The Symposium (Συμπόσιον) is a Socratic dialogue by Xenophon. It dramatizes a discussion of Socrates and company at a dinner given by Callias for Autolycus, son of Lycon. (Some commentators identify this Lycon with the Lycon who was one of Socrates' prosecutors. However, others doubt the identification; John Burnet, for example, claims it "is most improbable".) 421 BC is the dramatic date of Xenophon's Symposium.
A contest of words emerges between Socrates and Callias, and each of the symposiasts is asked to describe the thing on which he prides himself the most. All their answers are playful or paradoxical: Socrates, for one, prides himself on his knowledge of the art of pimping.
The story comes to a climax when Socrates praises the love Callias had for Autolycus.
Relationship to Plato's Symposium
There has been some dispute about whether Xenophon's or Plato's work was written first. Henry Graham Dakyns, a Victorian-era scholar who translated many works by both Plato and Xenophon, believed that Plato knew of this work, and that it influenced him to some degree when he wrote his own Symposium.
However, most later scholars have taken one particular argument, the argument against an army of lovers in Socrates' final speech, as proof that Xenophon had based his work on Plato's, since this concept is mentioned in Plato's work. The speech seems to parody or pastiche the erotic speeches in both Plato's Symposium and Phaedrus.
Though some scholars have argued that the long speech of Socrates contains later additions, and opinion is divided as to which author was first to write a Socratic symposium, recent scholarship generally holds that Xenophon wrote the Symposium in the second half of the 360s, benefiting from Plato's former Socratic literature.
References and sources
- p. 531, O. Todd, Xenophon IV: Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, Symposium, Apology, Harvard U. Press 1923.
- p. 151, Plato's Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, Clarendon 1924. Also, James Adam says of Socrates' prosecutor, "we know nothing except that he was the mouthpiece of the professional rhetoricians" (p. xxvi, Platonis Apologia Socratis, Cambridge University Press 1916), which suggests agreement with Burnet in this matter. See further p. 29, T. Brickhouse & N. Smith, Socrates on Trial, Princeton University Press 1989; p. 189, D. Nails, The People of Plato, Hackett 2002.
- Hartmut Leppin (2000.04.10). "Review: Bernhard Huss, Xenophons Symposion. Ein Kommentar. BzA 125.". Bryn Mawr Classical Review. Retrieved 2012.3.18.
- Strauss, Leo; Xenophon's Socrates, Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1972.
- Xenophon; The Shorter Socratic Writings: "Apology of Socrates to the Jury," "Oeconomicus," and "Symposium," trans. and with interpretive essays by Robert C. Bartlett, with Thomas Pangle and Wayne Ambler, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, The Agora Editions, 1996.
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