Skip over navigation

The Symposium

Plato

180c - 185c

178a - 180b

185c - 189b

Summary

Phaedrus' speech is followed by a number of others that Aristodemus does not recall, and so we arrive at Pausanias. Pausanias points out that there are two kinds of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. First, there is Heavenly Aphrodite, the daughter of Uranus, with whom he associates "Heavenly Love." Second, there is Common Aphrodite, daughter of Zeus and Dione, who is considerably younger than Heavenly Aphrodite, and with whom he associates "Common Love."

Pausanias argues that loving is in itself neither a good nor a bad activity. If it is done properly, it is good, and if not, it is bad. Common Love, according to Pausanias, is bad because its attraction is indiscriminating, directed toward bodies rather than toward minds. As a result, people who are motivated by Common Love are equally interested in women and boys, and the less intelligent the better: that way they can get what they want more easily. Heavenly Love is associated with the daughter of Uranus who has no mother, and so it is directly only toward males. This kind of Love is usually felt for boys of developing maturity who show signs of intelligence, and with whom a life-long partnership is possible. Pausanias sharply criticizes those who take advantage of young, foolish boys, or of women for the sake of sexual gratification. He suggests that this inappropriate behavior brings a bad name to love and sexual pleasure altogether. He goes so far as to recommend that laws be made to prohibit such behavior.

Pausanias notes that appropriate love takes place when the lover makes the loved one good and wise, educating him and teaching him virtue, and when the loved one gratifies the lover, and is eager to acquire the wisdom his lover can share. In such cases, either partner is justified in doing all sorts of outlandish favors for the other. If someone were to beg, to sleep out on another's doorstep, to undergo all sorts of slavish service in order to gain money or political favor, then that person would be disdained and humiliated. But if someone were to do these things in order to win favor from a loved one, that person would be highly commended. Lovers can still get away with breaking oaths in a way one could not in any other field, because those in love are granted every kind of indulgence, both from humans and from the gods.

Pausanias points out that while lovers are encouraged to go to great lengths to win favor, loved ones are discouraged from allowing themselves to be caught up in their lovers' charms. This ensures that sufficient time will elapse so that the loved one can test his lover's mettle. The loved one who is too easily won over by influence or by money is clearly not after the wisdom of his lover and should be ashamed.

The main purpose of love, then, is to produce virtue, and love pursued for any other means is wrong, regardless of the consequence. A boy who is fooled into a relationship with a poor man because the poor man promises money will be humiliated. On the other hand, a boy who is fooled into a relationship with a dishonest man because that man promises wisdom will be honored, because the boy had the right intentions regardless of the outcome. A loved one who gratifies his lover in the hopes of gaining virtue is partaking in Heavenly Love, while gratification given for any other reason is simply Common Love.

Commentary

The two different versions of Aphrodite arise from the writings of two different myth-makers: Hesiod and Homer. Hesiod recounts that Aphrodite was born out of Uranus' castrated genitals, and so had no mother. Homer, on the other hand, tells that Aphrodite was the daughter of Zeus and Dione. Because the Heavenly Aphrodite was born without a mother, Pausanias associates her with love between men.

Pausanias' account refines and deepens the one given by Phaedrus. Not all love is considered honorable, but only love pursued in the proper fashion. The distinction Pausanias pushes throughout is one between love as physical gratification and love as moral and mental development. Heavenly Love, as love that can improve the mind and soul of the loved one, is reserved for older youths since they have developed a capacity for rationality and virtue. Women and younger boys alike would have been considered non-rational, and so incapable of acquiring the virtue a lover might bestow. As a result, Pausanias disdains love for women and younger boys, as he takes it to be aimed purely at physical gratification.

A modern reader must obviously object to the notion that a woman is non-rational and incapable of ethical development. We should remember that in Greek culture the male and female spheres were strictly separated, and those aspects of civic life in which virtue was thought to be displayed were restricted to men only. Women in ancient Greece were obviously equally capable of rational development as women today, but they were not, for the most part, provided with the opportunities to prove this.

Pausanias' central argument, then, is that love is only beneficial when it is directed toward the end of virtue. Lovers should seek to improve their loved ones, and loved ones should look to gain wisdom from their lovers. We should note, however, the asymmetrical nature of this relationship, where loved ones are also expected to sexually gratify their lovers in return for the virtue they are taught. Pausanias' point is that such sexual gratification is laudable, but only on the condition that it is pursued with the end of virtue in mind. Pausanias' emphasis on lifelong partnerships may seem a little biased considering his own relationship with Agathon, but perhaps no more so than the biases that inform any of our own opinions.

The question of whether and how virtue can be taught is a central concern of Plato's; he focuses on the question in such dialogues as the Meno and the Republic. The final answer given by Socrates in the Symposium should also be read as one answer given by Plato. Starting with Pausanias, then, we see the focus of the dialogue shifting slightly from love in the passionate romantic understanding of the word (an understanding we share) to an understanding of love that relates directly to a passion for wisdom and virtue. It is by this means, and not by sexual gratification, that love can improve us. In this sense, Plato can be seen as moving against a romantic sensibility, suggesting that we must refine it to something much deeper.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us