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Symposium Cave Allegory

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Starting at 210a of The Symposium, Diotima speaks with Socrates about reaching the final vision of the mysteries. She starts talking about a young boy who is starting to be attracted to beautiful bodies. He first loves one body; and then, realizing that all bodies are relatively alike, he begins to love all beautiful bodies. After that, he comes to appreciate the beauty of minds, not caring anymore about physical attraction. After all stages, the boy will ultimately come to loving beauty itself and all beautiful things. This gradual climb to the final vision is similar to the climb out of the cave in Plato's "Allegory of the Cave."

In the "Allegory of the Cave," the chained down prisoners are limited with their perception on reality. At first, they can only see moving shadows on the wall in front of them. Once released, the prisoners' sense of reality is changed as they can see the people making those shadows. The prisoners can then climb up the ascent of the cave and eventually bask in the Sun's rays. After stepping outside the cave, the prisoner accepts a new reality while taking in all the objects around him. Although Diotima's speech involves love and the "Allegory of the Cave" involves reality, both are similar because they show one gaining more knowledge and reaching a higher understanding.

These two pieces are also related in the respect of Plato's Theory of Forms. Plato does not directly refer to his Theory of Forms in either The Symposium or "Allegory of the Cave," but it is alluded to in both. The Theory of Forms says that for every concept, like good or beauty, there is a Form for it. The Forms are unchanging. For example, anything that is beautiful is beautiful because it participates in the Form of Beauty. Therefore, the Form of Beauty is the reason why all beautiful things are beautiful. In The Symposium, the Form of Beauty is the last stage in the boy's climb towards his final vision. As Diotima says, "Ð'...he should end up at that form of learning which is of nothing other than that beauty itself, so that he can complete the process of learning what beauty really is" (Plato 49). Similar to The Symposium, the cave allegory also has a reference to a Form. At the last stage of the prisoner's climb to the top of the cave, he sees the sun and observes the Form of Good. Since he was recently unaware of the Form of Good, he has reached a higher understanding, just like the boy from The Symposium.




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