Socrates' Speech




And now, taking my leave of you, I want to relate a tale of love I heard from Diotima of Mantineia, a woman wise in this and many other kinds of knowledge. In the old days, when the Athenians offered a sacrifice before the coming of the plague, she delayed the disease ten years. She was my instructress in the art of love, and I'll repeat to you what she said to me, beginning with the points made by Agathon, which are nearly if not quite the same which I made to the wise woman when she questioned me. I think that this will be the easiest way, and I'll take both parts myself as well as I can. As you, Agathon, suggested, I must speak first of the being and nature of Love, and then of his works. First I said to her in nearly the same words that he used with me, that Love was a mighty god, and likewise beautiful; and she proved to me as I proved to him that, by my own showing, Love was neither beautiful nor good. ‘What do you mean, Diotima,’ I said, ‘is love then evil and ugly?’ ‘Hush,’ she cried; ‘must everything that's not beautiful be ugly?’ ‘Certainly,’ I said. ‘And is all that is not wise, ignorant? Don't you see that there is a mean between wisdom and ignorance?’ ‘And what may that be?’ I said. ‘Right opinion,’ she replied, ‘which, as you know, being incapable of giving a reason, is not knowledge (for how can knowledge be devoid of reason?) nor again, ignorance (for neither can ignorance attain the truth), but is clearly something which is a mean between ignorance and wisdom.’ ‘Quite true,’ I replied. ‘Don't insist then,’ she said, ‘that whatever is not beautiful is necessarily ugly, or whatever is not good is necessarily evil, or infer that because love is not beautiful and good he is therefore ugly and evil,  for he is in a mean between them.’ ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Surely everyone admits that Love is a great god.’ ‘Do you mean those who know or by those who do not know?’ ‘Everyone.’ ‘And how, Socrates,’ she said with a smile, ‘can Love be acknowledged to be a great god by those who say that he is not a god at all?’ ‘And who are they?’ I said. ‘You and I are two of them,’ she replied. ‘How can that be?’ I said. ‘It's quite obvious,’ she replied; ‘since you yourself acknowledge that the gods are happy and beautiful — would you dare to say that any god was not?’ ‘Certainly not,’ I replied. ‘And you mean by the happy, those who are the possessors of things good or beautiful?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘And you admitted that Love, because he lacks, desires those good and beautiful things which he lacks?’ ‘Yes, I did.’ ‘But how can he be a god who has no portion in what is either good or beautiful?’ ‘Impossible.’ ‘Then you see that you also deny the divinity of Love.’

‘What then is Love?’ I asked. ‘Is he mortal?’ ‘No.’ ‘What then?’ ‘As in the former example, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but a mean between the two.’ ‘What is he, Diotima?’ ‘He is a great spirit (daimon), and like all spirits he is intermediate between the divine and the mortal.’ ‘And what,’ I said, ‘is his power?’ ‘He interprets,’ she replied, ‘between gods and men, conveying and taking across to the gods the prayers and sacrifices of men, and to men the commands and replies of the gods. He is the mediator who spans the chasm that divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through him the arts of the diviner and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries and charms, and all divination and incantation, find their way. For God does not mingle with man, but through Love all the intercourse and converse of God with man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual. All other wisdom, such as that of arts and handicrafts, is mean and vulgar by comparison. Now these spirits or intermediate powers are many and diverse, and one of them is Love.’ ‘And who,’ I said, ‘was his father, and who his mother?’ ‘The tale,’ she said, ‘will take time, but I will tell you. On the birthday of Aphrodite there was a feast of the gods, at which the god Poros or Plenty, who is the son of Metis or Discretion, was one of the guests. When the feast was over, Penia or Poverty, as the custom is on such occasions, came about the doors to beg. Now Plenty who was drunk with nectar (there was no wine in those days), went into the garden of Zeus and fell into a heavy sleep, and Poverty considering her own straitened circumstances, plotted to have a child by him. Accordingly she lay down at his side and conceived Love, who partly because he is naturally a lover of the beautiful, and because Aphrodite is herself beautiful, and also because he was born on her birthday, is her follower and attendant. And as his parentage is, so also are his fortunes. In the first place he is always poor, and anything but tender and beautiful, as the many imagine him. He is rough and squalid, and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; he lies exposed under the open heaven on the bare earth, in the streets, or at the doors of houses, taking his rest, and like his mother he is always in distress. Like his father too, whom he also partly resembles, he is always plotting against the beautiful and good. He is bold, enterprising, strong, a mighty hunter, always weaving some intrigue or other, keen in the pursuit of wisdom, fertile in resources, a philosopher at all times, terrible as an enchanter, sorcerer, and sophist. He is by nature neither mortal nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he well off, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his father’s nature. But what is always flowing in is always flowing out, and so he is never destitute and never wealthy. Further, he is in a mean between ignorance and knowledge. The truth of the matter is this: No god is a philosopher or seeker after wisdom, for he is wise already, nor does any man who is wise seek after wisdom. Neither do the ignorant seek after wisdom. For that is the evil of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless satisfied with himself, having no desire for that of which he feels no want.’ ‘But who then, Diotima,’ I said, ‘are the lovers of wisdom, if they are neither the wise nor the foolish?’ ‘A child may answer that question,’ she replied. ‘They are those who are a mean between the two extremes. Love is one of them, for wisdom is a most beautiful thing, and Love is of the beautiful, and therefore Love is also a philosopher or lover of wisdom, and being a lover of wisdom is a mean between the wise and the ignorant. And his birth is the cause of this as well, for his father is wealthy and wise, and his mother poor and foolish. Such, my dear Socrates, is the nature of the spirit Love. The error in your conception of him was very natural, and as I imagine from what you say, has arisen out of a confusion of love and the beloved, which made you think that love was beautiful. For the beloved is the truly beautiful, and delicate, and perfect, and blessed, but the principle of love is of another nature, and is such as I have described.’

I said, ‘Female stranger, you've said it well, but, assuming Love to be such as you say, what use is he to men?’ ‘That, Socrates,’ she replied, ‘I will attempt to clarify. Of his nature and birth I have already spoken, and you acknowledge that love is of the beautiful. But some one will say: Of the beautiful in what, Socrates and Diotima? Or rather, let me put the question more clearly, and ask: When a man loves the beautiful, what does he desire?’ I answered her ‘That the beautiful may be his.’ ‘Still,’ she said, ‘the answer suggests a further question: What is given by the possession of beauty?’ ‘I have no ready answer to what you have asked,’ I replied.’ ‘Then,’ she said, ‘let me put the word “good” in the place of the beautiful, and repeat the question once more: If he who loves loves the good, what is it then that he loves?’ ‘The possession of the good,’ I said. ‘And what does he gain who possesses the good?’ ‘Happiness,’ I replied. 'There is less difficulty in answering that question.’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘the happy are made happy by the acquisition of good things. Nor is there any need to ask why a man desires happiness; the answer is already final.’ ‘You are right,’ I said. ‘And is this wish and this desire common to all? And do all men always desire their own good, or only some men? What say you?’ ‘All men,’ I replied. ‘The desire is common to all.’ ‘Why, then, Socrates’ she rejoined, ‘are not all men said to love, but only some of them, whereas you say that all men are always loving the same things?’ ‘I wonder myself ,’ I said, ‘why this is.’ ‘There is nothing to wonder at,’ she replied. ‘The reason is that one part of love is separated off and receives the name of the whole, but the other parts have other names.’ ‘Give an illustration,’ I said. She answered me as follows: ‘There is poetry, which, as you know, is complex and manifold. All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making, and the processes of all art are creative, and the masters of arts are all poets or makers.’ ‘Very true.’ ‘Still,’ she said, ‘you know that they are not called poets, but have other names. Only that portion of the art which is separated off from the rest, and is concerned with music and meter, is termed poetry, and they who possess poetry in this sense of the word are called poets.’ ‘Very true,’ I said. ‘And the same holds of love. For you may say generally that all desire of good and happiness is only the great and subtle power of love. But they who are drawn towards him by any other path, whether the path of money-making or gymnastics or philosophy, are not called lovers. The name of the whole is given to those whose affection takes one form only, they alone are said to love, or to be lovers.’ ‘I dare say,’ I replied, ‘that you are right.’ ‘Yes,’ she added, ‘and you hear people say that lovers are seeking for their other half, but I say that they are seeking neither for the half of themselves, nor for the whole, unless the half or the whole is also something good. And they will cut off their own hands and feet and cast them away, if they are evil, for they love not what is their own, unless there happens to be  someone who calls what belongs to him the good, and what belongs to another the evil. For there is nothing which men love but the good. Is there anything else?’ ‘Certainly, I should say, that there is nothing.’ ‘Then,’ she said, ‘the simple truth is, that men love the good.’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘To which must be added that they love the possession of the good?’ ‘Yes, that must be added.’ ‘And not only the possession, but the everlasting possession of the good?’ ‘That must be added too.’ ‘Then love,’ she said, ‘may be described generally as the love of the everlasting possession of the good?’ ‘That is most true.’

‘Then if this is the nature of love, can you tell me further,’ she said, ‘what is the manner of its pursuit? What are they doing who show all this eagerness and heat which is called love, and what is the object they have in view? Answer me.’ ‘I can't, Diotima,’ I replied. ‘If I had known, I would not have wondered at your wisdom, or come to you to learn from about this very matter.’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘I will teach you: The object they have in view is birth in beauty, whether of body or soul.’ ‘I don't understand you,’ I said, ‘the oracle requires an explanation.’ ‘I will make my meaning clearer,’ she replied. ‘I mean to say, that all men are giving birth in their bodies and in their souls. There is a certain age at which human nature wants to procreate, and procreation which must be in beauty and not in deformity. This procreation is the union of man and woman, and is a divine thing, for conception and generation are an immortal principle in the mortal creature, and in the can never exist in what is not in harmony. But the deformed is always out of harmony with the divine, and the beautiful in harmony with it. Beauty, then, is the destiny or goddess of parturition who presides at birth. Therefore, when approaching beauty, the conceiving power is propitious, and diffusive, and benign, and begets and bears fruit. At the sight of ugliness she frowns and contracts and has a sense of pain, and turns away, and shrivels up, and not without a pang refrains from conception. And this is the reason why, when the hour of conception arrives, and the teeming nature is full, there is such a flutter and ecstasy about beauty whose approach is the alleviation of the pain of travail. For love, Socrates, is not, as you imagine, the love of the beautiful only.’ ‘What then?’ ‘The love of generation and of birth in beauty.’ ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Yes, indeed,’ she replied. ‘But why of generation?’ ‘Because to the mortal creature, generation is a sort of eternity and immortality,’ she replied.  "And if, as has been already admitted, love is of the everlasting possession of the good, all men will necessarily desire immortality together with good. For this reason, love is of immortality.’

All this she taught me at various times when she spoke of love. And I remember her once saying to me, ‘What is the cause, Socrates, of love, and the attendant desire? Don't you see how all animals, birds, as well as beasts, in their desire for procreation, are in agony when infected by love, which begins with the desire of union. To this is added the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest are ready to battle against the strongest right to the end, and to die for them, and will let themselves be tormented with hunger or suffer anything in order to maintain their young. Man may be supposed to act this way from reason, but why should animals have these passionate feelings? Can you tell me why?’ Again I replied that I did not know. She said to me: ‘And do you expect ever to become a master in the art of love, if you don't know this?’ ‘But I've told you already, Diotima, that my ignorance is the reason I come to you, for I am conscious that I need a teacher. Tell me then the cause of this and of the other mysteries of love.’ ‘Marvel not,’ she said, ‘if you believe that love is of the immortal, as we have several times acknowledged, for here again, and on the same principle too, the mortal nature is seeking to be everlasting and immortal as far as that is possible. And this is only to be attained by generation, because generation always leaves behind a new existence in the place of the old. No, even in the life of the same individual there is succession and not absolute unity. A man is called the same, and yet in the short interval that elapses between youth and age, and in which every animal is said to have life and identity, he is undergoing a perpetual process of loss and reparation — hair, flesh, bones, blood, and the whole body are always changing. Which is true not only of the body, but also of the soul, whose habits, tempers, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, fears, never remain the same in any one of us, but are always coming and going. It is equally true of knowledge, and what is still more surprising to us mortals, not only do the sciences in general spring up and decay, so that in respect of them we are never the same, but each of them individually experiences a similar change. For what is implied in the word “recollection,” but the departure of knowledge, which is ever being forgotten, and is renewed and preserved by recollection, and appears to be the same although in reality it is new, according to that law of succession by which all mortal things are preserved, not absolutely the same, but by substitution, the old worn-out mortality leaving another new and similar existence behind, unlike the divine, which is always the same and not another? And in this way, Socrates, the mortal body, or mortal anything, partakes of immortality, but the immortal does so in another way. Marvel not then at the love which all men have of their offspring, for that universal love and interest is for the sake of immortality.’

I was astonished at her words, and said: ‘Is this really true, Wise Diotima?’ And she answered with all the authority of an accomplished sophist: ‘Of that, Socrates, you may be assured. Think only of the ambition of men, and you will wonder at the senselessness of their ways, unless you consider how they are stirred by the love of an immortality of fame. They are ready to run risks far greater than they would have run for their children, and to spend money and undergo any sort of toil, and even to die, for the sake of leaving behind them a name which shall be eternal. Do you imagine that Alcestis would have died to save Admetus, or Achilles to avenge Patroclus, or your own Codrus in order to preserve the kingdom for his sons, if they had not imagined that the memory of their virtues, which still survives among us, would be immortal? No,’ she said, ‘I am persuaded that all men do all things, and the better they are the more they do them, in hope of the glorious fame of immortal virtue, because they desire the immortal.

‘Those who are pregnant in the body only, go to women and beget children—this is the character of their love. Their offspring, as they hope, will preserve their memory and give them the blessedness and immortality which they desire in the future. But souls that are pregnant —for there certainly are men who are more creative in their souls than in their bodies—conceive that which is proper for the soul to conceive or contain. And what are these conceptions? Wisdom and virtue in general. And such creators are poets and all artists deserving of the name inventor. But the greatest and fairest sort of wisdom by far is that which is concerned with the ordering of states and families, and which is called temperance and justice. And he who in youth has the seed of these implanted in him and is himself inspired, when he comes to maturity desires to beget and generate. He wanders about seeking beauty that he may beget offspring, for in deformity he will beget nothing, and naturally embraces the beautiful rather than the deformed body. Above all when he finds a beautiful and noble and well-nurtured soul, he embraces the two in one person, and to such a one he is full of speech about virtue and the nature and pursuits of a good man, and he tries to educate him. And at the touch of the beautiful which is ever present to his memory, even when absent, he brings forth that which he had conceived long before. And that which he brings forth seeks company with him, and they are married by a far nearer tie and have a closer friendship than those who beget mortal children, for the children who are their common offspring are more beautiful and more immortal. Who, when he thinks of Homer and Hesiod and other great poets, would not rather have their children than ordinary human ones? Who would not emulate them in the creation of children such as theirs, which have preserved their memory and given them everlasting glory? Or who would not have such children as Lycurgus left behind him to be the saviors, not only of Lacedaemon, but of Hellas, as one may say? There is Solon, too, who is the revered father of Athenian laws, and there are many others in many other places, both among Greeks and barbarians, who have given to the world many noble works, and have been the parents of every kind of virtue, and many temples have been raised in their honor for the sake of children such as theirs, which were never raised in honor of any one, for the sake of his mortal children.

‘These are the lesser mysteries of love, into which even you, Socrates, may enter. I don't know whether you will be able to attain the greater and more hidden ones which are the crown of these, and to which, if you pursue them in the right spirit, they will lead. But I will do my utmost to inform you, and follow if you can. For he who would proceed correctly in this matter should begin while young to seek the company of beautiful bodies, and first, if guided correctly by his instructor, to love only one such body. Out of that he should create beautiful thoughts, and soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one beauty of one body is like the beauty of another. And then if bodily beauty in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every body is one and the same! And when he perceives this he will quench his violent love of the single body, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful bodies. In the next stage he will consider that beauty of the mind is more honorable than beauty of outward form, so that if a virtuous soul possesses only a little beauty, he will be content to love and tend him, and will search out and bring to birth thoughts which may improve the young. He will do this until he is compelled to contemplate the beauty of institutions and laws, and to understand that the beauty of them all is of one family, and that personal beauty is a trifle compared to theirs.  And after laws and institutions, he will go on to the sciences, that he may see their beauty. And being not like a servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a mean and narrow-minded slave, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom, until on that shore he grows and waxes strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single knowledge, which is the knowledge of beauty everywhere. To this I will proceed, so please give me your fullest attention:

‘He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes toward the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (and this, Socrates, is the final object of all our former toils), a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning. Secondly, it is not beautiful from one point of view and ugly from another, or at one time or in one relation or at one place beautiful, at another time or in another relation or at another place ugly, as if beautiful to some and ugly to others.  Neither is it beautiful in the likeness of a face or hands or any other part of the bodily frame, or in any form of speech or knowledge, or existing in any other being, as for example, in an animal, or in heaven, or in earth, or in any other place. Instead it is beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things. He who ascending from these under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end. And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all beautiful forms, and from beautiful forms to beautiful practices, and from beautiful practices to beautiful ideas, until from beautiful ideas, he arrives at the idea of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is. This, my dear Socrates,’ said the stranger of Mantineia, ‘is that life above all others which man should live, in the contemplation of absolute beauty, a beauty which, if you once beheld it, you would see does not belong to gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances you. As it is you and many others would be content to live seeing only them and conversing with them without food or drink, if that were possible. You only want to look at them and to be with them. But what if man had eyes to see the true beauty, the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colors and vanities of human life, looking to that, and holding converse with the true beauty, simple and divine? Remember how only in that communion, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be able to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble life?’

Such, Phaedrus, and I speak not only to you, but to all of you, were the words of Diotima, and I am persuaded of their truth. And being persuaded of them, I try to persuade others, that in the attainment of this end human nature will not easily find a helper better than love. And therefore, also, I say that every man ought to honor him as I myself honor him, and walk in his ways, and exhort others to do the same, and I praise the power and spirit of love according to the measure of my ability now and forever.

The words which I have spoken, you, Phaedrus, may call a speech in praise of love, or anything else which you please.


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