Plato’s text the Symposium presents different cosmological perspectives, that is to say, varied perspectives on how the universe is ordered. In Socrates’ account of cosmology, he relies upon the teachings of Diotima, a female philosopher whose cosmological vision is above all determined by love, more specifically, one may be called an “intimate hierophany” that recalls the individual’s subjective ascension through a cosmological hierarchy. In this regard, Diotima’s views on this cosmology of love may be brought into focus through a comparison with the views presented at the Symposium by Eryximachus, in so far as the latter, although he does also confer love a central role in his cosmology, does not pursue such a path of “ascension”, but instead looks at how love can “cure” the body, thus making an emphasis on the bodily and the immanent as opposed to a transcendence as in the case of Diotima. In other words, the two’s cosmologies appear to break on the point of hierarchy and hierophany, which the following essay will attempt to develop in respect to both viewpoints. Furthermore, it will be argued that Eryximachus’ cosmology is favorable, to the extent that it provides an account that is more consistent with the value of our “immanent lives.”
The difference between the two cosmologies appears most explicitly in terms of such a concept of hierarchy. As Socrates recounts Diotima’s viewpoint, he emphasizes that Diotima feels that love is an “intermediary” spirit. Therefore, we see that Diotima’s cosmological structure is based on a hierarchy, namely, between the mortal and the immortal. Love is a bridge between the mortal and the immortal. Thus, in Diotima’s framework it can even be said that to the extent that love is desirable, therefore, it is desirable for the human being to transcend his or her own limit and mortal limitations and “ascend” up the hierarchy to the immortal. In Diotima’s scheme, therefore, what is important is the form of social organization to the cosmos, whereby there are higher and inferior forms of being. The ascension which is made possible by love means that man should not be content with the inferior form of being, but instead become transformed, in the direction of the immortal.
This is immediately contrasted by the cosmology of Eryximachus who, based upon his interest in medicine, can be said to emphasize the mortal body above all, but not only that, but the immanent world. This is because Eryximachus argues that love does not only extend to the human, but to all things. (Plato, 442) Eryximachus in other words conceives of love as a type of “intimate hierophany”, just like Diotima, but with an entirely different purpose: the purpose is here, following Eryximachus’ background in medicine, to heal and cure the body. Thus, the element of hierarchy clear in Diotima’s account is replaced in Eryximachus’ account with an emphasis on the individual immanent body: it is not about ascension, but instead about the need to purify or heal how one exists now. In this cosmology, in a sense we are our bodies: love is a way of making sure this existence is lived to the utmost.
Perhaps in this regard Eryximachus’ cosmology is more compelling to the extent that it does not devalue our present existence in terms of some hierarchy that stresses the importance of another realm of being, as with Diotima. Both feature love as a clear principle in their cosmologies, playing roles of inner hierophany. But Eryximachus is more concerned with making our being “healthy” and “cured”, as opposed to shedding this being for an ascent as is Diotima’s argument. Simply put, Eryximachus’ cosmology praises the love of this life and its importance because of his lack of emphasis on cosmological hierarchy, while Diotima devalues this life in favor of “the immortal.”
Plato. The Symposium. Accessed at: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/1600/1600-h/1600-h.htm