Socrates and Theognis on True Love

In: The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition

Abstract

The study compares Theognis’ and Socrates’ concept of love: there is an ambivalence of love present in both authors in the form of a connection between the pleasing and the unpleasing, that is, on the one hand, devotion to the educatory harshness of the lover, on the other to his skill and cunning. To what extent is the ambivalence in Socrates and Theognis similar or dissimilar? The answer discloses a comparison of ideas about the functioning, the aims, and the meaning of love in the wider context of understanding the life and world of the two authors: such a context exposes the duplicity in Theognis, and the love of negation of unambiguous teaching about the proper life without painful testing. In Socrates, it is exposed to irony, to eternal ignorance and to openness to another and to god’s world.

Next, we contrast Theognis’ limiting of another’s duplicity (devotion and cunning) to a level between a loving and friendly relationship with Socrates’ expansion of the loving struggle into every sphere of life, above all into the relationship of the lover to himself and those close to him. We explain this contrast as a decision between trust in reason and trust in love as the fundamental forces conferring meaning on human life. We show, however, that with Socrates it is not blind love but rather love embracing reason and overlapping divine challenges, while with Theognis it is not pure reason that is involved, but rather reason directed by the socio-political situation.

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