Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Symposium 1

During the reading from Symposium for today, I was again and again struck by how idealism perfused the speeches of some of the Greeks. The love they propose is truly incredible, and each one of them thinks so in a different way. Phaedrus believes that love, specifically a lover-beloved relationship, is key not only to the lives of both people involved but to society as a whole. He claims that the benefit to the pair is that they love and honor each other’s soul; the younger man receives wisdom and encouragement from the older, and the older gets to enjoy the company of and to guide the younger. He says that this relationship encourages the younger (and older, to a lesser extent) to behave in honorable ways and avoid anything shameful. Pausanias takes a similar line of thought, digging into the separation between what he describes as “common love” and “heavenly love.” He condemns common love, which he represents as a love of flesh and sexual pleasure, and exalts heavenly love, which, like Phaedrus said, is a love of the soul. He contrasts the vulgarity of the former with the purity of the latter, arguing that loving a soul is to become truly open, sharing everything and devoting oneself to the other. I should note that Pausanias is concerned with homosexual relationships, which is why the roles of mentor and student seem at play here. Aristophanes talks about perhaps the highest ideal, the root of what we might call soul-mates. He tells the tale of Zeus splitting humans in half and dooming them to search for their missing parts for much of life. This places love high on a pedestal; we can only truly love one person and must find this person. Aristophanes describes the two together as desiring to be forged by Hephaestus into one being because they would never want to spend a moment apart. Such a powerful love is expressed in these speeches that I would label these Greeks as idealists. It leads me to wonder whether Plato agrees with them, this being my first time through this work.


  1. Good sense of the ethos of the work. I do think there's a dark underside we will explore in class.