Ancient Philosophy


What was Plato‘s view of love?

Plato had two theories on love: one “Platonic” and the other not. In the Phadreus he describes the development of passion between a mature man and a beautiful boy. The man’s love for the particular beautiful person grows into a love of beauty in general. That general love of beautiful things becomes a love of the beauty in laws, and its final form is a love of beauty in thought, or the form of beauty. (It should be remembered that the ancient Greeks prized what we would call homosexual [and possibly pederastic] relationships between beautiful youths and wiser older men. The older man was the lover, the youth the beloved.) In Plato’s version of such unions, their highest form was thus chastity, or what came to be called “Platonic love.”

In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates credits Diotima with what he knows about love. Diotima has told him that love or Eros is a spirit, the child of Need and Resource (or Lack and Plenty), who was conceived at Aphrodite’s (the goddess of beauty) birth:

So love was born to love the beautiful…. As the son of Resource and Need, it has been his fate to be always in need; nor is he delicate and lovely as most of us believe, but harsh and arid, barefoot and homeless, sleeping on the naked earth, in doorways, or in the very streets beneath the stars of heaven, and always partaking of his mother’s poverty. But, secondly, he brings his father’s resourcefulness to his designs upon the beautiful and the good, for he is gallant, impetuous, and energetic, a mighty hunter, and a master of device and artifice—at once desirous and full of wisdom, a lifelong seeker after truth, an adept in sorcery, enchantment, and seduction.

The playwright Aristophanes is present at this discussion, and he gives an account of why love is so important to human beings. In the beginning, humans had three types that were each composed of two people conjoined in a spherical shape: female and female; male and male; male and female. These creatures were very strong and tried to storm Heaven itself. The gods did not want to destroy them, but something had to be done. Zeus’ solution was to weaken them by cutting each of the beings in half. The result is that every human being is in search of their missing half. Men and women who were conjoined as hermaphrodites seek each other, Lesbians seek other women to complete themselves, and men who were joined to men are attracted to other men. Both Diotima and Aristophanes’ explanations of love clearly involve sexual consummation and are not “Platonic.”


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