“Phaedrus” / Plato

It’s embarrassing to admit 1) that I am a philosophy major and 2) that I am philosophy major, and it has only now occurred to me to recommend the classiest of all classics, Plato’s Dialogues. It came to when I was musing on one of my favorite passages from the “Phaedrus,” in which Socrates explains to this affected friend his conception of love.

Socrates begins by describing the human soul, which is immortal, as a charioteer commanding a pair of winged horses. One of these horses is “noble” and stands for Morality; the other is “an ill-looking villain” who stands for the Will. The charioteer reigning them in? That’s Reason. Socrates explains,

The triple soul has had a previous existence, in which following in the train of some god, from whom she derived her character, she beheld partially and imperfectly the vision of absolute truth. All her after existence, passed in many forms of men and animals, is spent in regaining this.

Thus, when we are in love with somebody it is because we recognize in the face of our beloved that same perfection. We remember the Good and the True that we once gazed upon in some previous existence:

[H]e whose initiation [to earthly existence] is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god; then while he gazes on him there is a sort of reaction, and the shudder passes into an unusual heat and perspiration; for, as he receives the effluence of beauty through the eyes, the wing moistens and he warms.

I first read this (in a better translation) in college when I was 19. I read it again about three months ago (ten years later), and I found myself getting misty-eyed when I came to this part. Being in love, the metaphor took on a whole new meaning. I don’t mean to be mawkish, but if you’ve ever been in love–really in love–you know exactly what I’m talking about.

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