Interpreters of Plato’s Symposium continue to disagree over the ‘theory of desire’ presented by the dialogue. Does the figure of Socrates suggest that our embodied love relationships serve as the mere tools by which we are propelled ‘upward’ to the love of higher, intelligible things (i.e., the Beautiful, a ‘God’)? Or, might the interruption within the text by the beautiful Alcibiades mark a clear re-valuation of our desirous experiences in the sensible realm?
One wonders if a similar tension was not recently evident on the shores of Delaware’s Pickering Beach. For even longer than scholars have been arguing about Plato’s theories, horseshoe crabs have been enacting one of the clearest displays of bodily desire. Once a year, thousands of horseshoe crabs storm the Delaware Bay shore for the largest mating event of the season. While such affairs no doubt attract visitors, this July not everyone arrived for purely voyeuristic purposes. Led by Stew Michels, from the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife, teams labored to count the amorous crabs in hopes of finding an increase in their recently dwindled populations. In spite of the difficulty of the task, workers could not help but pause in awe, struck by all that was unfolding around them. “You feel like you’re part of the bigger world,” one volunteer commented.
It is here that the Delaware beaches, if reflective of Plato’s ancient text, resonate the most vividly with the above interpretive problem. For it remains uncertain as to whom readers and non-readers of the Symposium alike would allot the ‘truer’ experience of desire: the tireless workers aware of the Beauty of the larger picture or the tireless horseshoe crabs aware only of each other. To read more, see this article from NPR.
Whatever Became of the Socratic Elenchus? Philosophical Analysis in Plato,
Gareth Matthews , University of Massachusetts at Amherst,
Philosophy Compass 4/3 (2009)