Half as whole and whole as half: Socrates confronts Aristophanes in Plato's "Symposium"
In the Symposium Plato provides a forum for a confrontation between Socrates and his most important accuser, the comic poet Aristophanes. As Socrates reminds the Athenian jury at his trial, the charges against him were originally inspired by Aristophanes' Clouds, with its portrait of the philosopher who does not believe in the gods of the city and who is responsible for corrupting the city's youth. In the Symposium Plato makes Aristophanes a character in his own work. He pits the comic poet against the philosopher in a contest to determine the most qualified candidate to speak about the human situation in terms of eros, or human desire. By way of Aristophanes' memorable speech about eros, this study argues, Plato gives reason to take seriously the poet's critique of philosophy. Socrates' belief that philosophy is the sole contributor to the human good is subject to further critical assessment by the appearance, at the end of the dialogue, of the problematic Athenian statesman Alcibiades. In its interpretation of Aristophanes' and Socrates' speeches about eros, this dissertation aims to show how the rational and political orientations of human beings give rise to two potentially incompatible modes of pursuing the good. And in Alcibiades' dramatic presence at the conclusion of the Symposium, this study finds a sign of Plato's teaching, that a fuller understanding of human desire requires consideration of both the Socratic and Aristophanic perspectives