Phaedrus Speech

Love as Catalyst for Right Action

Therefore I declare that if any man who is in love were to be revealed doing something dishonourable or submitting dishonourably to someone without defending himself, because of cowardice, he would not find it as painful to be seen by his father or his friends or anyone like that as he would to be seen by his beloved.

If only some means might be found for a state or an army to consist of pairs of lovers, there would be no better people to run their country, for they would avoid any act that brought disgrace and would compete with each other in winning honour. Moreover they would be 179a victorious over virtually every other army, even if they were only few in number, as long as they fought side by side. Certainly a man in love who deserted his post or threw away his arms would mind less being seen by the whole world than by his beloved; sooner than this he would choose to die a thousand deaths.

Dying for Love

the example of Alcestis, the daughter of Pelias. She was the only person willing to die for her husband even 179c though he had a father and a mother still living. She so much surpassed them in devotion44 because of her love45 that she made them look like strangers to their own son, related to him only in name. When she had actually given up her life for him, so noble did it seem not only to men but also to the gods, that they sent back her soul46 from the Underworld. Out of the many that have done great deeds, she is one of very few who have been granted this privilege; yet the gods sent back her 179d soul because of their great admiration for what she did. So they too pay particular honour to the zeal and courage47 that come from love.

Lover > Beloved

Although the gods show particular honour to the kind of excellence that comes from passionate love, 180b it is those cases where the beloved shows his devotion51 to his lover rather than the other way round that they appreciate and admire more and reward more generously, because a lover has a god within him and he is thus more akin to the divine than the beloved. This is why the gods paid more honour to Achilles than to Alcestis and sent him to the Isles of the Blest.

Love Rewards the Lover More than the Loved


Right Love

To begin with, it is true of every activity that it is in itself neither right nor wrong.55 181a Take what we are doing now, drinking or singing or talking. None of these activities is right in itself; the manner of its doing decides how it will turn out. Only if it is done in the right and proper way is it right; if not, it is wrong. Now, the same is true of loving and of Love: not every Love is right and deserves our praise,56 only the Love who directs us to love in the right way.


Desire Implies Lack

Socrates and Agathon

‘Certainly Love is love of something’. 200a ‘Well then, keep this138 in your mind, remembering what it is that Love is love of’, said Socrates, ‘and for now tell me this: does Love desire139 that thing which he is love of, or not?’ ‘Certainly he desires it’. ‘And does he desire and love it when he has in his possession that thing which he desires and loves, or when he does not have it?’ ‘Probably when he does not have it’, said Agathon

‘Now, instead of saying ‘‘probably’’ ’, said Socrates, ‘consider whether it isn’t necessarily true that that which desires, desires what it lacks, or, put another way, there is no desire if there is no lack. That seems to me, Agathon, an inescapable conclusion. What do you think?’ It seems so to me too’. ‘Very good. So, would a man who was tall wish to be tall, or a man who was strong wish to be strong?’ ‘From what has just been agreed that is impossible’. ‘Exactly, because someone who has these attributes would not be lacking in them’

Love as Daimon

Neither Beautiful nor Ugly, Neither Wise Nor Ignorant

Socrates and Diotima

‘And I protested. ‘‘What do you mean, Diotima? Are you actually saying Love is ugly and bad?’’ ‘‘Watch what you say!’’ she exclaimed. ‘‘Do you really think that if something is not beautiful it has to be ugly?’’ ‘‘I certainly do’’. ‘And something that is not wise is ignorant, I suppose? Have you not noticed that there is something in between wisdom and ignorance?’’ ‘ ‘And what is that?’’ ‘‘Correct belief. I am talking about having a correct belief without being able to give a reason for it. Don’t you realise that this state cannot be called knowing – for how can it be knowledge if it lacks reason? And it is not ignorance either – for how can it be ignorance if it has hit upon the truth? Correct belief clearly occupies just such a middle state, between wisdom and ignorance’’. ‘‘That is true’’, I said. ‘‘Don’t then insist that what is not beautiful has to be ugly, and what is not good has to be bad. Similarly with Love. When you yourself admit that Love is not good and not beautiful that is no reason for thinking he has to be ugly and bad. He is something between the two’’

  • Those who are completely stupid are not even aware that they lack wisdom, and so do not search for it, whilst those in possession of knowledge do not search for what they already possess. Lovers of wisdom are those who are in between a state of lack and possession. In more general terms, lovers are those who are aware of a lack of the beautiful and good things they desire (whatever these may be), and who strive towards the possession of those things

Love as Connection to the Divine for Humans

‘‘Answer me this. Don’t you say that all gods are happy and beautiful? Would you go so far as to say that any god was not?’’ ‘‘No, by Zeus, I would not’’. ‘‘And don’t you mean by the happy those who are in possession of what is good and beautiful?’’ ‘‘Certainly’’. 202d ‘‘Yet in the case of Love you have agreed that it is through his lack of good and beautiful things that he desires those very things he lacks?’’ ‘‘Yes, I have’’. ‘‘So how could one be a god who has no portion of what is beautiful or good?’’ ‘‘Not possibly, as it now appears’’. ‘‘Do you see then’’, she said, ‘‘that you also do not believe that Love is a god?’’ ‘‘In that case’’, I said, ‘‘what might Love be? Is he mortal?’’ ‘‘No’’. ‘‘What then?’’ ‘‘As in the previous instances’’, she said, ‘‘something in between mortal and immortal’’. ‘‘What is he then, Diotima?

‘‘He is a great spirit, 202e 151 Socrates. All spirits are intermediate between god and mortal’’. ‘‘What is the function of a spirit?’’ I asked. ‘ ‘Interpreting and conveying all that passes between gods and humans: from humans, petitions and sacrificial offerings, and from gods, instructions and the favours they return. Spirits, being intermediary, fill the space between the other two, so that all are bound together into one entity. It is by means of spirits that all divination can take place, the whole craft of seers and priests, with their sacrifices, rites 203a and spells, and all prophecy and magic. ==Deity and humanity are completely separate, but through the mediation of spirits all converse and communication from gods to humans,== waking and sleeping, is made possible. The man who is wise in these matters is a man of the spirit,152 whereas the man who is wise in a skill153 or a manual craft,154 which is a different sort of expertise, is materialistic.155 These spirits are many and of many kinds, and one of them is Love’’.

Love as a Generative/Creative Process towards Immortality

‘what is mortal-body and every creature else-partakes of immortality; but what is immortal does so differently. So do not be surprised that everything naturally values its own offspring. This universal zeal and love is for the sake of immortality’’.

‘‘Believe me, Socrates. You have only to look at humankind’s love of honour and you will be surprised at your absurdity regarding the matters I have just mentioned, unless you think about it and reflect how strongly people are affected by the desire to become famous and ‘to lay up immortal glory for all time’.184 For the sake of this they are prepared to run risks even more than for their children – spend their money, endure any kind of suffering, even die in 208d the cause. Do you suppose’’, she went on, ‘‘that Alcestis would have died to save Admetus, or Achilles would have sacrificed his life to avenge Patroclus, or your Athenian king Codrus would have perished before his time for the sake of his sons’ succession, if they had not thought that the memory of their virtue,185 which indeed we still have of them, would be immortal? Far from it’’, she said. ‘‘I think that it is for the sake of immortal fame186 and this kind of glorious reputation187 that everyone strives to the utmost, and the better they are the more 208e they strive: for they desire what is immortal

Pregnancy of the Soul - Virtue

‘‘Those whose pregnancy is of the body’’, she went on, ‘‘are drawn more towards women, and they express their love through the procreation of children, ensuring for themselves, they think, for all time to come, immortality and remembrance and happiness in this way. But thereare]188 those whose pregnancy is of the soul – those who are pregnant in their souls even more than in their bodies, with the kind of offspring which it is fitting for the soul to conceive and bear. What offspring are these? Wisdom189 and the rest of virtue,190 of which the poets are all procreators, as well as those craftsmen who are regarded as innovators. But by far the most important and beautiful expression of this wisdom is the good ordering191 of cities and households; and the names for this kind of wisdom are moderation and justice. ‘‘When someone has been pregnant in soul with these things from youth and is of the right age but unmarried, 209b 192 he now feels the desire to give birth and procreate. He too, I think, goes about looking for the beautiful in which to procreate; for he will never procreate in the ugly

Praise of Socrates

If you let yourself listen to them they all seem 221e utterly ridiculous at first hearing, because he wraps everything up in words and phrases which are indeed like the hide of some rude satyr. His talk is all about pack-animals and blacksmiths and cobblers and tanners, and he always seems to be saying the same things in the same words, so that any simple-minded bystander unused to this kind of thing might simply laugh at what he was saying. But if ever you see his 222a discourse opening up and you get inside it, first you will find that his is the only discourse which has any meaning in it, and then that it is also most divine and contains the greatest number of images of virtue. Moreover, it has the widest application, or, rather, it applies to everything that one should consider if one intends to become fine and good.

Related: Philosophy | Socrates | Plato | Love |