Vorige Start Volgende



During this period in which one notes that reflection on the love of boys manifests its sterility, one sees some of the elements of a new erotics coming to the fore. Its privileged place is not in philosophical texts, and it does not borrow its major themes from the love of boys. It develops in reference to the relationship between a man and a woman, and it finds expression in romances, of which the chief surviving examples are the adventures of Chaereas and Callirhoe, written by Chariton of Aphrodisias; those of Leucippe and Clitophon, recounted by Achilles Tatius; and the Ethiopica, by Heliodorus. 

It is true that many uncertainties remain in connection with this literature, relative to the circumstances of its emergence and success, the date of the texts, and their possible allegorical and spiritual significance. But one can nonetheless call attention to the presence, in these long narratives with their countless episodes, of some of the themes that will subsequently characterize erotics, both religious and profane: 

the existence of a “heterosexual” relation marked by a male-female polarity, 

the insistence on an abstention that is modeled much more on virginal integrity than on the political and virile domination of desires; 

and finally, the fulfillment and reward of this purity in a union that has the form and value of a spiritual marriage. 


In this sense, and whatever may have been the influence of Platonism on this erotics, it is clearly far removed from an erotics that referred essentially to the temperate love of boys and to its perfection in the lasting form of friendship.

It is true that the love of boys is not completely absent from this romantic literature. Not only does it occupy an important place, certainly, in the tales of Petronius or Apuleius, which attests to the frequency and quite general acceptance of the practice. But it is also present in certain tales of virginity, betrothal, and marriage. 

Thus in Leucippe and Clitophon, two characters represent it, and in a completely positive manner: Clinias, who tries to dissuade his own male lover from mar­riage, nevertheless gives the hero of the tale some excellent advice for making progress in the love of girls. Menelaus, for his part, offers a charming theory of a boy's kiss - not cunning, or soft, or licentious, like that of a woman; a kiss that is the product not of art but of nature: a glaze of nectar become lips, such is the simple kiss of a boy at the gymnasium. 

But these are only episodic and marginal themes. The love of a boy is never the principal object of the narrative. The whole focus of attention is centered on the relationship of the boy and the girl. This relationship always begins with a revelation that strikes them both and makes them love each other with an equal intensity. 

Except in the novel by Chariton of Aphrodisias, Chaereas and Callirhoe, this love does not immediately result in their union: the novel recounts a long series of adventures, which separate the two young people and prevent both marriage and the consummation of pleasure until the last moment 

(In Chaereas and Callirhoe, the separation occurs immediately after marriage; but the two spouses preserve their love, their purity, and their faithfulness throughout their adventures.) 

These adventures are, insofar as possible, symmetrical. Everything that happens to the one has its counterpart in the changes of fortune the other is made to undergo, which allows them to show the same courage, the same endurance, the same fidelity. This is because the primary significance of these adventures and their ability to sustain one's interest until the denouement have to do with the fact that in the midst of them the two characters hold strictly to a reciprocal sexual fidelity. A fidelity where the protagonists are married, as in the case of Chaereas and Callirhoe; a virginity in other tales, where the adventures and misfortunes come after the discovery of love and before marriage. 

Now it must be understood that this virginity is not simply an abstention resulting from a pledge. It is a choice of lives, which in the Ethiopica even appears to be prior to love. Chariclea, carefully schooled by her adoptive father in the quest for “the best of lives,” refused even to entertain the idea of marriage. The father had complained of this, moreover, after suggesting an honourable candidate: 

“Neither by kind attentions, nor by promises, nor by appeals to reason, have I been able to persuade her. Hardest blow of all, she has aimed, as they say, my own shafts against me, and brandishes over me her accomplishment in the arts of speech -- the subtleties of which I have imparted to her … glorifying the virgin state, which, she declares, is next to the immortal.”

Symmetrically, Theagenes had never had relations with a woman: 

“He affirmed with many oaths that he had never yet had intimacy with a woman. He had spurned all women, and marriage itself, and many love affairs that were mentioned to him, until the beauty of Chariclea had proved to him that he was not by nature obdurate. But up to the previous day he had never beheld a woman worthy of being loved.”

We see then that virginity is not simply abstention as a preliminary to sexual practice. It is a choice, a style of life, a lofty form of existence that the hero chooses out of the regard that he has for himself. When the most extraordinary occurrences separate the two protagonists and expose them to the worst dangers, the gravest will of course be that of falling prey to the sexual cupidity of others. The greatest test of their own worth and their mutual love will be that of resisting at all costs and of saving that virginity which is essential to the relationship with themselves and essential to the relationship with each other. 

Thus the novel by Achilles Tatius unfolds as a kind of odyssey of double virginity. A virginity exposed, assailed, doubted, slandered, safeguarded - except for an honourable, minor lapse that Clitophon allowed himself - and finally justified and certified in a sort of divine ordeal, which makes it possible to proclaim concerning the girl, 

“she is still the same, up to the present day, as when you sent her away from Byzantium; it is to be put down to her credit that she remained a virgin when surrounded by a gang of pirates, and overcame the worst of them.” 

And speaking of himself, Clitophon can also say, in a symmetrical fashion: 

“You will find that I have imitated your virginity, if there be any virginity in men.”

But if love and sexual abstention thus coincide during the entire adventure, one has to understand that it is not simply a question of defending oneself against outsiders. This preservation of virginity holds within the love relation as well. The lovers save themselves for each other until the time when love and virginity find their fulfillment in marriage. 

So that premarital chastity, which brings the two fiancés together in spirit so long as they are separated and being put to the test by others, keeps them self restrained and makes them abstain when they are finally reunited after many twists of fate. Finding themselves alone in a cave, left to themselves, Theagenes and Chariclea 

“took their fill of ardent embraces and kisses. In a moment they were oblivious of everything else. For a long time they clung to each other as though grown into one person, satiating themselves with a devout, virginal love, communing with one another through the flow of hot tears, and commingling only by the chaste means of their kisses. 
For Chariclea, when she found Theagenes making some too impulsive advance of manly ardour, restrained him by recalling his oaths, and his attempt was easily checked. It was a light matter for him to be temperate, for although mastered by love he could be master of his pleasures.”

This virginity is not to be understood, then, as an attitude that is set against all sexual relations, even if they take place within marriage. It is much more the test preparatory to that union, the movement that leads to it and in which it will find its fulfillment. Love, virginity, and marriage form a whole: the two lovers have to preserve their physical integrity, but also their purity of heart, until the moment of their union, which is to be understood in the physical but also the spiritual sense.

Thus there begins to develop an erotics different from the one that had taken its starting point in the love of boys, even though abstention from the sexual pleasures plays an important part in both. This new erotics organizes itself around the symmetrical and reciprocal relationship of a man and a woman, around the high value attributed to virginity, and around the complete union in which it finds perfection.


Vorige Start Volgende