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Symposium is Plato's masterwork on the subject of love. Socrates arrives late to the party of an aristocratic friend, where it is proposed that each guest shall give a speech on the subject of love. The speeches are by turn comic, absurd and unexpectedly profound. Yet it is Socrates' speech that stands out. In it he tells of his instruction by the priestess Diotima in the mysteries of love. In properly directed love Socrates finds a discipline that draws the soul upward towards a vision of absolute beauty. Towards the end, he is interrupted by the drunk Alcibiades, who gives an unforgettable description of Socrates. This description is also, implicitly, a defence of philosophy. The consequences of pursuing philosophy are to be found, Plato suggests, in the indomitable independence and ethical qualities of a man like Socrates. The most literary and charming of Plato's works, the Symposium gives us a rare glimpse of the social life of ancient Athens, as well as insight into the character of Plato's beloved teacher.
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