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Encyclopedia > Symposium (Plato dialogue)
This article is about Plato's dialogue with the title "(The) Symposium". For Xenophon's dialogue with the same title, see Symposium (Xenophon)

Symposium is a Socratic dialogue by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, student of Socrates. The dialogue is notable for Socrates' description of his own teacher, the deeply and broadly learned priestess Diotima. Xenophon (In Greek , c. ... Xenophons Symposium records the discussion of Socrates and company at a dinner given by Callias for the youth Autolycus. ... Socratic dialogue (Greek Σωκρατικός λόγος or Σωκρατικός διάλογος), is a prose literary form developed in Greece at the turn of the fourth century BCE, preserved today in the dialogues of Plato and the Socratic works of Xenophon - either dramatic or narrative - in which characters discuss moral and philosophical problems. ... A philosopher is a person devoted to studying and producing results in philosophy. ... Plato Plato (Greek: Πλάτων Plátōn) (ca. ... This article is about the ancient Greek philosopher, for all other uses see: Socrates (disambiguation) Socrates (June 4, ca. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Symposium (Plato dialogue). ...

A fresco taken from the north wall of the Tomb of the Diver featuring an image of a symposium
A fresco taken from the north wall of the Tomb of the Diver featuring an image of a symposium


Download high resolution version (1393x442, 130 KB)A fresco of a Greek symposium. ... Download high resolution version (1393x442, 130 KB)A fresco of a Greek symposium. ... Originally, the term symposium referred to a drinking party; the Greek verb sympotein means to drink together. The term has since come to refer to any academic conference, irrespective of drinking. ...


From the very start of the dialogue, the reader is made aware that this is no ordinary Socratic dialogue. The cultural elite of Athens are celebrating Agathon, having won the prize for his first tragedy. Our first view of Socrates, as he is joining the second day of revels in the artist's honor, has him washed and primped and "even" wearing shoes. Athens (Greek: Αθήνα, Athína; IPA ) is the capital of Greece, and of the Attica prefecture of Greece. ... Agathon (c. ...

Such celebrations are the occasion of getting drunk and speaking with excessive liberty. Drunkenness, in its most common usage, is the state of being intoxicated with alcohol (i. ...

Dramatis Personæ

The following people feature as talking characters in the Symposium: Phaedrus, Agathon, Eryximachus, Pausanias, Aristodemus, Aristophanes, Alcibiades, Socrates, Diotima, and, in the opening frame-conversation, Apollodorus. Agathon (c. ... Pausanias is the name of several ancient people: Pausanias was a Spartan general of the 5th century BC. Pausanias of Sparta was King of Sparta from 409 BC-395 BC. Pausanias was the servant/lover who assassinated Philip II of Macedon in 336 BC Pausanias, Greek traveller and geographer of... For the 5th century BCE Spartan by the same name, see Aristodemus (Spartan). ... Bust of Aristophanes Aristophanes (c. ... Alcibiades Alcibiades Cleiniou Scambonides (also Alkibiades) (ancient Greek: Αλκιβιαδες Κλεινιου Σκαμβωνιδες)¹ (c. ... This article is about the ancient Greek philosopher, for all other uses see: Socrates (disambiguation) Socrates (June 4, ca. ... It has been suggested that this article or section be merged with Symposium (Plato dialogue). ... Apollodorus was a popular name in the ancient world. ...


Start of the discussion

The beginning of the discussion is dominated by very light-hearted banter and ribbing among the attendees, but as the evening progresses talk turns to the deep subject of Eros. Socratic irony notwithstanding, Plato is not known for using much hilarity in his dialogues. But now even Eros is subjected by most, including Socrates. Eros is the Greek word for (especially) romantic or sexual love. ... Socratic irony is feigned ignorance, and feigned belief that ones interlocutor knows the truth about something, in order to provoke discussion and advance the search for truth. ...

A challenge is presented, and Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes, and Agathon all make speeches of praise pursuant to the challenge. All that remains is for Socrates to give his.

First Socrates wants to interrogate Agathon in his usual manner, arguing somewhat flippantly that Eros is not beautiful. Although the argument is superficially and lightheartedly constructed, some have argued that this is just Plato palming the card; it is the genuine view Socrates has of Eros.

Then comes the buildup to the final climax. Socrates recounts a story: In his youth, the wise priestess Diotima initiated the young Socrates into the Art of Love. Diotima revealed to Socrates that all lusts stem from the will for eternity and immortality through creation of things, even the begetting of children, as this is the only victory over death.

Climax and Counterpoint

Enter Alcibiades. The thoroughly soused Alcibiades saunters in shouting and making a scene. He is wearing garlands of violets, ivy, and ribbons. Inquiring if the feast will allow him to join even in his excessively drunk state, he makes deprecating humor about it. Alcibiades Alcibiades Cleiniou Scambonides (also Alkibiades) (ancient Greek: Αλκιβιαδες Κλεινιου Σκαμβωνιδες)¹ (c. ...

All gladly ask him to join, although Socrates makes a witty remark about what a jealous boy he is, not wanting Socrates to sit next to any other beautiful boy.

Since Alcibiades is new to the party, but has not yet participated in the challenge, they ask his proffer. He, in turn, mocks Socrates, making the biting and indiscreet remark that Socrates will not allow gods or men praised unless it be Socrates himself. Intimating both in context of the party and of the dialogue itself that Socrates did not indeed think much of gods. This is too much for Socrates. He snaps: "Can't you hold your tongue?" This article discusses the term God in the context of monotheism and derived henotheistic forms. ...

Eryximachus defuses the situation by suggesting that Alcibiades indeed praise Socrates.

Although he claims to do so, he wants to do so by simile. Oddly, he launches into a mock-attack on Socrates, under the guise of being an unrequited lover of him. Although Socrates seeks the company of pretty boys, he never consummates a relationship with any of them. He tells how he tried to seduce Socrates, wrestling with him at the gym and so forth, but nothing occurred.

Then comes the climax of the whole dialogue. After a longwinded account of both their (but principally Socrates') wartime bravery, deprecating his own but flattering Socrates, Alcibiades makes the claim that Socrates' only interest in the young and sexy adolescent boys is so he can prevent any other elder tutors having the chance of making love to them. A separate article is about the punk band called The Adolescents. ...

After a bit of light byplay, the dialogue fades away, as a huge crowd of revellers enter, and in the general hubbub, no one can hold sustained and focused conversation. While most of the company falls asleep, Socrates continues to drink and talk. Finally, "having laid them to sleep," he goes to the Lyceum, where he "took a bath, and passed the day as usual." A lyceum can be an educational institution (often a school of secondary education in Europe), or a public hall used for cultural events like concerts. ...


The less controversial salient point of the dialogue is the insight we get both to Socrates' wartime relationship with Alcibiades and his tutoring relationship with Diotima. These are confirmed elsewhere, but here they are expressed as coming from Socrates' and Alcibiades' own mouth, whatever we might think of the reliability of Plato in reporting those speeches.

The more controversial question concerns Socrates' sexual inclinations. The Symposium illustrates the widespread nature of pederasty in ancient Greek society. Not only was it considered admirable, but the Symposium presents an argument that claims a love of a man for adolescent boys to be superior to heterosexuality. Pederasty as idealized by the ancient Greeks, was a relationship and bond between an adolescent boy and an adult man outside of his immediate family. ... Heterosexuality is the scientific name for sexual attraction and/or sexual behaviour between animals of the opposite characteristic sex. ...

It is necessary to be careful when judging the ancients to avoid modern standards. Pederasty among the aristocracy was perfectly acceptable in ancient Greece, and pederasty was institutionalized in Sparta at least. Just as in some other societies, some circles of the middle class were much less liberal in outlook. Sparta (Greek: Σπάρτη) was a city in ancient Greece, whose territory included, in Classical times, all Laconia and Messenia, and which was the most powerful state of the Peloponnesus. ...

See also

Xenophons Symposium records the discussion of Socrates and company at a dinner given by Callias for the youth Autolycus. ... Socrate is a work for voice and small orchestra (or piano) by Erik Satie. ...

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Plato's Ethics: An Overview (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) (16633 words)
Nevertheless, Plato continued to present his investigations as dialogues between Socrates and some partner or partners and preserved this form even in those of his late works where Socrates is replaced by a stand-in and the didactic nature of his presentations is hard to reconcile with the pretense of dialogue.
Plato may or may not yet have envisaged the kind of solution to that problem he is going to present in the Republic: there he establishes a hierarchy among the virtues with wisdom, the only intellectual virtue, as their basis.
Plato himself does not, however, pursue this idea in the rest of the dialogue, but his fanciful ‘geographical’ depiction of the under-, middle-, and upper world in the final myth can be read as a model of such an explanation in mythological garb.
Plato's Political Philosophy [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy] (7226 words)
Plato describes the sophists as itinerant individuals, known for their rhetorical abilities, who reject religious beliefs and traditional morality, and he contrasts them with Socrates, who as a teacher would refuse to accept payment and instead of teaching skills would commit himself to a disinterested inquiry into what is true and just.
Plato’s greatest achievement may be seen firstly in that he, in opposing the sophists, offered to decadent Athens, which had lost faith in her old religion, traditions, and customs, a means by which civilization and the city’s health could be restored: the recovery of order in both the polis and the soul.
Plato’s achievement as a political philosopher may be seen in that he believed that there could be a body of knowledge whose attainment would make it possible to heal political problems, such as factionalism and the corruption of morals, which can bring a city to a decline.
  More results at FactBites »



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