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Platonic love is defined as love conceived by Plato as ascending from passion for the individual to contemplation of the universal and ideal or a close relationship between two persons in which sexual desire is nonexistent or has been suppressed or sublimated. In Symposium, Plato discusses various types of love through the dialogue of his speakers, and it is through this that we are able to go beyond a simple definition and truly understand the nature of Platonic love, its importance in ancient Greece, and its relevance to our lives today.
For Plato, the search for virtue is capable of being attained through platonic love, the love of true Beauty. Only after one has ascended past the basic forms of love, (the love of beautiful bodies, and the love of wisdom) can one love true Beauty and therefore be capable of true virtue. It is easy to understand when at the end of the speech of Diotoma, she says:
When he looks at Beauty in the only way that Beauty can be seen only then will it become possible for him to give birth not to images of virtue (because he s in touch with no images), but to true virtue (because he s in touch with true Beauty).
Thus Platonic love in its purest essence in Symposium is love of this kind, the love of Beauty. This is the kind of love is the epitome of what Platonic love is.
There are other references in Syposium to love that is non-sexual. One such example takes place in the Speech of Pausanias makes a distinct difference between vulgar love and noble love, the love of the body versus the love of the soul. This speech focuses on the fact that loving just the sexual act is a young base type of love, which included both the love of women and lust for young boys. The real love is that of strictly men (older boys) and is love out of virtue, and what is right.
The importance of Platonic love for Plato in his time was the direct tie of the love of Beauty to true virtue. Plato further specifically states that The love of the gods belongs to anyone who has given birth to true virtue and nourished it, and if any human being could become immortal, it would be he. So we are capable of seeing the value that love has on virtue and that virtue has on immortality. This was the understanding of Platonic love in ancient Greece.
Aristotle speaks of platonic love indirectly in The Art of Rhetoric. In chapter 2.4. Plato talks about friendship, and describes its nature, expectations and what it is not. This is probably more indicative of what our modern day idea of Platonic Love is, with the idea that friendship is for another s sake and not for oneself .
Today our definition of Platonic love is quite different, and quite misunderstood. When we hear the word Platonic Love, we naturally think that it applies to a male-female relationship involving no sex and it is written off as just friends . We live in a world that is completely focused on physical beauty, and there are some today that probably never get past that basic form of love. Thus it is difficult for many conceive that two people might have something greater than purely physical love (lust), or that you can achieve anything greater without having a physical aspect. Yet, it is possible. It is possible to love someone, for who they are inside and out, and to love them and accept them, without desiring or needing a physical relationship. That you have so much respect, love and trust in that other person that you don t need anything else than to be around them and have their companionship and support. This to many is not as important a type of love, especially for college students, for it lacks a physical element. Yet in the greater view of life, it is the most important and the most lasting type of love that can exist. Thus it is far greater and more difficult a love than that of the physical playful type.