Health and harmony : Eryximachus on the science of Eros
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Plato’s Symposium masterfully depicts several different explanations of the phenomenon of Eros or love. The physician Eryximachus depicts Eros as a cosmic force that can bring harmony to a number of areas, from medicine and music to astronomy and divination. Most readers of the Symposium have read Eryximachus in an unflattering way, as a pompous know-it-all who fails to give a speech that meets either his high aspirations or his high opinion of himself. In this paper I argue that this reading of Eryximachus and his speech is unpersuasive. My defense of Eryximachus has three components: (1) Plato treats Eryximachus sympathetically in the Symposium and elsewhere, and has him deliver a modest and perfectly coherent speech about the science of Eros. (2) Eryximachus’s speech can only be properly understood if we read it in the context of Hippocratic medical theory, which infuses the speech throughout. (3) Outside the Symposium, Plato views medicine as a model technē, and health as a central philosophical concept; inside the Symposium, Plato has his mouthpiece Socrates give a speech on behalf of the priestess Diotima that agrees with Eryximachus on nearly every point of his speech. This indicates that Plato would have viewed Eryximachus’s speech quite favorably, and that modern readers should follow suit. I conclude by suggesting how this reading of Eryximachus should influence how we read the Symposium as a whole.