the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air. Terrible was their might and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an attack upon the gods.

Doubt reigned in the celestial councils. Should they kill them and annihilate the race with thunderbolts, as they had done the giants, then there would be an end of the sacrifices and worship which men offered to them … At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus discovered a way. He said: “I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve their manners; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers. They shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue insolent and will not be quiet, I will split them again and they shall hop about on a single leg.” He spoke and cut men in two, and, as he cut them one after another, he bade Apollo give the face and the half of the neck a turn in order that the man might contemplate the section of himself: he would thus learn a lesson of humility. So Apollo gave a turn to the face and pulled the skin from the sides all over the belly, and he made one mouth at the centre, which he fastened in a knot (the same which is called the navel).

After the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces, longing to grow into one; they were on the point of dying from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them, sections of whole men, and clung to that.

Each of us, when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other half.[*]

[Plato, ‘Symposium’, Collected Dialogues, pp. 543-44]

[*] See >Xanthippe.

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