Love and narrative. The ideology of love in Plato’s dialogues «Symposium» and «Phaedrus»
Bogdan Bogdanov

Created most likely immediately one after the other in the 80s of the 4th century AD Plato’s dialogues «Symposium» and «Phaedrus» are linked with the topic of love, discussed at length in both dialogues. They fall into a common category on the basis of another feature – their literariness, or more precisely the high dependency in respect of meaning between the dialogically discussed topic and the represented situation of the conversation. Moreover, resorting in the course of the discussion to the form of the so-called ceremonial speech on an imagined topic, both dialogues question its suitability in such a discussion – in «Symposium» it is in passing, while in «Phaedrus» it is considered in detail in a separate section.

These similarities go hand in hand with a handful of differences.  In «Phaedrus» the theme of love is discussed in the big first part of the dialogue, while in «Symposium» it permeates the whole dialogue and is considered more directly and indirectly in the represented situation. Which along with other common traits in Plato’s «Symposium» becomes characteristic of the genre of the Socratic symposium of which probably developed on the basis of this model. Precisely along the line symposium-dialogue is the big difference between «Symposium» and «Phaedrus» - «Symposium» is a dialogue symposium with more participants who converse in a usual informal place – at dinner in the home of the tragedian Agathon, while «Phaedrus» is a dialogue with two participants, who converse in an unusual informal place – the bank of the river Ilis beyond Athena’s city walls.

Two are the main characteristics of Plato’s «Symposium» - first is the strong dependency between the represented situation and the discussion of the subject of love, and the second is the meandering increase of the meaning accomplished in this discussion which ends on a positive note. The dependency between the representation and the discussion is presented in «Symposium» mainly as complementary – between the indirect meanings produced in the course of the representation and the more directly expressed ones in the actual conversation. There is a complementarity also in the representation itself – between the direct representation of the situation and the indirect representation during the actual conversation. In the course of this direct and indirect attribution of meaning and direct and indirect representation, the attribution and the representation intertwine in a series of more concrete moments of represented thinking and thinking reflection. 

In this formulaic representation of the dynamic structure of Plato’s «Symposium» the more general which organizes the flow of very text is visible. Irrespectively of whether it is written or oral, non-literary or literary, every text is a flow of alternating moments of representation and reflection. In analytical scientific texts and in a great number of practical texts there is a preponderance of reflection as opposed to literary texts, where representation predominates. Which does not mean that analytical texts lack representation and respectively that literary texts lack reflection. It is this reflection or ratiocination in literature that I call semiterminological-semimetaphoric «meandering and uneven». The issue is that in Plato’s dialogues it is not only due to literariness. Plato implements it intentionally in in the monologic- treatise passages of his dialogues, also in his big treatise dialogues such as «Timaeus » and «Laws», organized generally incomparably more linearly than «Symposium» and «Phaedrus».

If we apply this paradigm in the analysis of «Symposium», we have to differentiate in the text two textual rows – one consisting of moments of representation (the narrative) and the other made up of moments of reflection (the actual conversation). A closer look reveals that in both rows the moments are composite – in the first row from some amount of reflection, in the second from some amount of representation. Hence the more complex understanding of the structure of the actual conversation, which commences with Phaedrus’ speech and ends with the big speech by Socrates, but actually starts earlier and continues after the end of Socrates’ speech. The actual conversation in «Symposium» has its separate textual course, but also takes part in the longer textual line of representation, which begins before the actual conversation, passes through it and continues after its end.

The question that is difficult to answer is to what extent this duality is present in the text of Plato’s «Symposium» and to what extent it is a result of this paradigm of understanding. The answer can only be a matter of principle – the two intertwined lines, the more direct attribution of meaning and the actual conversation and the indirect along the line of representation are in the text, but they can be amplified or weakened by the chosen paradigm. We do not dispose of analytical methodology which allows to separate definitively the meaning that is formed by the text itself from the secondary text layered upon it by one or another understanding. Which is one of the reasons for the disagreement in interpreting Plato’s philosophical system represented in Plato’s dialogues.

The line of representation in «Symposium». The so-called representation is demonstrated in the text of the dialogue as a direct and an indirect narrative about successive events in time. The two main events are central – the gathering of guests in the home of the poet Agathon and the conversation about the subject of love. The conversation is interrupted by shorter or longer pauses, in which events are also registered. The narration and respectively the order of events continues after the end of the actual conversation as well. A famous uninvited guest goes to the symposium and a conversation ensues about the personality of Socrates. Then other small events are presented until the guests leave. The text of «Symposium» does not finish with the end of the evening at Agathon’s house. The end of the meeting is presented during which we hear a retelling of what happened and what was said at the symposium. 

Therefore, the narratives in «Symposium» are two – one is the long narrative about the symposium and a conversation about love in the home of Agathon, the other, shorter narrative is about a станалата неясно къде meeting- prologue and epilogue between Apollodorus and his friends, during which they ask him and he tells them what he knows about the famous symposium. As becomes clear from his long introductory remark, the symposium happened many years before, when they were all children. In this connection Apollodorus confesses from whom he learnt about the symposium in Agathon’s house – from Aristodemus, one of Socrates’ closest friends, who was present at the symposium. Apollodorus does not say anything about the meeting with Aristodemus and the circumstances in which he learned about the symposium. He talks about another recent meeting when en route from Phaleron to Athena he was overtaken by Glaucon, who, asking about the same, said that he had heard about it from another man. It is not clear if Apollodorus told Glaucon what he had learnt from Aristodemus.

As becomes clear from a more detailed analysis of this introductory conversation, the actual conversations are more and unfold without a set order regarding which one is presented in more detail. Apollodorus does not mention anything about the circumstances of the obviously more-important conversation with Aristodemus who was present at the symposium. He only shares a secondary detail that he was such a loyal friend of Socrates’, that he went barefoot just like him. In this way Plato emphasizes the difference between the model and the imitation – Aristodemus is apparently barefoot at the feast at Agathon’s, while Socrates as opposed from other times is appropriately dresses and wearing shoes. As much as it is connected to reflection in «Symposium», representation is also self sufficient. In other words, just like all longer texts «Symposium» is also constructed by an incomplete concurrence of implied meanings, which stimulates the rise of other texts.

How is the big narrative organized in «Symposium»? As a row of events, presented directly or implied in the context of the long retold story by Apollodorus. The first event is the chance meeting between Aristodemus and Socrates; at which Socrates suggest he take him to Agathon’s symposium. The second event is when Socrates lags behind on the way there, the third is the arrival of Aristodemus. Then follow the dinner, the arrival and accommodation of Socrates and the preliminary conversation, when they decide that during the customary symposium the guests should drink less and to undertake one after the other to hold speeches of praise about Eros. In the pauses between several speeches other small events are presented, such as when Aistophanes cedes his turn to Eryximachus because he has the hiccups. In passing, the conversation itself is playfully commented whereby the subject of love arises. 

This style of similar-different speaking about one thing, in which another interferes, is renewed after the actual conversation ends in the developed representation, following the sudden appearance of the uninvited to the symposium Alcibiades. Accompanied by a merry crowd, he is tipsy and jocular, while Agathon’s guests have «feasted» on speeches about love and are sober and serious. A conversation about Socrates commences. Alcibiades talks in a serious manner, but he does not so much ratiocinate, but rather retells, expresses feelings, characterizes and praises. At the same time he does something else – he urges Agathon’s guests who so far had not had a drink to start drinking. In the end even more по-пийнали guests arrive and the symposium that did not take place seems to be happening.

What is presented in this series of events and situations? Mainly moments of different manner of drinking and conversing. After the gathering of the guests initially they dine in almost complete silence, then they drink in moderation and talk about a significant subject. After that, with the arrival of Alcibiades the conversation on the subject of love continues on a lower level. Later, drinking is resumed and the conversation goes to an even lower level. The guests fall asleep and go home. The situation, which allows for a suitable discussion of a certain topic becomes diffuse. Or said more succinctly, «Symposium» presents a series of moments of different drinking and conversing with a convincing environment of gradually achieved and smoothly ended time for drinking and talking, which allows for the discussion of an important subject.

What does this series of events disclose? That the subject of love, more directly examined in Plato’s «Symposium» is examined in connection with another, indirect one, which is unnamed – about the forms of possible speaking and about possible meanings achieved in these forms. Although only indirectly, this second subject is touched upon in the line of reflection in the actual conversation, but also in the line of representation of events and situations. 

Concerning the form of this representation, the information about the events and situations are derived from Apollodorus’ remarks, who tells the story told to him by  Aristodemus, who was present at the symposium at Agathon’s. This indirectness, however, is divided into full indirectness in cases when the events and situations in the narrative are not textually expressed, and into a more direct one, when the events and situations are present in the text. Which is the greatest idiosyncrasy of Plato’s «Symposium» - the representation of events and situations with is to a maximum provided by the primary text of the dialogue and only on rare occasions is effectuated contextually. Hence the persuasion that we have in our hands a literary text. 

The line of reflection in the actual conversation. As I have already observed, the actual conversation in «Symposium» is not separated in meaning from the narrative direction of the dialogue. This also holds true for the subject of love, which continues to be discussed after the end of the conversation, as well as for the discussions in this direction. The actual conversation is a series of speeches of praise about Eros, which is also in principle Alcibiades’ speech, held after the end of the actual conversation. The other discourses used in the narrative are also used in the actual conversation. I have in mind the direct and indirect retold small dialogues and monologues, such as the dialogue by Socrates and Diotima and her monologic speech, reported in the speech by Socrates.

The actual conversation is a long period of decreased representation and respectively of increased reflection. What makes it different from the narrative or representational line in Plato’s «Symposium», is the meandering increase of meaning, reaching a positive limit. Our understanding of this increase is unstable. On the one hand, we believe the assertion formulated by Plato at the end of «Phaedrus» that the purely philosophical speaking is not possible in the written word. On the other hand, directed by the written text of «Symposium» and the increasing meaning of the actual conversation, we analyze this line on its own and it seems to us, that it states a clear philosophical statement.

This disjoining of the shorter, seemingly independent line of meaning of the actual conversation and the longer line of representation makes possible another separation – of what is the incommensurably more significant said by Socrates on the subject of love, from the not so significant, said by other participants in the conversation. A more detailed look, however, shows that Socrates’ speech is also organized as a meandering increase of meaning reaching a limit and this is also relevant for the other speeches in the actual conversation. In other words, we realize that the so-called actual conversation in «Symposium» is definitely not made meaningful in a monologic treatise manner. On the other hand, however, we allow this way of attribution of meaning. Because we are accustomed to it, and because there are suggestions as to it in the text.

As a discourse form, the actual conversation in «Symposium» is composed of alternating speeches of praise of the God of Love, Eros. In other words, formally it is a matter of speaking, which clearly assigns value to what is being discussed. Yes, but this ascription of values is problematic. The participants, speaking one after the other, present a series of positive and negative assertions on the topic of love, formulate theses and support them with complete and incomplete evidence and different arguments. At the same time, in their monologic praise they enter into a direct or indirect dialogue with what has been said by the others. What is significant for this form of praise speech is that the speakers do not try to convince the audience to act in a certain way, as is the case with other types of rhetorical speeches, but to accept a certain thesis. Which is the reason why the thesis is developed in a series of assertions in a linearly analytical way. Their presentation, however, does not happen purely analytically, because it is also an act of persuasion and affiliation.

The unevenness of the speeches in the actual conversation in «Symposium» is also rooted in the fact that the subject being discussed has a flexible content. First because it is composed of two objects – the mythological precedent Eros and the subject of love which does not coincide with it. Also because these two objects are multi compound and impose coordination. The coordination of the mythological symbols Eros and Aphrodite is easier and quicker. More difficult is the doubly manifested topic of love – as a series of symbols, words, meanings and ideas, and as a series of real life phenomena. Also problematic is the coordination between the elements inside these two series, but more problematic is the relating of one or another element from one series to elements from the other series.

What exactly is the problem? In that in the course of relating, love, the symbolic mythological  precedent – cause of love does not coincide with the word-meaning-idea of love, and it on its part does not coincide with the manifestations of love in life. These non-correspondences are overcome with new assertions, where the non-corresponding sides correspond only temporarily. This calls for yet other and other assertions. This is how the text of uneven meandering increase of meaning is achieved in the actual conversation, where by raising more questions and more themes are discussed a relative limit of meaning is achieved on only some of them.

This uneven meandering increase of meaning is the typical style of thinking and speaking in Plato’s dialogues. Its formal feature is the interruption of thought and setting off in another direction. It can be external, another speaker takes the floor, but it can also occur in the thought in progress of the speaker, it can be an actual dialogue, it can be only internal dialogic or to combine one and the other. But be it external or internal dialogic this thinking-speaking can in short be called dialogic. Somehow outlined in Plato’s dialogues, it has an obviously non-literary model – natural human thinking and speaking. What does Plato do with it in his dialogues? On the one hand he imitates it, on the other he differentiates it from the good philosophical speaking.

According to the famous thesis, presented at the end of «Phaedrus», oral and non-public, better philosophical speaking is within the reach of only a few as opposed to the more easily achieved and more public dialogic written text, which is characterized by limited possibilities. Two of these limitations are manifested in Plato’s dialogues. The first is that the so-called dialogic speaking is difficult to stay on one topic and that in discussing one thing it touches upon another. The second is that it runs unevenly, in alternating moments of compressed meaning of semi-understanding and non-understanding and short moments of better understanding with the broadest content horizon. And this is what happens in the course of the discussion in the actual conversation of Plato's «Symposium» - at the moments of expanding the meaning, the discussion of the subject of love grows into a discussion of other important topics.

Yes, but however imperfect it is and even if it gives way to the oral philosophical speaking, albeit indirectly, in the actual conversation in «Symposium» it is shown what good philosophical speaking is – a one-dimensional amassing of meaning, reaching the sublime limit of momentary verbal-visual opening to an important idea. Certainly, in the written dialogic text of «Symposium» this amassing is not a one-dimensional meandering and therefore this opening is only a momentary flash of thought. This was not articulated by Plato. It is indirectly stated and can be explicitated, the meandering course of thinking- speaking on the topic of love. 

It begins with a tautology, with that elementary way to formulate a topic. Such tautology is the coincidence of the Ancient Greek word for love eros with the name of the God of love - Eros is love and love is Eros. Yes, but in this case with a symbol with a бедно signified as Eros the symbol has more meanings and several planes of content. Which is the «Sancta Sanctorum» of mythological models, fields of meaning that can be combined in different ways, which can serve as answers for various philosophical and life issues. The reason for their suitability is to a large extent because they encompass the three main oppositions, connected to human understanding – of the human and the extra human, of the past and the present and of the real and the ideal.

Nevertheless Eros is a poor symbol. This is why in the actual conversation in «Symposium» this symbol is linked to other symbols – on the one hand with Aphrodite, on the other – with the muses Urania and Polyhymnia and the ad hoc created allegorical images of Poros and Penia in Socrates’ speech. Ancient Greek mythology is a fact but it continues to be created. Meanings and symbols flow from Eros to the topic of love and back from the topic to Eros. In the more reflective actual conversation in «Symposium» they are speculative demythologizing classifications along the line of increase of meaning of the signified, and the referent of the thing love, as well as of the signifier of the mythological symbol. 

In Phaedrus’ first speech Eros is an ancient god and love is the great human love bond assigned to him. Pausanias enriches this notion – love is Aphrodite’s deed and since there are two Aphrodites, Ourania and Pandemos, there are two Eroses, connected to them; there are two forms of love, one sublime and lasting, connected to reason and the male beginning, and the other – of the common people, changeable, connected with the body and the female beginning. The double Aphrodite makes Eros and the types of love double, and both are placed into a two stage hierarchy of values. 

The third speaker Eryximachus accepts this division but connects it not to Aphrodite, but with the muses Urania and Polyhymnia. He also consents to Pausanias’s division of love into a better and a worse type, only he considers it not as a specifically human phenomenon, but sees it in the entire wold order. The first love is many types of harmony and lasting bond, manifested in health, order and religious cults, connecting the people with the gods. The second type of love is the disharmony, confusion and disease. Eryximachus’ two Eroses lead to an expanded definition of love as harmony and order and respectively disharmony and confusion.

The fourth speaker Aristophanes does not share Eryximachus’ idea of love as a cosmic order or disorder, or the conception of the two Eroses. In his view Eros is an agent of a great force for restoring man’s lost integrity. Aristophanes presents his myth about the jagged human nature, which is partly recovered with amorous attraction and the formation of love couples. Expressed in longing and bringing together of two people, love is also something more significant – a craving to restore the old, lost oneself.  In a mythical way, Aristophanes’ myth connects love with a primordial negative event and sees the human open towards the extra human. At the same time, in a demythifying way the clear allegorical explanation has preponderance in this invented myth. Love is not an infinite number of cases which can symbolically be confused, but rather two separate things – longing for another human being and effectuating, or more precisely, restoring togetherness.

Undoubtedly this explanation supports, albeit indirectly, the two categories of the better and the worse love. Externally the types of love in this vein are three and the feature that separates them, does not seem to be a matter of values – there is unisexual male and female love and bisexual love between man and woman. Yes, but one of these three categories is of the highest value – love between men. It is clear why. Because the male beginning is more valuable than the female one. Hence the fact that the hierarchical order whereby the love between men is supreme, the love between a man and a woman is lower and the lowest is the love between women is not questioned.

The fifth speaker, Agathon introduces a change in the understanding of the mythological signifier Eros, and the signified love. Phaedrus assigns value to Eros, by confirming the traditional assertion that he is an ancient god. Agathon ascribes value in another way – he considers him the youngest god, who has led to civilized morals. But as opposed to the previous fourth speakers he offers a description – he is the youngest, the handsomest, the most perfect and most blessed. On the other hand, just like them, Agathon defines him through what he does and brings about. It is defined by more ingredients, just like in Eryximachus’ speech. Being handsome, Eros causes engenders beauty, virtue and harmony and respectively love for the beautiful and the good. Eros is the reason for making the divine and human world civilized and is creator of the art and celebrations that connect the people with the gods. 

More generally, Agathon reiterates the historical understanding of Aristophanes – once there was no love, then something happened and love appeared. Only for Aristophanes it is accomplishment of a compromising wholeness, which to a certain extent makes up for the lost earlier wholeness, while for Agathon love is a better bond which did not exist before. What happened in Aristophanes’s story – the division of four-legged strong human beings into two-legged is a negative event, while the birth of Eros in Agathon’s story is undoubtedly positive. And another difference. In the course of the meandering attribution of meaning to the topic in the actual conversation during Agathon’s speech the understanding on the one hand expands – love is a human, but also a divine phenomenon. On the other hand it becomes narrower, because it is related to the character and soul of some gods and people. Love is only the sublime longing for the beautiful and the good, bodily love is not love.

As becomes evident from the comparison of the five speeches, the assertions in them oscillate between the broader and narrower one-dimensional understanding. This concerns mainly the two signifiers – the words for love and the mythological signifier Eros. With the words, there is an increasing series of synonyms beginning with the Greek eros, where the main problem is differentiating between love, longing and passion on the one hand with affection, friendship and sublime devotion on the other. With the mythological denotation, in the beginning Eros is one, then in Pausanias’ and Eryximachus’ speeches he is divided into two Eroses, and after that in Aathon’s speech  he again becomes one, but with more detailed description.

This hesitation in the signifiers walks hand in hand with a similar-different hesitation in the range of the signified – at times love is defined in narrower terms, at times in broader terms. The general increase of meaning manifested in the alternating stages of narrowing of one meaning and broadening of another meaning in the speeches by Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes and Agathon is effectuated in a meandering non-linear manner. Which differentiates it from the increase of meaning in the sixth speech - Socrates takes his time over some of Eros’ features and over some of the meanings and manifestations of love in a non-exhaustive uneven way, but on the other hand achieves a more linear-progressive expansion of meaning.

Concerning the mythological signifier, Socrates relies on what was said by Agathon, that Eros has to be defined not only functionally by what he causes, but immanently by what he is not. He does not accept the idea, however, that Eros is a younger tender and handsome god. At first, in an elenchtic dialogue, exposing Agathon’s ignorance, and later retelling his dialogue with the fortune teller Diotima, where she in turn refutes his arguments, Socrates puts forth another conception - Eros is not a god, but a great demon, an intermediary between the gods and the people. He is neither immortal, nor mortal, neither handsome, good, knowing and happy like the gods, nor ugly, bad, ignorant and unhappy, but rather neutral towards there four manifestations of perfection. And hence Eros needs them and aspires to them. 

Socrates quietly adds knowledge to the other manifestations of perfection. After the pause of the invented myth about the love of his parents Poros and Penia, who conceived him at an Aphrodite’s symposium (this is how the link with Aphrodite is maintained and Eros’ intermediary status is explained), he defines in parallel the mythological signifier and signified love. It is not Eros who provokes love towards his beauty, but he himself feels love towards beauty and love itself is a longing-aspiration towards the beautiful. And then he develops the signified by clarifying that the love longing-aspiration towards the beautiful is also aspiration towards the good, which is indelibly connected to the beautiful. 

Having defined the idea of love in this way, Socrates tackles real love of this world. It is a dynamically three-phase thing. First, it is lapsing into longing-aspiration towards beautiful-good, then it is an action towards its achievement and finally it is a state of happiness by the accomplished contact with the beautiful-good. Socrates is not concerned with the first and third phases, of the states of feeling love and the happiness from the accomplished togetherness. In the spirit of the high genres of archaic and classical ancient Greek literature he observes and comments the middle phase of the action-event. The peculiar in the Socratic understanding is that according to him love is a dynamic series of states and action-events and that the name love means the states and action-events, as well as the whole flow within which they are connected.

But Socrates expands this flow as well. It does not end with the mortal human virtue which is possibly achieved in the togetherness of love, but goes on to another, higher objective, by correcting what Aristophanes said – in love man aspires not towards his other half and towards restoring the lost whole, but towards possessing the beautiful-good forever. But since the beautiful-good is immortal, and man is a mortal being, his longing-aspiration towards the immortal beautiful-good is a longing-aspiration towards immortality. Yes, but in the life of the mortal being immortality is achieved as a compromise through giving birth and creative work. Being acts of bringing something non-existing into being, giving birth and creation transcend the mortality of the person giving birth and the one creating towards the less mortal of the born and the created. 

Thus, after some narrower definitions of the idea of love Socrates puts forth a broad definition – love is a physical and mental birth in beauty. It happily connects its non-lasting physical from with the lasting virtuous form of love and in its turn these manifestations of love with other human states and actions. This makes Socrates different from all other previous speakers, who consider love either the lasting virtuous form of love, or accept that love is also the non-lasting physical relation, although they consider it lower than the good of the virtuous love.

Socrates is different from the previous speakers in another way too. He relates the two definitions of love – as something in itself and as something that transcends it. Thinking of love as something in itself, Socrates does not mean it in the «material» secular quotidian way. Which becomes apparent in the different understanding of the types of love – in everyday speaking they are placed on the same plane as equal to one another, while elsewhere in the actual conversation, but especially in Socrates’ speech the types of love are placed hierarchically. In this way, the conception of love as something in itself, under the menace of becoming completely identical to itself, opens itself towards the better conception that love is actually more elevated.

Since the aspiration to the beautiful-good is also an aspiration to knowledge, love turns out to be a dialectical procedure for transition to something higher and more general. It begins by loving a beautiful body and creating beautiful words in order to attract it. Then it goes through the more general love of all beautiful bodies and finally ascends to the most general love of the beautiful thing itself. In the course of this dialectic cognition the limit is reached of the high non-discretion of cognition, love and perception – in one moment the person who loves sees the absolute beauty, is shaken by its fascinating beauty and feels the happiness of the sheer perfection. Which, however little it lasts, is incredibly hard to achieve.  That is precisely why, according to Socrates, man received from the gods as a unique help in this difficult deed the mortal-imortal demon Eros and the governed by him mystery of love.

Or put in a more methodical way, in his speech Socrates talks about the subject of love both in an uneven and a coherent way. This also holds true for the mythological signifier Eros, and the signified of the idea of love, which is defined in an immanent and a transcending way, open to other ideas in the wholeness of the confines of the denoted world. This segmentation, however, is valid for real love in a more limited way. Elsewhere, in the «Phaedrus» dialogue, Socrates states his views in more detail. In «Symposium» he considers real love as a whole process. 

One of the speakers before Socrates - Pausanias, albeit dwelling predominantly on values, considers in more detail one moment of real love – the discussion where the man in love persuades the beloved young man to become friends. In Hellenic archaic and classic works not only between men, but also between men and women, the feeling of love is not equal – the enamored is in love, and the beloved is simply kindly disposed. Mutual love is rather an exception. In a few places in Plato’s dialogues this model is violated and the mutual love is evaluated positively. There is such a fragment in «Symposium», and a more detailed positive evaluation of mutual love Plato presents in «Phaedrus».

Pausanias considers the so-called negotiation-persuasion in three types of customs. With barbarians and with the Hellenic Ionic world it is generally considered ugly and inappropriate for young men to react favorably to men enticing them to love. On the contrary, in Sparta and Beotia it was considered beautiful and appropriate. Pausanias gives a negative evaluation to both. Both customs are a result of insufficient civilization, in the first case due to lack of freedom, and to mental laziness in the second. Only in Athena, where owing to the art of public speaking it is possible to offer different solutions to one and the same thing, the negotiation-persuasion of the beloved happens in a civilized way and in some instances it is ugly and inappropriate, in others – beautiful and appropriate. It is ugly when the one who persuades is a corrupt person and aspires to momentary bodily pleasure, and beautiful when he is an honest man, loves in a beautiful way and aspires to permanent spiritual friendship which exalts the beloved. 

But in order to judge the beloved young man has to be mature. Which also means sufficiently schooled in the art of speaking and argumentation. On these grounds, Pausanias first stigmatizes the love for young boys or what we now call pedophilia, the ancient Greek word rarely used in antiquity, and then defines what good love is – it is the love of a man towards a young man leading to virtue and respectively the benevolence of a young man towards a man with the same purpose. Pausanias reaches this definition after an analysis of an actual moment of love.  Yes, but the defining is effectuated through transcending – love is what it is because of the higher other of the virtue it is connected with. 

This going back to Pausanias’ speech shows that the methodological question being discussed in the actual conversation in Plato’s «Symposium», is not whether love should be discussed in an immanent or transcending way, but in what transcending way. Whether the transcendentalist definition should be narrowly placed within human civil and practical confines, or formulated on the broader plane of complete existence. The issue is connected to the range of the world we live in – it can be only human and respectively human reality can be only the transition between different acts of the individual and the public, but it can also be a human and extra human structure whose reality is much more complex. 

It is precisely the relation between the two and the perception of that relation as constantly narrowing and expanding that is the main engine of meaning in the process of the enhanced ascension to the limit which informs the reflection on the topic of love in the actual conversation in Plato’s «Symposium».


This patently later Plato dialogue than «Symposium» reports a direct conversation between Phaedrus and Socrates. The conversation has an introduction, an intermediate part and an epilogue with equivalent remarks by both participants and a substantive part with unequal remarks. The substantive part of the conversation is in two sections. The first, longer section is a series of three speeches on the topic of love, the second shorter one is dialogic and is on the topic of good speeches. Concerning the flow of meaning, similar to «Symposium» it is a structure of two lines – of representation, which envelops the whole dialogue with different intensity, and of reflection, concentrated in the substantive part of the dialogue.

Along the line of representation only one event-situation unfolds in the introduction, the others are very short. Nevertheless, the representation in «Phaedrus» is not just a frame for the actual conversation, such as the case is with several later dialogues by Plato. In this respect the dialogue resembles most of his earlier and mature dialogues – along the line of representation shades of meaning accumulate, which definitely support the line of reflection. 

Irrespective of the fact whether the events-situations in «Phaedrus» are more detailed or shorter they form a kind of an indirect narration – the information about them is stated or deduced by the remarks of the two interlocutors. When I say information, I mean description of the place of the conversation, information about the meeting between Phaedrus and Socrates and some small events registered in their remarks – for instance when Socrates makes Phaedrus produce the scroll with Lysias’ speech from under his cloak and to read it or that Socrates quickly ends his first speech and wants to leave, but stays and says why. The interpretation of this small event is ambiguous. On the one hand, thinking in a secular and realistic way we can forget about Socrates’ explanation and say that the event is simply the act of staying and the articulation of his second speech. 

But we can also believe that his personal deity, the so-called daimonion, reproached him for being unrighteous towards Eros with his thesis of love, and as a kind of a purgative victim or palinode after the example of the famous second song by Stesichorus about Helen made him stay and hold the second speech.  When I say «believe», I do not mean it literally. We can trust the historical context of the text, where the place of the conversation is open and Socrates and Phaedrus are alone. There is the invisible third person whom they take into consideration. So that even if he invents, Socrates does it in a reliable for that context way. Irrespective of whether they are understood in a narrower or broader way, the small events of the stopping of the first speech, of the staying behind and the beginning of the second speech are linearly connected in the line of narration and representation.

Concerning the reflection in the actual conversation, similar to «Symposium», in «Phaedrus» there is also hesitation how to understand that line of the text, whether to single it out as a framework text, or to connect it in content with the line of representation in the dialogue. The second interpretation is engendered by the informal character of the representation and especially by the two part structure of the actual conversation. Just as in «Symposium», these two parts reveal that reflection in Plato’s dialogues happens unevenly, that it commences from a lower stage, then amplifies, after which it is decreased and stops. This degree of seemingly highest understanding is reached in Socrates’ second speech in the first part of the actual conversation, while the conversation in the second section flows on a seemingly lower meaning level, which increases only for a moment before the end in Socrates’ lengthy discussion of written and oral speech. 

So the question is whether in this increase and decrease of meaning representation also takes part. As I have already pointed out, it depends how we think about it, whether as a combination of neutral facts and small events without a contextual meaning, or as an indirect meaning line in relation to the increased attribution of meaning along the line of the actual conversation. Under the proposed model of understanding, representation in Plato’s dialogues, and in general in ancient Greek literary texts, is necessarily reflection-orientated, because of which it is influenced by the passages where the reflection is more direct and open and at the same time it influences them.

How is this indirect reflectiveness manifested in the line of representation in «Phaedrus»? As a kind of directing the meaning in the resulting sequence of small events. This sequence begins even before the meeting between Phaedrus and Socrates. Phaedrus, who loves speech, has spent the morning in Lysias’ home, then he went out of town to practice learning by heart Lysias’ speech that made a great impression on him. Socrates, the other person who loves speech, deep in his thoughts failed to notice how he found himself out of town. Then follows the meeting between the two. It is a chance meeting, but filled with meaning – the encounter is between two people who love speech and because of this love they stay together. This holds a problem - Phaedrus loves the written rhetorical speech, delivered before an audience, who admire the skills of the author of the speech, while Socrates likes the good oral dialectic speech, in which truth is reached and which ends with sowing that truth in the soul of a younger interlocutor in the oral discussion. 

Phaedrus knows nothing about this difference, while Socrates who has come across his ignorance, has the happy chance to formulate it. It remains unclear if Socrates knows beforehand what he says, or manages to articulate it because he stumbles across a suitable ignorant. But one way or the other, the situation of the meeting of the two people who love speech and the elucidation of the issue which speech merits affection, are connected in a common line of meaning, manifested in the external topic of the dialogue - «Phaedrus» is a commentary-criticism of a speech by Lysias in two parts. The topic of the first part is clarification of the situation and the idea of love presented in Lysias’ speech, and the topic of the second part is another clarification provoked by this speech – the structure and form of the written rhetoric speech and respectively the structure and form of the of the better oral dialectic speech, which would deal better with the truth on the topic of love.

An example of the latter is provided by Socrates in his second speech in the first part of the actual conversation in «Phaedrus». However, it is just an example of a better speech. As fully as the topic is of love is discussed in it, it is not clear if the truth expressed is planted in Phaedrus’ soul. Socrates addresses him and calls him a beloved boy, the conditions for the planting seem to be present. But Phaedrus remains as if untouched by what Socrates says both on the topic of love and on the topic of the good speech. The result is incomplete. The good dialectic speech is presented as a principle of attitude to the truth but is not realized in the situation of this communication. We presume why. Because according to Plato the real dialectic speech is oral, while the speech of «Phaedrus» is written and in this sense only an image of the real oral dialectic conversation. 

Yes, but by means of this image we can tell what is the principal good of the oral speech – it is the highest possible internal and external connectedness. This connectedness seems present in the written text of «Phaedrus». The love of speech connects the ignorant Phaedrus with the knowledgeable Socrates. Connected like a love couple they become party to two mysteries – the bigger mystery of love and the smaller mystery of speech. Becoming part of them presupposes the human connection between Socrates and Phaedrus, but no less another higher connection – of the human and the extra-human. Which is the deep reason why the conversation in «Phaedrus» happens in a holy place in the open air, open to higher content and meanings. Therefore, both as a relation of textual parts and as relating meanings «Phaedrus» is a precudure for connecting.

According to Plato, however, this connection is partial and a compromise, since the written speech is separated from its author and ceases to be alive. Yes, but just as we argue with Plato many times, we have in the written speech an image of the living speech. We can discern this meandering of a flexible increasing, sometimes expanding meaning and by the uneven path of this somewhat effectuated connection we can guess at the ideal of the certain course towards incomparably more complete connectedness which is realized in the living speech. We can also do so because Plato’s written dialogues provide a good basis for that– with the relatively more open, more direct and less meandering reflection in the text of the so-called actual conversation. 

The line of reflecting on the topic of love in the first part of the actual conversation in «Phaedrus» is a sequence of three speeches – one read on a topic invented by Lysias and two oral speeches by Socrates. In his first speech, Socrates comments critically and corrects Lysias’ speech, in the second he adds to this criticism criticism of his first speech, and expresses a detailed view of the discussed topic. In the course of this internal dialogic gradual achievement of knowledge, going through different phases, the topic itself is shaped and a limit of meaning in its understanding is reached. The increase of meaning goes through several degrees. The first and lowest degree, in Lysias’s speech read by Phaedrus the topic is still not shaped. Attention is directed to representation of the whimsical situation – a man who is not in love is persuading a young boy to become friends.

The main argument of the speaker in Lysias’ speech is the negative of the actual situation of such a persuasion – it has to be avoided because it is damaging. Damiging for a young man to show favour to a man in love with him and to become his friend, because the enamored aspires to have the body of the young man and to satisfy his passion; after a short, intensive friendship which separates the young man from other close people the enamored leaves his friend. While the persuasion by someone who is not in love and the friendship with someone not in love is beneficial and good, because the young man gains a lasting friend, who continuously and selflessly does him good.

This rhetorical opposition is based on an implicit knowledge of actual love and its course. It is composed of three consecutive moments – falling in love, persuasion and forming a couple. By the words used in the ancient Greek original it becomes clear that the love (eros), that happens to one of the two partners is made of dynamic states and events. It starts with falling in love caused by beauty, then it is a state of being enamored, which makes one to aspire to the beloved, and then it is satisfying the amorous passion.  While the other thing that accompanies love and happens to the enamored as well as to the beloved such as the benevolence and the kindness received, is friendship (philia). Hence the question how love and friendship connect, whether one transforms into the other, whether the love of the enamored transforms into affection to the beloved and in turn the benevolence of the beloved into affection towards the enamored.

One answer is that love transforms into affection and friendship, while according to the other answer it does not happen. Lysias’s speech follows the second theory. Love is the falling in love, the state of being in love, the aspiration of the enamored to his beloved and the bodily satisfaction of love passion. They are connected in something not long lasting, clearly different from affection and friendship. Hence the implicit definition in Lysias’ speech, and also in the usual quotidian speaking on the subject – love is a foolish passion, leading the enamored to false assertions and actions harmful to the beloved в разрез с доброто. The good is the sensible, the long lasting friendship based on  the appreciation of the character or the personality of the partner as we would say today, while the bad is the insensible, the non-lasting and the appreciation of bodily pleasure, which actually love is.

Irrespective of the confused unsystematic expose for which Socrates criticizes Lysias, one-dimensional view of the speaker in Lysias’ speech is clear – actual love is dynamic, but not so much as to grow into affection and friendship. As a series of falling in love, state of being in love, aspiration to the beloved and satisfying of the love passion, love is an apparent process. The separate moments are in fact leveled as one event and one recurring meaning – love is insensible, non-lasting passion for external bodily beauty. Or put in a different way, it is absolutely identical to itself. This coincidence of an idea, a definition and an actual phenomenon divulges the mechanism of way of thinking, typical for everyday talk – the non-contradictory reduction of a more concrete thing to a more general value predicate. As happens in Lysias’ speech – the implicitly contemplated phenomenon of love simply coincides with the predicates synonyms bad, damaging, non-lasting and insensible.

Socrates’ task in his first speech-criticism  is to arrange the disorderly and to explicate what is implicitly stated in Lysias’ speech. Without changing the thesis and form of the rhetorical speaking, he makes two corrections – 1. directs attention from the external form of the arrangement and the choice of means of expression towards the content, the truth of what is being discussed, and 2. corrects the invented situation. According to Socrates, the speaker in Lysias’ speech is in love, but cunningly pretends not to be in love. After that Socrates undertakes to explicate the implicit topic of Lysias’ speech and formulates the important methodological premise that before discussing the benefit or harm of love, a definition of love should be provided.

Attempting to provide a definition, Socrates, as opposed to Lysias, does not rush to a detailed predicate, but defines love first in more general terms – it is a desire. Then he defines desire – it is an inherent aspiration to pleasure, manifested as a stronger or weaker lack of restraint. The desire-lack of restraint is a negative side in the human soul in a relation with the positive of the acquired opinion, directing the soul to perfection. These two sides have an internal and external manifestation. Externally they are aspirations to different things, internally they are conflicting powers, which overpower one another and take possession of the soul. When the aspiration-lack of restraint is strong, it overpowers the weaker aspiration to perfection. Which is especially true for the big lack of restraint of love.

At this point Socrates offers an extended definition of love – it is the «desire which without reason reigns over our opinion, directed towards what is right and which  determined towards pleasure from beauty and having become strong by related desires for bodily beauty has gained command of our behaviour», that is why it takes its name from the word for power (rome)  and is called love (eros). However ironic it is, especially in the attempt to define not only the idea but also the word love, this definition places in the understanding of love as dependent on the understanding of other ideas and makes complex the idea of love, and the actual phenomenon of love. The aspiration of the enamored towards his beloved, the aspiration to love turns out to be open to other actual desires-aspirations, which are not love. On the other hand, since it is directed towards bodily beauty, the aspiration to love is made complex by the possibility to be not only different, but also similar to another aspiration – towards non bodily beauty. 

Socrates follows Lysias’ oppositional implicit thesis, but changes the absolute opposition «reason without love – unreasonableness with love» with the less tense and more in tune with reality opposition «reasonable aspiration with affection – unreasonable aspiration with love». It is less tense because both its sides contrasted as aspiration to a different type of beauty are connected as aspiration to beauty. In other words, although he still looks at the difference, Socrates turns to the similarity and thus broaches a different idea of love, which he articulates in his second speech. As he himself says (p. 267) in the critical second part of the actual conversation what is different is that the negative left love is connected to the incorrectly separated from it positive right love.

Following the idea that nothing else but the truth guarantees the quality of a judgment, Socrates corrects Lysias’ thesis about the harm for the beloved by the enamored, by first dividing it into two categories – of consequences for the property and the closeness of the beloved young man to other people and of unpleasant experiences and feelings in the personal relations of both. In order to keep the beloved, the enamored separates him from his friends and relatives and makes sure he is left with no property, home or family. To which there is the added tense communication with the old suspicious enamored, annoying with his exaggerated praise and reproaches and treacherous and unfaithful when he stops loving and separates from his friend. Socrates concludes – the enamored is deceitful, overbearing, jealous, obnoxious and harmful both to the property and bodily health and to the especially important spiritual growth of the beloved young man.

What does Socrates do so far? In a kind of analytical description of the situation of love he outlines a holistic picture of the interpersonal relations between the enamored and his beloved in their unequal, ending in rupture friendship. With the change of the understanding of love in his second speech Socrates changes this negative picture and sketches another positive one of equivalent affection and friendship. The realistic authenticity of these perhaps universally valid pictures makes a great impression on the contemporary reader. They are undoubtedly a realistic achievement, especially when we като се отчете, that it is in a text from the age of ancient classics, when it is early for a text to profess an understanding of love as an intersubjective relation. It is even odder, however, that Plato achieves such realistic sketches in the context of his transcendentalist non-secular paradigm of conception of the human. 

The reasons are two. On the one hand the so-called non-secular paradigm of understanding is not permanently openly formulated in Plato’s dialogues, but is something that is achieved in the uneven course of expanding of the meaning.  This course has stages of narrowing and respectively remaining in a secular way in the sphere of the quotidian and the real. On the other hand at the stage of the narrowed secular understanding as different from his interlocutors Plato-Socrates treats the human in a more segmented way, and not only because of keenness of observation and realistic experience, but also because of the thinking experience of the segmented understanding of the transcendental. Hence the big paradox of Plato’s dialectic philosophy – the transcendentally inclined Socrates explains more realistically the sphere of the human than his interlocutors who have a more secular frame of mind than him.  

A strong manifestation of this discursive paradigm, displayed on the one hand as an expanding transcending understanding, and as a secular realistic permeation on the other is Socrates’ second speech on the topic of love. Suddenly finishing his first speech, Phaedrus’ interlocutor does not leave as he intended to, but stays on the bank of the Ilis, to rectify the wrong thesis on the subject and to intensify his criticism of Lysias’ speech. Socrates begins by correcting the predicate, with which he defined love. Love is not a desire-lack of restraint, but something broader and more complex – insanity. Just as he does with the desire-lack of restraint in his previous speech, Socrates is concerned with the predicate insanity, by expanding its negative value of meaning in the direction of another positive one – besides being a human negative thing insanity is also a gift of God, which helps people to be open to the big world beyond.

This positive side of insanity Socrates divides into four divine insanities. Presenting briefly the mantic, mysterious and poetic insanity he underscores the fact that they are guarantees for hierarchically ordered instances of good luck, the highest of which is supported by the highest fourth love insanity. Since the insanities are states of the soul, following the course of his dialectic way of ratiocination, Socrates makes a digression to elucidate the nature of the soul, by first proving its immortality with the argument of self-motion, and then presenting with an image analogy its structure – the soul resembles a winged harness of a chariot driver and two horses. In the meantime, Socrates makes another digression to clarify the idea of a being. A being or a living thing is something that is moving. The mortal human being, made up of an immortal soul and a mortal body, is moved from the outside and that is why his movement is temporary as opposed to the immortal being of the god, whose movement is self-movement and that is why it never stops. 

Socrates ends this smaller digression and returns to the bigger one about the soul, to make a distinction between the soul of man and the soul of God – God’s soul is perfect and is easily ruled, while the human soul contains a difficult element to control,  a kind of imprint of the mortal body. From the definition of the living being as a moving and self-ruling and the definition that the source for this movement is the immortal soul, Socrates goes back to the model of movement, represented with the image of the chariot with two horses and the chariot driver, and develops a second image – of the soul which grows wings and soars upwards. Thus, the conception of the soul as a three-element structure represented by the chariot is complemented by another representation – the soul also resembles a bird. The idea of combining these two symbols - image analogies is to present the complex living mobility of the soul.

In the first case the driving force is the relation between the chariot driver and the two horses, the discrepancy between the easy submission of one and the extremely difficult submission of the other. Because the chariot driver together with the obedient good horse is heading towards ideal beauty, while the bad horse is dragging them to bodily beauty. In the second case the driving force is the unrealistic realistically depicted growing of wings. The naked moving soul is covered in feathers and flies upwards, when it sees beauty in this world and remembers beauty in the other world, seen briefly in a previous life. This seeing-remembering is an act of worldly cognition, but also something powerfully emotional, manifested also physiologically – itch-pain-pleasure, joy-pain, sweet-sour, as Sappho says. It is the feeling of love itself. 

On the plane of Plato’s understanding of reality these two sides are in hierarchical relation. The love for another person, which is physically felt, is something more essential – it is a cognitive act of transition from a specific beauty to beauty in general and at the same time it is an existential act of transition from this to another world. The love that aspires to beauty is a moment from the directed upwards and beyond movement of the soul, whose aim is to break away from the fuzzy unclear picture of the present reality and to get in touch with the pure truth of the more actual reality beyond. Living is a movement directed upwards and beyond towards blissful cognition.

There is certainly a difference between the living of the gods and the people. With the gods, organized as a solemn procession, it is a general regular lowering and raising to ideal things beyond the vault of heaven for their common contemplation and common feeling of lasting bliss. While living for the mortal souls is doubly disorderly – each human soul moves on its own and only some reach the blissful beyond. In the jostle and disorder only some manage to raise their head above the vault of heaven and catch a glimpse of the ideas-ideal things, before they are dragged to the inevitable descent downwards. A glimpse of the astounding world beyond is only effectuated by the steering brain, that best part of the mortal soul.

There is an order in who manages to take a peek in the reality beyond. Socrates paints a thorough picture of the possible human fates. Because of the immortal soul, implanted in their bodies, human beings have not only one, but more lives, in which, when they go through stages of animal and higher human existence and respectively through stages of retribution of the evil and reward of the good existence, some reach the bliss of the momentary glimpse of the reality beyond and respectively possible perfection in this world. These people are also arranged in order. The upper levels are allocated for creative artists and good governors, and the highest level is for those who are correctly engaged in philosophy. Socrates does not forget love – those who are correctly engaged in philosophy are also those who feel the right love, not called for nothing philosophical love. 

So this comprehensive world picture of striving for perfection, hierarchically arranged human fates, open towards the other two categories of the living – the animal and the divine, also includes the fateful cognitive function of love. It is a way for preliminary touch with what is beyond and the existence of pure truth. That is why the good definition of love is transcendentalist - love is the ideal philosophical love, this supreme passion for truth and perfection.

Yes but this conception is not separate from a number of immanent conceptions. Because love is also the feeling itself of longing, and aspiration to a visible beauty in this world, and the connecting with a loved one in a dramatic relation, in which there is hesitation between foolish pleasure and extolling adoration. All of these immanent conceptions can be stopped, closed and understood as the essence of love. Socrates does not allow this, by gathering more immanent definitions and by keeping them open to the transcendental maximum expanded understanding, leading to the understanding of another. These two acts are connected in a realistic probability chain – each of the immanent moments of a love can pass or not into another immanent moment and they in general can pass or not in the transcendence of the ideal philosophical love. The Socratic immanent understanding is an effort in the possible transcendence. 

This thesis of love revokes the quotidian conception in Lysias’ speech – love is not an object identical to itself, which dissolves without a trace in a materially understood value, but а drama of a long achievement with many events and many interwoven objects. Love, as Socrates implicitly asserts, can be explained and understood better only if it connects with something that goes beyond it against the background of a complete picture of the world. The Sancta Sanctorum of Socrates’ understanding is transposing the idea of love onto the idea of affection. 

The reader of «Phaedrus», however, does not permanently maintain the suggested line of dialectic transcending and goes back to the clear distinction and also to the separation of the immanent moments of love. Doing this he does not find himself in opposition to Plato’s way of giving meaning. Because in the unevenness of his dialogic thinking Plato is a realist like us. On the one hand he follows the transcendentalist paradigm of his oral philosophical system; on the other, however, in the course of its dialogic implementation from time to time he narrows it and displays some kind of realistic pictures of the immanently experienced feeling of love and of an immanent drama in the relation with the loved one.  

Especially prominent is this second picture, depicted by Socrates at the end of his second speech. The enamored should feel happy with adoring the loved one, he knows this and aspires to act in this way. But the bad horse in his soul is dragging him to the corporeal. This fills him with shame, he tries to resist, but one way or the other he vacillates between adoration and respect and disgrace and remorse. The loved one also vacillates, and from time to time he rewards with bodily love the faithful enamored and confuses mutual affection with mutual love. So in this hesitation between the better and the worse the two go through the compromise of bodily love and achieve to a certain extent the good mutual affection, which connects the virtuous enamored with the forming virtuous beloved. Love relations just like the reality here in which they happen – uneven and meandering, aiming at achieved or not perfection. 

Plato’s reality of love is a set of three main cases – of bodily relation, which is mistakenly called love, of the better dramatic relation of mutual affection, described in Socrates’ second speech, and of the rare ideal behaviour, which is commented in «Symposium» by Alcibiades in his praise of Socrates. Bright according to Plato, detached from the pure reality тукашна реалност is manifested in the hierarchy of different types of understanding and different behaviour. Which is the high value of love according to the text of «Phaedrus» – it is a rare case for someone to get in touch with ideal beauty in this world simultaneously in a cognitive and an emotional and experience-based way. Because in order to achieve the other non ostensible things, as we would put it today, of the other ideals-ideas such as reason and justice, the mortal man has only one chance in this world – to do it indirectly by means of philosophical reflection. The other possibility is dying and going beyond, according to the picture of the death of Socrates, presented in «Phaedo». 

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