‘Later Views of the Socrates of Plato’s Symposium’, from M. Trapp, ed., Socrates in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Century (Ashgate/Centre for Hellenic Studies, 2007), 59-76.
From the time of Plotinus, in the 3rd century of the common era, down to the present day, Plato’s Symposium has exercised an enormous influence on European thought. As one recent commentator has observed, the afterlife of the Symposium is ‘very nearly as broad as the breadth of humane letters in the West; in the matter of Quellenstudien, it is not a spring, but a might river.’1 And, whatever other significance one might wish to assign to the dialogue, it seems likely that one of its main aims was to highlight Socrates’ extraordinary qualities of mind and character.2 The comparison of Socrates to the statues of the Silenus, his extended bouts of distraction, poverty and indifference to the extremes of heat and cold, fondness for beautiful boys, power to charm his followers, use of common forms of speech, and his exercise of the elenchos or ‘testing through cross examination’ are all on display here. As a consequence, no account of Socrates’ legacy would be complete that did not consider the ways in which the Socrates portrayed in the Symposium lived on in the minds and works of later writers and artists.
Two distinct, if sometimes connected, views of Socrates have their origins in the Symposium: Socrates as a mystagogue or spiritual guide, and Socrates as a paragon of ‘philosophical virtue’.
The view of Socrates as one who guided others to more spiritual way of life has its roots in the speech Socrates offers in the Symposium in honor of Erôs, the god of love or, more precisely, ‘passionate desire’.3 The occasion for his encomium is a dinner party held at the home of the tragic poet Agathon to celebrate his victory in Athens’ spring drama festival. In accordance with an agreement that each symposiast will speak in praise of ‘the great god Erôs’’(177c), Socrates offers an account reportedly taught to him by an Arcadian priestess named Diotima (201d--212b).4 As Diotima explained it to Socrates, Erôs is not a god but a spirit who moves in an intermediate region between gods and men. As ‘divinity for intermediate affairs’ Erôs is concerned neither with ignorance nor wisdom but with something in between the two, the love of wisdom, or philosophia. To speak in mythical terms, as the child of Poverty and Resource, Erôs is needy like his mother and a hunter of wisdom like his father. Erôs manifests itself in human affairs as a desire to acquire the good and possess it forever. So, in a sense, what all people ultimately seek is their own happiness, and for as long a period as possible. Some decide to achieve a form of immortality by having children; others seek ‘undying fame’ through composing poems or founding cities; while still others become teachers of the young. Yet not even this insight into the nature and functions of Erôs discloses the greatest mysteries. He who would gain that understanding must begin by responding to the physical beauty of a young man and giving birth in him to the kind of discourse that will enable him to acquire virtue. Next, he must come to appreciate the beauty in all beautiful bodies, and after that, the beauty of character or soul. He must then go on, in a process likened to ascending the steps of a staircase, to discover beauty in activities such as composing speeches, crafting laws and constitutions, and pursuing scientific or philosophical understanding. At some point, as he moves through this ‘vast ocean of beauty’, the lover will at last experience a marvelous insight into Beauty’s essential nature. Here, in communing with Beauty Itself, he will live the finest life possible for a human being and impart genuine virtue to others.
This account of Erôs differs markedly from its predecessors. While each of the previous speakers focused on the particular aspect of Erôs he happened to know best or care the most about, Socrates discusses Erôs in all its manifestations and stages of development. 5 Perhaps its most novel suggestion is the idea that intellectual pursuits have the power to fire the imagination and passions just as much as any physical beauty.6 What seems to be the main conclusion is a view that Plato will consider important enough to return to again and again in other dialogues: the best and most fully appropriate object of human desire is philosophia, i.e. a life devoted to the contemplation of a set of eternal, perfect, and unchanging realities. Given the novelty, scope, and explanatory power of Socrates’ speech it is hardly surprising that many later readers, especially philosophers, focused their attention on it, often to the complete neglect of other portions of the dialogue.
Yet what Socrates offered to his dinner companions was more than a philosophical discourse on the nature of Erôs. Diotima was, after all, a religious figure, a priestess who spoke to Socrates in language drawn from Greek mystery religion: theômenos ephexês--‘viewing things in proper order’, pros telos êdê iôn—‘moving now toward a final stage’, and exaiphainês katopsetai--‘he will suddenly see’ (210e3-4), etc. In addition, the story she told concerned nothing less than the means by which a mortal being can achieve union with a perfect, eternal, and divine being. For many later writers, especially those engaged in defining Christian doctrine during its formative period, Socrates’ speech provided a framework for understanding a truth of the utmost importance--that love is not simply an aspect of human life but the means by which mortal beings can ascend from the physical realm to become united with God.
The theme of an ascent to heaven on a celestial ladder of love became a central feature of later religious thought.7 In the Enneads, for example, Plotinus rediscribes the ascent in the terms of his own metaphysical theory:
The born lover…has a certain memory of beauty but, severed from it now, he no longer comprehends it: spellbound by visible loveliness he clings amazed about that. His lesson must be to fall down no longer in bewildered delight before some one embodied form; he must be led, under a system of mental discipline, to physical beauty everywhere and made to discern the One Principle underlying all…he must learn to recognize the beauty in the arts, sciences, virtues; then these severed and particular forms must be brought together under the one principle by the explanation of their origin. From the virtues he is to be led on to the Intellectual Principle, to the Authentic-Existent; thence onward, he treads the upward way.8
Following Plotinus’ lead Proclus affirms that ‘The whole chain of Love…extending from the source of Beauty, draws all beings toward it, invites them to share in it, and mediates between the Beloved and its aspirant lovers.’9 The ladder simile appears in the writings of Gregory of Nyssa10, Origin11, Bonaventura12, Bernard of Clairvaux13, Pseudo-Dionysius14, and Augustine15, as well as in Dante’s account of the poet’s ascent from Saturn to the realm of the fixed stars.16
But while Socrates’ speech gave later religious thought one of its most enduring motifs Socrates himself does not always figure in the story. As we have seen, for Plotinus it is ‘divine beauty’ that first imparts beauty to the world and then, through that created beauty, draws the world back to itself. On such a view there is neither need nor place for any human intermediary. Many later, Christianized versions of the ascent story give us much the same picture--it is God himself, or God in his three-fold nature, who enables the souls of the faithful to return to their spiritual home.17
Socrates regained a place in the story at the outset of the Renaissance in the influential De Amore or Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love of Marsilio Ficino, published in 1484.18 Ficino speaks of Socrates one of three ancient thinkers who had collectively discovered and imparted to mankind a correct understanding of love’s true nature. As Ficino explained the process of discovery, Plato learned the truth about love from Socrates, who learned it from Diotima who, as one might expect of a priestess, got it directly from God.19 The profound truth they collectively discovered was that while human love comes in many different forms, one particular kind of love, inspired by the perception of physical beauty (through eyes and ears but in no other way), has as its direct object the soul of the beloved and, beyond that, the divine itself.20 Ficino expressed the view of Socrates as a spiritual figure in a letter to the theologian Paulo Ferobante:
It was not through any rough simplicity, but rather through unique mental excellence and (as Plato and Xenophon testify) inborn godlike and prophetic powers that throughout his life he put eternal before mutable goods…Indeed, he neglected his own interests and fearlessly, like a doctor of souls, set about purifying men’s thoughts everywhere in his native land.21
Ficino’s account of a special ‘Socratic love’-- or as it became more commonly known, ‘Platonic love’22--sparked the creation of a large number of ‘treatises on love’, especially in Italy and Spain, during the next several centuries. Works such as the Platonic Discourse upon Love of Pico della Mirandola, the Dialogues on Love by Leo Hebraeus, Pietro Bembo’s Gli Asolani, and Baldesar Castiglione’s enormously popular Book of the Courtier spread the concept of Socratic or Platonic love beyond a small circle of humanist scholars to writers and artists throughout Europe. Socrates himself does not appear as a character in all of these accounts, although there is occasionally a Socrates-type figure (such as the aged hermit of Bembo’s Gli Asolani who explains the truth about love to the gentleman Lavinello).
The image of Socrates as guide to a higher realm has appeared in many literary works. Delmore Schwartz describes how Socrates’ ‘ghost’ led him toward a higher understanding of love and its power to lead us to a higher, ‘noumenal’ realm.23
Socrates’ ghost must haunt me now,
Notorious death has let him go.
He comes to me with a clumsy bow,
Saying in his disused voice,
That I do not know I do not know,
The mechanical whims of appetite
Are all that I have of conscious choice,
The butterfly engaged in electric light
Is my only day in the world’s great night.
Love is not love, it is a child
Sucking his thumb and biting his lip,
But grasp it all, there may be more!
From the topless sky to the bottomless floor
With the heavy head and the fingertip:
All is not blind, obscene, and poor.
Socrates stands by me stockstill,
Teaching hope to my flickering will,
Pointing to the sky’s inexorable blue
--Old Noumenon come true, come true!24
In ‘Diotima’s Dead’ Robert Graves suggests that Socrates misunderstood Diotima’s teaching, at least until it became clear that she did not have physical or bodily immortality in mind:
Diotima’s dead--how could she die?
Or what says Socrates, now she is dead?
Diotima’s wisdom he might credit
While she still looked at him with eyes of love:
He could his life commit to Diotima,
Clear vessel of the Word’s divinity,
Until she cloaked herself in deathward pride
And ruin courted by equivocation--
Did he not swear then, she had always lied?
Scholars, the truth was larger than herself.
The truth it was she had told Socrates
(Though peevish in his immortality
And starving for what meats the God forbade)
Until her vision clouded, her voice altered,
And two lives must have ended, had he stayed.25
One of the more extended developments of the idea of Socrates as spiritual guide is T.S. Eliot’s The Cocktail Party. It has recently been argued (Reckford, 1991) that Eliot’s play must have been inspired, at least in part, by Plato’s Symposium (even though Eliot himself identified Euripides’ Alcestis as his classical model). Clearly, both titles mean ‘drinking party’, both works feature ‘libations’, and both describe merry scenes in ways that mask deeper philosophical and religious concerns.26 Reckford identifies the character of Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly as the Socrates figure who provides both spiritual therapy and moral insight. Julia Shuttlethwaite, who ‘represents the highest spiritual wisdom’, represents Diotima. And when a failed marriage leads Celia Copleston to doubt that she will ever love again, Harcourt-Reilly/Socrates offers her an alternative pathway, which is essentially the spiritual path:
There is another way, if you have the courage...
The second is unknown, and so requires faith--
The kind of faith that issues from despair.
The destination cannot be described;
You will know very little until you get there;
You will journey blind. But the way leads toward possession
Of what you have sought for in the wrong place. (673, 678-683)
Among the earliest visual representations of the Socrates of the Symposium may be an ancient bronze relief found in Pompeii (Figure 1). Some have characterized the scene displayed there as Socrates being instructed by Diotima, with an Erôs figure hovering between the two.27 In more recent times there has been a sketch of ‘Socrate et Diotime’ (Figure 2) done by Jacques-Louis David,28, and series of paintings of Socrates and Diotima by the contemporary Swiss artist Hans Erni (see Erni, 1971).
Two 20th-century musical works have also drawn on the Symposium for their views of Socrates. In 1917 Erik Satie drew on portions of Alcibiades’ speech in the Symposium, along with passages from the Phaedrus and Phaedo as texts for his Socrate or ‘Symphonic drama in three parts for voices and small orchestra.’29 Interpretations of Socrate vary30, but some critics have claimed that the music’s spare and somber nature was meant to capture something of Socrates’ spirituality.31 In 1954, Leonard Bernstein composed his ‘Serenade after Plato’s Symposium for Violin, Strings, Harp, and Percussion’ to celebrate the memory of what he called Plato’s ‘timeless dinner-party’.32 The work consists of a series of movements based on the series of speeches presented during the course of the evening, with the final ‘Socrates section’ pulling together and encompassing each of the themes presented in earlier movements. The series of dramatic chords at the outset of this section suggests that a truth of some profundity is about to be revealed.
In 1997, in the midst of a controversy surrounding a proposed ‘gay rights’ amendment to the State constitution, the Theaterworks Company of Colorado Springs, Colorado created its ‘musical version of Plato’s Symposium’, ‘All about Love’.33 The main aim of this production, according to one of its authors, was to promote a broader and more tolerant view of love, of seeing Socrates as one who leads others ‘up from earthly into heavenly love, from relatively cheerful simplicity into something rich and strange.’34 A decade earlier, in the midst of the growing AIDS crisis, the Los Angeles Powerhouse Theater presented an updated version of Plato’s Symposium intended, according to its producer and director, to highlight ‘the more creative and healing aspects’ of love.’35 Socrates’ speech was thought to go ‘most deeply to the heart of the matter. He examines the functions of love: procreation, the creation of beauty, and securing a place in eternity through immortal works.’ In these works Socrates’ spirituality provides the basis for a call for a more tolerant or inclusive understanding of the different forms of love and sexual desire.36
One might reasonably wonder about the credibility of the view of Socrates as a spiritual guide or ‘doctor of souls’. To mention just one complication: if we are inclined to regard Plato’s dialogues as ‘philosophical dramas’ in which a character named Socrates presents views that may have served one or more of Plato’s own dramatic or philosophical purposes, there is no reason to suppose that a person named Socrates actually espoused such views. Moreover, even if we do accept Plato’s portraits as genuine, in some dialogues Socrates seems less a religious teacher and more a zealous critic of all unfounded beliefs (including, in the Euthyphro, the passionate convictions of a self-style ‘religious expert’). A good case can also be made that at least some later writers chose to portray Socrates as an authority of religious matters primarily because that was precisely the portrait that best suited their purposes.
And yet, perhaps ironically, the conception of Socrates as essentially a religious teacher may not be that far-fetched. The Apology, along with other ancient accounts, confirms that Socrates was charged with ‘believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the state’ (24b). It also portrays him as a man on a religious mission, called by God to bring his fellow Athenians to a greater appreciation of the importance of caring for their immortal soul, and all that would be entailed by such an effort.37 Xenophon’s Memorabilia also credits Socrates with a number of distinctly religious doctrines and precepts.38 For all we know, in other words, the view of Socrates as a spiritual guide might well lie close to the historical reality.
I turn now to the second image of Socrates conveyed to many later readers by the Symposium--Socrates as a paragon of ‘philosophical virtue’ or ‘excellence in mind and character achieved through philosophical reflection’. It might reasonably be supposed that one of Plato’s aims in writing the Symposium was to show how Socrates’ engagement with philosophical thought endowed him with extraordinary powers of mind and character. Thus the various references to Socrates’ frequent trance-like states, his heroic conduct at Delium and Potidaea, his imperviousness to the extremes of heat and cold, his unimpaired capacity for philosophical conversation throughout a long night of drinking, and his ability to resist Alcibiades’ extraordinary beauty and calculated campaign of seduction. All these points come together in Alcibiades’ speech as he describes how Socrates, in the face of considerable provocation, succeeded in keeping his appetites and desires under firm control. The moral, or at least one moral, of Plato’s story would seem to be that Socrates succeeded, as Alcibiades did not, in acting in accordance with what Socrates described in the Crito as ‘that principle which appears to me to be the best on the basis of rational reflection’ (46b).
Alcibiades’ encomium to Socrates was not entirely unknown during the Hellenistic and early Christian periods39, but not until the Renaissance did it become the object of widespread interest. Even before the Symposium had been translated in its entirety into Latin, Alcibiades’ speech acquired some notoriety as one of the bawdier ancient texts. It was also the first portion of the dialogue to be made available, at least in bowdlerized form, in the Latin translation of Leonardo Bruni done in 1435.40 In the De Amore, however, Ficino chose to ignore the coarser aspects of Alcibiades’ speech and sought to minimize its importance. As Ficino explained it, in praising Socrates Alcibiades was merely praising love, and if we wish to learn about ‘Socratic love’ we need only consult the speech of Diotima.41
One of the earliest visual representations of Socrates with Alcibiades is a sketch by Rubens (Figure 3) done around 1602, now badly faded.42 Rubens appears to be giving us his take on the moment at which Alcibiades awards a wreath to Agathon before attempting to retrieve it when Socrates comes into view seated on the couch behind Agathon. Rubens’ Alcibiades can be seen to be ‘double dipping’, extending one wreath below to Agathon with his right hand while holding a second wreath above, extending it toward Socrates. A sketch done in 1793 by Asmus Jakob Carstens43 presents a simpler and more static version of the same scene--Alcibiades simply placing the crown on Socrates’ head with Agathon looking on. An earlier etching by Pietro Testa, done in 164844, depicts Alcibiades as a sensuous, dancing distraction in contrast to the more rational Socrates who remains engrossed in philosophical conversation despite the distraction.
In what is perhaps the best known painting based on the Symposium, the 1869 ‘Das Gastmahl des Platon’ of Anselm Feuerbach (Figure 4)45, Alcibiades is shown entering the dining chamber, decked out like the god Dionysus with a cohort of Bacchants, with Socrates (as in the earlier Testa etching) absorbed in serious conversation on the right hand side of the room. There have been different identifications of the figures depicted in ‘Das Gastmahl’46, but if the caduceus wrapped around the lamp in the foreground signifies that the figure lying on the bench is the physician Eryximachus, and if that is Pausanias seated behind Agathon who occupies center stage, then the distinguished looking gentleman conversing with Socrates is most likely to be Aristophanes. The figure against the wall, his gaze focused on Socrates, might be Aristodemus, Socrates’ devoted follower and the source of the account related by the dialogue’s narrator Apollodorus. The painting’s main theme has been described as a representation, through its sharply contrasting left and right hand sides, of the two basic impulses in the human psyche--the sensualism of Alcibiades on the left, as opposed to the cool rationalism of Socrates on the right.47
There have also been many visual representations of Socrates’ attempt to lead Alcibiades away from his dissolute lifestyle and toward a life of virtue. Among the earliest of these are ‘Alcibiades Receiving Lessons from Socrates’ (1777), by François-André Vincent48, and ‘Socrates Leading Alcibiades from the Dangers of a Sensual Life’ done sometime after 1785 by Jean-François-Pierre Peyron.49 There is also ‘Socrates rescuing Alcibiades from the Arms of a Courtesan’ (1791)50 by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, ‘Socrates and Alcibiades’ (1793)51 by Étienne-Barthélémy Garnier, an 1807 plaster relief on the same theme by Pompeo Marchesi, and ‘Socrates Seeking Alcibiades in the House of Aspasia’ (1861) by Jean-Leon Gerome. Finally, we have Antonio Canova’s ‘Socrates Rescuing Alcibiades at the Battle of Potideia’ (1797)52 and a set of sketches of Alcibiades with Socrates done by Inigo Jones, now in the Devonshire Collection at Chatsworth.53
For many later writers, however, the image of Socrates as one who subordinated all his desires to philosophical reason seemed just too good to be true. In his ‘Socrates and Alcibiades’, a work later set to music by Benjamin Britten54, the poet Hölderlin challenges the image of Socrates as a model of virtue immune to the charms of beautiful boys:
Why, holy Socrates, do you always pay homage to this youth?
Do you know nothing greater?
Why does your eye dwell upon him as upon gods?
He who has thought what is deepest loves what is most living;
He who has looked out upon the world understands noble youth,
And in the end the wise often bow their heads to that which is fair.55
Skeptical doubts concerning Alcibades’ portrait of Socrates as master of his carnal desires surface in both ancient and modern writings.56 Nor was the account of Socrates’ bravery in the face of the enemy always accepted at face value. Lucian challenged the Symposium portrait on both counts when he sought to show that no philosopher ever died in battle:
The only one who dared to set out for the battle of Delium, their wise Socrates, fled all the way home from Parnes to the school of Taureas. He considered it far more urbane to sit down and make love to boys and put sophistries to the first comer than to fight a real Spartan.57
Two more recent fictional accounts of Socrates’ military exploits, Georg Kaiser’s ‘The Rescued Alcibiades’ and Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Socrates Wounded’, stand in the same revisionist tradition.58 For these later readers, the Socrates of Plato’s Symposium remained a memorable figure, though not necessarily a believable one.59
Allen, R. (1991), Plato: the Symposium, volume 2 of The Dialogues of Plato (New Haven and London: Yale University Press).
Appel, J. (1986), ‘Plato’s Symposium’, High Performance, 9, No. 4, 22-7.
Arkatov, J. (1986), ‘Plato’s Symposium’, Los Angeles Times, July 29.
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Bockholdt, R. (1998), ‘Begegnung mit der Schönheit: Benjamin Brittens Vertonung von Hölderlins Sokrates und Alcibiades’ in Kunst-Gespräche: musikalische Begegnungen zwischen Ost und West (Freiburg: Rombach), 443-54.
Bratke, E. and Schimpf, H., Anselm Feuerbach: 1829-1880 (published in connection with the Feuerbach exhibition at the Landesbildstelle Rheinland-Pfalz, 1980).
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Campbell, R. and Carlson, V. (1993), Visions of Antiquity: Neoclassical Figure Drawings (Los Angeles : Los Angeles County Museum of Art ; Minneapolis: Minneapolis Institute of Arts).
Canova, A. (1824), The works of Antonio Canova, in sculpture and modeling, engraved in outline by Henry Moses; with descriptions from the Italian of the Countess Albrizzi, and a biographical memoir by Count Cicognara, 2 (London : Septimus Prowett).
Clark, K. (1976), The Drawings of Sandro Botticelli for Dante’s Divine Comedy (New York: Harper and Row).
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Ficino, M. (1576), Opera (Basel: Henricpetri), reprinted 1959 and 1962.
________ (1985), Commentary on Plato’s Symposium on Love, translated by Sears Jayne (Woodstock, Connecticut: Spring Publications, 1985).
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Allen, 1991, vii.
2 Cf. Bury, 1932, xix-xx: ‘For one main motive of the dialogue as a whole is to exhibit the sophia of Socrates, his intellectual as well as moral supremacy’; similarly ‘...it is in the portrait of the ideal Socrates that the main object of the dialogue is to be sought’ (lxv).
Sym. 201d-212b. Greek erôs may be translated into English either as ‘love’ or ‘desire’ but it is more precisely a passionate love or desire, typically sexual in character. In fragment B7 the Sophist Prodicus defines erôs as ‘desire (epithumia) multiplied by 2’, while ‘erôs multiplied by 2’, he adds, ‘is madness’. One can feel erôs toward different sorts of things--objects and activities as well as persons--just as we might speak of politics, chess, or philosophy as ‘the ruling passion of one’s life’--and this feature of the term will play an important role in Plato’s account.
4 Although some have claimed that Diotima was a real person Plato provides several indications that she is a creature of his own invention. Not only is she a prophetess (mantis) who is said to come from Mantineia (or ‘prophet-town’), Socrates states that she enabled the Athenians to delay the onset of the plague by ten years. This remark serves to move Diotima out of an historical framework into a legendary one. (If someone had actually succeeded in delaying the onset of the plague we would almost certainly have heard about him or her in some other ancient account.) In the Meno Plato has Socrates credit another essentially spiritual doctrine (that in its previous life the soul has learned all things) to ‘priests and priestess’ (81b) and concedes that ‘prophets and tellers of oracles’ have the capacity to utter many truths even if they are no position to know whether or not they are true. Here in the Symposium it would be entirely appropriate for an account that links love to achieving immortality to be presented by a priestess.
5 Phaedrus focuses on Erôs as the power that inspires personal relationships like the one he enjoys with Eryximachus; Eryximachus, a physician, offers a view of Erôs in the terms of current scientific theory; Aristophanes, the story teller, tells a charming story about a race of original spherical creatures who, after being split down the middle by Zeus, yearn for reunion with their missing other half; and Pausanias, a pederast, offers a defense of pederasty.
7 For a general discussion with many illustrative examples see Nygren, 1953.
8 Enneads, 1,3,2.
9 Gregory, 1991, 171.
10 Graef, 1954, 97.
11 See Contra Celsum 7,46.
12 See his Itinerarium mentis in Deum, Prologue 3.
13 See the Sermones de diveris 4, 10.
14 See his On Divine Names, 7, 3.
15 See the Confessions, 7, 17.
16 Musa, 1984, 28-30. There are visual representations of the celestial ladder by Sandro Botticelli (see Clark, 1976, 197), Giovanni de Paolo [Taylor and Finley, 1997, 224-5), also from the Renaissance, and by Gustave Doré in the 19th
century (Taylor and Finley, 182-3). Mazzeo (1956, 316) comments: ‘...the Paradiso
is the truly Platonic moment of Dante’s universe, for here we see the beloved doing her saving work through her ever-increasing beauty, luring Dante through love up the ladder of light and beauty to the threshold of absolute reality and, having fulfilled her purpose, leaving him to other agencies to finish his journey.’
17 As Martin Luther expressed this idea: ‘He Himself as descended and furnished a ladder; the Father suffered Him to be made a child…to be crucified and to rise again’ (quoted in Nygren (1953), 707.
18 See the discussion by Professor James Hankins in this volume, xxx-xxx.
19 In his letter of dedication to the Italian edition of the De Amore
Ficino wrote: ‘In order to lead us back to the straight path which we had missed, the supreme love of Divine Providence inspired a chaste woman in ancient Greece called Diotima the priestess, who, under divine inspiration
, finding the philosopher Socrates devoted above all else to love, explained to him what this ardent passion is and how by means of it we can fall into the greatest evil, or soar to the highest good. Socrates, in turn, revealed these holy mysteries to our Plato...’ (Ficino, 1985, 180).
20 One of countless later echoes of this notion may be heard in Spenser’s Hymne of Heavenly Beauty, St.4, 1-4: ‘Beginning then below with th’ easie view/Of this base world, subject to fleshly eye/From thence to mount aloft by order dew/To contemplation of th’ immortall sky.’
21 From Book VIII of Ficino, Epistularum familiarum libri XII (text in Ficino, 1576, 1, 868); trans. J. Hankins.
22 In the De Amore Ficino speaks only of a ‘Socratic love’. The phrase ‘Platonic love’ is thought to occur for the first time in a letter from Ficino to Alamanno Donati (see Ficino, 1985, 174n4). In his paper in this volume (xxx-xxx) Professor Blanshard suggest that one factor that may have influenced the switch from ‘Socratic’ to ‘Platonic’ was a widely shared suspicion that Socrates was not as immune to the charms of beautiful boys as Alcibides’ story made him out to be.
23 The term ‘noumenal’ is drawn from the philosophy of Kant (but ultimately from the Greek noumena—‘things thought’). Kant devised the term in order to contrast things encountered in sense experience (the phenomena) from things encountered through intellection (the noumena).
24 Schwartz, 1967. Schartz also incorporated a reference to Platonic metaphysics in his ‘In the Naked Bed, in Plato’s Cave’ (1967),which seems to focus on the sights and sounds of daily life with at least the suggestion--from the very mention of Plato’s Cave--that there is more to be discovered of life’s meaning than meets the eye and ear.
25 Graves, 1999.
26 Reckford, 1991, 305. A connection between Eliot’s play and the Symposium was suggested at an earlier date in Yoklavich, 1951. Socrates also appears with Diotima in poems by Sir Frederick Napier Broome (1868), Robert Burdet (1542), William Johnson Cory (1859), Robert Edward Duncan (1999), Galway Kinnell (1960), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1904), Alfred Lord Tennnyson (1907-08). A listing of sources as well as the full texts may be obtained at Literature Online (http://lion.chadwyk.com).
27 Now in the collection of the Museo Archeologico Nationale in Naples (see Zanker, 1995, 37). It has recently been claimed (Schwarzmaier, 1997) that the relief actually shows Erôs being taught to read by a silenus under the supervision of Aphrodite. See the discussion in volume 1 by Professor Joseph Geiger (xxx-xxx).
28 Contained in a volume of sketches recently purchased by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
29 Satie, 1920. Satie’s ‘Socrate Suite’ was subsequently arranged for dance by John Cage with choreography by Merce Cunningham (1944, 1947).
30 For a representative sample see the account in Gillmore (1988), 218-20.
31 Cf. the comment of Satie’s supporter René Chalupt: ‘Erik Satie’s attempt at an unpedantic and intuitive interpretation conveys perhaps more clarity about the spiritual aura of Socrates and the essence of the Greek soul than many a thick scientific tome.’ (quoted in Mosch, 1996, p. 126). Similarly R. H. Myers (1968): ‘It is solitary music and could only have been conceived by a mind sensitive to beauty, but dwelling in a sort of spiritual atmosphere, in a rarefied isolation’ (56); and Gillmore (1988): ‘There is in Socrate an aloofness and emotional neutrality all the more poignant in its cool objectivity, “a kind of divine ennui”’ (220).
32 Bernstein, 1954, recently recorded by Hillary Hahn and the Baltimore Symphony conducted by David Zinman (SONY-ASK-60584). Bernstein’s ‘Serenade’ has also served as the basis for two ballets: Jerome Robbins’ ‘Serenade for Seven’, performed at the Spoleto Festival in July, 1959; and Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Corybantic Ecstacies’ (described in Dance Magazine, Vol. 73, No. 6 (June, 1999), 78-79).
‘All About Love: A Musical Based on Plato’s Symposium’, by M. Ross, M. Arnest, and L. Arnest, performed August 29-September 14, 1997, in Colorado Springs, Colorado (available on compact disc from the web site for this production). There has also been ‘Socrates in Love: A Dramatic Adaptation of Plato’s Symposium’ (performed at the University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia) and ‘Plato’s Symposium’, translated by P. Schimdt and produced by D. Schweizer, at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, November 12, 1999. In 1968 the BBC presented ‘The Drinking Party’ directed by Jonathan Miller and featuring Leo McKern in the role of Socrates. The program (distributed in the U.S. by Time Life Films but no longer available for purchase) presented Socrates as a headmaster being entertained by a group of his former students.
34 Murray Ross, in the introduction to ‘All About Love’ supplied with the CD produced by Mark Arnest and Lauren Krohn Arnest, Seat of Our Pants Productions (1998).
35 Plato’s Symposium’ at the Los Angeles Powerhouse Theater, 1986 (as reported in Appel, 1986, 22-27). See also Arkatov, 1986.
36 The enlisting of Socrates in a campaign for sexual tolerance goes back (at least) to the second half of the nineteenth century and the works of Symonds and Oscar Wilde. See the accounts by Jenkyns (1980), Dowling (1994), and the essay in this volume by Professor Alastair Blanshard (xxx-xxx).
37 Cf. Apo. 30 a-b: ‘This, I do assure you, is what my God commands, and it is my belief that no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than my service to the God. For I spend all my time going about trying to persuade you, young and old, to make your first and chief concern not for your body nor for your possessions, but for the highest welfare of your souls...’
38 For example: that the gods know everything about the thoughts and deeds of mortals and give numerous indications of their intentions to special individuals (1, 1, 20]; that we ought to give offerings to the gods [1, 3, 3], the the universe gives clear evidence of being created by an intelligent designer [1, 4, 7-19], that the will of the gods can be discovered through use of the techniques of divination [4, 7, 10], that Socrates never did anything without receiving the sanction of the gods [4, 8,11], etc.
39 There are direct or indirect references to the Symposium
portrait of Alcibiades in Epictetus, Discourses
1, 181; Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights
1, 99; Cornelius Nepos
, Life of Alcibides
2; Lucian, Types of Love
49; John Cassian, Conferences
13, 5, 3; Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae
40 Hankins (1990, 80) states that ‘In Bruni’s version Alcibiades’ account of his attempted seduction of Socrates is high-handedly converted into a story of how Alcibiades pursued Socrates for his wisdom, and all other references to homosexuality, fluteplaying, and paganism are systematically expunged.’ The text of Bruni’s version of the seduction scene is included in Hankins, 2, 399-400.
41 Speech VII, 2 in Janes (as above), 157-8. Janes comments: ‘[Ficino] simply ignores Alcibiades’ comment on Socrates as a bedfellow and instead adds to Speech VII a section praising Socrates as a teacher’ (9).
42 From McGrath, 1983, 42.
43 ‘Alkibiades kränzt den Sokrates beim Gastmahl’, which appears in Runes, 1959, labeled as ‘One of the Famous Platonic Banquets’ (84). The work is now in the collection of the Thorvaldsen-Museum in Copenhagen.
44 From McGrath, 1983, 44.
45 Now in the collection of the State Museum in Karlsruhe, Germany. A full-color reproduction appears in Benardete, 1994, 6-7. My identification of the figures in the painting follows the analysis given by Heinrich Meier in the introduction in this volume. A second version of ‘Das Gastmahl’, painted in 1873, is housed in the collection of the National Gallery in Berlin. Michael Trapp has provided me with an image of the imitation of Feuerbach’s ‘Gastmahl’ done by G.A. Spangenberg, representing Philosophy in a cycle of the Four Faculties, on the staircase of the main University building in Halle, Germany.
46 See the discussion in this volume by Professor John Henderson (xxx-xxx).
47 A view of the significance of the painting expressed by Feuerbach’s friend and biographer, Julius Allgeyer (as presented in Bratke and Schimpf, 1980).
48 From Cuzin, 1988, plate 25.
49 From Campbell and Carlson, 1993, 177.
50 J.-B. Regnault, ‘Socrate arrachant Alcibiade des bras de la Volupté’, in the collection of the Louvre Museum
, discussed in Sells, 1977.
51 From Campbell and Carlson, 1993, 207.
52 From Canova, 1824. There is also a painting of this scene by P.V. Bassin, now in St. Petersburg, Russia.
53 From Wood, 1992, 265. For a discussion of the Socrates iconography see the accounts by Stradonitz (1908), Kaufman (1951), Pigler (1956), and the essay by Professor Joseph Geiger in volume 1.
54 See Bockholdt, 1998,
55 Hölderlin in Spiegelberg, 1964, 232. For an account of the impact of Plato’s thought on Hölderlin’s work see Harrison, 1975, chapter 2.
56 See the discussion in this volume by Professor Alastair Blandshard, xxx-xxx.
57 Lucian, The Parasite, quoted in Spiegel berg, 1964 36.
58 See the detailed discussion in Todd, 1981, and the paper by Professor J. White in this volume.
59 I am grateful to Michael Trapp, Eleanor Rutledge, and a number of conference participants for their comments on an earlier version of this paper.