Phaedrus makes the first speech in praise of love in The Symposium. For him, Love is widely considered older than almost all the other gods, and has no parents, and thus, as the oldest, Love confers the greatest benefits and is the most capable of ensuring courage and happiness in this life and the next.

Pausanias speech 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 towards bodies rather than towards minds. As a result, people who are motivated by Common Love are equally interested in woman and boys, and the less intelligent the better. Heavenly Love, on the other hand, is usually felt for boys of developing maturity who show signs of intelligence, and with whom a life-long partnership is possible. The main purpose of love, then, is to produce virtue, and love pursed for any other means is wrong, regardless of the consequence. 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.

The question of whether and how virtue can be taught is a central concern of Plato’s; he focuses the question in such dialogues as The Menos and The Republic. Starting with Pausanias, then, we see the focus of the dialogue shifting slightly from love in the passionate romantic understanding of the word to an understanding of love that relates directly to a passion for wisdom and virtue. It is, thus, 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.

Popular pages: The Symposium