Saturday, August 5, 2017

What Will You Leave Behind?

All this she taught me at various times when she spoke of love. And I
remember her once saying to me, 'What is the cause, Socrates, of love,
and the attendant desire? See you not how all animals, birds, as well as
beasts, in their desire of procreation, are in agony when they take the
infection of love, which begins with the desire of union; whereto is
added the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest are ready to
battle against the strongest even to the uttermost, and to die for them,
and will let themselves be tormented with hunger or suffer anything
in order to maintain their young. Man may be supposed to act thus from
reason; but why should animals have these passionate feelings? Can you
tell me why?' Again I replied that I did not know. She said to me: 'And
do you expect ever to become a master in the art of love, if you do not
know this?' 'But I have told you already, Diotima, that my ignorance is
the reason why I come to you; for I am conscious that I want a teacher;
tell me then the cause of this and of the other mysteries of love.'
'Marvel not,' she said, 'if you believe that love is of the immortal,
as we have several times acknowledged; for here again, and on the same
principle too, the mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be
everlasting and immortal: and this is only to be attained by generation,
because generation always leaves behind a new existence in the place of
the old. Nay even in the life of the same individual there is succession
and not absolute unity: a man is called the same, and yet in the short
interval which elapses between youth and age, and in which every animal
is said to have life and identity, he is undergoing a perpetual process
of loss and reparation--hair, flesh, bones, blood, and the whole body
are always changing. Which is true not only of the body, but also of the
soul, whose habits, tempers, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, fears,
never remain the same in any one of us, but are always coming and going;
and equally true of knowledge, and what is still more surprising to us
mortals, not only do the sciences in general spring up and decay,
so that in respect of them we are never the same; but each of them
individually experiences a like change. For what is implied in the word
"recollection," but the departure of knowledge, which is ever being
forgotten, and is renewed and preserved by recollection, and appears to
be the same although in reality new, according to that law of succession
by which all mortal things are preserved, not absolutely the same, but
by substitution, the old worn-out mortality leaving another new and
similar existence behind--unlike the divine, which is always the same
and not another? And in this way, Socrates, the mortal body, or mortal
anything, partakes of immortality; but the immortal in another way.
Marvel not then at the love which all men have of their offspring; for
that universal love and interest is for the sake of immortality.'

I was astonished at her words, and said: 'Is this really true, O
thou wise Diotima?' And she answered with all the authority of an
accomplished sophist: 'Of that, Socrates, you may be assured;--think
only of the ambition of men, and you will wonder at the senselessness of
their ways, unless you consider how they are stirred by the love of an
immortality of fame. They are ready to run all risks greater far than
they would have run for their children, and to spend money and undergo
any sort of toil, and even to die, for the sake of leaving behind them
a name which shall be eternal. Do you imagine that Alcestis would have
died to save Admetus, or Achilles to avenge Patroclus, or your own
Codrus in order to preserve the kingdom for his sons, if they had not
imagined that the memory of their virtues, which still survives among
us, would be immortal? Nay,' she said, 'I am persuaded that all men do
all things, and the better they are the more they do them, in hope of
the glorious fame of immortal virtue; for they desire the immortal.
- Plato, "Symposium"

3 comments:

Jen Brimmage said...

I read this several days ago and I'm surprised how much it has troubled me. I hope I leave important things behind. It reminds me of my grandmother who seemed overly pragmatic when I was young. As I got older I realized that she was very creative, No doubt a method of maintaining her sanity while raising six children. Her Achilles heel was that she loved her children too much. I'm trying to learn from her mistakes.

Joe Conservative said...

I'd be happy to leave the world hated by aa few people as possible. I think I'd have liked your grandma. ;)

ps - I've been watching a new tv series called Manhunt Unabomber and the invention of a relatively new comparative linguistics forensics field now known as an ideolect and how it can be used to identify individuals who may believe themselves to be 'anonymous'. Reminds me of Prof. Henry Higgins (My Fair Lady/Pygmalion).

"Cyrnus, as I compose my poems for you, let a seal be placed on the verses; if stolen they will never pass undetected nor will anyone exchange their present good content for worse, but everyone will say: They are the verses of Theognis of Megara, a name known to all mankind." - Theognis of Megara

Joe Conservative said...

erratum - idiolect