Phaedrus Summary and Analysis of Lysias’s Speech: 230e-234c

Lysias’s speech takes the form of an imaginary address from an older man to a younger one. In the opening, the speaker claims that he can still “get what he is asking for” (i.e., sex) without being in love with the boy (231a). He proceeds to raise multiple arguments against love in such a relationship:

(1) The lover will regret giving favors after his desire subsides, while the non-lover will view favors like business transactions.
(2) The non-lover will be able to indulge in pleasures without having to worry about their negative impact on his business or personal life (i.e. “he can’t complain about love’s making him neglect” other matters; 231b).
(3) The lover will treat former lovers (i.e. boys) poorly when he finds a new object of desire.
(4) There is no sense in giving sexual favors to a man in love, since such a man “will admit that he’s more sick than sound in the head” (231d).
(5) Love limits one’s choice; it is more likely to find someone who “deserves your friendship” if one does not care about love.
(6) The boy who is afraid of the stigma surrounding relations with an older man is better off with a non-lover, since the lover is more likely to boast about his relations.
(7) Whereas lovers will always be seen as giving in to desire, people will not fault non-lovers for spending time together—for “one has to talk to someone, either out of friendship or to obtain some other pleasure” (232b).
(8) Lovers are jealou,s and jealousy often leads to enmity; relations with a non-lover, who has attracted a boy with his personal merits, will always lead to friendship.
(9) Lovers are usually first attracted to a boy’s body rather than his character, so they may not want to remain friends afterwards.
(10) A lover is easily carried away in excessive pleasure as well as anger; such excesses are not conducive to a long-lasting friendship.
(11) Contrary to what a boy may think, strong love can exist without erotic love, just as we have trustworthy friends and family.
(12) It is proper to give one’s favors to those who can best return them rather than to those who are in the most need: “friends often criticize a lover for bad behavior; but no one close to a non-lover ever thinks that desire has led him into bad judgments about his interests” (234b).

Finally, the speaker declares that the speech does not urge boys to dole out their favors indiscriminately to non-lovers—at least not any more than a lover would ask a boy to give in to all his suitors. The goal of the speech has been to benefit both parties rather than to cause harm. The speaker concludes: “If you are still longing for more, if you think I have passed over something, just ask” (234c).


Lysias’s speech addresses the practice of pederasty—a sexual relationship between an older man and a younger boy. Although such relationships were often shunned in the public eye (cf. 255a-b), they occurred commonly in ancient Greece and particularly in Athens. Pederasty did not necessarily interfere with relationships with women; the older man could be married, and the younger boy often married later in life. In the fourth part of The Use of Pleasure, Michel Foucault treats the complicated sexuality of the Greeks—in part drawing from K.J. Dover’s study Greek Homosexuality. For the purposes of this essay, suffice it to note that an age difference between males was the defining feature of pederasty. As Nehamas and Woodruff point out:

What the two participants. . . took from their relationship was, at least in theory, radically different: the older man received pleasure; the younger, education and edification. (xvi)

Lysias’s speech takes the general model of pederasty and expounds a strictly utilitarian version of it. Erotic love, or Eros, according to Lysias, represents a mad force that drives the older man to excessive, irrational actions. It is a turbulent force—and as such it should be eliminated entirely from relationships. What remains between the non-lover and boy will be useful to both parties: sexual pleasure for the older man and an allegedly better education for the younger boy. Love essentially introduces entanglements that interfere with what matters for both parties. The speech repeatedly suggests the importance of sex, as in the following lines with sexual entendres: “I don’t think I should lose the chance to get what I am asking for” (231a); “what is most important to you already” (232c); “If you are still longing for more, if you think I have passed over something, just ask” (234c).

It remains questionable whether erotic love can really be excised from sex in the manner that Lysias proposes; we do not yet have a counter-argument to compare with Lysias’s argument. More importantly, if this speech is to have relevance for readers today--beyond the issue of love vs. sex--we should be considering the implications of the argument for the relationships among actions done for utility, those done for pleasure, and those done because they are inherently good.

In addition, knowing that the subject of rhetoric is to come, we should be thinking about what parts of the soul are acted on by the art of rhetoric--the parts that love, the parts that seek benefits, or the parts that seek the good--or all of the above. Does the person listening to a rhetor put himself in the position of the lover, should he focus on utility when listening, and should he seek to be educated rather than drawn in uncritically by the rhetoric?