Translated by Benjamin Jowett
Persons of the Dialogue
APOLLODORUS, who repeats to his companion the dialogue which he had
heard from Aristodemus, and had already once narrated to
A TROOP OF REVELLERS
The House of Agathon.
Concerning the things about which you ask to be informed I believe
that I am not ill-prepared with an answer. For the day before yesterday
I was coming from my own home at Phalerum to the city, and one of
my acquaintance, who had caught a sight of me from behind, hind, out
playfully in the distance, said: Apollodorus, O thou Phalerian man,
halt! So I did as I was bid; and then he said, I was looking for you,
Apollodorus, only just now, that I might ask you about the speeches
in praise of love, which were delivered by Socrates, Alcibiades, and
others, at Agathon's supper. Phoenix, the son of Philip, told another
person who told me of them; his narrative was very indistinct, but
he said that you knew, and I wish that you would give me an account
of them. Who, if not you, should be the reporter of the words of your
friend? And first tell me, he said, were you present at this meeting?
Your informant, Glaucon, I said, must have been very indistinct indeed,
if you imagine that the occasion was recent; or that I could have
been of the party.
Why, yes, he replied, I thought so.
Impossible: I said. Are you ignorant that for many years Agathon has
not resided at Athens; and not three have elapsed since I became acquainted
with Socrates, and have made it my daily business to know all that
he says and does. There was a time when I was running about the world,
fancying myself to be well employed, but I was really a most wretched
thing, no better than you are now. I thought that I ought to do anything
rather than be a philosopher.
Well, he said, jesting apart, tell me when the meeting occurred.
In our boyhood, I replied, when Agathon won the prize with his first
tragedy, on the day after that on which he and his chorus offered
the sacrifice of victory.
Then it must have been a long while ago, he said; and who told you-did
No indeed, I replied, but the same person who told Phoenix;-he was
a little fellow, who never wore any shoes Aristodemus, of the deme
of Cydathenaeum. He had been at Agathon's feast; and I think that
in those days there was no one who was a more devoted admirer of Socrates.
Moreover, I have asked Socrates about the truth of some parts of his
narrative, and he confirmed them. Then, said Glaucon, let us have
the tale over again; is not the road to Athens just made for conversation?
And so we walked, and talked of the discourses on love; and therefore,
as I said at first, I am not ill-prepared to comply with your request,
and will have another rehearsal of them if you like. For to speak
or to hear others speak of philosophy always gives me the greatest
pleasure, to say nothing of the profit. But when I hear another strain,
especially that of you rich men and traders, such conversation displeases
me; and I pity you who are my companions, because you think that you
are doing something when in reality you are doing nothing. And I dare
say that you pity me in return, whom you regard as an unhappy creature,
and very probably you are right. But I certainly know of you what
you only think of me-there is the difference.
Companion. I see, Apollodorus, that you are just the same-always speaking
evil of yourself, and of others; and I do believe that you pity all
mankind, with the exception of Socrates, yourself first of all, true
in this to your old name, which, however deserved I know how you acquired,
of Apollodorus the madman; for you are always raging against yourself
and everybody but Socrates.
Apollodorus. Yes, friend, and the reason why I am said to be mad,
and out of my wits, is just because I have these notions of myself
and you; no other evidence is required.
Com. No more of that, Apollodorus; but let me renew my request that
you would repeat the conversation.
Apoll. Well, the tale of love was on this wise:-But perhaps I had
better begin at the beginning, and endeavour to give you the exact
words of Aristodemus:
He said that he met Socrates fresh from the bath and sandalled; and
as the sight of the sandals was unusual, he asked him whither he was
going that he had been converted into such a beau:-
To a banquet at Agathon's, he replied, whose invitation to his sacrifice
of victory I refused yesterday, fearing a crowd, but promising that
I would come to-day instead; and so I have put on my finery, because
he is such a fine man. What say you to going with me unasked?
I will do as you bid me, I replied.
Follow then, he said, and let us demolish the proverb:
To the feasts of inferior men the good unbidden go; instead of which
our proverb will run:-
To the feasts of the good the good unbidden go; and this alteration
may be supported by the authority of Homer himself, who not only demolishes
but literally outrages the proverb. For, after picturing Agamemnon
as the most valiant of men, he makes Menelaus, who is but a fainthearted
warrior, come unbidden to the banquet of Agamemnon, who is feasting
and offering sacrifices, not the better to the worse, but the worse
to the better.
I rather fear, Socrates, said Aristodemus, lest this may still be
my case; and that, like Menelaus in Homer, I shall be the inferior
To the leasts of the wise unbidden goes. But I shall say that I was
bidden of you, and then you will have to make an excuse.
Two going together, he replied, in Homeric fashion, one or other of
them may invent an excuse by the way.
This was the style of their conversation as they went along. Socrates
dropped behind in a fit of abstraction, and desired Aristodemus, who
was waiting, to go on before him. When he reached the house of Agathon
he found the doors wide open, and a comical thing happened. A servant
coming out met him, and led him at once into the banqueting-hall in
which the guests were reclining, for the banquet was about to begin.
Welcome, Aristodemus, said Agathon, as soon as he appeared-you are
just in time to sup with us; if you come on any other matter put it
off, and make one of us, as I was looking for you yesterday and meant
to have asked you, if I could have found you. But what have you done
I turned round, but Socrates was nowhere to be seen; and I had to
explain that he had been with me a moment before, and that I came
by his invitation to the supper.
You were quite right in coming, said Agathon; but where is he himself?
He was behind me just now, as I entered, he said, and I cannot think
what has become of him.
Go and look for him, boy, said Agathon, and bring him in; and do you,
Aristodemus, meanwhile take the place by Eryximachus.
The servant then assisted him to wash, and he lay down, and presently
another servant came in and reported that our friend Socrates had
retired into the portico of the neighbouring house. "There he is fixed,"
said he, "and when I call to him he will not stir."
How strange, said Agathon; then you must call him again, and keep
Let him alone, said my informant; he has a way of stopping anywhere
and losing himself without any reason. I believe that he will soon
appear; do not therefore disturb him.
Well, if you think so, I will leave him, said Agathon. And then, turning
to the servants, he added, "Let us have supper without waiting for
him. Serve up whatever you please, for there; is no one to give you
orders; hitherto I have never left you to yourselves. But on this
occasion imagine that you art our hosts, and that I and the company
are your guests; treat us well, and then we shall commend you." After
this, supper was served, but still no-Socrates; and during the meal
Agathon several times expressed a wish to send for him, but Aristodemus
objected; and at last when the feast was about half over-for the fit,
as usual, was not of long duration-Socrates entered; Agathon, who
was reclining alone at the end of the table, begged that he would
take the place next to him; that "I may touch you," he said, "and
have the benefit of that wise thought which came into your mind in
the portico, and is now in your possession; for I am certain that
you would not have come away until you had found what you sought."
How I wish, said Socrates, taking his place as he was desired, that
wisdom could be infused by touch, out of the fuller the emptier man,
as water runs through wool out of a fuller cup into an emptier one;
if that were so, how greatly should I value the privilege of reclining
at your side! For you would have filled me full with a stream of wisdom
plenteous and fair; whereas my own is of a very mean and questionable
sort, no better than a dream. But yours is bright and full of promise,
and was manifested forth in all the splendour of youth the day before
yesterday, in the presence of more than thirty thousand Hellenes.
You are mocking, Socrates, said Agathon, and ere long you and I will
have to determine who bears off the palm of wisdom-of this Dionysus
shall be the judge; but at present you are better occupied with supper.
Socrates took his place on the couch, and supped with the rest; and
then libations were offered, and after a hymn had been sung to the
god, and there had been the usual ceremonies, they were about to commence
drinking, when Pausanias said, And now, my friends, how can we drink
with least injury to ourselves? I can assure you that I feel severely
the effect of yesterday's potations, and must have time to recover;
and I suspect that most of you are in the same predicament, for you
were of the party yesterday. Consider then: How can the drinking be
I entirely agree, said Aristophanes, that we should, by all means,
avoid hard drinking, for I was myself one of those who were yesterday
drowned in drink.
I think that you are right, said Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus;
but I should still like to hear one other person speak: Is Agathon
able to drink hard?
I am not equal to it, said Agathon.
Then, the Eryximachus, the weak heads like myself, Aristodemus, Phaedrus,
and others who never can drink, are fortunate in finding that the
stronger ones are not in a drinking mood. (I do not include Socrates,
who is able either to drink or to abstain, and will not mind, whichever
we do.) Well, as of none of the company seem disposed to drink much,
I may be forgiven for saying, as a physician, that drinking deep is
a bad practice, which I never follow, if I can help, and certainly
do not recommend to another, least of all to any one who still feels
the effects of yesterday's carouse.
I always do what you advise, and especially what you prescribe as
a physician, rejoined Phaedrus the Myrrhinusian, and the rest of the
company, if they are wise, will do the same.
It was agreed that drinking was not to be the order of the day, but
that they were all to drink only so much as they pleased.
Then, said Eryximachus, as you are all agreed that drinking is to
be voluntary, and that there is to be no compulsion, I move, in the
next place, that the flute-girl, who has just made her appearance,
be told to go away and play to herself, or, if she likes, to the women
who are within. To-day let us have conversation instead; and, if you
will allow me, I will tell you what sort of conversation. This proposal
having been accepted, Eryximachus proceeded as follows:-
I will begin, he said, after the manner of Melanippe in Euripides,
Not mine the word which I am about to speak, but that of Phaedrus.
For often he says to me in an indignant tone: "What a strange thing
it is, Eryximachus, that, whereas other gods have poems and hymns
made in their honour, the great and glorious god, Love, has no encomiast
among all the poets who are so many. There are the worthy sophists
too-the excellent Prodicus for example, who have descanted in prose
on the virtues of Heracles and other heroes; and, what is still more
extraordinary, I have met with a philosophical work in which the utility
of salt has been made the theme of an eloquent discourse; and many
other like things have had a like honour bestowed upon them. And only
to think that there should have been an eager interest created about
them, and yet that to this day no one has ever dared worthily to hymn
Love's praises! So entirely has this great deity been neglected."
Now in this Phaedrus seems to me to be quite right, and therefore
I want to offer him a contribution; also I think that at the present
moment we who are here assembled cannot do better than honour the.
god Love. If you agree with me, there will be no lack of conversation;
for I mean to propose that each of us in turn, going from left to
right, shall make a speech in honour of Love. Let him give us the
best which he can; and Phaedrus, because he is sitting first on the
left hand, and because he is the father of the thought, shall begin.
No one will vote against you, Eryximachus, said Socrates. How can
I oppose your motion, who profess to understand nothing but matters
of love; nor, I presume, will Agathon and Pausanias; and there can
be no doubt of Aristophanes, whose whole concern is with Dionysus
and Aphrodite; nor will any one disagree of those whom I, see around
me. The proposal, as I am aware, may seem rather hard upon us whose
place is last; but we shall be contented if we hear some good speeches
first. Let Phaedrus begin the praise of Love, and good luck to him.
All the company expressed their assent, and desired him to do as Socrates
Aristodemus did not recollect all that was said, nor do I recollect
all that he related to me; but I will tell you what I thought most
worthy of remembrance, and what the chief speakers said.
Phaedrus began by affirming that love is a mighty god, and wonderful
among gods and men, but especially wonderful in his birth. For he
is the eldest of the gods, which is an honour to him; and a proof
of his claim to this honour is, that of his parents there is no memorial;
neither poet nor prose-writer has ever affirmed that he had any. As
First Chaos came, and then broad-bosomed Earth,
The everlasting seat of all that is,
And Love. In other words, after Chaos, the Earth and Love, these two,
came into being. Also Parmenides sings of Generation:
First in the train of gods, he fashioned Love. And Acusilaus agrees
with Hesiod. Thus numerous are the witnesses who acknowledge Love
to be the eldest of the gods. And not only is he the eldest, he is
also the source of the greatest benefits to us. For I know not any
greater blessing to a young man who is beginning life than a virtuous
lover or to the lover than a beloved youth. For the principle which
ought to be the guide of men who would nobly live at principle, I
say, neither kindred, nor honour, nor wealth, nor any other motive
is able to implant so well as love. Of what am I speaking? Of the
sense of honour and dishonour, without which neither states nor individuals
ever do any good or great work. And I say that a lover who is detected
in doing any dishonourable act, or submitting through cowardice when
any dishonour is done to him by another, will be more pained at being
detected by his beloved than at being seen by his father, or by his
companions, or by any one else. The beloved too, when he is found
in any disgraceful situation, has the same feeling about his lover.
And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army
should be made up of lovers and their loves, they would be the very
best governors of their own city, abstaining from all dishonour, and
emulating one another in honour; and when fighting at each other's
side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world. For
what lover would not choose rather to be seen by all mankind than
by his beloved, either when abandoning his post or throwing away his
arms? He would be ready to die a thousand deaths rather than endure
this. Or who would desert his beloved or fail him in the hour of danger?
The veriest coward would become an inspired hero, equal to the bravest,
at such a time; Love would inspire him. That courage which, as Homer
says, the god breathes into the souls of some heroes, Love of his
own nature infuses into the lover.
Love will make men dare to die for their beloved-love alone; and women
as well as men. Of this, Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, is a monument
to all Hellas; for she was willing to lay down her life on behalf
of her husband, when no one else would, although he had a father and
mother; but the tenderness of her love so far exceeded theirs, that
she made them seem to be strangers in blood to their own son, and
in name only related to him; and so noble did this action of hers
appear to the gods, as well as to men, that among the many who have
done virtuously she is one of the very few to whom, in admiration
of her noble action, they have granted the privilege of returning
alive to earth; such exceeding honour is paid by the gods to the devotion
and virtue of love. But Orpheus, the son of Oeagrus, the harper, they
sent empty away, and presented to him an apparition only of her whom
he sought, but herself they would not give up, because he showed no
spirit; he was only a harp-player, and did not-dare like Alcestis
to die for love, but was contriving how he might enter hades alive;
moreover, they afterwards caused him to suffer death at the hands
of women, as the punishment of his cowardliness. Very different was
the reward of the true love of Achilles towards his lover Patroclus-his
lover and not his love (the notion that Patroclus was the beloved
one is a foolish error into which Aeschylus has fallen, for Achilles
was surely the fairer of the two, fairer also than all the other heroes;
and, as Homer informs us, he was still beardless, and younger far).
And greatly as the gods honour the virtue of love, still the return
of love on the part of the beloved to the lover is more admired and
valued and rewarded by them, for the lover is more divine; because
he is inspired by God. Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been
told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and
live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector. Nevertheless
he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only
in his defence, but after he was dead Wherefore the gods honoured
him even above Alcestis, and sent him to the Islands of the Blest.
These are my reasons for affirming that Love is the eldest and noblest
and mightiest of the gods; and the chiefest author and giver of virtue
in life, and of happiness after death.
This, or something like this, was the speech of Phaedrus; and some
other speeches followed which Aristodemus did not remember; the next
which he repeated was that of Pausanias. Phaedrus, he said, the argument
has not been set before us, I think, quite in the right form;-we should
not be called upon to praise Love in such an indiscriminate manner.
If there were only one Love, then what you said would be well enough;
but since there are more Loves than one,-should have begun by determining
which of them was to be the theme of our praises. I will amend this
defect; and first of all I would tell you which Love is deserving
of praise, and then try to hymn the praiseworthy one in a manner worthy
of him. For we all know that Love is inseparable from Aphrodite, and
if there were only one Aphrodite there would be only one Love; but
as there are two goddesses there must be two Loves.
And am I not right in asserting that there are two goddesses? The
elder one, having no mother, who is called the heavenly Aphrodite-she
is the daughter of Uranus; the younger, who is the daughter of Zeus
and Dione-her we call common; and the Love who is her fellow-worker
is rightly named common, as the other love is called heavenly. All
the gods ought to have praise given to them, but not without distinction
of their natures; and therefore I must try to distinguish the characters
of the two Loves. Now actions vary according to the manner of their
performance. Take, for example, that which we are now doing, drinking,
singing and talking these actions are not in themselves either good
or evil, but they turn out in this or that way according to the mode
of performing them; and when well done they are good, and when wrongly
done they are evil; and in like manner not every love, but only that
which has a noble purpose, is noble and worthy of praise. The Love
who is the offspring of the common Aphrodite is essentially common,
and has no discrimination, being such as the meaner sort of men feel,
and is apt to be of women as well as of youths, and is of the body
rather than of the soul-the most foolish beings are the objects of
this love which desires only to gain an end, but never thinks of accomplishing
the end nobly, and therefore does good and evil quite indiscriminately.
The goddess who is his mother is far younger than the other, and she
was born of the union of the male and female, and partakes of both.
But the offspring of the heavenly Aphrodite is derived from a mother
in whose birth the female has no part,-she is from the male only;
this is that love which is of youths, and the goddess being older,
there is nothing of wantonness in her. Those who are inspired by this
love turn to the male, and delight in him who is the more valiant
and intelligent nature; any one may recognise the pure enthusiasts
in the very character of their attachments. For they love not boys,
but intelligent, beings whose reason is beginning to be developed,
much about the time at which their beards begin to grow. And in choosing
young men to be their companions, they mean to be faithful to them,
and pass their whole life in company with them, not to take them in
their inexperience, and deceive them, and play the fool with them,
or run away from one to another of them. But the love of young boys
should be forbidden by law, because their future is uncertain; they
may turn out good or bad, either in body or soul, and much noble enthusiasm
may be thrown away upon them; in this matter the good are a law to
themselves, and the coarser sort of lovers ought to be restrained
by force; as we restrain or attempt to restrain them from fixing their
affections on women of free birth. These are the persons who bring
a reproach on love; and some have been led to deny the lawfulness
of such attachments because they see the impropriety and evil of them;
for surely nothing that is decorously and lawfully done can justly
Now here and in Lacedaemon the rules about love are perplexing, but
in most cities they are simple and easily intelligible; in Elis and
Boeotia, and in countries having no gifts of eloquence, they are very
straightforward; the law is simply in favour of these connexions,
and no one, whether young or old, has anything to say to their discredit;
the reason being, as I suppose, that they are men of few words in
those parts, and therefore the lovers do not like the trouble of pleading
their suit. In Ionia and other places, and generally in countries
which are subject to the barbarians, the custom is held to be dishonourable;
loves of youths share the evil repute in which philosophy and gymnastics
are held because they are inimical to tyranny; for the interests of
rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit and that
there should be no strong bond of friendship or society among them,
which love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire, as our
Athenian tyrants-learned by experience; for the love of Aristogeiton
and the constancy of Harmodius had strength which undid their power.
And, therefore, the ill-repute into which these attachments have fallen
is to be ascribed to the evil condition of those who make them to
be ill-reputed; that is to say, to the self-seeking of the governors
and the cowardice of the governed; on the other hand, the indiscriminate
honour which is given to them in some countries is attributable to
the laziness of those who hold this opinion of them. In our own country
a far better principle prevails, but, as I was saying, the explanation
of it is rather perplexing. For, observe that open loves are held
to be more honourable than secret ones, and that the love of the noblest
and highest, even if their persons are less beautiful than others,
is especially honourable.
Consider, too, how great is the encouragement which all the world
gives to the lover; neither is he supposed to be doing anything dishonourable;
but if he succeeds he is praised, and if he fail he is blamed. And
in the pursuit of his love the custom of mankind allows him to do
many strange things, which philosophy would bitterly censure if they
were done from any motive of interest, or wish for office or power.
He may pray, and entreat, and supplicate, and swear, and lie on a
mat at the door, and endure a slavery worse than that of any slave-in
any other case friends and enemies would be equally ready to prevent
him, but now there is no friend who will be ashamed of him and admonish
him, and no enemy will charge him with meanness or flattery; the actions
of a lover have a grace which ennobles them; and custom has decided
that they are highly commendable and that there no loss of character
in them; and, what is strangest of all, he only may swear and forswear
himself (so men say), and the gods will forgive his transgression,
for there is no such thing as a lover's oath. Such is the entire liberty
which gods and men have allowed the lover, according to the custom
which prevails in our part of the world. From this point of view a
man fairly argues in Athens to love and to be loved is held to be
a very honourable thing. But when parents forbid their sons to talk
with their lovers, and place them under a tutor's care, who is appointed
to see to these things, and their companions and equals cast in their
teeth anything of the sort which they may observe, and their elders
refuse to silence the reprovers and do not rebuke them-any one who
reflects on all this will, on the contrary, think that we hold these
practices to be most disgraceful. But, as I was saying at first, the
truth as I imagine is, that whether such practices are honourable
or whether they are dishonourable is not a simple question; they are
honourable to him who follows them honourably, dishonourable to him
who follows them dishonourably. There is dishonour in yielding to
the evil, or in an evil manner; but there is honour in yielding to
the good, or in an honourable manner.
Evil is the vulgar lover who loves the body rather than the soul,
inasmuch as he is not even stable, because he loves a thing which
is in itself unstable, and therefore when the bloom of youth which
he was desiring is over, he takes wing and flies away, in spite of
all his words and promises; whereas the love of the noble disposition
is life-long, for it becomes one with the everlasting. The custom
of our country would have both of them proven well and truly, and
would have us yield to the one sort of lover and avoid the other,
and therefore encourages some to pursue, and others to fly; testing
both the lover and beloved in contests and trials, until they show
to which of the two classes they respectively belong. And this is
the reason why, in the first place, a hasty attachment is held to
be dishonourable, because time is the true test of this as of most
other things; and secondly there is a dishonour in being overcome
by the love of money, or of wealth, or of political power, whether
a man is frightened into surrender by the loss of them, or, having
experienced the benefits of money and political corruption, is unable
to rise above the seductions of them. For none of these things are
of a permanent or lasting nature; not to mention that no generous
friendship ever sprang from them. There remains, then, only one way
of honourable attachment which custom allows in the beloved, and this
is the way of virtue; for as we admitted that any service which the
lover does to him is not to be accounted flattery or a dishonour to
himself, so the beloved has one way only of voluntary service which
is not dishonourable, and this is virtuous service.
For we have a custom, and according to our custom any one who does
service to another under the idea that he will be improved by him
either in wisdom, or, in some other particular of virtue-such a voluntary
service, I say, is not to be regarded as a dishonour, and is not open
to the charge of flattery. And these two customs, one the love of
youth, and the other the practice of philosophy and virtue in general,
ought to meet in one, and then the beloved may honourably indulge
the lover. For when the lover and beloved come together, having each
of them a law, and the lover thinks that he is right in doing any
service which he can to his gracious loving one; and the other that
he is right in showing any kindness which he can to him who is making
him wise and good; the one capable of communicating wisdom and virtue,
the other seeking to acquire them with a view to education and wisdom,
when the two laws of love are fulfilled and meet in one-then, and
then only, may the beloved yield with honour to the lover. Nor when
love is of this disinterested sort is there any disgrace in being
deceived, but in every other case there is equal disgrace in being
or not being deceived. For he who is gracious to his lover under the
impression that he is rich, and is disappointed of his gains because
he turns out to be poor, is disgraced all the same: for he has done
his best to show that he would give himself up to any one's "uses
base" for the sake of money; but this is not honourable. And on the
same principle he who gives himself to a lover because he is a good
man, and in the hope that he will be improved by his company, shows
himself to be virtuous, even though the object of his affection turn
out to be a villain, and to have no virtue; and if he is deceived
he has committed a noble error. For he has proved that for his part
he will do anything for anybody with a view to virtue and improvement,
than which there can be nothing nobler. Thus noble in every case is
the acceptance of another for the sake of virtue. This is that love
which is the love of the heavenly godess, and is heavenly, and of
great price to individuals and cities, making the lover and the beloved
alike eager in the work of their own improvement. But all other loves
are the offspring of the other, who is the common goddess. To you,
Phaedrus, I offer this my contribution in praise of love, which is
as good as I could make extempore.
Pausanias came to a pause-this is the balanced way in which I have
been taught by the wise to speak; and Aristodemus said that the turn
of Aristophanes was next, but either he had eaten too much, or from
some other cause he had the hiccough, and was obliged to change turns
with Eryximachus the physician, who was reclining on the couch below
him. Eryximachus, he said, you ought either to stop my hiccough, or
to speak in my turn until I have left off.
I will do both, said Eryximachus: I will speak in your turn, and do
you speak in mine; and while I am speaking let me recommend you to
hold your breath, and if after you have done so for some time the
hiccough is no better, then gargle with a little water; and if it
still continues, tickle your nose with something and sneeze; and if
you sneeze once or twice, even the most violent hiccough is sure to
go. I will do as you prescribe, said Aristophanes, and now get on.
Eryximachus spoke as follows: Seeing that Pausanias made a fair beginning,
and but a lame ending, I must endeavour to supply his deficiency.
I think that he has rightly distinguished two kinds of love. But my
art further informs me that the double love is not merely an affection
of the soul of man towards the fair, or towards anything, but is to
be found in the bodies of all animals and in productions of the earth,
and I may say in all that is; such is the conclusion which I seem
to have gathered from my own art of medicine, whence I learn how great
and wonderful and universal is the deity of love, whose empire extends
over all things, divine as well as human. And from medicine I would
begin that I may do honour to my art. There are in the human body
these two kinds of love, which are confessedly different and unlike,
and being unlike, they have loves and desires which are unlike; and
the desire of the healthy is one, and the desire of the diseased is
another; and as Pausanias was just now saying that to indulge good
men is honourable, and bad men dishonourable:-so too in the body the
good and healthy elements are to be indulged, and the bad elements
and the elements of disease are not to be indulged, but discouraged.
And this is what the physician has to do, and in this the art of medicine
consists: for medicine may be regarded generally as the knowledge
of the loves and desires of the body, and how to satisfy them or not;
and the best physician is he who is able to separate fair love from
foul, or to convert one into the other; and he who knows how to eradicate
and how to implant love, whichever is required, and can reconcile
the most hostile elements in the constitution and make them loving
friends, is skilful practitioner. Now the: most hostile are the most
opposite, such as hot and cold, bitter and sweet, moist and dry, and
the like. And my ancestor, Asclepius, knowing how-to implant friendship
and accord in these elements, was the creator of our art, as our friends
the poets here tell us, and I believe them; and not only medicine
in every branch but the arts of gymnastic and husbandry are under
Any one who pays the least attention to the subject will also perceive
that in music there is the same reconciliation of opposites; and I
suppose that this must have been the meaning, of Heracleitus, although,
his words are not accurate, for he says that is united by disunion,
like the harmony-of bow and the lyre. Now there is an absurdity saying
that harmony is discord or is composed of elements which are still
in a state of discord. But what he probably meant was, that, harmony
is composed of differing notes of higher or lower pitch which disagreed
once, but are now reconciled by the art of music; for if the higher
and lower notes still disagreed, there could be there could be no
harmony-clearly not. For harmony is a symphony, and symphony is an
agreement; but an agreement of disagreements while they disagree there
cannot be; you cannot harmonize that which disagrees. In like manner
rhythm is compounded of elements short and long, once differing and
now-in accord; which accordance, as in the former instance, medicine,
so in all these other cases, music implants, making love and unison
to grow up among them; and thus music, too, is concerned with the
principles of love in their application to harmony and rhythm. Again,
in the essential nature of harmony and rhythm there is no difficulty
in discerning love which has not yet become double. But when you want
to use them in actual life, either in the composition of songs or
in the correct performance of airs or metres composed already, which
latter is called education, then the difficulty begins, and the good
artist is needed. Then the old tale has to be repeated of fair and
heavenly love -the love of Urania the fair and heavenly muse, and
of the duty of accepting the temperate, and those who are as yet intemperate
only that they may become temperate, and of preserving their love;
and again, of the vulgar Polyhymnia, who must be used with circumspection
that the pleasure be enjoyed, but may not generate licentiousness;
just as in my own art it is a great matter so to regulate the desires
of the epicure that he may gratify his tastes without the attendant
evil of disease. Whence I infer that in music, in medicine, in all
other things human as which as divine, both loves ought to be noted
as far as may be, for they are both present.
The course of the seasons is also full of both these principles; and
when, as I was saying, the elements of hot and cold, moist and dry,
attain the harmonious love of one another and blend in temperance
and harmony, they bring to men, animals, and plants health and plenty,
and do them no harm; whereas the wanton love, getting the upper hand
and affecting the seasons of the year, is very destructive and injurious,
being the source of pestilence, and bringing many other kinds of diseases
on animals and plants; for hoar-frost and hail and blight spring from
the excesses and disorders of these elements of love, which to know
in relation to the revolutions of the heavenly bodies and the seasons
of the year is termed astronomy. Furthermore all sacrifices and the
whole province of divination, which is the art of communion between
gods and men-these, I say, are concerned with the preservation of
the good and the cure of the evil love. For all manner of impiety
is likely to ensue if, instead of accepting and honouring and reverencing
the harmonious love in all his actions, a man honours the other love,
whether in his feelings towards gods or parents, towards the living
or the dead. Wherefore the business of divination is to see to these
loves and to heal them, and divination is the peacemaker of gods and
men, working by a knowledge of the religious or irreligious tendencies
which exist in human loves. Such is the great and mighty, or rather
omnipotent force of love in general. And the love, more especially,
which is concerned with the good, and which is perfected in company
with temperance and justice, whether among gods or men, has the greatest
power, and is the source of all our happiness and harmony, and makes
us friends with the gods who are above us, and with one another. I
dare say that I too have omitted several things which might be said
in praise of Love, but this was not intentional, and you, Aristophanes,
may now supply the omission or take some other line of commendation;
for I perceive that you are rid of the hiccough.
Yes, said Aristophanes, who followed, the hiccough is gone; not, however,
until I applied the sneezing; and I wonder whether the harmony of
the body has a love of such noises and ticklings, for I no sooner
applied the sneezing than I was cured.
Eryximachus said: Beware, friend Aristophanes, although you are going
to speak, you are making fun of me; and I shall have to watch and
see whether I cannot have a laugh at your expense, when you might
speak in peace.
You are right, said Aristophanes, laughing. I will unsay my words;
but do you please not to watch me, as I fear that in the speech which
I am about to make, instead of others laughing with me, which is to
the manner born of our muse and would be all the better, I shall only
be laughed at by them.
Do you expect to shoot your bolt and escape, Aristophanes? Well, perhaps
if you are very careful and bear in mind that you will be called to
account, I may be induced to let you off.
Aristophanes professed to open another vein of discourse; he had a
mind to praise Love in another way, unlike that either of Pausanias
or Eryximachus. Mankind; he said, judging by their neglect of him,
have never, as I think, at all understood the power of Love. For if
they had understood him they would surely have built noble temples
and altars, and offered solemn sacrifices in his honour; but this
is not done, and most certainly ought to be done: since of all the
gods he is the best friend of men, the helper and the healer of the
ills which are the great impediment to the happiness of the race.
I will try to describe his power to you, and you shall teach the rest
of the world what I am teaching you. In the first place, let me treat
of the nature of man and what has happened to it; for the original
human nature was not like the present, but different. The sexes were
not two as they are now, but originally three in number; there was
man, woman, and the union of the two, having a name corresponding
to this double nature, which had once a real existence, but is now
lost, and the word "Androgynous" is only preserved as a term of reproach.
In the second place, the primeval man was round, his back and sides
forming a circle; and he had four hands and four feet, one head with
two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely
alike; also four ears, two privy members, and the remainder to correspond.
He could walk upright as men now do, backwards or forwards as he pleased,
and he could also roll over and over at a great pace, turning on his
four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and
over with their legs in the air; this was when he wanted to run fast.
Now the sexes were three, and such as I have described them; because
the sun, moon, and earth are three;-and the man was originally the
child of the sun, the woman of the earth, and the man-woman of the
moon, which is made up of sun and earth, and they were all round and
moved round and round: like their parents. Terrible was their might
and strength, and the thoughts of their hearts were great, and they
made an attack upon the gods; of them is told the tale of Otys and
Ephialtes who, as Homer says, dared to scale heaven, and would have
laid hands upon the gods. Doubt reigned in the celestial councils.
Should they kill them and annihilate the race with thunderbolts, as
they had done the giants, then there would be an end of the sacrifices
and worship which men offered to them; but, on the other hand, the
gods could not suffer their insolence to be unrestrained.
At last, after a good deal of reflection, Zeus discovered a way. He
said: "Methinks I have a plan which will humble their pride and improve
their manners; men shall continue to exist, but I will cut them in
two and then they will be diminished in strength and increased in
numbers; this will have the advantage of making them more profitable
to us. They shall walk upright on two legs, and if they continue insolent
and will not be quiet, I will split them again and they shall hop
about on a single leg." He spoke and cut men in two, like a sorb-apple
which is halved for pickling, or as you might divide an egg with a
hair; and as he cut them one after another, he bade Apollo give the
face and the half of the neck a turn in order that the man might contemplate
the section of himself: he would thus learn a lesson of humility.
Apollo was also bidden to heal their wounds and compose their forms.
So he gave a turn to the face and pulled the skin from the sides all
over that which in our language is called the belly, like the purses
which draw in, and he made one mouth at the centre, which he fastened
in a knot (the same which is called the navel); he also moulded the
breast and took out most of the wrinkles, much as a shoemaker might
smooth leather upon a last; he left a few, however, in the region
of the belly and navel, as a memorial of the primeval state. After
the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half, came
together, and throwing their arms about one another, entwined in mutual
embraces, longing to grow into one, they were on the point of dying
from hunger and self-neglect, because they did not like to do anything
apart; and when one of the halves died and the other survived, the
survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them, being
the sections of entire men or women, and clung to that. They were
being destroyed, when Zeus in pity of them invented a new plan: he
turned the parts of generation round to the front, for this had not
been always their position and they sowed the seed no longer as hitherto
like grasshoppers in the ground, but in one another; and after the
transposition the male generated in the female in order that by the
mutual embraces of man and woman they might breed, and the race might
continue; or if man came to man they might be satisfied, and rest,
and go their ways to the business of life: so ancient is the desire
of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature,
making one of two, and healing the state of man.
Each of us when separated, having one side only, like a flat fish,
is but the indenture of a man, and he is always looking for his other
half. Men who are a section of that double nature which was once called
Androgynous are lovers of women; adulterers are generally of this
breed, and also adulterous women who lust after men: the women who
are a section of the woman do not care for men, but have female attachments;
the female companions are of this sort. But they who are a section
of the male follow the male, and while they are young, being slices
of the original man, they hang about men and embrace them, and they
are themselves the best of boys and youths, because they have the
most manly nature. Some indeed assert that they are shameless, but
this is not true; for they do not act thus from any want of shame,
but because they are valiant and manly, and have a manly countenance,
and they embrace that which is like them. And these when they grow
up become our statesmen, and these only, which is a great proof of
the truth of what I am saving. When they reach manhood they are loves
of youth, and are not naturally inclined to marry or beget children,-if
at all, they do so only in obedience to the law; but they are satisfied
if they may be allowed to live with one another unwedded; and such
a nature is prone to love and ready to return love, always embracing
that which is akin to him. And when one of them meets with his other
half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or
a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love
and friendship and intimacy, and would not be out of the other's sight,
as I may say, even for a moment: these are the people who pass their
whole lives together; yet they could not explain what they desire
of one another. For the intense yearning which each of them has towards
the other does not appear to be the desire of lover's intercourse,
but of something else which the soul of either evidently desires and
cannot tell, and of which she has only a dark and doubtful presentiment.
Suppose Hephaestus, with his instruments, to come to the pair who
are lying side, by side and to say to them, "What do you people want
of one another?" they would be unable to explain. And suppose further,
that when he saw their perplexity he said: "Do you desire to be wholly
one; always day and night to be in one another's company? for if this
is what you desire, I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow
together, so that being two you shall become one, and while you live
a common life as if you were a single man, and after your death in
the world below still be one departed soul instead of two-I ask whether
this is what you lovingly desire, and whether you are satisfied to
attain this?"-there is not a man of them who when he heard the proposal
would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting
into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression
of his ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally
one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is
called love. There was a time, I say, when we were one, but now because
of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed us, as the Arcadians
were dispersed into villages by the Lacedaemonians. And if we are
not obedient to the gods, there is a danger that we shall be split
up again and go about in basso-relievo, like the profile figures having
only half a nose which are sculptured on monuments, and that we shall
be like tallies.
Wherefore let us exhort all men to piety, that we may avoid evil,
and obtain the good, of which Love is to us the lord and minister;
and let no one oppose him-he is the enemy of the gods who oppose him.
For if we are friends of the God and at peace with him we shall find
our own true loves, which rarely happens in this world at present.
I am serious, and therefore I must beg Eryximachus not to make fun
or to find any allusion in what I am saying to Pausanias and Agathon,
who, as I suspect, are both of the manly nature, and belong to the
class which I have been describing. But my words have a wider application-they
include men and women everywhere; and I believe that if our loves
were perfectly accomplished, and each one returning to his primeval
nature had his original true love, then our race would be happy. And
if this would be best of all, the best in the next degree and under
present circumstances must be the nearest approach to such an union;
and that will be the attainment of a congenial love. Wherefore, if
we would praise him who has given to us the benefit, we must praise
the god Love, who is our greatest benefactor, both leading us in this
life back to our own nature, and giving us high hopes for the future,
for he promises that if we are pious, he will restore us to our original
state, and heal us and make us happy and blessed. This, Eryximachus,
is my discourse of love, which, although different to yours, I must
beg you to leave unassailed by the shafts of your ridicule, in order
that each may have his turn; each, or rather either, for Agathon and
Socrates are the only ones left.
Indeed, I am not going to attack you, said Eryximachus, for I thought
your speech charming, and did I not know that Agathon and Socrates
are masters in the art of love, I should be really afraid that they
would have nothing to say, after the world of things which have been
said already. But, for all that, I am not without hopes.
Socrates said: You played your part well, Eryximachus; but if you
were as I am now, or rather as I shall be when Agathon has spoken,
you would, indeed, be in a great strait.
You want to cast a spell over me, Socrates, said Agathon, in the hope
that I may be disconcerted at the expectation raised among the audience
that I shall speak well.
I should be strangely forgetful, Agathon replied Socrates, of the
courage and magnanimity which you showed when your own compositions
were about to be exhibited, and you came upon the stage with the actors
and faced the vast theatre altogether undismayed, if I thought that
your nerves could be fluttered at a small party of friends.
Do you think, Socrates, said Agathon, that my head is so full of the
theatre as not to know how much more formidable to a man of sense
a few good judges are than many fools?
Nay, replied Socrates, I should be very wrong in attributing to you,
Agathon, that or any other want of refinement. And I am quite aware
that if you happened to meet with any whom you thought wise, you would
care for their opinion much more than for that of the many. But then
we, having been a part of the foolish many in the theatre, cannot
be regarded as the select wise; though I know that if you chanced
to be in the presence, not of one of ourselves, but of some really
wise man, you would be ashamed of disgracing yourself before him-would
Yes, said Agathon.
But before the many you would not be ashamed, if you thought that
you were doing something disgraceful in their presence?
Here Phaedrus interrupted them, saying: not answer him, my dear Agathon;
for if he can only get a partner with whom he can talk, especially
a good-looking one, he will no longer care about the completion of
our plan. Now I love to hear him talk; but just at present I must
not forget the encomium on Love which I ought to receive from him
and from every one. When you and he have paid your tribute to the
god, then you may talk.
Very good, Phaedrus, said Agathon; I see no reason why I should not
proceed with my speech, as I shall have many other opportunities of
conversing with Socrates. Let me say first how I ought to speak, and
The previous speakers, instead of praising the god Love, or unfolding
his nature, appear to have congratulated mankind on the benefits which
he confers upon them. But I would rather praise the god first, and
then speak of his gifts; this is always the right way of praising
everything. May I say without impiety or offence, that of all the
blessed gods he is the most blessed because he is the fairest and
best? And he is the fairest: for, in the first place, he is the youngest,
and of his youth he is himself the witness, fleeing out of the way
of age, who is swift enough, swifter truly than most of us like:-Love
hates him and will not come near him; but youth and love live and
move together-like to like, as the proverb says. Many things were
said by Phaedrus about Love in which I agree with him; but I cannot
agree that he is older than Iapetus and Kronos:-not so; I maintain
him to be the youngest of the gods, and youthful ever. The ancient
doings among the gods of which Hesiod and Parmenides spoke, if the
tradition of them be true, were done of Necessity and not Love; had
Love been in those days, there would have been no chaining or mutilation
of the gods, or other violence, but peace and sweetness, as there
is now in heaven, since the rule of Love began.
Love is young and also tender; he ought to have a poet like Homer
to describe his tenderness, as Homer says of Ate, that she is a goddess
Her feet are tender, for she sets her steps,
Not on the ground but on the heads of men: herein is an excellent
proof of her tenderness that,-she walks not upon the hard but upon
the soft. Let us adduce a similar proof of the tenderness of Love;
for he walks not upon the earth, nor yet upon skulls of men, which
are not so very soft, but in the hearts and souls of both god, and
men, which are of all things the softest: in them he walks and dwells
and makes his home. Not in every soul without exception, for Where
there is hardness he departs, where there is softness there he dwells;
and nestling always with his feet and in all manner of ways in the
softest of soft places, how can he be other than the softest of all
things? Of a truth he is the tenderest as well as the youngest, and
also he is of flexile form; for if he were hard and without flexure
he could not enfold all things, or wind his way into and out of every
soul of man undiscovered. And a proof of his flexibility and symmetry
of form is his grace, which is universally admitted to be in an especial
manner the attribute of Love; ungrace and love are always at war with
one another. The fairness of his complexion is revealed by his habitation
among the flowers; for he dwells not amid bloomless or fading beauties,
whether of body or soul or aught else, but in the place of flowers
and scents, there he sits and abides. Concerning the beauty of the
god I have said enough; and yet there remains much more which I might
say. Of his virtue I have now to speak: his greatest glory is that
he can neither do nor suffer wrong to or from any god or any man;
for he suffers not by force if he suffers; force comes not near him,
neither when he acts does he act by force. For all men in all things
serve him of their own free will, and where there is voluntary agreement,
there, as the laws which are the lords of the city say, is justice.
And not only is he just but exceedingly temperate, for Temperance
is the acknowledged ruler of the pleasures and desires, and no pleasure
ever masters Love; he is their master and they are his servants; and
if he conquers them he must be temperate indeed. As to courage, even
the God of War is no match for him; he is the captive and Love is
the lord, for love, the love of Aphrodite, masters him, as the tale
runs; and the master is stronger than the servant. And if he conquers
the bravest of all others, he must be himself the bravest.
Of his courage and justice and temperance I have spoken, but I have
yet to speak of his wisdom-and according to the measure of my ability
I must try to do my best. In the first place he is a poet (and here,
like Eryximachus, I magnify my art), and he is also the source of
poesy in others, which he could not be if he were not himself a poet.
And at the touch of him every one becomes a poet, even though he had
no music in him before; this also is a proof that Love is a good poet
and accomplished in all the fine arts; for no one can give to another
that which he has not himself, or teach that of which he has no knowledge.
Who will deny that the creation of the animals is his doing? Are they
not all the works his wisdom, born and begotten of him? And as to
the artists, do we not know that he only of them whom love inspires
has the light of fame?-he whom Love touches riot walks in darkness.
The arts of medicine and archery and divination were discovered by
Apollo, under the guidance of love and desire; so that he too is a
disciple of Love. Also the melody of the Muses, the metallurgy of
Hephaestus, the weaving of Athene, the empire of Zeus over gods and
men, are all due to Love, who was the inventor of them. And so Love
set in order the empire of the gods-the love of beauty, as is evident,
for with deformity Love has no concern. In the days of old, as I began
by saying, dreadful deeds were done among the gods, for they were
ruled by Necessity; but now since the birth of Love, and from the
Love of the beautiful, has sprung every good in heaven and earth.
Therefore, Phaedrus, I say of Love that he is the fairest and best
in himself, and the cause of what is fairest and best in all other
things. And there comes into my mind a line of poetry in which he
is said to be the god who
Gives peace on earth and calms the stormy deep,
Who stills the winds and bids the sufferer sleep. This is he who empties
men of disaffection and fills them with affection, who makes them
to meet together at banquets such as these: in sacrifices, feasts,
dances, he is our lord-who sends courtesy and sends away discourtesy,
who gives kindness ever and never gives unkindness; the friend of
the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the gods; desired
by those who have no part in him, and precious to those who have the
better part in him; parent of delicacy, luxury, desire, fondness,
softness, grace; regardful of the good, regardless of the evil: in
every word, work, wish, fear-saviour, pilot, comrade, helper; glory
of gods and men, leader best and brightest: in whose footsteps let
every man follow, sweetly singing in his honour and joining in that
sweet strain with which love charms the souls of gods and men. Such
is the speech, Phaedrus, half-playful, yet having a certain measure
of seriousness, which, according to my ability, I dedicate to the
When Agathon had done speaking, Aristodemus said that there was a
general cheer; the young man was thought to have spoken in a manner
worthy of himself, and of the god. And Socrates, looking at Eryximachus,
said: Tell me, son of Acumenus, was there not reason in my fears?
and was I not a true prophet when I said that Agathon would make a
wonderful oration, and that I should be in a strait?
The part of the prophecy which concerns Agathon, replied Eryximachus,
appears to me to be true; but, not the other part-that you will be
in a strait.
Why, my dear friend, said Socrates, must not I or any one be in a
strait who has to speak after he has heard such a rich and varied
discourse? I am especially struck with the beauty of the concluding
words-who could listen to them without amazement? When I reflected
on the immeasurable inferiority of my own powers, I was ready to run
away for shame, if there had been a possibility of escape. For I was
reminded of Gorgias, and at the end of his speech I fancied that Agathon
was shaking at me the Gorginian or Gorgonian head of the great master
of rhetoric, which was simply to turn me and my speech, into stone,
as Homer says, and strike me dumb. And then I perceived how foolish
I had been in consenting to take my turn with you in praising love,
and saying that I too was a master of the art, when I really had no
conception how anything ought to be praised. For in my simplicity
I imagined that the topics of praise should be true, and that this
being presupposed, out of the true the speaker was to choose the best
and set them forth in the best manner. And I felt quite proud, thinking
that I knew the nature of true praise, and should speak well. Whereas
I now see that the intention was to attribute to Love every species
of greatness and glory, whether really belonging to him not, without
regard to truth or falsehood-that was no matter; for the original,
proposal seems to have been not that each of you should really praise
Love, but only that you should appear to praise him. And so you attribute
to Love every imaginable form of praise which can be gathered anywhere;
and you say that "he is all this," and "the cause of all that," making
him appear the fairest and best of all to those who know him not,
for you cannot impose upon those who know him. And a noble and solemn
hymn of praise have you rehearsed. But as I misunderstood the nature
of the praise when I said that I would take my turn, I must beg to
be absolved from the promise which I made in ignorance, and which
(as Euripides would say) was a promise of the lips and not of the
mind. Farewell then to such a strain: for I do not praise in that
way; no, indeed, I cannot. But if you like to here the truth about
love, I am ready to speak in my own manner, though I will not make
myself ridiculous by entering into any rivalry with you. Say then,
Phaedrus, whether you would like, to have the truth about love, spoken
in any words and in any order which may happen to come into my mind
at the time. Will that be agreeable to you?
Aristodemus said that Phaedrus and the company bid him speak in any
manner which he thought best. Then, he added, let me have your permission
first to ask Agathon a few more questions, in order that I may take
his admissions as the premisses of my discourse.
I grant the permission, said Phaedrus: put your questions. Socrates
then proceeded as follows:-
In the magnificent oration which you have just uttered, I think that
you were right, my dear Agathon, in proposing to speak of the nature
of Love first and afterwards of his works-that is a way of beginning
which I very much approve. And as you have spoken so eloquently of
his nature, may I ask you further, Whether love is the love of something
or of nothing? And here I must explain myself: I do not want you to
say that love is the love of a father or the love of a mother-that
would be ridiculous; but to answer as you would, if I asked is a father
a father of something? to which you would find no difficulty in replying,
of a son or daughter: and the answer would be right.
Very true, said Agathon.
And you would say the same of a mother?
Yet let me ask you one more question in order to illustrate my meaning:
Is not a brother to be regarded essentially as a brother of something?
Certainly, he replied.
That is, of a brother or sister?
Yes, he said.
And now, said Socrates, I will ask about Love:-Is Love of something
or of nothing?
Of something, surely, he replied.
Keep in mind what this is, and tell me what I want to know-whether
Love desires that of which love is.
And does he possess, or does he not possess, that which he loves and
Probably not, I should say.
Nay, replied Socrates, I would have you consider whether "necessarily"
is not rather the word. The inference that he who desires something
is in want of something, and that he who desires nothing is in want
of nothing, is in my judgment, Agathon absolutely and necessarily
true. What do you think?
I agree with you, said Agathon.
Very good. Would he who is great, desire to be great, or he who is
strong, desire to be strong?
That would be inconsistent with our previous admissions.
True. For he who is anything cannot want to be that which he is?
And yet, added Socrates, if a man being strong desired to be strong,
or being swift desired to be swift, or being healthy desired to be
healthy, in that case he might be thought to desire something which
he already has or is. I give the example in order that we may avoid
misconception. For the possessors of these qualities, Agathon, must
be supposed to have their respective advantages at the time, whether
they choose or not; and who can desire that which he has? Therefore
when a person says, I am well and wish to be well, or I am rich and
wish to be rich, and I desire simply to have what I have-to him we
shall reply: "You, my friend, having wealth and health and strength,
want to have the continuance of them; for at this moment, whether
you choose or no, you have them. And when you say, I desire that which
I have and nothing else, is not your meaning that you want to have
what you now have in the future? "He must agree with us-must he not?
He must, replied Agathon.
Then, said Socrates, he desires that what he has at present may be
preserved to him in the future, which is equivalent to saying that
he desires something which is non-existent to him, and which as yet
he has not got.
Very true, he said.
Then he and every one who desires, desires that which he has not already,
and which is future and not present, and which he has not, and is
not, and of which he is in want;-these are the sort of things which
love and desire seek?
Very true, he said.
Then now, said Socrates, let us recapitulate the argument. First,
is not love of something, and of something too which is wanting to
Yes, he replied.
Remember further what you said in your speech, or if you do not remember
I will remind you: you said that the love of the beautiful set in
order the empire of the gods, for that of deformed things there is
no love-did you not say something of that kind?
Yes, said Agathon.
Yes, my friend, and the remark was a just one. And if this is true,
Love is the love of beauty and not of deformity?
And the admission has been already made that Love is of something
which a man wants and has not?
True, he said.
Then Love wants and has not beauty?
Certainly, he replied.
And would you call that beautiful which wants and does not possess
Then would you still say that love is beautiful?
Agathon replied: I fear that I did not understand what I was saying.
You made a very good speech, Agathon, replied Socrates; but there
is yet one small question which I would fain ask:-Is not the good
also the beautiful?
Then in wanting the beautiful, love wants also the good?
I cannot refute you, Socrates, said Agathon:-Let us assume that what
you say is true.
Say rather, beloved Agathon, that you cannot refute the truth; for
Socrates is easily refuted.
And now, taking my leave of you, I would rehearse a tale of love which
I heard from Diotima of Mantineia, a woman wise in this and in many
other kinds of knowledge, who in the days of old, when the Athenians
offered sacrifice before the coming of the plague, delayed the disease
ten years. She was my instructress in the art of love, and I shall
repeat to you what she said to me, beginning with the admissions 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 shall 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 which he used to me, that Love was a mighty god, and likewise
fair and she proved to me as I proved to him that, by my own showing,
Love was neither fair nor good. "What do you mean, Diotima," I said,
"is love then evil and foul?" "Hush," she cried; "must that be foul
which is not fair?" "Certainly," I said. "And is that which is not
wise, ignorant? do you not 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. "Do not then insist," she said, "that what is not fair
is of necessity foul, or what is not good evil; or infer that because
love is not fair and good he is therefore foul and evil; for he is
in a mean between them." "Well," I said, "Love is surely admitted
by all to be a great god." "By those who know or by those who do not
know?" "By all." "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 is quite intelligible,"
she replied; "for you yourself would acknowledge that the gods are
happy and fair of course you would-would 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 fair?" "Yes." "And you admitted
that Love, because he was in want, desires those good and fair things
of which he is in want?" "Yes, I did." "But how can he be a god who
has no portion in what is either good or fair?" "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 instance, he is neither mortal nor immortal, but in
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 which
divides them, and therefore in him all is bound together, and through
him the arts of the prophet and the priest, their sacrifices and mysteries
and charms, and all, prophecy and incantation, find their way. For
God mingles not 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. 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; nevertheless 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
manner is on such occasions, came about the doors to beg. Now Plenty
who was the worse for 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,
and 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 fair, as the many imagine him; and he is rough and squalid,
and has no shoes, nor a house to dwell in; on the bare earth exposed
he lies under the open heaven, 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 fair 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, sophist. He is by nature neither mortal
nor immortal, but alive and flourishing at one moment when he is in
plenty, and dead at another moment, and again alive by reason of his
father's nature. But that which is always flowing in is always flowing
out, and so he is never in want and never in wealth; and, 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 herein is the evil
of ignorance, that he who is neither good nor wise is nevertheless
satisfied with himself: he has 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 in a mean between
the two; 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 in a mean between
the wise and the ignorant. And of this too his birth is the cause;
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 all 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
I said, "O thou stranger woman, thou sayest well; but, assuming Love
to be such as you say, what is the use of him to men?" "That, Socrates,"
she replied, "I will attempt to unfold: 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 dearly, 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?" "To what you have asked,"
I replied, "I have no answer ready." "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 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,"
she rejoined, "are not all men, Socrates, said to love, but only some
them? whereas you say that all men are always loving the same things."
"I myself wonder," 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 metre, 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 appropriated 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 be also a 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 perchance there
be some one 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?" "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 be the nature of love, can you tell me further," she
said, "what is the manner of the pursuit? what are they doing who
show all this eagerness and heat which is called love? and what is
the object which they have in view? Answer me." "Nay, Diotima," I
replied, "if I had known, I should not have wondered at your wisdom,
neither should I have come to learn from you about this very matter."
"Well," she said, "I will teach you:-The object which they have in
view is birth in beauty, whether of body or, soul." "I do not understand
you," I said; "the oracle requires an explanation." "I will make my
meaning dearer," she replied. "I mean to say, that all men are bringing
to the birth in their bodies and in their souls. There is a certain
age at which human nature is desirous of procreation-procreation which
must be in beauty and not in deformity; and 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 inharmonious they can never be. But the deformed is always inharmonious
with the divine, and the beautiful harmonious. Beauty, then, is the
destiny or goddess of parturition who presides at birth, and 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: Wherefore 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? See you not how all animals, birds,
as well as beasts, in their desire of procreation, are in agony when
they take the infection of love, which begins with the desire of union;
whereto is added the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest
are ready to battle against the strongest even to the uttermost, 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 thus 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 do not know this?" "But I have told you already,
Diotima, that my ignorance is the reason why I come to you; for I
am conscious that I want 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 as far as is possible to be everlasting and immortal: and
this is only to be attained by generation, because generation always
leaves behind a new existence in the place of the old. Nay 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 which
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; and 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 like 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 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 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, O thou
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 all risks greater far than they would
have 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? Nay," 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; for they desire the immortal.
"Those who are pregnant in the body only, betake themselves to women
and beget children-this is the character of their love; their offspring,
as they hope, will preserve their memory and giving them the blessedness
and immortality which they desire in the future. But souls which 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 who
are 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 fair and noble and
well-nurtured soul, he embraces the two in one person, and to such
an 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 in company
with him tends that which he brings forth; 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
fairer 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 saviours, not only of Lacedaemon, but of Hellas, as
one may say? There is Solon, too, who is the revered father of Athenian
laws; and many others there are in many other places, both among hellenes
and barbarians, who have given to the world many noble works, and
have been the parents of virtue of every kind; and many temples have
been raised in their honour for the sake of children such as theirs;
which were never raised in honour of any one, for the sake of his
"These are the lesser mysteries of love, into which even you, Socrates,
may enter; to the greater and more hidden ones which are the crown
of these, and to which, if you pursue them in a right spirit, they
will lead, I know not whether you will be able to attain. But I will
do my utmost to inform you, and do you follow if you can. For he who
would proceed aright in this matter should begin in youth to visit
beautiful forms; and first, if he be guided by his instructor aright,
to love one such form only-out of that he should create fair thoughts;
and soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one form is
akin to the beauty of another; and then if beauty of form in general
is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the
beauty in every form is and the same! And when he perceives this he
will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and
deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms;
in the next stage he will consider that the beauty of the mind is
more honourable than the beauty of the outward form. So that if a
virtuous soul have but a little comeliness, he will be content to
love and tend him, and will search out and bring to the birth thoughts
which may improve the young, until he is compelled to contemplate
and see 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; and after laws and institutions he will go on to the
sciences, that he may see their beauty, being not like a servant in
love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a
slave mean and narrow-minded, 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
science, which is the science of beauty everywhere. To this I will
proceed; please to give me your very best 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 cause of all our former toils)-a
nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying,
or waxing and waning; secondly, not fair in one point of view and
foul in another, or at one time or in one relation or at one place
fair, at another time or in another relation or at another place foul,
as if fair to some and-foul to others, or 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; but
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 from
these ascending 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 fair forms, and from fair forms to fair practices, and
from fair practices to fair notions, until from fair notions he arrives
at the notion 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 beauty absolute; a beauty which if you once beheld, you would see
not to be after the measure of gold, and garments, and fair boys and
youths, whose presence now entrances you; and you and many a one would
be content to live seeing them only and conversing with them without
meat 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 dear and unalloyed, not clogged with
the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human
life-thither looking, and holding converse with the true beauty simple
and divine? Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty
with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled 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 honour him
as I myself honour him, and walk in his ways, and exhort others to
do the same, and praise the power and spirit of love according to
the measure of my ability now and ever.
The words which I have spoken, you, Phaedrus, may call an encomium
of love, or anything else which you please.
When Socrates had done speaking, the company applauded, and Aristophanes
was beginning to say something in answer to the allusion which Socrates
had made to his own speech, when suddenly there was a great knocking
at the door of the house, as of revellers, and the sound of a flute-girl
was heard. Agathon told the attendants to go and see who were the
intruders. "If they are friends of ours," he said, "invite them in,
but if not, say that the drinking is over." A little while afterwards
they heard the voice of Alcibiades resounding in the court; he was
in a great state of intoxication and kept roaring and shouting "Where
is Agathon? Lead me to Agathon," and at length, supported by the flute-girl
and some of his attendants, he found his way to them. "Hail, friends,"
he said, appearing-at the door crown, with a massive garland of ivy
and violets, his head flowing with ribands. "Will you have a very
drunken man as a companion of your revels? Or shall I crown Agathon,
which was my intention in coming, and go away? For I was unable to
come yesterday, and therefore I am here to-day, carrying on my head
these ribands, that taking them from my own head, I may crown the
head of this fairest and wisest of men, as I may be allowed to call
him. Will you laugh at me because I am drunk? Yet I know very well
that I am speaking the truth, although you may laugh. But first tell
me; if I come in shall we have the understanding of which I spoke?
Will you drink with me or not?"
The company were vociferous in begging that he would take his place
among them, and Agathon specially invited him. Thereupon he was led
in by the people who were with him; and as he was being led, intending
to crown Agathon, he took the ribands from his own head and held them
in front of his eyes; he was thus prevented from seeing Socrates,
who made way for him, and Alcibiades took the vacant place between
Agathon and Socrates, and in taking the place he embraced Agathon
and crowned him. Take off his sandals, said Agathon, and let him make
a third on the same couch.
By all means; but who makes the third partner in our revels? said
Alcibiades, turning round and starting up as he caught sight of Socrates.
By Heracles, he said, what is this? here is Socrates always lying
in wait for me, and always, as his way is, coming out at all sorts
of unsuspected places: and now, what have you to say for yourself,
and why are you lying here, where I perceive that you have contrived
to find a place, not by a joker or lover of jokes, like Aristophanes,
but by the fairest of the company?
Socrates turned to Agathon and said: I must ask you to protect me,
Agathon; for the passion of this man has grown quite a serious matter
to me. Since I became his admirer I have never been allowed to speak
to any other fair one, or so much as to look at them. If I do, he
goes wild with envy and jealousy, and not only abuses me but can hardly
keep his hands off me, and at this moment he may do me some harm.
Please to see to this, and either reconcile me to him, or, if he attempts
violence, protect me, as I am in bodily fear of his mad and passionate
There can never be reconciliation between you and me, said Alcibiades;
but for the present I will defer your chastisement. And I must beg
you, Agathoron, to give me back some of the ribands that I may crown
the marvellous head of this universal despot-I would not have him
complain of me for crowning you, and neglecting him, who in conversation
is the conqueror of all mankind; and this not only once, as you were
the day before yesterday, but always. Whereupon, taking some of the
ribands, he crowned Socrates, and again reclined.
Then he said: You seem, my friends, to be sober, which is a thing
not to be endured; you must drink-for that was the agreement under
which I was admitted-and I elect myself master of the feast until
you are well drunk. Let us have a large goblet, Agathon, or rather,
he said, addressing the attendant, bring me that wine-cooler. The
wine-cooler which had caught his eye was a vessel holding more than
two quarts-this he filled and emptied, and bade the attendant fill
it again for Socrates. Observe, my friends, said Alcibiades, that
this ingenious trick of mine will have no effect on Socrates, for
he can drink any quantity of wine and not be at all nearer being drunk.
Socrates drank the cup which the attendant filled for him.
Eryximachus said! What is this Alcibiades? Are we to have neither
conversation nor singing over our cups; but simply to drink as if
we were thirsty?
Alcibiades replied: Hail, worthy son of a most wise and worthy sire!
The same to you, said Eryximachus; but what shall we do?
That I leave to you, said Alcibiades.
The wise physician skilled our wounds to heal shall prescribe and
we will obey. What do you want?
Well, said Eryximachus, before you appeared we had passed a resolution
that each one of us in turn should make a speech in praise of love,
and as good a one as he could: the turn was passed round from left
to right; and as all of us have spoken, and you have not spoken but
have well drunken, you ought to speak, and then impose upon Socrates
any task which you please, and he on his right hand neighbour, and
That is good, Eryximachus, said Alcibiades; and yet the comparison,
of a drunken man's speech with those of sober men is hardly fair;
and I should like to know, sweet friend, whether you really believe-what
Socrates was just now saying; for I can assure you that the very reverse
is the fact, and that if I praise any one but himself in his presence,
whether God or man, he will hardly keep his hands off me.
For shame, said Socrates.
Hold your tongue, said Alcibiades, for by Poseidon, there is no one
else whom I will praise when you are-of the company.
Well then, said Eryximachus, if you like praise Socrates.
What do you think, Eryximachus-? said Alcibiades: shall I attack him:
and inflict the punishment before you all?
What are you about? said Socrates; are you going to raise a laugh
at my expense? Is that the meaning of your praise?
I am going to speak the truth, if you will permit me.
I not only permit, but exhort you to speak the truth.
Then I will begin at once, said Alcibiades, and if I say anything
which is not true, you may interrupt me if you will, and say "that
is a lie," though my intention is to speak the truth. But you must
not wonder if I speak any how as things come into my mind; for the
fluent and orderly enumeration of all your singularities is not a
task which is easy to a man in my condition.
And now, my boys, I shall praise Socrates in a figure which will appear
to him to be a caricature, and yet I speak, not to make fun of him,
but only for the truth's sake. I say, that he is exactly like the
busts of Silenus, which are set up in the statuaries, shops, holding
pipes and flutes in their mouths; and they are made to open in the
middle, and have images of gods inside them. I say also that hit is
like Marsyas the satyr. You yourself will not deny, Socrates, that
your face is like that of a satyr. Aye, and there is a resemblance
in other points too. For example, you are a bully, as I can prove
by witnesses, if you will not confess. And are you not a flute-player?
That you are, and a performer far more wonderful than Marsyas. He
indeed with instruments used to charm the souls of men by the powers
of his breath, and the players of his music do so still: for the melodies
of Olympus are derived from Marsyas who taught them, and these, whether
they are played by a great master or by a miserable flute-girl, have
a power which no others have; they alone possess the soul and reveal
the wants of those who have need of gods and mysteries, because they
are divine. But you produce the same effect with your words only,
and do not require the flute; that is the difference between you and
him. When we hear any other speaker, even very good one, he produces
absolutely no effect upon us, or not much, whereas the mere fragments
of you and your words, even at second-hand, and however imperfectly
repeated, amaze and possess the souls of every man, woman, and child
who comes within hearing of them. And if I were not, afraid that you
would think me hopelessly drunk, I would have sworn as well as spoken
to the influence which they have always had and still have over me.
For my heart leaps within me more than that of any Corybantian reveller,
and my eyes rain tears when I hear them. And I observe that many others
are affected in the same manner. I have heard Pericles and other great
orators, and I thought that they spoke well, but I never had any similar
feeling; my soul was not stirred by them, nor was I angry at the thought
of my own slavish state. But this Marsyas has often brought me to
such pass, that I have felt as if I could hardly endure the life which
I am leading (this, Socrates, you will admit); and I am conscious
that if I did not shut my ears against him, and fly as from the voice
of the siren, my fate would be like that of others,-he would transfix
me, and I should grow old sitting at his feet. For he makes me confess
that I ought not to live as I do, neglecting the wants of my own soul,
and busying myself with the concerns of the Athenians; therefore I
hold my ears and tear myself away from him. And he is the only person
who ever made me ashamed, which you might think not to be in my nature,
and there is no one else who does the same. For I know that I cannot
answer him or say that I ought not to do as he bids, but when I leave
his presence the love of popularity gets the better of me. And therefore
I run away and fly from him, and when I see him I am ashamed of what
I have confessed to him. Many a time have I wished that he were dead,
and yet I know that I should be much more sorry than glad, if he were
to die: so that am at my wit's end.
And this is what I and many others have suffered, from the flute-playing
of this satyr. Yet hear me once more while I show you how exact the
image is, and. how marvellous his power. For let me tell you; none
of you know him; but I will reveal him to you; having begun, I must
go on. See you how fond he is of the fair? He is always with them
and is always being smitten by them, and then again he knows nothing
and is ignorant of all thing such is the appearance which he puts
on. Is he not like a Silenus in this? To be sure he is: his outer
mask is the carved head of the Silenus; but, O my companions in drink,
when he is opened, what temperance there is residing within! Know
you that beauty and wealth and honour, at which the many wonder, are
of no account with him, and are utterly despised by him: he regards
not at all the persons who are gifted with them; mankind are nothing
to him; all his life is spent in mocking and flouting at them. But
when I opened him, and looked within at his serious purpose, I saw
in him divine and golden images of such fascinating beauty that I
was ready to do in a moment whatever Socrates commanded: they may
have escaped the observation of others, but I saw them. Now I fancied
that he was seriously enamoured of my beauty, and I thought that I
should therefore have a grand opportunity of hearing him tell what
he knew, for I had a wonderful opinion of the attractions of my youth.
In the prosecution of this design, when I next went to him, I sent
away the attendant who usually accompanied me (I will confess the
whole truth, and beg you to listen; and if I speak falsely, do you,
Socrates, expose the falsehood). Well, he and I were alone together,
and I thought that when there was nobody with us, I should hear him
speak the language which lovers use to their loves when they are by
themselves, and I was delighted. Nothing of the sort; he conversed
as usual, and spent the day with me and then went away. Afterwards
I challenged him to the palaestra; and he wrestled and closed with
me, several times when there was no one present; I fancied that I
might succeed in this manner. Not a bit; I made no way with him. Lastly,
as I had failed hitherto, I thought that I must take stronger measures
and attack him boldly, and, as I had begun, not give him up, but see
how matters stood between him and me. So I invited him to sup with
me, just as if he were a fair youth, and I a designing lover. He was
not easily persuaded to come; he did, however, after a while accept
the invitation, and when he came the first time, he wanted to go away
at once as soon as supper was over, and I had not the face to detain
him. The second time, still in pursuance of my design, after we had
supped, I went on conversing far into the night, and when he wanted
to go away, I pretended that the hour was late and that he had much
better remain. So he lay down on the couch next to me, the same on
which he had supped, and there was no one but ourselves sleeping in
the apartment. All this may be told without shame to any one. But
what follows I could hardly tell you if I were sober. Yet as the proverb
says, "In vino veritas," whether with boys, or without them; and therefore
I must speak. Nor, again, should I be justified in concealing the
lofty actions of Socrates when I come to praise him. Moreover I have
felt the serpent's sting; and he who has suffered, as they say, is
willing to tell his fellow-sufferers only, as they alone will be likely
to understand him, and will not be extreme in judging of the sayings
or doings which have been wrung from his agony. For I have been bitten
by a more than viper's tooth; I have known in my soul, or in my heart,
or in some other part, that worst of pangs, more violent in ingenuous
youth than any serpent's tooth, the pang of philosophy, which will
make a man say or do anything. And you whom I see around me, Phaedrus
and Agathon and Eryximachus and Pausanias and Aristodemus and Aristophanes,
all of you, and I need not say Socrates himself, have had experience
of the same madness and passion in your longing after wisdom. Therefore
listen and excuse my doings then and my sayings now. But let the attendants
and other profane and unmannered persons close up the doors of their
When the lamp was put out and the servants had gone away, I thought
that I must be plain with him and have no more ambiguity. So I gave
him a shake, and I said: "Socrates, are you asleep?" "No," he said.
"Do you know what I am meditating? "What are you meditating?" he said.
"I think," I replied, "that of all the lovers whom I have ever had
you are the only one who is worthy of me, and you appear to be too
modest to speak. Now I feel that I should be a fool to refuse you
this or any other favour, and therefore I come to lay at your feet
all that I have and all that my friends have, in the hope that you
will assist me in the way of virtue, which I desire above all things,
and in which I believe that you can help me better than any one else.
And I should certainly have more reason to be ashamed of what wise
men would say if I were to refuse a favour to such as you, than of
what the world who are mostly fools, would say of me if I granted
it." To these words he replied in the ironical manner which is so
characteristic of him: "Alcibiades, my friend, you have indeed an
elevated aim if what you say is true, and if there really is in me
any power by which you may become better; truly you must see in me
some rare beauty of a kind infinitely higher than any which I see
in you. And therefore, if you mean to share with me and to exchange
beauty for beauty, you will have greatly the advantage of me; you
will gain true beauty in return for appearance-like Diomede, gold
in exchange for brass. But look again, sweet friend, and see whether
you are not deceived in me. The mind begins to grow critical when
the bodily eye fails, and it will be a long time before you get old."
Hearing this, I said: "I have told you my purpose, which is quite
serious, and do you consider what you think best for you and me."
"That is good," he said; "at some other time then we will consider
and act as seems best about this and about other matters." Whereupon,
I fancied that was smitten, and that the words which I had uttered
like arrows had wounded him, and so without waiting to hear more I
got up, and throwing my coat about him crept under his threadbare
cloak, as the time of year was winter, and there I lay during the
whole night having this wonderful monster in my arms. This again,
Socrates, will not be denied by you. And yet, notwithstanding all,
he was so superior to my solicitations, so contemptuous and derisive
and disdainful of my beauty-which really, as I fancied, had some attractions-hear,
O judges; for judges you shall be of the haughty virtue of Socrates-nothing
more happened, but in the morning when I awoke (let all the gods and
goddesses be my witnesses) I arose as from the couch of a father or
an elder brother.
What do you suppose must have been my feelings, after this rejection,
at the thought of my own dishonour? And yet I could not help wondering
at his natural temperance and self-restraint and manliness. I never
imagined that I could have met with a man such as he is in wisdom
and endurance. And therefore I could not be angry with him or renounce
his company, any more than I could hope to win him. For I well knew
that if Ajax could not be wounded by steel, much less he by money;
and my only chance of captivating him by my personal attractions had
faded. So I was at my wit's end; no one was ever more hopelessly enslaved
by another. All this happened before he and I went on the expedition
to Potidaea; there we messed together, and I had the opportunity of
observing his extraordinary power of sustaining fatigue. His endurance
was simply marvellous when, being cut off from our supplies, we were
compelled to go without food-on such occasions, which often happen
in time of war, he was superior not only to me but to everybody; there
was no one to be compared to him. Yet at a festival he was the only
person who had any real powers of enjoyment; though not willing to
drink, he could if compelled beat us all at that,-wonderful to relate!
no human being had ever seen Socrates drunk; and his powers, if I
am not mistaken, will be tested before long. His fortitude in enduring
cold was also surprising. There was a severe frost, for the winter
in that region is really tremendous, and everybody else either remained
indoors, or if they went out had on an amazing quantity of clothes,
and were well shod, and had their feet swathed in felt and fleeces:
in the midst of this, Socrates with his bare feet on the ice and in
his ordinary dress marched better than the other soldiers who had
shoes, and they looked daggers at him because he seemed to despise
I have told you one tale, and now I must tell you another, which is
worth hearing, 'Of the doings and sufferings of the enduring man',
while he was on the expedition. One morning he was thinking about
something which he could not resolve; he would not give it up, but
continued thinking from early dawn until noon-there he stood fixed
in thought; and at noon attention was drawn to him, and the rumour
ran through the wondering crowd that Socrates had been standing and
thinking about something ever since the break of day. At last, in
the evening after supper, some Ionians out of curiosity (I should
explain that this was not in winter but in summer), brought out their
mats and slept in the open air that they might watch him and see whether
he would stand all night. There he stood until the following morning;
and with the return of light he offered up a prayer to the sun, and
went his way. I will also tell, if you please-and indeed I am bound
to tell of his courage in battle; for who but he saved my life? Now
this was the engagement in which I received the prize of valour: for
I was wounded and he would not leave me, but he rescued me and my
arms; and he ought to have received the prize of valour which the
generals wanted to confer on me partly on account of my rank, and
I told them so, (this, again Socrates will not impeach or deny), but
he was more eager than the generals that I and not he should have
the prize. There was another occasion on which his behaviour was very
remarkable-in the flight of the army after the battle of Delium, where
he served among the heavy-armed-I had a better opportunity of seeing
him than at Potidaea, for I was myself on horseback, and therefore
comparatively out of danger. He and Laches were retreating, for the
troops were in flight, and I met them and told them not to be discouraged,
and promised to remain with them; and there you might see him, Aristophanes,
as you describe, just as he is in the streets of Athens, stalking
like a and rolling his eyes, calmly contemplating enemies as well
as friends, and making very intelligible to anybody, even from a distance,
that whoever attacked him would be likely to meet with a stout resistance;
and in this way he and his companion escaped-for this is the sort
of man who is never touched in war; those only are pursued who are
running away headlong. I particularly observed how superior he was
to Laches in presence of mind. Many are the marvels which I might
narrate in praise of Socrates; most of his ways might perhaps be paralleled
in another man, but his absolute unlikeness to any human being that
is or ever has been is perfectly astonishing. You may imagine Brasidas
and others to have been like Achilles; or you may imagine Nestor and
Antenor to have been like Perides; and the same may be said of other
famous men, but of this strange being you will never be able to find
any likeness, however remote, either among men who now are or who
ever have been-other than that which I have already suggested of Silenus
and the satyrs; and they represent in a figure not only himself, but
his words. For, although I forgot to mention this to you before, his
words are like the images of Silenus which open; they are ridiculous
when you first hear them; he clothes himself in language that is like
the skin of the wanton satyr-for his talk is of pack-asses and smiths
and cobblers and curriers, and he is always repeating the same things
in the same words, so that any ignorant or inexperienced person might
feel disposed to laugh at him; but he who opens the bust and sees
what is within will find that they are the only words which have a
meaning in them, and also the most divine, abounding in fair images
of virtue, and of the widest comprehension, or rather extending to
the whole duty of a good and honourable man.
This, friends, is my praise of Socrates. I have added my blame of
him for his ill-treatment of me; and he has ill-treated not only me,
but Charmides the son of Glaucon, and Euthydemus the son of Diocles,
and many others in the same way-beginning as their lover he has ended
by making them pay their addresses to him. Wherefore I say to you,
Agathon, "Be no deceived by him; learn from me: and take warning,
and do not be a fool and learn by experience, as the proverb says."
When Alcibiades had finished, there was a laugh at his outspokenness;
for he seemed to be still in love with Socrates. You are sober, Alcibiades,
said Socrates, or you would never have gone so far about to hide the
purpose of your satyr's praises, for all this long story is only an
ingenious circumlocution, of which the point comes in by the way at
the end; you want to get up a quarrel between me and Agathon, and
your notion-is that I ought to love you and nobody else, and that
you and you only ought to love Agathon. But the plot of this Satyric
or Silenic drama has been detected, and you must not allow him, Agathon,
to set us at variance.
I believe you are right, said Agathon, and I am disposed to think
that his intention in placing himself between you and me was only
to divide us; but he shall gain nothing by that move; for I will go
and lie on the couch next to you.
Yes, yes, replied Socrates, by all means come here and lie on the
couch below me.
Alas, said Alcibiades, how I am fooled by this man; he is determined
to get the better of me at every turn. I do beseech you, allow Agathon
to lie between us.
Certainly not, said Socrates, as you praised me, and I in turn ought
to praise my neighbour on the right, he will be out of order in praising
me again when he ought rather to be praised by me, and I must entreat
you to consent to this, and not be jealous, for I have a great desire
to praise the youth.
Hurrah! cried Agathon, I will rise instantly, that I may be praised
The usual way, said Alcibiades; where Socrates is, no one else has
any chance with the fair; and now how readily has he invented a specious
reason for attracting Agathon to himself.
Agathon arose in order that he might take his place on the couch by
Socrates, when suddenly a band of revellers entered, and spoiled the
order of the banquet. Some one who was going out having left the door
open, they had found their way in, and made themselves at home; great
confusion ensued, and every one was compelled to drink large quantities
of wine. Aristodemus said that Eryximachus, Phaedrus, and others went
away-he himself fell asleep, and as the nights were long took a good
rest: he was awakened towards daybreak by a crowing of cocks, and
when he awoke, the others were either asleep, or had gone away; there
remained only Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon, who were drinking
out of a large goblet which they passed round, and Socrates was discoursing
to them. Aristodemus was only half awake, and he did not hear the
beginning of the discourse; the chief thing which he remembered was
Socrates compelling the other two to acknowledge that the genius of
comedy was the same with that of tragedy, and that the true artist
in tragedy was an artist in comedy also. To this they were constrained
to assent, being drowsy, and not quite following the argument. And
first of all Aristophanes dropped off, then, when the day was already
dawning, Agathon. Socrates, having laid them to sleep, rose to depart;
Aristodemus, as his manner was, following him. At the Lyceum he took
a bath, and passed the day as usual. In the evening he retired to
rest at his own home.
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