BOOK REVIEW: Symposium by Plato

SymposiumSymposium by Plato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Symposium is a collection of speeches in praise of Love (the Greek god and the emotional experience) given at a banquet in Ancient Greece. The participants are men of renown, including: a playwright, a physician, a philosopher, a statesman, etc. The narrative is delivered as a secondhand telling after the fact, and isn’t intended as a verbatim transcript of all the speeches.

There are seven speeches, each unique and most playing off the others. Phaedrus starts by emphasizing the underrecognized importance of the unsung god, Eros. Next, Pausanias stresses that there isn’t one kind of love, but two. Eryximachus focuses on the all-pervasive nature of love and, as a physician, mentions the bodily dimension of love. Aristophanes’s speech seems largely in jest, but stresses the fact that people don’t comprehend the power of love. Agathon rebukes the others for emphasizing love as a gift to humans, and, instead, suggests one should focus on praise of the deity. Socrates’s encomium is a departure, as one might expect given his love of questioning and hatred of speechmaking. First, he questions Agathon about whether love is really synonymous with beauty or good, as the youth’s speech had suggested. Second, he recounts his instruction on the subject from Diotima, which is mostly a recounted dialogue between her and he.

The last speech is afield. A drunken Alcibiades wanders in late. [The others decided not to drink because most drank too much the previous day.] Alcibiades gives a speech in praise of Socrates, his once lover, with whom he’s on the outs. From Alcibiades we learn not just about his relationship with Socrates, but also some interesting biographical facts about the philosopher, such as his proclivity to get lost in thought for extended periods and his bravery in combat.

This is an interesting work, and well worth reading.


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BOOK REVIEW: Maria Llovet’s Eros/Psyche by Maria Llovet

Maria Llovet's Eros/PsycheMaria Llovet’s Eros/Psyche by Maria Llovet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This story takes place at a all-girl boarding school called “The Rose.” It’s a strange place with something vaguely supernatural about it, including: we see no faculty or staff – only students, and, also, it appears to teach witchcraft or some sort of herbal potion-based artform. And the students are eliminated one by one – as in a reality tv show in which the low-scoring student (or disobedient / disorderly students) must leave, at least that’s what we are led to believe. The bulk of the story revolves around just two characters, Sara [a new student] and Silje [a veteran.] Few of the other girls have much in the way of speaking roles or story relevance. That’s part of a minimalist motif that’s used to generate a stark feel. There’s a lot of textless frames, and most frames show a simple scene that is often more reflective than active.

The story consists of a slow-burn budding romance of the two main characters. The sparse approach leaves some story elements inexplicit or ambiguous, and that means that varied readers may have a broader than usual range of interpretations. The sparsity may generate feelings of desolate melancholy for which I suspect the author was aiming, but it also might create a sort of emotional disconnect from the book. I kind of fluctuated between the two as I read.

At the end of the story, I found it satisfying – if simple, but during the read I frequently wondered where it was going and / or what I was missing. It’s essentially a romance set in an all-girl and sadder-feeling Hogwarts.

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TODAY’S RANT: Stupid is as Cupid Does

Attribution: Ricardo André Frantz Nothing says lovin' like  a prepubescent archer.

Attribution: Ricardo André Frantz
Nothing says lovin’ like a prepubescent archer.

This isn’t a generic rant about Valentine’s Day. I am not the curmudgeon of ardor or the Grinch of St. Valentine’s Day. All I’m saying is that nothing is less sexy than a naked baby archer.

I guarantee that if you polled paramedics who’ve responded to bow-hunting accidents, none would say that their patients reported sexual arousal as a symptom of arrows sticking out of thighs. How being impaled with a razor-sharp implement came to be associated with the transmission of love, I’ll never know. Yes, little boys have been known to sock a girl they like in the deltoid, but breaking out the device single-handedly responsible for Mongol hordes sweeping across Eurasia is taking that dysfunction up a notch.

I have no problem with nudity. Nudity and erotic love is like getting your chocolate in her peanut butter– so to speak. My problem is with prepubescent nudity. All that does is remind one of the end product of amour, and that’s terrifying, not arousing. No one needs that kind of pressure in a budding relationship.

I know I said this wasn’t a blanket condemnation of the holiday, but I’ve got one more sub-rant. What is with flowers and chocolate as the iconic gifts of the holiday? Is it that nothing says everlasting love like a bouquet that will be shedding wilted petals by day’s end. And chocolate says, “I love you so much that I’ll even love you if you get fat. Furthermore, I’m willing to prove it by doing my damnedest to make you fat.”

I won’t even get into the jewelry ads. “Show her you love her by implying that you think she’s in it just for the swag.”