Philosophies Which Transcend Time – ‘The Symposium’ by Plato


I came to this book after reading about in it my favourite novel ‘Maurice’ by E.M. Forster (which i have previously written about on this blog). In ‘Maurice’ a character, Clive, tells his friend Maurice to read ‘The Symposium’ before confessing his love for him.

The small book was first written over 2000 years ago and has a pretty simply premise. A group of friends, who all happen to be literary celebrities in Athenian society,  sit down for a drink after a dinner party and decide to take it in turns to make a speech in praise of love. Each member of the party makes a speech, all of which are as resonant today as they were when they were first written.

The book pulls references from various Greek myths, Gods and philosophers. If you’ve ever heard of the myth that human were originally made as creatures with 2 sets of legs, arms, heads etc. and Zeus split them in half, this is where it comes from. To expand further on this myth the humans when they were combined became too happy, too self-forfilled so Zeus split them in two – humans are therefore damned to search eternally for their other half. Plato also goes on the specify that the two half’s can be of any gender.

Throughout the collection of speeches many references are made to the normalization of homosexual male relationships in Greek society, making reference to the legend of Achilles. The guests themselves are banterous and flirty, I think many readers would recognise their behaviour in their own friends at a trip to a pub. The collection of speeches finishes with a comic character sketch of Socrates by a particularly drunk guest.

This is a short and powerful little book, demonstrating the flexibility and timelessness of Greek prose.

Overall rating: 3/5

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