Diotima of Mantinea

Diotima of Mantinea (/ˌdəˈtmə/; Greek: Διοτίμα; Latin: Diotīma) is the name or pseudonym of an ancient Greek character in Plato's dialogue Symposium, possibly an actual historical figure, indicated as having lived circa 440 B.C. Her ideas and doctrine of Eros as reported by the character of Socrates in the dialogue are the origin of the concept today known as Platonic love.

Diotima of Mantinea
Διοτίμα Μαντινίκη
Jadwiga Łuszczewska, who used the pen name Diotima, posing as the ancient seer in a painting by Józef Simmler, 1855
Diedc.5th century BC
ReligionAncient Greek religion
RegionAncient Greece
Notable idea(s)Platonic love
Other namesAspasia (disputed)

Role in SymposiumEdit

In Plato's Symposium the members of a party discuss the meaning of love. Socrates says that in his youth he was taught "the philosophy of love" by Diotima, a prophetess who successfully postponed the Plague of Athens. In an account that Socrates recounts at the symposium, Diotima says that Socrates has confused the idea of love with the idea of the beloved. Love, she says, is neither fully beautiful nor good, as the earlier speakers in the dialogue had argued. Diotima gives Socrates a genealogy of Love (Eros), stating that he is the son of "resource (poros) and poverty (penia)". In her view, love drives the individual to seek beauty, first earthly beauty, or beautiful bodies. Then as a lover grows in wisdom, the beauty that is sought is spiritual, or beautiful souls. For Diotima, the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of wisdom, or philosophy.[1]


Since there is no evidence for 'Diotima' outside Plato's Symposium, it has been doubted whether she was a real historical personage rather than a fictional creation. Marsilio Ficino, in the 15th century, was the first to suggest she might be fictional.[2]

As a fictional characterEdit

Believing Diotima to be a fiction, Martha Nussbaum notes that Diotima's name, which means "honor the god", stands in direct contrast to Timandra ("honor the man"), who, according to Plutarch, was Alcibiades' consort.[3] Diotima's descriptor, "Mantinikê" (Mantinean) seems designed to draw attention to the word "mantis", which suggests an association with prophecy. Explicitly described as a foreigner (ξένη) (201e) and as wise (σοφὴ) in not only the subject of love but also of many other things (ἄλλα πολλά), she is often associated with priestcraft by a majority of scholars insofar as: 1 - she advises the Athenians on sacrifice (thusiai) which delayed the onset of a plague (201d), and 2 - her speech on eros utilizes the language of sacrifice (thusia), prophecy (mantike), purification (katharsis), mystical cultic practices like initiation (teletai) and culminates in revelations/visions (202e). In one manuscript her description was mistranscribed mantikê ('mantic woman' or seeress) rather than Mantinikê, which may be another reason for the reception of Diotima as a "priestess".[4][5]

Relief of a woman holding a liver for hepatoscopy, possibly a depiction of Diotima of Mantineia.

As AspasiaEdit

Plato was thought by some 19th and early 20th century scholars to have based Diotima on Aspasia, the companion of Pericles who famously impressed him by her intelligence and eloquence. This identification was recently revived, with additional suggestions in 2019, by Oxford professor Armand D'Angour in Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher, a historical, though partly fictionalized account of the life of Socrates.[6] D'Angour argues that Aspasia is the model for Diotima because 1) she was the obvious candidate to be involved in the warding off of plague that Athenians will have expected to be brought on by Pericles' irreligious actions (his failure to bury the dead after his campaign against Samos in 440-39) and 2) the fact that 'Diotima' means 'honored by/honoring Zeus’; Pericles was called 'Zeus' in comedy and popular parlance, and he was notorious for the unusual honor that he bestowed on Aspasia.[7]

As an independent figureEdit

Mary Ellen Waithe[8] has argued that Diotima could be an independent historical woman known for her intellectual accomplishments,[9] noting that in the Symposium, Diotima expounds ideas that are different from both Socrates's and Plato's, though with clear connections to both.[10][11]

In popular cultureEdit

In 2010, Australian novelist Gary Corby published The Pericles Commission, the first in a series of mystery novels taking place in ancient Athens. Diotima is a major recurring character, the love interest, assistant sleuth, and eventually wife of Corby's protagonist, Nicolaos. Corby's Diotima is a priestess of Artemis who was born the illegitimate daughter of a hetaira and an Athenian oligarch whose murder is Nicolaos's first commissioned investigation from Pericles.


  1. ^ Plato, Symposium, 210a–212b
  2. ^ Waithe, Mary Ellen (1987). "Diotima of Mantinea". In Waithe, Mary Ellen (ed.). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 BC–500 AD. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 83–116. ISBN 9789024733484. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  3. ^ The Speech of Alcibiades. Philosophy and Literature, Volume 3, Number 2, Fall 1979, pp. 131-172
  4. ^ Riegel, Nicholas (2016). Cosmópolis: mobilidades culturais às origens do pensamento antigo. Eryximachus and Diotima in Plato’s Symposium: Imprensa da Universidade de Coimbra. ISBN 978-989-26-1287-4.
  5. ^ Grote, George (1888). Plato and the Other Companions of Sokrates. Chapter XXVI.
  6. ^ D'Angour, Armand (2019). Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher. Bloomsbury. p. 5.
  7. ^ D'Angour, Armand (2019). Socrates in Love: The Making of a Philosopher. Bloomsbury. p. 5.
  8. ^ Waithe, Mary Ellen (1987). "Diotima of Mantinea". In Waithe, Mary Ellen (ed.). A History of Women Philosophers: Volume I: Ancient Women Philosophers, 600 BC–500 AD. Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff. pp. 83–116. ISBN 9789024733484. Retrieved October 10, 2018.
  9. ^ Wider, Kathleen. "Women philosophers in the Ancient Greek World: Donning the Mantle". Hypatia vol 1 no 1 Spring 1986.
  10. ^ Salisbury, Joyce (2001). Encyclopedia of women in the ancient world. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-1576070925. OCLC 758191338.
  11. ^ Urban Walker, Margaret (Summer 2005). "Diotima's Ghost: The Uncertain Place of Feminist Philosophy in Professional Philosophy". Hypatia. 20 (3): 153–164. doi:10.2979/hyp.2005.20.3.153. JSTOR 3811120.

Further readingEdit

  • Navia, Luis E., Socrates, the man and his philosophy, pp. 30, 171. University Press of America ISBN 0-8191-4854-7

External linksEdit

  • Diotíma - a resource for information on women, gender, sex, sexualities, race, ethnicity, class, status, masculinity, enslavement, disability, and the intersections among them in the ancient Mediterranean world.