In this contemplation we shall have a look at sex in the light of a unity that is cut into a duality.
‘Sex’ is the root-word of several therefrom derived words such as ‘sexuality’, ‘sexual’, ‘sexist’ and, also in combination with other words, many other terms. ‘Sex’ on itself may be taken as a synonym for ‘gender’ and may also refer to the act of having sexual intercourse.1 ‘Sex’ carries within its normal usage always a reference to living beings. It is in one way or the other always related to humans, animals or plants. In this contemplation however we shall confine ourselves mainly with sex in relation to humans. Etymologically ‘sex’ can be regarded as being derived from the Latin word ‘secare’, meaning ‘to cut’.2 ‘Secare’ can again be traced back to the proto-Indo-European root-word ‘sek’, which has a similar meaning, namely ‘cut’.3 So ‘sex’ can be considered as being rooted in the proto-Indo-European root-word ‘sek’. And with ‘sek’ carrying the meaning of ‘cut’ we may consider sex as being related to a cut. To make this statement more easily acceptable we may have a look at the process that takes place when a cut occurs. Basically cuts transform unities into dualities. There is a primal unity, and in order for that unity to become a duality a cut needs to take place. Thus a cut can be considered as that which relates a certain unity to a certain duality. Important to see here is that in the context of considering a cut the unity in question is primal and the duality in question is secondary. After all; it is not so that a prime duality is brought to a secondary unity by means of a cut. This may be the case with fusions or unifications and the like, but those words cannot be brought in an etymological relation with ‘sex’, our subject of contemplation. ‘Cut’ however can. And it is so that cuts bring primal unities to secondary dualities. Now regarding human sexuality there are two observations to be made that may seem rather obvious. The first observation concerns the unity of humanity. All humans are human, every single one of them. Never and nowhere lived a human who was not human. All this taken in the literally sense. In this, humanity is one. The second observation concerns the duality of humanity. Humans are of a specific gender. We leave the possibility of the androgynous human logically open, but as far as observations are concerned a human is either male or female. And as these observations are obvious, so must the primacy of humanity’s unity and the secondarity of humanity’s duality be obvious. A human is first of all human, and only after that is decided upon the human’s gender. Thus with a human primal unity and a human secondary duality posited, a certain cut of humanity can be deduced. In this way the positing of a relation between sex and a cut can be considered as very plausible. The Oxford English Dictionary acknowledges this assumption by defining sex in one of its definitions by means of mentioning a division.4 (‘Division’ being related to the verb ‘divide’, having among its meanings also ‘to cut asunder’).5
Now the thought of a primal one humanity that is cut into a duality of sexes is not a unique thought. It is explicitly present in for instance esoteric philosophies.6 And neither is it a recent thought. It is at least as ancient as are myths. One of the examples here is the ancient Greek myth of Pandora.7 The titan Prometheus had stolen the fire from the gods and had brought it to the world of the humans whom he had created. At that point humans were not yet known in their two sexes; there were only men. Prometheus’s act of stealing the fire and bringing it to the world of men angered the highest god Zeus, and the latter set out to punish both Prometheus and men. Zeus spoke out to Prometheus that he would send an evil to men which they themselves would embrace. Thus he asked the god Hephaestus to shape an earthen image, beautiful to the example of the immortal goddess. On Zeus’s order other goddesses adorned the image with beautiful ornaments and Hermes gave the image a voice, but he also imbued it with lies, guileful words and a thievish character. Hermes named the image ‘Pandora’, meaning ‘all gifts’. Pandora was to become the first woman. Even though Prometheus warned his brother Epimetheus not to accept gifts from Zeus, Epimetheus didn’t heed the warning and married Pandora. Pandora, the first woman, then lifted the lid of her jar, and all the evils came out and spread throughout the world. Only hope (or translated by some authors as ‘anticipation’)8 remained at the bottom of the jar.
This myth has a lot of similarities with the Abrahamic story of Adam and Eve.9 Yhwh (the original Hebrew name from which ‘Yahweh’ and ‘Jehova’ are derived) does not create Adam and Eve at the same time. First Adam is created from the earth’s dust. And only after Adam is set in the garden of Eden with all its plants and its animals does Yhwh create Eve. This he does not directly from the dust of the earth, as was the case with Adam. But he puts Adam to sleep and creates Eve from Adam’s rib. What follows is well known to most people. The snake beguiles Eve to eat the fruit from the forbidden tree in the centre of Edens garden. Eve gives in to the temptation, eats the fruit, and shares it with Adam as well. It opens their eyes, they beget the knowledge of good and evil, and with that the both of them become akin to Yhwh. The act angers Yhwh. He punishes the snake that beguiled Eve, and he punishes Adam and Eve. To prevent Adam and Eve from eating also from the tree of life that would bestow on them eternal life as well, Yhwh banishes them from the garden of Eden. Outside the garden, as a punishment, they are doomed to live a mortal life with difficulties and sorrows.
The similarities of these two myths are easy to see. Adam and in a way also Epimetheus play the role of humanity’s unity, of the one humanity before it is cut into its dual sexes. Prometheus and the snake also play similar roles. Both make it possible for humanity to become akin to the highest god in question. Prometheus brings the fire of the gods to humanity, and the snake persuades Eve to eat the fruit from the tree that gives knowledge of good and evil. Eve in her turn plays the same role as does Pandora, namely the role of the first woman. Both play the role of the second sex. And in both the myths the happening of becoming akin to the highest god results in a life that contains suffering and hardships. Both Zeus and Yhwh punish humanity for daring to become akin to the them. And again; in both myths the suffering is being carried in by the second sex. Thus these two famous myths from the Greek and from the Abrahamic tradition have in their main lines some very striking similarities.
Indeed; Prometheus gives the fire of the gods before Pandora as the second sex is created, and the snake offers the forbidden fruit only after Eve as the second sex is created. This might raise the question whether godly qualities initiate the cut into the two sexes or whether the cut initiates godly qualities. This also is a valid question. But if we were to contemplate deeply along this line chances are high that we would deviate too much from our initial subject of contemplation, losing it perhaps even totally out of sight. For the moment, putting the question to a rest, both may be considered as being the two sides of the same coin. The cut of the one humanity into the dual humanity goes along with qualities that make humans akin to gods, just as the latter goes along with the first.
Another question that may rise concerns whether in these two myths, and especially in the Greek one, really can be spoken of a cut. In the case of Genesis it is obvious that a cut takes place: Adam’s rib is cut out of his body to create Eve from that. And more; it is asserted that ‘rib’ is not even a proper translation. A more accurate translation for the original Hebrew word ‘tsela’, as it occurs in Genesis, would be ‘side’. Then it was not Adam’s rib that was cut out but Adam’s side.10 This makes it a lot more plausible to see Adam before his cut in a role as humanity’s primal unity. But what about the Greek myth of Pandora? Instead of cutting humanity into two sexes, in that myth a second sex is simply added to the first, leaving the first fully intact. What can be answered to this question is that one pole is no pole, and that the one pole that is actually no pole only becomes a true pole when an opposite pole appears. So the appearance of an opposite pole can never leave a one / no pole truly unaltered. Thus the appearance of an opposite pole is contained in a similar transformative process as one wherein a cut is contained. Just as a cut transforms a primal unity into opposite poles, so does the appearance of an opposite pole go along with the appearance of another opposite pole, both of them taking the place of the primal unity. Thus in this myth (or in these two myths, if the translational explanation of ‘tsela’ is not considered to be conclusive) the male gender simply has two different roles to fulfill at two different moments. At the first moment the male gender plays the role of the primal one humanity, and at the second moment he plays the role of the to the female opposed sex. In this sense the male in its second role is just as much a second sex as is the female. So women need not feel wronged when being named ‘the second sex’, because this name refers at the same time to men as well. Of course to open a discussion about why the male sex has been given two roles and the female sex only one may be reasonable.
Those women who might feel somewhat wronged in the previous two myths will feel perhaps more comfortable with the myth as it is told by Aristophanes in Plato’s work ‘Symposium’.11 There Aristophanes claims that initially humanity consisted not of one, not even of two, but of three classes of primal unities. One unity was male, one female and one was androgynous. They were physically round of form and had four hands, four legs, two faces, four ears, two privy parts, etcetera. In short; all human body parts were doubled in those unities. The male unity was a child of the sun, the female unity was a child of the earth and the androgynous unity was a child of the moon, which itself consists of sun and earth. Their might and thoughts were great. Great enough that they dared to make an attack on the gods. The gods conferred about how to act. They could not let humanity’s insolence stay unpunished, but if they destroyed the humans then they would stay deprived of their offerings and worship. So instead of destroying humanity Zeus thought of another plan. He divided the human unities in two. Now since that cut it is that the human halves long for a reunion with each other and desire to become one again. The halves of the male unity are the men who desire other men, the halves of the female unity are the women longing for other women, and the halves of the androgynous unity are the men and women who long for each other. In the initial stage after this cut however the humans sowed their seed on the ground. Therefore Zeus moved the genitals to the front. In this way a man could sow his seed in a woman, and by doing this multiply the race. Thus the extinction of humanity was prevented.
When we compare this myth to the previous two myths, we may again discover several similarities. Aristophanes’s myth however has a different reason for being told, and the major thesis that may be discovered and uncovered will be a different one. The major thesis of the previous two myths is also present in Aristophanes’s myth, but only as a minor one, only as a stepping stone to the major thesis. Thus, following the lines of this myth in our contemplation we are able to move from one thesis to another. The main thesis that was uncovered in the previous two myth concerned the primacy of humanity’s unity, and the secondarity of its duality. It concerned the transformation from a unified humanity to a cut humanity that is divided into two sexes. As said do we also find this as a minor thesis in Aristophanes’s myth. He speaks of human unities that are cut into two halves. Also here this cut is made by the highest god; Zeus again in this case. Other similarities are also in play. The attack on the gods by the mighty human unities may be considered as an act or an occurrence where humanity measures itself up to the gods. Thus the attack tells the same thing as does the receiving of the fire of the gods and the eating of the fruit from the tree that bestows the godly knowledge of good and evil. And also in this myth is humanity being punished for the insolence by the highest god.
So where does Aristophanes depart ways with the previous myths? First of all it is eye-catching that he posits not one but three human unities. He probably does this to make the major thesis in an easy way more plausible and less falsifiable, and also more compatible with that which he glorifies in the second half of his talk; the love between men. Now although indeed this glorification takes place in Aristophanes’s talk at the symposium it is only of minor importance that this glorified love concerns the love between men. The prime and main subject that he is concerned about is love as such.12 Aristophanes, in expounding the myth, wants to make an assertion about love. Given the context in which he speaks this is easy to understand. After all; at the given symposium all speaker are giving speeches about eros (Eros), or love. ‘Eros’ when written in Roman script with a small ‘e’ may refer to love,13 and when written with a capital ‘E’ may refer to the Greek god of love.14 Up till now the word ‘love’, as a translational reference to the Greek ‘eros’, has been maintained for the sake of not complicating things. Later a more refined contemplation on eros may be given. So at the symposium the speakers speak about love, and consequently the prime and main subject that Aristophanes in his speech is concerned about regards love also. Aristophanes wants to make a statement about love, and to come to that statement he uses the thesis of humanity’s primal unity as a stepping stone. Because what he wants to state about love, about eros, is that it is rooted in humanity’s primal unity. Humanity was one, humanity got cut, and, being divided, humans desire a reunion. This urge for such a reunion is love, or more precise; eros.15 Thus we may explicate the main thesis in Aristophanes’s myth as: ‘Eros is the urge of the dual humanity for a reunion’. Another way to express the same may be: ‘Eros is the attraction within the dual humanity for a restoration of its primal unity’.
So contemplating sex along the above lines we come to look at it from the perspective of an urge for a reunion by a duality that once was one. The one humanity is cut into the dual sexes as we know them today, and the sexual attraction between them is the urge for a reunion.