Category Archives: Sophocles

The Male Libido is Like Being Chained to a Madman

Socrates? Sophocles? Plato? Cephalus? Russell Brand? David Niven? Kingsley Amis? Apocryphal?

sophocles04Dear Quote Investigator: There is an ancient and provocative simile that helps to explicate the irrational actions of infatuated males:

The male libido is like being chained to a madman.
To have a penis is to be chained to a madman.

These words have been attributed to Socrates, Sophocles, and Plato, but I have never seen a solid citation. Perhaps this is not really a venerable observation. The comedian and actor Russell Brand mentioned the adage in his memoir “My Booky Wook” and credited Socrates. Would you please examine this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI hypothesizes that these expressions have evolved from remarks contained within one of the most famous works of Ancient Greece “The Republic” by Plato. The confusing multiple attributions stem from the indirect framing of the quotation.

In Book 1 of “The Republic” Socrates approached Cephalus and asked him about his experiences in the latter part of life. Cephalus responded by presenting some of his thoughts about aging and then relaying key remarks made by the prominent playwright Sophocles. Hence, the primary comments were made by Sophocles and were transmitted though Cephalus to Socrates and then were written by Plato.

Here is an excerpt from a translation of “The Republic” published in 1852. This passage did not mention chains; however, later translations used the word “bondage” with its connotations of enchainment, Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1

…I may mention Sophocles the poet, who was once asked in my presence, ‘How do you feel about love, Sophocles? are you still capable of it?’ to which he replied, ‘Hush! if you please: to my great delight I have escaped from it, and feel as if I had escaped from a frantic and savage master.’ I thought then, as I do now, that he spoke wisely. For unquestionably old age brings us profound repose and freedom from this and other passions.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1852, The Republic of Plato, Translated into English by John Llewelyn Davies and David James Vaughan (Fellows of Trinity College, Cambridge), Book 1, Quote Page 3 and 4, Macmillan and Company, Cambridge. (Google Books Full View) link