Plato’s Symposium provides us with many different views and theories about love. This drunken discussion of Eros presents ideas which have not lost their relevance in the millennia since. Many things have changed and there have been a lot of different views on almost every subject known to man, but the thoughts voiced in the Symposium still hold truth today. However being what it was, and that is many different peoples thoughts on the subjectof Eros, there is a wide variety of theories to choose from. Which of these speculations strikes a chord of truth in one’s soul?
Diotima speaks through Socrates (who is speaking hrough Plato) when she gives her version of where love came from. She says that Love is the child of Resource and Poverty, conceived on the day that Aphrodite was born. Poverty had come to the feast to beg and found Resource drunk and passed out. Poverty saw an opportunity to gain more resources, so she slept with him and became pregnant with Love. Love is a follower of Aphrodite because He was conceived at the party following her birth, and because “He is naturally a lover of beauty and Aphrodite is beautiful”(Gill, 203c) Because of who His mother is Love is always poor and homeless.
He is quite tough from sleeping n the ground or in doorways and from wearing no shoes. Because of who His mother is, He is always in need, but because of who His father is He is constantly scheming to get good and beautiful things. He’s clever, and skilled in hunting, magic and acquiring knowledge. Neither immortal nor mortal, Love can spring to life in a day and then die before that day is over. He can come back to life again like his father Resource, but cannot hold onto the resources he has.
Being between mortality and immortality, Diotima calls Love “a great spirit”(Gill,202e). These great spirits are sort of go-betweens for the Gods nd Humanity. They convey prayers and sacrifices from us to the Gods, and commands and gifts from the Gods to us. Because of them the universe is all interconnected and whole. The Gods never communicate directly to Humans, but always use these spirits to convey their commands. These are what priests, prophets and oracles speak to. Love is also between wisdom and ignorance, since neither the gods nor the ignorant love wisdom.
The Gods already have it so the do not desire it, therefore love has no part in it. The ignorant don’t love wisdom or want it, because they are satisfied with themselves. Since they do not think they need wisdom, they do not desire or love it. Therefore Love lies between wisdom and ignorance. In fact the only ones who love wisdom are those between wisdom and ignorance, such as Love himself. Wisdom is beautiful, and Love is a lover of beauty, ergo Love is a lover of wisdom. Since Love is for things that Love does not yet have, this too proves that He is not wise.
Yet it would not do to call the great spirit Love completely ignorant, so we again see that he falls between the two. The reason for this is his parents: “His father is wise and resourceful while his other has neither quality”(Gill,204c). Diotima tells Socrates (and Socrates tells the Symposium) that Love is also between beautiful and ugly, since love must be of something that it does not have and Love is of beauty. Therefore Love cannot have beauty. But one cannot call Love ugly, so He ends up between these two as well.
Similarly Love is not good because love must be of good. But one could hardly call love bad, and so again He falls between the two. I think that this is definitely a plausible account of love. People like to think of love as being this sweet and wonderful thing, when really it can be quite ough and demanding. However you can’t say that it is a horrible and ugly thing (unless you have recently been burned by it, and even then the sentiment fades with time). Love falls between wondrous sweetness and the heart-wrenchingly bitter.
When we love something it is often something we cannot obtain, and once we have it in our possession we tend to fall out of love with it. From people to objects, Humans seem interested only in what they do not have at the time. We are constantly seeking that which is beautiful and good and that which we do not have. If we do get our hands on what we have been eeking after, and do not fall out of love with it immediately, we seek to hold on to it forever. Since nothing is permanent this is just another thing we cannot have and therefore want to love.
I loved the idea of Poverty and Resource being a God and Goddess. The whole Greek way of thinking about Gods and Goddesses sits well with me because I believe that we create them with our emotions and needs. Because of this it makes sense that the Gods and Goddesses would be fallible, and have many of the same quirks and problems that Humans have. In fact it makes sense that these same quirks and troubles ould be amplified, seeing how these creatures are so much more powerful than we. The idea of a Goddess coming to a feast to beg is an interesting one.
She is the representative of the impoverished who often come to the gates of houses in which feasts are being held to beg for food. But being a Goddess, would she even need food, and why could she not come by it herself? It is as if her very being is made up of necessity that cannot be come by, even to a Goddess. It is almost a humorous play on words that “Poverty formed a plan of relieving her lack of resources by having a child by Resource”(Gill,203c). Why didn’t anyone think of that before?? One would think that Resource would be quite popular indeed!
However her plan didn’t seem to work so well. Though we do not hear much about her after this point in the story, it does not seem that having a child like Love would help her situation very much: he is as homeless and shoeless as she. There were a few points I thought were weak. The Olympian Gods were definitely fallible, and did many things that seemed to mess things up for themselves and for the Human race. Often lecherous and greedy, these were definitely not the perfect infinite God of so many eligions today.
This is one of the things I like the most about them, but part of Diotima’s arguments were based on not calling the Gods bad, ugly, nor anything too negative. This could have been out of fearful respect, but if one wishes to have a meaningful philosophical conversation, one should not *censored*-foot around anything. Socrates seemed all too willing to agree that the Gods could not possibly be anything but beautiful and good. Another weakness in the argument is that Socrates accepts that Love cannot be ugly and bad because he wouldn’t “dare to suggest that any of the gods is not eautiful and happy”(Gill,202c).
But right after that it is decided that Love is not a God because a God must be beautiful and happy. It was already established that Love is not beautiful and happy because He wants things of beauty and goodness (which would bring Him happiness). So why can’t He be ugly and unhappy? He may be a great spirit, but no where is it written that great spirits have to be beautiful and happy. This myth about love is somewhat unusual. I have not seen one quite like it anywhere else, in other Greek mythology or any other religious or cultural mythology. It accurately sums up the qualities nd traits of love.
It discusses the pleasant side of love, as well as the side that can be unlikable. It provides us with an origin that makes some logical sense and which provides explanations for all of loves traits. I think that of all of the myths about love that I have read I like this one the best. It holds on to its relevancy even after more than two thousand years. The feelings and thoughts expressed in this story (and in much of the rest of the Symposium for that matter) act as a sort of time capsule proving that while many things change, Human emotions mostly stay the same.