Plato's Symposium


Phaedrus' Speech



haedrus began by affirming that Love is a mighty god, and wonderful among gods and men, but especially wonderful in his birth. For he is the eldest of the gods, which is an honor to him; and a proof of his claim to this honor is that there is no memorial to his parents. Neither poet nor prose writer has ever claimed that he had any. As Hesiod says:

‘First Chaos came, and then broad-bosomed Earth, The everlasting seat of all that is, And Love.’

In other words, after Chaos, the Earth and Love, these two, came into being. Also Parmenides sings of Generation:

‘First in the train of gods, he fashioned Love.’

And Acusilaus agrees with Hesiod. Thus there are many witnesses who acknowledge Love to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I do not know any greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous lover, or to the lover than a beloved youth. For concerning the principle which ought to be the guide of men who would live nobly, neither social bond, nor honor, nor wealth, nor any other motive is implanted more deeply than love. Of what am I speaking? Of the sense of honor and dishonor, without which neither states nor individuals ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is discovered doing any dishonorable act, or submitting through cowardice when any dishonor is done to him by another, will be more pained at being discovered by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his companions, or by any one else. The beloved too, when he is found in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover. And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their beloveds, they would be the very best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonor, and emulating one another in honor; and when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger? The worst coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest, at such a time. Love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his own nature infuses into the lover.



Love will make men dare to die for their beloved—love alone, and in women as well as men. Concerning this, Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, is a monument to all Greece; for she was willing to lay down her life on behalf of her husband, when no one else would, although he had a father and mother. The tenderness of her love so far exceeded theirs, that she made them seem to be strangers in blood to their own son, and in name only related to him; and so noble did this action of hers appear to the gods, as well as to men, that among the many who have done virtuously she is one of the very few to whom, in admiration of her noble action, they have granted the privilege of returning alive to earth;. Such great honor is paid by the gods to the devotion and virtue of love. But they sent Orpheus the harpist, the son of Oeagrus, away empty handed, and presented to him an apparition only of her whom he sought, but they would not give the real woman up, because he showed no spirit. He was only a harp-player, and did not dare like Alcestis to die for love, but was plotting how he might enter Hades alive. Moreover, they afterwards caused him to suffer death at the hands of women, as punishment for his cowardliness. Very different was the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus—his lover and not his beloved (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles was surely the modt handsome of the two, more handsome also than all the other heroes; and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and much younger than Patroclus). And greatly as the gods honor the virtue of the lover, still the return of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and valued and rewarded by them, for the lover is more divine, because he is inspired by God. Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector. Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only in his defense, but after he was dead. For that act, the gods honored him even more than Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest. These are my reasons for affirming that Love is the eldest and noblest and mightiest of the gods, and the main author and giver of virtue in life, and of happiness after death.



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