Symposium by Plato

Symposium by Plato Summary and Analysis of The Speech of Aristophanes

Aristophanes’ speech focuses on Human Nature and a mythical account of how Love plays out among humans. First he explains that long ago there were three types of human beings: male, female, and androgynous, a form made up of male and female elements. They were all round shaped, with four hands and four legs each, two faces, and two sets of sexual organs, much like two human beings stuck together. Having so many limbs, they were very fast and strong. The male kind came from the sun, the female was an offspring of the earth, and the androgynous of the moon.

Being so strong they tried to ascend to heaven to attack the gods. Zeus and the other gods decided against wiping them out, as that would rid them of receiving worship and sacrifices. Zeus proposed cutting them in half, reducing their strength and increasing their number, resulting in more worship and sacrifice, all of which benefitted the gods. He did so and Apollo turned each person’s head toward the wound as a reminder of the cut, which was healed by drawing skin at what is now called the stomach, fastened at the navel.

Now each half longed for its other half, and they would hug, wanting to grow together. This caused some to die from hunger and idleness as they would do nothing else. As they were dying out, Zeus took pity and moved their genitals to the front. Before, these were outside, casting seeds in the ground, rather than in each other, to make children. Now, reproduction would occur inside the woman, “by the man in the woman.” When the previously androgynous hugged, they would have children and when male embraced male, they would enjoy intercourse.

Each of us today is a “matching half” of a human whole. Men split from androgynous go after women, and many of these men and women are lecherous. Women split form a women are lesbians. men split from male are male-oriented. Aristophanes says these are the best boys because they are most manly in their nature. They are bold, brave, and masculine, and cherish the same in others; they are lovers of Love.

Love, therefore, is the “pursuit of wholeness.” When one finds their other half, they are stuck together and don’t want to ever be separated. This goes beyond sex, but rather deals with what the soul of a lover longs. He exemplifies this by saying that if Hephaestus, the craftsman god, were to ask to people what they want from each other, those who found their other half would say to become one and never separate, so as to even suffer a single death. In this way they could have accomplished their pursuit for completeness.

Danger still exists that if order is not kept, humans will be split in half once more. Therefore, people must revere the gods, which will happen if we let Love guide us. Aristophanes states that all people, men and women, must bring love to its perfect conclusion, recovering our original nature, for the human race to flourish.

As Agathon ends his speech, Eryximachus praises him. Agathon is flustered by Socrates’ pronouncement that there will be nothing left for him to say once Agathon has spoken. They praise each other, but Phaedrus interrupts them as they are about to embark on a topic of shame, urging Agathon to begin his speech praising Love.


Aristophanes contrasts Eryximachus’ speech by bringing it back to interpersonal relationships, as opposed to abstractions. This shift in theme is similar to the shifts in tone among the speeches. The central theme of his speech is the origin of sexual love. He shifts the attention from the benefits of love to its nature; the other speeches neglected or underemphasized this factor.

In giving a speech with elements of origin, love is connected to forces beyond the human realm. The result of the power of the gods in the story is the emphasis on piety, which he equates to a conception of goodness. With the origin of sexual love, we also have a story that serves as a warning: humans were split from their other halves for excessive ambition and it can happen again. On the other hand, with enough piety, humans can return to their original form. Eros is a leader in piety. It can cause impious action, such as adultery, but is conducive to piety because of its goal of reunion as a reward for piety.

Although comedic elements are used (Aristophanes is a comedic poet), a sad tone runs throughout the speech. This tone arises from the knowledge that the goal of forging one person out of two is not to be achieved; instead humans have temporary satisfaction of sexual relationships. His speech takes both from comedy and folklore.

Parody, a literary element used in most of the dialogues, occurs in Aristophanes’ section as well. Aristophanes’ uses parody in its use of myth, although as discussed previously, it is overall a serious work. One example of parodying in this section actually comes after his speech when Socrates questions Agathon about audiences and performance; this parodies Socrates’ method of questioning. Not only does his story borrow from myth, but it ranges from philosophy, through epic and tragedy, to fable and folklore. The genres borrowed in his speech are of the broadest in the book. The folklore and fable are exemplified in the mood taken on by Aristophanes’ storytelling--his speech is not pedantic like Eryximachus’s, but rather exudes the feeling of being an ‘old wives tale.’

Apart from the motifs of myth and folklore, the motifs in Aristophanes’ speech include: changes in the size and shape of human beings, changes in the genitals' positions, changes when split in half, and the origins of sex differentiation.

Just as the rest of the speeches form building blocks for Diotima’s speech, Aristophanes’ speech has connections to hers, although she will critique his ideas as well. Aristophanes describes the feeling of inability to describe what makes humans feel whole when they are with their other halves, preparing us for Diotima’s account and the answer to the question Hephaestus poses in Aristophanes speech: what we truly desire. However, she will also criticize that in Aristophanes’ account, finding the person who is our ‘other half’ is an end in itself, as well as his neglect of the role of beauty in love.