Literature Study GuidesSymposiumAgathons Speech Summary

Symposium | Study Guide

Plato

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Symposium | Agathon's Speech | Summary

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Summary

At this point only two speakers remain: the tragic playwright Agathon followed by Socrates, himself. In his speech Agathon takes an approach similar to that of Phaedrus, focusing on love's attributes as a divine being (i.e., the god Eros). Love, he claims, is not the oldest of the gods—as Phaedrus had implied—but the youngest and most beautiful, with the ability to change shape at will. He is the inspirer of every sort of creativity, from the begetting of children to the composition of epic poems. More importantly, Agathon maintains, love is fair and generous in his treatment of humankind, never harsh or cruel. Love, he concludes, "looks after the good and overlooks the bad," blessing the world with "luxury and sensualism, delight [and] desire."

Analysis

Agathon's speech is the closest in tone to a classical eulogy, playing up love's good qualities and completely ignoring or dismissing the bad. Phaedrus, at the beginning of the evening, had offered a superficially similar speech, but he had mostly restricted himself to talking about love as an inspirer of virtuous behavior. With Pausanias's speech, even that noble quality of love was thrown into doubt; love may sometimes inspire deeds of heroism, just as Phaedrus says, but as Pausanias points out, it also leads people "to beg and beseech for [their] prayers to be fulfilled, to make promises under oath, to sleep in the other's doorway, to take on the kinds of degrading tasks even slaves wouldn't perform." With such a ludicrous and demeaning picture still fresh in the reader's mind, Agathon's hyperbolic praise of love seems a bit silly, however polished it might have sounded in the original Greek. His exaggerated, one-sided perspective will make him an easy target for Socrates in the short dialogue that follows.

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