Socrates, shortly after starting his speech, introduces another character, a foreign prophetess named Diotima (said to be from Mantinea, a place name in the Peloponnesus phonetically so close to manteia, μαντεία–-power of divination, oracle—that it cannot be mere coincidence). That Socrates was guided by a diviner is telling. From here on till the end of his speech, he essentially recounts Diotima’s own words. This adds yet another level of separation from the reader to the ones observed above. The fact that Diotima, from 207a, speaks alone, without recourse to dialectics is also significant. It places the entire speech within the sphere of spiritual contemplation. When one enters the higher mysteries, traditional philosophical language no longer suffices. Dialectics is a way to produce opinions, which may or may not be close to truth. When one contemplates Truth itself, dialectics is therefore useless. Direct experience alone allows one to access the higher spheres of reality. Such experience produces awe and “wonder” (208b). Diotima’s teachings to Socrates is the closest thing to a divine revelation that we know from pre-Christian Antiquity. It anticipates in certain ways the concept of theological discourse that would become prominent in Christian times and reach its highest form with the Cappadocian fathers. It would perhaps not be wrong to see in Christian writers and orators, in so far as they conveyed the logos of God, the successors of Socrates and Diotima.
Diotima’s speech is the climax of the Symposium, the place where all previous speeches meet. That Socrates has been initiated into the highest levels of the things of Love with a “master” such as Diotima confers upon him a quasi-divine aura. His authority as a teacher is rooted in this experience. His speech is an invitation to follow him.
As Socrates finishes his speech, enters Alcibiades. The latter’s significance and importance is underlined as early as the opening statement of the Symposium (172b– “…wanting to find out about the gathering of Socrates and Alcibiades, as well as of the others who were also present, that took place at Agathon’s house”). His presence at the gathering can be intriguing as he is not sober and his speech is not even about Love. But this contradiction can be resolved. Alcibiades is the antitype of Socrates. While the latter is self-controlled and entirely devoted to spiritual things, the former is a pleasure-seeking, proud man of this world. The apparently opposite characters of Socrates and Alcibiades may refer back to Eryximachus’ statement that a well-ordered cosmos is one in which two opposite forces coexist within the right amount. Yet, as Socrates turned down Alcibiades’ offers, so do the superior, rational parts of the soul bridle the lower, irrational appetites. Alcibiades’ entry throws a monkey wrench into the banquet room and at first threatens the orderly setting, yet everything quickly returns to normalcy as he is invited in. Though drunk, there is a place for him. What was true of the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades (namely, that the former declined the latter’s sexual offers) is equally true at the banquet: temperance and moderation rule over intemperance and appetite. Alcibiades’ presence is therefore not a threat as those unruly passions are held in check.