Imagine yourself as a citizen living in ancient Greece. You and your friends have agreed to meet and spend the afternoon listening to the teachings and ideas of Socrates, a man whom everyone knows as a genius. It is also rumored among your peers that he is knowledgeable about every single topic on earth. Presently, you, your friends, and some other persons are gathered together in Socrates’ hall. You are all eagerly waiting for what would be a lively period of learning. Soon, Socrates appears, and the discussion begins.
The teaching is going on smoothly until someone asks Socrates a question. He replies, “I know nothing, the only thing I say I know is the art of love.” For a moment there, everyone is in shock and obvious disbelief. Apparently, this is a profound and incredible statement coming from one of the greatest thinkers on earth. What could be the reason for Socrates making such a dubious claim? Has he fallen in love? And what is this art of love?
Socrates came to understand what he called the art of love through a woman named Diotima. Severally, he had held conversations with her that radically altered his view on what he thought love was. After taking some time to reflect on the new views he was presented with, Socrates arrived at his philosophy about love. In this article, we take an in-depth look at those beliefs:
Love was conceived at Aphrodite’s party
Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and a child of Zeus. Socrates believed love came into being on the day a feast was thrown to celebrate the birth of Aphrodite. During the feast, Plenty (Poros), who was the son of Invention, got himself extremely drunk. In order not to make a fool of himself, he went out to the garden of Zeus and laid down to sleep. Poverty, (Penia), met him lying there, ensured that nobody was around the area, and slept with him. Poverty took this action hoping that by having a child with Plenty, she would be free of the taunts and jests she has been receiving due to her lack of resources. Love was the Child Poverty conceived for Plenty.
This action can still be seen happening in these present times. Scenes like the ones described above are common in parties across the globe. Sometimes the results are pleasant, other times it brings up feelings of regret in the individuals involved
Love is always poor
Another of Socrates belief about love is that it is always poor. The reason for this can be traced to Love’s background which was characterized by lack. As a child of Plenty and Poverty, Love was never pampered or given what he wants. His parents only provided his basic needs. However, this upbringing did not make him sensitive and insecure. Rather, it toughened him and this could be seen in him preferring to sleep outside on the rough grounds. Like Poverty, his mother, he seemed always to be in a state of need. But like his father, Plenty, he could always scheme to get whatever he wants.
Relating it to the present, most people who claim to be in love only do so for what they hope to get from their partners. While for others, the feeling of being in love arises from a desire to have their needs met and satisfied.
Love is a lover of wisdom
The Greek gods had no use for Wisdom because they were already wise. Hence, they showed her no love. The ignorant folks who needed Wisdom also had no use for her because they did not recognize her importance in their lives. Love, himself, fell in between both sides of the divide due to the characteristics and traits he got from his parents. While Plenty had wisdom and was resourceful, Poverty was neither wise nor had any resources. Socrates pointed out that Love was between knowledge and ignorance.
Therefore, Love is forever destined to seek for knowledge and wisdom. And he would drive himself towards attaining it at all cost. But at the same time, his fate was always going to be bound by ignorance.
Love is a spirit
Since Love was conceived at a party attended by the gods, one could conclude that Love was indeed a god himself. Unfortunately, this is far from the truth as Love is neither mortal nor immortal. He could die one day and return to life the next day. Since he was the product of a human and a god, Love was believed by Socrates to be a spirit. The ancient Greeks believed that spirits served as the intermediaries between the gods and humans. Normally, the gods have no need to communicate with humans directly. However, when the need arises to deliver a message to a human, they conversed only through the medium of spirits. This medium was recognized by all as the source of divination.
As a spirit, Love had the task of delivering prayers and sacrifices given by humans to the gods. He also conveyed gifts and orders from the gods to humans.
The Ladder of Love
The entirety of Socrates belief in the art of love culminates in the ladder of love. This ladder of love gives you a progression and views of the steps or rungs that are taken during the process of dating and falling in love.
The steps or rungs on the ladder of love are shown below:
- Love your body or another’s body.
- Love your physical beauty in general.
- Love the beauty of the activities of people.
- Love the beauty of intellectual endeavors.
- Love the intellectual itself as what endures of the beauty of love.
This article has taken a look at the beliefs of Socrates concerning what he calls the art of love. According to him, Love is poor, always scheming, tough, a lover of wisdom, and also a spirit. Most importantly, the art of love was one of the fundamentals of Socrates teachings. And he devoted his life to ensure that his students and followers practiced it.
Photo Credit: Infograph