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Ancient Philosophy


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Plato-- Symposium

This dialogue consists of a discussion at a banquet about the nature of love.

Each of several guests discourses on the topic. Socrates’ contribution is to recount a conversation he had with a woman named Diotima, who had taught him that Love is not a god but a daimon, an intermediate power who transmits mankind's prayers to the gods and the gods' answers and commands to mankind. Love is desire of the beautiful and the good, Socrates claims to have learned from her. Human beings begin by loving physical beauty in another person, then progress to love of intellect and from that level to see the connection among people. This leads to contemplation of the beauty of institutions such as the law and then the sciences. Ultimately the lover of beauty enjoys a kind of revelation or vision of universal beauty.

This dialogue has been called one of the "few masterpieces of human art that unveil and interpret something of the central mystery of life." Benjamin Jowett said, "If it be true that there are more things in the Symposium of Plato than any commentator has dreamed of, it is also true that many things have been imagined, which are not really to be found there."

Erotic Wisdom: Philosophy and Intermediacy in Plato's Symposium by Gary Alan Scott and William A. Welton (SUNY series in Ancient Greek Philosophy)  Wisdom provides a careful reading of one of Plato's most beloved dialogues, the Symposium, which explores the nature and scope of human desire (erôs). Gary Alan Scott and William A. Welton engage all of the dialogue's major themes, devoting special attention to illuminating Plato's conception of philosophy. In the Symposium, Plato situates philosophy in an intermediate (metaxu) position—between need and resource, ignorance and knowledge—showing how the very lack of what one desires can become a guiding form of contact with the objects of human desire. The authors examine the concept of intermediacy in relation both to Platonic metaphysics and to Plato's moral psychology, arguing that philosophy, for Plato, is properly understood as a kind of "being in-between," as the love of wisdom (philosophia) rather than the possession of it.

Plato's Symposium holds unique interest for modern readers. Arguably, no other Platonic dialogue combines a topic of so central importance to Plato's thought with so dramatic a depiction of renowned ancient characters. Moreover, as we shall show, the Symposium offers a distinctive vision of the philosophical life that can provide insight into the underlying unity of Plato's thought. The dialogue also has a number of other features that make it of special importance for the student of Plato.

First, it is one of Plato's two main treatments of Erôs (the other being the Phaedrus). Erôs is a theme crucial to Platonic psychology; and Plato's thoughts on the psyche form one of the foundations for his thoughts on ethics, politics, education, and aesthetics. Under those headings belong his treatments of virtue, law, dialectic, rhetoric, and poetry—concerns that are the themes of most of his work. Thus, if Plato's thoughts on Erôs help to clarify his thoughts on human psychology, they also promise to elucidate the better part of his philosophy. Second, the account of Erôs presented in Socrates' speech in the Symposium connects Erôs, the fundamental principle of Platonic psychology, with the metaphysics of the Forms or Eide. As is well known, the hypothesis of Forms also plays a crucial role in Plato's thought. Thus, Plato's metaphysical thought and psychological thought are linked in this dialogue.2 Hence, Symposium provides insight into the relationship between the twin foci of Plato's philosophy. Third, as we will argue, the account of love in this dialogue holds the key to understanding the relation-ship between what Gregory Vlastos regarded as the more "Socratic" and the more "Platonic" elements in Plato's thought. In what follows we claim to have developed a richer conception of this relationship than the one proposed by Vlastos.

But the interest of the Symposium involves more than the centrality of its theme. The Symposium is arguably the dialogue that provides the most detailed, varied, and yet enigmatic portrait of Socrates. Although the more popular image of Socrates is drawn from Plato's Apology of Socrates, the Symposium provides a more intimate perspective, a view of Socrates as he might have appeared to members of his immediate circle in the context of a private dinner party. Of course, information the dialogue offers about Socrates comes through the mouths of other characters (e.g., Apollodorus, Aristodemus, Agathon, and Alcibiades), each of whom has his own motivations and perspectives. Yet one cannot help feeling that Plato is trying to communicate important things about Socrates and not only about his other characters' feelings and impressions of him. The attention lavished upon Socrates in this dialogue is interesting not because it offers any hope of gain-ing insight into the historical Socrates, but rather because it offers a chance to understand what Plato wanted to say to his contemporaries about Socrates.

In addition to the portrait of Socrates conveyed by the drama of the dialogue itself, in a specific part of the dialogue an account of Socrates is offered by one of Socrates' most notorious associates, the famed Alcibiades. Along with these impressions of Socrates, a more generalized account of the nature of philosophy is offered as part of the teachings of Diotima recounted in Socrates' speech. Since the Platonic Socrates has traditionally been regarded as Plato's paradigm philosopher, a better understanding of what Plato wishes to communicate about Socrates may translate into a richer understanding of what Plato is saying about philosophy as such.

In its treatment of Socrates, the Symposium also has much to say about Socrates' relation to other claimants to wisdom in Athens. To take perhaps the most important example, this dialogue is the only place in the Platonic corpus in which Socrates debates two poets, representatives of the two main modes of ancient drama, comedy and tragedy. That this detail is important is surely confirmed by Socrates' remark about comedy and tragedy near the dialogue's close (223d). So, the dialogue makes another contribution to the theme of the rivalry between poetry and philosophy discussed in the tenth book of the Republic.

This dialogue also affords a window on Socrates' intriguing relationship to Alcibiades, one of the most significant figures in Athenian history. By the time the Symposium was written, its major characters were dead. The Pelo-ponnesian War between Athens and Sparta was long over. Alcibiades had been a key figure in the conflict and had changed his alliance more than once; he had also consorted with the Persians, who, with his encouragement, hoped to exploit the war for their own ends. The war had come to an end in 404 BCE when Sparta defeated Athens and tried to transform her into an oligarchy by installing in power in Athens a small faction of Athenians who became known as "the Thirty Tyrants." Two of these men, Critias and Charmides, had been associates of Socrates and were relatives of Plato. But when they ordered Socrates to bring a foreign resident, Leon of Salamis, for execution, Socrates had bravely resisted their command; and when he had witnessed their injustice, Plato dissociated himself from them. (See Seventh Letter 324d-325a where these events are discussed.) Five years after the ouster of the Tyrants, Socrates had been tried, convicted, and executed by the city of Athens for impiety and corrupting the youth. Socrates' past associations with Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides had much to do with the animus against him. A significant thrust of the Platonic corpus seems to be devoted to clearing Socrates of the charge of having corrupted these men, and the Symposium seems to number among its other purposes that of exonerating Socrates of responsibility for the actions of Alcibiades.

The Symposium presents a glimpse of the moment just prior to the decline of Athens. For the conversation at the banquet that forms the heart of the dialogue is set shortly before Alcibiades sets out to lead the city on the most ambitious and disastrous military expedition of the war (the Sicilian Expe-dition), when Athenian imperialism overreached its capacity. The above-mentioned events would have been recent history to Plato's original audience of the Symposium. The future of Athens in the light of its tragic past would have been the topic of the day. The role of Alcibiades in these events, and the question of Socrates' relationship with him, would also have been a matter of interest and controversy. The various factions at the time were presumably busy laying blame. The question, "What would be the new role of Athens in the world?" was bound up with the question of how it should tell the story of its immediate past and who should be regarded as the heroes and who the villains in that story. The answers to these questions were linked to the questions: What should be the`city's aims and policies for the future? Where should it seek its alliances? And what would be its gravest dangers? The Symposium presents Plato's perspective on Alcibiades and his relation to Socrates; the dialogue thus forms one of the few remnants of the controversy over these pivotal figures.

But the Symposium is more than a mere apologia of Socrates. It also affords insights into the limitations of Socrates and even of philosophy itself. As previously suggested, in presenting another Platonic commentary on the meaning of Socrates and the meaning of his fate, the Symposium also presents one of Plato's most provocative characterizations of the nature of philosophy. There are two salient features of philosophy as depicted in the Symposium: the first is that philosophy is fundamentally erôtic; the second is that as erôtic, philosophy lies between ignorance and wisdom and also between the human and divine. Somehow philosophy partakes of each member of these pairs of contraries simultaneously; at the same time, precisely because it par-takes of each, its intermediacy is properly characterized by neither of them. We believe that the conception of philosophy Plato expresses here sheds light on the philosophy depicted and embodied in all the other dialogues. Yet, the Symposium is important not only because it enables one to better understand Plato, but also because it provides an entirely unique perspective on the nature of philosophy. It is a perspective on philosophy that even after two thousand years is still not as well known as it should be, and one that holds the key to a great deal that Plato can still teach us today.

Plato's works are written in the form of dramas; in them, Plato never speaks in his own voice but only through his characters. Most of the characters are historical; so Plato might be said to have written in the genre of "historical fiction." But in his own time, Plato's dialogues were regarded as belonging to the genre known as Sokratikoi Logoi or Socratic Conversations. Writers in this genre included Antisthenes, Aeschines, Phaedo, Euclides, Xenophon, Aristippus, and others.° Most of the dialogues are set in the time of Socrates, that is, in the generation prior to Plato, so that the action of some dialogues is set in the time of Plato's own childhood or adolescence. This fact already cautions us against being seduced by the verisimilitude of Plato's works into believing that they represent an accurate record of actual events, a kind of philosophi-cal transcription. Since Plato's original audiences often would have known the characters of the dialogues and even, in many cases, their ultimate fates, this historical backdrop adds an extra layer of meaning to the dialogues. Although Plato often uses historical characters whose ultimate fates were generally known to his audience, he often shows us private (and in any case, fictional) conversations between them, thus creating an illusion of being "behind the scenes."

As a result, the Platonic dialogue is a combination of historical fiction, dramatic literature, and dialectical philosophy. We are shown conversations between notorious characters, but with no explicit commentary by the author; Plato stands back from his texts in silence, so as to force the audience to draw its own conclusions. Nonetheless, there are subtle and not so subtle ways in which the silent author "communicates," through his characters, his choice of settings, the dramatic action, and so on. There are specific ways in which the author implicitly shapes the audience's reactions to his texts. Plato does seem to have a "point of view" that emerges as one engages with the dialogues—or rather, as he guides the reader's or auditor's point of view. Nonetheless, it remains controversial just what one is to see from the vantage point Plato constructs. Since Plato leaves us to infer his meaning, suggesting more than he says explicitly, and since he always speaks through characters (none of whom can simply be identified with him) the difficulties of interpreting Plato have become notorious.

At various times in the history of Plato interpretation one interpretive paradigm or another has been dominant. For a time, Plato was read almost exclusively through a Neoplatonist lens. Then in the course of the last century most interpretations of Plato shared a framework of interpretation that believed that it could trace the development of Plato's thought through a chronological ordering of the dialogues by their dates of composition.7 According to such developmentalist interpretations, the Symposium is usually held to be a middle period dialogue, a work of Plato's prime that represents an important transitional stage in his development.8

The tendency of the developmentalist approach was to take the main philosophical protagonist of a given dialogue (usually Socrates) as the "mouthpiece" through which Plato's views were expressed, paying relatively little attention to the possible significance of the dramatic and literary elements of the dialogues. During the last four decades, increasing numbers of commentators on Plato's work have turned away from the "mouthpiece theory" of interpretation.' They have seen such a hermeneutic assumption as too limiting and distorting, since the exclusive focus on the words of a single character and the presupposition that those words reflect the author's view-point ignores the ways in which dramatic action, context, and the contributions of other characters condition the meaning of the dialogue as a whole. In contrast to the "mouthpiece theory," these interpreters give greater emphasis to the dramatic aspects of the dialogues.

According to this newer school of interpretation, for each dialogue one must explain the choice of characters and setting, the details of the action, and the role of the literary elements in the dialogue. For instance, one should explain why it is that Plato chooses to have some dialogues narrated by a given character while other dialogues are entirely in direct discourse. For those dialogues that have them, one must explain the dialogue's "narrative frame."

The mode of interpretation that takes the dramatic aspects of the dialogue form seriously is especially pertinent to the Symposium, easily Plato's most dramatic work. The Symposium has more characters with major speak-ing roles, more obvious action, and also more compelling portraits of famous men than any other dialogue. It also has more levels of narrative complexity than any dialogue but the Parmenides.

There have been many attempts in the past to read the Symposium from a dramatic point of view, beginning with Stanley Rosen's full-length commentary (in 1968). Recently the commentary of Rosen's mentor, Leo Strauss, has been published, the transcription of a lecture course in political science Strauss offered in 1959. Both of these commentaries represent early attempts to take into account every detail of Plato's text. Nor has it been the Straussians alone who have offered readings that emphasize the drama. As Plato's most dramatic dialogue, the Symposium has lent itself to commentaries that try to factor in the literary and dramatic details of the text, such as Daniel Anderson's Masks of Dionysus, and more recently, James Rhodes's Erôs, Wisdom and Silence. We see ourselves as working in this tradition of dramatic reading.

In interpreting Platonic dialogues, it is necessary to bear in mind what is known about their original historical and cultural context. Modern audiences must try to imagine that even in the late Fifth Century BCE, Greece was still predominantly an oral culture, rather mistrustful of the written word. That is to say, the primary carrier of cultural information was the spoken word.

Hence, it is likely that Plato and his contemporaries would have had very dif-ferent notions of composition and of publication than we have today. "Books," such as existed at the time, were written on scrolls and copies could only be made by hand. At the time Plato was writing illiteracy would still have been widespread. Not long before, writing had been still primarily a convenient way of keeping lists, records, and inventories. To the authors of sokratikoi logoi it could well have seemed as though writing was chiefly a way of preserving the spoken word until those words could again be performed or read aloud. In this sense, written works might have been regarded in much the way we think of a musical score; the written text functioned as a kind of temporary housing for works that were meant to be performed or read aloud, not read silently.

The works of the great poets who were the "educators" of the Greeks were usually recited or performed in front of audiences, and generation upon generation of Greeks memorized these tales and rehearsed them frequently. Many people in antiquity possessed considerable skill in memorization, since they would have practiced it from childhood. Plato's dialogues are populated by characters capable of reciting lines from Homer, Pindar, Hesiod, the dramatic poets; and lines from Old and New Comedy. The memorization of these great works was part of any educated Greek's curriculum. Many would also have had extensive experience in public speaking, as a consequence of the fact that all citizens were expected to participate in political deliberation. It would not be an oversimplification to say that to be a man in Classical Greece was to be a "speaker of words and a doer of deeds." Those gathered at Agathon's house would have been as much at home in speechmaking as they were in drinking, as familiar with Homer and the playwrights as with fighting in armor.

Commentators on Plato often attempt to answer the question, "Why did Plato write dialogues, especially the richly textured, open-ended kind of dialogues that he composed?" If he had chosen to use them as models, there were many other genres of writing available. There were a variety of forms in which philosophy was expressed in Plato's time, and yet he chose to write Socratic conversations. Why did this particular form appeal to him? In the last four decades increasingly sophisticated and interesting answers to this question have been provided. We will not attempt to say anything novel about this subject in this introduction. We wish only to indicate by a few brief remarks those views with which we have some sympathy.

It seems undeniable that Plato's choice of the dialogue form owes much to Socrates himself; the whole genre of Socratic literature—of which the dia-logues are an example—could not have come into being without Socrates. In offering a semblance of the experience of one-on-one investigation with Socrates, the Socratics transpose into writing their culture's orientation toward orality. Plato especially seems to be creating a written image of an experience that he conceives to be primarily a matter of the spoken word,11 and it is noteworthy that Socrates did not write anything, though he was literate. Moreover, the depiction of philosophy in Plato's texts continually points to the need for the actual experience of the kinds of ongoing one-on-one investigations that are depicted there.

Plato's dialogues seem to owe some of their qualities to the apparent intention to keep alive the sound of Socrates' speech. They pay him homage, stressing his value as an exemplar of wisdom and happiness and his superior-ity as such over his intellectual rivals. Moreover, the dialogue form is clearly meant to embody Socrates' conversational method, a method that Plato seems to have honored for deep philosophical reasons.12 But, as Drew Hyland has shown, Plato also uses the dialogue form to remind his audience of the existential/psychological context of philosophy (its "place").13 By means of the dialogue form Plato can explore the relation between thought and character. He can deal with psychology as well as logic and investigate the complex interrelation between them.

Pedagogically, dialogues can be of value in a number of ways. The dialogue form forces the reader to think for him or herself; the author does not place his personality and opinions on center stage, but instead presents the problems themselves, and various alternative characters discussing them, while holding himself back, remaining silent and anonymous. Such an approach makes it easier for Plato to "get underneath the reader's defenses" as the reader is charmed by the drama and by identification with or alienation from the characters. The presentation of philosophy in the form of a drama can personify some of the reader's views, enabling their consequences to be examined. At the same time, however, it can also lead audiences to look within themselves, to participate in the dialogue, as they are forced to work to understand the text, stimulated by its various conundrums.

Hence, the effect of the dialogue form upon the reader's mind has often been likened to the effect of Socrates upon his interlocutors. Like Socrates the gadfly, a dialogue can stimulate thought; like Socrates the midwife, a dialogue can lead one to give birth to one's own ideas; and like Socrates the stingray, the dialogue can lead the reader to awareness of his or her own ignorance. Furthermore, with dialogues the author can easily introduce conflicting perspectives, having characters commenting on and comparing each other's arguments, and so on. Dialogues can also combine different modes of discourse; Platonic dialogues use drama, rhetoric, poetry, and myth in addition to argument, confronting the different perspectives afforded by these genres with one another, while all of them work together to produce a total effect. Thus, this form of writing lends itself to the nondogmatic, probing, critical approach to thinking that best expresses the nature of philosophy.

In interpreting a Platonic dialogue, one must decide how the various details of the drama relate to each other and to its main themes and arguments. One must provide a plausible interpretation of an element's place in the overall organization of the dialogue. The goal of interpretation is to be able to explain the various details in a given dialogue by providing a plausible and philosophically illuminating account of how all the details fit together, in relation both to one another and to the central theme, to form a coherent whole.

Of course, in some cases, just how one should think of the central theme or themes of a dialogue will not be immediately obvious. But there are several kinds of clues that should be examined:

  1. the setting and the cast of characters;
  2. the opening or introductory passages of the dialogue for any clues as to the dialogue's concerns;
  3. how the philosophical inquiry in the dialogue is initiated, includ-ing the actual questions asked in the dialogue, and also the order in which they are asked;
  4. how the characters themselves characterize their activity, for they sometimes have other descriptions of what they are doing than just "practicing philosophy," and these descriptions constitute a meaningful context for their statements that the author himself has bothered to provide);
  5. the topics discussed in the dialogue and the relations between them, including the progression of topics and how it relates to the setting, characters, and to the overall dramatic action of the dialogue;
  6. and finally, any other special dramatic or structural clues that may indicate what topics are especially important and how the topics are related to one another.

Such structural clues may include abrupt changes of subject, digressions, interesting juxtapositions, and most importantly, any commentary provided by one part of a dialogue on another part of the dialogue.

In the balance of this Introduction we present an overview of the characters and major themes of the Symposium. This overview will provide an initial orientation to the text and will touch on the main points that will be developed in the course of our interpretation.

The heart of the Symposium dramatizes an event that took place in the winter of 416 or spring of 415 BCE during a second consecutive night of celebration in honor of the playwright Agathon's victory. Since most of the participants were hung over from the previous night's overindulgence, the partygoers establish an agreement at the outset to drink moderately and to spend their time making speeches in praise of Erôs, the god that personifies love.

A few introductory remarks regarding the characters are in order, starting with those whose speeches on Erôs are recounted. First there is the young Phaedrus, after whom Plato's other major dialogue on Eros and rhetoric is named. In the Phaedrus he is depicted as a lover of speeches (Phaedrus 242b), and it is Phaedrus whose passionate desire to hear speeches in praise of Erôs establishes the main topic of the Symposium (177a-d). It was customary for symposia to have a leader and master of ceremonies, called the symposiarchos, or "leader of the drinking." Although no one is explicitly named as symposiarch in this dialogue, there is good reason to suppose that it is Phaedrus,16 but when Alcibiades arrives, he will take over this role by fiat (see 213e).

Pausanias is the first one to propose that the guests arrange to drink less on this second night of celebration (176a). Pausanias will do his best to defend the practice of boy-love (paiderastia),17 but he does admit that there is a vulgar way of engaging in the practice that must be forbidden. Although it is impossible to legislate loyalty, he will complain that there ought to be a law essentially mandating fidelity, or at least one that ensures some quid pro quo to protect the older lover's investment in the boy. Older and more mature lovers, lovers of psyches and not merely bodies, are capable of distinguishing the right way (the Heavenly Aphrodite) from the vulgar, promiscuous Aphrodite (Aphrodite Pandemos). This heavenly Love should guide the sexual aspects of Erôs, if Pausanias has his way.

The next speaker is Eryximachus, the man of science. He is a medical man who uses the cosmology of Empedocles to present his specialist's view of the subject of erotic attraction.18 He will prescribe moderation to the others concerning the excessive consumption of alcohol at the beginning of the dialogue, and in his speech he will supply the "scientific" perspective on Er6s. His account treats Era's as a first principle of explanation grounding all the arts and sciences.

Aristophanes is the famous comic poet, the author of Birds, Frogs, Wasps, Lysistrata, and the other remaining representatives of Attic Old Comedy. His play Clouds (c. 423), lampooning Socrates, had been performed for more than two decades at the time the philosopher was put on trial. In Plato's Apology of Socrates, Socrates credits The Clouds with contributing to the climate of prejudice that helped provoke the indictment against him (cf. Ap. 1.8c-e).19 Yet in spite of this history, in the ,Symposium Plato appears to be fair to his estimable rival in that he provides Aristophanes with one of the dialogue's most entertaining and illuminating speeches.

The other poet in this dialogue is Agathon, the tragic playwright; it is the victory of his play in the Lenean competition that furnishes the occasion for the party, as his home furnishes the setting for it. Although only fragments from his plays have survived, his victory in this competition may well have been seen as crowning the next heir to the tragic tradition most recently led by Euripides and Sophocles.

Then, of course, there is Socrates. Socrates is always presented as an exceptional human being in every dialogue in which he plays a major role; but in the Symposium his strangeness and almost inhuman qualities are empha-sized as perhaps nowhere else. We are told very early in the dialogue that it was unusual for Socrates to wear sandals (or slippers) or to bathe (174a), which seems to reflect a lack of concern for the body; however, he is clearly in good health, and has a gusto suggestive of physical well-being. He is equally at home when the occasion calls for drinking heavily as he is when it calls for abstinence. He will end up outdrinking everyone else at the party, apparently impervious to the effects of the alcohol (220a; 223c-d). He seems to have thoroughly mastered his desires and to be unconcerned with conventional honors as well (220e). Although Socrates' daimonion (or divine sign), a feature familiar from other dialogues, is not explicitly mentioned in the Symposium, in his speech he will speak at length about the realm of the daimonic; furthermore, he claims love is a great daimon and that the one thing he knows is the art of love (ta erôtika). He is depicted as being subject to strange trances, perhaps also suggestive of his connection to the daimonic. In addition to these peculiarities, Alcibiades will emphasize the seductive power of Socrates' rhetoric, his habitual use of irony, the extreme contrast between his appearance and his true nature, the incorruptible character of his virtue, and his likeness to satyrs, the followers of Dionysus.

Unbeknownst to the six speakers on Eros, their conversation will not end with Socrates' speech, despite the fact that the dialogue seems to reach its philosophical apex with the philosopher's recollection of Diotima's teaching concerning the vision of the Beautiful itself (211e-212b). Instead, Plato prevents Socrates (and philosophy) from having the last word by making Alcibiades crash the party after the philosopher has delivered his tour de force. Only Alcibiades speaks about Socrates rather than Ere's. But like the other speeches, Alcibiades' speech reflects his own unique point of view and although ostensibly an encomium, it criticizes Socrates at least as much as it praises him.

The notorious Alcibiades was one of the most important but controversial figures of the day. The ward of the great Athenian statesman, Pericles, Alcibiades betrayed Athens and aided Sparta, and this betrayal is considered by many to have been responsible for Athens' eventual defeat in the Peloponnesian War (431-404). Well-born, famous for great physical beauty, notorious for his promiscuity, intelligent and spirited, he would demonstrate his exceptional prowess as a general throughout the war, while gaining a reputation for being a man of dubious, even damnable, character. While aiding the Spartans he helped to bring ruin on his native city; subsequently he left the Spartans for the Persian camp and advised the Persian satrap Tissaphernes to play the Athenians and Spartans against each other. Eventually, however, Alcibiades returned for a time to the Athenian side; amazingly, he was welcomed back, perhaps due to the Athenians' desperation and their recognition of his great prowess as a general. Indeed, Alcibiades' leadership turned the tide of the war and might have secured an Athenian victory had not one of his subordinates acted against orders and allowed himself to be lured out by the enemy to suffer heavy losses. Because of this mistake of his subordinate, Alcibiades was again cast aside and not long after came to an end.

Plato presents Alcibiades as a young man in whom Socrates takes a special interest. Since Plato's dialogues were written after the fates of Socrates and Alcibiades were sealed, even Plato's original audience would have viewed this dialogue's treatment of their relationship through the lens of subsequent historical and political events. Alcibiades represents one of Socrates' most spectacular failures.22 If the philosopher could have turned this promising man toward philosophy, some of the more tragic and bloody events of the war and its aftermath might have turned out differently. In any case, Socrates' failures with Critias, Charmides, and Alcibiades demonstrate that Socrates himself in some important cases was unable to do what in Plato's Gorgias (515e-517a) he criticizes Pericles and other statesmen for failing to do, namely, improve those who associate with him. Indeed, it was in no small part because of these disreputable associations that Socrates would fall under the public suspicion that led eventually to his trial and death.

All of the speeches in the Symposium, with the sole exception of the speech offered by Socrates, are examples of encomia, speeches in praise of someone or something. On this occasion, the participants decide to praise Er6s, the god of love. As Leo Strauss has noted, the Symposium is the only dialogue in which a "god" is the main topic. Socrates, of course, will subsequently be charged with "disbelieving in the gods of the city and introducing strange new gods." One of the issues involved in this charge was Socrates' claim to be visited by a daimonion, which many of his time could have inter-preted as a "strange new god." Given all this, it is worth noting that in the Symposium Socrates will argue that Erôs is not a god at all but is instead only a daimon. In the Apology, Socrates defends his claim to believe in the gods by means of his acknowledged belief in daimons. Daimons, he says there, are either gods or the children of the gods. In the Symposium however, daimons are strictly distinguished from gods. They are messengers of the gods, half-way between the human and divine realms.

Yet each of Socrates' companions understands that in speaking about Eros they are not only speaking about a god, but also about a phenomenon of the human psyche. For the feeling of love is the province of the god and the manifestation of his action. The Greek word, Erôs, means love as passionate desire, especially sexual desire; but as the dialogue progresses the meaning of Erôs will be expanded. In this debate, the meaning of Erôs can range from homoerotic sexual desire to a cosmic force of attraction binding the elements of nature into a harmonious whole, and from such "cosmic love" to the fundamental longing humans have for all the kinds of things they lack. This range of meanings explains why a dialogue about Erôs will deal with such diverse topics as pederasty, the love of honor, human creativity, and metaphysics.

As the drama unfolds, each of these characters presents his speech, every subsequent speaker trying to expand on or correct things previous speakers had said, or to add something new that other speakers had neglected. The result is a dramatic example of a kind of dialectic, an ever-broadening treat-ment, not only of Erôs, but also of poiesis and sophia. Yet each account of Ereis also reflects the standpoint of the speaker, so that each speaker praises Erôs "in his own image." Each speaker conceives of Erôs according to his predilections, his own way of life, the role he plays in intimate relationships, and in terms that valorize the virtue he considers most important. But each of these speeches, although no match for Socrates' speech, still has something of positive value to teach about Erôs and about the myriad directions in which it leads human beings. Socrates also composes a speech that reflects his own character and way of life; indeed, his speech seems designed to guide its audience to the path of philosophy. Yet in doing so he finds a way to synthesize and celebrate all of the virtues at once (though they undergo redefinition in the process).

A close study of the Symposium shows it to have a number of interrelated themes. One such theme is the nature of philosophy as embodied in the character of Socrates. For some reason Plato has chosen this dialogue on Erôs to furnish, in the drunken speech of Alcibiades that forms the climax of the drama, the fullest and most enigmatically detailed portrait of his friend and mentor, Socrates. The image of Socrates presented here is unforgettable and hauntingly mysterious. He is depicted as virtuous with all virtue, insulated by the irony that shrouds his superhuman excellence, firmly in the world and simultaneously detached from it, and in all, absolutely unique, like no one known before, as Alcibiades says at 221c-d. Yet, Alcibiades' speech presents both a critique of Socrates and an adoring encomium of him. In the process, it criticizes philosophy as a way of life. Its portrait of the philosopher may be an idealization or an exaggeration—but if so, it is interesting to ask just where the truth is being stretched and for what purpose. Why is Socrates highlighted in this particular way, here, in a dialogue on erotic Love? And why does Plato place this critique of the philosopher in the mouth of the notoriously ambivalent Alcibiades?

The answer must have something to do with the similar features shared by Erôs (as described in Socrates' own speech) and Socrates (as depicted by Alcibiades). Diotima's teaching ascribes to Erôs certain features associated with Plato's Socrates. It is surely no coincidence that "the art of love" (ta erotika) is the one thing Socrates claims to understand (177d-e), a claim made even more notable since it is uttered by a philosopher who is famous for his professions of general ignorance (e.g., at Apology 22e-23b). The connection between Socrates and Erôs was a commonplace of the Sokratikoi Logo i.  Moreover, the structure of the Symposium as a whole reinforces the connection between Socrates and Erôs. The symposiasts offer six consecutive speeches in praise of Eros only to have their contest for the best speech interrupted by Alcibiades, who replaces their praise of Love with his mélange of indictment and praise of Socrates. Hence, in the action of the dialogue, the erotic philosopher, Socrates, comes to stand in for, or instantiate, Erôs itself. As Plato depicts him, Socrates is the exemplary erotic.

For all these reasons the nucleus of the Symposium is the association of philosophy, in the person of Socrates, with Erôs. Thus, the Symposium reveals the complex character of Socrates. We suggest that there is a deep reason why Plato reserves perhaps his greatest homage to Socrates for a dialogue concerned with the praising of love as a messenger or daimon, a being in-between. On the one hand, it is fitting that a dialogue about love should be the occasion for Plato to celebrate and display his own love of Socrates. But more crucially, Plato's loving portrait of Socrates appears in a dialogue on love because in some way Socrates is a kind of Erôs, the avatar of philosophical Erôs, the paradigm of intermediacy. Yet if this is so, it is only because Socrates is also a unique personification of the spirit of philosophy. At the center of the Symposium is a vision of philosophy itself as an erotic enterprise, a practice of intermediacy in the form of Socratic Ignorance. Socrates shows that the philosopher is the one for whom wisdom is dear; but the philosopher cannot claim to possess this wisdom that is prized and pursued.

There are various clues in the dialogue itself that suggest the other major themes that must be taken into account in any viable interpretation of the Symposium. We find the following themes:

Speeches about Love by Three Famous Men—The most obvious theme is of course the speeches about love (7reei (172b2). The attention of Plato's audience is focused on these speeches by the dialogue's narrative frame, which introduces the main body of the dialogue. The narrator Apollodorus is approached by unnamed companions who are interested in hearing what was said at Agathon's party, and their interest is focused on three men in particular, for the only names mentioned are Agathon, Socrates, and Alcibiades, as Strauss reminds us (172a-b).

The Relation between Beauty and the Good—Another theme is introduced at 174a-b by the contrast between Socrates' intention to "go beautiful to the beautiful" (174a9) and his claim that "the good go uninvited to the feast of the good"(174b4-5). Strauss points out that Socrates in effect alters the proverb about the good going unbidden to the good in his assertion that he desires to go beautiful to the beautiful, and suggests that this play with the words "kalos" and agathos" announces the problem of whether the ultimate object of Erôs is the beautiful or the good.

The whole passage and its adaptations of Homer raise the question of the relative value of Socrates, Aristodemus, and Agathon, which foreshadows the larger theme of the rivalry between Socrates and Agathon or between philosophy and poetry. The Agön: Contest of Speeches—Not only do Apollodorus's auditors want to hear speeches on Love, but these speeches were part of a playful contest between Socrates, Agathon, and the other speakers at the symposium. The contest of speeches dramatizes the contest between philosophy and its rivals, or between philosophic love and other kinds of love.

The Contest (and Mock Trial) Between Agathon and Socrates (Poetry vs. Philosophy)32—This theme is introduced by Agathon's statement (at 175e-176a) that he and Socrates would have to "go to law" concerning wisdom and that Dionysos would judge between them. This comment is clearly meant to reinforce the suggestion of rivalry between Agathon and Socrates and their competing notions of wisdom in particular. Of all Socrates' rivals at this banquet, Agathon has a special role.

The Sacrilege of 415 BCE—There is a clear allusion implicit in the drama itself to the profanation of the mysteries and the possible desecration of the Herms that occurred in 415 BCE.33 Strauss thinks that Plato's Symposium depicts the Platonic version of the truth of these events.34 The use of the language of mysteries in the teaching of Diotima related in Socrates' speech, and the use of satyr imagery in Alcibiades' speech are also suggestive of these events. It must also be borne in mind that the profanation of the mysteries was a sacrilege in which Socrates' friends were implicated; thus, these events link to the later charges against Socrates—impiety and corrupting the youth.

Dramatization of the Love of Socrates—The six speeches on love are surrounded by dramatization of love; for love is exempli-fied in the narrative frame by Apollodorus's and Aristodemus's love of Socrates and in the final speech by the Alcibiades' love of Socrates.

Philosophy and the Corruption of Political Life (Socrates and Alcibiades)—The drunken entrance of Alcibiades, who makes the others drink and makes everyone but Socrates drunk, in addition to the roles it plays in relation to other themes, raises yet another theme. This theme is the relation of philosophy to the corruption of politics, or the relation of philosophic Era's to the "drunken" kind of Erôs that rules in political life. At the same time, Alcibiades' drunken entrance has other roles in relation to two of the themes above. He is the representative of Dionysus who will judge between Agathon and Socrates regarding wisdom." He also profanes the mysteries of Diotima's teaching and desecrates the herm-like Socrates. Special attention must be given to the question of why Alcibiades is made to play all of these roles at once. There is an inner connection between Alcibiades as representative of Athenian decadence, as Dionysian judge, and as the perpetrator of sacrilege.

Socrates' Irony and Socrates' Hubris—Alcibiades also turns his speech into a mock prosecution of Socrates. He puts Socrates on trial for hubris. The "trial" between Agathon and Socrates was also set in motion by a charge of hubris levied against Socrates by Agathon (175e). Now in addition to this trial, Alcibiades "goes to law" with Socrates over Socrates' hubris. Ironically, Alcibiades' judging in favor of Socrates in the dispute between Socrates and Agathon over wisdom takes the form of Alcibiades' accusing Socrates of hubris. There is a deep connection between Socrates' wisdom and his hubris. The implicit backdrop of these two fictional trials in the Symposium is the trial on charges of impiety and corrupting the youth that Plato's audience would have known that Socrates faced. Therefore, the Symposium could be said to involve the interrelation of three trials: the trial over Socrates' wisdom, the trial on the charge of hubris brought by Alcibiades, and the foreshadowing of the actual trial Socrates faced on charges of corrupting the youth and impiety.37 We noted already that Socrates' real trial was brought on in part by the kind of claims about the daimonic realm that occur in Socrates' speech (and elsewhere in the dialogues). There is also a deep connec-tion between Socrates' wisdom, his hubris and his alleged crimes against the city. Although the Symposium is set before the trial of Socrates, it was composed after Socrates' conviction; thus, the execution and the fate of Socrates would loom large in the back-ground for Plato's original audience.

Comedy and Tragedy—All of these themes must somehow relate to the cryptic suggestion toward the close of the dialogue that the same poet should be capable of composing both comedy and trag-edy (223d).

Finally, all of the above themes must relate to what we take to be the dialogue's central theme:

Socrates as the Embodiment of Ercis and the Erotic Character of Phi-losophy—The dialogue presents six speeches on love, which are then followed by the unexpected seventh speech about Socrates.

We have noted that, in the last speech, Socrates comes to instantiate the topic of the earlier speeches, Erôs. This substitution works together with other indications to suggest that Socrates is the embodiment of Eros, the consummate erotic. But Socrates is also the paradigmatic philosopher, and much of what suggests that he is the embodiment of Eros lies in what is indicated in the dialogue regarding the philosophical dimension of Erôs and the erotic character of philosophy itself. Erôs is said to be a daimon, a spirit that functions as a messenger between the mortal and divine realms, lying between wisdom and ignorance, possessed simultaneously of resource and need. But this spirit is depicted as a philosopher, and philosophy itself is shown to be a form of Erôs, participating fully in its daimonic character.

The young Plato perceived the horrors and absurdities of political life in Athens. Socrates' trial and execution by the city was probably only the most powerful in a series of tragic events, in Plato's view, by which his city suffered partly through its own actions. Plato had seen his city fight and lose a protracted war for supremacy and empire over the rest of the Greeks; he had seen his own relatives, at the end of the war (and with Sparta's backing), institute a disastrous reign of terror aimed at transforming Athens into an oligarchy. At the age of twenty-seven or twenty-eight, he had seen his dear friend, Socrates, who had impressed him deeply by resisting these same relatives at great personal risk, tried and executed by his fellow-citizens under the restored democracy. It is likely that we have Plato's own account of these events and the conclusions he drew from them in the Seventh Letter (324b-326b).

Thus, Plato knew the drawbacks of Athenian oligarchy and democracy because he had experienced them both firsthand; he understood the char- acteristic way in which each of these forms of government might become irresponsible rule. He appears to have been critical of Athenian imperialism because it implied a misdirected sense of honor and an overweening love of gain, a greed that bloated the city and turned it from caring about virtue to the pursuit of material wealth (see for example, Grg. 518e-519a and context). He admired Spartan discipline, but seems to have believed that it aimed too low, at martial courage, and not at the virtue of philosophical wisdom (see Laws 630d-e, 666e-667a, and the discussion of timocracy in Republic, Bk. VIII). Should not wisdom have a natural right to govern? Should not the institutions of a political community be aimed at fostering wisdom and uti-lizing it for the city's well-being?

But if he believed that philosophy was capable of fostering a kind of wis-dom, he also knew that a major obstacle to the acceptance of philosophy's value was the existence of prevalent misconceptions about it. It was the Sophists, itinerant teachers of rhetoric who claimed to be teachers of virtue, who were responsible for some of these misunderstandings. It is too easy to forget that in Plato's time none of the disciplinary categories used today were in common currency; there were as yet no institutions of higher learning, indeed, no pub-lic system of education at all in Athens. Private education consisted in training in the poets, reading, writing, gymnastics, lyre playing, horsemanship, and the arts of war. Studies that we would today call "scientific" such as mathematics and astronomy were undertaken by scattered individuals who might have been collectively referred to by any of several names, including sophists (sophistai) and philosophers (philosophoi), terms that would have for the most part been used interchangeably. The rhetorician Isocrates, contemporary with Plato, referred to his own discipline as "philosophy" and directly challenged Plato's conception of philosophy.38 Words such as "philosophy" and "sophistry" were yet to have the fixed meaning that they have today. It was Plato who first formulated the distinction between the conventional rhetoric of the sophists, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, "philosophy," something Plato considered worthy of the "true rhetorician" (Phdr. 271b-c) or a "sophist of noble descent" (Soph. 231b).

It would be easy for those in Plato's day to confuse philosophy as Plato envisioned it not only with sophistry, but also with the earlier inquiries into nature that had been made by those we now call the Presocratic philosophers. (It is worth remembering that most of these thinkers would no more have regarded themselves as "philosophers" than they would have thought of themselves as "Pre-Socratic"). In his dialogues, Plato had to warn against the dangerous tendencies within these naturalistic inquiries and within sophistry.4° But he also knew that even the questions raised by his own conception of "true philosophy," formulated by reflecting on the distinctive practice of Socrates, could be threatening to the beliefs of the city. For Socrates' dialectical activities could seem to call into question popular superstitions and the naive belief in the city's gods.43 Socrates' appeal to his daimonion and his criticisms of the poet's tales about the gods seemed to suggest to many an unconventional view of the divine and, thereby, to offend against the traditional gods and against the traditions and beliefs of the community. Plato was not deterred by Socrates' fate from questioning traditional piety in these and other ways with his own portrayal of Socrates in his dialogues. But the Platonic Socrates' potential danger to the com-munity is something of which both he, the Platonic character, and Plato, the author, seem to have been cognizant (compare Rep. 537c1-539d and Ap. 23c-d). Plato's problem is in part to defend his conception of philosophy from alternatives and from rival conceptions of wisdom offered by the sophists and the poets. At the same time, his problem is to promote philosophy as an alternative form of piety or a means of reforming traditional piety, even while shielding philosophy from the charge that it is impious or dangerously subversive. Yet to say that he wanted to shield philosophy from the charge that it is dangerously subversive is not to say that he did not regard philosophy as both subversive of conventional opinion and as potentially dangerous (in the wrong hands) for that reason. He knew the dangers were there and made no attempt to hide them; yet apparently he believed that the benefits to be gained from philosophy outweighed the risks.

Given Plato's objectives, as adumbrated above, we should expect Socrates to be distinguished in the Symposium from the other participants, because the other characters are his rivals in more than just composing praises of Eros. These speeches are part of a contest (agdn) to see who can give the finest praise of Ero's. But the very meaning of such praise is also at stake. What does it mean to give an excellent speech in praise of Erôs?

Although in classical Athens the gift for oratory alone would have been regarded by many as sufficient proof of political wisdom, the contest depicted in the Symposium is more than just a competition to see who is the best speaker. For it matters that the speeches in question are not just on any topic but speeches in praise of Erôs. So, not only is skill as a speaker being tested; the speaker's understanding of love, or of human desire generally, is also being tested, it being understood that human longing is easily one of the most significant features of human experience. So each speaker's understanding of life, his practical savvy, and perhaps even his virility is on the line. To be able to praise Erôs well one must necessarily draw on one's own experience of loving, desiring, and striving.

In terms of the standards governing classical rhetoric it would be enough if the speech displayed mastery of the beauties of language coupled with persuasive power. But Socrates, in the remarks that preface his own speech (201d), would seem to want the others to agree to accept a different set of standards for judging speeches. Yet it is ironic that Socrates' speech seems superior not only according to his own philosophic standards, but also, in many ways, in terms of the twin standards of rhetoric: beauty and power. Socrates' speech reveals the nature of philosophy and through the superiority of his speech he demonstrates the superiority of philosophy in life and in the political wisdom that should guide life. Therefore, the dramatic structure of the part of the dialogue that contains the six speeches on ErOs corresponds to the process of coming to see the value of philosophy, its distinction from, and superiority to, its rivals. But then, just after Socrates has presented this mag-nificent description of the Beautiful itself, the jarring entrance of the inebri-ated Alcibiades brings the conversation back to earth, reminding us of the irrational forms of Erôs that in fact rule in the political realm.

On the surface there seem to be two different conceptions of philosophy in Plato's texts: a dogmatic view and a skeptical view. The dogmatic view presents philosophy as the knowledge of causes and "Forms" or Eick (that is, the knowledge said to be possessed by the philosopher-kings of the Republic). The skeptical view presents philosophy as the examined life, a Socratic quest that involves a developing awareness of one's own ignorance. According to the latter conception, it would seem that philosophy does not issue in knowledge of the Forms, but only in Socrates' "human wisdom," that is, in that awareness of one's own ignorance that has been called "Socratic Ignorance" and is defined as knowing that one doesn't know. This latter conception is associated with Socrates' account of his practice in the Apology and is also found ascribed to philosophy as such in Diotima's teaching as recounted by Socrates in the Symposium.

According to a developmentalist reading of Plato, these two conceptions of philosophy belong to different periods of Plato's philosophical development. From this point of view, philosophy as the comprehension of Forms is Plato's later conception of philosophy, one that provides a way out of the skepticism of the Socratic position. We are highly dubious about this developmentalist account and in this commentary offer an alternative. In our view, the appearance of a contradiction between the two afore-mentioned conceptions of philosophy is the result of dubious assumptions regarding the relation between these two themes in Plato's work, the Forms and Socratic Ignorance.

Some accounts of philosophy in the dialogues clearly make philosophy inseparable from the project of coming to know eternal, unchanging realities or coming to possess comprehensive understanding. Given this fact it seems quite odd then that the dialogues never seem to proceed by explicitly proving the existence of a relevant Form, explaining what that Form is, and then deducing the relevant consequences from it. Rather, as has often been noted, the theme of the Forms is invariably introduced as a contribution to other discussions, and the specific Forms of the topic under discussion are never explicitly articulated. It might be thought that the attempted definitions offered in the dialogues are meant to be verbal formulae expressing the nature of the relevant Forms, but these definitions are either depicted as failing or are at best said to be merely approximate or incomplete.43 This dichotomy between the view of philosophy as knowing Forms and the philosophizing embodied in the dialogues has partly inspired the work of the Tübingen school, which sees the true content of Plato's philosophy as lying largely in unwritten doctrines. It has also led recent scholars to emphasize the problem of reconciling the form and content of Plato's dialogues.

The history of Plato interpretation can be read as a struggle between dogmatic and skeptical interpretations of Plato.46 While the most prominent interpretations of Plato have always been those that ascribed doctrines to him, even in the ancient world there were discussions of whether Plato was a skeptic.47 Since at least Cicero there have been some (in a minority) who think that Plato just presents a variety of different views without taking sides and that Plato has no fixed opinions. Perhaps Plato thinks we cannot have knowledge, and so just encourages the quest for wisdom, without really thinking that we ever achieve it. The difficulty here is to explain what he thinks is gained by philosophy if this is so.

In the secondary literature of our own time, it has become customary to contrast "doctrinalist" with "non-doctrinalist" approaches to the inter-pretation of Plato. The "doctrinalist" approach takes Plato to be using his dialogues primarily to explain and defend his own views. By contrast, the "non-doctrinalist" approaches are those that either hold that Plato's views are not to be found in his dialogues, or at least that the appearance of such views in the dialogues is secondary to Plato's main purposes in writing them. In exploring a tertium quid for reading Plato, it is important to note`that the apparently "dogmatic" side of Plato has so far received greater attention than his more skeptical, Socratic dimension.

Many kinds of doctrines have been sought in the dialogues for many reasons. The theme of Forms itself has been viewed as a presentation of Plato's theory. When treated as a theory the presentations of this theme`have often been viewed in abstraction from their dramatic context, despite some scholarly complaints.49 Those who have been inclined to be interested in Plato's so-called "metaphysical theory" have been encouraged by the very conception of philosophy they find in the dialogues to seek Plato's claims to knowledge. Surely, they reason, a thinker who claimed to know eternal truths regarding the essences of things must strive to express these truths in his work. Of course, this argument is utterly circular, for they bolster their interpretation by an illicit appeal to one of the points at issue—just what it is that Plato the author claimed to know. In abstracting the discussions of Forms from their dramatic contexts and in seeking to identify particular assertions of characters with Plato's`views, commentators have often paid insufficient attention to the ongoing theme of Socratic Ignorance and the kinds of qualifications it forces upon the philosophical argumentation in the texts.

Yet it seems just as circular, on the face of it, to presume that Socrates speaks for Plato when he professes his ignorance as it is that he speaks for Plato when he discusses Forms. In the case of Forms, one can appeal to the testimony of Aristotle to try to determine Plato's views, and there is evidence that the profession of ignorance was made by the historical Socrates and need not be ascribed to Plato himself. But the fact is that both the theme of Socratic Ignorance and the hypothesis of Forms are prominent in the dialogues, and Plato did precious little to prioritize one over the other. In fact, in the Symposium and elsewhere these themes are strangely juxtaposed.

The emphasis on the Forms in certain of Plato's dialogues seems in ten-sion with the choice of Socrates as protagonist and with the importance of the theme of Socratic Ignorance. However, Socratic Ignorance does not dis-appear from Plato's later dialogues, and this fact is a major problem for the develop mentalist account that holds that this theme is a reflection of an early Plato's dedication to the faithful memory of Socrates. To take one example, the Socrates of the Republic, the same Socrates who defends the possibility of knowledgeable philosopher-kings,`still professes his own ignorance of such knowledge.5° The emphasis on the knowledge of the Forms conflicts even more with the explicit claim made in the Symposium that philosophy is the love and not the possession of wisdom, and the consequent attribution to philosophy itself (not merely Socrates) of a position between wisdom and ignorance.5' According to the account of the philosopher provided by Diot-ima's teaching in the Symposium, philosophers as such are essentially lovers and not possessors of wisdom. Yet a "vision" of a Form, albeit a rather generic one, figures prominently at the end of the account. This whole account is put in the mouth of a Socrates who still professes ignorance (175e). In both the Republic and the Symposium then, Socratic Ignorance and a vision of the Forms appear side by`side. It should not be overlooked that the theme of Socratic Ignorance receives much more significant treatment in Plato than in Xenophon, the only other Socratic whose complete works are extant. If more of the Socratic writings remained one could better evaluate the extent of Plato's innovations with respect to this theme, but there is no doubt that it is Plato who makes Socratic Ignorance philosophically significant. Those later philosophers who were enamored of this theme all looked back to the Socrates of the Apology and other Platonic dialogues.

The developmentalist doctrinalist explanation of the relationship between Socratic Ignorance and the knowledge of the Forms amounts to treating Socratic Ignorance as a theme relevant to Plato's depiction of the historical Socrates or the remnant of Socratic influence upon the young Plato. According to this view, the emphasis upon the knowledge of the Forms comes from the mature Plato and expresses Plato's later epistemological views. From this perspective it may be no more than a contingent fact of history that Plato happened to choose Socrates to be his putative "mouth-piece," thus needlessly confusing issues against his own intentions. Indeed, the doctrinalists can argue that there is no need for confusion about the relationship between the ignorance of Socrates and the potential knowledge of the Forms. Plato has made the relationship between these ideas quite clear in dialogues such as the Meno. For there the state of aporia in which one becomes aware of one's own ignorance, a state explicitly likened to Socrates' ignorance, is treated as a necessary preliminary to the more advanced stage of philosophical development in which one grasps the knowledge one has initially sought. Led by Socrates through the study of a geometrical problem, the slave-boy passes through an initial phase of perplexity or confusion (aporia) and is later brought to the solution.

But bringing in this example to support this explanation overlooks a crucial fact: the "answer" at which the slave-boy and Socrates arrive is only an approximation. Socrates has in effect asked the slave-boy to express the square root of eight, an irrational number that can only be approximated.

Emphasizing the approximate or indefinite nature of the knowledge gained in the Mena, to say nothing of the learning paradox itself, points us in the direction of those interpretations of Plato that emphasize the importance of nonpropositional knowledge. In light of the idea of nonpropositional knowledge, one can interpret the relationship between Socratic Ignorance and the Notion of Forms in a different manner than the developmentalists. The knowledge of Forms is essentially nonpropositional, and thus necessarily silent, as some scholars have suggested. In other words, no propositional expression of the truth will ever be fully adequate to it. Therefore, Socrates' "knowing ignorance" consists in his awareness of his own inability, and that of others, to capture in words a truth that may or may not be accessible to humans at a given time in a nonpropositional noetic vision. In line with this view, Socrates could be ignorant with his self-aware ignorance precisely because he is in touch with Forms while yet being aware of the inability of the human mind to express the Forms directly in language.

It may be the case, as has been argued effectively by Francisco Gonzalez, that the truths Socrates seeks are expressed indirectly through his very inquiry into their nature, through precisely the failed attempts to express the Forms directly. It is as though the process of trying to attain the ideal and failing helps one understand the mysterious something at which one was aiming. It is arguable that every ideal functions this way; that is, every directly encountered reality to be measured always necessarily falls short of the ideal, whether the ideal in question is the perfection of an exact measurement or the perfection of an ethical standard. To borrow the language of modern mathematics, one approaches the ideal as an asymptote approaches a limit. Plato may have been the first philosopher to note the general character presented by the ideal in our experience—it is experienced as a glimpse of that which eludes our grasp. Dialectic, according to Plato's presentation of it, seems to be set in motion as a progressive approximation to something that eludes final comprehension. It is the human significance of this dialectic that the Platonic dialogue expresses in the form of a unique kind of drama. The dialogues embody a dialectic that provides the tools to reflect on and understand the general character of the ideal that lies at its root. Were it possible for the philosopher to easily and securely grasp a Form and to express its perfection directly in language, it would seem that the dialogic and cryptic character of the dialogues would conflict with Plato's rationalist conception of philosophy; but if the Forms remain elusive, even as dialectic enables the philosopher partially and imperfectly to recollect them, then the dramatic and elusive character of the dialogues make an essential contribution. For as Gonzalez suggests, one understands the Forms when one sees how various attempts at comprehension continually fall short in various ways. The Socratic awareness of ignorance is not contrary to, but inseparable from, a deeper noetic apprehension of the Forms; such an apprehension is a partial recollection of a Form, but for the most part this awareness expresses itself negatively as a greater ability to understand how various attempts to describe the Form fail.

Although we believe that the idea of nonpropositional knowledge is an important key to a correct conception of the relationship between the Forms and Socratic Ignorance, in this interpretation of the Symposium we will focus instead on a related yet neglected aspect of Plato's metaphysics: the notion of "intermediacy." We believe that an examination of this notion, brought together with recent work of other scholars on nonpropositional knowledge in Plato, will help to flesh out the proper understanding of the relation between the Forms and Socratic Ignorance in Plato's dialogues.

In our view, this apparent dichotomy between the view of philosophy as knowing Forms and the embodiment of philosophy in the dialogues is based in part on a misunderstanding of the role of the idea of Forms in the dialogues. The Forms are never presented as dogmatically secure possessions, but rather as glimmering desiderata, the objects of a quest, objects that can inspire us, but which continually elude us in some way. Yet even in order to so elude us, they must also somehow be present to us, open to examination and inquiry. We see Forms, yet we never see them clearly or completely. A comparison of the various dramatic contexts in which talk of Forms appear would show that, in every case, both our contact with Forms, and our remove from them, is equally emphasized. Yet contrary to some interpreters, we hold that it is too simple to say that the dialogues never reveal a single Form. The dialogues do express Forms—not through specific definitions but through the drama of the dialogues if they are considered as dramatic wholes. One can come to see the Form of Justice by reading the Republic and one can come to see the Form of Eros by reading the Symposium. But true to the in-between character of human Eros and philosophy, the glimpse one has of these Forms is always just a glimpse, a partial, elusive noetic insight incapable of faultless and precise formulation in language.

In this commentary, we draw attention to the importance of the notion of "the intermediate" (to metaxu) in the Symposium and other dialogues. In addition to the intermediacy of Er6s, several types of intermediacy will be distinguished, such as the intermediacy of correct opinion, of Recollection, and lastly of philosophy itself. In addition to distinguishing these types of intermediacy, we attempt to show the connections between them. We shall endeavor to show that Plato's use of the notion of "Forms" is misunderstood if it is seen outside the context of such intermediacy. Reflecting on the notion of intermediacy will serve to illuminate the simultaneous connection and tension in Plato's dialogues between their "Socratic Ignorance" and "Platonic Forms."

Recently, some Plato scholars have begun speaking of a "third way" of reading Plato, a way that lies between regarding him as a dogmatist and regarding him as a skeptic. According to this approach, Plato may have had views, but imparting his own views is not what he is trying to do in the dialogues. In the dialogues he is primarily trying to stimulate philosophical thinking and to turn promising pupils toward philosophy. Plato's intention seems to be to communicate a mode of thinking and examining more than it is to impart a particular philosophical view. To say that this view is gen-erally true does not rule out the possibility that some of Plato's own views and prejudices might still influence his work. A truly "Third Way" reading must not only avoid treating the dialogues as though they were treatises, but should also avoid a merely "skeptical" reading that deprives Plato of any con-tent. Such readings find the "philosophy" of the dialogues in the interrelation between argument and drama.

An effort to find a "third way" of reading Plato that navigates between skepticism and dogmatism, a way that does justice to both the philosophical content and the literary and dramatic features of the dialogues, can also be seen as an effort to hold together the Socratic and Platonic elements in Plato's texts. Such readings seek the unity behind two seemingly opposing conceptions of philosophical wisdom: Socrates' "human wisdom" as the awareness of one's ignorance, on the one hand, and on the other, the knowledge of the eternal realities one might suppose a god to have. Perhaps the notion of Eros as a being in-between, a kind of messenger or go-between, suggests just such a third way, neither stubbornly dogmatic nor ridiculously skeptical. The present interpretation of the Symposium will endeavor to show how the tension between dogmatism and skepticism remains in play throughout the philosophical account at the heart of this dialogue. Indeed, Plato builds this "in-between" position into the conceptions of philosophy and the philosopher presented in Socrates' speech.

In fact, Pierre Hadot has recently argued that the Symposium provides a distinctively "Platonic" notion of philosophia, used to describe the love of wis-dom" or the "care for wisdom" and not the possession of it.57 Hence, Plato's Socrates disavows knowledge—though he remains ever on its trail or "in its draft." In the Apology, his role in the city is characterized by him as being in part protreptic—exhorting people to care about wisdom—and in part corrective or remedial—showing others that they are not as wise as they think they are. By contrast with the conceit of wisdom Socrates finds all around him, the philosopher grudgingly admits to possessing only a small, "human" wisdom, which turns out to consist in being ever mindful that he is not wise (Ap. 20d, 20e, 21b9, 21d3, 23a-b). In the Symposium the characterization of Erós that emerges in Socrates' speech is analogous to the position occupied by philosophy per se and by the paradigmatic philosopher, Socrates, him-self. Born of mixed parentage, the hybrid nature of Era's can be expressed philosophically as a kind of being in-between (metaxu). The philosopher is desirous of the wisdom she lacks, but at the same time supplied with the resources to pursue it. The position of Erôs and the position of the philosopher that Diotima describes are so perfectly analogous that Socrates comes to stand in for Erôs when Alcibiades is made to praise Socrates rather than the God of Love. Plato wishes to show through the progression of Symposium's speeches that the truest erotic is a philosopher, and not just any kind of philosopher, but a philosopher like Socrates; so, to underscore this point for his audience, he has Socrates replace Erôs in the dramatic ergon of the dialogue. Here as elsewhere, Plato conjoins the "negative" experience of recognizing one's ignorance with the "{positive" experience of coming to desire the wisdom one lacks. The philosopher, who knows he is ignorant of the most important things, is well aware of that ignorance, so that this in-between position of the philosopher might be spoken of as a positive kind of ignorance or as a minimalist sort of knowledge. For Erôs in the form of the philosopher's longing for wisdom is a messenger from the divine imparting something of the object of desire through the very desire for it.

This in-between position is elaborated in Diotima's analysis of ErOs, which will show that this in-between position describes the structure of human desire. The way in which Erôs in general is "in-between" will have to be distinguished, however, from the way in which philosophical Erôs is "in-between." For although Erôs is described as a philosopher, philosophical Erôs is clearly distinguished from other forms of Erôs that Diotima discusses. The meaning of this riddle will be explored in our commentary. We hope to explain both how philosophy is erotic and how Era's (in general) is a "philosopher."

Plato's vision of philosophy as love is unique in the history of philosophy. In the Symposium, he goes beyond the etymology of the word philosophy to suggest that philosophy is not merely a philia (friend or friendship) of wisdom, but nothing less than an Erôs, an insatiable hunger for a wisdom that is never finally possessed. The present commentary is devoted to an elucidation of the meaning and implications of this vision.

In the following pages we draw together our observations about the dialogue in order to gain a synoptic view of it and to think about its meaning as a whole. In the course of this interpretation we have tried to justify the following claims about the Symposium:

  1. In Diotima's teaching Plato presents the fundamental principles of his psychological thought.
  2. Diotima's teaching links Plato's psychological thoughts with his metaphysical thought.
  3. Diotima's teaching helps to explain the way Plato writes.
  4. Therefore, on the basis of 1-3 above, one can claim that Diotima's teaching clarifies Plato's philosophy as a whole.
  5. In the Symposium, Plato presents a novel conception of philosophy, the unique features of which have never been sufficiently appreciated, the view of philosophy as a form of Eros, a daimonic messenger situated between the divine and mortal realms, partaking of both realms and responsible for their communion. In connection with this unique conception of philosophy, the paradigmatic philosopher Socrates is presented as the embodiment of philosophical Eras.
  6. In the Symposium the philosopher is contrasted with other claim-ants to wisdom; but each of the characters also represents an alter-native mode of Erôs. The contest of speeches about Erôs represents a contest of claims to wisdom and a contest of forms of Erôs.
  7. The full teaching about Erôs is only seen when all the forms of Erôs presented in the Symposium are seen in relationship to one another and the philosophical Erôs is shown to emerge victorious.

As an especially important instance of the above, the characters of Socrates, Agathon, and Aristophanes dramatize the rivalry between philosophy and poetry, and the philosopher is victorious over the poets as a result of his superior knowledge of Eros, which enables him to understand both the tragic and comic dimensions of life. Another especially important instance of the rivalry between competing forms of Eros highlighted in the Symposium is the contest between philosophical and political Erôs represented by the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades.

Alcibiades plays the role of Dionysian judging in the contest between Socrates and Agathon over wiklom, but, ironically, he does this by trying Socrates for hubris. In this way, the Symposium portrays Socrates brought to trial over his wisdom and over his hubris; and each of these trials is surely meant to gesture toward the actual trial of Socrates for impiety and corrupting the youth. Socrates' wisdom seems hubristic to those who are hubristic, and impious to those with false piety.

In relation to Alcibiades' intervention in the dialogue, Plato casts Socrates in the role of the Herms and casts Diotima's teachings in the role of the Mysteries that Alcibiades respectively desecrates and profanes, in an implicit allusion to the famous scandals of 415 BCE. By thereby associating Socrates and Diotima with traditional piety, Plato may be suggesting their kinship to the divine to his audience, and perhaps to some of them he may even be suggesting that Alcibiades' real sacrilege was his inability to heed Socrates and to participate in the Socratic art of love.

We follow up this summary of our interpretation with some further consideration of important details that contribute to the total effect of the dialogue, showing how these details relate to our main themes.

In the Symposium, Plato presents his audience with six speeches on Erôs, surrounded by two examples of it. The dialogue opened with Apollodorus professing his love of both philosophy and Socrates (a love reflected by Aristodemus); then, after the speeches on Erôs, Plato presents the dramatization of Alcibiades' Erôs for Socrates. One must ask if Apollodorus's love of Socrates and Alcibiades' love of Socrates are held up for admiration, or if they are simply testaments, along with the six speeches on Erôs, to the diverse and ubiquitous power of love.

In important ways, Alcibiades' "love" for Socrates is a very different sort of love from that of Apollodorus. The one lover, Apollodorus, claims to follow Socrates and to have been transformed by his love for him; and undoubtedly he was, although whether or not this transformation has the character he supposes is doubtful. The other lover, Alcibiades, feels admira-tion for Socrates coupled with shame at his own inadequacies. This shame causes his love to become tinged with envy and animosity, driving him farther away from philosophy, and provoking him to find a way to rid himself of this shame. Failing that, he must plug his ears and refuse to listen to what Socrates has to say. In some ways, the love Alcibiades experiences might seem superior to Apollodorus's brand of love, since perhaps Alcibiades has a keener insight into just how unique Socrates is and how difficult it is to follow in his footsteps. But although Alcibiades may have a keener sense of his own weaknesses of character than does Apollodorus, he also has a greater pride as well. As a result, Alcibiades' shame and the damaged pride that is its reverse side have paralyzed him and made him hostile to his own better judgment, preventing him from genuinely following Socrates. Apollodorus, on the other hand, is difficult to evaluate with so little textual evidence to go on, but one has the feeling that his devotion is the shallow devotion of a parroting acolyte consisting largely of the love of honor that he gratifies by setting him-self apart from the crowd. That he insults his audience at the beginning of the dialogue (173a, 173d) foreshadows the arrogant way that Agathon later insults his guest, Socrates, in his speech.

Perhaps we are meant to contrast these two versions of the love of Socrates with a third, Plato's love for Socrates. Plato's love is embodied in the dialogue itself, a loving memorial to his departed friend that does not merely pay him homage but attempts to capture the uniqueness of his way of philosophizing. It is useful to remember that not only do the speeches in the Symposium discuss Erôs in all its manifestations, but the dialogue as a whole exemplifies particular loves as well: the love for Socrates, the love for the love of wisdom, and the love of wisdom itself. Moreover, if Diotima's teaching is correct, the Symposium must also exemplify Plato's love of the Good and Beauty as well; and even if Diotima's teaching is not correct, if Plato took it seriously he would have considered his dialogue an expression of these loves.

Turning to the six central speeches of the dialogue, we must not be taken in by an initial impression that the diversity of ErOs has been reduced to the love of older males for young boys. It becomes clear through the speeches of Eryximachus, Aristophanes, and Socrates especially that Erôs as they discuss it encompasses all human desire and even cosmological phenomena. Diotima's teaching about Erôs ties together the biological urge to procreate with the deep human impulse to create works of the spirit; and both of these are said to derive from a quest for immortality that even more primordially is a quest to "possess the good forever." This insight brings us into the realm of religion, for the good humans desire to possess is an eternal, timeless Good, belonging to the realm of the divine. Love of this Good fills the mortal, temporal realm, for the mortal realm is thoroughly conditioned by the lack of, and desire for, goodness. Human desires are diverse and can aim at either realm; people can desire the apparent goods of the changing world around them or people can desire the immutable goods of the Divine. Yet ultimately beneath this diversity is the priority of the timeless realm, for in the end a good beyond the relative world of becoming is the only good that can satisfy the deepest human longing. Like Aristophanes' original humans, people remain separated from their other halves, except that this other half is not just another human person; and even in the longing for it one finds a type of contact and communion with it, as Diotima makes clear.

Taken as a whole, the Symposium shows that there is an apparent diversity in the forms and objects of human desires; moreover, the different objects of Eros have different ontological statuses, even while the desires for these diverse objects exist within the same being. The relationships between these desires have implications; it makes a great difference whether the diverse desires within a human being are harmonized or in conflict, and it makes a great difference which of them takes the lead. Humans desire temporal things only for the sake of happiness, and it appears that happiness depends on the mind's relation to a good that stands outside of time. The dialogue argues that these elements of the human condition combine to create the deepest secrets of human psychology. Human well-being or happiness, eudaimonia, involves an ordering or psychic harmony in one's self, and this ordering or harmony consists in the ranking or prioritizing of desires. It is the human condition constantly to be choosing between competing desires and the dif-ferent values they represent. But desires are not all created equal; some desires have an intrinsic right to priority. Some things are really desired only for the sake of other things; that is, some goods are merely instrumental to the pro-motion of further goods, while others are more intrinsically valuable. To put desires in the wrong order, to emphasize or prioritize the wrong one, to make ends out of means, to allow the wrong desire to rule one's psyche, is to lessen or even destroy one's chance to achieve well-being. Which desires ought to be thought of as ends is determined by the consequences for the well-being of the psyche of prioritizing one set of desires over the other. Human well-being, that is, the human participation in the Good, is the arbiter of the proper order of desires in the human psyche, and thus the human Form, and/ or the Form of the Psyche, is determined by the Form of the Good in a sense, as are all other Forms.

Human beings make contact with reality through the fact that at some level they do not create their own desires. We find ourselves having desires that constitute our subjectivity—yet these desires and the needs they reflect are not created by us out of thin air, and these desires aim at objects external to ourselves. These desires have limits. They have limits of definition, that is, the various objects of these desires delimit them and distinguish them from one another; but also, insofar as they have definite objects that would be capable of satisfying them, desires also have limits in the sense of natural termini that would constitute their fulfillment. Finally, desires have limits indicated by their relations to one another. For a person's limited energy is often channeled predominately toward the fulfillment of one desire to the exclusion of others, and it may be impossible to fulfill one desire without frustrating another. Each of these limits indicates an objective nature to subjective desire. Thus, there are objective implications to the fulfillment of desire, including the fact that each fulfillment has a potential effect on human character. To fulfill every desire at once may not only be impossible, the attempt to do so leads to disunity and conflict within one's self, or at least to an inadequate development of one's faculties. But prioritizing one desire over another is not going to have the same implications in each case. If one privileges the desires for temporal things, one ties one's self to a temporal, changing, uncertain level of reality. But human beings long for more, for a good that can be possessed forever. Human beings long for that which is eternal. Only by placing this desire for what is permanent and immutable over the desires for what is transitory can one attain the proper ordering of his or her desires that constitutes psychic health. For this reason, Diotima would certainly agree with the words of Christ: "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroys, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be" (Matthew 6:19-21).

The relation between the lower stages and the higher stages of the lover's ascent described by Diotima is that the lower stages lead on to the higher stages, and also that the higher objects of love are usually causes of the objects desired on the lower level. The reason why the objects on the lower level have the qualities for which we desire them is owing to the objects on the higher level. But in addition to this causal relation, the objects on the higher level—and ultimately the Form of Beauty Itself—are made out to be the ultimate or true objects of desire, because they are that for the sake of which we desire the objects on the lower level. The causes in question assign to their effects properties that they themselves "possess" in some sense ( or really "are") in a superlative degree.' For instance, the beauty of the various beautiful bodies is a property they share in virtue of the Form of Beauty; in loving their beauty we are in a sense already loving that Form. The next stage on the ascent, the love of beautiful souls, is the love of something closer to the Form of Beauty (by virtue of the soul's ontological similarities to a Form and also by virtue of its unique way of relating to Forms, as the psyche can both participate in Forms and also somehow intuit them). And even the beautiful soul can be a cause (in the sense of efficient cause) of the beauty of the beautiful bodies. Likewise, the ascent to beautiful practices and studies is the ascent to things that shape the psyche and are efficient causes of its beauty, while being yet nearer ontologically to the Form of Beauty itself that is the ultimate cause of the beauty of all these things at all levels.

The relation of Erôos to beauty is complex; on the one hand, beauty is a means to an end. One wants to give birth in beauty as a means toward immortality, in the attempt to possess the good forever. Seen in this way beauty seems only desirable for the sake of the more ultimate object, the good. Therefore, Diotima replaces beauty with goodness as the object of desire, as she does at 204e, to move beyond an impasse in Socrates' understanding. Socrates' offhand remarks at (174a-b) seem to foreshadow this move by replacing the beautiful with the good, changing "going beautiful to the beautiful" to a case of good men going uninvited to the good. On the other hand, beauty seems to be reinstated as the object of desire by Diotima's account of the final vision (210e-211d).

Does this eternal reality of Beauty Itself even exist? Diotima speaks of it as though from experience, but Socrates does not claim to know about eternal things, even while he remains constantly in pursuit of them. He loves such things but he does not claim to possess them. All he claims to know about is Eros, or desire. That is, he knows that he desires the eternal and he knows that what is not eternal falls short of the Beauty of which Diotima speaks, whether that beauty is real or, as he suggests of the wisdom his trance on the porch, a "dream" (175e3-4).

The fact that Socrates embodies Erôs is connected with his being a master in the art of Erôs. To say that he knows ErôOs is another way of talking about his human wisdom, his awareness of his own ignorance, since this awareness is inseparable from his longing for wisdom. Philosophic Erôs implies that one senses one's own ignorance, one's lack of and need for wisdom; yet under-standing Erôs is the basis for philosophic insight into human nature. One can become wiser through reflecting on humanity's common lack of wisdom. Socrates as the master of Erôs represents the fact that philosophy can under-stand the human psyche through seeing all human longing in relation to its own longing. Socratic philosophy thus knows the psyche as a structure of longing and knows the psyche's possibilities as ways in which those longings can interact and combine. Socratic philosophy is a type of Erôs that understands Erôs. But this paradoxical kind of wisdom emerging from the very need for wisdom illustrates the in-between nature of Erôs and how erotic desire acts as a messenger from the object of desire, imparting something of its nature, or at least impressing its effect, upon the desiring mind. For Socrates' desire for wisdom in his awareness of his ignorance grants him a kind of wisdom, his "human wisdom." In the case of Plato's Socrates, Socrates' awareness of his ignorance is inseparable from some partial recollection of the Forms.

The dual nature of Erôs is seen in that desire connects humans to its object and yet exists precisely because of the absence, that is, the nonpossession, of that object. Erôis reminds humans of their distance from what transcends them, yet at the same time, it links them to the transcendent. The objects of Eras are present and powerful in shaping life even in their absence, just as Platonic Forms are present in participation yet absent in their transcendence. Nothing is ever wholly divorced from its own Form, yet no particular is ever identical to its Form. Things in Becoming strive to be what they ate; beyond yet in being what they are they take their guidance from something beyond them—that whatness itself, which can never be reduced to one instantiation of itself. Thus, the dialectic of self and other in human Eros has its general metaphysical analogue as well—each thing, in "striving" to be itself, that its in continuing to exist in time, is related to an other, the "essence" that its existence expresses, that is, the Form in which it participates.

Socrates as the embodiment of Erôs has advanced to that kind of Erôs that seeks the ultimate principles of all things. His love for this knowledge points him toward that which transcends the world of change. His under-standing of love and its various forms enables him to see the dim glimmers of longing for the eternal in every desire; all desires for changing things have an implicit reference to the unchanging beings for which those changing beings themselves are "longing"—that is, the time-transcendent character of their essence that they temporally instantiate. But Socrates' longing for the transcendent is unfulfilled; only the intimations of the transcendent embodied in Erôs itself reach Socrates. These intimations are Erôs's messages from the divine, as desire takes its shape from that for which it longs and imposes that shape upon the desiring mind. Even in a mere hint or a question something of the nature of the object hinted at or asked about comes through, for the character of that object affects the structure of the hint or the question itself. A question is an intellectual desire, but the same observation can be made of desire generally; the character of desire and how it affects the psyche has everything to do with the character of the object desired. It is thus that desire is a messenger. It is as the heeder and prophet of these messages that Socrates becomes a man of irony and apparent hubris.

Socrates' life is dedicated to reminding people that they must recognize that they do not already possess what they need. They must acknowledge their need for a good that transcends any temporal good and any good they can provide for themselves. And this means that our strength as human beings lies in the very admission of our weakness and incapacity; our wisdom lies in the admission of our ignorance. It is precisely by admitting our lack of the Good, and thus discovering our Erôs for it, that Erôs can then function as a messenger that brings human beings closer to that supreme good. We must achieve a kind of nakedness—the humility brought on by a sense of our lack and our imperfection, an awareness of our ignorance—in order to enter into closer communion with the reality for which human beings ultimately long. Yet the intransigence of the philosopher's insistence that all be judged by the standard of the eternal and that all lesser goals are far less worthy, causes humility to appear to others as extreme arrogance and hubris.

The dialectic of self and other arises again here. On the one hand, human desire is egoistic, since people desire to possess their own good, that whatever they suppose will be to their personal advantage and will make them happy. On the other hand, if it is properly developed, Erôs leads people again and again to break the bonds of the self, because the true good they ultimately desire lies beyond the confines of the self and beyond anything they can acquire for themselves in this world. As Diotima stresses, we do not desire our own things except insofar as we suppose that they are good to us Disagreeing with Aristophanes, who claimed that all human beings desire their own other half, implying a longing for what is one's own and what belongs to one's own self, Diotima teaches that human beings will even amputate a limb if they suppose its presence has become harmful. Hence, we desire a good outside ourselves, and yet we desire to possess this good; paradoxically, then, our desire has both egoistic and anti-egoistical dimensions. The tension between these two sides is what enables people to redefine their sense of self and their self-interest. The Symposium teaches that, as human beings, our sense of ourselves is bound up with our understanding of what is good for us, and as the latter changes, so must the former. This connection between our understanding of ourselves and our understanding of the good for which we are striving implies that the quest for wisdom is the quest for both self-knowledge and the knowledge of the good.

Our fundamental desire to make the good our own all too easily becomes distorted into the wishful attempt to make what is our own into the Good. In so doing, we take our folly to be wisdom and our narrow point of view, our prejudices, and our commitments become the standards by which we evaluate everything we encounter. We become trapped in a limited perspective, driven by narrow, egotistical or sectarian motives. The love of honor helps to constitute our sense of self, but also connects us to the larger groups from which we seek honor and recognition and from which we fear dishonor and disgrace. We define our selves and acquire our sense of honor and shame largely in terms of our identifications with and oppositions to larger groups and the activities in which they are engaged.

According to the teaching of Diotima, the highest human admiration is only rightly directed at the eternal reality that transcends human subjectivity and at those sages and exemplars among us who most embody that permanent reality. All forms of worldly admiration, the forms of the love of honor that aim at temporal power and prestige, are misdirected to the extent that they treat their objects as ultimate. Their objects have become false idols. Such is the idolatry of what Socrates calls "the great beast" in Republic VI—the common or vulgar conceptions of what is honorable or dishonorable manipulated by the sophists, based on ignorance of the kind that takes itself to be wisdom and takes external goods such as money, honor, or power to be the source of true happiness.2

The love of honor can inspire people to great deeds and great disasters. It can inspire creativity and good works, leading mortals to brave death and transcend themselves, to act for "higher" motives with no thought for nar-row personal gain, but instead only for undying personal glory or the glory reflected back to one via the glorification of a cause. Yet obviously the greatest follies are also inspired by the same motives. Therefore, in Plato s dialogues, the spirited part of the psyche and its love of honor have such a bivalent role: spiritedness is a necessary prerequisite for the young philosophers of the Republic (375b), the ally of the rational part of the psyche (Rep. 440e-441a), and yet spiritedness can also impair one's judgment and have the most destructive personal and political effects.3 It is probably because of Alcibiades' high spirit that Socrates is drawn to Alcibiades as to an especially promising youth; yet it is also on account of spiritedness that Alcibiades is drawn away from philosophy by desire for political honors. The illusions of spiritedness misidentify the good but constitute the point of view that actually rules in the world of politics. Certainly such illusions ruled Alcibiades and imperial Athens, creating the temptations that trapped Alcibiades and prevented him from living a life devoted to philosophic self-examination. Spiritedness can often be a form of Erôs unaware of the true aim of Erôs.

Nonetheless, Socrates' love of wisdom is, in a sense and up to a certain point, infectious. When the philosopher shows others that they are ignorant, he is showing them that they need wisdom, thereby introducing them to a lack in their character, and in the light of this they may well feel a certain shame, a shame that can impel them to seek wisdom. Insofar as one cultivates a love for the wisdom one now knows one lacks, the sense of shame will subside; even if one's sense of one's ignorance actually expands through further philosophical reflection, one at least knows that one is doing all that one can to remedy one's deficiency in wisdom, and one begins to have a sense of the value of that "human wisdom" of which Socrates speaks in the Apology, one's awareness of one's own ignorance—and, it should be added, even if it is not polite to say it, one begins to have a greater awareness of the ignorance of others as well. Clearly, Socrates' awareness of his own ignorance involves both a kind of humility and a kind of pride; thus, in imparting to others the awareness of their ignorance, and in modeling for them the proper way to respond to one's deficiency, Socrates is working on the spirited parts of their psyches. They are brought suddenly and involuntarily to an awareness of their ignorance, which causes shame and/or anger. But by following the Socratic exemplar, they can convert this shame into a well-justified humil-ity in which one can take a kind of pride. Since Socrates' stance of ignorance has allowed him to gain victory over others, Socrates' stance even appeals to the interlocutor's love of victory. Yet the ultimate victory Socrates is seeking is victory over himself, or more precisely, over the kind of ignorance that is the self-deceptive pretence of wisdom; in other words, a victory over his own prejudices. The pride of this victory over one's own unsubstantiated beliefs is associated with the feeling of intellectual liberation. One has begun to break the chains that hold the prisoners in the Allegory of the Cave. There is a triumph in liberation that appeals to the spirited part of the psyche and its love of victory.

In addition to working on the spirited part and its love of victory, Socrates' art of love, that is, his dialectical practice, of course also addresses the rational part of the psyche and its love of wisdom. So besides applying the goad of shame and lure of pride, Socrates also arouses the wonder and curiosity of his interlocutors in order to lead them to seek wisdom. Plato's dramatization of the conversations of Socrates, therefore, seems centrally

to aim at turning the love of victory toward the love of wisdom, and this harnessing of philonikia in order to cultivate philosophia may be the central goal of Plato's dialogues. The arousal of curiosity is a direct appeal to the Eros of the rational part of the psyche. Socrates arouses this curiosity and wonder not only through his paretic arguments, but also through his own cryptic nature. Even Alcibiades is able to catch a glimpse of the "images of virtue" within Socrates—in part through an appreciation of Socrates' char-acter, exemplified in virtuous acts, but also through a certain insight into his speeches. For Alcibiades notes that these speeches, like Socrates him-self, appear one way on the surface, strange and coarse, but upon reflection and understanding begin to open up to reveal hidden, divine riches within, seeming finally to be "the only arguments that make sense." But perhaps it is the harmony between Socrates' speeches and Socrates' deeds that is most remarkable and most provocative of wonder (cf. Laches 188c-189a). What Plato shows his audience of Socrates' character in the drama of the Symposium is fully consonant with what Socrates (through Diotima) tells the audience, and Alcibiades confirms this portrait in his testimony.

According to the Gorgias, a "true art" does all that it does with a view to the good of its subject (Grg. 464-465a); the practitioner of such an art can explain all that it does with reference to that good. Moreover, the good is always some appropriate order, some appropriate arrangement and proportion of the elements of the things in question (Grg. 503e-504d). Thus, if one were to practice a good rhetoric, rhetoric as a true art, that rhetoric would have to look to the good of the psyche in all that it does (Gig. 504d-e). Since the good of a psyche is a proper ordering of the psyche, and since, as the Republic suggests, the psyche is properly ordered when its wisdom-loving element rules over its other elements (Rep. 583a, 586e, 589a-b), one would expect the practitioner of a good rhetoric to have speeches designed to put the wisdom-loving element in charge and to make the spirited part of the psyche the ally of reason, that is, to enlist the love of honor into the service of the wisdom-loving part of the mind. It is exactly this kind of "true art" that is constituted by Socrates' erotic art. Even as he suggests in the Gorgias, Socrates practices the true art of statecraft through a rhetoric that is not flattery but a true art aimed at producing the good of the mind (Grg. 521d-e). By making others aware of their need for wisdom and by provoking their shame, admiration, and wonder, Socrates inspires the philosophical life. Wonder is a form of ErOs characteristic of the learning and thinking part of the mind; curiosity is an intellectual desire. By stimulating curiosity and wonder Socrates awakens the Erôs of the rational part of the mind. At the same time, by embarrassing his interlocutors and upsetting their complacent self-images, Socrates reorients the spirited part of the mind, harnessing its forces for the quest of wisdom. Shame over one's own lack of understanding enlists the spirited part that feels the shame into the service of the learning part of the psyche that is subject to ignorance and curiosity.

Yet to tamper with other people's honor and pride is a dangerous form of therapy. In various dialogues, Socrates testifies to the animosity his philosophical practice can create. Even apart from the gadfly's irksome efforts to get his friends and fellow-citizens to question themselves, just because Socrates is devoted to a life that sets its sights beyond the political realm, his stance must seem negative and even accusatory to his contemporaries. To the extent that, like Alcibiades, they can appreciate the implicit argument against their values and ways of living made by Socrates' own exemplary life, they will begin to feel threatened by him even without being directly subjected to his refutations. This is why we see Socrates' ironic stance toward ordinary goods characterized by Alcibiades as the most outrageous insult. This is why Alcibiades puts Socrates on trial for hubris, an accusation that foreshadows the accusations of impiety and corrupting the youth that will later be brought against the philosopher by the city itself. (And the fact that Socrates' follower, Apollodorus, seems so haughty to his interlocutor in the opening of the dialogue seems to give some substance to the charge that Socrates has a bad influence on his companions.) These accusations—hubris, impiety, corrupting the youth—are distinct but related. Socrates' hubris lies in his quietly assumed mantle of superiority; his impiety lies in his seeming to question the gods or to teach new strange gods of his own; his corruption of the youth lies in his seeming to debunk the city's authorities. Yet it is obvious to the sympathetic reader of Plato that these real or apparent crimes are all explained and to some extent mitigated by Socrates' single practice and love—the love of wisdom and the skeptical, dialectical quest for truth.

Socrates understands the art of love because he understands his own ignorance and thereby his love of wisdom. He understands better than other mortals his unique way of being in-between, of being and not-being, of having and not having, and he sees the love of wisdom as the highest form of desire. Through Diotima's teaching he also understands how his desire is related to the desires for temporal gain or honor. Because he is aware of the various types of desire exemplified in life's many pursuits and has a sense of how these desires are to be ranked relative to one another, he sees philosophy's relationships to all other human endeavors. For he can see how the philosopher's desire for knowledge is related to the artistic and educational goals of the poets, to the celebration of piety or of conventional goods, to the desires for honor, and to the political goals of the city in general. One sees the Socratic understanding of these relationships depicted in Socrates' story of his response to the Oracle in the Apology. There we see how the philosopher's small, human wisdom contrasts with the putative wisdom of the politicians, the poets, and the craftspeople.'

In the Symposium we see philosophy's relations to these types exemplified in a different way: the politicians, the poets, and the technicians of narrow competence are represented by Alcibiades, the politician and general, Agathon and Aristophanes, the poets, and Eryximachus, the physician, respectively. The failure of most of these other points of view on the human good is that they shoot too low and aim at something fleeting—honor, superficial beauty, power, or a narrow expertise that often fails to understand its relation to the whole of knowledge. Philosophy, in contrast, understands the ultimate goal of Erôs and that this goal is timeless; philosophy is able to distinguish the true goal from false idols. As for traditional piety spoken for by Aristophanes, its warning against hubris might all too easily extend to an antipathy toward philosophy, as it did in the case of Aristophanes' play The Clouds. Aristophanes' speech opposes the scientific speech of Eryximachus without being able to learn from it or to encompass any of its truths. Only philosophy as embodied in Diotima's daimonic account remains open to the mystery, while at the same time remaining comprehensive enough to weave all the truths of the other speeches into a coherent, dialectical whole. Socrates' philosophy can synthesize aspects of Aristophanes and Eryximachus, that is, the religious and scientific, as well as aspects of Aristophanes and Agathon, that is, the comic and the tragic.

The Symposium dramatizes the trial between Socrates and Agathon over wisdom, judged by Dionysus. Agathon's speech talks about wisdom, but he also attempts to have the most comprehensive speech by talking about all the virtues. It would seem a requirement of Socrates' conception of wisdom that wisdom would lead to all other virtues and that wisdom should be able to give an account of itself and all other virtues. Agathon's speech tries to discuss the wisdom of Erôs and he ascribes all other virtues to Eros as well. In associating wisdom with an account of the other virtues in addition to other specific comments in his speech, Agathon is like a pale reflection of Socrates. Socrates often suggests that virtue is knowledge and in some dialogues wisdom seems to be knowledge of the good that would imply the other virtues. In the Meno, wisdom seems to be the ultimate virtue, the knowledge of how to use all other things well, including virtues such as courage (Meno 87e-89a); only if courage were used well would it truly be a genuine virtue. In addition the Phaedo suggests that the difference between genuine and sham-virtue is their underlying motivation, one might say their underlying Erôs; for genuine philosophical virtue does all for the sake of wisdom (phronesis), the "only correct coin, for which all these should be exchanged" (Phaedo 69a-b). Moreover, the ascription of both wisdom and the rest of virtues to Erôs specifically makes sense from the point of view of Platonic psychology. Although Socrates in the Republic seems highly critical of Erôs, according to the model of the tripartite soul discussed in Book Nine, all three parts of the psyche can be defined by what they desire (580d-581c); and it turns out that different objects of the various parts of the psyche are all potential objects of Erôs in the Symposium. Symposium 205d lists money making, love of gymnastics, and love of wisdom as forms of Erôs, and surely this list neatly corresponds to the desires of the three parts of the psyche. Erôs certainly can aim at sex like the appetitive part, at glory like the spirited part, and at wisdom like the calculative part. The ordered psyche that in the Republic is the unifying conception behind all the definitions of the virtues is the psyche in which the right part of the psyche rules the psyche. The ruling element in the psyche is the fundamental motivation for the sake of which all else in the psyche is done, as one can see from Socrates' discussion of the various types of psyche in the Republic (Bks. VIII and IX).

The upshot of these reflections is that for Socrates the properly ordered psyche is the philosopher's psyche, the psyche that desires wisdom and truth before all else. So it is Era's, although Erôs of a particular kind, directed at a particular object, that constitutes the ordered soul and leads to all the virtues. One of the implications here is that wisdom may consist in either knowledge of the good or, failing such knowledge, a firmly held true opinion about the good or perhaps even the desire for knowledge of the good provided that that desire becomes the most authoritative desire in the psyche, placing the rational part of the mind that has this desire in command of the other elements in the psyche. Book Nine of the Republic makes it clear that the rational, learning part of the mind rules the mind if its desire for wisdom and knowledge rules the mind. This result is elegant, because it shows that the tripartite soul as discussed in Book Nine accommodates the three major possible candidates for wisdom considered in the dialogues—wisdom as the knowledge of the good, wisdom as true opinion about the good, and finally, wisdom as the Socratic awareness of ignorance and the erotic longing for wisdom that constitutes the "human wisdom" of the Apology. Interestingly, Socrates himself can be seen as embodying all three versions of wisdom; he certainly longs for a wisdom that he lacks, yet by virtue of knowing that he needs this wisdom he may possess actual knowledge of what is good (at least in the sense that he may actually know that seeking wisdom is good for him); yet even if it is not actual knowledge, his wisdom may involve a true opinion about the good—it may be a true opinion that seeking wisdom is good for those who lack it, that is, that philosophy is an appropriate way to care for the soul.

In drawing wisdom and the other virtues out of Erôs, Agathon may not be wrong, although of course his speech shows no real sign of insight into any of these points. In Socrates' speech, however, Diotima's teaching shows how genuine wisdom may arise from a certain form of Erôs and argues that all other genuine virtues arise from such wisdom. In addition, her teaching suggests the relation between the highest form of Erôs and its lowest forms. What she suggests is that all forms of Erôs—including the appetitive desire for sex and the spirited desire for honor—are aimed at the good; and the true and highest good for the psyche is the vision of the Beautiful Itself. So, Socrates uses Diotima's teaching to suggest that Erôs can lead to wisdom and all the other virtues. Socrates thereby associates wisdom and all the other virtues with Erôs, but in a very different way than Agathon had done. For Agathon, Erôs was a god possessed of wisdom and all the other virtues. For Socrates, Erôs is a daimon who neither merely possesses nor merely lacks what

he seeks. Diotima will stress that Erôs lacks what it desires, but on the other hand Er& is in an intermediate state, born of poverty and resource, functioning as a messenger between human poverty and divine resource and somehow partaking of both at once. The lover's ascent described by Diotima seems to be a change in the proportion of poverty and resource in Erôs (as one changes the proportion of the mortal and divine through changing the objects of Erôs). For although the movement up the ladder might be thought to be merely a change in the object of Erôs, when Erôs shifts from one object to another it is shifting in the direction of the cause or source of being, that is, in the direction of greater being. Hence, it is shifting toward the divine, toward the resource" element in all human Erôs, the aspect of Erôs that partakes in or contains a trace of that for which it longs. But as long as Erôs remains Erôs the longing will never be utterly satisfied.

Given Agathon's speech and its attempt to talk about the relation between Erôs and wisdom and the other virtues, and Socrates' more successful attempt to do this, one can see these speeches as Agathon and Socrates "going to law" over wisdom. Then the drunken Alcibiades' speech on Socrates represents the judgment of Dionysus on the case.

Alcibiades is the messenger of Dionysus judging between them in favor of Socrates. But Alcibiades' way of affirming Socrates' wisdom involves accusing Socrates of hubris. This connection between Socrates' wisdom and his hubris is appropriate. Socrates' superiority over Agathon settles the question that was raised by Socrates' assertion that he wanted "to go beautiful to the beautiful" and by his adaptation of Homer which spoke of the good going uninvited to the good. Agathon is good in name only; Socrates is really good. Agathon is beautiful physically, but Socrates' true beauty, his beauty of psyche, is not physical and does not result from his having dressed for the party (although his desire to dress appropriately for the occasion is a sign of his inner beauty). In Alcibiades' judging between Agathon and Socrates in favor of Socrates there is also a struggle between Alcibiades and Socrates over Agathon (i.e., over "the good"). Socrates' and Alcibiades' erotes, and their ability to attract lovers, are pitted against one another. Socrates wins. Alcibiades' judging in favor of Socrates occurs in spite of Alcibiades himself.

The trial in the dialogue initiated by Alcibiades occurs only after Socrates has bested the others in a contest of speeches. Although Alcibiades had no part in that contest, he knew all too well its results, having been himself bested by Socrates in an earlier contest of wills. As he reveals in his speech, that contest was also a game of love, a game he had lost as he haplessly found their traditional courtship roles reversed and himself helplessly ("slavishly") in love with a godlike man whose very existence he is unable to live either with or without. One might think that the contest of speeches in its entirety enacts the trial by Dionysos of which Agathon spoke, saying that Dionysos would decide between himself and Socrates; but it is only with the introduction of Alcibiades that the god of inebriation, comedy, and masks returns to the scene. It is only in Alcibiades' speech that we are shown the Dionysian sides of the Apollinian Socrates, his satyr-like qualities and his masked mode of speaking. Interestingly, Socrates' Dionysian and Apollinian sides appear to be inextricably fused in his philosophical Eros, one more duality encompassed by this hybrid daimon, offspring of Poros and Penia. Apollo, the god of the Oracle Socrates claimed as his inspiration, was a god of light, of reason, and of order. Dionysos is the patron of such satyrs as Marsyas and Silenus, the god of wine and of intoxication. Socrates' divine madness brought on by his philosophic Erôs contains elements of both. How can reason and intoxication, reason and inspiration, reason and madness belong together? The answer, suggested by Diotima's teaching and by the Phaedrus, appears in one word: Erôs. Era's is the inspiration that animates reason and speaks to it prophetically, as the medium of "Platonic" recollection; the philosopher's wonder, filled with philosophic Erôs, seems like intoxication or madness, but it stimulates reason and even feeds it. There is a mystery at the heart of reason that reason longs to comprehend; this mystery even enables reason to exist. As Kierkegaard said: "The thinker without a paradox is like a lover without passion."

In Alcibiades' speech, the praise of Socrates replaces the praise of Er6s. This replacement signifies that Socrates embodies ErOs. The vision of beauty itself that was the climax of Socrates' speech is replaced with a vision of Socrates in Alcibiades' speech, Socrates as the one who longs for the vision of beauty itself. Socrates had replaced Agathon's idea of a beautiful Er6s, possessing good, with the idea of a nonbeautiful ErOs longing for beauty and goodness. Similarly, Diotima's vision of the beautiful itself is replaced by Alcibiades' vision of Socrates, a man who the audience knows is longing to have the vision of the beautiful.

Socrates the philosopher has the rhetorical satyr's power, capable of speak-ing differently to different people without any necessary contradiction. His strange but seductive approach can even make the great Alcibiades ashamed of himself But unfortunately neither mere protreptic nor subtle seduction is enough. The failure of Socrates' clever and well-crafted words reminds us that wisdom should rule, but in "the real world" it is usually all too impotent. It is precisely the appetitive and honor-loving parts of the psyche, forms of Ero's that are most common and the earliest to develop, that generally dominate in political life. The beauty of Socrates' speech cannot prevent the drunken Alcibiades from crashing the party and disrupting it, subverting what is left of the philosophical conversation and causing the mood of the party to resemble his own inebriated state. Of course, Socrates remains unaffected, just as he had been unmoved by Alcibiades' seductive charms. The detail that Socrates never becomes inebriated no matter how much he drinks illustrates that Socrates combines the Apollonian and the Dionysian, for his courtship with the god of wine is not exclusive of philosophical conversation. What really makes Alcibiades drunk is his inebriation by honor-love in the form of his overweening

political ambitions; such wine never intoxicates Socrates. Socrates can drink the wine of leisure, but because he spends his leisure in the pursuit of wisdom, that is, in the love of the supreme Beauty and Goodness, he never gets drunk. His philosophy is divine madness, divine inspiration, a daimonic message from the divine; but it does not produce inebriation, but rather the ultimate sobriety. This sobriety depends on the fact that he couples his erotic longing for an absolute, immutable good with his awareness that human nature cannot possess such a good. In other words, the philosopher's Eros remains true to both its parents, Poros and Penia, and thus to its own hybrid, or dual, nature.

It is to a consideration of the dual nature of Erôs that one must turn in order to understand Socrates' victory over the poets and how this victory has to do with the insight that his knowledge of Erôs gives him into the nature of comedy and tragedy. In defeating Agathon in the dispute over wisdom, Socrates defeats the poets. Through Diotima's teaching, Socrates' speech synthesizes the insights of Aristophanes and Agathon and at the same time synthesizes the comic and the tragic. Socrates' wisdom is superior to Agathon's because Socrates understands Erôs better. At the same time, Plato displays his own mastery of both comic and tragic discourse; he does this by weaving comic and tragic elements into the speeches of Aristophanes and Agathon. He also weaves comic and tragic elements into the Symposium as a whole, while offering insight into the theoretical ground of the connection between comedy and tragedy in his presentation of Diotima's teaching on Eros. This deeper understanding of Eris makes philosophy superior to comedy and tragedy—able to do justice to both the comic and tragic aspects of life.

A hint of the way Plato weaves together the comic and the tragic is seen in the fact that although philosophy is able to demonstrate its superiority to other walks of life, Plato never lets his audience forget that his Socrates is an ideal beyond the range of ordinary mortals. Many others have been "bitten" by the snake of philosophy and driven to madness with love of it and yet like Alcibiades have failed to live the kind of life lived by Socrates, the life of true philosophical self-examination. Socrates, as a daimonic being, a being in whom Erôs has come to its proper full development, is indeed a divine gift and a divine message. Recall that Socrates claims in the Apology that he is a gift to the city precisely because his life embodied the Oracle's message to human beings (Ap. 30d-31b). And yet he could not force others to hear the message; he had no power over them that could make them hear and heed it. We should remember the poignant question that Polemarchus asks rhetorically at the beginning of the Republic: "Could you really persuade us, if we don't listen?" (Rep. 327c). We could likewise ask: Could anyone truly teach anything to those not willing to learn? Could anyone truly convert another human being who is not ready and willing to be converted? The dramatic context and the choice of characters in the Republic suggests the tragic dimension of life; for, as the dialogue's original audience would have known, some of the participants in that conversation about an ideal city that "exists nowhere on earth" but "perhaps in heaven" (Rep. 592b) were executed by oligarchic and democratic regimes in real life (Polemarchus and Niceratus dying at the hands of the Thirty and Socrates, of course, at the command of the restored democracy). In the Symposium, it is the role of Alcibiades and the reminder of Socrates' failure with him, and ultimately of Alcibiades' failure to emulate Socrates, that indicates the tragic impotence of philosophy from the political point of view.

This tragic impotence on the political stage is compatible, however, with the unparalleled glory and worth of philosophy in human existence. Socrates' beauty is not diminished by the drunkenness of Alcibiades; indeed, in the somewhat unintended truthfulness of his self-revelations Alcibiades reflects, through his own shame and admiration, the greatness of Socrates. Socrates fails to bring Alcibiades to the life of philosophy, but Alcibiades, and all that he represents, fails to seduce Socrates. This mutual failure illustrates the relation between philosophy and political life and the tragicomic character of that relation. What is tragic is that the promise of Alcibiades and of Athens is lost, or that the victims of folly resist the authority of wisdom. But when the city executes Socrates, his death, and the life that led to it, transcends tragedy, for Socrates retains his happiness even in the face of death. The philosopher's life shows that human life in general is both tragic and comic; and yet precisely by embodying this tragicomic perspective on life, philosophy itself transcends the tragicomic, or perhaps transforms it into something else. Into what might it be transformed? Into a particular form of the life of serious play in honor of the gods celebrated in Plato's Laws (Laws 803c-804c), with philosophy at the center of that life, a perspective from which one can see at one and the same moment that human life is not so very serious and that it is necessary to treat it most seriously anyway (Laws 803b).

These thoughts about the tragicomic character of the philosophic perspective point toward the last scene at the drinking party: Socrates' presenting an argument to a comedian and a tragedian to show that the same playwright should be capable of writing both comedy and tragedy. Has Plato perhaps attempted this in the Symposium? We have already hinted that we think he has. Tragedy and comedy both have to do with the gulf between the eternal and the temporal that is hidden behind the encounter of humans with the limits of their own desires.6 Ordinary comedy and tragedy are each generated in different ways by the tendency to ignore human limits and the resultant tendency to be crushed by them, in the form of Fate in the case of tragedy, or Folly in the case of comedy. The philosopher, by contrast, achieves the full-ness of the human potential by engaging in a knowing struggle with these limits that acknowledges and respects them.

There is tragedy in human life in virtue of the fact that human life is a kind of being toward death, a recurrent theme in nineteenth and twentieth-century philosophy. Human life is ever incomplete, and its "{completion" is brought about only by death. There is tragedy also to the extent that the very roots of our virtues are at the same time the roots of our vices; their common root is revealed by Diotima's teaching, for she suggests that all people, good and evil, desire to possess the good forever. To see that her claim is really this general, one has only to reflect on all the different sorts of desire she subsumes within her account—and on the fact that she explicitly says that everyone is a lover, including those who love money and sport—although only some are called lovers. Virtue parts from vice because the virtuous get farther along the scale of Eros and come to have the right sorts of desire ruling in their life. But it is precisely because people desire to possess the good forever, that is, because people desire to make the good their own, that they so easily succumb to the false idolatry that causes them to regard what is already their own as the good itself. Put otherwise, this tendency in human beings leads them to take themselves too seriously, and, unable to laugh at themselves, they con-fuse their own folly with wisdom and believe they already know what they do not. Attempting to fill the void in themselves, that is, to satisfy the longings of Erás, they will cling to any illusion of good.

The tragic dimension of human life is clearly revealed through the human tendency to be ruled by the appetitive and honor-loving parts of the human character or psyche and by the fact that human beings remain temporal beings in spite of their longing for eternity. But the comic dimension of human existence also depends on this same disproportion between the eternal and the temporal in human existence, seen from another point of view. The comic aspects of life may also be bound up with a failure of logos, with the limits of reason and speech. The nineteenth-century statesman and philosopher Horace Walpole famously said, "Life is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel." If he is right, then it follows that life is a tragicomedy to those who both think and feel.

The ridiculous are defined in the Philebus as those who overestimate their own goods (external goods, goods of the body, or goods of the psyche) when this overestimation is accompanied by weakness (49b). We find examples of this in most of the characters of the Symposium, beginning especially with Apollodorus, and certainly in the light of the Symposium we can see manifold examples of this in our own lives. But those whose overestimation of their own good is not accompanied by weakness but by strength are not ridiculous; Alcibiades, when he was sober, was not ridiculous. However, in this dialogue we see him inebriated, not sober; in this light, he does appear a bit ridiculous. Yet his presence is enough to remind us of the dangerous and tragic implication of what in this context appears as his comical foolishness; we know that when he sobers up and forgets about Socrates again, he will shortly come to betray Athens. Then he will be one of those who in the Philebus are called "powerful, fearful and hateful" (49b-c).

In the course of the dialogue we have also seen comic elements aplenty. To take a prime instance, consider Aristophanes hiccupping. The hiccups are comic, on the dramatic level, for what they do to Eryximachus's speech, but also, for Plato's audience, for turning of the tables on Aristophanes. Then there is the comic element in Aristophanes' speech, in its contrast between human pretensions and human reality. Comedy is in service to piety because of this unique ability to circumvent human defense mechanisms to bring out this contrast between pretensions and reality. It is appropriate for this comic defense of piety that it comes after the speech of the narrowly focused natural philosopher, Eryximachus, whose one-sided recollection of Empedocles' teaching was blind to the impact of strife on harmony and Love; hence, Aristophanes' speech balances out and redresses the one-sidedness of the nature-philosopher's speech and exposes his characteristic vice: a certain kind of hubris that consists in trying to know things beyond the mortal ken (i.e., "above the heavens and below the earth") and in abstracting from the ethical or normative dimension of life in the name of impartial truth ("examining the entrails of gnats," as in The Clouds, 155-68). Eryximachus does deal with the normative dimension to the extent that he offers prescriptions as a doctor; but he seems to claim a god-like knowledge of the fundamental principle of nature that subsumes an account of the good and evil of the human psyche within an understanding that would also account for hiccups. Perhaps Eryximachus also forgets the human need for the grandeur of the gods; he certainly seems to forget the power of myth and of the eruptive, chaotic dimension of the very Erôs he describes. What he says is not so much untrue as incomplete, even myopic. The aim of Aristophanes' speech is to remind us of the gods, the traditional Olympian gods, and of human weakness and inferiority when compared to the virtues humans ascribe to them.

Agathon's speech is also comic. Not only do his enormous pretensions contrast with his actual achievement, but also his efforts are made ridiculous by performative self-contradiction or ironic reversal: he does exactly the opposite of what he says he intends to do. He claims he will praise Era's Himself rather than his effects, and yet he characterizes Erôs in terms taken entirely from the objects and effects of Love. Although he is a tragic poet, his speech seems comical in the vanity of his effort to model his account of Erôs after his view of himself. (Similarly, the comic poet Aristophanes' speech had contained a tragic dimension, in that it pointed to a certain insurmountable futility in human desire. But probably the Platonic Aristophanes is aware of this, as Plato seems to have paid Aristophanes the compliment of making his speech superior to Agathon's and to every other speech except that of Socrates.)

Alcibiades' speech was comical too, on account of his inebriation and his jealousy, envy, and love of Socrates, all of which seem to bubble up from him in the somewhat uninhibited, somewhat involuntary self-disclosure characteristic of drunken effusion. Yet of course, as we have suggested more than once, there is a tragic dimension to Alcibiades' revelations. They remind Plato's audience of the impotence of philosophy in the political realm, of the lost promise of Alcibiades and of Athens, and of the power and predominance in human existence of the forms of Erôs that, according to Diotima, are the

farthest from an appreciation of Erôs' ultimate goal. It is tragic to devote one-self exclusively to the world of impermanence. Conversely, it is comical to presume to skip over the temporal world to go straight to timeless Being. In Diotima's teaching, contact with bodies in time is never denied its rightful importance and worth.

By juxtaposing the lofty heights of Diotima's "higher mysteries" with the intoxicated love, envy, and anger that Alcibiades directs at Socrates, Plato has set up a tension that mirrors the tension Diotima finds in Erôs. The eternal is adumbrated in, and the love of the eternal awakened by, her teaching; while the irrationality of a temporally directed Erôs, embodied in Alcibiades, is immediately laid beside it for comparison. This glimpse of the temporal and the eternal in human existence reflects the tension between the outer and inner sides of the enigmatic Socrates, between the mortal and divine elements in the Erôs he embodies, and between the ignorance and wisdom contained in the philosopher's Erôs. The Symposium awakens our Erôs for the mysteries of that divine, eternal Beauty and at the same time reminds us of our insuperable distance from it. Thus, the dialogue as a whole functions as a daimon, awakening our entreaties to the gods and giving us an intimation, through our own desire, of just what the desired object, the truth, might be like if only we could possess it. Yet, at the end of the Symposium, we are left without it. It departs from us like the vision Socrates has on the portico early in the evening, yet we are left pregnant with desire for it, full of the longing to continue Socrates' quest.

Alcibiades insists that Socrates' true beauty is hidden. And this hidden character is poignantly reflected by the fact that only Aristodemus, Apol-lodorus, and his unknown auditor, (and the reader of the dialogue) know how Socrates confirms Alcibiades' account of him by what he does after the party and on the following day. In the closing lines of the dialogue we are given confirmation that the account of Socrates in Alcibiades' speech is no mere exaggeration. The truth about Socrates is a truth filled with mystery, and like all mystery, it is a daimonic messenger, a hinting at something further that remains undisclosed, a revealing and concealing at once. But sometimes in the case of the deepest mysteries, their mysterious or wondrous character is itself concealed behind a veil of the trivial and the ordinary. Socrates on the day following the party will go about his ordinary life, despite having spent the previous evening without sleep, drinking and philosophizing until dawn; but only those few privileged to know both about the previous night and his activities on the following day can see anything extraordinary. The poise and vigor of Socrates, completely unaffected by the ephemeral world around him as he goes about his routine business on the day after the party at Agathon's house, betrays no glimmer, to the undiscerning eye, of the hidden light of virtue behind his coarse and homely exterior. But this quiet, secret virtue is what is truly miraculous about Socrates, a miracle hidden from view, like the images of the gods inside the figure of Silenus.

Plato's Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception (Hellenic Studies: Center for Hellenic Studies) In his Symposium, Plato crafted a set of speeches in praise of love that has influenced writers and artists from antiquity to the present. Early Christian writers read the dialogue's 'ascent passage' as a vision of the soul's journey to heaven. Ficino's commentary on the Symposium inspired poets and artists throughout Renaissance Europe and introduced 'a Platonic love' into common speech. Themes or images from the dialogue have appeared in paintings or sketches by Rubens, David, Feuerbach, and La Farge, as well as in musical compositions by Satie and Bernstein. The dialogue's view of love as 'desire for eternal possession of the good' is still of enormous philosophical interest in its own right. Nevertheless, questions remain concerning the meaning of specific features, the significance of the dialogue as a whole, and the character of its influence. This volume brings together an international team of scholars to address such questions.

Plato’s Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception is a treat. One of the best things about the book is its range. In sixteen essays we go from Heraclitus to Hedwig and the Angry Inch, with intermediate stops at Aristotle, Plotinus, Renaissance courtly painting and poetry, the United States Supreme Court, and Wallace Stevens; there are essays here for everyone who reads the Symposium...This is interdisciplinary study at its best, with generous attention paid to all the ways Plato can be read, studied, interpreted, and argued about. All the contributors are scholars who know the material, know their fields, and defend their views tenaciously, yet they are all clearly learning from one another and talking to, rather than past, one another. Above all, these essays all show the signs that the authors enjoyed themselves: the joys and delights of hard thinking about good things are surely on view here.

The Symposium of Plato: The Shelley Translation by Plato, translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley, introduction and notes by David Kevin O'Connor ( St. Augustine ’s Press) In the summer of 1818, Percy Bysshe Shelley pulled himself away from a flur­ry of other projects to devote himself to translating Plato's Symposium. Besides being one of the very great lyric poets of Romanticism, Shelley was an accomplished Hellenist, and had a natural sympathy for Plato's way of seeing the world. The result of his labor was a translation of Plato's principal work on love that is, in both clarity and felicity of expression, unmatched by any con­temporary translation.

Much of what the dialogue offers to today's reader ‑ namely, its invitation to see erotic experience as the privileged locus of our contact with the sacred and the divine ‑ is lost in translation by failures of tone more than by inaccu­racies or simple infelicities. The elevation and sophistication of Shelley's prose makes his translation a much better English vehicle for Plato's writing than the rather chatty and colloquial translations current today. Plato's speeches on love need an English idiom in which myth is at home, and in which humor rises to urbanity rather than descending to mere wit and joke. With Shelley, we get a translation of a great literary masterpiece by a writer who is himself a liter­ary master, and his mastery is of exactly the type required by Plato's text.

This translation came at the height of Shelley's powers, mirroring in language and conception some of his finest works, and so is itself a precious doc­ument in the history of Romanticism, for which the re-appropriation of Plato is second in importance only to the massive influence of Shakespeare. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, her husband's literary executor, upon publication of (a somewhat expurgated version of the dialogue, boasted that "Shelley resembled Plato; both taking more delight in the abstract and the ideal than in the spe­cial and the tangible. This did not result from imitation; for it was not until Shelley resided in Italy that he made Plato his study. He then translated his Symposium and Ion; and the English language boasts of no more brilliant composition than Plato's Praise of Love translated by Shelley." If this goes too far, it goes at least in the right direction.

David K. O'Connor, in his introduction and footnotes, provides the his­torical and philosophic framework to appreciate best the importance of the dialogue and translation.

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