And then . . .
I wonder why I assume that smart people tell the whole story. I linked to Diotima: Materials for Study of Women and Gender in the Ancient World on my sidebar a few days ago. I was trying to dig up some information, after Kathleen Welch’s wonderful tirade, and stumbled on that site which said that the reference comes from “a tantalizing passage in Plato’s Symposium”. Coincidentally, I had started to read Symposium a month or so ago, but stopped short of finishing it. I didn’t recall any reference.
When I returned to Symposium yesterday, I found that I was on the very page. And that “tantalizing passage” is actually a long speech, which goes on for at least five or six pages.
It is incredible stuff
Welch argued that Symposium should be added to the rhetorical canon. Diotima, besides being the only classical female rhetorician I’ve read, has some great things to say about ethics. In one of my commonplace reversals of judgment, I agree. People who are unfamiliar with Plato will not find it an unusual case, but it is. He never mentions women, let alone makes them seem smart. Fictional Socrates relates the story from memory though, she doesn’t “rate” being a direct character in a dialogue, something that has caused generations of scholars to call her “fictional” while accepting that fictional Socrates indeed exists. A curious anomaly.
All that is far less interesting than what she has to say; I had run across this passage before, because Milton alludes to it in one of his tracts. I didn’t notice at the time that it was not Socrates’ voice but Diotima who said that Love was the son of Resource and Need, arguing that love does not seek to be wise. Socrates asks (in conspicuous third-person):
Then tell me, Diotima, I said, who are these seekers after truth, if they are neither wise nor ignorant?
Why, a schoolboy, she replied, could have told you that, after what I’ve just been saying. They are those that come between the two, and one of them is Love. For wisdom is concerned with the loveliest of things, and Love is the love of what is lovely. And so it follows that Love is the lover of wisdom, and being such, he is placed between wisdom and ignorance— for his parentage also is responsible, in that his father is full of wisdom and resource, while is mother is devoid of either.
Such, my dear Socrates, is the spirit of Love.
. . .
[later, Diotima continues]
Then we may state categorically that men are lovers of the good?
Yes, I said, we may.
And we shouldn’t we add that they long for the good to be their own?
And not merely to be their own, but to be their own forever?
Yes, that must follow.
. . .
Very well then, And that being so, what course will Love’s follower’s pursue, and in what particular field will eagerness and exertion be known as Love? In fact, what is this activity? Can you tell me that, Socrates?
If I could, my dear Diotima, I retorted, I shouldn’t be so amazed at your grasp of the subject and I shouldn’t be coming to you to learn the answer to that very question.
Well, I’ll tell you, then, she said. To love is to bring forth upon the beautiful, both in body and in mind.
I’m afraid that’s too deep for my poor wits to fathom.
Eventually, she gets it through Socrates’ thick skull that Love is the longing for immortality. Great stuff. That’ll teach me to assume that there isn’t much more I can find out about something!
Now this is a lesson in ethics I can embrace.