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Agathon
(445 - 400 BC) Greece

Agathon

Dramatist and musician

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Agathon, an Athenian tragic poet whose first victory at the Lenaea festival of the Great Dionysia, in which plays were presented and judged, was gained in 416 BC. The event is made, by Plato, the occasion for his dialogue Symposium, his famous celebration of homosexual love, and the banquet, which is the setting of the dialogue, is placed in Agathon's house.

Aristotle, in the Poetics, ascribes to Agathon two innovations. He wrote a play, possibly The Flower, in which the characters, instead of being derived from the stock of Greek mythology, were his own invention, and he changed the traditional function of the choral lyrics so that they became musical interludes in the action of the play instead of offering comment upon it.

He is also noteworthy as history's first recorded example of a stereotipically effeminate homosexual; he was portrayed in that role in Aristophanes' comedy The Thesmophoriazusae, but in another of his plays, The Frogs, calls him "a good [agathos] poet sorely missed by his friends." Agathon spent his last years at the court of Archelaus of Macedonia. Unhappily only some 40 lines of his writing are extant.

Plato, in his Symposium, tells that Agathon and Pausanias (a full grown man) were lovers. It seems that they remained together for several years. When, some time between 411 and 405 BC, Agathon settled in Macedon under the rule of king Archelaus, Pausanias followed him. Also resident here was the poet Euripides, who himself had an erotic interest in Agathon (though by this time Agathon was aged 40 and Euripides was 72).

Once king Archelaus rebucked Agathon for constatly quarelling with his lover (Pausanias), but Agathon replied that it was because the pleasure of making up was so great. On another occasion the king admonished Euripides for kissing th bearded Agathon at a banquet. He replied that with handsome men, the autumn was as fair as the spring.

The history of Agathon, Pausanias and Euripides may remind us that, in the continuing debate about the norms of Greek pederasty, the experience of long lived relationships was not unknown.

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The dramatist who in classical times was regarded as ranking next after Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides as a writer of tragedies was Agathon; unfortunately all of his plays have vanished. It is in honor of his winning the prize for tragedy in 416 B.C.E. that the celebration described in Plato's Symposium is supposed to take place.

In the dialogue, it is hinted that Agathon, who was remarkable for his beauty, is the lover of Pausanias, another of the speakers. The fact that they are an unusual, adult couple leads Pausanias to defend such relationships.

About the year 406 B.C.E., Agathon emigrated to the court of King Archelaus of Macedon, who was a patron of drama. Euripides, who was now over seventy, joined him there and became his lover. Agathon would have been about forty. When queried by Archelaus about his love, Euripides is said to have replied that Agathon's beauty was impressive even in its autumn. Plutarch, in his Eroticos, takes this love affair between the two greatest poets of their age as the archetype of same-sex love between mature men.

Fittingly, given his love of epigram, he is the subject of Lovers' Lips by the poet Plato:
"Kissing Agathon, I had my soul upon my lips; for it rose, poor wretch, as though to cross over."

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Source: Aldrich R. & Wotherspoon G., Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History, from Antiquity to WWII, Routledge, London, 2001 - et alii

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