If only there were a way to start a city or an army made up of lovers and the boys they love. Theirs would be the best possible system of society, for they would hold back from all that is shameful, and seek honor in each other’s eyes.
Phaedrus, who speaks of courage, explains that people feel the most shame in front of the person they love. If they were at battle, they would never do anything shameful, such as leave ranks or drop weapons, in front of his beloved, but would battle on, questing to be a hero. This underlies the undercurrent of honor in the speeches. Only Diotima explicates that a person seeks glory and honor in their quest for immortality.
Our customs, then, provide for only one honorable way of taking a man as a lover. In addition to recognizing that the lover’s total and willing subjugation to his beloved’s wishes is neither servile nor reprehensible, we allow that there is one--and only one--further reason for willingly subjecting oneself to another which is equally above reproach: that is subjection for the sake of virtue.
The importance of virtue as an end in seeking love is introduced by Pausanias. This will prove an important point in Diotima’s “Ladder of Love.” Pausanias, who focuses on custom and law in his speech, here describes the custom in Athens surrounding mentor-student relationships. Complicated as they are, they serve to stave off common love. The practices serve to make these relationships seem shameful, even though they are encouraged. When searching for virtue, however, even if the other person is vile, the person subjecting himself cannot be shamed as he did an honorable thing.
Love does not occur only in the human soul; it is not simply the attraction we feel toward human beauty: it is a significantly broader phenomenon. It certainly occurs within the animal kingdom, and even in the world of plants. In fact, it occurs everywhere in the universe.
This quote at the beginning of Eryximachus’ speech introduces his topic of love being harmony between opposites in nature and in people. It is much more than just interpersonal relationships. This is important since he is the only one of the first five speeches to branch out beyond individual human actions and relationships in discussing love, making it something different altogether.
Love is simply the name for the desire and pursuit of the whole.
The purpose of searching for love in a person is explained by Aristophanes in his origin story of love. The end of the desire of love is finding the person who constitutes our other half, in order to heal the wound created by Zeus. This end is denied by Diotima, who asserts that we will only look for our other halves’ if that person is good. She also denies the idea that the end of this desire is only finding the person, since that is only the beginning of the purpose in the pursuit for love.
So such a man or anyone else who has a desire desires what is not at hand and not present, what he does not have, and what he is not, and that of which he is in need; for such are the objects of desire and love.
Socrates examines and deconstructs Agathon’s speech by questioning him, and they arrive at this point, which allows them to refute Agathon’s assertions of Love being beautiful and good. Rather, Socrates proves, Love is not good or beautiful since he desires these things. Their conceptions of love should have been based more on the image of the lover than on the image of the beloved they had been incorrectly using. This shifts from the previous speeches, setting up Diotima’s arguments.
It’s only when people are devoted exclusively to one special kind of love that we use these words that really belong to the whole of it; ‘love’ and ‘in love’ and ‘lovers.'
Everyone pursues love differently, whether through making money, sports, or philosophy; but according to Diotima, only passionate, exclusive love between people is truly called love. It allows her to make her argument that love is outside of solely individual relationships, but then she also only grants the term love to one path: the rites of Love leading to philosophy.
Reproduction and birth in beauty.
The purpose of love is to give birth in beauty, whether in body or in soul. Reproduction only happens out of beauty and is the tool for mortals to have any type of immortality, whether through childbirth or ideas. This answers the question set up by Phaedrus as to what the purpose of love is, which he and the other speeches had not fully addressed--other than Aristophanes, whom Diotima challenges.
That in that life alone, when he looks at Beauty in the only way that Beauty can be seen--only then will it become possible for him to give birth not to images or virtue (Because he’s in touch with no images), but to true virtue (Because he is in touch with the true Beauty).
Being pregnant in soul allows a person to see the true Form of Beauty, something people pregnant in body cannot achieve. These people have learned all of the rungs on the ladder of love, becoming lovers of wisdom, so they can see the Form of Beauty. Having been pregnant in soul through the process, this sight of actual Beauty as opposed to a mere image of it allows the person to give birth to true virtue.
But once I caught him when he was open like Silenus' statues, and I had a glimpse of the figures he keeps hidden within: they were so godlike -- so bright and beautiful, so utterly amazing -- that I no longer had a choice: I just had to do whatever he told me.
In his speech praising Socrates, Alcibiades develops the image of Socrates further. This quote implies that Alcibiades has seen more of the true Socrates than the others, allowing him to make his claims with authority. His speech shows that Socrates is the perfect image of love.
Socrates was trying to prove to them that authors should be able to write both comedy and tragedy: the skillful tragic dramatist should also be a comic poet.
The tone of discourse switches throughout the speeches, particularly between Aristophanes and Agathon’s speeches, suggesting that Plato thinks writers must conquer comedy and tragedy to be proficient. This work by Plato is praised for presenting serious philosophical thought in a playful manner. This quote supports the idea of accessibly presenting philosophy and that writers should write both genres. Placing it in the final moments of the text increases its importance, leading some to believe it was a major message Plato was trying to convey.
Symposium by Plato Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Symposium by Plato is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.