The Symposium



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The Symposium: 178a-180b Summary & Analysis

Phaedrus gives the first speech. He begins by saying that Love is honored especially because of his great antiquity. Because of his old age, Love is the source of humanity’s greatest benefits. There’s nothing better for a young man than a good lover, Phaedrus claims, and nothing better for a good lover than a good boyfriend. Nothing besides such a relationship is effective in planting the seed for a good life. That seed is “a sense of shame at acting disgracefully and pride in acting well.”
Phaedrus’s perspective on love is fairly simplistic. Basically, Love should be honored because he’s one of the oldest gods, and because he gives the gift of erotic relationships, such as those between older men and their “boyfriends” (boys past the age of puberty but not yet old enough to grow a beard). These relationships instill a healthy sense of shame and pride, which are important for a successful life.
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Phaedrus explains that a man would be more ashamed to disgrace himself as a coward in front of his lover or boyfriend than in front of any other person. He even suggests that if there were an army made up entirely of lovers and boyfriends, these men would be so obsessed with competing for honor in each other’s eyes that “they could defeat virtually the whole human race.” Phaedrus also claims that only lovers are willing to die for another person, because Love grants them courage for this. Among other examples, he names Achilles, who was willing to die to avenge Patroclus in the Iliad.
Phaedrus envisions a useful social function for this kind of honor-obsessed love. However, it doesn’t seem to be a very lofty conception, as it puts a great deal of weight on the power of shame and fear for one’s reputation. This view of love is very much focused on the present life, in contrast with the focus on immortality that Socrates will present later.
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