Diotima's Ladder of Love

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Diotima's Ladder of Love, also known as Plato's ladder of love or Plato's ladder of Eros is a philosophy of different types of love that originated in Plato's Symposium. Socrates had a speech contest of praising Eros, the god of love. In the end, they summarized the ideas based on the teachings of a priestess, Diotima.[1] There are six types of love, and each kind is put on a rung of a ladder. The ladder represents the path of love as an ascent from, initially, pure physical attraction to, finally, love of divinity.

The ladder of love was mentioned only in the Symposium, a philosophical text by Plato that depicts a series of speech contests from notable men in Ancient Greece.[2]

There are on-going debates on how the ladder of love could be interpreted.

Furthermore, Diotima's ladder of love also has a religious connection, and is especially taken up in the Christian mystical tradition, most notably in Dante's Commedia. This was interpreted by hidden messages used in the writing by Plato.

Speeches of Socrates[edit]

Based on the Symposium, in Ancient Greece around 416 BC, Agathon hosted an all-male dinner party. During the event, the guests decided to hold a speech contest, in which each of them delivered a lecture in praise of Eros, the god of Love.[3]

Phaedrus compared love to a deity who inspired lovers to act virtuously. Love discourages them through shame of the disgraceful deed and inspires them through the pride of honorable success.[3]

Pausanias hypothesized that there are two gods of love. The first, Pandemian, or the god of Common Love, presides over the normal relationship, including temporary physical attraction, connection, or interest to both living and non-living things. The second, Uranian, the god of Heavenly Love, presides over the higher level of love, the sort that is beyond that of purely physical and external features[clarification needed].[3]

Eryximachus made one speech upon about love for each of various topics: medicine, music, gymnastics, agriculture, and religion. According to the Greek ideal of pursuing only “moderation in everything”, he suggested that it is all right to have only the lower (Pandemian) love as long as it is satisfactory.[3]

Aristophanes told a tale of how humans were originally double of what we are now (with 2 heads, 4 arms, 4 legs, and so on) but that when our ancestors tried to overpower the gods, they split them in two as a punishment. Since then, all of us have been yearning with a desire for wholeness. He believed that men and women who are lovers marry and have children not because they really want to but from their desire to complete themselves, having lost their other half.[3]

Agathon stated “Love divests us of all alienation from each other” and “gathers us together in social meetings, dances, sacrifices, and feasts.” “Love is the spirit of this church.”[3]

Socrates then summarized all the speeches and recalled Diotima's teaching which was “the science of things relating to Love”.

Diotima's teachings[edit]

Diotima began with saying that if a man is normal, he will naturally fall in love with one particular beautiful body. Then, he must consider the similarities of the beauty in different bodies. If he understands that all bodies are beautiful he will become a lover of all bodies, not just one. Next, he must realize that the physical beauty is meaningless and impermanent, unlike souls. Whenever he encounters with other individuals that have beauty within their spirits and even if the bodies aren't particularly attractive, he will fall in love to the immaterial part. From this, he will learn to contemplate and appreciate what those people with beautiful souls create, institutions. Then, his attention should ascend from institutions to science, so now he will accept the beauty of every aspect of knowledge. And lastly, once he sees the beauty in a wide horizon, his vision of the beauty will not be anything that is of the flesh. It will be neither words, nor knowledge, nor a something that exists in something else, it will be the beauty of beauty itself that he loves.[4]

Steps on the ladder of love[edit]

Plato mentioned the steps of love by putting it under the teaching of Diotima to Socrates. The higher the steps, the more intellectual it is. To be able to climb the ladder, one must understand the prior steps thoroughly.

First: Love for a particular body Love is a desire for physical features. An individual tends to get attracted to what is missing from their own body. Different particular bodies trigger different individuals.

Second: Love for all bodies When an individual recognizes the physical features that he is attracted to and understand that many bodies can have beauty. Love is then expressed towards all beautiful bodies in the lover's view, not just a particular body. He then sees beauty in all bodies and learns to love the differences.

Third: Love for souls The stage in which physical features are put aside and spiritual and moral beauty trigger love. One will fall in love with beautiful minds in this step.

Fourth: Love for laws and institutions Love for the practice, custom or foundation that are derived from people with beautiful souls.

Fifth: Love for knowledge When an individual turns his attention to all kinds of knowledge and loves that there is knowledge to acquire everywhere.

Sixth: Love for Beauty itself An individual sees the beauty in its form and loves the beauty of love as it is. Every particular beautiful thing is beautiful because of its connection to this Form. The lover who has ascended the ladder apprehends the Form of Beauty in a kind of vision not through words or in the way that other sorts of more ordinary knowledge are known. [2]

Scholar's viewpoints[edit]

One of the common debates is on what happens to the lower rungs of the ladder when one climbs to the higher steps.

Some scholars view higher steps of the ladder of love as more important than the lower ones. As someone ascends the ladder, he abandons the love for lower subjects. For instance, if one learns to love the body of soul, he will no longer enjoy sensual pleasure of the body and might even loathe it as temptation. If one understands the beauty of the institution, he will not find joy in having a companion and will look at it as a waste of time. [5]

Other scholars interpreted it in the complete opposite way. They believed that when an individual goes up the ladder, they have a better understanding of the prior steps. In this case, one will still enjoy the pleasure of body even when he climbs to love the souls. He will even enjoy it better because he understands it better. When one climbed over the souls, he will not wish to seek perfections in bodies and souls. If one reaches the uppermost of the ladder, that means he knows how to perfect all the lower ones. [6]


  1. ^ "Diotima's Ladder,philosophy and fiction discussed". philosophyandfiction.com. August 2014. Retrieved August 18, 2018. definition
  2. ^ a b Westacott, Emrys (June 27, 2018). "Plato's "Ladder of Love". thoughtco.com. ThoughtCo. Retrieved August 18, 2018. origin
  3. ^ a b c d e f Shelley, Percy Bysshe (September 9, 2001). "Socrates and the Ladder of Love". paganpressbooks.com. Pagan Press. Retrieved August 15, 2018.
  4. ^ "Plato's "Ladder of Love",The Ascent to Beauty Itself (Symposium)". www.mesacc.edu. n.d. Retrieved July 28, 2018. Diotima's teaching
  5. ^ Miller, Patrick Lee (April 5, 2012). "Love's ladder's God". tif.ssrc.org. SSRC. Retrieved November 1, 2018. viewpoint
  6. ^ Urstad, Kristian (2010). "Loving Socrates:The Individual and the Ladder of Love in Plato's Symposium". Res Cogitans. 7 (1): 33–47.