Our most recent class, the first on Symposium, was great. A great deal of attention was payed to the text, and that attention generated some fascinating conversation. A sure way of following the thought of Plato is read him carefully and converse on his writings. It’s the closest we can come to being taught by Plato himself, and who wouldn’t want that? I suppose that’s a principle that hold’s good for all the great texts of philosophy.
Attempting to understand the characters of Aristodemus and Apollodorus is an excellent way to understand the context of the dialogue. I couldn’t help but recall Socrates’ prediction that many more would follow in his footsteps, and dog Athens the way he has. I wonder how that prediction affects our understanding of Apollodorus. On the one hand, he seems to have a genuine love of wisdom, and he understands the importance of both words and deeds; he understands that philosophy that does not affect they way you live is barely philosophy at all. On the other hand, it’s difficult to disagree with Dr. Schultz’s assessment of his partially (at the least) self-aggrandizing motivation to recount the story of Socrates and his words on love. Perhaps such a man reflects us better than we think. Surely we all suffer from genuine love of truth, and an inclination to make ourselves more important in the universal pursuit of wisdom than we really are.
On another note, the comedic nature of the opening dialogue caused me to reflect on the theme of poetry throughout Symposium. Apollodorus draws our attention to what seems to be a self-imposed exile of Agathon, the tragic poet. Aristophanes, the comedic poet, speaks tragically of the human condition. Agathon, the freshly-crowned tragedian, delivers a speech so ridiculous it caused me to laugh, and wonder if he was taking his task seriously at all. The high style and beauty of Socrates’ speech is interrupted by the comedy of Alcibiades’ entrance, though given a certain tragic depth both by his rejection of philosophy for the sake of baser passions, and the imminent invasion of Sicily. The story ends with Socrates trying to convince Aristophanes and Agathon that the same poet should be able to write both tragically and comically. This causes us to reflect on the undeniably comic nature of Symposium, e.g. Alcibiades, Socrates’ words to Agathon, and the opening portion of the dialogue; as well as on the tragic portions, e.g. Aristophanes’ speech, the failure of Alcibiades (whether moral or intellectual), the impending doom of Athens, and ultimately Socrates.
I don’t know what conclusion to draw just yet. Obviously, all this should be compared to Republic.
Final note: I understand that our weekend assignment, is, in part, to map the progress of the speeches. As of yet, while I can find differences among them, I cannot find any clear “ascent”. This is particularly the case with Aristophanes’ speech and Agathon’s – Aristophanes’ is far better, and possibly the best at the party, period. Does this suggest a superiority of the comic writer? Or the comic writer when he speaks tragically? Thoughts, fellow mountaineers?