Divination and love in the Symposium

I’m intrigued by this definition of divination from Plato’s Symposium 188 c-d, as a practice of producing loving affection between gods and human being, or the science of the effects of love on justice and piety:

Consider further the rites of sacrifice and the whole area with which the art of divination is concerned, that is, the interaction between men and gods. Here, too, Love is the central concern: our object is to try to maintain the proper kind of Love and to attempt to cure the kind that is diseased. For what is the origin of all impiety? Our refusal to gratify the orderly kind of Love, and our deference to the other sort, when we should have been guided by the former sort of Love in every action in connection with our parents, living or dead, and with the gods. The task of divination is to keep watch over these two species of Love and to doctor them as necessary. Divination, therefore, is the practice that produces loving affection between gods and men; it is simply the science of the effects of love on justice and piety.

Divination is mediation. And as love is itself (as Diotima claims) that which is “between mortal and immortal”, that which opens a channel of communication between the two, divination belongs to love (as much as it belongs to knowledge). Also note: divination (like love) is associated with not being in your right mind (Timaeus 71e).

But the keeping watch is interesting here. The idea that divination has a regulatory function (what does “the effects of Love on justice and piety” actually mean…?), helping to maintain the “proper kind of love.” Peter Struck’s excellent work on divination in the acnient world doesn’t talk much about this — favouring a focus on knowledge / surplus knowledge. But I think there is something in this idea of divination as being somehow tied up not just with knowledge, but with love.

Image: An old fortune-teller is reading a young woman’s fortune by looking at tea leaves at the bottom of a cup. Engraving by Sharpe after Crowley, 1842. Public Domain via Wellcome Collection.

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