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Andrea Nightingale on Plato

Andrea Nightingale is Professor of Classics and Comparative Literature at Stanford University. Her research interests include Greek literature and philosophy, Hellenistic philosophy, and ecological studies. She is currently researching and writing on the philosophy and literature of ecology. Professor Nightingale recieved her BA in Classics from Stanford University and a BA in Classics and Philosophy […]

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This is KZSU Stanford.
Welcome to entitled opinions.
My name is Robert Harrison.
We're coming to you from the Stanford campus.
You're rather bound to punch on a like a mamba, got your legs, and some flower, buzz my paws and burn them fire and fire.
All you listeners out there who tune into entitled opinions from around the globe of planet earth,
you can't say that I don't love you.
Not when I bring you shows like the one we have on tap for you today.
When her loose gown from her shoulder did fall, and she me cut in her arms long and small,
therewith all sweetly did me kiss, and softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this?"
Well, the gown is falling from our shoulders today, and we're taking off the robes and going to a love fest,
call it a symposium. It is no dream. I lay broad waking.
They flee from me who sometimes did me seek, but thank you to be fortunate.
It hath been otherwise.
What I'm saying essentially is that today entitled opinions sweetly will you kiss.
We have a show for you today on love and beauty and playdough.
Dear heart, please tell me how like you this.
Looks so good. It looks so cool. Your pleasure lives in tooth or pulpit.
These days we tend to think of classical philosophy as a venerable old man possessed of a wisdom
hoori with age, yet when Plato set out to claim for philosophy, the authority that traditionally belong to myth.
One of the biggest problems he faced was philosophy's youth.
I mean it's relatively new status as a discourse.
The Greeks may have been children compared to the Egyptians as a priest, remarks, and Plato's timeees,
but even they were not naive enough to bow to the authority of something as neoteric or
recent in origin as critical reason.
So how did Plato overcome this resistance?
How did he give reason, a credibility he knew it could not achieve on the basis of his reasoning powers alone?
Quite simply he enlisted the primordial powers of mythos on behalf of the logos,
so that the novelty of the latter might repose on while overturning the authority of the former.
In calling on the powers of myth, Plato gave the logos what it lacked,
namely a lofty antiquity.
Only myth has the means to invent antiquities.
While reason projects its legacies into the future and invests its aspirations and things to come,
myth takes the past, the ancient, and the aboriginal into its safekeeping.
Plato knew that if philosophy was to have a future, it had to appropriate,
and not merely repudiate the foundational force of myth.
That's the main reason why Plato's corpus contains a prodigious archive of myths,
some of them traditional, some of them esoteric, others of his own invention.
But it was not simply his deployment of myths that allowed Plato to secure the authority of philosophy
over against the authority of myth.
It was the way he linked his philosophical doctrines to antidiluvian origins.
The pre-incarnate soul, the pre-existing forms, the pre-cosmic demiurge, the pre-fled city of Athens,
these are only some of the unforgettable myths by which Plato affiliated philosophy with a realm of absolute antecedents.
From the matrix of such antecedents come all the fables, allegories, and analogies that still today define the platonic corpus.
The winged soul, the virtuous charioteer, the ascent from the cave, the great ladder of love,
in short, all that is most inspired and divine in that corpus.
The sum total of all these myths add up to one super-mith of reasons, genetic participation,
in the aboriginal transcendence in and through which the world and its universal soul first came into being.
Plato made a philosophy his most sublime myth of all.
Philosophy alone exceeds to the realm of primal origins, in so far as its logos belongs to,
or derives from, the sparks of creation itself.
This logos it's in touch with first things, with prior things, things so prior, or a priori,
that the traditional myths of Helus have no effective recollection of them.
True knowledge is an amnisis or recollection, it is not acquired, but repossessed.
Philosophy is the sole legitimate air of, the only means of repossessing, the lost,
anti-deluvian antiquity of the pre-incarnate soul.
Such is the noble labor of philosophy to move backward, against the grain of time,
against time itself, to the source from which time first sprang into being.
All this is another way of saying that Plato did not simply affect a transition from mythos to logos.
In his ingenious wisdom he made a mythos of the logos, and thereby gave philosophy what it needed the most
if it was to found a traditional full of future, an age as old as the world itself.
I have with me in the studio one of the world's leading scholars of Plato, and the person who probably knows more about Plato's re-appropriation of myth in his founding of Western philosophy.
Her name is Andrea Nightingale, Professor of Classics here at Stanford, and the author of two splendid books on Plato.
Andrea was my guest during the very first season of entitled opinions, a few years back,
when we did a show together on the ancient philosopher Epicurus.
To this day it remains one of the all-time favorite shows of many of our listeners.
I have a feeling we're in for another classic today, as Andrea joins me to talk about Love and Beauty in Plato's great dialogue, the symposium.
Andrea, welcome back to entitled opinions.
Thank you Robert, it's just great to be back.
We don't have the time or the luxury to speak about Plato's corpus in general.
We decided that we're going to focus on the theme of Love and Beauty in the symposium.
It's not the only dialogue of Plato's that talks about Love for sure, but it's the one where the most well-known, so-called platonic doctrine of Love is articulated, especially in the speech of diotema that is reported by Socrates at one of these gatherings.
Why don't we jump right into it and maybe you would like to say something about the dialogue in general and how Plato sets things up here for his articulation of the theory of Love.
Okay, thank you.
Of course, the symposium is one of Plato's most beautiful dialogues and a very literary dialogue.
Basically, it is a symposium, which in the ancient world was a drinking party.
You started with a little bit of food and then you moved into heavy drinking.
And at a traditional symposium, you would have various kinds of intellectuals competing with each other, whether it be quoting poetry or dealing with riddles or philosophical ideas.
This was a traditional thing to do at a Greek symposium, so this dialogue is set as a symposium, and you have to imagine men lying on couches.
And this particular drinking party is a celebration for the victory in a tragic contest at a Dionysian festival of a Greek tragedy in called Adafan.
And he appears in this dialogue.
So let me just set the stage for the characters in the dialogue and then we can sort of move forward into the speeches.
So we have Pausanias and Fadris early on, and these were men who were sort of hanging around with sophists and various intellectuals.
You then have a doctor and a scientist named Eric Simicus, then we move forward to two dramatic playwrights, a very famous comic playwright, Aristophanes, and a tragic playwright. His name is Agothon.
Not so well known today because his plays are not extant, but was certainly a very successful tragic playwright in the late 5th century, and then of course Socrates.
So you have these six people who agree to give speeches on Eros, which is obviously sexual love, and each one is competing with the other to try to give the best speech on Eros what it impacted has on the individual, what impact it has on the society, how various erotic relationships work, and so on.
So each one gives a speech, and then at the very end of the dialogue you have a new speaker, a new person coming in, crashing the party, and his name is Elsobiahides, a famous, famous politician in ancient Athens, and we'll talk about him later.
But certainly the first six speeches are put in orders so that you move to the fourth speeches is the comic speech, then you move to the tragic speech, then you move to Socrates' speech, and we should remember that Plato had attacked comic and tragic playwrights and plays in other dialogues.
And in fact, Aristophony said written a play on, called The Clouds, which was on Socrates, which was actually an attack on Socrates.
So he was Aristophony's in the dialogue who had attacked Socrates, and meanwhile you have this kind of sense that Plato is covertly attacking that kind of drama.
I mean as Robert said, as you said earlier Robert, Plato was appropriating earlier genre and comedy and tragedy both are at work in this dialogue.
Would you agree that this is the most complex dialogue, if not philosophically, dramatically in the sense that it's the one dialogue that where Plato appropriates all the resources of comedy as well as tragedy, myth, and so on.
Absolutely. It is, I mean there are many other fabulous dialogues, but this one has that complexity.
And it also has a kind of drama of interaction between the characters that is substantial, I think, to the message, but we can talk about that later, how the dialogue form, which is actually derivative of tragedy, of drama.
Actually, just to add one little thing, since you mentioned that there's a lot of interaction among the men, at a traditional symposium you would have flute girls.
And at this particular party they decided to send the flute girls away, so it's a kind of all male party, and there's a lot of sort of homoerotic rivalry going on in the dialogue.
So at least within the first six speeches there are no women there, and most of the speeches deal with male, male, love.
In fact, let me ask you, Andrea, because I've always been intrigued by an illusion to Homer at the beginning of the dialogue, and we can set it up later, but Socrates is on his way to Agathons for the symposium, and he runs into one of his kind of sycophantic disciples,
Aristomedes, who, from what we gather, the character portrait of Aristomedes that he follows Socrates around like a dog in a sense, and is just completely worshipful of him.
And Socrates says, "Well, come along with me to this party, two heads are better than one," or I don't know exactly what it says, it says something that, in any case, is an illusion to a scene in Homer when
Dionomides offers to go with Odysseus into the Trojan enemy camp at night time, and he says something like two heads are better than one or one idea comes before the other, if we're two.
And this always struck me as a little signal on Plato's part that Socrates is actually walking into the territory of his enemies.
That's a beautiful point, and I'm glad you brought that up, the enemies being all of the other people.
Well, as you mentioned, Trigidians, comedians, well, there's also materialist philosophers, the Eric Simakas, his name, he's a certain, and then the poets and so forth.
No, actually, I think that's a beautiful reading. They are, to some extent, entering, well, they, Eric Stoff and I was sorry, Socrates, he is entering enemy camp.
And I think he makes it pretty clear that even the way that he talks, he's using, they're supposed to be speeches of praise, right?
And Socrates is saying, you know, I don't really use the discourse of praise, so there is the whole element of a new kind of logos entering into this symposium scene.
And I know we wanted to go in order, but I can't help jumping ahead here when Agathon is the one who gives his speech right before Socrates, and just the one which is the most rhetorically accomplished, and it's speaking of love as the most beautiful God with all the virtues and every kind of poetry.
Every kind of positive quality you can imagine associated with Eros, and then Socrates begins his speech by interrogating Agathon and absolutely demolishing the presuppositions of his speech.
It's a complete victory over a rival, if you want.
Absolutely. And actually, I mean, Agathon's speech is really a kind of lightweight speech to be frank, and it is the case that we also have to add that Agathon was considered to be an absolute,
gorgeous, fairly young man. So there is a kind of, there seems to be some kind of sexual attraction going on here, but in terms of discourse, Agathon gives a pretty light speech, and as you say, Socrates moves into the kind of socratic method, and you know, within a fairly short period of time, he reduces Agathon to admitting that he...
He doesn't know what he's talking about.
Well, the great thing about this symposium are not only the speech of Socrates gives and so forth, but we don't have time to go through them all, but what about Eros Stoffinney's? What an incredibly beautiful myth he offers.
I absolutely love this myth. This is a myth that my students also love and tend to consider the best speech in the dialogue. Let me just outline the speech. It's a myth.
And what you have is a comic poet saying, well, the original human condition was not as it is now.
We were once round beings who had four arms, four legs, two heads, and two sets of genitals. And there were three kinds of beings. One had two male genitals, one had two female genitals, and one had a female and a male genital.
And these beings, these early humans, primordial humans, I guess, were feeling very powerful and were actually attacking the gods.
So the gods were not happy with this and decided that they needed to punish these humans. And so what they do is they send a ballo down and he cuts them in half.
And there's a lot of detail about the body, and of course the body is very important in this dialogue. But you have to sort of imagine two faces that are looking outwards, but when he cuts them in half, he turns the face towards the wound, right?
And then he makes the belly button. And at this point, the half beings, who are the people we are now, basically fall into the condition of longing and loss and lack. And they have a sense of partiality. And so they're hurling themselves upon their other halves, but they stop eating, they stop doing anything and they're dying away.
So the gods then decide, well, we need to do something about this. And at this point they invent sex. They send a polybic down and he moves the genitals from what I think are the hips. It's a little bit unclear towards the front.
And in doing this, he allows these half beings to have sexual intercourse and sexual pleasure. And this is a kind of temporary solution to a much bigger problem, which is the problem of partiality, lack, loss, which is the human condition.
The human, all of us, all humans feel a sense of longing and lack. So there's actually something very philosophical in this speech. And so then at this point, these half beings with their newly situated genitals are allowed to have, they start having sex. And this allows them to do other things, to function, to eat, to do business, etc.
What they really want, of course, is to unite with the other half. And one of my very favorite scenes in the whole dialogue, it's just beautiful, is Hephaistis, the blacksmith god, comes down with his toolkit. And he sees these two half beings making love.
And he says to them, "What is it that you really desire? Would you like me to weld you together?" And the lovers say, "Yes, they want to be welded together so that they can become whole." And of course, if they become whole, then they will stop longing and wanting things.
But the question that Hephaistis asks, "What is it that you really desire? Is the question for this dialogue? What is it that you really desire?" And that is the question that Socrates is going to address in his speech. And I think it is the philosophical, well, one of the key philosophical questions of the dialogue.
So even though this is a kind of mythic portrayal, there's something absolutely beautiful about that speech. But clearly, Aristophany's thinks that what is missing for the human is another human being. And so that other human being would complete you, if indeed you could unite with that person permanently. So, sex is just a temporary measure.
And it's the other half. And I think of all the myths of romantic love in the Western tradition down to our own time, that the Aristophanic story that you've just recapitulated is the one that's most current among a lot of people that you just find that companion or that other side and everything's...
And I'm reading here from the dialogue when he says, "This is Aristophany's, there are people who finish out their lives together and still cannot say what it is that they want from one another." No one would think it is the intimacy of sex. That mere sex is the reason each lover takes so great and deep a joy in being with the other.
It's obvious that the soul of every lover longs for something else. His soul cannot say what it is, but like an oracle, it has a sense of what it wants and like an oracle, it hides behind a riddle.
Suppose the two lovers are lying together and Hephaestus, that's a part of you, he says, come together and said, "Yeah, I want to be whole."
And I think this is important because it establishes already a premise that is taken up in Socrates' speech, and all he said, "We're incomplete. There's a lack of wholeness.
We're basically creatures of longing. The question is, as you exactly put it, what is it that we're really longing for in the erotic experience?" Yeah, it does basically set up Socrates' speech in a beautiful way.
Can you talk a little about Socrates' speech for us?
Well, there's a lot to say, and I'm going to enlist your help with this because what happens in Socrates' speech is...
Socrates' is famous for saying, you know, "I'm not aware of knowing. I don't know anything. I'm not a so-fose, a wise man. I'm a philosopher. I'm a lover of wisdom, but I don't yet have wisdom."
So he basically sets forth a theory of love, but he claims that he has learned this theory from a woman named Diatima, who clearly does have knowledge.
She is a wise woman. She is a priestess from Antonea. We think that she's fictional, at least we have no evidence that she existed.
But Socrates claims that he had a lot of interactions with this woman who taught him this theory of love.
And Diatima is a very sort of interesting figure because she treats him like a schoolboy.
So he says, "Oh, Socrates, I don't know if you're really smart enough to understand this, and are you really listening?"
She's a little bit bossy and didactic in certain ways, but it is very, very interesting that having sent out the flute girls and had all these speeches about primarily about male-male love, that all of a sudden you have this woman at the center of the dialogue
who is the authorial voice, the most authoritative voice, let me put it, articulating this very dense and difficult philosophical theory.
So why do you think Plato opted for this dramatic strategy of having a woman priestess articulate what many people identify as his own theory of love?
I don't have a simple answer for that. First of all, we have to understand that this was a very misogynistic society that we're dealing with.
So it was a very bold move to bring a woman in as an authoritative voice.
And we do know that there were actually women in Plato's schools, so he clearly did believe that women had some women had the intellect to do philosophy.
But my sense is actually that if he was going to invent a someone who could teach Socrates, it couldn't be any ordinary Greek man.
So to some extent he had to reach for a woman and a priestess, and also as we will see there are these key metaphors in the speech dealing with the pregnancy of the soul and so on.
So I think that that also affected his choice.
Definitely. Yeah. So two things before we go into the substance of it, he begins does Socrates before Diotema takes the stage with a myth of the genealogy of Eros.
And Eros, as you said, in the Greek context, implies sexual love. It's a kind of desire that is rooted in sexual compulsion rather than like Phylia, which would be more the love of friendship or family and so forth.
Not to mention Agape, which is the Christian word for a kind of charitable love or something.
Exactly. Yeah.
Eros, he says, and this is where he demolishes Agathon, he said that Eros is not the God who or Deimon who has everything on the country.
He is born of Peña, of poverty and Portos. Portos was his father resourcefulness. Poverty was his mother. So there's something intrinsically poor and scrounging and lacking in his Genesis.
Yeah. I mean, the other speakers had treated Eros as a God, and gods have all good things, gods are wise, etc.
And what Socrates is suggesting through Diotema is that no, Eros is not a God, he's a Deimon. He's in between, his mother was poor, but his father was Poros, right, was wealthy, well off.
So he's in between being sort of poor and rich and he's in between being ignorant and wise. He's in between being ugly and beautiful.
So he's a kind of go-between.
And isn't that in between state, the human condition as well, of being in between a state of being mortal and immortal?
For example, the animals are mortal like humans, but they don't know that they're mortal. They've been better not aware of the gods, whereas we are aware of our own intrinsic limitations.
Even in Aristophanes, no?
So this intermediary condition of Eros is really also reflective of our own actual incomplete and longing for something more than we actually can...
I agree.
I mean, I think this is one of the powerful parts of platonic philosophy is the suggestion that the human soul has this erotic impulse towards something, and you already said in the Aristophanes speech, what is it that we really want?
Not entirely clear, but that the human condition is such that there is this kind of erotic impulse towards something in Plato's view higher, right?
Something a desire not to be to me mortal, so the immortal who wants to be immortal.
So Andrea, turning to Dioteima's speech now, we've...
And by the time we get to it, we've already heard different versions of love, but we know that there's such a thing as physical sexual love, but we also know that Eros is somehow something that inspires people to great deeds of honor and virtue and so forth because they want either to impress their lovers or because it...
So there's a moral level which is acknowledged by previous speakers, and then we kind of get the anti-gets rationally by Socrates and then later Dioteima, but is it fair to say that there is a continuum from the physical to the spiritual and transcendent that is not dichotomous, that physical love is admitted and is legitimate in its own way, but it's just insufficient.
It doesn't take you all the way up the ladder.
It's tricky because when we start talking about the ladder, we're going to look at the wrongs and there's a kind of moment at which you go from the rung of the physical to the rung of the incorporeal and that step is very problematic, but there can be little doubt that in this speech, the very beginning of philosophical love starts with the love of a beautiful body, and that's the beginning.
And that's the beginning. And bodily beauty was... especially the male body was very important for the ancient Greeks. They had beauty contests for men, etc.
So this one does begin with the love of a beautiful body, one beautiful body, and then since we're sort of starting in on the ladder, the second rung would be the realization that there's more than one beautiful body and that you shouldn't be so hung up on.
This one body when there's so many beautiful bodies around...
Try telling that to your girl.
And then you move to the third rung where you fall in love with the beauty of a soul.
Now you could say, well, this is the move from the body from the corporeal to the incorporeal, but still the soul is embodied at this point.
So I still, you know, what we're dealing with is falling in love with a human being who is not just a body, but a body and a soul.
And you're meant to see the beauty in the soul, and he does say at one point ideally the person is both beautiful in body and in soul.
But if the body isn't, you know, beautiful, then a good, beautiful soul is fine.
And the vision of this beauty, seeing this beauty, or sensing this beauty, provokes in the lover a desire to talk.
To talk about virtue and to actually educate his beloved because certainly we're dealing here with a homo-erotic relationship and in the ancient world you had an older male and a younger male.
And the idea here is that falling in love with that younger male and the beauty of that person allows, brings forth these discourses from the lover and he desires to educate his beloved.
So we're still in the realm of just human life, and it's the next rung where you leave the planet as it were.
There's something problematic in that leap.
Well, I mean, I think that it's not so hard for me to understand seeing one beautiful body and then seeing beauty in many, many bodies and then seeing the beauty of a soul.
But then for the next step to decide that, wait a minute, let's see the beauty in laws and in customs and the beauty of justice.
While I do see that justice is a beautiful thing, there does that to me that step is a step where you're moving into the realm of abstraction.
And certainly you're stepping out of the corporeal realm.
So I don't know whether, I mean maybe problematic is not the right word, but that step away from the corporeal world from the human world is a big step.
And there's a lot of discussion in the scholarship as to whether the lover as he ascends the latter because we're only on wrong for here.
Whether he's leaving the beloved behind, saying, well, it was great as long as it lasted, but now I'm up here on wrong for and I really don't need you anymore.
I'm going to become a politician.
And so there is something interesting about a step out of the corporeal realm, which is a crucial step always for Plato, the departure from.
Well, let's let him, let's give him that because otherwise if we were analytic philosophers Andrea, we could sit here for the rest of the hour, nitpicking.
Oh no, no.
It's a legitimate move, but I'm not trying to say it's a legitimate. I think it's just interesting.
No, it is interesting, but in other and Plato probably knew there was something weird about the move, but he needs to get into the realm of abstraction in order to keep this ascent going.
So we're on the fourth rung and we, it even gets more and more disembodied in it.
Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, he's sort of on the fourth rung you're dealing with laws and institutions.
So you're still dealing with things that are happening on earth.
Fifth rung, this lover will see the beauty of various sciences and branches of knowledge.
So think about a rithmatic geometry astronomy, I mean, he doesn't specify, but clearly he's moving.
It's a beauty of knowledge, yes. Yeah. And the idea here is that all of these beauties starting with the beautiful body on rung one are akin to each other.
And while the beauty of justice or the beauty of a mathematical equation may not seem akin to the beauty of a body for Plato, it is.
And you then move up to, I agree with them by the way. Anyway. Actually, no, I do too.
I mean, to me, you know, a beautiful idea is a magnificent thing.
And I take his point. He then moves to the wrong to the sixth rung. And at that point, you're seeing the form of beauty.
And there's this great quote where he uses this metaphor where he says at that point, you're going to see the open sea of beauty, which always reminds me of hitting highway one and seeing the Pacific Ocean.
Exactly. Nice. Nicely put.
So anyway, do you want to talk about the form of beauty? Yes. Yeah, because that's where it gets so that gets so beyond me that.
Yeah, me too.
But apparently, there are no words to describe it. There are no images for it. It's so disembodied and transcendent that it's not for nothing that we have a hard time imagining, right?
It's impossible to imagine it. And I myself don't think that there are really words for it.
I think this is why Plato tends to reach for myth as he moves into the metaphysical realm.
How can you talk about the form of something beautiful that is incorporeal, changeless, eternal.
And at this point, you're thinking, wait. What kind of beauty is this?
Then, obviously for Plato, beauty is inextricably linked with goodness.
So it's important to understand that for Plato when you're looking at the form of beauty, which is reflected in every beautiful thing on earth.
So every beautiful thing on earth is partaking in the form of beauty.
And to some extent, helping us to move upwards if we're willing to do that.
And so to look upon the form of beauty is also to some extent to look at goodness itself.
And certainly for Plato, this is not just an aesthetic experience to see the form of beauty is to see truth and to see a higher reality.
The forms are not ideas. They are realities. They are changeless.
And we have to remember that, of course, the soul, the human soul is a changeable thing.
The human soul is incorporeal, so it's like the forms in that regard.
But it moves and changes.
So the ontology of the soul is, of course, very different from the ontology of the forms.
And one of the things that Plato goes back to again and again is trying to bring the soul into a relationship with the forms.
And actually into a sexual relationship with the forms.
So the idea is that we sexually desire the form of the beautiful to put it really bluntly.
And that that will make us our soul's beautiful.
Well, actually, I'll stop there because I want to talk about the pregnancy metaphors.
But I do too. So could we say, given that at the end there is this perfect coincidence between beauty and the good as well as truth.
It's a kind of trinity that it's all one when you get to this elevation.
Would it be mistading things to say that the beautiful is the kind of radiance of the good or some kind of...
It's kind of appearance in this abstract realm or something.
Well, I don't want to sort of put it quite that way because Plato seems to imagine that the forms are actually different from each other.
And the form of the good is above all the other forms.
So it would be effectively above the form of beauty.
And the form of the good is the sun that illuminates the realm of the forms.
So I'm not so sure about the trinity, but I do want to say that the form of beauty had a special status.
We find that in the fadress the form of the beauty had this kind of luminescent...
When you see it in a high realm, it shines in a way that none of the other forms shine.
And for that reason, beauty on earth has this unbelievable power on human beings,
which other forms do not have. The form of justice does not arrest us the way that something beautiful arrests us.
So yes, I would agree with that one point Robert, that there's something about the form of beauty that has this power, this shining...
Let's go back to the pregnancy image. It's not even an image or an analogy, but it's crucially important to understanding what diotema means by beauty.
Absolutely. I mean, it's...
And answers the question, what do we really long for when we long for something erotically?
That's right. So she having sort of done the whole ladder before she actually gets to the ladder.
She describes the human soul and the soul is crucially important for Plato, and it was very hard for Plato to invent the soul as it were,
because the ancient Greeks did not have a soul body dualism, that they didn't even have the discourse for this.
So he had to sort of carve the soul out from the body, and he basically, of course, is giving all sorts of things to the soul, one of which is erotic desire.
But what diotema says is that all souls are pregnant, and again, a very powerful metaphor here, which suggests that every human soul is an expectant mother,
and is a mother that gives birth, and what does the soul give birth to? It gives birth to discourses and to actions.
So those are the souls' children. So if we want to give birth to good discourses and good actions, we need to be able to see goodness and see beauty, etc.
so that we give birth to good children.
Isn't it also true that we're pregnant in body? Because I'm looking here at the text, and she says all of us are pregnant Socrates, both in body and in soul,
and as soon as we come to a certain age, we naturally desire to give birth. No one can possibly give birth in the presence of anything ugly, only in something beautiful.
So pregnancy is a bodily condition, not a biological pregnancy, but it's that there's something there that wants to be de-duced out of either the body or the soul, and the beautiful has this function of making it happen.
Beauty seems to be playing the role of a midwife, and you're absolutely right to press on the fact that he does.
Look, we're all pregnant in body and in soul. So obviously bodies give birth to bodies and souls give birth to psychic children.
And it's amazing that he reverses because pregnancy precedes intercourse. It's because we find ourselves pregnant that we engage in intercourse, either sexual or intellectual as a means of giving birth.
I know, I love that. I've often pondered the question of, well, in this dialogue, pregnancy is a given, and of course in our minds we imagine that there has to be intercourse before the pregnancy happens, right?
And there's no talk of, I mean if you imagine the soul as a pregnant mother or a pregnant female, because he is using all of the language of female pregnancy, where is the father, right?
And here, there's no talk of that. So I mean, I love your point that even before you have intercourse you already are pregnant. In the Republic Book Six, there's one little passage where Socrates suggests that the soul has sexual intercourse with the forms, the philosophical soul, and gets pregnant that way.
So you have a father figure in the Republic, which is the soul, and how you make love with the forms. I have no idea. But in that scenario there seems to be the suggestion that you get pregnant after the intercourse, right?
But here your point is lovely, that before the intercourse you're already pregnant and you're wanting to get things out. Things want to emerge into the world.
Right. And so if I understand correctly that those people who are pregnant primarily in body are heterosexuals.
And there's a state of being pregnant in soul which is at least associated with homosexuality that is a higher form of love than heterosexual love.
Well, probably. I mean... I mean... I mean, I mean, I mean... I mean, I mean, I mean, I mean, I mean spiritual procreation.
No, I take your point. I think that Plato was, because most of the people doing philosophy were men. And women were generally not educated in this period, so it was hard to imagine a woman being pregnant in soul.
And being a sort of philosophical soul. But, you know, as I said, there were women in Plato's school. So I wouldn't assume that it had to be homosexual. Although the latter of love is clearly a homoerotic relationship from the beginning.
It's a weirdest thing too, because it's the one kind of relationship physically speaking that excludes the possibility of procreation.
So it's a complete appropriation of the feminine...
Yes, it is.
...matricial powers for a exusively male kind of...
No, a lot of feminists get upset by this because they say that, you know, this is an appropriation which is also a kind of rejection of the female.
I myself... I'm a little... I'm so sort of excited about the metaphor itself and given the context and given that there's a sort of female speaker here.
I'm not so sure I see an out and out denigration of the female. I do think that there is a denigration of the physical realm. And in so far as people give birth, you know, but you have a male and a female involved in procreation.
So there is a denigration of the body and of the bodily world.
So we have at least three kinds of lovers. We have those who give birth in...
always in the presence of beauty, but they give birth to real babies.
Then we have those people who are pregnant in Seoul and they give birth to moral virtues.
And that's previous speeches have, you know, praise that thing about love.
But then Socrates or Diantema introduces a third kind of lover who is the lover of knowledge or the lover of ideas.
So, philosopher, as Plato wants to redefine the vocation of philosophy, and this is the ultimate kind of love.
It is the ultimate kind of love. And I think that for Plato, I mean, if I can sort of incorporate other dialogues, I think that he actually thinks that part of human nature is this desire for truth.
And that we have this pre-enconant state, I mean that the soul is immortal and that we've seen the forms in an earlier pre-enconant state.
And having seen those forms, we want to get back to that interaction, if not the intercourse with the forms, which is truly the object of our desire.
Now, Plato is well aware that we have a lot of other desires. He's quite clear on that.
But I think this goes back to the question of what is it you really desire. I think what Plato is saying, or what Diantema is saying,
is, well, if you look at all these other things that you desire, and then when you fulfill that desire, whether it be sex, or, you know, glory, or honor, etc.,
you don't actually end up feeling all that fulfilled. And the reason why is that you have not understood what the true object is of your love.
And the true object is this higher reality. And if you do come into contact with that reality, you will become a happy, blessed individual, and that will in some sense complete you.
Right. That's close to a condition of being God-like as you can get.
Yes. So, you would move from the Philosophils to the sofils at which point you would stop desiring, but that doesn't happen on earth.
But Socrates gives his speech, which is such a, not let's get back to the dramatic context of the dialogue, which is he gives this speech in the words of Diantema, which leaves everyone speechless because everyone is just panting with desire for this abstract idea of the absolute beauty and truth.
And it would seem like he has been the victor over everyone else. He's won the contest, and everything that we really should all go home at this point.
But this weird thing happens, and it's like the party gets crashed by Jim Morrison, you know, alcivities, the drunken reveler, the most good-looking guy, charismatic youth of Athens, aristocratic family.
An amazing, and he's very definitely associated with the figure of Dionysus, I would say.
Absolutely. No question. And in fact, at the beginning of the dialogue, I think Agothon, when he's panting with Socrates, he says to Socrates, let's not argue about it now.
Dionysus will judge our respective claims to wisdom later. And so when alcivity comes in, he comes in there to crown Agothon.
Agothon is just one of the contests, one of his tragedies. No, I mean, you make a beautiful point. I mean, you're at the kind of this level, the sublime level, you know, at the top of the ladder, and at the end of Diantema's speech, and you're being told that, you know, the lover will be immortal, etc.
And if you had ended the dialogue that way, then that would, you know, now you would know, sort of this is where you should end up. Why did Plato decide to bring in the drunken reveler, where the body comes back into the dialogue with vengeance?
You have the the the the partyers have decided before alcivity's arrived not to drink because they'd had too too much drink to drink the night before. So alcivity's arrives and he's being held up by two flute girls.
So the girls arrive back in. He's very, very drunk. And as you pointed out, he was one of the hands and mismen of his times. He's sort of the Maryland Monroe of his day.
And this completely transforms the dialogue because it does bring in that Dionysian element. And some people have argued that, you know, actually there's something very apollonian about the Diantema's speech and now here's the Dionysian aspect, which, and when alcivity's comes, he says, wait a minute, you know, why isn't everybody drinking, you know, and then everybody gets really, really, really drunk.
And so there's this reintroduction. And he has the IV. Yes, he does. And he's in symbol, and he crowns Agathon like Dionysus, but then he sees Socrates. Yeah. Yeah. You had noticed him at first. Yeah. I should say just first of all, the dramatic change is so profound. I mean, I don't want to say that it's a move from the sublime to the ridiculous, but it's the move from the sublime to something very unsublime. Shall we say.
And just a quick word on alcivity's historically, alcivities was a very charismatic man from the upper classes. He was very wealthy and very ambitious for political power. So he was a famous politician, and he was also a general in the Navy.
And he wanted, and this party took place in 416 BCE in the middle of the Peloponnesian war between Athens and Sparta, eventually Athens would lose that war. And we also have to remember that this, so I'm just briefly moving into the kind of historical context here. Two things. One, all of the dialogues that deal with Socrates are haunted by the death and execution of Socrates.
And three ninety-nine BCE. And that death was to some extent linked to the loss of the war by the Athenians, because some people thought that Socrates was teaching certain people, including alcivities, the wrong kinds of views. But anyway, the point is that alcivities was arguing for an aggressive policy to expand the Athenian empire.
And he sort of got up in the assembly, and many people said, you know, why should we go for more war at this point? And he decided, no, we should go over and basically capture Sicily, because the Sicilians seem to want our help, and this would be our chance to go and have a big base there.
So he argues for that, and wins the day, and he's meant to be the general leading the entire expedition. And he gets on the boat and off they go to Sicily. But right before he leaves, there is a huge incident in which during the night a number of men have been sort of rioting in the streets, whether this was a prank, we don't know. But they basically were harming all these religious statues.
The religious statues were Hermes statues, which stood outside of the front door of everybody's house like our mailboxes. Well, instead of a mailbox, you would have a statue of Hermes who would have an erect phallus.
So some group of men had gone and chopped off all the phalluses and the noses. And the Athenians took this very seriously because this is war, and they were a very religious people.
And they discovered after the navy had left for Sicily that alzabides was implicated in this incident. So they decided to call alzabides back to Athens and put him on trial because this is a serious...
In piety, yeah.
It's in piety. So alzabides finds out that he's going to be brought back to Athens, and he knows that he's going to be punished in one way or another.
So what does he do? He goes and flees to Sparta, which is the enemy, and lives there for three years. So he is a traitor to Athens, and eventually this Spartans becomes suspicious and he goes over to Persia, and for a time he's actually fighting on the side of Athens.
But the point is that he was known to be a traitor of Athens. The Athenians lost the battle in Sicily big time. A lot of the Athenians were made into slaves in the stone quarries.
So I mean, this big loss in Sicily, which had been the whole expedition, had been initiated by alzabides, led to with the beginning of the end of the war, and we know that Athens lost.
So a lot of people blamed alzabides for first of all, proposing the expedition and then for fleeing to Sparta.
And by implication they blamed Socrates because Socrates was his teacher and alzabides was completely under the spell of Socrates pedagogy for a while.
Well, I wouldn't say teacher only because Socrates constantly says that he's not a teacher. He says, you know, I don't know anything. This is important. Socrates claims that he doesn't know anything. He's not a teacher.
He's just there to ask questions and to pursue philosophical issues. So there is some sort of pedagogical relationship, but it is the case from what we can tell that it wasn't as though Socrates was, well, maybe we're wrong, but planting ideas into alzabides' minds.
So Socrates was famous for asking questions and getting the other person to answer.
The same time he was accused of corrupting the youth, the Athenian youth, and this dialogue, as you mentioned, takes place fictional. I mean, it fictional. He's 4-16 BC.
That means it's one year before the Sicilian expedition.
So it's actually narrated many years later looking back to this moment and Plato is writing it even at a later date than that.
All in order to maybe give a portrait of what Socrates' real relationship to alzabides was and maybe to ex-cult paint him from this insinuation or direct accusation that the corruption of alzabides, who became a traitor to Athens, was due to the malignant influence of Socrates.
That's certainly part of what's happening here.
The intrusion of alzabides into this party, a lot of things are going on dramatically.
We know that from sobriety we get this drunken revelry, the party degenerates into an orgy from what we can tell.
And you can imagine the Athenian audience reading this dialogue, it's great hilarity that all these guys talking about love in these noble, after our philosophical ways, and then the real truth comes out that it's all about.
So he brings a Dionysian intoxication and ecstasy.
But of course I always find interesting that Diatima's speech about love is also completely intoxicating from a spiritual point of view.
So there's a higher order of Dionysianism in the Platonic doctrine of love that alzabides is almost like a physical version of that.
Yeah, that's interesting. I mean I think to sort of just do a binary opposition of Apollonian, Dionysianism is too simple.
But there's no question that one of the key things that happens in this scene is not just that alzabides is drunk and so on, is that he actually gives a speech praising Socrates and describing his attempt to have sex with Socrates.
And it's an amazing speech where he goes into every detail about how he plotted to get Socrates into bed and they went to the gym together and they wrestled naked and nothing, you know, he was trying to offer Socrates his beauty, his beautiful body and he was very proud of that.
And in return, get Socrates wisdom. And he wanted something that Socrates had that he thought Socrates had and he couldn't get it.
So he ends up actually getting into bed with Socrates and spending an entire night with him and nothing happens.
So Socrates effectively resists Dionysus, Dionysus being also the founding god of Greek tragedy and how do we?
Although he noticed that Socrates is drinking heavily.
He's drinking heavily but he cannot get drunk.
Because he's too drunk on philosophy.
And I think that the only way to overcome a passion is through a stronger passion, not through a resistance.
And it's because Socrates already pre-drunk on something else that he can resist.
And just to add that Socrates clearly did appreciate the beautiful male body.
So he was attracted to very good looking men.
So it's not as though he was walking around with his head in the clouds.
On the contrary, he was...
You can tell that he's very interested in Agathon in this party.
Oh yeah.
So the bodies, what happens is the return of the body and how that interacts with this kind of metaphysical scheme is one of the big questions of the dialogue.
For sure.
And I've always found it very interesting that the dialogue ends with all these people having passed out except for Socrates, Agathon and Aristophanes.
And he's a comedian and the comedian.
And Socrates is getting them both to admit or concede that a good Tragedian can also write equally good comedies.
And both of them kind of nod away and they kind of ascent and they kind of fall asleep, but they go on blackout.
And he's the one who gets up and goes into the dawn, having vanquished all his rivalries.
Also, it was not traditionally Greek tragic playwrights wrote tragedy.
Comic playwrights wrote comedy.
There was so the suggestion that one could do both is really, I think, Plato talking about his own ability.
Well, that's what he's done in the symposium, don't you agree?
Okay. So in what sense is it comic?
Well, you can say it's comic because it ends in this kind of...
The alsabites speeches very, very comic and the Aristophanes speech.
It's comic.
I mean, the tragedy, of course, is the death of Socrates among other things.
And you could also add that alsabites who clearly was so attracted to Socrates and could have become a philosopher because he was a brilliant man, decided to go and be a politician and kind of a politician of the worst kind.
So his lapsing as it were away from philosophy, there's something a little bit tragic about that.
I also think there's something tragic about the teacher, the educator, if he takes Socrates to be one.
And his whole vocation was that of pedagogy of a certain sort.
I know you said he didn't presume to have positive knowledge, but he did presume to be the midwife and bring out.
But if you look at his followers, Aristodemus, this shulis guy who follows him around, always wants to be in his presence.
As if he can absorb the wisdom through osmosis, just being in the physical.
If you look at a paladorus who is the one who tells the story that he heard from Aristodemus, he also following Socrates around.
He's a guy without shoes.
He's always denigrating himself.
And he is a very pathetic figure.
He is.
And alsabites is another one where Plato says so often that knowledge of the good is a sufficient condition for doing the good.
If you know the good, you're going to do the good.
Alsabites is someone who either doesn't get it or who does get it and feels ashamed because although he sees where the good lies, he opts all for something that's not there.
So in the final analysis, there's something tragic, I think about the teacher, the figure of Socrates as a teacher.
Yeah, these kinds of field, I'm certainly in this dialogue, you have enough characters who are not good students as it were.
Well, we come to the end of our hour and you tell me you were going to be very curious what kind of exit music I was going to have for our show.
And I did pick a song for you, which actually your name, I guess, called The Nightingale.
Believe it or not.
And it's, and while the lyrics are difficult to maybe comprehend, I'll just re-song them for our listeners.
But it is a love song and this is where this platonic theory of love that we've been talking about has a whole long history throughout Western culture through the Middle Ages and the whole world.
The Middle Ages and Petrickism and the Renaissance and into popular music.
And here's this little song that says The Nightingale said to me, there's a love meant for me.
The Nightingale, it flew to me and told me that it found my love.
He said, "One day, I'll meet you, our hearts will fly with The Nightingale."
The Nightingale, he told me, "One day you will be with me."
The Nightingale said he knew that your love would find my love, "One day."
My heart flies with The Nightingale through the night all across the world.
I long to see you, to touch you, to love you forever more.
It sounds a little more aerastophanic than...
It sounds beautiful.
Thank you so much.
But we'll take it.
Thanks for coming on.
Thank you.
Thank you.
Thank you.