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.

10. Agathon, Pausanias and Diotima in Plato’s Symposium: Paiderastia and Philosophia

Luc Brisson

My goal in this contribution [1] is to shift the center of interest of Plato’s magnificent dialogue the Symposium on two points. First, by showing that the dialogue develops a critique of a specific form of education within the framework of paiderastia , [2] a social convention which appears as a response to the quest for knowledge (philosophia), [3] and how this critique of paiderastia naturally involves sexuality, opposing a type of education that associates the transmission of knowledge from one man to another to that of a seminal fluid. According to me, [4] this image is formulated in the following passage from the beginning of the dialogue, where Agathon, who wants Socrates to come and recline on his couch, addresses him:

“Socrates, come lie down next to me. Who knows, if I touch you, I may catch a bit of the knowledge that came to you under my neighbor’s porch” … Socrates sat down next to him and said: “How wonderful it would be, dear Agathon, if what is empty were filled with what is full simply by touching the wise. If only wisdom were like water, which always flows from a full cup into an empty one when we connect them with a piece of yarn—well, then I would {229|230} consider it the greatest prize to have the chance to lie down next to you. I would soon be overflowing with your wonderful knowledge.”

Symposium 175d–e

The image is suggestive in itself, [
5] but in a Greek context and within the framework of paiderastia, it raises a number of problems. Agathon, who is not the older partner, plays the dominant role that should by rights be that of Socrates. However, is this not, on Socrates’ part, an expression of his irony? At the end of the dialogue, we find a similar reversal of roles between Alcibiades and Socrates. Alcibiades, who also wants to lie down beside Socrates gives a detailed description of his attempts to seduce Socrates:

What I thought at the time was that what he really wanted was the bloom of my beauty (ἐπι τῇ ἐμῇ ὥρᾳ), and that seemed to me the luckiest coincidence: all I had to do was to let him have his way with me (χαρισαμένῳ), and he would teach me everything he knew—believe me, I had a lot of confidence in the blooming of my beauty (ἐπι τῇ ὥρᾳ).

Symposium 217a1–6

Here I will limit myself to Plato’s critique of paiderastia, praised in the speeches of Pausanias and Agathon, but criticized in that of Diotima, [
6] who considers the acquisition of knowledge as childbirth, implying the experiences of pregnancy and giving birth. Consequently, while I concede that the first subtitle of this dialogue is On love, I would like to show that for Plato, the point is above all to raise questions about paiderastia, a social convention which, implying sexual relations among males, played an important part in education at Athens in the highest social classes.

1. Sexuality in ancient Greece in the classical period [7]

2. An inventory of sexual behaviors according to Aristophanes

In Plato’s Symposium, we find a passage (191d–192e) in which Aristophanes proposes an inventory of sexual behaviors. The passage ends with some very fine lines that describe the wish expressed by a lover and his beloved never to be separated from one another, in life or in death, because they will have been fused into a single being by Hephaestus (192e). {231|232}

2.1 Between men and women

2.2 Between women

2.3 Between men

2.3.1. Paiderastia

All that has just been said about paiderastia might allow us to think that sexual relations between males in archaic and classical Greece were limited to this context of social conventions, obeying very strict rules, and from which desire and pleasure were supposedly banished at least for the younger male; and that these rules excluded permanence. Yet such was not the case. In his speech, Aristophanes insists on the existence of very powerful relations, which are long lasting, between individuals of the same sex. Agathon and Pausanias are examples of this. Yet this constancy and fidelity, since they violated the rule of paiderastia stipulating that one should abandon exclusive passive sexual relationships with men in order to get married and have children, brought upon them the social blame expressed with great violence by Aristophanes’ lower-class characters in the Thesmophoriazusae (Women at the Thesmophoria).

2.3.2. An enduring homosexual couple

The following is what can be known about Agathon and Pausanias, who formed a couple for at least thirty years.

Pausanias, who seemingly came to know Agathon in the context of paiderastia, thus prolonged this relation until the death of his “beloved”. Such permanence in an amorous relationship seems to be the expression, first, of an idealization of paiderastia, and, on the other hand, of the exclusivity of relations between “lover” and “beloved.” In addition, there is no doubt about the “visibility” of this couple; it seems to have attracted both praise and blame in classical Athens. 2.3.3. Social blame

Despite the institutionalized form assumed by paiderastia, and despite the praise showered on the right sort of sexual relations between men, which {238|239} occupy the foreground particularly in the context of the banquet given by Agathon, this kind of relationship inspired resistance and blame in society.

It is possible, and even likely, that Pausanias is thinking of the young Agathon who was his “beloved” in the context of paiderastia, when, in his speech in the Symposium, he complains about the Athenians’ ambiguous attitude towards this convention, of which Xenophon tells us that Pausanias was an ardent defender. Moreover, Aristophanes seems to anticipate the Thesmophoriazusae as he ends his speech in the Symposium (193b).

From this point, we may draw three conclusions, which we may generalize with some degree of probability. Despite the semi-institutional practice of paiderastia, the existence of couples formed by adult males was known at Athens. These couples laid claim to a genuine exclusivity, for they excluded any relation, in or out of marriage, with women. Above all, they featured an undeniable visibility and permanence.

3. The speeches of Pausanias, Agathon, and Diotima in the Symposium

3.1 Pausanias’ speech (180c–185c) [50]

Pausanias gives a highly articulate speech based on two postulates: the first concerns mythology and more precisely Eros, while the second deals with the social evaluation of a particular type of behavior.

Pausanias justifies the rule of conduct (nomos) current in Attica, concerning the problem of whether it is good for a boy who is beloved to accord his favors to lovers (182a7–b1). This rule takes on an absolute character both in Lacedaemonian Elis and in Boeotia, where to accord one’s favors is considered a fine and good thing (182b1–6), and in Ionia and among the barbarians (182b6–c7), where it is considered ugly and bad. We should note the association of this condemnation with a tyrannical regime (182b6–d4), which could be interpreted as a captatio benevolentiae with regard to Athens and its political leaders. In Attica, by contrast, the rule features nuances, according to whether the Eros involved pertains to Celestial or to Vulgar Aphrodite. In the former case, it is ugly and bad for the beloved boy to accord his favors to lovers; and in the latter case, it is fine and good. We thus return to the axiom formulated above (180e3–181a6).

The lover who is not worthy (ponêros) [65] is interested in the body more than the soul (183d8–e1). He has no more constancy (monimos) than the object of his desire, that is, the body (183e1–5). On the other hand, the lover who {242|243} is worthy is interested primarily in the beloved’s character (183e5), and he remains faithful to him all his life (183e5–6). This, according to Pausanias, is why the rule at Athens intends to submit the lover to the test of time, so that the beloved may know whether he should give in or run away (183e6–184a2). Hence the following two rules. The beloved must not yield right away (184a5–7), thereby showing that he is not after wealth and advantages, either because he seeks them or because he fears failing to obtain them (184a–b3). The desperate search for wealth and power cannot bring constancy (184b3–5). The conclusion that ensues is as follows: there is only one way to follow the Athenian custom: lover and beloved must have excellence as their objective (184b5–6). In this perspective, the two laws must coincide: the one concerning the love of young boys (paiderastia) and the one concerning the love of knowledge (philosophia). The beloved must accord his favors to the lover (184b6–d3), who, for his part, must have as his goal the encouragement of excellence (aretê), in the form of knowledge or something else (184d3–e5). If one is the victim of deceit, this is not dishonorable (184e5). Either the beloved’s baseness appears, when he abandons his poor lover (184e5–185a), or else his intentions were pure if he sought for knowledge from his lover, whereas the latter had no knowledge (185a–b) to give, and the beloved will show himself “the kind of person who will do anything in any circumstance [66] for the sake of becoming better” (185b1–3). As Dover points out, this is a euphemism to indicate that the boy will accept to have sexual relations with his lover, either to thank him for having transmitted his knowledge to him, or else to express his admiration for him. However, the beloved must never take the initiative in this area. [67] The passage on trickery is interesting, for trickery is also twofold. The victim is condemned if his aim is money, and forgiven if his goal is wisdom and virtue.

The heart of Pausanias’ argumentation is to be found in this last section, where the synthesis is made between the rule of conduct that must guide love for young boys (paiderastia) and that which must govern the love for wisdom (philosophia). In fact, Pausanias’ speech is a programmatic praise of paiderastia.

Both these principles (τὼ νόμω τούτω)—that is, both the principle governing the proper attitude toward the lover of boys or young men (τόν τε περὶ τὴν παιδεραστίαν) and the principle governing the quest for knowledge (καὶ τὸν περὶ τὴν φιλοσοφίαν) and all other forms of excellence (καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ἀρετήν)—must be combined if a boy or a young man (παιδικὰ) is to grant his favors (τὸ χαρίσασθαι) to a lover (ἐραστῇ) in an honorable way. When an older lover (ἐραστής) and a boy or a young man (παιδικά) come together and each obeys the principle (νόμον) appropriate to him—when the lover realizes that he is justified in rending any service (ὑπηρετῶν) [70] to a beloved boy or young man who grants him favors (χαρισαμένοις παιδικοῖς), and when the boy or the young man understands that he is justified in performing any service (ὁτιοῦν δικαίως ἂν ὑπηρετεῖν) for a lover who can make him wise (σοφόν) and good (ἀγαθὸν)—and when the loveris able to have the boy or young man become wiser (εἰς φρόνησιν) and better (καὶ τὴν ἄλλην ἀρετὴν), when the boy or the young manis eager to be taught (εἰς παίδευσιν) and improved (καὶ τὴν ἄλλην σοφίαν) by his lovers—then, and only then, when these two principles (τῶν νόμων) coincide absolutely, is it ever honorable for a boy or a young man to accept a lover.

  • The existence of sexual relations, clearly alluded to, between a young boy and his lover are justified in an educative context where the boy is led towards wisdom and all other forms of excellence by his lover.
  • (6) Yet it is precisely by means of education, it seems to me, that Pausanias tries to justify the fact that the lover may prolong amorous relations after the appearance of the first beard on his beloved. The emphasis on constancy in the amorous relation between two men demands the transcendence of the limits admitted in the context of paiderastia. This plea does not prevent the characters in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae from reflecting views of Athenian society in denouncing Agathon’s attitude in the violation of this rule of conduct.

3.2. Agathon’s speech (194e–197e)

Agathon’s speech is indissociable from that of Pausanias, for Agathon uses his praise of Eros to place implicitly himself on stage, by presenting the qualities he attributes to Eros as those that he himself so obviously possesses. Moreover, we may suppose him to attribute the qualities of character and intellect, as distinct from the advantages given by age and beauty, to this relationship with Pausanias.

Agathon’s speech, and especially that of Pausanias, seem to me to cause the appearance in the Symposium of something like a critique launched by Socrates against the association of paiderastia with philosophia in the framework of an Athenian convention associating the provisional acceptance of sexual relations between a boy or a young man and an older man with the transmission of material, political, and even intellectual values. Through his example and his speech, Agathon provides proof of the vacuousness of this education, limited as it is to the learning of rhetoric.

3.3. Diotima’s speech (201e–209e)

Eros (Love) is always desire, not for nothing, but for something (199c–e). What one desires, however, one does not possess (200a–e). Since love’s object is the beautiful and the good, it must be deficient in beauty and goodness (200e–201c). Agathon was therefore wrong to declare that Eros is a great god, endowed with every quality (201d–e). This does not mean that Eros is ugly and bad, but that he is an intermediary being (201e–202d). {246|247}

Now that Eros’s nature has been defined, one can enquire into the benefits he brings to men, and his usefulness (see khreia at 204c) in the context of paiderastia. Above all, however, a specification must be added that places Agathon’s speech, once again, in question. Because Eros is not endowed with all beauties, but is rather in search of them, he is not the beloved (erômenos), but the lover (erastês) (203d–204c).

In fact, Eros leads men to seek the possession of the beautiful and the good for their own sake, and forever (204c–206a). In this way, Eros can be associated with an activity that deserves the most serious attention, and with an effort manifested in an occupation or a task (206a–210d): that of procreation, which ensures immortality for humans. This procreation may be according to the body or according to the soul: the former variety implies union between a man and a woman in order to produce, while the latter involves paiderastia.

The lover (erastês) is the one primarily concerned. This viewpoint is found once again in a passage (208e–209e) which opens with the opposition between procreation according to the body and procreation according to the soul:

For those who are fecund (ἐγκύμονες) by the body, this mode of being in love (ἐρωτικοί) consists in turning preferably toward women, in order to engender children (παιδογονίας), thereby ensuring a relative immortality. As far as the soul is concerned, by contrast, there is an engenderment of thought (φρόνησίν) and of every other form of virtue or excellence (τε και τὴν ἄλλην ἀρετήν), which express themselves in the acts and discourses that are their genuine offspring (ἔκγονα).

Symposium 208e2–209a3 {247|248}

These discourses may be, as tradition would have it, those of poets like Homer and Hesiod, of legislators like Lycurgus and Solon, and even of inventors (209c7–e3). Yet the highest part of thought is situated in justice and moderation (209a7–b1). Men who seek to be fruitful in this area become educators. They then seek out a young man whose body, and above all whose soul, shine with beauty, and they speak to him of virtue, that is, of the duties and occupations of a worthy man (209b2–c2). Upon contact (ἁπτόμενος) with a beautiful object, and by means of assiduous presence (ὁμιλῶν) near him, they engender and procreate (τίκτει καὶ γεννᾷ) what they long had within them (ἃ πάλαι ἐκύει, c2–3). It is interesting to note that it is the older man who is pregnant (κυῶν), who gives birth and procreates (τίκτει καὶ γεννᾷ), and who therefore reaps the benefit of the relation, while the young man represents that beauty which, as we have just seen, presides over the childbirth or the soul, as Moira and Eilithuia do for the body (206b–d). The procedure is as follows: because he teaches a young man, the older man brings forth to the light of day the beautiful children he bore within him, which then appear in the form of fine discourses and fine actions. It should also be noted that that to which he gives birth (τὸ γεννηθὲν) was already within him (ἃ πάλαι ἐκύει), which, it seems to me, is an allusion to reminiscence. This process does not stop at birth, for the child, whether discourse or action, is nourished (συνεκτρέφει) by the two protagonists, with the one who has given birth nourishing him both when the young man is present and when he is absent, for in this case the child remembers him. In other words, both the educator and the person being educated develop the fine discourses and perpetuate the fine actions that are their children. “This makes the relation (κοινωνίαν) between such men far more intimate than that which consists in having children together (τῶν παίδων) according to the body, and these children they have in common are more beautiful and more assured of immortality than children according to the body.” This long passage (208e–209e) is surprising, for it describes the pregnancy (a phenomenon that is in principle feminine) of a man, who, once he has given birth, raises the children he has given to another man, who is his beloved (erômenos).

The theme of reminiscence is, moreover, in perfect agreement with that of the Mysteries (Symposium 209e–210d). The lover (erastês) can only reactualize the knowledge he already possesses in a virtual mode in a relation with the beautiful body of his beloved (erômenos), which relation must then move on to his soul, and culminate in the vision of Beauty (210e–212a). Thus, paiderastia, henceforth described by terms borrowed from the Mysteries, is completely reinterpreted. Although she is a woman, Diotima is aware of the social convention known as paiderastia. Yet she wants to transform it:

Symposium 211b5–c8

This passage, which takes up what was said at 210a–211b, while replacing epistêmai (210c–e) by mathêmata (211c–d), develops an idea similar to the one found at Phaedrus 250a. What love is searching for is beauty, which manifests {249|250} itself at various levels of reality: hence the interest of explaining how it is possible to pass from the sensible to the intelligible by way of the Mysteries. [

As in the case of the social convention known as paiderastia, we have here a relation between two men. We cannot rule out the existence of sexual relations between the lover and his beloved, but these relations must be transcended, and desire must be transferred to such incorporeal objects as the soul or the Forms. It is the older partner who is pregnant, while the younger one, through the beauty of his body and especially of his soul, plays the role of trigger with regard to him. In order to educate the younger partner, the older one brings into the world and into broad daylight the fine discourses and actions he already carried within him. The divinity that presides over this birth that involves the two men is Beauty, who must be assimilated to a divinity who plays the role, in the world of generation, that is the appendage of the Moirai and of Eilithuia.

An analysis of the speeches of Pausanias and Agathon, on the one hand, and of that of Diotima on the other, makes the following three oppositions stand out. (1) On the level of education, a representation of education as the transmission of a knowledge from master to disciple in a hierarchical relation is opposed to a way of thinking about education as the rediscovery of a knowledge which is already present in the soul of the lover and which must be {250|251} brought to light, as in the act of giving birth, in the form of fine discourses and fine actions handed over to the loved one, who has first the role of a midwife and must take care of the offspring. (2) On the level of sexuality, which serves to illustrate these two representations of education, two models confront one another: that of the transmission of the seminal liquid, in the context of paiderastia, where, in an institutionalized relationship (of masculine homosexuality), an older lover has sexual relations with a younger beloved who becomes his slave in order to benefit from his knowledge, his power, or his wealth, and that of conception in a woman, who must be delivered by bringing to light the embryo she carries; the image of pregnancy (pregnancy being related in antiquity and in our societies to the woman’s role) seems to be linked, on an epistemological level, to the themes of reminiscence and maieutics. (3) Finally, on the level of reality, we note an opposition between physical beauty, which is an object of consumption, and incorporeal beauty (intelligible Beauty and that of the soul), which presides over the birth of fine discourses and fine actions, thereby making this birth possible; the transition from the sensible to the intelligible is described in the terms of the Mysteries. We witness here a complete reversal of perspective at all three levels, as is generally the case in Plato.


[ back ] 1. I thank Denis O’Brien and Debra Nails for their remarks, several of which have been integrated into the text.

[ back ] 2. Paiderastia is a social convention that must not be interpreted in the narrow sense of ‘pederasty’, as we shall see below. In its contemporary meaning, ‘pederasty’ differs from paiderastia on the following three points: (1) it has no other finality than sex; (2) it involves no age limit; (3) because of the great ιnequality (on many levels) between an adult and a child, it always takes place, if not in a climate of violence, then at least in a relation of coercion.

[ back ] 3. I take philosophia in its etymological sense of an ‘quest’ (philos) for ‘knowledge’ (sophia).

[ back ] 4. See Brisson 1999. English translations are those in Cooper 1997, usually slightly modified.

[ back ] 5. Especially for modern readers, who are familiar with psychoanalysis.

[ back ] 6. Halperin 1990:113–151, abridged in Halperin et al. 1990:257–308.

[ back ] 7. On this subject, see Halperin 1990:53–71; Halperin et al. 1990; and Winkler 1990.

[ back ] 8. It is not illegitimate to utilize a modern vocabulary and concepts to speak of sexuality in antiquity; however, when we do so, it is appropriate to take particular care not to force contemporary categories and ideologies onto attitudes and modes of behavior from the past.

[ back ] 9. Since problems obviously arise for the case of sexual relations between women, and even, as we shall see, for the case of intercrural penetrations.

[ back ] 10. On which Aristophanes insists, perhaps because adultery was one of the favorite themes of the comic poets.

[ back ] 11. On the punishments inflicted on adulterers, see Hoffmann 1990. On the significance of these punishments, see Dover 1989:105–109.

[ back ] 12. On this subject, see the remarkable Boehringer 2003, whose jury included David Halperin.

[ back ] 13. On this subject, see Dover 1989:171–184.

[ back ] 14. There is a description of the background of paiderastia in Sergent 1996.

[ back ] 15. On this convention, see Halperin 1990:53–71 on Patzer 1982.

[ back ] 16. Xenophon Anabasis 7.4.7.

[ back ] 17. Some representations (see Dover 1989) might allow us to think of younger men, but from the viewpoint of its definition, it is difficult to imagine that paiderastia could mean anything before the age of twelve.

[ back ] 18. In Plato, we also find neaniskos (Charmides 154d) as an equivalent. Clinias is qualified either as neaniskos (Euthydemus 271a, 275a) or as meirakion (Euthydemus 273a–b). At Lysis 205b–c, pais and neaniskos have the same referent.

[ back ] 19. Because of his age. On this subject, see Golden 1985.

[ back ] 20. See Protagoras 309a; Plutarch Dialogue on Love 770b–c. Compare the sordid side of the sexual activity of the sausage merchant (Aristophanes Knights 1242) who has passed this age.

[ back ] 21. This seems to have been the case for Agathon in particular, despite his fame, as we shall see.

[ back ] 22. Nevertheless, within the framework of paiderastia, the erastês is often a relatively young man, between twenty and thirty years old, who is not yet married or whose wife is very young.

[ back ] 23. Dover 1989:52–53. Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.6.8; Symposium 8.16 and 8.19. There is in classical Greek no common term for the passion felt by the erastês and the philia felt by the erômenos.

[ back ] 24. This could explain why, according to the vase painters, the lover inserts his penis between the boy’s thighs, rather than in his anus or his mouth, which was the most condemned act. This sexual practice in fact preserved the beloved’s physical integrity; however, it must be admitted that this holds for public behavior (in word and deed) and that nothing allows us to know what went on in private, either in bed or elsewhere. On all this, see Dover 1989:42–54; 91–100. In the postscript to the 1989 edition, Dover is less affirmative than in 1978, and thinks “that the fact that comedy assumes anal penetration to be the normal mode of homosexual intercourse suggests that the painter’s overwhelming preference for the intercrural mode is highly conventional.”

[ back ] 25. On the sexual meaning of these terms, see Dover 1989:16.

[ back ] 26. Dover 1989:44. See Symposium 184d.

[ back ] 27. Ibid. See Symposium 182a, b, d, 183d, 185b, 186b, c, 187d, 188c, 218c, d.

[ back ] 28. See Aristophanes Clouds 963–983; Symposium 183d–184a.

[ back ] 29. Xenophon Symposium 8.21 and Plato Phaedrus 255d. It is surprising to note that the hierarchical model, based on age difference, governed the qualifications of all relations between males in ancient Greece. This model seems to have lasted from the Minoan period until the end of the Western Roman Empire. The Iliad does not say explicitly that Achilles and Patroclus maintained amorous relations, but it remains sufficiently vague on the subject for all authors of the classical period to be able to affirm that this was the case. This is why an attempt has been made to connect paiderastia with a ritual of initiation supposed to be mentioned by Strabo (10.4.21). On this subject, see Bethe 1907:438–475; Sergent 1996.

[ back ] 30. On this aspect of the matter, that is, the uselessness and even the danger of love, see the paradoxical speeches of Phaedrus and Socrates in the Phaedrus, first at 230e–234b, then 237a–241d.

[ back ] 31. On Agathon, see Lévêque 1955, and Nails 2002:8–10.

[ back ] 32. In Nails 2002. See the scholium to Symposium 172 (i.e. scholium to Lucian Rhetorum praeceptor 2 in Cramer 1963:269).

[ back ] 33. According to Morrison 1941.

[ back ] 34. The testimony of Athenaeus of Naucratis (on 217a–b) does not seem to be beyond all suspicion (see Lévêque 1955:56–58). We must therefore remain prudent with regard to the date of the events and the age of the dramatis personae. At Symposium 223a, Alcibiades calls Agathon an ‘adolescent’ (meirakion), an age group that extends from 14 to 21. How is this to be interpreted: as flattery, as a veiled insult, or as an indication of the falsity of the date given for the event?

[ back ] 35. See n56 below.

[ back ] 36. The speakers are Socrates (177d), Aristophanes (193b), and Eryximachus (193e).

[ back ] 37. Aristotle Eudemian Ethics 3.5.1232b8–9.

[ back ] 38. Thucydides 8.68.2. The Attic orator Antiphon belonged to the group, which, in 411, took part in the conspiracy of the Four Hundred. He was arrested, judged, condemned to death, and executed. At his trial, he pronounced a speech of exceptional quality that earned him Agathon’s congratulations.

[ back ] 39. Aristophanes’ characters violently targeted Agathon in the Thesmophoriazusae; Agathon is insulted and ridiculed in this comedy, which represents him as a passive and effeminate man. The plot of the play is as follows. As they do every year in the month of Pyanepsion (October), the women are celebrating the Thesmophoria, in honor of Demeter and her daughter Persephone, in mysteries that are forbidden to men. They must take advantage of the fact that they are among themselves to decide the fate of Euripides, on whom they want to take vengeance, because he has spoken ill of them in his tragedies. Euripides knows this, and considers that he is lost unless someone takes his defense in the Assembly. He thinks of the tragic poet Agathon, who dresses like a woman and who, because of his effeminate appearance and habits, can pass for a woman. He therefore goes to Agathon, but the latter refuses to do him this favor. Euripides is desperate; fortunately, a relative by marriage offers to take charge of this maneuver. Euripides disguises the relative, to whom Agathon agrees to lend a female disguise. The scene in which the relative talks to Agathon constitutes a particularly violent attack against the tragic poet’s homosexuality (Thesmophoriazusae 130–167), which must already have been famous at the time.

[ back ] 40. Aristophanes Frogs 83–85; Plato Symposium 172c.

[ back ] 41. Aelian Varia Historia 2.21.

[ back ] 42. This can be deduced from a scholium to Aristophanes’ Frogs (85). On the interpretation of this scholium, see Lévêque 1955:73–77. In the Frogs (83–85), Dionysus explains to Heracles that he must go to Hades to look for a good tragic author. The latter questions him on the fate of the illustrious poets of the last years: “Heracles: And Agathon, where is he? Dionysus: He left me and went away; he was a good poet, missed by his friends. Heracles: Where did he go, the miserable fellow? Dionysus: To the festival of the Blessed.” The answer, εἰς μακάρων εὐωχίαν, leaves one perplexed. A scholiast mentions the following two interpretations: either Agathon has died and has left for the Isles of the Blessed, or else he is at Pella, feasting. This opposition continues, with support going now to one, now to the other of these hypotheses. A possible solution would be to accept the ambiguity, in the view that Aristophanes means that even if he is physically alive, Agathon has died to poetry, for he no longer produces at Athens, but is leading a life of debauch with Archelaus. A reply by Apollodorus to Glaucon in the Symposium (172d) tends in this direction: “Don’t you know that it’s been several years that Agathon doesn’t live here any more?” Since the Frogs was produced in 405, we must place Apollodorus’ declaration in 406 at the latest, if we admit that Agathon was dead when the Frogs was produced; and since Agathon left Athens around 411, he would have been absent for five years at the most.

[ back ] 43. See Nails 2002:222.

[ back ] 44. It may be of interest to note that in order to praise erotic relations between men, Pausanias here mentions the courage of the Sacred Band of Thebes, which Phaedrus had already mentioned at 178e–179a.

[ back ] 45. Debra Nails asks me the following question in litteris: “are you quite sure you want to retain an age difference of 15–20 years between Pausanias and Agathon, although a difference of 5–8 years would better fit history, as well as the circumstances of the Protagoras (i.e. all other men, named as grouped around Protagoras, Hippias and Prodicus, thirteen in all [omitting “others” at 315a, c, and e], are young men of an age to seek further education). If Pausanias was an exception, can you explain why that was not remarked? The only other older man, though still much younger than Socrates, was Critias, but Plato has him arriving separately.” The point is well taken, but it is difficult to answer, since it takes for granted that Pausanias is there to learn, whereas he could have come to present Agathon, or simply to keep an eye on him.

[ back ] 46. In Symposium 181c–d: “I am convinced that a man who falls in love with a young man of this age is generally prepared to share everything with the one he loves—he is eager, in fact, to spend the rest of his own life with him” (this anticipates what Aristophanes will say). And in Symposium 183d–e: “I’ll tell you: it is the common, vulgar lover, who loves the body rather than the soul, the man whose love is bound to be inconsistent; since what he loves is itself mutable and unstable. The moment the body is no longer in bloom, ‘he flies off and away’ (Iliad II 71), his promises and vows in tatters behind him. How different from this is a man who loves the right sort of character, and who remains its lover for life, attached as he is to something that is permanent.”

[ back ] 47. There were others, if we can believe Aristodemus at Symposium 180c.

[ back ] 48. This is, of course, a mere hypothesis, with which Debra Nails expresses her disagreement in this volume.    

[ back ] 49. See the illustration in my 1999:248.    

[ back ] 50. On several points, my analysis is inspired by that of Görgemanns 2000. Dover 1989 has analyzed lengthy passages from this speech: 182a–184b and 184d–185a.

[ back ] 51. For instance, ἔργα ἐργαζομένῳ, 182e3; δουλείας δουλεύειν, 183a6–7; πράττειν οὕτω τὴν πρᾶξιν, 183a, cf. 181a.

[ back ] 52. Aristotle Rhetoric 3.9.1409a25.

[ back ] 53. Symposium 180e–181a, 184d–e, 185a–c. For instance in Helen 17.

[ back ] 54. I give sophoi the same meaning as above, at 182b.

[ back ] 55. Such an expression, which includes both assonance and symmetry, is qualified by the technical expression ἴσα λέγειν.

[ back ] 56. Gorgias, considered as one of the experts (sophoi), that is, ‘sophists’ mentioned here, exerted considerable influence on the composition of epideictic (‘demonstrative’) speeches at the end of the fifth and beginning of the fourth century BCE. In Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen (2), we find a “device” similar to the one found here.

[ back ] 57. Who is born from the sperm that flows from the severed testicles of Uranus, according to Hesiod Theogony 178–196.

[ back ] 58. Who is the daughter of Zeus and Dione, see Iliad V 370.

[ back ] 59. On this subject, see Pirenne-Delforge 1988 and, on Aphrodite Urania, 1994:15–25; on Aphrodite Pandemos, 1994:26–34.

[ back ] 60. The word appears at 181c7, but it was announced at 181c3–4 by what might be an interpolated gloss: καὶ ἔστιν οὗτος ὁ τῶν παίδων ἔρως.

[ back ] 61. Dover 1974:69–73: “Kalos and aiskhros are applied very freely indeed by the orators to any action, behaviour or achievement which evokes any kind of favourable reaction and praise or incurs any kind of contempt, hostility or reproach (e.g. Aiskhines 1.127, Andokides 2.17–18, Demosthenes 58.37, Isokrates 19.4, Lykourgos 111). Kalos most often corresponds to our ‘admirable’, ‘creditable, honourable’, and aiskhros to ‘disgraceful’, ‘shameful’, ‘scandalous’; they are among the most important tools of manipulative language” (70). One should compare the Meno (88d–e), and the Euthydemus (281d–e) as well as what we find a bit further on in the Symposium (183d).

[ back ] 62. As Dover 1974 rightly points out, the Athenians understand “under the single term nomos, ‘law’, what we divide into separate categories, ‘constitutional’, ‘legal’, ‘religious’, ‘moral’ and ‘conventional’, with the consequence that open defiance of usage could be exploited as ground for allegations of treason and conspiracy.”

[ back ] 63. The matter is particularly serious for a citizen who adopts a slave’s behavior.

[ back ] 64. Slaves whose task was to accompany their master’s sons to the gymnasium, and to bring them back home, see Lysis 208b–c.

[ back ] 65. The terms agathos and khrêstos are opposed to the terms kakos and ponêros, see Dover 1974.

[ back ] 66. I consider panti as a neuter, rather than a masculine.

[ back ] 67. See Dover 1989:91.

[ back ] 68. In ancient Greek, ἔθος, see Symposium 183e5.

[ back ] 69. Pausanias uses the term philosophia twice: at 182c1 and at 184d1; at 183a1, I reject philosophias as did Schleiermacher and Bury. In the first case (182c1), we find an attack against tyrants who are opposed to philosophia and philogumnastia: note that the association of these words implies practices that promote the development of the soul and the body. We find this association once again in Diotima’s speech at 205d5, where an allusion to functional tripartition filters through: love of wealth, of physical exercise and of wisdom. In the second case (184d1), the association is between philosophia and paiderastia.

[ back ] 70. On the sexual meaning (similar to the sexual meaning of χαρισαμένοις παιδικοῖς and of ὑπουργεῖν) of this term, see Dover 1989:44–45.    

[ back ] 71. Symposium 196c, e, 196a, 197c.

[ back ] 72. See Symposium 197a–b.

[ back ] 73. Dorion 1990.

[ back ] 74. On the question of the degree of historical reality that can be attributed to Diotima, see Halperin 1990:113–151.

[ back ] 75. “So now, in the case of Love, it is right for us to praise (ἐπαινέσαι) him first for what he is (οἷός ἐστιν), and afterwards for his gifts (τὰς δόσεις)” (195a3–5).

[ back ] 76. See Phaedrus 278d, where the qualification of sophos is reserved for the god, since man can only be philosophos.

[ back ] 77. ‘Reminiscence’ considered in a technical sense appears only in three dialogues, the Meno (81b–84a), the Phaedo (72e–77a), and the Phaedrus (249b–d). In all three cases, the point is to re-appropriate a knowledge, and therefore a discourse, which was already present within a man’s soul. At least in the last two cases, it is clear that the knowledge that is to be recovered is that which the soul has acquired while contemplating the Forms when it was separated from all earthly bodies. This effort at reappropriation is the art of “maieutics,” which consists in making the pregnant soul give birth.

[ back ] 78. On reminiscence in general, see Huber 1964. For the most recent interpretation, with which I disagree, because it does not involve the intelligible, see Scott 1995.

[ back ] 79. Reading τελευτῆσαι.

[ back ] 80. On this subject, for the Symposium, see Riedweg 1987:2–29, and for the Phaedrus, 1987:30–67.

[ back ] 81. The art of maieutics is mentioned only in a single passage of the corpus platonicum, in the Theaetetus (148d–151). However, it is obvious that the idea is found here as well, through the intermediary the term ὠδίς ‘the pangs of childbirth’ and the verb ὠδίνω to ‘suffer the pangs of childbirth’, which is found not only in the aforementioned passage from the Theaetetus, but also in the Republic (VI 490b), and the Phaedrus 255e, 262d. Yet the question arises whether the image of maieutics does not refer to reminiscence, as mentioned in the Meno (81b–84a). The souls which education enables to give birth are “great” with the knowledge and discourses they have obtained in their journey beyond the cosmic sphere, and which they have forgotten on the occasion of their fall. The fact of presenting maieutics as a divine mission also points in this direction: “And the reason of it is this, that god compels me to attend the travail of others, but has forbidden me to procreate. So that I am not in any sense a wise man; I cannot claim as the child of my own soul any discovery worth the name of wisdom. But with those who associate with me it is different” (Theaetetus 150c–d). I subscribe to the position of Dorion 2004:66–69, who opposes Burnyeat 1977.