The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

The student news site of Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago, Illinois.

BEACON

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Love & The Symposium

Finding divinity through love
Das+Gastmahl+des+Platon+%28Symposium%29+by+Anslem+Feuerbach%2C+Creative+Commons
“Das Gastmahl des Platon” (“Symposium”) by Anslem Feuerbach, Creative Commons

Imagine you’re invited to someone’s house for a little kickback: everyone’s already feeling it from the night before, Socrates has finally arrived and the flute girl has poured everybody some wine. Oh yeah, you’re about to get lit or whatever. And then—for the rest of the night—you… sit down and have a deep philosophical discussion about love. Because that’s what you do at a party. Well, at least that’s what they did in one of Plato’s famous dialogues, The Symposium.

But before we get to that, let’s talk about love. After thinking really really really hard about love to write this whole article, the only thing I can truthfully say is it’s complicated. Or at least it’s something that’s hard to conceptualize and describe. There’s parental love, platonic love and romantic love. Love can be found almost everywhere and anywhere if you’re looking. There’s love and how it exists in your mind versus how it manifests in reality and then la la la and so much stuff. Love is difficult. Hooray, glad we settled that one. 

Nowadays, people seem to have lots of qualms about love. Between situationships, talking stages, and the plenty of other terms, some have come to the conclusion that we as a generation somehow love less. But I’m not sure that’s the case. Honestly, it all depends on how you decide to measure love. Are committed relationships automatically a signifier of love or is love shown through other ways?

If love is measured by committed relationships, then maybe our generation actually is lacking. According to The Guardian, 63% of men under 30 consider themselves single. Obviously, this is only looking at men (the number of women is 34%) so it’s not a full census, but it is still a relatively high number. In a poll taken from a year ago, 73% of Gen-Z participants said they were single and not currently looking. But do committed relationships automatically mean love? The baby boomers, commonly known for their family and marriage values, have the highest divorce rate in generations. If these people that were so serious about marriage and committed relationships got divorced years later then obviously some of these committed relationships did not always have love in them. I know many people who are or have been in committed relationships when they probably shouldn’t have. So was that love, just because they were publicly together? What is true love then, what does it look like? 

Maybe we can learn from Plato in The Symposium.

Plato was a philosopher from ancient Greece. One of Socrates’ students, he wrote philosophical dialogues in which Socrates would challenge many people on their beliefs. It is mainly due to this that we know how Socrates operated, since Socrates himself wrote nothing. In The Symposium, Socrates shows up to a party and all the men there decide to have a dialogue about love. Now keep in mind, these perspectives are from Ancient Greece, an account from make-believe white men, written by a white man, and from so long ago. Obviously, it’s not the most diverse cast to listen to nor is it passing the Bechdel test, so why do these perspectives matter? Since love is something all people can experience and exists everywhere and anywhere, all perspectives of love should hold at least some weight. Besides, do you know any better than them? Mmm, thought so. 

For the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on the arguments of three people: the geographer Pausinas, the comedian Aristophanes, and Socrates. Although these men all focus on different aspects of love, there is an ongoing theme of achieving something close to “godliness” or divinity through love. 

 

Pausinaus – Achieving Godliness through “pure” love

Portrait bust of Pausanias, Creative Commons

Pausinaus talks of two types of love: vulgar and heavenly. He talks about how there are two Aphrodites (Aphrodite is the Greek Goddess of love). The “Vulgar” Aphrodite is born of Zeus and Dione. “Vulgar” Aphrodite is more popular and seems to lead more to lust or a love of the body over a love of the soul. There is an emphasis on gender and men and women, specifically. Pausinaus highlights specifically how “Vulgar” Aphrodite was born of both man and woman and how this “Vulgar” love is when “men love women no less than boys” (The Symposium 121). “Heavenly” Aphrodite is born of the blood of another god and that alone, (Pausinaus specifically notes how she is motherless).  Her love is one of the soul, not considering the body at all. In Pausinaus’ words, “The Eros of the Heavenly Aphrodite, first, does not partake of female but only of male—it is the Eros for boys” (Symposium 121). 

So why the emphasis on men and women? Well to start off, the Ancient Greeks were a pretty misogynistic society (shocking, I know). Due to this, they prioritized mentor-mentee relationships between men. Now what they did during these relationships is none of my business. 

Anyways, back to Pausinaus. The main thing I found interesting is the fact that he sees one of the loves as “heavenly.” It’s interesting how he applies such a concept to love between mortals. Like I said, achieving godliness, or close to it, through love. This seems such a staunch difference to how love is viewed today, where love is viewed as much more of a weakness, instead. There are so many “rules” with dating and how much love to withhold until the right amount of time to “train” them to act right. “Standing on business”— a term usually used to describe the act of not acting on your feelings for a person—is a common sentiment now. Being the less emotional or the less giving one, or “nonchalant,” in a relationship can sometimes be seen as being “up” in the relationship depending on who you ask. There are people who believe in the flip side of things, but they are few and far between. 

Personally, I think love just is. It is something that troubles and pains us but it also gives us joy and hope. Love doesn’t follow specific guide rules, it doesn’t have specific stages it just comes as it comes. And it is what it is. I think overall love does benefit us for the better. This means any and all forms of love—platonic, romantic, parental, love for everything, love for life, and most importantly, love of the self. Because love is, in ways, a force of nature it has its positives and negatives and its whatevers. To sum it all up, I think the best thing to do is just embrace the existence of love. Like it or not, all it does is exist. And it certainly isn’t going away anytime soon. 

Aristophanes – Achieving Godliness as Two

Bust of Aristophanes, Creative Commons

Aristophanes says that in the beginning man came as two people in one, connected by love. According to Aristophanes, these people could be made out of a man and a man, a man and a woman, or a woman and a woman. Apparently, we got too powerful in these forms and started to challenge the gods. Obviously, the gods didn’t like this so Zeus split everybody apart so they were lonely. Fun! After some adjustments from the gods and everything, humans were eventually able to manage but apparently we’re still forever stuck looking for that “special someone.”

I don’t really like this perspective. It makes it sound like we as people are empty without our “special somebody” and that really sucks. However I do think there is a certain beauty in the story and the idea that through love and specifically through loving another person we were able to become strong enough to threaten the gods themselves. It would be a great line for a poem or a love letter. Awweeee you love that person so much the gods have to split you apart in fear of y’all being too powerful together. Awwweee. The idea of finding power through being connected is another way of finding divinity.

 

Socrates – Achieving Godliness through legacy

Statue of Plato, Creative Commons

Socrates goes over many ideas but one point that stood out to me was the idea of achieving legacy or immortality through love. Socrates thought that the purpose of love was to keep something beautiful. This drive to keep something beautiful drives us to procreate. And this drive to procreate brings children, solidifying a legacy et voila, immortality. Again, a way to achieve something close to godliness through love. 

So what’s the take away here? All these men thought that somehow loving just enough could make regular mortals, these beings who are underneath gods, something to be compared to the gods and their “heavenly beings.” I believe this is a very, very optimistic view of love, but I’m not mad at it. I think love holds both beauty and pain, like almost everything in life. I actually appreciate this more hopeful approach, because I feel like people do get very caught up in the negatives of love and forget that it’s supposed to be fun (at least sometimes). Sometimes we need to embrace the cheesiness and passion and hope about love. And Plato does that pretty well. I mean after all, at least according to him, through love we come closest to being immortal. 

And at the end of the day, no matter whatever you think about love, you should think about reading the Symposium. It may be beneficial to hear these old timey perspectives on love especially with the way things are now. Maybe it’ll help. 



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