Plato Symposium, Book Review Example
Words: 1122Book Review
The book of Plato’s symposium ( drinking together) reflected upon a party in Athens where fellow male scholars indulged in a banquet and bouts of drinking. These were mostly private affairs held in the homes of distinguished people. Guests would vary from a few people up to larger parties of maybe 20 people. Couches were arranged in a circle that would enable the guests to indulge in song and conversational debate. This would often involve speeches or mock orations. Plato set the scene by a complex framing narrative which depicts the event sometime after 385 BC. In theory the symposium itself was in the year 416 BC, the year after the first victory of Agathon in the Dionysia. (The Open University)
The First Speech – Phaedrus
Phaedrus extols the virtues of the God Eros, being one of the oldest and most venerable Gods. He stated that Eros came into being after Chaos. Eros bestowed the greatest benefits upon mankind as he provided the bond between lover and beloved. He stated that there is no greater benefit for a boy than the ability to become a worthy lover. Equally for a beloved to have loved on worthy of him. This is a noble bond for neither will wish to betray the other and be caught in a shameful act doing so. Phaedrus stated that such bondage was so powerful that if an army of men were united in such a way they would be invincible. It is true than only lovers will sacrifice their lives for one another.
Phaedrus was criticised for being imprecise about his meaning of Eros and failed to explore the fact of sexual desire and fulfilment, assuming everyone knows. He diminished the subject of Eros in defining him purely as an object of sex. There were also a number of illogicalities in Phaedrus speech. His claim that Eros did not have any parents; however an account of the parentage of Eros is discovered in Alcaeus.
The Second Pausanias’ Speech
Whilst Phaedrus focused only on the benefits of Eros, Pausanias probed in more detail looking at the bad side. He mentioned that Phaedrus had failed to mention the other God connected with Eros, that of Aphrodite. Aphrodite being the goddess of sexual fulfilment (intercourse). He made the point that as the gods were so closely intertwined that without sex there can be no desire. Pausanias identified two attributes to both sex and desire; those inspired by Eros and only interested in sexual gratification; essentially based upon lust and only directed towards women, men and young boys. The other relates to that of a lifelong commitment (marriage) inspired by heaven. Pausanias continues by contrasting the behaviour of Greeks in the different Cities and the attitudes of the people. Phaedrus was more subtle in the delivery of his speech than Pausanias, however the theological viewpoints seem somewhat confused in terms of their being two gods i.e. Eros and Aphrodite.
The Third Eryximachus’ Speech
This was a complex speech whereby Eryximachus extended the concept of good and Bad in Eros, beyond that of Pausanias speech. He considered this in reflection of the values of human life and how the conflicting elements are brought into some form of holistic harmony. As Eryxmichhus was a medical Doctor, he related this in context with the ancient Greek medicine wheel, where he first considered the medicinal attributes and then the human body. He stated that Eros tried to maintain balance between Hippocrates four humours. Much of this lacks clarity of purpose or meaning and then he proceeds to discuss education, meteorology and the divinity.
The critics see Eryxmichus as a pompous person wrapped up in the self-importance of his speech. He somewhat stumbled his way into trying to explain Eros in the context of a universal principle.
The Fourth Aristophanes’ Speech
Aristophanes points to a time when men would be twice what they are now. He depicts them with two heads looking in different directions. Essentially two human bodies that had been joined together. This breed of men became arrogant and challenged the gods and as a punishment Zeus split them in half , as such reducing their power in half. This distressed the humans so much that they went around searching in agony for their other halves. It was only finding the other half that enabled you to have an intense and lifelong partnership. He eluded to mismatches that took place referencing Lesbians and Prostitutes. He eluded that only Eros could help us find our other true halves and that we need to maintain the respect for the Gods or risk being chopped up again.
This speech questions whether Plato is trying to introduce a comic interval into the symposium by making it less contrived; essentially as this speech is full of irrelevancies and strays from the main theme of the discussion.
The Fifth Agathon’s Speech
Agathon spends time talking with Eryximachus and Socrates before he begins his speech by criticising the others who have gone before him. He points out many contradictions in the speeches that have gone before him. For example Phaedo claimed Eros was the youngest not the oldest of the Gods. He asserts that no pleasure is stronger than love and therefore it asserts mastery over all other subjects. In this sense love is sublime. He questioned that Eros was lampooned in lacking wisdom, yet all who are touched by his virtues achieve greatness and become poets, musicians and artists. Such people become inspired for a desire for beauty.
The Sixth Socrates Speech
Socrates offers faint praise for the speech by Agathon but open by teaching his approach of leading students to the acquisition of knowledge by questioning. Socrates offers an outstanding display of logic. Socrates reveals his teaching handed down to him from Diotima – The fact that Eros is neither good nor bad but resides somewhere between these two extremes. As such performs the role of mediator between man and the gods. Socrates uses a profound sense of logic in order to justify the words of Diotima and as such Socrates points towards the honour for Love’s power and courage.
The Seventh Alcibiades Speech
Alcibiades enters the forum in a drunken state and diverts the context of the speech away from Eros and love but to the virtues and praise of Socrates. He describes his own infatuation with the brilliance of Socrates and rejects jibes that he wishes to become his lover. He praises the courage of Socrates in battle and how he induces such strong wisdom through simple words.
At the end the speech of Alcibiades is met with profound laughter. Socrates accused him of mischief making between Agathon and himself. At this point the meeting is interrupted by revellers and people start to depart and drink more.
The Open University. Platos Symposium. 17 11 2011. <http://platosymposium.wordpress.com/>.
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