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Platos Symposium


wards overspread the Alexandrian world. He was not an enthusiast or a sentimentalist, but one by Plato

who aspired only to see reasoned truth, and whose thoughts are clearly explained in his lan-Translated by Benjamin Jowett guage. There is no foreign element either of Egypt or of Asia to be found in his writings. And INTRODUCTION.

more than any other Platonic work the Sympo-O

sium is Greek both in style and subject, having a F ALL THE WORKS OF PLATO the Symposium is the most perfect in form, and may be truly thought beauty ‘as of a statue,’ while the companion to contain more than any commentator has ever Dialogue of the Phaedrus is marked by a sort of dreamed of; or, as Goethe said of one of his own Gothic irregularity. More too than in any other writings, more than the author himself knew. For of his Dialogues, Plato is emancipated from in philosophy as in prophecy glimpses of the fu-former philosophies. The genius of Greek art ture may often be conveyed in words which could seems to triumph over the traditions of hardly have been understood or interpreted at Pythagorean, Eleatic, or Megarian systems, and the time when they were uttered (compare

‘the old quarrel of poetry and philosophy’has at Symp.)—which were wiser than the writer of least a superficial reconcilement. (Rep.) them meant, and could not have been expressed An unknown person who had heard of the dis-by him if he had been interrogated about them.

courses in praise of love spoken by Socrates and Yet Plato was not a mystic, nor in any degree others at the banquet of Agathon is desirous of affected by the Eastern influences which after-having an authentic account of them, which he 3

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thinks that he can obtain from Apollodorus, the hind in a fit of abstraction, and does not appear same excitable, or rather ‘mad’ friend of until the banquet is half over. On his appearing Socrates, who is afterwards introduced in the he and the host jest a little; the question is then Phaedo. He had imagined that the discourses asked by Pausanias, one of the guests, ‘What were recent. There he is mistaken: but they are shall they do about drinking? as they had been still fresh in the memory of his informant, who all well drunk on the day before, and drinking had just been repeating them to Glaucon, and is on two successive days is such a bad thing.’ This quite prepared to have another rehearsal of them is confirmed by the authority of Eryximachus the in a walk from the Piraeus to Athens. Although physician, who further proposes that instead of he had not been present himself, he had heard listening to the flute-girl and her ‘noise’ they them from the best authority. Aristodemus, who shall make speeches in honour of love, one after is described as having been in past times a another, going from left to right in the order in humble but inseparable attendant of Socrates, which they are reclining at the table. All of them had reported them to him (compare Xen. Mem.).

agree to this proposal, and Phaedrus, who is the The narrative which he had heard was as follows:—

‘father’ of the idea, which he has previously Aristodemus meeting Socrates in holiday at-communicated to Eryximachus, begins as follows:—

tire, is invited by him to a banquet at the house He descants first of all upon the antiquity of of Agathon, who had been sacrificing in thanks-love, which is proved by the authority of the giving for his tragic victory on the day previous.

poets; secondly upon the benefits which love But no sooner has he entered the house than he gives to man. The greatest of these is the sense finds that he is alone; Socrates has stayed be-of honour and dishonour. The lover is ashamed 4

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to be seen by the beloved doing or suffering any Pausanias, who was sitting next, then takes cowardly or mean act. And a state or army which up the tale:—He says that Phaedrus should have was made up only of lovers and their loves would distinguished the heavenly love from the earthly, be invincible. For love will convert the veriest before he praised either. For there are two loves, coward into an inspired hero.

as there are two Aphrodites—one the daughter And there have been true loves not only of men of Uranus, who has no mother and is the elder but of women also. Such was the love of Alcestis, and wiser goddess, and the other, the daughter who dared to die for her husband, and in recom-of Zeus and Dione, who is popular and common.

pense of her virtue was allowed to come again The first of the two loves has a noble purpose, from the dead. But Orpheus, the miserable and delights only in the intelligent nature of man harper, who went down to Hades alive, that he

, and is faithful to the end, and has no shadow of might bring back his wife, was mocked with an wantonness or lust. The second is the coarser apparition only, and the gods afterwards con-kind of love, which is a love of the body rather trived his death as the punishment of his cow-than of the soul, and is of women and boys as ardliness. The love of Achilles, like that of well as of men. Now the actions of lovers vary, Alcestis, was courageous and true; for he was like every other sort of action, according to the willing to avenge his lover Patroclus, although manner of their performance. And in different he knew that his own death would immediately countries there is a difference of opinion about follow: and the gods, who honour the love of the male loves. Some, like the Boeotians, approve of beloved above that of the lover, rewarded him, them; others, like the Ionians, and most of the and sent him to the islands of the blest.

barbarians, disapprove of them; partly because 5

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they are aware of the political dangers which the lover in the way of virtue which the lover ensue from them, as may be seen in the instance may do to him.

of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. At Athens and A voluntary service to be rendered for the sake Sparta there is an apparent contradiction about of virtue and wisdom is permitted among us; and them. For at times they are encouraged, and then when these two customs—one the love of youth, the lover is allowed to play all sorts of fantastic the other the practice of virtue and philosophy—

tricks; he may swear and forswear himself (and meet in one, then the lovers may lawfully unite.

‘at lovers’ perjuries they say Jove laughs’); he Nor is there any disgrace to a disinterested lover may be a servant, and lie on a mat at the door of in being deceived: but the interested lover is dou-his love, without any loss of character; but there bly disgraced, for if he loses his love he loses his are also times when elders look grave and guard character; whereas the noble love of the other their young relations, and personal remarks are remains the same, although the object of his love made. The truth is that some of these loves are is unworthy: for nothing can be nobler than love disgraceful and others honourable. The vulgar for the sake of virtue. This is that love of the love of the body which takes wing and flies away heavenly goddess which is of great price to indi-when the bloom of youth is over, is disgraceful, viduals and cities, making them work together and so is the interested love of power or wealth; for their improvement.

but the love of the noble mind is lasting. The The turn of Aristophanes comes next; but he lover should be tested, and the beloved should has the hiccough, and therefore proposes that not be too ready to yield. The rule in our country Eryximachus the physician shall cure him or is that the beloved may do the same service to speak in his turn. Eryximachus is ready to do 6

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both, and after prescribing for the hiccough, all is simple, and we are not troubled with the speaks as follows:—

twofold love; but when they are applied in edu-He agrees with Pausanias in maintaining that cation with their accompaniments of song and there are two kinds of love; but his art has led metre, then the discord begins. Then the old tale him to the further conclusion that the empire of has to be repeated of fair Urania and the coarse this double love extends over all things, and is Polyhymnia, who must be indulged sparingly, just to be found in animals and plants as well as in as in my own art of medicine care must be taken man. In the human body also there are two loves; that the taste of the epicure be gratified with-and the art of medicine shows which is the good out inflicting upon him the attendant penalty of and which is the bad love, and persuades the disease.

body to accept the good and reject the bad, and There is a similar harmony or disagreement reconciles conflicting elements and makes them in the course of the seasons and in the relations friends. Every art, gymnastic and husbandry as of moist and dry, hot and cold, hoar frost and well as medicine, is the reconciliation of oppo-blight; and diseases of all sorts spring from the sites; and this is what Heracleitus meant, when excesses or disorders of the element of love. The he spoke of a harmony of opposites: but in strict-knowledge of these elements of love and discord ness he should rather have spoken of a harmony in the heavenly bodies is termed astronomy, in which succeeds opposites, for an agreement of the relations of men towards gods and parents disagreements there cannot be. Music too is con-is called divination. For divination is the peace-cerned with the principles of love in their appli-maker of gods and men, and works by a knowl-cation to harmony and rhythm. In the abstract, edge of the tendencies of merely human loves to 7

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piety and impiety. Such is the power of love; and dient. Let us cut them in two, he said; then they that love which is just and temperate has the will only have half their strength, and we shall greatest power, and is the source of all our hap-have twice as many sacrifices. He spake, and split piness and friendship with the gods and with them as you might split an egg with an hair; one another. I dare say that I have omitted to and when this was done, he told Apollo to give mention many things which you, Aristophanes, their faces a twist and re-arrange their persons, may supply, as I perceive that you are cured of taking out the wrinkles and tying the skin in a the hiccough.

knot about the navel. The two halves went about Aristophanes is the next speaker:—

looking for one another, and were ready to die of He professes to open a new vein of discourse, hunger in one another’s arms. Then Zeus in-in which he begins by treating of the origin of vented an adjustment of the sexes, which en-human nature. The sexes were originally three, abled them to marry and go their way to the men, women, and the union of the two; and they business of life. Now the characters of men dif-were made round—having four hands, four feet, fer accordingly as they are derived from the origi-two faces on a round neck, and the rest to corre-nal man or the original woman, or the original spond. Terrible was their strength and swiftness; man-woman. Those who come from the man-and they were essaying to scale heaven and at-woman are lascivious and adulterous; those who tack the gods. Doubt reigned in the celestial coun-come from the woman form female attachments; cils; the gods were divided between the desire those who are a section of the male follow the of quelling the pride of man and the fear of los-male and embrace him, and in him all their de-ing the sacrifices. At last Zeus hit upon an expe-sires centre. The pair are inseparable and live 8

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together in pure and manly affection; yet they Some raillery ensues first between cannot tell what they want of one another. But if Aristophanes and Eryximachus, and then be-Hephaestus were to come to them with his in-tween Agathon, who fears a few select friends struments and propose that they should be melted more than any number of spectators at the the-into one and remain one here and hereafter, they atre, and Socrates, who is disposed to begin an would acknowledge that this was the very expres-argument. This is speedily repressed by sion of their want. For love is the desire of the Phaedrus, who reminds the disputants of their whole, and the pursuit of the whole is called love.

tribute to the god. Agathon’s speech follows:—

There was a time when the two sexes were only He will speak of the god first and then of his one, but now God has halved them,—much as the gifts: He is the fairest and blessedest and best of Lacedaemonians have cut up the Arcadians,—and the gods, and also the youngest, having had no if they do not behave themselves he will divide existence in the old days of Iapetus and Cronos them again, and they will hop about with half a when the gods were at war. The things that were nose and face in basso relievo. Wherefore let us done then were done of necessity and not of love.

exhort all men to piety, that we may obtain the For love is young and dwells in soft places,—not goods of which love is the author, and be recon-like Ate in Homer, walking on the skulls of men, ciled to God, and find our own true loves, which but in their hearts and souls, which are soft rarely happens in this world. And now I must beg enough. He is all flexibility and grace, and his you not to suppose that I am alluding to Pausanias habitation is among the flowers, and he cannot and Agathon (compare Protag.), for my words do or suffer wrong; for all men serve and obey refer to all mankind everywhere.

him of their own free will, and where there is 9

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love there is obedience, and where obedience, cied that they meant to speak the true praises there is justice; for none can be wronged of his of love, but now he finds that they only say what own free will. And he is temperate as well as is good of him, whether true or false. He begs to just, for he is the ruler of the desires, and if he be absolved from speaking falsely, but he is will-rules them he must be temperate. Also he is cou-ing to speak the truth, and proposes to begin by rageous, for he is the conqueror of the lord of questioning Agathon. The result of his questions war. And he is wise too; for he is a poet, and the may be summed up as follows:—

author of poesy in others. He created the ani-Love is of something, and that which love de-mals; he is the inventor of the arts; all the gods sires is not that which love is or has; for no man are his subjects; he is the fairest and best him-desires that which he is or has. And love is of the self, and the cause of what is fairest and best in beautiful, and therefore has not the beautiful.

others; he makes men to be of one mind at a And the beautiful is the good, and therefore, in banquet, filling them with affection and empty-wanting and desiring the beautiful, love also ing them of disaffection; the pilot, helper, de-wants and desires the good. Socrates professes fender, saviour of men, in whose footsteps let to have asked the same questions and to have every man follow, chanting a strain of love. Such obtained the same answers from Diotima, a wise is the discourse, half playful, half serious, which woman of Mantinea, who, like Agathon, had spoI dedicate to the god.

ken first of love and then of his works. Socrates, The turn of Socrates comes next. He begins by like Agathon, had told her that Love is a mighty remarking satirically that he has not understood god and also fair, and she had shown him in re-the terms of the original agreement, for he fan-turn that Love was neither, but in a mean be-10

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tween fair and foul, good and evil, and not a god beautiful let us substitute the good, and we have at all, but only a great demon or intermediate no difficulty in seeing the possession of the good power (compare the speech of Eryximachus) to be happiness, and Love to be the desire of who conveys to the gods the prayers of men, and happiness, although the meaning of the word to men the commands of the gods.

has been too often confined to one kind of love.

Socrates asks: Who are his father and mother?

And Love desires not only the good, but the ev-To this Diotima replies that he is the son of Plenty erlasting possession of the good. Why then is and Poverty, and partakes of the nature of both, there all this flutter and excitement about love?

and is full and starved by turns. Like his mother Because all men and women at a certain age are he is poor and squalid, lying on mats at doors desirous of bringing to the birth. And love is not (compare the speech of Pausanias); like his fa-of beauty only, but of birth in beauty; this is the ther he is bold and strong, and full of arts and principle of immortality in a mortal creature.

resources. Further, he is in a mean between ig-When beauty approaches, then the conceiving norance and knowledge:—in this he resembles the power is benign and diffuse; when foulness, she philosopher who is also in a mean between the is averted and morose.

wise and the ignorant. Such is the nature of Love, But why again does this extend not only to who is not to be confused with the beloved.

men but also to animals? Because they too have But Love desires the beautiful; and then arises an instinct of immortality. Even in the same in-the question, What does he desire of the beauti-dividual there is a perpetual succession as well ful? He desires, of course, the possession of the of the parts of the material body as of the beautiful;—but what is given by that? For the thoughts and desires of the mind; nay, even 11

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knowledge comes and goes. There is no sameness beautiful bodies he should proceed to beautiful of existence, but the new mortality is always minds, and the beauty of laws and institutions, taking the place of the old. This is the reason until he perceives that all beauty is of one kin-why parents love their children—for the sake of dred; and from institutions he should go on to immortality; and this is why men love the im-the sciences, until at last the vision is revealed mortality of fame. For the creative soul creates to him of a single science of universal beauty, not children, but conceptions of wisdom and vir-and then he will behold the everlasting nature tue, such as poets and other creators have in-which is the cause of all, and will be near the vented. And the noblest creations of all are those end. In the contemplation of that supreme be-of legislators, in honour of whom temples have ing of love he will be purified of earthly leaven, been raised. Who would not sooner have these and will behold beauty, not with the bodily eye, children of the mind than the ordinary human but with the eye of the mind, and will bring forth ones? (Compare Bacon’s Essays, 8:—’Certainly true creations of virtue and wisdom, and be the the best works and of greatest merit for the pub-friend of God and heir of immortality.

lic have proceeded from the unmarried or child-Such, Phaedrus, is the tale which I heard from less men; which both in affection and means have the stranger of Mantinea, and which you may married and endowed the public.’) call the encomium of love, or what you please.

I will now initiate you, she said, into the greater The company applaud the speech of Socrates, mysteries; for he who would proceed in due and Aristophanes is about to say something, course should love first one fair form, and then when suddenly a band of revellers breaks into many, and learn the connexion of them; and from the court, and the voice of Alcibiades is heard 12

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asking for Agathon. He is led in drunk, and wel-too, as he has convinced Alcibiades, and made comed by Agathon, whom he has come to crown him ashamed of his mean and miserable life.

with a garland. He is placed on a couch at his Socrates at one time seemed about to fall in love side, but suddenly, on recognizing Socrates, he with him; and he thought that he would thereby starts up, and a sort of conflict is carried on be-gain a wonderful opportunity of receiving les-tween them, which Agathon is requested to ap-sons of wisdom. He narrates the failure of his pease. Alcibiades then insists that they shall design. He has suffered agonies from him, and drink, and has a large wine-cooler filled, which is at his wit’s end. He then proceeds to mention he first empties himself, and then fills again and some other particulars of the life of Socrates; how passes on to Socrates. He is informed of the na-they were at Potidaea together, where Socrates ture of the entertainment; and is ready to join, showed his superior powers of enduring cold and if only in the character of a drunken and disap-fatigue; how on one occasion he had stood for an pointed lover he may be allowed to sing the entire day and night absorbed in reflection amid praises of Socrates:—

the wonder of the spectators; how on another He begins by comparing Socrates first to the occasion he had saved Alcibiades’ life; how at busts of Silenus, which have images of the gods the battle of Delium, after the defeat, he might inside them; and, secondly, to Marsyas the flute-be seen stalking about like a pelican, rolling his player. For Socrates produces the same effect eyes as Aristophanes had described him in the with the voice which Marsyas did with the flute.

Clouds. He is the most wonderful of human be-He is the great speaker and enchanter who rav-ings, and absolutely unlike anyone but a satyr.

ishes the souls of men; the convincer of hearts Like the satyr in his language too; for he uses 13

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the commonest words as the outward mask of takes a bath and goes to his daily avocations until the divinest truths.

the evening. Aristodemus follows.

When Alcibiades has done speaking, a dispute begins between him and Agathon and Socrates.

IF IT BE TRUE that there are more things in the Socrates piques Alcibiades by a pretended affec-Symposium of Plato than any commentator has tion for Agathon. Presently a band of revellers dreamed of, it is also true that many things have appears, who introduce disorder into the feast; been imagined which are not really to be found the sober part of the company, Eryximachus, there. Some writings hardly admit of a more dis-Phaedrus, and others, withdraw; and tinct interpretation than a musical composition; Aristodemus, the follower of Socrates, sleeps and every reader may form his own accompani-during the whole of a long winter’s night. When ment of thought or feeling to the strain which he wakes at cockcrow the revellers are nearly he hears. The Symposium of Plato is a work of all asleep. Only Socrates, Aristophanes, and this character, and can with difficulty be ren-Agathon hold out; they are drinking from a large dered in any words but the writer’s own. There goblet, which they pass round, and Socrates is are so many half-lights and cross-lights, so much explaining to the two others, who are half-asleep, of the colour of mythology, and of the manner of that the genius of tragedy is the same as that of sophistry adhering—rhetoric and poetry, the play-comedy, and that the writer of tragedy ought to ful and the serious, are so subtly intermingled be a writer of comedy also. And first in it, and vestiges of old philosophy so curiously Aristophanes drops, and then, as the day is dawn-blend with germs of future knowledge, that ing, Agathon. Socrates, having laid them to rest, agreement among interpreters is not to be ex-14

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pected. The expression ‘poema magis putandum figure, were everywhere discerned; and in the quam comicorum poetarum,’ which has been Pythagorean list of opposites male and female applied to all the writings of Plato, is especially were ranged side by side with odd and even, fi-applicable to the Symposium.

nite and infinite.

The power of love is represented in the Sym-But Plato seems also to be aware that there is posium as running through all nature and all a mystery of love in man as well as in nature, being: at one end descending to animals and extending beyond the mere immediate relation plants, and attaining to the highest vision of of the sexes. He is conscious that the highest and truth at the other. In an age when man was seek-noblest things in the world are not easily sev-ing for an expression of the world around him, ered from the sensual desires, or may even be the conception of love greatly affected him. One regarded as a spiritualized form of them. We may of the first distinctions of language and of my-observe that Socrates himself is not represented thology was that of gender; and at a later period as originally unimpassioned, but as one who has the ancient physicist, anticipating modern sci-overcome his passions; the secret of his power ence, saw, or thought that he saw, a sex in plants; over others partly lies in his passionate but self-there were elective affinities among the ele-controlled nature. In the Phaedrus and Sympo-ments, marriages of earth and heaven. (Aesch.

sium love is not merely the feeling usually so Frag. Dan.) Love became a mythic personage called, but the mystical contemplation of the whom philosophy, borrowing from poetry, con-beautiful and the good. The same passion which verted into an efficient cause of creation. The may wallow in the mire is capable of rising to traces of the existence of love, as of number and the loftiest heights—of penetrating the inmost 15

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secret of philosophy. The highest love is the love tain measure of seriousness,’ which the succes-not of a person, but of the highest and purest sive speakers dedicate to the god. All of them abstraction. This abstraction is the far-off heaven are rhetorical and poetical rather than dialection which the eye of the mind is fixed in fond cal, but glimpses of truth appear in them. When amazement. The unity of truth, the consistency Eryximachus says that the principles of music of the warring elements of the world, the enthu-are simple in themselves, but confused in their siasm for knowledge when first beaming upon application, he touches lightly upon a difficulty mankind, the relativity of ideas to the human which has troubled the moderns as well as the mind, and of the human mind to ideas, the faith ancients in music, and may be extended to the in the invisible, the adoration of the eternal na-other applied sciences. That confusion begins in ture, are all included, consciously or uncon-the concrete, was the natural feeling of a mind sciously, in Plato’s doctrine of love.

dwelling in the world of ideas. When Pausanias The successive speeches in praise of love are remarks that personal attachments are inimical characteristic of the speakers, and contribute in to despots. The experience of Greek history con-various degrees to the final result; they are all firms the truth of his remark. When Aristophanes designed to prepare the way for Socrates, who declares that love is the desire of the whole, he gathers up the threads anew, and skims the high-expresses a feeling not unlike that of the Ger-est points of each of them. But they are not to be man philosopher, who says that ‘philosophy is regarded as the stages of an idea, rising above home sickness.’ When Agathon says that no man one another to a climax. They are fanciful, partly

‘can be wronged of his own free will,’ he is al-facetious performances, ‘yet also having a cer-luding playfully to a serious problem of Greek 16

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philosophy (compare Arist. Nic. Ethics). So natu-The speeches have been said to follow each rally does Plato mingle jest and earnest, truth other in pairs: Phaedrus and Pausanias being the and opinion in the same work.

ethical, Eryximachus and Aristophanes the physi-The characters—of Phaedrus, who has been the cal speakers, while in Agathon and Socrates po-cause of more philosophical discussions than any etry and philosophy blend together. The speech other man, with the exception of Simmias the of Phaedrus is also described as the mythologi-Theban (Phaedrus); of Aristophanes, who discal, that of Pausanias as the political, that of guises under comic imagery a serious purpose; Eryximachus as the scientific, that of of Agathon, who in later life is satirized by Aristophanes as the artistic (!), that of Socrates Aristophanes in the Thesmophoriazusae, for his as the philosophical. But these and similar dis-effeminate manners and the feeble rhythms of tinctions are not found in Plato; —they are the his verse; of Alcibiades, who is the same strange points of view of his critics, and seem to impede contrast of great powers and great vices, which rather than to assist us in understanding him.

meets us in history—are drawn to the life; and When the turn of Socrates comes round he can-we may suppose the less-known characters of not be allowe