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The Symposium




Overall Summary

Socrates  -  The protagonist of the Symposium, as with most of Plato's dialogues. Socrates is one of the most important figures in the history of Western philosophy, standing at the origin of the rational tradition initiated by himself, Plato, and Aristotle. Socrates himself arguably never advances any doctrines of his own. Further, in Plato's middle and later dialogues, the figure of Socrates no longer represents the man himself. Instead, the figure of Socrates is used as a mouthpiece by which Plato advances his own views. Plato presents his mentor in the Symposium as a simple and hardy man, a bit of a flirt, though immune to sexual advances and alcohol alike.
Diotima  -  A woman from Mantinea whom Socrates claims once to have met, and who taught him everything he knows on the subject of Love. There is very good reason to doubt if Diotima is meant to represent any real person, especially since her speech is so authoritative and oracular. Just as Diotima passed her wisdom on to Socrates, so Socrates passes this wisdom on to his friends.
Agathon  -  Probably the most significant Greek tragedian after Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, Agathon is presented here as celebrating after his first victory in the dramatic festival. Agathon is presented as young, beautiful, and very clever with words. He is the passive partner in a life-long relationship with Pausanias. None of Agathon's plays survive today.
Aristophanes  -  The greatest comic poet of ancient times, Aristophanes (445 - 385 B.C.) exercised a tremendous influence on the course of comedy in the Western tradition. Many of his plays survive, and in one, The Clouds, he presents a satirical attack on Socrates. Nonetheless, the two are presented as friends in the Symposium, despite what effect this attack might have had on Socrates' eventual execution. In the Apology, Socrates suggests that Aristophanes' caricature may have had a detrimental effect on his reputation.
Alcibiades  -  A familiar figure to any reader of Thucydides, Alcibiades (c. 450 - 404 B.C.) was a charismatic politician who played a prominent role in the Pelopennesian War. He was responsible for a disastrous attack on Sicily and even turned on Athens and sided with Sparta for a time. He was a friend of Socrates', and his dishonor was one of the factors responsible for Socrates' trial and execution. In the Symposium, he appears as a merry drunk who has a strong attraction to Socrates.
Eryximachus  -  A doctor and a guest at the symposium. He is presented throughout as rather pompous, confident in his medical skills, and insistent on maintaining order.
Pausanias  -  The life-long lover of Agathon, Pausanias is another guest at the Symposium.
Phaedrus  -  The main interlocutor of the Platonic dialogue that bears his name, Phaedrus is a handsome young man and an admirer of Socrates. He suggests that all the guests should make speeches in praise of Love.
Aristodemus  -  Another guest at the symposium, a great admirer of Socrates, and the first- level narrator of the events.
Apollodorus  -  The second-level narrator of the Symposium, and the first character we encounter in the dialogue. Apollodorus heard the story of the symposium from Aristodemus and recounts it once more to an unnamed companion.

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