Plato’s Symposium known as one of the philosophies most famous pieces of literature delves into the discussion of love and what its true meaning is. Presented as a series of speeches, Symposium works to continuously build and argue the different opinions of love and its origins. Despite its name, Plato’s symposium attributes itself to presenting these speeches soberly and hierarchically, illustrating the discussion at a party at Agathon’s celebrating the triumph of his first tragedy. As they conduct one speech after the next, each guest corrects the previous speaker, allowing the reader to make distinctions and connections between each speech. The aim of each speaker at Agathon’s symposium is to create a distinct depiction that love, commonly referred to as Eros, is a good thing with good effects.
This essay will compare and analyze the two speeches presented by Agathon and Socrates, in which both begin with a similar idea behind the nature of love but differ in approaches in thinking. This comparative analysis will work to point out the similarities and differences throughout the speeches and further elaborate on the flaws Socrates points out in the general themes throughout the evening. Creating the distinction that one may be philosophical while the other is not. The symposium is a crucial element in philosophical literature as its different analysis helps the reader to decide the truth of the nature of love and as a whole, as well as gather a deeper understanding of Plato’s ethics on love.
Few similarities connect Agathon and Socrates’ speeches; however, there is a basic commonality between the two. Agathon and Socrates approach the idea of love by turning its attention from the effects that love has formally discussed by the other speakers to the nature of love itself. Agathon points out the need for such a distinction and begins his speech by criticizing the earlier ones for focusing on the benefits that come from Eros rather than the character of the god himself, and with this, it establishes the bases for the final speech. Similarly, both Agathon and Socrates focus on love as a higher, more spiritual sense of the word, comparative to their counterparts who focused on the physical and ethical aspects instead. Agathon states that love “is the happiest because he is the most beautiful and best.”( ) as he is referring to love as a god. However, this is where the similarities between the two end, and Socrates continues to the next part of his speech through a critical and cross-analysis of Agathon’s statements.
Socrates begins his speech by admitting that some of what Agathon says is true, regarding his references to the deity of Eros, and that his speech was indeed beautiful (198b), but clarifies that Agathon is missing a crucial element and understanding behind the concept. Socrates’s speech on love is the main act of the Symposium and works to correct Agathon’s beautiful but one-sided speech on the true nature of love. Agreeing with Agathon that love is deeply connected to the ideas of goodness and beauty, Socrates insists that the connection is not as simple as being good and beautiful, as Agathon suggests. Within Agathon’s speech, he fails to understand that love is, in fact, a love of something, “that love desires that which it loves” and love lacks in what it desires “but Eros seeks the beautiful and the good, which he consequently does not yet possess (199c–201c).” Thus, Socrates emphasizes that love cannot be beautiful if love does not, in fact, possess beauty.
Throughout Socrates’ speech, we begin to understand there is one last similarity between Agathon and Socrates, that Socrates once had a similar stance to love as Agathon, until having a conversation with a woman named Diotima, a priestess who taught him the true nature of love.
Diotima taught Socrates the truest nature of love in the most philosophical sense and stating that since love’s object is beautiful and good, it must be deficient in beauty and goodness - the entire basis behind Socrates’ speech. Diotima taught Socrates that love has a much higher meaning than just desiring what love lacks, and depicts love as literal procreation in the means of immortality, that death and renewal is a part of life and that the true meaning of love is the reproduction and birth in beauty. It is with this that the conversation reaches a climax where Socrates has finished his recollection of this conversation and his final consensus on the subject, and Agathon, admits to creating a speech that disregarded his true beliefs.
Thus, Plato’s Symposium begs the reader to ask, whose speech is most correct? While there is no clear answer to this, and one’s perceptions of the idea may impact their opinion, we can agree that the notion of love or the nature of Eros is not a simple one. The reader understands - through Socrates’ reiteration of Diotima’s speech as well as the other speeches of the evening - that love is a much more complex theory than can be explained in just one conversation. Socrates’ depiction of the nature of love, with the added development by Diotima, illustrates the most relevant version of love that is still present today. While both Agathon and Socrates’ speech has an element of truth to them, Agathon misses the crucial idea that not only is love beautiful or good, and not only does love do the beautiful or the good, but love also loves the beautiful and the good. It is through Socrates’ speech that one understands that love is much more than just loving someone or something.
Love is the pursuit of something not already attained; It is a growth and a hierarchical process that continuously strives to reach its highest form. The nature of love, Eros, is something that you can never have as you are constantly searching for it, and Socrates concludes that this never-ending search for love and beauty is, in fact, the nature of philosophy - the nature of love is to find beauty and wisdom, to chase after immortality, and comes in many forms that are encompassed in the desire for good things. These ideas are as true today and are one reason Plato’s Symposium continues to be one of the most famous pieces of philosophical literature.
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