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The Symposium

Plato

185c - 189b

180c - 185c

189c - 193e

Summary

After Pausanias, Aristophanes is the next in line to speak, but he is undergoing an attack of the hiccups and is unable to speak. He asks Eryximachus, the doctor, to speak in his place. Eryximachus agrees to make a speech now so that Aristophanes can speak afterward, when his hiccups are gone. He also recommends a number of remedies for the hiccups, including induced sneezing.

Eryximachus commends Pausanias for distinguishing between two different kinds of Love, but suggests that Pausanias limits himself when he considers all love to be expressed in emotional responses between human beings. Eryximachus' medical training shows that Love is expressed in the bodily responses of plants and animals. He agrees with Pausanias that it is right to gratify good people and wrong to gratify bad people. In medicine one should try to gratify the good and healthy parts of the body while depriving the diseased parts of the body of any satisfaction so that they will cease to be diseased. The doctor's role, then, is to implant one type of love in the body and flush the wrong kind out in order to reconcile and create love between the antagonistic elements of the body, such as hot and cold, and dry and wet.

Not only medicine, but also athletics, agriculture, and music are all wholly governed by the god of Love, according to Eryximachus. For instance, both harmony and rhythm in music consist in creating agreement between divergent notes, or divergent tempos. Medicine creates a similar agreement between divergent elements of the body, and all creation of agreement and concord is a product of Love.

In practicing Love, whether by means of music or medicine, one is promoting order, and may thus improve people. Eryximachus associates this kind of heavenly love with the Heavenly Muse, which he contrasts with the Muse Polymnia, whom he associates with common love. With common love, one must be careful to gratify the recipient without rendering him self-indulgent. For instance, good cooking must taste good, but it cannot make diners ill. In all things, both kinds of love are present, and we must proceed with moderation.

Eryximachus extends the scope of Love to include the seasons as well. The same elements of hot and cold, wet and dry, that must be reconciled in the body must also be reconciled in the weather, and when the right kind of love does so, all kinds of life flourish, and there are good harvests and good health. But when these contraries cannot be reconciled, there is bad weather, blight, and epidemics. Thus, astronomy also deals with the workings of Love since the stars govern the movement of the seasons. Further, Love governs divination, as one must find an appropriate balance in worshipping the gods.

Eryximachus concludes that Love is ever-present and all-powerful in our lives, as it is the cause of all self-control, happiness, and justice, and it produces good actions. Eryximachus suggests that if he has left anything out of his eulogy, it is to Aristophanes to fill in the gaps he has left, now that his hiccups have stopped thanks to Eryximachus' sneezing cure. Aristophanes playfully remarks that it is odd that the well-ordered part of his body must be gratified through such a disordered activity as sneezing. Eryximachus warns Aristophanes that his speech may not be taken seriously if he jokes around like that. Aristophanes replies that, as a comedian, he is not afraid of saying something funny so much as he is afraid of saying something ludicrous.

Commentary

Eryximachus is presented as rather pompous and pretentious throughout the Symposium, a fact which comes out through his claims of expertise and his constant desire to give the definitive word on a certain subject by making reference to medical matters. His speech is similarly awkward and pretentious, trying to speak definitively on all aspects of Love, but synthesizing these different kinds of Love in a rather unconvincing manner.

He makes two principal points, and tries to connect them with all sorts of different areas of study: one is that love is right when it gratifies those who are moderate but is wrong when it gratifies the self-indulgent; the other is that love reconciles conflicting elements. In love, a loved one should only gratify his lover if the couple are not acting self-indulgently; in medicine or music, an expert can gratify a patient or an audience by finding the right level of moderation. In love, medicine, music, the seasons, religious ritual, etc., Eryximachus also identifies discordant elements that must be reconciled. However, aside from the connection he draws between hot and cold and wet and dry in the body and in the weather, it is not clear how he means to work all these different notions of discordant elements (in a relationship, in music, in a ritual, etc.) under one coherent theory. Nor does he do much to clarify the relationship between his two main points, that proper love gratifies those who are moderate and that love reconciles opposites.

Eryximachus' speech is not totally without merit, nor is it considerably worse than the speeches that have preceded it. In particular, it widens even further the scope of the discussion. While Pausanias expands on Phaedrus' speech by introducing the question of virtue, Eryximachus expands upon Pausanias by extending the realm of Love to cover far more than just interpersonal relationships. We might want to begin asking, however, if we are discussing only Love here. Is "love" the right word for the kinds of harmonies that Eryximachus is describing? This could bring us back to the question of whether Eryximachus has really identified any particular feature or connection that can draw together his many examples.

We should also note the emphasis Eryximachus places on order, and the role it plays in love. Eryximachus, as a doctor, occupies himself with creating order in the human body. He is also interested in creating an ordered symposium: he is the one who suggests that each guest make a speech. His conception of love also sees order as a driving principle, as order must reign over disparate elements if there is to be love. We could see the disorder in Aristophanes' bout of the hiccups, and the sneezing needed to cure it, as undermining Eryximachus' point. The bout of hiccups could also be explained away as a device to place Eryximachus' speech before Aristophanes' more interesting speech, even though Aristophanes is the next in order.

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