The Dramatic Prologue of Plato's "Symposium" as Introduction to the Dialogue's Philosophy

Dissertation, Loyola University of Chicago (1996)

Why did Plato write a dramatic prologue for his Symposium? How is the prologue related to the rest of the dialogue, especially to its philosophical content? These are the questions that this dissertation sets out to answer. The first chapter rejects a rather common approach, namely, to dismiss the prologue from serious philosophical consideration. ;The second chapter explores the philosophical implications of the narrative frame of the Symposium . Although the narrative frame seems at first glance to be irrelevant to the rest of the dialogue, in reality it illustrates Socrates' theory of Eros. The narrator and audience of the dialogue aspire to knowledge much as Eros aspires to Absolute Beauty. Like Eros in his quest, the narrator and audience are only occasionally successful. ;The third and fourth chapters of the dissertation compare the implicit philosophy of the prologue with the explicit philosophies of Eros propounded later in the dialogue. The third chapter demonstrates that the characters introduced by the prologue are lovers of beauty. Each character, however, defines his object of beauty differently, as their words and actions in the prologue help the reader to see. The fourth chapter adds to these insights by examining the vocabulary of the prologue. It demonstrates that the diction employed to describe Eros in the body of the dialogue is also used in the prologue. The commonality of diction supports Socrates' thesis of the universality of Eros' power. ;The fifth chapter explores the relationship between the prologue and the epilogue . It demonstrates that the symposium itself--as described in the prologue and epilogue--manifests a peculiar understanding of Eros. This understanding is best explained by Socrates' encomium of Eros. ;A concluding chapter synthesizes the observations of the preceding chapters
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