It is well known that Plato, a devoted student of Socrates, chronicled many of Socrates' speeches and conversations. Every so often one can find instances where Socrates and other players in these conversations seem to contradict themselves, or at least muddle their arguments. One such occurrence of this is in Plato's Symposium and Plato's Phaedrus. Both texts speak of love in its physical sense, both texts describe love and its effects, and both discuss how it is best realized, yet they do this in very different fashions, and for different reasons.
Plato's Phaedrus is a conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus. In this conversation the young Phaedrus is overjoyed to tell Socrates of the speech that he had just heard Lysias, "The best writer living" (Plato Phaedrus 22), tell. In this speech Lysias uses his rhetorical skills to argue that physical love without emotional attachment is preferable to physical love with emotional attachment, "That is the clever thing about it; he makes out that an admirer who is not in love is to be preferred to one who is" (Plato Phaedrus 22). Socrates listens to this speech, as relayed by Phaedrus and quickly becomes aware that this speech was a ploy by Lysias to get Phaedrus into bed with him. Socrates then fashions a speech, on the spot, that argues the same points that Lysias did. Socrates? speech is going well but is interrupted by "divine sign." Socrates then has to fashion a new speech that renounces the blasphemous nature of the first. Socrates? second speech contains the famous image of love as a charioteer with two horses. He also addresses the nature of the soul and the effects that love has on it (which will be ...
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...ut different contexts and thus different ideals. The differences in the manner in which they reference love is nothing short of appalling. It would seem as though Eros was a God who (and whose gifts) came under much criticism, so much so that Socrates and Phaedrus needed to define Eros, both the verb and the God. Then the same discussion takes place in Symposium but with quite a different outcome. Men are Men; they change, as do their ideas. In this case the change in ideas came from context; different goals were trying to be achieved. This does not mean that either text is more or less valid or has more or less value than the other. For in both Eros is still given his due.
Plato. "Phaedrus." The Works of Plato. Trans. B. Jowett. New York: The Dial Press, n.d.
Plato. The Symposium. Ed. Christopher Gill. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1999.
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