Diotima of Mantinea (fl. 400s BCE)

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Diotima of Mantinea (fl. 400s bce)

Greek priestess, philosopher, and teacher of Socrates.

Although it is questioned whether or not Diotima was a historical person, there are few reasons to doubt it. We know of her through Plato's Symposium, and there is some archeological evidence of her existence as well. She is the only character in Plato's work whose historicity has been challenged, and only since the 15th century. The scholars of the early middle ages, and the ancients who would have known the historicity of Diotima, did not question her existence in their references to her. It is also noteworthy that the praise given to Diotima, despite her views differing from Plato's (presented through the character of Socrates), is unusual in Plato's work and suggests a true respect.

In the Symposium, written some time after 389 bce, Plato puts forth his views of his contemporaries, then uses the character of Socrates (whose own views may have differed) to present a philosophy of love. Plato's Socrates credits Diotima, a priestess of Mantinea, for inspiring his theory. She is said to have argued that the goal of love is immortality, "to give birth in beauty," either through the creation of children or beautiful things. This establishes the background against which Socrates presents Plato's case that love is the pursuit of beauty, but a more abstract beauty than Diotima's creations. From this, western culture has derived the concept of "Platonic love," an affection that is not based in bodily pleasure.


Kersey, Ethel M. Women Philosophers: a Bio-critical Source Book. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Waithe, Mary Ellen, ed. A History of Women Philosophers, vol. 1. Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publications, 1987.

suggested reading:

Halperin, David M. "Why is Diotima a Woman," in One Hundred Years of Homosexuality. New York & London: Routledge, 1990: pp. 113–151.

Catherine Hundleby , M.A. Philosophy, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada