The dialogue begins with Apollodorus in the middle of a conversation with an unnamed companion. His companion has asked him about a dinner party at Agathon’s house, where Socrates and several others made speeches about love. Apollodorus explains that he’s well prepared to answer his companion, because he’d been asked this same question by another friend, Glaucon, while he was walking to Athens the other day.
The fact that the story begins in the middle of the action is unsettling, immediately giving the reader a sense of being along for the journey. It’s also curious that so many people are eager for details about a dinner party. Leaving Apollodorus’s companion unidentified allows the reader to occupy the role of that companion.
Apollodorus explains that Glaucon was eager for a more exact account of what happened at the party, and knew that as Socrates’s friend, Apollodorus was the best person to report what Socrates said. Apollodorus pointed out that he couldn’t give an exact account, because the symposium took place a long time ago, and Apollodorus has only been Socrates’s disciple for the past three years. Apollodorus explained to Glaucon that before he became Socrates’s disciple, he “used to run around aimlessly,” with no interest in philosophy; though he thought he was doing something important, he was actually in a “pathetic state.”
Glaucon and the present-day companion are both very eager to know exactly what Socrates said at this party, which likely took place more than a decade ago. This suggests that Socrates’s teachings were much sought after by this time, even if they come second- or third-hand. Apollodorus’s comments on his transformed lifestyle also underscore the importance to Plato of a life spent intentionally pursuing wisdom.
Talking to Glaucon, Apollodorus explains that the dinner party took place after Agathon won a prize for the first tragedy he had written. Apollodorus heard about the party from a man named Aristodemus who was in love with Socrates at the time. Aristodemus had suggested that he relay the story as they walked along the road to Athens. Returning to his present unnamed companion, Apollodorus says he’ll tell him the story in the same way now.
In connection with religious festivals at Athens, tragedies were performed in competition, and winning the event was a big honor. Aristodemus’s feelings for Socrates hint at the upcoming discussion of the homoerotic associations of philosophy. Additionally, telling the story of the symposium as they walk is suggestive of the Platonic emphasis on the journey toward truth.