Socrates is renowned for his dialectic approach to knowledge often referred to as the Socratic Method , which involves posing questions that encourage others to think deeply about what they care about and articulate their ideas. In the Symposium, the dialectic exists among the speeches: in seeing how the ideas conflict from speech-to-speech, and in the effort to resolve the contradictions and see the philosophy that underlies them all. The characters and the settings are to some degree based on history, but they are not reports of events that actually occurred or words that were actually spoken. There is no reason to think they were not composed entirely by Plato.
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Socrates is renowned for his dialectic approach to knowledge often referred to as the Socratic Method , which involves posing questions that encourage others to think deeply about what they care about and articulate their ideas.
In the Symposium, the dialectic exists among the speeches: in seeing how the ideas conflict from speech-to-speech, and in the effort to resolve the contradictions and see the philosophy that underlies them all.
The characters and the settings are to some degree based on history, but they are not reports of events that actually occurred or words that were actually spoken. There is no reason to think they were not composed entirely by Plato. The reader, understanding that Plato was not governed by the historical record, can read the Symposium, and ask why the author, Plato, arranged the story the way he did, and what he meant by including the various aspects of setting, composition, characters, and theme, etc.
It was thought that what Socrates said was what Plato agreed with or approved of. Then in the late 20th century, another interpretation began to challenge that idea. This new idea considers that the Symposium is intended to criticize Socrates, and his philosophy, and to reject certain aspects of his behavior.
It also considers that Socratic philosophy may have lost touch with the actual individual as it devoted itself to abstract principles. Plato shows off his master as a man of high moral standards, unwavered by baser urges and fully committed to the study and practice of proper self-government in both individuals and communities the so-called "royal science".
Alcibiades is corrupted by his physical beauty and the advantages thereof; he ultimately fails to ascend to the Form of Beauty through philosophy. One critic, James Arieti, considers that the Symposium resembles a drama, with emotional and dramatic events occurring especially when Alcibiades crashes the banquet.
Arieti suggests that it should be studied more as a drama, with a focus on character and actions, and less as an exploration of philosophical ideas. This suggests that the characters speak, as in a play, not as the author, but as themselves. This theory, Arieti has found, reveals how much each of the speakers of the Symposium resembles the god, Eros, that they each are describing.
It shows how an oral text may have no simple origin, and how it can be passed along by repeated tellings, and by different narrators, and how it can be sometimes verified, and sometimes corrupted. Apollodorus was not himself at the banquet, but he heard the story from Aristodemus, a man who was there.
Also, Apollodorus was able to confirm parts of the story with Socrates himself, who was one of the speakers at the banquet. In The Frogs , Dionysus , the god of theatre and wine, descends into Hades and observes a heated dispute between Aeschylus and Euripides over who is the best in tragedy. Dionysus is engaged to be the judge, and decides the outcome, not based on the merits of the two tragedians, but based on their political stance regarding the political figure, Alcibiades.
Since Aeschylus prefers Alcibiades, Dionysus declares Aeschylus the winner. That contest provides the basic structure on which the Symposium is modeled as a kind of sequel: In the Symposium Agathon has just celebrated a victory the day before and is now hosting another kind of debate, this time it is between a tragedian, a comic poet, and Socrates.
At the beginning of the Symposium Agathon asserts that "Dionysus will be the judge", and Dionysus is, though Alcibiades performs as a surrogate for the god. So the character, Alcibiades, who was the deciding factor in the debate in The Frogs, becomes the judge in the Symposium, and he now rules in favor of Socrates, who had been attacked by Aristophanes in The Clouds. The Symposium is a response to The Frogs, and shows Socrates winning not only over Aristophanes, who was the author of both The Frogs, and The Clouds, but also over the tragic poet who was portrayed in that comedy as the victor.
Hamilton remarks that Plato takes care to portray Alcibiades and Socrates and their relationship in a way that makes it clear that Socrates had not been a bad influence on Alcibiades. Plato does this to free his teacher from the guilt of corrupting the minds of prominent youths, which had, in fact, earned Socrates the death sentence in BC.
This section previews the story of the banquet, letting the reader know what to expect, and it provides information regarding the context and the date. The banquet was hosted by the poet Agathon to celebrate his first victory in a dramatic competition: the Dionysia of BCE.
Apollodorus was not present at the event, which occurred when he was a boy, but he heard the story from Aristodemus , who was present. Apollodorus later checked parts of the story with Socrates, who was also there.
In this brief introductory passage, it is shown that the narrator, Apollodorus, has a reputation for being somewhat mad, that he is a passionate follower of Socrates, and that he spends his days either listening to Socrates or else telling others of what he has learned from Socrates. Socrates is late to arrive because he became lost in thought on the way. When they are done eating, Eryximachus takes the suggestion made by Phaedrus, that they should all make a speech in praise of Eros, the god of love and desire.
It will be a competition of speeches to be judged by Dionysus. It is anticipated that the speeches will ultimately be bested by Socrates, who speaks last. Eryximachus has the next speech although he has switched with Aristophanes and suggests that Eros encourages "sophrosyne", or soundness of mind and character, and is not only about human behavior, but also occurs in music, medicine, and many other areas of life.
The fourth speech is from Aristophanes, who tells a fantastical, mythological story about how humans were at one time two people conjoined, but this was seen as threatening to the gods, so Zeus cut everyone in half. Love is the desire we have to find our other half, in order to become whole. Agathon follows Aristophanes, and his speech sees Eros as youthful, beautiful, and wise; and as the source of all human virtues.
Before Socrates gives his speech he asks some questions of Agathon regarding the nature of love. Socrates then relates a story he was told by a wise woman called Diotima. According to her, Eros is not a god but is a spirit that mediates between humans and their objects of desire.
Love itself is not wise or beautiful but is the desire for those things. Love is expressed through propagation and reproduction: either physical love or the exchanging and reproducing of ideas. The greatest knowledge, Diotima says, is knowledge of the "form of beauty", which humans must try to achieve. When Socrates is nearly done, Alcibiades crashes in, terribly drunk, and delivers an encomium to Socrates himself.
No matter how hard he has tried, he says, he has never been able to seduce Socrates, because Socrates has no interest in physical pleasure. The party becomes wild and drunken, with the symposium coming to an end. Many of the main characters take the opportunity to depart and return home. Aristodemus goes to sleep. When he wakes up the next morning and prepares to leave the house, Socrates is still awake, proclaiming to Agathon and Aristophanes that a skillful playwright should be able to write comedy as well as tragedy d.
When Agathon and Aristophanes fall asleep, Socrates rises up and walks to the Lyceum to wash and tend to his daily business as usual, not going home to sleep until that evening d. He confers great benefits, inspiring a lover to earn the admiration of his beloved, for example by showing bravery on the battlefield, since nothing shames a man more than to be seen by his beloved committing an inglorious act db.
As evidence for this, he mentions some mythological heroes and lovers. Even Achilles , who was the beloved of Patroclus , sacrificed himself to avenge his lover, and Alcestis was willing to die for her husband Admetus. Pausanias[ edit ] A fresco taken from the north wall of the Tomb of the Diver from Paestum , Italy, c. The base lover is in search of sexual gratification, and his objects are women and boys.
He is inspired by Aphrodite Pandemos Aphrodite common to the whole city. The noble lover directs his affection towards young men, establishing lifelong relationships, productive of the benefits described by Phaedrus.
He then analyses the attitudes of different city-states relative to homosexuality. The first distinction he makes is between the cities that clearly establish what is and what is not admitted, and those that are not so explicitly clear, like Athens. In the first group there are cities favorable to homosexuality, like Elis , Boeotia and Sparta , or unfavorable to it like Ionia and Persia.
First Eryximachus starts out by claiming that love affects everything in the universe, including plants and animals, believing that once love is attained it should be protected. Love might be capable of curing the diseased. Love governs medicine, music, and astronomy a , and regulates hot and cold and wet and dry, which when in balance result in health a. Eryximachus here evokes the theory of the humor. He concludes: "Love as a whole has It enables us to associate, and be friends, with each other and with the gods" d Transl.
He comes across as someone who cannot resist the temptation to praise his own profession: "a good practitioner knows how to treat the body and how to transform its desires" d. Aristophanes[ edit ] W. Before starting his speech, Aristophanes warns the group that his eulogy to love may be more absurd than funny. His speech is an explanation of why people in love say they feel "whole" when they have found their love partner. He begins by explaining that people must understand human nature before they can interpret the origins of love and how it affects their own times.
This is, he says because in primal times people had doubled bodies, with faces and limbs turned away from one another. As spherical creatures who wheeled around like clowns doing cartwheels a , these original people were very powerful. There were three sexes: the all male, the all female, and the "androgynous," who was half male, half female. The males were said to have descended from the sun, the females from the earth and the androgynous couples from the moon.
These creatures tried to scale the heights of Olympus and planned to set upon the gods b-c. Zeus thought about blasting them with thunderbolts but did not want to deprive himself of their devotions and offerings, so he decided to cripple them by chopping them in half, in effect separating the two bodies.
Ever since that time, people run around saying they are looking for their other half because they are really trying to recover their primal nature. The women who were separated from women run after their own kind, thus creating lesbians. The men split from other men also run after their own kind and love being embraced by other men e. Those that come from original androgynous beings are the men and women that engage in heterosexual love.
He says some people think homosexuals are shameless, but he thinks they are the bravest, most manly of all, as evidenced by the fact that only they grow up to be politicians a , and that many heterosexuals are adulterous and unfaithful e. Aristophanes then claims that when two people who were separated from each other find each other, they never again want to be separated c.
This feeling is like a riddle, and cannot be explained. Aristophanes ends on a cautionary note. He says that men should fear the gods, and not neglect to worship them, lest they wield the ax again and we have to go about hopping on one leg, split apart again a.
If a man works with the god of Love, they will escape this fate and instead find wholeness. Agathon[ edit ] His speech may be regarded as self-consciously poetic and rhetorical, composed in the way of the sophists,  gently mocked by Socrates.
He says that love is the youngest of the gods and is an enemy of old age b. He says that the god of love shuns the very sight of senility and clings to youth.
Agathon says love is dainty and likes to tiptoe through the flowers and never settles where there is no "bud to bloom" b. Socrates, probably the oldest member of the party, seems certain to be ruled out. He also implies that love creates justice, moderation, courage, and wisdom. These are the cardinal virtues in ancient Greece. Although devoid of philosophical content, the speech Plato puts in the mouth of Agathon is a beautiful formal one, and Agathon contributes to the Platonic love theory with the idea that the object of love is beauty.
First, he asks Agathon whether it is reasonable for someone to desire what they already have, like for example someone who is in perfect health to wish he were healthy a-e.
Career[ edit ] At the University of Chicago in the s he was a student of Leo Strauss , along with Allan Bloom , Stanley Rosen and several others who were to go on to illustrious academic careers. Philipp Fehl was one of his fellow students and a good friend. His publications range over the spectrum of classical texts and include works on Homer, Hesiod , Herodotus , the Attic tragedians , and most especially Plato and Aristotle. While his prose is considered by some to be dense and cryptic, as a teacher he regularly impressed his students with his tremendous erudition, which was certainly not limited to classical literature, and by his willingness to take seriously the opinions and thoughts of all his students. The reader thus risks fundamentally misunderstanding the text of a great author if he dissects elements of the text in such a way that they appear capable of explanation through principles of psychology, anthropology, or other methods which assume that the critic has a greater depth of understanding of the text or of the human condition than the author. Further, each successive "great" writer in a tradition must be assumed to be fully aware and in control of the elements of the philosophical and artistic conversation that arises in the foundational texts.