Platonic Love

Love, sex, booze, rhetoric and the soul as a winged chariot: reading Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus

  • Six weekly small-group sessions for continuing students (beginners course here)
  • Read a set passage before the evening talk and discussion


Starting 6.30 pm Wednesday 21 June 2023 in Lonsdale St (+online)


Access to texts

All readings from Plato’s Symposium and Phaedrus. We recommended these Penguin editions.

Also consider the Oxford edition of the Phaedrus and the Greek/English Loeb edition of Symposium & Phaedrus. Online, see David Horan’s translations: Symposium | Phaedrus.

Course Outline

1st Session    | Eulogies to Eros | Symposium page 173 to 193e

At a drinking party it is agreed that all must speak in praise of Eros. The reading ends with Aristophanes pleading that we take seriously his comical myth.
How do their notions of love relate to our notions of sexual desire and of loving relationships?

2nd Session    | Lover’s ascent to Absolute Beauty | Symposium page 194a to 212c

Agathon’s eulogy to love is the prelude for Socrates and his deferral to a teacher in the divine art of love who first told him about the mystical ascent from physical desire to the very Form of beauty.
How is erotic love related to the love of wisdom?

3rd Session    | Temptation of Socrates | Symposium page 212c to 223a

Alcibiades’ drunken disruption of the symposium provides contrast to the image he presents of Socrates as a practitioner of higher love.
Does ‘Platonic Love’ require the rejection of physical love?

4th Session    | Perils of love for the Beloved | Phaedrus page 227 to 241

Socrates and the beautiful young Phaedrus sit under a tree by a stream on a fine summer morning contemplating whether it is better if one’s lover is not really in love.
Does the lover’s love always serve the best interests of the beloved, or can it be a destructive force?

5th Session    | Divine madness & the Winged Chariot | Phaedrus page 241 to 257

Socrates is divinely guided to present the goodness of love as a divine madness, and the immortal self-moving soul as a winged chariot.
How does this divine madness relate to divine wisdom?

6th Session    | Rhetoric, for Philosophy  | Phaedrus page 269d to 279

The art of rhetoric is an art of healing, a healing of the soul. It is practiced with lively exchanges that are lost to the written form.
Socrates used only speech, Plato’s higher teachings went unwritten, and so what does this say to us readers of this proscription of writing?