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by Plato, translated by B. Jowett.

January, 1999 [Etext #1600]

*******The Project Gutenberg Etext of Symposium, by Plato*******
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by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


Of all the works of Plato the Symposium is the most perfect in form, and
may be truly thought to contain more than any commentator has ever dreamed
of; or, as Goethe said of one of his own writings, more than the author
himself knew. For in philosophy as in prophecy glimpses of the future may
often be conveyed in words which could hardly have been understood or
interpreted at the time when they were uttered (compare Symp.)--which were
wiser than the writer of them meant, and could not have been expressed by
him if he had been interrogated about them. Yet Plato was not a mystic,
nor in any degree affected by the Eastern influences which afterwards
overspread the Alexandrian world. He was not an enthusiast or a
sentimentalist, but one who aspired only to see reasoned truth, and whose
thoughts are clearly explained in his language. There is no foreign
element either of Egypt or of Asia to be found in his writings. And more
than any other Platonic work the Symposium is Greek both in style and
subject, having a beauty 'as of a statue,' while the companion Dialogue of
the Phaedrus is marked by a sort of Gothic irregularity. More too than in
any other of his Dialogues, Plato is emancipated from former philosophies.
The genius of Greek art seems to triumph over the traditions of
Pythagorean, Eleatic, or Megarian systems, and 'the old quarrel of poetry
and philosophy' has at least a superficial reconcilement. (Rep.)

An unknown person who had heard of the discourses in praise of love spoken
by Socrates and others at the banquet of Agathon is desirous of having an
authentic account of them, which he thinks that he can obtain from
Apollodorus, the same excitable, or rather 'mad' friend of Socrates, who is
afterwards introduced in the Phaedo. He had imagined that the discourses
were recent. There he is mistaken: but they are still fresh in the memory
of his informant, who had just been repeating them to Glaucon, and is quite
prepared to have another rehearsal of them in a walk from the Piraeus to
Athens. Although he had not been present himself, he had heard them from
the best authority. Aristodemus, who is described as having been in past
times a humble but inseparable attendant of Socrates, had reported them to
him (compare Xen. Mem.).

The narrative which he had heard was as follows:--

Aristodemus meeting Socrates in holiday attire, is invited by him to a
banquet at the house of Agathon, who had been sacrificing in thanksgiving
for his tragic victory on the day previous. But no sooner has he entered
the house than he finds that he is alone; Socrates has stayed behind in a
fit of abstraction, and does not appear until the banquet is half over. On
his appearing he and the host jest a little; the question is then asked by
Pausanias, one of the guests, 'What shall they do about drinking? as they
had been all well drunk on the day before, and drinking on two successive
days is such a bad thing.' This is confirmed by the authority of
Eryximachus the physician, who further proposes that instead of listening
to the flute-girl and her 'noise' they shall make speeches in honour of
love, one after another, going from left to right in the order in which
they are reclining at the table. All of them agree to this proposal, and
Phaedrus, who is the 'father' of the idea, which he has previously
communicated to Eryximachus, begins as follows:--

He descants first of all upon the antiquity of love, which is proved by the
authority of the poets; secondly upon the benefits which love gives to man.
The greatest of these is the sense of honour and dishonour. The lover is
ashamed to be seen by the beloved doing or suffering any cowardly or mean
act. And a state or army which was made up only of lovers and their loves
would be invincible. For love will convert the veriest coward into an
inspired hero.

And there have been true loves not only of men but of women also. Such was
the love of Alcestis, who dared to die for her husband, and in recompense
of her virtue was allowed to come again from the dead. But Orpheus, the
miserable harper, who went down to Hades alive, that he might bring back
his wife, was mocked with an apparition only, and the gods afterwards
contrived his death as the punishment of his cowardliness. The love of
Achilles, like that of Alcestis, was courageous and true; for he was
willing to avenge his lover Patroclus, although he knew that his own death
would immediately follow: and the gods, who honour the love of the beloved
above that of the lover, rewarded him, and sent him to the islands of the

Pausanias, who was sitting next, then takes up the tale:--He says that
Phaedrus should have distinguished the heavenly love from the earthly,
before he praised either. For there are two loves, as there are two
Aphrodites--one the daughter of Uranus, who has no mother and is the elder
and wiser goddess, and the other, the daughter of Zeus and Dione, who is
popular and common. The first of the two loves has a noble purpose, and
delights only in the intelligent nature of man, and is faithful to the end,
and has no shadow of wantonness or lust. The second is the coarser kind of
love, which is a love of the body rather than of the soul, and is of women
and boys as well as of men. Now the actions of lovers vary, like every
other sort of action, according to the manner of their performance. And in
different countries there is a difference of opinion about male loves.
Some, like the Boeotians, approve of them; others, like the Ionians, and
most of the barbarians, disapprove of them; partly because they are aware
of the political dangers which ensue from them, as may be seen in the
instance of Harmodius and Aristogeiton. At Athens and Sparta there is an
apparent contradiction about them. For at times they are encouraged, and
then the lover is allowed to play all sorts of fantastic tricks; he may
swear and forswear himself (and 'at lovers' perjuries they say Jove
laughs'); he may be a servant, and lie on a mat at the door of his love,
without any loss of character; but there are also times when elders look
grave and guard their young relations, and personal remarks are made. The
truth is that some of these loves are disgraceful and others honourable.
The vulgar love of the body which takes wing and flies away when the bloom
of youth is over, is disgraceful, and so is the interested love of power or
wealth; but the love of the noble mind is lasting. The lover should be
tested, and the beloved should not be too ready to yield. The rule in our
country is that the beloved may do the same service to the lover in the way
of virtue which the lover may do to him.

A voluntary service to be rendered for the sake of virtue and wisdom is
permitted among us; and when these two customs--one the love of youth, the
other the practice of virtue and philosophy--meet in one, then the lovers
may lawfully unite. Nor is there any disgrace to a disinterested lover in
being deceived: but the interested lover is doubly disgraced, for if he
loses his love he loses his character; whereas the noble love of the other
remains the same, although the object of his love is unworthy: for nothing
can be nobler than love for the sake of virtue. This is that love of the
heavenly goddess which is of great price to individuals and cities, making
them work together for their improvement.

The turn of Aristophanes comes next; but he has the hiccough, and therefore
proposes that Eryximachus the physician shall cure him or speak in his
turn. Eryximachus is ready to do both, and after prescribing for the
hiccough, speaks as follows:--

He agrees with Pausanias in maintaining that there are two kinds of love;
but his art has led him to the further conclusion that the empire of this
double love extends over all things, and is to be found in animals and
plants as well as in man. In the human body also there are two loves; and
the art of medicine shows which is the good and which is the bad love, and
persuades the body to accept the good and reject the bad, and reconciles
conflicting elements and makes them friends. Every art, gymnastic and
husbandry as well as medicine, is the reconciliation of opposites; and this
is what Heracleitus meant, when he spoke of a harmony of opposites: but in
strictness he should rather have spoken of a harmony which succeeds
opposites, for an agreement of disagreements there cannot be. Music too is
concerned with the principles of love in their application to harmony and
rhythm. In the abstract, all is simple, and we are not troubled with the
twofold love; but when they are applied in education with their
accompaniments of song and metre, then the discord begins. Then the old
tale has to be repeated of fair Urania and the coarse Polyhymnia, who must
be indulged sparingly, just as in my own art of medicine care must be taken
that the taste of the epicure be gratified without inflicting upon him the
attendant penalty of disease.

There is a similar harmony or disagreement in the course of the seasons and
in the relations of moist and dry, hot and cold, hoar frost and blight; and
diseases of all sorts spring from the excesses or disorders of the element
of love. The knowledge of these elements of love and discord in the
heavenly bodies is termed astronomy, in the relations of men towards gods
and parents is called divination. For divination is the peacemaker of gods
and men, and works by a knowledge of the tendencies of merely human loves
to piety and impiety. Such is the power of love; and that love which is
just and temperate has the greatest power, and is the source of all our
happiness and friendship with the gods and with one another. I dare say
that I have omitted to mention many things which you, Aristophanes, may
supply, as I perceive that you are cured of the hiccough.

Aristophanes is the next speaker:--

He professes to open a new vein of discourse, in which he begins by
treating of the origin of human nature. The sexes were originally three,
men, women, and the union of the two; and they were made round--having four
hands, four feet, two faces on a round neck, and the rest to correspond.
Terrible was their strength and swiftness; and they were essaying to scale
heaven and attack the gods. Doubt reigned in the celestial councils; the
gods were divided between the desire of quelling the pride of man and the
fear of losing the sacrifices. At last Zeus hit upon an expedient. Let us
cut them in two, he said; then they will only have half their strength, and
we shall have twice as many sacrifices. He spake, and split them as you
might split an egg with an hair; and when this was done, he told Apollo to
give their faces a twist and re-arrange their persons, taking out the
wrinkles and tying the skin in a knot about the navel. The two halves went
about looking for one another, and were ready to die of hunger in one
another's arms. Then Zeus invented an adjustment of the sexes, which
enabled them to marry and go their way to the business of life. Now the
characters of men differ accordingly as they are derived from the original
man or the original woman, or the original man-woman. Those who come from
the man-woman are lascivious and adulterous; those who come from the woman
form female attachments; those who are a section of the male follow the
male and embrace him, and in him all their desires centre. The pair are
inseparable and live together in pure and manly affection; yet they cannot
tell what they want of one another. But if Hephaestus were to come to them
with his instruments and propose that they should be melted into one and
remain one here and hereafter, they would acknowledge that this was the
very expression of their want. For love is the desire of the whole, and
the pursuit of the whole is called love. There was a time when the two
sexes were only one, but now God has halved them,--much as the
Lacedaemonians have cut up the Arcadians,--and if they do not behave
themselves he will divide them again, and they will hop about with half a
nose and face in basso relievo. Wherefore let us exhort all men to piety,
that we may obtain the goods of which love is the author, and be reconciled
to God, and find our own true loves, which rarely happens in this world.
And now I must beg you not to suppose that I am alluding to Pausanias and
Agathon (compare Protag.), for my words refer to all mankind everywhere.

Some raillery ensues first between Aristophanes and Eryximachus, and then
between Agathon, who fears a few select friends more than any number of
spectators at the theatre, and Socrates, who is disposed to begin an
argument. This is speedily repressed by Phaedrus, who reminds the
disputants of their tribute to the god. Agathon's speech follows:--

He will speak of the god first and then of his gifts: He is the fairest
and blessedest and best of the gods, and also the youngest, having had no
existence in the old days of Iapetus and Cronos when the gods were at war.
The things that were done then were done of necessity and not of love. For
love is young and dwells in soft places,--not like Ate in Homer, walking on
the skulls of men, but in their hearts and souls, which are soft enough.
He is all flexibility and grace, and his habitation is among the flowers,
and he cannot do or suffer wrong; for all men serve and obey him of their
own free will, and where there is love there is obedience, and where
obedience, there is justice; for none can be wronged of his own free will.
And he is temperate as well as just, for he is the ruler of the desires,
and if he rules them he must be temperate. Also he is courageous, for he
is the conqueror of the lord of war. And he is wise too; for he is a poet,
and the author of poesy in others. He created the animals; he is the
inventor of the arts; all the gods are his subjects; he is the fairest and
best himself, and the cause of what is fairest and best in others; he makes
men to be of one mind at a banquet, filling them with affection and
emptying them of disaffection; the pilot, helper, defender, saviour of men,
in whose footsteps let every man follow, chanting a strain of love. Such
is the discourse, half playful, half serious, which I dedicate to the god.

The turn of Socrates comes next. He begins by remarking satirically that
he has not understood the terms of the original agreement, for he fancied
that they meant to speak the true praises of love, but now he finds that
they only say what is good of him, whether true or false. He begs to be
absolved from speaking falsely, but he is willing to speak the truth, and
proposes to begin by questioning Agathon. The result of his questions may
be summed up as follows:--

Love is of something, and that which love desires is not that which love is
or has; for no man desires that which he is or has. And love is of the
beautiful, and therefore has not the beautiful. And the beautiful is the
good, and therefore, in wanting and desiring the beautiful, love also wants
and desires the good. Socrates professes to have asked the same questions
and to have obtained the same answers from Diotima, a wise woman of
Mantinea, who, like Agathon, had spoken first of love and then of his
works. Socrates, like Agathon, had told her that Love is a mighty god and
also fair, and she had shown him in return that Love was neither, but in a
mean between fair and foul, good and evil, and not a god at all, but only a
great demon or intermediate power (compare the speech of Eryximachus) who
conveys to the gods the prayers of men, and to men the commands of the

Socrates asks: Who are his father and mother? To this Diotima replies
that he is the son of Plenty and Poverty, and partakes of the nature of
both, and is full and starved by turns. Like his mother he is poor and
squalid, lying on mats at doors (compare the speech of Pausanias); like his
father he is bold and strong, and full of arts and resources. Further, he
is in a mean between ignorance and knowledge:--in this he resembles the
philosopher who is also in a mean between the wise and the ignorant. Such
is the nature of Love, who is not to be confused with the beloved.

But Love desires the beautiful; and then arises the question, What does he
desire of the beautiful? He desires, of course, the possession of the
beautiful;--but what is given by that? For the beautiful let us substitute
the good, and we have no difficulty in seeing the possession of the good to
be happiness, and Love to be the desire of happiness, although the meaning
of the word has been too often confined to one kind of love. And Love
desires not only the good, but the everlasting possession of the good. Why
then is there all this flutter and excitement about love? Because all men
and women at a certain age are desirous of bringing to the birth. And love
is not of beauty only, but of birth in beauty; this is the principle of
immortality in a mortal creature. When beauty approaches, then the
conceiving power is benign and diffuse; when foulness, she is averted and

But why again does this extend not only to men but also to animals?
Because they too have an instinct of immortality. Even in the same
individual there is a perpetual succession as well of the parts of the
material body as of the thoughts and desires of the mind; nay, even
knowledge comes and goes. There is no sameness of existence, but the new
mortality is always taking the place of the old. This is the reason why
parents love their children--for the sake of immortality; and this is why
men love the immortality of fame. For the creative soul creates not
children, but conceptions of wisdom and virtue, such as poets and other
creators have invented. And the noblest creations of all are those of
legislators, in honour of whom temples have been raised. Who would not
sooner have these children of the mind than the ordinary human ones?
(Compare Bacon's Essays, 8:--'Certainly the best works and of greatest
merit for the public have proceeded from the unmarried or childless men;
which both in affection and means have married and endowed the public.')

I will now initiate you, she said, into the greater mysteries; for he who
would proceed in due course should love first one fair form, and then many,
and learn the connexion of them; and from beautiful bodies he should
proceed to beautiful minds, and the beauty of laws and institutions, until
he perceives that all beauty is of one kindred; and from institutions he
should go on to the sciences, until at last the vision is revealed to him
of a single science of universal beauty, and then he will behold the
everlasting nature which is the cause of all, and will be near the end. In
the contemplation of that supreme being of love he will be purified of
earthly leaven, and will behold beauty, not with the bodily eye, but with
the eye of the mind, and will bring forth true creations of virtue and
wisdom, and be the friend of God and heir of immortality.

Such, Phaedrus, is the tale which I heard from the stranger of Mantinea,
and which you may call the encomium of love, or what you please.

The company applaud the speech of Socrates, and Aristophanes is about to
say something, when suddenly a band of revellers breaks into the court, and
the voice of Alcibiades is heard asking for Agathon. He is led in drunk,
and welcomed by Agathon, whom he has come to crown with a garland. He is
placed on a couch at his side, but suddenly, on recognizing Socrates, he
starts up, and a sort of conflict is carried on between them, which Agathon
is requested to appease. Alcibiades then insists that they shall drink,
and has a large wine-cooler filled, which he first empties himself, and
then fills again and passes on to Socrates. He is informed of the nature
of the entertainment; and is ready to join, if only in the character of a
drunken and disappointed lover he may be allowed to sing the praises of

He begins by comparing Socrates first to the busts of Silenus, which have
images of the gods inside them; and, secondly, to Marsyas the flute-player.
For Socrates produces the same effect with the voice which Marsyas did with
the flute. He is the great speaker and enchanter who ravishes the souls of
men; the convincer of hearts too, as he has convinced Alcibiades, and made
him ashamed of his mean and miserable life. Socrates at one time seemed
about to fall in love with him; and he thought that he would thereby gain a
wonderful opportunity of receiving lessons of wisdom. He narrates the
failure of his design. He has suffered agonies from him, and is at his
wit's end. He then proceeds to mention some other particulars of the life
of Socrates; how they were at Potidaea together, where Socrates showed his
superior powers of enduring cold and fatigue; how on one occasion he had
stood for an entire day and night absorbed in reflection amid the wonder of
the spectators; how on another occasion he had saved Alcibiades' life; how
at the battle of Delium, after the defeat, he might be seen stalking about
like a pelican, rolling his eyes as Aristophanes had described him in the
Clouds. He is the most wonderful of human beings, and absolutely unlike
anyone but a satyr. Like the satyr in his language too; for he uses the
commonest words as the outward mask of the divinest truths.

When Alcibiades has done speaking, a dispute begins between him and Agathon
and Socrates. Socrates piques Alcibiades by a pretended affection for
Agathon. Presently a band of revellers appears, who introduce disorder
into the feast; the sober part of the company, Eryximachus, Phaedrus, and
others, withdraw; and Aristodemus, the follower of Socrates, sleeps during
the whole of a long winter's night. When he wakes at cockcrow the
revellers are nearly all asleep. Only Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon
hold out; they are drinking from a large goblet, which they pass round, and
Socrates is explaining to the two others, who are half-asleep, that the
genius of tragedy is the same as that of comedy, and that the writer of
tragedy ought to be a writer of comedy also. And first Aristophanes drops,
and then, as the day is dawning, Agathon. Socrates, having laid them to
rest, takes a bath and goes to his daily avocations until the evening.
Aristodemus follows.


If it be true that there are more things in the Symposium of Plato than any
commentator has dreamed of, it is also true that many things have been
imagined which are not really to be found there. Some writings hardly
admit of a more distinct interpretation than a musical composition; and
every reader may form his own accompaniment of thought or feeling to the
strain which he hears. The Symposium of Plato is a work of this character,
and can with difficulty be rendered in any words but the writer's own.
There are so many half-lights and cross-lights, so much of the colour of
mythology, and of the manner of sophistry adhering--rhetoric and poetry,
the playful and the serious, are so subtly intermingled in it, and vestiges
of old philosophy so curiously blend with germs of future knowledge, that
agreement among interpreters is not to be expected. The expression 'poema
magis putandum quam comicorum poetarum,' which has been applied to all the
writings of Plato, is especially applicable to the Symposium.

The power of love is represented in the Symposium as running through all
nature and all being: at one end descending to animals and plants, and
attaining to the highest vision of truth at the other. In an age when man
was seeking for an expression of the world around him, the conception of
love greatly affected him. One of the first distinctions of language and
of mythology was that of gender; and at a later period the ancient
physicist, anticipating modern science, saw, or thought that he saw, a sex
in plants; there were elective affinities among the elements, marriages of
earth and heaven. (Aesch. Frag. Dan.) Love became a mythic personage whom
philosophy, borrowing from poetry, converted into an efficient cause of
creation. The traces of the existence of love, as of number and figure,
were everywhere discerned; and in the Pythagorean list of opposites male
and female were ranged side by side with odd and even, finite and infinite.

But Plato seems also to be aware that there is a mystery of love in man as
well as in nature, extending beyond the mere immediate relation of the
sexes. He is conscious that the highest and noblest things in the world
are not easily severed from the sensual desires, or may even be regarded as
a spiritualized form of them. We may observe that Socrates himself is not
represented as originally unimpassioned, but as one who has overcome his
passions; the secret of his power over others partly lies in his passionate
but self-controlled nature. In the Phaedrus and Symposium love is not
merely the feeling usually so called, but the mystical contemplation of the
beautiful and the good. The same passion which may wallow in the mire is
capable of rising to the loftiest heights--of penetrating the inmost secret
of philosophy. The highest love is the love not of a person, but of the
highest and purest abstraction. This abstraction is the far-off heaven on
which the eye of the mind is fixed in fond amazement. The unity of truth,
the consistency of the warring elements of the world, the enthusiasm for
knowledge when first beaming upon mankind, the relativity of ideas to the
human mind, and of the human mind to ideas, the faith in the invisible, the
adoration of the eternal nature, are all included, consciously or
unconsciously, in Plato's doctrine of love.

The successive speeches in praise of love are characteristic of the
speakers, and contribute in various degrees to the final result; they are
all designed to prepare the way for Socrates, who gathers up the threads
anew, and skims the highest points of each of them. But they are not to be
regarded as the stages of an idea, rising above one another to a climax.
They are fanciful, partly facetious performances, 'yet also having a
certain measure of seriousness,' which the successive speakers dedicate to
the god. All of them are rhetorical and poetical rather than dialectical,
but glimpses of truth appear in them. When Eryximachus says that the
principles of music are simple in themselves, but confused in their
application, he touches lightly upon a difficulty which has troubled the
moderns as well as the ancients in music, and may be extended to the other
applied sciences. That confusion begins in the concrete, was the natural
feeling of a mind dwelling in the world of ideas. When Pausanias remarks
that personal attachments are inimical to despots. The experience of Greek
history confirms the truth of his remark. When Aristophanes declares that
love is the desire of the whole, he expresses a feeling not unlike that of
the German philosopher, who says that 'philosophy is home sickness.' When
Agathon says that no man 'can be wronged of his own free will,' he is
alluding playfully to a serious problem of Greek philosophy (compare Arist.
Nic. Ethics). So naturally does Plato mingle jest and earnest, truth and
opinion in the same work.

The characters--of Phaedrus, who has been the cause of more philosophical
discussions than any other man, with the exception of Simmias the Theban
(Phaedrus); of Aristophanes, who disguises under comic imagery a serious
purpose; of Agathon, who in later life is satirized by Aristophanes in the
Thesmophoriazusae, for his effeminate manners and the feeble rhythms of his
verse; of Alcibiades, who is the same strange contrast of great powers and
great vices, which meets us in history--are drawn to the life; and we may
suppose the less-known characters of Pausanias and Eryximachus to be also
true to the traditional recollection of them (compare Phaedr., Protag.; and
compare Sympos. with Phaedr.). We may also remark that Aristodemus is
called 'the little' in Xenophon's Memorabilia (compare Symp.).

The speeches have been said to follow each other in pairs: Phaedrus and
Pausanias being the ethical, Eryximachus and Aristophanes the physical
speakers, while in Agathon and Socrates poetry and philosophy blend
together. The speech of Phaedrus is also described as the mythological,
that of Pausanias as the political, that of Eryximachus as the scientific,
that of Aristophanes as the artistic (!), that of Socrates as the
philosophical. But these and similar distinctions are not found in Plato;
--they are the points of view of his critics, and seem to impede rather
than to assist us in understanding him.

When the turn of Socrates comes round he cannot be allowed to disturb the
arrangement made at first. With the leave of Phaedrus he asks a few
questions, and then he throws his argument into the form of a speech
(compare Gorg., Protag.). But his speech is really the narrative of a
dialogue between himself and Diotima. And as at a banquet good manners
would not allow him to win a victory either over his host or any of the
guests, the superiority which he gains over Agathon is ingeniously
represented as having been already gained over himself by her. The
artifice has the further advantage of maintaining his accustomed profession
of ignorance (compare Menex.). Even his knowledge of the mysteries of
love, to which he lays claim here and elsewhere (Lys.), is given by

The speeches are attested to us by the very best authority. The madman
Apollodorus, who for three years past has made a daily study of the actions
of Socrates--to whom the world is summed up in the words 'Great is
Socrates'--he has heard them from another 'madman,' Aristodemus, who was
the 'shadow' of Socrates in days of old, like him going about barefooted,
and who had been present at the time. 'Would you desire better witness?'
The extraordinary narrative of Alcibiades is ingeniously represented as
admitted by Socrates, whose silence when he is invited to contradict gives
consent to the narrator. We may observe, by the way, (1) how the very
appearance of Aristodemus by himself is a sufficient indication to Agathon
that Socrates has been left behind; also, (2) how the courtesy of Agathon
anticipates the excuse which Socrates was to have made on Aristodemus'
behalf for coming uninvited; (3) how the story of the fit or trance of
Socrates is confirmed by the mention which Alcibiades makes of a similar
fit of abstraction occurring when he was serving with the army at Potidaea;
like (4) the drinking powers of Socrates and his love of the fair, which
receive a similar attestation in the concluding scene; or the attachment of
Aristodemus, who is not forgotten when Socrates takes his departure. (5)
We may notice the manner in which Socrates himself regards the first five
speeches, not as true, but as fanciful and exaggerated encomiums of the god
Love; (6) the satirical character of them, shown especially in the appeals
to mythology, in the reasons which are given by Zeus for reconstructing the
frame of man, or by the Boeotians and Eleans for encouraging male loves;
(7) the ruling passion of Socrates for dialectics, who will argue with
Agathon instead of making a speech, and will only speak at all upon the
condition that he is allowed to speak the truth. We may note also the
touch of Socratic irony, (8) which admits of a wide application and reveals
a deep insight into the world:--that in speaking of holy things and persons
there is a general understanding that you should praise them, not that you
should speak the truth about them--this is the sort of praise which
Socrates is unable to give. Lastly, (9) we may remark that the banquet is
a real banquet after all, at which love is the theme of discourse, and huge
quantities of wine are drunk.

The discourse of Phaedrus is half-mythical, half-ethical; and he himself,
true to the character which is given him in the Dialogue bearing his name,
is half-sophist, half-enthusiast. He is the critic of poetry also, who
compares Homer and Aeschylus in the insipid and irrational manner of the
schools of the day, characteristically reasoning about the probability of
matters which do not admit of reasoning. He starts from a noble text:
'That without the sense of honour and dishonour neither states nor
individuals ever do any good or great work.' But he soon passes on to more
common-place topics. The antiquity of love, the blessing of having a
lover, the incentive which love offers to daring deeds, the examples of
Alcestis and Achilles, are the chief themes of his discourse. The love of
women is regarded by him as almost on an equality with that of men; and he
makes the singular remark that the gods favour the return of love which is
made by the beloved more than the original sentiment, because the lover is
of a nobler and diviner nature.

There is something of a sophistical ring in the speech of Phaedrus, which
recalls the first speech in imitation of Lysias, occurring in the Dialogue
called the Phaedrus. This is still more marked in the speech of Pausanias
which follows; and which is at once hyperlogical in form and also extremely
confused and pedantic. Plato is attacking the logical feebleness of the
sophists and rhetoricians, through their pupils, not forgetting by the way
to satirize the monotonous and unmeaning rhythms which Prodicus and others
were introducing into Attic prose (compare Protag.). Of course, he is
'playing both sides of the game,' as in the Gorgias and Phaedrus; but it is
not necessary in order to understand him that we should discuss the
fairness of his mode of proceeding. The love of Pausanias for Agathon has
already been touched upon in the Protagoras, and is alluded to by
Aristophanes. Hence he is naturally the upholder of male loves, which,
like all the other affections or actions of men, he regards as varying
according to the manner of their performance. Like the sophists and like
Plato himself, though in a different sense, he begins his discussion by an
appeal to mythology, and distinguishes between the elder and younger love.
The value which he attributes to such loves as motives to virtue and
philosophy is at variance with modern and Christian notions, but is in
accordance with Hellenic sentiment. The opinion of Christendom has not
altogether condemned passionate friendships between persons of the same
sex, but has certainly not encouraged them, because though innocent in
themselves in a few temperaments they are liable to degenerate into fearful
evil. Pausanias is very earnest in the defence of such loves; and he
speaks of them as generally approved among Hellenes and disapproved by
barbarians. His speech is 'more words than matter,' and might have been
composed by a pupil of Lysias or of Prodicus, although there is no hint
given that Plato is specially referring to them. As Eryximachus says, 'he
makes a fair beginning, but a lame ending.'

Plato transposes the two next speeches, as in the Republic he would
transpose the virtues and the mathematical sciences. This is done partly
to avoid monotony, partly for the sake of making Aristophanes 'the cause of
wit in others,' and also in order to bring the comic and tragic poet into
juxtaposition, as if by accident. A suitable 'expectation' of Aristophanes
is raised by the ludicrous circumstance of his having the hiccough, which
is appropriately cured by his substitute, the physician Eryximachus. To
Eryximachus Love is the good physician; he sees everything as an
intelligent physicist, and, like many professors of his art in modern
times, attempts to reduce the moral to the physical; or recognises one law
of love which pervades them both. There are loves and strifes of the body
as well as of the mind. Like Hippocrates the Asclepiad, he is a disciple
of Heracleitus, whose conception of the harmony of opposites he explains in
a new way as the harmony after discord; to his common sense, as to that of
many moderns as well as ancients, the identity of contradictories is an
absurdity. His notion of love may be summed up as the harmony of man with
himself in soul as well as body, and of all things in heaven and earth with
one another.

Aristophanes is ready to laugh and make laugh before he opens his mouth,
just as Socrates, true to his character, is ready to argue before he begins
to speak. He expresses the very genius of the old comedy, its coarse and
forcible imagery, and the licence of its language in speaking about the
gods. He has no sophistical notions about love, which is brought back by
him to its common-sense meaning of love between intelligent beings. His
account of the origin of the sexes has the greatest (comic) probability and
verisimilitude. Nothing in Aristophanes is more truly Aristophanic than
the description of the human monster whirling round on four arms and four
legs, eight in all, with incredible rapidity. Yet there is a mixture of
earnestness in this jest; three serious principles seem to be insinuated:--
first, that man cannot exist in isolation; he must be reunited if he is to
be perfected: secondly, that love is the mediator and reconciler of poor,
divided human nature: thirdly, that the loves of this world are an
indistinct anticipation of an ideal union which is not yet realized.

The speech of Agathon is conceived in a higher strain, and receives the
real, if half-ironical, approval of Socrates. It is the speech of the
tragic poet and a sort of poem, like tragedy, moving among the gods of
Olympus, and not among the elder or Orphic deities. In the idea of the
antiquity of love he cannot agree; love is not of the olden time, but
present and youthful ever. The speech may be compared with that speech of
Socrates in the Phaedrus in which he describes himself as talking
dithyrambs. It is at once a preparation for Socrates and a foil to him.
The rhetoric of Agathon elevates the soul to 'sunlit heights,' but at the
same time contrasts with the natural and necessary eloquence of Socrates.
Agathon contributes the distinction between love and the works of love, and
also hints incidentally that love is always of beauty, which Socrates
afterwards raises into a principle. While the consciousness of discord is
stronger in the comic poet Aristophanes, Agathon, the tragic poet, has a
deeper sense of harmony and reconciliation, and speaks of Love as the
creator and artist.

All the earlier speeches embody common opinions coloured with a tinge of
philosophy. They furnish the material out of which Socrates proceeds to
form his discourse, starting, as in other places, from mythology and the
opinions of men. From Phaedrus he takes the thought that love is stronger
than death; from Pausanias, that the true love is akin to intellect and
political activity; from Eryximachus, that love is a universal phenomenon
and the great power of nature; from Aristophanes, that love is the child of
want, and is not merely the love of the congenial or of the whole, but (as
he adds) of the good; from Agathon, that love is of beauty, not however of
beauty only, but of birth in beauty. As it would be out of character for
Socrates to make a lengthened harangue, the speech takes the form of a
dialogue between Socrates and a mysterious woman of foreign extraction.
She elicits the final truth from one who knows nothing, and who, speaking
by the lips of another, and himself a despiser of rhetoric, is proved also
to be the most consummate of rhetoricians (compare Menexenus).

The last of the six discourses begins with a short argument which
overthrows not only Agathon but all the preceding speakers by the help of a
distinction which has escaped them. Extravagant praises have been ascribed
to Love as the author of every good; no sort of encomium was too high for
him, whether deserved and true or not. But Socrates has no talent for
speaking anything but the truth, and if he is to speak the truth of Love he
must honestly confess that he is not a good at all: for love is of the
good, and no man can desire that which he has. This piece of dialectics is
ascribed to Diotima, who has already urged upon Socrates the argument which
he urges against Agathon. That the distinction is a fallacy is obvious; it
is almost acknowledged to be so by Socrates himself. For he who has beauty
or good may desire more of them; and he who has beauty or good in himself
may desire beauty and good in others. The fallacy seems to arise out of a
confusion between the abstract ideas of good and beauty, which do not admit
of degrees, and their partial realization in individuals.

But Diotima, the prophetess of Mantineia, whose sacred and superhuman
character raises her above the ordinary proprieties of women, has taught
Socrates far more than this about the art and mystery of love. She has
taught him that love is another aspect of philosophy. The same want in the
human soul which is satisfied in the vulgar by the procreation of children,
may become the highest aspiration of intellectual desire. As the Christian
might speak of hungering and thirsting after righteousness; or of divine
loves under the figure of human (compare Eph. 'This is a great mystery, but
I speak concerning Christ and the church'); as the mediaeval saint might
speak of the 'fruitio Dei;' as Dante saw all things contained in his love
of Beatrice, so Plato would have us absorb all other loves and desires in
the love of knowledge. Here is the beginning of Neoplatonism, or rather,
perhaps, a proof (of which there are many) that the so-called mysticism of
the East was not strange to the Greek of the fifth century before Christ.
The first tumult of the affections was not wholly subdued; there were
longings of a creature

Moving about in worlds not realized,

which no art could satisfy. To most men reason and passion appear to be
antagonistic both in idea and fact. The union of the greatest
comprehension of knowledge and the burning intensity of love is a
contradiction in nature, which may have existed in a far-off primeval age
in the mind of some Hebrew prophet or other Eastern sage, but has now
become an imagination only. Yet this 'passion of the reason' is the theme
of the Symposium of Plato. And as there is no impossibility in supposing
that 'one king, or son of a king, may be a philosopher,' so also there is a
probability that there may be some few--perhaps one or two in a whole
generation--in whom the light of truth may not lack the warmth of desire.
And if there be such natures, no one will be disposed to deny that 'from
them flow most of the benefits of individuals and states;' and even from
imperfect combinations of the two elements in teachers or statesmen great
good may often arise.

Yet there is a higher region in which love is not only felt, but satisfied,
in the perfect beauty of eternal knowledge, beginning with the beauty of
earthly things, and at last reaching a beauty in which all existence is
seen to be harmonious and one. The limited affection is enlarged, and
enabled to behold the ideal of all things. And here the highest summit
which is reached in the Symposium is seen also to be the highest summit
which is attained in the Republic, but approached from another side; and
there is 'a way upwards and downwards,' which is the same and not the same
in both. The ideal beauty of the one is the ideal good of the other;
regarded not with the eye of knowledge, but of faith and desire; and they
are respectively the source of beauty and the source of good in all other
things. And by the steps of a 'ladder reaching to heaven' we pass from
images of visible beauty (Greek), and from the hypotheses of the
Mathematical sciences, which are not yet based upon the idea of good,
through the concrete to the abstract, and, by different paths arriving,
behold the vision of the eternal (compare Symp. (Greek) Republic (Greek)
also Phaedrus). Under one aspect 'the idea is love'; under another,
'truth.' In both the lover of wisdom is the 'spectator of all time and of
all existence.' This is a 'mystery' in which Plato also obscurely
intimates the union of the spiritual and fleshly, the interpenetration of
the moral and intellectual faculties.

The divine image of beauty which resides within Socrates has been revealed;
the Silenus, or outward man, has now to be exhibited. The description of
Socrates follows immediately after the speech of Socrates; one is the
complement of the other. At the height of divine inspiration, when the
force of nature can no further go, by way of contrast to this extreme
idealism, Alcibiades, accompanied by a troop of revellers and a flute-girl,
staggers in, and being drunk is able to tell of things which he would have
been ashamed to make known if he had been sober. The state of his
affections towards Socrates, unintelligible to us and perverted as they
appear, affords an illustration of the power ascribed to the loves of man
in the speech of Pausanias. He does not suppose his feelings to be
peculiar to himself: there are several other persons in the company who
have been equally in love with Socrates, and like himself have been
deceived by him. The singular part of this confession is the combination
of the most degrading passion with the desire of virtue and improvement.
Such an union is not wholly untrue to human nature, which is capable of
combining good and evil in a degree beyond what we can easily conceive. In
imaginative persons, especially, the God and beast in man seem to part
asunder more than is natural in a well-regulated mind. The Platonic
Socrates (for of the real Socrates this may be doubted: compare his public
rebuke of Critias for his shameful love of Euthydemus in Xenophon,
Memorabilia) does not regard the greatest evil of Greek life as a thing not
to be spoken of; but it has a ridiculous element (Plato's Symp.), and is a
subject for irony, no less than for moral reprobation (compare Plato's
Symp.). It is also used as a figure of speech which no one interpreted
literally (compare Xen. Symp.). Nor does Plato feel any repugnance, such
as would be felt in modern times, at bringing his great master and hero
into connexion with nameless crimes. He is contented with representing him
as a saint, who has won 'the Olympian victory' over the temptations of
human nature. The fault of taste, which to us is so glaring and which was
recognized by the Greeks of a later age (Athenaeus), was not perceived by
Plato himself. We are still more surprised to find that the philosopher is
incited to take the first step in his upward progress (Symp.) by the beauty
of young men and boys, which was alone capable of inspiring the modern
feeling of romance in the Greek mind. The passion of love took the
spurious form of an enthusiasm for the ideal of beauty--a worship as of
some godlike image of an Apollo or Antinous. But the love of youth when
not depraved was a love of virtue and modesty as well as of beauty, the one
being the expression of the other; and in certain Greek states, especially
at Sparta and Thebes, the honourable attachment of a youth to an elder man
was a part of his education. The 'army of lovers and their beloved who
would be invincible if they could be united by such a tie' (Symp.), is not
a mere fiction of Plato's, but seems actually to have existed at Thebes in
the days of Epaminondas and Pelopidas, if we may believe writers cited
anonymously by Plutarch, Pelop. Vit. It is observable that Plato never in
the least degree excuses the depraved love of the body (compare Charm.;
Rep.; Laws; Symp.; and once more Xenophon, Mem.), nor is there any Greek
writer of mark who condones or approves such connexions. But owing partly
to the puzzling nature of the subject these friendships are spoken of by
Plato in a manner different from that customary among ourselves. To most
of them we should hesitate to ascribe, any more than to the attachment of
Achilles and Patroclus in Homer, an immoral or licentious character. There
were many, doubtless, to whom the love of the fair mind was the noblest
form of friendship (Rep.), and who deemed the friendship of man with man to
be higher than the love of woman, because altogether separated from the
bodily appetites. The existence of such attachments may be reasonably
attributed to the inferiority and seclusion of woman, and the want of a
real family or social life and parental influence in Hellenic cities; and
they were encouraged by the practice of gymnastic exercises, by the
meetings of political clubs, and by the tie of military companionship.
They were also an educational institution: a young person was specially
entrusted by his parents to some elder friend who was expected by them to
train their son in manly exercises and in virtue. It is not likely that a
Greek parent committed him to a lover, any more than we should to a
schoolmaster, in the expectation that he would be corrupted by him, but
rather in the hope that his morals would be better cared for than was
possible in a great household of slaves.

It is difficult to adduce the authority of Plato either for or against such
practices or customs, because it is not always easy to determine whether he
is speaking of 'the heavenly and philosophical love, or of the coarse
Polyhymnia:' and he often refers to this (e.g. in the Symposium) half in
jest, yet 'with a certain degree of seriousness.' We observe that they
entered into one part of Greek literature, but not into another, and that
the larger part is free from such associations. Indecency was an element
of the ludicrous in the old Greek Comedy, as it has been in other ages and
countries. But effeminate love was always condemned as well as ridiculed
by the Comic poets; and in the New Comedy the allusions to such topics have
disappeared. They seem to have been no longer tolerated by the greater
refinement of the age. False sentiment is found in the Lyric and Elegiac
poets; and in mythology 'the greatest of the Gods' (Rep.) is not exempt
from evil imputations. But the morals of a nation are not to be judged of
wholly by its literature. Hellas was not necessarily more corrupted in the
days of the Persian and Peloponnesian wars, or of Plato and the Orators,
than England in the time of Fielding and Smollett, or France in the
nineteenth century. No one supposes certain French novels to be a
representation of ordinary French life. And the greater part of Greek
literature, beginning with Homer and including the tragedians,
philosophers, and, with the exception of the Comic poets (whose business
was to raise a laugh by whatever means), all the greater writers of Hellas
who have been preserved to us, are free from the taint of indecency.

Some general considerations occur to our mind when we begin to reflect on
this subject. (1) That good and evil are linked together in human nature,
and have often existed side by side in the world and in man to an extent
hardly credible. We cannot distinguish them, and are therefore unable to
part them; as in the parable 'they grow together unto the harvest:' it is
only a rule of external decency by which society can divide them. Nor
should we be right in inferring from the prevalence of any one vice or
corruption that a state or individual was demoralized in their whole
character. Not only has the corruption of the best been sometimes thought
to be the worst, but it may be remarked that this very excess of evil has
been the stimulus to good (compare Plato, Laws, where he says that in the
most corrupt cities individuals are to be found beyond all praise). (2) It
may be observed that evils which admit of degrees can seldom be rightly
estimated, because under the same name actions of the most different
degrees of culpability may be included. No charge is more easily set going
than the imputation of secret wickedness (which cannot be either proved or
disproved and often cannot be defined) when directed against a person of
whom the world, or a section of it, is predisposed to think evil. And it
is quite possible that the malignity of Greek scandal, aroused by some
personal jealousy or party enmity, may have converted the innocent
friendship of a great man for a noble youth into a connexion of another
kind. Such accusations were brought against several of the leading men of
Hellas, e.g. Cimon, Alcibiades, Critias, Demosthenes, Epaminondas: several
of the Roman emperors were assailed by similar weapons which have been used
even in our own day against statesmen of the highest character. (3) While
we know that in this matter there is a great gulf fixed between Greek and
Christian Ethics, yet, if we would do justice to the Greeks, we must also
acknowledge that there was a greater outspokenness among them than among
ourselves about the things which nature hides, and that the more frequent
mention of such topics is not to be taken as the measure of the prevalence
of offences, or as a proof of the general corruption of society. It is
likely that every religion in the world has used words or practised rites
in one age, which have become distasteful or repugnant to another. We
cannot, though for different reasons, trust the representations either of
Comedy or Satire; and still less of Christian Apologists. (4) We observe
that at Thebes and Lacedemon the attachment of an elder friend to a beloved
youth was often deemed to be a part of his education; and was encouraged by
his parents--it was only shameful if it degenerated into licentiousness.
Such we may believe to have been the tie which united Asophychus and
Cephisodorus with the great Epaminondas in whose companionship they fell
(Plutarch, Amat.; Athenaeus on the authority of Theopompus). (5) A small
matter: there appears to be a difference of custom among the Greeks and
among ourselves, as between ourselves and continental nations at the
present time, in modes of salutation. We must not suspect evil in the
hearty kiss or embrace of a male friend 'returning from the army at
Potidaea' any more than in a similar salutation when practised by members
of the same family. But those who make these admissions, and who regard,
not without pity, the victims of such illusions in our own day, whose life
has been blasted by them, may be none the less resolved that the natural
and healthy instincts of mankind shall alone be tolerated (Greek); and that
the lesson of manliness which we have inherited from our fathers shall not
degenerate into sentimentalism or effeminacy. The possibility of an
honourable connexion of this kind seems to have died out with Greek
civilization. Among the Romans, and also among barbarians, such as the
Celts and Persians, there is no trace of such attachments existing in any
noble or virtuous form.

(Compare Hoeck's Creta and the admirable and exhaustive article of Meier in
Ersch and Grueber's Cyclopedia on this subject; Plutarch, Amatores;
Athenaeus; Lysias contra Simonem; Aesch. c. Timarchum.)

The character of Alcibiades in the Symposium is hardly less remarkable than
that of Socrates, and agrees with the picture given of him in the first of
the two Dialogues which are called by his name, and also with the slight
sketch of him in the Protagoras. He is the impersonation of lawlessness--
'the lion's whelp, who ought not to be reared in the city,' yet not without
a certain generosity which gained the hearts of men,--strangely fascinated
by Socrates, and possessed of a genius which might have been either the
destruction or salvation of Athens. The dramatic interest of the character
is heightened by the recollection of his after history. He seems to have
been present to the mind of Plato in the description of the democratic man
of the Republic (compare also Alcibiades 1).

There is no criterion of the date of the Symposium, except that which is
furnished by the allusion to the division of Arcadia after the destruction
of Mantinea. This took place in the year B.C. 384, which is the forty-
fourth year of Plato's life. The Symposium cannot therefore be regarded as
a youthful work. As Mantinea was restored in the year 369, the composition
of the Dialogue will probably fall between 384 and 369. Whether the
recollection of the event is more likely to have been renewed at the
destruction or restoration of the city, rather than at some intermediate
period, is a consideration not worth raising.

The Symposium is connected with the Phaedrus both in style and subject;
they are the only Dialogues of Plato in which the theme of love is
discussed at length. In both of them philosophy is regarded as a sort of
enthusiasm or madness; Socrates is himself 'a prophet new inspired' with
Bacchanalian revelry, which, like his philosophy, he characteristically
pretends to have derived not from himself but from others. The Phaedo also
presents some points of comparison with the Symposium. For there, too,
philosophy might be described as 'dying for love;' and there are not
wanting many touches of humour and fancy, which remind us of the Symposium.
But while the Phaedo and Phaedrus look backwards and forwards to past and
future states of existence, in the Symposium there is no break between this
world and another; and we rise from one to the other by a regular series of
steps or stages, proceeding from the particulars of sense to the universal
of reason, and from one universal to many, which are finally reunited in a
single science (compare Rep.). At first immortality means only the
succession of existences; even knowledge comes and goes. Then follows, in
the language of the mysteries, a higher and a higher degree of initiation;
at last we arrive at the perfect vision of beauty, not relative or
changing, but eternal and absolute; not bounded by this world, or in or out
of this world, but an aspect of the divine, extending over all things, and
having no limit of space or time: this is the highest knowledge of which
the human mind is capable. Plato does not go on to ask whether the
individual is absorbed in the sea of light and beauty or retains his
personality. Enough for him to have attained the true beauty or good,
without enquiring precisely into the relation in which human beings stood
to it. That the soul has such a reach of thought, and is capable of
partaking of the eternal nature, seems to imply that she too is eternal
(compare Phaedrus). But Plato does not distinguish the eternal in man from
the eternal in the world or in God. He is willing to rest in the
contemplation of the idea, which to him is the cause of all things (Rep.),
and has no strength to go further.

The Symposium of Xenophon, in which Socrates describes himself as a pander,
and also discourses of the difference between sensual and sentimental love,
likewise offers several interesting points of comparison. But the
suspicion which hangs over other writings of Xenophon, and the numerous
minute references to the Phaedrus and Symposium, as well as to some of the
other writings of Plato, throw a doubt on the genuineness of the work. The
Symposium of Xenophon, if written by him at all, would certainly show that
he wrote against Plato, and was acquainted with his works. Of this
hostility there is no trace in the Memorabilia. Such a rivalry is more
characteristic of an imitator than of an original writer. The (so-called)
Symposium of Xenophon may therefore have no more title to be regarded as
genuine than the confessedly spurious Apology.

There are no means of determining the relative order in time of the
Phaedrus, Symposium, Phaedo. The order which has been adopted in this
translation rests on no other principle than the desire to bring together
in a series the memorials of the life of Socrates.




Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Apollodorus, who repeats to his companion the dialogue which he had heard
from Aristodemus, and had already once narrated to Glaucon.
Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes, Agathon, Socrates,
Alcibiades, A Troop of Revellers.

SCENE: The House of Agathon.

Concerning the things about which you ask to be informed I believe that I
am not ill-prepared with an answer. For the day before yesterday I was
coming from my own home at Phalerum to the city, and one of my
acquaintance, who had caught a sight of me from behind, calling out
playfully in the distance, said: Apollodorus, O thou Phalerian (Probably a
play of words on (Greek), 'bald-headed.') man, halt! So I did as I was
bid; and then he said, I was looking for you, Apollodorus, only just now,
that I might ask you about the speeches in praise of love, which were
delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and others, at Agathon's supper.
Phoenix, the son of Philip, told another person who told me of them; his
narrative was very indistinct, but he said that you knew, and I wish that
you would give me an account of them. Who, if not you, should be the
reporter of the words of your friend? And first tell me, he said, were you
present at this meeting?

Your informant, Glaucon, I said, must have been very indistinct indeed, if
you imagine that the occasion was recent; or that I could have been of the

Why, yes, he replied, I thought so.

Impossible: I said. Are you ignorant that for many years Agathon has not
resided at Athens; and not three have elapsed since I became acquainted
with Socrates, and have made it my daily business to know all that he says
and does. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying
myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched being, no
better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than
be a philosopher.

Well, he said, jesting apart, tell me when the meeting occurred.

In our boyhood, I replied, when Agathon won the prize with his first
tragedy, on the day after that on which he and his chorus offered the
sacrifice of victory.

Then it must have been a long while ago, he said; and who told you--did

No indeed, I replied, but the same person who told Phoenix;--he was a
little fellow, who never wore any shoes, Aristodemus, of the deme of
Cydathenaeum. He had been at Agathon's feast; and I think that in those
days there was no one who was a more devoted admirer of Socrates.
Moreover, I have asked Socrates about the truth of some parts of his
narrative, and he confirmed them. Then, said Glaucon, let us have the tale
over again; is not the road to Athens just made for conversation? And so
we walked, and talked of the discourses on love; and therefore, as I said
at first, I am not ill-prepared to comply with your request, and will have
another rehearsal of them if you like. For to speak or to hear others
speak of philosophy always gives me the greatest pleasure, to say nothing
of the profit. But when I hear another strain, especially that of you rich
men and traders, such conversation displeases me; and I pity you who are my
companions, because you think that you are doing something when in reality
you are doing nothing. And I dare say that you pity me in return, whom you
regard as an unhappy creature, and very probably you are right. But I
certainly know of you what you only think of me--there is the difference.

COMPANION: I see, Apollodorus, that you are just the same--always speaking
evil of yourself, and of others; and I do believe that you pity all
mankind, with the exception of Socrates, yourself first of all, true in
this to your old name, which, however deserved, I know not how you
acquired, of Apollodorus the madman; for you are always raging against
yourself and everybody but Socrates.

APOLLODORUS: Yes, friend, and the reason why I am said to be mad, and out
of my wits, is just because I have these notions of myself and you; no
other evidence is required.

COMPANION: No more of that, Apollodorus; but let me renew my request that
you would repeat the conversation.

APOLLODORUS: Well, the tale of love was on this wise:--But perhaps I had
better begin at the beginning, and endeavour to give you the exact words of

He said that he met Socrates fresh from the bath and sandalled; and as the
sight of the sandals was unusual, he asked him whither he was going that he
had been converted into such a beau:--

To a banquet at Agathon's, he replied, whose invitation to his sacrifice of
victory I refused yesterday, fearing a crowd, but promising that I would
come to-day instead; and so I have put on my finery, because he is such a
fine man. What say you to going with me unasked?

I will do as you bid me, I replied.

Follow then, he said, and let us demolish the proverb:--

'To the feasts of inferior men the good unbidden go;'

instead of which our proverb will run:--

'To the feasts of the good the good unbidden go;'

and this alteration may be supported by the authority of Homer himself, who
not only demolishes but literally outrages the proverb. For, after
picturing Agamemnon as the most valiant of men, he makes Menelaus, who is
but a fainthearted warrior, come unbidden (Iliad) to the banquet of
Agamemnon, who is feasting and offering sacrifices, not the better to the
worse, but the worse to the better.

I rather fear, Socrates, said Aristodemus, lest this may still be my case;
and that, like Menelaus in Homer, I shall be the inferior person, who

'To the feasts of the wise unbidden goes.'

But I shall say that I was bidden of you, and then you will have to make an

'Two going together,'

he replied, in Homeric fashion, one or other of them may invent an excuse
by the way (Iliad).

This was the style of their conversation as they went along. Socrates
dropped behind in a fit of abstraction, and desired Aristodemus, who was
waiting, to go on before him. When he reached the house of Agathon he
found the doors wide open, and a comical thing happened. A servant coming
out met him, and led him at once into the banqueting-hall in which the
guests were reclining, for the banquet was about to begin. Welcome,
Aristodemus, said Agathon, as soon as he appeared--you are just in time to
sup with us; if you come on any other matter put it off, and make one of
us, as I was looking for you yesterday and meant to have asked you, if I
could have found you. But what have you done with Socrates?

I turned round, but Socrates was nowhere to be seen; and I had to explain
that he had been with me a moment before, and that I came by his invitation
to the supper.

You were quite right in coming, said Agathon; but where is he himself?

He was behind me just now, as I entered, he said, and I cannot think what
has become of him.

Go and look for him, boy, said Agathon, and bring him in; and do you,
Aristodemus, meanwhile take the place by Eryximachus.

The servant then assisted him to wash, and he lay down, and presently
another servant came in and reported that our friend Socrates had retired
into the portico of the neighbouring house. 'There he is fixed,' said he,
'and when I call to him he will not stir.'

How strange, said Agathon; then you must call him again, and keep calling

Let him alone, said my informant; he has a way of stopping anywhere and
losing himself without any reason. I believe that he will soon appear; do
not therefore disturb him.

Well, if you think so, I will leave him, said Agathon. And then, turning
to the servants, he added, 'Let us have supper without waiting for him.
Serve up whatever you please, for there is no one to give you orders;
hitherto I have never left you to yourselves. But on this occasion imagine
that you are our hosts, and that I and the company are your guests; treat
us well, and then we shall commend you.' After this, supper was served,
but still no Socrates; and during the meal Agathon several times expressed
a wish to send for him, but Aristodemus objected; and at last when the
feast was about half over--for the fit, as usual, was not of long duration
--Socrates entered. Agathon, who was reclining alone at the end of the
table, begged that he would take the place next to him; that 'I may touch
you,' he said, 'and have the benefit of that wise thought which came into
your mind in the portico, and is now in your possession; for I am certain
that you would not have come away until you had found what you sought.'

How I wish, said Socrates, taking his place as he was desired, that wisdom
could be infused by touch, out of the fuller into the emptier man, as water
runs through wool out of a fuller cup into an emptier one; if that were so,
how greatly should I value the privilege of reclining at your side! For
you would have filled me full with a stream of wisdom plenteous and fair;
whereas my own is of a very mean and questionable sort, no better than a
dream. But yours is bright and full of promise, and was manifested forth
in all the splendour of youth the day before yesterday, in the presence of
more than thirty thousand Hellenes.

You are mocking, Socrates, said Agathon, and ere long you and I will have
to determine who bears off the palm of wisdom--of this Dionysus shall be
the judge; but at present you are better occupied with supper.

Socrates took his place on the couch, and supped with the rest; and then
libations were offered, and after a hymn had been sung to the god, and
there had been the usual ceremonies, they were about to commence drinking,
when Pausanias said, And now, my friends, how can we drink with least
injury to ourselves? I can assure you that I feel severely the effect of
yesterday's potations, and must have time to recover; and I suspect that
most of you are in the same predicament, for you were of the party
yesterday. Consider then: How can the drinking be made easiest?

I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means, avoid
hard drinking, for I was myself one of those who were yesterday drowned in

I think that you are right, said Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus; but I
should still like to hear one other person speak: Is Agathon able to drink

I am not equal to it, said Agathon.

Then, said Eryximachus, the weak heads like myself, Aristodemus, Phaedrus,
and others who never can drink, are fortunate in finding that the stronger
ones are not in a drinking mood. (I do not include Socrates, who is able
either to drink or to abstain, and will not mind, whichever we do.) Well,
as of none of the company seem disposed to drink much, I may be forgiven
for saying, as a physician, that drinking deep is a bad practice, which I
never follow, if I can help, and certainly do not recommend to another,
least of all to any one who still feels the effects of yesterday's carouse.

I always do what you advise, and especially what you prescribe as a
physician, rejoined Phaedrus the Myrrhinusian, and the rest of the company,
if they are wise, will do the same.

It was agreed that drinking was not to be the order of the day, but that
they were all to drink only so much as they pleased.

Then, said Eryximachus, as you are all agreed that drinking is to be
voluntary, and that there is to be no compulsion, I move, in the next
place, that the flute-girl, who has just made her appearance, be told to go
away and play to herself, or, if she likes, to the women who are within
(compare Prot.). To-day let us have conversation instead; and, if you will
allow me, I will tell you what sort of conversation. This proposal having
been accepted, Eryximachus proceeded as follows:--

I will begin, he said, after the manner of Melanippe in Euripides,

'Not mine the word'

which I am about to speak, but that of Phaedrus. For often he says to me
in an indignant tone:--'What a strange thing it is, Eryximachus, that,
whereas other gods have poems and hymns made in their honour, the great and
glorious god, Love, has no encomiast among all the poets who are so many.
There are the worthy sophists too--the excellent Prodicus for example, who
have descanted in prose on the virtues of Heracles and other heroes; and,
what is still more extraordinary, I have met with a philosophical work in
which the utility of salt has been made the theme of an eloquent discourse;
and many other like things have had a like honour bestowed upon them. And
only to think that there should have been an eager interest created about
them, and yet that to this day no one has ever dared worthily to hymn
Love's praises! So entirely has this great deity been neglected.' Now in
this Phaedrus seems to me to be quite right, and therefore I want to offer
him a contribution; also I think that at the present moment we who are here
assembled cannot do better than honour the god Love. If you agree with me,
there will be no lack of conversation; for I mean to propose that each of
us in turn, going from left to right, shall make a speech in honour of
Love. Let him give us the best which he can; and Phaedrus, because he is
sitting first on the left hand, and because he is the father of the
thought, shall begin.

No one will vote against you, Eryximachus, said Socrates. How can I oppose
your motion, who profess to understand nothing but matters of love; nor, I
presume, will Agathon and Pausanias; and there can be no doubt of
Aristophanes, whose whole concern is with Dionysus and Aphrodite; nor will
any one disagree of those whom I see around me. The proposal, as I am
aware, may seem rather hard upon us whose place is last; but we shall be
contented if we hear some good speeches first. Let Phaedrus begin the
praise of Love, and good luck to him. All the company expressed their
assent, and desired him to do as Socrates bade him.

Aristodemus did not recollect all that was said, nor do I recollect all
that he related to me; but I will tell you what I thought most worthy of
remembrance, and what the chief speakers said.

Phaedrus began by affirming that Love is a mighty god, and wonderful among
gods and men, but especially wonderful in his birth. For he is the eldest
of the gods, which is an honour to him; and a proof of his claim to this
honour is, that of his parents there is no memorial; neither poet nor
prose-writer has ever affirmed that he had any. As Hesiod says:--

'First Chaos came, and then broad-bosomed Earth,
The everlasting seat of all that is,
And Love.'

In other words, after Chaos, the Earth and Love, these two, came into
being. Also Parmenides sings of Generation:

'First in the train of gods, he fashioned Love.'

And Acusilaus agrees with Hesiod. Thus numerous are the witnesses who
acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the
eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know
not any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a
virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle
which ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live--that principle, I
say, neither kindred, nor honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive is able
to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honour
and dishonour, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any
good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected in doing any
dishonourable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonour is
done to him by another, will be more pained at being detected by his
beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any
one else. The beloved too, when he is found in any disgraceful situation,
has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of
contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their
loves (compare Rep.), they would be the very best governors of their own
city, abstaining from all dishonour, and emulating one another in honour;
and when fighting at each other's side, although a mere handful, they would
overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by
all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or
throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather
than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour
of danger? The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the
bravest, at such a time; Love would inspire him. That courage which, as
Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own
nature infuses into the lover.

Love will make men dare to die for their beloved--love alone; and women as
well as men. Of this, Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, is a monument to
all Hellas; for she was willing to lay down her life on behalf of her
husband, when no one else would, although he had a father and mother; but
the tenderness of her love so far exceeded theirs, that she made them seem
to be strangers in blood to their own son, and in name only related to him;
and so noble did this action of hers appear to the gods, as well as to men,
that among the many who have done virtuously she is one of the very few to
whom, in admiration of her noble action, they have granted the privilege of
returning alive to earth; such exceeding honour is paid by the gods to the
devotion and virtue of love. But Orpheus, the son of Oeagrus, the harper,
they sent empty away, and presented to him an apparition only of her whom
he sought, but herself they would not give up, because he showed no spirit;
he was only a harp-player, and did not dare like Alcestis to die for love,
but was contriving how he might enter Hades alive; moreover, they
afterwards caused him to suffer death at the hands of women, as the
punishment of his cowardliness. Very different was the reward of the true
love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus--his lover and not his love
(the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into
which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the fairer of the two,
fairer also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was
still beardless, and younger far). And greatly as the gods honour the
virtue of love, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the
lover is more admired and valued and rewarded by them, for the lover is
more divine; because he is inspired by God. Now Achilles was quite aware,
for he had been told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return
home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector.
Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not
only in his defence, but after he was dead. Wherefore the gods honoured
him even above Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest. These
are my reasons for affirming that Love is the eldest and noblest and
mightiest of the gods; and the chiefest author and giver of virtue in life,
and of happiness after death.

This, or something like this, was the speech of Phaedrus; and some other
speeches followed which Aristodemus did not remember; the next which he
repeated was that of Pausanias. Phaedrus, he said, the argument has not
been set before us, I think, quite in the right form;--we should not be
called upon to praise Love in such an indiscriminate manner. If there were
only one Love, then what you said would be well enough; but since there are
more Loves than one,--should have begun by determining which of them was to
be the theme of our praises. I will amend this defect; and first of all I
will tell you which Love is deserving of praise, and then try to hymn the
praiseworthy one in a manner worthy of him. For we all know that Love is
inseparable from Aphrodite, and if there were only one Aphrodite there
would be only one Love; but as there are two goddesses there must be two
Loves. And am I not right in asserting that there are two goddesses? The
elder one, having no mother, who is called the heavenly Aphrodite--she is
the daughter of Uranus; the younger, who is the daughter of Zeus and Dione
--her we call common; and the Love who is her fellow-worker is rightly
named common, as the other love is called heavenly. All the gods ought to
have praise given to them, but not without distinction of their natures;
and therefore I must try to distinguish the characters of the two Loves.
Now actions vary according to the manner of their performance. Take, for
example, that which we are now doing, drinking, singing and talking--these
actions are not in themselves either good or evil, but they turn out in
this or that way according to the mode of performing them; and when well
done they are good, and when wrongly done they are evil; and in like manner
not every love, but only that which has a noble purpose, is noble and
worthy of praise. The Love who is the offspring of the common Aphrodite is
essentially common, and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner
sort of men feel, and is apt to be of women as well as of youths, and is of
the body rather than of the soul--the most foolish beings are the objects
of this love which desires only to gain an end, but never thinks of
accomplishing the end nobly, and therefore does good and evil quite
indiscriminately. The goddess who is his mother is far younger than the
other, and she was born of the union of the male and female, and partakes
of both. But the offspring of the heavenly Aphrodite is derived from a
mother in whose birth the female has no part,--she is from the male only;
this is that love which is of youths, and the goddess being older, there is
nothing of wantonness in her. Those who are inspired by this love turn to
the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant and intelligent
nature; any one may recognise the pure enthusiasts in the very character of
their attachments. For they love not boys, but intelligent beings whose
reason is beginning to be developed, much about the time at which their
beards begin to grow. And in choosing young men to be their companions,
they mean to be faithful to them, and pass their whole life in company with
them, not to take them in their inexperience, and deceive them, and play
the fool with them, or run away from one to another of them. But the love
of young boys should be forbidden by law, because their future is
uncertain; they may turn out good or bad, either in body or soul, and much
noble enthusiasm may be thrown away upon them; in this matter the good are
a law to themselves, and the coarser sort of lovers ought to be restrained
by force; as we restrain or attempt to restrain them from fixing their
affections on women of free birth. These are the persons who bring a
reproach on love; and some have been led to deny the lawfulness of such
attachments because they see the impropriety and evil of them; for surely
nothing that is decorously and lawfully done can justly be censured. Now
here and in Lacedaemon the rules about love are perplexing, but in most
cities they are simple and easily intelligible; in Elis and Boeotia, and in
countries having no gifts of eloquence, they are very straightforward; the
law is simply in favour of these connexions, and no one, whether young or
old, has anything to say to their discredit; the reason being, as I
suppose, that they are men of few words in those parts, and therefore the
lovers do not like the trouble of pleading their suit. In Ionia and other
places, and generally in countries which are subject to the barbarians, the
custom is held to be dishonourable; loves of youths share the evil repute
in which philosophy and gymnastics are held, because they are inimical to
tyranny; for the interests of rulers require that their subjects should be
poor in spirit (compare Arist. Politics), and that there should be no
strong bond of friendship or society among them, which love, above all
other motives, is likely to inspire, as our Athenian tyrants learned by
experience; for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had
a strength which undid their power. And, therefore, the ill-repute into
which these attachments have fallen is to be ascribed to the evil condition
of those who make them to be ill-reputed; that is to say, to the self-
seeking of the governors and the cowardice of the governed; on the other
hand, the indiscriminate honour which is given to them in some countries is
attributable to the laziness of those who hold this opinion of them. In
our own country a far better principle prevails, but, as I was saying, the
explanation of it is rather perplexing. For, observe that open loves are
held to be more honourable than secret ones, and that the love of the
noblest and highest, even if their persons are less beautiful than others,
is especially honourable. Consider, too, how great is the encouragement
which all the world gives to the lover; neither is he supposed to be doing
anything dishonourable; but if he succeeds he is praised, and if he fail he
is blamed. And in the pursuit of his love the custom of mankind allows him
to do many strange things, which philosophy would bitterly censure if they
were done from any motive of interest, or wish for office or power. He may
pray, and entreat, and supplicate, and swear, and lie on a mat at the door,
and endure a slavery worse than that of any slave--in any other case
friends and enemies would be equally ready to prevent him, but now there is
no friend who will be ashamed of him and admonish him, and no enemy will
charge him with meanness or flattery; the actions of a lover have a grace
which ennobles them; and custom has decided that they are highly
commendable and that there no loss of character in them; and, what is
strangest of all, he only may swear and forswear himself (so men say), and
the gods will forgive his transgression, for there is no such thing as a
lover's oath. Such is the entire liberty which gods and men have allowed
the lover, according to the custom which prevails in our part of the world.
From this point of view a man fairly argues that in Athens to love and to
be loved is held to be a very honourable thing. But when parents forbid
their sons to talk with their lovers, and place them under a tutor's care,
who is appointed to see to these things, and their companions and equals
cast in their teeth anything of the sort which they may observe, and their
elders refuse to silence the reprovers and do not rebuke them--any one who
reflects on all this will, on the contrary, think that we hold these
practices to be most disgraceful. But, as I was saying at first, the truth
as I imagine is, that whether such practices are honourable or whether they
are dishonourable is not a simple question; they are honourable to him who
follows them honourably, dishonourable to him who follows them
dishonourably. There is dishonour in yielding to the evil, or in an evil
manner; but there is honour in yielding to the good, or in an honourable
manner. Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul,
inasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which is in
itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which he was
desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away, in spite of all his words
and promises; whereas the love of the noble disposition is life-long, for
it becomes one with the everlasting. The custom of our country would have
both of them proven well and truly, and would have us yield to the one sort
of lover and avoid the other, and therefore encourages some to pursue, and
others to fly; testing both the lover and beloved in contests and trials,
until they show to which of the two classes they respectively belong. And
this is the reason why, in the first place, a hasty attachment is held to
be dishonourable, because time is the true test of this as of most other
things; and secondly there is a dishonour in being overcome by the love of
money, or of wealth, or of political power, whether a man is frightened
into surrender by the loss of them, or, having experienced the benefits of
money and political corruption, is unable to rise above the seductions of
them. For none of these things are of a permanent or lasting nature; not
to mention that no generous friendship ever sprang from them. There
remains, then, only one way of honourable attachment which custom allows in
the beloved, and this is the way of virtue; for as we admitted that any
service which the lover does to him is not to be accounted flattery or a
dishonour to himself, so the beloved has one way only of voluntary service
which is not dishonourable, and this is virtuous service.

For we have a custom, and according to our custom any one who does service
to another under the idea that he will be improved by him either in wisdom,
or in some other particular of virtue--such a voluntary service, I say, is
not to be regarded as a dishonour, and is not open to the charge of
flattery. And these two customs, one the love of youth, and the other the
practice of philosophy and virtue in general, ought to meet in one, and
then the beloved may honourably indulge the lover. For when the lover and
beloved come together, having each of them a law, and the lover thinks that
he is right in doing any service which he can to his gracious loving one;
and the other that he is right in showing any kindness which he can to him
who is making him wise and good; the one capable of communicating wisdom
and virtue, the other seeking to acquire them with a view to education and
wisdom, when the two laws of love are fulfilled and meet in one--then, and
then only, may the beloved yield with honour to the lover. Nor when love
is of this disinterested sort is there any disgrace in being deceived, but
in every other case there is equal disgrace in being or not being deceived.
For he who is gracious to his lover under the impression that he is rich,
and is disappointed of his gains because he turns out to be poor, is
disgraced all the same: for he has done his best to show that he would
give himself up to any one's 'uses base' for the sake of money; but this is
not honourable. And on the same principle he who gives himself to a lover
because he is a good man, and in the hope that he will be improved by his
company, shows himself to be virtuous, even though the object of his
affection turn out to be a villain, and to have no virtue; and if he is
deceived he has committed a noble error. For he has proved that for his
part he will do anything for anybody with a view to virtue and improvement,
than which there can be nothing nobler. Thus noble in every case is the
acceptance of another for the sake of virtue. This is that love which is
the love of the heavenly godess, and is heavenly, and of great price to
individuals and cities, making the lover and the beloved alike eager in the
work of their own improvement. But all other loves are the offspring of
the other, who is the common goddess. To you, Phaedrus, I offer this my
contribution in praise of love, which is as good as I could make extempore.

Pausanias came to a pause--this is the balanced way in which I have been
taught by the wise to speak; and Aristodemus said that the turn of
Aristophanes was next, but either he had eaten too much, or from some other
cause he had the hiccough, and was obliged to change turns with Eryximachus
the physician, who was reclining on the couch below him. Eryximachus, he
said, you ought either to stop my hiccough, or to speak in my turn until I
have left off.

I will do both, said Eryximachus: I will speak in your turn, and do you
speak in mine; and while I am speaking let me recommend you to hold your
breath, and if after you have done so for some time the hiccough is no
better, then gargle with a little water; and if it still continues, tickle
your nose with something and sneeze; and if you sneeze once or twice, even
the most violent hiccough is sure to go. I will do as you prescribe, said
Aristophanes, and now get on.

Eryximachus spoke as follows: Seeing that Pausanias made a fair beginning,
and but a lame ending, I must endeavour to supply his deficiency. I think
that he has rightly distinguished two kinds of love. But my art further
informs me that the double love is not merely an affection of the soul of
man towards the fair, or towards anything, but is to be found in the bodies
of all animals and in productions of the earth, and I may say in all that
is; such is the conclusion which I seem to have gathered from my own art of
medicine, whence I learn how great and wonderful and universal is the deity
of love, whose empire extends over all things, divine as well as human.
And from medicine I will begin that I may do honour to my art. There are
in the human body these two kinds of love, which are confessedly different
and unlike, and being unlike, they have loves and desires which are unlike;
and the desire of the healthy is one, and the desire of the diseased is
another; and as Pausanias was just now saying that to indulge good men is
honourable, and bad men dishonourable:--so too in the body the good and
healthy elements are to be indulged, and the bad elements and the elements
of disease are not to be indulged, but discouraged. And this is what the
physician has to do, and in this the art of medicine consists: for
medicine may be regarded generally as the knowledge of the loves and
desires of the body, and how to satisfy them or not; and the best physician
is he who is able to separate fair love from foul, or to convert one into
the other; and he who knows how to eradicate and how to implant love,
whichever is required, and can reconcile the most hostile elements in the
constitution and make them loving friends, is a skilful practitioner. Now
the most hostile are the most opposite, such as hot and cold, bitter and
sweet, moist and dry, and the like. And my ancestor, Asclepius, knowing
how to implant friendship and accord in these elements, was the creator of
our art, as our friends the poets here tell us, and I believe them; and not
only medicine in every branch but the arts of gymnastic and husbandry are
under his dominion. Any one who pays the least attention to the subject
will also perceive that in music there is the same reconciliation of
opposites; and I suppose that this must have been the meaning of
Heracleitus, although his words are not accurate; for he says that The One
is united by disunion, like the harmony of the bow and the lyre. Now there
is an absurdity saying that harmony is discord or is composed of elements
which are still in a state of discord. But what he probably meant was,
that harmony is composed of differing notes of higher or lower pitch which
disagreed once, but are now reconciled by the art of music; for if the
higher and lower notes still disagreed, there could be no harmony,--clearly
not. For harmony is a symphony, and symphony is an agreement; but an
agreement of disagreements while they disagree there cannot be; you cannot
harmonize that which disagrees. In like manner rhythm is compounded of
elements short and long, once differing and now in accord; which
accordance, as in the former instance, medicine, so in all these other
cases, music implants, making love and unison to grow up among them; and
thus music, too, is concerned with the principles of love in their
application to harmony and rhythm. Again, in the essential nature of
harmony and rhythm there is no difficulty in discerning love which has not
yet become double. But when you want to use them in actual life, either in
the composition of songs or in the correct performance of airs or metres
composed already, which latter is called education, then the difficulty
begins, and the good artist is needed. Then the old tale has to be
repeated of fair and heavenly love--the love of Urania the fair and
heavenly muse, and of the duty of accepting the temperate, and those who
are as yet intemperate only that they may become temperate, and of
preserving their love; and again, of the vulgar Polyhymnia, who must be
used with circumspection that the pleasure be enjoyed, but may not generate
licentiousness; just as in my own art it is a great matter so to regulate
the desires of the epicure that he may gratify his tastes without the
attendant evil of disease. Whence I infer that in music, in medicine, in
all other things human as well as divine, both loves ought to be noted as
far as may be, for they are both present.

The course of the seasons is also full of both these principles; and when,
as I was saying, the elements of hot and cold, moist and dry, attain the
harmonious love of one another and blend in temperance and harmony, they
bring to men, animals, and plants health and plenty, and do them no harm;
whereas the wanton love, getting the upper hand and affecting the seasons
of the year, is very destructive and injurious, being the source of
pestilence, and bringing many other kinds of diseases on animals and
plants; for hoar-frost and hail and blight spring from the excesses and
disorders of these elements of love, which to know in relation to the
revolutions of the heavenly bodies and the seasons of the year is termed
astronomy. Furthermore all sacrifices and the whole province of
divination, which is the art of communion between gods and men--these, I
say, are concerned only with the preservation of the good and the cure of
the evil love. For all manner of impiety is likely to ensue if, instead of
accepting and honouring and reverencing the harmonious love in all his
actions, a man honours the other love, whether in his feelings towards gods
or parents, towards the living or the dead. Wherefore the business of
divination is to see to these loves and to heal them, and divination is the
peacemaker of gods and men, working by a knowledge of the religious or
irreligious tendencies which exist in human loves. Such is the great and
mighty, or rather omnipotent force of love in general. And the love, more
especially, which is concerned with the good, and which is perfected in
company with temperance and justice, whether among gods or men, has the
greatest power, and is the source of all our happiness and harmony, and
makes us friends with the gods who are above us, and with one another. I
dare say that I too have omitted several things which might be said in
praise of Love, but this was not intentional, and you, Aristophanes, may
now supply the omission or take some other line of commendation; for I
perceive that you are rid of the hiccough.

Yes, said Aristophanes, who followed, the hiccough is gone; not, however,
until I applied the sneezing; and I wonder whether the harmony of the body
has a love of such noises and ticklings, for I no sooner applied the
sneezing than I was cured.

Eryximachus said: Beware, friend Aristophanes, although you are going to
speak, you are making fun of me; and I shall have to watch and see whether
I cannot have a laugh at your expense, when you might speak in peace.

You are right, said Aristophanes, laughing. I will unsay my words; but do
you please not to watch me, as I fear that in the speech which I am about
to make, instead of others laughing with me, which is to the manner born of
our muse and would be all the better, I shall only be laughed at by them.

Do you expect to shoot your bolt and escape, Aristophanes? Well, perhaps
if you are very careful and bear in mind that you will be called to
account, I may be induced to let you off.

Aristophanes professed to open another vein of discourse; he had a mind to
praise Love in another way, unlike that either of Pausanias or Eryximachus.
Mankind, he said, judging by their neglect of him, have never, as I think,
at all understood the power of Love. For if they had understood him they
would surely have built noble temples and altars, and offered solemn
sacrifices in his honour; but this is not done, and most certainly ought to
be done: since of all the gods he is the best friend of men, the helper
and the healer of the ills which are the great impediment to the happiness
of the race. I will try to describe his power to you, and you shall teach
the rest of the world what I am teaching you. In the first place, let me
treat of the nature of man and what has happened to it; for the original
human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were not
two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was man, woman,
and the union of the two, having a name corresponding to this double
nature, which had once a real existence, but is now lost, and the word
'Androgynous' is only preserved as a term of reproach. In the second
place, the primeval man was round, his back and sides forming a circle; and
he had four hands and four feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite
ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike; also four ears, two privy
members, and the remainder to correspond. He could walk upright as men now
do, backwards or forwards as he pleased, and he could also roll over and
over at a great pace, turning on his four hands and four feet, eight in
all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air; this was
when he wanted to run fast. Now the sexes were three, and such as I have
described them; because the sun, moon, and earth are three; and the man was
originally the child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman
of the moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and
moved round and round like their parents. Terrible was their might and
strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they made an
attack upon the gods; of them is told the tale of Otys and Ephialtes who,
as Homer says, dared to scale heaven, and would have laid hands upon the
gods. Doubt reigned in the celestial councils. Should they kill them and
annihilate the race with thunderbolts, as they had done the giants, then
there would be an end of the sacrifices and worship which men offered to
them; but, on the other hand, the gods could not suffer their insolence to
be unrestrained. At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus discovered
a way. He said: 'Methinks I have a plan which will humble their pride and
improve their manners; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in
two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in numbers;
this will have the advantage of making them more profitable to us. They
shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue insolent and will not
be quiet, I will split them again and they shall hop about on a single
leg.' He spoke and cut men in two, like a sorb-apple which is halved for
pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a hair; and as he cut them one
after another, he bade Apollo give the face and the half of the neck a turn
in order that the man might contemplate the section of himself: he would
thus learn a lesson of humility. Apollo was also bidden to heal their
wounds and compose their forms. So he gave a turn to the face and pulled
the skin from the sides all over that which in our language is called the
belly, like the purses which draw in, and he made one mouth at the centre,
which he fastened in a knot (the same which is called the navel); he also
moulded the breast and took out most of the wrinkles, much as a shoemaker
might smooth leather upon a last; he left a few, however, in the region of
the belly and navel, as a memorial of the primeval state. After the
division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came together,
and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual embraces,
longing to grow into one, they were on the point of dying from hunger and
self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything apart; and when one
of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another
mate, man or woman as we call them,--being the sections of entire men or
women,--and clung to that. They were being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of
them invented a new plan: he turned the parts of generation round to the
front, for this had not been always their position, and they sowed the seed
no longer as hitherto like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another;
and after the transposition the male generated in the female in order that
by the mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race
might continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest,
and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire of one
another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one
of two, and healing the state of man. Each of us when separated, having
one side only, like a flat fish, is but the indenture of a man, and he is
always looking for his other half. Men who are a section of that double
nature which was once called Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers
are generally of this breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men:
the women who are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have
female attachments; the female companions are of this sort. But they who
are a section of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being
slices of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them, and they
are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the most
manly nature. Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but this is not
true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame, but because they are
valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance, and they embrace that
which is like them. And these when they grow up become our statesmen, and
these only, which is a great proof of the truth of what I am saving. When
they reach manhood they are lovers of youth, and are not naturally inclined
to marry or beget children,--if at all, they do so only in obedience to the
law; but they are satisfied if they may be allowed to live with one another
unwedded; and such a nature is prone to love and ready to return love,
always embracing that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets
with his other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of
youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love
and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight,
as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their whole
lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire of one another.
For the intense yearning which each of them has towards the other does not
appear to be the desire of lover's intercourse, but of something else which
the soul of either evidently desires and cannot tell, and of which she has
only a dark and doubtful presentiment. Suppose Hephaestus, with his
instruments, to come to the pair who are lying side by side and to say to
them, 'What do you people want of one another?' they would be unable to
explain. And suppose further, that when he saw their perplexity he said:
'Do you desire to be wholly one; always day and night to be in one
another's company? for if this is what you desire, I am ready to melt you
into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one,
and while you live live a common life as if you were a single man, and
after your death in the world below still be one departed soul instead of
two--I ask whether this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are
satisfied to attain this?'--there is not a man of them who when he heard
the proposal would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and
melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very
expression of his ancient need (compare Arist. Pol.). And the reason is
that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire
and pursuit of the whole is called love. There was a time, I say, when we
were one, but now because of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed
us, as the Arcadians were dispersed into villages by the Lacedaemonians
(compare Arist. Pol.). And if we are not obedient to the gods, there is a
danger that we shall be split up again and go about in basso-relievo, like
the profile figures having only half a nose which are sculptured on
monuments, and that we shall be like tallies. Wherefore let us exhort all
men to piety, that we may avoid evil, and obtain the good, of which Love is
to us the lord and minister; and let no one oppose him--he is the enemy of
the gods who opposes him. For if we are friends of the God and at peace
with him we shall find our own true loves, which rarely happens in this
world at present. I am serious, and therefore I must beg Eryximachus not
to make fun or to find any allusion in what I am saying to Pausanias and
Agathon, who, as I suspect, are both of the manly nature, and belong to the
class which I have been describing. But my words have a wider application
--they include men and women everywhere; and I believe that if our loves
were perfectly accomplished, and each one returning to his primeval nature
had his original true love, then our race would be happy. And if this
would be best of all, the best in the next degree and under present
circumstances must be the nearest approach to such an union; and that will
be the attainment of a congenial love. Wherefore, if we would praise him
who has given to us the benefit, we must praise the god Love, who is our
greatest benefactor, both leading us in this life back to our own nature,
and giving us high hopes for the future, for he promises that if we are
pious, he will restore us to our original state, and heal us and make us
happy and blessed. This, Eryximachus, is my discourse of love, which,
although different to yours, I must beg you to leave unassailed by the
shafts of your ridicule, in order that each may have his turn; each, or
rather either, for Agathon and Socrates are the only ones left.

Indeed, I am not going to attack you, said Eryximachus, for I thought your
speech charming, and did I not know that Agathon and Socrates are masters
in the art of love, I should be really afraid that they would have nothing
to say, after the world of things which have been said already. But, for
all that, I am not without hopes.

Socrates said: You played your part well, Eryximachus; but if you were as
I am now, or rather as I shall be when Agathon has spoken, you would,
indeed, be in a great strait.

You want to cast a spell over me, Socrates, said Agathon, in the hope that
I may be disconcerted at the expectation raised among the audience that I
shall speak well.

I should be strangely forgetful, Agathon replied Socrates, of the courage
and magnanimity which you showed when your own compositions were about to
be exhibited, and you came upon the stage with the actors and faced the
vast theatre altogether undismayed, if I thought that your nerves could be
fluttered at a small party of friends.

Do you think, Socrates, said Agathon, that my head is so full of the
theatre as not to know how much more formidable to a man of sense a few
good judges are than many fools?

Nay, replied Socrates, I should be very wrong in attributing to you,
Agathon, that or any other want of refinement. And I am quite aware that
if you happened to meet with any whom you thought wise, you would care for
their opinion much more than for that of the many. But then we, having
been a part of the foolish many in the theatre, cannot be regarded as the
select wise; though I know that if you chanced to be in the presence, not
of one of ourselves, but of some really wise man, you would be ashamed of
disgracing yourself before him--would you not?

Yes, said Agathon.

But before the many you would not be ashamed, if you thought that you were
doing something disgraceful in their presence?

Here Phaedrus interrupted them, saying: not answer him, my dear Agathon;
for if he can only get a partner with whom he can talk, especially a good-
looking one, he will no longer care about the completion of our plan. Now
I love to hear him talk; but just at present I must not forget the encomium
on Love which I ought to receive from him and from every one. When you and
he have paid your tribute to the god, then you may talk.

Very good, Phaedrus, said Agathon; I see no reason why I should not proceed
with my speech, as I shall have many other opportunities of conversing with
Socrates. Let me say first how I ought to speak, and then speak:--

The previous speakers, instead of praising the god Love, or unfolding his
nature, appear to have congratulated mankind on the benefits which he
confers upon them. But I would rather praise the god first, and then speak
of his gifts; this is always the right way of praising everything. May I
say without impiety or offence, that of all the blessed gods he is the most
blessed because he is the fairest and best? And he is the fairest: for,
in the first place, he is the youngest, and of his youth he is himself the
witness, fleeing out of the way of age, who is swift enough, swifter truly
than most of us like:--Love hates him and will not come near him; but youth
and love live and move together--like to like, as the proverb says. Many
things were said by Phaedrus about Love in which I agree with him; but I
cannot agree that he is older than Iapetus and Kronos:--not so; I maintain
him to be the youngest of the gods, and youthful ever. The ancient doings
among the gods of which Hesiod and Parmenides spoke, if the tradition of
them be true, were done of Necessity and not of Love; had Love been in
those days, there would have been no chaining or mutilation of the gods, or
other violence, but peace and sweetness, as there is now in heaven, since
the rule of Love began. Love is young and also tender; he ought to have a
poet like Homer to describe his tenderness, as Homer says of Ate, that she
is a goddess and tender:--

'Her feet are tender, for she sets her steps,
Not on the ground but on the heads of men:'

herein is an excellent proof of her tenderness,--that she walks not upon
the hard but upon the soft. Let us adduce a similar proof of the
tenderness of Love; for he walks not upon the earth, nor yet upon the
skulls of men, which are not so very soft, but in the hearts and souls of
both gods and men, which are of all things the softest: in them he walks
and dwells and makes his home. Not in every soul without exception, for
where there is hardness he departs, where there is softness there he
dwells; and nestling always with his feet and in all manner of ways in the
softest of soft places, how can he be other than the softest of all things?
Of a truth he is the tenderest as well as the youngest, and also he is of
flexile form; for if he were hard and without flexure he could not enfold
all things, or wind his way into and out of every soul of man undiscovered.
And a proof of his flexibility and symmetry of form is his grace, which is
universally admitted to be in an especial manner the attribute of Love;
ungrace and love are always at war with one another. The fairness of his
complexion is revealed by his habitation among the flowers; for he dwells
not amid bloomless or fading beauties, whether of body or soul or aught
else, but in the place of flowers and scents, there he sits and abides.
Concerning the beauty of the god I have said enough; and yet there remains
much more which I might say. Of his virtue I have now to speak: his
greatest glory is that he can neither do nor suffer wrong to or from any
god or any man; for he suffers not by force if he suffers; force comes not
near him, neither when he acts does he act by force. For all men in all
things serve him of their own free will, and where there is voluntary
agreement, there, as the laws which are the lords of the city say, is
justice. And not only is he just but exceedingly temperate, for Temperance
is the acknowledged ruler of the pleasures and desires, and no pleasure
ever masters Love; he is their master and they are his servants; and if he
conquers them he must be temperate indeed. As to courage, even the God of
War is no match for him; he is the captive and Love is the lord, for love,
the love of Aphrodite, masters him, as the tale runs; and the master is
stronger than the servant. And if he conquers the bravest of all others,
he must be himself the bravest. Of his courage and justice and temperance
I have spoken, but I have yet to speak of his wisdom; and according to the
measure of my ability I must try to do my best. In the first place he is a
poet (and here, like Eryximachus, I magnify my art), and he is also the
source of poesy in others, which he could not be if he were not himself a
poet. And at the touch of him every one becomes a poet, even though he had
no music in him before (A fragment of the Sthenoaoea of Euripides.); this
also is a proof that Love is a good poet and accomplished in all the fine
arts; for no one can give to another that which he has not himself, or
teach that of which he has no knowledge. Who will deny that the creation
of the animals is his doing? Are they not all the works of his wisdom,
born and begotten of him? And as to the artists, do we not know that he
only of them whom love inspires has the light of fame?--he whom Love
touches not walks in darkness. The arts of medicine and archery and
divination were discovered by Apollo, under the guidance of love and
desire; so that he too is a disciple of Love. Also the melody of the
Muses, the metallurgy of Hephaestus, the weaving of Athene, the empire of
Zeus over gods and men, are all due to Love, who was the inventor of them.
And so Love set in order the empire of the gods--the love of beauty, as is
evident, for with deformity Love has no concern. In the days of old, as I
began by saying, dreadful deeds were done among the gods, for they were
ruled by Necessity; but now since the birth of Love, and from the Love of
the beautiful, has sprung every good in heaven and earth. Therefore,
Phaedrus, I say of Love that he is the fairest and best in himself, and the
cause of what is fairest and best in all other things. And there comes
into my mind a line of poetry in which he is said to be the god who

'Gives peace on earth and calms the stormy deep,
Who stills the winds and bids the sufferer sleep.'

This is he who empties men of disaffection and fills them with affection,
who makes them to meet together at banquets such as these: in sacrifices,
feasts, dances, he is our lord--who sends courtesy and sends away
discourtesy, who gives kindness ever and never gives unkindness; the friend
of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the gods; desired by
those who have no part in him, and precious to those who have the better
part in him; parent of delicacy, luxury, desire, fondness, softness, grace;
regardful of the good, regardless of the evil: in every word, work, wish,
fear--saviour, pilot, comrade, helper; glory of gods and men, leader best
and brightest: in whose footsteps let every man follow, sweetly singing in
his honour and joining in that sweet strain with which love charms the
souls of gods and men. Such is the speech, Phaedrus, half-playful, yet
having a certain measure of seriousness, which, according to my ability, I
dedicate to the god.

When Agathon had done speaking, Aristodemus said that there was a general
cheer; the young man was thought to have spoken in a manner worthy of
himself, and of the god. And Socrates, looking at Eryximachus, said: Tell
me, son of Acumenus, was there not reason in my fears? and was I not a true
prophet when I said that Agathon would make a wonderful oration, and that I
should be in a strait?

The part of the prophecy which concerns Agathon, replied Eryximachus,
appears to me to be true; but not the other part--that you will be in a

Why, my dear friend, said Socrates, must not I or any one be in a strait
who has to speak after he has heard such a rich and varied discourse? I am
especially struck with the beauty of the concluding words--who could listen
to them without amazement? When I reflected on the immeasurable
inferiority of my own powers, I was ready to run away for shame, if there
had been a possibility of escape. For I was reminded of Gorgias, and at
the end of his speech I fancied that Agathon was shaking at me the
Gorginian or Gorgonian head of the great master of rhetoric, which was
simply to turn me and my speech into stone, as Homer says (Odyssey), and
strike me dumb. And then I perceived how foolish I had been in consenting
to take my turn with you in praising love, and saying that I too was a
master of the art, when I really had no conception how anything ought to be
praised. For in my simplicity I imagined that the topics of praise should
be true, and that this being presupposed, out of the true the speaker was
to choose the best and set them forth in the best manner. And I felt quite
proud, thinking that I knew the nature of true praise, and should speak
well. Whereas I now see that the intention was to attribute to Love every
species of greatness and glory, whether really belonging to him or not,
without regard to truth or falsehood--that was no matter; for the original
proposal seems to have been not that each of you should really praise Love,
but only that you should appear to praise him. And so you attribute to
Love every imaginable form of praise which can be gathered anywhere; and
you say that 'he is all this,' and 'the cause of all that,' making him
appear the fairest and best of all to those who know him not, for you
cannot impose upon those who know him. And a noble and solemn hymn of
praise have you rehearsed. But as I misunderstood the nature of the praise
when I said that I would take my turn, I must beg to be absolved from the
promise which I made in ignorance, and which (as Euripides would say
(Eurip. Hyppolytus)) was a promise of the lips and not of the mind.
Farewell then to such a strain: for I do not praise in that way; no,
indeed, I cannot. But if you like to hear the truth about love, I am ready
to speak in my own manner, though I will not make myself ridiculous by
entering into any rivalry with you. Say then, Phaedrus, whether you would
like to have the truth about love, spoken in any words and in any order
which may happen to come into my mind at the time. Will that be agreeable
to you?

Aristodemus said that Phaedrus and the company bid him speak in any manner
which he thought best. Then, he added, let me have your permission first
to ask Agathon a few more questions, in order that I may take his
admissions as the premisses of my discourse.

I grant the permission, said Phaedrus: put your questions. Socrates then
proceeded as follows:--

In the magnificent oration which you have just uttered, I think that you
were right, my dear Agathon, in proposing to speak of the nature of Love
first and afterwards of his works--that is a way of beginning which I very
much approve. And as you have spoken so eloquently of his nature, may I
ask you further, Whether love is the love of something or of nothing? And
here I must explain myself: I do not want you to say that love is the love
of a father or the love of a mother--that would be ridiculous; but to
answer as you would, if I asked is a father a father of something? to which
you would find no difficulty in replying, of a son or daughter: and the
answer would be right.

Very true, said Agathon.

And you would say the same of a mother?

He assented.

Yet let me ask you one more question in order to illustrate my meaning: Is
not a brother to be regarded essentially as a brother of something?

Certainly, he replied.

That is, of a brother or sister?

Yes, he said.

And now, said Socrates, I will ask about Love:--Is Love of something or of

Of something, surely, he replied.

Keep in mind what this is, and tell me what I want to know--whether Love
desires that of which love is.

Yes, surely.

And does he possess, or does he not possess, that which he loves and

Probably not, I should say.

Nay, replied Socrates, I would have you consider whether 'necessarily' is
not rather the word. The inference that he who desires something is in
want of something, and that he who desires nothing is in want of nothing,
is in my judgment, Agathon, absolutely and necessarily true. What do you

I agree with you, said Agathon.

Very good. Would he who is great, desire to be great, or he who is strong,
desire to be strong?

That would be inconsistent with our previous admissions.

True. For he who is anything cannot want to be that which he is?

Very true.

And yet, added Socrates, if a man being strong desired to be strong, or
being swift desired to be swift, or being healthy desired to be healthy, in
that case he might be thought to desire something which he already has or
is. I give the example in order that we may avoid misconception. For the
possessors of these qualities, Agathon, must be supposed to have their
respective advantages at the time, whether they choose or not; and who can
desire that which he has? Therefore, when a person says, I am well and
wish to be well, or I am rich and wish to be rich, and I desire simply to
have what I have--to him we shall reply: 'You, my friend, having wealth
and health and strength, want to have the continuance of them; for at this
moment, whether you choose or no, you have them. And when you say, I
desire that which I have and nothing else, is not your meaning that you
want to have what you now have in the future?' He must agree with us--must
he not?

He must, replied Agathon.

Then, said Socrates, he desires that what he has at present may be
preserved to him in the future, which is equivalent to saying that he
desires something which is non-existent to him, and which as yet he has not

Very true, he said.

Then he and every one who desires, desires that which he has not already,
and which is future and not present, and which he has not, and is not, and
of which he is in want;--these are the sort of things which love and desire

Very true, he said.

Then now, said Socrates, let us recapitulate the argument. First, is not
love of something, and of something too which is wanting to a man?

Yes, he replied.

Remember further what you said in your speech, or if you do not remember I
will remind you: you said that the love of the beautiful set in order the
empire of the gods, for that of deformed things there is no love--did you
not say something of that kind?

Yes, said Agathon.

Yes, my friend, and the remark was a just one. And if this is true, Love
is the love of beauty and not of deformity?

He assented.

And the admission has been already made that Love is of something which a
man wants and has not?

True, he said.

Then Love wants and has not beauty?

Certainly, he replied.

And would you call that beautiful which wants and does not possess beauty?

Certainly not.

Then would you still say that love is beautiful?

Agathon replied: I fear that I did not understand what I was saying.

You made a very good speech, Agathon, replied Socrates; but there is yet
one small question which I would fain ask:--Is not the good also the


Then in wanting the beautiful, love wants also the good?

I cannot refute you, Socrates, said Agathon:--Let us assume that what you
say is true.

Say rather, beloved Agathon, that you cannot refute the truth; for Socrates
is easily refuted.

And now, taking my leave of you, I would rehearse a tale of love which I
heard from Diotima of Mantineia (compare 1 Alcibiades), a woman wise in
this and in many other kinds of knowledge, who in the days of old, when the
Athenians offered sacrifice before the coming of the plague, delayed the
disease ten years. She was my instructress in the art of love, and I shall
repeat to you what she said to me, beginning with the admissions made by
Agathon, which are nearly if not quite the same which I made to the wise
woman when she questioned me: I think that this will be the easiest way,
and I shall take both parts myself as well as I can (compare Gorgias). As
you, Agathon, suggested (supra), I must speak first of the being and nature
of Love, and then of his works. First I said to her in nearly the same
words which he used to me, that Love was a mighty god, and likewise fair;
and she proved to me as I proved to him that, by my own showing, Love was
neither fair nor good. 'What do you mean, Diotima,' I said, 'is love then
evil and foul?' 'Hush,' she cried; 'must that be foul which is not fair?'
'Certainly,' I said. 'And is that which is not wise, ignorant? do you not
see that there is a mean between wisdom and ignorance?' 'And what may that
be?' I said. 'Right opinion,' she replied; 'which, as you know, being
incapable of giving a reason, is not knowledge (for how can knowledge be
devoid of reason? nor again, ignorance, for neither can ignorance attain
the truth), but is clearly something which is a mean between ignorance and
wisdom.' 'Quite true,' I replied. 'Do not then insist,' she said, 'that
what is not fair is of necessity foul, or what is not good evil; or infer
that because love is not fair and good he is therefore foul and evil; for
he is in a mean between them.' 'Well,' I said, 'Love is surely admitted by
all to be a great god.' 'By those who know or by those who do not know?'
'By all.' 'And how, Socrates,' she said with a smile, 'can Love be
acknowledged to be a great god by those who say that he is not a god at
all?' 'And who are they?' I said. 'You and I are two of them,' she
replied. 'How can that be?' I said. 'It is quite intelligible,' she
replied; 'for you yourself would acknowledge that the gods are happy and
fair--of course you would--would you dare to say that any god was not?'
'Certainly not,' I replied. 'And you mean by the happy, those who are the
possessors of things good or fair?' 'Yes.' 'And you admitted that Love,
because he was in want, desires those good and fair things of which he is
in want?' 'Yes, I did.' 'But how can he be a god who has no portion in
what is either good or fair?' 'Impossible.' 'Then you see that you also
deny the divinity of Love.'

'What then is Love?' I asked; 'Is he mortal?' 'No.' 'What then?' 'As in
the former instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in a mean
between the two.' 'What is he, Diotima?' 'He is a great spirit (daimon),
and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.'
'And what,' I said, 'is his power?' 'He interprets,' she replied, 'between
gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and
sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods; he is
the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them, and therefore in him
all is bound together, and through him the arts of the prophet and the
priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all prophecy and
incantation, find their way. For God mingles not with man; but through
Love all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or
asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual; all
other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar.
Now these spirits or intermediate powers are many and diverse, and one of
them is Love.' 'And who,' I said, 'was his father, and who his mother?'
'The tale,' she said, 'will take time; nevertheless I will tell you. On
the birthday of Aphrodite there was a feast of the gods, at which the god
Poros or Plenty, who is the son of Metis or Discretion, was one of the
guests. When the feast was over, Penia or Poverty, as the manner is on
such occasions, came about the doors to beg. Now Plenty who was the worse
for nectar (there was no wine in those days), went into the garden of Zeus
and fell into a heavy sleep, and Poverty considering her own straitened
circumstances, plotted to have a child by him, and accordingly she lay down
at his side and conceived Love, who partly because he is naturally a lover
of the beautiful, and because Aphrodite is herself beautiful, and also
because he was born on her birthday, is her follower and attendant. And as
his parentage is, so also are his fortunes. In the first place he is
always poor, and anything but tender and fair, as the many imagine him; and
he is rough and squalid, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; on the
bare earth exposed he lies under the open heaven, in the streets, or at the
doors of houses, taking his rest; and like his mother he is always in
distress. Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles, he is always
plotting against the fair and good; he is bold, enterprising, strong, a
mighty hunter, always weaving some intrigue or other, keen in the pursuit
of wisdom, fertile in resources; a philosopher at all times, terrible as an
enchanter, sorcerer, sophist. He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal,
but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in plenty, and dead at
another moment, and again alive by reason of his father's nature. But that
which is always flowing in is always flowing out, and so he is never in
want and never in wealth; and, further, he is in a mean between ignorance
and knowledge. The truth of the matter is this: No god is a philosopher
or seeker after wisdom, for he is wise already; nor does any man who is
wise seek after wisdom. Neither do the ignorant seek after wisdom. For
herein is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is
nevertheless satisfied with himself: he has no desire for that of which he
feels no want.' 'But who then, Diotima,' I said, 'are the lovers of
wisdom, if they are neither the wise nor the foolish?' 'A child may answer
that question,' she replied; 'they are those who are in a mean between the
two; Love is one of them. For wisdom is a most beautiful thing, and Love
is of the beautiful; and therefore Love is also a philosopher or lover of
wisdom, and being a lover of wisdom is in a mean between the wise and the
ignorant. And of this too his birth is the cause; for his father is
wealthy and wise, and his mother poor and foolish. Such, my dear Socrates,
is the nature of the spirit Love. The error in your conception of him was
very natural, and as I imagine from what you say, has arisen out of a
confusion of love and the beloved, which made you think that love was all
beautiful. For the beloved is the truly beautiful, and delicate, and
perfect, and blessed; but the principle of love is of another nature, and
is such as I have described.'

I said, 'O thou stranger woman, thou sayest well; but, assuming Love to be
such as you say, what is the use of him to men?' 'That, Socrates,' she
replied, 'I will attempt to unfold: of his nature and birth I have already
spoken; and you acknowledge that love is of the beautiful. But some one
will say: Of the beautiful in what, Socrates and Diotima?--or rather let
me put the question more clearly, and ask: When a man loves the beautiful,
what does he desire?' I answered her 'That the beautiful may be his.'
'Still,' she said, 'the answer suggests a further question: What is given
by the possession of beauty?' 'To what you have asked,' I replied, 'I have
no answer ready.' 'Then,' she said, 'let me put the word "good" in the
place of the beautiful, and repeat the question once more: If he who loves
loves the good, what is it then that he loves?' 'The possession of the
good,' I said. 'And what does he gain who possesses the good?'
'Happiness,' I replied; 'there is less difficulty in answering that
question.' 'Yes,' she said, 'the happy are made happy by the acquisition
of good things. Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires happiness;
the answer is already final.' 'You are right.' I said. 'And is this wish
and this desire common to all? and do all men always desire their own good,
or only some men?--what say you?' 'All men,' I replied; 'the desire is
common to all.' 'Why, then,' she rejoined, 'are not all men, Socrates,
said to love, but only some of them? whereas you say that all men are
always loving the same things.' 'I myself wonder,' I said, 'why this is.'
'There is nothing to wonder at,' she replied; 'the reason is that one part
of love is separated off and receives the name of the whole, but the other
parts have other names.' 'Give an illustration,' I said. She answered me
as follows: 'There is poetry, which, as you know, is complex and manifold.
All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making, and
the processes of all art are creative; and the masters of arts are all
poets or makers.' 'Very true.' 'Still,' she said, 'you know that they are
not called poets, but have other names; only that portion of the art which
is separated off from the rest, and is concerned with music and metre, is
termed poetry, and they who possess poetry in this sense of the word are
called poets.' 'Very true,' I said. 'And the same holds of love. For you
may say generally that all desire of good and happiness is only the great
and subtle power of love; but they who are drawn towards him by any other
path, whether the path of money-making or gymnastics or philosophy, are not
called lovers--the name of the whole is appropriated to those whose
affection takes one form only--they alone are said to love, or to be
lovers.' 'I dare say,' I replied, 'that you are right.' 'Yes,' she added,
'and you hear people say that lovers are seeking for their other half; but
I say that they are seeking neither for the half of themselves, nor for the
whole, unless the half or the whole be also a good. And they will cut off
their own hands and feet and cast them away, if they are evil; for they
love not what is their own, unless perchance there be some one who calls
what belongs to him the good, and what belongs to another the evil. For
there is nothing which men love but the good. Is there anything?'
'Certainly, I should say, that there is nothing.' 'Then,' she said, 'the
simple truth is, that men love the good.' 'Yes,' I said. 'To which must
be added that they love the possession of the good?' 'Yes, that must be
added.' 'And not only the possession, but the everlasting possession of
the good?' 'That must be added too.' 'Then love,' she said, 'may be
described generally as the love of the everlasting possession of the good?'
'That is most true.'

'Then if this be the nature of love, can you tell me further,' she said,
'what is the manner of the pursuit? what are they doing who show all this
eagerness and heat which is called love? and what is the object which they
have in view? Answer me.' 'Nay, Diotima,' I replied, 'if I had known, I
should not have wondered at your wisdom, neither should I have come to
learn from you about this very matter.' 'Well,' she said, 'I will teach
you:--The object which they have in view is birth in beauty, whether of
body or soul.' 'I do not understand you,' I said; 'the oracle requires an
explanation.' 'I will make my meaning clearer,' she replied. 'I mean to
say, that all men are bringing to the birth in their bodies and in their
souls. There is a certain age at which human nature is desirous of
procreation--procreation which must be in beauty and not in deformity; and
this procreation is the union of man and woman, and is a divine thing; for
conception and generation are an immortal principle in the mortal creature,
and in the inharmonious they can never be. But the deformed is always
inharmonious with the divine, and the beautiful harmonious. Beauty, then,
is the destiny or goddess of parturition who presides at birth, and
therefore, when approaching beauty, the conceiving power is propitious, and
diffusive, and benign, and begets and bears fruit: at the sight of
ugliness she frowns and contracts and has a sense of pain, and turns away,
and shrivels up, and not without a pang refrains from conception. And this
is the reason why, when the hour of conception arrives, and the teeming
nature is full, there is such a flutter and ecstasy about beauty whose
approach is the alleviation of the pain of travail. For love, Socrates, is
not, as you imagine, the love of the beautiful only.' 'What then?' 'The
love of generation and of birth in beauty.' 'Yes,' I said. 'Yes, indeed,'
she replied. 'But why of generation?' 'Because to the mortal creature,
generation is a sort of eternity and immortality,' she replied; 'and if, as
has been already admitted, love is of the everlasting possession of the
good, all men will necessarily desire immortality together with good:
Wherefore love is of immortality.'

All this she taught me at various times when she spoke of love. And I
remember her once saying to me, 'What is the cause, Socrates, of love, and
the attendant desire? See you not how all animals, birds, as well as
beasts, in their desire of procreation, are in agony when they take the
infection of love, which begins with the desire of union; whereto is added
the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest are ready to battle
against the strongest even to the uttermost, and to die for them, and will
let themselves be tormented with hunger or suffer anything in order to
maintain their young. Man may be supposed to act thus from reason; but why
should animals have these passionate feelings? Can you tell me why?'
Again I replied that I did not know. She said to me: 'And do you expect
ever to become a master in the art of love, if you do not know this?' 'But
I have told you already, Diotima, that my ignorance is the reason why I
come to you; for I am conscious that I want a teacher; tell me then the
cause of this and of the other mysteries of love.' 'Marvel not,' she said,
'if you believe that love is of the immortal, as we have several times
acknowledged; for here again, and on the same principle too, the mortal
nature is seeking as far as is possible to be everlasting and immortal:
and this is only to be attained by generation, because generation always
leaves behind a new existence in the place of the old. Nay even in the
life of the same individual there is succession and not absolute unity: a
man is called the same, and yet in the short interval which elapses between
youth and age, and in which every animal is said to have life and identity,
he is undergoing a perpetual process of loss and reparation--hair, flesh,
bones, blood, and the whole body are always changing. Which is true not
only of the body, but also of the soul, whose habits, tempers, opinions,
desires, pleasures, pains, fears, never remain the same in any one of us,
but are always coming and going; and equally true of knowledge, and what is
still more surprising to us mortals, not only do the sciences in general
spring up and decay, so that in respect of them we are never the same; but
each of them individually experiences a like change. For what is implied
in the word "recollection," but the departure of knowledge, which is ever
being forgotten, and is renewed and preserved by recollection, and appears
to be the same although in reality new, according to that law of succession
by which all mortal things are preserved, not absolutely the same, but by
substitution, the old worn-out mortality leaving another new and similar
existence behind--unlike the divine, which is always the same and not
another? And in this way, Socrates, the mortal body, or mortal anything,
partakes of immortality; but the immortal in another way. Marvel not then
at the love which all men have of their offspring; for that universal love
and interest is for the sake of immortality.'

I was astonished at her words, and said: 'Is this really true, O thou wise
Diotima?' And she answered with all the authority of an accomplished
sophist: 'Of that, Socrates, you may be assured;--think only of the
ambition of men, and you will wonder at the senselessness of their ways,
unless you consider how they are stirred by the love of an immortality of
fame. They are ready to run all risks greater far than they would have run
for their children, and to spend money and undergo any sort of toil, and
even to die, for the sake of leaving behind them a name which shall be
eternal. Do you imagine that Alcestis would have died to save Admetus, or
Achilles to avenge Patroclus, or your own Codrus in order to preserve the
kingdom for his sons, if they had not imagined that the memory of their
virtues, which still survives among us, would be immortal? Nay,' she said,
'I am persuaded that all men do all things, and the better they are the
more they do them, in hope of the glorious fame of immortal virtue; for
they desire the immortal.

'Those who are pregnant in the body only, betake themselves to women and
beget children--this is the character of their love; their offspring, as
they hope, will preserve their memory and giving them the blessedness and
immortality which they desire in the future. But souls which are pregnant
--for there certainly are men who are more creative in their souls than in
their bodies--conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or
contain. And what are these conceptions?--wisdom and virtue in general.
And such creators are poets and all artists who are deserving of the name
inventor. But the greatest and fairest sort of wisdom by far is that which
is concerned with the ordering of states and families, and which is called
temperance and justice. And he who in youth has the seed of these
implanted in him and is himself inspired, when he comes to maturity desires
to beget and generate. He wanders about seeking beauty that he may beget
offspring--for in deformity he will beget nothing--and naturally embraces
the beautiful rather than the deformed body; above all when he finds a fair
and noble and well-nurtured soul, he embraces the two in one person, and to
such an one he is full of speech about virtue and the nature and pursuits
of a good man; and he tries to educate him; and at the touch of the
beautiful which is ever present to his memory, even when absent, he brings
forth that which he had conceived long before, and in company with him
tends that which he brings forth; and they are married by a far nearer tie
and have a closer friendship than those who beget mortal children, for the
children who are their common offspring are fairer and more immortal. Who,
when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod and other great poets, would not rather
have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not emulate them
in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their
memory and given them everlasting glory? Or who would not have such
children as Lycurgus left behind him to be the saviours, not only of
Lacedaemon, but of Hellas, as one may say? There is Solon, too, who is the
revered father of Athenian laws; and many others there are in many other
places, both among Hellenes and barbarians, who have given to the world
many noble works, and have been the parents of virtue of every kind; and
many temples have been raised in their honour for the sake of children such
as theirs; which were never raised in honour of any one, for the sake of
his mortal children.

'These are the lesser mysteries of love, into which even you, Socrates, may
enter; to the greater and more hidden ones which are the crown of these,
and to which, if you pursue them in a right spirit, they will lead, I know
not whether you will be able to attain. But I will do my utmost to inform
you, and do you follow if you can. For he who would proceed aright in this
matter should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms; and first, if he be
guided by his instructor aright, to love one such form only--out of that he
should create fair thoughts; and soon he will of himself perceive that the
beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another; and then if beauty of
form in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize
that the beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this
he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a
small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms; in the next
stage he will consider that the beauty of the mind is more honourable than
the beauty of the outward form. So that if a virtuous soul have but a
little comeliness, he will be content to love and tend him, and will search
out and bring to the birth thoughts which may improve the young, until he
is compelled to contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws,
and to understand that the beauty of them all is of one family, and that
personal beauty is a trifle; and after laws and institutions he will go on
to the sciences, that he may see their beauty, being not like a servant in
love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a slave
mean and narrow-minded, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea
of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in
boundless love of wisdom; until on that shore he grows and waxes strong,
and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the
science of beauty everywhere. To this I will proceed; please to give me
your very best attention:

'He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has
learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes
toward the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (and
this, Socrates, is the final cause of all our former toils)--a nature which
in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and
waning; secondly, not fair in one point of view and foul in another, or at
one time or in one relation or at one place fair, at another time or in
another relation or at another place foul, as if fair to some and foul to
others, or in the likeness of a face or hands or any other part of the
bodily frame, or in any form of speech or knowledge, or existing in any
other being, as for example, in an animal, or in heaven, or in earth, or in
any other place; but beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting,
which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted
to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things. He who
from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive
that beauty, is not far from the end. And the true order of going, or
being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties
of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these
as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair
forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to
fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute
beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is. This, my dear
Socrates,' said the stranger of Mantineia, 'is that life above all others
which man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute; a beauty
which if you once beheld, you would see not to be after the measure of
gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances
you; and you and many a one would be content to live seeing them only and
conversing with them without meat or drink, if that were possible--you only
want to look at them and to be with them. But what if man had eyes to see
the true beauty--the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed,
not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and
vanities of human life--thither looking, and holding converse with the true
beauty simple and divine? Remember how in that communion only, beholding
beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not
images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a
reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the
friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble

Such, Phaedrus--and I speak not only to you, but to all of you--were the
words of Diotima; and I am persuaded of their truth. And being persuaded
of them, I try to persuade others, that in the attainment of this end human
nature will not easily find a helper better than love: And therefore,
also, I say that every man ought to honour him as I myself honour him, and
walk in his ways, and exhort others to do the same, and praise the power
and spirit of love according to the measure of my ability now and ever.

The words which I have spoken, you, Phaedrus, may call an encomium of love,
or anything else which you please.

When Socrates had done speaking, the company applauded, and Aristophanes
was beginning to say something in answer to the allusion which Socrates had
made to his own speech, when suddenly there was a great knocking at the
door of the house, as of revellers, and the sound of a flute-girl was
heard. Agathon told the attendants to go and see who were the intruders.
'If they are friends of ours,' he said, 'invite them in, but if not, say
that the drinking is over.' A little while afterwards they heard the voice
of Alcibiades resounding in the court; he was in a great state of
intoxication, and kept roaring and shouting 'Where is Agathon? Lead me to
Agathon,' and at length, supported by the flute-girl and some of his
attendants, he found his way to them. 'Hail, friends,' he said, appearing
at the door crowned with a massive garland of ivy and violets, his head
flowing with ribands. 'Will you have a very drunken man as a companion of
your revels? Or shall I crown Agathon, which was my intention in coming,
and go away? For I was unable to come yesterday, and therefore I am here
to-day, carrying on my head these ribands, that taking them from my own
head, I may crown the head of this fairest and wisest of men, as I may be
allowed to call him. Will you laugh at me because I am drunk? Yet I know
very well that I am speaking the truth, although you may laugh. But first
tell me; if I come in shall we have the understanding of which I spoke
(supra Will you have a very drunken man? etc.)? Will you drink with me or

The company were vociferous in begging that he would take his place among
them, and Agathon specially invited him. Thereupon he was led in by the
people who were with him; and as he was being led, intending to crown
Agathon, he took the ribands from his own head and held them in front of
his eyes; he was thus prevented from seeing Socrates, who made way for him,
and Alcibiades took the vacant place between Agathon and Socrates, and in
taking the place he embraced Agathon and crowned him. Take off his
sandals, said Agathon, and let him make a third on the same couch.

By all means; but who makes the third partner in our revels? said
Alcibiades, turning round and starting up as he caught sight of Socrates.
By Heracles, he said, what is this? here is Socrates always lying in wait
for me, and always, as his way is, coming out at all sorts of unsuspected
places: and now, what have you to say for yourself, and why are you lying
here, where I perceive that you have contrived to find a place, not by a
joker or lover of jokes, like Aristophanes, but by the fairest of the

Socrates turned to Agathon and said: I must ask you to protect me,
Agathon; for the passion of this man has grown quite a serious matter to
me. Since I became his admirer I have never been allowed to speak to any
other fair one, or so much as to look at them. If I do, he goes wild with
envy and jealousy, and not only abuses me but can hardly keep his hands off
me, and at this moment he may do me some harm. Please to see to this, and
either reconcile me to him, or, if he attempts violence, protect me, as I
am in bodily fear of his mad and passionate attempts.

There can never be reconciliation between you and me, said Alcibiades; but
for the present I will defer your chastisement. And I must beg you,
Agathon, to give me back some of the ribands that I may crown the
marvellous head of this universal despot--I would not have him complain of
me for crowning you, and neglecting him, who in conversation is the
conqueror of all mankind; and this not only once, as you were the day
before yesterday, but always. Whereupon, taking some of the ribands, he
crowned Socrates, and again reclined.

Then he said: You seem, my friends, to be sober, which is a thing not to
be endured; you must drink--for that was the agreement under which I was
admitted--and I elect myself master of the feast until you are well drunk.
Let us have a large goblet, Agathon, or rather, he said, addressing the
attendant, bring me that wine-cooler. The wine-cooler which had caught his
eye was a vessel holding more than two quarts--this he filled and emptied,
and bade the attendant fill it again for Socrates. Observe, my friends,
said Alcibiades, that this ingenious trick of mine will have no effect on
Socrates, for he can drink any quantity of wine and not be at all nearer
being drunk. Socrates drank the cup which the attendant filled for him.

Eryximachus said: What is this, Alcibiades? Are we to have neither
conversation nor singing over our cups; but simply to drink as if we were

Alcibiades replied: Hail, worthy son of a most wise and worthy sire!

The same to you, said Eryximachus; but what shall we do?

That I leave to you, said Alcibiades.

'The wise physician skilled our wounds to heal (from Pope's Homer, Il.)'

shall prescribe and we will obey. What do you want?

Well, said Eryximachus, before you appeared we had passed a resolution that
each one of us in turn should make a speech in praise of love, and as good
a one as he could: the turn was passed round from left to right; and as
all of us have spoken, and you have not spoken but have well drunken, you
ought to speak, and then impose upon Socrates any task which you please,
and he on his right hand neighbour, and so on.

That is good, Eryximachus, said Alcibiades; and yet the comparison of a
drunken man's speech with those of sober men is hardly fair; and I should
like to know, sweet friend, whether you really believe what Socrates was
just now saying; for I can assure you that the very reverse is the fact,
and that if I praise any one but himself in his presence, whether God or
man, he will hardly keep his hands off me.

For shame, said Socrates.

Hold your tongue, said Alcibiades, for by Poseidon, there is no one else
whom I will praise when you are of the company.

Well then, said Eryximachus, if you like praise Socrates.

What do you think, Eryximachus? said Alcibiades: shall I attack him and
inflict the punishment before you all?

What are you about? said Socrates; are you going to raise a laugh at my
expense? Is that the meaning of your praise?

I am going to speak the truth, if you will permit me.

I not only permit, but exhort you to speak the truth.

Then I will begin at once, said Alcibiades, and if I say anything which is
not true, you may interrupt me if you will, and say 'that is a lie,' though
my intention is to speak the truth. But you must not wonder if I speak any
how as things come into my mind; for the fluent and orderly enumeration of
all your singularities is not a task which is easy to a man in my

And now, my boys, I shall praise Socrates in a figure which will appear to
him to be a caricature, and yet I speak, not to make fun of him, but only
for the truth's sake. I say, that he is exactly like the busts of Silenus,
which are set up in the statuaries' shops, holding pipes and flutes in
their mouths; and they are made to open in the middle, and have images of
gods inside them. I say also that he is like Marsyas the satyr. You
yourself will not deny, Socrates, that your face is like that of a satyr.
Aye, and there is a resemblance in other points too. For example, you are
a bully, as I can prove by witnesses, if you will not confess. And are you
not a flute-player? That you are, and a performer far more wonderful than
Marsyas. He indeed with instruments used to charm the souls of men by the
power of his breath, and the players of his music do so still: for the
melodies of Olympus (compare Arist. Pol.) are derived from Marsyas who
taught them, and these, whether they are played by a great master or by a
miserable flute-girl, have a power which no others have; they alone possess
the soul and reveal the wants of those who have need of gods and mysteries,
because they are divine. But you produce the same effect with your words
only, and do not require the flute: that is the difference between you and
him. When we hear any other speaker, even a very good one, he produces
absolutely no effect upon us, or not much, whereas the mere fragments of
you and your words, even at second-hand, and however imperfectly repeated,
amaze and possess the souls of every man, woman, and child who comes within
hearing of them. And if I were not afraid that you would think me
hopelessly drunk, I would have sworn as well as spoken to the influence
which they have always had and still have over me. For my heart leaps
within me more than that of any Corybantian reveller, and my eyes rain
tears when I hear them. And I observe that many others are affected in the
same manner. I have heard Pericles and other great orators, and I thought
that they spoke well, but I never had any similar feeling; my soul was not
stirred by them, nor was I angry at the thought of my own slavish state.
But this Marsyas has often brought me to such a pass, that I have felt as
if I could hardly endure the life which I am leading (this, Socrates, you
will admit); and I am conscious that if I did not shut my ears against him,
and fly as from the voice of the siren, my fate would be like that of
others,--he would transfix me, and I should grow old sitting at his feet.
For he makes me confess that I ought not to live as I do, neglecting the
wants of my own soul, and busying myself with the concerns of the
Athenians; therefore I hold my ears and tear myself away from him. And he
is the only person who ever made me ashamed, which you might think not to
be in my nature, and there is no one else who does the same. For I know
that I cannot answer him or say that I ought not to do as he bids, but when
I leave his presence the love of popularity gets the better of me. And
therefore I run away and fly from him, and when I see him I am ashamed of
what I have confessed to him. Many a time have I wished that he were dead,
and yet I know that I should be much more sorry than glad, if he were to
die: so that I am at my wit's end.

And this is what I and many others have suffered from the flute-playing of
this satyr. Yet hear me once more while I show you how exact the image is,
and how marvellous his power. For let me tell you; none of you know him;
but I will reveal him to you; having begun, I must go on. See you how fond
he is of the fair? He is always with them and is always being smitten by
them, and then again he knows nothing and is ignorant of all things--such
is the appearance which he puts on. Is he not like a Silenus in this? To
be sure he is: his outer mask is the carved head of the Silenus; but, O my
companions in drink, when he is opened, what temperance there is residing
within! Know you that beauty and wealth and honour, at which the many
wonder, are of no account with him, and are utterly despised by him: he
regards not at all the persons who are gifted with them; mankind are
nothing to him; all his life is spent in mocking and flouting at them. But
when I opened him, and looked within at his serious purpose, I saw in him
divine and golden images of such fascinating beauty that I was ready to do
in a moment whatever Socrates commanded: they may have escaped the
observation of others, but I saw them. Now I fancied that he was seriously
enamoured of my beauty, and I thought that I should therefore have a grand
opportunity of hearing him tell what he knew, for I had a wonderful opinion
of the attractions of my youth. In the prosecution of this design, when I
next went to him, I sent away the attendant who usually accompanied me (I
will confess the whole truth, and beg you to listen; and if I speak
falsely, do you, Socrates, expose the falsehood). Well, he and I were
alone together, and I thought that when there was nobody with us, I should
hear him speak the language which lovers use to their loves when they are
by themselves, and I was delighted. Nothing of the sort; he conversed as
usual, and spent the day with me and then went away. Afterwards I
challenged him to the palaestra; and he wrestled and closed with me several
times when there was no one present; I fancied that I might succeed in this
manner. Not a bit; I made no way with him. Lastly, as I had failed
hitherto, I thought that I must take stronger measures and attack him
boldly, and, as I had begun, not give him up, but see how matters stood
between him and me. So I invited him to sup with me, just as if he were a
fair youth, and I a designing lover. He was not easily persuaded to come;
he did, however, after a while accept the invitation, and when he came the
first time, he wanted to go away at once as soon as supper was over, and I
had not the face to detain him. The second time, still in pursuance of my
design, after we had supped, I went on conversing far into the night, and
when he wanted to go away, I pretended that the hour was late and that he
had much better remain. So he lay down on the couch next to me, the same
on which he had supped, and there was no one but ourselves sleeping in the
apartment. All this may be told without shame to any one. But what
follows I could hardly tell you if I were sober. Yet as the proverb says,
'In vino veritas,' whether with boys, or without them (In allusion to two
proverbs.); and therefore I must speak. Nor, again, should I be justified
in concealing the lofty actions of Socrates when I come to praise him.
Moreover I have felt the serpent's sting; and he who has suffered, as they
say, is willing to tell his fellow-sufferers only, as they alone will be
likely to understand him, and will not be extreme in judging of the sayings
or doings which have been wrung from his agony. For I have been bitten by
a more than viper's tooth; I have known in my soul, or in my heart, or in
some other part, that worst of pangs, more violent in ingenuous youth than
any serpent's tooth, the pang of philosophy, which will make a man say or
do anything. And you whom I see around me, Phaedrus and Agathon and
Eryximachus and Pausanias and Aristodemus and Aristophanes, all of you, and
I need not say Socrates himself, have had experience of the same madness
and passion in your longing after wisdom. Therefore listen and excuse my
doings then and my sayings now. But let the attendants and other profane
and unmannered persons close up the doors of their ears.

When the lamp was put out and the servants had gone away, I thought that I
must be plain with him and have no more ambiguity. So I gave him a shake,
and I said: 'Socrates, are you asleep?' 'No,' he said. 'Do you know what
I am meditating? 'What are you meditating?' he said. 'I think,' I
replied, 'that of all the lovers whom I have ever had you are the only one
who is worthy of me, and you appear to be too modest to speak. Now I feel
that I should be a fool to refuse you this or any other favour, and
therefore I come to lay at your feet all that I have and all that my
friends have, in the hope that you will assist me in the way of virtue,
which I desire above all things, and in which I believe that you can help
me better than any one else. And I should certainly have more reason to be
ashamed of what wise men would say if I were to refuse a favour to such as
you, than of what the world, who are mostly fools, would say of me if I
granted it.' To these words he replied in the ironical manner which is so
characteristic of him:--'Alcibiades, my friend, you have indeed an elevated
aim if what you say is true, and if there really is in me any power by
which you may become better; truly you must see in me some rare beauty of a
kind infinitely higher than any which I see in you. And therefore, if you
mean to share with me and to exchange beauty for beauty, you will have
greatly the advantage of me; you will gain true beauty in return for
appearance--like Diomede, gold in exchange for brass. But look again,
sweet friend, and see whether you are not deceived in me. The mind begins
to grow critical when the bodily eye fails, and it will be a long time
before you get old.' Hearing this, I said: 'I have told you my purpose,
which is quite serious, and do you consider what you think best for you and
me.' 'That is good,' he said; 'at some other time then we will consider
and act as seems best about this and about other matters.' Whereupon, I
fancied that he was smitten, and that the words which I had uttered like
arrows had wounded him, and so without waiting to hear more I got up, and
throwing my coat about him crept under his threadbare cloak, as the time of
year was winter, and there I lay during the whole night having this
wonderful monster in my arms. This again, Socrates, will not be denied by
you. And yet, notwithstanding all, he was so superior to my solicitations,
so contemptuous and derisive and disdainful of my beauty--which really, as
I fancied, had some attractions--hear, O judges; for judges you shall be of
the haughty virtue of Socrates--nothing more happened, but in the morning
when I awoke (let all the gods and goddesses be my witnesses) I arose as
from the couch of a father or an elder brother.

What do you suppose must have been my feelings, after this rejection, at
the thought of my own dishonour? And yet I could not help wondering at his
natural temperance and self-restraint and manliness. I never imagined that
I could have met with a man such as he is in wisdom and endurance. And
therefore I could not be angry with him or renounce his company, any more
than I could hope to win him. For I well knew that if Ajax could not be
wounded by steel, much less he by money; and my only chance of captivating
him by my personal attractions had failed. So I was at my wit's end; no
one was ever more hopelessly enslaved by another. All this happened before
he and I went on the expedition to Potidaea; there we messed together, and
I had the opportunity of observing his extraordinary power of sustaining
fatigue. His endurance was simply marvellous when, being cut off from our
supplies, we were compelled to go without food--on such occasions, which
often happen in time of war, he was superior not only to me but to
everybody; there was no one to be compared to him. Yet at a festival he
was the only person who had any real powers of enjoyment; though not
willing to drink, he could if compelled beat us all at that,--wonderful to
relate! no human being had ever seen Socrates drunk; and his powers, if I
am not mistaken, will be tested before long. His fortitude in enduring
cold was also surprising. There was a severe frost, for the winter in that
region is really tremendous, and everybody else either remained indoors, or
if they went out had on an amazing quantity of clothes, and were well shod,
and had their feet swathed in felt and fleeces: in the midst of this,
Socrates with his bare feet on the ice and in his ordinary dress marched
better than the other soldiers who had shoes, and they looked daggers at
him because he seemed to despise them.

I have told you one tale, and now I must tell you another, which is worth

'Of the doings and sufferings of the enduring man'

while he was on the expedition. One morning he was thinking about
something which he could not resolve; he would not give it up, but
continued thinking from early dawn until noon--there he stood fixed in
thought; and at noon attention was drawn to him, and the rumour ran through
the wondering crowd that Socrates had been standing and thinking about
something ever since the break of day. At last, in the evening after
supper, some Ionians out of curiosity (I should explain that this was not
in winter but in summer), brought out their mats and slept in the open air
that they might watch him and see whether he would stand all night. There
he stood until the following morning; and with the return of light he
offered up a prayer to the sun, and went his way (compare supra). I will
also tell, if you please--and indeed I am bound to tell--of his courage in
battle; for who but he saved my life? Now this was the engagement in which
I received the prize of valour: for I was wounded and he would not leave
me, but he rescued me and my arms; and he ought to have received the prize
of valour which the generals wanted to confer on me partly on account of my
rank, and I told them so, (this, again, Socrates will not impeach or deny),
but he was more eager than the generals that I and not he should have the
prize. There was another occasion on which his behaviour was very
remarkable--in the flight of the army after the battle of Delium, where he
served among the heavy-armed,--I had a better opportunity of seeing him
than at Potidaea, for I was myself on horseback, and therefore
comparatively out of danger. He and Laches were retreating, for the troops
were in flight, and I met them and told them not to be discouraged, and
promised to remain with them; and there you might see him, Aristophanes, as
you describe (Aristoph. Clouds), just as he is in the streets of Athens,
stalking like a pelican, and rolling his eyes, calmly contemplating enemies
as well as friends, and making very intelligible to anybody, even from a
distance, that whoever attacked him would be likely to meet with a stout
resistance; and in this way he and his companion escaped--for this is the
sort of man who is never touched in war; those only are pursued who are
running away headlong. I particularly observed how superior he was to
Laches in presence of mind. Many are the marvels which I might narrate in
praise of Socrates; most of his ways might perhaps be paralleled in another
man, but his absolute unlikeness to any human being that is or ever has
been is perfectly astonishing. You may imagine Brasidas and others to have
been like Achilles; or you may imagine Nestor and Antenor to have been like
Pericles; and the same may be said of other famous men, but of this strange
being you will never be able to find any likeness, however remote, either
among men who now are or who ever have been--other than that which I have
already suggested of Silenus and the satyrs; and they represent in a figure
not only himself, but his words. For, although I forgot to mention this to
you before, his words are like the images of Silenus which open; they are
ridiculous when you first hear them; he clothes himself in language that is
like the skin of the wanton satyr--for his talk is of pack-asses and smiths
and cobblers and curriers, and he is always repeating the same things in
the same words (compare Gorg.), so that any ignorant or inexperienced
person might feel disposed to laugh at him; but he who opens the bust and
sees what is within will find that they are the only words which have a
meaning in them, and also the most divine, abounding in fair images of
virtue, and of the widest comprehension, or rather extending to the whole
duty of a good and honourable man.

This, friends, is my praise of Socrates. I have added my blame of him for
his ill-treatment of me; and he has ill-treated not only me, but Charmides
the son of Glaucon, and Euthydemus the son of Diocles, and many others in
the same way--beginning as their lover he has ended by making them pay
their addresses to him. Wherefore I say to you, Agathon, 'Be not deceived
by him; learn from me and take warning, and do not be a fool and learn by
experience, as the proverb says.'

When Alcibiades had finished, there was a laugh at his outspokenness; for
he seemed to be still in love with Socrates. You are sober, Alcibiades,
said Socrates, or you would never have gone so far about to hide the
purpose of your satyr's praises, for all this long story is only an
ingenious circumlocution, of which the point comes in by the way at the
end; you want to get up a quarrel between me and Agathon, and your notion
is that I ought to love you and nobody else, and that you and you only
ought to love Agathon. But the plot of this Satyric or Silenic drama has
been detected, and you must not allow him, Agathon, to set us at variance.

I believe you are right, said Agathon, and I am disposed to think that his
intention in placing himself between you and me was only to divide us; but
he shall gain nothing by that move; for I will go and lie on the couch next
to you.

Yes, yes, replied Socrates, by all means come here and lie on the couch
below me.

Alas, said Alcibiades, how I am fooled by this man; he is determined to get
the better of me at every turn. I do beseech you, allow Agathon to lie
between us.

Certainly not, said Socrates, as you praised me, and I in turn ought to
praise my neighbour on the right, he will be out of order in praising me
again when he ought rather to be praised by me, and I must entreat you to
consent to this, and not be jealous, for I have a great desire to praise
the youth.

Hurrah! cried Agathon, I will rise instantly, that I may be praised by

The usual way, said Alcibiades; where Socrates is, no one else has any
chance with the fair; and now how readily has he invented a specious reason
for attracting Agathon to himself.

Agathon arose in order that he might take his place on the couch by
Socrates, when suddenly a band of revellers entered, and spoiled the order
of the banquet. Some one who was going out having left the door open, they
had found their way in, and made themselves at home; great confusion
ensued, and every one was compelled to drink large quantities of wine.
Aristodemus said that Eryximachus, Phaedrus, and others went away--he
himself fell asleep, and as the nights were long took a good rest: he was
awakened towards daybreak by a crowing of cocks, and when he awoke, the
others were either asleep, or had gone away; there remained only Socrates,
Aristophanes, and Agathon, who were drinking out of a large goblet which
they passed round, and Socrates was discoursing to them. Aristodemus was
only half awake, and he did not hear the beginning of the discourse; the
chief thing which he remembered was Socrates compelling the other two to
acknowledge that the genius of comedy was the same with that of tragedy,
and that the true artist in tragedy was an artist in comedy also. To this
they were constrained to assent, being drowsy, and not quite following the
argument. And first of all Aristophanes dropped off, then, when the day
was already dawning, Agathon. Socrates, having laid them to sleep, rose to
depart; Aristodemus, as his manner was, following him. At the Lyceum he
took a bath, and passed the day as usual. In the evening he retired to
rest at his own home.

End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of Symposium, by Plato

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