Title: The Symposium.
Translator(s): Christopher Gill & Desmond Lee.
Publisher: Penguin Books.
Release Date: May 30th, 2006 (First Published -380).
Genre(s): Philosophy, Classics, Non-Fiction.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.
What is Love? That is a question that we continuously try and answer in our life and it is a challenge bestowed upon humans to come to a common consensus in regards to what it is. After all, there’s nothing more versatile than love itself, taking on forms that we sometimes never knew existed until we truly felt it in every fiber of our body. But what makes it so special? Why is it so often sought, so often given when we least expect it? It might, in fact, be one of the many experiences in life that can only be understood once facing it, once you’re prompted to go up against it toe-to-toe, stripped down to your raw emotions and instincts, nothing but the heart and mind trying to come to terms with how they can coexist. What if our great founders of Western philosophy had a go at explaining it all to us? What would that give? Maybe much more than we would’ve expected from them, even when they are drunk with wine and inclined towards friendly mockery.
What is The Symposium about? This is Plato’s retelling of a dialogue that occurred during a banquet/symposium hosted by the tragic poet Agathon. Narrated by Apollodorus to an unknown individual, this piece exposes various points of view of several key historical characters, from Alcibiades to Socrates, on numerous themes as they philosophize and offer unparalleled wisdom, sometimes based on Greek mythology itself, to enlighten each other. However, the heart of their discourse was dictated by Phaedrus’ proposal to give each of them the opportunity to deliver a speech in praise of the god of Love (Eros), allowing them to openly reflect on their understanding of the nature of love. This edition also includes chapters on the allegory of the cave and the divided line which are both found in Plato’s The Republic.
While included extracts on the allegory of the cave was a refreshing reminder of the role of perception and the comfort of a known reality to man, it is the tale of the banquet that remains the most fun and central discourse throughout this philosophical text. The contextual environment in which takes place this exchange allows for some very inspiring and wholly admiring thoughts on the nature of love. How these men conceive Love paves the way for some fascinating reflections, including the entertaining story regarding Zeus’ role in our eternal search for love or the distinction between Common Love from Heavenly Love. It is upon Socrates’ intervention to express the possibility of Love being a spirit rather than a God that the conversation shifts towards much more logical bases. His argumentation structure, highly influenced by notable syllogisms, also reminds us why he remains one of the greatest philosophers known to man.
The characterization that bleeds through this banquet is also outstanding. If you’ve never heard of these Greek figures, you’ll discover that their sense of humour, brimming with sarcasm, comes with their high intellect and tendency towards logic, wisdom, and tragedy. Socrates was a surprise, in particular, displaying a certain charisma in his approach to meticulously destroy other arguments, to never give straight answers when the subject of the matter is still too complex for mankind, and to continuously question his fellow comrades’ statements to make them realize the flaws in their arguments. The way he simply leads them into always agreeing with him is divine and really contributes to making his persona so untouchable. As previously mentioned, the format of a banquet really allowed this discourse between these fellows to be much more accessible and amicable.
The Symposium is an insightful intellectual offering on the subject of love, desire, beauty, knowledge, and good, through affable banter between notable men in Ancient Greece.