Plato’s “Symposium” and Contemporary Love

A book cover for Plato’s “Symposium” featuring a portion of Anselm Feuerbach’s painting depicting the house of Agathon and drunken revelers.

Plato’s “Symposium” and
Contemporary Love
Philosophical Analysis

Written by DJ Hadoken

I believe that each speech within The Symposium lacks some important aspect necessary for “the true understanding of love” in a contemporary sense, however, viewed in its entirety, The Symposium presents a surprising, perhaps reassuring reminder of life: that no matter the passage of time or amount of years, the concept of love survives ages.

The philosophers themselves clearly had an understanding of their topic, although, throughout their speeches they seemed to be lacking “something”. This may be simply due to the time period (around 375 B.C.) in which this work was written and to their difference in beliefs from the contemporary world.

Their view of love depends highly on the Greek gods, which causes them to analyze love itself as a god or, in the case of Socrates, a spirit. In all circumstances, an entity rather than a feeling. They focus on how love is and not what or why love is.

Agathon only describes love and how love behaves as a god and what it wants. How it works throughout the world to fulfill its own desires. In the contemporary world (with some exceptions) love is not a god, simply a feeling.

One may argue that love does not travel throughout the world finding what it wants, but that love is summoned from within a being, and that the feeling of love is what guides a person. A person obtains what they want using love as a tool.

Socrates’ speech emphasizes that love is an appreciation of beauty to its highest degree. Contrastingly, modern society believes love to be a universal feeling, that “love is blind” in the way where it cannot determine what a beautiful object can be. Love is manifested within each person. A person is capable of loving anything.

Diotima argues that love is neither beautiful nor repulsive, that it is neither good nor bad. Today, love itself is (existentially) beautiful- something which is rarely debated upon. Socrates and Diotima question the purity of love, demonstrating another clash with modern society’s view that love is ultimate. It is what some people seek for their entire lives.

Interestingly, by interpreting some specific ideas in particular, mainly presented by Aristophanes, Agathon, Socrates and Diotima, we are able to observe a set of values that seem to still be present within today’s view of love.

For example, Aristophanes speaks that love brings the desire to combine with one’s companion. That it is a thirst in which neither partner is completely rid of. It is a desire to combine, to become one entity, rather than two separate entities. This view that love is a form of unity also survives today.

Agathon speaks of love as being responsible for many of the feelings felt within the world- sensualism, delight, desire, etc. This is a view that has not changed in our contemporary world.

Diotima speaks of love as being the key to immortality. Something that may be undeniably true, love is humanity’s power over death. In the contemporary world, the proof of this is demonstrated every day that humanity continues to exist, centuries after the creation of this work. Love is immortal. With love the human race itself remains immortal.

Finally, the belief that love must embrace all areas of a person, not simply physical beauty is still relevant today. Love of something simply for its physical appearance is not love. Love is also an exception to some rules. Such as regarding promises, as Pausanias states, “A promise inspired by passion is no promise at all.”

Yet, even today society cannot completely grasp why love happens. Why it may influence a person’s actions so significantly. In whatever form, it remains desirable, and to obtain it is to obtain true happiness.

I believe that our “contemporary world” interpretation of “the true meaning of love” is not completely captured by any single speaker in The Symposium. But we can uncover similarities if we interpret their speeches from a broader perspective.


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