Young boy as Eros Louvre provided by Wikimedia Commons
After some banter with Eryximachus and Socrates, Agathon begins his speech by criticising the earlier ones for concentrating on the benefits bestowed by Eros rather than the character of the god himself. This sounds rather as if Plato is moving the discussion on to consider the essential nature of a quality rather than its manifestations (cf. Meno’s ‘What is Virtue?’).
Eros is the happiest of the gods, most beautiful (κάλλιστος) and best (ἄριστος). Agathon directly contradicts Phaedo by claiming that he is the youngest, not the oldest, of the gods, for he hates old age and seeks out the young; surely, too, the gods of old would not have castrated each other and tied each other up, if Eros had been among them. He is also ἁπαλός -‘sensitive’ (Hamilton), ‘delicate’ (Rowe) – for he settles in those souls which are soft (μαλακός). He is supple (ὑγρός), otherwise how could he pass through the whole soul, and beautiful, living as he does among the flowers.
Eros displays virtue (ἀρετή), neither wronging nor being wronged (really?), justice (δικαιοσύνη), for all obey him willingly, and moderation (σωφροσύνη). Agathon justifies the last surprising assertion by the following piece of sophistry: moderation is mastery over pleasures and desires; no pleasure is stronger than love; therefore love masters all pleasures and so is supremely moderate (it’s this sort of thing that got Greek Philosophy a bad name, if you ask me, though, to be fair to Agathon, he is probably only joking – see his concluding remark). In courage (ἀνδρεία) too he is supreme, for did he not overcome even Ares when he made him fall for Aphrodite?
Nor does Eros fall short in wisdom (σοφία). All who are touched by him become poets and musicians. Indeed all skills owe much to him inasmuch as their practitioners are inspired by a desire for Beauty.
Agathon now supplies a peroration which, as Dover points out in his commentary, provides examples of many of the elements of Greek lyric poetry as well as being a caricature of the sort of Rhetoric practised by Gorgias.
Agathon concludes by saying that his speech is part play, part serious (τὰ μὲν παιδιᾶς, τὰ δὲ σπουδῆς μετρίας). This is, to my taste, the speech’s saving grace: it turns what could, to the modern reader, be very irritating into something quite funny.
Now for Socrates! What will he make of it? One cannot escape the feeling that Plato has set Agathon up to be shot down.
[Mageiros kindly provided this summary]