Flesh in Confession: Alcibiades Beside Augustine

Mark D. Jordan

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:

Series: Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquia

Flesh in Confession: Alcibiades Beside Augustine

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Benjamin Jowett, in his rendering of the Symposium, concedes the obvious as a condemnation: “It is impossible to deny that some of the best and greatest of the Greeks indulged in attachments, which Plato in the Laws, no less than the universal opinion of Christendom, has stigmatized as unnatural”. Daniel Boyarin's rereading of the Symposium brings us back to Jowett's claims. Boyarin's (Platonic) Socrates does condemn male–male copulation. This chapter looks at the juxtaposition of Alcibiades's courtship of Socrates with Saint Augustine's account of his “conversion” in Confessions, a piece of relatively early Christian writing full of consequences for Christian sex. In Socratic teaching, there are no unambiguous transits from the love of one body to all physical beauty, then to minds and customs or institutions and knowledge, so that one can swim at last in beauty itself. This chapter perceives in the highly ironized and powerfully seductive exchange between Alcibiades and Socrates with which the Symposium concludes an unsettling of the certainties of all of the prior speeches—not least Diotima's cited doctrine of radical sublimation.

Keywords: Benjamin Jowett; Socrates; Alcibiades; Saint Augustine; Symposium; Daniel Boyarin; courtship; sex; physical beauty; Diotima

Chapter.  5773 words. 

Subjects: Christian Theology

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