Plan and Purpose
This course affords an in-depth study of a single dialogue — one of Plato’s most popular and challenging. It is not as difficult conceptually as some of the metaphysical dialogues like the Parmenides, but it presents a varied array of speakers all proposing different interpretations and understandings of what love is about. Some of it is deeply reflective and profound; some of it is whimsical and even silly. The Symposium is not as short as the Crito or the Euthyphro, which we have done in previous years, but it is still short enough to be encompassed reasonably well in the course of a summer. This is an ungraded summer enrichment course, but it is meant to be taken seriously: it presupposes the ability and the willingness to read and grapple with philosophical writing thoughtfully and candidly. One need not agree with Plato or any of his interlocutors about any of it: that’s part of the nature of philosophical discussion.
We will conduct the course in translation, relying for reference on Robin Waterfield’s recent rendition in the Oxford World’s Classics series. Other translations may be acceptable; if you have doubts, let us know. Greek students who contact Dr. Bruce McMenomy can arrange to cover the dialogue in Greek on the side; be warned, however: it is longer than the previous dialogues we have read — fifty-two Stephanus pages, as opposed to fourteen for the Euthyphro and eleven for the Crito. Anyone who has completed Greek III with Scholars Online or its equivalent should be able to handle the Greek as Greek, but there is quite a lot of it. If, on the other hand, you would like to zero in on a particular part of the dialogue after having read it in translation, I’m willing to work out something with you. The weekly assignments pages give recommendations for what one ought to cover if one wants to read the whole dialogue. The Greek text is freely available at the Perseus Project website; it can be acquired in several workable editions with commentaries: one student commentary by Prof. Gilbert Rose from about 1985, and another from the Cambridge Classical series. The hard-core can also get it in the relevant volume of the Oxford Classical Texts Plato without any notes other than an apparatus criticus.
Students should have read through the dialogue completely at least once before the start of the first class: reading it weekly thereafter is encouraged, and will help develop the kind of familiarity that grows from this kind of careful and intensive reading.
The weekly meetings are listed on the calendar to the left: each date is a link to a separate pages with the materials for that day’s discussion. We will take the weekend of July 4 off (hence there will be no meeting on July 7).
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