The Symposium of Plato

The Symposium of Plato

The Symposium of Plato

The Symposium of Plato

Excerpt

The Symposium is organized around a central theme or motif which appears and reappears on many levels and in many contexts: in the religious occasion during which the banquet occurs; in the lives of particular characters; in the political and historical situation of Athens during the period which separates the actual banquet from the narration of the story by Apollodorus; in the series of speeches itself; and in the speech of Socrates. This is the theme of a cyclic process of birth, struggle, death and rebirth--perpetual γένεσις. The scene portrayed in the Symposium is at once a celebration of this cycle, an exemplification of it, and an occasion of reflection upon it.

Dionysus is the presiding god of the banquet. The banquet is a "drinking-together" in honor of this god, on the occasion of his festival at which the tragedian Agathon won his first contest. The person of Dionysus embodied the life-giving forces of nature; his worship centered around the yearly cycle of birth, death, and vernal rebirth, and his cult celebrated or mourned the transformations of his being which symbolized this cycle. Out of the cult grew tragedy and comedy as distinct art forms, which even in Plato's time, however, were essentially part of a religious festival dedicated to the god, presided over by his priests, acted by his "artists" (Διονύσου τεΧνίται). Eros, too, according to Socrates, personifies the movements of the same struggle: it is his nature as a daemon to pass from heaven to earth and back again perpetually, as a principle of . . .

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