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Published in: Journal Of Hellenic Religion, , Vol. 2, 18-39.


Michel Foucault, in his influential work The Uses of Pleasure, suggests that ‘if one wanted to assign an origin to those few great themes that shaped our sexual morality … not only would it be a mistake to attribute them to that fiction called ‘Judeo-Christian’ morality, it would be a bigger mistake to look behind them for the timeless operation of prohibition or the permanent form of law.’ We find ourselves challenged today with a fundamental question: how did our sexual humanity become morally problematic? When and why was a stigma applied to sexuality, indeed to the body as such?

Plato tells us exactly how and when it happened in his immortal dialogue, The Symposium. It is possible to draw a straight line from the night celebrated in this dialogue – indeed, from the very moment of Socrates’ speech on love – to the modern contempt for the situated body and the spiritualization of the idea of love. It is from the mouth of Socrates that we first hear a strong association of sexual activity with evil and a glorification of sexual self-restraint in the service of a higher goal. Socrates’ project — ultimately successful — was to bootstrap the idea of Eros completely out of the sexed body. All of Western thought about sexuality and love stems from this symposium.

The guests at the symposium try, each in his own way, to pay homage to the embodied striving of the god Eros. These ordinary members of the Athenian elite find themselves stunned and seduced by the soaring power of Socrates’ rhetoric and his matchless mythmaking. But Socrates is himself rendered speechless when a living god staggers into the room and accuses Socrates of unspeakable things.


You are viewing the abstract of the article by Stephen Gallagher entitled Army of Lovers: Socrates, Sex and the Speech of Alcibiades. If you are holding a Subscription for its online version please login. If you want to access the article please subscribe or order the volume.