Plato's Dionysos in Symposium
What is it about?
Plato employs a complex system of Dionysiac symbols in his dialogue Symposium. One aspect is revealed by the so-called 'contest of wisdom' that Agathon invokes between himself and Socrates. Further Dionysiac associations of both characters then set up a contrast between kinds of wisdom (ultimately, philosophy vs. poetry), and Socrates' subsequent 'victory' amounts to ordering a hierarchy of discourses within the polis. The goal of the erotic problematic is then to integrate, and thereby unify, these divided discourses.
Why is it important?
This article makes several potentially important claims. It shows that tragedy is not being rejected by Plato, but validated at a level below philosophical discourse. It shows how the concern with eros is about integration of diverse parts within a whole. It moves forward toward settlement of the issue of genre in Plato's own writing, clearly distinguishing it from both drama and Socratic dialogue. It enframes and thematizes the erotic speeches and marks off Alcibiades' speech as concerned with a different problem. It affirms Plato's discipleship of Socrates and discloses significant information about Socrates' status as a philosopher. It details some of the powerful associations that Plato has set up between philosophy and mystery-religion.
The following have contributed to this page: Dr Steven R Robinson