Higher Love In The Symposium And Confessions
Essay, Research Paper
Love as a Higher Form
Love has always been a sensation that has both mystified and captured humanity. It is a unique emotion and, while it means something different to everybody, it remains to all a force that is, at its purest form, always one step above mankind. In love s ability to exist differently from person to person, one can find love to be a conglomeration of different branches. It can be said that there are six such categories: Agape, a love which sets store on physical attraction in order to remain all-giving and intense; Eros, a love based on high passion; Storge, a love that is friendship-based and down to earth; Pragma, the searching for a partner to build a life with; Ludus, a love that is low on emotional feeling and high on sexual tendencies (often involving several partners); and Mania, a type of love that dwells on jealousy and possessiveness while creating an experience of great emotional highs and lows (Gayton v). Some branches of love are negative and unhealthy, while others remain positive and strong. One s opinion of love in general is often based one which branches of love he or she has encountered. This can best be seen when analyzing Plato s Symposium and Augustine s Confessions; because their visions of love were of different branches, their opinions on the value of love differ greatly. Plato s understanding of the concept of love leaned towards the branch of Eros, while Augustine s love was more Ludus based.
In Saint Augustine s pubescent age he resigned himself to the urgings of the flesh, as he speaks about in Book II of Confessions. All too quickly he plunged deeply into the pleasures of fornication, and nobody was able to save him from this early mistake for his parents were more focused on his education. These sexual escapades continued right through his late teenage years in Carthage where, while he was sophisticated, many of his friendships involved sex as an inner core. He took upon a mistress, not to love, but to enjoy sexual life with. His entire idea of love was, in fact, only a small branch of love. He had given into the concept of Ludus very heavily, for he d had diverse partners and was wary of any emotional intensity with them. And although he grieved at fictitious characters that had found true love in the theatre or in books, he never set out to find such true love within his own life. Even when he had a child and settled down he found little passion or romance because, during the time in which he lived, such things were not necessarily associated with marriage. Marriage during his time period had the simple purpose of procreation and little more. Augustine had not been able to find a love that was emotional enough and, because love to him was so sexual, he rejected it as having any use other than procreation. He had only found the Ludus branch of love and, when looking back upon it much later in his lie, found it to be wasteful and nothing more than a distraction from the ways of the Lord.
While Augustine saw love to be Ludus at its greatest, the men of the Symposium understood a great deal more about how love was not a distraction from the ways of higher beings, but a ladder to such higher power. The first true example of the dialogue s main message can be seen in the speech of Aristophanes. Because Aristophanes speech is one that Socrates does not rip to shreds, he either agrees with it in some sense or simple does not take it seriously enough to debate. Being a comic playwright, Aristophanes constructs a fancy story about how all humans were once of two heads, four arms, four legs, and complete spirit until Zeus split them apart. Because of this, two beings which were once split apart wish to become one again. His message, while humorous, makes a valid statement that is very Agape-like: love is the taking of a state of incompleteness and becoming more complete through what two people can give each other. Socrates continues this thought in his speech when he speaks of what he had learned from Diotima. To Socrates love is a journey that ascends to the limits of a mystic vision; it is a climb up the scale of reality where one s ordinary existence becomes supreme and timeless. This is the very essence of an Agape-like type of love, where a human is able to give selflessly and very intensely in order to prove to himself or herself that they have the substantial ego strength that a fully Eros-based love requires. Agape requires a lot of stamina and endurance to proceed through fully but, when one has succeeded, he can see that they have climbed up the ladder to the mystic vision that Socrates spoke about.
It is this reason that Socrates was exposed to an Agape-type of love that he found love to be a positive type of thing rather than the horrible act that Augustine looked upon it as. This is proved by earlier speeches in the dialogue where the various speakers talk about homosexual love, which to them is the highest type of love that can exist. It may be said that the body is not primarily designed for homosexual intercourse, so more than just sexual contact must exist in a relationship between two men. And because the two men would not be focusing on their sexual relationship, the Ludus branch of love, they are one step above on the ladder to reach a more Agape related sort of love. Those in the dialogue find sexual encounters to be little more than a stepping-stone to what can ultimately be achieved, and because Augustine did not know what lay beyond these sexual escapades he was not able to see the higher forms of love that the men of the Symposium spent so long trying to achieve. Augustine s problem was that he had come into contact with the wrong type of love. It was his first impression of love that made him discard the possibility of love as a method to a higher plane. Had he been able to see beyond just the sexual tendencies of Love, he might have given the emotion more credence.
At the end of both Confessions and the Symposium, both Socrates and Augustine have discarded physical love as being a priority. Both do agree that a higher spiritual form is beyond physical love, and it is a true enlightenment that is without form. Both men have found a path to such enlightenment, but through different methods: Socrates feels that love without sexual contact is a path towards higher being, and Augustine feels that sexual contact only hinders the ability to reach such enlightenment. The reason that Augustine believed that love was not a stepping stone to higher reality was because he had come into contact with the wrong type of love. His first impression of love was what made him discard the possibility of love being a part of the progression to spirituality that Socrates spoke of. Had he been able to see beyond just the sexual tendencies of love, he might have given the emotion more credence.