We now enter the narrative itself. There is first the famous and enigmatic trance which seizes Socrates at the front porch. We know it means something significant, yet we are for the time being denied all intent to interpret what the trance means as we are led with Appolodorus into Agathon’s house: we are still in this world and not yet ready to partake of things divine. Once all have entered Agathon’s house and reclined on their couch, the protagonists agree to dismiss the flute-player. The six orators, including Socrates, are now confined among themselves in a closed space: something important is about to take place. The flute-girl symbolizes the outside, chaotic world of passions being chased out and away from the inner confines of the soul as it is about to enter the mysteries of Love. The enclosed room is also the image of the well-ordered State safe within its walls and governed by just and temperate laws in which chaos has no part, leaving the citizens free to actualize the polis. We may even go as far as seeing in this assembly, to say something bold, an anticipation of the Church, an assembly of faithful who, through their gathering at a ritual feast, meet the divine Logos, creator of all things, Love itself. Wine, the cause of drunkeness, is for that reason consumed very moderately, if at all, and only reindulged in again at the end, when everything is thrown into confusion by the entrance of a band of revellers. The setting is now in good order with no unruly passion left. (1)
It is in this respect that Socrates, as well as all ancient philosophy, can be said to be rationalist. It is rationalist in the sense that reason, the logos or intellectual faculty, is unhindered by raw and unbridled, bacchic passions. In no way can ancient philosophy, including cosmology and physics, be considered a positivist science in the modern sense.
Then the speeches start. These proceed from the lower to the higher, from love as a physical attraction paving the way to virtue of the mind (Phaedrus and Pausanias), ascending with Eryximachus into a physiological and cosmic force present in and moving all things, then, with Aristophanes, entering the sphere of ætiology and mythology (told in a creation-fall-redemption pattern) explaining Love as a desire for completeness and wholeness, and therefore not primarily physiological and sexual in nature, finally moving through, with Agathon, to the essence of Love, what it is (namely, it is the beautiful and virtue). These speeches are all worthy and possess much poetry, yet there is something missing or not up to the point in them. They pave the way to the climax, Socrates’ speech.
Then comes Socrates’ critique of Agathon’s speech. It is one of two places where we openly meet Plato’s famous dialectics. Dialectics (the confrontation of two or more different, often contradictory hypotheses to infer a conclusion—a truth) is the other way in which Socrates, Plato, and their succesors can be said to be rationalists. Again, it is very different from cartesian doubt. We will return to this below.