In this episode of the Philosophy Hour at Literary Tales we examine the symbolism, mythology, and esoteric reading of Plato’s Symposium – revealing that Plato has much more in common with the “poets” than the “philosophers.”

Chaos c.1875-82 by George Frederic Watts 1817-1904
George Frederic Watts, “Chaos,” 1882. Chaos was the traditional understanding of the cosmos (revisited again by Plato in the Timaeus) in pre-Socratic Greece. Although a few pre-Socratic philosophers posited a rational and ordered cosmos, the reality of Greek cosmogony is best seen in Hesiod’s Theogony who is alluded to and referenced by the various speakers throughout the Symposium. At the core of the Symposium is the question whether Eros is intrinsically chaotic and destructive, as revealed by Aristophanes, or whether Eros is a unitive and harmonious force. Perhaps both?
Cruikshank, George, 1792-1878; Venus Rising from the Froth of the Sea
George Cruikshank, “Venus Rising from the Froth of the Sea.” Love is the supposed theme of the Symposium, and who better represented love than the goddess Aphrodite (Latinized, Venus). However, Aphrodite isn’t the god whom the speakers reference. They all, instead, reference the Hesiodic primordial Eros — the fourth oldest of the primordial deities according to Hesiod’s Theogony.
Eros
A depiction of the god Eros on a Greek vase. Eros is the central theme of Plato’s dialogue, the Symposium. Through the various speakers, however, we have competing views of Eros and the perennial question: What is Love?
Symposium
Anselm Feurbach, “Plato’s Symposium,” 1869. Note the explicit erotic and sensual aesthetic to the painting, meant to convey the erotic and sensual nature of a “symposium” and the theme of Plato’s dialogue.
Alcibades_being_taught_by_Socrates,_François-André_Vincent
François-André Vincent, “Alcibiades Being Taught by Socrates,” 1776. The famous and infamous Athenian soldier-statesman Alcibiades, a former student of Socrates, appears late in the dialogue as a judge.

 

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