‘Theodoulos’: A Lost Platonic Dialogue (Excerpt)

CALLICLES: Socrates, you are just in time! I was afraid you would be too late to meet with the noble Theodoulos. Come in, you are most welcome.

SOCRATES: Your fear was in vain, Callicles, I would not have missed such an encounter for the world. I hope I am not too late also in thanking you for your hospitality. I am looking forward to meeting your guests. Tell me, is it true what they say about Theodoulos? Is he really the most tolerant man in Athens?

CALLICLES: Ah, now Socrates, I know you too well to answer your tricky questions! Come, let me introduce you to him personally, and you can ask him yourself.


Theodoulos, a moment please. I have someone I want you to meet.

THEODOULOS: You must be the one they call Socrates. I have heard much about you. I am honoured to meet you at last.

SOCRATES: But the honour is mine, Theodoulos. For if what I hear is true you are the most tolerant man in Athens.

THEODOULOS: That is what they say, Socrates. I have yet to encounter a man more tolerant than I. For this reason I conclude that what they say about me is just and true.

SOCRATES: And the ‘tolerance’ to which you claim proprietorship: this is the same virtue that leads a person to see others as their equal and not to judge another person’s behaviour?

THEODOULOS: Indeed it is. I would never judge an adult who behaves within the law, Socrates, whether they be Greek or Persian, dark-skinned or light. I do not look down on anyone. I am above all prejudices and I believe all men should think and act as I do.

SOCRATES: And does your tolerance extend to women as well as men?

THEDOULOS: Of course, Socrates. If I use the word ‘men’ as a generic term it is merely a habit of language and I beg your pardon. A patriarchal Republic cannot truly be called a Republic at all. Gender is simply an accident of birth. I am proud to say I regard all women as equal to all men and all genders in-between to be likewise.

SOCRATES: Very well. I am impressed. And I am to take it that your tolerance extends to the more intimate behaviours too?

THEODOULOS: If you are talking about sexual preferences, Socrates, it does indeed. Please do not feel the need to be coy in my company.

SOCRATES: Forgive my lack of frankness. So let me ask: how do you feel about a man lying with another man at night?

THEODOULOS: I embrace the idea, Socrates! And how could I not in this great city of ours? I believe that what two grown men, or women, choose to do in the privacy of their own homes is not for anyone else to judge. What’s more, I believe that this love can be a beautiful and wondrous thing. If it is what consenting adults choose to do, then I tolerate it. And I urge everyone to think as I do.

SOCRATES: And how do you feel about those men who would choose to lie with children? Do you tolerate them too?

THEODOULOS: I am tempted to make an esoteric joke about ‘The Phaedo’ here, Socrates.

SOCRATES: Resist the temptation, Theodoulos, and answer the question.

THEODOULOS: Well, I certainly do not admit to tolerating such behaviour. In fact I will say that it appals me. The act of pederasty transgresses a moral code and cannot be excused. You see, Socrates, a child is not yet old enough to consent to sexual activity. Therefore it is not a matter for tolerance. It is a crime and a crime must be punished. Socrates, you must not mistake tolerance with turning a blind eye to what is necessary for the upkeep of a functioning Republic. You cannot tolerate an act that coerces another individual and compromises their freedom. This is not the spirit of toleration at all. And you know this to be true.

SOCRATES: You make your points well, Theodoulos. I accept that adult/child relationships are not to be tolerated on the principle of adult consent. And it is your argument that has convinced me.

THEODOULOS: I am very pleased to hear it, Socrates.

SOCRATES: And what about a brother and a sister who engage in sexual activity? Do you encourage and tolerate that too?

THEODOULOS: Certainly not, Socrates! It disgusts me!

SOCRATES: But what if the brother and sister are both consenting adults?

THEODOULOS: That is different, Socrates. Adult consent is one thing, the act of incest is quite another. I feel you are being unreasonable here. I am the most tolerant man in Athens, and I do not consider it inconsistent to be disgusted by the act of incest.

SOCRATES: If anything, Theodoulos, I am being too reasonable. If you are to say that a sexual behavior should be granted tolerance on the principle of adult consent, then why is this principle different when it is applied to two adults from the same family? I hope you are not going to invoke some religious morality to approve your disdain?

THEODOULOS: This is mischief, Socrates! You know very well that there are other moral complications that would need to be considered.

SOCRATES: And what might they be?

THEODOULOS: Procreation, Socrates. It is an observable phenomenon that the children who are born out of such vile relationships are often found to be either physically abnormal or mentally defective.

SOCRATES: Disabled, you mean.

THEODOULOS: Yes, Socrates, disabled.

SOCRATES: And what is wrong with being disabled? Are you suggesting that a child with a disability is not a human being to be tolerated?

THEODOULOS: I … I believe all disabled people are equal! I pride myself on this belief!

SOCRATES: So you admit that you change your mind? You do not think the potential birth of a disabled child alone should be used as ground to preclude the sexual union of immediate family members?

THEODOULOS: I suppose not. Socrates.

SOCRATES: Yet you still refuse to tolerate the act of incest?


SOCRATES: And you maintain the legitimacy of same sex relationships is based on the principle of adult consent?

THEODOULOS: You are quite right in saying so.

SOCRATES: And you maintain that it is precisely this same principle that makes pederasty immoral?

THEODOULOS: Most assuredly.

SOCRATES: Then by your own admission, you have one of four options available to you if you want to be upstanding in your convictions.

THEODOULOS: I am listening.

SOCRATES: The first option is that you renounce your tolerance of same sex relationships, admitting that it is without moral foundation.

THEODOULOS: I will do no such thing, Socrates. I am far too tolerant.

SOCRATES: That is fair. Then your second option is to tolerate the sexual union of adults with children, and renounce ‘consenting adults’ as a principle of legitimacy in such matters.

THEODUOLOS: I cannot do that, Socrates. I cannot renounce that principle.

SOCRATES: Then your third option is to start tolerating the sexual union of immediate family members who are over the age of consent.

THEODOULOS: I will not do that, Socrates. It disgusts me.

SOCRATES: Then, logically, only the fourth option is available to you.

THEODOULOS: I beg to hear it.

SOCRATES: You renounce your claim to tolerance and accept that your position is based on prejudice and not principle – favourable prejudice, I grant you – but prejudice nevertheless. What’s more, your boastful claims of tolerance are the claims of a charlatan who is doing nothing more than riding a wave of popular taste in attempt to be loved by more people.

THEODOULOS: Your words wound my ears. But if that is how it must be, Socrates, then I accept what you say.

SOCRATES: Excellent, now let’s go over there and have a little chat with Alcibiades the Merchant. I think I heard him say something about “the one percent”…

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