You’ll find her in the middle of the “Symposium,” which is in Plato’s “Dialogues.” She speaks to Socrates of love and beauty, as if he were a naughty schoolboy. She says such things as, “A child may answer that question,” and “These are lesser mysteries of love into which even you, Socrates, may enter.”
Socrates replies with such as, “My ignorance is the reason why I come to you…” and, “I was astonished at her words and said, ‘Is this really true, O thou wise Diotima?’” (Socrates is speaking to Phaedrus).
She goes on to instruct Socrates in the nature of wondrous beauty, “…a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing or decaying or waxing or waning; secondly, not fair in one point of view and foul in another.”
Diotima is saying to Socrates that a thing is beautiful only if it is beautiful in all aspects of its existence. For example, we find blood diamonds, gold Krugerrands, ivory figurines and a new automobile to be beautiful only in their final aspect, whereas their total reality is sickeningly foul.
Following Diotima’s measure of wondrous beauty, we may find no majesty in Egypt, glory in Greece or grandeur in Rome. These were savage war-making and slave-holding societies that committed unspeakable atrocities against the peoples they conquered, and their splendid artworks, monuments, law codes, philosophies and scientific achievements stand on the bones of slavery, misery and agony.
Central to the existential threats facing humanity is Diotima’s lesson to Socrates on the nature of wondrous beauty. Our sense of beauty is our guiding light. If you see total beauty all surrounding, then all is fair in Eden. But, if you see foul ugliness everywhere — war, violence, crime, hatred, cruelty, greed, brutal oppression, congested iron-junk concrete cities, toxic slime pits and dirty, malnourished children living in filthy slums and bombed-out ruins — that’s an alarm bell ringing in the night.
If humanity is to survive, it seems that three things must happen. We must rapidly depopulate to a small fraction of our bloated numbers, women must ascend to power and bring sanity to the world and we must leave the savage beast in us behind.
I’m not saying that women are “better” than men. Both sexes contribute to our problems. I’m speculating that women will be more likely than men to pursue peaceful compromise and less likely to gather into huge armies and wage planet-wide war. I’m also speculating that depopulation will ease the main pressure for war, which is competition for resources and living space.
O thou wise Diotima, where art thou? Dwelleth thou in our midst incarnate? Come forth, desert Diotima and guide us in the creation of a new humanity that will live for a million years in harmony with herself, the other species, and with our divinely beautiful planet. It will be a hard path, but it should only take a century or two of sustained worldwide focus, struggle and sacrifice. We could discuss strategic scenarios, but the impetus for change comes from awareness and will. The first thing to see is that humanity is on a self-destructive path, and where there’s a will, there’s a way. But you may want to get started. We might not have much time.
(Socrates calls Diotima “the stranger of Mantineia” and says she held a plague at bay from Athens for 10 years. Mantineia is a 362 B.C. battle site in the middle of the Peloponnesus. Quotes are from Plato’s “Dialogues” Jowett translation, Washington Square Press, New York, 1950.)