Plato’s Symposium

11196339_10153292604189645_2617880118047319708_n “Symposium” by Plato (Written circa 385-370 BC / This edition: Wordsworth Classics 1997) Taken on a lazy day spent on my rug. There are five stories in this book, but I’ve only read “Symposium”.

Then at last he understands what true beauty is. (p.46)

Plato’s “Symposium” is mentioned quite often in literature, but whenever I’ve come across it in other books, they usually mention only Aristophanes’ speech; how long ago, humans actually had four arms, four legs, and two heads. With their arrogant nature, they upset Zeus and, consequently, he punished them by splitting them in half. Longing to return to their original state—their “complete” selves—humans spend their lives looking for their other halves. Here is an excerpt from that section:

When man’s natural form was split in two, each half went round looking for its other half. They put their arms round one another, and embraced each other, in their desire to grow together again. (p.23)

The first time I heard that story was back in senior year of high school and kind of “romanticized” about it. Now after reading, I realize that the “split into halves” myth other literature often refers to is actually a very diluted, small section of Aristophanes’ speech and that “Symposium” is actually so. much. more. intense. I read this about two months ago and my mind is still in its blown state. The “Symposium” itself is only 58 pages but I have at least 50% of that underlined because Plato kept blowing me away. I took a few trips to the bookstore before actually purchasing it, thinking that it would be a more difficult read. Turns out it’s actually very accessible and easy to comprehend—the language and writing style. The content is out of this world. Writing this post on it is actually pretty difficult because everything in it is so great that I wish I could just read all of it to you instead. 11759614_10153496880004645_1146408870_n The “Symposium” surrounds the topic of “love”—the meaning, the purpose, and the nature of it. Seven men gather at the symposium—or drinking party—and take turns giving speeches on what they think “love” is. The group consists of a politician, a playboy, a doctor, a playwright, and etc, and they all have different views. They cover sexual behaviors, homosexuality (a norm back in ancient Greece—WE are the ones that are slow. Love wins.), beauty, what it means to be an honorable man, sacrifice, goodness, and etc. So you understand, that is quite a lot covered in just 58 pages. I highly recommend reading it. It will amaze you, stun you, floor you, and just leave you in a trance for a while, trying to absorb everything. ….. Here are a few of my favorite lines from their drinking party. Or, well, literally a page from the book. It’s impossible to pick a few lines. Not exaggerating. 11736906_10153496880044645_697475240_n When a man has reached this point in his education in love, studying the different types of beauty in correct order, he will come to the final end and goal of his education. Then suddenly he will see a beauty of breathtaking nature, the beauty which is the justification of all his efforts so far. It is eternal, neither coming to be nor pass away, neither increasing nor decreasing. Moreover it is not beautiful in part, and ugly in part, nor is it beautiful at one time, and not at another; nor beautiful in some respects, but not in others; nor beautiful here and there, as if beautiful in some people’s eyes, but not in others. It will not appear to him as the beauty of the face, or hands, or anything physical…It exists for all time, by itself and within itself, unique. All other forms of beauty derive from it, but in such a way that their creation and destruction does not strengthen or weaken it, or affect it in any way at all. If a man progresses (as he will do, if he goes about his love affairs in the right way) from the lesser beauties, and begins to catch sight of this beauty, then he is within reach of the final revelation. Such is the experience of the man who approaches, or is guide towards, love in the right way, beginning with the particular examples of beauty, but always returning from them to the search for that one beauty.” (p.45) What is mortal tries, to be the best of its ability, to be everlasting and immortal. (p.42) Well, for a start, […Eros] is the youngest of the gods. He proves this himself by running away at top speed from old age. Yet old age is swift enough, and swifter than most of us would like. (p.27) When a lover of boys (or any sort of lover) meets the real thing (i.e. his other half), he is completely overwhelmed by friendship and affection and desire, more or less refusing to be separated for any time at all. These are the people who spend their whole lives together, and yet they cannot find words for what they want from one another. No one imagines that it’s simply sexual intercourse, or that sex is the reason why one gets such enormous pleasure out of the other’s company. No, it’s obvious that the soul of each has some other desire, which it cannot express. It can only give hints and clues to its wishes. (p.24)


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