The Symposium

by

Plato

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Love/eros Term Analysis

This term can be complicated in Greek philosophy, and even within a single work of Plato’s, because of its various shades of meaning. Love or eros can refer to passionate sexual desire; it can refer to the Greek god of love, Eros (“Cupid,” in Roman religion), as it does in the speeches of Phaedrus and Agathon; and it can refer to broader types of deep human desire, as it does in other places throughout the Symposium. In Socrates’s speech, in particular, eros goes beyond a passionate interpersonal love, like that celebrated by Pausanias and Aristophanes, to refer to human desire more broadly, culminating in the lover of wisdom’s search for eternal goodness and Beauty. Scholars have long debated exactly to what degree Plato distinguishes between the various meanings of “love,” so his use of the term throughout Symposium always warrants careful consideration.

Love/eros Quotes in The Symposium

The The Symposium quotes below are all either spoken by Love/eros or refer to Love/eros. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin edition of The Symposium published in 1999.
172a-173e Quotes

As it happens, the other day I was going to the city from my home in Phalerum, and someone I know spotted me from behind and called me from a distance. He said (with playful urgency):

‘Hey, the man from Phalerum! You! Apollodorus, won’t you wait?’

I stopped and waited.

He said, ‘Apollodorus, I’ve just been looking for you to get the full story of the party at Agathon's, when Socrates, Alcibiades and the rest were there for dinner: what did they say in their speeches on love? I had a report from someone who got it from Philip’s son, Phoenix; but he said you knew about it too. He wasn’t able to give an exact report. Please give me your account. Socrates is your friend, and no one has a better right to report his conversations than you. But before you do,’ he added, ‘tell me this: were you at this party yourself or not?’

Related Characters: Apollodorus (speaker), Glaucon (speaker), Socrates, Alcibiades, Agathon, Aristodemus of Cydathenaeum
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:
174a-177e Quotes

“Isn’t it terrible, Eryximachus,” he says, “that the poets have composed hymns and paeans to other gods, but none of them has ever composed a eulogy of Love, though he is such an ancient and important god.” […] I think Phaedrus is quite right on this point. I’d like to please him by making a contribution to this project; also this seems a good occasion for those of us here to celebrate the god. If you agree, we won’t need anything to occupy us but discussion. I’d propose that each of us should make the finest speech he can in praise of Love, and then pass the topic on to the one on his right. Phaedrus should start, because he is in the top position, and is also the originator of the topic.’

Related Characters: Eryximachus (speaker), Phaedrus (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 8-9
Explanation and Analysis:
178a-180b Quotes

Because of his antiquity, [Love] is the source of our greatest benefits. I would claim that there is no greater benefit for a young man than a good lover and none greater for a lover than a good boyfriend. Neither family bonds nor public status nor wealth nor anything else is as effective as love in implanting something which gives lifelong guidance to those who are to lead good lives. What is this? A sense of shame at acting disgracefully and pride in acting well. Without these no individual or city can achieve anything great or fine. […] If there was any mechanism for producing a city or army consisting of lovers and boyfriends, there could be no better form of social organization than this: they would hold back from anything disgraceful and compete for honor in each other’s eyes. If even small numbers of such men fought side by side, they could defeat virtually the whole human race.

Related Characters: Phaedrus (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:
180c-185c Quotes

Common Love is genuinely “common” and undiscriminating in its effects; this is the kind of love that inferior people feel. People like this are attracted to women as much as boys, and to bodies rather than minds. They are attracted to partners with the least possible intelligence, because their sole aim is to get what they want, and they don’t care whether they do this rightly or not. So the effect of love on them is that they act without discrimination: it is all the same to them whether they behave well or not.

Related Characters: Pausanias (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

These two rules must be combined (the one governing the love of boys and the one governing the love of wisdom and other kinds of virtue), to create the conditions in which it is right for a boy to gratify his lover. These conditions are realized when lover and boyfriend come together, each observing the appropriate rule: that the lover is justified in any service he performs for the boyfriend who gratifies him, and that the boyfriend is justified in any favor he does for someone who is making him wise and good. Also the lover must be able to develop the boyfriend’s understanding and virtue in general, and the boyfriend must want to acquire education and wisdom in general. When all these conditions are met, then and then alone it is right for a boyfriend to gratify his lover, but not otherwise.

Related Characters: Pausanias (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:
189a-193e Quotes

When a lover of boys, or any other type of person, meets that very person who is his other half, he is overwhelmed … with affection, concern and love … These are people who live out whole lifetimes together, but still couldn’t say what it is they want from each other. I mean, no one can think that it’s just sexual intercourse they want, and that this is the reason why they find such joy in each other’s company and attach such importance to this. It’s clear that each of them has some wish in his mind that he can’t articulate; instead, like an oracle, he half-grasps what he wants and obscurely hints at it. Imagine that Hephaestus with his tools stood over them while they were lying together and …[said], ‘I’m prepared to fuse and weld you together, so that the two of you become one.’ […] We know that no one who heard this offer would turn it down and it would become apparent that no one wanted anything else.

Related Characters: Aristophanes (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
194a-198a Quotes

So it seems to me, Phaedrus, that Love is himself supreme in beauty and excellence and is responsible for similar qualities in others. […] Love drains us of estrangement and fills us with familiarity, causing us to come together in all shared gatherings like this, and acting as our leader in festival, chorus and sacrifice. He includes mildness and excludes wildness. He is generous of goodwill and ungenerous of ill-will. He is gracious and kindly; gazed on by the wise, admired by the gods; craved by those denied him, treasured by those enjoying him; father of luxury, elegance, delicacy, grace, desire, longing […] For the whole company of gods and humans, most beautiful and best of leaders; every man should follow him singing beautiful hymns of praise, sharing the song he sings to charm the mind of every god and human.

Related Characters: Agathon (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker), Phaedrus
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:
198b-201c Quotes

‘Now try to tell me about love’, he said. ‘Is Love love of nothing or something?’

‘Of something, undoubtedly!’

‘For the moment,’ said Socrates, ‘keep to yourself and bear in mind what love is of. But tell me this much: does Love desire what it is love of or not?’

‘Yes,’ he said.

‘When he desires and loves, does he have in his possession what he desires and loves or not? […] Think about it,’ Socrates said. ‘Surely it’s not just probable but necessary that desire is directed at something you need and that if you don’t need something you don’t desire it? I feel amazingly certain that it is necessary; what do you think?’

‘I think so too,’ said Agathon.

‘That’s right. Now would anyone who was tall want to be tall or anyone who was strong want to be strong?’

‘That’s impossible, according to what we’ve agreed already.’

‘Yes, because no one is in need of qualities he already has.’

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Agathon (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
201d-204c Quotes

‘Now I’ll let you go. I’ll try to restate for you the account of Love that I once heard from a woman from Mantinea called Diotima. She was wise about this and many other things. On one occasion, she enabled the Athenians to delay the plague for ten years by telling them what sacrifices to make. She is also the one who taught me the ways of Love. I’ll report what she said, using as a basis the conclusions I reached with Agathon, but doing it on my own, as far as I can.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker), Diotima of Mantinea, Agathon
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

“So how could he be a god if he is not in possession of beautiful and good things?”

“That’s impossible, as it seems.”

“Do you see, then,” she said, “ that you don’t believe Love is a god?”

“But what could Love be?” I said. “A mortal?”

“Far from it.”

“What then?”

“Like those examples discussed earlier,” she said, “he’s between mortal and immortal.”

“What does that make him, Diotima?”

“He is a great spirit, Socrates. Everything classed as a spirit falls between god and human.”

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Diotima of Mantinea (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

“Because he is the son of Resource and Poverty, Love’s situation is like this. First of all, he’s always poor; far from being sensitive and beautiful, as is commonly supposed, he's tough, with hardened skin, without shoes or home. He always sleeps rough, on the ground, with no bed, lying in doorways and by roads in the open air; sharing his mother’s nature, he always lives in a state of need. On the other hand, taking after his father, he schemes to get hold of beautiful and good things. He’s brave, impetuous and intense; a formidable hunter, always weaving tricks; he desires knowledge and is resourceful in getting it; a lifelong lover of wisdom; clever at using magic, drugs and sophistry.”

Related Characters: Diotima of Mantinea (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker), Socrates
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

“Who are the lovers of wisdom, Diotima,” I asked, “ if they are neither the wise nor the ignorant?”

“Even a child,” she said, “would realize by now that it is those who fall between these two, and that Love is one of them. Wisdom is one of the most beautiful things, and Love is love of beauty. So Love must necessarily be a lover of wisdom; and as a lover of wisdom he falls between wisdom and ignorance. Again the reason for this is his origin: his father is wise and resourceful while his mother has neither quality. So this is the nature of the spirit of Love, my dear Socrates. But it’s not at all surprising that you took the view of Love you did. To judge from what you said, I think you saw Love as the object of love instead of the lover: that’s why you imagined that Love is totally beautiful. But in fact beauty, elegance, perfection and blessedness are characteristic of the object that deserves to be loved, while the lover has a quite different character, which I have described.”

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Diotima of Mantinea (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:
204d-209e Quotes

“The idea has been put forward,” she said, “that lovers are people who are looking for their own other halves. But my view is that love is directed neither at their half nor their whole unless, my friend, that turns out to be good. After all, people are even prepared to have their own feet or hands amputated if they think that those parts of themselves are diseased. I don’t think that each of us is attached to his own characteristics, unless you’re going to describe the good as ‘his own’ and as ‘what belongs to him,’ and the bad as ‘what does not belong to him.’ The point is that the only object of people’s love is the good — don’t you agree?”

“By Zeus, I do!” I said.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Diotima of Mantinea (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker), Aristophanes
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

“Men who are pregnant in body,” she said, “are drawn more towards women; they express their love in trying to obtain for themselves immortality and remembrance and what they take to be happiness forever by producing children. Men who are pregnant in mind - there are some,” she said, “who are even more pregnant in their minds than in their bodies, and are pregnant with what it is suitable for a mind to bear and bring to birth. So what is suitable? Wisdom and other kinds of virtue: these are brought to birth by all the poets and by those craftsmen who are said to be innovative.”

Related Characters: Diotima of Mantinea (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker), Socrates
Page Number: 46
Explanation and Analysis:

People like that have a much closer partnership with each other and a stronger bond of friendship than parents have, because the children of their partnership are more beautiful and more immortal. Everyone would prefer to have children like that rather than human ones. People look enviously at Homer and Hesiod and other good poets, because of the kind of children they have left behind them, which provide them with immortal fame and remembrance by being immortal themselves. Or take,” she said, “the children that Lycurgus left in Sparta to provide security to Sparta and, you might say, to Greece as a whole. Solon is also respected by you Athenians for the laws he fathered; and other men, in very different places, in Greece and other countries, have exhibited many fine achievements and generated virtue of every type. Many cults have been set up to honor these men as a result of children of that kind, but this has never happened as a result of human children.

Related Characters: Diotima of Mantinea (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker), Socrates
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
212b-222b Quotes

“You’ve all shared the madness and Bacchic frenzy of philosophy, and so you will all hear what I have to say … But you, house-slaves, and any other crude uninitiates, put big doors on your ears!

‘So, gentlemen, when the lamp was out and the slaves had left the room, I decided I shouldn’t beat about the bush but tell him openly what I had in mind. I gave him a push and said, “ Socrates, are you asleep?”

“Not at all,” he said.

…“I think,” I said, “you’re the only lover I’ve ever had who’s good enough for me, but you seem to be too shy to talk about it to me. I’ll tell you how I feel about this. I think I’d be very foolish not to gratify you in this … Nothing is more important to me than becoming as good a person as possible, and I don’t think anyone can help me more effectively than you can in reaching this aim. I’d be far more ashamed of what sensible people would think if I failed to gratify someone like you than of what ordinary, foolish people would think if I did.’”

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Alcibiades (speaker), Apollodorus (speaker)
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
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Love/eros Term Timeline in The Symposium

The timeline below shows where the term Love/eros appears in The Symposium. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
174a-177e
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
...says that no one has ever composed a eulogy for the ancient and important god Love (eros). Therefore each of the men should offer the finest speech he can in praise... (full context)
178a-180b
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
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... (full context)
180c-185c
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...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”... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Pausanias explains that “common” love is undiscriminating, felt by inferior people. Such people are attracted to women as much as... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
By contrast, Pausanias explains, “heavenly” love is derived from the older, more male-influenced Aphrodite and is thus directed at boys. People... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...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,... (full context)
180d-188e
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Eryximachus claims that Pausanias didn’t take his argument far enough. He says that Love isn’t just expressed in the emotional reactions of human beings, but in the reactions of... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Eryximachus then makes a somewhat confusing point that Love also governs the harmonies found in music. The same holds true for the seasons (temperate... (full context)
189a-193e
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Any person who finds his or her “other half” is overwhelmed with love for that person, Aristophanes goes on to explain. It’s not just sexual intercourse that people... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
...best earthly realization of this innate longing he’s been talking about “is to find a loved one who naturally fits your own character.” If people revere the gods, then Love will... (full context)
194a-198a
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
...speech, he says that he will depart from his predecessors by speaking not only about Love’s gifts, but also about the nature of Love himself. He says that Love is the... (full context)
198b-201c
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
...heard in the others’ speeches, the goal has been to give the appearance of praising Love—ascribing the best things to Love to make him look as good as possible—without actually doing... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
...questioning Agathon on some of the points he made. First he asks Agathon, “Is it Love’s nature to be love of something or nothing?” Agathon replies that love is of something,... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Next Socrates questions Agathon about his claim that love is beautiful. If the affairs of the gods are “organized through love of beautiful things,”... (full context)
201d-204c
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
Socrates turns from his dialogue with Agathon to an account of Love he received from a wise woman called Diotima of Mantinea. He says that he had... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
If Love isn’t beautiful, Socrates asks, then does that mean that Love is necessarily ugly? Diotima calls... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Diotima next demonstrates that Love isn’t actually a great god. This is shown by the fact that gods are happy... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Love is one of many different such daimones, or spirits. When Socrates asks about Love’s origin,... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
As the son of Resource and Poverty, Diotima explains, Love is always poor. Far from being beautiful, “he's tough, with hardened skin, without shoes or... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Socrates wonders who “lovers of wisdom” can be, if they’re neither wise nor ignorant. Diotima explains that it’s simply... (full context)
204d-209e
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Now that they’ve dealt with Love’s origin and birth and Love’s love of beautiful things, Diotima turns to the question of... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Diotima addresses the idea that lovers are people who are seeking their other halves. She rejects the idea that people are... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
If this is love’s goal, Diotima goes on, then in what way must people pursue it? In other words,... (full context)
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
Diotima explains that the object of love isn’t simply beauty, but “reproduction and birth in beauty.” Reproduction is the object of love... (full context)
210a-212a
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
...Diotima’s teaching, and that there is no better partner in the ascent to immortality than Love. He tries to convince others of the same, and he praises Love at every opportunity. (full context)
212b-222b
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
Eryximachus explains that evening’s activity of giving eulogies in praise of love. Alcibiades ends up deciding to eulogize Socrates instead, telling the truth about his peculiarities. He... (full context)
222c-223d
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
After Alcibiades has finished his speech, there’s some joking about his apparent love for Socrates, as well as some jostling for the opportunity to be eulogized by Socrates... (full context)