The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

Document Type


Publication Date



Alcibiades’ portrait of Socrates can be better understood in light of the philosopher’s complementary, but less studied, interactions with Agathon. Like Alcibiades, Agathon attributes to Socrates a superior wisdom that he seeks to acquire by touch (175c7-d2; cf. 218c7-d5), and, like Alcibiades, Agathon accuses Socrates of hybris after failing in this attempt (175e7). There are indications, however, that Agathon is better able to benefit from his association with Socrates than is Alcibiades. After a brief discussion of the Greek concepts of hybris and disdain (section 2), this paper focuses on Socrates’ interactions with these two men. I argue that Socrates is portrayed by the multiple narrators of the Symposium as both a comic, hubristic and satyr-like figure (section 3), and as a man of extraordinary virtue (section 4). Although Alcibiades, who missed the speech Socrates attributes to Diotima, grasps only part of the truth, his image of the silenus-statue can help us to understand the relationship between these two apparently inconsistent sets of characteristics (section 5). The outer satyr-like figure is not merely a deceptive appearance, as Alcibiades believes, nor do the inner divinities and images of virtue represent the whole truth about Socrates. Alcibiades identifies the satyr with Marsyas, and there is good reason to suppose that one of the inner divinities of his image is Eros. The reader, then, is in a position to recognize that the satyr Marsyas, and the daimon Eros of Diotima’s speech are not essentially different. Both are images of one and the same figure: the erotic philosopher.


Elizabeth Belfiore presented “Hybristes Ei: Socrates, Alcibiades, and Agathon" to the Society at its meeting with the American Philological Association in San Francisco in 2004. Much revised, it was incorporated into Chapter 4 of her Socrates’ Daimonic Art: Love for Wisdom in Four Platonic Dialogues. Cambridge 2012.

For information about the author, see: