Plato's Symposium: the Process of Love; Reproducing Beauty

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The Process of Love; Reproducing Beauty

Throughout his work Plato is well known for implementing dialogue, typically with Socrates as the main interlocutor, to express his philosophical thoughts in an engaging, dramatic fashion. The Symposium is no different and is often considered Plato’s crowning achievement in terms of creating a harmonic interplay between drama and philosophy within his dialogue. Beyond simply presenting his ideas in an entertaining manner, this dialectic method of composition lends a masterful wordsmith such as Plato the ability to build his ideas very convincingly through character interaction. He can present a character with conceptions similar to those of potential readers, only to have those conceptions completely broken down logically towards exposing the “right” conception all through his mouthpiece Socrates. Furthermore, Plato’s discursive style situates him in a removed, potentially objective position where it is unclear to readers whether Plato is advancing ideas of his own, of Socrates or of someone else entirely. On top of this, in The Symposium, Plato stages the dialogue in the form of a second hand story, which creates further distance and greater poetic significance. These examples answer some of the basic questions why Plato chooses to write in dialogue, but many questions remain and the significance of these choices has yet to be determined in the context of The Symposium. In this essay I will analyze how and why the complex dramatic framing devices employed by Plato in the dialogue of The Symposium serve the aforementioned functions and others toward the development and support of the piece’s overarching messages. Thus, in the spirit of the dialectic method, I will start from the beginning by giving a recap of the narrative and continue to compound on the examination from there. As briefly mentioned earlier, instead of simply going straight into the dialogue of the title event, Plato presents a conversation between Apollodorus and an unnamed companion who wishes to hear about the symposium. From this conversation, we discover that Apollodorus was not present at the symposium for it happened years before, but learned of the events from an actual guest at the symposium, Aristodemus. Apollodorus says he confirmed some of the points with Socrates himself and has told the story recently to Glaucon who had previously received an unreliable account. He intends to repeat the chronicle he gave Glaucon to his companion and begins to recount the occasion as such. Apollodorus commences the narrative by describing the events leading up to Socrates’ arrival at the symposium. Aristodemus runs into Socrates who invites him to come along to the celebration of Agathon’s victory. The two embark on the journey to the occasion together, but Socrates, lost in thought, falls behind and Aristodemus arrives without him. The party sends for Socrates who is found deep in thought, standing on a neighboring porch and refusing to move until he has completed his contemplation. The rest begin eating and surprisingly Socrates, known for his long bouts of rumination, arrives soon after when they are only about halfway through the meal. Agathon prompts Socrates to sit close so that he may share in the newfound wisdom from the porch, but Socrates sarcastically remarks that wisdom cannot flow freely between individuals in this manner. Finally, after the guests establish the drinking guidelines for the evening, Eryximachus sends away the flute girl and suggests that each member make a speech in praise of the god Love. Claiming Phaedrus’s complaints that no one praises Love inspired the topic, Eyrximachus proposes that he go first. All members agree to this proposal and wish Phaedrus luck starting the speeches. Phaedrus declares that Love “is held in honor because he is one of the most ancient”, which is attributed to the fact that he has no parents. His antiquity makes him the source of our...
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