Long ago, Aristophanes explains, there were three genders: male, female, and androgynous, and each person was twice what they are now. They were very powerful and vigorous and made threatening attacks on the gods. The gods did not want to destroy them because they would then forfeit the sacrifices humans made to them, so Zeus decided to cut each person in two. He also suggested that if this didn't settle humans down, he would cut them in two once again and they would have to hop about on one leg.

Because they longed for their original nature, people kept trying to find their other half and reunite with it. This is the origin of our instinctive desire for other human beings. Those who are interested in members of the opposite sex are halves of formerly androgynous people, while men who like men and women who like women are halves of what were formerly whole males and females. Aristophanes applauds male-male relationships between men and boys since such couples value boldness, braveness, and masculinity, both in themselves and in others. "Love" is the name that we give to our desire for wholeness, to be restored to our original nature.

Aristophanes seems to suggest, like Pausanias, that life-long partnerships are ideal. For Aristophanes, this is because it involves a perfect matching of two halves. This suggestion would go against what we know about Greek sexual practice, where romanticized life-long relationships were rare.

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