« AnteriorContinuar »
ON THE SYMPOSIUM,
OK PREFACE TO THE BANQUET OF PLATO.
The dialogue entitled ■ The Banquet," was selected by the translator as the most beautiful and perfect among all the works of Plato*. Ho despairs of having communicated to the English language any portion of the surpassing graces of the composition, or having done more than present an imperfect shadow of the language and the sentiment of this astonishing production.
Plato is eminently the greatest among the Greek philosophers, and from, or, rather, perhaps through him, hiB master Socrates, have proceeded those emanations of moral and metaphysical knowledge, on which a long series and an incalculable variety of popular superstitions have sheltered their absurdities from the slow contempt of mankind. Plato exhibits the rare union of close and subtle logic, with the Pythian enthusiasm of poetry, melted by the splendour and harmony of his periods into one irresistible stream of musical impressions, which hurry the persuasions onward, as in a breathless career. His language is that of an immortal spirit, rather than a man. Lord Bacon is, perhaps, the only writer, who, in these particulars, can be compared with him: his imitator, Cicero, sinks in tho comparison into an ape mocking the gestures of a man. His views into the nature
* The Republic, though replete with considerable errors of speculation, is. indeed, tho greatest repository of important truths of all tho works of Plato. This, perhaps, is because it is tho longest He first, and perhaps last, maintained that a state ought to be governed, not by the wealthiest, or the most ambitions, or tho most cunning, but by the wisest; the mothod of selecting such rulers, and the laws by which such a selection is made, must correspond with and arise out of the moral freedom and refinement of the people.
of mind and existence are often obscure, only because they arc profound ; and though his theories respecting the government of the world, and the elementary laws of moral action, are not always correct, yet there is scarcely any of his treatises which do not, however stained by puerile sophisms contain the most remarkable intuitions into all that can be the subject of the human mind. His excellence consists especially in intuition, and it it this faculty which raises him far above Aristotle, whose genius, though vivid and various, is obscure in comparison with that of Plato.
Tho dialogue entitled the "Banquet," is called Eperriiroj, or a Discussion upon Love, and is supposed to have taken place at the house of Agsihoa, at one of a series of festivals given by that poet, on the occasion of his gaining the prize of tragedy at the Dionysiacs. The account of the debate on this occasion is supposed to have been given by Apollodorus, a pupil of Socrates, many years after it had taken place, to a companion who was curious to hear it. This Apollodorus appears, both from the style in which he is represented in this piece, as well as from a passage in the Pluedon, to have been a person of an impassioned and enthusiastic disposition ; to borrow an image from the Italian painters, he seems to have been the St John of the Socratic group. The drama (for so the lively distinction of character and the various and well-wrought circumstances of the story almost entitle it to be called) begins by Socrates persuading Aristodemus to sup at Agathon's, uninvited. The whole of this introduction affords the ux« lively conception of refined Athenian manners.
rtansUItB (rom Slato.
THE PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE.
APOLLODORDS, A FRlEJfD OP APOLL0DORU8, GLAUCO, ARISTODEMUS, SOCRATES. AGATHON, rHADRUS, PAU8AM1A8, ERYXIMACHUS, ARISTOPHANES, DIOTIMA, ALCIB1AOBS.
Apollcclonu. I Think that the subject of your inquiries is still fresh in my memory; for yesterday, as I chanced to be returning home from Phaleros, one of my acquaintance, seeing me before him, called out to me from a distance, jokingly, ■• ApoUodorus, you Phalerian, will you not wait a minute t"—I waited for him, and as soon as he overtook me, "I have just been looking for you, ApoUodorus," he said, "for I wish to hear what those discussions were on Love, which took place at the parry, when Agathon, Socrates, Alcibiades, and some others, met at supper. Some one who heard it from Phoenix, the son of Philip, told me that you could give a full account, but he could relate nothing distinctly himself. Relate to me, then, I entreat you, all the circumstances. I know you are a faithful reporter of the discussions of your friends ; but, first tell me, were you present at the party or not 1"
"Your informant," I replied, "seems to have given you no very clear idea of what you wish to hear, if he thinks that these discussions took place so lately as that I could have been of the party."— "Indeed I thought so," replied he.—u For how," said I, "0 Glauco! could I have been present I Do you not know that Agathon has been absent from the city many years! But, since I began to converse with Socrates, and to observe each day all his words and actions, three years arc scarcely past. Before this time I wandered about wherever it might chance, thinking that I did something, but being, in truth, a most miserable wretch, not less than you are now, who believe that you ought to do anything rather than practise the love of wisdom."—"Do not cavil," interrupted Glauco, "but tell me, when did this party take place!"
"Whilst we were yet children," I replied, "when Agathon first gained the prize of Tragedy, and the day after that on which be and the chorus made sacrifices in celebration of their success."—" A long time ago, it seems. But who told you all the circumstances of the discussion I Did you hear them from Socrates himself!" "No, by Jupiter!
But from the same person from whom Phoenix had his information, one Aristodemus, a Cydathenean, —a little man who always went about without sandals. He was present at this feast, being, I believe, more than any of his contemporaries, a lover and admirer of Socrates. I have questioned Socrates concerning some of the circumstances of this narration, who confirms all that I have beard from Aristodemus."—" Why, then," said Glauco, " why not relate them, as we walk, to me! The road to the city is every way convenient, both for those who listen and those who speak."
Thus as we walked, I gave him some account of those discussions concerning Love; since, as I said before, I remember them with sufficient accuracy. If I am required to relate them also to you, that shall willingly be done; for, whensoever either I I myself talk of philosophy, or listen to others talking of it, in addition to the improvement which I conceive there arises from such conversation, I am delighted beyond measure; but whenever I hear your discussions about monied men and great proprietors, I am weighed down with grief, and pity you, who, doing nothing, believe that you are doing something. Perhaps you think that I am a miserable wretch ; and, indeed, I believe that you think truly. I do not think, but well know, that you are miserable.
Companion. You arc always the same, ApoUodorus—always saying some ill of yourself and others. Indeed, you seem to me to think every one miserable except Socrates, beginning with yourself. I do not know what could have entitled you to the surname of the "Madman," for, I am sure, you are consistent enough, for ever inveighing with bitterness against yourself and all others, except Socrates.
Apollodorui. My dear friend, it is manifest that I am out of my wits from this alone—that I have such opinions as you describe concerning myself and you.
Companion. It is not worth while, ApoUodorus, to dispute now about these things ; but do what I ind relate to us what were these
entreat you, discussions.
Apollodorus. They were such as I will proceed to tell you. But let me attempt to relate them in the order which Aristodemus observed in relating them to me. He said that he met Socrates washed, and, contrary to his usual custom, sandalled, and having inquired whither he went so gaily dressed, Socrates replied, " I am going to sup at Agathon's; yesterday I avoided it, disliking the crowd, which would attend at the prize sacrifices then celebrated; to-day I promised to be there, and I made myself so gay, because one ought to be beautiful to approach one who is beautiful. But you, Aristodemus, what think you of coming uninvited to supper 1" "I will do," he replied, "as you command." "Follow then, that we may, by changing its application, disarm that proverb, which says, To Vie fcasU of Vie good, Vie good come uninvited. Homer, indeed, seems not only to destroy, but to outrage the proverb ; for, describing Agamemnon as excellent in battle, and Menelaus but a faint-hearted warrior, he represents Menelaus as coming uninvited to the feast of one better and braver than himself."— Aristodemus hearing this, said, "I also am in some danger, Socrates, not as you say, but according to Homer, of approaching like an unworthy inferior the banquet of one more wise and excellent than myself. Will you not, then, make some excuse for mo i for, I shall not confess that I came uninvited, but shall say that I was invited by you."— "As we walk together," said Socrates, "we will consider together what excuse to make—but let us go."
Thus discoursing, they proceeded. But as they walked, Socrates, engaged in some deep contemplation, slackened his pace, and, observing Aristodemus waiting for him, he desired him to go on before. When Aristodemus arrived at Agathon s house he found the door open, and it occurred, somewhat comically, that a slave met him at the vestibule, and conducted him where he found the guests already reclined. As soon as Agathon saw him, "You arrive just in time to sup with us, Aristodemus," he said; "if you have any other purpose in your visit, defer it to a better opportunity. I was looking for you yesterday, to invite you to be of our party ; I could not find you anywhere. But how is it that you do not bring Socrates with you?"
But he turning Tound, and not seeing Socrates behind him, said to Agathon, « I just came hither in his company, being invited by him to sup with you."—"You did well," replied Agathon, "to come ; but where is Socrates ? "—« He just now came hither behind me; I myself wonder where
he can be."—" Go and look, boy," said Agathon, "and bring Socrates in; meanwhile, you, Aristodemus, recline there near Eryximachus." And be bade a slave wash his feet that he might recline. Another slave, meanwhile, brought word that Socrates had retired into a neighbouring vestibule, where he stood, and, in spite of bis message, refused to come in.—" What absurdity you talk!" cried Agathon ; "call him, and do not leave him till he comes."—" Let him alone, by all means," said Aristodemus ; " it is customary with him sometimes to retire in this way and stand wherever ii may chance. He will come presently, I do not doubt; do not disturb him."—" Well, be it as you will," said Agathon; "as it is, you boys, brircr supper for the rest ; put before us what you will, for I resolved that there should be no master of the feast. Consider me and these my friends, as guests, whom you have invited to supper, and serve them so that we may commend you."
After this they began supper, but Socrates did not come in. Agathon ordered him to be called, but Aristodemus perpetually forbade it. At la.-t he came in, much about the middle of supper, not having delayed so long as was his custom. Agathon (who happened to be reclining at the end of the table, and alone,) said as he entered, "Come hither, Socrates, and sit down by me ; «> that by the mere touch of one so wise as yro arv. I may enjoy the fruit of your meditations in the vestibule ; for, I well know, you would not have departed till you had discovered and scoured it."
Socrates, having sate down as he was d»-ureA, replied, "It would be well, Agathon, if wisditn were of such a nature, as that when we tocebfd each other, it would overflow of its own accord, from him who possesses much to him who pi*sesses little; like the water in the two chalico, which will flow through a flock of wool from the fuller into the emptier, until both are equal. If wisdom hail this property, I should esteem myself most fortunate in reclining near to you. I should thus soon be filled, I think, with the most beautiful and various wisdom. Mine, indeed, is snmetliii^ obscure, and doubtful, and dreamlike. But Toon is radiant, and has been crowned with ampl<~i reward; for though you are yet so young, it *hnnr forth from you, and became so manifest yestrrdat. that more than thirty thousand Greeks can l»«r testimony to its excellence and lovcline**.**— "You are laughing at me, Socrates," «id Agathon; "but you and I will decide this (mhuixiih about wisdom by and by, taking Bacchus f..r as judge. At present turn to your saippcr."
After Socrates and the rest liad finished supprr, and had reclined back on their couches, and tb» libations had been poured forth, and they had eung hymns to the god, ami all other rites which are customary had been performed, they turned to drinking. Then l'ausanias made this kind of proposal. "Come, my friends," said he, " in what manner will it be pleasantest for us to drink? I must confess to yon that, in reality, I am not very well from the wine we drank last night and I have need of some intermission. I suspect that most of you arc in the same condition, for you were here yesterday. Now, consider how we shall drink most easily and comfortably."
"'Tis a good proposal, Pausanias," said Aristophanes, "to contrive, in some way or other, to place moderation in our cups. I was one of those who were drenched last night."—Eryximachus, the son of Acumenius, hearing this, said : "I am of your opinion ; I only wish to know one thing— whether Agathon is in the humour for hard drinking «"—«Not at all," replied Agathon; "I confess tliat I am not able to drink much this evening."— "It is an excellent thing for us," replied Eryximachus—" I mean myself, Aristodemus, Phtedrus, and these others—if you, who are such invincible drinkers, now refuse to drink. I ought to except Socrates, for he is capable of drinking everything or nothing ; and whatever we shall determine will equally suit him. Since, then, no one present has any desire to drink much wine, I shall perhaps give less offence if I declare the nature of drunkenness. The science of medicine teaches us that drunkenness is very pernicious: nor would I choose to drink immoderately myself, or counsel another to do so, especially if he had been drunk the night before."—" Yes," said Pluedrus, the Myrinusian, interrupting him, "I have been accustomed to confide in you, especially in your directions concerning medicine; and I would now willingly do so, if the rest will do the same." All then agreed that they would drink at this present banquet not for drunkenness but for pleasure.
"Since, then," said Eryximachus, "it is decided that no one shall be compelled to drink more than he pleases, I think that we may as well send away the flute-player to play to herself; or, if she likes, to the women within. Let Ub devote the present occasion to conversation between ourselves, and if you wish, I will propose to you what shall be the subject of our discussion." All present desired and entreated that he would explain. — " The exordium of my speech," said Eryximachus, " will be in the style of the Menalippe of Euripides, for the story which I am about to tell belongs not to me, but to Phsedrus. Phtedrus has often indignantly complained to me, saying—'Is it not strange, Eryximachus, that there are innumerable
hymns and pecans composed for the other gods, but that not one of the many poets who spring up in the world has ever composed a verso in honour of Love, who is such and so great a god! Nor any one of those accomplished sophists, who, like the famous Prodicus, have celebrated the praise of Hercules and others, have ever celebrated that of Love; but what is more astonishing, 1 have lately met with the book of some philosopher, in which salt is extolled on account of its utility, and many other things of the same nature are in like manner extolled with elaborate praise. That so much serious thought is expended on such trifles, and that no man lias dared to this day to frame a hymn in honour of Love, who being so great a deity, is thus neglected, may well be sufficient to excite my indignation.'
"There seemed to me some justice in these complaints of Phsedrus ; I propose, therefore, at the same time, for the sake of giving pleasure to Phsedrus, and that we may on the present occasion do something well and befitting us, that this God should receive from those who are now present the honour which is most due to him. If you agree to my proposal, an excellent discussion might arise on the subject. Every one ought, according to my plan, to praise Love with as much eloquence as he can. Let Phtedrus begin first, both because he reclines the first in order, and because he is the father of the discussion."
"No one will vote against you, Eryximachus," said Socrates, " for how can I oppose your proposal, who am ready to confess that I know nothing on any subject but love 1 Or how can Agathon, or Pausanias, or even Aristophanes, whose life is one perpetual ministration to Venus and Bacchus 1 Or how can any other whom I see here! Though we who sit last are scarcely on an equality with you ; for if those who speak before us shall have exhausted the subject with their eloquence and reasonings, our discourses will bo superfluous. But in the name of Good Fortune, let Pluedrus begin and praise Love." The whole party agreed to what Socrates said, and entreated Pluedrus to begin.
What each then said on this subject, Aristodemus did not entirely recollect, nor do I recollect all that he related to me ; but only the speeches of those who said what was most worthy of remembranc<> First, then, Pluedrus began thus:
"Love is a mighty deity, and the object of admiration, both to Gods and men, for many and for various claims ; but especially on account of his origin. For that he is to be honoured as one of the most ancient of the gods, this may serve as a testimony, that Love has no parents, nor is there any poet or other person who has ever affirmed that there are such. Hesiod says, that first * Chaos was produced; then the broad-bosomed Earth, to be a secure foundation for all things; then Love.' He sayB, that after Chaos these two were produced, the Earth and Love. Parmenides, speaking of generation, says :—• But he created Love before any of the gods.' Acusileus agrees with Hesiod. Love, therefore, is universally acknowledged to bo among the oldest of things. And in addition to this, Love is the author of our greatest advantages ; for I cannot imagine a greater happiness and advantage to one who is in the flower of youth than an amiable lover, or to a lover than an amiable object of his love. For neither birth, nor wealth, nor honours, can awaken in the minds of men the principles which should guide those who from their youth aspire to an honourable and excellent life, as Love awakens them. I speak of the fear of shame, which deters them from that which is disgraceful; and the love of glory which incites to honourable deeds. For it is not possible that a state or private person should accomplish, without these incitements, anything beautiful or great I assert, then, that should one who loves be discovered in any dishonourable action, or tamely enduring insult through cowardice, he would feel more anguish and shame if observed by the object of his passion, than if he were observed by his father or his companions, or any other person. In like manner, among warmly attached friends, a man is especially grieved to be discovered by his friend in any dishonourable act. If then, by any contrivance, a state or army could be composed of friends bound by strong attachment, it is beyond calculation how excellently they would administer their affairs, refraining from any thing base, contending with each other for tho acquirement of fame, and exhibiting such valour in battle as that, though few in numbers, they might subdue all mankind. For should one friend desert the ranks or cast away his arms in tho presence of the other, he would suffer far acuter shame from that one person's regard, than from tho regard of all other men. A thousand times would he prefer to die, rather than desert tho object of his attachment, and not succour him in danger.
"There is none so worthless whom Love cannot impel, as it were, by a divino inspiration, towards virtue, even so that he may through this inspiration become equal to one who might naturally be more excellent ; and, in truth, as Homer says: Tho God breathes vigour into certain heroes—so Love breathes into those who love, tho spirit which is produced from himself. Not only men, but
even women who love, arc those alone who willingly expose themselves to die for others. Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias, affords to the Grrrk* a remarkable example of this opinion ; she alone being willing to die for her husband, and so surpassing his parents in the affection with which love inspired her towards him, as to make them appear, in the comparison with her, strangers to their own child, and related to him merely in name ; and so lovely and admirable did this action appear, not only to men, but even to the Gods, that, although they conceded the prerogative of bringing back the spirit from death to few Udod; the many who then performed excellent and honourable deeds, yet, delighted with this action, they redeemed her soul from the infernal regions: so highly do the Gods honour zeal and devotion in love. They sent back indeed Orpheus, the son of OSagrus, from Hell, with his purpose unfulfilled, and, showing him only the spectre of her for whom he came, refused to render up herself. For Orpheus seemed to them, not as Alcestis, to hate dared die for the sake of her whom be loved, and thus to secure to himself a perpetual intercourse with her in the regions to which she had preceded him, but like a cowardly musician, to have contrived to descend alive into Hell; and, indeed, they appointed as a punishment for his cowardice, that he should be put to death by women.
"Far otherwise did they regard Achilles, the son of Thetis, whom they sent to inhabit tho islands of the blessed. For Achilles, though informed by his mother that his own death would ensue upon his killing Hector, but that if be refrained from it he might return home and die in old age, yet preferred revenging and honouring his beloved Patroclus ; not to die for him mark, but to disdain and reject that life which he had ceased to share. Therefore the Greeks bonourrd Achilles beyond all other men, because he thu* preferred his friend to all things else.
• • • • •
"On this account have the Gods rewarded Achilles more amply than Alcestis; permitting his spirit to inhabit the islands of the blessed. Hence di> I assert that Love is the most ancient and venerable of deities, and most powerful to endow mortal* with the possession of happiness and virtue, both whilst they live and after they die."
Thus Aristodcmus reported the discourse of Phaxlrun ; and after Pluedrus, he said that sunuothers spoke, whoso discourses he did not aril remember. When they bad ceased, I'anaaniu began thus :—
"Simply to praise Love, 0 Phaedra*, arrtni &■> me too bounded a scope for our ducuunr. 1/