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30 September Plato's Symposium on Love - Cara Ghassemian

Cara reflects on what are the links, according to Plato, between love, happiness, goodness and beauty.

Plato's Symposium stages a conversation between a group of friends after a feast at the house of Agathon during which each describes his theory of love.  It is set in 416BC.

I am going to outline briefly what each of the speakers said, with a bit more detail relating to what Socrates, the fifth speaker expounds and then I am going to leave you with four questions to think and talk about which I will posting on the forum in the next few days.

Remember before I start discussing each of the speakers that there is some debate over whether Plato is intending to characterize certain speakers as shallow or practical or pompous or proud, or satirical or sensitive. In other words Plato is not necessarily saying that each of the versions of love are of equal legitimacy. We have to work out for ourselves what to think of each version of love, although I think we could fairly safely  assume that as he holds the personnage of his teacher Socrates in high regard it would be likely that Plato  would put into his mouth, what he really thinks.

There are various speakers-the story of the dinner party is being recalled by Apollodorus who is speaking with a companion. Apollodorus heard about the dinner party from Aristodemus.

1          Phaedrus-

 Anyone who wants to live a good life needs to be guided throughout his life by something which love imparts more effectively than family ties can, or public office or wealth. What is this something? It is the ability to feel shame at disgraceful behaviour, and pride in good behaviour.

2-         Pausanias

Love and Aphrodite are inseparable but there is common love and there is celestial love comprised in Aphrodite. Common love is a combination of male and female whereas celestial love is wholly male. There is a lot of discussion about gratification in the context of love.  A wrong relationship is one which involves the immoral gratification of a bad man, and a good relationship is one which involves the morally sound gratification of a good man. A lover is bad if he loves the body rather than the mind. There's no constancy in his love as when the physical bloom fades he is gone. On the other hand a lover who loves goodness of character is constant for life.

3          Eryximachus -

It is the love whose fulfillment lies in virtuous, restrained and moral behaviour from both gods and men who has the greatest power and is the source of all our happiness

4          Aristophanes -

 Talks about the power of love and how the gods cut the human race (originally of three genders) in two and each half misses the other half and that is how our innate sexual drive arose-we are trying to reintegrate and heal the split in our nature. Love is the name we give to the desire for and pursuit of wholeness.

5          Agathon

describes love as young and sensitive. He (that is "Love") is compatable and fluid.-This fluidity is provided by his grace, a property which is universally held to belong to Love in particular. Agathon says love acts fairly and is treated fairly. For oppression and love are incompatible. Love is characterized by a high degree of self-discipline. Self-discipline is the control of pleasure and desire and if pleasures fail to match love, they are defeated by love and love is in control. Hedonism, luxury, sensualism, delight, desire and eroticism- these are his children.

6          Socrates-

He recounts a conversation with Diotima, a woman and an expert on love.

They spoke about true belief as an intermediary between knowledge and ignorance and that love is something like that; it occupies the middle ground between mortality and immortality and is an important spirit and like all spirits carries messages between gods and men.

Eros's parents are Plenty (father) and Poverty (mother). He takes from his mother in having Need as his constant companion. He takes from his father his ingenuity in going after things of beauty and value.

For Diotima the sole object of love is the permanent possession of goodness for oneself. In other words Eros is not a god, is not beauty and wisdom, but is a seeking after beauty and wisdom and a movement towards them. Love is a lacking and a reaching for more that mediates and moves between opposites.

There is a connection between his conception of love and philosophy then-a search for more beauty, wisdom and the good. 

Love's purpose is also physical and mental procreation in an attractive medium. Procreation is the closest that a mortal can get to being immortal-so a second aim of love is immortality.

So Love moves from being a seeker to being a creator. Not just of children but of artistic works and ideas. 

In Diotima's version we go from

•·        erotic love of a particular other to

•·        abstract love of the particular other, which leads to

•·        appreciation of the physical beauty of many, then to

•·        recognition of attractive minds, to

•·        recognition of beauty in knowledge and wisdom ,then increasingly to

•·        beautiful reasoning and thinking and finally

•·        appreciation and love of abstract, eternal goodness.

Is the character of Socrates love and philosophy embodied?

7          Alcibiades -is he Dionysus or Beauty incarnate?

He arrives late and very drunk and talks about his failed attempt to seduce Socrates-offering a more embodied and personal perspective. He presents the everyday experience of rapture and longing, obsession pain and despair.

Firstly he tries to spend time alone with Socrates relying on his beauty to seduce him. Then they have a wrestle in the gym-still no go. Dinner is the next strategy with a similar lack of success. Then he gets him talking so that he has to stay the night. He wraps S in his arms. However Socrates remains impervious.


In conclusion I want to leave you with 4 questions-

•1        Why do you think Plato used this device of having Apollodorus recount what Aristodemus told him that Socrates recounted what someone else, an expert on love, Diotima, said about the subject of love?

•2        And why was this other person a woman?

•3        Why did Socrates speak second last?

•4        Why did Plato choose Alcibiades speech of sensual love as the final speech?

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