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The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece

The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece

CLAUDE CALAME
Translated by Janet Lloyd
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 200
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n3z9
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    The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece
    Book Description:

    The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece offers the first comprehensive inquiry into the deity of sexual love, a power that permeated daily Greek life. Avoiding Foucault's philosophical paradigm of dominance/submission, Claude Calame uses an anthropological and linguistic approach to re-create indigenous categories of erotic love. He maintains that Eros, the joyful companion of Aphrodite, was a divine figure around which poets constructed a physiology of desire that functioned in specific ways within a network of social relations. Calame begins by showing how poetry and iconography gave a rich variety of expression to the concept of Eros, then delivers a history of the deity's roles within social and political institutions, and concludes with a discussion of an Eros-centered metaphysics.

    Calame's treatment of archaic and classical Greek institutions reveals Eros at work in initiation rites and celebrations, educational practices, the Dionysiac theater of tragedy and comedy, and in real and imagined spatial settings. For men, Eros functioned particularly in the symposium and the gymnasium, places where men and boys interacted and where future citizens were educated. The household was the setting where girls, brides, and adult wives learned their erotic roles--as such it provides the context for understanding female rites of passage and the problematics of sexuality in conjugal relations. Through analyses of both Greek language and practices, Calame offers a fresh, subtle reading of relations between individuals as well as a quick-paced and fascinating overview of Eros in Greek society at large.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4915-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. FOREWORD
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    Froma I. Zeitlin

    In recent years, one of the most fruitful areas of inquiry into the life, thought, and culture of ancient Greece has been the study of that elusive figure-concept called Eros and the specific nature and extent of erotic experience. The Greeks themselves divinized carnal desire in the figure of Eros, attesting to the enduring power of this most essential of human instincts. For them, Eros, as configured in literature and art, in myth as in cult, in drama as in philosophy, is claimed to be universal, holding sway over all of nature, and to have irresistible appeal, even to the...

  5. PREFACE
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. NOTE ON TRANSLATIONS
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. LIST OF ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxi-2)
  8. Tragic Prelude THE YOKE OF EROS
    (pp. 3-10)

    There was never any shortage on the attic stage of dramas about love. One that appears to have most affected the audience honoring Dionysus on the Acropolis hillside was that of the deadly passion of Phaedra. This was no doubt partly because Phaedra was married to the classical city’s own founding hero, but partly also because of the somewhat gratuitous nature of her feelings for her stepson. Hippolytus, the son of the queen of the Amazons, for his part, certainly deserved to die by reason of his stubborn rejection of the pleasures of mature erotic desire offered by Aphrodite—a...

  9. PART ONE: THE TOPICS OF EROS

    • Chapter I THE EROS OF THE MELIC POETS
      (pp. 13-38)

      Prone as it is to an incoherence fostered by its excessive practice of criticism, our civilization has fragmented the notion of amorous feeling into the most contradictory representations of it. On the one hand a medical approach has led to isolating an instinct of a physiological nature, which the behavioral sciences promptly seized upon: love has thus been reduced to the taxonomy of interactive and determinist relations known as “sexuality.” On the other hand, psychology inspired by psychoanalysis refers us to a libido that turns erotic desire into a series of affective reactions that are responses to an unconscious motivating...

    • Chapter II THE EROS OF EPIC POETRY
      (pp. 39-48)

      In our analysis focused on signifiers we have so far concentrated on Greek melic poetry. Now let us carry that study of poetical and symbolic representations of erotic desire farther, turning our attention to the Homeric texts and others that adopted the same diction, recognizing however, that the terms selected by no means exhaust the lexical field of poetic love in the archaic period. The investigation that follows is not intended to be as exhaustive as that into melic poetry.

      How best to counter the reproaches of Helen, led to her lover by Aphrodite of the beautiful bosom, breasts of...

  10. PART TWO: THE SYMBOLIC PRACTICES OF EROS

    • Chapter III THE PRAGMATIC EFFECTS OF LOVE POETRY
      (pp. 51-64)

      As i have already stated, I am anxious to avoid the illusion of realism. The amorous relationships of the epic heroes and the melic poets are literary and symbolic creations that can no doubt help us to reconstruct a particular representation of love; however, they certainly do not provide a basis for any reconstruction of real sexual practices. Nevertheless, the modes of utterance and the meaning of the texts that represent those amorous relationships do offer a possible means of breaking out of the circle of internal reference and opening up a way of approaching extralinguistic, or extradiscursive, matters. Particularly...

    • Chapter IV THE PRAGMATICS OF EROTIC ICONOGRAPHY
      (pp. 65-88)

      In addition to literature, there was another medium that produced symbolic representations of ancient Greek culture and that can convey an image of Greek love to us. Iconography, particularly that of the late archaic period, offers a great wealth of representations that, in my view at least, provide extremely concrete, albeit symbolic, information about sexual approaches, contacts, and relations. It is altogether deliberately that I introduce the modern concept of sexuality at this point. The iconic nature of these symbolic representations affords us a view that is the polar opposite of that provided by the literary representations: on the one...

  11. PART THREE: EROS IN SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS

    • Chapter V EROS IN THE MASCULINE: THE POLIS
      (pp. 91-109)

      To address the question of Eros’ institutional role, we need to broaden the semantic viewpoint that we have so far adopted. We must now examine the function of this institutionalized Eros. The erotic practices of the symposium have introduced us to a form of social conditioning that was essentially masculine. But the flight of winged Eros leads us on farther, into a ritualized ceremony centered first and foremost on a woman. Although the texts and images that make it possible for us to reconstruct how a marriage unfolded were produced by men, the principal protagonist was the young wife. However,...

    • Chapter VI EROS IN THE FEMININE: THE OIKOS
      (pp. 110-129)

      What happened to the love life of these boys and girls educated through Eros, once they reached adulthood? To tackle this question we shall have to adopt a different perspective, since among adults the victims of Aphrodite and Eros were usually women. Furthermore, if we are to remain with Athens, a slight chronological shift will be necessary: the lack of documentation forces us to move from the late archaic period to the heart of the classical period, when the extension of the democratic system was in full swing. It must be admitted that there are no traces of the existence...

    • Chapter VII DIONYSIAC CHALLENGES TO LOVE
      (pp. 130-150)

      Whenever it is a matter of educating future citizens or of introducing their wives into their roles as fully developed women, Aphrodite and Eros take a hand in the institutions designed to facilitate the passage to adult life, in order to produce a sexuality that is at once controlled and productive. Despite the apparent reversal of the norms of heterosexual interchange that homophile relations effected, they were in truth designed to promote integration.

      However, for men at least and in particular in fifth-century Athens, there were plenty of instances of sexual deviance. To judge from the iconography, these were generally...

  12. PART FOUR: THE SPACES OF EROS

    • Chapter VIII THE MEADOWS AND GARDENS OF LEGEND
      (pp. 153-164)

      When the interventions of Eros and Aphrodite were dramatized in Attic theater, within a space consecrated to the cult of Dionysus, those deities were sometimes bitterly criticized by human beings, as just noted above. Let us now pursue our inquiry into the poetic representations of their modes of intervention by considering the spaces in which the powers of deified love are deployed. As we have seen, Eros’ activity in Greek educative institutions of an initiatory type takes place not so much in the domain of wild nature — as the anthropological pattern of tribal initiation might lead us to expect — but...

    • Chapter IX THE MEADOWS AND GARDENS OF THE POETS
      (pp. 165-174)

      Melic poetry, the speech of which is assumed by the locutor, who thus becomes its main protagonist, refers the reader not to a mythical situation, but to circumstances that directly affect that locutor. These circumstances, which are situated in the immediate past, may, through the interplay of deictics and verb tenses, be made to coincide with the actual enunciative situation of the poem. Let us see whether, through these enunciative means, the meadows and gardens of myth play a role in the real institutional circumstances of the initiation of girls into the seductive manners of reproductive sexuality.

      One singer of...

  13. PART FIVE: THE METAPHYSICS OF EROS

    • Chapter X EROS AS DEMIURGE AND PHILOSOPHER
      (pp. 177-191)

      Whatever the particular spaces in which it operates, the power of Eros extends to the whole universe, from the sea to the sky and encompassing the earth, and from the animal kingdom to the realm of the gods and including the human race. That is how it is represented throughout the whole of Greek literature, from the Homeric Hymns to Longus’ novel, and including tragedy, Hellenistic poetry, and the formulae of magical spells.¹ There is thus a cosmic dimension to the power of Eros and, consequently, also to that of Aphrodite; and it is constructive rather than destructive. Although the...

    • Chapter XI MYSTIC EROS
      (pp. 192-197)

      In both the Symposium and the Phaedrus of Plato, the ways proposed for progressing toward beauty or toward truth, through the mediation of Eros, are of an initiatory nature. The way indicated by Diotima is conceived as a path that rises in steps (epanabasmoi) toward beauty and also as a giving birth, the metaphorical meaning of which can only be explained by a woman and, what is more, only by one who is a “diviner.” Also, more directly, the proposed itinerary is described in the very same terms that were used to designate initiation into the mystery cults: muêsis, teletai,...

  14. Elegiac Coda EROS THE EDUCATOR
    (pp. 198-200)

    Eros the organizer of the cosmos, Eros the mapper of metaphysical spaces, Eros the constructor of social relations, hence Eros the educator, Eros the incarnation of the power of love—to reverse the order of the guises in which we have so far discovered him. What strikes one above all about the cosmic or civilizing relations woven by Eros, under the control of Aphrodite, is the dynamic, if not the dialectical and polemical aspects of this web. It is the fact that, through amorous desire, Eros is first and foremost a force of reproduction, above all of social reproduction.

    There...

  15. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 201-206)
  16. NAME INDEX
    (pp. 207-210)
  17. SUBJECT INDEX
    (pp. 211-213)