On Love

‘That’s why I say Love is the most ancient of gods, the most honoured, and the most effective in enabling human beings to acquire courage and happiness, both in life and death.’ […] ‘We all know Aphrodite is inseparable from Love. If there was a single Aphrodite, there would be a single Love; but since there are two kinds of Aphrodite, there must also be two Loves. And surely there are two kinds of Aphrodite? One of these is older and is the daughter of Uranus, though she has no mother: we call her Uranian or Heavenly Aphrodite. The younger one is the daughter of Zeus and Dione: we call her Pandemic or Common Aphrodite. […] ‘Every activity in itself is neither right nor wrong. Take our present activity: we could be drinking or singing or discussing. None of these is right in itself; the character of the activity depends on the way it is done. If is done rightly and properly, it is right; if it is not done properly, it is wrong. So not every type of loving and Love is right and deserves to be praised, but only the the type that motivates us to love rightly.

Common Love is genuinely “Common” and undiscriminating in its effects; this is the kind of love that inferior people feel. People like this are attracted to women as much as boys, and to bodies rather than minds.They are attracted to partners with the least possible intelligence, because their sole aim is to get what they want, and they don’t care whether they do this rightly or not. So the effect of love on them is that they act without discrimination: it is all the same to them whether they behave well or not. The reason is that their love derives from the goddess who is much younger than the other, and who, because of her origin, is partly female and partly male in character.

The other love derives from the Heavenly goddess, who has nothing of the female in her, only maleness; so this love is directed at boys. This goddess is also older, and so avoids abusive violence. That’s why those inspired with this love are drawn towards the male, feeling affection for what is naturally more vigorous and intelligent. You can also distinguish, within the general class of those attracted to boys, the ones who are motivated purely by the heavenly type of love. These are are attracted to boys only when they start to have developed intelligence, and this happens around the time that they begin to grow a beard. I think those who begin love-affairs at this age show their readiness to spend their whole loves together and to lead a fully shared life. They do not plan to trick the boy, catching him while he is still young and foolish, and then leaving with a laugh and running off to someone else.


A love affair in itself is neither right nor wrong but right when it is conducted rightly and wrong when conducted wrongly. It is wrong to gratify a bad man in a bad way, and right to gratify a good man in the right way. A bad man, in this connection, is the lover of the common type, who loves the body rather than the mind. He is not constant: as soon as the bloom of the body fades, which is what attracted him, “he flies away and is gone”, bringing disgrace on all he said and promised. But the man who loves the goodness of character is constant throughout his life, since he has become united with something constant. […] Only one way remains, according to our rules, in which it is right for a boy to gratify his lover. I said earlier that the lover’s willingness to undergo every kind of slavery isn’t humiliating or reprehensible. Similarly, according to our rules, there’s only one remaining type of voluntary slavery that isn’t reprehensible: the type which aims to produce virtue. Our view is that if someone is willing to put himself at someone else’s service in the belief that the other person will help him improve in wisdom or some other aspect of virtue, this willing slavery isn’t wrong or humiliating. […] In this case, there’s nothing wrong with being deceived; but, in every other case, love is wrong, whether or not you are deceived. […] So it’s absolutely right to gratify a lover in the hope of gaining virtue. This is the heavenly love that belongs to the Heavenly goddess and is a source of great value to the city and to the individuals, because it forces the lover to pay attention to his own virtue and the boyfriend to do the same. All other forms of love derive from the other Love, the Common one.

The Symposium, Plato (and in this discourse, Socrates)