“‘Try to pay attention to me,’ she said, ‘as best you can. You see, the man who has been thus far educated in matters of Love, who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly, is coming now to the goal of Loving: all of a sudden he will catch sight of something wonderfully beautiful in its nature; that, Socrates, is the reason for all his earlier labors.’”
So much lurks within these words that it can be a bit overwhelming. Perhaps it is always so when speaking of true love. Famously, Plato’s Symposium attempts to sort out the nature and significance of love.
It is interesting that here Socrates is not in the role of teacher, but in that of student. And he is learning from a woman. How many men have only finally begun to learn what love really is through the insight and example of a woman? Dare I ask: and how many of us have yet to learn?
Diotima of Mantinea then refers to how a person must be “educated in matters of Love,” which includes beholding beautiful things “in the right order and correctly.” All human persons love—we love persons and we love things. The great issue then is in what order do we love. Perhaps the greatest lie of our age, or of any age, is the assertion that love is simply wild and free—to be followed at will. Or that love already is what it will be.
If there is one thing few of us really question, it is the quality of our love. We might realize our lacks in the area of knowledge, and thus our need to be educated and grow in knowledge. We probably also recognize certain obvious moral failings in our life. But we don’t stop and examine our loves, and realize our need to be educated—which means to change—in these loves.
Would that more of us men, for instance, would stop and examine: now really, how am I doing in loving my wife? And in loving my children? And in loving my friends? What am I going to do to change that? I think we tend to be confident in our loves because we see ourselves from the inside, and we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt. I wonder what we might see if we honestly stop and look at our love through the eyes of the ones we love.
Diotoma speaks of the astounding fruit that is the fulfillment of all loving, and the reason for all our labors in love. Labors in love—this itself is a beautiful notion. Of all the things at which we must choose to labor, perhaps this is the most pressing, and the most fruitful.
Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Republic is one of the most widely read and influential of all books.
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