By Adam Thompson
Eros empties us of estrangement but fills us with kinship, causing us to come together in all such gatherings as these, in festivals, in dances, in sacrifices a leader… in labor, in fear, in longing, in discourse a guide, defender, comrade in arms and best savior; beauty and good order of all gods and men, leader most beautiful and best, whom every man must follow chanting beautifully, sharing the song that he sings, touching with magic power the thought of gods and men. - From Plato’s Symposium
In Plato’s Symposium, a group of intimate friends gathers to drink and be merry. Over the course of the feast, the different members of the party, including Socrates, discuss the nature of love into the wee hours of the morning. In the passage above, Agathon delivers a stirring poetic exposition of Eros, the god of love. This ecstatic image of erotic love within the context of feasting and friendly Platonic dialogue highlights the true secular and religious end of a liberal arts education: a festive communal life of freedom for the sake of the contemplation of Love, the very source of all love and freedom and life. Without feasting, the transcendent dimension of human freedom would be greatly diminished, if not lost. Feasting, then, holds pride of place as the source and summit of the liberal arts education, for without feasting man cannot be “crowned and mitered” ruler over himself.
Eros drives the feast because God “fills us with kinship,” as the persons who attend the feast ardently desire companionship and community with one another, the world around them, and the God who brought them into being. There can be no proper school, let alone a liberal arts education, without friends experiencing reality in community and engaging in dialogue with truth and each other. Socrates grows in freedom through a daily examination of the meaning of his life with friends. Socrates is no armchair philosopher, but more like Jesus who always taught through stories and dialogue in a community of friends who lived together freely. It is no mere coincidence that Jesus’ ministry began and ended with a wedding feast at Cana and the Last Supper in Jerusalem. Feasting represents the highest expression of lived freedom in a communal contemplation of something greater than ourselves, namely God.