Books in Review!

Okay, so instead of ruminating on current events, my analysis of which is always along the lines of:

  • Technology is crazy and turning us all into weirder humans, or not even humans
  • Politicians fight
  • The spread of diseases are scary, and unpredictable
  • There’s a lot to be excited about, there’s a lot we don’t understand

…I am going to focus on books I’m reading for a while.

Today’s book is–

The Symposium, by Plato

this guy

I read this book twice. I had the benefit of Christopher Gill’s introduction (he was also the translator), but I didn’t want any spoilers so I first read the main text and then the intro, then I re-read the main text to see if I could understand it better. And what do you know, reading the intro helped a ton and I was able to absorb the text much better as a result.

Things I liked about this book:

  • It felt creative and zany. One of the distinguished men at the “Symposium”, Aristophanes, gives his eulogy of love in a comic style, claiming that there were once three kinds of humans — males, females, and a combined circular third gender composed of both males and females. The circular third one had twice of everything, faces, sets of genitalia, limbs, heads, etc. The individuals of this third gender decided to attack the gods, which resulted in Zeus splitting all humans in half in order to neutralize/weaken the third gender of humans. Aristophanes claims that this is where love comes from, the desire to be with your ‘other half’. An interesting account of a world that feels fun to imagine.
  • Socrates is the Big Kahuna in this group. He goes last (well, almost last. Alcibiades, a politician, stumbles in at the end, totally schwasted and rambling, but his stuff is less compelling), closing out the structured speeches with a bang. Socrates talks about the “mysteries”, which apparently have to do with author Plato’s “Theory of Forms” which states that we only perceive beauty, but beauty exists independently of us perceiving it, and our perception of beauty is a net different object than beauty itself.
    • According to Socrates’ teacher, Diotima, love is a process that a ‘young man’ needs to be guided through in the below sequential stages:
      1. At first, he should love just one body.
      2. Next he should realize that the beauty of any one body is closely related to that of another, so he should regard the beauty of all bodies as one and the same. When he sees this, he becomes a lover of all beautiful bodies, and no longer craves just the one beautiful body of his yesteryear, seeing that previous love as petty.
      3. Then, he should see the beauty of minds as more valuable than that of the body, and therefore love someone with “goodness of mind”, even if “he has little of the bloom of beauty” in his body. Cool. This seems like a convenient way of explaining teenage lust, succeeded over time by the love of aging people whose bodies are not conventionally youthfully beautiful.
      4. Then, he will ‘be forced to observe the beauty in practices and laws and to see that every type of beauty is closely related to every other” and therefore he now thinks that beauty of body is petty.
      5. Then, the guide teaches him to see that beauty in general is better than individual instances of beauty. So beauty, which is the object of love, becomes more easily accessible, not by sleeping with someone’s hot bod or engaging in lively discourses that reveal the beauty of their mind, but just by seeing it everywhere (or something).
      6. Then, he is finally at the nirvana stage where he sees beauty itself, in its permanent, unalterable state. Not an instance of beauty, or even beauty everywhere through the lens of a conceptual, general beauty. But the thing itself. This is the ultimate stage and the best one, according to Diotima.

This Socrates speech about what Diotima taught him is effing weird. Beautiful though, even though it’s a whole bunch of made-up shi. I liked it.

Things I didn’t like about this book:

  • Misogyny! Ahhh! Women are mindless and don’t have ‘virtue’. Like in so many of these speeches that these douchebags make, including stuff Socrates says. Gross. This apparently mirrors aristocratic Greek society during Plato’s time, with women leading completely separate lives from men and therefore seen as worthless or something. Ugh. Ew.

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