The story so far:
Aristophanes Questions Socrates
SOCRATES: There is nothing more intriguing to me than youthful behavior. And I cannot think of a better inspiration for laughter than my demeanor while standing. But I am curious, Aristophanes, if it is not too much to ask, what were you just whispering into Agathon’s ear that caused him to blush and giggle?
ARISTOPHANES: It is not too much to ask, Socrates. I whispered into Agathon’s ear not to conceal anything from you but so as to avoid interrupting your concentration. I was remembering the details of your speech on Diotima, and the details of our conversation and there seems to be a contradiction.
SOCRATES: I do not doubt your observation is true for I am old and my memory fails me at times. But please tell, so I may be educated, what is the nature of that contradiction you speak of?
ARISTOPHANES: You may remember that just now you got me to admit that Eros is not to blame for the tragedy in Athanasius’ story. I still agree with that. However, when you expressed to me the reason you were so glad I changed my opinion and took back my awful statement, you said “for Eros is one of the most powerful gods and the most relevant to human affairs.”
SOCRATES: I said one of the most relevant. But you are right, I do remember saying that. Wherein lays the contradiction?
ARISTOPHANES: When you spoke of Diotima’s theory on the nature of love on your first speech, you began with the tale of Poros and Penia; Diotima used this story to teach you something very important about the nature of Eros, is that not true?
SOCRATES: You are right. Thank you, my dear friend. How could have I forgotten? Diotima taught me that Eros was not, in fact, a god. Eros is something in between. I see now where you see the contradiction and your statement could not be closer to the truth. It seems that I— in spite of my love of wisdom—am not the most attentive student after all.
ARISTOPHANES: That is precisely what I was telling Agathon and the source of our laughter. Tell me Socrates, would you mind if we spent some more time discussing this “in-between.” I am intrigued.
SOCRATES: There is no greater pleasure for me than to speak or hear others speak of Diotima. I insist we spend some time discussing my teacher’s mysteries.
ARISTOPHANES: Thank you, Socrates! Now come, Diotima says that love is always a love of something. Correct?
SOCRATES: That is true, Aristophanes.
ARISTOPHANES: If love is love of something, by definition, love cannot contain that which it is of, so love is derived from a lacking, you said that yourself, one cannot love what one has, did you not?
SOCRATES: I did say that, and Diotima did too.
ARISTOPHANES: Let me see now, love is one of the strongest feelings, it is derived from a lacking, this makes the object of love the most precious thing to the lover, the one experiencing the love does it not?
SOCRATES: Yes, and it is precisely the kind of love that allows us to climb Diotima’s ladder.
ARISTOPHANES: So even at the last step in Diotima’s ladder, the lover cannot become detached from the object of love, correct?
ARISTOPHANES: It follows that philosophers should never be favored as worthy lovers or masters.
SOCRATES: I do not follow.
ARISTOPHANES: It is very clear to me Socrates; a master’s performance depends on his detachment from himself for the sake of his pupils. To the extent that any lover is a lover of something, they will never be able to let go; even if the love is love of wisdom. They cannot be trusted because they are always in a pursuit of their own. Need I give you an example?
SOCRATES: It is not necessary. I can see what you are saying clearly. I cannot argue with that.
ARISTOPHANES: How can we reconcile this with the claim that philosophers are the worthiest lovers, for they care not only about the body of a beautiful boy, but about his soul? You yourself have been known to claim that.
SOCRATES: I have been known to claim that and I stand behind that statement. A young boy is better off favoring someone who will take care of his soul rather than someone who will take care of his body. However, your question has instilled some doubt in me. I feel that I am, above all, a lover of wisdom. I love beautiful boys only to the extent that they represent a higher form of beauty. It cannot be said that I love anything more than I do wisdom, I suppose that would make me a less worthy lover, for I cannot truly care about the young boy’s soul. I cannot think of an advantage of favoring the philosopher-lover that would replace that.
ARISTOPHANES: Will you please, once again, describe to us the mystery of Diotima’s ladder?
SOCRATES: I do not understand your request but I would be glad to.
‘After the unexpected cross examination, the party drank some more from the bowl brought by the flutegirl. Socrates looked at Agathon and Aristophanes. He had a big sincere smile in his face, the same smile of fathers when they see their sons for the first time. It seemed as though the aggressive questioning of Aristophanes, instead of upsetting him, had made him feel complete, He got up from his seat and, this time, was ready to give his speech.’