7.5 Agathon’s Agapē

(Story begins here) “Amazing, so God can actually rescue a single human soul that has lost the struggle with demons?”

“Oh yes Pete, God reaches us in many ways. Because of who He is, he cannot do this directly, but he visits us in a beautiful landscape, in the caring words of a loved one, witnessing an  inspirational deed, in a religious service, in our own thoughts if we can only calm our mind sufficiently and in ways too subtle to even describe yet powerful to rescue anyone from the darkest depths if they are able to just tune into Him.”

“You see, love always wins, that’s the beauty of true reality. It may take a long time, it may happen through processes that we cannot understand as mere humans, it may be easy or the story may be excruciatingly painful, but love will rescue us all in the end. All we have to do is look up, reach up and let it rescue us.”

“And He never gives up?”

“But how do you know all this?” Diotima softened.

“Because of my big idea, the ladder of love. Let me show you.” After Pete had enthusiastically thanked Valmiki for all he had shown him, the castle faded away and a large colourful stone room replaced it. Sat on couches around the corner sat a number of distinguished looking men in togas.
“Where are we?” asked Pete.

“At the ancient Greek poet Agathon’s house,” said Diotima, “he’s thrown a banquet to celebrate winning a prize at the Great Dionysia festival.”

“A banquet? But there isn’t much food, or women?” said Pete suspiciously.

“This is a symposium_”

“As in Plato’s great work The Symposium?” asked Pete excitedly.

“Precisely, where the men get together in the andrōn and_”
“The what sorry?”

“An andrōn is the male quarters of a classical Greek house,” Diotima was being more patient with Pete since her rebuke from him, “what in your time you may refer to as a ‘man cave’. The men come here after a banquet to have a good drink and a chat.”

“Is that fair on the women?”

“Oh, the men don’t know what the women are getting up to during a symposium,” smiled Diotima, nobody every seems to wonder about that.

“But where is the drink?” Diotima pointed to a giant jug full of wine which two men were just about able to carry into the room. Depositing it on the floor with an ungainly clunk and a splosh, “a krater,” announced Diotima disdainfully.

“These boys know how to drink!”

“Well it is diluted wine to be fair,” conceded the prophetess, “high class Greeks thought it very uncivilised to drink it neat. Now, here we have the guests, including Phaedrus, Agathon, Socrates, and here, well known to be the most handsome man in Greece, the great military leader and statesmen, Alcibiades.”

“Wait, did you say Socrates?”

“Er, sorry?” the prophetess was still gazing fondly at Alcibiades, completely distracted.

“Oh… Diotima!” chided Pete with a smile.

“Sorry Pete, bit of a crush of mine. Anyway, yes Socrates is here.”

“But no one looks old enough.”

“Socrates wasn’t always an old man,” smiled Diotima, “they’re all talking about love, speeches honouring Eros the God of erotic love and as the inspirational phenomenon inspiring courage, valour and great deeds.”

“Wow, so the Greek gods had deeper meanings to them, like Pherecydes said.”
“Hush Pete, Socrates is about to start talking,” said Diotima sternly.

‘I’ll try to restate for you the account of Love that I once heard from a woman from Mantinea called Diotima. She was wise about this and many things,” Diotima was nodding along smugly, “on one occasion she enabled the Athenians to delay the plague for ten years by telling them what sacrifices to make. She is also the one who taught me the ways of Love.”

“Wait, did you and Socrates…” whispered Pete urgently. Diotima blushed.

“Yes I taught him the ways of love, let’s just say not always by entirely academic means. But, never mind all that, he takes a long time to get onto my ladder of love, so I’ll summarise.”

“I was quite hoping to listen to Socrat_”

“Stage 1,” announced Diotima, “love for a particular body. What one might call lust. Stage 2, love of all bodies. You see the same aspects of beauty in everyone. Stage 3, love for souls. Initial attraction is via the body, but through this you can be in a sufficiently close relationship with someone to glimpse and begin to understand their soul. Stage 4, love for laws and institutions_”
“That seems like a bit of a leap?”

“Oh… Pete! I was going to address that, if you learn to love all souls, you learn to love that which they create, schools, hospitals, libraries and so on. Stage 5, love of knowledge, by which the mind is elevated beyond the physical back towards the true realm of the spiritual. This brings us to the most beautiful stage, love for love itself.”
Pete helped himself to a generous measure of wine from the krator. “How do you mean?”

“You love the form of love, the spirit of love, the pure idea of love coming directly from God. A love that is eternal and so one need never know grief again,” Diotima’s voice ached with quiet passion.
“So that ties into the Ramayana?”

“In the depths of material hell, such as our world, God searches for us, fights battles to reach us, we just have to recognise it. Even in a lustful thought, there is the chance to see true love, God Himself through the steps on my ladder.”
“Amazing, so no offence but how come you’re not as famous as Socrates?”

“Well, you know me, modest to a fault,” said Diotima, “and a man of Socrates’ calibre has earned the right to my words. Would you like to see a final outcome to the ladder of love?”

“Yes please,” said Pete eagerly, finding himself back in Steven’s room at the Laotian orphanage. This time there were two single beds pulled together to form a double. On it sat a heavily pregnant Pany. Next to her was Steven, he wore expensive designer casual wear which was now torn, faded but clean. He was lovingly stroking Pany’s bump and talking affectionately to the unborn child.

“He got her pregnant? He came back through guilt?” asked Pete.

“No young man, his soul was rescued, he quit his job, came back to the orphanage donating to it all his savings and married Pany, joyfully consigning himself to a life of material poverty in exchange for the true wealth of love. Their bundle of joy was conceived several months later. Tissue?”

“Thanks,” sniffed Pete, dabbing his eyes.

“You see, love always wins, that’s the beauty of true reality. It may take a long time, it may happen through processes that we cannot understand as mere humans, it may be easy or the story may be excruciatingly painful, but love will rescue us all in the end. All we have to do is look up, reach up and let it rescue us.”

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