ABSTRACT

THE Symposium is perhaps the most brilliant of all Plato's achievements as a dramatic artist; perhaps for that very reason, it has been worse misunderstood than any other of his writings. Even in its own day it was apparently quite mis­ apprehended by Xenophon, if one may judge by the tone of the very inferior imitation of it in his own piece of the same name. Xenophon was led by the form of the dialogue to suppose that it is meant to deal with the sexual passion and to pit against it a Symposium of his own, which has as its climax a eulogy of the pleasures of married life. Our own and the last generation, with the poison of Romanti­ cism in their veins, have gone farther and discovered that the dialogue anticipates William Blake's " prophecies " by finding the key to the universe in the fact of sex. This means that such readers have sought the teaching of the Symposium in the first instance in the Rabelaisian parody of a cosmogony put very appropriately into the mouth of Aristophanes. The very fact that this famous speech is given to the great γ€λωτοποώς should, of course, have proved to an intelligent reader that the whole tale of the bi-sexual creatures is a piece of gracious Pantagruelism, and that Plato's serious purpose must be looked for elsewhere. Similarly, it is more from the Sym­ posium than from any other source that soul-sick " romanticists " have drawn their glorification of the very un-Platonic thing they have named " platonic love," a topic on which there is not a word in this or any other writing of Plato. We must resolutely put fancies like these out of our heads from the first if we mean to understand what the real theme of the dialogue is. We must remember that Eros, in whose honour the speeches of the dialogue are delivered, was a cosmogonic figure whose significance is hope­ lessly obscured by mere identification with the principle of " sex." We must also remember that the scene is a festive one, and that the tone of most of the speeches is consequently more than half playful, and rightly so, as the gaiety of the company is meant to set off by contrast the high seriousness of the discourse of Socrates. It is there that we are to find Plato's deepest meaning, and when we come to that speech we shall find that the " love " of which he speaks the praises is one which has left sexuality far behind, an amor mysticus which finds its nearest modern counterpart in the writers who have employed the imagery of Canticles to set forth the love of the soul for its Creator.