Literature Study GuidesSymposiumPausaniass Speech Summary

Symposium | Study Guide


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Symposium | Pausanias's Speech | Summary



Pausanias is the next speaker included in Apollodorus's narrative. His approach to the topic is very different from Phaedrus's: to begin with, he insists on "defining which kind of love we have to praise." Love, he proposes, can be divided into two kinds: the "common" kind, which ordinary people experience, and the "celestial" kind, which is finer and more ennobling. For Pausanias, heterosexual love is always "common," but homoerotic love can be either "common" or "celestial" depending on the intentions of those involved. The most sublime kind of love, Pausanias argues, arises when lovers are attracted to each other's brilliant minds and virtuous characters, not just to what is physically beautiful.

The remainder of Pausanias's speech is devoted specifically to what the Greeks called paiderastia—a romantic, often sexual relationship between an older and a younger (typically teenage) male. This form of relationship, as Pausanias points out, is viewed as acceptable in Athens, though a complicated set of customs surrounds it. In other places, however, such relationships are frowned upon or even banned. Since the laws and customs surrounding paiderastia vary from place to place, Pausanias proceeds to inquire as to whether it can be considered ethical or moral. He suggests it can, but only if the older man is committed to his young partner's education and not merely trying to take advantage of him.


Of all the participants in the Symposium, Pausanias is the most outspoken in favor of homoerotic love—including paiderastia—and the most dismissive of heterosexuality. In themselves, these attitudes are not unusual for an aristocratic Athenian male of this period. Pausanias's speech does, however, gesture at some of the sexist assumptions that undergirded Classical Greek homoeroticism. For him, evidently, it is unthinkable that a man might be intellectually and spiritually—rather than just physically—attracted to a woman.

Sexism, however, was not just an attitude held by elite Athenian men: it was enshrined in the laws and customs of the city, as classicist Jørgen Christian Meyer points out in his 2004 essay "Women in Classical Athens." Athenian women of this era, he observes, were married off by their parents at an early age. Then, as wives, they were forced to tend their husbands' households and forbidden to leave the house unescorted; some upper-class homes even had separate "women's quarters" known as the gynaikonitis. Under these strict conditions women could appear at symposia as servants or entertainers, but never as guests.

To a modern reader, Pausanias's view of women as "common" reflects a deeply entrenched cultural bias. Pausanias himself, however, defends his dismissal of women by appealing to mythology. Love (i.e., Eros), as he points out, has two different origin stories, each corresponding to a different myth about his mother, Aphrodite. In one version of the story, Aphrodite has a father (Uranus) but no mother; this, in Pausanias's scheme, is the Aphrodite associated with "celestial" love, who is entirely male. The "common" Aphrodite, in contrast, has both a mother (Dione) and a father (Zeus); thus, her offspring is therefore partly male and partly female. This female element, Pausanias argues, is what accounts for the rashness and immaturity of "common" love, as well as its tendency toward heterosexual bonds. In his own later speech, Socrates will implicitly challenge this sexist view by presenting a priestess, Diotima, as his philosophical mentor and guide.

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