Symposium by Plato

The Structure of Plato's Symposium

The philosophical debate that is the focus of Plato's Symposium culminates in the speech of Diotima. She is a mysterious figure, a brilliant woman with the powers even to put off a plague. What she does here is miraculous too: she manages to tie together everything the speakers said during the gathering into a coherent whole, extracting what proves to be true from that which is false or irrelevant without ever having set foot in Agathon's house. She holds the answer to the question of the night. She defines love.

Every speech on love up until that point anticipates Diotima's argument in some way, so that we as readers can build up to it much like the characters do. This does not mean that we must have a functional understanding of Agathon's pompous nonsense before we can understand what love is fundamentally, for the truth (or Truth) can stand on its own. It means rather that the reader goes bouncing around from thinker to thinker. If he is a careful reader at all, he attempts to reconcile the contradictions, find the similarities, and eventuallyif Plato is successful at allhe will desire some closure, some final explanation which has in it no contradictions. And that desire is the climax of Diotima's...

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