Plato’s Symposium presents an account of the party given at the house of Agathon, where Socrates and Alcibiades are in attendance. The men at the party take turns eulogizing the god Eros. In Agathon’s eulogy, he describes Eros as a soft and tender being. When Socrates speaks, however, he makes a correction of his host’s account, by saying the soft and tender thing is the beloved, and not the lover, as Agathon would have it. When Alcibiades enters the party toward the end of the dialogue, he complains that Socrates is deceiving Agathon. Alcibiades was once the lover of Socrates, and if he knows anything about his beloved, it is that Socrates is a tough man who can drink without getting drunk and wander the streets of Athens day in and day out without shoes to protect his feet. Though it may seem preposterous that feet matter in a dialogue about love, throughout the Symposium, the condition of the character’s feet helps determine who is the lover and who is the beloved, and furthermore, that those who run away from love in shame are cowardly and those who stand still are noble.
Alcibiades could love Socrates for the very reason that he is tough and unwavering. At the beginning of the dialogue, when Socrates is on his way to Agathon’s house he "retreat[s] to a neighbor’s porch and stands there, and when [Agathon] call[s] him, he is unwilling to come in" (236).1 Though Agathon and the other men want Socrates to join them, Aristodemus who is "most in love with Socrates at the time" says: " No, no, leave him alone. That is something of a habit with him. Sometimes he moves off and stands stock still wherever he happens to be" (236). Aristodemus shows respect and admiration for...
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...that Socrates would never be so weak as to run off or "wander about in distraction" (282) as Alcibiades did when he loved Socrates. Socrates is therefore remarking on the absurdity of his own statement.
Throughout the dialogue, the condition of the character’s feet helps determine who is the lover and who is the beloved, just as the tendency to stand firm or to run away helps determine who is noble and who is base. Socrates is noble and firm, as Alcibiades "takes off in headlong flight." And, Socrates is beloved by Alcibiades and Aristodemus for his steadfastness, but tries to be tender before Agathon to win his love as well. Alcibiades assertion that Socrates is deceitful is correct: and Socrates does try to get all the beauties for himself.
1. Plato, Symposium, in The Dialogues of Plato, trans. Seth Benardete (New York: Bantam Books, 1986).
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