Eros and the Intoxications of Enlightenment: On Plato's Symposium (SUNY Series in Ancient Greek Philosophy)
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Provocative reinterpretation of Plato’s Symposium.
the self-sacrifice of the lover,10 for the lover is, in effect, an imitator of this god. It is thus through his beautifying or divinizing death that the poet makes possible the beautiful life.11 That is, he makes possible the transformation of the natural desire for self-preservation into the conventional ambition to achieve “immortality” in speech through the praise and honor that are the conventional guerdon of noble self-sacrifice. It is not, then, the gods, but the poets who, through the
on the beloved and fobbing off on him the “willing slavery” that is at present the lot of the lover. Through the appearance of wisdom, he wishes to himself become the object of love. He is the “hubristic” lover of Socrates’ first speech in the Phaedrus who hides himself behind the “moderate” speeches of moral virtue and proves to be their inner core.13 On the other hand, he wishes to convince others, and perhaps primarily himself, that his erotic desires are not simply sordid, but have about them
serial adulterers (191d–e) and Aristophanes might be thought to suggest that, rather than a particular individual being the specific complement to our nature, eros is directed simply to the generality of the sex toward which we happen to be inclined—homosexuals to the same and heterosexuals to the opposite sex. Erotic attraction, by this account, would be perfectly generic and the belief that we are destined for a particular man or woman a wholly empty one. But this would fail to explain our
tyranny, a “symposium” in which all are drunk and the drunkest of the drunkards is leading. To understand the significance of this suggestion, it is necessary to turn to the discussion of symposia and drunkenness in the first book of the Laws. Here the Athenian stranger, in explaining the truth of drunkenness and its effects, introduces an image of man in the form of a “divine puppet” (644d). He argues that the strings that pull this puppet and cause its motions are of two sorts: strong cords of
himself is to Helen: he alone can see beneath Socrates’ surface. Yet the comparison with Odysseus—a comparison Socrates himself deems apt (198c)—subverts Alcibiades’ claim to have found a god beneath Socrates’ satyr-like exterior: though Helen and her husband Menelaus achieve and embrace the immortality that Hector and Achilles sought, Odysseus is the one man whose choice is to be a human being rather than a god.36 The representative of mind in Homer knows that mind and an inhuman perfection are