Plato's Symposium







  • Socrates questions Agathon (199D-201C)
    • Example of the Socratic method of cross-examination (elenchus)
    • He gets Agathon to agree that since no one desires what one already has, eros cannot be either good or virtuous.
    • When Agathon admits he does not know what he thought he knew, what has Socrates accomplished?!
  • Diotima questions Socrates (201D-203B)
    • Diotima elicits from Socrates that love is neither beautiful nor ugly, neither mortal nor immortal, neither wise nor ignorant, but something in between


DIOTIMA, priestess of Mantinea, is surely a fictional character. She functions to keep the reader yet another step removed from the true form. As the form cannot be perceived by the senses nor is it readily accessible, neither is the source of information about it.

  • Eros is offspring of Poros (Resource) and Penia (poverty)
    • consider the description of Eros in 203 D-E; does he sound a little like. . . . Socrates?
  • Eros is in love with what is beautiful; wisdom is very beautiful; therefore is Eros is a lover of wisdom (a philosopher).
    • Thus she turns the lover from a purveyor into a pursuer of wisdom
  • Love is wanting to possess the good forever (206A)
    • cp. Socrates' ethics, namely, that he has no concept of humans knowingly loving, pursuing, or doing evil, since for him, to know good is to love good and therefore will always lead to doing good.
  • The REAL object of love is not just the good, but giving birth in beauty (206E), which is, at heart, a desire for immortality:
    • Men who are pregnant in body turn to women and give birth to children (209A)
    • Men who are pregnant in soul turn to youths who are beautiful in body and soul; when they come together, the lover gives birth to virtuous acts (209 B-C)
  • The LADDER OF LOVE 210A (note progress from individual and specific to general and transcendent):
    • start by loving one beautiful body (and begetting beautiful ideas): What is this? Pederasty; on the lowest rung of the ladder; compare to Pausanias.
    • generalize from one beautiful body to all beautiful bodies, and love all beautiful bodies
    • step up to loving the beauty of another's soul, and, accordingly, regard the beauty of bodies as a thing of no importance (note dualism of body and soul: leave behind love of one to love the other)
    • love the beauty of a whole sea of knowledge
    • 210E: all of a sudden you will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature, which is the reason for all the lower steps on the ladder: gaze on the eternal and pure Form of Beauty. (read 211 A-E very carefully for the concept of the Form)


What problem or question is Plato's theory of forms possibly a response or answer to?


  • comes in to the party, as he says, "plastered."
  • Alcibiades the quintessential example of physical beauty and lack of self-discipline; represents the physical side of passion.
    • So, as suddenly as the philosopher sees the Form of Beauty, the physical down at the bottom rung comes crashing in. This should raise the question of what a philosopher does. . .
  • Alcibiades' speech in praise of Socrates:
    • What are Socrates' effects on Alcibiades?
    • What is Socrates' like (his nature)?
    • Socrates is pregnant (like Silenus statues) in soul
    • But Socrates is 'deceptive', for he presents himself as a lover, but you (i.e., Alcibiades!) end up loving and pursuing him yourself.
    • Note that when Alcibiades offers Socrates an exchange--physical love for metaphysical wisdom (the ideal of pederasty, after all)--Socrates rejects it because he would get the worst part of the bargain.


  • Thinking back over the whole of the Symposium, what do you think is the relation of the final discussion (whether or not the same writer can write both tragedy and comedy) to the dialogue you have just read?

Sample Essay


Discuss the following quotation. Contextualize it (work, author, speaker, place in the work) and discuss its significance for representations of pederasty in the work (2 paragraphs for quiz; 3-5 for final exam):

"I think," I said,"you're the only worthy lover I have ever had--and yet, look how shy you are with me! Well, here's how I look at it. It would be really stupid not to give you anything you want: you can have me, my belongings, anything my friends might have. Nothing is more important to me than becoming the best man I can be, and no one can help me more than you to reach that aim. With a man like you, in fact, I'd be much more ashamed of what wise people would say if I did not take you as my lover, than I would of what all the others, in their foolishness, would say if I did."

Discuss the following quotation. Contextualize it (work, author, speakers, place in the work) and discuss its significance for Plato's depiction of Socrates' method and/or concept of wisdom (2 paragraphs for quiz;3-5 for final exam):

"So, if something needs beauty and has no beauty at all, would you still say that it is beautiful?"

"Certainly not!"

"Then do you still agree that Love is beautiful, if those things are so?"

"It turns out, I didn't know what I was talking about in that speech."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

""As for me, Socrates," he said,"I am unable to challenge you. Let it be as you say."

""Then it's the truth, my beloved_______, that you are unable to challenge," he said. "It is not hard at all to challenge Socrates."

Discuss the following quotation. Contextualize it (work, author, speaker, place in the work) and discuss its significance for the development of one of the major themes in the work (2 paragraphs for quiz; 3-5 for final exam):

"This then is the source of our desire to love each other. Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a 'matching half' of a human whole, because each was sliced like a flatfish, two out of one, and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him."

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