The Symposium by Plato

details
Title: The Symposium.
Writer(s): Plato.
Translator(s): Christopher Gill & Desmond Lee.
Publisher: Penguin Books.
Format: Paperback.
Release Date: May 30th, 2006 (First Published -380).
Pages: 128.
Genre(s): Philosophy, Classics, Non-Fiction.
ISBN13:  9780143037538.
My Overall Rating: ★★★★☆.

thoughts

What is Love? That is a question that we continuously try and answer in our life and it is a challenge bestowed upon humans to come to a common consensus in regards to what it is. After all, there’s nothing more versatile than love itself, taking on forms that we sometimes never knew existed until we truly felt it in every fiber of our body. But what makes it so special? Why is it so often sought, so often given when we least expect it? It might, in fact, be one of the many experiences in life that can only be understood once facing it, once you’re prompted to go up against it toe-to-toe, stripped down to your raw emotions and instincts, nothing but the heart and mind trying to come to terms with how they can coexist. What if our great founders of Western philosophy had a go at explaining it all to us? What would that give? Maybe much more than we would’ve expected from them, even when they are drunk with wine and inclined towards friendly mockery.

What is The Symposium about? This is Plato’s retelling of a dialogue that occurred during a banquet/symposium hosted by the tragic poet Agathon. Narrated by Apollodorus to an unknown individual, this piece exposes various points of view of several key historical characters, from Alcibiades to Socrates, on numerous themes as they philosophize and offer unparalleled wisdom, sometimes based on Greek mythology itself, to enlighten each other. However, the heart of their discourse was dictated by Phaedrus’ proposal to give each of them the opportunity to deliver a speech in praise of the god of Love (Eros), allowing them to openly reflect on their understanding of the nature of love. This edition also includes chapters on the allegory of the cave and the divided line which are both found in Plato’s The Republic.

While included extracts on the allegory of the cave was a refreshing reminder of the role of perception and the comfort of a known reality to man, it is the tale of the banquet that remains the most fun and central discourse throughout this philosophical text. The contextual environment in which takes place this exchange allows for some very inspiring and wholly admiring thoughts on the nature of love. How these men conceive Love paves the way for some fascinating reflections, including the entertaining story regarding Zeus’ role in our eternal search for love or the distinction between Common Love from Heavenly Love. It is upon Socrates’ intervention to express the possibility of Love being a spirit rather than a God that the conversation shifts towards much more logical bases. His argumentation structure, highly influenced by notable syllogisms, also reminds us why he remains one of the greatest philosophers known to man.

The characterization that bleeds through this banquet is also outstanding. If you’ve never heard of these Greek figures, you’ll discover that their sense of humour, brimming with sarcasm, comes with their high intellect and tendency towards logic, wisdom, and tragedy. Socrates was a surprise, in particular, displaying a certain charisma in his approach to meticulously destroy other arguments, to never give straight answers when the subject of the matter is still too complex for mankind, and to continuously question his fellow comrades’ statements to make them realize the flaws in their arguments. The way he simply leads them into always agreeing with him is divine and really contributes to making his persona so untouchable. As previously mentioned, the format of a banquet really allowed this discourse between these fellows to be much more accessible and amicable.

The Symposium is an insightful intellectual offering on the subject of love, desire, beauty, knowledge, and good, through affable banter between notable men in Ancient Greece.


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49 thoughts on “The Symposium by Plato

  1. Great review, shows there’s still plenty to be found in our founding fathers’ thoughts. I always found it difficult to read Plato, I’m used to having an author explaining his views for me to analyze and absorb or reject, dialogues demand different kind of reading…

    Liked by 3 people

      1. As a modern reader I couldn’t help but see The Republic as proto-totalitarian… I definitely preferred Aristotle’s political writings.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Wonderful review as always. I have to admit though, this book doesn’t fully sound like my cup of tea. That said I’m always willing to try out stuff, so I never say never😊 (Even though, grmbl, grmbl, love has never been really kind to me😂)

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I absolutely love this review, Lashaan. Judging from the little I’ve read of The Republic, Plato is not easy to read, but you are probably right about the format of a banquet making it a bit more accessible. I definitely want to read this at some point, but still haven’t given up on The Republic yet. Also, I completely agree with your take on Socrates – I’ve always found his approach extremely appealing.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Definitely a vast subject to be contained in a mere 128 pages 😀

    It doesn’t help that english has made “love” this catchall word we use both about food, entertainment, people and God. If you “love” ketchup in the same way as you love God, well, you’re in trouble 😉 I wish we still had different words like they did in Plato’s time…

    Liked by 3 people

  5. This sounds like a work worth reading. I keep meaning to read Plato and Socrates, but I don’t believe I’ve read much of either yet, perhaps just a little in school. I’ll have to check my shelves, I think I remember having something by one of them.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. It’s extraordinary to learn that such a classic work, and one dedicated to examining a many-layered subject, would be laced with humor and lightness, turning what might have been a pedantic dissertation into an intriguing discussion…
    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great review!!! I read this a few years ago, and fully agree with everything you say (though I could never have said it so well). I was happily surprised by the humour and ‘romance’ between these men, and found some of their ideas on love to be very interesting. Especially the one of everyone trying to find their other half was lovely (and I always feel very clever when I recognize it being referenced/quoted).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much! I’m sure you could’ve said it even better! 😉 The romance was actually funny and truly unexpected! I had to double-check if I read it right too hahaha And the Zeus story about finding each other was so fascinating! If there’s anything I’d love to believe, it would be that. 😛

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Fantastic review Lashaan! I’m pretty sure I’ve never read this one but I remember reading other pieces by Plato in philosophy classes. Though I didn’t love it at the time, I would, I think, gladly read them again today, in a different context 😊 Also, I feel like the banquets, parties and conversations they had in that time always seem super fun and interesting ! 😂 Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much, Juliette! I first encountered him in my philosophy classes too and have learned a bunch of specific things that the teacher probably extracted from these books (e.g. cave allegory). I have too much fun going through them with my current 26 year old mindset though and I think it would be the same for you too. 😉 Thanks for reading! 😀

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Immediately adding this to my tbr. The setting of it sounds so simple yet so engaging and I think spotlighting the many interpretations of love is so fascinating. The fact the characterizations bleed into the story just add that additional layer to what already sounds like a brilliant setting.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad to hear your interest for this one, Lois! And that’s exactly why I think it’s a wonderful philosophical piece that anyone can pick up and read too. So much to say on love in so little words by these dudes! 😀 Thank you so much for taking the time to read this! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I think it could help a lot of people to look into these kinds of philosophical discussions around subjects we’re confronted to so often in our life. You could learn so much, without necessarily agreeing with what’s said. Thanks for reading, Goldie! I appreciate it. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  10. “After all, there’s nothing more versatile than love itself, taking on forms that we sometimes never knew existed until we truly felt it in every fiber of our body.”

    Is this a review? Or is it a work of art? Hmmm 🤔🤔 I am confused! And also IN LOVE WITH THIS SO MUCHHHH!! 🥺😍😍🥺🥺🥺🥺🥺😍😍😍😍😍 God! This review reminded me of how long it has been since I caught up with all your awesome postsss!!! WHHSKAHWKJSKSHSNSJJSJS LOOOOVED THIS SO MUCH, Lashaan! 😍😍😍😍

    You wait here while I go buy The Symposium, alright?! WAIIIIITTTT….

    Liked by 2 people

  11. This sounds excellent – and outside of something I would normally read for sure. I love the conversational aspect to the whole thing. Plus I think we could all do with spending some time dwelling on the concept of love right now

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Fantastic review, Lashaan!! 😍😭 You should definitely talk about love 🥰 I’m pretty sure I haven’t read this one but it sounds really good! I actually really liked reading Greek philosophers in school! Not that I have read plenty of them, but the 2-3 occasional mandatory books were quite cool! 😂

    Liked by 2 people

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