Symposium (dialogue of Plato)

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The Symposium is one of Plato's middle dialogues, and is widely considered to be a masterpiece of the dialogue form. The participants in the dialogue discuss the nature of love - specifically eros, erotic or romantic love.

The dialogue starts with Apollodorus agreeing to retell the story of the discussion with an unnamed businessman, and stating he had previously retold it to Glaucon. Apollorodrus points out that he is relaying it indirectly from the account he was given by Aristodemus. Plato, then, is retelling it at fourth or fifth hand - although this may be a literary device of some kind, perhaps ironical. The actual story starts with Socrates making his way to the home of the dramatist Agathon. He meets Aristodemus and invites him to attend Agathon's feast. On the way there, Socrates wanders off and does not arrive with Aristodemus. Agathon sends a slave out to invite Socrates in but Aristodemus stops him, saying that stopping outside other people's houses is a habit of Socrates: "every now and then he just goes off like that and stands motionless, wherever he happens to be. I'm sure he'll come in very soon, so don't disturb him; let him be" (175b[1]). Eventually, Socrates arrives halfway through the meal. After dinner, the participants poured a drink of praise to Dionysus, the god of wine and drunkeness, sang a hymn and prepared themselves for an evening of drinking. Pausanias described how he was recovering from drinking heavily the day before and asks the others to not overdo it. Eryximachus, a physician, heartily endorses this moderation, and also suggests that the flute-girl be dismissed so that the men could participate in a conversation about love.

References

  1. Throughout this article and others on Plato, the pagination references of Stephanus will be used. This is common scholarly practice - they indicate the page and section of the page in Henri Estienne's 1578 compiled volume of the work of Plato. Most contemporary translated volumes and secondary literature on Plato use this system. See Bernard Suzanne's Frequently Asked Questions about Plato - Quoting Plato: Stephanus references.