Robert Bridges, ed. (18441930). The Spirit of Man: An Anthology. 1916.
Plato (427?347 B.C.)
HE1 who has been instructed thus far in the science of Love, and has been led to see beautiful things in their due order and rank, when he comes toward the end of his discipline, will suddenly catch sight of a wondrous thing, beautiful with the absolute Beauty;and this, Socrates, is the aim and end of all those earlier labours:he will see a Beauty eternal, not growing or decaying, not waxing or waning; nor will it be fair here and foul there, nor depending on time or circumstance or place, as if fair to some, and foul to others: nor shall Beauty appear to him in the likeness of a face or hand, nor embodied in any sort of form whatever, whether of heaven or of earth; but Beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting; which lending of its virtue to all beautiful things that we see born to decay, itself suffers neither increase nor diminution, nor any other change.
When a man proceeding onwards from terrestrial things by the right way of loving, once comes to sight of that Beauty, he is not far from his goal. And this is the right way wherein he should go or be guided in his love: he should begin by loving earthly things for the sake of the absolute loveliness, ascending to that as it were by degrees or steps, from the first to the second, and thence to all fair forms; and from fair forms to fair conduct, and from fair conduct to fair principles, until from fair principles he finally arrive at the ultimate principle of all, and learn what absolute beauty is.
This life, my dear Socrates, said Diotima, if any life at all is worth living, is the life that a man should live, in the contemplation of absolute Beauty: the which, when once you beheld it, would not appear to you to be after the manner of gold and garments or beautiful persons, whose sight now so ravishes you, that you and many others consorting with your lovers forget even to eat and drink, if only you may look at them and live near them. But what if a mans eyes were awake to the sight of the true Beauty, the divine Beauty, pure, clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality, and the many colours and varieties of human life? What if he should hold converse with the true Beauty, simple and divine?
O think you, she said, that it would be an ignoble life for a man to be ever looking thither and with his proper faculty contemplating the absolute Beauty, and to be living in its presence? Are you not rather convinced that he who thus sees Beauty as only it can be seen, will be specially fortuned? and that, since he is in contact not with images but with realities, he will give birth not to images, but to very Truth itself? And being thus the parent and nurse of true virtue it will be his lot to become a friend of God, and, so far as any man can be, immortal and absolute?
Note 1. Plato. Symposium, 211. This is the end of Diotimas speech as related by Socrates. The Greek of the words a wondrous thing, beautiful with absolute Beauty, is [Greek], i. e. a marvellous thing in its nature (or essence) beautiful. Jowett mistranslates. [Trans. R. Bridges.] [back]