Plato’s Symposium: Greek View of Love vs. Modern View of Love

Describe how Plato, Sappho, and/or Catullus conceive of love (and/or friendship).

In the time of Plato’s Symposium, the ideal concept of love is different from our modern view of love. Pausanias points out two types of love: Common Love and Heavenly Love, with Heavenly Love being the better of the two. Common Love occurs between a man and a woman or a man and a young boy, while Heavenly Love occurs between an older man and a younger man. This distinction is important as women and young boys are deemed unintelligent or immature. The main differentiation between the two types of love lies in the purpose each love strives for. In Common Love, the end goal is just sexual gratification. In Heavenly Love, the purpose lies deeper; a young man falls in love with an older lover for the sake of bettering himself. In Heavenly Love, the ends also justify the means; even if the love between the young man and older lover involves sexual gratification, as long as the ultimate purpose is to make the young man wiser and more virtuous, it is acceptable. While Heavenly Love was held in higher regards and thought to be the ideal love, Pausanias’ Common Love is more similar to the modern concept of love—love in a “romantic” way. Heavenly Love, on the other hand, is akin to the modern concept of mentorship than love.

2 thoughts on “Plato’s Symposium: Greek View of Love vs. Modern View of Love

  1. I believe Pausanias says that common love can only occur between a man and a woman, I don’t think he says that men and boys fall under this type of love. I feel like both common love and heavenly love are to just use one another. There is no real connection in the relationship. Maybe that was the point that Pausanias was trying to make; that love is more about benefiting each other.

  2. You did well here, Janet, to precisely follow the two concepts and to make the important, intelligent note that our modern ideas about love constitute a reversal or near-reversal of the two types of love Pausanias describes.

    And Dharyann, I take your point and I think others should as well that maybe there is something disconcertingly transactional about all these ideas about love: it’s arguably very much about getting something out of the other person for one’s own spiritual, intellectual, or emotional gain or some supposedly greater purpose.

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