The Symposium

by

Plato

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The Symposium: 180c-185c Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Pausanias gives his speech next. He says that he doesn’t think the guidelines for the speeches have been properly drawn. Love, he argues, isn’t a single thing. There’s an older, “heavenly” Aphrodite, and a younger, “common” Aphrodite. It’s important to distinguish between the functions of these two, and not every type of Love or loving is deserving of praise.
Pausanias’s speech, already, shows that it will be a little more rhetorically sophisticated than Phaedrus’s speech was. He draws on two different Greek mythological accounts of the origin of Aphrodite, from Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Theogony respectively.
Themes
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Pausanias explains that “common” love is undiscriminating, felt by inferior people. Such people are attracted to women as much as to boys (“partners with the least possible intelligence”), and to bodies as much as to minds. They only care about getting what they want; they don’t worry about acting rightly.
Associated with the “younger” Aphrodite, “common” love, as described by Pausanias, isn’t concerned with loving well; it’s only concerned with fulfilling one’s lower, more mortal desires—as shown by the fact that even irrational women are considered suitable objects for it.
Themes
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
By contrast, Pausanias explains, “heavenly” love is derived from the older, more male-influenced Aphrodite and is thus directed at boys. People influenced by this type of love are drawn to boys who are beginning to develop intelligence (around the time they begin to grow a beard). When one initiates a love affair at this point, it shows that they’re willing to lead “a fully shared life” and not just trick or exploit the boy. In fact, Pausanias goes on, affairs with younger boys should be illegal, because it’s too early to tell whether those boys will turn out well (i.e., be worthy objects of love).
Unlike the inferior love felt toward women, “heavenly” love is discriminating, only directed toward those who have some genuine intelligence. It’s concerned with behaving well and with sharing life with another person, not just fulfilling immediate desires. Pausanias himself was in a long-term relationship of this sort with Agathon.
Themes
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Pausanias says that in Athens, there’s a kind of double standard at play when it comes to love for boys. Lovers (i.e. older men) are indulged and admired for trying to woo boys, but at the same time, the boys’ fathers try to prevent them from responding to their wooers, and their peers tease them about it. Pausanias suggests that it’s all an elaborate test, allowing time to determine whether the intentions of the lover are common or heavenly and whether the boyfriend is a worthy object of love.
Pausanias’s comments suggest societal ambivalence about homoerotic relationships, especially when the object of desire was a free male instead of a slave. There was still a stigma attached to being a “boyfriend,” especially since it was seen as the sexually submissive role.
Themes
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
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Pausanias says that there are certain conditions under which it’s right for a boy to gratify his pursuer. The most important condition is that the lover “must be able to develop the boyfriend’s understanding and virtue,” and the boyfriend must desire such improvement. Such “heavenly” love, concerned on both sides with virtue, is valuable both to individuals and to cities. All other forms are merely “common.”
Ultimately, Pausanias concludes that as long as lover-boyfriend relationships are focused on the imparting and attainment of virtue, they’re praiseworthy and useful to society. There’s still a desire for sexual gratification, particularly on the lover’s side, but these relationships are somewhat closer to the kind of love that Socrates will later describe.
Themes
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Related Quotes