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By Allan David Bloom
University of Chicago PressCopyright © 2001 Allan David Bloom
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Apollodorus. In my opinion, I am not unprepared for what you ask about; for just the other day--when I was on my way up to town from my home in Phaleron--one of my acquaintances spotted me a long way off from behind and called, playing with his call: "Phalerian," he said. "You there, Apollodorus, aren't you going to wait?" And I stopped and let him catch up. And he said, "Apollodorus, why, it was just recently that I was looking for you; I had wanted to question you closely about Agathon's party--the one at which Socrates, Alcibiades, and the others were then present at dinner together--to question you about the erotic speeches. What were they? Someone else who had heard about the party from Phoenix the son of Philippus was telling me about it, and he said that you too knew. As a matter of fact, there wasn't anything he could say with certainty. So you tell me, for it is most just that you report the speeches of your comrade. But first," he said, "tell me, were you yourself present at this party or not?" And I said, "It really does seem as if there were nothing certain in what your informant told you, if you believe that this party which you are asking about occurred so recently that I too was present.""That is indeed what I believed," hesaid. "But how could that be, Glaucon?" I said. "Don't you know that it has been many years since Agathon resided here, but that it is scarcely three years now that I have been spending my time with Socrates and have made it my concern on each and every day to know whatever he says or does? Before that, I used to run round and round aimlessly, and though I believed I was doing something of importance, I was more miserable than anyone in the world (no less than you are at this moment), for I believed that everything was preferable to philosophy." And he said, "Don't mock me now, but tell me when this party did occur." And I said, "When we were still boys, at the time of Agathon's victory with his first tragedy, on the day after he and his choral dancers celebrated the victory sacrifice." "Oh," he said, "a very long time ago, it seems. But who told you? Was it Socrates himself ?""No, by Zeus," I said, "but the same one who told Phoenix. It was a certain Aristodemus, a Kydathenean, little and always unshod. He had been present at the party and, in my opinion, was the one most in love with Socrates at that time. Not, however, that I have not asked Socrates too about some points that I had heard from Aristodemus; and Socrates agreed to just what Aristodemus narrated.""Why, then," Glaucon said, "don't you tell me? The way to town, in any case, is as suitable for speaking, while we walk, as for listening."
So as we walked, we talked together about these things; and so, just as I said at the start, I am not unprepared. If it must be told to you as well, that is what I must do. As for me, whenever I make any speeches on my own about philosophy or listen to others--apart from my belief that I am benefited--how I enjoy it! But whenever the speeches are of another sort, particularly the speeches of the rich and of moneymakers--your kind of talk--then just as I am distressed, so do I pity your comrades, because you believe you are doing something of importance, but in fact it's all pointless. And perhaps you, in turn, believe that I am a wretch; and I believe you truly believe it. I, on the other hand, do not believe it about you, I know it.
Comrade. You are always of a piece, Apollodorus, for you are always slandering yourself and others; and in my opinion you simply believe that--starting with yourself--everyone is miserable except Socrates. And how you ever got the nickname "Softy," I do not know, for you are always like this in your speeches, savage against yourself and others except Socrates.
Apollodorus. My dearest friend, so it is plain as it can be, is it, that in thinking this about myself as well as you I am a raving lunatic?
Comrade. It is not worthwhile, Apollodorus, to argue about this now; just do what we were begging you to do; tell what the speeches were.
Apollodorus. Well, they were somewhat as follows--but I shall just try to tell it to you from the beginning as Aristodemus told it.
He said that Socrates met him freshly bathed and wearing fancy slippers, which was not Socrates' usual way, and he asked Socrates where he was going now that he had become so beautiful.
And he said, "To dinner at Agathon's, for yesterday I stayed away from his victory celebration, in fear of the crowd, but I did agree to come today. It is just for this that I have got myself up so beautifully--that beautiful I may go to a beauty. But you," he said, "how do you feel about going uninvited to dinner? Would you be willing to do so?" ?
"And I said," he said, "'I shall do whatever you say.'"
"Then follow," he said, "so that we may change and ruin the proverb, 'the good go to Agathon's feasts on their own.' Homer, after all, not only ruined it, it seems, but even committed an outrage [hybris] on this proverb; for though he made Agamemnon an exceptionally good man in martial matters, and Menelaus a 'soft spearman,' yet when Agamemnon was making a sacrifice and a feast, he made Menelaus come to the dinner uninvited, an inferior to his better's."
He said that when he heard this he said, "Perhaps I too shall run a risk, Socrates--perhaps it is not as you say, but as Homer says, a good-for-nothing going uninvited to a wise man's dinner. Consider the risk in bringing me. What will you say in your defense? For I shall not agree that I have come uninvited but shall say that it was at your invitation."
"With the two of us going on the way together," he said, "we shall deliberate on what we shall say. Well, let us go."
He said that once they had finished their conversation along these lines, they went on. And as they were making their way Socrates somehow turned his attention to himself and was left behind, and when Aristodemus waited for him, he asked him to go on ahead. When Aristodemus got to Agathon's house, he found the door open, and he said something ridiculous happened to him there. Straight off, a domestic servant met him and brought him to where the others were reclining, and he found them on the point of starting dinner. So Agathon, of course, saw him at once, and said, "Aristodemus, you have come at a fine time to share a dinner. If you have come for something else, put it off for another time, as I was looking for you yesterday to invite you but could not find you. But how is it that you are not bringing our Socrates?
"And I turn around," he said, "and do not see Socrates following anywhere. So I said that I myself came with Socrates, on his invitation to dinner here."
"It is a fine thing for you to do," Agathon said, "but where is he?" "He was just coming in behind me. I am wondering myself where he might be." "Go look, boy," Agathon said, "and bring Socrates in. And you, Aristodemus," he said, "lie down beside Eryximachus."
And he said the boy washed him so he could lie down; and another of the boys came back to report, "Your Socrates has retreated into a neighbor's porch and stands there, and when I called him, he was unwilling to come in."
"That is strange," Agathon said. "Call him and don't let him go."
And Aristodemus said that he said, "No, no, leave him alone. That is something of a habit with him. Sometimes he moves off and stands stock still wherever he happens to be. He will come at once, I suspect. So do not try to budge him, but leave him alone."
"Well, that is what we must do, if it is your opinion," he said Agathon said. "Well now, boys, feast the rest of us. Though you always serve in any case whatever you want to whenever someone is not standing right over you, still now, in the belief that I, your master, as much as the others, has been invited to dinner by you, serve in such a way that we may praise you."
After this, he said, they dined; but Socrates did not come in, and though Agathon often ordered that Socrates be sent for, Aristodemus did not permit it. Then Socrates did come in--he had lingered as long as was usual for him--when they were just about in the middle of dinner. Then he said that Agathon, who happened to be lying down at the far end alone, said, "Here, Socrates, lie down alongside me, so that by my touching you, I too may enjoy the piece of wisdom that just occurred to you while you were in the porch. It is plain that you found it and have it, for otherwise you would not have come away beforehand."
And Socrates sat down and said, "It would be a good thing, Agathon, if wisdom were the sort of thing that flows from the fuller of us into the emptier, just by our touching one another, as the water in wine cups flows through a wool thread from the fuller to the emptier. For if wisdom too is like that, then I set a high price on my being placed alongside you, for I believe I shall be filled from you with much fair wisdom. My own may turn out to be a sorry sort of wisdom, or disputable like a dream; but your own is brilliant and capable of much development, since it has flashed out so intensely from you while you are young; and yesterday it became conspicuous among more than thirty thousand Greek witnesses."
"You are outrageous, Socrates," Agathon said. "A little later you and I will go to court about our wisdom, with Dionysus as judge, but now first attend to dinner."
After this, he said, when Socrates had reclined and dined with the rest, they made libations, sang a song to the god and did all the rest of the customary rites, and then turned to drinking. Then Pausanias, he said, began to speak somewhat as follows. "All right, men," he said. "What will be the easiest way for us to drink? Now I tell you that I am really in a very bad way from yesterday's drinking, and I need a rest. I suspect many of you do too, for you were also here yesterday. So consider what would be the easiest way for us to drink."
Aristophanes then said, "That is a good suggestion, Pausanias, to arrange our drinking in some easier way, for I too am one of yesterday's soaks."
Eryximachus, he said, the son of Akoumenos, heard them out and then said, "What a fine thing you say. But I still have need to hear from one of you--from Agathon--how set he is on heavy drinking."
"Not at all," Agathon said, "nor do I have the strength."
"We seem to be in luck," Eryximachus said, "--myself, Aristodemus, Phaedrus, and those here--if you who have the greatest capacity for drink have now given up, for we are always incapable. And I leave Socrates out of account--as he can go either way, he will be content with whatever we do. Now, since in my opinion none of those present is eager to drink a lot of wine, perhaps I should be less disagreeable were I to speak the truth about what drunkenness is. For I believe this has become quite plain to me from the art of medicine. Drunkenness is a hard thing for human beings; and as far as it is in my power, I should neither be willing to go on drinking nor to advise another to do so, particularly if he still has a headache from yesterday's debauch."
"Well, as for myself," he said Phaedrus the Myrrhinousian said, interrupting, "I am used to obeying you, particularly in whatever you say about medicine; and now the rest will do so too, if they take good counsel."
When they heard this, all agreed not to make the present party a drinking bout, but for each to drink as he pleased.
"Since, then, it has been decreed," Eryximachus said, "that each is to drink as much as he wants to, and there is to be no compulsion about it, I next propose to dismiss the flute girl who just came in and to let her flute for herself, or, if she wants, for the women within, while we consort with each other today through speeches. And as to what sort of speeches, I am willing, if you want, to make a proposal."
All then agreed that this was what they wanted and asked him to make his proposal. Eryximachus then said, "The beginning of my speech is in the manner of Euripides' Melanippe, for the tale that I am about to tell is not my own, but Phaedrus' here. On several occasions Phaedrus has said to me in annoyance, 'Isn't it awful, Eryximachus, that hymns and paeans have been made by the poets for other gods, but for Eros, who is so great and important a god, not one of the many poets there have been has ever made even a eulogy? And if you want, consider, in their turn, the good Sophists, they write up in prose praises of Heracles and others, as the excellent Prodicus does. Though you need not wonder at this, for I have even come across a volume of a wise man in which salt got a marvelous puff for its usefulness, and you might find many other things of the kind with eulogies. So they employ much zeal in things like that, yet to this day not one human being has dared to hymn Eros in a worthy manner; but so great a god lies in neglect.' Now, Phaedrus, in my opinion, speaks well in this regard. So, as I desire to make a comradely loan to please him, it is, in my opinion, appropriate for those of us who are now here to adorn the god. And if you share in my opinion, we should find. The line from Euripides' (mostly lost) Melanippe is, "The tale is not my own but from my mother"; and the fragment then goes on: "how sky and earth were one shape; but when they were separated from one another, they gave birth to everything and sent them up into the light, trees, birds, wild beasts, those the salt sea nourishes, and the race of mortals." enough of a pastime in speeches. For it is my opinion that each of us, starting on the left, should recite the fairest praise of Eros that he can, and Phaedrus should be the first to begin, inasmuch as he is lying on the head couch and is also the father of the argument."
"No one," Socrates said, "will cast a vote against you, Eryximachus. For I would surely not beg off, as I claim to have expert knowledge of nothing but erotics; nor would Agathon and Pausanias beg off, to say nothing of Aristophanes, whose whole activity is devoted to Dionysus and Aphrodite. And none of the others I see here would refuse either. And yet it is not quite fair for those of us who lie on the last couches; but if those who come first speak in a fine and adequate way, we shall be content. Well, good luck to Phaedrus then. Let him make a start and eulogize Eros."
All the others then approved and urged it as Socrates had done. Now, Aristodemus scarcely remembered all that each and every one of them said, and I in turn do not remember all that he said; but I shall tell you the noteworthy points of those speeches that, in my opinion, most particularly deserved remembering.
First of all, as I say, he said that Phaedrus began his speech at somewhat the following point: that Eros was a great and wondrous god among human beings as well as gods, and that this was so in many respects and not least in the matter of birth. "For the god to be ranked among the oldest is a mark of honor," he said, "and here is the proof: the parents of Eros neither exist nor are they spoken of by anyone, whether prose author or poet; but Hesiod says that Chaos came first--
Then thereafter Broad-breasted Earth, always the safe seat of all, And Eros.
After Chaos, he says, there came to be these two, Earth and Eros. And Parmenides says that Genesis, Akousilaus agrees with Hesiod as well. So there is an agreement in many sources that Eros is among the oldest.
Excerpted from Plato's Symposium by Allan David Bloom Copyright © 2001 by Allan David Bloom. Excerpted by permission.
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