Symposium (Plato)

Symposium (Plato)

Overview
The Symposium is a philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 text by Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 dated c. 385–380 BCE. It concerns itself at one level with the genesis, purpose and nature of love
Love
Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, "God is love" or Agape in the Canonical gospels...

.

Love is examined in a sequence of speeches by men attending a symposium
Symposium
In ancient Greece, the symposium was a drinking party. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara...

, or drinking party. Each man must deliver an encomium
Encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

, a speech in praise of Love (Eros
Eros
Eros , in Greek mythology, was the Greek god of love. His Roman counterpart was Cupid . Some myths make him a primordial god, while in other myths, he is the son of Aphrodite....

). The party takes place at the house of the tragedian Agathon
Agathon
Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

 in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 in his speech asserts that the highest purpose of love is to become a philosopher or, literally, a lover of wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

.
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Encyclopedia
The Symposium is a philosophical
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 text by Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 dated c. 385–380 BCE. It concerns itself at one level with the genesis, purpose and nature of love
Love
Love is an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment. In philosophical context, love is a virtue representing all of human kindness, compassion, and affection. Love is central to many religions, as in the Christian phrase, "God is love" or Agape in the Canonical gospels...

.

Love is examined in a sequence of speeches by men attending a symposium
Symposium
In ancient Greece, the symposium was a drinking party. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara...

, or drinking party. Each man must deliver an encomium
Encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

, a speech in praise of Love (Eros
Eros
Eros , in Greek mythology, was the Greek god of love. His Roman counterpart was Cupid . Some myths make him a primordial god, while in other myths, he is the son of Aphrodite....

). The party takes place at the house of the tragedian Agathon
Agathon
Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

 in Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

. Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

 in his speech asserts that the highest purpose of love is to become a philosopher or, literally, a lover of wisdom
Wisdom
Wisdom is a deep understanding and realization of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to apply perceptions, judgements and actions in keeping with this understanding. It often requires control of one's emotional reactions so that universal principles, reason and...

. The dialogue
Dialogue
Dialogue is a literary and theatrical form consisting of a written or spoken conversational exchange between two or more people....

 has been used as a source by social historians
Social history
Social history, often called the new social history, is a branch of History that includes history of ordinary people and their strategies of coping with life. In its "golden age" it was a major growth field in the 1960s and 1970s among scholars, and still is well represented in history departments...

 seeking to throw light on life in ancient Athens, in particular upon sexual behavior, and the symposium as an institution.

The dialogue's seven participants are:-
  • Phaedrus (speech begins 178a): familiar from Phaedrus
    Phaedrus (Plato)
    The Phaedrus , written by Plato, is a dialogue between Plato's main protagonist, Socrates, and Phaedrus, an interlocutor in several dialogues. The Phaedrus was presumably composed around 370 BC, around the same time as Plato's Republic and Symposium...

    and other dialogues.
  • Pausanias
    Pausanias (Athenian)
    Pausanias an Athenian of the deme Kerameis, and was the lover of the poet Agathon.Although Pausanias is given a significant speaking part in Plato's Symposium, very little is known about him. Ancient anecdotes tend to address only his relationship with Agathon and give us no information about his...

     (speech begins 180c): the legal
    Law
    Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

     expert.
  • Eryximachus (speech begins 186a): a physician
    Physician
    A physician is a health care provider who practices the profession of medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining or restoring human health through the study, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, injury and other physical and mental impairments...

    .
  • Aristophanes
    Aristophanes
    Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

     (speech begins 189c): he at first skips his turn because of a bout of hiccups. The eminent comic playwright
    Ancient Greek comedy
    Ancient Greek comedy was one of the final three principal dramatic forms in the theatre of classical Greece . Athenian comedy is conventionally divided into three periods, Old Comedy, Middle Comedy, and New Comedy...

     has become a focus of subsequent scholarly debate. His contribution has been seen as mere comic relief, and sometimes as satire
    Satire
    Satire is primarily a literary genre or form, although in practice it can also be found in the graphic and performing arts. In satire, vices, follies, abuses, and shortcomings are held up to ridicule, ideally with the intent of shaming individuals, and society itself, into improvement...

    : the creation myth he puts forward to account for heterosexuals and homosexuals may be read as poking fun at the myths of origin numerous in classical Greek mythology
    Greek mythology
    Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

    .
  • Agathon
    Agathon
    Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

     (speech begins 195a): his speech may be regarded as self-consciously poetic, gently mocked by Socrates.
  • Socrates
    Socrates
    Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

     (speech begins 201d): relates teachings told him by Diotima of Mantinea
    Diotima of Mantinea
    Diotima of Mantinea is a female seer who plays an important role in Plato's Symposium. Her ideas are the origin of the concept of Platonic love. Since the only source concerning her is Plato, it is uncertain whether she was a real historical personage or merely a fictional creation...

    .
  • Alcibiades
    Alcibiades
    Alcibiades, son of Clinias, from the deme of Scambonidae , was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War...

     (speech begins 214e): a popular Athenian citizen. Entering upon the scene late, he pays tribute to Socrates.

Context


The poet Agathon
Agathon
Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

 hosted a symposium to celebrate victory in his first dramatic competition, the Dionysia
Dionysia
The Dionysia[p] was a large festival in ancient Athens in honor of the god Dionysus, the central events of which were the theatrical performances of dramatic tragedies and, from 487 BC, comedies. It was the second-most important festival after the Panathenaia...

 of 416 BCE. A discussion on the theme of love took place at this symposium, a discussion which has since become famous. Aristodemus, who was present, reported the conversation to Phoinix and Apollodorus
Apollodorus (disambiguation)
Apollodorus was a popular name in ancient Greece. It may refer to:*Apollodorus of Athens , historian and mythographer*The Pseudo-Apollodorus, author of the Bibliotheca...

. Phoinix told it to another, unnamed person; meanwhile Apollodorus checked it with Socrates
Socrates
Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. Credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, he is an enigmatic figure known chiefly through the accounts of later classical writers, especially the writings of his students Plato and Xenophon, and the plays of his contemporary ...

, who was present. The unnamed person has told it to Glaucon
Glaucon
Glaucon son of Ariston, was the philosopher Plato's older brother. He is primarily known as a major conversant with Socrates in Republic, and the interlocutor during the Allegory of the Cave...

 (Plato's brother, an interlocutor in the Republic), but has given him an unreliable version and has left him uncertain how long ago the discussion took place. Glaucon has now obtained a better version from Apollodorus, who is thus primed to tell the story again to a friend. From this point on, he will be quoting Aristodemus (172a-174a). The dramatic date of the frame conversation, in which Apollodorus speaks to his unnamed friend, is estimated to be between 401 BCE (fifteen years after Agathon won his prize) and the time when Socrates was tried and executed in 399 BCE.

The opening pages of the Symposium are considered the best description in any ancient Greek source of the ramifications of an oral tradition
Oral tradition
Oral tradition and oral lore is cultural material and traditions transmitted orally from one generation to another. The messages or testimony are verbally transmitted in speech or song and may take the form, for example, of folktales, sayings, ballads, songs, or chants...

.Plato has set up a multitude of layers between the original symposium and his written narrative: he heard it fourth-hand (if we are to identify him with Apollodorus's friend), so it comes to us fifth-hand. In addition, the story Socrates narrates was told to Socrates by Diotima
Diotima of Mantinea
Diotima of Mantinea is a female seer who plays an important role in Plato's Symposium. Her ideas are the origin of the concept of Platonic love. Since the only source concerning her is Plato, it is uncertain whether she was a real historical personage or merely a fictional creation...

, creating one more layer between the reader and the philosophic path that Socrates traces.

Phaedrus


Phaedrus opens by citing Hesiod
Hesiod
Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

, Acusilaus
Acusilaus
Acusilaus of Argos, son of Cabas or Scabras, was a Greek logographer and mythographer who lived in the latter half of the 6th century BC but whose work survives only in fragments and summaries of individual points....

 and Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

 for the claim that Eros is the oldest of the gods, with no parents. Hence the greatness of the benefits he confers, inspiring a lover to earn the admiration of his beloved, as by showing bravery on the battlefield, since nothing shames a man more than to be seen by his beloved committing an inglorious act (178d-179b). "A handful of such men, fighting side by side, would defeat practically the whole world." Lovers may even sacrifice their lives for the beloved: Alcestis
Alcestis
Alcestis is a princess in Greek mythology, known for her love of her husband. Her story was popularised in Euripides's tragedy Alcestis. She was the daughter of Pelias, king of Iolcus, and either Anaxibia or Phylomache....

 was willing to die for her husband Admetus
Admetus
In Greek mythology, Admetus was a king of Pherae in Thessaly, succeeding his father Pheres after whom the city was named. Admetus was one of the Argonauts and took part in the Calydonian Boar hunt. His wife Alcestis offered to substitute her own death for his.-Mythology:Admetus was famed for his...

, and the gods rewarded her by allowing her to return from Hades
Hades
Hades , Hadēs, originally , Haidēs or , Aidēs , meaning "the unseen") was the ancient Greek god of the underworld. The genitive , Haidou, was an elision to denote locality: "[the house/dominion] of Hades". Eventually, the nominative came to designate the abode of the dead.In Greek mythology, Hades...

.

By contrast, Orpheus
Orpheus
Orpheus was a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music; his attempt to retrieve his wife from the underworld; and his death at the hands of those who...

 made no such sacrifice; he went alive to Hades to find Eurydice
Eurydice
Eurydice in Greek mythology, was an oak nymph or one of the daughters of Apollo . She was the wife of Orpheus, who loved her dearly; on their wedding day, he played joyful songs as his bride danced through the meadow. One day, a satyr saw and pursued Eurydice, who stepped on a venomous snake,...

, and returned empty-handed. But Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

 fought bravely at the death of his lover Patroclus
Patroclus
In Greek mythology, as recorded in the Iliad by Homer, Patroclus, or Patroklos , was the son of Menoetius, grandson of Actor, King of Opus, and was Achilles' beloved comrade and brother-in-arms....

 though he knew that the fight would bring his own death closer; Phaedrus here takes Aeschylus
Aeschylus
Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

 to task for making Achilles
Achilles
In Greek mythology, Achilles was a Greek hero of the Trojan War, the central character and the greatest warrior of Homer's Iliad.Plato named Achilles the handsomest of the heroes assembled against Troy....

 the "lover" (180a), claiming instead that Achilles was the beautiful, still-beardless, younger "beloved" of Patroclus and citing Homer in his support. He also believed that there were many military advantages to the love stemmed from male-male couples, especially since both men want to impress one another and therefore fight harder. Phaedrus concludes his short speech in proper rhetorical fashion, reiterating his statements that love is one of the most ancient gods, the most honored, the most powerful in helping men gain honor and blessedness, and sacrificing one's self for love will result in rewards from the gods.

Pausanias



Pausanias, the legal expert of the group, begins by taking Phaedrus up on his chosen examples (180c), asserting that the love that deserves attention is not the kind associated with Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite
Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

 common to the whole city) whose object may equally be a woman or a boy, but that of Aphrodite Urania
Aphrodite Urania
Urania was an epithet of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, signifying "heavenly" or "spiritual", to distinguish her from her more earthly aspect of "Aphrodite Pandemos", "Aphrodite for all the people". The two were used to differentiate the more "celestial" love of body and soul from purely physical...

(Heavenly Aphrodite), which "springs entirely from the male" and is "free from wantonness"; the object of this kind of love is not a child, but one who has begun to display intelligence and is close to growing a beard (181e.Pausinias explains that the two goddesses represent two different kinds of love. The love associated with (Heavenly Aphrodite)which is the older goddess,is the intellectual, soulful kind of love that is often longlasting and committed. The love associated with the Common Aphrodite, which is the younger goddess, is more about sex and lust.

Pausanias reiterates the fact that love is a complex thing. He believes that love doesn’t just come in one type but two types, common love and heavenly love. Common love is based on sexual desires; based on the body not the soul. Heavenly love, on the other hand, is the pure form of love and is based on honoring thy partner’s intelligence and wisdom.

Pausanias claims that Elis
Elis
Elis, or Eleia is an ancient district that corresponds with the modern Elis peripheral unit...

 and Boeotia
Boeotia
Boeotia, also spelled Beotia and Bœotia , is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the region of Central Greece. It was also a region of ancient Greece. Its capital is Livadeia, the second largest city being Thebes.-Geography:...

 are inarticulate regions that have nothing to say against homosexual customs(182a-b); Ionia
Ionia
Ionia is an ancient region of central coastal Anatolia in present-day Turkey, the region nearest İzmir, which was historically Smyrna. It consisted of the northernmost territories of the Ionian League of Greek settlements...

 and other regions think it is disgraceful (182b-c), but they live under despots and think no more of philosophy and sport than they do of love. Pausanias then launches into a confusing discussion of Athenian law regarding pederasty. He says that Athens' code is not easy to understand, but claims that it cheers on the lover, so long as he does not pursue the boy in secret and does not rush him into it. He says you would never know that the law explicitly approves the lover's conduct by the way fathers behave when they get wind of the fact that some older man is showing interest in his son, or by the way the boy's playmates tease him about having a lover. He adds that these contradictions are easily explained (183d). He claims that males are more intelligent and therefore more attractive (181c).

Pausanias says that Athenian law makes a firm distinction between the lover who should be encouraged by the boy and the lover who should be discouraged. He says that when a boy surrenders to sex out of hope for money, political favors, or in a cowering fear that he will suffer abuse (physical or verbal) from the lover, his surrender is contemptible (184b). Only when the boy is hoping to become wise and virtuous is his surrender to the older man not offensive to human decency. Pausanias thinks that the law addresses itself to young men and their "motives" for surrendering to adults. He says that a young man who is duped by an older man, believing incorrectly that the man is virtuous, is no fool, but has shown himself to be one "who will do anything for the sake of virtue" (184e-185b).

Eryximachus


Eryximachus ends up speaking instead of Aristophanes, who does not recover from his hiccups soon enough to take his place in the sequence. First he starts out by claiming that love occurs in everything in the universe, including plants and animals, believing that once love is attained, it should be protected. He also says that the God of Love not only directs everything on the human plane, but also with the things that happen with the Gods (186b). Eryximachus also claims that two forms of love occur in the human body, one is healthy, the other is unhealthy (186bc). Eryximachus believes love might be capable of curing the diseased. Over his whole speech, Eryximachus claims that love governs medicine, music and astronomy (187a), and states that its principle regulates hot and cold and wet and dry and that this results in health (188a). Eryximachus gives a definition that is medicinal, evoking the theory of humorism
Humorism
Humorism, or humoralism, is a now discredited theory of the makeup and workings of the human body, adopted by Greek and Roman physicians and philosophers, positing that an excess or deficiency of any of four distinct bodily fluids in a person directly influences their temperament and health...

. Beyond his medical expertise he concludes: "Love as a whole has ... total ... power ... and is the source of all happiness. It enables us to associate, and be friends, with each other and with the gods, our superiors" (188d Transl. Gill). He comes across as a vain person throughout his speech, someone who cannot resist the temptation to praise his own profession: “a good practitioner knows how to affect the body and how to transform its desires" (186d).

Aristophanes


Before launching his speech, Aristophanes warns the group that his eulogy
Eulogy
A eulogy is a speech or writing in praise of a person or thing, especially one recently deceased or retired. Eulogies may be given as part of funeral services. However, some denominations either discourage or do not permit eulogies at services to maintain respect for traditions...

 to love may be more absurd than funny. His speech is an explanation of why people in love say they feel "whole" when they have found their love partner. He begins by explaining that people must understand human nature before they can interpret the origins of love and how it affects the then present time. It is, he says, because in primal times people had doubled bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. As somewhat spherical creatures who wheeled around like clowns doing cartwheels (190a), these original people were very powerful. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the "androgynous," who was half male, half female. The males were said to have descended from the sun, the females from the earth and the androgynous couples from the moon. The creatures tried to scale the heights of heaven and planned to set upon the gods (190b-c). Zeus thought about blasting them to death with thunderbolts, but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies.

Zeus then commanded Apollo to turn their faces around and pulled the skin tight and stitched it up to form the navel which he chose not to heal so Man would always be reminded of this event. Ever since that time, people run around saying they are looking for their other half because they are really trying to recover their primal nature. The women who were separated from women run after their own kind, thus creating lesbians. The men split from other men also run after their own kind and love being embraced by other men (191e). He says some people think homosexuals are shameless, but he thinks they are the bravest, most manly of all (192a), and that many heterosexuals are adulterous men and unfaithful wives (191e). Aristophanes then claims that when two people who were separated from each other find each other, they never again want to be separated (192c). This feeling is like a riddle, and cannot be explained. Aristophanes ends on a cautionary note. He says that men should fear the gods, and not neglect to worship them, lest they wield the axe again and we have to go about with our noses split apart (193a). If man works with the god of Love, they will escape this fate and instead find wholeness.

Agathon


Agathon complains that the previous speakers have made the mistake of congratulating mankind on the blessing of love, failing to give due praise to the god himself (194e). He says that love is the youngest of gods and is an enemy of old age (195b). He says that the god of love shuns the very sight of senility and clings to youth. Agathon says love is dainty, and likes to tiptoe through the flowers and never settles where there is no "bud to bloom" (196b). It would seem that none of the characters at the party, with the possible exception of Agathon himself, would be candidates for love's companionship. Socrates, probably the oldest member of the party, seems certain to be ruled out. He also implies that love creates justice, moderation, courage, and wisdom. These are the cardinal virtues within ancient Greece.

Socrates


Socrates turns politely to Agathon and with Agathon's cooperation examines his speech. This is done using a series of questions and answers typical of Plato's Socratic dialogues. Agathon answers affirmatively to Socrates' line of questioning, thus refuting many of the statements in his previous speech(199d). Socrates informs the guests that he had sought out Diotima of Mantinea
Diotima of Mantinea
Diotima of Mantinea is a female seer who plays an important role in Plato's Symposium. Her ideas are the origin of the concept of Platonic love. Since the only source concerning her is Plato, it is uncertain whether she was a real historical personage or merely a fictional creation...

 (lit. "honored by Zeus") for her knowledge. Socrates then proceeds to relate her story of Love's genealogy, nature and purpose (201d).

Diotima explains that Love is the son of "Resource" (father) and "Poverty" (mother). Love has attributes from both parents. Love is beggarly, harsh and a master of artifice and deception (203d) and is delicately balanced and resourceful(204c). Diotima states that humans have the yearning to procreate, mentally and physically, this desire is the expression of humanity's desire for immortality (207a-b). Diotima's explanation of Love entails how to become a Philosopher, or a Lover of wisdom, and by doing so one will give birth to intellectual children of greater immortality than any conceived through procreation.

Alcibiades



Like Agathon and Aristophanes, Alcibiades is a historical person from ancient Athens. A year after the events of the Symposium, his political enemies would drive him to flee Athens under fear of being sentenced to death for sacrilege
Sacrilege
Sacrilege is the violation or injurious treatment of a sacred object. In a less proper sense, any transgression against the virtue of religion would be a sacrilege. It can come in the form of irreverence to sacred persons, places, and things...

 and turn traitor to the Spartans. By his own admission, he is very handsome.

Finding himself seated on a couch with Socrates and Agathon, Alcibiades exclaims that Socrates, again, has managed to sit next to the handsomest man in the room, Agathon, and that he is always doing such things (213c). Socrates asks Agathon to protect him from the jealous rage of Alcibiades, asking Alcibiades to forgive him (213d). Alcibiades says he will never do such a thing (213e). Wondering why everyone seems sober, Alcibiades is informed of the night's agreement (213e, c); after saying his drunken ramblings should not be placed next to the sober orations of the rest, and that he hopes no one believed a word Socrates said, Alcibiades proposes to offer an encomium to Socrates (214c-e).

Alcibiades begins by comparing Socrates to a statue of Silenus
Silenus
In Greek mythology, Silenus was a companion and tutor to the wine god Dionysus.-Evolution of the character:The original Silenus resembled a folklore man of the forest with the ears of a horse and sometimes also the tail and legs of a horse...

; the statue is ugly and hollow, and inside it is full of tiny golden statues of the gods (215a-b). He then compares Socrates to the satyr
Satyr
In Greek mythology, satyrs are a troop of male companions of Pan and Dionysus — "satyresses" were a late invention of poets — that roamed the woods and mountains. In myths they are often associated with pipe-playing....

 Marsyas
Marsyas
In Greek mythology, the satyr Marsyas is a central figure in two stories involving music: in one, he picked up the double flute that had been abandoned by Athena and played it; in the other, he challenged Apollo to a contest of music and lost his hide and life...

; Socrates, however, needs no flute to "cast his spells" upon people as Marsyas did -- he needs only his words (215b-d).

Alcibiades states that when he hears Socrates speak, he is beside himself; the words of Socrates are the only words that have ever upset him so deeply that his soul started to protest that his own aristocratic life was no better than a slave's (215e). Socrates is the only man who has ever made Alcibiades feel shame (216b). Yet all this is the least of it (216c)- he is crazy about beautiful boys, following them around in a daze (216d). Most people, he continues, don't know what Socrates is like on the inside:
But once I caught him when he was open like Silenus' statues, and I had a glimpse of the figures he keeps hidden within: they were so godlike -- so bright and beautiful, so utterly amazing -- that I no longer had a choice: I just had to do whatever he told me.
Symposium 216e-217a.


Alcibiades thought at the time that what Socrates really wanted was him, and by letting Socrates have his way with him, he would entice Socrates to teach him everything he knew (217a). Yet Socrates made no moves, and Alcibiades began to pursue Socrates "as if I were the lover and he my young prey!" (217c). When Socrates continually rebuffed this pursuit, Alcibiades began to view Socrates as the only worthy lover he has ever had. He told Socrates that it seemed to him now that nothing could be more important than becoming the best man he could be, and Socrates was better fit to help him reach that aim than anyone else (219c-d). Socrates responded that if he did have this power to make Alcibiades a better man, why would he exchange his true (inner) beauty for the image of beauty that Alcibiades would provide; and furthermore, Alcibiades might be wrong, and Socrates may be of no use to him (218e-219a). He then slipped under Socrates' cloak and spent the night beside him; yet, to the deep humiliation of Alcibiades, Socrates made no sexual attempt (219b-d).

In his speech, Alcibiades goes on to detail the virtue of Socrates, his incomparable valor in battle, his immunity to cold or fear. On one occasion he even saved Alcibiades' life and then refused to accept honors for it (219e-221c). Socrates, he concludes, is unique in his ideas and accomplishments, unrivaled by any man from the past or present (221c); but be warned: Socrates may present himself as your lover, but before you know it you will have fallen in love with him.

Professor David Roochnik in a Teaching Company lecture believes Plato was both revealing much of the life and character of the historical Socrates, and that through Alcibiades he was criticizing Socrates' aloofness in friendship and human warmth. Alcibiades praise is of a wise and virtuous man, but one who stands utterly apart from his fellow men.

The conclusion


Despite this speech, Agathon then lies down next to Socrates, much to the chagrin of Alcibiades. The symposium comes to an end when a large drunken group shows up. Many of the main characters take the opportunity to depart and go to bed; Socrates, however, stays awake until dawn. As Aristodemus awakes and leaves the house, Socrates is proclaiming to Agathon and Aristophanes that a skillful playwright should be able to write comedy as well as tragedy (223d). When Agathon and Aristophanes fall asleep, Socrates leaves, walks to the Lyceum
Lyceum
The lyceum is a category of educational institution defined within the education system of many countries, mainly in Europe. The definition varies between countries; usually it is a type of secondary school.-History:...

 to wash, and spends the rest of the day as he always did, not sleeping until that evening (223d).

Authors and works cited in the Symposium

  • Acusilaus
    Acusilaus
    Acusilaus of Argos, son of Cabas or Scabras, was a Greek logographer and mythographer who lived in the latter half of the 6th century BC but whose work survives only in fragments and summaries of individual points....

  • Aeschylus
    Aeschylus
    Aeschylus was the first of the three ancient Greek tragedians whose work has survived, the others being Sophocles and Euripides, and is often described as the father of tragedy. His name derives from the Greek word aiskhos , meaning "shame"...

  • Aristophanes
    Aristophanes
    Aristophanes , son of Philippus, of the deme Cydathenaus, was a comic playwright of ancient Athens. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete...

    , The Clouds
    The Clouds
    The Clouds is a comedy written by the celebrated playwright Aristophanes lampooning intellectual fashions in classical Athens. It was originally produced at the City Dionysia in 423 BC and it was not well received, coming last of the three plays competing at the festival that year. It was revised...

  • Euripides
    Euripides
    Euripides was one of the three great tragedians of classical Athens, the other two being Aeschylus and Sophocles. Some ancient scholars attributed ninety-five plays to him but according to the Suda it was ninety-two at most...

    , Melanippe
    Melanippe
    In Greek mythology, Melanippe referred to several different people.* Daughter of the Centaur Chiron. Also known as Hippe or Euippe. She bore a daughter to Aeolus, Melanippe or Arne...

  • Heraclitus
    Heraclitus
    Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

  • Hesiod
    Hesiod
    Hesiod was a Greek oral poet generally thought by scholars to have been active between 750 and 650 BC, around the same time as Homer. His is the first European poetry in which the poet regards himself as a topic, an individual with a distinctive role to play. Ancient authors credited him and...

    , Theogony
    Theogony
    The Theogony is a poem by Hesiod describing the origins and genealogies of the gods of the ancient Greeks, composed circa 700 BC...

  • Homer
    Homer
    In the Western classical tradition Homer , is the author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and is revered as the greatest ancient Greek epic poet. These epics lie at the beginning of the Western canon of literature, and have had an enormous influence on the history of literature.When he lived is...

    , Cypria, Iliad
    Iliad
    The Iliad is an epic poem in dactylic hexameters, traditionally attributed to Homer. Set during the Trojan War, the ten-year siege of the city of Troy by a coalition of Greek states, it tells of the battles and events during the weeks of a quarrel between King Agamemnon and the warrior Achilles...

  • Parmenides
    Parmenides
    Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

  • Prodicus of Ceos, Praise of Heracles

See also

  • Platonic love
    Platonic love
    Platonic love is a chaste and strong type of love that is non-sexual.-Amor Platonicus:The term amor platonicus was coined as early as the 15th century by the Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino. Platonic love in this original sense of the term is examined in Plato's dialogue the Symposium, which has...

  • Xenophon's Symposium
    Symposium (Xenophon)
    Xenophon's Symposium records the discussion of Socratesand company at a dinner given by Callias for Autolycus, son of Lycon. Xenophon's Symposium (Συμπόσιον) records the discussion of Socratesand company at a dinner given by Callias for Autolycus, son of Lycon. Xenophon's Symposium (Συμπόσιον)...

  • Erik Satie's Socrate
    Socrate
    Socrate is a work for voice and piano by Erik Satie. First published in 1919 for voice and piano, in 1920 a different publisher reissued the piece "revised and corrected". A third version of the work exists, for small orchestra and voice, for which the manuscript has disappeared and which is...

  • The Origin of Love
    The Origin of Love
    "The Origin of Love" is a song from the stage show Hedwig and the Angry Inch and subsequent film written by John Cameron Mitchell and Stephen Trask. Stephen Trask wrote the song, which is based on a story from Plato's Symposium.-Origins:...

    , a song from Hedwig and the Angry Inch
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch (musical)
    Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a rock musical about a fictional rock and roll band fronted by an East German transgender singer. The text is by John Cameron Mitchell, and the music and lyrics are by Stephen Trask. The musical premiered in 1998 and has been performed throughout the world in hundreds...

  • Symposium
    Symposium
    In ancient Greece, the symposium was a drinking party. Literary works that describe or take place at a symposium include two Socratic dialogues, Plato's Symposium and Xenophon's Symposium, as well as a number of Greek poems such as the elegies of Theognis of Megara...

  • Greek love
    Greek love
    In the history of sexuality, Greek love is a concept of homoeroticism within the classical tradition. It is one of the "classically inspired erotic imaginings" by means of which later cultures have articulated their own discourse about homosexuality...

  • Bernstein's Serenade after "Symposium"
  • Stages on Life's Way
    Stages on Life's Way
    Stages on Life's Way is a philosophical work by Søren Kierkegaard written in 1845. The book was written as a continuation of Kierkegaard's masterpiece Either/Or...

    , a book which includes In Vino Veritas, Søren Kierkegaard
    Søren Kierkegaard
    Søren Aabye Kierkegaard was a Danish Christian philosopher, theologian and religious author. He was a critic of idealist intellectuals and philosophers of his time, such as Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel...

    's dialogue on love based on Symposium
  • Homosexuality in ancient Greece
    Homosexuality in ancient Greece
    In classical antiquity, writers such as Herodotus, Plato, Xenophon, Athenaeus and many others explored aspects of same-sex love in ancient Greece. The most widespread and socially significant form of same-sex sexual relations in ancient Greece was between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys,...

  • Pederasty
    Pederasty
    Pederasty or paederasty is an intimate relationship between an adult and an adolescent boy outside his immediate family. The word pederasty derives from Greek "love of boys", a compound derived from "child, boy" and "lover".Historically, pederasty has existed as a variety of customs and...


External links



Current texts, translations, commentaries

  • Plato, The Symposium, Greek text with commentary by Kenneth Dover
    Kenneth Dover
    Sir Kenneth James Dover, FRSE, FBA was a distinguished British Classical scholar and academic, who was head of an Oxford college and from 1981 until his retirement in December 2005 was Chancellor of the University of St Andrews....

    . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980. ISBN 0521295238.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. with commentary by R. E. Allen. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993. ISBN 0300056990.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Christopher Gill. London: Penguin, 2003. ISBN 0140449272.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (from Plato: Complete Works, ed. by John M. Cooper, pp. 457–506. ISBN 0-87220-349-2); available separately: ISBN 0872200760.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Robin Waterfield
    Robin Waterfield
    Robin Anthony Herschel Waterfield is a British classical scholar, translator, editor, and writer of children's fiction.-Career:Waterfield was born in 1952, and studied Classics at Manchester University, where he achieved a first class degree in 1974...

    . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0192834274.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Avi Sharon. Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 1998. ISBN 0941051560.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Seth Benardete with essays by Seth Benardete and Allan Bloom. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0226042758.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Percy Bysshe Shelley
    Percy Bysshe Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets and is critically regarded as among the finest lyric poets in the English language. Shelley was famous for his association with John Keats and Lord Byron...

    , Provincetown, Pagan Press, 2001, ISBN 0-943742-12-9.
  • Plato, The Symposium, Greek text with trans. by Tom Griffith. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. ISBN 0-520-06695-2.

Online translations


General bibliography

  • Blondell, Ruby and Luc Brisson and others, Plato's Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception. Center for Hellenic Studies, 2007. ISBN 0674023757.
  • Hunter, Richard
    Richard L. Hunter
    Richard Lawrence Hunter is a classical scholar and has since 2001 been the 38th Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge University.-Education and academic career:Richard Hunter was born and grew up in Australia...

    , Plato's Symposium (Oxford Approaches to Classical Literature). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0195160800.
  • Plato, The Symposium, trans. by W. Hamilton. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1951.
  • Lilar, Suzanne
    Suzanne Lilar
    Suzanne, Baroness Lilar was a Flemish Belgian essayist, novelist, and playwright writing in French...

    , Le Couple (1963), Paris, Grasset; Translated as Aspects of Love in Western Society in 1965, with a foreword by Jonathan Griffin, New York, McGraw-Hill, LC 65-19851.
  • Lilar, Suzanne
    Suzanne Lilar
    Suzanne, Baroness Lilar was a Flemish Belgian essayist, novelist, and playwright writing in French...

    , (1967) A propos de Sartre et de l'amour Paris: Grasset.
  • Strauss, Leo
    Leo Strauss
    Leo Strauss was a political philosopher and classicist who specialized in classical political philosophy. He was born in Germany to Jewish parents and later emigrated to the United States...

    , Leo Strauss on Plato's Symposium. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001. ISBN 0226776859
  • Worthen, Thomas D., "Sokrates and Aristodemos, the automatoi agathoi of the Symposium: Gentlemen go to parties on their own say-so," New England Classical Journal 26.5 (1999), 15-21.
  • Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Rex Warner. Penguin, 1954.