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Western University
Classical Studies
Classical Studies 3151F/G

The dialogue opens with Apollodorus agreeing to tell an unnamed companion who is a rich businessman the famous story of the party held in honor of Agathon to celebrate the success of his first tragedy. Apollodorus retells the account he gave to Glaucon (Plato's half-brother and main interlocutor of the Republic) who had in turn heard of the party from some other, less reliable source. Glaucon had thought Apollodorus had been in attendance, but Apollodorus points out that the party took place many years ago, when he and Glaucon were just children. Apollodorus had heard the story from Aristodemus, one of the guests at the party, and had also checked some of the facts with Socrates himself. The story begins with Aristodemus encountering Socrates, who has recently bathed and put on sandals--things he rarely does. Aristodemus inquires as to why Socrates is all dressed up, and Socrates answers that he is going to dinner at Agathon's. Agathon's tragedy won him first prize at the Lenaean festival the previous day, and while Socrates shunned the large crowds of yesterday's celebrations, he promised to join Agathon today. Socrates invites Aristodemus to join him, and while Aristodemus is at first hesitant about dropping in uninvited, Socrates persuades him that he must come. Aristodemus and Socrates head off toward Agathon's together, but Socrates keeps falling behind, lost in thought. Socrates urges Aristodemus to go ahead, saying he will catch up. As a result, Aristodemus arrives at Agathon's without Socrates and is welcomed in alone. Agathon is delighted to see him, saying that he was looking for him yesterday so as to invite him. Aristodemus explains that he came upon Socrates' invitation, and is surprised to find that Socrates has not caught up with him. Agathon sends out a slave to find him, and the slave returns, reporting that Socrates is standing on a neighbor's porch and will not come in. Agathon orders the slave to go and fetch him in, but Aristodemus insists that Socrates be left alone: he will come of his own accord when he has finished thinking. Aristodemus joins the other guests and they begin eating. Among those assembled, there is the young Phaedrus, Agathon's life-partner Pausanias, a doctor named Eryximachus, and the great comic playwright Aristophanes. The meal is halfway over by the time Socrates finally appears. Agathon encourages Socrates to join him on his couch so that he may share in the wisdom that came to Socrates on the neighboring porch. Socrates remarks that if wisdom could flow freely from the wiser to the less wise, Socrates should be the one benefiting from sitting near Agathon. Noting the mocking tone in Socrates' voice, Agathon suggests they might test one another's wisdom later that evening. After dinner, Pausanias takes responsibility for organizing the drinking. All the guests but Socrates have participated in the wild revelry of the previous night and are feeling rather hung over. Eryximachus recommends that they not drink too much this evening in the interests of their health. He suggests further that they send away the flute-girl, who was to be their entertainment, and engage instead in conversation. He had been speaking recently to Phaedrus, who had lamented that the poets compose songs of praise to all the gods but Love. Consequently, Eryximachus recommends that each person present, starting with Phaedrus, make the finest speech he can in praise of Love. Phaedrus asserts that both gods and humans regard Love as great and awesome, for many reasons. In particular, Love is widely considered older than almost all the other gods, and has no parents. According to Hesiod, a great poet from around the time of Homer, Chaos was the first thing in existence, followed by Earth and Love. Acusilaus, the collector of myths, and Parmenides, the philosopher, both concur that Love is among the oldest of the gods. As Love is the oldest, Phaedrus suggests, he confers the greatest benefits. No young man could derive greater benefit than from a good lover, and no lover could derive greater benefit than from a young loved one. These relationships implant in men stronger guidance toward leading good lives than family, state, money, or anything else. Specifically, Love teaches us shame in acting disgracefully and pride in acting well. The shame we feel when caught acting disgracefully is far greater when we are caught by a partner than by a parent or a friend. Phaedrus suggests that an army that consisted solely of lovers and loved ones would be unmatchable, as they would rather die than show cowardice in front of their partner, and they would all strive constantly for greater honor. Phaedrus provides several examples of brave and honorable actions performed by those in love. He recalls the story of Alcestis, who was willing to die for her husband Admetus. Apollo told Admetus that he was to die unless he could find someone to die in his place. Not even his parents would accept the responsibility, but Alcestis did, impressing the gods so much that they brought her back to life. The gods have only allowed a very few people to return from the underworld, which suggests that love is one of the few guides to action that they value supremely. By contrast, Phaedrus suggests, Orpheus did not have the courage to die for his love, Eurydice, but descended into Hades to find her while still alive. As a result he returned empty-handed and was later killed by the Maenads. Achilles, the great hero of the Iliad, was the loved one of the older Patroclus, who was killed by Hector. It was prophesied that Achilles would be killed if he killed Hector, but Achilles still hunted down and killed the man who had killed his lover. Achilles showed supreme courage in accepting death in order to avenge his lover so the gods sent him to the islands of the blessed when he died. Thus, Phaedrus concludes, Love is the most ancient and most honored of gods, and most capable of ensuring courage and happiness, in this life and the next. Phaedrus' speech is followed by a number of others that Aristodemus does not recall, and so we arrive at Pausanias. Pausanias points out that there are two kinds of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. First, there is Heavenly Aphrodite, the daughter of Uranus, with whom he associates "Heavenly Love." Second, there is Common Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus and Dione, who is considerably younger than Heavenly Aphrodite, and with whom he associates "Common Love." Pausanias argues that loving is in itself neither a good nor a bad activity. If it is done properly, it is good, and if not, it is bad. Common Love, according to Pausanias, is bad because its attraction is indiscriminating, directed toward bodies rather than toward minds. As a result, people who are motivated by Common Love are equally interested in women and boys, and the less intelligent the better: that way they can get what they want more easily. Heavenly Love is associated with the daughter of Uranus who has no mother, and so it is directly only toward males. This kind of Love is usually felt for boys of developing maturity who show signs of intelligence, and with whom a life-long partnership is possible. Pausanias sharply criticizes those who take advantage of young, foolish boys, or of women for the sake of sexual gratification. He suggests that this inappropriate behavior brings a bad name to love and sexual pleasure altogether. He goes so far as to recommend that laws be made to prohibit such behavior. Pausanias notes that appropriate love takes place when the lover makes the loved one good and wise, educating him and teaching him virtue, and when the loved one gratifies the lover, and is eager to acquire the wisdom his lover can share. In such cases, either partner is justified in doing all sorts of outlandish favors for the other. If someone were to beg, to sleep out on another's doorstep, to undergo all sorts of slavish service in order to gain money or political favor, then that person would be disdained and humiliated. But if someone were to do these things in order to win favor from a loved one, that person would be highly commended. Lovers can still get away with breaking oaths in a way one could not in any other field, because those in love are granted every kind of indulgence, both from humans and from the gods. Pausanias points out that while lovers are encouraged to go to great lengths to win favor, loved ones are discouraged from allowing themselves to be caught up in their lovers' charms. This ensures that sufficient time will elapse so that the loved one can test his lover's mettle. The loved one who is too easily won over by influence or by money is clearly not after the wisdom of his lover and should be ashamed. The main purpose of love, then, is to produce virtue, and love pursued for any other means is wrong, regardless of the consequence. A boy who is fooled into a relationship with a poor man because the poor man promises money will be humiliated. On the other hand, a boy who is fooled into a relationship with a dishonest man because that man promises wisdom will be honored, because the boy had the right intentions regardless of the outcome. A loved one who gratifies his lover in the hopes of gaining virtue is partaking in Heavenly Love, while gratification given for any other reason is simply Common Love. After Pausanias, Aristophanes is the next in line to speak, but he is undergoing an attack of the hiccups and is unable to speak. He asks Eryximachus, the doctor, to speak in his place. Eryximachus agrees to make a speech now so that Aristophanes can speak afterward, when his hiccups are gone. He also recommends a number of remedies for the hiccups, including induced sneezing. Eryximachus commends Pausanias for distinguishing between two different kinds of Love, but suggests that Pausanias limits himself when he considers all love to be expressed in emotional responses between human beings. Eryximachus' medical training shows that Love is expressed in the bodily responses of plants and animals. He agrees with Pausanias that it is right to gratify good people and wrong to gratify bad people. In medicine one should try to gratify the good and healthy parts of the body while depriving the diseased parts of the body of any satisfaction so that they will cease to be diseased. The doctor's role, then, is to implant one type of love in the body and flush the wrong kind out in order to reconcile and create love between the antagonistic elements of the body, such as hot and cold, and dry and wet. Not only medicine, but also athletics, agriculture, and music are all wholly governed by the god of Love, according to Eryximachus. For instance, both harmony and rhythm in music consist in creating agreement between divergent notes, or divergent tempos. Medicine creates a similar agreement between divergent elements of the body, and all creation of agreement and concord is a product of Love. In practicing Love, whether by means of music or medicine, one is promoting order, and may thus improve people. Eryximachus associates this kind of heavenly love with the Heavenly Muse, which he contrasts with the Muse Polymnia, whom he associates with common love. With common love, one must be careful to gratify the recipient without rendering him self-indulgent. For instance, good cooking must taste good, but it cannot make diners ill. In all things, both kinds of love are present, and we must proceed with moderation. Eryximachus extends the scope of Love to include the seasons as well. The same elements of hot and cold, wet and dry, that must be reconciled in the body must also be reconciled in the weather, and when the right kind of love does so, all kinds of life flourish, and there are good harvests and good health. But when these contraries cannot be reconciled, there is bad weather, blight, and epidemics. Thus, astronomy also deals with the workings of Love since the stars govern the movement of the seasons. Further, Love governs divination, as one must find an appropriate balance in worshipping the gods. Eryximachus concludes that Love is ever-present and all-powerful in our lives, as it is the cause of all self-control, happiness, and justice, and it produces good actions. Eryximachus suggests that if he has left anything out of his eulogy, it is to Aristophanes to fill in the gaps he has left, now that his hiccups have stopped thanks to Eryximachus' sneezing cure. Aristophanes playfully remarks that it is odd that the well-ordered part of his body must be gratified through such a disordered activity as sneezing. Eryximachus warns Aristophanes that his speech may not be taken seriously if he jokes around like that. Aristophanes replies that, as a comedian, he is not afraid of saying something funny so much as he is afraid of saying something ludicrous. Aristophanes' speech comes in the form of a myth. Long ago, he explains, there were three genders: male, female, and androgynous, and each person was twice what they are now. That is, they had four hands, four legs, two heads, two sets of genitals, and so on. They could move both forward and backward and would run by spinning themselves around cartwheel-like on all eight limbs. Males were descended from the sun, females from the earth, and those who were androgynous were descended from the moon. They were very powerful and vigorous and made threatening attacks on the gods. The gods did not want to destroy them because they would then forfeit the sacrifices humans made to them, so Zeus decided to cut each person in two. He also suggested that if this didn't settle humans down, he would cut them in two once again and they would have to hop about on one leg. As each person was cut in two, Apollo turned their heads and necks around so that they would be facing toward the gash that had been made, so as to remind them constantly of the punishment they had been dealt. He also pulled their skin tight to cover up this gash, tying it together at the navel. Because they longed for their original nature, people kept trying to find their other half and reunite with it. When they found their other half, they would embrace and stay together, not wanting anything else. Eventually, people started dying of hunger or general inactivity. Zeus took pity on them, and moved their genitals around so that they would be facing frontward. This way, when they embraced, they could have sexual intercourse, and those who were formerly androgynous could reproduce, and even two men who came together could at least have sexual satisfaction and then move on to other things. This is the origin of our instinctive desire for other human beings. Those who are interested in members of the opposite sex are halves of formerly androgynous people, while men who like men and women who like women are halves of what were formerly whole males and females. Aristophanes applauds male-male relationships between men and boys since such couples value boldness, braveness, and masculinity, both in themselves and in others. When we find our other half, we are overwhelmed with affection, concern, and love for that person. This great amount of care cannot result simply from a desire for sex, but we have difficulty articulating precisely what it is that makes us care so much. If Hephaestus, the blacksmith god, were to offer to weld a couple together so that they would become one and never be parted, even in death, they would leap at this opportunity. "Love" is the name that we give to our desire for wholeness, to be restored to our original nature. Aristophanes observes that if we are disobedient or disorderly toward the gods, Zeus might split us in two once more, so we must strive ourselves, and encourage others, to behave well toward the gods. In this respect, Love is our leader, and if we work against Love we will find ourselves on the wrong side of the gods. Aristophanes urges Eryximachus and the others not to take his speech as a simple comedy, or a joke directed at such life-partners as Pausanias and Agathon. Given that we are all separate, Love does what he can for us given the circumstances: he guides us toward those who are close in nature to us and who best fit our character. Perhaps if we continue to show reverence to the gods, he may one day restore us to our formerly whole selves Eryximachus expresses great satisfaction at Aristophanes' speech and claims that if speakers of any lesser degree than Agathon and Socrates were up next there would be nothing left to say. Socrates remarks that if Eryximachus were in his position, not having spoken yet and having to follow Agathon, he would be quite frightened. Agathon replies that Socrates is trying to fluster him by suggesting that everyone expects a great speech from him. Socrates answers that, having seen Agathon at the festival, he knows that Agathon can speak with great confidence before large crowds. Agathon points out that a small group of intelligent people is far more intimidating than a large crowd. Socrates begins to question Agathon, suggesting that everyone gathered here was in the crowd at the festival, but Phaedrus cuts them off, suggesting that Agathon should make his speech. Agathon points out that all the previous speeches have spoken only of the benefits that humans have gained from Love, but none of them have discussed the nature of the god himself. Agathon suggests that Love is the happiest of the gods because he is most beautiful and best. He is beautiful because, contrary to Phaedrus' claim, he is the youngest of the gods. He always avoids old age, and only associates with the young. Further, all the horrible things the gods did to each other in ancient times they did because of Necessity and not Love. Since Love has ruled amongst the gods, they have been far more peaceful. Further, Agathon suggests that Love is sensitive. Rather than settle in the hard parts of humans and gods, on the ground or in the skull, Love settles in our minds and characters. Further, Love will only settle in the minds and characters of those with soft natures, and will move on when he finds someone with a tough character. That he can pass unnoticed in and out of our minds suggests further that the god is fluid. Agathon goes on to speak about the virtues of Love. Love is just because he is never forced and never uses force: everyone consents to his authority. Love practices moderation, since he can master pleasures and desires. Love is braver even than Ares, god of war, since Ares fell in love with Aphrodite and was thus mastered by Love. Love is wise since he is the inspiration for all other acts of wisdom. No poet can be wise without love, nor could the gods or muses master their respective arts without love for those arts. The gods only became organized when Love came into being, and were motivat
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