History records that Plato first met Socrates around 490 BC and from this meeting he began to develop his overall philosophy, which continued to evolve throughout his lifetime. Many of his beliefs stemmed from lessons he learned from Socrates, as well as other famous philosophers of Ancient Greece.
Plato’s Symposium is presented as a series of speeches by various Greek intellectuals on the topic of love. The dialogues collectively form the parameters of Plato’s philosophical views on the subject matter. To reach his conclusions about love, the author relies on his understanding of the many facets of love as expressed by the likes of Homer, the pre-Socratics, Sophocles, Euripides, and others. As Socrates states at the beginning of the work,
“I think that at the present moment we who are here assembled cannot do better than honour the god Love. If you agree with me, there will be no lack of conversation; for I mean to propose that each of us in turn, going from left to right, shall make a speech in honour of Love. Let him give us the best which he can; and Phaedrus, because he is sitting first on the left hand, and because he is the father of the thought, shall begin.”
Plato demonstrates his allusions to the opinions of the Ancient Greek philosophers by means of a setting at a drinking party. The guests take turns discussing their respective thoughts on love. For example, when Eryximachus delivers his speech to the guests, he mentions the philosopher Heracleitus, a pre-Socratic who argued a unity of all things in life. The somewhat extreme theory propounded was that opposite things are identical because everything is in a constant state of change. Eryximachus adopted this philosophy:
“There are in the human body these two kinds of love, which are confessedly different and unlike, and being unlike, they have loves and desires which are unlike; and the desire of the healthy is one, and the desire of the diseased is another . . . united by disunion . . . both loves ought to be noted as far as may be, for they are both present.”
Another example Plato uses to allude to the philosophical thoughts of Ancient thinkers is found in the speech by Phaedrus. Phaedrus discusses love with his allusion to the god, Eros and his connection to human beings:
“Love is a mighty god, and wonderful among gods and men . . .numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us.”
Phaedrus continues by citing characters from Homer like Achilles and Alcestis to demonstrate self-sacrifice of heroes and the bravery of love:
“That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own nature infuses into the lover.”
There are many other references to verify the sources of Plato’s philosophical positions in Symposium. For example, Socrates mentions Homer’s Odyssey in his speech, along with a citation from Euripides. Plato also includes mention of the style of Menalippe, who is the daughter of Euripides.
In Symposium, it is clear that Plato uses the Socratic Method of arriving at truth through dialogue. He alters the method by presenting the dialogue in a speech format, but in the end Plato, through the character of Socrates, expresses his opinions on love after considering the arguments and positions of the drinking-party guests. Some speakers are fictional, created by Plato to advance the conversation, but all make references to the ideas of some of the giants of classical Greek literature to demonstrate Plato’s reliance upon their thinking in drawing his conclusions.