Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 135

Symposium is perhaps Plato’s masterpiece as a work of art, though other dialogues are of greater philosophical import. Its great range, from discussions of physical love to an almost mystical vision of eternal, absolute beauty, makes it both art and philosophy. The range of subject and level of discussion are reflected in the original Greek and in some translations by differences in the language and style of individual speakers, and the contrasts thus afforded contribute to the dramatic excellence of the work. The dramatic effect is also enhanced by the order and structure of the dialogue, which is an account by Apollodorous of a banquet described to him by Aristodemus. At the banquet, a number of speeches are made, leading to a final speech by Plato’s beloved teacher and paragon of philosophy, Socrates.

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Many Views of Love

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1246

The dramatic poet Agathon has just won the prize for his first tragedy and is celebrating at home with his guests. Because of the aftereffects of yesterday’s drinking, it is agreed that the entertainment will consist chiefly of conversation. Eryximachus recalls Phaedrus’s frequent observation that while other gods and heroes have had ample praises and honors, Love has been singularly neglected, so he proposes that each man deliver a speech praising this god. All agree to this proposal, Socrates remarking that he claims understanding of nothing other than this subject. Readers familiar with Socrates will see in this statement a hint that the symposium on Love will remain on no ordinary level, for Socrates, above all his contemporaries, is able to transcend the sensual.

Because the topic originated with Phaedrus, Plato’s friend, he is invited to speak first. Phaedrus’s speech is a rather commonplace encomium setting the stage for later speeches. He describes Love as the oldest of the gods, full of power and the author of the greatest blessings. Phaedrus conceives love of the highest type to be that between virtuous men and youths and believes that the desire for honor and the fear of dishonor and shame are the chief motives for leading a noble life. The love between men is above all else the source of this motive, for the lover and the beloved hate nothing more than disgrace in each other’s eyes; hence, they are courageous and self-sacrificing, even to the point of death. A nation or army made up of such lovers would be almost invincible. Thus, Love not only serves as the chief source of virtue but also, as seen in the stories of Alcestis and Achilles, gives happiness after death.

Pausanias thinks the foregoing is indiscriminate. Love is not one but twofold; one part is noble and one part is not. There is an elder, heavenly Aphrodite, daughter of Uranus and having no mother, and also a younger, common Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus and Dione. Therefore, there are two Loves, the offspring of each. The common Love, whose mother was of both male and female parentage, desires either women or youths and is merely of the body, without regard for good or evil, the noble or the base, and being of the body in its craving, is also like the body in temporality. The heavenly Love, however, whose mother was born from the male alone, seeks the male as the more valiant and intelligent. Lovers of this sort seek out youths of promising virtue and intellect with the intent of educating and developing them. Lovers of the body have brought only disgrace on Love, and some societies disapprove of attachments between men and youths; the question of their propriety is not simple, depending on whether the attitudes and manners involved are honorable or not. Pausanias thinks that when love of youths and the practice of philosophy and virtue coalesce, this love is noble and...

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