The Making of Fornication: Eros, Ethics, and Political Reform in Greek Philosophy and Early Christianity

By Kathy L. Gaca | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Crafting Eros through
the Stoic Logos of Nature

Like Plato, the early Stoics Zeno (335–263 B. C. E.) and Chrysippus (280– 207 B. C. E.) sought to improve moral life in ancient Greek society. They too stressed the need for communal sexual and reproductive reforms, though for reasons that go beyond Plato' aim to rein in acquisitive desires and that reveal much about the early Stoic conception of sexual eros as a method of training in reason and ethics. The early Stoic city of eros is evocative of, yet in substantive counterpoint to, Kallipolis in Plato' Republic.1 The early Stoic principles of sexual and procreative conduct are thus of interest historically for what they reveal about the envisioned early Stoic city as an artifact of ancient political philosophy.

Zeno and Chrysippus are also of immediate contemporary interest, because they are among the most original thinkers about human sexuality and its socialization. They stimulate deeper reflection today on the relationship between social norms and human sexuality. To put some of the questions in terms more like the Stoics' own, what kind of sexual animals are we? Are we a definable species in this respect? How have conventional ideas about human sexual nature shaped us to become the political animals that we are through our upbringing, education, and other acculturating factors? How can unconventional ideas modify sexual practices and their cultural outcome, at least in theory? Regarding questions such as these, early Stoicism is of great value, not so much for the answers that Zeno and Chrysippus offered, but for the adventurous experiments in disciplined reasoning that they made in their inquiries.

The socially engaged sexual principles of the early Stoa deserve greater

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1
The relationship is partly one of a “reply to Plato (cf. Plut. Stoic. repugn. 1034e–f), ” as P. Vander Waerdt notes, “Politics and Philosophy in Stoicism, ” 186.

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