I understand how important this work is, you know, history and stuff (hello sarcasm), but there is no need for the introduction to be roughly half the length of the entire work! Seriously, by time I actually got to the work which I would say is about 60 pages long, I’d read 30 pages and knew almost the entire story! Whoever wrote the introduction quoted almost all of it.
Mostly this book brings back the time in my first year of undergrad where I thought I wanted to study Ancient-Medieval history and then I scrapped by with my worst grade ever in my Greek history class and spent the next three-and-a-half years trying to make up for it and improve my GPA. On the plus side, this book counts towards my Classics Club reading list and I’m slowly chipping away. Finishing this, I’ve now passed the 40 books mark (41/100) and I’m nearing the halfway point. I’m behind schedule, but I threw the schedule out the window ages ago.
All of this being said, I thought it was a lot more interesting than the introduction let on and agree that Plato wrote a lot more than even he knew he wrote. I did a quick internet search to see if this was fiction or non-fiction and there was a lot of to-do over it. Scholars (AKA the professors’ syllabi that came up) really leave it up to each individual reader to decide. I lumped in with fiction because really how else are we to know what was and wasn’t real that far back?
Reading Plato’s Symposium was like a “Who’s Who” of Ancient Greece. I was 1) impressed I could pronounce most of the names (hello Eryximachus) and 2) impressed I actually knew who the majority of them were from philosophers and dramatists to politicians.
What was most interesting to me is that this work honestly felt like what any night after a party ends up feeling like. Everyone’s had a bit too much to drink, everyone is exhausted and you start to talk about things that aren’t necessarily something you would talk about with other people in a sober state,
“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.” (Loc. 179, Introduction)
Everyone’s had these types of conversations sitting around in the living room or a kitchen table (or in a big ol’ closet), but we don’t all write books about them! Where Plato really nails it is when he talks about why humans love. There are many examples, but the two that stood out for me were these,
“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.” (Loc. 797)
Plato explains the idea of soul mates (Was it his idea or was he just espousing someone else’s beliefs?) in that we were all born with our other half and Zeus ripped us asunder (thanks Shakespeare) and we spend the rest of our lives looking for them. And then he follows that up with why so many people have kids and “love” their kids.
“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.” (Loc. 1087)
That idea of achieving immortality, whether through the arts or through a physical legacy, is so viable and so ingrained that it is one of the core tenants of love, at least according to Plato.
Recommendation: Skip the intro and just read the work. The intro didn’t add much and this might be an occasion where you go back and read it afterward. I liked a lot of the ideas and could see many of them still floating around today.
Opening Line: “Concerning the things about which you ask to be informed I believe that I am not ill-prepared with an answer.”
Closing Line: “In the evening he retired to rest at his own house.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers.)
Additional Quotes from Symposium
“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.” (Loc. 6, Introduction)
“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.” (Loc. 52, Introduction)
“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.” (Loc. 76, Introduction)
“For love is the desire of the whole, and the pursuit of the whole is called love.” (Loc. 92, Introduction)
“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 intended. (Loc. 125, Introduction)
“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.” (Loc. 612)
“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…” (Loc. 653)
“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.” (Loc. 729)
“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.” (Loc. 1032)
“‘Then love,’ she said, ‘may be described generally as the love of the everlasting possession of the good?’ ‘That is most true.'” (Loc. 1044)
“‘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.” (Loc. 1057)
“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.” (Loc. 1080)