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by Bettany Hughes, English Historian, Author, Lecturer and Broadcaster Specializing in Classical History
October 13, 2012 (TSR) - Plato’s Symposium takes place in a dining room in a back street of Athens, a place where conversation is a factory for beautiful ideas, ideas of beauty, beautiful things. Even the silences sparkle.
At this dinner party, set more than 2,400 years ago, Love is the night’s theme. The Symposium can still be read as one of the greatest stories of love in Western literature. Socrates is among the guests. The only subject in the world that Socrates believes himself to be the unsurpassed master of is love. ‘I cannot remember a time when I was not in love with someone.’ Socrates loves his fellow men with an overpowering eroticism, and because he believes he can look into their eyes and understand a little about himself as he does so, we are taught that it is through our relationship with the world around us that we can become whole. Socrates sees the massive power of love. We too are just beginning to unpick the complex, psychophysical parcel that love is. Socrates makes our relationships with one another his life’s work.
Socratic love is enormously powerful, it turns the world upside down. What the philosopher knows is that we love love-stories, and our love is often a love-story played out. But nowhere does he mock. Socrates’ love is literal: the point of life is to love it. He is erotic. He states that if Eros passes you by in life, you are a nonentity. All those aspects of love he approves of, as good-life glue for society, since ‘festivals, sacrifices, dances’ are motivated by Eros. And, more than that, love is a guide – a passion for what is good and a horror for what is degrading. And the genuinely heart-warming revelation of Socrates in the Symposium is that dedication to love is not a selfish pursuit. The point of love is not gratification, but symbiosis. And love, desire, ambition, hope, concord, enthusiasm, drive whatever you want to call it – if tended, if not allowed to burn itself out, plays a long game. His love is not flash-in-the-pan passionate. In Socrates’ eyes, it is honesty and a pursuit of knowledge rather than ignorance that leads to loveliness in life. For him, love has a purpose. It is the life-force, the desire to do, to be, to think. It is the thing that makes us feel great about our world, and therefore makes us be great in it. Socrates describes these ‘good’ dynamos as ta erotika – the things of love.
AUTHOR: Bettany Hughes
Bettany Hughes is an English historian, author, lecturer and broadcaster who specialises in Ancient and Modern History. Bettany lectures throughout the world. She has been invited to universities in the US, Australia, Germany, Turkey and Holland to speak on subjects as diverse as Helen of Troy and the origins of female ‘Sophia’ to concepts of Time in the Islamic world. She considers her work in the lecture hall and seminar room amongst the most important, and rewarding she does. Bettany is also an advisor to the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation, an organisation which promotes large-scale collaborative projects between East and West. Bettany is frequently asked to sit on academic and cultural jury panels, most recently the RTS and Grierson Documentary Awards. She is a Research Fellow of King’s College, London, and a Fellow of the Historical Association.She has written and presented a number of documentaries for television including When The Moors Ruled Europe, Helen of Troy and The Spartans for Channel 4. For BBC 1 she has recently made ‘The Day Jesus Died‘, ‘What is The Point of Forgiveness‘ and for BBC 2 ,’The 7 Wonders of the Buddhist World‘, and ‘Atlantis: The Evidence‘ with a major new series on the history of women and religion forthcoming. Many of her programs are co-produced with public service and commercial broadcasters in in the United States. Her book Helen of Troy - the first serious and wide-ranging book ever to have been written about Helen – was published in 2005. Her latest book ‘The Hemlock Cup‘, that gives Socrates the biography he deserves, has been published around the world, and was selected as a notable non-fiction book of 2011. Both books have received great popular and critical acclaim. The Hemlock Cup was in the top 50 on Amazon worldwide, was shortlisted for the Writer’s Guild Prize, and was a New York Times bestseller. Visit her website here.