31 - Wings of Desire: Plato's Erotic Dialogues

In this episode, Peter discusses Plato’s erotic dialogues, the Lysis, the Phaedrus and the Symposium, and talks about the relationship between love, friendship and philosophy in Plato’s thought.

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Further Reading: 

• G. Ferrari,  “Platonic Love,” in The Cambridge Companion to Plato, ed. R. Kraut (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 248-76.

• A. Nehemas and P. Woodruff, Plato: Symposium and Plato: Phaedrus (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989, 1995).

• T. Penner and C. Rowe, Plato's Lysis (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).

• A. Price, Love and Friendship in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

• C.D.C. Reeve, 1992, “Telling the Truth About Love: Plato's Symposium,” Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 8 (1992), 89-114.

• C.J. Rowe, Plato: Phaedrus (Warminster: Aris and Phillips, 1986).

• F.C.C. Sheffield, Plato's Symposium: The Ethics of Desire (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2006).

• G. Vlastos, "The Individual as Object of Love in Plato," in G. Vlastos, Platonic Studies (Princeton: 1981), 3-34.

Stanford Encyclopedia: Plato on friendship and eros

Jim Hannon's picture

what about love between a man and woman?

This episode made me wonder: how did the ancient greeks view love between a man and a woman? Was it some base thing, tainted by reproduction, that really wasn't love? Could a man love a woman, or only truly love another man?

Jim Hannon's picture

forgot to add:

I forgot to mention: I really love the podcast. I never thought the history of philosophy would be something I would get into. I wish I took it in school. Put up a tip jar.

Peter Adamson's picture

Heterosexual love

Thanks for your kind comments! If you were minded to part with some of your hard-earned cash then, if you want to buy the book when it comes out (in a month or two) that would be welcome!

Regarding your question about heterosexual love that is actually mentioned in the Symposium, for instance in Aristophanes' speech he compares the sort of person who is homosexual to one who is heterosexual. Interestingly, they seem to think that homosexual inclinations are associated with a greater degree of manliness. But the main focus seems to be on love between men. I think you are probably right that heterosexual partnerships were often taken to be more functional - not only for the sake of child-rearing but also for building and maintaining a household. Bear in mind too the belief (most explicitly expressed by Aristotle) that women are unequal to men, so that a loving relationship between man and woman could never be one between two full equals. Of course that is practically always the same in the homosexual relationships Plato is imagining here too, since he has in mind an older man being paired with a younger man (a teenager), with the attendant inequality one would expect. The interview I did with Frisbee Sheffield (the next episode after this one) is interesting on this topic, as I recall.