Read The Great Books

A Curated Guide for Autodidacts


by Plato

Symposium is one of the series of dialogues written by great philosopher Plato. Written to explain and arrange the thinkers ideas on some of the questions of the world as well as his teachings on ethics and other major societal debates at the time.

This, as well as all of Plato’s dialogues for that matter, is a must-read for anyone interested in history, philosophy, or those interested in political/societal debate. Plato has been a cornerstone of western thought and it is easy to see why once you’ve dived into his writings. Symposium is written out as a casual conversation and debate among Plato and associates of his after a feast. There are a series of topics including ethics and politics in their society, but this dialogue is often recognized for its discussion on the difference between love, lust, and human instincts when related to desire.

There are a lot of different editions of this text to choose from. If you want a more untouched copy, Hackett Classic’s version may be for you. Hackett is well-known for its no fluff translations. It keeps contextual notes and annotations to a bare minimum too, which is great if you want an more uninterrupted read. If you’re looking for a version that tells you what to make of Symposium, check out Yale University Press. This version is a bit more dense on its language, not that that’s a bad thing, just keep in mind if you’re new to the subject, this would be good for those in a grad-leveled college course though. It takes the time to relate Plato’s teachings to other big names in academics including the psychologist Freud, as well as how they may alter one’s views of daily life. Students wondering how Symposium relates to your major, this one is probably for you. University of Chicago Press has its own version as well. College presses are always a good contender, and this one seems to be a solid middle ground between Yale’s and Hackett’s respectable copies. It only interrupts the base text with two writings from the translator about what they learnt from her work on Symposium and what it should mean to the reader. It’s an interesting insight to be sure but most readers don’t seem to straddle the fence between annotated and uninterrupted writing that this edition sets up. My favorite edition out of all the choices would have to be Penguin Classic’s. Penguin is a big name when it comes to accessible and well translated editions of classics, and they’re great for readers on any level. It is also contains the most recent translation of these choices which comes in handy for ease of use. It isn’t a bare bones copy either. Penguin has gathered notes and papers from various authors, both contemporary and academic, to help readers better appreciate and understand Plato’s writings.