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Download The Banquet epub

by Plato,Percy Bysshe Shelley

A new edition of Percy Bysshe Shelley's translation of Plato's dialogue, THE BANQUET (more commonly known as The Symposium).

Witty, sexy and radiantly beautiful, the Shelley translation of Plato's great Dialogue on Love is by far the best in the English language. It has been described as conveying "much of the vivid life, the grace of movement, and the luminous beauty of Plato" -- "the poetry of a philosopher rendered by the prose of a poet".

Although a masterpiece in its own right, the Shelley translation is unknown even to most students of English literature. Amazingly, it was suppressed and then bowdlerized for well over a century. In 19th century Britain, male love -- at the heart of the dialogue -- was unmentionable.

THE BANQUET and Shelley's accompanying essay, "A Discourse on the Manners of the Antient Greeks", were not published in their entirety until 1931, and then in an edition of 100 copies intended "for private circulation only".

For many years, the Shelley translation has been unobtainable, new or used. Pagan Press now offers a new edition, which is complete, authentic and readable.

John Lauritsen, editor and publisher of the new edition, has stated:

"In the canon of great books dealing with male love, Shelley's translation of Plato's BANQUET belongs at the head of the list. It is deplorable that this masterpiece has suffered first suppression, then bowdlerization, and finally neglect. I believe it should be available to readers now, and for so long as the English language lives."

Download The Banquet epub
ISBN: 0943742129
ISBN13: 978-0943742120
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Poetry
Author: Plato,Percy Bysshe Shelley
Language: English
Publisher: Pagan Pr (March 8, 2001)
Pages: 96 pages
ePUB size: 1916 kb
FB2 size: 1589 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 521
Other Formats: rtf lit lrf doc

A classic and a must
This book contains three things. Shelley's translation of Plato's dialogue _The Banquet_ (or _Symposium_), the first and still the greatest English version; Shelley's courageously anti-homophobic essay _A Discourse on the Manners of the Ancient Athenians Relative to the Subject of Love_; and an introduction by editor John Lauritsen. The five stars are for Shelley.
The _Symposium_ presents a group of Athenian aristocrats who share privilege, contempt for democracy and the leisure needed for philosophy. After one banquet, the slaves gone, they compete to make the best speech in praise of love. The most memorable speeches are by Aristophanes, Socrates and Alcibiades.
Aristophanes creates a comic myth in which men and women were once joined, sharing a body and a soul (and, each androgynous creature having four legs and four arms, getting about by tumbling). The gods became jealous of these creatures' happiness and split them up, creating the two sexes we know today. But men and women stayed together, each with the partner with whom they had shared a soul. So Zeus scattered them, forcing the male and female soulmates apart. And still men and women search amongst each other, looking for that one perfect soulmate.
Socrates' speech concerns love between men and boys, arguing that in their highest forms these loves have no sexual element. Alcibiades arrives late and drunk, and refuses to speak in praise of anything but Socrates himself. The party then breaks up.
The _Symposium_ is Plato's most theatrical dialogue, with vivid characterisation, deft comic touches and soaring poetic language. Shelley was also fascinated by Alcibiades' anecdote about Socrates standing lost in thought, oblivious to sun, cold, thirst or pain, motionless for three days. Shelley's translation is literally accurate (despite some minor errors) but also accurate in the higher sense of being a brilliantly poetic rendering of a brilliantly poetic work. Shelley called Plato's original "radiant", lamenting that his own words were a "gray veil" over the brightness of the original. But his modesty was unwarranted: his is one of the great English prose translations: fresh, clear and indeed radiant.
Shelley's _Ancient Athenians_ essay is just as remarkable. It attempts to explain how [some] ancient Athenians could have thought love between men, including sexual love, was "higher" than heterosexual love. In doing so he presented a pioneering case against homophobia. The courage of Shelley's stance in his 1818 essay, as in so many things, is simply astonishing.
Shelley's argument was that homosexuality flourished in
ancient Athens, and was considered nobler than heterosexual relations, because of the suppression of women. Athenian society didn't educate girls or women, and excluded them from the city's intellectual, artistic and political life. Therefore, Shelley argued, it was harder for male-female relationships to be equal partnerships, or to include the life of the mind, or indeed much beyond the housekeeping mundane or the purely sexual. Though he argued against condemning homosexuality he was also, as a proto-feminist, arguing that the social conditions that (he thought) foster homosexuality are unjust and undesirable.
Lauritsen's introduction misreads both texts in claiming them as gay classics. Plato's text has Socrates promote intergenerational same-sex relationships, though ideally without sexual practice or the body. Alcibiades' speech is homoerotic in its praise of Socrates, but crucial to that praise is that Socrates is celibate, even when tempted by the beautiful Alcibiades himself. Later, Plato will withdraw this limited tolerance, banning homosexuals from his "ideal" republic. As Karl Popper observed, Plato was a sign on the road that led to Fascism, Nazism, Communism. The _Symposium_ is a treasure of world literature, but too problematic a text simply to be celebrated as a gay classic.
Shelley's essay is also classic but not "gay". (Setting aside the fact that "gay" places someone within a culture that didn't exist in Shelley's lifetime.) Shelley argued that homosexual relationships can be loving and noble, and should not be condemned unless there is brutality or other things that would be equally undesirable in a heterosexual relationship. But he argues as a sympathetic outsider (with bisexual male friends), who also wrote essays defending the political rights of Ireland, deists and Catholics, without being Irish, or a deist or Catholic.
Lauritsen arguments for claiming Shelley as "gay" are astonishingly shonky. One, amazingly, is that Shelley was good-looking. But ... what about good-looking heterosexuals? Or Shelley's facial boils? More Lauritsen "evidence" is that Shelley stood naked when Trelawney first met him. But in public school culture then as now it was "manly"; not to fuss about being naked in front of other men; also, Shelley had been bathing, and he'd expected to pass women on the beach but didn't know Trelawney was there. Lauritsen mentions missing diary pages to suggest a cover-up. But he should know that the diary in question is Claire Claremont's and surrounding evidence indicates that the missing pages concern a pregnancy, an entirely heterosexual scandal. And Lauritsen says, meaningfully, that Shelley kissed friends at school, but should surely know that in that less emotionally constrained age men kissed to indicate friendship, not trouser turbulence. And so on.
Instead, Shelley was something more radical. Fascinated by androgyny, he asserted the right to enact masculinity as it suited him; ridin', shootin' and boatin' with Byron and Trelawney, and gentle and "womanly" with women and some male friends. Shelley unhitched the link, as Lauritsen does not, between gender performance and sexual orientation, in that sense being an ancestor of more fluid current thinking on sexuality. The idea that a man who is prepared to drop the male "armour" is necessarily homosexual is a 19th century conservative idea: it's ironic that some gay activists later took it up.
But despite reservations on Lauritsen's claims, he deserves our thanks for making Shelley's two magnificent tests available again. Shelley might be bemused to find himself claimed as gay, but he'd be pleased to find his works still enlisted in the struggle against bigotry and in the cause of love.