Symposium by Plato

Symposium by Plato Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Plato's text deals with the complex question of Love. What is Love? How do you achieve it? What is loved? What is Love's purpose?

    Love is in between mortal and immortal, in between beauty and ugliness, and in between wisdom and ignorance. To achieve it, one must complete Diotima’s “Ladder of Love,” to achieve its purpose of giving birth to true virtue, having seen Beauty. Not all accomplish this, but reproduction in body or soul achieve the purpose of Love as well. Interpersonal relationships, that of the lover and beloved, are important in discussing love as well.

  2. 2

    What is the relationship between Diotima and Alcibiades’ speech? Why is his entrance significant? How do the first five speeches differ from Diotima’s and Alcibiades’? How are they similar?

    Alcibiades’ entrance juxtaposes the comedic elements of the book against its most serious moment--Diotima’s speech. His speech likens Socrates to Eros, describing Socrates in the way Diotima described Eros. Diotima’s speech reconciles all the contradictions found in the previous five speeches. Alcibiades’ deals on a different subject: praising Socrates. However, all touch on Love and its virtues.

  3. 3

    What is function of the frame narrative (Aristodemus told Apollodorus who told a friend...) set up by Plato? Why does he go out of his way to set up this structure?

    The frame narrative distances the reader from the philosophical ideas, so as to reduce the authority of the speakers. They are not meant to be taken as absolute conclusions. It also emphasizes how serious philosophy can be lighthearted, making it more accessible. The layer separating the reader from Diotima also serves to imply that this speech has Plato’s views on love, not Socrates’.

  4. 4

    Describe Diotima’s “Ladder of Love.” What does it encompass? What is its ultimate purpose?

    The “Ladder of Love” has multiple steps. First, a person loves one body, and then he finds beauty in all bodies. After this, he must appreciate the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of activities and laws, or customs, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom, which is philosophy. Upon reaching this, the lover will see Beauty in its pure form, and give birth not to an image of virtue, but true virtue.

  5. 5

    Describe the nature of the lover/beloved structure in relationships. What is the importance of the relationships between adult and adolescent males in the text and how are they portrayed?

    These relationships are praised as the highest, even though they were under complex customs in Athens, possibly carrying stigma. Male adults and male adolescents in these affairs were described as lovers of pure knowledge. However, they could be praised highly or still take part in vulgar love, according to Pausanias’, depending on their actions.

  6. 6

    How is Socrates portrayed in the dialogues?

    Socrates is likened to Eros by Alcibiades in his speech. Several likenesses are paralleled: being between mortal and immortal, in between beauty and ugliness, and in between wisdom and ignorance. Aristodemus’ description of him on their way to Agathon’s also has similarities with Diotima’s description of Love.

  7. 7

    What role does homosexuality play in the text? Engage with ideas in the speeches and relationships among the characters.

    This work is the first major philosophical novel to deal on questions of love in Western literature, increasing the importance of having male sexuality praised as the highest form of love. At the time, these relationships, though common, were still complex. Male homosexual relationships are described as being the purest and only males are able to be pregnant in soul and finish the ladder of love. Alcibiades and Socrates’ relationships particularly illustrate the ideas in Diotima’s speech.

  8. 8

    What is the role of women in the dialogues? Why is Diotima important?

    Women were generally not present at symposiums, other than as servants, slaves, and flute-girls, and in this case, they were all sent away. Women are also not described as being able to accomplish pure love or Diotima’s ladder. This makes Diotima’s creation by Socrates ironic, especially since she has the highest level of reasoning and leaves the guests in awe.

  9. 9

    Why does the final dialogue deal with questions of tragedy and comedy as a genre? How are the two reflected in the text?

    The novel has shifts in tone and genre, particularly evident in the switch of Agathon, a tragedian who gives a comical speech, and Aristophanes, a comic poet who gives a serious speech. This provides serious philosophy in a fun way. It also serves to humanize Socrates, so the reader can think that the qualities of Love he possesses are accessible. Socrates also says in the final dialogue that tragedy and comedy must both be mastered, which is probably an idea Plato wanted to reflect.

  10. 10

    Describe and explain the dichotomies in the text.

    The most important dichotomy created is Pausanias’: Common and Heavenly Love. Others include comedy (Aristophanes) vs. tragedy (Agathon), physical vs. spiritual, and drunk vs. sober. Some speakers depend on these more than others, but contradictions run throughout the text, and can be reconciled, as the five speeches are in Diotima’s speech.