Home » A People’s Queering of 20th Century Counter Culture » Plato’s Symposium c. 385–380 BC

Plato’s Symposium c. 385–380 BC

Symposium rendering (Paestum, Italy, c. 475 BC)

Symposium rendering (Paestum, Italy, c. 475 BC)

The Symposium is a Dialogue about love between male-bodied friends (and lovers, as queer sexuality, for biological males, was the norm at the time) lounging around after an all-night drinking party. The friends, which include Socrates, all decide to give a speech about Love. This is the first Artifact on our timeline, because its themes of love, beauty, and wisdom are imperative to our People’s Queering of Counterculture. The Speech of Diotima, given by Socrates in the dialogue, suggests that “the other” is essential to the human experience, and that love and beauty are transcendent and can be extended to all beings. Eros, or this transcendent love, this “proof that connection exists” as Diane Di Prima stated in 2013 at the East Bay Public School, is suggested to be that which connects us to wisdom. This type of wisdom, found in a space of love, is arguably different from the knowledge that is perpetuated by the social and political discourses  that characterize our modern age, and throughout the timeline can be seen to resurface in the counterculture as a transcendent cultural consciousness that provides the foundation for this history of a “chosen ancestry” of the visible other. It is in this spirit that we recommend connecting to the timeline from a place of empathy, or Eros, in order to become apart of it as a living history, and a community that is transcendent of space and time with a rich and meaningful culture of love.

The following is excerpts from Plato’s Symposium, The Speech of Diotima:

206E

“You see, Socrates.” she said, “What Love wants is not beauty as you think it is.”

“Well then what is it, then?”

“Reproduction and birth in beauty.”

210A

“Even you, Socrates, could probably come to be initiated into these rites of love. But as for the purpose of these rites when they are done correctly–that is the final and highest mystery, and I don’t know if you are capable of if. I myself will tell you,” she said, “and I won’t stint any effort. And you must try to follow if you can.”

210 B

“A lover who goes about this matter correctly must begin in his youth to devote himself to beautiful bodies. First, if the leader leads alright, he should love one body and beget beautiful ideas there; then he should realize that the beauty of any one body is brother to the beauty of any other and that if he is to pursue beauty of form he’d be very foolish not think that the beauty of all bodies is one and the same. When he grasps this, he must become a lover of all beautiful bodies, and he must think that this wild gaping after just one body is a small thing and despise it.”

210C

“After this he must think that the beauty of people’s souls is more valuable than the beauty of their bodies, so that if someone is decent in his soul, even though he is scarcely blooming in his body, our lover must be content to love and care for him and to seek to give birth to such ideas as will make young men better.”

210D

“…the lover is turned to the great sea of beauty, and, gazing upon this, he gives birth to many gloriously beautiful ideas and theories, in unstinting love of wisdom, until, having grown and been strengthened there, he catches sight of such knowledge, and it is the knowledge of such beauty…”

210E

“You see, the man who has been thus far guided in matters of Love, who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly, is coming now to the goal of Loving: all of a sudden he will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature; that, Socrates, is the reason for all his earlier labors:”

211A-212B

“First, it always is and neither comes to be nor passes away, neither waxes nor wanes. Second, it is not beautiful this way and ugly that way, nor beautiful at one time and ugly at another, nor beautiful in relation to one thing and ugly in relation to another; nor is it beautiful here but ugly there, as it would be if it were beautiful for some people and ugly for others. Nor will the beautiful appear to him in the guise of a face or hands or anything else that belongs to the body. It will not appear to him as one idea or one kind of knowledge. It is not anywhere in another thing, as in an animal, or in earth, or in heaven, or in anything else, but itself by itself with itself, it is always one in form: and all other beautiful things share in that, in such a way that when those others come to be or pass away, this does not become the least bit smaller or greater nor suffer any change. So when someone rises by these stages, through loving boys correctly, and begins to see this beauty, he has almost grasped his goal. This is what it is to go aright, or be lead by another, into the mystery of Love: one goes always upwards for the sake of this Beauty, starting out from beautiful things and using them like rising stairs: from one body and two and from two to all beautiful bodies, then from beautiful bodies to beautiful customs, and from customs to learning beautiful things, and from these lessons he arrives in the end at this lesson, which is learning of this very Beauty, so that in the end he comes to know just what it is to be beautiful. 

“And there in life, Socrates, my friend,” said the woman from Mantinea, “there if anywhere should a person live his life, beholding that Beauty. If you see that, it won’t occur to you to measure beauty by gold or clothing or beautiful boys and youths–who if you see them now, strike you out of your senses, and make you, you and many others, eager to be with the boys you love and look at them forever, if there were any way to do that, forgetting food and drink, everything but looking at them and being with them. But how would it be, in our view,” she said, “if someone got to see the Beautiful itself, absolute, pure, unmixed, not polluted by human flesh or colons or any other great nonsense of mortality, but if he could see the divine Beauty itself in its one form? Do you think it would be a poor life for a human being to look there and to behold it by that which he ought, and to be with it? Or haven’t you remembered,” she said, “that in that life alone, when he looks at Beauty in the only way that Beauty can be seen–only then will it become possible for him to give birth not to images of virtue (because he is in touch with  no images), but to true virtue (because he is in touch with the true Beauty). The love of gods belongs to anyone who has given birth to true virtue and nourished it, and if any human being could become immortal, it would be he.”


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