Symposium by Plato. - HTML preview
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Plato transposes the two next speeches, as in his common sense, as to that of many moderns the Republic he would transpose the virtues and as well as ancients, the identity of contradictories the mathematical sciences. This is done partly is an absurdity. His notion of love may be summed to avoid monotony, partly for the sake of making up as the harmony of man with himself in soul Aristophanes ‘the cause of wit in others,’ and as well as body, and of all things in heaven and also in order to bring the comic and tragic poet earth with one another.
into juxtaposition, as if by accident. A suitable Aristophanes is ready to laugh and make laugh
‘expectation’ of Aristophanes is raised by the before he opens his mouth, just as Socrates, true ludicrous circumstance of his having the hic-to his character, is ready to argue before he be-cough, which is appropriately cured by his sub-gins to speak. He expresses the very genius of stitute, the physician Eryximachus. To the old comedy, its coarse and forcible imagery, Eryximachus Love is the good physician; he sees and the licence of its language in speaking about everything as an intelligent physicist, and, like the gods. He has no sophistical notions about many professors of his art in modern times, at-love, which is brought back by him to its com-tempts to reduce the moral to the physical; or mon-sense meaning of love between intelligent recognises one law of love which pervades them beings. His account of the origin of the sexes has both. There are loves and strifes of the body as the greatest (comic) probability and verisimili-well as of the mind. Like Hippocrates the Ascl-tude. Nothing in Aristophanes is more truly epiad, he is a disciple of Heracleitus, whose con-Aristophanic than the description of the human ception of the harmony of opposites he explains monster whirling round on four arms and four in a new way as the harmony after discord; to legs, eight in all, with incredible rapidity. Yet 21
there is a mixture of earnestness in this jest; heights,’ but at the same time contrasts with three serious principles seem to be insinuated:—
the natural and necessary eloquence of Socrates.
first, that man cannot exist in isolation; he must Agathon contributes the distinction between love be reunited if he is to be perfected: secondly, that and the works of love, and also hints inciden-love is the mediator and reconciler of poor, di-tally that love is always of beauty, which Socrates vided human nature: thirdly, that the loves of afterwards raises into a principle. While the con-this world are an indistinct anticipation of an sciousness of discord is stronger in the comic poet ideal union which is not yet realized.
Aristophanes, Agathon, the tragic poet, has a The speech of Agathon is conceived in a higher deeper sense of harmony and reconciliation, and strain, and receives the real, if half-ironical, ap-speaks of Love as the creator and artist.
proval of Socrates. It is the speech of the tragic All the earlier speeches embody common opin-poet and a sort of poem, like tragedy, moving ions coloured with a tinge of philosophy. They among the gods of Olympus, and not among the furnish the material out of which Socrates pro-elder or Orphic deities. In the idea of the antiq-ceeds to form his discourse, starting, as in other uity of love he cannot agree; love is not of the places, from mythology and the opinions of men.
olden time, but present and youthful ever. The From Phaedrus he takes the thought that love is speech may be compared with that speech of stronger than death; from Pausanias, that the Socrates in the Phaedrus in which he describes true love is akin to intellect and political activ-himself as talking dithyrambs. It is at once a ity; from Eryximachus, that love is a universal preparation for Socrates and a foil to him. The phenomenon and the great power of nature; from rhetoric of Agathon elevates the soul to ‘sunlit Aristophanes, that love is the child of want, and 22
is not merely the love of the congenial or of the anything but the truth, and if he is to speak the whole, but (as he adds) of the good; from truth of Love he must honestly confess that he Agathon, that love is of beauty, not however of is not a good at all: for love is of the good, and no beauty only, but of birth in beauty. As it would man can desire that which he has. This piece of be out of character for Socrates to make a length-dialectics is ascribed to Diotima, who has already ened harangue, the speech takes the form of a urged upon Socrates the argument which he dialogue between Socrates and a mysterious urges against Agathon. That the distinction is a woman of foreign extraction. She elicits the fi-fallacy is obvious; it is almost acknowledged to nal truth from one who knows nothing, and who, be so by Socrates himself. For he who has beauty speaking by the lips of another, and himself a or good may desire more of them; and he who despiser of rhetoric, is proved also to be the most has beauty or good in himself may desire beauty consummate of rhetoricians (compare and good in others. The fallacy seems to arise Menexenus).
out of a confusion between the abstract ideas of The last of the six discourses begins with a good and beauty, which do not admit of degrees, short argument which overthrows not only and their partial realization in individuals.
Agathon but all the preceding speakers by the But Diotima, the prophetess of Mantineia, help of a distinction which has escaped them.
whose sacred and superhuman character raises Extravagant praises have been ascribed to Love her above the ordinary proprieties of women, has as the author of every good; no sort of encomium taught Socrates far more than this about the art was too high for him, whether deserved and true and mystery of love. She has taught him that or not. But Socrates has no talent for speaking love is another aspect of philosophy. The same 23
want in the human soul which is satisfied in the fact. The union of the greatest comprehension vulgar by the procreation of children, may be-of knowledge and the burning intensity of love come the highest aspiration of intellectual de-is a contradiction in nature, which may have ex-sire. As the Christian might speak of hungering isted in a far-off primeval age in the mind of some and thirsting after righteousness; or of divine Hebrew prophet or other Eastern sage, but has loves under the figure of human (compare Eph.
now become an imagination only. Yet this ‘pas-
‘This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning sion of the reason’ is the theme of the Sympo-Christ and the church’); as the mediaeval saint sium of Plato. And as there is no impossibility in might speak of the ‘fruitio Dei;’ as Dante saw supposing that ‘one king, or son of a king, may all things contained in his love of Beatrice, so be a philosopher,’ so also there is a probability Plato would have us absorb all other loves and that there may be some few—perhaps one or two desires in the love of knowledge. Here is the be-in a whole generation—in whom the light of truth ginning of Neoplatonism, or rather, perhaps, a may not lack the warmth of desire. And if there proof (of which there are many) that the so-be such natures, no one will be disposed to deny called mysticism of the East was not strange to that ‘from them flow most of the benefits of the Greek of the fifth century before Christ. The individuals and states;’ and even from imper-first tumult of the affections was not wholly sub-fect combinations of the two elements in teach-dued; there were longings of a creature ers or statesmen great good may often arise.
Moving about in worlds not realized, which no Yet there is a higher region in which love is art could satisfy. To most men reason and pas-not only felt, but satisfied, in the perfect beauty sion appear to be antagonistic both in idea and of eternal knowledge, beginning with the beauty 24
of earthly things, and at last reaching a beauty lic also Phaedrus). Under one aspect ‘the idea in which all existence is seen to be harmonious is love’; under another, ‘truth.’ In both the lover and one. The limited affection is enlarged, and of wisdom is the ‘spectator of all time and of all enabled to behold the ideal of all things. And existence.’ This is a ‘mystery’ in which Plato here the highest summit which is reached in the also obscurely intimates the union of the spiri-Symposium is seen also to be the highest sum-tual and fleshly, the interpenetration of the moral mit which is attained in the Republic, but ap-and intellectual faculties.
proached from another side; and there is ‘a way The divine image of beauty which resides upwards and downwards,’ which is the same within Socrates has been revealed; the Silenus, and not the same in both. The ideal beauty of or outward man, has now to be exhibited. The the one is the ideal good of the other; regarded description of Socrates follows immediately af-not with the eye of knowledge, but of faith and ter the speech of Socrates; one is the comple-desire; and they are respectively the source of ment of the other. At the height of divine inspi-beauty and the source of good in all other things.
ration, when the force of nature can no further And by the steps of a ‘ladder reaching to go, by way of contrast to this extreme idealism, heaven’ we pass from images of visible beauty Alcibiades, accompanied by a troop of revellers (Greek), and from the hypotheses of the Math-and a flute-girl, staggers in, and being drunk is ematical sciences, which are not yet based upon able to tell of things which he would have been the idea of good, through the concrete to the ashamed to make known if he had been sober.
abstract, and, by different paths arriving, behold The state of his affections towards Socrates, un-the vision of the eternal (compare Symp. Repub-intelligible to us and perverted as they appear, 25
affords an illustration of the power ascribed to a subject for irony, no less than for moral repro-the loves of man in the speech of Pausanias. He bation (compare Plato’s Symp.). It is also used does not suppose his feelings to be peculiar to as a figure of speech which no one interpreted himself: there are several other persons in the literally (compare Xen. Symp.). Nor does Plato company who have been equally in love with feel any repugnance, such as would be felt in Socrates, and like himself have been deceived modern times, at bringing his great master and by him. The singular part of this confession is hero into connexion with nameless crimes. He is the combination of the most degrading passion contented with representing him as a saint, who with the desire of virtue and improvement. Such has won ‘the Olympian victory’ over the temp-an union is not wholly untrue to human nature, tations of human nature. The fault of taste, which which is capable of combining good and evil in a to us is so glaring and which was recognized by degree beyond what we can easily conceive. In the Greeks of a later age (Athenaeus), was not imaginative persons, especially, the God and perceived by Plato himself. We are still more sur-beast in man seem to part asunder more than is prised to find that the philosopher is incited to natural in a well-regulated mind. The Platonic take the first step in his upward progress Socrates (for of the real Socrates this may be (Symp.) by the beauty of young men and boys, doubted: compare his public rebuke of Critias for which was alone capable of inspiring the mod-his shameful love of Euthydemus in Xenophon, ern feeling of romance in the Greek mind. The Memorabilia) does not regard the greatest evil passion of love took the spurious form of an en-of Greek life as a thing not to be spoken of; but it thusiasm for the ideal of beauty—a worship as of has a ridiculous element (Plato’s Symp.), and is some godlike image of an Apollo or Antinous.