Plato's Symposium






Scene: The House of Agathon.


POLLODORUS: In fact, I'm well-prepared to answer your question. The day before yesterday I was coming from my own home at Phalerum to the city, and someone I know, who had caught a sight of me from behind, called out playfully: Hey the man from Phalerum! Hey Apollodorus, wait! So I did as he asked, and then he said, I was just now looking for you, Apollodorus, so that I could ask you about the speeches in praise of love, which were delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and others, at Agathon’s banquet. Phoenix, Philip's son, told another person who told me about them, but his story was vague, and he said that your memory was better. So please tell me about them. Who can relate what your friend said better than you? But first tell me, were you there at the party?

Your informant, Glaucon, I said, must have been very vague indeed, if you think that the occasion was recent; or that I could have been at the party.

Why, yes, he replied, I thought so.

Impossible: I said. Don't you know that for many years Agathon has not lived in Athens; and less than three years have passed since I became acquainted with Socrates, and have made it my daily business to know all that he says and does. There was a time when I was running about the world, fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched being, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything rather than be a philosopher.

Well, he said, joking apart, tell me when the meeting occurred.

In our boyhood, I replied, when Agathon won the prize with his first tragedy, on the day after that on which he and his chorus offered the sacrifice of victory.

Then it must have been a long while ago, he said; and who told you—did Socrates?

No indeed, I replied, but the same person who told Phoenix;—he was a little fellow, who never wore any shoes, Aristodemus, of the deme of Cydathenaeum. He had been at Agathon’s feast; and I think that in those days there was no one who was a more devoted admirer of Socrates. Moreover, I've asked Socrates about the truth of some parts of his story, and he confirmed them. Then, said Glaucon, let's have the tale over again; isn'tt the road to Athens just made for conversation? And so we walked, and talked of the speeches on love; and therefore, as I said at first, I'm not ill-prepared to comply with your request, and will repeat them if you like. Because to speak or to hear others speak of philosophy always gives me the greatest pleasure, to say nothing of the advantage it brings. But when I hear another kind of talk, especially that of you rich men and traders, such conversation displeases me; and I pity you who are my companions, because you think that you're accomplishing something when in reality you're accomplishing nothing. And I don't doubt that you pity me in return, and regard me as an unhappy creature, and very probably you are right. But I certainly know that you are deluded while you merely think that I'm unhappy —there is the difference.

COMPANION: I see, Apollodorus, that you're still the same—always speaking badly of yourself, and others; and I do believe that you pity all mankind, with the exception of Socrates, yourself first of all,. In this you're true in this to your old name, Apollodorus the madman, which I don't know how you acquired however much you deserve it, since  you are always raging against yourself and everybody but Socrates.

APOLLODORUS: Yes, friend, and the reason why I'm said to be mad, and out of my mind, is just because I have these notions of myself and you; no other evidence is required.

COMPANION: No more of that, Apollodorus; but let me renew my request that you repeat the conversation.

APOLLODORUS: Well, the topic was love. But maybe I had better begin at the beginning, and try to repeat the exact words of Aristodemus:


He said that he met Socrates fresh from the bath and with sandals on; and as the sight of the sandals was unusual, he asked him where he was going all dressed up.

To a party at Agathon’s, he replied. YesterdayI turned down his invitation to the sacrifice in honor of his victory because I was afraid that there would be a crowd, but promised that I would come today instead. That's why I've put on my good clothes, because he is such a good man. What say you about going with me uninvited?

I will do as you like, I replied.

Follow then, he said, and let's demolish the proverb:

‘The good go uninvited to the feasts of inferior men;’

instead of which our proverb will run:

‘ The good go uninvited to the feasts of the good;’

and this alteration may be supported by the authority of Homer himself, who not only demolishes but literally outrages the proverb. For, after picturing Agamemnon [in the Iliad] as the bravest men, he makes Menelaus, who is only a fainthearted warrior, come uninvited to the banquet of Agamemnon, who is feasting and offering sacrifices, not the better to the worse, but the worse to the better.

I'm afraid, Socrates, said Aristodemus, that this may still be my case, and that, like Menelaus in Homer, I shall be the inferior person, who

‘ Goes to the feasts of the wise uninvited.’

But I shall say that I was invited by you, and then you will have to make an excuse.

‘Two going together,’

he replied, in Homeric fashion, one or other of them may invent an excuse along the way.

This was the style of their conversation as they walked on. Socrates dropped behind in a state of abstraction, and wanted Aristodemus, who was waiting, to go on ahead of him. When he reached the house of Agathon he found the doors wide open, and a comical thing happened. A servant came out to meet him, and led him at once into the banquet hall where the guests were reclining, since the party was about to begin. Welcome, Aristodemus, said Agathon, as soon as he appeared—you are just in time to eat with us; if you come for any other reason, put it aside, since I was looking for you yesterday and wanted to invite you, but I couldn't find you. But what have you done with Socrates?

I turned around, but Socrates was nowhere to be seen; and I had to explain that he had been with me a moment before, and that I came to the banquet by his invitation.

You were quite right in coming, said Agathon; but where is he himself?

He was behind me just now, as I entered, he said, and I can't imagine what's become of him.

Go and look for him, boy, said Agathon, and bring him in; and meanwhile, Aristodemus, sit next to Eryximachus.

The servant then helped him wash, and he lay down, and soon another servant came in and reported that our friend Socrates had retired into the portico of the neighbouring house. ‘He' staring off into space,’ he said, ‘and when I call to him he doesn't answer.’

How strange, said Agathon; then you must call him again, and keep calling him.

Let him alone, said my informant; he has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself without any reason. I'm suret he'll appear soon; so don't disturb him.

Well, if you think so, I will leave him, said Agathon. And then, turning to the servants, he added, ‘Let's have supper without waiting for him. Serve up whatever you please, for there is no one to give you orders. I have never left you to yourselves before, but on this occasion imagine that you are our hosts, and that I and the company are your guests; treat us well, and then we shall commend you.’ After this, supper was served, but still no Socrates; and during the meal Agathon several times said we should send for him send for him, but Aristodemus objected; and at last when the feast was about half over—for as usual, it didn't last long —Socrates entered. Agathon, who was reclining alone at the end of the table, begged Socrates to take a place next to him; that ‘I may touch you,’ he said, ‘and have the benefit of that wise thought which came into your mind in the portico, and is now in your possession; for I'm certain that you wouldn'tt have come away until you had found what you were looking for’

How I wish, said Socrates, taking his place as he was asked, that wisdom could be infused by touch, out of the fuller into the emptier man, as water runs through wool out of a fuller cup into an emptier one. If that were so, how greatly I would value the privilege of reclining at your side! For you would have filled me full with a full and fair stream of wisdom, whereas my own is of a very inferior and questionable sort, no better than a dream. But yours is bright and full of promise, and was shown in all the splendour of youth the day before yesterday, in the presence of more than thirty thousand Greeks.

You're making fun of me, Socrates, said Agathon, and before long you and I will have to determine who wins the palm of wisdom, with Dionysus as judge. But now you should ear

Socrates took his place on the couch, and ate with the rest; and then libations were offered, and after a hymn had been sung to the god, and there had been the usual ceremonies, they were about to start drinking, when Pausanias said, And now, my friends, how can we drink with least harm to ourselves? I can assure you that I feel severely the effect of yesterday’s indulgence, and need time to recover; and I suspect that most of you are in the same predicament, since you were at the party yesterday. Consider then how the drinking can be made easier.

I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means, avoid hard drinking, since I was myself one of those who were yesterday drowned in drink.

I think you're right, said Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus; but I would still like to hear from one other person: Is Agathon able to drink hard?

I 'm  not equal to it, said Agathon.

Then, said Eryximachus, the weak heads like myself, Aristodemus, Phaedrus, and others who never can drink, are fortunate in finding that the stronger ones are not in a drinking mood. (I don't include Socrates, who is able either to drink or to abstain, and won't  mind, whichever we do.) Well, as of none of you seem to want to drink much, I may be forgiven for saying, as a physician, that hard drinking is a bad practice, which I never follow, if I can help it, and certainly don't recommend to anyone else, least of all to any one who still feels the effects of yesterday’s carousing.

I always do what you advise, and especially what you prescribe as a physician, replied Phaedrus the Myrrhinusian, and the rest of the company, if they are wise, will do the same.

It was agreed that hard drinking was not to be the order of the day, but that they were all to drink only as much as they pleased.

Then, said Eryximachus, since you are all agreed that drinking is to be voluntary, and that there is to be no compulsion, I suggest, in the next place, that the flute-girl, who has just made her appearance, be told to go away and play to herself, or, if she likes, to the women who are inside. Today let's have conversation instead; and, if you will allow me, I'll tell you what sort of conversation. The proposal having been accepted, Eryximachus proceeded as follows:

I will begin, he said, after the manner of Melanippe in Euripides,

‘Not mine is the word’

which I'm about to speak, but that of Phaedrus. For he often says to me in an indignant tone: ‘What a strange thing it is, Eryximachus, that, while the other gods have poems and hymns made in their honor, the great and glorious god, Love, is neglected by all the poets. The worthy sophists too, the excellent Prodicus for example, have spoken in prose on the virtues of Heracles and other heroes, and, still more extraordinary, I know a philosophical work that discusses the utility of salt eloquently. Many similar things have been honored. And to think that there should have been an eager interest created about them, but that to this day no one has ever dared to hymn Love’s praises, so entirely has this great deity been neglected.’ Now, in this, Phaedrus seems to me to be quite right, and therefore I want to offer him a contribution. Also I think that at the present moment we who are assembled here cannot do better than honor the god Love. If you agree with me, there will be no lack of conversation, for I want to propose that each of us in turn, going from left to right, makes a speech in honor of Love. Let him give us the best he can; and Phaedrus, because he is the first one on the left, and because he had the idea, should begin.

No one will vote against you, Eryximachus, said Socrates. How can I oppose your suggestion, since I profess to understand nothing but matters of love; nor, I presume, will Agathon and Pausanias, and there can be no doubt of Aristophanes, whose whole concern is with Dionysus and Aphrodite. Nor will any one disagree of those I see around me. The proposal, as I am aware, may seem rather difficult for those of us  in last place, but we shall be contented if we hear some good speeches first. Let Phaedrus begin the praise of Love, and good luck to him. All the company expressed their assent, and wanted him to do as Socrates asked.

Aristodemus did not recollect all that was said, nor do I recall all that he related to me, but I'll tell you what I thought most worthy of remembrance, and what the chief speakers said.


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