Dave Halperin, a professor of the history and theory of sexuality at the University of Michigan, gave a lecture to honors students about the cultural and social context behind sexuality and desire in Plato’s “Symposium,” on Thursday Sept. 29.
Halperin revealed that Plato demonstrated the first ever theory of erotic desire known to man, saying, “The theory in ‘Symposium’ is one of many theories and it is true and that’s what I’m going to try to explain to you today.”
The relevance of these ancient philosophical concepts today is often argued, and the debate continues in collegiate discussions around the world.
“Many of us tend to assume that things said long ago can’t have much to do with our 21st century technologically driven lives, and yet, as Professor Halperin showed, Plato’s ‘Symposium’ speaks directly to core human experiences such as erotic desire, something every undergraduate experiences firsthand,” said Warren Frisina, dean of the Honors College.
Sarah Blomerth, a math and secondary education major, is one of many students who has read and analyzed several ancient philosophical texts this semester, which included works by Plato, Socrates and Sophocles.
“[The lecture] brought some views of ancient worlds to my mind that I hadn’t previously thought of. It was really interesting and thought-provoking. I think it’s important for young people to study these works so that we can understand where we came from,” Blometh said. “A lot of things, such as morals and traditions and stories, just seem normal to us because we don’t know where they came from. Reading philosophical works like these helps young people understand why much of the world thinks the way it does. It also can encourage new ways of thinking, which I believe is very important in a society that is requiring more and more invention and creativity.”
Students understand the impact of Plato’s message and are finding ways to apply it to their own lives. Halperin theorized that when it comes to desire, we all share common threads, and it is our job to learn how to manage our wills and have productive relationships with the things we desire.
“Desire is a powerful force that can damage us forever and damage those around us, and it’s important to get it right – I think Plato got it right,” Halperin said.
When thinking about this concept of erotic desire, Charlie Ortiz, a freshmen industrial engineering major and Jackie Pollina, a freshmen pre-med student, agreed that Halperin’s lecture had made them reflect on their thoughts and would make others think more about their own situations and habitual tendencies.
“It is important for us to think and discuss desire, love and sex in the ancient world because it forces us to think about these topics from a different perspective,” Ortiz said. “It also lets us compare how desire, love and sex have changed and how they have stayed similar. It allows us see how the Greek culture’s views on these matters affect our world nowadays.”
Pollina said, “There is always some component of desire that, as humans, we can never truly satisfy. We are always itching for more and when we end up getting what we want, we just move onto the next thing that we desire. Therefore, it is critical that we emphasize an advancement towards the concept of beauty as opposed to seeking it in physical bodies. It is the soul, the mind and beyond that help us to satisfy those cravings much more than sex or physical intimacy.”