Socrates as an Exemplar of Love
It may seem at first that Plato wrote Symposium merely to praise Love through a sequence of speeches made by the selected male speakers attending the drinking party. After Socrates makes his speech on the truth of love however, it becomes more apparent that Symposium is also a tribute to Socrates and his way of life. Although this is shown gradually and indirectly, Plato eventually makes clear his respect and admiration for Socrates’ way of life. The structure of the book was laid out in a way so that readers can interpret Socrates as a representation of love. All the speeches deliver in Symposium are central to the depiction of Socrates as an embodiment of love. The first few speeches, though insignificant in content, illustrates the process of the ascent of love that Socrates later mentions in his speech; Diotima’s speech is crucial in shaping and establishing Socrates’ ideology on love; Alcibiades’ speech at the end reaffirms Socrates as the personification of love because of his immortality with philosophy and pregnancy of beautiful ideas.
It is paramount first of all to comprehend the other speakers’ viewpoints on love to better understand the struggles of searching for the truth. The story commences with a series of speeches focused on the benefits of love. All speakers except Socrates praise Love under the assumption that Love is good and beautiful. Each of them attempts to express their viewpoints on love in a manner that flatters himself or his specialties. For example, Eryximachus the doctor uses pompous references to medical terms, while Agathon the tragedian uses rhetoric to eulogize love. As their lifestyles differ, their personal beliefs and experiences on love are different. Inevitably, there are disagreements on the accurate definition of love. The men disagree upon certain parts and build upon other parts. The notion of love hence evolves increasingly abstract. The disagreements among the men however demonstrate the process of love. Diotima states that the process of love is the slow and careful. According to her, the discovery of the truth must be closely examined and corrected if the previous statements are erroneous.
The speeches prior to Socrates’ not only present contrasting views on love, but more significantly build up Diotima’s depiction of love as a continual exploration for beauty and wisdom. Diotima’s concept of love is completely different from that of all other speakers. Unlike other speakers, Diotima associates neither positive nor negative traits with love. She simply describes love as a desire to possess and preserve good things eternally. When asked what Love wants, Diotima answers, “Reproduction and birth in beauty” (206E, 53). She further explains her reasoning by saying, “...Reproduction goes on forever; it is what mortals have in place of immortality. A lover must desire immortality along with the good, if what we agreed earlier was right, that Love wants to possess the good forever. It follows that Love must desire immortality” (206E-207A). According to this quote, one cannot possess something forever unless one is immortal. Analogous to the biological reproduction of children, the reproduction, or passing down, of an idea perpetuates the immortality of that idea. Hence, the idea of physical and mental reproduction comes into play. Diotima’s concepts of love thus indirectly build on Pausanias’ ideas of heavenly and commonly love. Commonly love refers to pregnancy in the physical body. More significantly, heavenly love refers to pregnancy in mind, which passes down intellectual offspring.
Socrates rejection of Alcibiades’ offer of sexual gratification then emphasizes that the notion that heavenly love is true path to seeking immortality. In classical Athens, it was traditionally considered socially acceptable for an older wise lover and a young beautiful beloved to exchange their better qualities to the other. Conventionally, the younger beloved...
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