The Strawberry Patch

Enrichment and Inspiration for Beta Sigma Phi Sisters from Marilyn Ross


Diotima was a priestess of Mantineia; she was the reputed instructor of Socrates. Plato introduces her opinions on the nature, origin and object of life. Some critics believe that the whole story of Diotima is a mere fiction of Plato's, while a few see in it at least some historical foundation and regard her as an historical personage. Later Greek writers call her priestess of the Lycaen Zeus, and state that she was a Pythagorean philosopher who resided for some time in Athens.
 --from the Dictionary of Mythology


Diotima, the prophetess of Mantineia, whose sacred and superhuman character raises her above the ordinary properties of the woman, has taught Socrates all he knows about the art and mystery of love. She has taught him that love is another aspect of philosophy: the same want in the human soul which is satisfied in the vulgar by the procreation of children, may become the highest aspect of intellectual desire. Plato--through Diotima--would have us absorb all other loves and desires in the love of knowledge. To most men, reason and passion appear to be antagonistic in idea and fact. The union of the greatest comprehension of knowledge and the burning intensity of love is a contradiction in nature--yet this passion of reason is the theme of the Symposium.


Plato has Socrates tell of Diotima and his discussion with her of love.

LOVE is something in that which love desires is not that which love is or has; for no man desires that which he is or has. Love is of the beautiful, and therefore has not itself the beautiful. And the beautiful is the good, and therefore in wanting and desiring the beautiful, love also wants and desires the good. Love is not a mighty god, but an intermediate power who conveys to the gods the prayers of men and to men the commands of the gods. Love is half wise--half ignorant. Love desires the possession of the beautiful. Therefore substitute good for beauty--possession of the good equals happiness and therefore love is the desire of happiness. This is the reason why parents love their children--for the sake of immortality; and this is why men love the immortality of fame. For the creative soul creates not children, but conceptions of wisdom and virtue, and the noblest creations of all are those of legislators. Who would not sooner have these children of the mind than ordinary children of the body? To be initiated into the great mysteries of love, one should proceed from the beautiful bodies to beautiful minds, and thence to the beauty of laws and institutions, until one sees that all beauty is of all kindred, and from institutions, one should go on to the sciences until at last vision will be revealed to you of a single science of universal beauty. Then we will see the everlasting nature, which is the cause of it all and will be near the end. In the contemplation of that supreme being of love, you will be purified of earthly leaven, and will behold beauty not with the bodily eye, but with the eye of the mind, and will bring forth true creations of virtue and wisdom, and be a friend of God and the heir of immortality.


MANTINEUS was the son of Lycaen and the reputed founder of Mantineia. Mantineia was a city situated in Arcadia which was between Sparta and the Isthmus of Greece and was the central district of Peloponnesus. It was shut off the coast on all sides by mountains and was a high marshy plateau. In the earliest Greek histories, Mantineia was a cluster of villages submissive to Sparta but was destroyed in the sixth century A.D. Mantineia in Arcadia was the supposed birthplace of the god Pan who was born to Penelope, the wife of Ulysses after she had been seduced by Mercury. The Lycaen Zeus was worshiped around the area of Mount Lycae in Crete. Disciples practiced human sacrifices.


The understanding of love as something more than physical desire is not a new teaching today, but in Diotima's time, it was something of a bombshell to assert that the same urge which caused a parent to project his or her self into an offspring was akin to that which caused a person to create a work of art, a theory of science, or a philanthropic movement. Love is desire and "that which love desires is not that which love is or has." It is the "ever-beyond", the very core of progress, the urge, the whip that drives us all toward projection of the self. Diotima stressed the point that projection of the self through the mind and the spirit in the creation of goodness, truth and beauty were the most sublime goals. We all know that however good are the things of the physical self, there is a higher good and a higher self. Only the vulgar take the physical as an end in itself, and the physical self is not less but more when it is regarded as the living temple of the heart and mind and spirit which tenants it.

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