Plato Symposium Essay, Research Paper
Plato’s metaphor of the divided line is essentially two worlds; the world of opinion (the
physical world or the world of becoming/existence) and the world of knowledge (the world of
knowledge or the world of being/essence). This concept is key to the context of The Symposium:
Love. It is important to note that as the speeches evolve throughout this particular work they
parallel this concept. Plato has, in this writer’s opinion, reinforced his theory through the
speaker’s by outlining the journey from the world of becoming (Phaedrus’ speech) to the world of
being (Diotima’s speech). This being so, Diotima and Socrates (the forms) will be the key focus
for which all previous speakers will ascend each contributing to the absolute.
In the opening this writer found it intriguing that Socrates had a habit of “standing still
wherever he happens to be.” This suggested two things; one (in the world of the senses) he had a
physical condition such as seizures and knew when they were about occur and did not wish to be
ridiculed and two (in the world of intellect) he meditates before speaking to maintain a
metaphysical view point. Agathon suggests the latter in conversation with him. Agathon came
across as immature by suggesting that he could obtain what knowledge/intellect Socrates had
through the senses as well. Yet, he has quite a developed speech, thus basically understanding the
concept of the forms although not as apparent beforehand.
The first argument was delivered by Phaedrus. He states that “Love is a great God…it
inspires courage in which one would die for the other.” Also he references both male and female
love. This writer viewed his outlook as one of bi-sexuality and his definition was based on
physical love. Which he makes the mistake, in Diotima’s words, by taking’ “one kind of love, and
giving it the name of the whole love.”
Pausanias’ speech goes beyond that of Phaedrus and introduces the duality of love. He
introduces Heavenly Aphrodite (heavenly love), which this writer believes equates with
homosexual love, and Common Aphrodite (common love), which would be equivalent to
heterosexual love. Common love according to his view is one that is based on sensuality and
produces children. Heavenly love is based on companionship and involves mental and soul
oriented pursuits. He places a great deal of emphasis on virtue. He goes on to say that heavenly
love is good and only becomes ugly if a lover’s motive is exploitation. Pausanias has brought out
one of Diotima’s major points, the idea of duality in love, although he is not as thorough. His
overall outlook seems to be mainly homosexual, yet recognizes heterosexual love.
Next, Eryximachus speaks. He compliments Pausanias on his explanation of the dual
nature of love and argues that there should be a balance between the two. He elaborates on that
by saying both types are required for a peaceful existence; one can not exist with out the other.
He uses an analogy that equates love with an ailment. It can be removed or implanted. Basically
he alludes to a bond or bridge between the two types of love which Diotima expands on.
Aristophanes finally gets rid of his hiccups. He attempts to explain love by introducing a
myth in which Zeus splits three types of beings, therefore explaining female to female, male to
male and female to male love. The suggestion here is that each single person is always in search
of their other half, thus reuniting to become one soul to reach the forms. Here is the first
mention/ recognition of Lesbianism. The view that is stated love is that is the desire for
essence/forms a unity to meet heaven.
The springboard for Plato’s theory of the forms is the speech of Agathon. The focus of
this speech is that of justice, moderation and wisdom. Stating love is the way by which all living
things are created or produced. This is something that Diotima makes as one of her final points.
That is that love is a creative force it helps mortals reach their potential both within themselves as
well as others.
Each speaker introduced a part of Love expanding on the last building the foundation for
the climax, which takes place through Socrates’ retelling of a memory he had of a woman named
Diotima. This writer believes that there was foreknowledge of the topic to be discussed. With
that, as mentioned earlier, it is believed that Socrates was indeed meditating recalling the
conversation that manifested from within, through a transcendental experience making Socrates as
close to the forms as possible for a mortal. Also, it is believed that Plato chose a woman
consciously to add the essence of irony. A woman had taken on Socrates and out thought him.
In fact it was mentioned in the dialogue that she taught him (according to Socrates) on about
love. Thus, the dialogue between Diotima and Socrates manifests itself. As they produced their
thoughts and conversed, the reader was led to conclude that Diotima was at the highest level of
enlightenment, at least compared to the members within that particular party.
Diotima’s conversation with Socrates seems to take form in three distinct parts. In the
first part, she establishes the concept of duality by distinguishing between moral and divine and
love is a spirit and a bridge or a messenger between the two. She engages with Socrates
challenging his choice of words and shows the connection of spirit, mortal and Gods. She also
states that Love is the son of poor and plenty, stressing love’s dual nature, saying that it springs
from need and lack, yet it can motivate people to strive for great achievement. She ties this all
together by saying a philosopher, like love, is a mean between wisdom and ignorance. She then
concludes by saying that love is a philosopher. In the second part, they both go back and forth
eventually agreeing that love is the love of having the good for oneself always. She goes on to
say that the process of pursuing good is through procreating the desire to be immortal. Going on
to say that love ids a gateway or a bridge connecting the divine and the mortal. The third part of
Diotima’s dialogue takes place well after the previous two. In this piece she draws a map of the
roads immortality and describes two ways to get there through procreation in the body and
through the process of soul growth, this was shown through her discussion of mating urges of the
animal world (basically dismissing that process), but concentrates on the process of soul growth.
Socrates is moved by this because it coincides with his thoughts, also Plato’s. She describes the
process as ascending on a staircase at the top is pure essence, absolute beauty that can only be
perceived by the mind. She finished with the thought that beauty is what makes life worth living
for men. Socrates himself agrees with Diotima by realizing that love is a bridge from the world of
becoming to the world of being.
Finally an ex-lover of Socrates and an acquaintance of Agathon is asking to join in on the
symposium. He is asked (the lover) to stay although drunk. This part of The Symposium is
extremely homosexual and full of metaphors referring to such. This also leads this writer to
believe that Socrates was a feminine homosexual because of two factors: one, Socrates uses or
creates Diatima as his feminine psyche to express deep seeded emotional mentally stressful beliefs;
two, he is afraid of Alcibiades’ statements and asked Agathon to protect him from any harm.
With that this writer would suggest that this duality is consistent with even today’s world.
That is there is good and bad, love and hate, beauty and ugliness. It is a concept that has been a
part of human nature since at the very least Socrates’ time. Love exemplifies the longing to
define the divine within us and to help other realize their potential, as well (although this is not
easy at times). Love helps us find ourselves and the world we live in. If you were to follow
Diotima’s words it’s like climbing a stair case getting to the top slowly, but surely increasing your
understanding of what truly is (the absolutes) for each riser that you step on. I agree with
Diatima that this experience is ultimately the most meaningful of all the human experiences.
This writer was well aware of the sexual overtones that existed throughout this work.
Though, most of them involved Socrates in some way. What was most intriguing is that
Socrates’ whole thought process seemed to be changing to be in agreement with Diatima. This is
very evident in the ending when he discusses the idea that writers of tragedy should be able to
write comedies. It was felt that this was a final reference to love; that is, love brings both
happiness and sadness to it embrace. As the story ends and Socrates goes to his home and bed.
This writer couldn’t help but think that Aristodemus was a lover of Socrates and that Socrates
enjoyed physical love much more than achieving the love of the forms.