Two Types of Love in Plato's Symposium

Two Types of Love in Plato's Symposium

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Two Types of Love in Plato's Symposium


I have always thought that there was only one type of love, which was that feeling of overwhelming liking to someone else. I am aware that Lust does exist and that it is separate from Love, being that the desire for someone's body rather their mind. In Plato's Symposium, Plato speaks of many different types of love, loves that can be taken as lust as well. He writes about seven different points of view on love coming from the speakers that attend the symposium in honor of Agathon. Although all these men bring up excellent points on their definitions on love, it is a woman that makes the best definition be known. I will concentrate on the difference between the theory of Common and Heavenly love brought up by Pausanias and the important role that Diotima plays in the symposium.


Pausanias brings up an excellent way to think about Love. He explains that love can be broken down into two types, that of Common and Heavenly love. The common love is that when a man and a woman join merely to satisfy their sexual desires. On the other hand the heavenly love is the type that occurs when two people are attracted to each other with a strong force that goes past the physical appearance but comes from deep within as if from the soul. Although Plato presents examples of the two loves with having the common love as if only happening between a man and a woman and the heavenly love happening between a man and a man, there is not enough proof in the text to say that this if what the whole of Athens really believed.


Lust or the common love was looked upon in the symposium as vulgar and immoral. This was the type of love was filthy with sin "since all they care about is completing the sexual act."(p.466, 181 b) This is because it comes from a strong sexual attraction that is produced from only desiring the physical body rather the soul. This common love was thought to come from the younger Aphrodite born from Zeus and one of his many mistresses.

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This type of love could have been transferred into the born child Aphrodite and become a symbol of lust since Zeus did not create this child with his wife. It makes sense that out of such an affair full of lust and desire of the body that a child such as Aphrodite would be born and form a symbol of the strong lust that her parents had for each other.


As there was an Aphrodite born out of lust it was also believed that another Aphrodite existed that was the goddess of love as well, although it was a different type of love. This other Aphrodite was born before Zeus and was most likely the goddess that Phaedrus spoke of in his speech: There is no other god older than the god of Love. The older Aphrodite was conceived out of the pure love that was called the heavenly love. This is the same god that Phaedrus believes should have more praise and honor above all other gods.


Since this god is so great and loved by all, the speakers of the symposium agreed with Phaedrus when he said, AI cannot say what greater good there is for a young boy than a gentle lover, or for a lover than a boy to love. (p.463, 178c) According to Phaedrus, when a man loves another man it is pure beauty, a virtuous life lesson for the young man. By the young boy having an older man as a lover they each gained something from one another. The young boy gains guidance and maturity while in return the lover gains the very much treasured heavenly love: When the lover is able to help the young man become wiser and better, and the young man is eager to be taught and improved by this lover... it is honorable for a young man to accept a lover. (p.469, 184e) These young men were not only introduced to new facts of life through their lovers, but were said to be The only kind of boys that grow up to be real men in politics(p.475, 192b)


Instead of thinking that love is pure and delicate, as the heavenly love can be taken, Diotima thinks love is tough... always lying in the dirt without a bed... brave, impetuous, and intense. (p. 486, 203d) This statement should not be taken in the wrong direction and thought of as the common love, but as a new form of love that is something in between the heavenly love and common love. As most of her statements, Diotima believes that many of the beliefs on love that had previously been stated were in truth somewhere in the middle.


Another point that Socrates brings up through Diotima is that all of us are pregnant, both in body and soul, and, as soon as we come to a certain age, we naturally desire to give birth. (p.489, 206d) In the case of heavenly love, when a woman is pregnant the body is wanting to give birth to another beautiful human being. When a man is pregnant he desires to give birth to a beautiful self-identity and/or an idea. In the case of common love people are pregnant with the desire to rid their bodies of lust and therefore search for another being to complete their sexual act thus enabling them to give birth to satisfaction.


It was also true that males were looked upon as being the superior gender, although it is a woman who is introduced as having the strongest most convincing knowledge on love. It is odd how Diotima is not actually present but highly esteemed even after the men know that she is in fact a woman, a being that is thought of as ignorant and a mere tool used for reproduction. My statement should not be taken the wrong way and thought of as men thinking this way about all woman, but only those that roamed the earth, it definitely excludes goddesses. The more curious thing about Plato bringing a woman into the discussion through Socrates is that this woman is made up just as all the other characters of the symposium are made up as well. With this information in mind it has brought me to believe that all these ideas are Plato's way of portraying his thoughts through these speakers on different opinions that the world had on love.


With the existence of two types of love it is easy to fall into one category of them. The men that are spoken about in during the symposium have fallen into both types although they seem to appreciate the heavenly love above the common. With the idea that in everyone is pregnant, either with a child of beauty or lust it is no mystery as to why it is so important to find that special unique kind of love. It is obvious that Plato does not think the same about women as they were perceived to be from the other speakers since he gives a woman the credit of making the best contribution to the discussion.

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