WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT: The story tells what some seriously bibulous party-goers said at a celebration of a big win for the handsome Agathon, in the 416 BC contest amongst tragic playwrights. He''d feasted his performers the night before, and wine did not run...
WHAT THIS BOOK IS ABOUT:
The story tells what some seriously bibulous party-goers said at a celebration of a big win for the handsome Agathon, in the 416 BC contest amongst tragic playwrights. He''d feasted his performers the night before, and wine did not run short. The more select group he invited for a following banquet thus decided not to drink after practically every sentence, but as they pleased. Symposium means literally, "drinking together" ---not for the abstemious! Drinkers took it in turn to improvise on a topic suggested by the Master of Ceremonies, who selected in this case, the praise of Eros. A symposium was a celebration not only of an event, but also held to honor a god or gods, bringing together the sacred and more profane.
Six of the praises are reported by a narrator, Apollodurus, who is telling a companion what he heard from someone who was actually there, Aristodemus. Aristodemus, however, had plead intoxication and the capacity to recall only what he considered the high points. So enter into the spirit of the tipsy occasion and into the purposes of Platon who probably made up the whole of it.
AMONG THE HIGHLIGHTS
The six speeches wonderfully reflect the characters, voices, and quirks of the men.
Phaedrus the philosopher, he of the silver-gilt hair, most handsome himself, speaks well, imaginatively, and proposes Eros is a god who inspires the lover to the heights of devotion, even unto death, as Alcestis died for Admetus. Young, we might think, he imagines an army of lovers, each striving to win honor for his beloved and, inspired by Eros, ready to die to defend his beloved.
He''s followed by Pausanias, whose speech could be a Swiftian satire of how lawyers from 2300 years ago to today, can think, a selfie of his own argumentive cleverness in differenting types of Eros and explaining the fine points of Athenian laws on pederasty. Read aloud, it is LOL funny.
OK, on to Eryximachus, a physician, who advocates temperance in all things and elaborates on the dual nature of divine and profane Eros, extending Eros beyond sexual desires to the love of the Beautiful. Knowledgeable, yet no poet he, this encomium can inspire readers of today perhaps to avoid sharing a couch with an Athenian physician if you want a good time.
Now at last the magnificent comedic writer Aristophanes speaks, beginning with a story on how male and female were once one body, spherical in shape, what happened and with what consequences. Aristophanes is speaking of the human condition, with Eros as a single healing force, a speech of great beauty & power. Agathon''s in comparison is eloquent but flat----and then Socrates weaves the best from each, reveals the limitations of each, and raises us mortals to the divine in Eros as a devotion to the good, the true, the Beautiful.
Socrates claims only to be sharing what he learned from Diotima, the Wise Woman, about love & Eros. Diotima''s final spine-tingling sentence reads in full, "In begetting true virtue and nurturing it, it is given to him to become dear to god, and if any other among men is immortal, he is too." Almost 2,300 years later, we know as did the first readers of Plato''s "The Symposium" that while Diotima refered to those who contemplate the Beautiful, beholding the divine Beauty itself, single in nature, she could be speaking of Socrates himself. Which is why, says editor Allen, Plato put the speech as Socrates telling what Diotima said, rather than speaking in his own voice, Socrates who claims not that he is wise, only that he is a lover of wisdom and beauty.
Then Alcibiades lurches in, and gives a strange speech in praise of Socrates, including an erotic but more detailed report than might be expected of how Socrates ignored Alcibiades'' efforts to seduce him one cold Athenian night. More revelers arrive breaking up the Symposium. Finally only Agathon, Aristophanes and Socrates are awake, discussing tragedy and comedy, until the first two have been vanquished by Dionysus. Socrates arises, goes as usual to debate all day long, unvanquished by Dionysus or, in debate, by any other. The Symposium, like Woolf''s "Orlando," seems a gift of deepest love from Plato to the memory of Socrates.
WHY THIS EDITION OF "THE SYMPOSIUM"
I agree with the scholarly reviewer who compares six editions, concluding if only one would be read, Allen''s would be the choice for the quality of the translation and the value of Allen''s comments Hear! Hear!
I also agree with the reviewer who suggested beginning with the translation itself (76 pages including footnotes), then reading the over 110 pages of Allen''s commentary. The translation and footnotes are readable as they are. Allen''s fine commentary greatly deepens and enriches our understanding of the context----a defense of Socrates against charges of corrupting the youth of Athens. This is valuable, but not essential to reading "The Symposium" in its own voice first.
OVERALL: "Truth is beauty, beauty is truth" may have its roots in Plato''s "Symposium". This is a fine edition and at used book prices, a great, almost piratical, value.
There is a niggle. The arc of The Symposium is from Eros as physical sex to love of divine Beauty. The cover drawing displays only the lustful but not exactly as this translation''s notes say. The picture of the satyr and maenad suggests she has a choke-hold on him, rather than the other way, as the Allen edition states. Granted his hand is way beneath her gown, but one wouldn''t mess against her will with a robust woman holding a spotted panther by the tail & a huge thyrsus in the arm around one''s neck. The picture is from a drinking cup of the period. Perhaps the drawing was selected as a quiet thanks to whoever Diotima may have been and to Plato''s selection or creation of her as the wise woman to whom Socrates attributes his education in matters of love.
The Symposium draws us into a world of possibilities and attentive thought. Eros, life, and love says this edition as a whole in this robust, forthright translation, are more complex, affirmative, and joyous than they may seem. Bibemus! Highly recommended.