Chapter

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Platonic Love?

Daniel Boyarin

in Toward a Theology of Eros

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print January 2007 | ISBN: 9780823226351
Published online March 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823236718 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fso/9780823226351.003.0001

Series: Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquia

What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Platonic Love?

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In his celebrated study of Christian love, Anders Nygren identifies the emergence of heresy with the perversion of agape. In Plato's Symposium, the term “heavenly Eros” occurs in the discourse of Pausanias, signifying a practice of desire that begins with physical love but ultimately transcends the physical. Yet Pausanias is not the only, or even the most privileged, speaker in the Symposium. The famous speech of Diotima, cited by Socrates, arguably lays greater claim to representing Plato's definitive views on love. Thus, in referring to “heavenly Eros” as that “of which Plato and his followers speak”, Nygren erases any difference between the Pausanian ideology of eros and that of Diotima/Socrates—the latter of which is purportedly Platonic love. This chapter argues that Nygren falsely conflates the concept of a “heavenly eros” continuous with physical sexuality, as described in Pausanius's speech, with the more strictly asceticized eroticism attributed to the prophetess Diotima and ultimately affirmed by Plato. This is a distinction overlooked by others as well, not least Michel Foucault.

Keywords: Plato; Symposium; Platonic love; Michel Foucault; Christian love; Anders Nygren; agape; Socrates; eros; physical sexuality

Chapter.  7819 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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