Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Symposium

A couple of days ago in an Oxfam shop I picked up a second-hand copy of a beautiful parallel text of the Symposium, with a racy and highly readable translation by Tom Griffith and wonderfully evocative wood engravings by Peter Forster. It’s a fun read (though I found the experience tinged with regret at the more or less total loss of my Greek).

But is it still philosophically important? Philosophical interest is not a timeless feature of a text, it seems. No doubt the Symposium is a great source for those looking for clues about the mores of ancient Athens (and that is a fascinating subject: put James Davidson's Courtesans and Fishcakes on your reading list if you don't know that terrific exploration). But does the Symposium really tell you anything serious about its ostensible subject, love? Indeed, how do you ‘philosophize’ about that? Read the English poets instead!

3 comments:

JIW said...

It is worth starting by wondering if Plato's Symposium is about *love* at all. Isn't the Greek word *erôs* more like 'desire' (and can't you do philosophy about that?) Just to see what recent philosophical work on the dialogue is like, you might try: F. Sheffield, Plato's Symposium: the ethics of desire, OUP, 2006.

robert wardy said...

I am currently writing a monograph on the 'Symposium' for the Cambridge Studies in the Dialogues of Plato series; and Angela Hobbs is doing the 'Symposium' volume for the Clarendon Plato. We were under the impression that a part (but a very large part) of what we are attempting is the analysis of some of the trickiest and most seductive arguments in the history of philosophy. Good to be set straight by a sharp logician!

Peter Smith said...

It is good to see that someone actually reads these provocations and soundings off! Thanks James for the reference to Frisbee's book, and I'll look forward to a freebie of Robert's to help cure my benighted ignorance!

I guess what I'm revealing is probably my loss of the taste for a certain kind of philosophizing. Reading Plato was one of the things which got me into philosophy in the first place, and now I find it really very difficult to reconnect to that earlier self who found his dialogues drawing me in. I ask myself: why did I find that intellectually and --- perhaps more importantly -- emotionally captivating? And the answer doesn't any more come readily ...