Diotima of Mantinea is a major figure in Plato's Symposium. The Symposium is the dialogue set during an all night banquet where the participants decide to examine the concept of LOVE. It should be noted that no women are present at the banquet. This is a 'men only' view of the topic.
It is interesting that Socrates, the one who is the figure of THE PHILOSOPHER, is the person who introduces the ideas of a woman philosopher. It is not the only time that Socrates says he learned from a woman. We know that he knew a number of women philosophers including Aspasia and his mother, Perictione I, among others.
The speakers introduce most of the major theories about love. Then, finally, Socrates speaks and he tells of an encounter with a priestess, Diotima of Mantinea, who taught him the meaning of Love.
He repeats her teaching with its linking of love and beauty and the human soul ascending a ladder of the human perfection in love. It is a thrilling passage and one that entrances many beginning philosophy students - this passage from the attraction of one beautiful thing through a series of rising to greater and greater generality and spirituality until one encounters BEAUTY itself.
This theory of Diotima of Mantinea found in the Symposium is echoed in later texts in the Euro-American tradition. It is found especially in texts by religious and spiritual authors who discuss the 'rising of the human soul' in the way of perfection or love.
There has been some scholarly controversy about this woman philosopher. Was she a real person or a Platonic fiction?
Mary Ellen Waithe gives a clear exposition of the controversy and develops evidence in her chapter "Diotima of Mantinea" in Vol 1 of A History of Women Philosophers.
If you want to read Socrates' discourse where he describes her teaching, you will find it towards the end of the Symposium . You can scroll down until you find the section where Socrates, who is the last speaker, begins to speak.
SPECIAL NOTE: If you are going to read this text, I suggest that you read it aloud since that is how the ancients read all their texts. You will get a much better 'feel' for both the theory and nuances of the text.
For a full text, overview and analysis of the Symposium go to: Plato's Symposium I heartily recommend the Jowett translation. It gives a much better 'feel' for the Greek text.
Essays about Diotima of Mantinea:
This page was last updated 06/08/16