There is no question that the Symposium tells the initiation of a man, Socrates, into religious mysteries, into the higher Truth. The word is explicitely used: initiation (as a passive verb μυηθείης, 209e) also has the meaning of mystery. We are far from the empiricist and rationalist Socrates of our age. It is perhaps the reason why our secular societies, which have altogether given up (and, one should say, fear) all concept of higher knowledge, have somehow pushed this book into the shadows, not understanding (or, more exactly, rejecting) where it offers to lead us. While other books of Plato that discuss more concrete, immediate political concepts (justice, the good) can still be useful in a secularized mindframe, the Symposium cannot. It has at first glance no direct political relevance, although a more careful reading will prove otherwise. After all, aren’t just and good laws, as Diotima teaches, the product of contemplation of the beautiful forms? In other words, the realm of politics and human affairs is unseparable from the realm of contemplation and the divine. Because it contradicts the secular notion of politics that were born with the Enlightenment, the Symposium is perhaps one of the most revolutionary books to read today. It is in any case the cornerstone of a new humanism.
(1) We have a later instance of a set of characters, protagonists of a speech, physically signifying the passage from a lower to a higher condition: in Plutarch’s De facie, a number of wise men, all in a room and each defending a school of philosophy, discuss what could possibly cause the moon to display an apparent face on its visible side. Each speaker lays down the scientific theory in accordance with his school of thought and criticizes that of his fellow speakers. Once Sylla is about to speak and tell his myth, all sit up on their couch and dialectics comes to a stop. As in the Symposium, the superiority of the religious myth over the discursive process is signified by the bodily action of the protagonists. We have here again the confirmation that Greek philosophy saw a limit to rationalist discourse, felt that it alone was not sufficient to reach a higher sphere of knowledge.