Symposium Plato Essays

Essay/Term paper: Plato's "the symposium"

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In Greek culture around the time of Plato, the perfect ideal person was considered.
Plato"s idea that there was a perfect world of ideas affected this pieces subject and the
subject"s action. Many works of his time period were sculptures that were meant to be
viewed from all angles, attempting to be a closer match to that of the ideal. This idea that the
ideal world was real and what matter not the physical also effect the actions depicted in
many works of this time period. Most of the works are depicting an ideal Greek person
performing a noble act not just a common act. Many of the works are also just a still image
of a figure from a single moment in time. All of the male sculptures appear in the nude
because they represent a perfect man with nothing to hide. These are some of the artistic
conventions that were influenced by Plato"s ideas. There are many different aspects of
Greek art that can be accredited to Plato for creating. Among them was the "Perfect" figure
that resented the ideal person that existed in the world of ideas. The definition of what a
perfect person was developed by Plato.
Plato believed that the physical world did not matter. It was the form in the ideal
world and this value of form and thought can be seen throughout many of the works of art.
Plato said that in the physical world we did not see the real object we only saw a shadow of
it. The art of this time period showed form and subject that were far more perfect than one
could actually exist in the real would in an attempt to represent the world of ideas. All of
these aspects together confirm that Plato has a major influence on Greek art of the time.
Throughout human existence, the subject of love has also been of great fascination to
many. Questions such as : "What is love?" and "What is the work of love?" are some of
great questions of the universe that has transcended time; yet with no absolute answers.
There is perhaps no correct answers to the phenomena of love. It exists in many strata. It is
perpetually subject to debate, for we all are experts of love in our own rights. In The
Symposium, Plato gave accounts of speeches from different speakers. Yet the focus of this
essay is on Aristophanes and Socrates. Their explanations of love and critical comments to
will be answered to these questions: What is love? How do lovers select their
beloved"s? and What is the work of love?
What is love? In his speech, Aristophanes engages in the discussion of love,
encompassing human nature as whole rather than individualistic aspects. According to a
myth, we were originally created as a single being, united with our beloved. As pairs, we
were quite powerful and chaotic, such that the god had to split us into two. Thereafter, life
became pursuit, a pursuit for the other half, a "pursuit for wholeness, to be complete." And
thesis what Aristophanes defines as love. He believes that love is innate: " love is born into
every human being". He is expressing that the phenomenon of love is as natural and
inherent to us as breathing itself. Like other amenities of life, Love fulfills us. "To be
in love is to see the other individual as a special complement to one's existence." Socrates, on
the other hand, defines love as the desire to possess good and beautiful
entities, which he presently lacks. By a dialectical method, questioning Agathon, he
manifests that love cannot presently possess the object of affection. Even when he desires
what he has, what he really desire is "the preservation of what he now has in time to come,
so that he will have it then." It follows then, that he wants, rather than has the good. Thus,
Love itself is not beautiful. This however, does not imply that Love is ugly or evil. Rather,
Love is in between; just as there is something between wisdom and ignorance- the
right opinion. He is in between mortal and immortal. Thus, Love is an intermediate spirit
who interprets between gods and men. Although there seems to be great disparity between
the two, Aristophanes' and Socrates' speeches actually merge in their paths. Is it not human
inclination to desire goodand beauty? Is it not then, that to have good and beauty is to
embrace it body and soul and never wanting to depart it? Thus, the desire to unite with the
other half is analogous, if not the same to the desire to possess good and beauty, but in a
broader scope. Aristophanes' and Socrates' explanations of love greatly mirror the nature of
our existence today. Love is the knot that binds two people together. Love is having
possession of freedom, which lies, perhaps, in the highest scale of goodness. The Americans
are notorious for their freedom. They have it now. And it is certain that they want to always
possess it.
How do lovers select their beloved"s? The subjects and objects in Aristophanes'
schema of love is confined solely to human beings. The question is then, "how do lovers
select their beloved"s?" According toAristophanes, they choose their original other half.
Since everybody is a matching half of a human whole lovers tend to select what is like
themselves. If a man was originally of the double sort, he will seek a woman to complete
him. If he was split from a male, he will be male-oriented; their choice depends on their
original orientation. In essence, Aristophanes believes that there is someone for everyone and
that the match will fit like that of a substrate and enzyme. In Socrates' scala amoris, the
object of desire, the beloved, is generalized into the categories of goodness or beauty. A man
select a beloved that which ultimately brings him happiness. Thus, the lover can love men,
animals, life, wisdom, or anything which has the predominant characteristic of being good or
beautiful. However, like a religion, he must dedicate himself only to that beloved; "It's only
when people are devoted exclusively to a special kind of love that we use these words, 'love,'
and 'in love'. Aristophanes' discussion of lovers and their beloved"s is orchestrated by his
myth. However, the myth is only an analogy representing his adamant belief that human
beings are incomplete without their beloved"s. Lovers complement each other in many ways.
An idealistic person will compensate for the realist, a romantic complements a stoic,
and same for an optimist and a pessimist. Thus, lovers provide each other balance in life,
which often means one thing..... happiness! The beloved"s in Socrates' speech are symbolic
nature of good and beauty. The lovers are those who desire possession of them. If this is so,
then every human being is a lover; everyone of us is Love. For, we all know what it is to
desire good and beauty. Nevertheless, Socrates installs boundaries and limitations when he
says that people must devote themselves exclusively to the beloved"s; only then are they 'in
love' and are they considered 'lovers.' The love Socrates speaks of is almost absolute and
unconditional. A revolutionist fighting for a cause would be considered a lover; the cause in
which he believes to be good is his beloved. Socrates, however, argues that "a lover does not
seek the half or whole." Thus, he opposes Aristophanes' view. However, in dissecting the
speeches, one can interpret that Aristophanes' "other half" must represent good and beauty.
And the special love Socrates speaks off, in essence, would fulfill and complete his existence.
This may not necessarily be physical complement, but it is indeed, spiritual.
What is the work of love? The central, grandest achievement of love is unity.
Aristophanes believes that the union of lovers and their beloved"s ultimately brings about
happiness. In the myth, Aristophanes tells us that Apollo was commanded to heal the wound
after human beings were split apart and reoriented. Here, he personifies love as a healer. It is
the great work of love that mediates the union between lovers: "love calls back the halves of
our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of nature."
Is he implying that to be incomplete is to be in the state of illness? If so, it is the union
then, that provides the cure. Aristophanes view love as a great god that endow our world
with the greatest gift: unity and therefore happiness. He believes that we must praise Love.
Love draws us towards what belongs us. For the future, Love promises the greatest hope of
all: if we treat the gods with due reverence, he will restore to us our original nature, and by
healing us, he will make us blessed and happy. When Aristophanes say to revere Love, he
may also mean to revere love the phenomenon. For, love is a serious matter. It does
mysterious wonders. Yet in the same token, it can relentlessly bring about great pain and
misery. Thus, Aristophanes is indirectly warning us when he says so, there's a danger
that if we don't keep order before the god, he will split us into two again.
According to Socrates, the great work of love, grander than the union of lovers, is
offspring or immortality and happiness. It is the principle of nature that mortals seek as
far as possible to live forever and be immortal. Socrates explains earlier in the speech that
love is the desire for good and beauty and that one wants to always possess them. Thus, in
the presence of a beautiful body, we naturally want to give birth, to create something
beautiful. Love is not beauty alone, but creation of beauty. By doing so, we have
immortalized the beauty that is present. Thus it is through love, the messenger, that the
divine is born. It is also through love that a vivid painting of Beauty is portrayed for us. It
goes from one beautiful body to manifold other, successively higher. Thus, via Love, we can
become immortal and know Beauty itself. But in order to do so, as stated by Aristophanes,
we must honor the rites of love. We must be true to virtue and nourish it. Socrates states that
to acquire this virtue, "human nature can find no better workmate than Love".
Both Socrates and Aristophanes praise the work of love, however, under the
condition that love is honored. In many respect, love is omnipotent; from it we can extract
the power to pursuit virtue and immortality. It was perhaps from his knowledge of beautiful
bodies that Michaelangelo painted the most exquisite portraits of human anatomy.
Throughout their speeches, Socrates and Aristophanes speak of a recurrent theme of
love; it's ultimate end beatitude. Though, the speeches are set in different regard and
ideologies, they are in many respect, similar. That is , to acquire or unite with good and
beauty to embrace happiness. The speech of Aristophanes indeed, foreshadows that of
Socrates'.
In Greek culture around the time of Plato, the perfect ideal person was also
considered. The piece has a great amount of detail and its weight is shifted from perfect
balance. The subject is depicted in a performing a perfect act. Plato"s idea that there was a
perfect world of ideas affected this pieces subject and the subject"s action. Many works of
this time period were sculptures that were meant to be viewed from all angles, attempting to
be a closer match to that of the ideal. This idea that the ideal world was real and what matter
not the physical also effect the actions depicted in many works of this time period. Most of
the works are depicting an ideal Greek person performing a noble act not just a mundane
common act. Many of the works are also just a still image of a figure from a single moment
in time. All of the male sculptures appear in the nude because they represent a perfect man
with nothing to hide. These are some of the artistic conventions that were influenced by
Plato"s ideas. There are many different aspects of Greek art that can be accredited to Plato
for creating. Among them was the "Perfect" figure that resented the ideal person that existed
in the world of ideas. The definition of what a perfect person was developed by Plato. Plato
believed that the physical world did not matter it was the form in the ideal world and this
value of form and thought can be seen throughout many of the works of art. Plato said that
in the physical world we did not see the real object we only saw a shadow of it. The art of
this time period showed form and subject that were far more perfect than one could actually
exist in the real would in an attempt to represent the world of ideas. All of these aspects
together confirm that Plato has a major influence on Greek art of the time.


 

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  • 1

    Plato's text deals with the complex question of Love. What is Love? How do you achieve it? What is loved? What is Love's purpose?

    Love is in between mortal and immortal, in between beauty and ugliness, and in between wisdom and ignorance. To achieve it, one must complete Diotima’s “Ladder of Love,” to achieve its purpose of giving birth to true virtue, having seen Beauty. Not all accomplish this, but reproduction in body or soul achieve the purpose of Love as well. Interpersonal relationships, that of the lover and beloved, are important in discussing love as well.

  • 2

    What is the relationship between Diotima and Alcibiades’ speech? Why is his entrance significant? How do the first five speeches differ from Diotima’s and Alcibiades’? How are they similar?

    Alcibiades’ entrance juxtaposes the comedic elements of the book against its most serious moment--Diotima’s speech. His speech likens Socrates to Eros, describing Socrates in the way Diotima described Eros. Diotima’s speech reconciles all the contradictions found in the previous five speeches. Alcibiades’ deals on a different subject: praising Socrates. However, all touch on Love and its virtues.

  • 3

    What is function of the frame narrative (Aristodemus told Apollodorus who told a friend...) set up by Plato? Why does he go out of his way to set up this structure?

    The frame narrative distances the reader from the philosophical ideas, so as to reduce the authority of the speakers. They are not meant to be taken as absolute conclusions. It also emphasizes how serious philosophy can be lighthearted, making it more accessible. The layer separating the reader from Diotima also serves to imply that this speech has Plato’s views on love, not Socrates’.

  • 4

    Describe Diotima’s “Ladder of Love.” What does it encompass? What is its ultimate purpose?

    The “Ladder of Love” has multiple steps. First, a person loves one body, and then he finds beauty in all bodies. After this, he must appreciate the beauty of souls over that of bodies. This leads to the love of activities and laws, or customs, leading to the love of certain types of knowledge. It ends in the pursuit of knowledge, or the love of wisdom, which is philosophy. Upon reaching this, the lover will see Beauty in its pure form, and give birth not to an image of virtue, but true virtue.

  • 5

    Describe the nature of the lover/beloved structure in relationships. What is the importance of the relationships between adult and adolescent males in the text and how are they portrayed?

    These relationships are praised as the highest, even though they were under complex customs in Athens, possibly carrying stigma. Male adults and male adolescents in these affairs were described as lovers of pure knowledge. However, they could be praised highly or still take part in vulgar love, according to Pausanias’, depending on their actions.

  • 6

    How is Socrates portrayed in the dialogues?

    Socrates is likened to Eros by Alcibiades in his speech. Several likenesses are paralleled: being between mortal and immortal, in between beauty and ugliness, and in between wisdom and ignorance. Aristodemus’ description of him on their way to Agathon’s also has similarities with Diotima’s description of Love.

  • 7

    What role does homosexuality play in the text? Engage with ideas in the speeches and relationships among the characters.

    This work is the first major philosophical novel to deal on questions of love in Western literature, increasing the importance of having male sexuality praised as the highest form of love. At the time, these relationships, though common, were still complex. Male homosexual relationships are described as being the purest and only males are able to be pregnant in soul and finish the ladder of love. Alcibiades and Socrates’ relationships particularly illustrate the ideas in Diotima’s speech.

  • 8

    What is the role of women in the dialogues? Why is Diotima important?

    Women were generally not present at symposiums, other than as servants, slaves, and flute-girls, and in this case, they were all sent away. Women are also not described as being able to accomplish pure love or Diotima’s ladder. This makes Diotima’s creation by Socrates ironic, especially since she has the highest level of reasoning and leaves the guests in awe.

  • 9

    Why does the final dialogue deal with questions of tragedy and comedy as a genre? How are the two reflected in the text?

    The novel has shifts in tone and genre, particularly evident in the switch of Agathon, a tragedian who gives a comical speech, and Aristophanes, a comic poet who gives a serious speech. This provides serious philosophy in a fun way. It also serves to humanize Socrates, so the reader can think that the qualities of Love he possesses are accessible. Socrates also says in the final dialogue that tragedy and comedy must both be mastered, which is probably an idea Plato wanted to reflect.

  • 10

    Describe and explain the dichotomies in the text.

    The most important dichotomy created is Pausanias’: Common and Heavenly Love. Others include comedy (Aristophanes) vs. tragedy (Agathon), physical vs. spiritual, and drunk vs. sober. Some speakers depend on these more than others, but contradictions run throughout the text, and can be reconciled, as the five speeches are in Diotima’s speech.

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