Love and Madness in Plato's Phaedrus

In the heteroerotic relationships among the ancient Greeks

There is a concept that corresponds to Plato's homoerotic doctrine of Love in the Symposium and Phaedrus. As a result, the fundamental goal of this thesis is to examine the details of Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus as important writings concerning the Platonic Eros. A synopsis of the dialogues will be provided, depicting the critical themes of Plato's teaching as addressed in their individual works through their speeches. The Symposium is Plato's most prominent argument on love, and it consists of six different speeches praising Eros. Socrates’ is the center of his previous orations, and he used it to recount on the teachings of Diotima. Some scholars believe Plato’s first five speech were meant to “sweep them away” and portray them as making a false assumption on Eros (Makowski 498). However, Plato used his first speeches to address the concept of Platonic Love. By doing this, Plato sought to reject the theories that were put before by other scholars of his trying to “sweep them away.” Socrates’ speech is made perfect and can mostly be used to counter the ideas of other speakers, and this helped in creating a comprehensive understanding of Eros. Though all other speakers agreed that Eros is a source of happiness and human benefits, they still differed in the approaches they used in explaining the nature of Eros.

Plato’s Phaedrus

The Plato’s Phaedrus took place in an attractive pastoral landscape; it involves a conversation between Socrates where they are discussing the nature of Eros and the soul. Several other speeches are given attempting to explain the nature of Eros, but it is the Socrates’ speech that gives the right teaching concerning the Platonic Love. The speeches are divided into two, the first and the second speech.

The First Speeches

When looking at the Phaedrus, one would conclude that Socrates’s speeches were inspired some of the Lysias’s speeches. Lysias’ argued that most of the young men always strive to favor a non-lover and not an erastes because a non-lover would not always be stricken by the passion that is commonly experienced by lovers. According to the Lysias’ speech, passion is considered as a hindrance to a healthy pederastic union and lovers always admit to being “sick” and also aware of their folly. Additionally, the passion of lovers is mostly fickle and can cause a desertion of the beloved once the original desires have reduced. Therefore, Eros in the Lysias’s speech is not believed to be a backer of the humankind as explained in the discourse of Symposium. The first speech of Socrates is based on Lysias’ arguments, and it starts by explaining the nature of Eros an irrational, madness desire for appearance/beauty that at times overcome people’s judgment rational reasoning. The speech portrays a debased Eros as to be causing jealousy and madness in esratai and this contributes to the spread of ignorance in their eromenoi. Therefore, the Eros that Socrates is describing is considered to be similar to the Common Eros of Pausanias and is precisely an opposite of his teachings within the Symposium. The debased Eros fails to acknowledge the true beauty and has no reciprocal love or the Anteros; rather, the main concern of the Eros, in this case, is the Erastes’ self-satisfaction. However, Socrates decides to abandon the ideas of Lysias together with the arguments of his speech as he intended to offer a recantation speech of the nature of Eros: “Love is not and evil thing, and they have argued, but is divine good” (Plato 552 ).

The second speech of Socrates

The second speech of the Socrates is a palinode which emphasizes that not all madness is an evil-related vice. The Socrates argues most blessings come by chance and through a way of madness. The madness is believed to be a blessing sent from God. From this argument, the Divine madness cannot be related with the immorality naturally. In the past, there has been a close connection between the divine and madness, interestingly; there is no negative relationship between the two. Divine madness can be categorized into three groups according to contextual ideology. Prophecy is the first category of Divine, according to the Socrates, the success of the prophets such Delphi and Dodona was hinged on the inspiration of divine madness. According to the Socrates, the blessings of the prophecy came from divine madness which can be described as a “Manic.” The divine wisdom inspired several prophets who were discouraged by the perception of immoral madness. From the inspiration of the other prophets, the divine madness can be seen as the blessing since it connects both the mortal and immortal divine professions. The belief of the divine perspective enabled the characters to get rid of finitude manipulated by the corporal realm in the society.

The second category of divine madness is that which relate the belief and perception of people about relief individual’s and families’ suffering from ancient sins. Most people believe that current suffering of some persons or families is due to past sin which may have been committed by their great grandparents or the individuals themselves. The belief of divine madness asserts that perpetual prayers and continuous worship can lead to purification of the soul of a person and deliver them from the suffering of the daily afflictions. The last type of divine madness pertains to the relationship between madness and possession of poetic profession. From the reading, it is the influence of madness that some poets have produced amazing masterpieces. Ideally, the natural human sanity is not comparable with the professional work and eloquence provided by some of the individuals inspired by the divine madness. Critically, the prophets and poets work closer to the divine madness to produce a work beyond the normal human beings sanity. The Socrates arguments of the benefits of divine madness were the foundation for love as the fourth type of madness. Love is the gift from God which is fraught with the highest bliss.

Eros and the Soul

There is a hidden truth about the Eros which can be identified through examining of the Soul’s natural attitudes and prosperous experience in his profession. The Socrates commences their discussion with a statement about the soul that “every human soul is immortal” (Plato 525). Similarly, the perception of the Good presented in the Symposium identifies the soul to be neither moving nor ceasing. From this argument, a soul can be seen to be a unique part of the human body which can freely share the divine due to its immortal nature. It is related to the true being which is free from natural evil as described in the symposium. The true being is believed to be closely lying below the true heavens. It has a comprehendible knowledge which is reflected on the purity of the soul. From the reading, the analogy of charioteer possessing the winged horses gives a clear distinction between the natural human soul and the divine soul.

The summit of the heavens effort is seen through the driver and the speed which is the god’s perfect soul. Through the comparison, the human soul is regarded to be having a good and noble horse as compared to the wicked soul. The human’s charioteer similarly fails in attempts to plain off by climbing the heavens which were in vain. Interestingly, the human soul has the knowledge and experience of goodness thus it is very rare for a human soul to enter into the mortal body. However, the human soul can enter into the mortal body in case it has realized the contemplated true knowledge. This is not a guarantee that all human soul will reach the heaven’s summit though all the souls scramble and trample to nourish from the heavens goodness. Similarly, the driver of the horses is unable to effectively rear into the team leading to damage of the human souls as they settle for soul nourishment. This is a symbol of how the Good is failing to get efficient nourishment required for prosperity.

The human soul is seen to become more weighed down due to this struggle and after that becomes forgetful of the purity of goodness. This led to the loss of the wings and the descent to the world and eventually found a good host. This shows that souls are assigned to the mortal body according to the truth of the being. The true being and beauty are the grassroots of a hierarchy of the human souls. Muses were such a lover of a wisdom of beauty and true being. His soul has perceived the Goodness and the effectiveness of being a true being. This is the blessings of the soul presented in the second type divine blessings. However, the next nine types of a human soul are seen to be preceded by this soul as it is seen to be less good. It cannot contain the mortal human soul, and it is preferred as the tyrants of ninth. The philosopher’s second soul has devoted counter the unjust and corrupt immortal being. It is devoted to seeking knowledge of wisdom and the beauty which has a great potential of growing the wings and contributes to heaven endeavors. The other eight types of souls must wait always wait for a long time before returning to the heaven after having the great potential of growing wings, they were accepted back to heaven after three thousand years. The souls are always judged before being allowed back to the heaven after growing wings. After the judgment of living the life wrong-doing, the souls can hasten back to the heaven and passed through appropriate punishment of doing wrong. For example, the soul of the philosopher who disparately descended to the heaven to try the beauty of the heaven, he remembers the earthly activities and considers himself as being mad and deserves disapproval from the heaven.


Within the Anteros, there is a concept of a pederastic paradigm that is evidenced in the Anteros or a reciprocal love that existed between people who are in love. Though the eromenos is in love with his erastes, the approach he uses to portray his love is very different than that love that he gets back from Erastes. Because of the misunderstandings of the divine origin of madness, most of the young men get advice from their family against taking a lover because of it ‘shameful to engage in commerce with a lover’ (Plato 534). Nevertheless, the nature of these young men’s souls mostly directs them to take a lover, because it is sometimes destined and could be the only way that the soul can take a look at the good. According to the beloved, a lover should always offer something that one’s family and even friends may not offer: a love that is aiming towards the good. Though this kind of love of eraste, he still established a mean through which the eromenos may start his journey in conceptualizing what a true being means. Therefore, this is what makes a lover to be admired more than any other individual around the beloved. Once the wings of the soul of the lover are rejuvenated by the beloved beauty, the soul is then filled with more love, the “flood of passion” (Plato 521) that pours into the soul of the lover and flows directly into the soul of the beloved. The boy is always not aware of the things he loves in his partner, and Socrates argued that it happens as if he “is suffering from a disease of the eye from someone” (Plato 543). Therefore, his argument is quite essential in that sight leaves the biggest resource that human beings possess when they first identify and behold a beautiful thing. The beloved unconsciously perceived his lover in an image of himself, and he can view his beauty, that contributes to the true beauty.

In summary, in many cases, many partners find themselves succumbing to their sexual desires, and they end up continuing to satisfy the desire occasionally after that. Though such individuals in most cases do not have the ideal love of the actual/real philosopher, they still possess the potential to achieve goodness. Therefore, the act that the two lovers engage in is not always one that they are “fully set thereupon” but just as a result of the two getting caught momentarily unaware by their corrupt horses. Such people still hold a high level of regard for and the reason why they are together and still have the desire to attain the real beauty that comes in their minds when at the sight of each other. For instance, Plato’s homoerotic doctrine of Love in the speech Symposium and Phaedrus are truly existing in other heteroerotic unions of the Greek novel. Plato’s argument on immoral nature and the ultimate desire of human soul as seen in the Symposium exists in the female beauty. Therefore, it is the women that support the virtuous and philosophical advancement of a man.

Works Cited

Makowski, John F. “Greek Love in the Greek Novel.” A Companion to the Ancient Novel, edited by Edmund P. Cueva and Shannon N. Byrne, 490-501. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2014.

Plato. Phaedrus. Translated by R. Hackforth. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc., 1952.

Plato. Symposium. Translated by Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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