It was the priestess Diotima of Mantinea

who introduced Socrates to

the Mysteries of Love


Platonic Love

One of the most important anf famous theories of love in Western literature is the cluster of ideas that Diotima conveys to Socrates at the highpoint of Plato's Symposium. The theory consists of the following parts:

1. Diotima defines Love (Eros) as the desire to possess the good (or the beautiful) forever.

2. This desire is not only the openly sexual kind (what is usually called "love"), but also the desire of riches, the artist's desire of beautiful works, or the philosopher's love of wisdom.

3. All lovers desire to create--either children, or such more intellectual things as art works and political systems. By being creative lovers achieve some sort of immortality.

4. The beauty and offspring of the mind are more honorable than those of the body. The most admirable lovers are those who move from the love of the physical and individual to the love of the intellectual and general.

 

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It is interesting that Sigmund Freud, too, characterized Eros as a very general force--as a psychic energy that can either find direct expression in genital love, or can be sublimated into the love of art, science, or other areas of passionate interest that constitute civilization. The sublimation of libido into other forms of desire and attraction, furthermore, also involves a broadening from the individual to the general (from individual persons to humanity, for example), and from the physical to the abstract (from physical bodies to pure thoughts).

What is characteristic of Freud's theory is the contention that most of the achievements of civilization are the result of sexual energy (libido) whose original aims become inhibited. An artist's passion is "aim-inhibited love." About beauty he says in Civilization and Its Discontents: "Psychoanalysis, unfortunately, has scarcely anything to say about beauty either. All that seems certain is its derivation from the field of sexual feeling. The love of beauty seems a perfect example of an impulse inhibited in its aim. Beauty and attraction are originally attributes of the sexual object" (Section II).

While Freud is by no means against civilization and the aim-inhibitions that make it possible, his theory has a pessimistic undertone: The greatest happiness results always from an uninhibited fulfillment of sexual desires, according to Civilization and Its Discontents, and the price of having a civilization is inevitably a weakening of the feelings of gratification that people would have in a more primitive or primeval state. (Here one may find one of the reasons for Nietzsche's fierce criticism of the philosophy of Socrates and Plato.)

 

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