The Symposium III: Erixymachus, Aristophanes, Agathon, Socrates, and Alcibiades

Erixymachus follows Pausanias, only after Aristophanes is overcome with a fit of hiccuping -an appropriate interruption for the famous comedian who once mocked Socrates in The Clouds. 

Erixymachus praises Eros as the akin to the superiority of the medical art, over and above the legal craftsmanship of Pausanias. Recall that Erixymachus is a doctor, and is a follower of Asklepios. His primary concern is for health and balance. Eros, in his opinion, is harmony. Not unlike in music or sickness, love is a coming together -a harmony from opposing consonances. He maintains the dichotomy established by Pausanias, but expands the focus of Eros to include a power over all living things, a biological deity over the earth.

Following on this, and after recovering from his hiccuping fit, Aristophanes begins his speech, the first of the second half of the speakers. He tells a myth praising Eros. His story, which he begs them not to laugh at, is of an ancient history of humanity -a creation myth in which there were three sexes of early humans. There was an all male sex, an all female sex, and a more androgynous sex. The sexes are comical, round and doubled in body types. When they once began to plot an overthrow of Zeus, Zeus decides to slice them all in half so that they can have one other roaming around the world that would make them feel whole. The women who long for women are lesbians, the men who long for men are homosexuals, and the rest who wish to procreate are heterosexual. His tale ends with an invocation of the gods and a warning to men to obey the gods.

Agathon, the winner of yesterday’s Linnaea festival, recounts a speech on the beauty of Eros. He claims that all previous speeches praised humans in love but did not address the question of what or who Eros is. Agathon claims Eros is the youngest of the gods and is drawn only to the young. To him, the object of love is beauty in its budding time of season. His speech is much praised by the group until Socrates begins questioning his thesis and forces Agathon to admit that Eros cannot be beautiful.

Socrates states that he cannot give a speech praising eros the way others want him to and instead he recounts an interaction he had with Diotima from Mantinea. It is revealed that eros is not a god, but is in fact a daemon, or an intermediary between men and gods. It is also revealed that there is a divine and a human form of love, an example of what some have called an example of Plato’s theory of the ideas (eidos).

The dialogue concludes with Alcibiades explosively intruding onto the scene and giving a speech not in praise of Eros, but rather in praise of Socrates. He is envious of Socrates and Agathon, as Agathon decides to lay near Socrates. After this bombastic moment, everyone drinks into the night and falls asleep, leaving just Socrates, Agathon, and Aristophanes. Socrates stays awake trying to persuade them that the same man must know comedy and tragedy, that a tragic poet must necessarily also be a comic poet. Aristophanes and Agathon were compelled to agree but they fell asleep, first Aristophanes and then Agathon. Socrates goes out for the day and at night he takes himself home.

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