Diotima’s dialogue with Socrates

“Love’s purpose is physical and mental procreation in an attractive medium.” – Diotima, Socrates’s speech

When we talk about ‘true love’, we often try to constrict it to absoluteness. Here’s the situation where Diotima’s perspective about ‘true love’ becomes significant as she initiates the dialogue with Socrates. She gets extremely annoyed by the narrow interpretation of love into absoluteness and provides a much broader perspective to the concept of ‘true love’ in the form of a ladder known as the “Ladder of Love”.

In this concept, the ladder merely represents the steps to achieve “The beautiful”. We all are aware of the fact that beauty is what intrigues us to fall in love. But what we fail to question is the true nature of beauty! Is it a ‘beautiful body’, or a ‘beautiful soul’? In the modern times, some faction of population considers the ‘beauty of body’ to be important whereas other factions prefers ‘beauty of soul’ over the materialistic ‘body’. They tend to criticise each others’ perspectives and provide different rationale to support their preferences. It is extremely important to know that ‘beauty of body’ and ‘beauty of soul’ are not contradictory concepts but are merely the steps in the ladder of achieving the “True eternal Beauty”.

The first step in the “Ladder of Love” is nothing but recognising beauty of the body. We all primarily fall in love with the physical appearance of someone. Intellect or perspective doesn’t play any role in the primary phase of falling in love. On the other hand, it is extremely important for us to assess the fact that no ‘body’ is irreplaceable. When you fall in love by recognising the beauty of the body, you tend to fall in love with every beautiful body that you encounter. So, this concept of falling in love with the ‘beauty of body’ is nothing but temporary. So what’s permanent?

The second step in the ladder might seem permanent but it is temporary as well. The next step in the ascent is recognising the ‘beauty of the soul’. It might be considered one of the most important things to achieve because it doesn’t merely recognises the public traits of one’s personality but includes the private traits as well. It’s easier to recognise one’s public traits such as their behaviour, their habits, their ways of doing things and so on but to know someone’s private traits you’ve to conquer the person. Physical intimacy is one of the ways in which we can recognise someone’s extremely private traits and this recognition overwhelms us with a feeling of achievement. You’ve to cultivate enough of your time to recognise the ‘beauty of soul’. It is not just recognition but is an experience that you can cherish. So if this isn’t permanent, what is it?

In Diotima’s perspective, the second step is where the romantic part of ‘true love’ comes to an end. The third step towards attaining the ‘eternal beauty’ is encountering the ‘beauty of laws and institutions’. So the concept of love clearly shifts from a romantic realm to a legal realm. The term ‘institution’ has wider connotations. It might be an educational, religious, political institution or a civilisation itself from where the person you’re in love with belongs. This feeling of recognising the ‘beauty in institutions’ is nothing but our desire for establishing a bond with the principles of these institutions. On the other hand, ‘beauty of the laws’ is nothing but our desire to comprehend or contemplate the laws that intrigues us. In Diotima’s dialogue, she suggested her love for the Spartan Constitution of Athens which intrigued her and she recognised the ‘beauty of laws and po’. If you relate closely, this recognition is an intra-personal trait which shapes our soul and hence is connected with the second step of the ladder. Encountering the ‘beauty of laws and institutions’ clearly strengthens solidarity through patriotism, communalism and so on.

In the next step of the ascent, the beauty shifts from a legal realm to an academic realm. Recognition of ‘knowledge’ is what brings us to the penultimate stage of attaining the ‘eternal beauty’. Knowledge might be considered our true virtue. Knowledge is everything! It doesn’t merely helps us to assess different principles but it moulds our morality as well as our personality. It strengthens our moral values and helps us to comprehend things. One recognises the ‘beauty of knowledge’ when he/she develops a desire to construct a bond with a particular subject. The desire strengthens and we thrive to attain knowledge of something that intrigues us.

The next step is where we achieve the knowledge of “The beautiful”. It is the final step where we achieve the “Eternity in Beauty”. It is the ultimate form of beauty; is truly what it is and certainly beyond all ‘beauty’. This beauty can not be achieved without the ascent through the “Ladder of Love”. Attaining the (knowledge of) “The Beautiful” might be considered as liberation. Participation to the ascent is what takes us to the ultimate stage and hence it encourages participation to go through the different experiences of ‘beauty’. This clearly indicates the fact that, it is extremely necessary to contemplate different beauties at different phases because without proper comprehension or contemplation, one cannot achieve the “Eternal beauty”.These are the stages where different comprehension of different phases mould the concept of ‘true love’ differently. It certainly provides a much broader perspective to the concept of love. Multidimensionality is what Diotima suggests in her theory of “Ladder of Love” ,completely criticising the absoluteness or the platonic distinction of body and soul. It takes no account of the transcendental reality but provides a mundane yet efficient way of defining the relationship between “Beauty and Love”.

Published by Arpan Roy

Just a Bibliophile!

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