Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Diotima of Mantinea


While reading about Diotima, what could be concluded is that there is much dispute over whether she was an actual person or a Platonic character. This chapter on Diotima laid out various arguments and counter-arguments to prove the actual existence of Diotima historically.
In the Symposium, Diotima was a priestess from Mantinea who postponed a plague and taught Socrates the nature of Love. Most of the arguments put forth are based on analyzing the Symposium. The first idea put forth to solve the puzzle of Diotima’s existence is that the Form of Beauty is inconsistent with Plato’s Form of the Good. Another argument given to separate Diotima and Plato is that the Form of Beauty is on the level of appearances and not that of Platonic Ideas or Forms. Another argument made is that it is unusual for Plato to cast a woman in one of his dialogs. Similarly, Socrates would never have learned from a woman. One other argument made to suggest that Diotima was a mere character is, that Diotima is not referenced in anything historically except the Symposium. Lastly, that the Symposium was not one of Plato’s philosophical works, but him trying to show that he could write comedy as well as tragedy. That if this were so, Diotima would be a character put in the dialogue for comedic purposes.
These arguments are then countered. The first claim is that Socrates was known to exchange ideas with women. This is proven in Meno, saying that he sought religious advice from men and women priests and priestesses, thus proving (if we take Plato’s descriptions to be factual) that Socrates did converse with priestesses. Secondly, there is a brass overlay above a cassette which is supposed to be Socrates and Diotima because of the resemblance of Socrates in this statue and others from that time period. Also, along with the brass overlay, there was a copy of the Symposium. With all of the various arguments presented, it is disputed whether or not Diotima actually existed or if she was a fictional character.

Personal Response

Throughout my education I have always been taught that the answer to whether Diotima was an actual person was unknown, but it was commonly acknowledged that she was a fictional character to enhance Plato’s Symposium for whatever reason. Although I found certain arguments on both sides to be compelling, I still remain questioning where or not she was fictional. I find it slightly more likely that Plato used her to be ironic. Regardless, I thought that some of the points made in the beginning arguments were incorrect. It was argued that Diotima’s Form of Beauty was inconsistent with Socrates’ Form of the Good. I disagree and do not see any differences in the way that they are described; both seem to indicate a latter-like climb from ignorance to wisdom. Also, both Forms seem to start on the same level at appearances and ascend to a Form which is separate from particulars. Overall, I still remain indifferent about with she was an actual person or only a character. The section about Diotima might have better been utilized by explaining more about how she influenced works later created in the middle ages.



  1. We can ALWAYS learn from women,but not always what we would wish to!

    1. That sounds as if its addressed to the males of the species!!

      However, fictional or not, women certainly played a major role in learning and academia. Witness Hypatia the last librarian of the great library of Alexandria as just one example.

    2. Feminists would say it was the "males of the species" who killed Hypatia-jealous and undermined by her brilliance,leadership,verve etc

  2. Check this: A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers By M.E. Waithe. She supports the idea that Diotima is a real person and brings several evidences. Interesting.

  3. What unspoken/unwritten words are said in 'School of Athens' by Raphael? Thanks for the book title Ilaria.