Philosophy of Love: Eryximachus vs. Aristophanes on Love
While Eryximachus and Aristophanes present compelling arguments about love, Aristophane’s assertion that “love is a union of what is the same” is more accurate because it signifies love as a process of making the soul whole. Aristophane’s argument implies that union will only occur where love abides. The separation of soul in ancient life led humans to possess one half of the soul, and union makes it whole. One objection is that some people spend their lives in solitude with no declared lovers, implying love can still exist without union. According to Aristophanes, this is possible because love does not have to be eros; it could be expressed in friendship and family. With this argument, Eryximachus’ argument that love is a harmony of opposites is less accurate because it limits to eros, while Aristophane’s description opens for all forms of love.
In explaining love, Aristophanes gives a historical account of human existence. He notes that there were three sexes, “man, woman and union of the two” (Plato Symposium). The separation of the union produced a split in souls, producing a mirror image of each, and love is an effort to search for the other half. I find Aristophanes’ argument inclined to show that one must find the mirror image of their soul to find love. In the symposium by Plato, Aristophanes noted that love exists where temperance and justice are and produce good and happiness. Thus, I find love as an effort to unite souls and create happiness.
In arguing for “love as unity of what is the same,” Aristophanes argued that when the human soul was separated, “having one side only, like a flat fish,” it went out looking for its other half (Plato Symposium). This is evident in man looking for a soul mate, which is an attempt to return to the original “whole” nature. Thus, love has become so fundamental that neuroscientists like Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo note that we cannot live without love (Lewis). Without love, life loses meaning (Stillman et al. 686).
Some people argue in favour of Eryximachus that love is the “harmony of opposites.” In his argument, Eryximachus equated love to music, which is a union of opposites (Plato Symposium). This argument implies that love can only exist among opposites. I find this argument inaccurate because it is limited to spousal love. Love exists even in individuals with no sexual relations, and Aristophanes cites Zeus saying that sex only arises as a secondary outcome (Plato Symposium). Thus, love is an effort to complete the soul and can be reflected in spousal, parental, and friendly relationships.
Aristophanes’ argument about love is more accurate than Eryximachus’. It is more compelling to view love as a pursuit to get the soul’s other half than to believe love is a harmony of opposites. Aristophanes views love as a process of humans reverting to their nature, and sex, which is implied in Eryximachus’ definition of love, comes as secondary. I find this definition relevant because it is not limited to eros.
Lewis, T. “‘We Cannot Live Without Love’: When Dr. Love Met Dr. Loneliness”. The Guardian, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/may/15/we-cannot-live-without-love-what-happened-when-dr-love-met-dr-loneliness.
Stillman, Tyler F. et al. “Alone and Without Purpose: Life Loses Meaning Following Social Exclusion”. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, vol 45, no. 4, 2009, pp. 686-694. Elsevier BV, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2009.03.007