The plan for The Symposium comes from Erixymachus, the physician, who shares his opinion that each of the attendees, starting on the left, should recite the fairest praise of Eros. This idea originates with Phaedrus who claims that Eros has never been properly praised. Socrates agrees, stating that no one would disagree with him, and Phaedrus begins.
Phaedrus, whose name means “bright”, was a young follower of Socrates and was later indicted in the profanation of the Eleusian mysteries, for which Alcibiades was accused at the outset of the failed Sicilian expedition. Phaedrus eventually fled Athens. However, The Symposium takes place shortly before the Sicilian expedition. Phaedrus was a young enlightened and ‘beautiful’ young man. He did not believe in the myths or the gods.
Phaedrus cites Hesiod to demonstrate that Eros is among the oldest of the gods, and as such, he is the cause of many good and beautiful things. This is accomplished by shame in the face of shameful things, and honorable ambition in the face of beautiful things. There would be no better city or army than one filled with lovers and beloveds, for lovers are the only ones willing to die for the sake of one another (i.e. passion). Additionally, the gods favor lovers who passionately sacrifice themselves for their beloved -after all, Alcestis was sent up from Hades after honorably dying for her beloved, Orpheus was thought to be soft by going into Hades alive instead of dying for his wife, and Achilles was conferred many honors by the gods for his death after vengeance of his lover, Patroclus. The gods prefer affection from the beloved to the lover. Therefore Eros is the oldest, most honorable, and most competent of the gods with regard to the acquisition of virtue and happiness in human beings, both living and dead.
What is Phaedrus’s central argument? Eros is the oldest, and therefore the best of the gods. This is proved independent of mythical stories, despite his allusion to mythological authorities. Eros is the producer of virtue, in both the lover and the beloved, which Phaedrus understands to be courage and manliness (recall Plato’s Meno). Phaedrus praises heroic virtue, however his primary interest is in gain and personal benefit. Notably, Phaedrus’s speech and Socrates’s speech contain the most in common with one another, by privileging the importance of the beloved over the lover.