Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Version at BMCR home site
Herwig Görgemanns, Barbara Feichtinger, Fritz Graf, Werner Jeanrond, Jan Opsomer (ed.), Plutarch, Dialog über die Liebe. Sapere Bd. 10. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2006. Pp. x, 322. ISBN 9783161488115. €29.00 (pb).
Reviewed by Federica Pezzoli, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid


[Note: The reviewer wishes to apologize to the authors of the book and to the readers of BMCR for this late review.]

The book is part of a collection which aims at publishing fundamental texts on ethics and religion from Late Antiquity and is the result of the joint work on Plutarch’s Amatorius by a group of five scholars, each of whom brings to bear his or her own expert knowledge on the text.

The authors intend to give a complete survey of this dialogue by Plutarch. They provide a Greek text, translation and commentary and have added to these four essays that deal with relevant topics (1. Eros’ cult in Thespiae, by Fritz Graf; 2. the meaning of eros in Plutarch’s ethical psychology, by Jan Opsomer; 3. the role of love, sex and sexual relationships in social history of antiquity, by Barbara Feichtinger; 4. the developments of the concept of Eros as a god in the works by Plutarch and in the contemporary theology of love of the early church, by Werner Jeanrond). On the one hand, these four papers describe the cultural framework in which Plutarch is writing, on the other one they show the reception of some themes in the philosophical and literary tradition.

H. Görgemanns’ introduction to the text is a comprehensive and clear study dealing with the theme of the dialogue, its chronology, its characters -- with mention of historical and epigraphical sources as well as literary ones --, and its literary form. A long part is devoted to examining different works on love and marriage in Greek philosophical literature (beginning with Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus) and to determining Plutarch’s own original contribution to that tradition. This, it appears, consists mainly in the strong relation between eros and gamos, the application of the Stoic connection of eros with philia and arete to marriage and the central role of sexual relationships in marriage. The final part discusses with accuracy the argumentative structure of the dialogue and presents the manuscripts (Parisinus 1672 and Parisinus 1675) on which the main critical editions of Amatorius (Hubert, Flacelière, Helmbold and Barigazzi) are based.

Görgemanns also provides the Greek text -- divided into chapters but without apparatus criticus or critical textual markings (e.g., brackets or cruces) --, a good German translation and a rich corpus of notes, discussing both textual issues and meaning at length and with bibliographical references. His starting point is Hubert’s Teubner edition (1938), with some textual emendations, listed at the end of section A.

F. Graf’s essay (pp. 191-207) is devoted to an extensive reconstruction of Eros’ cult in Thespiae. The author demonstrates that the agon related with Erotideia, the festival of Eros celebrated every four years in the Boiotian city, is epigraphically attested since the second century B.C. and that, in the beginning, it included panhellenic athletic contests only. By the time of Augustus, probably for economic reasons, the agon related to the festival dedicated to the Muses (Mouseia) was added to the agon of the Erotideia. This change explains why in the Amatorius the young Plutarch could mention the two festivals together (cf. 748F), and hint at agonistic contests as well as musical ones. The second section of the essay discusses what literary and epigraphical sources tell us about the sanctuary of the god, which has not been excavated. Basing himself on Pausanias’ narrative, Graf assumes that the sanctuary was within the territory of the city and consisted of a temple, a garden dedicated to Narcissus, two statues of Eros and two other statues by Praxiteles, one of Aphrodite and one of Phryne. The last sections of Graf’s study deal with three different subjects that show the antiquity and importance of the worship of Eros in the Boiotian city: the origins of the cult of Eros in Thespiae which is related to the tale of the punishment and death of Narcissus, a story of homoerotic love that goes probably back to archaic times; the worship of a sacred stone (cf. Pausanias IX.27.1), which Plutarch does not mention in his work and which Pausanias presents, not convincingly, as an example of the archaic aniconic cult of the god; the possible, although in Graf’s opinion not necessary, relationship between Eros’ cosmogonic role in Hesiod’s Theogony and the cult of this same god in Thespiae.

J. Opsomer’s essay (pp. 208-235) is about the idea and role of eros in Plutarch’s ethical psychology. At first, the reader is presented with a long and complete discussion of Plutarch’s (Platonic-Aristotelian) concept of the soul. The human soul is divided into two parts, a rational and divine one and an irrational one (cf. Plato’s Timaeus). Desires constitute the irrational part that the logos may limit and transform into ethical virtues, but cannot remove altogether. After that, Opsomer demonstrates that in Plutarch’s Amatorius there is a clear idea of eros, which the author explains at the end of the dialogue, after discussing and rejecting other speakers’ proposals: Eros is a god and not a simple pa/qos. Real eros is a strong -- and initially chaotic -- desire of divine origin that the rational and divine part of the soul transforms into the base for a durable relationship but also into a way to attain beauty and truth. To sum up, not only is eros a god, it also has an epistemic power related to the existence, in the human soul, of a divine and rational part that allows men to know the truth. Real eros, through anamnesis, guides the human soul to virtue and to the divine by means of the person -- man or woman -- whom one loves. In Opsomer’s opinion, Plutarch’s original contribution to the philosophical discussion about eros is to be found in the fact that the philosophical eros attains its perfect and complete form in an affection-based marriage.

B. Feichtinger’s essay (pp. 236-273) is more historical and devoted to reconstructing the role of the social context and culture in determining the idea and the nature of eros in the ancient Greek world. Feichtinger analyses the origin and the meaning of homoerotic love -- especially in the form of Knabenliebe -- in an agonistic society such as the Greek polis of archaic and classical times and its role as a mean of integration in the social and political community. The risk of a “passive” role by the man is minimized by the distinction, attested in the philosophical tradition, between an eros ouranios, good and without physical aims, and an eros pandemos, bad and aiming simply at the pleasure. According to Feichtinger, the Greek élites in Plutarch’s times had lost the major part of their political power and the agonistic view was replaced by the idea of concordia, symbolized by marriage. That explains why in the Amatorius Plutarch does not condemn homoerotic eros -- a sign that the practice still existed as a private fact -- but shows, by means of platonic and traditional ideas, that marriage can be integrated in the philosophical concept of double eros and is clearly better than homoerotic love, since the love of man and woman is according to nature, durable and constitutes the base of society.

The last essay (pp. 274-293) by W. G. Jeanrond is a comparative study of the idea of the divinity of eros as it is developed in Plutarch’s Amatorius and as it occurs in the early church. This comparison is all the more interesting since the origin of the Christian theology of love -- according to which God is love -- is contemporary to Plutarch’s writings. Jeanrond demonstrates that, while in Plutarch’s Amatorius all kinds of eros are analysed and reach their perfection in marriage, in Biblical texts a neat distinction between love as divine agape and the expression of male sexuality in and outside the marriage is attested. In fact, the choice of the Septuagint to translate the Hebraic word for love with the Greek agape -- or, sometimes, philia -- is important because it shows a movement of love away from the physical to the spiritual sphere and explains the adoption of an allegorical interpretation of the relationship between men and women as the bond between God and the church. If in Plutarch’s dialogue marriage is the form in which real eros, sex and pleasure are joined, in Paul’s writings agape has nothing to do with marriage.

The book ends with a short bibliographical section and indices by Cosima Bunke.

Apart from some occasional editorial errors, especially in the footnotes of Graf’s and Opsomer’s essays, and a somewhat confusing system of bibliographical references -- name and date for works listed in the bibliographical section and full quotation of works not listed there --, the book is an important, very useful and original contribution to the study of Plutarch’s Amatorius, with a quite up-to-date bibliography and a comprehensive exploitation of all available sources. It offers a valuable philological and literary study and, at the same time, an interdisciplinary instrument to contextualize some fundamental topics of the dialogue. The essays constitute a good introduction to Plutarch’s philosophy and the cultural and literary tradition in which the author is writing. Last but not least, the affordable price of the volume puts it within reach of scholars and students alike.

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