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XIII. The Discourse of Socrates (Diotima): 201 D-212 C.

Prologue: I will now repeat the discourse on Eros which I once heard from my instructress in Erotics, Diotima the prophetess—assuming the conclusions formulated just now, and treating first of the character and secondly of the effects of Eros, according to Agathon's own method.

A. [The nature of Eros, 201 E—204 C.]

(1) Diotima showed me that Eros, although (as we have seen) neither beautiful nor good, is not therefore ugly and bad but rather a mean between these contraries.

(2) She argued also that Eros is not a god, since godhead involves the possession of just those goods which Eros desires and lacks. But neither is he a mortal, but stands midway between the two, being a great daemon; and the function of the daemonian is to mediate between gods and men.

(3) As to origin, Eros is son of Poros and Penia, and partakes of the nature of both parents—the fertile vigour of the one, the wastrel neediness of the other. As he is a mean between the mortal and the immortal, so he is a mean between the wise and the unwise, i.e. a wisdom-lover (philosopher). The notion that Eros is a beautiful god is due to a confusion between subjective Eros and the object loved.

B. [The effects, or utility, of Eros, 204 D—212 A.]

(1) [The object or end of Eros.]

What does Eros as “love of the beautiful” precisely imply? In the case of the good, its acquisition is a means to happiness as end. But Eros is not used in this generic sense of “desire for happiness,” so much as in a narrower specific sense. And if we say that Eros is “the desire for the good,” we must expand this definition into “the desire for the everlasting possession of the good.

(2) [The method or mode of action of Eros.]

Eros works by means of generation, both physical and psychical, in the beautiful.

a Generation, being an immortal thing, requires harmony with the divine, i.e. beauty; without which the process is hindered. And generation is sought because it is, for mortals, the nearest approach to immortality. It is in the desire for immortality that we must find the explanation of all the sexual passion and love of offspring which we see in the animal world, since it is only by the way of leaving a successor to take its place that the mortal creature, in this world of flux, can secure a kind of perpetuity.

b But the soul has its offspring as well as the body. Laws, inventions and noble deeds, which spring from love of fame, have for their motive the same passion for immortality. The lover seeks a beautiful soul in order to generate therein offspring which shall live for ever; and the bonds of such soul-marriages are stronger than any carnal ties.

c After this elementary prelude, we reach the highest stage of the Mysteries of Love. The right method in Erotic procedure is to pass in upward course from love of bodily beauty to love of soul beauty, thence to the beauty of the sciences, until finally one science is reached which corresponds to the Absolute, Ideal Beauty, in which all finite things of beauty partake. To gain the vision of this is the goal of Love's endeavour, and to live in its presence were life indeed. There, if anywhere, with truth for the issue of his soul, might the lover hope to attain to immortality.

Epilogue: Believing that for the gaining of this boon Eros is man's best helper, I myself praise Eros and practise Erotics above all things and I urge others to do likewise. Such is my “encomium,” Phaedrus, if you choose to call it so.

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