Her name was Diotima, and she was a prophetess from ancient Greece who revealed the mysteries of love to Plato. In true Socratic style, they had intercourse (of the mind) wherein Diotima revealed the mysteries of love to Plato, and Plato, in turn, shared the insights he gleaned from Diotima in his famous text Symposium, the most renowned philosophical dialogue on the attributes of love ever created. Diotima’s vision of love is that the pursuit of true love is really the pursuit of loving beauty; it is the form of beauty. To help Plato understand her teachings on love, Diotima frames love as an ascent up a ladder. At the base of the ladder, she explains, exists the lustful loving of one body. Ascending up the ladder, the next rung is the understanding that all bodies are pretty much the same; with that comes the loving of all bodies (as in, “Love your neighbor as yourself”). From there, we ascend the ladder further to love the beauty of the soul. So, this ascension is an ascension from loving one particular body to “facing the vast sea of beauty” to loving beauty itself. That is, the type of beauty that only the soul can have.
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Love is the name of our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.
In Symposium, Diotima describes beauty as “an everlasting loveliness, which neither comes nor goes, which neither flowers nor fades.” It is the very essence of beauty, “subsisting of itself and by itself in an eternal oneness.” She adds, “Those who are obsessed with images of beauty can only produce images of virtue, but those who can see Beauty itself can produce virtue itself, making themselves immortal and loved by the gods.”