Plato’s Symposium is a product of its epoch, which highlights the major philosophical aspects of love. In fact, it is a constructed as a speeches made by prominent philosophers who gathered to dispute a certain concept and compete in eloquence and persuasion skills. In terms of Athenian history, it reveals a picture of the intellectual life of the time, the major values and beliefs. It covers the cultural heritage of Ancient Greece starting with mythology and gods’ worship to the place of love in society. Besides, it explores the very practice of symposium, which was a popular pastime among the educated upper-class.
Several speakers change each other in the course of the text in order to present their point of view about the nature of eros. Phaedrus starts by praising the role of Eros as the most respectable and powerful gods. He believes that love is more than just a feeling between two people, and claims that it makes them better, braver and more sacrificial. This growth of morality is highly approved by gods. In this speech, as well as in the following ones, love between a man and a woman, as well as love between two men is meant. Athenian society was mostly bisexual, as people did not draw a borderline between intersexual and same sex love.
Moreover, some of the speakers in Symposium claim that love between men is in all ways higher and more divine than love between a man and a woman. This statement is not accidental as it reflects the historical practice that was common for Athens. Thus, Aristophanes justifies this by telling the myth about androgens, which resulted in splitting one creature into two halves. As a result, Zeus constructed the separated creatures in the way that they could get pleasure from homoerotic relationships, although children could be born only by means of heterosexual relationships. Pausanias makes this point even more extreme by claiming that there are two types of love: Heavenly and Common. Common love is typical for people who are not choosy about the object of their love, and it does not matter for them if their partner is male or female. Profit and petty interest in the essence of such people decision, so this love is not true. However, he believes that only love between men is pure and divine, but only in case when two partners are adult and when both of them are morally mature.
Finally, Socrates deviates from discussing love in this perspective; instead, he explores the origin of Eros. He denies the beauty and perfection of this god, stating that he is poor and ugly. However, his main feature is his strive to reach the beauty which he sees around. This sincere desire makes him possess supernatural power. He is a philosopher and mediator between people. According to Socrates, the one who wants to reach the beauty, can reach happiness as well. This is why Eros is so important, as he can lead a person to happiness. Besides, he can guarantee eternal life through child birth.
Thus, Symposium is a historical work that reflects the epoch’s traditions and beliefs. First of all, it gives a few viewpoints that serve as a basis of Western philosophy about love. Secondly, it provides information about the practice of symposia, which were common within some circles of educated citizens, and were a way of promoting philosophy. Finally, it reveals an attitude of Athenians to the issue of gender and love. As it is clear from the text as a historical evidence, homosexual and bisexual relationships were not only welcome, but in some cases considered higher than heterosexual ones.
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