The Symposium



The philosopher Socrates attended a drinking party or symposium at the home of the tragic poet Agathon, whose tragedy had just been honored by a first prize in the competition in Athens. The party, in fact, was in celebration of his victory. The guests decide to spend the evening delivering speeches in praise of Eros, the Greek god of Love. Our selection includes the speech of Agathon himself, followed by Socrates' response. Agathon and Socrates each address their speeches to another character present, Phaedrus, who originally made the suggestion that encomia should be delivered to Love. One of Socrates' followers, Aristodemus, who was present at the party, reports what happened there.

Agathon's speech:

"I would like to say first how I ought to speak, and then to speak. All the previous speakers, instead of praising the god Love, appear to me to have congratulated human beings on the goods which the god causes, instead of saying what sort is he who gives these gifts. I prefer to praise the god first, and then speak of his gifts; this is always the right way of praising anything. Although all the gods are happy, Love, if I may say so without impiety or offense, is the happiest of all, since he is the most beautiful and the best. And he is the most beautiful, for, in the first place, he is the youngest, and he himself proves his youth, fleeing old age, which is swift enough, swifter than it should be. Love hates him and will not come near him. But Love always accompanies the young, and is himself young, for the old saying is correct, 'like approaches like.' Many things were said by Phaedrus about Love with which I agree, but I cannot agree that he is older than Iapetus and Cronos. I maintain him to be the youngest of the gods, and forever young. The ancient doings among the gods of which Hesiod and Parmenides spoke, if they are true, were done of Necessity and not Love. Had Love been among them, there would have been no chaining or mutilation of the gods, or other violence, but friendship and peace, as there is now since Love became king of the gods.

"Love is young and also tender; he ought to have a poet such as Homer to describe his tenderness. Homer describes Ate, a goddess, as tender. Her feet, at any rate, are tender: 'Tender are her feet, Not on the ground she walks but on the heads of men.' He gives an excellent proof of her tenderness in that she walks not upon the hard but upon the soft. Let us adduce a similar proof of the softness of Love: he walks not upon the earth, nor yet upon skulls of men, which are not very soft, but in the characters and souls of gods and human beings, which are of all things the softest. In them he walks and dwells and makes his home. Not even in every soul, for where he finds a hard character he departs, and where he finds a soft one he dwells. As he is always touching with his feet and in all manner of ways the softest of the soft, he must be most tender.

"Besides being youngest and tenderest, he also is of supple form. Otherwise he could not enfold all things, nor wind his way unobserved into and out of every soul. A proof of his suppleness and symmetry of form is the harmony of his figure, which is generally admitted to be the case. Lack of harmony and love are always at war with each another. The fairness of his complexion is revealed by his living among the flowers. He dwells not amid bloomless or fading beauties, whether of body or soul or anything else, but wherever a place is blooming and scented he settles and remains.

"Concerning the beauty of the god this is enough, although many things are omitted. Of his virtue I have now to speak: the greatest thing is that Love neither commits injustice nor suffers it from any god or human being. He suffers not by force if he suffers; force does not touch him, nor when he acts does he act by force. For all willingly serve him in everything, and whatever is willingly agreed, as the kingly laws of the city say, is justice. And not only is he just but exceedingly moderate: moderation is the acknowledged ruler of the pleasures and desires, and no pleasure is stronger than Love. That is, if other pleasures are weaker than Love, they will be ruled by him, and if he rules them he must be moderate indeed.

"As to courage, even Ares [the Greek god of War] is no match for him. Ares is the captive and Love is the captor, for Love, the love of Aphrodite, captures him, as the tale goes. And the captor is stronger than the captured. If Love dominates the bravest of all others, he must be himself the bravest. Of his courage and justice and moderation I have spoken, but I have yet to speak of his wisdom; and to the best of my ability I must try to do so. In the first place he is a poet (and here . . . I honor my own art), and he makes poets of others, which he could not, if he were not himself a poet. At his touch every one becomes a poet, even though he had no music in him before. This also is a proof that Love is a good poet and accomplished in all the fine arts; for no one can give to another that which he has not himself, or teach that which he does not know. Who will deny that the creation of the animals is the work his wisdom, through which the animals are born and grow? And as to the arts, do we not know that whomever this god teaches becomes renowned in his craftsmanship and whomever he does not touch remains obscure? The arts of archery, medicine, and divination were invented by Apollo, under the guidance of desire and love; so that he too is a student of Love, as are the Muses in music, Hephaestus in black smithing, Athena in weaving, and Zeus in ruling over gods and human beings. And so when Love came to be among them, the affairs of the gods were ordered out of a love of beauty, for there is no love present in ugliness. In the days of old, as I began by saying, dreadful deeds were done among the gods, for they were ruled by Necessity; but now since the birth of Love, and from the Love of the beautiful, has sprung every good for gods and human beings.

"Therefore, Phaedrus, I say of Love that he is the most beautiful and best in himself, and the cause of what is most beautiful and best for others. And it occurs to me to speak in meter, Love is the one who creates 'peace among human beings and calm on the open sea and with the winds, and sleep for care.' He empties us of alienation, fills us with intimacy, arranges our coming together at gatherings such as this; in festivals, dances, and sacrifices, he is our guide, supplying gentleness, banishing wildness; loving giver of kindness and never of unkindness, gracious, good; a sight for the wise, admirable to the gods; envied by those who have no share of him, and precious to those who do; father of luxury, splendor, glory, graces, yearning, and longing; caring for the good, with no care for evil; in toiling, fearing, longing, speaking, the best governor, mariner, fellow fighter, and savior; glory of gods and human beings, the fairest and best leader, whom every man must follow, sweetly singing in his honor and joining in the song Love sings as it charms the thought of gods and human beings.

"Such is the speech, Phaedrus, partly playful, partly in measured seriousness, which, according to my ability, I dedicate to the god."

Socrates' Speech

When Agathon stopped speaking, all present applauded vigorously, as the youth was thought to have spoken in a manner worthy of himself, and of the god. And Socrates, looking at Eryximachus [another guest at the symposium], said: "Tell me, son of Acumenus, was my fear groundless and am I not prophetic when I said that Agathon would make a wonderful oration, and that I should be at a loss?" "The part about Agathon," replied Eryximachus, "was prophetic, that Agathon would speak well, but, not the other part, that you would be at a loss." "Why, you happy fellow," said Socrates, "must not I or anyone be at a loss after his rich and varied speech? Although the rest was not quite so wonderful, the bit at the end, who would not be thunderstruck on hearing the beauty of its words and phrases? When I reflected that I would be unable to speak so beautifully, I was ready to run away for shame, if I had any place to go. For I was reminded of Gorgias [a famous foreign rhetorician who taught in Athens], and I was affected according to Homer's saying-that Agathon would send the head of the dread speaker Gorgon and turn me and my speech to stone. And then I realized how ridiculous I had been in agreeing to take my turn with you in praising Love, and saying that I was skilled in matters of love, when I really did not know how anything ought to be praised. For in my stupidity I believed that the truth ought to be spoken about whatever was praised, and that the speaker should choose the most beautiful parts of the truth and set them forth in the most seemly manner. And I felt quite proud, thinking that I should speak well since I knew the truth about praising anything. Whereas I now see that this was not meant by praising, but attributing to the praised the greatest and most beautiful things possible, whether they were so or not. And if the praise were false, it did not matter, for the intention was not to really praise Love, but only to appear to praise him. And so you say that he is of this or that sort, and the cause of so many things, making him appear as beautiful and good as possible, plainly to those who know him not, for you cannot impose upon those who know him. And a beautiful and solemn praise have you uttered.

"But as I did not know the meaning of praise and spoke in ignorance when I said that I would take my turn, I must beg to call it quits, for 'The tongue swore, but the mind did not,' [in the words of the Greek tragedian Euripides]. I do not praise in that way; no, indeed, I cannot. But if you would like to here the truth about love, I am ready to speak in my own manner, though I will not make myself ridiculous by entering into any rivalry with you. Decide then, Phaedrus, whether you would like to have the truth about love, spoken in any words and in any order which may happen to come into my mind at the time."

[Aristodemus] said that Phaedrus and the company bid him speak in any manner which he thought he should. "Then," [Socrates] added, "let me first ask Agathon a few questions, in order that I may take his admissions as the premises of my discourse." "I grant it," said Phaedrus, "put your questions." Socrates then proceeded as follows:

"You made a fine start to your speech, dear Agathon, proposing to speak of what sort of being Love is, and then of his deeds. That is a beginning which I very much admire. And as you have spoken so well and eloquently of the rest, tell me this too, whether love is the love of something or of nothing? I am not asking whether [erotic] love is the love of a father or the love of a mother-that would be ridiculous. But if I asked about a father, whether he is a father of someone. To this you would find no difficulty in replying, if you wanted to give a fine reply, that a father is the father of a son or daughter. Isn't this so?" "Very true," said Agathon. "And you would say the same of a mother?" He assented. "Yet let me ask you one more question in order that you might better understand my meaning. Is not a brother to be regarded essentially as a brother of someone?" "Certainly," he replied. "That is, of a brother or sister?" "Yes," he said. "And now," Socrates said, "I will ask about Love: Is Love of something or of nothing?" "Of something, surely," he replied. "Keep in mind what this is, and only tell me," Socrates asked, "whether Love, which is of something, desires that of which it is." "Yes, surely." "And is it when he has it, or when he does not have it, that which he desires and loves, that he desires and loves it?" "Probably he does not have it," he said.

"Think," replied Socrates, "whether that which desires 'necessarily' rather than 'probably' desires what it is in need of, and does not desire unless it is in need. This seems to me wonderously necessary, Agathon. How does it seem to you?" "I agree with you," he said. "Very good. Would he who is tall, desire to be tall, or strong, if he were strong?" "From what we agreed upon, that would be impossible." "For he who is anything is not in need of what he is?" "Very true." "And yet," added Socrates, "if a man being strong desired to be strong, or being swift desired to be swift, or being healthy desired to be healthy, in these cases and other such cases, those who are such or have such things might be thought to desire something which they already are or have. I give the example in order that we may not deceive ourselves. For in such cases, Agathon, who would desire each of those things that he necessarily has at the moment when, whether he wishes it or not, he has it? Therefore when a person says, I am healthy and wish to be healthy, or I am rich and wish to be rich, and I desire what I have, we should address him, 'Human being, having wealth and health and strength, you want to have them also in the future, since at present, whether you wish to or not, you have them. And when you say, I desire that which I have and nothing else, is not your meaning that you want to have what you now have in the future?' He must agree with us, must he not?" Aristodemus said that Agathon agreed.

"Then," said Socrates, "he desires that what he has at present may be preserved for him in the future, which is equivalent to saying that he desires something which is not at hand for him, and which he does not yet have." "Very true," he said. "So he and every one who desires, desires what is not present, and what he does not have, and what he is not, and what he is in need of-these are the sort of things of which love and desire are?" "Very true," he said.

"Then now," said Socrates, "let us draw up an agreement about the argument. First, love is of something, and of something of which the need is present to him." "Yes," he replied. "Remember further what you said Love to be in your speech, or if you like, I will remind you: you said that matters were arranged by the gods through love of beautiful things, for that of ugly things there is no love. Did you not say something of that kind?" "Yes," said Agathon. "What you say is reasonable, comrade," Socrates said. "And if this is true, Love is the love of beauty and not of ugliness?" He assented. "And it was agreed that what one is in need of and does not have, one loves?" "Yes," he said. "Then Love needs and has not beauty?" "Necessarily," he replied. "And would you call that beautiful which needs and does not possess beauty?" "Certainly not." "Then would you still say that love is beautiful?"

Agathon replied, "I fear that I did not understand what I was saying." And yet you spoke beautifully, Agathon," he said. "But tell me about yet one small point: are not the good also beautiful?" "Yes." "Then in needing the beautiful, since the good things are beautiful, Love needs also the good?" "I cannot refute you, Socrates," he said, "let it be as you say." "Say rather, dear Agathon, that you cannot refute the truth, for Socrates is easily refuted."

"And letting you go for now, I would turn to a speech about Love that I heard from Diotima of Mantineia, a woman wise in this and in many other matters. When the Athenians once offered sacrifice before the plague, she caused the delay of the disease for ten years. She was my teacher in love matters, and I shall repeat to you what she said to me, beginning with the admissions made by Agathon and myself, and I shall try to do it on my own, the best I can. As you, Agathon, suggested, I must speak first of who Love is and what sort he is, and then of his deeds. It seems to me easiest to do this in the same way as the stranger once did in questioning me.

"First I said to her nearly the same sort of things that Agathon said to me, that Love was a great god, and was the love of beautiful things. She then refuted me with the same arguments with which I refuted him, that, by my own argument, Love was neither beautiful nor good. 'What do you mean, Diotima,' I said, 'is Love then ugly and bad?' 'Hush,' she cried; 'must that be ugly which is not beautiful?' 'Certainly,' I said. 'And is that which is not wise, ignorant? do you not see that there is a mean between wisdom and ignorance?' 'And what may that be?' I said. 'Correct opinion,' she replied; 'which, as you know, being incapable of giving an account [or explanation], is not knowledge, for how can knowledge be devoid of reason? Nor again, is correct opinion ignorance, for neither can ignorance hit upon what is. But clearly correct opinion is something which is a mean between intelligence and ignorance.' 'Quite true,' I replied. 'Do not then force,' she said, 'what is not beautiful to be of necessity ugly, nor what is not good to be bad. Since you yourself agree that Love is not good or beautiful, do not believe that he must be ugly and bad, but something between the two.'

"'Well,' I said, 'Love is surely admitted by all to be a great god.' 'By those who know or by those who do not know?' 'By all.' 'And how, Socrates,' she said with a laugh, 'can Love be acknowledged to be a great god by those who say that he is not a god at all?' 'And who are they?' I said. 'You are one, and I am one,' she replied. 'How can you say this?' I said. 'It is easy,' she replied; 'for you yourself would acknowledge that the gods are happy and beautiful-or would you dare to deny that any god is happy and beautiful?' 'By Zeus, no,' I replied. 'And you mean by the happy, those who possess beautiful and good things?' 'Yes.' 'And you admitted that Love, because he is in need of beautiful and good things desires those things of which he is in need?' 'Yes, I did' 'But how can he be a god who has no share in what is either good or beautiful?' 'In no way.' 'Do you see,' she said, 'that you also hold that Love is not a god?'

"'What then is Love?' I asked, 'is he mortal?' 'Hardly.' 'What then?' 'As in the former instance, he is between mortal and immortal.' 'What is he, Diotima?' 'He is a great daemon, and everything daemonic lies between god and mortal.' 'And what,' I said, 'is his power?' 'He interprets and conveys' she replied, ' the prayers and sacrifices of human beings to the gods, and the commands and exchanges-for-sacrifices from the gods to human beings. He is thus in the middle of both, and therefore through him all is bound together, and through him proceeds divination and the art of the priests, their sacrifices and initiations and charms, and all prophecy and magic. For god does not mingle with human beings, but through Love all the intercourse and conversation between god and human, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The one wise in such things is a daemonic man, and while those wise in other things, such as those concerning arts and handicrafts, are mean and vulgar. Now these daemons are many and diverse, and one of them is Love.'

"'And who,' I said, 'is his father, and who his mother?' 'The tale,' she said, 'is rather long; nevertheless I will tell you. When Aphrodite was born, there was a feast of the gods, attended by all the rest of the gods, as well as Resource, son of Metis. When the feast was over, Poverty, as the manner is on such occasions, came about the doors to beg. Now Resource got drunk on nectar (there was no wine in those days), went into the garden of Zeus and fell into a heavy sleep, and Poverty considering her own lack of resources, plotted to have a child by Resource. Accordingly she lay down at his side and conceived Love. Love therefore is [Aphrodite's] follower and attendant, as he was conceived on her day of birth, and he is a lover of the beautiful, for Aphrodite is beautiful.

"'Because Love is the son of Resource and Poverty, his situation is this: In the first place, he is always poor, and anything but tender and beautiful, as the many believe him; and he is tough and squalid, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; exposed on the bare earth, he lies in the open air, in the streets, or before the doors of houses, taking his rest; and like his mother he is always in need. Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles, he is always plotting to trap the beautiful and the good; he is courageous, enterprising, strong, a skilled hunter, always weaving devices, desirous of practical wisdom, inventive; philosophizing throughout life, skilled as a magician, druggist, sophist. He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he has resources, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father's nature. That which is always supplied to him is always flowing out, and so he is never in need and never in wealth; and, further, he is a mean between wisdom and ignorance.

"'It is thus: no god philosophizes or desires to become wise, for he is wise already; nor does anyone else who is wise seek after wisdom. Neither do the ignorant philosophize or desire to become wise. For this is the difficulty of ignorance-that he who is not beautiful or good, not intelligent, is nevertheless satisfied with himself. He has no desire for that of which he feels no need.' 'But who then, Diotima,' I said, 'are the philosophers, if they are neither the wise nor the ignorant?' 'A child may answer that question,' she replied; 'they are those who are between the two. Love is one of them. For wisdom is one of the most beautiful things, and Love is of the beautiful; and therefore Love is also a philosopher or lover of wisdom; and being a philosopher, he falls between being wise and being ignorant. And of this too his birth is the cause, for his father is wise and resourceful, and his mother poor and foolish. Such, dear Socrates, is the nature of the daemon Love.

"'The opinion of Love you had is not surprising, for, as I conjecture from what you say, you believed that the beloved rather than the lover is Love, which made you suppose that love was all beautiful. For the beloved is the truly beautiful, and delicate, and perfect, and blessed; but the one who loves is of another form, and is such as I have described.' I said, 'Stranger woman, you speak beautifully, but, assuming Love to be such as you say, what use is he to human beings?'

"'That, Socrates,' she replied, 'I will attempt to teach you: Love is the sort I have described, and was born as I have said, and he is of the beautiful things, as you acknowledge. But some one will say: "What are these beautiful things, Socrates and Diotima?" Or let me more clearly express it: when one loves the beautiful things what does he love?' I answered her 'That they be his.' 'Still,' she said, 'the answer suggests a further question: What will he have who possesses beautiful things?' 'To what you have asked,' I replied, 'I have no answer ready.'

"'What if someone were to put the word 'good' in the place of the beautiful, she said, and repeat the question once more: "Socrates, what does someone who loves the good things love?"' 'That they be his,' I said. '"And what does he gain who possesses the good?"' 'There is less difficulty in answering that question,' I replied. 'He will be happy.' 'Yes,' she said, 'the happy are made happy by the acquisition of good things. Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires to be happy, the answer is already final.' 'You are right.' I said. 'And is this wish and this love common to all? and do all human beings want the good things to be theirs always? What do you say?' 'The desire is common to all.' 'Why, then,' she rejoined, 'given that all human beings are always loving the same things, why are not all, Socrates, said to love, but only some?' 'I myself wonder,' I said, 'why this is.' 'Don't wonder,' she replied; 'for we separate off from Love one kind of Love and give it the name of Love, imposing upon it the name of the whole, and give other parts other names.'

"'Give an illustration,' I said. 'There is poetry, which, as you know, is complex; and manifold. All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making, and all the productions of art are makings, and the craftsmen are poets [or makers].' 'Very true.' 'Still,' she said, 'you know that all craftsmen are not called poets, but have other names; only that portion of making which is separated off from the rest, and is concerned with music and meter, is addressed by the name of the whole. This alone is called poetry, and they who possess poetry in this sense of the word are called poets.' 'Very true,' I said. 'And the same holds of Love. For Love is the whole desire of good things and of being happy, the great and subtle power Love, but they who are drawn towards him by any other path, whether the path of money-making, or gymnastics or philosophy, are neither said to love nor are they called lovers. The name of the whole is used of those whose affection takes one form only. They alone are said to love, or to be lovers.' 'I dare say,' I replied, 'that you are right.' 'Yes,' she added, 'there is an account that lovers are searching for their other half; but I say that they are seeking neither the half of themselves, nor the whole, unless the half or the whole is also good. And they will cut off their own hands and feet, if they think their own is not good, for they love not what is their own, unless there be some one who calls what belongs to him the good, and what is alien bad. For there is nothing which human beings love but the good. Or do you think that there is there anything?'

"'No, by Zeus,' I said. 'Then,' she said, 'is it not to be said simply that human beings love the good?' 'Yes,' I said. 'To which must be added that they love the good to be theirs?' 'Yes, that must be added.' 'And not only that it be theirs, but that it be theirs forever?' 'That must be added too.' 'Then love,' she said, 'may be described generally as the love of the good's being one's own forever?' 'That is most true.' 'Then if this be love, can you tell me further,' she said, 'what is the manner of the pursuit? what are they doing who show all this eagerness and intensity that is called love? and what is their activity? Answer me.' 'Diotima,' I replied, 'if I could, I should not have wondered at your wisdom, and come to you to learn about this very matter.' 'Well,' she said, 'I will tell you. Their work is giving birth in the presence of beauty, whether of body or soul.'

"'What you mean requires divination,' I said. 'I will make my meaning clearer,' she replied. 'I mean to say, that all human beings conceive in their bodies and in their souls. There is a certain age at which human nature desires to give birth, which takes place in beauty and not in ugliness. The intercourse of man and woman is a giving birth, and is a divine thing, something immortal in what is mortal. It is impossible for this to occur in the inharmonious, and the ugly is always inharmonious with the divine, and the beautiful harmonious. Beauty, then, is the Fate who presides over birth. When approaching beauty, the pregnant becomes glad and, rejoicing, flows over and gives birth and produces offspring. But whenever it draws near to ugliness, downcast and in pain, it contracts and shrivels up, and does not produce offspring. And this is why someone who is pregnant, full to bursting, flutters around beauty, because its possessor can relieve him from labor pains. For Love, Socrates, is not, as you imagine, the love of the beautiful.'

"'What then?' 'The love of engendering and giving birth in beauty.' 'All right,' I said. 'It is more than all right,' she replied. 'And why is Love of engendering?' 'Because engendering is a sort of eternity and immortality, as far as possible for a mortal being,' she replied. 'And, from what has been agreed to, that love is of the good's being one's own forever, desire seeks immortality together with the good. Therefore love is of immortality.'

"All this she taught me at various times when she spoke of love matters. And once she also asked, 'What do you believe is the cause, Socrates, of this love and desire? Do you not see how strange all animals, birds as well as beasts, act in their desire to produce offspring? They are diseased and erotically infected, first concerning intercourse with one another, and then concerning the nurture of what is generated. They are ready to fight to the finish, the weakest against the strongest, for the sake of those they have generated, and even to die for them, and are willingly tormented with hunger or suffer anything in order to nourish their offspring. One might suppose,' she said, 'that human beings do this from reason; but why would the erotic disposition of animals be of this sort? Can you say?' Again I replied that I did not know. She said to me: 'And do you expect ever to become skilled in erotic matters if you do not understand this?' 'But I have told you already, Diotima, this is why I have come to you-knowing that I need teachers. Tell me then the cause of this and of other love matters.'

"'Do not persist in wondering,' she said, 'if you trust that love is by nature as we have often agreed. For here again, by the same argument, the mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be forever immortal. This is only to be attained by generation, because generation always leaves behind another that is young in the place of the old. And even in the life of an individual, although he is a called the same from the time he is a child until old age, he is always becoming young in some ways and suffers loss in other ways-hair, flesh, bones, blood, and the whole body. This is true not only of the body, but also of the soul, whose habits, character, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, and fears, never remain the same, but are always coming to be and perishing. And what is even stranger is that in the case of our knowledge too we are never the same, for our knowledge is ever springing up and decaying. We do what we call study on the assumption that our knowledge is always passing away. Forgetting is the passing away of our knowledge, and studying preserves knowledge by producing a new memory to replace the one departing, so that our knowledge seems the same. In this way every mortal thing is preserved, not by being absolutely the same always, as the divine is, but by leaving behind another that is new and similar in the place of the old. By this device, Socrates, the mortal shares in immortality, both with respect to body and other things, but the immortal has a different way. So do not wonder if everything by nature honors its own offspring, for all this earnestness and love is for the sake of immortality.'

"I wondered at her words, and said: 'Is this really true, wisest Diotima?' And she answered like the perfect sophists, 'Know it well, Socrates, since if you looked at human beings and their love of honor you would be amazed at their irrationality unless you keep in mind what I have said and how terribly they are stirred by the love of renown and establishing their immortal fame for all eternity. They are ready to run risks for this even far greater than for their children, and to spend money and undergo any sort of toil, and even to die. Do you suppose that Alcestis would have died for the sake of Admetus, or Achilles would have died after Patroclus, or your own Codrus would have given his life in order to preserve the kingdom for his children, if they had not believed that the memory of their virtue, which still survives among us, would be immortal? Far from it,' she said. 'I believe that all do all things for the sake of immortal virtue and a famous reputation of that kind, and that the better they are the more they do this, for they desire the immortal. Those who are pregnant in the body only,' she said, 'turn to women and procreate children. This is the way in which they are erotic, providing themselves, they believe, with immortality, memory, and happiness for all future time. But others are pregnant in their souls, for they in their souls more than in their bodies conceive those things which are proper for soul to conceive and bear. And what is appropriate for soul? Prudence and the rest of virtue. It is these things that all the poets and all the craftsmen who are said to be inventors, generate. By far the greatest and the most beautiful part of prudence,' she said, 'is concerned with arranging and bringing order to states and families. Its name is moderation and justice.

"'He who in youth onward is pregnant in his soul with these virtues, if he is divine and comes to maturity, desires to give birth and produce offspring. He goes about in search of the beautiful in which he might generate, for he will never generate in the ugly. Because he is pregnant, he embraces beautiful rather than ugly bodies, and if he finds a beautiful, generous, and gifted soul, he embraces the two [body and soul] together, and to such a one he becomes resourceful in speaking about virtue and what sort the good man must be and what his pursuits should be, and he tries to educate him. In touching and associating with the beautiful, I believe, whom he holds in memory whether he is present or absent, he engenders and give birth to offspring with which he had been long pregnant. And they nurture together what has been generated in common. They have a tie far greater and a friendship firmer than those who have children in common, because the children they share are more beautiful and immortal.

"'When anyone thinks of Homer and Hesiod and other good poets, he would rather have children like theirs than human ones, and would envy them for the offspring they leave behind, who supply them with immortal fame and memory. Or if you wish, she said, think of the children Lycurgus left behind in Sparta, preservers of the Spartans and, so to speak, of all Greece. Solon too is honored among you for begetting laws, and many others in many other places, both among Greeks and barbarians, who have made manifest many beautiful deeds, and have begotten virtue of every kind. Many temples have been dedicated for the sake of such children as theirs, whereas for the human sort none have ever yet been dedicated.

"'Into these love matters, even you, Socrates, may be initiated, but I do not know if you are capable of the greater ones, to which these, if pursued rightly, are the means. But I will tell you. Try to follow if you can. For he who would proceed aright in this matter should begin in youth to visit beautiful bodies, and first, if his guide guides properly, he must love only one such body, and there engender beautiful speeches. Soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one body is akin to the beauty of another; and then if he is to pursue beauty of form, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every body is the same. And when he understands this he will abate his violent love of one, which he will despise and suppose a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful bodies. In the next stage he will consider that the beauty of the soul is more honorable than that of body. So that if someone with a decent soul have but a little youthful bloom, he will be content to love and cherish him, and will search out and give birth to speeches that will make the young better, until he is compelled to behold the beauty in pursuits and laws, and to understand that all this beauty is akin, and that beauty of the body is a trifle.

"'And after these pursuits, he will be led to different kinds of knowledge, that he may see their beauty, being not like a lackey in love with the beauty of one boy or human being, or practice, not a mean and narrow-minded slave, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will give birth to beautiful and magnificent speeches and thoughts in ungrudging philosophy, until there he grows and waxes strong, and at last sees a certain single knowledge that has as its object beauty of the following kind. Try to pay attention to me as far as you are able.

"'He who has been instructed thus far in love matters, seeing beautiful things in due order and succession, when he comes toward the end of erotic matters will suddenly behold a nature of wondrous beauty (and this, Socrates, is that for the sake of which were our former labors). In the first place, it is everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning; secondly, not beautiful in one point of view and ugly in another, or at one time or in one relation or at one place beautiful, at another time or in another relation or at another place ugly, as if beautiful to some and ugly to others, nor in the likeness of a face or hands or of anything else in which body shares, or in any speech or knowledge, or existing in any other being, as for example, in an animal, or in heaven or in earth, or in any other place; but beauty itself for itself and with itself, always of a single form, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things. . . . To proceed correctly, or to be led by another, to erotic matters is to begin from the beautiful things here and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all beautiful bodies, and from beautiful bodies to beautiful practices, and from beautiful practices to beautiful lessons, until from beautiful lessons one arrives at the lesson of beauty itself, and at last knows what beauty itself is.

"'This life, dear Socrates,' said the stranger woman from Mantineia, 'is worth living for a human being, if any is, contemplating beauty itself, which if you once beheld, would seem incomparable to gold, and garments, and beautiful boys and youths, whose sight now entrances you. You and many others would be content to live seeing only the beloved, and always being with him, going without meat or drink, if that were possible. But what if one saw beauty itself, pure and clear, and unmixed, simple and divine, unpolluted with human flesh, and colors, and mortal nonsense? Don't you realize,' she said, 'that in beholding beauty in the way that it can be seen, one will be enabled to bring forth, not phantom images of virtue (for he does not lay hold of a phantom), but true (because he lays hold of the true), and bringing forth and nurturing true virtue, he can become dear to the god and, as far as it is possible for any human being, to become immortal, as well?'

"Such, Phaedrus and you others, is what Diotima told me, and I am persuaded. Being persuaded, I try to persuade others that in the attainment of this, human nature will not easily find a helper better than love. Therefore, every man ought to honor Love, as I myself honor erotic matters, train myself exceptionally in them, exhort others to do the same, and now and always praise the power and courage of love as far as I am able. Regard this speech, Phaedrus, if you wish as an encomium to Love, or if not, call it whatever name you please."

Symposium Questions

Guide to unit 6

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