Lecture 9: Plato - On Love

​​This lecture covers the theme of love in Plato's Symposium and its influence on great writers and artists.


In the 9th of 17 lectures in his "Civilizing the Barbarians" course, Stepanov discusses Socrates and the historical accuracy of information about him. He explains that all knowledge about Socrates comes from Plato and a few stories from Xenophon. However, in the 19th century, people began to question the authenticity of these sources and the historical accuracy of what Socrates actually said. Some scholars have argued that many of the dialogues attributed to Plato were not actually written by him, but rather by his followers, or by other philosophers writing in the Socratic tradition. This has led to confusion about what Socrates truly believed, as it is difficult to separate the ideas of Socrates from those of Plato and other writers who wrote in the Socratic tradition. By the end of the 20th century, some people suggested abandoning the quest for the historical Socrates and just reading the books as they are.

Stepanov then discusses Plato's "Symposium," a dialogue in which a group of Greeks give speeches about love while drinking heavily. He notes that the speeches are all very different and written in unique voices, and that the dialogue is a wonderful example of Plato's writing abilities. He highlighted the first speech, given by Pausanias, which is about the god of love, Eros, and how Eros turns people into brave and glorious beings. The dialogue also has Pausanias talking about the idea of a hypothetical army made up of both lovers and beloveds, and how such an army would defeat anyone because they would be willing to die for each other.

Finally, Stepanov discusses the speech given by Aristophanes in Plato's "Symposium," which is considered to be the most humorous and fantastical speech in the dialogue. In the speech, Aristophanes gives a fictional account of how love began, stating that humans were once round, had four legs and four arms, and both male and female genitals. According to Aristophanes, the gods split these powerful beings in half to weaken them, and turned their genitals inward so they could satisfy themselves and go on to do their work. He also argues that humans are still searching for their lost half and that this search is what causes people to fall in love. Stepanov explains that Aristophanes's speech is not the center of the dialogue but is a remarkable and funny speech.

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