Click here to read Part 3: Phaedo.
“What is love?”
The question is not just the title of a 90’s pop hit, but a subject of the Phaedrus dialogue.
The dialogue takes place between Socrates, and a younger man, Phaedrus who is presumably a ‘lover’ of Socrates and serves as an interlocutor. Phaedrus recounts speeches he had just heard to Socrates about love from a rhetorician by the name of Lysias.
The dialogue starts as Socrates says that he will not leave Phaedrus until he enlightens him with the knowledge he has learned from Lysias. So they decide to walk out into the countryside and exchange ideas.
Again we come to the question, especially in the Athenian context, what is love?
Although I’m no expert on Ancient Greece, Athenians didn’t marry necessarily for love, as in much of the world. Marriage was for bearing children, status, creating a stable household among other things; not a sexual relationship first and foremost. Therefore, a man’s love had to be sought out elsewhere.
This love, while in part physical, also had much to do with developing knowledge, interests and companionship. Oftentimes it manifested itself in older men and younger boy as in a mentor-apprentice relationship, although it often became physical.
The ultimate aim of this love is, according to Plato, immortality. That is, as opposed to physical procreation, love should pursue the procreation of ideas, one’s that will be past on forever, ideally.
It is to be mentioned that Phaedrus is Plato’s only dialogue where Socrates is presented in a rural setting as there was a belief that spirits and nymphs inhabited the country. Here Plato creates a pun through the voice of Socrates. After saying, “landscapes and trees have nothing to teach me, only people do,” he mentions some incidents that describes some action of the Gods through nature. Here the two discuss the importance of divine inspiration along with the importance of religion, poetry, art and most importantly love.
The Phaedrus goes on to elaborate how art should be practiced. Here Plato links art with the soul by claiming that to practice the art, one has to grab the truth and understand his soul. The key point is, to practice art, people have to understand its purpose and use.
I wish I could go more in depth on this piece, but it was quite slow moving for me. Though next is the Symposium and that should hopefully garner more of my attention.
Stay tuned for Part V: Symposium.
I recently purchased a copy of Six Great Dialogues by Plato (Amazon). I plan on doing an article for each dialogue as I read through them.
But because this is a public domain work, it’s widely available for free. Here are some different versions: