Book Review, Plato – Symposium

Symposium, one of Plato's dialogues, takes place in a traditional invitation called "symposium", which Socrates accepts upon an invitation. "Love" is chosen as the topic to be discussed and Socrates tells us what true love is.
Plato – Symposion and Lysis

In this edition of the book that I’ve read, two separate texts of Plato are given together, since their subjects are similar, although not the same. The original names of Symposium and Friendship are Symposion and Lysis.

It is written in the form of dialogues, as in Plato’s other writings. The main character of both stories is Socrates. The topic discussed is “love” in general.

In this article, I will talk about the Symposium.

Sexuality in Ancient Greece

However, before examining both dialogues separately, I would like to give some brief information about the concept and understanding of sexuality in the era in which Socrates lived (470-399 BC).

Ancient Greece was a patriarchal society. The right to vote belonged only to free men, and men generally ran state affairs. Homosexual relations were quite common in ancient Greece, and men were mostly bisexual.


The Symposium begins with the invitation of Socrates to a “symposium”, a traditional drink party in ancient Greece.

Symposiums had certain traditions and rules. At the symposium, a referee among the participants would be chosen to choose how much to drink and the subject to talk about. In the Symposium dialogue, the chosen subject is Love.

Progression of the Dialogue

At the symposiums, the participants used to take turns to speak. In this dialogue, Socrates gets to speak last since he is in the last seat.

Honestly, I think the first half of the book, the parts before Socrates’ speech, doesn’t matter much. The reason I think so is because these people were actually talking about their own desires and lust, rather than the love itself.

What is True Love, According to Socrates?

When it is his turn to speak Socrates makes an ironic reference, to those who have spoken before him, that what they are talking about is not love. Then, Socrates examines and explains what love is through a philosophical dialogue. More precisely, he conveys to the audience what a woman named Diotima had taught him about love.

According to Socrates, true love is the love of knowledge, which is, the Love of Truth. According to Socrates, love is neither good nor bad. Love is a kind of angel, a daimonion as its Ancient Greek counterpart.

Love always seeks and tries to find the Beauty, but contrary to popular belief, it is rude and poor. Since the truth contains the most beautiful among all beautiful things, which is the essence of beauty; who goes on the path of love, at the end, reaches the Truth.

As a guidence to exploring the world of love, Socrates says:

You shall start from the beauties of the world, step by step without stopping, you will rise to the supreme beauty, from one beautiful body (person) to two (also yourself), from two to all beautiful bodies (all the living creatures), then to beautiful attitudes, from beautiful attitudes to beautiful knowledge, and among all these beautiful knowledge you will reach a single knowledge:

This knowledge is nothing else than reaching the pure beauty which is absolute, and recognizing the essence of the true beauty.

Emin Ali Ertenü
Emin Ali Ertenü
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