Diotima of Mantinea

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Diotima of Mantinea
Διοτίμα Μαντινίκη
Jadwiga Łuszczewska, who used the pen name Diotima, posing as the ancient seer in a painting by Józef Simmler, 1855
Diedc.5th century BC
ReligionAncient Greek religion
RegionMantinea, Arcadia, Northern Peloponnese
Notable idea(s)Platonic love

Diotima of Mantinea (/ˌdəˈtmə/; Greek: Διοτίμα; Latin: Diotīma) is the name or pseudonym of an ancient Greek character in Plato's dialogue Symposium, possibly an actual historical figure, indicated as having lived circa 440 B.C. Her ideas and doctrine of Eros as reported by the character of Socrates in the dialogue are the origin of the concept today known as Platonic love.

Role in Symposium[edit]

In Plato's Symposium the members of a party discuss the meaning of love. Socrates says that in his youth he was taught "the philosophy of love" by Diotima, a prophetess who successfully postponed the Plague of Athens. In an account that Socrates recounts at the symposium, Diotima says that Socrates has confused the idea of love with the idea of the beloved. Love, she says, is neither fully beautiful nor good, as the earlier speakers in the dialogue had argued. Diotima gives Socrates a genealogy of Love (Eros), stating that he is the son of "resource (poros) and poverty (penia)". In her view, love drives the individual to seek beauty, first earthly beauty, or beautiful bodies. Then as a lover grows in wisdom, the beauty that is sought is spiritual, or beautiful souls. For Diotima, the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of wisdom, or philosophy.[1]

From the Symposium Diotima's descriptor, "Mantinikê" (Mantinean) seems designed to draw attention to the word "mantis", which suggests an association with prophecy. She is further described as a foreigner (ξένη) (201e) and as wise (σοφὴ) in not only the subject of love but also of many other things (ἄλλα πολλά), she is often associated with priestcraft by a majority of scholars insofar as: 1 - she advises the Athenians on sacrifice (thusiai) which delayed the onset of a plague (201d), and 2 - her speech on eros utilizes the language of sacrifice (thusia), prophecy (mantike), purification (katharsis), mystical cultic practices like initiation (teletai) and culminates in revelations/visions (202e). In one manuscript her description was mistranscribed mantikê ('mantic woman' or seeress) rather than Mantinikê, which may be another reason for the reception of Diotima as a "priestess".[2][3] Her views of love and beauty appear to center Socrates' lesson on the value of the daimonic (that which is between mortal and immortal) and "giving birth to the beautiful."


Relief of a woman holding a liver for hepatoscopy, possibly a depiction of Diotima of Mantineia.

The testimony for Diotima's historicity is sparse; Plato's Symposium is the only independent reference to her existence, and all later references to her are derived from Plato.[4] Based on this lack of evidence, scholars from the Renaissance through modern times have debated whether she was a real historical person who existed or a dramatic invention of Plato.

As a fictional character[edit]

Marsilio Ficino, in the 15th century, was the first to suggest she might be fictional.[5] Believing Diotima to be a fiction, Martha Nussbaum notes that Diotima's name, which means "honor the god", stands in direct contrast to Timandra ("honor the man"), who, according to Plutarch, was Alcibiades' consort.[6][7]

As Aspasia[edit]

Plato was thought by some 19th and early 20th century scholars to have based Diotima on Aspasia, the companion of Pericles who famously impressed him by her intelligence and eloquence. This identification was recently revived by Armand D'Angour.[8]

As an independent figure[edit]

Mary Ellen Waithe[9] has argued that Diotima could be an independent historical woman known for her intellectual accomplishments,[10] noting that in the Symposium, Diotima expounds ideas that are different from both Socrates's and Plato's, though with clear connections to both.[11][12][13]


  1. ^ Plato, Symposium, 210a–212b
  2. ^ Riegel, Nicholas (2016). Cosmópolis: mobilidades culturais às origens do pensamento antigo. Eryximachus and Diotima in Plato’s Symposium: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra. ISBN 978-989-26-1287-4.
  3. ^ Grote, George (1888). Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates. Chapter XXVI.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  4. ^ Nails, Debra (15 November 2002). The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics. Hackett Publishing. pp. 137–138. ISBN 978-1-60384-027-9. Retrieved 21 February 2023.
  5. ^ Waithe, Mary Ellen (1987). "Diotima of Mantinea". In Waithe, Mary Ellen (ed.). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 BC–500 AD. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 83–116. ISBN 9789024733484. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  6. ^ The Speech of Alcibiades. Philosophy and Literature, Volume 3, Number 2, Fall 1979, pp. 131-172
  7. ^ See also Irigaray, L. (1994). "Sorcerer Love: A Reading of Plato's Symposium, Diotima's Speech," in Feminist Interpretations of Plato, (ed.) N. Tuana. Penn State Press, University Park. and Halperin, D. (1990). One Hundred Years of Homosexuality: And Other Essays on Greek Love. London, Routledge. for arguments that Plato uses the fiction of Diotima to appropriate a feminine form of philosophical inquiry.
  8. ^ D'Angour, Armand (2019). Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher. Bloomsbury. p. 5.
  9. ^ Waithe, Mary Ellen (1987). "Diotima of Mantinea". In Waithe, Mary Ellen (ed.). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 BC–500 AD. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 83–116. ISBN 9789024733484. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  10. ^ Wider, Kathleen. "Women philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle". Hypatia vol 1 no 1 Spring 1986.
  11. ^ Salisbury, Joyce (2001). Encyclopedia of women in the ancient world. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1576070925. OCLC 758191338.
  12. ^ Urban Walker, Margaret (Summer 2005). "Diotima's Ghost: The Uncertain Place of Feminist Philosophy in Professional Philosophy". Hypatia. 20 (3): 153–164. doi:10.2979/hyp.2005.20.3.153. JSTOR 3811120.
  13. ^ For further details concerning Diotima's independent existence See Nye, Andrea (1 November 2010). "Irigaray and Diotima at Plato's Symposium". Feminist Interpretations of Plato. Penn State Press. ISBN 978-0-271-04024-0. and Nye, Andrea (27 December 2015). Socrates and Diotima: Sexuality, Religion, and the Nature of Divinity. Springer. ISBN 978-1-137-51404-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • Evans, N. (2006). Diotima and Demeter as Mystagogues in Plato’s Symposium. In: Hypatia, vol. 21, no. 2. 1-27.
  • Navia, Luis E., Socrates, the man and his philosophy, pp. 30, 171. University Press of America ISBN 0-8191-4854-7

External links[edit]