Spring 2021

Memory Eternal: Fruitful Death as the Form of Personal Mediation (Part I)

Erik van Versendaal

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
—William Wordsworth, “Intimations of Immortality: An Ode”

There is, in that which begins, a spring; roots that never return.
A departure, a childhood that is not recovered, that is never again recovered.
Now, the little girl hope
Is she who forever begins.
—Charles Péguy, The Portal of the Mystery of Hope

When his turn comes to offer an encomium on erotic love in the festivities depicted in Plato’s Symposium, Socrates elects not to speak in his own name, but defers instead to the wisdom of a former teacher, one Diotima of Mantinea. In the dialogue that he recollects, Diotima plays midwife to Socrates. In the midst of helping him bring a new insight to term, she has Socrates confess a principle they agree is beyond justification—namely, that what man desires in everything he desires is nothing else than happiness.1 And happiness is had, she clarifies, in the possession of that which is genuinely good. Loving desire only comes consummately to rest in union with a worthy beloved who surpasses and so elicits its striving. Having established the desire for happiness as final, Diotima proceeds to move Socrates toward a surprising, even gratuitous conclusion. The true purpose that desire pursues with all its zeal is not, she says, mere union with the beautiful, but “giving birth in beauty.”2 This perplexes even Socrates, who replies, at a loss, “It would take divination to figure out what you mean.”3


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1. Plato, Symposium, trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 1989), 50 (205A). For an interpretation of this dialogue that gives due weight to the other-centeredness of love in Plato’s thought, see D.C. Schindler, “Plato and the Problem of Love: On the Nature of Eros in the ‘Symposium,’” Apeiron 40, no. 3 (2007): 199–220.

2. Plato, Symposium, 52 (206B).

3. Ibid., 53 (206C).