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Symposium | Epilogue | Summary

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Summary

Alcibiades is applauded for his speech. Socrates praises him for his wit and inventiveness, but—to Alcibiades's frustration—also continues flirting with Agathon and jokes that he is getting ready to make a speech in Agathon's honor. Comic bickering ensues, but the dialogue is interrupted when revelers from a nearby street party come pouring into the house. The symposium devolves into a drunken rout, and several of the original guests head home. Socrates, Aristophanes, and Agathon remain awake into the early hours of the morning, passing a goblet of wine and discussing the nature of tragic and comedic art. Eventually the two playwrights fall asleep, and Socrates goes home.

Analysis

In the closing vignette Socrates attempts to convince the two playwrights of the fundamental similarities between their crafts. Tragedy and comedy in classical Athens were strictly separate literary professions, so Socrates's point is more unusual than it might seem to a modern reader. Critics have offered various interpretations of this brief scene, often viewing it as a commentary on the Symposium itself. Debra Nails makes note of this trend in her essay "Tragedy Off-Stage" (2006): "Socrates's parting comment," she observes, "has generated a variety of interpretations, most of which take Plato's Symposium to be tragedy, comedy, and philosophy in one."

If the dialogue itself is to be seen as a tragedy, it may be—as some scholars have suggested—because of what will happen to the symposiasts in the coming years and months. Alcibiades, in 415 BCE, will lead the disastrous Sicilian campaign, eventually losing dozens of Athenian ships and thousands of soldiers to the Syracusans. No longer welcome at home, he will defect to Sparta, then briefly return to Athens before dying at the hands of assassins. In the same year as the Sicilian Expedition, Eryximachus will face accusations of blasphemy and vandalism and will suffer either execution or exile as punishment. Socrates will live a further 15 years, but he will eventually incur the hatred of leading Athenians, who rally their fellow citizens to have him executed in 399 BCE.

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