The Accounts of Eros in the Symposium :
The word love carries with it many, many different interpretations. In
modern day, our views on what is appropriate love is much different from
the views from the time of Socrates and Plato. To them love was eros, a
direct translation of the word love.
However, the word itself wasn't the only thing that was different about
love. In Plato's "Symposium", there is a celebration for Agathon. He had
just won a dramatic contest in Athens, Greece two nights ago. It is
customary to drink much wine at these gatherings, however, every one
present is too weak from the night before. (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. xiii)
So a proposition is made, by Phaedrus, to properly give praise to the god
Eros, and speak on the topic of love. It was their opinion that no poet
has yet been able to properly do so. (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 7) There
were a total of seven accounts given in praise of eros, by seven
different people who are present at the party. Of these accounts, the one
that made the most sense was the speech of Socrates when he quotes
Diotima. This account is practical, and shows love not as a heavenly
creature, but as a mortal being, where we can interact with him. It also
has answers that most of the other accounts could not even question. This
is what stands the speech of Socrates and Diotima apart from most of the
others. But, there were two other speeches that were also impressive and
brought about points that Socrates did not make. These accounts were
given by Aristophanes and Agathon. Through these three speeches, we can
get a good picture of what eros is. Starting with the most complete
account: Socrates and Diotima; and moving through Aristophanes and then
Agathon, this paper will show why these accounts are superior, and why
Socrates' makes the most sense.
After Agathon's speech, it was Socrates' turn to present his account of
eros. But before he does, he tells Agathon that his speech was marvelous
and that at one time, Socrates also believed in what Agathon believed.
That was until a women named Diotima taught him the real truth in eros.
It is however, believed, that Socrates made up the character of Diotima,
the reason, though, is unknown. In spite of this, Socrates gives a
remarkable speech that is truly complete. One of the first misconceptions
among all the speakers was the age of the god Love. Many believed him to
the oldest of the gods, thus making him ancient. Diotima knows this is
not true. She speaks of the way Love was conceived, a clever scheme by a
god to escape her misfortunes. It seems the goddess of poverty, Penia
laid down beside Poros and became pregnant with Love (Nehamas & Woodruff,
pg.48) This makes Love unique. Love is good, though, because he is a
lover of wisdom, that is, he pursues the notion of philosophy. But, he is
in between wisdom and ignorance (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 49), according
to Diotima, which is much different an account from the other speakers.
Phaedrus had placed Love at the top of all gods, describing ways in which
Love "breathes might into some of the heroes," (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg.
10). This is untrue. However, Diotima speaks of ways in which love helps
human beings. This happens when the love for things like sports or poetry
helps a person create something from nothing. Love is a word used to
describe the whole, where there are special parts of love used to
describe specific passions and possessions. (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 51).
And love is wanting to posses the good forever (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 52) Finally we see the main points in Diotima's argument when she
accurately describes the real purpose of love. It is almost like a
natural instinct. All animals, including humans, have a need to
reproduce. The real purpose in love is giving birth in beauty, whether in
body or soul (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg.53). This means that the pregnant
person causes the baby, or new born idea if the birth resulted from the
soul, to be beautiful because all new borns are beautiful and this is as
close as a mortal may get to immortality. By producing offspring, the
human being continues life forever. By this, we see what it is that love
wants as well. And that is reproduction and birth in beauty (Nehamas &
Woodruff, pg. 53) to continue the love, and retain possessions that have
been acquired through the good.
Diotima had briefly referred to aspects in her story that closely
resembled the account of Aristophanes. Aristophanes also gave a vivid
account that had brought up arguments that were very interesting. They
were somewhat different from Diotima's, but nonetheless, they were good.
Aristophanes believed in human nature. No one else had spoke of this. To
Aristophanes, there were three kinds of human beings. To the others,
there were only two kinds (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 25) Aristophanes
described the way humans were. They were completely round, spherical, had
four hands and four legs, two faces and two sets of reproductive organs.
The three kinds were male and male; female and female; and a special kind
of mix of male and female (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 25) These being
presumable were too out of control. The gods needed to contain them in
order to be served by them. So Zeus had split each human into two halves,
making two distinct people (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 26) Now, each person
had a feeling that they were incomplete. They longed for their other
half. This is their source, and now ours, for desire to love. They spent
their lives searching for that other person to complete the circle.
Hence, love is born into every human being to go find their other half,
this is our nature (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 27). This idea helps
Aristophanes describe the male/female love, because to him, it is of the
lowest type of love. But for modern society, it helps describe the male/male and female/female love. This idea makes sense to the members of
the party. It truly explains why men would love women, and not just keep
them to procreate. When the two halves find each other, it is said that
something miraculous happens. They fall in love, and never wish to be
separated again. It is almost like they become a single person again.
Those men that were split from another man, according to Aristophanes,
are the most manly in their nature (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 27). He says
that he can prove it because those are the boys that are politicians
(Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 28) However, this part of Aristophanes argument
has no real proff behind it. There is no way of measuring human nature,
and so, there is no way of telling which type of human being each boy
descended from, whether it be a male to male relationship, or a male to
female relationship. This problem in Aristophanes argument brings about
another oversight. He claims these men have no interest in marriage and
reproduction (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 28) This however, would go against
what is good. It is good to produce offspring, we see this in Diotima's
account, but for Aristophanes, this does not seem to be a case of good or
bad. Aristophanes definition of Love is that it is the name we give for
our pursuit of wholeness with our other halves. It is our desire to be
complete (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 29). This is a very accurate statement,
in light of what Aristophanes is arguing for. This is very much different, however, then the characteristics Agathon gives to Love. Agathon does not think that there is a single idea for love, but that it encompasses many related characteristics.
As Agathon first speaks, he wishes to celebrate the gods, not
congratulate mankind as his predecessors have done (Nehamas & Woodruff,
pg. 32) Agathon states that Love, is the youngest of all the gods. To
defend this, he claims that Love is always within young people and is one
of them. Therefore, he stays young forever. The proof here is that the
violent deeds done in the past were before Love was created, and taken
his throne of king of the gods (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 33). Love's
character was noble and moral. He contained four virtuous
characteristics: justice, moderation, bravery and wisdom (Nehamas &
Woodruff, pg. 34). In justice, Love could not be harmed by violence, and
this was further proof of his age and his position as king of the gods.
Love was moderate in that he took power over pleasure. By this, Love had
power over pleasure, because the greatest of all pleasure was love
(Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 35). In other words, Love was a fitting king,
according to Agathon. In bravery, Love had a hold on everyone, gods and
humans alike. Bravery is related to power, and with this hold, Love is
the bravest (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 35). Of all four characteristics,
the one that shows proof of Love's goodness towards humans. In wisdom,
one can teach another, whatever the task may be. Love gives this wisdom,
for it is a love for something that allows us to learn from it, this is a
technical skill that Love offers (Nehamas & Woodruff, pg. 35) Agathon's
account of Love is very good. He backs up his claims with popular belief.
But, what was right to them, may not seem correct to us, and this is a
problem that arises with Agathon's speech.
In the times of Socrates and Plato, eros was a much different word then
it's translation: love. He have seen how love takes the shape of a god,
and how it has influenced the evolution of human kind. In the
"Symposium", Socrates gives the most sensible account of eros when he
quotes Diotima , even though to this day, it is unclear whether Diotima
was a fabrication to fit Socrates' needs when discussing love. The speech
of Aristophanes was also worth noting, as he had brought up the point of
human nature, the only speaker to do so. As well, Agathon had a very
complete speech, he chose to describe the god Love in terms of his moral
character and his virtues. These three accounts were the best of all that
were offered. Socrates was the superior one to the other two, but
nonetheless, the speeches of Aristophanes and Agathon were complete.
Together, these three accounts form a very good picture of eros, one that
shows every aspect of what eros truly is.
Nehamas, A. & Woodruff, P. "Symposium", Hackett Publishing Company,
Indianapolis, Indiana, 1989
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