Posts Tagged ‘Socrates’

Welcome to our new unofficial*  Open University A396 2009 blog for discussing Plato’s Symposium.  I am hoping this is going to be as simple as setting up some categories with very basic posts about the different sections of the Symposium and inviting all you knowledgable poeple to comment about them.  I was thinking of having sections for

1 The Framing Narrative

2 Phaedrus’ Speech

3 Pausanias’ Speech

4 Eryximachus’ Speech

5 Aristophanes’ Speech

6 Agathon’s Speech

7 Socrates’ Speech

8 Alcibiades’ Speech

9 The Conclusion

How does that sound to the rest of you?

I think you will be able to leave comments without logging in but the first one will need to be approved before it appears – I will try not to take too long 🙂

*NB This is not an official Open University site – it is provided by students for students but anyone is welcome to contribute 🙂

[This content was provided by Mairsmagic]


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Socrates follows Agathon and begins with his tongue so firmly in his cheek, I am surprised he can say anything at all.  Damning poor Agathon with faint praise, he claims ignorance for himself in the matter of eulogies – he doesn’t know how to make eulogies, only how to tell the truth!  Being encouraged to go ahead with a truthful speech anyway, Socrates turns his attention to Agathon and uses him to display his method of leading students to knowledge through questioning.

The logic goes like this:

  • Love is love of some object.
  • Love desires that object
  • One desires only what one does not have (one can desire the continuance into the future of what one already has though)
  • Those who love do not have the object they love/desire.

Agathon has said ‘the gods made the world from a love of beautiful things for there was no love of ugliness’ so….

  • Eros must be love of beauty and not of ugliness. (hmmm ?)
  • Eros then lacks beauty and does not possess it.

Poor Agathon at this point admits he didn’t know what he was talking about only to receive the most damning rejoinder ‘καὶ μὴν καλῶς γε εἶπας’ – ‘Ah, but at least you spoke beautifully’.

The logic contiues

  • Love lacks beautiful things
  • Good things are beautiful
  • Love lacks good things
Jadwiga Łuszczewska, who used the pen name Diotima, posing as the ancient sage in a painting by Józef Simmler, 1855 provided by Wikimedia Commons

Jadwiga Łuszczewska, who used the pen name Diotima, posing as the ancient sage in a painting by Józef Simmler, 1855 provided by Wikimedia Commons

Socrates finally lets Agathon off the hook and proceeds to a description of what he has learned about Love from the Matinean woman, Diotima.  Apparently it was she who put right Socrates’ own misguided belief that Love was a great god, and was of beautiful things, using the same method he has just demonstrated using Agathon.

Diotima reveals (using the same dialectic teaching method) that there is a halfway house between beauty and ugliness, just as, for example, the the state of having correct beliefs (ἔχειν λογον)  without understanding, lies between knowledge and ignorance.  Eros is neither beautiful nor ugly, neither good nor bad, but something between the two extremes. Neither, she contends, is Eros a mortal nor a god, but something between the two – one of the spirits who mediate between men and gods.

Diotima answers Socrates question about the origin of Eros with the story of his birth.  He is the son of Poverty and Resource who met at the celebrations for the birth of Aphrodite. His attachment to Aphrodite and all things beautiful springs from this, and he also shares his mothers neediness and his father’s resourcefulness.  He oscillates between flourishing and dying and also stands between wisdom and ignorance.

This shimmies neatly, though not particularly logically, into the claim that in general neither the ignorant nor the wise seek wisdom, but (back to the original argument) that Love does seek wisdom because he stands between ignorance and wisdom.

Now we get a link back to the original speeches with a claim that Socrates must have believed the ‘beloved’ (the young boy) rather than the ‘lover’ (the older man) to be Love. Diotima seems to associate the ‘beloved’ with beauty, and the ‘lover’ with the Eros she has described.

Discussion proceeds into the usefulness of Love to mankind, and more dialectic takes us (via a pretty tortuous route which I have not attempted to map) to the conclusion that Love has many forms which are encompassed in the desire for good things and being happy.  I think that is the conclusion anyway but am happy to be corrected! Apparently the  Greek is difficult to decipher too.

After a glancing (and prescient, since Diotima hasn’t heard him) reference to Aristophanes’ speech in 205e , we get the answer to Socrates’ question on how to pursue love.  Apparently, it is all about the begetting of beautiful things, either with the body or through the soul.   Fortunately, Socrates doesn’t follow this so we get further explanation:

At a certain age, men yearn to beget things to win themselves a sort of immortality. Beauty is a necessary adjunct, as they only want to beget beautiful things, and recoil from ugliness. So, after all, love is not love of the beautiful, but love of engendering and begetting upon the beautiful…. τῆς γεννήσεως καὶ τοῦ τόκου ἐν τῷ καλῷ.  Love is love of immortality as well as of good because ‘love is of permanent possession of the good’ – ‘τοῦ ἀγαθοῦ ἑαυτῷ εἶναι ἀεὶ ἔρως ἐστίν’.

So now Diotima take us on to discover the cause of love and desire, which is common to animals and men, and which makes them beget and nurture and protect the things they bring to birth, even if it costs their own lives.  This desire is obviously (though Socrates needs to be told) caused by the wish to brings themselves as close as possible to immortality by leaving behind a new creature. Even as men age, they constantly renew themselves, losing bits (eg hair) and beliefs and growing others though we still have the illusion of being the same person. We also lose knowledge through forgetfulness and re-grow it by study giving the impression we keep it the same all the time.  This losing and growing lets a mortal taste immortality, which is then extended by the birth of an offshoot. Reputation, even more than children, can be considered such an offshoot as it wins ‘deathless memory for valor’, ‘οἶμαι ὑπὲρ ἀρετῆς ἀθανάτου’. Furthermore, those who give birth to prudence and virtue in the form of poetry and arts are revered as inventors, εὑρετικοὶ, and are superior. The highest and fairest prudence is directed towards regulating cities and justice.  The most divine men will seek beauty not only of body but of soul upon which to beget and also lead that which they beget upon in education.  So …. men who take younger men as lovers have a very strong relationship because their children are children of the soul rather than human children.  (Its a bit strange that this woman love expert seems to assume it is not possible to find such a soul sharing parenthood between a man and a woman or indeed between two women.) Examples of offspring of this higher type include poems, laws and customs.  Diotima reckons Socrates might be able to cope at this level but there is more to come which she thinks will be beyond him….

So this is the ladder which needs to be climbed:

  1. Find a single body and love it (presumably him)
  2. Appreciate the beauty of all (beautiful?) bodies – reduce love of single body
  3. Appreciate the beauty of souls – reduce love of beautiful bodies
  4. Find beauty in laws, observances and kinship – let go of the beauty of bodies
  5. Find beauty in knowledge (general not particular branches) – let go of observances etc
  6. Turn to the wide ocean of beauty and bring forth a plenteous crop of philosophy until … you see …. the revelation of essential beauty which is imperishable and constant. This is much better than boys…

So … the next bit is very tricky … if he can see this essential beauty, he can breed true examples of virtue, because he has consorted with truth, and then he will have the friendship of Heaven and be immortal …..

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos, provided by Wikimedia Commons.

Portrait of Socrates. Marble, Roman artwork (1st century), perhaps a copy of a lost bronze statue made by Lysippos, provided by Wikimedia Commons.

So, with quite a bit of relief we turn back to Socrates, who has been relating Diotima’s words. He thinks she is right! Because of this, he is persuading others to use the best helper they can find ( ie Love) to lead them towards the top of Diotima’s ladder.  And so Socrates honours Love’s power and valor…. τὴν δύναμιν καὶ ἀνδρείαν τοῦ Ἔρωτος.

So there you have it.  I am sure there is a lot here that needs further explanation and / or correcting …  please help with your comments ..

Meanwhile, some questions.  Are there direct correspondences here to the other speeches?  Is Socrates recommending the lover – beloved relationship as a first step on the ladder?  Why is Plato attributing the wisdom delivered through Socrates’ words to someone else?  Why is the source of the wisdom a woman? Why is she from Mantinea? What’s it all about really?

[This content was provided with a great deal of difficulty by Mairsmagic]

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