How are Plato's conclusions in the dialogue the Symposium based on the ideas of Sophocles, pre-Socratics, Homer, or Hesiod, as seen with respect to the progression of the argument in the Symposium...

How are Plato's conclusions in the dialogue the Symposium based on the ideas of Sophocles, pre-Socratics, Homer, or Hesiod, as seen with respect to the progression of the argument in the Symposium and in relation to the themes of the above works?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Plato's Symposium is all about love. More specifically, it is a series of arguments used to define exactly what love is. For example, Phaedrus defines love as wisdom, virtue, moderation, orderliness, or anything beautiful, like music, art, and medicine, while Aristophanes defines love as purely the sexual desire that makes us long for and look for our other halves, and Socrates gives a completely different definition.

While romantic love is a very minor theme in Sophocles' works, like Antigone, we certainly can see that both the Symposium and Antigone share the theme of romantic love in common. Sophocles' Antigone is more of a reflection on which is more important, the gods' laws or man's laws, and also on human character flaws, such as pride, arrogance, and stubbornness. However, Creon's son Haemon is betrothed to Antigone, so Antigone's decision to bury her brother followed by Creon's own decision to execute her brings up the nature of Haemon's love for Antigone. If we were to characterize Haemon's demonstrated love for Antigone by one or more of the arguments defining what love is found in the Symposium, we could say that Haemon's love could be characterized by both Aristophanes' and Socrates' arguments. Aristophanes uses a myth to describe love as the type of erotic love in which one believes he/she is looking for his other half. It's clear that Haemon feels Antigone is his other half due to the fact that he cannot bear to be parted from her. He would rather die with her in the stone tomb than keep living without her. Socrates' argument serves to define love as a desire for what is wise and beautiful. We clearly see Haemon's desire for both what is wise and beautiful in his professed love for Antigone. He tries to convince is father Creon that he is being foolish to punish Antigone because it is foolish to place mankind's own laws above the laws of the gods; it is also foolish for a ruler not to listen to his/her own citizens' opinions, and Haemon knows all of the citizens feel Antigone should be praised as a hero for honoring the gods and not killed as a traitor. In trying to convince his father to listen to reason and release Antigone, Haemon is pursuing what he believes to be true and virtuous, and what is virtuous is also beautiful. Hence, in trying to save Antigone due to his love for both her and what is virtuous, he is doing what Socrates defines love as--pursuing virtue, which is something that's beautiful. Haemon is also being very wise to agree with Antigone that the gods' laws should be obeyed above man's laws; hence, through his love for Antigone, he is also pursuing wisdom, which is again what Socrates defines love as. We can best see Haemon's pursuit of both wisdom and virtue when he reprimands his father for being so stubborn that he listen's to no one else's counsel but his own in Haemon's lines:

Whoever thinks that he's the only one who can think or use his tongue or soul, no one else--these men, when you open them up, are seen to be hollow. (717-20)

We further see Haemon's pursuit of both wisdom and virtue when he points out that his father is not ruling his kingdom by disobeying the gods, turning the kingdom over to be destroyed by the gods' wrath:

You don't protect [your own empire] when you trample the honors of the gods! (756-57)

Hence we see that while Antigone is ultimately very different from the Symposium, the philosophy defining love can certainly be found in Antigone and could have influenced the philosophies and definitions of love found in the Symposium.

lonestargirl56 | Student


In the Symposium by Plato, men engage in philosophical dialogue in an attempt describe what love is. For example, according to Aristophanes, the satisfaction of love is more than physical as it involves regaining lost happiness. On the other hand, Phaedrus defines love as a virtue — wisdom, moderation, or anything positive — while Socrates presents an entirely different interpretation.

While the work of Sophocles, like Antigone, considers romantic love as a minor theme, both the Antigone and Symposium share a common theme, which is romantic love. The Antigone by Sophocles reflects on which is important, the law of god, law of man, and the flaws on human character. However, Haemon is engaged to Antigone, consequently, the decision by Antigone to bury her brother followed by personal decision of Creon to execute her demonstrates the nature of the love of Haemon for Antigone. The love demonstrated by Haemon for Antigone can match some of the arguments for defining love found in the Symposium, and this would suggest that the arguments of both Socrates and Aristophanes characterize Haemon’s love. Aristophanes presents his conception of love in the form of myth, which describes a love as an erotic love where one believes she/he is searching of his/her other half.

Haemon feels that Antigone is his other half, and he would go to any extent just to be with her. The argument of Socrates defines love as a desire for wisdom and beauty. In the Antigone, Haemon exhibits all these desires for what is wise and beautiful in the love he has for Antigone. Haemon convinces his father, Creon not to punish Antigone because he believes that it is foolish to honor the laws of man over the laws of god. Haemon urges his father to use reason in his decision, which implies that Haemon is seeking what is true and virtuous, and something virtuous is beautiful. Haemon is also wise because he supports Antigone that humans should obey god’s law above man’s law. Consequently, through his love for Antigone, Haemon is also pursuing wisdom, which concurs with what Socrates defines as love.

In conclusion, while the Antigone is significantly different from Symposium, the philosophy of love are obviously found in Antigone and could have influenced the definitions and philosophies of love found in the Symposium. From the preceding, it is clear that the pre-Socratic philosophers’ views had a significant effect on the judgment made by Plato in his school of thought.

Read the study guide:
The Dialogues of Plato

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