184: Symposium by Plato

by Gerard


184: Plato. Symposium. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Kindle Public Domain E-book. Approx. 96 pp.

Dewey Breakdown:

  • 100: Philosophy and Psychology
  • 180: Ancient, medieval, and Eastern philosophy
  • 184: Platonic philosophy

Plato’s Symposium is essentially a love story. The general outline is that a group of Greek thinkers are gathered together to a symposium by the poet Agathon to celebrate his recent victory in a dramatic competition. Phaedrus (an aristocrat), Pausanius (some sort of lawyer), Eryximachus (a doctor), Aristophanes (a comedian), Agathon, Socrates, and Alcibiades (a statesman) then take turns discussing the nature and types of love. They each offer valid perspectives on the topic while trying to surpass each other in the quality of their rhetoric (and trying to ward off a hangover from the previous night’s drinking). Socrates gets the upper hand quickly by undermining—piece-by-piece—each of their arguments about the nature of Love.

Along with each of the speeches we get small insights into how gatherings were conducted in ancient Greece, and how different members of the social fabric interacted (it’s also nice to see that the methods for curing hiccups hasn’t changed in the last 3,000 years). Plato, being a student of Socrates, gives him a better part in the exchange than the others there, but I’m not sure I would want to attend a gathering with the man. The way he employs his Socratic dialogue easily paints him as being “that guy.” Nobody wants to be “that guy.” As far as the writing, Benjamin Jowett’s (1817-1893) translation of Plato’s treatise was published in the late 19th century and still holds up rather well. It’s only flowery in the intro (which takes up a third of this book), but then settles down when you get to the good stuff. All in all, not bad but not riveting either.