After reading both Plato’s Symposium and Saint Augustine’s Confessions, one can see how the latter holds certain ideas and concepts that are parallel to those found in the former. Despite the differences in time, men are hindered from their pursuit of goodness, truth, etcetera, by similar, if not entirely identical, desires. That being said, of all of the speeches found in the Symposium, Augustine would connect most deeply to that of Alcibiades.
Alcibiades is depicted as a prominent Athenian statesman, a successful orator, and a well accomplished military general. On top of such admirable prestige, he is also quite physically handsome. With this knowledge in mind, he seeks to seduce Socrates into a lover-beloved relationship in which he is willing to allow Socrates access to his body in return for the knowledge that Socrates possesses [Plato, Symposium, 217a]. To this, Socrates claims that Alcibiades seeks “gold for bronze” [219a] for the beautiful body is nothing when compared to the value of truth. Socrates is praised for his “invulnerability to the power of money [219e], his indifference towards base pleasures such as hinder [220a] and cold [220b], his bravery in the midst of combat [220d-221b], as well as his general patience and focus in the pursuit of knowledge [220c-d].
Despite Alcibiades’ reverence of Socrates’ teachings, he is unable to follow in the footsteps of his mentor. Why? Simply because Alcibiades is the personification of ambition and sexual profligacy. Though he is moved by Socrates’ words, “Wherever I listen to him… my heart pounds and tears flood out… and [his words] made me dissatisfied with the slavish quality of my life” [215e-216a]. Alcibiades’ desires are far too entrenched within secular pleasures. He himself declares, “I neglect myself and instead get involved in Athenian politics” [216a]. His drunken entrance into the symposium suggests a lack of control in the consummation of alcohol. Essentially, his desires make him too weak to...
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