04. Plato’s Symposium

erossocrateseducation of eros


Two out of Three Ain’t Bad: The Speeches of love by Aristophanes and Socrates in Plato’s Symposium.

(A brief introduction to the Symposium) 


Plato’s Symposium is a masterpiece of art and thought, a high example of the fusion of Plato the dramatist, poet, and philosopher. This dialogue is an amulet of the charms of a dialogue between the outpouring of the deepest of emotions: Eros. To gain the power of this work by Plato begin by drawing the scene, the semi-circle of speakers, the beautiful arch that begins with the speech of Phaedrus and ends with impromptu confession of (a drunk) Alcibiades. Notice the seating arrangements, connect the lovers, even though they do not sit next to each other, notice the tension, the beautiful work of Eros, and the pull of the voice, the bel canto of high imagination and reciprocity. Eros plays off the inspiration and outdoing of cultured minds, the contest of references, the concert of concepts, and in all, the sublime symphony of beauty.

            Two of the three most beautiful voices in this symphony of beauty are those of Aristophanes and Socrates, the third would be that of Alcibiades. Aristophanes and Socrates were the giants of the gathering for that evening, a gathering that was hosted at the home of Agathon, the tragic poet, who the day before had won the first prize for his tragedy. So, the symposium on love (Eros) was hosted at the home of a tragic playwright, a clue to the difficult and dual nature of love, both tragic, and as you will see, comic, as Socrates will push for at the end of the dialogue.

            Think of the speech of Aristophanes as a key-stone in the arch that makes up the structure of the dialogue. His speech is the example of high mythological creation, a fantastic tale of the origin of lovers, of the genders of those who will love and find their other half, a tale of the hubris and pain of love, of the search and rescue of what is left of the soul when it has been divided from its source, once like little gods, now reduced to wretched seekers of their life source. How tragic a speech for the great comedian Aristophanes, and what an example of the topsy-turvy world of love, where all things tumble round, fall, and hope to rise. Love’s comedy is that it is tragic; human, finite, and determined, a sight and sensation that even the gods fear, and are jealous about, and thus the condemnation to have been cut in half, to suffer as a part in search of a whole. Recall our Aristophanes, the only guest that is without a partner at the symposium, the solitary buffo, the sweet clown, but underneath it all, the master of irony, weaving the planets themselves and the god’s to explain what we, within ourselves, do to our very souls: we cut them away, give part and much of the parcel of this engine of life so that an other may breathe with us, may be sustained in the vast emptiness of a cosmos without order, a cosmos that punishes and at the same time prizes the heights and hopes of love. It is from these heights and hopes that the body tumbles and interrupts itself, as is seen in how Aristophanes himself, by the hiccups, is derailed from his speech, and must give up a spot to the doctor, named “fixer-of-belches” (Eryximachus) (185c-e). Notice how both Aristophanes gives up his moment, and also how Socrates, later, instead of his speech, recalls and retells the way Diotima spoke to him, imagine, a woman present, in voice and as a teacher, at the symposium of love between men! (201d). What does this teach us? Here is Socrates’ comedy, his irony, and a counterpart to the great Aristophanes. In both these speeches (and in the third great speech, that of Alcibiades), we come to learn the great secret of love – its ability to form from interruptions, and its majestic force that causes interruptions. Read this carefully, and notice how the great artistry of Plato captures the driving force of philo-sophy – ‘the love of wisdom’ (for the prosaic), or as I explain it: the command – ‘love wisdom’). Remember also the story that was handed down about Plato who kept the plays of Aristophanes at his bedside, and how in many of those plays, Aristophanes would mock the seriousness of philosophy, and the figure of Socrates, floating high above all in a hot-air balloon. What imagination and endearing criticism, what artistry from life that these authors captured, and now look at how Plato, Socrates’ pupil, comes to the rescue and pits his teacher against Aristophanes. Notice how in Socrates’ speech he recalls the words of Diotima that criticize the theory of wholes and parts (the force of Aristophanes’ speech) (205d-e).

            The Symposium is battle of the theories of the works and days of love, and the two great generals could be seen in Aristophanes and Socrates (the third general, who was indeed a general, was Alcibiades). Aristophanes begins by showing the parody of harmony, and later Socrates, explains the harmony of parody. Recall how each speaker sides with their competence, and how Aristophanes praises and calls upon his Muse of comedy (Thalia) so to be inspired, and later how Socrates, the master of the everyday, turns to someone who was, as he said, his teacher, and a woman! The Symposium is a battlefield, where all is fair in love and (as the saying goes), war.

            Aristophanes wishes to show the power of love, and before we can understand that he begins by showing what our nature is, that is “human nature”. If we can understand our own nature, what makes us up, and what we gravitate towards, we have a chance to see the power of love. He thus begins by splitting the human heart and body by gender-choice and explains the three genders: male, female, and androgynous. He links these to their cosmic origin, sun, earth, and moon, respectively, and by the high pitch of poetic genius sees them as round and whole, perfect spheres that in the inspired moments of love, or perfect unity, roll up towards the heavens. Imagine how that rings true for us; that while in the passion of love we believe to be like little gods, and that all the world and the heavens above become our playground. What fancy! Aristophanes then explains how we were split, how we needed to gain a sense of moderation, and recall our splitting away from our perfect sphere when we noticed our navel. This was the physical manifestation of love’s pain, but the deeper pain was in the sense of longing for the other half of our perfect sphere. As Aristophanes said, “love draws our original nature back together” (191d). But we suffer in seeking this, and you can see how our very anatomy was sculpted by the gods to track the way our nature emerges. Notice how the gods had to intervene. For Aristophanes we are determined by our being, and that is the parody of harmony. But he does say that we must “get as close to the ideal as possible” (193c), and that “’love’ is just the name we give to the desire for and pursuit of wholeness” (193a). This is solid advice. These insightful and inspiring words are born from his own phenomenology of the body, or roundness, ease of motion, locomotion, and what we can all see when in love: the drive. But Aristophanes does not wish his speech to be taken as humorous; rather it is deeper than that; it is the irony of the beauty in the drive found within love. Rather than humorous, it is closer to tragedy, and here is the deeper lesson of the Topsy-turvy world when love (Eros) is involved. Notice above the painting by Caravaggio, Triumphant Eros, and notice how he smiles, (and the smile is the vehicle of all sorts of ambiguities), and notice also what surrounds Eros.

            With Socrates (also portrayed above) we come down to earth. Here too see how great the art of Plato was, for he took Aristophanes into the heavens, just as Aristophanes once took Socrates up into the heavens in his play The Clouds.  In a way, Plato can be seen as the master of the contrapasso (the counter-step) long before Dante. The greatness of the dialogue form is that this tension (and counter-step) can be shown, for in philosophical discussions and position we usually fall to and suffer from the very thing we boast of and believe we possess. Socrates is the great general of the ways of love, of the question and answer session that he can’t help but begin with Agathon (199b-201c). For isn’t love about living with our questions and hoping for answers? 

            Our lover should be are greatest question, our quest for all eternity (that is, for eons), and thus you can now understand the way to hear the word “quest-ion” when it comes to love. Socrates shows how this is the root of philosophical discussion, and how Eros (love) is the drive of the exchange of positions and perspectives. Notice how Socrates wants to get to the “truth”, and is “prepared to tell the truth” (199a). But what truth can we tell of, especially while “in” love? We can tell the truth of how love was taught to us, and that is the way Socrates tells his speech as a recollection of the speech of Diotima, his teacher in the matters of love (and wisdom), that is: philo-sophy. Love is a question of being in “relation to something” (199d), and as Socrates will explain this is something we currently lack. If we did not lack it, we would not desire it. Love spurred by lack. Where Aristophanes tells us how the body itself makes up the idea of love, Socrates tells us how the mind and our intentions make up the idea of love. The question and answer session with Agathon is how Socrates sets up the great speech that he recalls from Diotima, and what was, when you carefully read it, another question and answer session. That is the key to seeing love as a “relation”. The other important aspect is that we love by how we were taught to love, or taught about love. With Socrates’ speech the mythological is also given a simpler twist, and we see, as through a veil, how love itself is made of two contrasting parts (Poros and Penia), that is Plenty and Poverty. And recall where love was conceived; at Aphrodite’s party. How many times have we seen and perhaps even experienced the effects of love at parties? This too emphasizes the aspect of “relations”. The Symposium itself is a great party of relations, and that is why love can be spoken about through the spokes of love. Who then is Eros? Neither immortal nor mortal, he is a messenger, and thus he too falls, as Diotima states “between knowledge and ignorance” (203e). So love is destined to love knowledge, to drive towards knowledge and with that to also be bound and touched by the pushing forewords of and from ignorance.  “Love is birth and procreation in a beautiful medium” (206e), and this medium is both something material, but more importantly that which goes between knowledge and ignorance, itself like a messenger. Notice how the striving for immortality and the importance of education is made into an important aspect of the power of love. Notice the need for self-discipline and justice, of virtue, and a well-toned body and mind. Love is not sloppy, especially when it comes to (as it does for Diotima) one’s education. Here it is worth taking a look at Correggio’s painting “The Education of Eros” on this page. This self-enrichment of love is beyond prestige, status-seekers, and wishes to raise the other into a greater realm, from mortality to immortality, to the famous and perpetual realm of “recollection”, but its teachers are also ‘beauty’ and ‘warfare’.

            Socrates’ speech (which is really Diotima’s) culminates in the wonderful description of the Ladder of Love. The ladder of love is the view of the steps (and rungs) of how love rings it out of you when you have proceeded correctly through the aspects of human evolution.

The rungs of this ladder are:

1) loving one attractive body or another,

2) loving physical beauty in general,

3) loving the beauty of people’s activity,

4) loving the beauty of intellectual endeavors,

5) loving the intellectual itself as what endures of the beauty of love.

These are guide-lines for all of us, and can also be seen as a way to measure each of the speakers at the symposium. Carefully read 210a through 211c to learn the steps. These guide-lines are the ascension into immortality, a way to grow from the common profit of life’s merchandise, into the uncommon prophet of the joy of contemplation. These are the steps into and through the ways of love. (This should do for now).

Symposium Graph 1Symposium Graph 2Symposium Graph 3 - The Women

 The three graphs I have designed and put up relate to Plato’s Symposium. The top left graph is a view of the beginning of the dialogue, from pagination numbers 172a to 173b.8. It is fascinating to pay attention to this “who told who” about this ‘love dialogue’ and so much comes to life when we think back, or experience the way stories are told, or encounters are reported when it comes to relationships. I would say that there is a very immanent parallel between these steps at the beginning of the dialogue, and the amazing Ladder of Love (in Socrates speech via Diotima’s teaching).  One is immanent, the other transcendent … and yet they can be flipped because the first tells of the second, and the second begins from the first. Something to think about. The top right graph is my representation of the entire dialogue (as seating arrangements) and basic statements/theses of the speakers. It is a thumb-nail sketch. I have added some connections between the speakers (their relationships), and hopefully this will help you envision the seating plan and the movement of the speakers. The dialogue begins at the bottom left of the semi-circle (with Phaedrus) and ends to the bottom right of the semi-circle (and I will be adding another graph of the very end of the dialogue (with Socrates, but wait and see Alcibiades, who give the end a twist) and this ending which, in itself, is a gem of theoretical considerations and somatic resistance will put the issue of love over-the-top, and right where it belongs: the tragedy of comedy, and the comedy of tragedy and all understood as “philo-sophy”. The bottom graph shows the semi-circle of the speakers, their names on top, and the women they mentioned … and this is a work I am developing (on a fuller scale) on the presence/absence of women in the Symposium. When you read the dialogue carefully you will be amazed on the force and theoretical focus that is gained when you read the movement through the mention of women. Now, in this graph you see three areas that go through the entire semi-circle. Here is what this means: when I was re-reading, and reading over the dialogue I saw that the women mentioned were either goddesses (or mythological figures), figures from literature or poetic creation, and then there were the women that were actually human, existing, and some, even present (at two spots) in the dialogue. If you read the name of the speaker on the top of the semi-circle, then whatever falls in their seating area adds up to their mentions of women. Up top you have actual existing women, in the middle you have the literary poetic creations (the in-between), and closest to the center of the semi-circle you have the goddesses, or mythological women. Some, as you see have little arrows that place them in interesting border-crossing, because we are not sure if they were actual, literary devices, or mythological.  It is incredible to see all this played out in this dialogue (it is like another dialogue inside the dialogue, another voice) and notice then, who mentions who, and, I will also be sending you a quick (yeah-right, quick) view of the meaning and conceptual-human-divine upshot of the mention of women for each speaker. In all, for a dialogue, as you are getting to know, that centers around the guys … “males”, and their relationships, and perhaps their loves, we have an undertow, a sweeping movement, lessons, and the flash of meaning deep within the crucible in their mentions of women. This was really pushed by Socrates (because he was such an great SOB) when, as a slap-in-the-face to his male (want-to-be-lovers and admirers) he says … hey, what I am going to say to you as my speech was taught to me by a women (Diotima), and now I am going to repeat her lesson, verbatim, to you. Ba-Bam!  And look at how many women Socrates mentions on top of his teacher Diotima.  Take a look at Socrates’ other teachers (women!), and how he learned from his Mom (a mid-wife), and that is why Socrates says he helps give birth to “ideas” (just as a mid-wife, and through dialogue, which is the breathing of ideas and interpretation) he takes on the position of the mid-wife. Well, I hope you enjoy this dialogue. It is one of the great masterpieces of philosophical creativity out there.

* * *

I wanted to add a few reflections today, 5/24 based on what has been most recently posted on the Symposium. This will focus on Diotima’s Ladder of Love. Before we get to it, notice that throughout the dialogue speakers have honored their art, and by this I mean that the Dr., Eryximachus spoke about love as a doctor would, and later Agathon, even saying as much, honors his art by speaking of love in a rather poetic fashion (see 196d). Recall that Agathon said that “love is so skilled as a creative poet that he creates other poets” (196e). As I was mentioning earlier in some of my posts, the deep issue of Education runs through the Symposium, and it is no surprise that, in the honoring of one’s art Socrates would do exactly what he did, that is, tell of an “account of Love which I heard from a woman called Diotima” (201d). What he did is continue to pass down the art of teaching, or pedagogy, he as a student to Diotima, and then Socrates, as a teacher to others. It is a point to take to heart, for in this “Love” arena, it would seem best that each individual would bring out their art as best as possible. Perhaps this is a sign if the experience is working or not, and, as I said a while ago, a “t/est” of the force and truth of that love.

Now, even before Diotima’s recounted speech/teaching of love, Socrates was in a discussion with Agathon, and this entire section shows the nuts and bolts of the Socratic method, and art. That exchange is echoed in the recounted speech, though the recounted speech came before (in a strict time-line) but, as you know, Plato’s great art of philosophical dialogue writing has the edges blur, and has us taken up into an example of what actually is love’s work: the passing on of a teaching, or a way of life, and of a way to encounter a self in its bare existence. Recall how Socrates keeps saying how he is “prepared to tell the truth” (199a) (and see how many times this little expression is brought up in the dialogue, and who brings it up). Well, the truth, eh?

The truth seems/seams the speeches into the rungs of the ladder, and if we had more time with this text we could show how parts of the previous speeches are embedded into the rungs of the ladder, like grains in the material that allows for ascension, that is, intellectual contemplation. So, here again are the rungs of the ladder:

1) loving one attractive body or another,

2) loving physical beauty in general,

3) loving the beauty of people’s activity,

4) loving the beauty of intellectual endeavors,

5) loving the intellectual itself as what endures of the beauty of love.

If I had to give (as I will give) a quick thumbnail summary in one sentence of these rungs then it would go something like this: / 1 & 2 To work out the obsession with the physical body (fantasy) / 3 is the work of of the intellect (desire) / 4 where one’s love of knowledge then becomes the medium /5 of its own message or vision. The slashes are the rungs, and then rung numbers follow.

None of all this ladder climbing could happen without a few things. One is “lack” (see 200e) and the other is anxiety (see 198a, 194a).  Lack and anxiety is all over the place in this dialogue. Try to count the mentions and build from there. A ladder is useless without the spaces between the rungs, and these are as important to the lesson and teaching of love as are the rungs (positive parts). So, right after the first rung, 1-2 we would have Anxiety, from being impressed or dazed, and also we have lack. Between the next space 2-3 we have the possession of desire, or wanted to possess ‘love’. Between the next space 3-4 we have the illusive “of” (see 200e), and this I will further explain as the way to understand “philosophy” proper … and that is not as the “love of wisdom”, but as the command, “love wisdom!” The “of” is what you bring to it, when you have a craft, for to each their own of. Finally between 4-5 there is ‘re-coded I speak’, basically a complete overhaul on one’s vision and language, and world-view. The tricky part is this, there is a danger in using the last rung of the ladder, and if any of you (as I have) have worked in contracting you DO NOT want to step on that last rung of the ladder, it is only a way to skip over to get on to a roof or to peer over things, not as a useful actual step/rung.  so, there is a break of sorts between rung 4 and rung 5, and that could mean that in true intellectual endeavors you are already participating in the capacity of ‘watcher’, of glimpses of the eternal, absolute, and itself by itself, and in that you have leadings into a unique kind of knowledge (see 210e, and 211a), and with that are able to understand the beauty of people’s activity, and appreciate physical beauty, and even smile at how many love one attractive body or another, and all if you can also help them ascend the Ladder of Love, and not get stuck in the dirt, though there too we need to plant the ladder, beneath things that exist, so we may rise above things which exist, so from a mere profiteering (profit stage) we can ascend to the prophet stage though there, in some way we too are living in the happiness of the blind seers. And that is how I rung-out the rungs of love from the Ladder of Love. Hope this helps a bit. There is so much more in the details, and let us see who triggers these, and I am happy to respond, again and again … and all to take on a “person’s education” (209c).

29 thoughts on “04. Plato’s Symposium

  1. While reading the passage I began to think that this is somewhat along the lines of what many women(and men) read today. Dating books! Books that reveal(or try to) what can make someone you desire approach you or how you can approach someone else. “If we did not lack it, we would not desire it. Love spurred by lack.” Is exactly what I feel is one of the biggest motivators in love. I agree that it helps most, if not all feel complete. What you may not be able to do can be fixed or give you the “im complete” feeling if your mate can.
    Although there are many factors that add to this I personally have had those words replay in my mind after the passage.

    People search all over for love; read books, movies, get advice, and pray to figure out where to start and what to do by the means of love. I’d like to relate explanations from the passage to more modern things to help myself understand clearly. The Cosmo’s for example is what I think some people(including myself) would say were signs when dealing with love and relationships. Although things can be great or upsetting we(I) feel like they may be “signs” in which we ask “is this really love?”. Heartbreak may be the low but the lesson may be the high although most don’t see it that way. Once a new love is discovered and may actually be true and successful we welcome the high(s) back into our life.

    • What passage are you referring to, exactly? But, from what I read in your post, I do agree that “lack” is what gets us going … because if we were self-sufficient, full, total (like little gods) we would not need love; we would not need recognition, we would need ‘nothing’. So, a deep problem for all of us, is to know what exactly we “lack”, what is it that we look for that we do not have, or that we desire. If you know your desire (which is like the fires of the molten dross of lack) then you are on your way to a great experience of love and friendships. Yes, I see what you mean by “Signs” … because a sign is that thing for which we give a name for an object to which somebody should give, or will give and interpretation. That is the great logic, and the great romanticism of the “love-signing” … and what I mean is that in this field of signs, we “sign” to each other (like in the Braille book I showed you guys) and we hope and pray that someone (anyone) could read that “signing” because when in love, or when in the throws of the sea of love, we are deaf, dumb, and blinded because we are in the vortex of lack. The sign always call for, and prays for, and waits for interpretation. So love is the greatest art of interpretation of another person’s style that emerges from a sincere and profound lack. Well, thanks to you, I got these thoughts out … and that feels great. Nice work! Ciao, Dr. LAP

    • I want to extend upon your insightful comment. Although, before I do, I just want to make sure I understand exactly what you were talking about when you said “The Cosmo’s” below. What exactly were you referring to? Thanks! I want to make sure I am on the same thought plane here.

      “The Cosmo’s for example is what I think some people(including myself) would say were signs when dealing with love and relationships. Although things can be great or upsetting we(I) feel like they may be “signs” in which we ask “is this really love?”.”

      • Well, great so you (Michael) are asking “youngd” about this … let us see what discussion arises. In the end, and to throw a few cents worth, we are when in the grips of “love” are our own Cosmos … language, landscape and world. Happy discussions.

  2. While reading Aristophanes speech, especially during his explanation about the nature of the human anatomy an interesting visual & symbolic connection comes to mind. Aristophanes said “the form of every person was completely round, with back and sides making a circle… (189c).” I instantly imagined the human anatomical version of the symbolic Chinese “Yinyang.” Let me explain, according to Chinese culture the Yingyang symbolizes opposite principles that can’t exist without each other, must work in balance and harmony to exist, and that this dynamic exists in everything. Ah, enter Aristophanes explanation of how Zeus and Apollo severed the human anatomy to make them weaker, once they did “…the two parts longed for each other and tried to come together again. They threw their arms around one another in close embrace, desiring to be reunited, and they began to die of hunger and general inactivity because they refused to do anything at all as separate beings (191b).” The newly severed beings walked amongst each other desperately seeking out the balance their anatomy originally provided and that the Yingyang visually represents. Once they became separated, death was imminent because that balance no longer existed and they began to die of hunger and inactivity; they were unable to function without that connection to the source of their anatomical origins, just as the Yingyang represents an absolute need for this balance to sustain existence. We can also see the necessity of opposite principles, just like the Yingyang represents, when we read Socrates’ say that love is made of the two contrasting parts of Poros and Penia (203b), which Dr. LAP pointed out is “Plenty and Poverty.”

    • Wow, well done! Very clear and flowing view of the issue, and good relation to the harmony of things, and their subsequent rupture. Yes, Aristophanes’ speech, and the details when he had to speak, and then could not due to hiccups, and the later mention of a jab at Aristophanes in Socrates speech, and the second interruption there (Alcibiades’ drunken entrance) is over the top. It tells us so much about the body and the, let us say “spirit” of the phenomenon of love. Yes, the contrasting parts, the birth of love at a party for Aphrodite (beauty), and born there from the union of lack and overabundance, from Poverty and Plenty … and don’t we feel that way, when in love (?) all powerful, all swaggering, and, in seconds, sometimes, all worried, all doubtful, all questioning. So, yes, as Aristophanes is made to say: “‘Love’ is just the name we give to the desire and pursuit of wholeness” (193a). Poor Aristophanes, the only one at the party that was not “with” anyone, and from this great writer of Comedy we get the taste of the Tragedy of love. Damn, Plato was good, and see what happens at 223b, see how sleep works, see what keeps standing, and who remains awake. Nice posts, and their getting me going. Thanks, Dr. LAP

    • Your explanation is a very nice one. The idea of “…the necessity of opposite principles…” is omnipresent in the Symposium. “That which love desires is not that which love is or has (intro to Symp.)” is repeatedly spoken throughout Plato’s work. One would not look for something they already have; They want to fill the void. People want things they don’t have to create a balance in themselves and their lives. Their search is for the yin to their yang. It is arguable whether finding that other “half” is what makes them truly happy. Aristophanes’ explanation of the two severed parts of the once-whole human being with 4 arms and 4 legs makes it seem that these “halves” roaming about the world cannot exist in peace without one another. Perhaps the ignorance of a “halved man”, not knowing the existence of his other half, could balance his happiness to a state of peace. Personally, having found whom I believe to be my “other half”, I cannot be completely happy or at peace knowing they are out there but not being able to exist with them. The necessity of conjoining opposites for the appreciation of the whole is so important in the nature of truth and beauty.

      • Well Shannon, it is important to realize all this, and in the Symposium we do get the skinny on the need to realize the w/hole because of the hole in being. Con-junctions are all there is (are / ours / hours), and that itself is the timely, un-timley and the nature of temporality itself … and it is with time that we have the greatest love affair, and struggle. Ciao, Dr. LAP

      • Shannon, your statement of “one would not look for something they already have; they want to fill a void,” really struck a cord with me. When I first read it, I thought that people usually want what they cannot have, which is different than something they do not have. Striving for the impossible (more like improbable) seems to be a theme of humanity, or at least an aspect of the “american dream”. Then I continued on with your comment and noticed your talk about balance. This coincides with your idea of completing the wholeness with two halves. The search of the have-not lover seems more successful than the search for the cannot lover, but it does not always give the greatest satisfaction, but can create a sense of settling, instead of striving beyond one’s means.

  3. My favorite part of the dialogue after reading it through once was when Aristophanes is talking about the power of love. The same section Michael was writing about. I think this is beautiful because it gives power to the meaning of love through language. I believe this translates into contemporary conversation because people always seem to be ‘searching for their other half’ This seems irrational to search for your other half. Great love would not necessarily complete you or even define half of you. I think one needs to have a certain self-satisfaction before love is even possible. Rather than define part of your essence that is apparently missing, I believe it just allows your essence to grow. This reminds me of the Osho quote:

    “If you love a flower, don’t pick it up, because if you pick it up it dies and it ceases to be what you love. So if you love a flower, let it be. Love is not about possession. Love is about appreciation.”

    When you “fall in love” I do not think anyone can complete you, only allow you to be more yourself. So could this be what Plato is talking about? When people merely search for someone to complete them they begin to settle because they feel like they need something that is missing. While certain people we come across enter our lives and change them for the better and allow us to be more ourselves, does this really mean we could not live a full life without them? I am not sure, that thought has to simmer, because it is one that needs proper s/laughter. (The concept of s/laughter coming from you of course, Dr. LAP) It just seems as if we are so busy looking for our other half we might actually miss the opportunity to meet the ‘right’ person. Someone who does give you balance and has the same passions. Intellectual love seems to be necessary to climb the “ladder of love” or unfold it in the right way. While attraction and sex is necessary to a certain degree intellectual love only enhances that or allows for an enduring connection. Could you really be with someone day and night if you thought they were an idiot? That sounds miserable.

    • Well put, and the questions and considerations are how we can see where these great texts on love can truly give us moments of reflection on actual procedural problems, like how am I to continue in a relation, or why do I want to get into this new relation, or what relationship do I want? Aristophanes does bring it down to earth, because he (via Plato’s genius) mentions the bottom line: “our nature” (189d). He also mentions (what we can all perhaps feel) as that “strength and power [and] ambition” (190b) when we feel “in-love” or as one with someone, and send everyone else to Hell in a hand-basket … especially if either parents, or friends try to quell our loving urges, and plans … then the shit hits the fan, and we (the ambitious ones) wish to be on our own, move out, start our own place, our own life … yes, exactly like the highly ambitious ones of Aristophanes; basically attacking, or making a “go at the gods” (190b) which I say is like when you wish to have your own place, own laws, own time/timing, and that sort of thing, to bring it down to earth, and keep it there. So, yet, your “nature” or, as Aristophanes says later, “their very essence” (191a) felt split … and then “love draws our original nature back together” (191d). So, love is the name for the drawing back our nature and our essence. Yes, so more of Your-self as the other will be more of a Them-self, and your them-part, if equally their your-part … but for this there is great need for “moderation” (190d), for in the end, love outruns speech, it makes speech babble by all the overstating, understating, misstating, the shifting signifiers, and then some, and all that messes things up and therein the question” “what is it that you humans want from each other” (asked by the mighty Hephaestus, see 192d) gets no response but the continuous ringing cacophony produced from the bells of consciousness where commodities have been cast, and upon which other commodities have been imprinted, and so the ringing in that ear is what one believes to ‘own’ or to ‘buy and sell’, or ‘say and unsay’ or to be entitled to, because they were so deeply founded in the foundry of an amorous capitalism. Ba-Bam!
      To “fall in love” is like saying ‘you got me straight-up-tripping, Boo’ (from a film), and I will leave the remaining part of your post for others to pick up and run with … and remember what Aristophanes (poor guy, the only one at the party who was alone … how about that twist?) said: “… the best thing is to get as close to the ideal as possible …” (193c).

      • It is interesting discussing the role language plays in love. As you said in your opening virtual lecture love is a test. So, a sign of great love or true love would be working through the stumbling and confused words and communication. With out communication there could not be love. Ah also questions…questions are important. (As you also mention in your opening virtual lecture). It seems as if two people must be on the same quest, seeking to ask the same questions to truly be in love. What people are curious about and what makes them wonder is a sign of what is important to them. Can you really find the missing part of your essence, or allow your essence to grow when you are not even asking the same questions as someone else or having the same conversation. This is a downfall of capitalism and the consumerism you are talking about above, people get lost in it and care for the wrong things and as a result seek the wrong person. Humans most of the time really do not know what the want from each other! (well because they really don’t know what they want from themselves).

        I thought the distinction between common love and Heavenly love that Pausanias makes (180 e) is interesting. I am sure this will not come as a surprise, I disagree with the interpretation of Heavenly love because it is sexist. However, I think there is something to be said for a distinction between common love and Heavenly love. One being bare and basic and embodying hallmark, and then other being intellectual philosophical and profound. To surpass what is common you have to unfold love in the right way. This does not just happen, it seems error and mistake are necessary sometimes to even realize what is merely common love disguised as true or great love.

        Which leads me to Socrates thoughts on his peers dialogue. He seems to be saying that the speeches being presented were on the appearance of love rather than the truth about love. (198e) If I am interpreting this in the right way, could this speak to how so many people seek the appearance of love rather than love itself? I

        • Well put. There is much in the Symposium that can be teased out about language/speech and love … especially when things get heated up at the end. We will also run into a great example of the issue of language/speech and/in love when we read Lacan and Barthes (depending on your choice). I will wait a bit more for that, and wanted to remind everyone to check out (if you have not) the Plato Symposium Page where I added more scribbles and three graphs. This might help in getting a bigger picture of the dialogue. Yes, also, about truth, or truth’s ragged edge as Melville once wrote in Billy Budd. Socrates is, in deed all up in arms about “truth” but you will see just how this truth-war plays itself out when Alcibiades gets into the picture later in the dialogue. Then we can talk about the ‘truth-game’. One must wonder how much appearance is on Alcibiades’ side, and also on Socrates’ side, and how much of “love itself” is on both. Now as far as “sexist”, I am cautious to use that term against any of these “dudes” … I mean, really, it would be an unfair and retro-fitted critique or charge where revisionism only holds sway. We could see why Pausanias (who was together with Agathon, by the way) would put things in the way he did. Oh, in case you all were wondering here are the couples in the Symposium: Phaedrus and Eryximachus / Pausanias and Agathon /
          Aristophanes was alone / Socrates was with Aristodemus, but Agathon wanted to be seated with Socrates, and when Alcibiades gets to the party all drunk and shit, he basically yelled it out, that he loved, and wanted to be with Socrates. Now, it would take an entire normal fourteen week semester to hash all this, and more details of the Symposium out, and I will be working on it in the Fall (as I have in years past), but the entire “love-game” or as I put it, the ‘spoken love’ (see the spokes of the graph where the speakers sit) is a dynamic moving, living dialogue, and the interplay between speeches, and who is trying to “up the other” (no pun intended) takes a toll on the speeches (even Socrates is fake-scared), but also, keep in mind that the actual lovers would also speak to impress their lover, and to defend them if, in a previous speech someone gave a jab to some detail about their relationship. All this is there, but it takes time to unfold. Now, as far as poor Pausanias, he knows that he is up against his lover (Agathon) getting all cozy with Socrates (intellectually speaking) and this probably caused a slight panic, and sent him into panic mode, and there he pulls out (no pun intended) this idea of “virtue” (185b) and the issues of something being “conducted properly” (183c) and the idea that it (love) depends on the “doing” (181a). Another crucial issue in Pausanias’ speech is that we can see the start of the huge issue that runs throughout the Symposium of the “Education” factor … because really to love is to be co-educated, and learn and teach, and be that kind of co-working couple, so, give Pausanias some credit for getting that ball rolling, and you can see that at 184c. He even calls it a “self-imposed slavery” but a slavery to “Virtue”, which is not demeaning, and whose aim is Goodness. So, Pausanias was a moralist of sorts, and at least gave us the Two Loves (one Celestial and one Common). Yes, I am glad you feel there is something here, even though some of that makes you crazy. There would a long story to tell about what and way the “Common love” was called so, and why, as we might experience today, no matter what’s paired-up (well almost) its all pretty common, or made-to-common. But when the “mind” is st stake, and the development of the mind and soul (Virtue) then correct educating-as-a-lover is very important, and the ‘body’ should not have to matter at all (for the virtuous lovers). One thing that is full of tension is the “twofold” love (180d), because it is where each and everyone must submit to their consciousness, and teach themselves (or be taught/taut), or teach to “love the goodness of character” (183e). I hope this helps all of you, and thanks to all again for getting me to write this stuff “on the spur of the moment” (pace Pausanias, 185c). Dr. LAP

    • The search for one’s “other half” does sound a bit pathetic when you think of it in a certain way. To assume oneself to be a “glass half full” (or half empty) still leaves an empty half. To think of it in a different way, which I will try to explain, feels a bit nicer. I like to think of the search of one’s other “half” as the color yellow trying to find purple (or red to green, or blue to orange). All of these colors are beautiful on their own but stand out even brighter when next to their complement. Red is not half-full. Red is able to stand alone and have power by itself. However, when it is placed beside the color green, the two complement each other and force the other to shine even brighter.

      • I like your idea of a color-wheel coupling (or not, if the case may be). The part of the line your wrote “as the color yellow trying to find purple …” is rather poetic, and I do believe that we (as person’s) could perhaps step into this idea of being colors in-and-of-themselves, characteristics, hues, glazes of a grand array of pigments in the great paintbox of existence. Have you seen some of the Abstract expressionists, or the Minimalists painters, or the Color-Field painters? Worth looking into their images for some interesting examples of where to take this. I’ll leave you with this thought from Wittgenstein (he wrote a fascinating text entitled Remarks on Color (1950-51). “People might have the concept of intermediary colors or mixed colors even if they never produced colors by mixing (in whatever sense). Their language-games might only have to do with looking for or selecting already existing intermediary or blended colors” (Paragraph 8). I think that while your view of this is worth pursuing further, when I think of the issue of “other half” I seem to get more of a sculptural view, than a painterly view. Nice one Shannon. Ciao. Dr. LAP

      • My main concern with the idea of “soulmates” and “completing our missing half” is that there are over 7 billion people in the world currently. Can people still believe that there is only one person “out there” that is “made for them”? This boggles my mind. How can we all have just one other person in the entire world that we are “meant to be” 100 percent compatible with, just one that utterly completes us? If not, if it is limited, what is the available range for these other halves to be lingering? That is my question to people who believe in soulmates.

        Personally, I feel there are many people around the world, of all walks of life, that could be compatible and be the “yin to my yang”. A true love happens when you’re not looking for it, when it crosses your path, and you still do not know it is there. It is about living life, making choices, and not being caught up in the idea that your life plan is already created, but rather constantly changing, in every moment, in every decision.

    • P.S. Aurora- That Osho quote was in my head all day yesterday and it was a pleasant surprise to see you use it here 🙂

      Such a good one.

  4. Socrates’ “Ladder of Love” really stood out to me in the progression of dating and falling in love.

    1) “Loving one attractive body or another.” When we meet a person for the first time, there is usually that initial attraction that draws us to them.

    2) “Loving physical beauty in general.” As our interest in this person is peaked, we are attracted to their looks and appearances. We can tell by their body language whether or not they are interested as well.

    3) “Loving the beauty of people’s activity.” Then we may ask them to dance or touch their hand. We ask them what they do, etc, getting to know more about their daily routines.

    4) “Loving the beauty of intellectual endeavors.” We progress to more than casual conversation. Long, deep conversation that sheds light on what the persons interests are and their thoughts and opinions.

    5. “Loving the intellectual itself as what endures of the beauty of love.” This is the point where we know all there is to know and see all there is to see with this person. And we love everything about them. The good and the bad, all of which we have seen.

    Each rung of the ladder builds on the next. I believe that when all rungs are completed and combined with one another, we attain true love.

    • Nice one, and very generous of you to type out the rungs (levels) of Diotima’s (Socrates’/Plato’s) Ladder of Love (see Symposium 210a–212a). I believe this will require a longer response, and a few more details of the secrets that are hidden ‘between’ the rungs …because without the hollow (the lack) the rungs would not be rungs, and I have something about that, that might be of interest as we ascend and descend, feel sure-footed, and sometimes slip as we climb the ladder. Yes, the “true love” you mentioned can be attained in this way, but notice, notice how the art of education, of “birth and procreation in a beautiful medium” (206e), knowledge, and the share in immortality come into play, and how we need to be artists (philosophers that also can create practices) that are in possession of “self-discipline and justice” (209a). Thanks for this, it will be a great way to get up and through the Symposium, so we may, carry on our readings. I will be posting on this Ladder of Love again, soon. Ciao. Dr. LAP

    • Jennifer, and all … I wanted to point out that I just posted more on the Symposium page, so, for extra insights, do read through what I added, and review the other reflections as you continue on reading, and posting on Plato’s Symposium. Hope it is all helpful. I await questions, considerations, details, and all that good stuff, and I am cooking up another view of the mentions of “Education” in the Symposium, and how that plays another fugue part to the theme of love (eros). Ciao. Dr. LAP

      • Your summary of the rungs is definitely helpful in further understanding how we climb this ladder.

        I also just wanted to mention that when reading the question and answer between Socrates and Agathon I believe I detected some sarcasm on Socrates’ part and I absolutely LOVE that. I agree when he says that only the ignorant view love as a game of balancing appearances. You know the old saying that “good looks are only skin deep.” I catch myself when saying “beauty is only skin deep” because I believe that the mind, body, and soul are what constitute beauty.

        • Well seen, and right-on, because Socrates is the mastery of irony (and yes, sarcasm can be construed in its realm), and it is a way to know in not knowing, and not-knowing in knowing. You hit upon a great theme that has kept scholars busy for centuries, and you’d be pleased to see how many if you quickly did a search on “Socratic irony”. I think of Kierkegaard in particular. Anyway, this is a way to also see how Socrates protects himself against the ons/laugh/t, or on-s/laughter of desire that would overtake reason and his position on the good, the just, and beauty. Sarcasm, or irony, is how reason flirts. Ciao. Dr. LAP

  5. I find the Symposium, perhaps not surprisingly, to be mostly an immensely masculinist dialogue, in terms of the overall talk. Greek culture at the time was particularly patriarchal and masculinist, so this isn’t amazing. What I find rather nice in the dialogue is that Socrates stands starkly against that trend and talks of Diotima. Now, I had the benefit of attending the Classical Humanities Society lecture about women in the symposium and don’t want to regurgitate that exploration, but I definitely think that the dialogue is constructed to be, generally, always heading away from narrow concepts of love as between men, to wider ones which inclusive, more powerful, and ultimately yield truer speeches.

    • There is a wonderful tension throughout the Symposium, and that too is caused by the inclusion/exclusion (or exclusion/inclusion) of women. As you can see in my “Women in the Symposium” graph, each of the speaker does include references to women, some more, some less, and the least would be Alcibiades and Pausanias. Socrates takes the cake, and based on how Plato portrayed Socrates in other dialogues, it is not surprising. To give you a quick view of that: in the Symposium there is Diotima (as you know well know), who is said to be his teacher, “she taught me the ways of love” (201d). In the Phaedo there is, Socrates’ wife, Xanthippe, in the debated dialogue of authorship, the Menexenus, there is Aspasia, who taught Socrates rhetoric, and who was said to have written the funeral oration for Pericles, then in the Apology (21a) there is the Pythia, who proclaimed that no one was wiser than Socrates, then in the Crito (44a) there is a beautiful, lovely woman, all in white who came to Socrates, and said told him when he would die. So, Socrates’ history (especially seeing that his mother was a mid-wife), and he practice the art of midwifery (but to the birthing of ideas), was taught/taut by/through women, and in the Symposium, Diotima does says (and Socrates is made to repeat via Plato’s pen) that mental pregnancy’s offspring are virtue and wisdom (self-discipline and justice), and to take on a person’s eduction. Yes, then, the dialogue is seeking to expand on the narrow concept of love, but it is first about the most proper concept and practice of love between men, though the lessons needed to become inclusive of women in their mythological, literary, and real-life modes, and, even at the end, due to Alcibiades’ drunkenness, the flute-girls (or pipe-girl) are free to return into the sanctum santorum (the holiest of holy places), the Symposium, long after they were sent away, as you recall by Phaedrus at 176e. I believe there is a great are to unfold in the mention of women, inclusion, and the expansion of the concept of love; but I do not think that this would grant “truer speeches”, just different speeches. Or, with Nietzsche, we could wonder: perhaps “truth is a woman” … well, look up the image of “Truth” by the Italian Baroque sculptor Bernini. Perhaps.

  6. Does anyone know on what page in the Symposium Plato refers to “the desire and pursuit of the whole is love,” or something along those lines. I really wanted to reference this in my paper and unfortunately lost my page marking. Thank you!

  7. Reading the Symposium, I found it mainly to be mythical dialogues. Even though, I found the origins and explanations to be interesting and enjoyable, like the story of androgynous told by Aristophanes. It is another example of how humans try to put a definition or a romantic explanation on how things came to be. This type of situation is still relevant and projected in the present, men getting intoxicated (or high) and talking or getting insights to the foundation of a subject.

    • Yes, and indeed that is how things got (and get) started, we, as you wrote: “try to put a definition or romantic explanation on how things came to be”, and what you just wrote is what Aristotle said about “myth”. In itself, all mythic explanations are philosophical in nature, because they search and desire to tell of origins, or emergence, of coming-to-be … so myth (muthos, in Greek) which means ‘story’, and relates to storytelling, and narratives, is the product of wonder, and the producer of more wonder. The turning is to then take this wonder, and unpack the lessons within the stories (myths), because each mention of a mythic figure, or tales, or figures, is placed in the dialogue (The Symposium, for example) very intentionally. Happy that you saw the power of the coming-to-be and wonder. Ciao, Dr. LAP

      • Dr. LAP, thank you for pointing out that it is about the lessons and the undertones, rather than the details of the myths themselves. Because that’s what these speeches are, myths, not fact. It is sometimes difficult to wrap my head around the difference between mythical storytelling and historical facts, in the sense that I am science and logic based. As much as I like to read into things, over analyze, and observe abstract concepts, I much prefer the concrete actuality. This has made reading and interpreting these readings a challenge for me.

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