Plato, Symposium

172a-174a Introduction: (dramatic date: 400 B.C.)

Apollodorus of Phaleron tells a friend about a dinner party held in 415 B.C., a few months before the great Athenian expedition against Syracuse set out. Apollodorus had heard the story from an eyewitness, one of Socrates' pupils, Aristodemus, who had been a guest at the party.

174a-178a Prologue:

Aristodemus met Socrates, fresh from the Baths, on his way to the symposium honoring Agathon, who had won the tragic prize at the Theater the day before. Aristodemus is invited to crash the party with Socrates, but Socrates stops along the way to think, and thus arrives late. In the meantime, dinner has been served, and the guests have decided not to get blasted, but instead to talk about `Eros'.

178a-180b Speech of Phaedrus:

Eros deserves to be honored because of his antiquity, as the source of many blessings, and in particular as the Patron of homosexual love. Love of man for youth stimulates noble and courageous deeds. An army composed of lovers would be invincible. Lovers will give up their lives for each other, e.g. Alcestis for Admetus, Achilles and Patroklos (Orpheus was a fake). Eros is the chief casue of virtue and happiness. Eros is seen in terms of military prowess and courage.

180c-185c Speech of Pausanias:

Two kinds of Eros exist: (a) heavenly and beautiful; (b) vulgar and base. The better is homosexual, the worse is mere lust. The common people have degraded homosexual love by making it mere physical attraction. Real love is love of the beautiful sould, good character, and intelligence. It must be practiced with grace, for it aims at virtue and wisdom. This Eros is good for the individual and the State.

185c-188e Speech of Euryximachus:

Eros is given cosmic scope, in terms of a physician's interest in the balancing of the Four Elements and the Humors. Medicine brings harmony, a species of Love, and is similar to music, etc. Nature is full of opposites, and love brings temperance and concord, and thus supreme happiness.

189a-193d Speech of Aristophanes (the Dramatist):

Eros is a healer. Originally the human race had three sexes, double-male, double-female, male-female. When humans became a threat to Zeus, he weakend humans by separating the halves with his thunderbolt. Ever since, the halves have been searching for their natural mate: thus homosexuality, lesbianism and heterosexuality. The worship of Eros will bring healing in man and eternal happiness through the reunion of the separated halves.

193d-197e Agathon's Speech:

Eros is the most beautiful and youngest of the gods. He has the virtues of justice, temperance, courage and wisdom. He grants many blessings to man: beauty, goodness, peace, friendship, courtesy, good fellowship. [The speech is highly lyrical and artistic, as one would expect of a tragic playwright.]

198a-201c Intermission:

Socrates would prefer, not fine phrases, like Agathon's, but knowledge of The Truth. He does not `know' what Eros is. So a definition must be constructed. `Love is always the love os some thing, and this thing is that which Love lacks.' But this technique (elenchos) leads to contradiction: if Love strives for beauty, then it does not possess beauty (or truth). Common definitions must be in error somehow.

201-d-212d Speech of Socrates:

The importance of Diotima of Mantinea. Socrates has learned that Eros is not `good' and `beautiful' (kalo`c k 7 a7gayo'c) in itself. Eros is in fact a mean between opposites, just as doxa (do'ja: `right opinion') is a mean between real accurate knowledge (e7pisth'mh) and ignorance. Love cannot, hterefore, be a god, bur rather some thing halfway between the immortal and divine and the mortal. Eros is thus a daimon. According to Diotima the Prophetess, Eros is the offspring of Peneia (`poverty' `want') and Resource (the offspring of Craft). Eros is a seeker after beauty and truth, and thus after wisdom. Eros impels humanity to seek beauty, but the love of mind for mind and of soul for soul is more lasting than the physical side of Eros:

LOVE of one physical body (beauty)
LOVE of all physical bodies (abstract beauty)
LOVE of beautiful activities
LOVE of beautiful intellectual activities
LOVE of absollute beauty.

212d-222b Intermission:

Alcibiades' Remarks. Socrates is compared to a Silenus figure, wh ich is made of clay and opens up to reveal a treasure inside. Physically ugly on the outside, Socrates reveals a character inside which pursues beautiful boys for the sake of their intellect and character. As a soul Socrates is wise and beautiful, temperate and virtuous, but also courageous in battle.

222c-223 Epilogue:

More revellers arrive. Some guests leave. Some guests fall asleep . When Aristodemus wakes up near dawn, Socrates and Agathon (tragedy) and Aristophanes (comedy) are still engaged in conversation. At last only Socrates manages to stay awake.


January 26, 2010 8:52 AM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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