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Raymond Quattlebaum’s reflections on love, with his poem anthology The Color of Love, is a starting point for readers to think about the endless possibilities of love and romance.

In this day and age, romantic love is often regarded as a significant aspect of one’s life—and in an ever-shifting climate where even friends and family come and go, having a romantic partner with whom you can spend a life sounds delightful and, sometimes, necessary. Although the definition of romantic love can be vague, it can generally be seen as the mutual bond or attraction that is the foundation of a solid relationship.

Being in a loving and romantic relationship is, though not necessary, an important milestone in one’s life, and there is as much variation of romantic love as there is in the number of stars in the night sky.

Lessons on Love from the Symposium

Although Raymond Quattlebaum’s reflections on love in The Color of Love provide a modern template of romantic attraction and contemplation on love, one of the oldest theories of why people love romantically in the first place comes from Plato’s Symposium.

The narrative revolves around a gathering of six friends, who each make a speech dedicated to Eros, the god of love. Each has a unique but insightful perspective on what love is and should be. These are the friends in question and their insights:

  • Phaedrus, an aristocrat

For Phaedrus, love is the impetus for development. It is the driving force to better oneself by acquiring honor and success, all for gaining the admiration of their beloved. In this sense, love can be seen as the catalyst for competition and self-improvement, befitting an aristocrat’s noble aspirations. As Phaedrus remarks, there is nothing more shameful for someone than to be seen as unworthy by the object of their affection. Romance, from this angle, then is a constant journey of betterment, always to match the ideals of one’s partner and provide for them whenever. 

  • Pausanias, a jurist

For Pausanias, there are two distinct types of love. The first and the most common, also the lowest, is love for the sake of sexual gratification. Here, love is only a vehicle for physical pleasure and knows nothing of virtue. This love is the province for the young or immature but is something that can be grown out of. The second and the noblest is love that appreciates. This love is the domain of equals, built on mutual understanding, where all parties acknowledge the other’s wisdom and capabilities. 

  • Eryximachus, a physician

For Eryximachus, love is a pervasive thing. It is beyond emotion and affects everything in the universe, including plants and animals. Love is something that should be nurtured and protected. From a physician like Eryximachus, love is a profound medicine that could cure many ailments but is also poisonous. Love, for him, can potentially be beneficial or malevolent. Although taking a more metaphysical approach, there is a kernel of truth to Eryximachus’s view. Many illnesses that affect the mind—and a few that affect the body—can be attributed to an unhealthy outlook on love that may lead to a dangerous obsession.

  • Aristophanes, a playwright

For Aristophanes, love is a yearning. He describes a story that long ago, humans were multi-limbed, multi-headed, and multi-hearted. They were powerful and arrogant, so much so that they tried to usurp the power of the gods. So, Zeus divided them for their transgression, diminishing their abilities and separating them into smaller individuals. So, love is the desire to find one’s other half so they may be together once more. In love, someone discovers what is missing from them; it is also in love that someone finds contentment, happiness, and wholeness.

  • Agathon, a poet

For Agathon, love is the source of virtue. The enemy of old age, Agathon says, was love, and it clung to youth. In this way, love became the basis for justice, courage, and wisdom to stave away the inevitability of death. Love then could be seen as a path to achieving a form of eternity, constantly revitalizing itself to be a source of inspiration.

  • Socrates, a philosopher

For Socrates, love is a journey toward wisdom. Learning from the priestess Diotima, Socrates’s perspective on love was that it is a seeking, first driving the individual to love earthly beauty, the pleasure of the flesh, then towards loving spiritual beauty, the joy of companionship. After experiencing all these, the individual would be directed to the love of wisdom, inspiring one’s mind, soul, and focus away from worldly pursuits.

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