The Philosophy of Plato

THE next to speak should have been Aristophanes; but he being afflicted with a hiccough, Eryximachus took up the tale. He seemed to identify love with harmony in the physical organization.

"I don't know why the harmony of my physical organization should demand such a noisy operation as sneezing," said Aristophanes; "my hiccough departed when I sneezed. However, I am not going to follow the lead of Pausanias and Eryximachus. If man understood the power of Love, he would have more temples and more homage than all the other gods, yet he gets none. I will unfold it. We must begin with the nature of man, which has changed. First of all there was a third sex, the androgynous, combining the two, with four arms and legs, and the rest to match. When a man was in a hurry, he rolled, like a tumbler; and they were very strong. They became very troublesome to the Olympians, who could not afford to annihilate them; so Zeus resolved to cut them in half. Then the halves fell to embracing in their desire to get re-united. Hence the two sexes, and the perpetual endeavour of the two halves to get reincorporated. What your real lovers are really craving for is to become really one, soul and body, with their other half. But if we fail in piety, we are in danger of being quartered instead."

Agathon was arrested in a discussion into which Socrates was beguiling him, and entered in turn on his discourse.

"We have been describing Love's gifts instead of praising Love himself--of all the gods the happiest, the most excellent and the most beautiful. He is the most beautiful of all, for he is the youngest of all and the swiftest, since he outstrips in flight old age, which is hateful to him.

"For Love's virtue and power, mark that no violence is used by him, nor touches him; and he is most temperate, for he is stronger than all delights and desires. In courage Ares cannot match him, for he is master of Ares, who is possessed by the love of Aphrodite. Justice, then, and temperance and courage are his; and it remains to speak of his wisdom. First, then, I praise him as being myself a poet, just as Eryximachus praised him as a physician; for he is a poet so mighty that he can make a poet of him who was none before, and none can teach that which he knows not himself. His is the poesy of creation; Apollo himself was Love's pupil.

"Of old, necessity ruled among the gods, and fearful things were done. But when Love was born all blessings came with him. He brings peace among men, calm upon the sea, repose and sleep in sadness. He frees us from ill-will, and fills us with kindliness, brings all gentleness and expels all ungentleness, whom every man should follow with sweet hymns in his praise, taking his part in that song of beauty which Love sings, healing the troubles of all minds of gods and men."


WHEN the applause subsided, "I was justified in my fears," said Socrates. "After a discourse of such consummate eloquence, how shall I say anything that will be listened to? I said I knew something about Love; but then I thought we were going to speak the truth on the subject; to give Love the honour which is his due; whereas the question has become one of seeing how we can praise Love most eloquently without regard to facts, and that is an art in which I am quite unskilled. But if you are content with mere truths expressed as they occur to me at the moment--"

Phaedrus bade him speak in whatever fashion he chose.

"Then, may I ask Agathon a few questions?"


"Is Love love of something, or of nothing? A father is father of his child. A brother is brother of his brother and sister. Is Love in like manner love of something?"


"It desires that of which it is the love, not possessing it?"


"When it no longer lacks, it no longer desires?"

"I suppose not."

"Well, then, Love is of something that it lacks. But you would have it that Love loves beauty; therefore it lacks beauty; therefore it is not beautiful. And the same argument applies to goodness as to beauty! However, let me tell you what the prophetess Diotima told me, for I have borrowed my argument from her, since I was arguing with her very much as Agathon has been doing just now.

"What is not beautiful or good, need not, therefore, be ugly or bad, just as there is a state of mind which is neither knowledge nor ignorance, but correct opinion. So Love is not a mortal, nor a god, since we have seen that he does not possess all beauty and goodness and happiness, which we must acknowledge the gods to possess, but is something intermediate, a daemon, interpreting between the divine and the human. Love is one of many such intermediaries. As to his birth, Plenty was his sire and Poverty his mother; he partakes of the nature of each. As the gods do not seek wisdom, since they imagine that they have it, but only the philosophers, who are neither of these; so Love is of necessity a philosopher, thirsting for wisdom as for all forms of beauty. Your mistake was in taking Love to be not the lover, but the beloved.

"LOVE, you say, desires the possession of beautiful things. What will he possess? The happy are happy in the possession of good things. Everyone desires to possess good things. But we do not admit that everyone loves, because we have selected a specific form of love, and chosen to apply to the species the name of a universal; just as every maker is properly a poet, but we have appropriated the name to a particular species of makers. Love, in reality is of every good, not of the missing half of oneself; desire that it should be ever present with it. It acts as the desire of generation in the beautiful, in relation both to body and soul, a something immortal in mortality as it were; not of the beautiful; but of immortality, necessarily, without which nothing can be ever present.

"As for the phenomena of Love permeating all the living creation, they express the mortal nature seeking to become deathless by the one possible process of generation. For the mortal achieves immortality by the constant replacing of that which perishes, not by its separate continuity. So this Love is a tendency towards eternity and great deeds done for the immortality they bring. Sexual love is the expression of this craving for immortality in the physical organism; the work of all creative art is its intellectual issue, and especially of that political wisdom which we call moderation and justice. In whatsoever field this desire of immortality by propagation moves us, we must be attracted by the beautiful, and by beauty of soul more divinely than by beauty of form. But the children of the intellect are more desirable than the children of the body; for the former may bring the reward even of divine honours, but not the latter.

"He who would love rightly must from the beginning seek to hold intercourse with beautiful forms, and love one, wherein he would generate intellectual beauty. But the beauty in all forms is one, and his love of beauty in form would be divided among many forms; whereas beauty in the soul being more excellent, one beautiful soul would suffice him even though the beauty of the form withered. Thus he would be led up to the contemplation of universal beauty, and the one science thereof. The beauty thus revealed is eternal, without beginning at all times, and utterly, and to all. This is that to which they attain who advance by these steps from the contemplation of beauty in particulars to the revelation of the supreme beauty. Such a one is at last in contact not with shadows but with the ultimate reality, and if immortality be at all given to human beings, he is thereby become immortal."

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