Wednesday, February 14, 2007 02/14/07-A Valentine's Day Symposium

In today's excerpt, Plato writes a dialogue on a symposium, a private banquet, where each guest is asked to give a speech in honor of the god Eros. The guests in this dialogue include Phaedrus, the doctor Eryximachus, the playwright Aristophanes, the poet Agathon, and Socrates:

"Aristophanes [retells the] celebrated fable that human beings were originally joined two at a time to form complete wholes. Overly powerful, these four- legged creatures provoked the suspicion of the gods, who had them sundered to reduce their strength; now each half walks the earth in search of its other. ... It explains our sense of longing and loss, as we wander the earth in search of the one who makes us whole. '[W]here happiness for the human race lies,' Aristophanes concludes, is 'the successful pursuit of love.' Eros is the great benefactor who will '[return] us to our original condition, healing us, and making us blessed and perfectly happy.'

"Socrates maintains that Eros is ... a 'great spirit' who is 'midway between what is divine and what is human,' his ambiguous nature owing to the strange circumstances of his conception. Sired at the birthday party of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, Eros is the child of [his mother] Poverty, who came to the festivities uninvited as a beggar, and [his father] the god Plenty, a welcome guest who passed out there drunk. ... [They produce] a son who is neither 'mortal nor immortal.' Now fully grown, Eros takes after his mother. Constantly in need, he is 'hard, unkempt, barefoot, homeless.' But, like his father, he is 'brave, enterprising and determined.' Having inherited 'an eye for beauty and the good,' Eros continually searches for these two qualities through love, as befits one conceived in the presence of Aphrodite."

Darrin M. McMahon, Happiness, Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006, pp. 33-34.


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