Symposium by Plato

Symposium by Plato Summary and Analysis of Alcibiades' Entrance, The Speech of Alcibiades, and Final Dialogue

Alcibiades' Entrance

As Socrates’ speech received applause, a large number of drunken persons arrived loudly in the courtyard. A very drunk Alcibiades then entered the room, demanding to see Agathon. He praised Agathon as the smartest and best looking man in town, asking if he could join the party, to which all agreed. Agathon called Alcibiades to sit by him, which the latter did. Until he was sitting between Agathon and Socrates, Alcibiades noticed the presence of the latter. Surprised, Alcibiades accuses Socrates of trapping him and of figuring out how to sit next to the most handsome man in the room, Agathon. Socrates asks Agathon for help, claiming to love Alcibiades, but accusing him of jealousy. Alcibiades says he’ll never forgive Socrates, but moves on to address the group, calling for all to drink and to conversation.

Eryximachus tells him of the speeches praising Love all had given earlier, and invites him to take a turn giving a speech. Alcibiades thinks it unfair to speak drunkenly after all the sober speeches and accuses Socrates of jealousy, saying he will not be able to praise another man. Eryximachus suggests Alcibiades gives a speech in praise of Socrates, and while Socrates thinks he will be mocked, Alcibiades agrees, saying Socrates is free to interrupt and correct him at any point.

The Speech of Alcibiades

Alcibiades begins by comparing Socrates to a statue of Silenus and the satyr Marsyas. This resemblance is not only in appearance, but also in qualities; he describes Socrates as impudent, contemptuous and vile. Marsyas lures people with his music and Socrates does so with his words. Alcibiades says everyone is “transported, completely possessed” (66) when Socrates speaks.

Socrates’ words have a strong effect on Alcibiades, unlike any other, so much so that he makes him feel trapped and as if his political career is a waste. Socrates is the only person who has made him feel shame and a desire to change and pursue good things. However, when he’s away from Socrates he aims to please the crowd. The emotions are strong enough to make Alcibiades want Socrates gone, but he knows he’ll be more miserable if he is.

Now, Alcibiades describes Socrates’ qualities. Socrates is a lover of beautiful boys, but not in terms of physical beauty, riches, or fame. He desires beauty and good things. At one point, Alcibiades thought Socrates desired him, and he was confident all he needed to do was give in to become Socrates’ beloved and learn from him. However, it did not work out that way. Alcibiades describes the various plots he attempted to get Socrates, who was supposed to be the lover, to seduce him.

Finally, he invited him to dinner, realizing he was acting like the lover and Socrates like the young boy. Socrates went to dinner with him and ended up spending the night, but nothing occurred. Alcibiades described the night as them having conversation and he telling Socrates he was “the only worthy lover” (218c) he had ever had. He revealed his feelings, and Socrates replies that it is an unfair exchange. If he really is worth all that Alcibiades said, he would get much more, while Socrates would only get the appearance of beauty. Socrates ended the conversation saying they should consider what’s best for the two of them together, making Alcibiades think he had seduced him. However, nothing happened and his efforts were rejected.

Alcibiades then felt humiliated, but felt his admiration continue for Socrates, for his character, moderation, and fortitude. He still feels trapped by wanting at least friendship from this wise and strong person. Descriptions of Socrates’ strength of mind follow, including his lack of hunger during battle, but his enjoyments nevertheless of a feast; his ability to drink, although he does not do it often; and his resistance to the cold when all he wore was a light cloak, while other soldiers had on all they could get. He also told the story of how Socrates saved his life during the battle.

Socrates is unique--there is no one past or present to compare him with, according to Alcibiades. His arguments at first seem ridiculous, but upon listening to him are irrefutable. Alcibiades claims Socrates’ arguments are necessary for “anyone who wants to become a truly good man” (222a). Alcibiades ends his speech in this way, adding that Socrates deceives all, initially acting like a lover, but turning the young beloveds into his lovers or pursuers soon.

Final Dialogue

Laughter followed Alcibiades’ speech. Socrates then accuses Alcibiades of having the ulterior motive of wanting to cause trouble between him and Agathon. Agathon agrees, noting that Alcibiades literally separated them by sitting between them on the couch. Agathon then moves to sit by Socrates and Alcibiades says Socrates always keeps others from attractive men when he’s in the room.

Soon after this, there was more noise and several guests began to leave. Aristodemus fell asleep and woke up shortly before dawn. Only Agathon, Aristophanes, and Socrates remained awake, drinking and conversing. Socrates was trying to prove to them that authors must be able to both write tragedies and comedies to be skillful. However, Aristophanes fell asleep once more as Socrates was arguing his point, and Agathon did so as well soon after. Socrates then left, with Aristodemus following him. Socrates then went on with his day as if he had slept all night.


Alcibiades’ entrance abruptly changes the mood left from Diotima’s speech. From the most serious speech, the reader goes to a comedic entrance by Alcibiades, a common theme throughout the novel, though most abrupt here. This entrance not only shifts the mood, but also tells the reader Alcibiades’ speech must be considered separate from the other speeches. The first five speeches contradicted each other and were reconciled in Diotima’s speech, but Alcibiades speech changes the topic of the conversation from praising Eros, to praising Socrates.

While the topic changed and this speech is separate, Alcibiades’ speech unknowingly to him, illustrates the arguments Diotima made about Love by likening Socrates to Eros. This first happens by substituting Socrates for Eros as the subject. Other likenesses are outline as well. Alcibiades compares Socrates to the satyr Marsyas, who is a demi-god, making Socrates a “daimonic man,” just as Socrates had argued Love was between mortal and immortal, a spirit. Other parallels are descriptions of Socrates’ courage, justice, moderation, and piety, virtues of the “moral character” of love. He is not described as wise, but Socrates did not describe Love as wise nor ignorant either, but rather in between, as a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. Similarly, Alcibiades calls Socrates a philosopher (218b).

Although Alcibiades’ speech more focusedly describes Socrates, these parallels have been drawn throughout. Aristodemus explained Socrates’ shoeless and dusty state, and Socrates himself said he was homeless. Diotima explained Eros was son of Poverty and Resource, describing him in this same fashion. As son of Resource, Eros also works to possess beautiful and good things, in the same way Socrates performs as lover, pursuing young boys. However, Alcibiades’ frustration is the confusion he ends up feeling with their relationship, where he seems to be the pursuer and Socrates the pursued. The element of role reversal found in Diotima’s speech occurs again in the retelling of this confusing relationship for Alcibiades.

The Final Dialogue states that much laughter followed Alcibiades’ speech. A comedic speech, it illustrated Diotima’s speech, importantly likening Socrates to Eros. Once again, Plato juxtaposes tragedy and comedy. It is telling that in the early hours of the night, Socrates speaks to Agathon and Aristophanes about the importance of mastering both comedy and tragedy in writing, as they are the people most fit to hear this, and those who switched roles for the night. Ending the novel with this note rises its importance, and connects to the rest of the work. There were contrary positions in the speeches, reconciled by Socrates’ speech, reflecting the nature of the tragicomedy and the hierarchy of love.