Symposium by Plato

Symposium by Plato Summary and Analysis of The Speech of Eryximachus

Building on Pausanias’ distinction between two types of Love, Eryximachus expands this, claiming that Love not only occurs in humans, but everywhere in the universe, including the animal kingdom and in the world of plants, a lesson he learned from the field of medicine. Love directs everything that occurs with humans and gods. Being a doctor himself, he draws on his knowledge from the science of medicine throughout his speech.

Bodies manifest two species of love: one type in health and the other in disease. Eryximachus states that medicine is the science of the effects of Love on repletion and depletion of the body. Physicians must be able to distinguish Love that is noble from Love that is disgraceful and their task is to establish mutual love between bodily elements. In other words, guided by Love, medicine seeks to create harmony in the human body, ridding discordant elements, similar to how music creates rhythm and harmony.

Eryximachus ultimately agrees with Pausanias, saying that Heavenly Love, love felt by good people or by those who might be improved, must be encouraged. Caution is indicated from vulgar or Common Love (which he says comes from Polyhymnia, rather than Pandemos as indicated by Pausanias), which can easily slip from pleasure into debauchery if not regulated.

The proper species of Love creates harmony, even amongst opposites. Love affects all of nature and even interactions between humans and gods. The diseased Love causes impiety, pulling us away from proper Love, which is necessary to interact with the gods. Divination encourages proper kind of Love, producing affection between gods and men. The power of Love is ultimately absolute.

By Eryximachus’ speech’s end, Aristophanes’ hiccups have stopped; he used the Sneeze Treatment suggest by Eryximachus to stop them. He comically applies Eryximachus’ principle, saying the orderly sort of Love must have taken over since Eryximachus’ suggestion to cure the hiccups have worked.

Eryximachus warns Aristophanes that he is about to begin his own speech, making him vulnerable to others’ jokes as well. Aristophanes takes a step back, saying he has not tried to joke about Eryximachus’ speech, before beginning his own.


Similar to Pausanias, Eryximachus is satirized by Plato for self-importance and high opinion of the significance of medicine. The tone of his speech is pedantic, as is the portrayal of his character throughout the book; he takes every opportunity possible to show his knowledge of medicine. It can be argued that it is a satirizing portrait of a pedantic expert or scientist.

However, it can also be argued that Plato places Eryximachus in a prominent position--he is responsible for the decision not to excessively drink and suggests the topic of Eros for the gathering. He and Phaedrus are addressed between speeches. Also, while his phrases are dogmatic and he praises his profession highly, so do others, such as Agathon who praises poets in his speech, being a poet himself.

Plato compares physicians with statesmen in later works, supporting the idea that he might not have been seriously mocking doctors. By the end of Eryximachus’ speech, Aristophanes’ hiccups have ended, suggesting he was no longer trying to mock the speaker, as he might have been mocking Pausanias. However, as his hiccups had still occurred during some portion of the speech and he makes comments in jest at its conclusion, it is more plausible that he was still mocking Eryximachus.

Eryximachus’ speech introduces the idea of balance and generalizes love beyond interactions between individuals, applying it to almost everything in the world. He stretches the meaning of love into harmony, stating that health is the harmony of opposites in general. He essentially describes the harmony of, or the point in between the self-sacrifice in Phaedrus’ speech and the self-indulgence in Pausanias’ speech. The idea of love being in between extremes becomes important in Socrates’ account of love.

His is the first account of the goodness of Eros based on scientific principles. This clinical detachment is the most prominent feature of his speech, making it a passionless depiction of love. The account fails to reflect love’s role in the human condition and effects of interpersonal relationships.