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The Dialectical Interchange between Agathon and Socrates: Symposium 198b–201d

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 May 2015

T. Brian Mooney*
Affiliation:
Deakin University

Extract

In recent years philosophers working within the field of Platonic studies have begun to stress the relationship between form and content in Plato’s works. This ‘revelation’ in its turn has led to a richer understanding of Platonic texts; no longer (or at least not so often) do we find a Socratic argument excised from its dramatic context and syllogistically and analytically examined. Analysis, of course, can never be divorced from philosophy but with respect to the corpus Platonicum philosophical analysis has been supplemented by a sensitivity to the denouement of an argument, in other words, the dramatic context.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Australasian Society for Classical Studies 1994

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References

1 See, for example, Gadamer, H.G., Dialogue and Dialectic: Eight Hermeneutical Studies on Plato, trans. Smith, P.C. (New Haven 1980),Google Scholar originally in German (Hamburg 1968); Nussbaum, M.C., The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (Cambridge 1986)Google Scholar; Lycos, K., Plato on Justice and Power. Reading Book I of Plato’s Republic (London 1987)Google Scholar. It should be noted that the fault criticised is peculiar to philosophers and is not to be found so readily among classicists.

2 I have in mind here those commentators who have claimed that Plato’s theory of eros in the Symposium cannot accommodate a love of persons as ends in themselves. Such commentators, I suggest, have failed to pay sufficient attention to the very specific focus of Plato’s theory of eros in this work.

3 Line numbers in this paper refer to the Loeb edition (London 1967), translated by W.R.M. Lamb.

4 It will be noted that the apparent contradiction about knowledge of ta erotika between 198dl and 177d7-e2 can be solved by pointing out that the former passage emphasises not knowledge about love but rather knowledge of the proper methodology of encomia.

5 ‘… picking out the fairest of the facts (about eros) to present these in the best manner’.

6 ‘So come now, complete your beautiful and magnificent description of Love, and tell me this: Are we so to view his character as to take Love to be love of some object, or of none?’ (Loeb).

7 ‘My question is not whether he is love of a mother or a father—how absurd it would be to ask whether Love is love of mother or father!—but as though I were asking about our notion of ‘father’, whether one’s father is a father of somebody or not.’ (Loeb).

8 To the best of my knowledge very few commentators have recognised the distinction between relational and intentional aspects of love in interpreting Plato, without conflating the two. Allen and Morgan are exceptions. See Allen, R.E., ‘A Note on the Elenchus of Agathon: Symposium 199201Google Scholar’, Monist 50 (1966) 460-3CrossRefGoogle Scholar, and Morgan, D.N., Love: Plato, the Bible and Freud (New Jersey 1964)Google Scholar. This is all the more surprising since it is a regular feature of Socratic procedure to begin by drawing attention to the formal or grammatical logic of concepts. It is doubly surprising given the fact that such a distinction sheds light on the myth of the birth of eros and also on interpretations about the nature of eros at the apex of ascent.

9 See my Plato’s Theory of Love in the Lysis: A Defence’, The Irish Philosophical Journal 7 (1990), 131-59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

10 I have chosen the neologism ‘metaxic’ rather than modern equivalents such as ‘medial’ or ‘intermediate’ because of the richness of its semantical range. On this range see Voegelin, E., Order and History, 3: Plato and Aristotle (Baton Rouge 1959).Google Scholar

11 The Symposium of Plato, edited by Brentlinger, J. (Cambridge, Mass. 1970) 215 n .4.Google Scholar

12 Rosen, S., Plato’s Symposium (New Haven 1968) 215 n.58.Google Scholar

13 Bury, R.G., The Symposium of Plato (Cambridge 1932) xxxvi-vii.Google Scholar

14 Taylor, A.E., Plato: the Man and His Work (London 1937 4) 223Google Scholar. It has been suggested to me by a reader that Taylor does not conflate desire and eros but instead correctly includes the former in the latter. Taylor’s point might well be true within general Greek usage but is not sufficient for interpreting Plato. It misses out on the conceptual extensions of the term in Plato which allow eros, for example, to be a relation which exists cosmologically and does not, it would seem, exhibit desire. Nor does it account for the eros of the teacher who does not quite fit the desirous model.

15 I would like to thank an anonymous referee for this journal for helping me to clarify this point.

16 ‘“Not as a likelihood”, said Socrates, “but as a necessity, consider if …”‘ (Loeb).

17 There is an implicit distinction between boulesis and epithumia at this point in the Symposium. However, it is not spelt out, a fact which, I suggest, gives further weight to my argument that the major focus of the Symposium is not upon eros the relation, eros the lover or eros the loving, but rather eros the object of love.

18 It is true that the dei here is an editorial conjecture; however, it fits well with the transcending perspective for which I am arguing.

19 See Price, A.W., Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford 1989) 16Google Scholar; Taylor (n.14 above) 223; Nygren, A., Agape and Eros (Philadelphia 1953) 176Google Scholar; Cummings, P.W., ‘Eros as Procreation in Beauty’, Apeiron 10 (1976) 24CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Cummings in fact qualifies the sense of possession.

20 “Then if Love lacks beautiful things, and good things are beautiful, he must lack good things too.’ (Loeb).

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