Plato’s Symposium [New Folio Society]


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The Symposium, Plato’s meditation on passionate love, or the Greek erōs, is both pivotal to our understanding of his wider philosophy and one of Ancient Greece’s greatest and most beautiful literary triumphs. In a lively dialectic, Plato considers love’s complex nature, distill- ing the desire for physical love from the love of virtue and goodness, and guiding us to a recognition and appreciation of true Beauty, in its essential and unchanging Platonic Form. As A. C. Grayling explains in his new foreword, we discover that ‘love is in essence the desire for all kinds of good there can be – happiness, nobility, moral goodness, beauty itself ’.

  • Foreword by A. C. Grayling
  • Translated by Robin Waterfield
  • Quarter-bound in cloth with paper sides, printed with a design by Linda Baker-Smith
  • Set in Centaur
  • 168 pages
  • Frontispiece and 7 colour illustrations by Linda Baker-Smith
  • 11″ x 6¾”

Although the symposium, or drinking party, is imagined, its attendees are real Athenian socialites, including the poet Agathon, the comic playwright Aristophanes, and Socrates, Plato’s revered teacher and mentor. In place of the usual drinking, each symposiast agrees to take turns eulogising Erōs, the god of passionate love and sexual lust. With great skill and satisfying realism – at one point the doctor Eryximachus must skip his turn due to a bout of hiccups – the speeches unveil love’s many faces. Aristophanes, in perhaps Plato’s most celebrated literary achievement, describes how human beings once had double bodies, with two faces and two sets of limbs, and that there were once three human genders – male, female and androgyne. Having been split in two by Zeus, we are compelled to chase our lost other half, a yearning that defines our differing sexualities. With each careful argument, Plato begins to extricate unbridled craving from noble love, and elevate the enriching communion of mutual admiration between two souls. In Socrates’ climactic exposition, and the drunken speech of the gate-crashing Alcibiades, the brittle shell of sexual desire is peeled away, and Plato reveals love’s ascending route to his unchanging Forms, the only true path to Platonic ‘goodness’ and perfection.

Included in this edition are an introduction and notes by the translator Robin Waterfield. Linda Baker-Smith’s fresco-like illustrations show us love in its many guises, while her vibrant binding design depicts a winged Erōs.

Plato (c.429–347 bc) has exerted immeasurable influence on the Western philosophical tradition. Born into a wealthy Athenian family, he was a student of Socrates, who was sentenced to death in 399 bc for corrupting the Athenian youth, and who appears as a character in many of Plato’s famous dialogues. Plato founded the Academy in Athens, the first Western institute of higher education, where he tutored Aristotle. His works encompass questions of ethics, aesthetics, mathematics and politics; among his many seminal tracts are the Republic, an exploration of possibilities for an ideal government, the Phaedo, part of a cycle depicting the death of Socrates, and the Symposium.

All information (including images) comes from the Folio Society website