24 febbraio 2006

On Plato's Symposium

To Plato, Love/desire is the want of the beautiful by a man who has not. Plato's definition of love is not synonymous with the act of cherishing something which one already has, it is the desire to have something which is not yet possessed, or to desire an everlasting nature for something one already has. In the story of Socrates' conversation with the priestess Diotina, Plato says that the highest form of love is that which is driven by the goal of being in communion with absolute beauty. He also relates the successive stages which lead a noble man towards realization of that ultimate goal. The ultimate goal of a noble life is described through the words of Socrates:

In that communion only [pure and clear vision of true beauty], beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be able to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities, and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal.

The communion described here is one which is immortal, and through Socrates, Plato gives examples of the quest for immortality found in animals and in man. He describes how procreation is the ultimate physical goal of all species, more important than life, as progeny can in some ways preserve the aspects of the parent. Humans seek to preserve their intellectual and emotional characteristics, so that they may be remembered forever. Plato gives the example of Achilleus vengeance of Patroclus, the laws of Solon, the children of Lycurgus, among others. However, the desires of everlasting memory are pale in comparison to the immortal and eternal communion of the mind of the philosopher and the true beauty which he sees in the mind's eye.

After Socrates gives his explanation of love, the conversation is interrupted by the entrance of a "drunken" Alciabades. Alciabades personifies Plato's fundamental aspect of love, the desire for that beauty which he does not have. Alciabades' story of Socrates constant rejections of his physical love give insight into the type of love held in highest esteem by Plato. Alciabades is enamored by the seeminlgy divine wisdom of Socrates, and by his physical as well as mental integrity. Socrates is the object of Alciabades' love.

However, through Socrates' constant rejections of Alciabades' physical love, Plato shows that the highest love is not physical, but intellectual or spiritual. Through Socrates' rejection of Alciabades' supplications, Plato is saying that Socrates is noble in seeking immortal communion with true beauty, the desire to be a "friend of God," and in this sense also is noble in his rejection of physical union with a mortal. The desire for the immortal spiritual and intellectual beauty is more important than desire for a physical beauty which will inevitably fade away.

Plato wrote over two thousand years ago. Where can we find a modern "map" to aid us in this quest for communion with the beautiful? On the internet, of course! The Evidential Power of Beauty: Science and Theology Meet by Thomas Dubay, S.M., is an absolutely mind-blowing work which can help you begin your journey....

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