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:
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
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:
Symmetrically, Theagenes had never had relations with a woman:
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,
And speaking of himself, Clitophon can also say, in a symmetrical fashion:
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
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.
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.