Diotima of Mantinea
Greek Priestess and Teacher of Socrates
ca. 400 B.C.
Diotima, Socrates' great teacher from the Symposium, a work by Plato was one of the most influential women thinkers of all time, whether she was a real person or a literary fictional character. She related to Socrates the theory of love which he described to the partygoers at Agathon's banquet, a celebration of Agathon's victory at the competition of Dionysis in Athens and of eros.
Diotima taught Socrates that love was the child of Poros and Penia, lack and plenty, a spirit of the between. Love was one of the daimon, the spirits that held the world together as a whole, the force that relayed messages and prayers between the gods and man. Eros was also known best through wisdom. The love of wisdom is the love of eros.
As we progress in our lives, Diotima told Socrates, we grow in our conception of love. First we are stirred by the beauty of the young body. Then we begin to see the beauty in all bodies. At this point we look to the beauty of the soul. As man is able to identify the beauty in all souls, he soon appreciates the beauty in the laws, and the strucure of all things. Lastly we discover the beauty of the forms, the divine ideas. Love is important for it starts and continues us on our path.
Even as our conception of beauty changes, beauty, like a lay of nature stands. The things which are held sway by ideas shift, the law however is unchanging.
Her conception of eros gives us an interesting way to look at the forms in general. We cannot aproach the divine ideas of Socrates, the forms, just like man is not able to aproach love. Once we have an idea of it it slips by, the factual knowledge about it eludes us from its deeper meaning, a meaning which is out of reach of human knowledge.
Viewing the forms in this manner is helpful. Just as we could not very well conceive of justice as a form, we can only know its practice, we aproach the idea of love and all forms.
Diotima shows us that knowledge is found in many ways. We gain access to some through our perceptions, our senses. Some knowledge is reached through insight, the mind. And, Diotima explains, some is found between, like love.
Diotima, the Greek Priestess, was central to Socrates conception of love and of his idea of the forms.