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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