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A Comparison of Plato’s and Sappho’s Views on Love

1. Introduction

Love, Eros, has been one of the most popular subjects throughout the history of literature and philosophy. The ancient Greeks were no exception. Two outstanding Greek writers, Plato and Sappho, investigated love, Eros, and gave mortals advice on how how to take and to deal with it.

Plato’s Symposium is a philosophical text that takes the form of a dialogue between Socrates and his friends at Agathon’s banquet. The guests take turns giving speeches in praise of Eros. Each speech reveals a different perspective on love. The Symposium can be seen as an attempt to understand the nature of love and its place in the human experience.

Sappho was a Greek poetess who lived on the island of Lesbos in the early 6th century BC. Her poetry is some of the most beautiful and erotic poetry ever written. Sappho’s poems offer a glimpse into the everyday experience of love and desire.

In this essay, I will compare and contrast Plato’s and Sappho’s views on love, Eros. I will argue that while Plato sees Eros as a path to understanding, Sappho sees it as an everyday experience. I will also argue that Sappho’s poems are more erotic than Plato’s Symposium.

2. Plato’s Symposium: Erotic Love as a Path to Understanding

The Symposium is structured as a series of speeches in praise of Eros given by Socrates and his friends at Agathon’s banquet. The speeches reveal different perspectives on love. In this section, I will discuss some of the main ideas about love presented in the Symposium.

2. 1. The Eros of Socrates

In his speech, Socrates argues that love is not physical beauty but rather spiritual beauty (Symposium 210d-212c). He claims that physical beauty is only skin deep and that it does not last long. Spiritual beauty, on the other hand, is eternal and perfect. Socrates compares love to a god who brings people together so that they can see each other’s spiritual beauty (Symposium 212c-d).

Socrates’ idea of love is based on the principle of similarity: like attracts like (Symposium 211a). He gives the example of a person who loves someone because they are similar to them in character (Symposium 211b). This type of love is based on reason and results in friendship (Symposium 211b-c). Socrates argues that this type of love is higher than erotic love because it leads to true understanding (Symposium 211d).

2. 2 The Eros of Aristophanes

Aristophanes’ speech provides a comical view of love (Symposium 185d-188e). He begins by telling the story of how humans were once double creatures with two heads, four arms, and four legs (Symposium 185d-186a). These double creatures were so powerful that they threatened the gods (Symposium 186a). In order to weaken them, Zeus split them in half so that they would have to search for their other half in order to be complete (Symposium 186b-c).
According to Aristophanes, this is why people are always searching for their other half and why love is such a powerful force (Symposium 186c-d). He argues that love is the desire to possess the other half that we are missing (Symposium 187a).

Aristophanes’ speech provides a comical but nonetheless accurate view of love as a powerful force that drives us to find our other half.

2. 3 The Eros of Pausanias

Pausanias’ speech provides a more nuanced view of love than Aristophanes’ speech (Symposium 188e-193d). Pausanias distinguishes between two types of love: heavenly and common (Symposium 188e-189a). Heavenly love is the desire to possess the object of one’s desire, while common love is the desire to be possessed by the object of one’s desire (Symposium 189a-b).

Pausanias argues that heavenly love is higher than common love because it leads to true understanding (Symposium 189b-190a). He claims that when we love someone for their beauty, we are really loving the idea of beauty itself (Symposium 190a-b). This type of love is based on reason and results in friendship (Symposium 190b-191d).

Pausanias’ speech provides a more sophisticated view of love than Aristophanes’ speech. He argues that love is not simply a physical desire but rather a spiritual desire. His view of love is closer to Socrates’ view than to Aristophanes’ view.

2. 4 The Eros of Eryximachus

In his speech, Eryximachus provides a medical view of love (Symposium 193d-196e). He begins by distinguishing between two types of loves: those that are natural and those that are unnatural (Symposium 193d-194a). Natural loves are based on physical desires, while unnatural loves are based on psychological desires (Symposium 194a-b).

Eryximachus argues that unnatural loves are higher than natural loves because they lead to true understanding (Symposium 194b-195a). He claims that when we love someone for their beauty, we are really loving the idea of beauty itself (Symposium 195a-b). This type of love is based on reason and results in friendship (Symposium 195b-196e).

Eryximachus’ view of love is similar to Socrates’ view. He argues that love is not simply a physical desire but rather a spiritual desire. His medical analogy helps to explain how this process works.

2. 5 The Eros of Agathon

In his speech, Agathon provides a Beautiful Soul view of love (Symposium 196e-199d). He begins by distinguishing between two types of loves: those that are physical and those that are spiritual (Symposium 196e-197a). Physical loves are based on physical desires, while spiritual loves are based on psychological desires (Symposium 197a-b).

Agathon argues that spiritual love is higher than physical love because it leads to true understanding (Symposium 197b-198a). He claims that when we love someone for their beauty, we are really loving the idea of beauty itself (Symposium 198a-b). This type of love is based on reason and results in friendship (Symposium 198b-199d).

Agathon’s view of love is similar to Socrates’ view. He argues that love is not simply a physical desire but rather a spiritual desire. His view of love is based on the principle of similarity: like attracts like.

2. 6 The Eros of Alcibiades

In his speech, Alcibiades provides a hedonistic view of love (Symposium 199d-203e). He begins by praising Socrates for his beauty (Symposium 199d-200a). He then goes on to describe how he has tried to seduce Socrates but has failed (Symposium 200a-201b). Alcibiades claims that Socrates is too difficult to understand and that he is too in love with himself to fall in love with anyone else (Symposium 201b-202a).

Alcibiades argues that love is not simply a physical desire but rather a spiritual desire (Symposium 202a-203e). He claims that when we love someone for their beauty, we are really loving the idea of beauty itself (Symposium 203a-b). This type of love is based on reason and results in friendship (Symposium 203b-e).

Alcibiades’ view of love is similar to Socrates’ view. He argues that love is not simply a physical desire but rather a spiritual desire. His hedonistic approach to love makes his view more relatable than Socrates’ view.

3. Sappho’s Poems: The Erotic as Everyday Experience

Sappho was a Greek poetess who lived on the island of Lesbos in the early 6th century BC. Her poetry is some of the most beautiful and erotic poetry ever written. Sappho’s poems offer a glimpse into the everyday experience of love and desire. In this section, I will discuss some of the main ideas about love presented in Sappho’s poetry.

3. 1. In Search of the Beloved

Sappho’s poetry often describes the speaker’s search for the beloved (Poem 1). In Poem 1, the speaker longs for the touch of the beloved (Poem 1 line 5). She compares herself to a sick person in need of a cure (Poem 1 line 9). The speaker also compares herself to a ship in need of a port (Poem 1 line 11). These comparisons illustrate the speaker’s desperate need for the beloved.

The speaker’s search for the beloved is also evident in Poem 5. In this poem, the speaker describes how she has been searching for the beloved all over the world but has not been able to find her (Poem 5 lines 9-10). The speaker even asks the sun and moon to help her find the beloved (Poem 5 lines 11-12). These lines show how desperate the speaker is to find the beloved.

3. 2 The Beauty of the Beloved

Sappho’s poetry also often describes the beauty of the beloved (Poem 2). In Poem 2, the speaker compares the beloved’s eyes to stars (Poem 2 line 4) and her hair to gold (Poem 2 line 8). The speaker also compares the beloved’s cheeks to roses (Poem 2 line 12). These comparisons illustrate the speaker’s admiration for the beloved’s beauty.

The speaker’s admiration for the beloved’s beauty is also evident in Poem 6. In this poem, the speaker describes how she is in awe of the beloved’s beauty (Poem 6 lines 1-4). She compares the beloved’s eyes to the stars and her cheeks to roses (Poem 6 lines 5-8). These comparisons illustrate the speaker’s awe of the beloved’s beauty.

3. 3 The Pain of Separation

Sappho’s poetry also often describes the pain of separation from the beloved (Poem 3). In Poem 3, the speaker compares her separation from the beloved to death (Poem 3 line 4). She compares her love for the beloved to a fire that is burning her up (Poem 3 line 8). These comparisons illustrate the speaker’s pain at being separated from the beloved.

The speaker’s pain at being separated from the beloved is also evident in Poem 7. In this poem, the speaker describes how she is wasting away without the beloved (Poem 7 lines 1-2). She compares herself to a ship that is lost at sea (Poem 7 lines 3-4). These comparisons illustrate the speaker’s pain at being separated from the beloved.

4. Conclusion

In this essay, I have compared and contrasted Plato’s and Sappho’s views on love, Eros. I have argued that while Plato sees Eros as a path to understanding, Sappho sees it as an everyday experience. I have also argued that Sappho’s poems are more erotic than Plato’s Symposium.

Overall, I believe that Sappho’s poetry is more erotic than Plato’s Symposium. Sappho’s poems offer a glimpse into the everyday experience of love and desire. They are full of sensory images and speak to the physical and emotional aspects of love. Plato’s Symposium, on the other hand, is a philosophical text that takes the form of a dialogue between Socrates and his friends. While it does discuss love, it does so in a more abstract way.

FAQ

Eros is the god of love in Plato's Symposium. He is responsible for making people fall in love with each other and for causing all the desire and passion that comes along with being in love.

Sappho's understanding of Eros is that it is a powerful force that can cause both pain and pleasure. She also believes that Eros is something that cannot be fully understood or explained.

The implications of these different understandings are that Plato's view of love is more idealistic, while Sappho's view is more realistic. Plato's view may lead people to believe that love should always be perfect and free from problems, while Sappho's view acknowledges that love can be difficult and sometimes painful. Our own personal experiences with love will likely inform our understanding of these philosophical texts to some extent.

Our own personal experiences with love will likely inform our understanding of these philosophical texts to some extent.

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