Symposium Book Summary - Symposium Book explained in key points

Symposium summary


Brief summary

Symposium by Plato is a philosophical work that explores the nature of love and desire through a series of speeches at a drinking party. It examines different perspectives on love and its origin.

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Table of Contents

    Summary of key ideas

    Delving into Love and Wisdom

    In Symposium, Plato allows us to attend one of the most famous parties in history where guests decided to share speeches on love, instead of indulging in the usual drinking and revelry. Starting with Phaedrus, the speeches unravel different perspectives on Love. Phaedrus asserts that Love is the oldest god and it benefits those who love by granting courage and valor. Pausanias adds complexity to the narrative by differentiating between Common Love, which is purely physical, and Heavenly Love, which transcends the physical, cherishing intellect and wisdom.

    Eryximachus, a physician, takes the stage next, categorizing Love into wholesome and unwholesome, relating it to the balance within the human body. Meanwhile, Aristophanes presents a whimsical tale explaining how humans were originally round, whole beings. When they threatened the gods, Zeus divided them, leaving us with yearning for wholeness, symbolizing the search for soulmates.

    Alcibiades' Encomium and its Consequences

    Next, Agathon delivers a paradoxically eloquent speech, celebrating Love as the most beautiful and best of all gods, responsible for planting virtues in human hearts. This prompts Socrates to critique how Agathon has described love according to its effects, not its inherent character. Socrates brings forth his own views about Love as a philosophical pursuit of Beauty and Truth, advocating its role in the ascent to divine, intellectual understanding.

    The party takes an unexpected turn as Alcibiades, an Athenian general, staggers in, drunk, and delivers a passionate encomium not to love, but to Socrates himself. Here, Alcibiade’s speech serves as an explicit example of a person misguided by love. He has used love to fulfil his personal aspirations, leading to disappointment when Socrates did not return his expectations.

    Unraveling Socratic Take on Love

    Socrates explains that the object of one's love defines its merit. He upholds that the ultimate form of love is not directed towards physical beauty but towards wisdom and true knowledge. While physical attractiveness fades with time, intellectual and divine beauty remains unscathed. Thus, the seeker of wisdom finds beauty not only in young bodies and humans but in laws, customs, sciences, and ultimately in the divine beauty of Forms.

    Through this discussion, Plato presents the idea of Forms, abstract, perfect ideals that exist beyond perceptible reality. According to him, love can help a philosophical mind ascend beyond transient physical beauty to comprehend these Forms, ultimately leading to divine and intellectual understanding.

    Conclusion: The Lasting Legacy of Love

    Plato's Symposium concludes with guests yielding to slumber and Socrates insatiably continuing his philosophical dialogues with Agathon and Aristophanes. This leaves us with a vivid impression of Socrates’ unwavering dedication to wisdom and philosophy.

    In conclusion, the debate of various perspectives on love in Plato's Symposium showcases the divergence and depth of Ancient Greek thought from physical to divine love, ultimately pointing towards intellectual pursuits and wisdom. Through Symposium, readers get an unusual chance to witness firsthand not only a pivotal moment in Western Philosophy but also the lively social undercurrents of Plato's time.

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    What is Symposium about?

    Symposium is a philosophical text written by Plato, which takes the form of a dialogue between various characters. The book explores the nature of love and its place in society, as well as the different forms of love and their significance. Through thought-provoking discussions and arguments, Plato delves into the complexities of human relationships and the pursuit of wisdom. It is a timeless work that continues to inspire and challenge readers to contemplate the nature of love and its role in our lives.

    Symposium Review

    Symposium (Written in the 4th Century BCE) by Plato explores the nature of love and desire, making it a fascinating read. Here's why this book is worth diving into:

    • It presents a diverse range of perspectives on love through a series of speeches, capturing the complexity and nuances of the human experience.
    • The book delves into philosophical ideas about the nature of love, beauty, and desire, encouraging deep reflection and contemplation.
    • Through engaging dialogues and thought-provoking discussions, Symposium challenges conventional notions of love, offering fresh insights and a deeper understanding of this universal human experience.

    Who should read Symposium?

    • Philosophy students and enthusiasts seeking to explore the nature of love and its implications
    • Readers interested in understanding the concepts of beauty, desire, and the pursuit of wisdom
    • Individuals curious about the ancient Greek society and its intellectual discourse

    About the Author

    Plato was a philosopher in ancient Greece and a student of Socrates. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential figures in Western philosophy. Plato's writings explore a wide range of topics, including ethics, politics, and metaphysics. His most famous work, "The Republic," presents his ideas on justice and the ideal society. "Symposium" is another notable dialogue by Plato, in which he discusses the nature of love and its role in human life. Plato's works continue to be studied and debated by scholars and philosophers around the world.

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    Symposium FAQs 

    What is the main message of Symposium?

    The main message of Symposium is the nature of love and the power of desire and beauty.

    How long does it take to read Symposium?

    The reading time for Symposium varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Symposium a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Symposium is worth reading because it explores the complexities of love and desire, offering profound insights into human nature.

    Who is the author of Symposium?

    The author of Symposium is Plato.

    What to read after Symposium?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Symposium, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Rogue States by Noam Chomsky
    • Justice by Michael J. Sandel
    • God Is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens
    • Philosophy for Life by Jules Evans
    • The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda
    • On Being by Peter Atkins
    • Immortality by Stephen Cave
    • Plato at the Googleplex by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
    • The Prince by Niccolò Machiavelli
    • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels