‘Complex marriage’, ‘male continence’ and the selection of the perfect partner were all themes propounded by a 19th-century cult in New York State. Clive Foss explores the influence of Plato’s Republic on John Humphrey Noyes and his Perfectionist movement.

In recent years, a debate has been raging in the United States over the definition of marriage. For traditionalists it is an arrangement made between one man and one woman. Their opponents advocate a broader view encompassing same-sex couples. Even the most extreme of them, however, never come close to the proposals of Plato in the fourth century bc or the system born of the Greek philosopher’s ideas put into effect by a once notorious 19th-century cult leader, John Humphrey Noyes.

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