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(A) The substance and form of Socrates' λόγοι.

a The encomium proper is preceded by a preliminary dialectical discussion with Agathon, the object of which is to clear the ground of some popular misconceptions of the nature of Eros. The notion of Eros, it is shown, is equivalent to that of Desire (ἔρως=τὸ ἐπιθυμοῦν) —a quality, not a person. And the object of this Desire is the beautiful (τὸ καλόν), as had been asserted by Agathon (201 A—B). That Socrates refuses to embark on an eulogistic description of Eros without this preliminary analysis of the meaning of the name serves, at the start, to differentiate his treatment of the theme from that of all the preceding speakers: it is, in fact, an object-lesson in method, an assertion of the Platonic principle that dialectic must form the basis of rhetoric, and that argument founded on untested assumptions is valueless.

b The speech proper begins with a mythological derivation of Eros, in which his conflicting attributes as a δαίμων—a being midway between gods and men—are accounted for by his parentage. Eros is at once poor, with the poverty of Desire which lacks its object, and rich, with the vigour with which Desire strives after its object. And in all its features the Eros of Socrates and Diotima stands in marked contrast to the Eros of conventional poetry and art, the divine Eros of Agathon.

Eros is defined as Desire and as Daemon; and, in the next place, its potency1 is shown to lie in the striving after the everlasting possession of happiness. But Eros implies also propagation in the sphere of beauty. It is the impulse towards immortality—the impulse displayed alike by animals and by men, the ground of parental love towards both physical and mental (φιλοτιμία) offspring.

But when we arrive at this point, the question suggests itself as to how, more precisely, these different determinations of Eros are related to one another. What is the link between Eros defined as “the desire for the abiding possession of the good” and Eros defined as “the desire for procreation in the beautiful”? The former conception involves a desire for abiding existence, in other words for immortality, inasmuch as the existence of the possessor is a necessary condition of possession; while the latter also involves a similar desire, inasmuch as procreation is the one means by which racial immortality can be secured. Thus the link between the two conceptions of Eros is to be found in the implicit notion common to both that Eros is the striving after immortality or self-perpetuation. But there is another point to be borne in mind in order to grasp clearly the connexion of the argument. The beautiful includes the good (τἀγαθὰ καλά 201 C); so that the desire for the good is already, implicitly, a desire for the beautiful (and vice versa).

Thus the main results of the argument so far are these: Eros is the striving after the lasting possession of the Good, and thereby after immortality; but immortality can be secured only through procreation (τόκος), and the act of procreation requires as its condition the presence of Beauty. We are, therefore, led on to an examination of the nature of Beauty, and it is shown that beauty is manifested in a variety of forms, physical, moral and mental—beauty of body, of soul, of arts and sciences, culminating in the arch-science and the Idea of absolute Beauty. Accordingly the Erastes must proceed in upward course2 from grade to grade of these various forms of beauty till he finally reaches the summit, the Idea. On the level of each grade, moreover, he is moved by the erotic impulse not merely to apprehend the καλόν presented and to appreciate it, but also to reproduce it in another: there are two moments in each such experience, that of “conception” (κύησις) or inward apprehension, and that of “delivery” (τόκος) or outward reproduction.

The emphasis here laid on the notion of reproduction and delivery (τίκτειν, γεννᾶν), as applied to the intellectual sphere, deserves special notice. The work of the intelligence, according to the Socratic method, is not carried on in solitary silence but requires the presence of a second mind, an interlocutor, an answerer of questions. For the correct method of testing hypotheses and searching out truth is the conversational method, “dialectic,” in which mind cooperates with mind. The practical illustration of this is to be seen in Socrates himself, the pursuer of beautiful youths who delights in converse with them and, warmed by the stimulus of their beauty, λόγους τοιούτους τίκτει οἵτινες ποιήσουσι βελτίους τοὺς νέους (210 C).

c As the conception of Eros as a striving after the Ideal pursued not in isolation but in spiritual fellowship (κοινωνία) constitutes the core of the Socratic exposition, so the form of that exposition is so contrived as to give appropriate expression to this central conception. It commences with a piece of dialectic—the conversation between Socrates and Agathon. Agathon is the embodiment of that κάλλος which here stimulates the ἐραστής in his search for truth: it is in Agathon's soul (ἐν καλῷ) that Socrates deposits the fruits of his pregnant mind. In much, too, of the exposition of Diotima the semblance, at least, of intellectual κοινωνία is retained, illustrating the speaker's principle of philosophic co-operation. Thus the speech as a whole may be regarded simply as a Platonic dialogue in miniature, which differs from the average dialogue mainly in the fact that the chief speaker and guiding spirit is not Socrates but another, and that other a woman. If asked for a reason why Socrates here is not the questioner but the answerer, a sufficient motive may be found in the desire to represent him as a man of social tact. Socrates begins by exposing the ignorance of Agathon: next he makes the amend honourable by explaining that he had formerly shared that ignorance, until instructed by Diotima3.


1 I.e. its generic notion (εἶναι, τὸ κεφάλαιον 205 D) as distinguished from the specific limitation (καλεῖσθαι 205 C, 206 B) to sex-love. See W. Gilbert in Philologus LXVIII. 1, pp. 52 ff.

2 It is interesting to observe how Emerson makes use of this Platonic “anabasis” when he writes:—“There is a climbing scale of culture...up to the ineffable mysteries of the intellect.”

3 Cp. Jowett (Plato I. p. 527): “As at a banquet good manners would not allow him (Socr.) to win a victory either over his host or any of the guests, the superiority which he gains over Agathon is ingeniously represented as having been already gained over himself by her. The artifice has the further advantage of maintaining his accustomed profession of ignorance (cp. Menex. 236 fol.).”

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