The all-star gathering
Apollodorus narrates to an anonymous friend a story he found out from Aristodemus about a symposium, or dinner-party, given in honor of the tragedian Agathon. Socrates arrives at the party late, as he became lost in thought on the neighboring porch. After they have finished eating, Eryximachus picks up on a suggestion of Phaedrus‘, that everybody should in turn make a speech in reward of the god of love.
Phaedrus starts by saying that Love is one of the oldest of the gods, and the one that does the most to sell virtue in humans. Pausanias speaks; setting a difference among common Love, which requires easy and mindless desire, and Heavenly Love, which always takes place between a man and a boy. In the case of Heavenly Love, the boy, or loved one, sexually gratifies the man, or lover, in exchange for education in wisdom and virtue.
Then Eryximachus, the doctor, speaks, suggesting that true Love promotes moderation and orderliness. Love does not limit itself to human interaction, but can be found in music, medicine, and much else besides.
“Love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole”
The next to speak is the comedian poet Aristophanes. Aristophanes attracts a fascinating myth that shows that we were once all twice the people we’re now, but that our threat to the gods caused Zeus to cut us in half. Ever since, we’ve got wandered the earth searching out our other half of in order to rejoin with it and become whole. Agathon follows up Aristophanes, and gives a rhetorically elaborate speech that identifies Love as young, lovely, sensitive, and clever. He also sees Love as accountable for imbedding all the virtues in us. Socrates questions Agathon’s speech, suggesting that Agathon has spoken about the object of love, instead of Love itself.
Image by commons.wikimedia
With the intention to correct him, Socrates relates what he was once told by a wise lady named Diotima. According to Diotima, Love is not a god at all, but is rather a spirit that mediates among humans and the objects of their desire. Love is neither wise nor lovely, but is rather the desire for knowledge and beauty. Love expresses itself through pregnancy and reproduction, either through the bodily type of sexual Love or through the sharing and reproduction of thoughts. The greatest knowledge of all, she confides, is knowledge of the shape of beauty, which we must strive to obtain.
“…and when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment…”
At the end of Socrates’ speech, Alcibiades bursts in, falling-down drunk, and delivers a eulogy to Socrates himself. Notwithstanding Alcibiades’ best efforts, he has never managed to seduce Socrates as Socrates has no interest at all in physical pleasure.
“According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves.”
Soon the party descends into chaos and drinking and Aristodemus falls asleep. He awakes the following morning to find Socrates still talking. When everyone else has finally fallen asleep, Socrates gets up and goes about his everyday business as usually.
Impact of Plato’s symposium
Plato and Aristotle are vital in personal relationships, too. deciding on the proper mate or date can be as much about finding someone who balances our inner Plato or Aristotle, as it’s a lot about compatibility or shared pastimes–maybe more so.
Twenty four hundred years in the past Plato taught that each human soul has the choice to reach for a higher, purer and more spiritual truth that will light up our lives and transform our world. That’s made him the chief spokesman for every religious mystic and every believer in a supernatural reality the West has ever produced, but also for poets, (whose works he stated, “aren’t of man or human workmanship, but are divine and from the gods”), artists and musicians, not to mention lovers who are also soulmates (there’s a purpose why it’s called Platonic love).
Feature Image lentina_x