Kyung Min Lee
Recitation Leader: Matthew Goldstone
Texts and Ideas
Plato’s Symposium is a series of speeches of Love given in honor of the tragedian, Agathon. They deal with questions of: what Love is; interpersonal relationships through love; what types of love are worthy of praise; the purpose of love; and others.
The original teller of the story is Aristodemus but in the Symposium, Apollodorus retells the story to the readers. The story itself is told from Aristodemus’ point of view, who ran into Socrates on his way to Agathon’s symposion. He invites Aristodemus, and they have food and drink at Agathon’s, along with Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, and Aristophanes among others. After they have finished eating, each person makes a speech in praise of the god of Love.
Phaedrus begins giving a speech focused on the virtue of bravery in love. He tells the origin of love as the youngest god, son of Chaos and Earth. His stories of Achilles’ and Alcestis’ acts of self-sacrifice for the lover and beloved exemplify the bravery of love.
Pausanias splits Love into Common and Heavenly Love, attributing the latter solely to homosexual, male relationships. He praises Heavenly Love and discusses the role of law, justice, and customs in leading beloveds to make a virtuous choice regarding taking lovers.
After Pausanias, Eryximachus, the doctor, speaks, suggesting that good Love promotes moderation and orderliness. Love does not restrict itself to human interaction, but can be found in music, medicine, and much else besides. He extends the idea of love beyond interpersonal relationships, claiming love is found in the coexistence of opposites, the harmony of nature.
Having been cured of his hiccups, Aristophanes gives the most original speech on love. He tells an origin story, where Zeus cut humans in half. Humans used to have a different shape, somewhat like two human beings stuck together and there were three sexes: male, female, and androgynous (male and female). Due to their disinterest in revering the gods, they were split, and now humans search for their other half, on a pursuit of wholeness. He warns that we may be split again, if not pious and revering of the gods.
Agathon, the host of the gathering, gives the fifth speech. He praises love with beautiful prose. He reiterates all the virtues each of the past speakers focused on separately when defining the moral character of love: Courage, Justice, Moderation, and Wisdom . He describes Love as possessing beauty and good things. He also sees Love as responsible for implanting all the virtues in us. Socrates questions Agathon's speech, suggesting that Agathon has spoken about the object of Love, rather than Love itself.
This description of Love is further explained when Socrates tells them a dialogue he had with Diotima on Love long ago. He and Diotima establish that Love is between beauty and ugliness, and between wisdom and ignorance. According to Diotima, Love is not a god at all, but is rather a spirit that mediates between people and the objects of their desire. Love is neither wise nor beautiful, but is rather the desire for wisdom and beauty. Love expresses itself through pregnancy and reproduction, either through the bodily kind of sexual Love or through the sharing and…