Written circa 389BC
Translated by George Theodoridis
All rights reserved
This dialogue takes place in the house of the tragedian and actor Agathon, who was celebrating his win of the 1st prize of Tragedy in Athens.
Apollodorus of Phalerum
A Friend of Apollodorus
Agathon (A tragedian at whose house the symposium is held)
Phaedrus (A man of letters)
Eryximachus (A doctor)
Aristophanes (A playwright of comedies)
Alcibiades (A handsome young man)
Socrates (A philosopher)
At Agathon’s house.
Apollodorus tells his friend how he knew about Agathon’s feast
I believe, my friend, I’m quite well prepared to answer all of your questions today because only a couple of days ago, just as I walked out of my house in Phalerum, heading for the city, I heard a voice behind me. It was that of Glaucon, a friend of mine. He had just caught sight of me and, in a playful voice, he called out, “Hey, you, Apollodorus of Phalerum, hang on a minute!”
So I stopped and waited for Glaucon to catch up with me and when he did he said, “I was only just now looking for you, Apollodorus. I wanted to ask you about the speeches concerning love that were made at Agathon’s house during his banquet. Those speeches made by Socrates, Alcibiades and all the others. Philip’s son, Phoenix told someone else about them and he, in turn told me but the way he told me about it was somewhat unclear. Still, he also told me that you were there too and since these men are all your friends, you’d be the best person to tell me what went on. You were there, weren’t you?”
“Your friend’s story must have been very unclear indeed, Glaucon,” I said, “if after telling it, you concluded that the banquet was a recent event and that I was there.”
“That’s what I thought, too, ” said Glaucon.
“No, that’s totally wrong,” I said. “Agathon has not lived in Athens for many years now. Didn’t you know that? And as for Socrates, I’ve known him for less than three years, so that a meeting joining me with Agathon and Socrates, could not possibly have taken place. And all this time that I’ve known Socrates, I’ve made it my business to know his every utterance and his every deed because until I met him, I was a very sad, a miserable man, indeed!
I thought that I was spending my time well, just wondering all around the world, wherever luck took me but in fact, I was miserable, sad like you, Glaucon! I thought the last thing I wanted was to be a philosopher, a man who goes about chasing after wisdom!”
“Well, then, Apollodorus,” Glaucon said, “skip the teasing and tell me when this feast of Agathon’s did in fact take place!”
“It happened, ” I told him, “when we were still kids. Agathon and his chorus had just won the First Prize with his first ever tragedy and the next day he had that feast to celebrate the victory.”
“So, it was a long time ago then, ey? Who told you about it, Socrates?” Asked Glaucon.
“Zeus, no,” I said. “In fact it was the man who had told it to Phoenix, himself! A short man who never wore any shoes, by the name of Aristodemus, from the Cydathenaeum district. He was there, at that feast and, those days Aristodemus was Socrates’ greatest fan. Then I’ve also talked with Socrates and asked him if Aristodemus’ story was true and he said that it was.”
“Ah, let me hear the full story from the beginning then,” Glaucon said. “After all, the road to the city is just perfect for a long chat.”
And so, we walked and we talked about those speeches and that’s why I said to you at the beginning that now I am well prepared to answer all the questions you want to ask me about that night. It would please me well, in fact, to go over them all again for you, if you like. I get a great deal of pleasure, as well as profit, when I either talk about, or listen to matters philosophical. In fact, to the contrary, I hate listening to the sort of stuff you rich businessmen talk about. I pity you and all these friends of mine who talk like that. You think you’re doing something of value but, in fact you’re doing nothing of value at all!
But I’m quite sure that you also pity me just as much and think of me as a sad and miserable creature; and perhaps you’re right about that but I, I in fact, not only think that you’re pitiful but I am certain of it! And that’s the difference between you lot and me!
Apollodorus, my friend, you’ll never change! You are forever criticising yourself and everyone else! With the exception of Socrates, you think every mortal, including yourself, is a miserable creature. I don’t know why they call you “softhead” but you certainly do justice to that name at least by the way you talk. You get mad with everyone! Everyone, including yourself! Everyone except Socrates!
Is that right, my friend? Is it right that I am called a madman and a fool simply because of this one and only one reason, that I feel the way I feel about myself and about you all? Do we not need more evidence than that for such conclusions?
Enough of that, Apollodorus, enough of that talk, it’s a waste of time. Let me ask you again then to tell me about those speeches regarding Love.
Well, they went something like this – or, rather, let me begin at the beginning and tell it to you the way Aristodemus related the whole event to me. This is what he said to me, word for word:
Well, he told me that he saw Socrates all bathed and even wearing his sandals, which surprised him because, Socrates, bathed and sandaled, is a rare sight, so he asked Socrates where he was off to, so well groomed and dressed.
“I am going to Agathon’s party, ” Socrates said. “I didn’t go to his victory celebration yesterday because I was afraid that the huge crowd would be unbearable for me, so I promised him that I’d turn up today. Well, here I am, all dressed up for him: One gorgeous man, visiting another!” Then he added, “what would you say if I asked you to accompany me there – uninvited?”
To which I said. “Well, yes, Socrates, by all means, command and I shall obey!”
“Well, then, follow me,” said Socrates, “so that we may destroy the old saying ‘to the feasts of the good, the good go uninvited’. In any case, Homer himself has not only turned this saying on its head but almost totally destroyed it! Did he not, after all, set Agamemnon up as the bravest of men and Menelaos as the most timid one in battle? Well, the next thing we see is that Menelaos turns up to Agamemnon’s feast, totally uninvited! So, not the better to the lesser but the other way round!”
Then Aristodemus replied, “I’m afraid, Socrates, things are not as you observe them but as Homer did. I mean, here I am, the fool, turning up, uninvited, to the feast of a wise man! So make sure, Socrates, that you’ve got an excuse worked out when we get there because I won’t be admitting that I got there uninvited. I shall say that I got there because you have invited me!”
“When two men follow each other,” he said in a way reminiscent of Homer, “one or the other will work out an excuse. Come now, then, Aristodemus, let’s go!”
“And so, after this chat, they set off to Agathon’s feast,” said Aristodemus. On the way, however, Socrates became engrossed in his thoughts and fell behind. Aristodemus waited for him to catch up but Socrates simply waved at him to go on ahead alone. And so, Aristodemus got to Agathon’s place alone and when he got there, he found the door open and was faced with a rather awkward situation. One of Agathon’s servants met him at the door and guided him right into the room where all the others were reclining and waiting for the meal to be served. However, the moment Agathon saw Aristodemus, he called out at him, “Welcome Aristodemus! Come and sit at our table and if you came for some other reason, well, let’s just postpone it for now! Come,” continued Agathon. “I went around looking for you yesterday, to invite you here but didn’t manage to find you anywhere… But why isn’t Socrates with you?”
At that, Aristodemus turned to look behind him but saw no sign of Socrates.
“I was with him not a moment ago, ” explained Aristodemus “and I came because he invited me here.”
“Come, come, Aristodemus,” insisted Agathon. “You did well to come, thank you. Who knows where Socrates might be!”
“He was behind me, just as I entered,” said Aristodemus, “but then he just vanished!”
Then Agathon called out at a servant, “boy, go out and look for the man and when you find him, bring him here!” Then he told Aristodemus to sit next to Erixymachus.
Then the servant assisted Aristodemus to wash up after which he reclined at the table. Not long afterwards the other servant came in and told Agathon that Socrates had gone into the front yard of the neighbour’s house and was sitting there, transfixed!
“I called him again and again but he just wouldn’t move,” said the servant.
“How odd,” remarked Agathon. “Go back and call him again. Call him until he does come!”
But Aristodemus said, “No, Agathon, better let him be. This sort of thing happens to him often. He just turns away sometimes and stops dead on his tracks, no matter where he is and loses himself in his thoughts for no reason at all. He’ll turn up eventually, I think. Don’t disturb him now. let him be!”
“Well then,” said Agathon, “we shall let him be, if you think that’s the right thing to do, Aristodemus.”
Then Agathon turned to his servants and said, “Now boys, let’s not wait for him. Let’s have our dinner and you can bring us whatever you please. Imagine that I and all these guests have come here at your invitation, so you, men, serve us as you please. For once, there is no one here to give you orders. I’ve never given you that much freedom before, so, if you want to earn our compliments, serve us well!”
At that, the food was served though Socrates had still not arrived. Agathon had asked his servants many times to go and get him but Aristodemus stopped him every time. Eventually, when we were halfway through our dinner, Socrates arrived, a little late, as is his habit. Agathon was sitting at the end of the table and alone and when Socrates entered the room he called out to him, “Come, Socrates, over here. Come and sit next to me so that I may be able to touch you and have some of that wisdom that came into your mind just now, next door flow into my mind as well. And it must have truly and completely done its flying, otherwise you wouldn’t have just left it to come here.”
Then Socrates went and as he sat down, next to Agathon said, “Wouldn’t that be a great thing, Agathon, if wisdom was made of such stuff that it could flow from the mind that is replete with it to that which lacks it, just by touching, like water runs through a string of wool from the full cup to the empty one. If that could also happen with wisdom, then I’d consider it a great privilege to be sitting next to you! You would then fill my mind, Agathon with plenty of this brilliant wisdom that you possess. Alas, my own wisdom is of both, low quantity and low value, barely of the credibility of a dream. Yours, on the other hand, Agathon, your wisdom is full of light and full of profit! We were all witnesses to that the other day. There it was, shining in all its youthful splendour, in the presence of more than thirty thousand Greeks!
“Oh, what a cruel tease you are, Socrates!” Said Agathon. “You and I, Socrates, will deal with this matter of whose mind has what, a little later on and Dionysus will be our judge but for now, let’s occupy it with our dinner!”
And so, Socrates sat at his couch and they all had their supper, after which they offered libations, sang the proper hymns to Dionysus and performed all the usual rites. Then, just before they began their drinking, Pausanias got up and said, “I think, it would be a good idea, men, for us to find some way by which we may drink with the fewer possible damaging consequences. Personally, I must admit that, after last night’s drinking, I am not feeling very well and certainly in need of a little rest from it. I am sure this is also true of most of you, as well because all of us were here last night. So, think, men, of the best proportions of water to wine we should use tonight.”
Aristophanes answered, “Good point, Pausanias! I suggest we temper the measure of our drinking cups. I was one of those who, last night, ended up totally soaked with it!”
Then Eryximachus, son of Acumenus, responded with, “I agree with you, Aristophanes but I would also like to hear from Agathon, our host. How well can you drink, tonight Agathon?”
“Not well at all, Acumenus” replied Agathon, “I’m not at all well enough to do any hard drinking, either, Eryximachus.”
“Then this is indeed good luck,” continued Acumenus, “for us, the softer heads, like me, like Aristodemus and like Phaedrus and others to see that men like you who are accustomed to drinking well, will not do so tonight. As for Socrates, I need say nothing since he is able to drink in either manner, so it will be of no consequence to him what we decide. Well then, since I can see that none of us is inclined to drink heavily tonight, it would not be too vulgar of me to tell you what I think about the state of drunkenness.
Medicine makes it quite clear that drunkenness is very harmful to humans and this is why, if I can help it, I don’t drink excessively and I advise others to do the same, particularly if they’re still suffering the consequences of last night’s heavy drinking.”
Here, Phaedrus from Myrrhinus added to the matter.
“I always take your medical advice, Erixymachus and so should the rest of the company, if they know what’s good for them.”
And so, hearing these two men speak, it was decided by the company that the evening would proceed by drinking just enough to feel pleasant but not drunk.
Then Erixymachus said, “Now, men, since we all agree that we shall drink at our pleasure and not by competition, I suggest that we dismiss the flute girl who just arrived. Let her play for her own pleasure or for the pleasure of the women inside. We should seek our pleasure in good conversation and if you will allow me, I shall tell you what sort of conversation I have in mind.”
They all agreed and asked Erixymachus to go on.
“I begin, then,” began Erixymachus, using the words of Euripides’ Melanippe, which are that “my words I’m about to utter are not my own;” they are, in fact, those of that man there, Phaedrus.
Phaedrus then, is forever asking me –with quite some anger, I might add- this question:
‘Does it not seem very odd to you, Erixymachus, that the poets have written hymns and glorious psalms for all the other gods but not one single song for Eros, the god of love, a god so ancient, so great? Not a single song ever, from a single one of that countless number of poets?
But not only the poets have they neglected him. So did the practitioners of our trade, the sophists themselves. Sophists like our brilliant Prodicus, for example. They have all written many essays praising the deeds of Herakles and others. And this is not so strange if you think that I happen to come across a book dedicated to the praise of salt and its great usefulness! And not only books praising salt but also books praising all manner of other things! How then is it possible that such things are given so much attention, yet our poets have neglected a god so important as Eros? Not a single mortal has praised his virtues!’
And, I” continued, Erixymachus, “think that Phaedrus’ observations are quite valid. So, to this end, I am only too willing to make my own contribution and would ask, in fact, that we all here, do the same tonight. Let us all speak in praise of Eros!
Well then, if you all approve of this suggestion, let the theme of our speeches be Eros and let us, each of us in turn from right to left, speak as well as he can words that praise him.
Now, let Phaedrus make the first speech, since he sits first amongst us and he is the father of the topic.”
Socrates then said, “the votes will all fall in your favour, Erixymachus, including mine, since how could I possibly vote against the motion when I go on constantly arguing that I know nothing of any other matters except those matters pertaining to love! The same, I suspect, with Agathon and Pausanias and, no doubt with Aristophanes whose only preoccupation is Dionysus and Aphrodite! In fact, I think, everyone I see around me here is of the same thinking.
The order of speakers might put us at a bit of a disadvantage, since we are last in line but we would be happy if we were to hear some good speeches before we get to make ours. Let Phaedrus then, with our best wishes, begin his praises to Eros!”
The whole company agreed with Socrates and cheered on Phaedrus.
Now, I can’t remember everything that Aristodemus told me about that night, nor could he remember it all clearly but I can tell you the most memorable speeches of the night, those speeches made by the best orators.
Eros is not only a great god, according to the mortals but a marvelous one according to the immortals, most marvelous though is his birth.
Eros is the oldest of the gods, a most venerable honour for him; and we know this because we have nothing written –no poetry, no prose whatever- about his parents. We know nothing of his parents at all!
Hesiod informs us that the first god to appear was Chaos, who was followed by the broad-breasted Earth, the secure and immortal seat of all existence and then came Eros. Earth and Eros, therefore were the first two after Chaos.
As of its Genesis, Parmenides says that, before all other gods she created Eros.
Acusilaus agrees with Hesiod as well and so we have a number of people who attest to the fact that Eros is the oldest of the immortals. The oldest and the most beneficent to us. I cannot think of what greater blessing there might be for a young man than to be or to have an honourable lover. Because if we are to live a wholesome life, than nothing else would be as effective as love. Not the family, not the garlands, not the wealth, nothing will inspire it better than love.
And what do I mean by this?
I mean that Eros is the guiding principle which gives us the sense of shame, a sense with which no individual, nor any State can ever perform any act of true virtue. Because when a lover has been found to have done some shameful act, or have cowardly accepted to have a shameful act done to him by someone else, he would be hurt far more if he was found out by his lover than by anyone else, including his father, or his friends. The same goes with the one he loves. He too, will feel the same degree of hurt if he is seen to be taking part is some similar shameful business.
So, if it were possible for a State or an army to consist of lovers and loved ones, we’d find these to be the perfect forms of organisation and government, since they would be free of any evil deeds, since lovers would compete with each other in performing deeds of honour.
In a battle, too, if they were fighting side by side, they would defeat all enemies, even if the odds against them were far greater.
Because a lover would far more prefer to let himself be seen cowardly abandoning his post and throwing away his arms by the whole world rather than his loved one. Death many times would be far preferable to him than that.
As for abandoning his loved one or for not helping him when he is in danger, no one would be such an utter coward that Eros himself can’t inspire him with the courage of the bravest in the world.
So, what Homer says about the “madness” of some heroes being a god-inspired thing, well, so far as the bravery of lovers is concerned, the madness is inspired by the god Eros. And, because of love, both, men and women, will be willing to die for the ones they love.
A great proof of this, for all Greeks to see, is the love that Pelias’ daughter, Alcestis had for her husband, king Admetus. Both his parents were alive but it was she who agreed to sacrifice herself on his behalf. Her love for her husband was so great that, compared to her, his parents were made to look like nothing more than distant relations or even strangers. Furthermore, both gods and mortals thought this deed of hers to be so noble that, of all the many mortals who have performed noble deeds, she was the only one who, after she died, was allowed to return to earth alive. This is how highly the gods regarded devotion and deeds of love.
On the other hand, Oeagrus’ son, Orpheus was not allowed to bring back his beloved, Eurydice, and he returned from Hades empty handed, showing him only an apparition of her. This is because Orpheus was a coward, a mere lyre player who lacked the spirit to die for his beloved but contrived means by which he entered the underworld alive. In fact, after this cowardly effort of his, the gods punished him by giving him his death at the hands of women.
And then there is Thetis’ son, Achilles, whom the gods honoured by sending him to the Islands of the Blessed. This was because, though he was warned by his mother that if he went to the aid of his lover, Patroclus and killed Hektor, he would die there, in Troy, whereas if he didn’t, he would reach home and die there at a ripe old age, Achilles still chose to go and rescue Patroclus.
He killed Hektor and even avenged Patroclus, which means that not only did he want to die for his own sake but he also rushed to die for the sake of his friend, who was already dead.
This gained him the admiration of the gods and that’s why they honoured him so well.
What Aeschylus says about how it was Achilles who was the lover of Patroclus, is nonsense. Achilles was far more handsome than Patroclus, in fact, not only Patroclus but also of all the other heroes. Achilles was still a beardless young man and, in fact, according to Homer, he was the younger of the two, by many years, so Achilles was the loved one, rather than the one who loved.
And the gods, while they greatly admire the and honour the bravery of a lover, they admire even more and endow with even more rewards, the beloved who loves his lover than the other way round, because the lover, being inspired by Eros, is, in any case, divine.
This, then, is why Achilles was rewarded more richly than Alcestis and was sent to the Islands of the Blessed.
And so, this is why I conclude that Eros is the oldest and most revered of all the gods and the most important for those who seek virtue and happiness, during life as well as after it.
This then is approximately what Phaedrus’ speech was about, as it was related to me. Then there followed a number of other speeches which my friend could not remember very well so he skipped them to go straight to that of Pausanias, who said something like this:
I don’t think, Phaedrus, that the way this theme was set up for us, to simply glorify Eros, is correct. It would be, had Eros been but a single god but he isn’t so we should make it clear from the outset, which of the two gods we want to praise.
So, let me correct this little flaw by defining which of the two we should be praising and then, we could go on singing the praises worthy of this god.
We all know very well that an Aphrodite without love does not exist and if there were but a single Aphrodite than love, too, would be of a single sort, represented by the one god, Eros. But, since there are two goddesses named, Aphrodite, there must surely also be two gods named, Eros.
How can we not admit that there are two goddesses named Aphrodite when we know that, first there is the elder of the two, who has no mother and is the daughter of Ouranos and whom we call the “Heavenly One,” and then there is the second, the younger one, who is the daughter of Zeus and Dione and whom we call, “Pandemon,” that is, the one belonging to all the people.
Therefore, the Eros who is the companion of the latter, should also be called “Pandemos” and the other Eros, the companion of the first, we should also call “Heavenly.” And though we should, of course, praise all the gods, I shall, nevertheless, try and distinguish the one from the other.
Actions, of themselves, are neither good nor evil. For example, what we are doing now, drinking, singing, or having a discussion. None of these things is either good or bad on their own but the way they are performed will distinguish them as good or evil. When, for example, they are performed well, they are good and when they are performed badly, they are evil.
It is the same with Eros. Not all love is praiseworthy; only that love that we perform nobly is.
Aphrodite’s Eros, is the common, the popular love. It’s a casual love and so its deeds are aimless. This is the love of the most vulgar of men. This is the love that does not discriminate between males and females; of the body, rather than the soul, and one that seeks out the fools who care only that they achieve the ends and not that the means are noble. To them, therefore, it is of no consequence if what they are doing is good or foul.
This is due to the fact that the mother of this Eros is the younger of the two goddesses, who is the daughter of two parents, a male and a female, whereas the mother of the other Eros, the Heavenly Aphrodite, is the daughter only of a male and seeks out only the male and, as well, being the older of the two, she is free of wild licentiousness.
Thus, those who are inspired by this love, seek out the young males, loving the physically and mentally more vigorous.
And even in this case, in the case of loving boys, one can discern those who are truly inspired by Eros because these men would not fall in love with boys until these boys have adequately developed reasoning skills, which comes about around the time they acquire their first hints of a beard.
And, I believe, that once they choose a young man to be their lover, they will think of being faithful to him and to share everything in their lives for as long as they both live. They will not take advantage of the young boy’s innocence, or betray him or make a fool of him by running off with another boy.
In fact, there should be a law against loving young boys, to prevent people from wasting too much passion on something so unpredictable because the future character of young boys is unknown. They could turn out to be either good or bad, in body, as well as in soul.
Good men, of course, make this a law for themselves, a law which all the other men, inspired by the younger, more popular Eros, should be forced to also obey, in the same way we force them, as much as we can, to stay away from our freeborn women. Because it is these men who are responsible for the shame brought upon love making because some people are of the view that to satisfy lovers is a thing of disgrace. They say such things because this is exactly this sort of unbecoming and wrong behaviour they see. Surely though, nothing which is done with decorum and according to law will be judged to be shameful.
Other cities are clearer on this matter about love than is ours and Lacedaemon. There the law is put simply and in clear terms, whilst here it is complicated.
For example, in Elis and in Boetia and in other places where the people are not proficient in the art of oratory, people simply accept the view that it is a good thing to satisfy lovers and no one, young or old thinks that this is at all shameful. Probably because men in these places do not wish to struggle with words when it comes to wooing their lovers.
However in Ionia, and in other places ruled by the barbarians, due to their dictatorial regimes this thing, as well as the study of philosophy and the love for gymnastics, is considered shameful because the lords there do not think that such lofty ideals in the minds of their subjects would be in their interests. The same with strong friendships and social bonds which love is most capable of bringing about.
And they’ve learnt this by experience. They saw how the love of Aristogeiton and the friendship of Harmodius was so strong that it had completely destroyed the authority of such dictators.
And so, in such places where the gratifying of a lover is held to be shameful, it is due to those evil men who make laws that condemn this act as a shameful one, and these are the rulers who wish to increase their own power and the cowards who are ruled by them.
On the other hand, there are places where this act is accepted without any rules and conditions but this is due to the intellectual laziness of their lawgivers. Things are regulated far better here, in our own country, but, as I said earlier, these regulations are too difficult to understand.
In fact, do we not say that love openly is more honourable than to love secretly, more so, in fact, when the loved one is, if not more beautiful than others, he is more noble and more virtuous?
Think also how much the lover is encouraged by the world because we don’t think of him as doing anything shameful and, his success is thought to be honourable whereas his failure will be considered dishonourable. And to this end, our institutions would encourage even the oddest behaviour by the lover in his pursuit of his beloved, whereas if his efforts were directed towards some other purpose, he would be reprimanded most severely.
If, for example, a man, for purposes other than sincere ones -say, so as to obtain some money, or some position, or some sort of influence- behaves like lovers often do and begs and implores their beloved, or swears to them undying love, or sleeps on their door mat, or submits himself to a most unbearable form of slavery, one that no slave could cope with, he would be prevented from behaving like this by his friends as well as his enemies. His enemies, in fact, would deride him for being a flatterer and a weakling and his friends would feel counsel him and feel ashamed of his behaviour.
To a genuine lover, however, all such behaviour is accepted and thought of as charming and not reproachful by our custom because it is understood that it is conducted for the noblest of purposes.
And it is very important to know that the only oath breaker that the gods will forgive, so people say, is a genuine because, they say, there’s no such thing as a lover’s oath!
And so, all this tells us that we, Athenians, come to believe that both, gods and men give full license to a genuine lover to do as he pleases. To love, we, Athenians say, or to be loved is a thing of honour.
To the contrary, it is quite a dishonourable thing for the fathers of those children who are loved to be prohibited from speaking with their lovers and who employ tutors ordered to keep them apart. Then, when their friends of the same age and others tease these children for having such tutors, they are neither stopped nor reprimanded by the elders we are given the impression that lovers talking with their loved ones is a most shameful thing.
And, in my view, as I said earlier, no act is of itself either good or bad but it becomes one or the other by the manner in which it is acted. In other words, whatever one does, if he does it with shameful intent and with a shameful lover, it will be a thing of shame, whereas if he does it with honourable intent and with an honourable lover, then it will be a thing of honour.
The shameful lover is a common vulgar man who shams what is steady and immutable and prefers the unsteady and mutable, since he loves the body and not the soul. Therefore, in spite of all his pretty words and pretty promises, once the flower of a youthful body disappears he flaps his wings and flies away.
The honourable lover, on the other hand, has a stable character since he remains constant throughout his life. This is because he loves the soul which is also constant. And this is why our laws insist that a strict examination of the lover’s intentions is carried out and which allows the pursuit of the first type of lover but forbid that of the second.
And this is also why it is considered quite shameful for one to give himself to a lover too quickly. Some considerable time is essential for that examination to take place and a determination be made as to what are the motives and the qualities of both, the lover and the beloved.
It is also shameful for a beloved to submit to the lover simply because of a love he might have for money or for political influence, whether one surrenders because he is frightened he might lose these things or, having been corrupted by them is unable to scorn them and conquer their temptations. This is because neither of these things is a certain or permanent thing and nor does either of them guarantee a true, strong friendship.
And so, according to our laws, if the young man wants to submit to a lover honourably there is only one thing that he must do which is not considered shameful, and that is, to serve his lover virtuously.
The view that dominates our thinking is that if a young man wishes to serve another because he believes that he will, by this friendship to him, gain some wisdom or will improve himself in some other part of virtue, then this type of indulgence cannot be considered either flattery or shame.
So, both these two laws then, the one regarding the love for young men and the other for that of philosophy and for other considerations regarding virtue, must be supported by the lover, if the beloved is to serve that lover honourably.
Because only when one of the men is willing to serve another young man who will educate him and make him virtuous and when the other has the ability to accomplish this, only then, only when these two customs are seen together, should this friendship proceed and, in such a circumstance, even a betrayal is acceptable.
At all other times, it is a disgrace to either betray or to be betrayed. For example, if a boy indulges a lover because he is under the impression that the lover is rich and will reward him financially for the indulgence but then, to his disappointment, finds out that he, in fact is poor and that there is no reward coming to him, then that boy is disgraced since he has proven that he’d perform any service to anyone for the sake of mere rewards. That is not an honourable deed.
By the same logic then, if a boy indulges a lover, thinking that the lover is an honest man and that he, himself will gain in virtue by the friendship but later finds out that the lover is, in fact a nasty man and bereft of any virtue and thus he, the boy, had not received the improvement he was hoping for, well, this deception, under these circumstances is something which works as a commendable thing for the boy. It is obvious that the boy is most willing to do anything for the sake of excellence and honour; and this is the best motive of all.
We all agree then that the noblest of all motives in indulging a lover is to attain excellence and honour.
This, then is the highest form of love and it’s founded on the principles of the Heavenly goddess. It is a very valuable form of it, both for the city as well as the citizen because it forces both the lover and the beloved to work earnestly towards improving themselves in the twin matter of love and virtue. All the other forms of love have to do with the other goddess, the Common Aphrodite.
And so, Phaedrus, this is the best I can do, just off the cuff, by way of adding to our discussion on love.
Now, when Pausanias came to a pause (this is the sort of pun I’m taught how to make by our wise friends) Aristodemus said that it was now Aristophanes’ turn to speak. However, Aristophanes, either because he ate too much or because of some other reason, suddenly found himself in the grips of a severe bout of hicups and just couldn’t speak, so he turned to the doctor among us, Erixymachus, who was reclining on the couch just below him and said to him, “Eryximachus, you must either stop my hicups or take my turn to speak until it stops.”
“Aristophanes, I shall do both,” said Erixymachus. “I’ll take your turn now and when it goes away, you will take mine. In the mean time, while I’m speaking, try and hold your breath for as long as you can and if this doesn’t stop it, gargle with some water. If the attack is too violent even for that, then tickle your nose with something and sneeze. After a couple of turns of that, the hicups will go away, no matter how vigorous the attack is.”
“I shall do as you say immediately, Erixymachus,” replied Aristophanes, “you won’t get a chance to finish your speech.”
Then Eryximachus made the following speech:
Pausanias began his speech with a vigorous entrance but, alas ended it with an inadequate exit, so I believe it is imperative for me to try and remedy that flaw.
He spoke correctly, I believe, regarding the dual nature of love but, as a doctor, I see that this love does not live only in the souls of men and has its object merely the beautiful boys but it lives in other souls and it directs itself to a great many other things, the bodies of animals and plants, in fact, as a doctor, I have observed that it directs its attentions to all living things!
So great and wondrous is this Eros, this god of love that, I believe, his domain covers all living things and encompasses things in both worlds, that of the mortals as well as of the immortals.
I shall begin my speech with the art of medicine, so as to give it its due voice.
It’s true, the very nature of our body includes this dual form of love just as there is a dual condition regarding its health. Obviously, a healthy body is different and dissimilar to an unhealthy one and consequently, they love dissimilar things and in dissimilar ways. Pausanias has just told us that to indulge good men is an honourable thing but shameful to indulge bad men who love only the flesh and not the soul.
It is the same with the body. Those parts which are good and healthy, should be indulged but the other parts, the unhealthy ones, should be discouraged. And this skill, we call medicine. This is what doctors do. Medicine, one might rightly conclude, is the skill of sorting out what are the loves and desires of a body and how to satisfy those that are good and not those that are bad.
The best doctor is he who can distinguish between good love and bad in a body, or who can turn the bad into good. He will also know how to do both, to get rid of the bad love and to implant the good one according to the needs of the body. Moreover, a skilled doctor will be able to bring peace between the most acrimonious elements in the body and to turn them into loving friends.
The most extreme animosity exists between those elements which are the most different from each other: cold and hot, bitter and sweet, dry and moist, and suchlike and my ancestor, Asclepius, who, the poets here say –and I believe them- was able to bring this peace between the warring elements of the body, was the founder of this art.
And it’s not only medicine I’m talking about. this god is also in charge of gymnastics as well as agriculture. Music, too, it’s obvious, even to those who pay little attention to it, that it has its opposites to deal with, which is what Heracleitus is possibly trying to say, though his words are a not well expressed. He said, for example that “the two opposites are harmonised by their very differences, as are the bow and the violin.”
Which, of course, is quite an illogical thing to say, that is that this is a different type of harmony; one where there’s harmony in discord. What he possibly meant to say is that harmony is a composition of various notes, initially different in pitch –one lot higher, the other lower and thus opposing each other but music brings them together, harmonises them. After all, if these notes of opposing pitch still stayed in disagreement, there would be no harmony.
Harmony presupposes the conciliation of sounds and the conciliation of sounds presupposes harmony because you cannot have a conciliation of sounds that are in disagreement with each other. Harmony of disagreeing things cannot happen.
The same thing with rhythm which presupposes opposing short and long beats which have been conciliated into one beat; and whilst earlier we saw that this conciliation happened in medicine, here we see that it also happens in music, which creates love and harmony amongst things which at first they seem to be irreconcilable.
Consequently, music is the skill that concerns itself with the harmony and the rhythm of matters to do with love and in this bringing together of harmony and rhythm, it is not at all difficult to discern the type of love that has not yet become double. When we need to see the effect these two types of music, the rhythm and the harmony, have upon humans, we find difficulties which only a good artist will be able to resolve. Difficulties which relate to their composition or the proper use of melody and verse metres, things which are called musical training.
So we come back to the same conclusion, which is that we should devote and maintain our love to virtuous and honourable men so as to make these men even more virtuous and honourable.
This is the honourable love, the heavenly love, the love associated with the heavenly muse Urania. The opposite to this love is the common, the vulgar love, associated with Polyhymnia, a love which must be exercised with great caution, no matter who offers it, trying, in effect to enjoy it without encouraging unfettered debaucher, in the same way that I must be careful to allow the lover of food to eat to his satisfaction without allowing at the same time to be violated by the attendant disease.
So then, in all human and divine matters, in medicine and in music we must be as vigilant as possible about both loves, since they are both present.
And this phenomenon of both types of love is also seen in the way the seasons are structured. When all of those elements I’ve just mentioned –that of hot and cold and dry and moist- when they are all joined together in a sensible and orderly manner in a balanced and harmonious love, they bring man and animals and plants a great harvest of food and health without any harm.
On the other hand, when love is the love of excess and of greed and it overwhelms the needs of the seasons, it will bring about many disasters and afflictions. Pestilence and various types of other diseases thrive in such environments in both worlds, that of animals as well as plants.
It is a fact that frost and hail and blight have their roots in this kind of love, the love of excess and greed and disorderly conduct between all these elements. All these phenomena, concerning the paths and revolutions of heavenly bodies and the seasonal divisions of the year are studied by the science called “Astronomy.”
And we also see that all practices of divination, like sacrifices, which, in fact, are a means of communication between mortals and immortals, are conducted so as to maintain and cure love.
Every form of impiety makes itself felt whenever a person is not guided by the positive form of love, who neither serves her nor represents her adequately in his every action, whether it is a love concerning parents, be they alive or dead, or the gods but, instead, he honours the other, the dishonourable love.
And so, it falls within the duties of divination to make certain that these loves are healed and to make peace between the mortals and the immortals, since it is cognisant of those elements of love in mortals which exult virtue and respect the gods.
And so, love in all its manifestations, has in general, a great deal of, or rather all the power; and the love which tends towards the good and which is part of temperance and justice, is the more powerful of the two. It is this love which prepares us for every type of joy and which enables us to keep company and become friends with each other and with even those who are far superior to us, the very gods themselves.
Of course, in my praises of love, I might have missed much, if so, it is not something I’ve done deliberately and if I have left something out, well, Aristophanes, it is your duty to add it in. And if again, you have some other, different way of praising the god then you are free to do so.
I can see you are now free of your hiccup.
And so Aristophanes rose to speak saying that, yes, his bout of hiccups has disappeared sooner than he thought, though not before he tried the sneezing treatment, which, he said “made me wonder if not our body does not need such noises and tickling things as sneezing in order to gain its balance! The hiccup stopped immediately after the call to sneezing!”
Eriximachus then responded with “Dear friend, Aristophanes, do you see what you are doing? You are making us all laugh before you start your speech and forcing me to be on guard so as to defend and support whatever joke you come up with. Speak, man, the environment here is friendly!
Aristophanes laughed and said, “You’re right, Eryximachus and let what I have said just now be thought of as unsaid. Still, don’t stand guard, my friend because I’m afraid that what I’m about to say, won’t just raise laughter –after all, that would be a good thing and that’s the proper field of my muse – but that my views on the topic will be laughable.
“You think you can shoot your bolt and run off just like that?” said Eryximachus. “Alright then, make your speech but keep in mind that while you’re making it you’ll be held to account and, if I see fit, I might just change my mind and let you off!”
“The fact is,” said Aristophanes, “what I have in mind is to put a different perspective to that which you and Pausanias put to us.
What I believe is that men have not yet at all realised the power of Eros. And I say this because, if they did in fact realise just how powerful this god is, they’d build splendid temples and altars for him and they’d have offered grand sacrifices in his honour. They’ve done no such thing so far, even though they should certainly have done them and done them as a priority!
Because this god is the most philanthropic god of them all. Love is man’s helper and the healer of all those things that stop him from being happy.
So, I shall try and show you the extent of his power and you, in turn, show it to others.
First, however, I must speak to you about man’s nature and what it has suffered. Man’s nature today is far different to that of the past.
Initially, there were three, not two genders, the male and the female. Besides them there was also a third gender, a combination of these two, a type of man that was a combination of male and female but which has not survived to this day. However its name hermaphrodite, has survived and is now used solely for the purposes of insulting or demeaning people.
Back then, in shape, man was round with a round back and round sides forming a perfect circle. He also had four hands and four legs, one head, which had two faces, set on a round neck and were identical, each looking in opposite direction to the other. Then he also possessed four ears, two sets of genitalia and whatever else was needed for that, which, I believe, you can all imagine.
And he could, whenever he wanted, walk like men walk today, upright and backwards and forwards. Then if he wanted to run quickly, he would use all of his eight limbs and roll over and over in a circular motion, like those who perform tumbling.
These then were the three genders and these were their form. And they were three because the male was the child of the sun, the female of the earth and that of the mixed gender was of the moon –because the moon was part of both, the sun as well as the earth.
Their shape was spherical and they went about, like their parents, round and round.
They had a formidable strength and power and their thoughts were also mighty. So mighty that they attacked the gods, and Homer says in his story about Ephialtes and Otus that they tried to climb to the sky and set upon the gods.
So Zeus and the rest of the gods met and wondered what they could do about them.
They couldn’t very well do to them what they did to the Giants, which was to destroy their whole race with thunderbolts because that would also bring the sacrifices and devotion to an end. But then again, the gods could not tolerate the insolence of these men to be completely undisciplined.
And it was that Zeus, after quite some effort and some pain, found a solution.
“I think I have found the answer,” he said. “It will take away their excessive arrogance and make them more respectful of us. I will allow them to exist but I will have them cut in two which will mean that their strength will be diminished but their numbers with increase with the result that we will profit in both, sacrifices and devotion. This will have them walking on only two legs and if they’re still showing this arrogance towards us, I shall cut them in half again and then they’ll be hopping around on one leg!”
Having said that, he went ahead and cut all the humans into two, much like we cut the sorb-apple when we want to pickle it or when we cut an egg with a strand of hair.
Then after he cut them in half, he handed each one of them to Apollo and asked him to turn their face to the same side as the cut side, so that they can look at that cut and think about behaving better in the future. He also asked Apollo to heal all the wounds.
And so Apollo turned the face of these men around and then tugged their skin all around from all sides to what we now call stomach, in exactly the same way that the purse is pulled together by its strings to get it shut. The knot was brought to the centre of the stomach and became what we now called the belly button.
After that, he smoothed out most of the other wrinkles of which were a great many, and beat out the chest in much the same way that a cobbler will do to the leather on his last, leaving just a few of them around the stomach and the navel, as a constant reminder to us of our old arrogance.
So, once this division had been effected, each half was constantly and passionately longed for the half from which its was severed and when they came together, they threw their arms about each other and held each other tightly, hoping to become one again, as before. And that embrace was so fixed that they were dying from hunger and total neglect of all their other concerns as mortals because they didn’t want to do anything away from each other. As well, whenever one of the two halves died the other immediately looked for another partner, either man or woman, as we call them now, which would make him the full human again and embraced him or her again with equal passion.
So they were dying out until Zeus felt sorry for them and thought of a new plan. He moves their genitals over from the back to the front so that now they could procreate inside each other, rather than like grasshoppers do by spilling their seed onto the ground, as was the case before.
And so their genitals now been brought to the front, Zeus made it possible for the reproduction to take place by the male entering the female and thus allow the race to continue and if man desired man and they came together, the desire for intercourse would be fulfilled and then each of them would leave the other and go about his other daily concerns.
It is from such ancient times that we have this innate desire to get back to our original state of oneness by bringing the two genders together and thus heal man’s true nature.
Each of us then, alone is but a mere mark of the man who was created by dividing the whole into two, having been cut in half like flounder, the flatfish. Each of the marks then, forever seeks his other mark, his other half to join with it and become one whole again.
Those men who came out of the mixed stock which was then called “androgynous” feel a great love for women and from that group come many adulterers, both men and women, whose lust, in turn is directed to men.
All the women who have descended from the female part of the original creation lust after women only and show no interest in men at all and are attracted only to women. To this category belong the lesbians. However, those women who were part of the male half, pursue the males while they’re young and since they are parts of the male love men and are happy to lie with them and to embrace them. This group is the best of the boys and young men since by nature they are male.
Some people say that these men are shameless, which is wrong because these men are not acting out of lack of dignity but because they are brave and virile and because, since they have the body of men, they embrace bodies that are like theirs. And here’s the greatest proof that they are not shameless: It is these men –and only these- who, when they are fully developed, will become our politicians and, as men will love boys. Nor will they be inclined by nature to marry or to have children. If they do, then it will be by force of law and not by their own natural volition. These men are quite happy to be left alone in follow their preference of merely living together, free of the ties of marriage.
So, on every occasion these men first become the lovers of men and then, when they themselves become men, lovers of boys for the very same reason, which is that they love that which is similar to them.
And if, by some happy chance one of these men meets with his very own, other half, lover or loved one, then the two become jubilant and utterly lost in the friendship and a most intimate love for each other, such that they wouldn’t want to be separated from each other even, I may venture to say, for a moment!
People like this will spend their whole lives together, and would never say to you that they were so intimate with the other man only so as to gain some personal reward from it.
It will be impossible for someone to say that the reason that these men are lovers is because solely because of lust. It is obvious that this friendship is built on the fact that the soul of the one desires something quite different from that of the other, though neither can tell what that might be with clear words. They can merely guess at it, or speculate as to what it is with obscure words and phrases.
And so, if Hephaestus suddenly appeared in human form before them, while they are laying next to each other and asked them directly, “what do you two want from each other?” and they weren’t able to answer him and suppose he asked them again, “would you like to be turned into one body, ever inseparable from each other, to be together day and night? Because if that is what you are after, I am ready to melt you and weld you together so that your two bodies will become one and for all the while you are alive, you will live a combined life, as if you were one body and when you die and you are in Hades’ world you will still be one instead of two beings, since you died together. Think then and tell me if this is what you truly want and if it is what will satisfy you.”
We know very well that no man would refuse such an offer, nor would they deny that this is the very thing that they were always after, ever since ancient times, to be united like this, to be melted and welded into one.
And the reason for this is that human nature originally, was one and it was a complete whole and today’s pursuit for that ancient whole we call Eros, love.
So, as I say, once we were one complete person but once we committed the sin we were split into two, like the Arcadians were split from the Lacedaemonians. And it is quite possible that if we are not careful and behave with reverence to the gods, they might split us yet again and we’ll be walking around like those who are carved in profile on marble stones, cut down along the centre of our nose, separated like the dice which lovers separate and each holds one so as to either be reminded of his love or else, to re-enforce it.
For this reason, all men must be called upon to revere the gods so that we may avoid misfortune and gain happiness and have, Eros, the god of love as our guide and our captain. And let us not permit any man to stand against this god because he who stands against him, stands also against all the gods and will earn their hatred. Then, when we are friends with this god and at peace with him, we shall succeed in finding their own young lovers, something which few are managing to do these days.
Now, I know that Eryximachus is all too ready to make fun of my speech but he must not think that I am referring here to Pausanias and Agathon, who I am certain are of the type I am talking about and are by nature male.
However, here I am talking about all men and women everywhere because I believe that true happiness will come only if we all obeyed this god and we each found the lover who truly belongs to each of us, thus returning to our ancient nature and if that ancient condition was the best, then it is obvious that we should try and return to that very same condition as much as it is possible for us, meaning that we should love those young men who are our congenital partners.
And, if we are to praise the god who has given us this benefit, then it is this god, Eros, whom we should praise because it is Eros who has delivered us our present happiness by pointing us towards that which is like us and because it is this god who gives us hope for our future by promising us that, if we revere the gods, he will bring us back to our original nature and make us blessed and happy.
And so, Eryximachus, this is my speech on Eros, the god of love and even though I am aware it is quite different to yours, I must remind you of my request not to make fun of it and let us now hear what the others have to say, which is to say, the remaining two speakers, who are Agathon and Socrates.
“I shall do as you say, Aristophanes,” said Eryximachus. “In any case your speech was excellent and had I not known that both, Agathon and Socrates are experts in matters of love, I would have been very concerned that they would be lost for anything further to say, since so much has been said on the topic already. Still I am quite hopeful!”
Socrates then answered, “You spoke well, Erixymachus, but then, if you were I –or rather I after Agathon has made his glorious speech, then you’d be in the grips of real panic, just as I am now.”
To which Agathon said, “Socrates you are trying to cast a spell on me with all your flattery! You want to get me all disorientated with the thought that the audience has already formed a view of my eloquence in the theatre and expects great things from me.”
“What a dreadful memory I’d have then, Agathon” said Socrates, “if, after having seen you climb upon the stage with your actors, all full of courage and enthusiasm, in the production of one of your own plays from where you faced the huge audience without the slightest disorientation and then think that this little group of friends would disturb you in the slightest!”
“The things you say, Socrates,” replied Agathon. “Do you really think that I am so besotted with the theatre that I don’t know how much more frightening for a sensible man is the criticism of a few wise judges than a multitude of fools?”
“I’d be doing very much the wrong thing, Agathon, if I took you for one of those ignorant men. I know very well that whenever you meet with men you consider wise, you give to them a great deal more attention than you do to the masses. So, no don’t think of us as you do to those wise men. After all, we, too, were among those masses! Still, if you did meet some really wise men, you’d feel quite afraid that you might say something which would make you feel ashamed of yourself, isn’t that right?”
“You’re absolutely right, Aristophanes,” replied Agathon.
“But doing the same thing in front of the masses wouldn’t make you feel ashamed, right?” As Aristodemus continued his story, he said that Phaedrus interrupted saying, “No, Agathon, my dear friend, no, don’t answer Socrates! Socrates does not care about our project. If you answer him you’ll be no different than he is, in the way he sees those of us here. Give him a good looking man and he’ll be talking to him rather than contributing to our plan! And even though I would love to hear Socrates speak, my responsibility is to see this dialogue on Eros, on love continues and to make sure each of you contributes his praise to the god. After that, you may talk amongst yourselves as you please.”
“Very well then, Phaedrus,” said Agathon. In any case there’s nothing preventing me from making my speech. As for Socrates, I shall have plenty of other opportunities to chat with him and to exchange views.
What I would like to do is to first explain what I need to say and then say it. It seems to me that the earlier speakers did not praise the god but, rather, spoke about the blessings the god has conferred upon the humans. No one had said who this god who has given us these gifts really is.
The general rule on making effective and proper praises to a god, is to first state the reason for the praises and to identify who this god Eros is before we make them. We must first describe who exactly is Eros and what are his gifts to us. As for me, I say that –without raising the ire of Nemesis- of all the gods he is the most blessed because he is the most beautiful and the best. And I am saying this, Phaedrus because, first of all, he is the youngest of all the gods and the proof of this is that in his youth, he runs fast enough to escape Old Age, which, as we all know, runs much faster than most of us! Far faster than it’s proper! That’s Eros’ very nature: to hate old age and to run as far away from him as possible. Eros spends his whole life with the young because, as our old proverb goes, “like clings to like!”
Phaedrus said lots of things with which I agree. However I will not consent to the view that Eros is older than Iapetus and Chronos and say quite categorically that he is not only the younger of all the gods but that he will stay young for ever.
As for all those goings on between the gods, of which Hesiod and Parmenides talk about, if they are, in fact true, then they are the result of Necessity and not of Eros because had Love been around back in those days, you would have seen all shackling and mutilating or any of that dreadful violence that went on between the gods! Instead, what you would have seen then in the heavens is what you see now, peace and friendship from the days that Eros began to rule the place!
So, he is a young god and, moreover, a soft, tender god.
What Eros needs is a poet like Homer, to describe this tenderness of his.
When Homer speaks of Ate, he says that she is a goddess and that she is a tender goddess because, he says, “her feet are tender because she doesn’t step upon the earth but upon the heads of men.” And that’s proof he says that Ate is tender, that is, she walks upon what is soft, not upon what is hard.
And it is a good criterion for us to use so as to prove that Eros, too is tender. Eros walks neither upon the earth, nor the heads of men, which, in fact are not all that soft but he moves about and lives in the most tender regions of men, the ethics and souls of both men and gods. It’s there that he makes his home, though not in every soul without discernment. If he comes across a hard soul, he flees but when the soul is tender, he stays and there he makes his home.
Well then, how he not be tender when he makes his home in the softest places of the softest things, with, not only his feet but with his complete soul?
So Eros is young, he is tender and he is agile! Yes, agile, because how else could he manage to wrap himself around everything and then enter so secretly and then exit equally as secretly from all those souls, if he was stiff and inflexible? And proof of his elegance –a thing about which everyone agrees it is exceptional- is the very shape of his body which is perfect in its proportions and perfect in its gracefulness. Inelegance and this god are mutual enemies.
His complexion, too indicates his way of life. He lives among the blooming and scented flowers, among the bloom of youth, not among the flowers whose beauty has already faded or is fading. Be they bodies or souls, Eros will only nestle among the fragrant and the young.
So much about the beauty of this god. I have said enough on that.
Next I must speak of his virtue and to concentrate my speech on the proof the Eros neither commits injustice nor does he suffer injustice. This goes for both, god and man.
Nor does he have to endure anything by force whether he is on the move or not because force and Eros are not compatible. All men obey this god voluntarily and therefore lawfully since the laws of our city state that when people offer things to each other voluntarily, they do so lawfully.
And, not only is he an adherent to Justice, he is also a great believer in prudence and surely we must all admit that prudence regulates our sexual pleasures and desires and that no pleasure is greater than that of Eros. Therefore, if all the sexual desires and pleasures are lesser than love, then it follows that Eros the god of love, is their master and overseer, which is proof in itself that he is prudent!
And as for bravery, not even the god of war, Ares, can match him. It’s not Ares who rules Eros but Eros who rules Ares, the love of Aphrodite, as the story goes. The ruler, of course is stronger than the ruled and if he rules the bravest of them all, then it obviously follows that he must be the bravest of all.
I have talked about Eros’ adherence to Justice and to Prudence and of his bravery. What remains is his wisdom and I must try and do my best to do justice to that. But first let me give honour to my craft, just as Eryximachos did to his and say that Eros is such a clever poet that he makes poets out of others. Everyone, even those who know nothing about poetry or music, once Eros touches them, they too become poets. Which is clear proof that Eros is a master of every form of art. How else would it be possible for him to teach others that which he neither knows of or can explain?
And then there is the creation of all things. Is there anyone who would deny that behind it all is the wisdom of Eros? It is this god who makes the creation of all living things possible.
As well, there is the artist and his creations. If this artist has Eros as his teacher then he becomes well known and well respected whereas the artist who has no contact with the god, is left obscure.
Apollo discovered archery, medicine and divination through desire and love and so, he too, is a disciple of Eros, just as the Muses have discovered melody, Hephaestus the art of metallurgy, Athena, that of weaving and for Zeus his art of government over all mortals and immortals.
It is obvious then that in all the deeds of the gods what ruled was the element of beauty from the moment Eros appeared, because Eros will have nothing to do with ugliness, because before Eros appeared, as I said earlier, it is said that all manner of terrible things where happening among the gods and this is because the master of all was Necessity; and with this god’s birth, the love of beauty was also born and all the good and beautiful things for both, gods and men.
Finally, Phaedrus, I am of the opinion that Eros is himself the epitome of beauty and virtue and is the cause for these qualities in others. A little poem comes to my lips, in fact:
Eros is the god who brings Peace to Mankind
Tranquility to the oceans
Stillness to the winds
Sleep to the grieving.
This is the god who frees us from alienation and grants us friendship, who makes it possible for us to get together for such banquets like this and presides over feasts and dances and sacrifices. It is Eros who guides us in the spirit of joy and banishes ill manners. It is he who loves those with a friendly temperament and stays away from the grumps.
A gracious supporter of the good, in the minds of the wise, in the awe of the gods, envied by the unfortunate who don’t possess him, blessed by those who do, father of the refined, of the delicate, of the sensuous, of desire, of passion; father of all the Graces, caring of the good, uncaring of the bad, a guide in the speech and work, a supporter, a saviour a jewel for all gods and men, the loveliest and best leader of song, the god in whose footsteps every man must walk and sing sweet songs of praise to him and to join in that song that charms the souls of gods and men.
This then, Phaedrus is my offering to Eros, the god of love. Some of it childish, some of it of a reasonable worth. I spoke as best as I could.
When Agathon finished his speech, Aristodemus said that there was a noisy approval from everyone there because they all thought that Agathon not only spoke well of the god but, in the process showed his own skill.
Socrates turned then to Erixymachus and said, “are you still of the view that my fear to speak was groundless, Erixymachus, son of Acumenus, when I said that Agathon’s speech would be so good that I’d have nothing more to add? Was not my prophesy correct?” To which Erixymachus replied, “The first part of your prophesy, Socrates is quite correct: Agathon spoke well indeed but I don’t believe for a moment, Socrates, that you have nothing to add!”
“Why, my dear friend, Erixymachus, how could I not be left completely speechless? How could anyone who had to speak after such a glorious speech, a speech that was so perfectly rounded and utterly expounded not be lost for words? The earlier part of the speech was quite good but the last bit, its ending, how could a listener not be swept away by the eloquence of it, the beauty and the perfect order of the adjectives and the verbs he used? I was almost at the point of secretly slipping away through shame and I would have, had I the chance because I was certain that I would never be able to utter a speech equal to or at least only just a little less below the standard of those speakers before me.
Gorgias’ words came to mind towards the end of Agathon’s speech with the result that I truly believed that I would suffer what the Homer’s man suffered. I was afraid that, to my horror, Agathon did not take the form of Gorgias –that formidable master of rhetoric- and, while I was making my speech, he didn’t appear before me and make me lose my voice by turning me into stone! It occurred to me then that I was an absolute fool to agree with you to speak about the virtues of Eros in this gathering and to boast about how well versed I am in matters relating to the god when if cat, I am utterly ignorant about the art of making speeches about praising anyone on any subject!
And I, in my naivety, thought that what we were supposed to do is to tell the truth about whatever it was we were praising and that it would be from those truths that we’d be choosing the best and speak of them as well as we possibly could. And if that were the case, I was confident that I could make an eloquent enough speech, since I know well, how to make such speeches of praise.
However, it seems that what we are supposed to be doing is to offer praise to the god for all sorts of great and glorious qualities, whether they truly belong to him or not. Truth was of no importance in these speeches. What in fact was put to us, so far as I can remember was that we should each of us praise the god without praising ourselves in the process.
This is why, I believe, you have done your very best to bring to the fore every story of praise you’ve heard and, using your best words and phrases, attribute them all to him and then you say, that this god is so great and is responsible for such great things, saying he is the most beautiful and the most ideal in all things, directing your speeches of course, to those who don’t know him because the experts wouldn’t at all accept your views. That way your praises sound proper and grand.
I didn’t know of this method of praise and that’s why I made the promise to join you and to make my own contribution but it was a promise made by my tongue and not by my mind.
I shall not do my praising in this way because, in any case, I couldn’t. What I would like to do is to speak the truth, in my own way, if you don’t mind and not in your way, to avoid embarrassing myself. So, Phaedrus, tell us now if this is agreeable to you or not. I shall be speaking the truth about Eros and the order of my words and phrases will be uttered at random.
Then, Aristodemus said, that Phaedrus and the others gave Socrates permission to speak as he pleased, in whatever manner he thought best.
Then Socrates said, “Phaedrus, I’d like you to allow me something more. I’d like to ask Agathon a few little questions so that I may relate my thoughts to his.”
“Permission granted,” replied Phaedrus. “Ask away!”
Then Aristodemus said that Socrates began something like this:
“Have no doubt, my friend Agathon, that I was most impressed by your opening remarks, where you said that the proper thing for us to do was to describe first the nature of Eros and then mention his deeds. I was indeed, most impressed by that opening statement. Well then, since you’ve discussed with great ease and eloquence all else concerning the nature of Eros, tell me this also, Phaedrus:
Does the god Eros love something or does he love nothing, Does he exist, in other words because of someone he loves or can he exist without a subject, on his own? By this I don’t mean to ask, is the god a father or a mother of someone? That is to say is he the father of something or is he the father of nothing? It would be ridiculous if I asked you the question, is the love of this god, the love of a father or a mother but I ask the same question I would ask of a father: Is he the father of someone or not? To this question you’d answer, if you wanted to answer reasonably, that the father is the father of his daughter and of his son, isn’t that right?”
“But of course,” answered Agathon
“The same then with a mother?”
“Yes, I agree with this too.”
“Let us then move one from here,” said Socrates. “Let us dig a little deeper, then, my friend and let me ask you one more question so that I can make myself absolutely clear. If I ask you, do you also say that the word “brother” means brother of someone, or not?”
Agathon agreed to this also.
“The same as with the word ‘sister?'”
“Yes, ” replied Agathon.
“So,” continued Socrates. “Tell me then about the god. Is Eros the love of someone or of no one?”
“Obviously of someone,” replied Agathon.
“Now keep that in mind, Agathon and for now tell me one more thing: Does the god desire that which he loves or does he not?”
“But of course, he does!” Replied Agathon.
“And does he desire and love that thing when he’s has it or when he does not have it”
“Logically, when he does not.”
“Now think, Agathon” warned Socrates, “because it is obvious that one desires what one does lacks, or at least one does not desire that which one does not lack. That, at least to my mind, Agathon, seems to be absolutely true. What is your view?”
“The same as yours, Socrates.”
“And now what of the man who is great. Would he desire to be great, or even the man who is strong, would he desire to be strong?”
“No, according to previous observations, that would not be the case.”
“Because,” continued Socrates, “it is not possible for someone who already possesses something, to miss it, to feel that he lacks it.”
“Well then, if a man who is strong desired to be strong and to be swift when he was already swift and healthy whilst being healthy, it would be possible for someone to form the opinion –the wrong opinion- that in these cases and in all similar cases, that such people, people who have these things or qualities and still lack them – I know I’m labouring this point, Agathon but I’m doing so because I don’t want us to fall into a trap, because as you can see, all these people have what they have, irrespective of whether they want them or not, so how could they possibly feel a lack of them? Therefore, if someone comes to us and says, ‘I am of good health and desire to be of good health, or I am rich and desire to be rich and at the same time he also says, I desire to have what I already have,’ we’d be saying to that man, ‘You, friend, possess wealth and strength and good health, therefore you wish to secure the possession of these things for the future because for the present, irrespective of whether you want them or not, you do possess them. In which case, think if perhaps, when you say this, when you say that I desire those things which I possess now, you don’t in fact mean something quite different, such as I wish to continue possessing the things which I posses now.’ If we were to put that question to him, he would agree, isn’t that so, Agathon?”
“Yes he would.”
“But then, Agathon, this means that one may be in love with something that he does not possess yet, which, in this case, the desire to possess in the future that which he possesses now.”
“In which case, he and everyone else who has some desire or other, feels it for something which is not assured and for something that is not to do with the present and which he does not possess, or for that which he is not, which obviously means that these are the things that one desires and loves. Is that not so?”
“Well then, let us go over everything that we have agreed upon.,” said Socrates. “Eros is, initially the love of things but then it is also the love of something which a man lacks.”
“Quite so,” replied Agathon.
“Now, let’s also remember the things you said in your speech, Agathon, regarding Eros and, if you like I’ll remind you. In fact, I think you said something like, from the moment the god appeared, beauty ruled throughout the deeds of the gods and that the god cannot live in ugliness. Is this not what you said?”
“Yes it is,” Agathon admitted.
“And a valid observation to make, too, my friend, Agathon” added Socrates. “And if things are truly like so, then Eros is a lover of beauty and not of ugliness.”
“And we’ve also said that Eros is the love of something a man lacks and which he does not have.”
“Therefore, Eros does not have beauty but wants it, desires it.”
“I must agree,” said Agathon.
“Well then, Agathon, could we possibly say that Eros, lacking beauty, is beautiful?”
“And, if this is so, Agathon, do you still think that this god, Eros, is beautiful?”
“Socrates, I think that I didn’t know what I was saying when I said that,” admitted Agathon.
“Yet you spoke beautifully, Agathon but tell me something else. Do you think that the good is also beautiful?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Well then, if Eros lacks beauty and if beauty is also good, then this god lacks not only beauty but goodness also.”
“I have no means of disagreeing with you, Socrates so let us say things are as you say they are.”
“Oh, no, dear Agathon! To disagree with Socrates is not at all difficult but to disagree with the truth, that is what is difficult! But now it’s time for me to leave and I shall leave you with what Diotima of Mantinea once told me about Eros. She was a woman, wise in such and many other things. Once, while all the Athenians were making sacrifices to avert the plague she managed to delay it for ten years. It is she who taught me all matters concerning love.
So I shall let her speak now, starting with those conclusions to which Agathon and I have reached and in doing so, I shall give you the details as best I can, using my own words.
But I must, Agathon, as you have suggested, first refer to the nature and the identity of the god, Eros and then talk of his deeds.
It would be the easiest thing for me to relate her words to you in the same manner this lady stranger had them related to me, by examining my views with all sorts of questions in search of the truth because I said to her, more or less the same sort of things which Agathon said to me just now. Things like Eros is a great god and that he is concerned with all matters to do with beauty. However she questioned me on that, in the same way I questioned Agathon here and she proved to me that my views that he is a good god or a god of beauty are wrong.
“What are you saying, Diotima,” I asked her. “Is Eros shameful and evil?” to which she said, “stop with the silly talk, Socrates! Must it be that whatever is not beautiful, be also ugly?”
“But of course, I said!”
“Is that right?” she asked “And therefore, must whoever is not wise be also ignorant? Can you not conceive of a place somewhere between ignorance and wisdom?”
“What would that place be,” I asked her.
“the place where you simply hold correct views but you are not able to explain the reason why you hold them,” she replied “and even though opinion is not science -it is not knowledge- it is still not ignorance, is it? Because how could anyone say that this opinion is ignorance, if it is an opinion that is correct? So this opinion, which is correct, must be somewhere between wisdom and ignorance, isn’t this so, Socrates?”
“You are right,” I said.
“So, Socrates, you mustn’t think that what is good is necessarily also beautiful or what is bad is necessarily also ugly and so, also, you must not think that the god, Eros –since you agree that he is neither beautiful nor ugly- is also either bad or good, rather, you must think of him as being somewhere in between these two.”
“Yet,” I said, “it is well known that he is a great god. Everyone says so.”
“And who is this everyone?” she asked, “is it those who know him or those who are ignorant of him?”
“All of them,” I said.
“And how is it possible, Socrates that those people who don’t even believe that he is a god, to think of him as being great?”
“But who are they?” I asked her.
“You are one and I another,” she replied.
“I don’t understand,” I said. “How can you say that?”
“Easily,” she said. “Tell me, don’t you think that all the gods are both, beautiful and blessed? Or do you dare tell me that neither of the gods are blessed or beautiful?”
“No, by Zeus, of course I don’t dare say that,” I told her.
“And are you not also of the view that those gods who possess goodness and beauty are blessed?”
“But didn’t you say that Eros desires the good and the beautiful because he lacks them?”
“Yes, I did,” I admitted
“But how could anyone be a god if he lacked the good and the beautiful?”
“It obviously can’t happen,” I said.
“So you not see then, Socrates that even you don’t think that Eros is a god?”
“But what can he be, a mortal?”
“Not at all!”
“Well then, what?”
“Well, according to our previous conclusions, he is something between a god and mortal.”
“So, what is he, then Diotima?”
“He is a great spirit, Socrates and all spirits are both god and mortal.”
“And what are his powers,” I asked her.
“He can interpret the wishes of the mortals and he can convey them to the gods, and he can interpret the wishes of the gods and convey them to the mortals. Prayers and sacrifices from one lot and the commands and rewards from the other. Moreover, he fills the void between the two so that the universe is united in him. It is through these spirits that all the divinations and all the other skills of the priest emerge. All their sacrifices and all their mysteries and incantations, their charms and their prophesies.
A God does not come into contact with mortals. Contact by either intercourse or by some other communication, between mortals and gods, whether the mortals are asleep or awake, happens through these spirits, of which Eros is one and the man who has skills in such communications is called a ‘spiritual man’ whereas the man whose skills lie in some trade or work with the hands is called a labourer. There are many spirits and they are of many kinds; Eros is one of these spirits.”
“And who are his parents?” I asked
“This is a rather long story to tell,” she said “but I’ll tell it to you. On the day that Aphrodite was born, all the other gods were having a feats. The god of plenty, Poros and his mother Metis, goddess of wisdom, were also among them. When they all had their fill of the feast, Penia, the goddess of poverty, came and knocked on the door to do her begging, a custom of hers, after such occasions.
Poros, who by then was heavily drunk on nectar (wine, I should add, had not been invented yet) went into Zeus’ garden where he fell into deep sleep.
Penia now, who was unhappy at her straitened circumstances thought of having a child with Poros hoping to alleviate her predicament and so lay with him. The child born out of this union was Eros.
And this is why Eros has become her follower and her servant. Because he was born on the same day as Aphrodite and because he was a born lover of the beautiful and because Aphrodite is, indeed, beautiful.
And there is also the fact that, since his father was Poros and his mother was Penia, he was endowed with the following characteristic: From his mother, he inherited poverty and far from being the soft, beautiful creature that everyone seems to believe he is, he is, in fact, hard-hearted, rough, barefooted, homeless, who sleeps on the ground, without a blanket and spends his nights at people’s doors, in the street or in the open and generally a copy of his mother, a constant partner of need.
Now, from his father, he inherited the art of scheming. He constantly schemes to get for himself whatever he sees that is either beautiful or good. Because he is also brave, bold and forceful as well as a most skillful hunter.
He is always scheming about something and he is a keen pursuer of knowledge, a most resourceful spirit, a philosopher all of his life, a brilliant sorcerer, an alchemist, a true sophist. And by nature he is neither immortal nor mortal. There are times during the day when he is in plenty and so lives and flourishes and there are times within the same day when he dies but, due to his father’s nature. As for his income, it always flows, in as well as out so that he is never either poor nor wealthy and as well, he is always between wisdom and ignorance.
This is how things are: None of the gods practices philosophy nor does he desire to be wise because he already is wise. And it is the same with every other wise person. They do not seek to be wise because they already are wise. And odd as this might sound, nor do the ignorant love or seek wisdom because this is what the evil of ignorance is all about: that the ignorant and those bereft of beauty and goodness are perfectly happy to be in this state and think themselves to be lacking nothing and therefore they desire nothing. He who feels he needs nothing, desires nothing.
“But then, Diotima, who are those who love wisdom, if, as you say it is neither the wise nor the ignorant,” I asked her.
“It is so obvious, Socrates that even a child could figure it out,” she said. “It is, of course those who are between these two sides one of whom is Eros.
This is because wisdom is one of the most beautiful things and since Eros is the love of beauty , it is obvious that Eros is wise and is found between the wise and the ignorant.
This is due to his birth because his father was wise and wealthy whereas his mother was poor and lacking wisdom. And this then, my friend Socrates is the nature of this spirit.
Now, as for the view you had of Eros, it was wrong but validly so and unsurprising and, from what you have said, I believe that the error is due to the fact that you thought that Eros was the love of the beloved and not of the lover and this is why I think you are of the view that Eros is absolutely beautiful. That which is loved is indeed beautiful and delicate and perfect and blessed but to be in love is quite a different thing and it is just as I have described it to you.”
“Fine then, my friend,” I said. “You speak well but tell me, if this is the nature of Eros, why would men need him?”
“It is exactly this, Socrates that I shall try and explain to you now, Socrates,” she said. “What we’ve described so far is his nature and his parentage and, as well, you’ve added that he desires the beautiful. However, let us suppose that someone has asked us this question: ‘Socrates and Diotima, tell me, what is this desire of the beautiful that you are talking about? What is it made of?’ Or to put it in simpler terms, ‘he who desires the beautiful, what is it that he really desires?'”
“Obviously, to possess it,” I answered.
“Your answer begs another question,” she said “and it is this: ‘what will he who possesses that beautiful thing gain?'”
To that question, I told her I could not give an answer.
“Well then,” she continued. “Let me replace the word ‘beautiful’ with the word the word ‘good’ and ask the same question again. He who loves the good, what is it exactly that he loves?”
“To possess the good, ” I said.
“So then, what he who possesses the good gain?”
“This is a much easier question to answer,” I replied. “He will be happy.”
“Therefore,” she said, “the happy people are happy because they are in possession of the good and there is no need then for me to ask questions about what sort of man desires happiness since the answer is now obvious.”
“Quite so,” I said.
“This desire then, this love for the good, do you think it is common to all men or only to some, what is you view on that?”
“My view is that it is common to all.”
“Well then, Socrates, why is it that if all men are always desirous of the same thing, that we never say that all men are in love but, instead, we say that some men are in love and some are not?”
How then do you explain what we have concluded, Socrates,” she asked. “That not all men love the same things always and that only some do so?”
“I am lost for answer to that question,” I said.
“No need to be lost, on that question,” she said. “The answer, in fact is that we separate one form of love and we use it as if it applies to all love, whereas love, in fact is made up of many forms all of which have their own, individual names.”
“Such as?” I asked.
“Such as this,” she said. “The word poetry simply means ‘creation,’ but that is its general usage. In fact though, there are many forms of creation and all creation, all poetry or anything that didn’t exist but has been brought into existence, is poetry. All the steps taken in every craft, in every type of art are, in effect forms of poetry, of creation and therefore, all the masters of these crafts are poets. Creators.”
“Yes, that is true,” I said.
“And, as you know, these men are not called poets but they all have different names,” she continued. “Of all that makes up the word ‘poetry’ only one part of it has separated itself and took that name, namely, the part that concerns itself with music and meter. It is those people who deal with these arts who can call themselves ‘poets.'”
“Correct again,” I said.
“The same thing happens with love. The general use of the term encompasses every love for what is good and for whatever makes one happy which is exactly what this form of almighty and treacherous love is. However, some people seek this love elsewhere. Some, for example think of it in terms of money others in terms of physical exercise and yet others in philosophy. Is such cases they neither are, or called lovers. Rather, since they are engaged in one and only one form of love, one only element of love, wrongly make use of the word ‘lover’ which is a word that belongs to all of them, the lovers and those in love.”
“What you say is most probably true,” I said.
“It is also said that lovers are people who are seeking their other half,” she said. “However, my view is that love is not concerned with either halves or wholes if those halves and wholes aren’t good. Men are quite willing to cut off their arms and legs if they thought that they were diseased. Therefore, my friend Socrates, men don’t love what is simply similar to them but will call theirs that which is good and foreign that which is bad.
Because men desire nothing but what is good. Is that not your thinking also, Socrates?”
“By Zeus, no, I can think of nothing else they might desire,” I added.
“And therefore,” she went on, “our conclusion is simple enough: men love the good.”
“I agree,” I said.
“Well then,” she continued, “should we not add that men love passionately to possess the good?”
“Yes, we should,” I replied.
“And can we not also add that their desire to possess the good is not only simply for the present but for ever?
“Yes, we could add that too,” I said.
“Well then, to sum up,” she continued “Love must be the desire to always possess the good.”
“And so then, Socrates, since love is exclusively as we just said, that is the desire to always possess the good, how do men go about pursuing this love and what acts must they passionately commit so that they may be called acts of love? Can you tell me what these men are actually pursuing?”
“No, Diotima, ” I replied, “I cannot. If I could I would not be so in awe of your wisdom and I would have come to you to learn about these matters.”
“Then I shall teach you,” she said. “What they are pursuing with such fervour is the birth of beauty; beauty in body and beauty in the soul.”
“What you just said, Diotima requires an oracle to explain its meaning. I simply don’t understand it.”
“Well, let me speak a lot more clearly,” she said. “All men, Socrates are pregnant, both, in body and in spirit and when the time for them to give birth comes, they desire to give birth not to something deformed but to something good, something beautiful. The union then of a man and a woman is a divine thing and a thing which happens in animals which are mortal beings so that they may secure immortality. This though, cannot happen in disharmony and ugliness is in disharmony with the divine whereas beauty is in harmony with it.
Present at the birth are Moira, the goddess of Destiny and Eileithyia, the beautiful goddess of childbirth and these two goddesses preside over the birth. This is why when the embryo approaches the beautiful Eileithyia, it becomes both, serene and relaxed and the birth an easy one.
If, on the other hand it approaches the ugly, it takes on a dark frown and contracts tightly within itself, feels pain and turns away, recoils and with much pain holds back from birth. And so, Socrates, a person who is already bursting with desire is violently drawn towards beauty because beauty can save him, that is the man who possesses it, from all those pangs of distress and pain. You see, Socrates, what love desires is not, as you imagine, beauty!”
“Well then, what does it desire?”
“It desires to give birth and to do it in beauty.”
“Very well,” I said.
“Quite so, Socrates,” she replied and the continued, “But why this desire for procreation? Because, to the mortals, giving birth gives them a sense of eternity and immortality; and,” she continued, “since we’ve agreed that the desire for the good must co exist with the desire for immortality since the desire to possess the good is the desire to possess it for ever, the conclusion of which is that love is not only the love for good but also the love for immortality.”
“So, I’ve learnt all this from Diotima whenever discussions took us to issues of love. One day, however, she asked me this:
“Socrates, where do you think does this huge passion and love come from? Surely you can see what terrible pain it causes, to the animals of the land and the birds of the air whenever they want to give birth. They fall very ill whenever they are struck by this love. First this intense desire to make love, then to look after the offspring and they will fight to death even, if needs be, fight against all odds, starvation, even, so as to make sure that their offspring survives. One would think that man behaves like this with quite some thought but what of the beasts? What makes them feel this intense love for procreation? Can you answer me this, Socrates?”
Again I told her I could not answer her question.
Then she asked me, “Socrates, how do expect to become an expert in matters of love if you can’t answer these questions?”
“It is for precisely this very reason, Diotima,” I said, “that I came to you. It is because, as I told you earlier, I became aware that I need teachers to teach me these things. So come now, Diotima, enlighten me about why this happens to all the beasts, and about all other issues that relate to love.”
“Now Socrates, my answer won’t surprise you at all if you actually believe that love desires what we have actually agreed that it desires. Because in this case too, the reason is the same as in the last case, which is that the nature of mortality seeks to gain as far as is possible, immortality and eternity. And this can only be achieved by this method, that is, by giving birth, since it always leaves something new behind in place of the old.
After all, every individual animal, for as long as they live goes about by the same name and is, in fact, the same. And similarly with man. He goes about with the same name from childhood through to his old age.
And he, even though he never continues to have the same accompanying characteristics, he still goes by the same name. In fact, he constantly obtains new characteristics while, at the same times, sheds some of the old ones. His hair, for example, or his flesh or his bones, his blood, his whole body, in fact.
And don’t think that these changes are limited to his body, either. His soul, too, undergoes changes, when it comes to such things as habits, temper, opinions, desires, pleasures and pains and fears don’t remain the same throughout his life. New ones appear and old ones disappear.
The oddest thing of all though, Socrates, is his knowledge. Not odd because some of it comes and some goes, so that we are not the same beings, but the various pieces of knowledge, individually undergo the same processes that we do.
Because what comes after a thought flees our mind, is something we call recollection. You see, Socrates, forgetting is what happens when a thought escapes us but then recollection captures another, similar thought and places it at the very same spot that the lost thought was, in such a way that it appears that it is the same thought.
And it is this way that all mortal things are preserved; not by staying the same for ever, which is what only gods can do, but by a constant substitution of the old, aged thing with a new and similar looking but different thing.
It is in this way, Socrates that all mortal things become immortal, in body as well as in other things. The gods, however, enjoy immortality by different means. So don’t be too surprised by the fact that men have such strong love for their offspring. It is a love that springs from a love for immortality.”
When I heard this I was truly astonished so I asked her, “Is all this true, wise Diotima?” To which she answered with all the certainty of professional sophists, “Have not a single doubt about it, Socrates. All you have to do, Socrates is to check men’s ambitionσ and they will reveal to you the truth of this. The lack of logic behind them will astonish you, if, in fact you don’t see them through what I have just told you. You will be astonished to see just how illogical is their love for fame and immortality. And this love for immortality surpasses even their love for their children and are prepared to risk everything they possess and tolerate all sorts of agony and even sacrifice their lives for it.
Do you really think that Alcestis, for example, would have sacrificed herself to save Admetus, her husband, or that Achilles would have died to avenge his cousin Patroclus or your own, King of Athens, Codrus would have sacrificed himself so as to preserve his kingdom for his sons, if they did not all believe that this courage of theirs would live in the memory of all men, as it does in ours? No,” she said, “I find that very hard to believe. I believe that all men do whatever they do so that they may attain glorious fame and immortality and the better these men are the more they do for it.
Now, Socrates, there are those who are pregnant in the body, who have the seed of creativity in their body and those who are pregnant in the soul; and those who are pregnant in the body,” she continued, “are more inclined to turn to the women to show their love in this intense manner so that by having children they will secure for themselves immortality, remembrance and happiness.”
However, those who are pregnant in the soul, men who are far more creative in the soul than they are in their body, conceive and give birth to such things that are appropriate for the soul.”
“And what,” I asked her “is appropriate for the soul to conceive and to give birth to?”
“Wisdom and all other virtues,” she answered. “And poets, being creators, and those of the craftsmen who invent things; but of all the types of wisdom that exist, by far the greatest and fairest of them is that which relates to the harmony of the State and of the family,” she said. “And this type of wisdom is called Moderation and Justice. Of these men, if a young one is carrying the seed of inspiration in his soul but, in spite of the fact he might be ready for marriage, is not so, when he does become of age, he will most certainly desire to conceive and to have children and in order to achieve this he wonders about looking for a beautiful object by which he can satisfy his desire. It must be beautiful because he could never conceive in ugliness. And when he does find a beautiful body which also has a beautiful, noble and wise soul he unites with it with great love and speaks profusely about virtue and about what qualities and deeds signify a good man and tries to educate him. And by being intimately close to the beauty in his friend and always having him in his memory when he’s absent, he succeeds in conceiving and in giving birth to the children he always desired to have. Then, when these children are born, he shares their upbringing with his friends which will make their union and friendship far tighter and more stable than that between other, ordinary parents because these children are far superior to human children since they are not only more beautiful but also immortal! And everyone would rather give birth to such children of creativity than human sort.
Take a look at Homer or Hesiod and other poets. You would envy them the children they have left behind for us. These are children whose virtues have gained immortality and glory for their parents.
Or, if you like, take a look at what children Lycourgos, the lawyer, has left behind to save Sparta, if not for the whole of Greece. And then, among you there is also Solon who gave birth to his laws; and many others, elsewhere, many men both Greek and foreigners who, through many great deeds, have given birth to many virtues. To the children of these men many shrines have been erected, shrines which were never raised in honour of anyone’s human children.
These, then Socrates, are the issues concerned with love, issues which, even you could understand but whether you could also manage to understand them to their ultimate point, as does someone who examines them with the right attitude, I don’t know,” she said. “But it won’t be my fault if you do because I will do my utmost to tell you about them and to teach you of them and you should try and follow what I’m saying.
Now he wants to pursue such a goal in the right way must begin when he’s still young and he must first seek out the beauty in physical forms. If he is a good student, his teacher will guide him to first fall in love with one only beautiful person and with him, alone, give birth to beautiful thoughts. eventually, he will become aware that the physical beauty of one person is much like that of another person. At the same time, he will also be made aware that, if the external, the physical body is what interests him the most, then it is quite foolish to believe that this physical beauty he sees in one person is not the same as in all other persons. Once he understands this then it will be necessary for him to become a lover of all physical beauty and to relax the intensity of his love for that one person because he will also come to see that this sort of love for one person is of little worth.
His next realisation will be that the beauty of the soul is far more honourable than the love of the body. Then, when he meets someone whose body lacks the bloom of beauty but his soul does not, he will overlook the former and be content to cherish the latter and give birth to such ideas as will make youth better people. This will force him to see beauty in institutions and in laws and to see also that the beauty of all these things is the same and that the physical beauty, generally is not as valuable.
Then he will move from the beauty of morals to that of the sciences so that, once he is able to see the beauty in its widest possible campus, he will no longer be a slave to the crass and narrow-minded love for the beauty of one youth or one man or an institution or a particular activity but he would see that there is a vast ocean of beauty before him. It is from this understanding and from his enormous love of wisdom that he will give birth to many beautiful and noble views and ideas, until finally, when he has become strong and independent, this unique science, the beauty of which of which I am about to mention reveals itself to him.
Please try and follow me here as much as you possibly can.
Well then, he who has been educated in the affairs of love correctly to this point, he will then approach with the correct mindset those things which are good. Then, getting closer towards the end of his journey, he will suddenly discover in nature something quite special, which is that for which all the other efforts were made and which has as its primary characteristic, immortality, by which I mean, it neither dies, nor does it become greater or lesser, nor is it good one minute and evil the next. In other words, it is stable and unchanging. It’s not something that some people will view as good and others as bad.
Nor does this thing of beauty become visible to him as does, for example, someone’s face or hands or some other thing that is part of a physical body, nor like a speech, or like a piece of knowledge, nor is it found on some other being, like some other animal, or on the earth or the sky, but it is exclusively and uniquely it’s own form of beauty; and whatever other forms of beauty are attached to it, have no impact upon it whether they appear or disappear, in other words, its beauty will neither diminish nor increase and nor will it suffer anything at all.
So, when a man who continues his journey from this point, a point where he applies his love for boys correctly, he begins to discern most clearly a type of beauty which, we could say, is almost perfect.
This then is how to learn and understand about all matters relating to love. To begin by examining different forms of beauty in nature and, with the goal of pursuing absolute beauty in mind, use these forms to constantly climb from one form of beauty to a second and from these two to all of the others and then from physical beauty to moral beauty, then to the beauty of wisdom, until from an understanding of various forms of beauty, he arrives at the supreme wisdom, the wisdom whose sole purpose is that very perfect beauty and thus, finally has a clear understanding of what perfect beauty is.
It is this phase of life, more so than any other, my dear Socrates,” said the woman from Mantinea, “where a man may spent his life in the contemplation of this perfect beauty. And once you have seen this perfect beauty you will not be comparing it in terms of gold or expensive clothes, or beautiful boys and youth, the sort which send you into ecstasy the moment you see them and for whom, if it were possible, you’d spend your whole life near them, forgetting about food or drink, satisfied only with merely watching them or being near them.
So, Socrates, how great do you think would be the joy of the man who sees this perfect beauty, this divine, this pure beauty, unadulterated by human flesh and a whole lot of colour and mortal things of no significance, a man who can see this form of beauty and understand it for what it truly is, alone and unique?
Do you think, Socrates that a man who leads a life like this would be leading a bad life? A man who keeps his mind in the direction of this form of beauty and sees it and understands it for what it is and is in constant contact with it?
Can you not see, ” she continued, “that here is the place where he alone – now being equipped with the ability to discern beauty itself- will be able to see the true beauty, the true goodness and not its idol, since he will be in front of the truth and not its representation?
Well then, since he will be able to give birth to true goodness and to nourish it, he will become beloved of the gods and, if it is at all possible for a mortal to become immortal, he would be given that chance?
These things then, Phaedrus and others, Diotima told me and I believed her and now try to persuade others that in the attaining this blessing, human nature could find no better co-worker than Eros.
This is why, I also say that all men should honour this god as I, in fact do, and practice all things relating to love with great enthusiasm and exhort others to do so also and praise the god’s power and bravery to the best of their ability, now and always.
And there you have my speech, Phaedrus. Call it an encomium on love or call it whatever else you wish.”
When Socrates finished his speech the rest of the crowd applauded him and Aristophanes was about to add something since Socrates had mentioned his name in his speech but suddenly there was a great deal of noise outside the front door. Noise which seemed to have been made by a huge crowd of revelers, as well as the sounds of a flute girl.
Agathon then said to the servants, “Go and see what is going on and if it is one of our friends, invite him in, otherwise tell him the drinking is over and we are now resting.
A few moments later we heard Alcibiades’ voice in the court outside. He was totally drunk and he was shouting loudly, asking where Agathon was and insisting that they brought him to Agathon. Finally, propped up by the flute girl and by some of his attendants he was brought into Agathon’s house and to his company of friends. At the door, crowned by a thick wreath of ivy and violets, wrapped with many ribbons, he stood and shouted, “Greetings, men! Will you admit into your company of drinkers a drinker who is absolutely sloshed, or should we crown Agathon with a garland, which is why we came in the first place, and then go away?
I couldn’t come here yesterday, of course and that’s why I came today. With the ribbons on my head I want to crown the head of the wisest and the most beautiful of men. What? You are laughing at me because I am drunk? Drunk or not, I am telling the truth! But don’t just whisper here and there, I want you to speak clearly, shall I come in or not? Will you drink with me?”
“They all made some noisy effort to try and bring him in” said Eryximachos “and take a couch and even Agathon himself called him. So Alcibiades, led by his friends was taken inside. He took the ribbons off his head so as to crown Agathon with them. Now, Socrates was directly in front of him but, because the ribbons had fallen around his eyes he didn’t see him and so he sat next to Agathon, between Agathon and Socrates who moved to make a place for him,” continued Eryximachus.
“Alcibiades embraced Agathon and placed the ribbons on his friend’s head. Then Agathon called at his servants, ‘Take off Alcibiades’ sandals’ he said ‘so that he may lay comfortably between the other two men.’
“Yes,” said Alcibiades “but who is our third drink mate?”
At that moment he turned his head and noticed Socrates and immediately leapt up to his feet and called out, “By Hercules, what is this? Is this Socrates? The man who’s always lying in wait for me, always jumping up in front of me when I least expect it. Now what are you doing here, and why have you taken your seat on this couch, next to the most handsome men in the company? You should be sitting next to Aristophanes or to some other funny man?”
At which Socrates turned to Agathon and said, “Agathon, be ready to protect me because this man’s love is quite a taxing thing. From the very moment I fell in love with this man I haven’t managed to even look at or to have a little chat with a single handsome man without him going uncontrollably wild with jealousy and behave outrageously towards me. Not only will he abuse me and mock me but he’s quite likely to raise violent hands against me! So do be careful that he doesn’t do this again now. Please try and restore our friendship and, failing this, protect me if he tries anything violent! I am quite fearful of this man’s mania and the intensity of his love.
“It is not possible for anyone to restore our friendship, Socrates,” Alcibiades said, “but I shall post pone your punishment for the time being.” Then turning to Agathon, he said to him, “but for the moment, Agathon please give me back some of those ribbons so that I may make a wreath for the head of this most marvelous man! I would not want him to complain that I crowned you and not him, Socrates, who is the absolute chief of speech making, the world over and not simply on single occasions, as that of your own speech the day before yesterday but constantly.” Agathon handed Alcibiades some ribbons with which he made a wreath and crowned Socrates before he reclined back onto his couch. Then he cried out to the rest of the company, “Well, come on men, you all look totally sober to me! Don’t waste any time, drink! Was this not the agreement we made, that you will drink with me? I now vote myself to be the master of our drinking session until you all catch up with my state of drunkenness! Agathon, bring me a big cup if you have it –or rather, no!” He saw that the wine cooler held nearly two litres so he called out at one of the servants, “Servant, bring me that jug over there, yes, the wine cooler.”
Then Alcibiades had this jug filled and was the first to drink from it before he urged Socrates to drink also saying, “notice, friends that this little scheme of mine will have absolutely no effect upon Socrates because the man can drink as much as people will ask him to drink and never get drunk.”
The servant filled Socrates’ cup and he drank.
Then Eryximachus turned to Alcibiades and asked, “Alcibiades, is this how we are going to spend our time? Drink above all else? No conversation, no song, just drink like the thirsty men do?”
Alcibiades then turned him and said, “Greetings, great Eryximachus, son of great and wise father!”
“Greetings to you, too, Alcibiades. So what will we be doing next?”
“We’ll do whatever you say, Eryximachus. We should listen to you who is a physician and one physician is equal to many non physicians.”
“Well then, listen,” said Eryximachus. “Beofre you came in, we had decided that each of us, taking turns from left to right, will make as good a speech as he possibly can in praise of Eros, the god of love. We all have made ours and since you have had your drink, it is right that you should also make the speech. Then you can order Socrates to do what you like and he to his neighbour on his right, and so on.”
“Of course, you’re right, Eryximachus,” said Alcibiades, “but it would be unfair to compare the words of one who is drunk with those who are totally sober. But tell me the truth, my dear friend. Did you really believe what Socrates has just told you or do you believe the exact opposite of what he said? Because if I were to praise anyone else in his presence –man or god- both his hands would be all over me!”
“O, shut your face, Alcibiades!” Said Socrates
“By Poseidon!” answered Alcibiades. “Stop that Socrates! I won’t be making a speech praising anyone else, while you’re here!”
“But if you like, Alcibiades” Eryximachus said, “you can praise Socrates himself!”
“What? What are you saying, Eryximachus?” Alcibiades protested. “Do you think it’s proper for me to attack and punish this man in front of you all?”
“What are you saying, my friend,” Socrates asked. “Are you going to praise me by mocking me? Is that what you’ve got in mind for me?”
“I am going to tell the truth about you,” answered Alcibiades. “Surely, you will let me do that!”
“Of course, I’ll let you tell the truth about me,” answered Socrates. “In fact I urge you to do it!”
“And I am anxious to begin doing so,” answered Alcibiades. “Well, then I want you to do this: If I say anything that is not the truth, then I want you to jump in and interrupt me and point out where I lied. So far as I am concerned, I shall not be lying!
Don’t be too surprised though if, as I am talking, I mention things according to memory and not to the right sequence because in my state of drunkenness, it’s not so easy to mention all your peculiarities.
Well then men, what I’ll try and do is to praise Socrates through images. Of course, he’ll think of this as an attempt to mock him but the images have the intention to exhibit the truth and never to mock.
So I’m saying to you men, that Socrates is exactly like those statues of Silenus one sees in shops where they sell such statues. They hold pipes and flutes and they are hollow and when one takes them apart, one finds little figurines of gods. In fact, I say, that Socrates looks a great deal like that satyr, Marsyas and not even you, Socrates can deny that, at least in appearance, you look like one of those satyrs. But there are also other, points of resemblance.
You insult people, for one, and if you don’t want to admit this, I can prove it by bringing witnesses here. But, perhaps you’ll protest, you don’t play the flute! Of course you do, Socrates, better than Marsyas himself!
Marsyas would enchant people through the power of his mouth and with the accompaniment of his pipe, so will today’s flute players who play his tunes. In fact all those tunes that Olympos played were tunes he learnt from Marsyas and these tunes, whether played by a skilled male player or some poor wretch of a flute girl, can do something which no other tune can do: to enchant their listener because of their divine origin and reveal him for his desire, which is to perform the initiation rites and unite with the gods.
And you, Socrates, are so similar to Marsyas, that you achieve the same result, without flutes and with only mere words.
In fact, we may hear the words and speeches of anyone else, even highly accomplished orators, we think little of them whereas a speech by you, Socrates, or even some insignificant report by someone else about what you might have said, grips us to the very soul. Man, woman or even a young man like me. And, I, myself, in fact, gentlemen, were I not afraid that you’d think me an utter drunk, would freely talk under oath, about the effect these words of his had and still have on me! Every time I hear his words, my heart jumps about like a Chorybant dancer and floods my face with tears.
And I have seen this effect on many others.
Every time I heard men like Pericles and other accomplished orators speak, I understood that they spoke well but I have never suffered anything like this; neither my soul would be in turmoil nor would I be angry at the thought that I was behaving like a slave, a behaviour which, thanks to this Marsyas it often brought me to such a state that I thought that, perhaps I was not worthy of being alive and this, Socrates, you cannot deny!
In fact, even now, if I were to let my ears listen to him, I’d be driven into the same suffering. He forces me to admit that even though I neglect to take care of my many imperfections I worry too much about the affairs of Athens. So, with enormous difficulty I must do with him as I would have had to do had I to deal with Odysseus’ Sirens: shut my ears and move away, lest I spend my entire life sitting next to him.
As well, he and he only of all the men, makes feel something that no one would ever believe that I feel, which is respect and shame. It is only when I am with him that I feel this respect and shame.
I know well that I cannot argue with him, to tell him that I don’t want to do as he says but when I have left his presence, I know that my love of popularity will get the better of me. So I slide quietly and secretly away from him, hoping he won’t notice and then, when I come across him, I feel ashamed about those things I had promised him earlier. In fact, many times I would have felt happy if he simply vanished from the land of the living but then again, I know that if that were to happen I’d feel much sadder, so I really don’t know what to do about this man!
That’s the sort of pain I have suffered from the magic flute melodies of this satyr. And so did many others as well.
But listen to what else I’m about to say about what other things make him the equal, if not the far more marvelous of the creatures I’ve compared him with. You may think you know this man but you don’t, so let me reveal him to you, now that I’ve started on him.
This Socrates is a man who falls in love with all the beautiful and good young men and is constantly around them, showing that he’s in awe of their beauty, while at the same time showing total ignorance of everything!
Is this behaviour not that of a Satyr? Of course it is. Totally, in fact!
This outside appearance of his resembles the carved Silenus to the last detail. But then, my drinking friends, once we have opened him up with a little wine, you will see such wondrous self control that you’ll hardly be able to believe your own eyes.
You should know friends that he is simply not moved at all by good looks –he abhors them, in fact more than anyone can imagine- or by wealth or by anything else that others might think to be important. To Socrates, my friends, such things are of no value at all, as are we all. Be certain of this my drinking mates: to him we are of no account at all.
He spends his whole life pretending he is ignorant about everything, playing games with people and I don’t know if anyone who, after studying the man, opened him up and looked inside and saw what great carvings he has there. I did once. I saw them and saw that they are divine, golden, gloriously beautiful wondrous, so much so that I had thought at the time that I should be his slave there and then and obey his every wish.
And since I believed that Socrates had a genuine love for the flower of my youth, I thought that I had here an unexpected piece of good fortune and that now, if I returned his love, I would be able to find our all that this man knew. I was, you see, very proud of youthful charm.
With those thoughts in mind then, I had begun a new practice. Whereas before I had always gone to meet Socrates while I was accompanied by a friend, I suddenly sent away my friend and kept meeting Socrates on my own.
I will tell you, gentlemen the full truth of the matter so pay close attention. And you, Socrates, if I utter a lie, stop me and tell me so.
Well then, my friends, I used to meet this man alone. I alone and he alone and I thought that he’d start talking with me as a lover talks to his young beloved during their intimate moments and that used to make me very happy.
None of this ever happened. Instead, after he spent a usual day talking with me, he simply, up and left! Then I suggested that we should train together, hoping that I would have better success with him, at the gymnasium. So he trained with me and we even wrestled together often and when there was no one else around.
The same story here as well. No further developments at all!
So then I’ve decided to take a more aggressive approach against this man who’s so well armed with patience. And I would not stop not to stop until I found out how things went in the matter so this time I decided to invite him to dinner and try and set traps on him, much like a lover does to his young beloved. He took a long time to accept but he finally did.
On the first occasion, he wanted to leave immediately after he had finished dining. I was too shy not to let him go so I did. On the next occasion however I was prepared with a plan. When we had finished eating, I began chatting with him and we continued chatting deep into the night and then, when he wanted to leave, I told him it was far too late to do so and forced him to stay.
Then he reclined on the couch next to mine where he sat to have his dinner. No one else was in the room except us.
So far my story could be one that I could tell without any shame to anyone. However, what I am about to say, you would not have heard from me, firstly if the saying about wine –whether for children or adults- wasn’t correct and secondly because I consider it unjust to hide such an important and brave deed of Socrates’, now that I have set out to praise him.
In any case, I am in the same difficult circumstance with the man who’s been bitten by a snake. If I am not mistaken, they say that he who has been bitten by snake does not want to speak about it except to those who have suffered the same fate because only they would understand that pain and excuse him if he said or did something outrageous as a result of the pain and the agony inflicted by that pain.
And so now I have suffered the most painful bite any creature can inflict and I have suffered it in the most dreadful way and in the most dreadful place –in the heart, or in the soul or whatever one calls it: I have been bitten and wounded by the words of Philosophy, words which are said to be much more painful than the bites of a snake and which, when they enter the innocent soul of a young man, awaken that soul and make it say all sorts of things. And you, men, Phaedrus and Agathon, and Erixymachus and Pausanias and Aristodemus and Aristophanes –you , too, Socrates and the rest of you! You have all been bitten by those same words of Philosophy and possess now, all of you your share of madness and frenzy and so you shall all listen to what happened. And you will be able to show an understanding, not only for what happened then but also for what I am saying now. All you servants, though and any other vulgar and uninitiated person present, you better shut your ears firmly so that you won’t hear what I am about to say.
And so, my friends, when the lamp was put out and all the servants had gone, I decided not to be subtle with my words but to tell him openly and clearly what I had in mind. I nudged him a little and then asked him, “Socrates, are you asleep?”
“No, of course not,” he replied.
“Do you know what I’ve decided?” I asked him.
“I believe, Socrates, that you are the best possible lover for me but I think you are too shy to admit it. What I also think is that it is quite foolish for me not to grant you this joy, as well as whatever you may wish to have from my property or that of any of my friends. Because I don’t think there is anything more important for my life than to become as virtuous as I possibly can and in this, I can see no other person more appropriate than you to be my strong ally and help. And if I refused to grant the joy of a loved one to a man like you then I would be feel far more ashamed of the condemnation I’d receive from the wise folk than from all the fools who would condemn me for doing so.
Socrates listened to what I had to say and then, in his usual ironical manner, replied, “My dear friend Alcibiades, if what you say is true and I really have the power to help you become a better man then you must be a very insightful young man, indeed. Obviously you see in me some astonishing beauty, one far superior to your own physical beauty, in which case if, having discerned this, you wish to exchange your own beauty for mine then, my friend you will get the better of the bargain, taking for yourself true and genuine beauty while giving, in exchange, a superficial only beauty. In fact, Alcibiades, you want to exchange gold with bronze. But, dear boy, think again, lest you make a mistake and find in me a man less valuable.
Because, let me assure you, the vision of the mind does not reach its peak until the vision of the eye has reached the phase of decline and you, Alcibiades are nowhere near there.”
When I heard this I said, “You have heard what I had to say and there’s nothing in what you said that is different to what I have in mind. But it is now up to you to decide what is best for you and what is best for me.”
“That’s true,” he said. “In the coming days we shall examine what is good for us in this and in other matters so far as they concern us.”
After the exchange of these words, which I shot at him as if they were arrows, I thought that I had wounded him, so I leapt to my feet before he could say another word, threw my cloak over him –it being Winter at the time- and crept beneath his threadbare cloak. Then I wrapped both my arms around this divine and wondrous creature and slept next to him all night. And don’t say I am lying, Socrates!
Still, despite all of my efforts he rose well above my charms, treated them with utter disdain and mocked them, insulted my youthful beauty –which I thought was of quite some worth, dear judges who, truly you must be judges of Socrates’ excessive pride! And you should know well, gentlemen that, by the gods and goddesses, though I have slept all night with Socrates, it was a night no different than if it was a night with my father or my older brother.
You can imagine, gentlemen what was my state of mind after that.
On one hand I felt disgraced yet on the other totally awestruck by his behaviour, his self control and his bravery and that there I was, having met a man whose wisdom and bravery was beyond my wildest imaginings. How then could I say even a single word of anger to him and how could I tear myself away from his company? How could I bring him closer to me?
Because I knew too well that Socrates stood unfazed against all things including money, even more so than Ajax was against the iron sword. And the only means that I thought I had at my disposal to use to bring him to submission, which my beauty, had left me.
I felt utterly lost and wandered about rejected from this man like no other man felt rejected by another. All this, of course had happened before the campaign to Potidaea where, in fact we were in the same mess and ate together. And there, I might first mention that this man was more tolerant of hardship not only than me but, in fact more than all the other soldiers. And whenever we were cut off from supplies and there was shortage of food, which is common in military campaigns, no one was anywhere near as able to endure this shortage than him.
As well, during festivities, he was the only one who could really enjoy them because he avoided drinking, though when he was forced to do so, he drank more than all the others and yet, strangely enough, so far no one has seen Socrates drunk, proof of which you will see before long.
As for his endurance to the cold of Winter is concerned, which in Potidaea it was most severe, Socrates he performed miracles. In fact, once, when there was ice about, so dreadful that the soldiers either didn’t venture out of their tents or if they did, they dressed themselves with heavy garments and boots and wrapped their legs with cloth or sheepskin. Socrates though wore nothing different to what he always wore and even walked barefooted on the snow with greater ease than those with shoes which made the others shoot hard glances at him, thinking he was trying to humiliate them.
So much for this subject but it’s worth telling you how much this brave man suffered during that campaign.
One early morning some problematic thought occurred to him and stood there in one spot, deep in thought, trying to solve it. He stood there in that spot, unable to solve that problem and by midday, people began to notice him and to wonder about him and to remark that Socrates was standing there since early daybreak and was pondering about something.
Some Ionians brought their beddings outside and spent the night there so as to enjoy the cool air but also to keep an eye on Socrates, wondering if he would spent the whole night standing motionless like that on that spot.
Well, Socrates stood there right up until Dawn when the sun appeared. Then Socrates said a prayer to the sun and simply left.
Now, if you are interested in battles, since of course it is only fair that we should mention this, on the day when the battle for which the generals awarded me the bravery medal, it was Socrates and no one else who had saved my life. Not only he did not abandon me, a wounded man but he also managed to rescue my weapons as well.
I, of course Socrates, have urged the Generals to confer the award on you then. You will surely neither hold that act against me nor will you call me a liar. He should have received that award but the Generals have awarded to me because I was well-connected. I had made my objections known to them but you were even more eager than them to have me receive it rather than you.
However, my friends, it is also a worthy exercise for you to see Socrates during our retreat from Delium. It so happened that I was near them, I on horse and he on foot, carrying his armour. Now while all the other soldiers were running in full panic in all directions, Socrates retreating calmly. Laches was walking with him. When I saw them I galloped up them and told them not to be afraid because I was there and would not be abandoning them. Here, at Delium, in fact, I had a better chance to observe Socrates than at Potidaea because, being on a horse, this time, I had less reason to be afraid.
The first thing I had noticed was that Socrates was far more calm than Laches and the next thing was that Socrates was walking there just as you, Aristophanes describe him walking here, “walking along with pride and with his nose high up in the air like that of a duck, casting side-long glances” quietly checking out the behaviour of both, enemies and friends and letting it known that even from a distance, he who would dare attack him would be met by robust and mighty resistance and this is why he and his friend managed to get away safely which is what usually happens: those who behave bravely like these two hardly ever get touched by the enemy who would rather pursue those who are rushing to escape.
There are many more such examples which anyone who wanted to praise Socrates could use. As for his other good character traits, one might well argue that they are common and others have them as well but what is truly remarkable about Socrates is that he like no one else, not like any of the ancients nor of his contemporaries.
For example, one might well compare Achilles’ character with that of Brasidas or others, of Pericles with Nestor and Antenor and many others, of course but this man, has unique qualities, both as a man and as a speaker and no matter how much one searches among people of our generation or of the ancient ones he will find no one resembling him in the slightest. One would have to borrow my words and look to compare him with not human beings but with someone like Silenus.
Ah! I forgot to mention at the beginning of my speech that his words present astonishing similarities with the opened Silenus statuettes. If someone decides to listen to one of Socrates’ speeches he will, at first, think that they are ridiculous.
Superficially, his speeches are clothed with words and phrases that make you think of those crass satyrs.
He talks about huge, loaded donkeys and about blacksmiths and cobblers and about leather workers and it seems as if he always uses the same words and talks about the same things so that any ignorant person or any idiot will laugh at him.
But when one opens up his words, like one opens up the Silenus statuette, and examines them thoroughly, he will first of all find that they consist uniquely profound meanings and secondly that they are divinely inspired and contain many statuettes of virtue and applicable to many, or rather to all possible things that one who seeks to become good and virtuous needs to study.
This then, my friends, is my speech in praise of Socrates. It is, of course a speech which I have also included such things as I accused him of, how he has insulted me. And nor am I the only man whom he has insulted in this manner. There is also Charmides and Euthydemus, the son of Diocles and numerous others whom he deceived in the same way, by pretending that he is in love with them whereas in reality, he sheds this role and takes on that of the young lover.
I direct these words to you, Agathon so as to prevent you from becoming another victim of his deceitful ways and to advise you that you should keep your eyes wide open, to learn from our suffering and not to ‘suffer first and learn later’ as the saying goes.”
When Alcibiades ended his speech, the sincere freedom by which he spoke his words raised loud laughs from everyone in the room because it seemed to all that he was still deeply in love with Socrates. To which Socrates responded with, “It seems to me, Alcibiades that you are not drunk but quite sober! Otherwise you’d never be able to make vanish the true intention of this whole speech of yours by twisting it and turning it so elegantly and then slipping it in at the end of it, as if it was of no importance. And your true intention, of course is that you want to sow seeds of discontent between me and Agathon because you are under the illusion that I should be in love only with you and no one else and Agathon should be loved only by you and by no one else!
But we worked you out and all this Silenus and Satyr theatre you put on has been exposed for what it is. And you, my friend Agathon take care he doesn’t get his way and arm yourself against anyone who wants to deceive both of us.”
And Agathon replied, “I’m certain you’re telling the truth Socrates and it’s obvious because he reclined between us so as to separate us but this will serve him no purpose because I’m getting up now and coming to sit next to you.”
“Excellent,” replied Socrates, “because this, indeed is your place, Agathon, next to me.”
“By Zeus!” exclaimed Alcibiades. “The things I must endure from this man! He thinks that he must always get the better of me! At least, you awesome man, let Agathon sit between us.”
“No, that won’t be proper,” replied Socrates, “because you have made a speech in praise of me and now I must make a speech in praise of whoever is on my right, so if Agathon were to sit next to you would he not have to praise me again, instead of me praising him?
Calm down now, my dear friend, Alcibiades and don’t deprave this young chap of my words of praise, something which I’m very keen to do.”
“Ah, ha!” Said Agathon! “I will not sit beside you Alcibiades because I would move anywhere just to hear Socrates praising me.”
“Typical,” said Alcibiades. “It’s the usual stuff. When Socrates is around, no one else has a chance to chat with the handsome lads. And look now how easily he came up with an excuse to get my young friend to sit next to him!”
It was then that Agathon got up to go and sit next Socrates and when, all of a sudden, a group of loud revelers entered the house. The door was left open by someone who had just gone out and so they just walked right in, walked right up to where the drinkers were and spread themselves amongst them, causing total chaos and uncontrolled drinking.
Aristodemus said that Eryximachus, Phaedrus and some others got up and left and that he, himself fell asleep and slept for quite a while, since the nights were long at that time of the year and he woke up a little before Dawn, after the cocks had already done with their crowing.
At that stage, Aristodemus had noticed that some were asleep and others have already gone and that only Agathon, Aristophanes and Socrates were still awake and were drinking from a large cup, passing it from left to right. Socrates was still talking but Aristodemus said that he couldn’t remember any other details or any more of his speech since not only he wasn’t there from the beginning but he was also sleepy.
He did mention however that, the gist of what Socrates was doing and saying was that he was forcing them to admit that the same person could have the required skills to write both, comedies as well as tragedies. The other two, heavy with sleepiness could do nothing but agree with him.
Aristophanes was first to fall asleep and he was followed by Agathon, by which time it was morning. So Socrates, now that he had sent his friends to sleep, got up to leave and Aristodemus, as was his habit, followed him and when he got to the Lyceum he washed and then spent the remainder of the day as he always did.
In the evening he went home to rest.
THE END OF PLATO’S SYMPOSIUM