The Symposium

by

Plato

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Themes and Colors
The Nature of Love Theme Icon
Inferiority of Women Theme Icon
Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom Theme Icon
The Ascent to Immortality Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Symposium, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

The Nature of Love

In the Symposium, the philosopher Plato’s dialogue set in Athens in the fifth century B.C., a man named Apollodorus describes a dinner party to an unnamed friend, who’s eager to hear what was discussed by famed the teacher Socrates and the other guests about love. Though Apollodorus wasn’t there himself, he tells the story based on the reports of a friend, Aristodemus, who accompanied Socrates to the dinner party. During the party…

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Inferiority of Women

The symposium, or ritual banquet, at Agathon’s house is a very intentionally male space. Symposia would often include flute-girls (courtesans who provided entertainment and often flirted with guests), but after the men settle the question of how much the guests should drink that night, Eryximachus proposes that they should “send away the flute-girl who’s just come in, and let her play for herself, or for the women in their part of the house, if…

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Sobriety, Restraint, and Wisdom

Symposium highlights two common characteristics of classical Greek culture—homoeroticism (conceived of rather differently from a modern understanding of homosexuality) and love of drinking parties. Plato critiques both these cultural elements by portraying Socrates as the utmost exemplar of sobriety and restraint. In doing so, Plato makes the counter-cultural argument that a true lover of wisdom—even if that person isn’t devoid of desires and enjoyment of material pleasures—avoids the extremes of self-indulgent sexuality and uninhibited drinking.

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The Ascent to Immortality

One of the Symposium’s most interesting features is the fact that earthly indulgence—a drinking party characterized by erotic overtones—provides the setting for philosophical contemplation. But embedded in the very structure of Plato’s dialogue is a gradual progression from more worldly conceptions of love to more exalted ones—a progression that’s echoed by Diotima’s higher mysteries at the end of Socrates’s speech, when she describes a ladder of progress to immortality. By structuring the…

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