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Love Ladder through the Speakers in Plato’s Symposium: Analytical Essay

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Love is one of the most convoluted and misunderstood concepts that still remains as a very prominent part in many individuals’ lives. Regardless of the fact that the majority of people cannot explain or fully understand the concept of love, many claim that love plays an integral part in their lives as they think they know what it entails and believe what they are feeling with another individual is true love. Since people believe they know what love is they never strive to understand the true meaning of it. However, Diotima takes many steps to understand the concept through the “ladder of love”, which contains several levels that all lead to the stage of comprehending the form of beauty itself. Through the speakers in Plato’s Symposium, “the ladder of love” is proven to be identical to the stages people go through when experiencing love in their own lives. Alcibiades, Pausanias, Socrates, Eryximachus, Aristophanes and Agathon all contribute towards showing that the stages in the “ladder of love” are possible for anyone to experience. Concepts are always changing as society develops as we gain a larger understanding of the information at hand, but the general stages of the “ladder of love” can always be applied to modern situations in a very accurate manner. As a result, the general stages of love outlined through Plato’s Symposium are still relevant to this day which provides credibility to the concept overall.

The first stage in the ladder is the love of beautiful things, which on the surface can seem very general, it is a large factor as to why people are passionate or interested in certain things. In Plato’s Symposium, Agathon talks about Apollo’s accomplishments and the positive nature of love as he states, “Even he, therefore, would be a pupil of Love, and so would the Muses in music, Hephaestus in bronze work, Athena in weaving, and Zeus in ‘the governance of God and men’” (197B). Anytime someone decides to take it upon themselves to focus on their own interests or something they are passionate about it becomes a beautiful thing. When someone develops a love for something the act of practicing until perfection comes with ease. This stage is one of the first stages because the idea of ‘beautiful things’ are experienced in an early stage of someone’s life and therefore is one of the first forms of beauty to be acknowledged. One example of this form of love is when children are passionate for sports. Regardless of them being young, if a child has a love for sports it means that the concept of sports itself is a beautiful thing which can later result in that child continue to act on that love and pursue something greater. Establishing the love for something is just the beginning as it the initial recognition of the beauty of something which later connects to the other stages of love.

The second stage in the ladder of love is the love of the beautiful body. Although the concept is self explanatory, it is the act of loving someone. In Plato’s Symposium, Aristophanes is talking about the process of finding one’s soulmate where he states, “…when a person meets the half that is his very own, whatever his orientation, whether it’s to young men or not, then something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment” (192C). In his description of the story of human nature, he mentions the story of Zeus and how he decided to split each human into two halves for punishment and this separation from their other half created a journey to try and find that other half. He also mentions how it did not matter who the other half was, it could literally be anyone but when found, there is an unspoken bond that allows the two of them to just connect as one again. This relates to the stages of love of someone as it directly refers to the process of loving and finding one single person as their soulmate rather than multiple people. A situation similar to this is when someone is in a relationship with someone else but they always find eachother fighting or arguing over indifferences causing them to feel the other person is not the right fit for them. However, there is no clear outline that the soulmate everyone is looking for is going to fit the role perfectly and result in no arguing or indifferences. This stage is lower in the ladder because younger people are more oblivious to the fact of true love and are found guilty of giving them false hope towards the first relationship they experience. Anytime a younger person gets into a relationship they find themselves saying “I think I found the one” or “this is going to be my only relationship” without fully understanding the concept of love which causes them to believe no one else could be a better fit for them as their only focus is on that one particular individual. This is similar to Aristophanes soulmate concept as he believed once they believed to have found that person, they do not consider any other options even though it could be possible that there is a better match for them out there.

The third stage in the ladder of love is the love of the beautiful bodies. This stage is similar to the second stage, however it is direct progression as its focus is on the plural form of the word body. The main concept of the third stage is that all bodies are the same which would render it useless to focus your attention on one person as it could be branched out to different individuals. When Pausanias is giving a description of the difference between common and heavenly love, he describes common love by saying, “This, of course, is the love felt by the vulgar, who are attached to women no less than to boys, to the body more than to the soul, and to the least intelligent partners, since all they care about it completing the sexual act” (181B). In this quote Pausanias implies common love is not as good as heavenly love, however it still incorporates a person’s ability to recognize that attraction can be felt even if it only includes fulfilling a sexual act. The general concept this stage focuses on is that there are multiple people capable of fulfilling someone’s emotional and sexual needs and focusing on the first person that is able to fulfill those needs is not very smart. As previously mentioned in the last stage, Aristophanes soulmate concept believed the first person someone ends up with is all they need. However, by properly understanding this stage people can acknowledge that there are multiple people that would be a good fit as a significant other. Being able to fully comprehend the difference between loving the first person you meet and realizing there are lots of people that could satisfy both emotional and sexual needs, helps a person understand the true meaning of love.

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The fourth stage in the ladder of love is the love of beautiful customs and laws. Although this stage does not have a direct relation to the act of loving someone or a personal in general it is still a very important stage in helping someone fully comprehend the meaning of love. The fourth stage focuses on customs and laws that allow people to appreciate their beauty altogether and do not have to worry about barriers set in place by a set of rules. When Pausanias is stating his appreciation for the customs he is familiar with, he states, “Our own customs, which, as I have already said, are much more difficult to understand, are also far superior” (182D). In this quote Pausanias is comparing the customs of love from places like Boeotia and Ionia to Athens which is where he lives. Since he is from Athens, he likes the customs he is familiar with more than those of other locations. This love for laws can also be seen in today’s society as many countries take pride in the rules and laws they enforce that other countries may not. For example, since Canada is a very diverse country it has a lot of rules and laws set in place to accommodate for other cultures to help protect them and provide a safe environment, whereas other countries such as the United States do not protect people of other cultures as much.

The fifth stage in the ladder of love is the love of beautiful knowledge. This stage refers to the love of wanting to learn new things and looking at a situation more deeply before being too quickly to judge or focus on physical appearance. The concept of love of beautiful knowledge can be seen seen through Alcibiades’ love for Socrates when he says, “I couldn’t help admiring his natural character, his moderation, his fortitude – here was a man whose strength and wisdom went beyond my wildest dreams!” (219E). In this quote Alcibiades is focusing on the the love of beautiful knowledge rather than physical appearance. Also, Alcibiades brings up the fact that he wanted to be his lover so that he could possess his knowledge. This further shows how Alcibiades was not focused on Socrates’ physical appearance but was more mesmerized by his knowledge. In addition, in Pausanias’ speech he says, “A lover who loves goodness of character is constant for life” (182C). In this quote Pausanias is reinforcing the idea of knowledge or personality being a more important trait than physical appearance. The quote essentially implies that by loving someone for the goodness of their character they have truly found someone they genuinely love. By the fourth stage physical attraction is no longer the main quality being focused on, but instead knowledge. This ties in with the idea that personality is more important than how a person physically looks. There can be a girl who is extremely attractive but it does not necessarily mean that their personality is good and that they would be a good fit for their partner or someone who may be interested in them. Nowadays more people are focusing on the concept of personality because an individual relates and connects with a personality, not a physical appearance. The stage happens to be one of the higher ones because although knowledge and personality are worth more people often focus on someone’s physical attraction and does not give them the light of day because they do not meet their physical standards. This stage also focuses on the fact that external features are not more important than internal features as someone’s knowledge and personality can be one of the more attractive qualities out of them all.

The sixth stage of the ladder of love is love of the form of beauty. This stage focuses on the love of beauty itself rather than everything it entails. In Plato’s Symposium Socrates is being taught about beauty where he then says, “That’s why I say that every man must honor Love, why I honor the rites of Love myself and practice them with special diligence, and why I commend them to others. Now and always I praise the power and courage of love so far as I am able” (212C). Before being taught the concept of love by Diotima, Socrates never really knew what he was talking about when it came to love and everything it entailed. However, after Diotima was able to point out all the flaws in what Socrates thought about the concept of love and he was able to acknowledge that he will now do whatever he can to honour and praise love. Obviously not everyone is at the final stage of the ladder because if they were it would alter the view of beauty itself and would allow everyone to reach a sense of enlightenment. When Eryximachus is saying his speech he mentions “It’s hardly going too far to say that love is present in everything that exists” (185C). Although everyone might not reach the final stage in the ladder of love they all experience love in some way shape or form. Whether they are only experiencing the first stage or are stuck on one of the later stages. The main reason people often find themselves stuck on other stages of the ladder of love is because they are struggling to accept the concept related to the stage which can hinder them from reaching the final stage of enlightenment and the true concept of love.

Regardless of the ladder of love having six stages that all encompass different concepts and ideas it is still relevant and can be applied in many scenarios. Throughout Plato’s Symposium, the concepts mentioned in each stage are all found through the speakers and their thoughts towards love. Since the ladder of love can easily be connected to modern society, even though Plato’s Symposium dates back so many years it is still prevalent in today’s society and proves that Diotima talked about the true concept of love.

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Love Ladder through the Speakers in Plato’s Symposium: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 3, 2023, from
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