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Eros and the Intoxications of Enlightenment

On Plato's Symposium

Steven Berg

Publication Year: 2010

Provocative reinterpretation of Plato's Symposium. An original analysis of one of Plato’s most well-known and pivotal dialogues, this study is based upon the effort to think together the most manifest themes of the Symposium (the nature of eros and the relation between poetry and philosophy) with its less obvious but no less essential themes (the character of the city and the nature and limitations of sophistic enlightenment). Author Steven Berg offers an interpretation of this dialogue wherein all the speakers at the banquet—with the exception of Socrates—not only offer their views on the nature of love, but represent Athens and the Athenian enlightenment. Accordingly, Socrates’ speech, taken in relation to the speeches that precede it, is shown to articulate the relation between Socrates and the Athenian enlightenment, to expose the limitations of that enlightenment, and therefore finally to bring to light the irresolvable tension between Socrates and his philosophy and the city of Athens even at her most enlightened.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Copyright

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Acknowledgments

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pp. vii-

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Introduction

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pp. ix-xii

We are the inheritors of the tradition of the enlightenment. Yet we are cut off from the sources of enlightenment. Curious doctrines and novel orthodoxies have overcast our mental horizon so completely that the peaks of human life have become almost invisible to us. In such a climate it is inevitable that the exceptional character of the city in which Socrates was ...

Part 1: Athens and Enlightenment

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1. Socrates Made Beautiful

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pp. 3-14

If the starting point of the Republic’s inquiry into justice is the construction of the just city, the starting point of the Symposium’s inquiry into love is the portrayal of the city made beautiful through its love of the beautiful—Athens. At the beginning of the Republic Socrates recounts how he went down to the Piraeus with Glaucon to view a novel religious festival. ...

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2. Phaedrus: Phaedrus’ Best City in Speech

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pp. 15-23

In accordance with Eyximachus’ suggestion and Socrates’ command (177d–e), Phaedrus offers the first eulogy of Eros. One of the puzzles of Phaedrus’ speech is the essential ambiguity of his account of the divinity of Eros. At the opening of his speech, he appeals to Hesiod and Parmenides in order to establish the antiquity of the god and in doing so comes very close to arguing ...

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3. Pausanias: Noble Lies and the Fulfillment of Greekness

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pp. 25-36

On the one hand, Pausanias’ and Eryximachus’ speeches represent continuations of Phaedrus’ speech insofar as both prove to be radicalizations of Phaedrus’ position, the latter of his attempt to ground political life in first principles of nature and the former of his attempt to direct the city to the life according to nature—the life of the knower—as its end. Their double ...

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4. Eryximachus: Sovereign Science and the Sacred Law

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pp. 37-55

According to the seating order that Agathon had established for the banquet, Aristophanes was to speak after Pausanias and Eryximachus would follow him in turn. Aristophanes unwittingly disrupts this order with his hiccups¹ so that Eryximachus must speak before him (185c–d). This accidental disruption, however, rearranges the speakers such that, on the one hand, Pausanias and ...

Part 2: Athens and the Poets

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5. Aristophanes: Eros, Soul, and Law

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pp. 59-72

The failure of Eryximachus’ attempt in the name of the city to solve the human problem on the assumption that what is ordinarily understood to be an attribute of soul, namely, Eros, can be deduced from bodily first principles (and so “treated” by the science of body) makes room for Aristophanes’ claim that as poet he possesses the knowledge of soul that alone is competent to ...

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6. Agathon: Eros, Soul, and Rhetoric

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pp. 73-91

A dialogue between Socrates and Agathon forms both the bridge between Aristophanes’ and Agathon’s speeches (193e–194d) and the introduction to Socrates’ speech (199c–201d). Agathon is the only person at the banquet with whom Socrates practices his art of conversation and he does so twice. Through this double pairing he apparently wishes to make clear that though ...

Part 3: Socrates and Athens

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7. Socrates: Daimonic Eros

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pp. 95-129

In the preface to his speech Socrates anticipates the distinction he will draw between eros as such or the eros of philosophy and what is ordinarily called eros by making clear the difference between his mode of eulogy and that practiced by all of the other speakers at the banquet. To attribute the “biggest and most beautiful” to eros so that it may “seem to be as beautiful ...

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8. Alcibiades: Divine Socrates

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pp. 131-149

If in Socrates’ speech the beautiful gods have effectively been separated from the city and its justice, Plato, with the entrance of Alcibiades, puts them together once again. Alcibiades makes his appearance not only drunk and supported by his “human beings,” but crowned with violets and ivy (212e). The crown of violets recalls Pindar’s description of a personified Athens ...

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Conclusion: Socrates and Plato

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pp. 151-153

According to Socrates, Alcibiades has offered his speech not in order to praise him, but with the hidden purpose of keeping Socrates and Agathon apart (222c–d). Alcibiades attempts to stand in the way of Socrates’ pairing with a beautiful youth who is also a tragic poet. The greatest of political men wishes to prevent Socrates from putting to use his erotics and from ...

Notes

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pp. 155-168

Index

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pp. 169-170


E-ISBN-13: 9781438430195
E-ISBN-10: 1438430191
Print-ISBN-13: 9781438430171
Print-ISBN-10: 1438430175

Page Count: 182
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: SUNY series in Ancient Greek Philosophy
Series Editor Byline: Anthony Preus