnatural inclination, as any man of that sort who ever disgraced a human form. – We have the strongest evidence of his being guilty of this crime that history can furnish [p.xvii] us with. It is asserted by several, and denied by none. – Well may we upon this, exclaim against him in the impassioned language of the Roman Orator. – O Faeditatem Hominis flagitiosam! Audaciam, Nequitian, Libidinem non serendam! – His Master-Misses are said to have been without number. – How then must the bosom of every generous young man burn with indignation at the contempt, which was expressed by this unnatural philosopher, for that sex. [p.xviii] Are not their tempers more free and more benevolent? From being secluded form mercantile and other money transactions of life, they are less endued with a habit to deceive, are more sincere, are more ingenuous. In their company and in their conversation, the man of genius finds the full praise and honour for his merit; – amongst his own sex he too often finds malice, envy and persecution for the rich possession. – It is illiberal to urge their want of learning. – By the method we bring them up, we prevent them from the means of obtaining it, and then cruelly object to them because they are deficient in that respect. – Their capacities are not inferior by nature to those of the other sex. If we consider a great lady of the present age, who has appeared as a new phaenomenon in the heavens, we shall find it possible, that a woman without the advantages of our school and university education, may almost equal men of the most extraordinary genius with all those advantages. – It is too much the fashion for men to abuse them, and exercise [p.xx] their wit upon them in company or in poems, (for the vices of Italia increase upon us daily) but I think the abominable thing who dares to act in this manner, should be put forth from the society of all rational men, and be treated in no better a light than one would treat a blasphemer of his God. – In short, I wish all those who avoid that commerce with them which nature and reason point out, had but one head, that one might cut it off at a stroke, or that they were hung up like dogs in clusters, if they did not strive (to use the words of a very great poet, who was one of the greatest admirers of the Sex) that they should,
            Pardon of women, and repentance buy,
            And learn to honour them as much as I.

– I hope therefore, if I do not by the following remarks raise a contempt for Plato's Works, to be able to make the Man detested. . . . [p.xxi]

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Plato makes Socrates say thus to Simmias: "Do you think philosophers have any regard for those things which are called pleasures, as eating and drinking?" "By no means," replies Simmias. "What then? – for venereal [p.8] pleasures?" – "No." – "Do such men think much of other circumstances which respect the body? Do they wish for the possession of rich clothes, and shoes, and other ornaments of the body, or do they despise them except when there is a necessity for using them?" "A true philosopher, says Simmias, appears to me to despise all these things." "All the care and study therefore of such a man, is not concerning the body, you think, but how he may remove himself from it and join himself to the soul." "It appears so to me," he replies. "Does it not therefore appear manifestly from these things that a philosopher, more than all other men, should separate himself from the commerce of the body?" –

I can by no means agree with Plato that wisdom consists in debarring ourselves from the pleasures of the body. The appetites we have were given that they should be satisfied. Why should we abstain from eating and drinking if they give us pleasure, and do not impair our [p.9] health, nor come attended with any other inconvenience? The man who acts in this manner deserves no more the name of a philosopher or a truly wise man, than he who when walking in a fine garden, where there were delicious fruits and sweet smelling flowers, should refuse to gratify either the sense of taste or of smelling. True enjoyments are scattered with a scanty hand over this vale of tears; the inlets to pleasure are very scarce. He, in my opinion therefore, deserves most the character of a philosopher or a wise man, who msot purchases all the pleasures of the world without mortifying reflections. The Epicurean poet advises us well:

Indulge genio, carpanus dulcia.

The pleasures of the Paphian queen seem to be the most desireable of any. Why should we, in imitation of Socrates's doctrine, debar ourselves from the chief enjoyment of life, an enjoyment without which life itself would be an insipid [p.10] entertainment (or, according to our college phrase, a very severe lownge) a formal state of drugery and inanimation? – Though it was the cant of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato to pretend to despise the body, and to free the soul from its encumbrances, yet they were guilty of indulging their bodies in the most filthy of all inclinations: I mean, they were addicted to pederasty. No less a number than Dion, Phaedrus, Alexis, Agathon, and Aster, are said to have been Plato's master-misses. [Note the allusion to the "master-mistress" in Shakespeare's Sonnets.] To these he addresses himself sometimes in the most licentious and extravagant manner. He says thus to Dion, "Thou enflamest my soul to love thee even to folly itself." To Aster he says, "That he could wish himself the sky, that he might be nothing but eyes to behold him." What excuse will the defenders of Plato offer for his being guilty of this most damnable practice, the worst that could ever be introduced into a state, that ought to be extinguished by fire and [p.11] sword, because it attacks the very vitals of a state, the heart and existence of its constitution? It will avail them but little to say that I am too severe in accusing him of a crime which had such an universal sway over the people amongst whom he lived, and was so common in the country of which he was an inhabitant. I ackowedge that all criminal passions were so common amonsgst the *Greeks, that an Anacreon gave a [p.12] description to his painter of his Catamite Bathyllus,

[p.13] as we in our days would of a fine woman; and, what is worst, that an Aeschines as familiarly (in his answer to the of Demosthenes) speaks of the as any one would of frequenting a bawdy-house. In answer to this, I say that it is no excuse for a man who calls himself a philosopher to be guilty of a vice, because that vice is common. Cicero says, ii boni viri habendi sunt qui sequntur naturam, optimam bene vivendi ducem. Socrates and Plato acted in direct opposition to what nature would have pointed out. In this instance therefore I will maintain that they were bad men. Socrates and Plato seem to have known that such love was improper, though from a damned infatuation they could not refrain themselves from the indulgence in it.

Zenophon in the Memorabilia makes Socrates exclaim against it. Plato also speaks against it, in his first book of laws, wherein he arraigns the governments [p.14] of Crete and Lacedaemon, because of their public exercises, which produced and caused those abominable desires in women towards women, and in men towards men by a perversion of their natural use. He calls it a detestable and infamous crime, the vilest and most execrable sin which intemperance could cause to be committed against God. – This cannot however be urged in palliation of him, for the more he knew the heinousness of the offence, the more culpable he was for not restraining himself from it. . . . [p.15]

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[FOOTNOTE *The detestable inclination to Pederasty was as common amongst the Romans as in Greece. Juvenal, who pretended to satirize the vices of the times, expressly prefers the love of boys to women, in that infamous sixth satire, where he commits to me the worst of Lèse Majesté, treason against the majesty of woman.
            — Si tecum Pusio dormit,
            Pusio qui nocte non litigat.

Virgil wrote an eclogue upon one man's courting another.
            Formosum pastor Corydon ardebat Alexin.

Cato Uticensis is reported to have kept young slaves for this diabolical purpose, and to have turned them away when they grew old. Caesar was said [p.12] to be the husband of every wife, and the wife of every husband.

Alios amabat, aliorum amori flagitiosissime inserviebat. As Sallust says of Catiline. Yet the divine Tully, the object of my admiration, seems to have been untainted with these unnatural passions. He reflects upon Anthony in a Philippic, for being subservient to the beastly lust of young Curio; and in more places of his works seems very much to discommend the practice. – This is a noble instance of the greatness of Tully's mind. – The infrequency of unnatural lusts may be urged against those flimsy declaimers who talk of the wickness of the present times. Will they compare this age with what mankind were under the emperors of Rome, or to what the people of Greece were? I do not pretend to say that we never hear of any such things. I would however venture to affirm, that were our salutary laws against this vice properly put in execution, we should not hear of the commission of it once in a century. But why do I speak of such a thing in the present weak and detested reign, in which the extravagance of follies have gained the patronage of royal favour, and all the most infamous crimes have gained the royal mercy. [This is an allusion to the affair of Captain Jones, pardoned the previous year.] [p.13]

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. . . These accounts in Lucian seem contradictory; but however in the last it is positively asserted, that Alcibiades did not rise from the bed untouched by Socrates. –

. . . Cicero, in speaking of the Greeks, says, Apud eos opprobrio fuit adolescentibus, si amatores non haberent. – Juvenal says thus, Satire ii.: Inter Socraticos notissima fossa Cinaedos. [p. 40]

We will speak of the authority of these writers. – In regard to Plato and Zenophon, I must say that their testimony seems to be of very little avail. – It appears improbable that they would mention this crime as being committed by Socrates, wom they make almost equal to a God, even if they had known that the accusation against him had been well grounded. – Appearances certainly are against Socrates. – He always chose to be in the company of Alcibiades, a very beautiful young Athenian, who was much addicted to this passion. – He speaks in praise often of his person. – Whether the pleasure he took in his company proceeded from a wish to improve his mind, or through desire of his person, seems, with all the circumstances of the case considered, not to be very doubtful. – It is said of Socrates, that he chose the company of handsome young men, because as he was an admirer of moral beauty, he was led to admire natural beauty. – Why then, if this was the case, should he avoid the company of women? – I should rather think in opposition to Socrates, that it is not probable we shall find the amiable qualities of the mind in handsome young men. It is rarely that we see a handsome young man (I speak of men only) who possess either sense or learning. – All virtues and perfections cannot accumulate in one man. [p.41]

The saying of Maximus Tyriuis is liable to the same objection as that of Plato or Zenophon. – Cooper says, that Cicero in the passage mentioned by Amatores means Instructors. He seems, however, it must be confessed, by some other passages in his works to believe that Socrates was not guilty of the crime. – It is also urged by some that Juvenal means Sotadicos instead of Socraticos in the line we have spoken of. – The lines as printed in every edition that I have seen are thus.
          Hispida membra quidem, et durae per brachia setae
          Promittunt atrocem animum: sed podice laevi,
          Caeduntur timidae, medico ridente, Mariscae. –

The admirers of Socrates change the word Socraticos into Sotadicos in a veryi arbitrary manner. – They say Sotade was a Cretan poet who was remarkable for this unnatural inclination. – After the lines just quoted from Juvenal we find these. –

          Rarus sermo illis, ete magna libido tacendi,
          Atque suercilio brevior comae. Verius ergo,
          Et magis ingenue Peribomius. Hunc ego fatis
          Imputo, qui vultu morbum, incessuque fatetur.
          Horum simplicitas miserabilis; his furor ipse [p.42]
          Dat veniam. Sed pejores, qui talia verbis
          Herculis invadunt, et de virtute locuti
          Clunem agitant –

I think this satirical observation upon those who speak of virtue at the same time that they are committing the most horrid crimes, is somewhat applicable to and seems meant for the Socraticos not the Sotadicos Cinaedos. – If there is a doubt that Socrates was guilty of this detested crime, there is none in regard to Plato. – He is accused by several authors of being guilty of the crime, and defended from the accusation by none. Notwithstanding this, we find that Pederasty is called the Socratic Love, and the love that has nothing carnal or sensual in it is called the Platonic Love. – [p.43]

SOURCE: Charles Crawford, A Dissertation on the Phaedon of Plato: Or Dialogue of the Immortality of the Soul. With Some general Observations upon the Writings of that Philosopher. London: Printed for the author, 1773.

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