I'm not a philosophy or ancient history student, I picked up Plato's "Symposium" to challenge myself and see if I could understand it. The "Symposium" is a gathering of Greek thinkers who sit around and give speeches about love.
Phaedrus talks about the greatness of love and how those who have it achieve great things. Pausanias talks of the merits of boy/man love where the boy pleasures the man while the man passes on his wisdom to the boy and that this is the best kind of love, not the lesser lover of procreation between man and woman. Eryximachus talks about how love is the source of all happiness. Aristophanes talks about how once upon a time there was no man or woman but a single human who had both sexes' characteristics. These creatures tried to scale the heavens and so Zeus cut them in half and ever since then man and woman have sought to create that single creature again. Socrates talks about his teacher Diotima and how she taught him that love was the only way human beings could be immortal.
"The Symposium" is a short read not to be rushed as there are some fascinating ideas here. Not new ones though but ones that have influenced western culture and thought for centuries. Aristophanes' and Diotima's especially are ideas I've come across before but didn't know they originated in this text. It's also very pro-pederasty which I thought was amusing and can see why some people might have thought Plato was a closet homosexual. Those Greeks certainly were liberated though.
It's an accesible and interesting little book though this Penguin Great Ideas edition features no notes, contextual history, introduction, glossary, reading list, etc which the Penguin Classics edition does so if you're studying this text I'd get that edition rather than this one.
.... of studying this at university! But somehow, I was too young to 'get it', I think! I heard a radio programme featuring 'The Symposium', and I was immediately hooked and had to re-explore it. What a delight, and how relevant in the context of today's re-defining of boundaries and expectations in relationships. A must read for anyone who is contemplating this theme in their life.
I read 'Republic' before reading Plato's 'Symposium', and so I was pleasantly surprised when I realised how manageable it was. It's size is deceiving though, as this Platonic dialogue is just as thought-provoking as his other works. I don't formally study philosophy and never have; it's great for the "lay reader".