“When a person meets the half that is his very own, whatever his orientation…something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment.” – PLATO
The Origins of a Cliché
This Valentine’s Day we are celebrating the quirky origins of the phrase our other half. It may seem a cliché, but all clichés had to start somewhere.
In this case, somewhere was Ancient Greece, around 380 B.C. The concept is described by the philosopher Plato in a work called Symposium.
In Symposium, a bunch of important men are sitting around, eating, drinking, and trying to outdo each other with the stories they dedicate to Eros, the god of love and desire.
One of these men, Aristophanes, tells a story of the origins of mankind’s love for one another…
According to Aristophanes, people were not originally as they are now. In the beginning, they were round, with four arms, four legs and two heads.
“There were three kinds…: the male kind was originally an offspring of the sun, the female of the earth, and the one that combined both genders was an offspring of the moon…They were spherical, and so was their motion, because they were like their parents in the sky.”
These humans were powerful, and they knew it. They threatened the power of the gods and the gods decided to take action.
Zeus’s solution was a simple but brutal one.
He sliced each being in two, “the way people cut sorb-apples before they dry them or the way they cut eggs with hairs,” so that each had one head, two arms and two legs. Now, not only were the humans less powerful, less fast, and less able to be productive, they were also constantly distracted by the desire to find and merge with their other half.
Seeking Our Other Half
“Since their natural form had been cut in two, each one longed for its own other half, and so they would throw their arms about each other, weaving themselves together, wanting to grow together. In that condition they would die from hunger and general idleness, because they would not do anything apart from each other.”
This search for our other half has kept humans occupied for millennia.
While each being is looking outside of themselves for their missing half, they are at the same time looking for themselves. The story can be read both as seeking someone else to complete you, and as being complete in yourself. It’s about loving yourself and loving others.
Whether you are single or complicated or loved up or preferring not to label what you are this Valentine’s Day, remember to love yourself!
“Love is born into every human being: it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”
Aristophanes’ full story in translation available here.