Essay on Tragedy of Alcibiades in Plato's Symposium

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The Tragedy of Alcibiades in Plato's Symposium

In Symposium, a selection from The Dialogues of Plato, Plato uses historical allusions to demonstrate Alcibiades’ frustration with both social expectations for the phallus and his inability to meet these expectations. Alcibiades’ inability to have a productive sexual relationship effectively castrates him and demonstrates the impotence caused by an overemphasis on eroticism. The tragedy of Alcibiades is that he realizes he is unable to gain virtue through sexual relationships and will therefore be forced to remain mortal, yet he is unable to alter his condition.

Symposium is set during a festival for Dionysus, the goddess of fertility; this setting emphasizes the sexual expectations of
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Socrates attempts to justify homosexual relationships by quoting Diotima’s differentiation between heterosexual relationships ("those who are pregnant in terms of their bodies" and produce children) and homosexual relationships (those "who are pregnant in terms of the soul" and produce "prudence and the rest of virtue" in their partner) (Plato 271).2 This ideal of productivity in homosexual relationships is realized by the lover passing knowledge and wisdom on to his beloved. Thus, Socrates successfully justifies homosexual relationships; with this reasoning, he demonstrates to the other partygoers that their homosexual relationships must be productive to be justified.

Despite Alcibiades’ numerous male lovers (Crane),3 Plato portrays Alcibiades as unable to realize any productive sexual relationship (Crane Plutarch)4 because he fails to become the virtuous man that a productive relationship would have produced. Alcibiades admits that he occasionally succumbs "to the honor [he gets] from many." Alcibiades is referring to the instances when, instead of spending time with Socrates, he "surrender[s] himself to the flatterers who [tempt] him with many pleasures" (Crane Plutarch). Alcibiades is prevented from having a productive sexual relationship by his sexual urges and overemphasis on physical eroticism. Alcibiades’
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