Plato  
Symposium
TIPS FOR READERS

When I imagine the
words of Plato, I
inevitably hear them
in the magisterial voice
of the great
Benjamin
Jowett.   If you are
looking for a single
volume edition of
Plato, the
Hamilton and
Cairns collected works of
Plato comes highly
recommended.  Many of
his works can also be
downloaded from online
resources.

A MODERN TWIST . . .

In 1845, Soren
Kierkegaard recreated
the Socratic drinking
party symposium, at
which five aesthetes offer
their modern
philosophies of love.  
The event is
commemorated in his
book
Stages on Life's
Way.
Today the attendees of a "symposium" expect a sober,
academic event, but for Plato the terms meant a drinking
party (the name comes from the Greek verb
sympotein
signifying "to drink together").   Plato's
Symposium captures
the informal ambiance of such events, but combines it with a
series of philosophical reflections on the nature of love.  
Thinkers as diverse as
Lacan and Leo Strauss have used this
work as a touchstone for their own preoccupations on the
topic.  Here Plato presents a framework that continues to
influence our thinking today.  This dialogue is the source of
our concept of "Platonic" love, but it also deals with several
other aspects -- heroic, profane, mythical -- of love, as
offered in a series of
discourses by the seven participants.  
This dialogue is set at a banquet hosted by the tragedian
Agathon to celebrate his victory at a dramatic competition,
and is especially interesting for its inclusion of historical
figures Alcibiades and
Aristophanes (who ridiculed Socrates
in his play
The Clouds). Yet Plato himself is something of a
playwright in this dialogue.  He has created a memorable
setting and tone for his dialogue which has helped establish
it as more than a dry treatise, but rather a spirited and
convivial give-and-take that conveys the essence of
philosophy as a social
enterprise.  

WEB RESOURCES

The Jowett translation of Symposium is available here

Why read Aristophanes' famous speech from Symposium
when you can
watch it on YouTube instead

Students may want to check out this
useful lecture on
Symposium by Emil Piscatelli

Plato's theory of love outlined here