Plato’s Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception

  Lesher, James, Debra Nails, and Frisbee Sheffield, eds. 2007. Plato's Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception. Hellenic Studies Series 22. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

4. Medicine, Magic, and Religion in Plato’s Symposium

Mark L. McPherran

If you [Eryximachus] show me that you know me better than I do myself, and can foresee even my next mood, … must I not conclude that my whole effort is puerile, that my intimate tactics vanish in the face of your entirely exterior art, which envelops my body and soul at once in a network of particular points of knowledge woven together, thereby capturing at a single stroke the universe of my person?

Socrates to Eryximachus in Paul Valéry’s “Socrates and His Physician”

Plato’s attention to the craft of medicine, conceived of as a paradigmatic instance of expert knowledge that lesser fields should imitate, is evident throughout his work. [1] Thus, it is natural to suppose that at least one of Plato’s purposes in employing the character of the physician Eryximachus in the Symposium is to convey the import of his own understanding of medicine insofar as it bears on the central topic of that dialogue: Erôs. [2] However, this natural interpretive expectation runs up against many initial impressions and scholarly accounts of Eryximachus’ role in the dialogue, which take him to be a bombastic dogmatist who serves primarily as a target of Platonic satire. {71|72} Since both he and his speech are offered up as a mere caricature of the self-important physician, goes this line of thought, we need not take his speech as anything much more than a comic interlude between the self-serving oration of Pausanias on behalf of homoerotic Erôs and the magnificent, darkly comic speech of Aristophanes that serves to put the dialogue on the true track of Erôs. [3]

A corrective to this dismissive view has been available for many years, however, in the form of an impressive article on Eryximachus by the esteemed scholar of ancient medicine, Ludwig Edelstein (1945). There Edelstein makes a convincing case for the view that Eryximachus’ speech “is not a caricature but rather an historically correct picture of a medical man of that time. It cannot have been Plato’s intention to deride Eryximachus as a pedant, a system-monger, unduly fond of medicine” (Edelstein 1945:91).

The Speech of Eryximachus

After making Eryximachus physician to the conversation of the Symposium, so to speak, Plato introduces Eryximachus in a fashion that confirms him in that role. Plato does so through the artifice of providing the chance occurrence—or {73|74} is it providence?—of Aristophanes’ sudden attack of the hiccups so as to place his physician’s speech before that of his poet. [8] This interjection of the power of the human physical constitution over the power of custom and reason—of nomos and logos—signals the need for an account of Erôs from that very viewpoint. [9] Thus, to answer that need we are provided with a general representation of the Hippocratic physician of the time in the person of Eryximachus. [10] However, Eryximachus is also cast as a somewhat atypical Hippocratic. For rather than merely spelling out the medical account of Erôs that we more-or-less expect from him, Eryximachus claims that his practice of medicine had led him to a universalizing account of Erôs—one that takes in both the realm of nature and that of the gods. Moreover, it is a theory supported by such stars of Presocratic science as Heraclitus (187a–c) (and, it seems, Empedocles [with his two principles of philia and neikos] and Alcmaeon; Gosling and Taylor 1982:23; Rosen 1987:94–95). In brief, we are told that although Pausanius’ division of Erôs into two species of human motivational force (Heavenly Love and Common Love) was a useful one, Pausanius failed to pursue that distinction to its logical conclusion—had he done so, Pausanius would have realized that the operations of Erôs are to be found in animals, plants, and indeed, the entire cosmos including the realm of the divine (186a–b). In view of the particular focus of Phaedrus’ and Pausanius’ speeches on human Erôs, then, it appears as though Plato has placed his physician’s speech just where he does precisely in order to turn the conversation toward the universal, that is, toward the philosophical.

Commentators are at odds over the form and merits of the grand theory Eryximachus proceeds to develop, but something like this minimally-modified version of Christopher Rowe’s (1999:56) account seems accurate. {74|75}

(i) There is a double Erôs, i.e. good and bad, in human bodies (186b4), because
(ii) “what is healthy in a body and what is diseased in a body are by common consent different and unlike” (b5–6); but
(iii) “what is unlike desires and loves unlike things” (b6–7); [11] so
(iv) there is one kind of Erôs in the case of the healthy, another in the case of the diseased (b7–8).
(v) Well (), just as Pausanias said it was kalon to gratify (kharidzesthai) the good man, aischron to gratify the akolastos, so too in the case of bodies it is kalon to gratify the good and healthy things in a body, and aischron to gratify the bad and diseased (b8–c5).
(vi) The doctor must distinguish the kalos Erôs from the aiskhros one, and implant the first while removing the second (c6–d5); for (gar)
(vii) it is his job to make the most hostile things in the body friendly to each other, and love (eran) each other (d5–6); and
(viii) “the ‘most hostile things’ are the things most opposed to each other, cold to hot, bitter to sweet, dry to wet, everything like that” (d6–e1).
(ix) Medicine consists in knowing how to implant Erôs and homonoia among these opposites (e1–3).

On this account, the “things” having either good or bad Erôs in (v) (and so by implication in [i], [ii], [iv], and [vi]) are the somatic opposites such as the hot and the cold, whose possession then allows us to speak of each body as having these two loves. When such opposites have good love towards one another the body possessing them is healthy and in a state of homonoia (162e2, 187c4), but when one or both of such a pairing become greedy for an excessive amount of their opposite, then the possessing body is in an unhealthy state (cf. 188b4). [12] We may say that healthy bodies have Erôs/desire for what is good for them, and sick ones have Erôs/desire for what is bad. This theory arguably employs a single and coherent sense of one Erôs (188d5) differentiated into two modes: moderating, harmonizing, Heavenly Erôs; and pleonexic, disharmonizing Common Erôs. [13] When this theory is extended to the cosmos as a {75|76} whole, natural disasters and epidemics are then understood to be caused by a lack of local harmony, of Heavenly Erôs. In any event, the general and systematic structure of Eryximachus’ exposition testifies to a degree of “intellectual rigor … that is incompatible with sheer parody” (Konstan and Young-Bruehl 1982:44). [14] Again, we are also no doubt supposed to see Eryximachus as practicing what he preaches—serving as physician to the conversation—insofar as he attempts in his capacity as informal symposiarch to keep all the speeches of the Symposium in order by attempting to maintain homonoia (e.g. with his warning against heavy drinking [176b–e] and his hiccup cures [185d–e]) and by injecting kalos Erôs—a desire to make beautiful speeches concerning something good (viz. kalos Erôs)—throughout the dialogue.

Eryximachus exhibits a good familiarity with Hippocratic medicine in the course of his speech. His definition of medicine as involving repletion (plêsmonê) and emptying (kenôsis) (186c–d), for example, has parallels in Breaths 1, On the Nature of Man 2–4, 9, Regimen 1.2, and Tradition in Medicine 16, and he shares with the author of the Hippocratic treatise On Regimen a sympathy for Heraclitean thought (Symposium 187a–b; Regimen 1.5, 1.11; esp. the idea that opposites attract and are in agreement [Regimen 1.11, 1.21]), and the notion that musical high and low notes provide an analogy relevant to the harmony of the body (Symposium 187b–d; Regimen 1.8) (Hunter 2004:55–56; Gosling and Taylor 1982:24). Eryximachus’ association of the legendary patron of Hippocratic medicine, Asclepius, with his own account of medicine as being essentially a matter of reconciling opposites (186d–e) is also accepted testimony for the Hippocratic tradition (Edelstein and Edelstein 1945:182). Even Eryximachus’ account of the operations of Erôs in human beings in terms of somatic forces finds a loose parallel in the way Airs, Waters, Places 22 accounts for the impotence—the damaged Erôs—of certain Scythians. Hence, had Eryximachus at this point merely gone on to elaborate his theory of love-medicine in respect of the human body he would have escaped much of the abuse heaped on him by generations of scholars. Instead, Plato has his doctor spend the bulk of his speech extemporizing on the extended application of his theory to poetry, music, meteorology, climatology, astronomy, and even theology—specifically, sacrificial practice, divination, and piety in general. [15] We are no doubt supposed to read all this as a parodic example of high-flying {76|77} medical rhetoric, [16] but at the same time we should appreciate the extent to which Eryximachus is himself merely entering into the general light-hearted sympotic spirit of things by speaking as bombastically as he does. Moreover, Hippocratic physicians at the time did take a self-conscious interest in such things as music, meteorology, and astronomy. For example, we are told that a competent physician should know what epidemics to expect on the basis of his understanding of the progress of the seasons, and this is in turn dependent on his knowledge of the rising and setting of the stars (Airs, Waters, Places 2; Aphorisms 3.2; cf. Plato Epinomis 976a). Finally, we have reason to suppose that Plato is knowledgeable about, sympathetic to, and even draws lessons from both Asclepian and Hippocratic medicine, so far as they go (Philebus 31a–33c, 44b–48b; Phaedrus 270a–e; Republic 405a–410a; Timaeus 81e–86b; Staden 1998; Gosling and Taylor 1982:24). [17] It is particularly important to note that Plato agrees with the Hippocratic author of On the Sacred Disease that epilepsy is to be explained by a physical, not a religious, account of the way that the brain is affected by phlegm (Timaeus 85a–b). [18] Moreover, like Eryximachus (176b–d, 187e), Plato endorses the view that we should drink wine in moderation (Republic 389e–390b, 403e, 571b–d, 573c), that the problem of sexual profligacy has a somatic causal explanation (Republic 572d–580a; Timaeus 86d; namely, excess moisture), and that the Erôs from which it springs comes paired with a noble form of Erôs (Phaedrus 253c–257a). [19]

Those physicians who advocated philosophical medicine maintained that medical knowledge requires a prior understanding of human nature and the elements composing it—one derived from a study of the cosmos as undertaken by natural scientists such as Anaximenes, Diogenes of Apollonia, Melissus, and Heraclitus. [22] Allying themselves with the theories and methods of natural science, these physicians were able to oppose those healers who engaged primarily in forms of magical rites and temple medicine (Lloyd 1975b:9). Thinkers who rejected this philosophical approach argued for medicine’s independence from both philosophy and shamanistic healing on the grounds that prior training in scientific medicine is required to formulate an accurate account of human nature (Jouanna 1998:50–53). The author of Tradition in Medicine, for example, claims that

There are some doctors and sophists who maintain that no one can understand the science of medicine unless he knows what man is; that anyone who proposes to treat men for their illnesses must first learn of such things. Their discourse then tends to philosophy, as may be seen in the writings of Empedocles and all the others who have ever written about Nature … It is my opinion that all which has {78|79} been written by doctors or sophists on Nature has more to do with painting than medicine. I do not believe that any clear knowledge of Nature can be obtained from any source other than a study of medicine and then only through a thorough mastery of this science.

Given his grand theorizing and his citation of Heraclitus, Eryximachus seems very much the kind of physician targeted by this Hippocratic author. That, in turn, suggests that at least part of the role Plato has assigned to Eryximachus is for him to respond one-Hippocratic-physician-to-all-others to just this sort of view of the relationship between medicine and philosophy held by some Hippocratic physicians. This reading is supported by our natural expectation that Plato would have mounted such a reply at some point in his works because of his respect for medicine as a model technê and because “the fundamental methodological problem” of the time for physicians concerned their relationship with philosophy (Jouanna 1998:50). This interpretation also very much fits with Plato’s constant advocacy of the idea that a proper physician must be a philosopher, since good medical treatment requires an understanding and treatment of the whole patient, and thus his or her soul, something that requires training in philosophy (e.g. Republic 408d–e, 591c; Charmides 155b–158c). Indeed, we are told that “if we are to listen to Hippocrates, Asclepius’ descendent, we will not understand the body” if we do not attempt to understand the body from the perspective of the world as a whole (Phaedrus 270c3–5). Finally, since Plato and his Socrates approve of divination rightly conceived, [
24] and Plato appears to link divination to medicine {79|80} both in its proper and improper forms (Laws 932e–933e), it would seem that he would want his ideal physician to respond on its behalf to any Hippocratic skepticism concerning it. [25] This, then, is the second function Plato assigns to Eryximachus by having him offer effusive approval of divination and sacrificial rites (188b–d). [26]

The Hippocratics are often thought by modern interpreters to hold that divinities and supernatural forces have absolutely nothing to do with disease, but this involves an anachronistic reading of their material, especially On the Sacred Disease. A more nuanced approach reveals that rather than eliminating the influence of divinity over us, these writers followed the lead of the Ionian phusiologoi by implicating “divinity even more thoroughly in nature,” urging physicians to think that no particular disease is more divine than any other (Martin 2004:48; see On the Sacred Disease 1, 21; Jouanna 1998:41; McPherran 1996:chap. 3). On this innovative view, all the forces of nature are to be found divine insofar as they each have a nature (phusis) that is beyond human control and regular in an impersonal fashion that allows for calculative investigation (for “all things take place through a divine necessity [δἰ ἀνάγκην θείην],” Regimen 1.5; Eijk 1990:93–105; Lloyd 1975b:5). Moreover, the intervention in these forces by the vengeful, warring gods of popular theology—gods whose baleful influence can be manipulated by the ritual purifications and incantations hawked by bogus magicians—is at odds with natural causation and must be rejected (On the Sacred Disease 2–4, 21; Airs, Waters, Places 22; DeHart 1999:353–376; Jouanna 1998:39–41; cf. Republic 363e–366d). Indeed, we are told that if the gods did send physical afflictions and then responded dependably to petitionary sacrifices to avert or cure them it would not be the richly sacrificing Scythians who suffer from impotence as much as they do, but the poor ones—contrary to the facts (Airs, Waters, Places 22 [the true cause being the frequency of horseback riding by the rich]; Jouanna 1998:40, 66–67). Thus, no god personally or directly causes a disease—for all natural forces are impersonally divine (e.g. air; see Breaths). Nevertheless, it is still possible to accept that the gods of traditional religion—when rightly comprehended as being thoroughly good residents of the natural cosmos—can impart purification and healing to us, though never pollution (miasma) or illness (On the Sacred Disease 4; cf. Phaedrus 244d–e; Republic 379a–380c). This is why Hippocratics are still able to recommend the ritual practices of everyday religion to their patients—generally in chronic and incurable cases (Edelstein 1937:244–246)—and presumably with no guarantees that the gods will respond to their petitions (On the Sacred Disease 4; On Dreams [Regimen 4] 87, 89, 90, 93). [28] However, appeals {81|82} to popular forms of divination—the supposed mantic technai that allow us to descry the future—are another matter.

The first appearance of professional physicians in Athens closely coincided with the entry of Asclepius and his daughter Hygieia (the personification of health) into the Piraeus in 420/19, followed by an additional installation of the cult in Athens in the year following. The fact that this latter development also coincided with the final abatement of the waves of plague Athens had suffered through (430–420 BCE) seems to have ensured the fame and success of the new god. [32] From its very foundation the Athenian cult-center and {82|83} Asclepiad physicians also enjoyed a close and supportive bond with Delphi and, especially, with Eleusis and the celebration of its Mysteries (Garland 1992:121–124; Langholf 1990:234). The clinical work and success of the Hippocratic school, on the other hand, dates for the most part from the time subsequent to Hippocrates’ departure from Cos and its temple (Jouanna 1998:27, 30–31). We may infer the possibility that as scientific medicine began to distinguish itself as a technê its own right, independent of temple-medicine, Hippocratic physicians had to take care in drawing a clear boundary between the superseded but ongoing practices of their progenitors/competition and their own new theories and methods. [33] It is against this backdrop that On Regimen (esp. 4 [On Dreams]), Prognosis, and the entire Hippocratic attitude toward popular forms of mantikê versus their own practice of prognostication (προγνωστικόν) should be understood. [34]

The prognosis of patients “was one of the most important activities of the Hippocratic authors,” and this crucial procedure had its conceptual, terminological, and practical roots in earlier religious forms of divination, including dream divination (Lloyd 1979:45; Langholf 1990:232, 242, 250–254; note, too, that Apollo was the god of both medicine and divination). But although On Regimen does initially refer to mantikê as a craft (1.12), its actual status as a technê is thrown into doubt by the opening of book 4 (On Dreams 86–88). Here we are told that there are two kinds of dreams. First, there are god-given dreams that contain cryptic information concerning the future of both individuals and cities—the interpretation of these sorts of dreams requires special religious interpreters. Secondly, there are also diagnostic dreams experienced by souls during sleep as a result of somatic imbalances—and for these dreams there are also special interpreters, namely, properly trained physicians. However, and despite their differing origins, since both kinds of dream are brought to our attention by their unusual features, it is no surprise that {83|84} the religious interpreters offer predictions on the basis of what are actually somatic dreams (Holowchak 2001:388–389, 398). But in such cases as these, their interpretations concerning the future—including whether or not a body will experience from a surfeit or depletion of humors—are often inaccurate. In either case, these religious diviners lack an account of the cause of their successes and failures. Moreover, they offer only the most general—and, thus, useless—advice on how to prepare for the future they predict, such as “Beware of taking harm!” (On Dreams 87), supplemented by a recommendation to pray.

The author’s response to this situation is careful but fairly straightforward. While prayer is indeed a good thing, patients “should also lend a hand” (On Dreams 87.15–16), where “taking a hand” strongly suggests that one should avoid the approach to unusual dreams offered by the religious interpreters—whatever their source may seem to be. Moreover, and without saying as much, the mention of the religious interpreters’ mistaken application of their alleged technê to an inappropriate subject-matter (somatic dreams) and the vacuity of their prescriptions suggest that we should find their professed technê to be entirely illegitimate. The religious approach to dreaming, then, is to be contrasted with the Hippocratic attention to the facts about dreaming. Such physicians take no stand as to what sorts of religious rites of healing ought to be performed (leaving this up to the patient’s own judgment), but treat unusual dreams as resulting from a disturbance of the soul caused in turn by a bodily disturbance requiring treatment of that body by a physician (On Dreams 88). Dreams thus continue in Hippocratic medicine to offer a vital diagnostic tool (Holowchak 2001:388), but the dominant message of this text and the deafening silence on the topic of divination by other Hippocratic authors is that serious physicians are to regard religious dream divination as an ineffective non-science—one to be supplanted by a Hippocratic inquiry into the reliably predicable causal connections between somatic signs and subsequent bodily changes (Edelstein 1937:241–246).

As for other forms of forecasting the future, the Hippocratic physician is to look not to the incursions of distant divinity allegedly displayed in the spontaneous and unpredictable omens sent by gods and intermediary daimôns (e.g. the state of sacrificial entrails, the flights of birds) in an attempt to outdo the hereditary manteis. Rather, he is to engage in a professionalized prognostication informed by Hippocratic humoral theory and based on observations of the “signs” displayed by the patient’s body. This attention to bodily signs tries to apprehend “not so much a future event … but an event that had already begun in an incipient, invisible fashion—an event on the level of a humoral disequilibrium already ongoing in the body” (DeHart 1999:365). These signs, {84|85} unlike those subjected to interpretation by popular forms of divination, must be taken as causal signs to some degree and so “are now to be dealt with by reckoning and discriminating … instead of by traditional means of propitiation or sacrifice” (DeHart 1999:369; cf. 376). For although Hippocratic physicians still saw in these signs, their bodies, and the cosmos as a whole, the operations of divine power, it was a power now conceived to be “calculable and predictable and which made ritual action irrelevant to human contact with these powers,” or at least largely so (DeHart 1999:377; cf. Jouanna 1998:49).

In view of the preceding, Eryximachus’ endorsement of the sort of divination associated with the traditional rites of prayers and sacrifices marks a clear point at which he parts company with many if not most of his fellow Hippocratics (Jouanna 1998:48–49; The Science of Medicine 4–6). [35] Consider the relevant passage in full:

… all types of sacrifice [thusiai] and the whole sphere of divination [mantikê] (these are the ways in which gods and human interact) are wholly directed toward maintaining the proper kind of Love and curing the kind that is diseased. Every kind of impiety [asebeia] towards one’s parents or the gods occurs when we refuse to gratify or honor and give pride of place in every action to the orderly kind of Love, and offer deference to the other sort. The task of divination is to keep watch over those whose Love is the wrong kind and to doctor them as necessary. Divination is thus the craft that produces loving affection between gods and men; it is the science [epistamai] of the effects of love on justice [themis] and piety [eusebeia]. Love as a whole has such great and varied power that in all cases it might be called total. But it is the Love whose nature is expressed in good actions marked by temperance and justice, at the human and divine level that provide us with happiness and good fortune, the bonds of human society, friendship [philia] with the gods—our superiors.

Symposium 188b6–d3; after Gill trans.

This is a remarkable passage. For not only does it have a Hippocratic physician endorsing rather than rejecting mantikê (including knowledge of the rites of sacrifice), but it characterizes mantikê as a quasi-medical expertise concerning Heavenly Erôs—now conceived of Socratically as the desire for the good— {85|86} and the virtues of piety, temperance, and justice (virtues, which, if rightly doctored, produce happiness and good fortune). In particular, a Heavenly Erôs guided by medical piety will result in a loving friendship between humans and gods, as opposed to the more mercantile relationship fostered by the do ut des piety of popular fifth-century Greek religion—a relationship grounded more in fear and respect than in loving affection for deity (McPherran 1996:chap. 3). [
36] Naturally, we would expect Eryximachus to argue for the self-interested payoff this new form of piety and friendship with the gods might bring; e.g. in terms of an improvement to our health. But then he must also explain how his allegiance to Hippocratic physical causal theory can be made compatible with the independently existing deities of whom he speaks, and who it is that can serve as the new sort of diviner who can doctor our Erôs for the good via the virtues—will it be the physician, the diviner, the philosopher, or some combination of these?

Eryximachus implicitly raises these puzzles by the way he incorporates into his grand theory the sort of Socratic/Platonic response to the Hippocratics that Plato (and Xenophon, too) is elsewhere willing to credit to Socrates, according to which medicine must be supplemented by and subservient to the soul-therapy provided by philosophy (e.g. Charmides 156b–159a). It is also important to note that although Eryximachus forecasts friendly relations between gods and humans, they remain quite unequal partners, separated by the traditional, defining gap that divides the human from the divine in respect of power and wisdom, a gap repeatedly endorsed by the Socrates of such texts as the Apology (20e–23b). Eryximachus’ claims that we are on friendly terms with the divine when we are pious and that happiness and good fortune are produced when the power of Erôs is expressed via the virtues of temperance and justice toward the good should put us in mind of the Socratic piety arguably latent in the second half of the Euthyphro (see McPherran 1996:chap. 2; note, too, that Memorabilia 1.4.7, for example, has Socrates characterizing the Demiurge as not only wise, but “loving”). The conception of piety at work here is thus contrary to that manifested by those Hippocratics who collapse the divine into nature—offering “a different vision of man … in which man measures himself no longer against the gods but through his ties to the universe that surrounds him” (Jouanna 1998:42). As we will now see, the nature of the connection between Erôs, piety, and the other virtues becomes a running subtext of the next three speeches. {86|87}

In sum, Eryximachus as a Platonic construction represents (in part) Plato’s attempt to join in the contemporary battle as to where and how to draw the lines among magic, medicine, religion, and philosophy. He is, in particular, Plato’s response to all other physicians who would rank the craft of medicine as superior to, rather than subordinate to, the new craft of philosophy. As Plato stresses throughout his later work, this new expertise employs a rational approach to knowledge that encompasses and supersedes Presocratic science (see e.g. Phaedo 96a–107d) but also provides a medical therapeia of the soul lacking in Greek medicine—doing so by recasting the traditional forms of piety and divination in relation to deities properly reconceived (McPherran 1996:chaps. 2.2, 4, 5.3; McPherran 2004). On the one hand, then, Eryximachus is a Platonic physician because of his nominal piety, his recognition of the realm of divinity, and “his philosophical orientation and his understanding of the nature of the human body as part of the larger picture, the picture of a perfectly harmonious cosmos” (Poulakos 1998:170). These features, in turn, prepares us for Diotima’s own revelation of the universality of Erôs and its origin in our sexual attraction to and procreation in beautiful bodies (206a–208b). But this physician proves not to be a thorough-going Platonist—for despite his talk about piety and the gods, he is fixated on the physical universe, and so his actual theory of love offers merely a thorough-going physicalistic conception of Erôs as a natural power—the Erôs relevant to the mediation of only our mortal nonsense, to use Diotima’s scathing terminology (211e). In this, Eryximachus embodies the old anthropomorphism made newly scientific—for it seems that he conceives of what Plato understands to be very much a psychological and transcendental force as an essentially somatic phenomenon “located in a field of ‘natural’ (kata phusin), hence, dependable, processes” (DeHart 1999:353). This non-Platonic aspect of Eryximachus is best explained as providing the sort of physicalistic conception of Erôs that can serve as the oppositional bedrock against which the non-physicalistic account of Erôs and deity offered by Diotima/Plato can then be seen as making the sort of metaphysical progress that makes philosophers superior to physicians. It may even be that the lack of coherence many scholars have found in Eryximachus’ physical theory is intended to turn us toward this view. But to see better how Eryximachus foreshadows Diotima, we need first to see how he also foreshadows both Aristophanes and Agathon. [37] {87|88}

The Speech of Aristophanes

We have been prepared for Aristophanes’ account of Erôs as a healing power by Eryximachus’ earlier disclosure that the physician aids Erôs to bring about an attunement of our desires (Allen 1991:28; cf. Rowe 1999:62–64). However, Aristophanes’ account also marks progress over both Eryximachus’ and Pausanius’ viewpoints—on both his and Plato’s assessment (189c–d)—since it treats Erôs as a uniquely human and predominant psychic force affecting both men and women. Moreover, it offers a theory of Erôs that still captures our romantic imaginations. Aristophanes also produces a small advance in the concept of piety—one foreshadowing the piety of Diotima. [39] For, subsequent to his tale, Aristophanes concludes that it is Erôs who assists us in finding our other halves (193a–b, 193c), thus helping us to procure for ourselves the greatest benefit present circumstances will allow (193b8–d2). Naturally, if we offend Erôs the gods will hate us (193b) and so we will thus fail to find our beloveds, but if we are pious towards the gods, Erôs will not only help us to find our beloveds in the here and now, but we may entertain the greatest hope for the future—namely, that Erôs “will establish us in our original condition and, by healing us, make us blessed and happy” (193d5–6). This last claim is initially puzzling. For given that Aristophanes has already concluded his myth and developed its practical applications for understanding Erôs in our actual, present human condition, it seems implausible that he would here be {88|89} forecasting a literal return to our original double-human physical form in the future. Arguably, then, Aristophanes is in this passage hinting that piety in the here and now will lead to a union with our beloved in the afterlife. If so, Aristophanes’ speech foreshadows the sort of erotic eschatology Plato draws in the Phaedrus (256a–e). With his portrait of Erôs as the soul’s desire for its proper object, Aristophanes has brought us one step closer to the account of Diotima.

The Speech of Agathon

Agathon’s speech transports readers from the rich Aristophantic world of mythic poetry to a Gorgian victory of style over substance (cf. 198c), concluding with an “incantation of rhythmical phrases” that “brings Greek prose as close to metrical poetry as it ever got” (Hunter 2004:73). There is, however, substantive content to be elicited from the contrived form of Agathon’s encomium. One obvious contribution is noted by Socrates, who—fully in character—endorses the way Agathon inaugurates his speech by trying first to define Erôs before attempting to say anything substantive about Erôs (198c; see e.g. Hippias Major 304d5–e3). Another contribution—relatively unnoticed—has to do with what Agathon does and does not say about piety and the gods.

The Speech of Diotima

With her authority as a woman of god in place, Plato proceeds to use Diotima to outline a radical new vision of piety—one that utterly trumps all prior accounts. First, Agathon’s Erôs is demoted from the status of god to daimôn (201e–204c), and then—in rough agreement with Eryximachus—such intermediary beings are connected with the traditional piety of prayer, sacrifice, and divination (202e–203a). Here, however, Diotima offers a sharp critique that seems consciously aimed at comparing and contrasting Eryximachus with Socratic/Platonic philosophers, when she asserts that a man wise about the ways that daimôns interact with humans and gods—thus grasping true piety—is a spiritual man (δαιμόνιος ἀνήρ), whereas one with wisdom about the subject of a profession or craft—hence, a Hippocratic physician of the non-philosophical sort—is merely a vulgar mechanic (βάναυσος). [45] Here Diotima’s descriptive phrase daimonios anêr harks back to the archaic shaman, described as a man of god (θεῖος ἀνήρ)—who is also generally an iatromanteis (Dodds 1951:140–147; Langholf 1990:233). [46] As Diotima now proceeds to make clear, these spiritual men are none other than those who philosophize—indeed, even Erôs is a philosopher, caught between ignorance and knowledge, longing for beautiful things such as wisdom and goodness (203a–204b). [47] Now, at last, the {91|92} most proper beautiful object of the erotic passion of these pious philosophers can be revealed (209e–212b).

Here in the ladder of ascent section of the Symposium we see a prime instance of the way that Plato appropriates the language of traditional myth and religion in its many forms (e.g. the Eleusinian Mysteries) to link our desire for knowledge and post-mortem happiness with the new intellectual enterprise of philosophy—one that sees the philosopher as driven by an erotic desire or a kind of madness for epistemic union with the Forms (cf. e.g. Republic 490a–b; Phaedrus 249c–253c). [48] And as Plato emphasizes here as elsewhere, one requirement for such knowledge involves the soul in becoming more like the Forms in terms of their purity, that is, their lack of sensible characteristics. Hence, for the soul this means freedom from both attachment to the body and a desire for erotic pleasure (210b). To obtain such freedom requires that the soul be purified not by traditional religious methods but by philosophical training of one’s reason, which—as a “practice for death” (Phaedo 81a1; 89b–c, 94d–e, 95b)—releases it from the chains of bodily desire (Phaedo 81a–e; cf. 66d–67a, 67d). Although this purification is sometimes characterized as the turning around of the soul (e.g. Republic 518b–521c) or as the soul’s attempt to become as much like god as possible in respect of justice and wisdom (Symposium 207c–209e; Phaedrus 248a, 252c–253c; Republic 613a–b; Theaetetus 172b–177c; Timaeus 90a–d; Laws 716c), here the soul moves up through a process of seeing the beautiful things in the correct ascending order (210e) in a fashion similar to what the initiates in the Mysteries undergo (e.g. Phaedo 81a)—an unveiling (epopteia) of those Mysteries revealed to the initiates of Eleusis. [49] What is seen {92|93} by those initiated into the mysteries of philosophy, however, are not the sacred objects of Demeter, but the most perfect and sacred object of all: Beauty-itself (210a–212b) (Morgan 1990:chap. 4).

Appropriating a variety of ecstatic religious forms, Plato’s philosophical theology now offers the hope of intimate Form-contemplation in the realm of divinity (210a–212b; cf. Phaedo 79c–84b; Republic 490a–b; Phaedrus 247d–e). Unlike the Socratic piety on display in the Apology, self-knowledge on Plato’s scheme now leads not so much to an appreciation of our mortal limits as to the realization that we are ourselves capable of possessing all the knowledge there is to be had (Meno 81c–d; Phaedo 72e–77e; Symposium 210a–211b; cf. Sheffield 2001a). In such a scheme there is little room for the old Apollonian piety of Delphi and the Socrates of the Apology, since now the central task of human existence becomes less a matter of merely assisting gods who are vastly superior to us in wisdom, and more a matter of becoming as much like them as one can (e.g. Theaetetus 172b–177c; McPherran 1996:chap. 5.3). This fact, in addition to the more complex psychology Plato develops in Republic IV (427e–428a), may now help us to explain Plato’s decision in that book and in Agathon’s speech to no longer count piety as a cardinal virtue or as a virtue possessed by a god. For it seems that in Republic IV Plato came to the view that there is little internal difference between the knowledge of how to do what is just toward gods and {93|94} the knowledge of how to do what is just toward mortals—as a result, piety as a form of psychic virtue seems to be nothing other than justice simpliciter. So although Plato continues to speak of piety and pious actions, piety as a virtue is subsumed under the virtue of justice (and wisdom) as a whole (McPherran 2000). At any rate, keeping in mind Eryximachus’ account of piety, Diotima can be seen to offer an implicit explanation as to why Agathon fails to ascribe piety to his gods. None of the gods love wisdom, she asserts, since being already wise they do not love/desire it (204a). So, then, if—as Eryximachus has it—piety is a form of proper love toward the gods as preeminently wise and just beings by mortal humans who lack those qualities, only human beings and not gods can exemplify piety (188b–d). [51]

Plato, then, has in part used his symposiasts to reveal a new vision of piety through an ascending sequence of speeches—offered like the successive talismanic objects of an Eleusinian initiation—capped by Diotima’s concluding protreptic: [52]

Do you think it would be a poor life for a human being to look there [at Beauty-itself] and to behold it by that which he ought, and to be with it? Or haven’t you remembered, she said, that in that life alone, when he looks at Beauty in the only way that Beauty can be seen—only then will it become possible for him to give birth not to images of virtue … but to true virtue … The love of the gods belongs to anyone who has given birth to true virtue and nourished it, and if any human being could become immortal, it would be he.

Symposium 212a–b {94|95}

Here in the piety of Diotima the equivocal piety of Eryximachus—where “Love is directed … toward good things whether in heaven or on earth” (188d5–7, my emphasis)—finds its Platonic revision. Although we must inevitably begin our embodied lives with an Erôs that aims at the good things of this earth, the life of genuinely successful piety demands a reorientation of our Erôs toward the only truly good things there are—the invisible objects of Plato’s new heaven. The complete physician who would bring us a return to our original wholeness, then, is no Eryximachus, but must be that rare individual who has moved beyond an expertise of bodies and become one of those wise about daimôns. [
53] {95|96}


[ back ] 1. Poulakos 1998:165; Jouanna 1998:68–69; e.g. Gorgias 464b–467c; Phaedrus 268a–270d; Republic 403d–410b; Statesman 292d–300a; Timaeus 64a–92c; Laws 889b–e. This is made particularly evident by his appeals to the analogy of soul to body, of psychic health to somatic health (e.g. Crito 47a–48b; Gorgias 463e–465d; Phaedrus 270a–e; Sophist 223e, 226e–230e) and the micro-cosmic and macro-cosmic conception of human nature found in the Timaeus—a conception that parallels the similar one found in the Hippocratic work On Regimen (Jouanna 1998:70). Indeed, some take the frequency and force of the analogy to contribute to the view that—among other things—Socrates and Plato were the inventors of “scientific verbal psychotherapy,” beside whom “Gorgias and Antiphon are mere prehistory” (Entralgo 1970:137; cf. 126).

[ back ] 2. In other papers of this volume, the god Eros is distinguished from Erôs, but I deliberately preserve the ambiguity here.

[ back ] 3. See e.g. Bury 1909:xxvii–xxix; Dover 1980:105; Edelstein 1945:85; Nehamas and Woodruff 1989:xvi; and Rosen 1987:119.

[ back ] 4. Phaedrus also has some claim on the title of symposiarch (177a–d).

[ back ] 5. In conjunction with his warning against heavy drinking (176c–e). Erôs threatens to becomes non-theoretical yet again with the arrival of Alcibiades on the arm of a flute girl (212c–e).

[ back ] 6. This, I take it, is simply because Plato’s focus is on Erôs, not dialectic per se, in this dialogue.

[ back ] 7. See Konstan and Young-Bruehl 1982:44 on polemical intention.

[ back ] 8. The narrator Apollodorus speculates that the hiccups resulted from Aristophanes’ habit of stuffing himself (185c). But since Eryximachus will go on to praise divination, and since hiccups are traditionally taken to be omens (e.g. popular lore in a variety of cultures holds that hiccups are a sign that someone is remembering you; by analogy, note that in the Odyssey [xvii 539–547] sneezing is a sign that an earlier wish will come true; Langholf 1990:248–254), perhaps we are to take Aristophanes’ sudden attack as a divinatory sign of something or other. With this initial, odd scene, then, we may be faced with the question of how to differentiate the physical from the psychological and/or divine that Eryximachus’ speech will pose, as well as the notion of divination (see below).

[ back ] 9. And, again, we see Eryximachus (“belch fighter”) serve as a physician to the conversation though his prescription of three hiccup cures to Aristophanes, the last of which proves successful (185d–e, 189a).

[ back ] 10. For our knowledge of Eryximachus, see Nails 2002:143–144. Like Hippocrates, he comes from a medical family; for our knowledge of Eryximachus’ physician-father, Acumenus, see Nails 2002:1–2. Note that Eryximachus is a close friend of Phaedrus (177a–d; cf. Protagoras 315c). On the identity of Hippocrates and the authorship of the texts ascribed to him, see Lloyd 1975a; and Jouanna 1998:25–38.

[ back ] 11. Meaning, presumably (in view of claim [ii]), that the two unlike qualities (namely, the healthy and the diseased) each desire unlike things; that is, the things desired by what is healthy and the things desired by what is diseased are unlike each other.

[ back ] 12. Rowe 1999:56–58 has the opposites loving more of themselves when they are healthy, which seems at odds with the text.

[ back ] 13. Rosen 1987:98–101; pace Dover 1980:105, and Konstan and Young-Bruehl 1982:40, the latter holding that Eryximachus is working with two kinds of love: epithumia (desire) and philia (concord).

[ back ] 14. Pace Dover 1980:105, Nehamas and Woodruff 1989:xvi. However, Rowe 1999:54 thinks Konstan and Young-Bruehl “over-estimate the ‘philosophical significance’ of the speech,” although it is “distinctly clever.”

[ back ] 15. Edelstein 1945:87 observes that Eryximachus’ “analysis of medicine (186b–e) is shorter than his analysis of music.”

[ back ] 16. Eryximachus’ speech can be read as a parodic example of a medical epideixis common to the period; see e.g. Hunter 2004:53–54; and Jouanna 1998. Plato has no patience with medicine’s overblown claims; Republic 403d–410b.

[ back ] 17. On this score, it is worth noting that Plato has Socrates praise the beauty—hence, the correctness, it seems—of Eryximachus’ speech at 194a. I am grateful to Mitchell Miller for pointing out Plato’s use of the Hippocratic notions of repletion and emptying in the Philebus, and to Eric Brown for emphasizing Plato’s reliance on the “method of Hippocrates” at Phaedrus 270a–278b; namely, that one must know the nature of the whole in order to know the soul.

[ back ] 18. Plato even goes so far as to implicitly deny the popular view that epilepsy is caused by a divinity when he explains that its name ‘the sacred disease’ (τῆς ἰερῆς νούσου) is justly applied insofar as the disease attacks the most sacred part of us (our head) (85b). Plato also agrees with the author of On the Sacred Disease that divinities are not the personal causes of illness—especially those supposedly manifesting miasma—when he argues in the Republic that gods are never the causes of anything evil (376d–380c); Edelstein 1937:220. The gods are, however, responsible for certain kinds of beneficial madness, such as mantic possession (Phaedrus 244a–257a).

[ back ] 19. Indeed, the later abrupt descent from the heights of Diotima’s ladder of spiritual Erôs into the physical, drunken Erôs of Alcibiades (212c–223d) is an elliptical warning in sympathy with Eryximachus’ Puritanism.

[ back ] 20. Plato’s choice of Eryximachus—rather than some other physician (historical or not)—seems particularly designed to raise the issue of medicine’s relationship to piety and popular religion, since Eryximachus, his father, and his friend Phaedrus, were all “implicated in the accusations and counter-accusations of sacrilege that preceded the Athenian invasion of Sicily in 415,” Nails 2002:2. For as Halperin 2005:56 perceptively notes, “It would have been impossible for a contemporary Greek to read the Symposium unironically … Readers of the Symposium … [possess] a tragic knowledge [of the characters’ histories] that is denied the characters at the moment of their speaking.”

[ back ] 21. The dramatic date of the main conversation of the Symposium is 416 BCE, “not long before the disastrous Athenian expedition to Sicily, in which Alcibiades played a leading part,” while the date of its composition is usually placed in the second half of the 380s (Rowe 1998a:10–11).

[ back ] 22. For a late example (later than 300 BCE) of such as physician, see the author of the Decorum, who holds that “a physician who is a philosopher is the equal of a god” (Decorum 5.4).

[ back ] 23. Cf. On the Nature of Man 1, On Nature 1.

[ back ] 24. E.g. Apology 20e–24a; Ion 531b, 538e–539e; Phaedrus 244a–e; Timaeus 71e–72d; Republic 427a–c; cf. Republic 461e, 540b–c; McPherran 1996:chap. 4. Plato and his Socrates also accept the ancient view that god-given dreams can offer glimpses of the future (e.g. Crito 43c–44b, Phaedo 60c–61b). And although Plato vigorously rejects the idea that gods can be magically influenced (Republic 363e–367a; cf. Laws 885b–e, 888a–d, 905d–907b, 948b–c), he retains a role for pious, traditional-appearing religious practices. In the Republic, for example, there will still be sacrifices (419a) and hymns to the gods (607a), along with a form of civic religion that features temples, prayers, festivals, priests, and so on (427b–c; Burkert 1985:334). Plato also expects the children of his Kallipolis to be molded “by the rites and prayers which the priestesses and priests and the whole community pray at each wedding festival” (Republic 461a6–8). The Republic is lamentably terse on the details of all this, but that is because its Socrates is unwilling to entrust the authority of establishing these institutions to his guardians or to speculative reason (“We have no knowledge of these things”; 427b8–9). Rather, the “greatest, finest, and first of laws” (Republic 427b3–4; cf. 424c–425a) governing these matters will be introduced and maintained by “the ancestral guide on such things for all people”: Delphic Apollo (427a–c; cf. 461e, 540b–c). Morgan 1990:106, notes that this charge to the Delphic oracle is “completely normal.” Plato assigns the same function to Delphi in his Laws (738b–d, 759a–e, 828a) and pays better attention to such details (e.g. 759a–760a, 771a–772d, 778c–d, 799a–803b, 828a–829e, 848c–e). These details are rather conventional, something we should expect, given that Plato’s Athenian Stranger insists that his Cretan city will absorb and preserve unchanged the rites of the Magnesians (848d). This fact alone suggests that the ritual life of Plato’s Kallipolis will—with the exception of its cult for deceased philosopher-kings (Republic 540b–c)—be very hard to distinguish from that of Plato’s Athens. Confirmation of this occurs when we are told that the citizens of Kallipolis will “join all other Greeks in their common holy rites” (Republic 470e10–11 [and note the warning against innovation at 424b–c]; cf. Laws 848d).

[ back ] 25. The author of the Decorum would seem to fit Plato’s ideal, since from that author’s perspective a physician must be a philosopher (1.5) who also acknowledges and understands the role of the gods in the curing of illness (1.6).

[ back ] 26. Note, too, how Plato has Socrates draw our attention to Eryximachus’ approval and possible practice of divination at the conclusion of Agathon’s speech (198a).

[ back ] 27. Of course, those who see Eryximachus’ role as entirely parodic often claim that he badly misinterprets Heraclitus at this point in support of their view (e.g. Woodruff and Nehamas 1989: 21n24; Hunter 2004:55; cf. Rowe 1998a on 187a6–7; for a defense of Eryximachus’ understanding of Heraclitus, see Kihara 2002). But whether or not that is so, on a charitable reading of this section we can understand Plato to be signaling that Eryximachus is no slave to Presocratic science—that he, like Plato, will adopt the physical views of his predecessors on the basis of his own considered view of the matter at hand. And strictly speaking, we can sympathize with Eryximachus’ desire that Heraclitus’ aphorism (his version of it, at any rate) should differentiate between the kind of homeostatic opposition existing between the harmonized somatic opposites (e.g. hot and cold) in a healthy person and the sort of unbalanced opposition present in a diseased person (whose state could be likened to that of a bow or lyre that was strung too tightly or too loosely).

[ back ] 28. See Eijk 1990:105–119 for discussion of the tension between the claims of On the Sacred Disease that all diseases are equally divine and involve natural causation and that (yet) the gods can dispense cleansings; cf. Lloyd 1979:31–32. Edelstein 1937 argues that while some Hippocratic texts should be understood as identifying the divine with nature, the greater number “acknowledge the divine as a factor apart from nature, which is a power of its own” (217; see e.g. On the Sacred Disease 4.48–50).

[ back ] 29. The most complete study of Asclepius is Edelstein and Edelstein 1945.

[ back ] 30. This familial and functional link between the two deities makes it natural that the Socrates of the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo would find a long-lasting affinity with Asclepius. As both the Apology (e.g. 20e–23c, 29c–31a) and Phaedo (84d–85b, 69d–e) make clear, Socrates is Apollo’s missionary, the god’s gift to Athens. The god has commanded Socrates to elenctically examine those who hubristically claim to possess divine wisdom and to urge on all and sundry the philosophical care and tendance of the soul (Apology 29d7–e3, 30a7–b2; Xenophon Memorabilia 1.2.4–5). See McPherran 1996:chap. 4.2.

[ back ] 31. See Edelstein and Edelstein 1945:221–237 for a sample of incubation testimonies; see also e.g. Garland 1992:chap. 6; Mikalson 1983:55–56; Vlastos 1949:281–286; and Aristophanes Plutus 653–747. Clients of Apollo, Amphiaraus, and Trophonius might also have incubation recommended to them, but the method was most famously tied to Asclepius (e.g. while both Amphiaraus and Trophonius are merely local deities, “Asclepius and his sons perform the whole world over,” Vlastos 1949:281n49).

[ back ] 32. Parker 1996:180. The actual reason for the abatement seems to have been the sudden decrease in Athens’ crowded population when the Peace of Nicias (421) allowed refugees to return to their homes. For a description of the epidemic (leading candidates for its cause are true plague [Yersinia pestis], typhus, and smallpox), see Thucydides 2.47–58, 3.87.

[ back ] 33. And without offending those progenitors; Lloyd 1979:45. Hippocrates, at any rate, “never broke off contact with his birthplace,” and was treated as a hero of Cos into Roman times (Jouanna 1998:27; cf. 40–41). It seems that Hippocratic ire is directed more towards independent manteis than those associated with established institutions of healing; cf. Holowchak 2001:384–386.

[ back ] 34. During Socrates’ lifetime, divination (μαντική) was widely employed by both states and individuals, and appeared in roughly three forms (in order of prestige): (1) divination by lots (κλῆροι) (cleromancy); (2) interpretation of signs (σημεῖα) such as thunder, the direction of flights of birds, and the reading of sacrificial entrails; (3) the production and interpretation of oral oracles by a seer (μάντις) (with these being recorded, collected, and interpreted by “oracle-mongers” [χρησμολόγοι]). See e.g. Zaidman and Pantel 1992:121–128.

[ back ] 35. The effectiveness of traditional rites of prayers and sacrifices directed to external deities is still in principle compatible with the principle of sufficient reason implicitly invoked by the Hippocratics, so long as those deities are conceived of as operating inside the domain of the sphere of natural causes (see n28 above).

[ back ] 36. Rowe 1998a:152 writes “… if seers are concerned with the causes of impiety, and impiety has its origin in people’s desires, then seers ought to be involved in examining them.”

[ back ] 37. Patrick Miller has made the interesting suggestion that not just Eryximachus, but all of the Symposium’s pre-Diotima speakers, should be understood as calling each of these craftsmen to a deeper—that is, philosophical—understanding of the significance of his/her craft.

[ back ] 38. A story of the kind banned from well-conducted symposia by Xenophanes (fr. B1 D-K) and from well-conducted states by Plato (Republic II and III)

[ back ] 39. Aristophanes’ myth itself does, however, emphasize the kind of semi-traditional piety congenial to Eryximachus insofar as that myth urges us to avoid hubris by recognizing the fact of human inferiority in respect of the power and wisdom of the gods.

[ back ] 40. Agathon’s moral theory does seem confused—as Nehamas and Woodruff 1989 point out (34nn34, 36), since justice seems incorrectly equated with nonviolence, while courage and temperance are implausibly equated with power.

[ back ] 41. In the Charmides, Socrates endorses the view of certain successful Greek physicians who do not attempt to cure eyes by themselves, but only by means of treating the entire head (156b–d). But curing the head requires in turn that the entire body be cured. These physicians are holistic, and Socrates endorses their approach. He then explains how he will be able to cure Charmides’ headache by using a treatment that extends the principle of holistic medicine to include even that aspect of us concerned with reason and speech; namely, the soul—a treatment of leaf and charm that he learned when in the army near Thrace from one of the physicians of the Thracian king Zalmoxis (156d–157c). The standard view of this passage sees Plato as engaging in a purely fictional, literary maneuver using the trope which characterizes foreign wisdom as superior to the haphazard science of the Greeks. Hence, we are to think that Socrates’ encounter with these physicians of psychosomatic medicine must be entirely Plato’s invention (see e.g. ‘Zalmoxis’ in the OCD [1970]:1144; and Rutherford 1995:89). However, this piece of text does not appear to be woven of purely fictional threads: Plato’s original audience believed that Thracians have “special powers of music and healing” (Murphy 2000:288), “the reputation of the Geto-Dacian physicians [of Thrace] was real” (Eliade 1972:56), Socrates does appear to have been on military service near Thrace twice in his lifetime (Potidaea [431–429], Amphipolis [422]; Apology 28e), Zalmoxis was the deity of the Getae in Thrace, and he was connected as Plato connects him with the themes of mind-body dualism and the immortality of the soul (Herodotus 4.93–6; Morgan 1990:26). Note also Zalmoxis’ reputed connection with Pythagoras, his achievement of immortality through initiatory incubation, and so on. Note, too, that Greek medicine of the time commonly assumed that the application of drugs would precede or be joined with that of charms/chants (Entralgo 1970:1–107; see also Theaetetus 149c–d, 157c), and that the most renowned physicians of Athens—the Hippocratics—accepted the holistic view Plato ascribes to them (Tsekourakis 1991–1993:166).

[ back ] 42. Supposing that Plato invented Diotima (a name meaning “honored by Zeus”), “he may have made her Mantinean because of the resemblance of the place-name to μάντις ‘seer’ and its cognates” (Dover 1980:137). Despite her possibly fictional status, Plato can still use her to provide “a vision of love from a god-like, authoritative standpoint” (Gill 1999:xxix). It is to be hoped that Diotima—to the extent to which she is Plato’s creature—does not attribute the origin of the Athenian plague to any deity (Apollo was thought by some Athenians to be its source). For discussion of the issue of Diotima’s historicity and the relationship of her views to those expressed in other Platonic dialogues, see Waithe 1987b.

[ back ] 43. Like most commentators, I assume here that Diotima speaks for Plato (compare e.g. what Diotima says of the true lover at 203b–212b with what is said of the true philosopher at Republic 490b); White 2004:366n2.

[ back ] 44. The theme of piety, religious rites, and the mantic art begins at the outset of the dialogue, however, with Plato’s mention of the madness (μαίνομαι; 173e2) of Apollodorus, the seeming-trance of Socrates (174d–175b), and the way the symposium began with “the whole ritual” of a libation and hymn to Dionysus (176a; cf. 174c).

[ back ] 45. It is worth noting that Diotima thus tars non-philosophical physicians with the same brush used by the author of On the Sacred Disease, who in manuscript variant M concludes his treatise by labeling the earlier vilified “magicians, purifiers, charlatans, and quacks” μάγοι τε καὶ καθαρταὶ ἀγύρται καὶ ἀλαζόνες (On the Sacred Disease 2.3–4) as βαναυσίη.

[ back ] 46. Empedocles is such a figure; see e.g. frr. B111 D-K and B112 D-K (Lloyd 1979:34–35).

[ back ] 47. It is a commonplace that Diotima’s portrayal of impoverished, barefooted Erôs also characterizes the impoverished barefooted Socrates as a philosopher who is also a δαιμόνιος ἀνήρ—a “genius with enchantments and potions” (203b–204b). We are prepared for this appropriation of shamanistic terminology by the new enterprise of philosophy in the dialogue through not only Eryximachus’ approval of the mantic art, but by Plato’s continual characterization of Socrates as a kind of magus. This begins at the outset of the dialogue with the unexplained trance of Socrates (175a–c) and carries on through Agathon’s claim that Socrates tried to cast a spell on him (φαρμάττειν; 194a5), Socrates’ claim to have forecast (μαντικῶς; 198a5) the beauty of Agathon’s speech (198a), and Alcibiades’ characterization of Socrates as a satyr-like, word-wizard full of godlike figures, party to the Bacchic frenzy of philosophy, daimonios (219c1), “strange” (221d3), and resistant to the effects of climate and strong drink (215d–222a).

[ back ] 48. A partial list of text-references to Eleusinian purification (katharsis), initiation, and sudden revelation (epopteia) include Republic 560e, 378a; references to the Bacchic Mysteries include Symposium 218b, Laws 672b, Phaedrus 250b–c, 265b; Corybantic references include Crito 54d and Euthydemus 277d. Eleusinian Mystery motifs also contribute to the Myth of the Cave in Republic VII and the Myth of the Soul in the Phaedrus (244a–257b). See Morgan 1990:chaps. 3–6.

[ back ] 49. Elsewhere, Plato also assimilates into philosophy the less mainstream Pythagorean, possibly Orphic, view that the body is a kind of prison for the soul which must undergo many trials of intellectual purification (katharsis) and initiation (teletê) for it to achieve liberation, a homecoming whose rewards include a final revelatory vision (Phaedo 62a–b, 69b–d, 79d, 82d; Republic 533c; Philebus 400b–c; Dodds 1951:chap. 7; Edmonds 2004:175–179). Here Plato allies himself with Hippocratic medicine which also rejects ritual purification in favor of scientific, medical purification (On the Sacred Disease 1–4).

[ back ] 50. Diotima already makes use of Eryximachus’ Heracliteanism at 207c–208b.

[ back ] 51. Insofar as Eryximachus’ piety resembles the piety of the Socrates of the Apology—modeled as a service after the kind that human soldiers and assistants render to distant generals and craftspeople (whose chief ergon is beyond full human comprehension)—it is at odds with the Republic’s and Symposium’s epistemology that puts expert knowledge theoretically within the grasp of humans (McPherran 2000:322–328). White 2004:373n34 points out that although Diotima’s gods cannot possess or experience Erôs, they can still have philia toward us.

[ back ] 52. Alcibiades’ entrance at 212d, of course, initially marks a descent. He appears “all of a sudden,” like some kind of anti-Form, to take us away with dizzying speed from the ecstatic heights of the incorporeal, divine, and virtue-inducing world of Beauty-itself down to the fleshy but quite drunken beauty of Athens’ notorious bad boy. It is here, as I noted at the outset, that Plato has his physician make a proper medical stand and affirm his role as informal symposiarch, by having him insist that Alcibiades not simply drain the two-quart cooling jar in silence (214b). Moreover, we see Eryximachus doctor the conversation by proposing that Alcibiades offer an encomium to Socrates in place of Erôs. Since Alcibiades provides the capstone speech of the entire dialogue, this therapeutic encounter of Alcibiades with Eryximachus once again supports the idea that Eryximachus serves as Plato’s model of a properly philosophically-oriented physician.

[ back ] 53. My thanks to Patrick Miller for his helpful commentary on an earlier draft of this paper, presented to the Eleventh Annual Arizona Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy, University of Arizona, Tucson, February, 2006. I am also grateful to David Halperin, James Lesher, Debra Nails, Jennifer Reid, and Lisa Rhoades for their comments on an earlier version of this paper. Finally thanks to James Lesher, Debra Nails, and Frisbee Sheffield for inviting me to write this piece for the CHS conference, for all the conferees’ helpful suggestions, and to Gregory Nagy and the staff of CHS for their work on behalf of our conference.