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Plato (c. 429—347 bc)

Socrates (469—399 bc)

Aristophanes (c. 448—380 bc) Greek comic dramatist

Marsilio Ficino (1433—1499)


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(‘The Banquet’),

the title of a dialogue in which Plato describes a drinking party where Socrates, Aristophanes, and others propound their views of love and distinguish three forms of the emotion: the sensual, the altruistic, and the wisdom‐oriented. Written soon after 371 bc, the dialogue appears to have had for its aim the rehabilitation of Socrates against the charge of corrupting the young, but its influence, once it had been translated into Latin by Ficino (1482), had a far wider scope. It popularized the identification of love with a quest for the highest form of spiritual experience, and although the love discussed in Plato's dialogue was primarily a homosexual one, the exalted claims made on its behalf were easily transferred to heterosexual relationships and came to be linked with the conventions of courtly love. Another idea in the Symposium that gained wide currency was the fanciful notion advanced by Aristophanes in his speech that each human being is a male or female half of a whole which was originally hermaphrodite, and that every person necessarily seeks his or her lost half. The belief that every person has a single predestined mate was to become a romantic commonplace.

Subjects: Literature.

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