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A Macat analysis of Plato's The Symposium
Translated by M. C. Howatson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008
It may sound like the set-up for a joke - "A playwright, a philosopher, and a general walk into party..." But, some 2,500 years after it was written, Plato's Symposium remains a key text for philosophers, historians, writers, artists, and politicians.
Plato imagines a dinner party - a symposium - held in the Athens of the late fifth century BC. He invites seven important historical figures including the philosopher Socrates, the comic playwright Aristophanes, and the notorious military general Alcibiades. As entertainment, each guest gives a speech praising eros (human love or erotic desire). Plato then "collects" these seven speeches into Symposium. Plato often used this "dramatic dialogue," and many scholars consider Symposium to be the finest example of the technique.
From this vibrant contest of words, Plato presents key philosophical ideas about love, ethics, knowledge and the fundamental nature of being. Combining a dynamic literary portrait of intellectuals at play with a series of radical philosophical concepts, Symposium continues to captivate and educate listeners to this day.
You can find out more about how Plato's ideas have been challenged and applied - and how his work has impacted on thinkers in other academic disciplines - by exploring further in the Macat Library.
Macat's analyses cover 14 different subjects in the humanities and social sciences.
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