Aristophanes’s Severed Lovers: Alcibiades and Socrates

       In the Symposium, the story of the origins of love that Plato invents for Aristophanes is as resonant as that of Socrates’s “Diotima.”  The circular beings with two faces, four arms four legs, male and female, female and female, male and male, plot to storm Mount Olympus and are cut in half by Zeus.  And therefore, each lover seeks her other half.  This story captures the transcending madness of Eros, that each is lifted out of one’s narrower, everyday self, forgets oneself in the mania of love.
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         Much of the Symposium is devoted to the flirting of Socrates with the young and beautiful Agathon whose name means the good and who has just won a prize for a tragedy.  Agathon’s speech makes Eros beautiful, young and delicate,[i] and comes between Socrates’s speech and Aristophanes’s.  Developing the common or pious Athenian view of the three speakers who precede Aristophanes (Aristophanes, comically, has hiccups: the story is full of the desires and quirks – the tipsy Alcibiades – of the body; Aristophanes trades places with Erixymachus), Agathon praises “the god.”
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      To modestly attentive Hellenic readers, that “the good” praises Eros “the god” would have been clear.
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      In contrast, Aristophanes does not speak much of Eros, as such, and instead, makes the gods enemies – dividers – of humans.  Ironically, his speech, like that of Socrates but more explicitly, does notpraise the gods.  Zeus does try to heal up the severed beings, moves the genitals to the front so that men and women can join in sexuality/procreation.  Still, the story is about the deepest separation which leads to  the madness – Eros – or snake-bite (Alcibiades) of constantly seeking one’s lover, being refused, perhaps (re)joining…
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    Initially, Erixymachus has the idea that each drinker will make a speech about love – and six speeches (or to include Alcibiades, seven) occur.
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       But the main action of the dialogue is at the end, in Socrates’s speech which seeks the truth about love and in the seemingly drunken intervention of Alcibiades.  Questioning Agathon, Socrates uncovers that Eros must, for the most part, lack the beauty and goodness he seeks.  Unlike the other speeches – except Aristophanes’s implicitly – Socrates’s “Diotima” does not make Eros a god.  Instead he is begotten on Aphrodite’s birthday by  the seduction of penia (poverty) on the drunken, sleeping poros (resource, riches).
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       Diotima’s story features the action of the woman (penia) on the tipsy rich man.  It is not flattering about men, and foreshadows Alcibiades’ drunken though very awake entrance and his political and personal excesses, his inability to restrain himself.
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      But Socrates’s story also illustrates the crime of impiety with which a democratic faction charges him.
    That Plato does this carefully so that only close readers or students will notice does not require that Plato agrees with or licenses the Athenian trial and punishment.   He wishes to present Socrates as he was, questioning or challenging much that was taken for granted in Athens, an unsettling influence. 
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       That Socrates rejects this law or some decisions of Athens, however, does not require that he reject the democracy, the conclusion drawn by Al-Farabi and in the twentieth century, Martin Heidegger and Leo Strauss.
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      Now much of Plato’s writing, as in the Crito, distances Socrates from “the many.”  Similarly, at the outset of the Republic, Polemarchus leads “the many” – “do you see how many of us there are?” – in threatening Socrates with a beating if he does not come and talk/entertain them.  The theme that philosophy, a questioning of argument of one person by another – needs but “one witness” (Crito) and not a vote is also striking.[ii]
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     But Socrates is convicted by a vote of 280 to 220.  So “many” – surprisingly, as Socrates says – also opposed the verdict.  What Socrates most questions is, in fact, the rule of a democratic faction, including many (a majority), sometimes, when he enters public life, shouting for his death, but not all of the democracy.  In particular, Socrates’ presence in the democracy represents another possibility.
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      For sensible, or common good-based decisions were sometimes made by  the democracy.   Consider Aristotle’s thought that sometimes the many see things that a wise man doesn’t.[iii]  They are sometimes, though not necessarily, led by a wise man or statesman – for example, Pericles.  Alcibiades is, arguably, a potential statesman and certainly the charismatic military leader of Athens during its final days as a democracy.  That others are wiser than he – Nicias and the faction that voted with him against invading Syracuse, for example – that Alcibiades needed to avoid personal insolence (hubris) in conduct and dress and paid for it dearly in being driven from Athens [iiia], is startlingly obvious.[iv]
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      Plato’s account is also consistent, however, with Socrates’ challenging a tyrannical, McCarthyite or particular interest-majority, and defending dissent for a common good against hounding mob-rule (Alcibiades, less than Pericles and far less than Socrates, does not, as a public leader, challenge the demos…).
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      As by far the most vivid, in image, of the speeches, Aristophanes’ vision stands out.  But the part of the dialogue that illustrates this image is the relationship of the last speaker and speech – Socrates – to that of the inebriated Alcibiades who stumbles in upon the revels initially to celebrate – perhaps he wishes to seduce – Agathon.  Alcibiades was famous for his lusts – once again, often insolent – for men and women (the queen of Sparta, who conceived a child with him secretly named Alcibiades and barred from rulership by decree of Agis the King…).[v]
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      At a drinking party, Alcibiades is, nonetheless, shown as drunken, more than the others (Socrates, as Alcibiades says, can consume any amount of ambrosia and not become tipsy).  For Plato, Alcibiades’s state is perhaps related to his reputation for combining beauty and insolence (hubris), both personally and more important, politically.  For politically, after the probably false charges against him leveled by some of the democrats about his profaning the Mysteries at a symposium, he defects to Sparta and wreaks havoc on the Syracusan expedition he had previously headed…
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     The drinking party for which Alcibiades is accused by a slave and which starts his roulette of exiles and diverse services, often against Athens, would be in the forefront of any ancient reader’s engagement with Plato’sSymposium.  It is a central scene in the actual tragedy of the exiling and death of Alcibiades as well as of Socrates, the hubris and destruction of Athens’ power and democracy. 
     Though the text does not speak of it directly, any merely apolitical interpretation of love in the Symposiumis silly.
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    Yet Alcibiades’ speech about Eros is anything but drunken or insolent.  Instead, it is the most detailed, particular speech of the seven, mostly praising though sometimes hating Socrates in place of a god, and confessing his own humiliating love for and often being outmaneuvered by his beloved.
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     One might draw an analogy of the relationship of Eros in “Diotima’s” speech to Socrates who knows nothing, fusing (penia/poverty) and his ever renewed questionings and arguments (poros/resource); one might then compare this Socrates/Eros to the Socrates who appears in place of Eros in Alcibiades’ speech.
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      In addition, the relation of Alcibiades to Socrates, the beautiful young man to the ugly, wall-eyed old man, inverts in spirit the relationship so sourly traced in Socrates’s first oration in the Phaedrus(lines   ).  For the young man seeks the golden statues,  the philosophy, within the older man.  Alcibiades colorfully and bitterly likens Socrates to a Silenus, ugly on the outside, filled with such images:
           “Whether any one else has caught him in a serious moment and opened him and seen the images inside, I do not know; but I saw them one day and thought them so divine and golden (theia kai chrusa), so perfectly fair and wondrous that I simply had to do as Socrates commanded me.” (216e-217a)
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      And Alcibiades says:  “I and many another have been thus affected by the flutings of this satyr.” [vi](216c)
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       Alcibiades describes his fruitless attempts to seduce Socrates who acts toward him like a father, and get him to trade “his secrets.”  
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    Alcibiades comes to mention Socrates’s amazing (for Alcibiades, horrifying, shaming) restraint, temperance or “moderation” (sophrosune – 216d).  But Alcibiades also listens to Socrates.  The metaphor of the Silenus, the flutist, is also, of Socrates seemingly offering ungaudy questions, comparisons, arguments, the very hide of the satyr and yet.,,:
     “Actually, I left this out at first, that even his arguments are exactly like the silenes that have been opened.  For if one is willing to listen to Socrates’ arguments, they’d appear quite ridiculous at first; they’re wrapped round on the outside with words and phrases like the hide of an outrageous satyr.  He talks about packasses and smiths and cobblers and tanners, and forever appears to be saying the same things in the same ways, so that an inexperienced and unreasonable man might ridicule his arguments.’[vii]  But if the arguments are opened, and one sees them from the inside, he will find first that they are the only arguments with any sense in them, and next, that they contain within themselves utterly divine and multitudinous images of virtue, and that they are relevant to most or rather to all things worth considering for one who intends to be noble and good.” (222a)
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     Alcibiades complains that Socrates begins as the lover, but then the relationship shifts: he becomes the beloved.  Yet as the brief introduction to Protagoras of a friend questioning Socrates about how his love for Alcibiades is going, the affection worked both ways.  Even here, however, Socrates forgets Alcibiades in much of the following discussion with Protagoras, pointing out only that Alcibiades supported him.[viii] (Protagoras, 309a-b)
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      Nonetheless  Alcibiades understands philosophy and questioning and when he is in Socrates’s presence, wants to sit for a lifetime beside him.[ix] But he is often drawn away by the lure of power and acclaim by others.
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        For Alcibiades enjoys and flaunts his own beauty, power, gambling, daring, seduction.  He also analogizes Socrates, somewhat bitterly, to Marsyas, the young satyr and flutist who, with hubris, challenged Apollo to a flute playing contest, lost, and Apollo had him flayed alive.  Socrates, Alcibiades says, does this not with a musical instrument but with words.  But the dark fate of Marsyas – as well as the death of Socrates and death sentence/exile of Alcibiades – hang in Alcibiades’ words.
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     Rejected Eros can often lead – in the psychological image of the Phaedrus, each gets the different god/love of his or her psyche, in this case, Ares – to hatred and murder.  This is not quite Alcibiades, but it is certainly one of his inner voices.
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     Highlighting his ambivalence, Alcibiades was famed, from an early age, for detesting flutists.  As Plutarch puts it in his “Life of Alcibiades”:
     “[4] At school, he usually paid due heed to his teachers, but he refused to play the flute, holding it to be an ignoble and illiberal thing. The use of the plectrum and the lyre, he argued, wrought no havoc with the bearing and appearance which were becoming to a gentleman; but let a man go to blowing on a flute, and even his own kinsmen could scarcely recognize his features.
       5] Moreover, the lyre blended its tones with the voice or song of its master; whereas the flute closed and barricaded the mouth, robbing its master both of voice and speech. ‘Flutes, then,’ said he, ‘for the sons of Thebes; they know not how to converse. But we Athenians, as our fathers say, have Athena for foundress and Apollo for patron, one of whom cast the flute away in disgust, and the other flayed the presumptuous flute-player.[x]
         [6] Thus, half in jest and half in earnest, Alcibiades emancipated himself from this discipline, and the rest of the boys as well. For word soon made its way to them that Alcibiades loathed the art of flute-playing and scoffed at its disciples, and rightly, too. Wherefore the flute was dropped entirely from the programme of education and was altogether despised.”
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       Of course, Plutarch and perhaps Alcibiades forget that Apollooutplayed Marsyas with a flute…Alcibiades also describes his torment over Socrates’s arguments, his desire to escape from Socrates and his shame, in this case alone, at his failure to live  up to the agreements he had reached with Socrates about virtue.  He speaks of “my soul disturbed and angered at my being in the position of a slave”(215e):
  “And still even now, I am conscious that if I were willing to give ear I could not hold out against him, I would suffer the same things.  For he compels me to agree that though I am myself much in need, I neglect myself and attend to the affairs of Athens.  So I stop my ears by force as if against the Sirens and run away, in order that I may not grow old sitting here beside him.  Before him alone among men I suffer what one might not have supposed is in me – shame before anyone.  Before him alone I feel ashamed.  For I am conscious that I cannot contradict him and say it isn’t necessary to do what he bids, but when I leave him, I am worsted by the honors of the multitude.  So I desert him and flee, and when I see him I am shamed by my own agreements.  I’d often gladly see him dead, but I’m well aware that if it happened I’d be much more distressed: so I don’t know what to do about this man.” (216a-c) 
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    The unique combination of this pair of speeches and speakers, particularly Alcibiades, is implied in Aristophanes’s image of severed lovers.  The dazzling, comic image of these lovers seeking each other is like that at the outset of the Republic of riders exchanging torches in the dark (also: as in a cave) for the series of visions of injustice, ever more difficult or revealing of the previous views, which Socrates will confront in the long dialogue.
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      Yet in battle, Socrates, Alcibiades again describes, is a fearsome, levelheaded soldier.  And in fact, at the battle of Potidae, Socrates saves Alcibiades’ life and his weapons (to lose your weapons and retain your life was regarded, by Athenians, as cowardice…), and then praising him to the aristocrats/military leaders as being the hero, refuses to take the credit.  In a way, this praise also reveals the love of Socrates for Alcibiades.  Socrates is shown, not as swept away by love or yearning – not quite therefore fitting Aristophanes’ image – to join Alcibiades, who is as much a doubtful though brilliant political figure as he is eccentric about those he physically consummates with (the quite extensive homo- and bi-sexuality here is, of course, Socrates’s, as well as many others).[xi]
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    Alcibiades notes that he glimpses but does not acquire the golden images in Socrates.  When he tried to seduce Socrates, he failed – and this speech is a story of his pain and humiliation.
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    But he comes to terms with this because the amazing “moderation” or restraint (sophosune) he sees in Socrates. 
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   Now Socrates rebukes him with the belittling idea that Alcibiades’s beauty traded for philosophy  is bronze traded for gold as in the image     from Homer.  While this story has a mercenary element and resonates, ironically, with the image of the noble lie as well (that Alcibiades the aristocrat and beauty is bronze and ugly, Silenic Socrates is golden), it may also arrogantly suggest a kind of (commutative) justice.[xii] 
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     Though Alcibiades focuses mainly on moderation, however, the notion that having a beautiful character is also having a desire for good – and justice as an element of the good – also plays a role  here.
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     But the emphasis on truth in Alcibiades’ words,[xiii] relates to – couples with – Socrates’ affirmation that he will tell the truth about Eros: that he is not a god.
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     And ironically, Alcibiades is possessed by – snake-bitten – by Eros (not a god, but commanding him nonetheless, as does, in his unconsummated pursuit, Socrates).
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     After Agathon’s praise of Eros as a God, Socrates had questioned Agathon before giving his own speech.  Socrates asks whether a person has the thing he desires: does a strong person desire strength?  A handsome person beauty? 
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        Agathon answers “no.”  But then Eros cannot, loving beauty, be himself beautiful, cannot, desiring what is good, be the good himself.  This exchange is the main direct fragment of doing philosophy revealed in a “dialogue” otherwise comically composed of speeches (“Diotima”’s conversation with Socrates, another bit of humor in which Socrates, satirically, mimics the floundering interlocutor, is also often philosophical[xiv]) and setting.
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    In effect, Socrates’s questions get Agathon to see, in contrast to his own speech, that Eros is not a god, but an in-between being (very like Socrates, even down to being “a lover of wisdom”  – philosophos – line  – and “the good.” Socrates and Alcibiades are both drawn, comically, for a day, to Agathon, the young, beautiful and good…. 
     At the end, Socrates breaks in to expose and defeat Alcibiades’s “satyr-play” of would-be seduction and sit by Agathon, and Agathon comes to sit below Socrates (     ).  
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      Agathon’s answers to Socrates thus prefigure “Diotima’s” account of Eros’s birth, conceived by poverty and resource.[xv]  For Eros is infinitely resourceful and yet, is always empty, always driven.
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       That image is, of course, also one of Socrates’s questioning and fashioning arguments daily (riches).  And yet, Socrates knows that he does not know (poverty) at least the idea of justice or the good.  What he knows is some lineaments or features of each in his particular situation – for instance, that he should go to his death for asking questions as a defense of philosophy and democratic debate in Athens…
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       Socrates’ lack of knowledge of the Ideas of justice and the good – “I am wiser than others only in this.  I do not know nor do I think I know” – and the fighting for/telling the truth about these  lineaments (questioning at the cost of his life in the defeated democracy which also foolishly chases off Alcibiades, a bold and victorious commander again at the last) are perhaps some of the golden statues which Alcibiades’s glimpses.  They are, in any case, what has come down to us 2500 years later.
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      Alcibiades says that to sit by Socrates and listen to his conversations is, when he is with him, what he wants to do;  Alcibiades wants to grow old beside Socrates. Socrates’s brief questioning of Agathon about what Eros “possesses” and seeks is precisely an illustration of this kind of speech.
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     And this implies that Alcibiades is much smarter than the usual gentleman or follower of Socrates, i.e. Crito or Meno, and that he is drawn deeply to – with the pain and ferocity of snake venom in the veins – what Socrates does in argument.  It is in that context – the search for justice and virtue – that he hangs on Socrates’s words, and then, for fame, drifts away on his uncertain, dazzling, star-crossed, treacherous course.
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       For this questioning turns Agathon, though of course, not as much as Polemarchus in the Republic, toward philosophy.  Polemarchus goes further on the path. A much less complex character than Alcibiades, Polemarchus is, somehow, luckier in entering on the way of Socrates, though he, too, is murdered by the Athenian regime of Critias…
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       Alcibiades is also like Dionysius the younger in Plato’s Seventh Letter, but more determined about philosophy, perhaps – though this is only hinted at in Alcibiades’ presence in Protagoras – more willing to take some steps.
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     In Aristophanes’s broken image, when Alcibiades is apart from Socrates, he is a brilliant, controversial, sometimes hated political leader.  In the words of the Republic, Alcibiades is a potential philosopher corrupted by his associations and desires.[xvi] 
    In the Republic, Socrates explains why his own coming to philosophy, his own daimon, is so unusual, how comparatively well-favored, aristocratic, often regal men are turned away from philosophy.   There is no clearer illustration of this in the dialogues than Alcibiades, though in the Seventh Letter, Plato’s depiction, in his own voice, of the corruption of Dionysius the younger is also a paradigm.[xvii]
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  Plutarch’s “Life of Alcibiades” also names the philosophical feature of Socrates’ Eros, in this case:
      “it was the love which Socrates had for him that bore strong testimony to the boy’s native excellence and good parts. These Socrates saw radiantly manifest in his outward person, and, fearful of the influence upon him of wealth and rank and the throng of citizens, foreigners and allies who sought to preempt his affections by flattery and favour, he was fain to protect him, and not suffer such a fair flowering plant to cast its native fruit to perdition.”[xviii]
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       There is thus a now hidden tragic subplot or context here, clearly relevant to Plato and understanding the Symposium,  but one often obscured in the literature. Debating and defeating Nicias, Alcibiades had persuaded the Athenians to invade Syracuse, and led the initial invasion himself.  When  a faction of the democrats demanded Alcibiades return for trial, Nicias was compelled to take over the invasion and with his pious dithering and mere “hope,” took the Athenians to catastrophic defeat in the quarries.[x]
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       For near the day the ships were supposed to launch, the statues of Hermes, marking each length of distance in Athens, with a face and a phallus, were defiled and castrated.  The democratic faction widely sought enemies and found many plotters though it concentrated on allegations against Alcibiades.
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        In his defense at his trial, “On the Mysteries,” Andocides points out that Andromachus, a slave of the son of Polemarchus is called to denounce Alcibiades:
      “Alcibiades denied the charge at great length; so the Prytanes decided to clear the meeting of non-initiates and themselves fetch the lad indicated by Pythonicus. They went off, and returned with a slave belonging to Archebiades, son of Polemarchus. His name was Andromachus. As soon as immunity had been voted him, he stated that Mysteries had been celebrated in Pulytion’s house. Alcibiades, Niciades and Meletus —those were the actual celebrants; but others had been present and had witnessed what took place. The audience had also included slaves, namely, himself, his brother, the fluteplayer [ever more flutists!] Hicesius, and Meletus’ slave.”
        Note that Andromachus “belongs” to the son of Polemarchus who is not present for what he denounces.  Was Andromachus himself likely to be present? 
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     One might imagine that as the Mysteries were very likely celebrated with opium (the poppies growing from the heads of the older Cretan statues mentioned in part 1), so opium entered the celebrations at a symposium…
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      Regardless, a democratic faction, led by those seeking leadership against Alcibiades, feared anti-democratic take-over  and Alcibiades’ often insolent style of life contributed to the hostility against him (Socrates lacked such an outrageous style of life, but his questioning of politicians and sophists often turned them viciously against him[xx]).  Note that in both being charged by a somewhat shifting democratic faction,[xxi] Alcibiades exiled, Socrates killed – the two are joined for Plato and his attentive readers.
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       Driven into exile, under threat of death, Alcibiades took command of Spartans against the Athenians. 
        But it is then implausible that he defiled the Hermae and created a depressing, treacherous, superstitious atmosphere for the army of rowers he was about to take to fight (it was not, how shall I say, the posture of a successful athletic coach, let alone military leader…).
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       Note that Alcibiades, unlike Socrates, did not “return” to face the charge.  Alcibiades was also a younger man than Socrates, and had only a personal defense, not a defense of philosophy and asking questions in politics to offer (but as the Crito suggests, had Socrates not been 70, he, too, might have left…).
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        The accusation against Alcibiades was also that at a drinking party he had mocked the Mysteries, and the worth of that charge is revealed in the Andocides’ account. [xxii]  Alcibiades, in Plato’s Symposium, alludes directly to the actual  charge in referring to slaves who should not listen…:
       “Well up to this point it would be a fit to tell the story to anyone; but from here on you wouldn’t hear a word from me if it were not that , first, wine with or without slaves, is truthful as the saying is[xxiii]
       And before describing his attempted seduction of Socrates  Alcibiades adds:
       “…let the servants and anyone else profane and vulgarput great gates over their ears” (218b).
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      At the beginning of the dialogue, Erixymachus, prefiguring this issue long before Alcibiades’s entry, sends a flute girl away (in a stupid, patriarchal way, Alcibiades later refers to a “worthless flute girl”  – 215c) .[xxiv]The dialogue has an amazingly steeled and intricate literary structure.
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    Yet this charge does not, from Plato’s Symposium, seem very forceful.  Both Alcibiades and Socrates allude to Mysteries/initiations without saying anything  revealing, let alone mocking, about them.[xxv]  But mere mention of what occurred in the Mysteries to the uninitiated was, of course, a crime in Athens.
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    Still, the uncontrolled, insolent – ‘drunken” – Alcibiades was perhaps, as much as Socrates’s “Diotima” in the showing of the Symposium, quite capable of doing this.
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      For as Plutarch relates:
      “…all this statecraft and eloquence and lofty purpose and cleverness was attended with great luxuriousness of life, with wanton drunkenness and lewdness, with effeminacy in dress,—he would trail long purple robes through the market place,—and with prodigal expenditures. He would have the decks of his triremes cut away that he might sleep more softly, his bedding being slung on cords rather than spread on the hard planks. He had a golden shield made for himself, bearing no ancestral device, but an Eros armed with a thunderbolt. The reputable men of the city looked on all these things with loathing and indignation, and feared his contemptuous and lawless spirit. They thought such conduct as his tyrant-like and monstrous. How the common folk felt towards him has been well set forth by Aristophanes in these words:—
   ‘It yearns for him, and hates him too, but wants him back;’
    and again, veiling a yet greater severity in his metaphor:—
    “A lion is not to be reared within the state;
     But, once you’ve reared him up, consult his every mood.”[xxvi]
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     Relevant for interpreting Plato’s Symposium, that Alcibiades had a head of Eros carved on his golden shield with thunderbolts is revelatory. In his arrogance, he wanted to be a  Zeus, a man-god of thunder (a man with more than human yearnings, of hubris), in battle.  But he also proclaimed himself Eros, dissolutely and insolently playing with “others’” women and men (save Socrates…) on his shield, that is, in the faces of those he (threatened to) harm(ed) or jilt(ed).
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      That Alcibiades, despite so much resourcefulness, ability, courage and triumph,  came to a bad end is perhaps not surprising.
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     Still, what Alcibiades is accused of seems, even with his arrogance and waywardness, a false charge plotted by his enemies and nothing that he would have done just before leading the expedition.[xxvii]
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       Now Alcibiades enters the drinking party, his head wound with garlands (and violets) and ribbons.  But ribbons are, as we have seen on the more ancient Cretan pots, like waves, an image for snakes.  The exact analogy is of Dionysius who has snaky hair and who incites, in Euripedes’s Bacchae, frenzied women, also with snakes, who tear apart King Pentheus.[xxviii]  The image of Dionysius thus masculinizes or writes over, in the triumphant patriarchy, the older images of the snake goddess, Athena or Metis (Medusa) as we saw in part 1.  
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     Though the female image has been suppressed – a founding amnesia of Athens – the representation of Dionysius with his frenzied women recalls it.  This image is, for Plato, a symbol of possession, mania, erraticness, lethality.
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       Still, for Plato, Socrates, not Alcibiades, is the leader here.  In Socrates’s story, “Diotima” introduces Socrates to the ladder of love.  The Mysteries, however, as part 1 suggested, were the survival of the conquered matriarchy in patriarchal Athens. They were led by Demeter and Persephone (or in Plutarch, Kore – girl, another name for Persephone).[xxix]  The role of Diotima in teaching Socrates about love – amusingly, for beautiful boys… – recalls that of Demeter and Persephone and reveals something of the Mysteries.
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      Diotima speaks explicitly of two initiations, the early and lesser one of love for boys, and the higher one, only implied in rising to, seeing the Idea of beauty.  But this second initiation is not named in the dialogue.  One meaning of it perhaps is the severed love of Socrates for Alcibiades and vice versa might achieve wholeness as a kind of philosophical leadership/warriorship.
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      “Into these things of love, Socrates, perhaps  even you may be initiated but I do not know whether you can be initiated into the rites of and revelations for the sake of which these actually exist if one pursues them correctly.”
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     And then, similar to what Socrates says to Glaucon in theRepublic “Well I will speak of them and spare no effort, she said, try to follow if you can.” (lines 209e-210a)
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      Since this is, in fact, Socrates’s speaking to the other symposiasts, these lines also mean: reader/listener, pay attention and continue the questioning or follow the images to find some answers…
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       Note  that through the persona of Diotima, Socrates also, in speech, alludes to/in this sense also lets out the Mysteries.  There is nothing obviously harmful about this invocation.  But as with showing that Eros is not a god, it challenges “Athenian” or at least a democratic faction’s pieties, and even pieties in which Socrates participated  (he urges Meno to stay for the mysteries…[xxx])
***
      And Alcibiades refers to himself as being possessed by the words of Socrates more  than the followers of the Mysteries are possessed by the flute music of the Corybants,[xxxi] and weeping:
    “You differ from [Marsyas] only in this, that you accomplish the same thing by bare words without instruments.  When we hear some other speaker, at any rate, even quite a good orator, speaking other words, it hardly matters to anyone at all; but when someone hears you or someone else repeating your words, then even if the speaker is quite worthless and whether it be man, woman or child who hears, we are amazed and possessed.  At any rate, gentlemen, if I weren’t in danger of seeming completely drunk, I’d state to you on oath how I’ve been affected by his words, how I’m still affected even now.  For when I hear him my heart leaps up, much more than those affected by the music of the Corybants and tears flow at his words – and I see many another affected the same way too.” (215c-e)
***
     The charge of revealing the Mysteries would, in fact, have fearsome or tragic consequences for Alcibiades.  He was summoned back from Syracuse to be murdered and the hopeless Nicias took charge.  During his return in Thurii, Alcibiades fled, knowing that this was an orchestrated campaign (by some of the democrats) against him.
***
      In fact, in the course of the Peloponnesian war, class stasis – lethal struggle – with the oligarchy of the 400, the tyranny of the 30, and Athenian defeat and decline, there was an intense, uneven, often shattering politics to “democratic” accusations against those not considered democrats or those politically useful to be gotten out of the way.  Ostracism and death were as much political tools for this faction as death was, though more extensively, for the Thirty.
***
     With his vast charisma, beauty and a very high opinion of himself, Alcibiades was often the least of democrats.[xxxii]   After the desecration of the statues of Hermes, Alcibiades was threatened even before leading the gaudy naval expedition (Thucydides, 6  ).  But Thucydides relates that the faction feared that if they tried him at the outset of his trip, Alcibiades could bring the army to attack them.  They wanted time to prepare more (and more plausible) charges. Yet they also feared that in Syracuse, the army would become unruly and lose.  The army did lose through the command of Nicias, and many like Aristotle and Montesquieu have drawn the more apt conclusion that a democracy which conquers and institutes tyranny abroad is likely to encourage tyrants at home.[xxxiii]
***
     But in fact, Alcibiades did not stir trouble in the army.  He was not intent on harming Athens.  Under “verdict” of death at home, however, he did great service to Sparta, including getting them to send Gylippus to defeat  Nicias’s forces in Syracuse.
***
      In On the Mysteries, Andocides’ defense at his trial, he twice invokes the testimony to the truth of what he says – to his innocence – of those who had been exiled in 415 and some of whom had now returned.  In the Apology, that is also what Socrates does in asking those who charge him with “corrupting the youth” to find one of their fathers to testify against him (line   ).
***
    In the course of war and the threat of overthrow, political trials became common in Athens.  Despite not simply pursuing a sophist’s/lawyer’s rhetoric but seeking the truth as Socrates says at the outset of the Apology, nonetheless, he here uses a familiar device.  Though he had not been tried or an accuser in a court and was in this sense a stranger, he had perhaps been present in the large assembly at the trial of others.  He certainly knew of, had in mind the fate of Alcibiades…
***
     That Athens murdered its wise man in the trial, an example of mob rule and often a charge against the democracy as a whole, not just a large faction, is commonplace.  But the Apology is, in fact, not just a single or isolated political case of the many against a philosopher.  Instead, there is a long thread of bad political trials in the democracy, and the two exiles of Alcibiades (the second just before Athens completely succumbed to Sparta) are prize further examples.   The trial of Socrates – and Socrates’ choice to go to his death for dissenting  – must be seen in this context.
***
     Further, accusers had to pay a fine if they lost or could be forbidden from being at trials.  Thus, the stakes, in this form of political contestation posing as what we think of as  “judicial” or “legal,” were high. There was little rule of laws even in Athenian democracy – “the laws’” rhetorically powerfully, comic and confused speech in the Crito notwithstanding – and wide latitude to strike at different (grand as well as powerless) individuals.
***
       Leaders as well as citizens could be sent into exile, killed or turned against the city. The laws were means to do this, to benefit friends and harms enemies in the words about justice of the democrat Polemarchus in the first book of the Republic, echoing his brother Lysias’s  vengeful indictment of one of the Thirty: “Against Eratosthenes.” As Socrates says – and the final bizarre Athenian judgment against Alcibiades for the acts of a subordinate while Alcibiades was away raising money is a sharp example – one may mistake friends for enemies and enemies for friends. 
***
      Once again, the contextual/metaphoric significance of an argument/character – the tragic argument or subtext – extends far beyond the comic surface of the dialogue.[xxxiv] 
***
     Lysias was a democratic orator contrasted with Polemarchus who becomes, as Socrates emphasizes in Phaedrus, a young philosopher – a philosophical democrat – and is murdered for his wealth as well as his  democratic leadership by the Thirty.
    All these profanations, charges, exiles, betrayals are implied  or echoed in the arrival of Alcibiades at the Symposum and in his snake-bitten relation to Socrates, to philosophy.
***
      Juxtaposed with the Phaedrus, the Symposium shows that Socrates, through Diotima, commits the impiety toward Eros with which he is charged, and de facto, profanes the mysteries: the crimes which Alcibiades, his other half, is charged with, exiled for.  What this all means, however, in terms of the charges, is unclear.  For it could mean that Socrates was linked to the supposed plotting and after the accusation, the treachery of the beautiful young Alcibiades and to efforts against the democracy.
     And that inspiration to treachery of Alcibiades could be tied to Socrates’ teaching Critias, a murderous member of the Thirty, and staying in Athens when the democrats fled.  But this view runs into the difficulties that Alcibiades was just as willing to lead the democrats, as he did returning from Sparta, as oligarchs…; further, Socrates, in Xenophon’s account, mocks Critias personally – he wanted to scratch an itch up against young Euthydemus like “a pig against a rock”; in Plato’s Apology, Socrates goes home when ordered, with 4 others, to fetch Leon of Salamis to be executed.  Socrates’s was an act of what we call civil disobedience for which Critias, if the Thirty had not fallen, might have killed Socrates.
****
      As evidence  of a close personal/political connection in the dialogue, one might note, after saving Alcibiades at the battle of Potidaea, Socrates praises Alcibiades’s supposed heroics to the military commanders; thus, he seems to promote Alcibiades in politics while standing back himself.  In Xenophon’s Memorabilia, Antiphon asks Socrates:
       “How can you suppose that you make politicians of others, when you yourself avoid politics even if you understand them?”
               
       “How now, Antiphon,” {Socrates] retorted, “should I play a more important part in politics by engaging in them alone or by taking pains to turn out as many competent politicians as possible?”xxiva
      Possibly, Socrates meant at least Xenophon and Plato, and one might imagine, in the Symposium’s account, Alcibiades.
***
  
      Leo Strauss draws the conclusion that Alcibiades’s rule or a somewhat more “philosophical” one is what Socrates would have wanted.  But he does not quite see  that Socrates and Alcibiades are, in this image, the one creature before separation that Aristophanes imagines in his story.  And that one creature would perhaps not have engaged in Alcibiades’ often insolent, treacherous (though driven to it) and losing way in politics and even military leadership (he was, of course, a far better military commander).
***
     And to make the opposite inference from Aristophanes’ image,  Alcibiades, unseparated, participating in philosophy could have joined Socrates in a kind of philosophical leadership.  That could be a leadership for questioning from below in the democracy, making room for genuine discussion and dissent rather than frequent and murderous mob-rule (Aristotle who praises some assemblies as wiser than a single wise man– a good Socratic thought, one which learns from the long psychological critique of hubris in Greek tragedy – rightly likens some to a herd of beasts.[xxxv])
***
        For there is no obvious  or direct implication that joined together, so to speak, Socrates would simply or mainly have pursued the politics of the broken Alcibiades.  He would not, for example, have been tempted to lead Athenian expansion in Syracuse.   Or to become a traitor to Sparta or Persia.  Perhaps the hidden meaning is that they at least would have done something more informed to create a decent free regime.  Yet as a philosopher, Socrates seems more independent and whole – at the least more healed up – than Alcibiades. 
***
     In fact, Aristophanes keeps wanting to question “Diotima’s” story, at minimum to contrast the yearning which he traces as the most powerful element of Eros and deny the contemplation of divine beauty which “has no trace of human form or color.”
***
     When Aristodemus awakens briefly, Aristophanes and Socrates are still talking, quite possibly in a kind of further dialogue about this issue and about whether a single dramatist can write both comedy and tragedy.
***
     Perhaps Aristophanes the comedian, in his not quite stated objection to “Diotima’s” account, comically says “no!”
***
    But the Symposium itself – this very dialogue – is that play.  For on the surface, its story is the comedy of Socrates and Alcibiades with Agathon as the minor character and source of competition/potential seduction. Socrates and Alcibiades joust over “the good.”  Underneath, and giving its surface life and laughter, the Symposium knows the tragedy of the death of Socrates and the exile/death of Alcibiades,of the Athenians, in their sudden defeat and decline, murdering their wise man and driving out, again and again, their military/political leader
 ***
    If Socrates and Plato are right, there is a divide here, in terms of beauty and justice and the good, which goes vastly beyond particular realizations.  That is also Socrates’s wholeness as a philosopher (Plato’s as philosopher/dramatist): that the divine mysteries are also enacted by making daily steps on the ladder of argument, even though, in the end knowing almost nothing – glimpsing/seeking the Idea but not holding it – of the final beauty (incarnation). [xxxvi]If anyone had understood this implication in Athens, it would, though dazzling, have also fallen under the stricture of “profaning the Mysteries.”
***
      Or perhaps, in the enigma of the dialogue, Aristophanes is partly right, and the beauty and divinity are amusingly captured in the here and now (and nowhere else).  That might be a sense of the idea and Socrates’s grasp of it which would encompass mortality – Socrates’s coming death. [xxxvii]
***
    Perhaps that might be a conclusion of the differently reknitted couple Socrates and Aristophanes, though there is no erotic tale – except the long night of the Symposium – about it (Socrates, as a philosopher, has many and diverse loves…).
***
     Still Socrates is not quite captured by Aristophanes’s image.   And perhaps having practiced philosophy for much of his 70 years, a joined being would still, like Socrates, comically, tragically, with one mind and heart, have gone to his death for asking questions in Athens.
[i] In Yeats’, Thetis’s beauty is “delicate as an eyelid.” If he had a way with words, Agathon might have said some such thing.
[ii]   Note, however, that Socrates’s conversations with arguments or opinions of non-philosophers often gesture at philosophy but are not philosophical either.  As in the Meno,they can lead to the false conclusion that virtue cannot be taught/learned.  That the surface of the dialogues often leads to implications or further questions which are unstated and run into each other across dialogues (Socrates appears in the Republicto persuade Glaucon not to become a tyrant, and actually starts Polemarchus on the road to philosophy/virtue) means that there is a task for the students at the Academy to examine every line…
[iii] Politics book 3 line  .
[iv] Straussians talk about “the right man” (i.e. commander in chief power) and Strauss’s occasional hopes for Alcibiades (in his lectures on the Symposium, he oddly suggests that Alcibiades is a minor fanatic or groupie like Apollodorus) miss this point.  See Harvey Mansfied,   “In an emergency, who y’a gonna call,” Wall Street Journal.    And Alan Gilbert, “Segregation, Aggression and Executive Power: Leo Strauss and ‘Boys,’’ American ConservatismNomos. (New York University Press: 2015), ch. 13.
[v] Plutarch, “Life of Alcibiades,” line    .
[vi] Both sileni and satyrs play the flute…
[vii] Thrasymchus in the Republicor Callicles in the Gorgias, for example.  One might also think of Aristophanes’ The Clouds, but the ridicule there does not include an indication that Socrates’s arguments are wrong…
[viii]  Plato, Protagoras, 309a-b.
[ix] Strauss deliberately veils Alcibiades’ passages about virtue and wisdom to overemphasize moderation.  He seeks, too easily, to make Socrates radically independent of Alcibiades, missing both the fact and Aristophanes’ metaphor.
[x]  Athena threw away the flute because she saw her puffed and swollen cheeks reflected in the water of a spring.                        Plutarch. “Alcibiades,”  . Plutarch’s Lives. with an English Translation by. Bernadotte Perrin. Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press. London. William Heinemann Ltd. 1916. 4.
[xi] Alcibiades too strongly suggests that Socrates has contempt for his and other’s physical beauty (that is certainly not the point of Diotima’s story…).
[xii] Strauss makes too much of this point.
[xiii] Alcibiades bids Socrates interrupt him if he makes a drunken error.  Line,    . Socrates does not until pointing out his satyr-like interest in Agathon at the end.
[xiv] You and I are two, if you follow out the argument, she says to the confused Socrates about Eros not being a god.
[xv] Contrast Phaedrus’s speech, line   .
[xvi] Plutarch, “Alcibiades,” line     .
[xvii] After one session of discussing geometry, Dionysius is turned by those plotting against Plato and imprisons him:
Plato, Seventh Letter, line  .
[xviii] Plutarch, “Alcibiades,”  4.
[xix] Hope is complicated, for the seemingly weak who unite may defeat great powers. Athens united Greeks for a common good against Xerxes against the odds; Hermocrates the Sicilians against the Athenian invasion.  See Gilbert, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?, ch. 4.
[xx] Apology, line   .
[xxi] One of the accusers of Socrates, Meletus, was ostracized from Athens for a time for supposedly “profaning the Mysteries.”  Apology, lines    .
[xxii] See also Thucydides reference, 6:   .
[xxiii]The word is paidon, Greek for children and demeaningly for slaves, and one should be careful about the translation…
   Slaves and others (non-initiates to the Mysteries) were present and asked not to listen. 218b
[xxiv] He contrasts a good flutist.  Perhaps the words of Diotima, despite her invocation of “boy-love,” subtly challenge the patriarchy.
[xxv] Socrates appears to have thought that doing philosophy was a grander high, more driven by mania or the snakebite, and arriving at more (even though not at the ideas) than the opium high of the Mysteries…This is perhaps doubtfully a “profanation.”
[xxvi] Plutarch, “Alcibiades,” 16 1-2.  Aristophanes, Frogs, 1425; 1431-1432.
[xxvii] One might note, however, that a drinking party was private, not a public matter, so perhaps Alcibiades (or Socrates) was more direct there.  But that is shrouded and without the defiling of the Herms, not much of a charge.
[xxviii] The silenes, Alcibiades informs us, are drawn to Dionysius i.e. Socrates to Alcibiades.
[xxix] See the marbles at the National Archaeological Museum.
[xxx] Plato, Meno, line   .
[xxxi] As we will see, Socrates hears a thread in the argument of the laws in the Crito as the corybants hear the flutes.  Crito 54d.
[xxxii] Plutarch suggests that he changed his manner of life, austere with the Spartans, for example,dwherever he went:
If so, however, he did not hide himself sufficiently in Athens – or took up this approach only as a “stranger” (xenos).
[xxxiii] See Gilbert, Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy?,ch. 4.
[xxxiv] Consider also Thrasymachus whose view of justice – the advantage of the stronger – is but the echo of the nameless Athenian magistrates threatening to put to death all the men, enslave all the women and children of Melos.  Note: Alcibiades took a slave wife from this Athenian slaughter.   Plutarch, “Alcibiades,” line   .
xxiva. See http://democratic-individuality.blogspot.com/2011/07/distinctions-between-xenophon-plato-and.html. One should neither assume that Xenophon’s aphilosophical Socrates is the same as Plato’s Socrates nor Socrates himself who founded what we call civil disobedience.
[xxxv] This is a more graphic discussion than Rousseau’s of a general will as contrasted with a transient (and awful) will of all.
[xxxvi] Opiates were used in the Mysteries as one can see in surviving statues from Crete (some have snaky hair, some have poppies…).  Socrates apparently thought that questioning letter to a better “high.”

[xxxvii] Strauss’s lectures on the Symposiumpose at p. 27 a brilliant comparison of Alcibiades judging between Aristophanes and Socrates and praising Socrates and Aristophanes’ Frogs where Dionysius (remember the snaky hair and Alcibiades’ ribbons) chooses between Aeschylus and Euripedes, selecting Aeschylus for favoring Alcibiades.  Leo speaks of this as Plato’s triumph over Aristophanes.  But the portrait seems much more complex than this (neither is at the time unfavorable to Alcibiades, for example…).

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