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Plato: Symposium (excerpts)

[172a] APOLLODORUS: I believe I have got the story you inquire of pretty well by heart. The day before yesterday I chanced to be going up to town from my house in Phalerum, when one of my acquaintance caught sight of me from behind, some way off, and called in a bantering tone "Hullo, Phalerian! I say, Apollodorus, wait a moment." So I stopped and waited.

Then, "Apollodorus," he said, "do you know, I have just been looking for you, as I want to hear all about the banquet that brought together Agathon [172b] and Socrates and Alcibiades and the rest of that party, and what were the speeches they delivered upon love. For somebody else was relating to me the account he had from Phoenix, son of Philip, and he mentioned that you knew it too. But he could not tell it at all clearly so you must give me the whole story, for you are the most proper reporter of your dear friend's discourses. But first tell me this," he went on; "were you at that party yourself, or not?"

To which my answer was: "You have had anything but [172c] a clear account from your informant, if you suppose the party you are asking about to have been such a recent affair that I could be included."

"So I did suppose," he said.

"How so, Glaucon?" said I. "You must know it is many a year that Agathon has been away from home and country, and not yet three years that I have been consorting with Socrates and making it my daily care to know whatever he says or does. Before that time, [173a] what with running about at random and thinking I did things, I was the wretchedest man alive; just as you are at present, thinking philosophy is none of your business."

"Instead of jeering at me," he said, "tell me when it was that this party took place."

"When you and I were only children," I told him; "on the occasion of Agathon's victory with his first tragedy: the day after that of the dedicatory feast which he and his players held for its celebration."

"Ah, quite a long while ago, it would seem," said he; "but who gave you the account of it? Socrates himself?"

"Goodness, no!" I answered. "It was the person who told Phoenix -- [173b] Aristodemus of Cydathenaeum, a little man, who went always barefoot. He was of the company there, being one of the chief among Socrates' lovers at that time, I believe. But all the same, I have since questioned Socrates on some details of the story I had from his friend, and he acknowledged them to be in accordance with his account."

"Come then," he said, "let me have it now; and in fact the road up to town is well suited for telling and hearing as we go along."

So on we went, discoursing the while of this affair; [173c] and hence, as I began by saying, I have it pretty well by heart. So, friends, if you too must hear the whole story, I had better tell it. For my own part, indeed, I commonly find that, setting aside the benefit I conceive they do me, I take an immense delight in philosophic discourses, whether I speak them myself or hear them from others: whereas in the case of other sorts of talk -- especially that of your wealthy, money-bag friends -- I am not only annoyed myself but sorry for dear intimates like you, who think you are doing a great deal when you really do nothing at all. [173d] From your point of view, I daresay, I seem a hapless creature, and I think your thought is true. I, however, do not think it of you: I know it for sure.

COMPANION: You are the same as ever, Apollodorus, -- always defaming your self and every one else! Your view, I take it, is that all men alike are miserable, save Socrates, and that your own plight is the worst. How you may have come by your title of "crazy," I do not know: though, of course, you are always like that in your way of speech -- raging against yourself and everybody except Socrates.

[173e] APOLLODORUS: My dear sir, obviously it must be a mere crazy aberration in me, to hold this opinion of myself and of you all!

COMPANION: It is waste of time, Apollodorus, to wrangle about such matters now. Come, without more ado, comply with our request and relate how the speeches went.

APOLLODORUS: Well then, they were somewhat as follows, -- but stay, I must try and tell you all in order from the beginning, [174a] just as my friend told it to me. He said that he met with Socrates fresh from the bath and wearing his best pair of slippers -- quite rare events with him -- and asked him whither he was bound in such fine trim.

"To dinner at Agathon's," he answered. "I evaded him and his celebrations yesterday, fearing the crowd; but I agreed to be present today. So I got myself up in this handsome style in order to be a match for my handsome host. Now tell me," said he, "do you feel in the mood [174b] for going unasked to dinner?"

"For anything," he said he replied, "that you may bid me do."

"Come along then," he said; "let us corrupt the proverb with a new version: ‘What if they go of their own accord, the good men to our Goodman's board?’ Though indeed Homer may be said to have not merely corrupted the adage, but debauched it: for after setting forth Agamemnon as a man eminently good at warfare, [174c] and Menelaus as only ‘a spearman spiritless,’ he makes the latter come unbidden to the banquet of the former, who was offering sacrifice and holding a feast; so the worse man was the guest of the better."

To this my friend's answer, as he told me, was: "I am afraid mine, most likely, is a case that fits not your version, Socrates, but Homer's -- a dolt coming unbidden to the banquet of a scholar. Be sure, then, to have your excuse quite ready when you bring me; for I shall not own to coming unasked, [174d] but only on your invitation."

“‘If two go along together,’” he remarked, “‘there's one before another' in devising what we are to say. Well, off we go."

After some such conversation, he told me, they started off. Then Socrates, becoming absorbed in his own thoughts by the way, fell behind him as they went; and when my friend began to wait for him he bade him go on ahead. [174e] So he came to Agathon's house, and found the door open; where he found himself in a rather ridiculous position. For he was met immediately by a servant from within, who took him where the company was reclining, and he found them just about to dine. However, as soon as Agathon saw him "Ha, Aristodemus," he cried, "right welcome to a place at table with us! If you came on some other errand, put it off to another time: only yesterday I went round to invite you, but failed to see you. But how is it you do not bring us Socrates?"

At that I turned back for Socrates, he said, but saw no sign of him coming after me: so I told them how I myself had come along with Socrates, since he had asked me to dine with them.

"Very good of you to come," he said, "but where is the man?"

[175a] "He was coming in just now behind me: I am wondering myself where he can be."

"Go at once," said Agathon to the servant, "and see if you can fetch in Socrates. You, Aristodemus, take a place by Eryximachus."

So the attendant washed him and made him ready for reclining, when another of the servants came in with the news that our good Socrates had retreated into their neighbors' porch; there he was standing, and when bidden to come in, he refused.

"How strange!" said Agathon, "you must go on bidding him, and by no means let him go."

[175b] But this Aristodemus forbade: "No," said he, "let him alone; it is a habit he has. Occasionally he turns aside, anywhere at random, and there he stands. He will be here presently, I expect. So do not disturb him; let him be."

"Very well then," said Agathon, "as you judge best. Come, boys," he called to the servants, "serve the feast for the rest of us. You are to set on just whatever you please, now that you have no one to direct you (a method I have never tried before). Today you are to imagine that I and all the company here have come on your invitation so look after us, and earn our compliments."

[175c] Thereupon, he said, they all began dinner, but Socrates did not arrive; and though Agathon ever and anon gave orders that they should go and fetch him, my friend would not allow it. When he did come, it was after what, for him, was no great delay, as they were only about halfway through dinner.

Then Agathon, who happened to be sitting alone in the lowest place, said: "Here, Socrates, come sit by me, so that by contact with you [175d] I may have some benefit from that piece of wisdom that occurred to you there in the porch. Clearly you have made the discovery and got hold of it for you would not have come away before."

Then Socrates sat down, and "How fine it would be, Agathon," he said, "if wisdom were a sort of thing that could flow out of the one of us who is fuller into him who is emptier, by our mere contact with each other, as water will flow through wool from the fuller cup into the emptier. If such is indeed the case with wisdom, I set a great value on my sitting next to you: [175e] I look to be filled with excellent wisdom drawn in abundance out of you. My own is but meagre, as disputable as a dream; but yours is bright and expansive, as the other day we saw it shining forth from your youth, strong and splendid, in the eyes of more than thirty thousand Greeks."

"You rude mocker, Socrates!" said Agathon. "A little later on you and I shall go to law on this matter of our wisdom, and Dionysus shall be our judge. For the present, let the dinner be your first concern." [176a]

After this, it seems, when Socrates had taken his place and had dined with the rest, they made libation and sang a chant to the god and so forth, as custom bids, till they betook them to drinking. Then Pausanias opened a conversation after this manner: "Well, gentlemen, what mode of drinking will suit us best? For my part, to tell the truth, I am in very poor form as a result of yesterday's bout, and I claim a little relief; it is so, I believe, with most of you, for you were at yesterday's party: so consider what method [176b] of drinking would suit us best."

On this Aristophanes observed: "Now that, Pausanias, is a good suggestion of yours, that we make a point of consulting our comfort in our cups: for I myself am one of those who got such a soaking yesterday."

When Eryximachus, son of Acumenus, heard this; "You are quite right, sirs," he said; "and there is yet one other question on which I request your opinion, as to what sort of condition Agathon finds himself in for drinking."

"No, no," said Agathon, "I am not in good condition for it either."

[176c] "It would be a piece of luck for us, I take it," the other went on, "that is, for me, Aristodemus, Phaedrus, and our friends here, if you who are the stoutest drinkers are now feeling exhausted. We, of course, are known weaklings. Socrates I do not count in the matter: he is fit either way, and will be content with whichever choice we make. Now as it appears that nobody here present is eager for copious draughts, perhaps it will be the less irksome to you if I speak of intoxication, and tell you truly what it is. The practice of medicine, I find, has made this clear to me -- [176d] that drunkenness is harmful to mankind; and neither would I myself agree, if I could help it, to an excess of drinking, nor would I recommend it to another, especially when his head is still heavy from a bout of the day before."

Here Phaedrus of Myrrhinus interrupted him, saying: "Why, you know I always obey you, above all in medical matters; and so now will the rest of us, if they are well advised." Then all of them, on hearing this, [176e] consented not to make their present meeting a tipsy affair, but to drink just as it might serve their pleasure.

"Since it has been resolved, then," said Eryximachus, "that we are to drink only so much as each desires, with no constraint on any, I next propose that the flute-girl who came in just now be dismissed: let her pipe to herself or, if she likes, to the women-folk within, but let us seek our entertainment today in conversation. I am ready, if you so desire, to suggest what sort of discussion it should be." [177a]

They all said they did so desire, and bade him make his proposal. So Eryximachus proceeded: "The beginning of what I have to say is in the words of Euripides' Melanippe, for 'not mine the tale' that I intend to tell; it comes from Phaedrus here. He is constantly complaining to me and saying, -- Is it not a curious thing, Eryximachus, that while other gods have hymns and psalms indited in their honor by the poets, the god of Love, so ancient and so great, [177b] has had no song of praise composed for him by a single one of all the many poets that ever have been? And again, pray consider our worthy professors, and the eulogies they frame of Hercules and others in prose, -- for example, the excellent Prodicus. This indeed is not so surprising but I recollect coming across a book by somebody, in which I found Salt superbly lauded for its usefulness, and many more such matters [177c] I could show you celebrated there. To think of all this bustle about such trifles, and not a single man ever essaying till this day to make a fitting hymn to Love! So great a god, and so neglected! Now I think Phaedrus's protest a very proper one. Accordingly I am not only desirous of obliging him with a contribution of my own, but I also pronounce the present to be a fitting occasion for us here assembled to honor the god. [177d] So if you on your part approve, we might pass the time well enough in discourses; for my opinion is that we ought each of us to make a speech in turn, from left to right, praising Love as beautifully as he can. Phaedrus shall open first; for he has the topmost place at table, and besides is father of our debate."

"No one, Eryximachus," said Socrates, "will vote against you: I do not see how I could myself decline, [177e] when I set up to understand nothing but love-matters; nor could Agathon and Pausanias either, nor yet Aristophanes, who divides his time between Dionysus and Aphrodite; nor could any other of the persons I see before me. To be sure, we who sit at the bottom do not get a fair chance: but if the earlier speakers rise nobly to the occasion, we shall be quite content. So now let Phaedrus, with our best wishes, make a beginning and give us a eulogy of Love."To this they assented one and all, [178a] bidding him do as Socrates said.

Now the entire speech in each case was beyond Aristodemus's recollection, and so too the whole of what he told me is beyond mine: but those parts which, on account also of the speakers, I deemed most memorable, I will tell you successively as they were delivered.

[Text omitted: the various participants, including Socrates, deliver their speeches.]

[212c] After Socrates had thus spoken, there was applause from all the company except Aristophanes, who was beginning to remark on the allusion which Socrates' speech had made to his own; when suddenly there was a knocking at the outer door, which had a noisy sound like that of revellers, and they heard notes of a flute-girl.

"Go and see to it," [212d] said Agathon to the servants; "and if it be one of our intimates, invite him in: otherwise, say we are not drinking, but just about to retire."

A few moments after, they heard the voice of Alcibiades in the forecourt, very drunken and bawling loud, to know where Agathon was, and bidding them bring him to Agathon. So he was brought into the company by the flute-girl and some others of his people supporting him: he stood at the door, [212e] crowned with a bushy wreath of ivy and violets, and wearing a great array of ribands on his head.

"Good evening, sirs," he said; "will you admit to your drinking a fellow very far gone in liquor, or shall we simply set a wreath on Agathon -- which indeed is what we came for -- and so away? I tell you, sir, I was hindered from getting to you yesterday; but now I am here with these ribands on my head, so that I can pull them off mine and twine them about the head of the cleverest, the handsomest, if I may speak the -- see, like this! Ah, you would laugh at me because I am drunk? [213a] Well, for my part, laugh as you may, I am sure I am speaking the truth. Come, tell me straight out, am I to enter on the terms stated or not? Will you take a cup with me or no?"

At this they all boisterously acclaimed him, bidding him enter and take a seat, and Agathon also invited him. So he came along with the assistance of his people and while unwinding the ribands for his purpose of wreathing his friend he so held them before his eyes that he failed to notice Socrates, and actually took a seat next to Agathon, [213b] between Socrates and him: for Socrates had moved up when he caught sight of Alcibiades. So there he sat, and he saluted Agathon and began to twine his head.

Then Agathon said to the servants, "Take off Alcibiades' shoes, so that he can recline here with us two."

"By all means," said Alcibiades; "but who is our third at table?" With that he turned about and saw Socrates, and the same moment leapt up and cried, "Save us, what a surprise! Socrates here! So it was to lie in wait for me again that you were sitting there -- [213c] your old trick of turning up on a sudden where least I expected you! Well, what are you after now? Tell me, I say, why you took a seat here and not by Aristophanes or some one else who is absurd and means to be? Why did you intrigue to get a seat beside the handsomest person in the room?”

Then Socrates said, "Agathon, do your best to protect me, for I have found my love for this fellow no trifling affair. From the time when I fell in love with him I have not had a moment's liberty [213d] either to look upon or converse with a single handsome person, but the fellow flies into a spiteful jealousy which makes him treat me in a monstrous fashion, girding at me and hardly keeping his hands to himself. So take care that he does no mischief now: pray reconcile us; or if he sets about using force, protect me, for I shudder with alarm at his amorous frenzy."

"No," said Alcibiades; "no reconcilement for you and me. I will have my revenge on you for this another time: for the present, Agathon, give me some of your ribands, [213e] that I may also deck this person's head, this astonishing head. He shall not reproach me with having made a garland for you and then, though he conquers every one in discourse -- not once in a while, like you the other day, but always -- bestowing none upon him." So saying he took some of the ribands and, after decking the head of Socrates, resumed his seat.

Reclining there, he proceeded: "Now then, gentlemen, you look sober: I cannot allow this; you must drink, and fulfil our agreement. So I appoint as president of this bout, till you have had a reasonable drink -- myself. Agathon, let the boy bring me as large a goblet as you have. Ah well, do not trouble," he said; "boy, bring me that cooler there," -- [214a] for he saw it would hold a good half-gallon and more. This he got filled to the brim, and after quaffing it off himself bade them fill up for Socrates, saying, "Against Socrates, sirs, my crafty plan is as nought. However large the bumper you order him, he will quaff it all off and never get tipsy with it."

Socrates drank as soon as the boy had filled: but "What procedure is this, Alcibiades?" asked Eryximachus. "Are we to have nothing to say [214b] or sing over the cup? Are we going to drink just like any thirsty folk?"

To this Alcibiades answered: "Ha, Eryximachus, 'of noblest, soberest sire most noble son'; all hail!"

"And the same to you," said Eryximachus: "but what are we to do?"

"Whatever you command, for we are bound to obey you: ‘One learned leech is worth the multitude.’ So prescribe what you please."

"Then listen," said Eryximachus. "We resolved, before your arrival, that each in order from left to right should make the finest speech he could upon Love, [214c] and glorify his name. Now all of us here have spoken; so you, since you have made no speech and have drained the cup, must do your duty and speak. This done, you shall prescribe what you like for Socrates, and he for his neighbor on the right, and so on with the rest."

"Very good, Eryximachus," said Alcibiades; "but to pit a drunken man against sober tongues is hardly fair. [214d] Besides, my gifted friend, you are surely not convinced by anything that Socrates has just told you? You must know the case is quite the contrary of what he was saying. It is he who, if I praise any god in his presence of any person other than himself, will not keep his hands off me."

"Come, enough of this," said Socrates.

"On the honor of a gentleman," said Alcibiades, "it is no use your protesting, for I could not praise anyone else in your presence."

"Well, do that if you like," said Eryximachus; "praise Socrates."

"You mean it?" said Alcibiades; "you think I had better, Eryximachus? Am I to set upon the fellow and have my revenge before you all?"

[214e] "Here," said Socrates; "what are you about, -- to make fun of me with your praises, or what?"

"I shall speak the truth; now, will you permit me?"

"Ah well, so long as it is the truth, I permit you and command you to speak."

To proceed to part 2, click here.