Excuse the odd title - what I mean is: Diotima is the sole woman that has her say in Plato's dialogues. There are a multitude of opportunities in which he could've let a woman speak, but it never happens except here. But why here?
If one doesn't know the context, and only knows that the Symposium is about Eros or love, it might seem reasonable: it is important for men who love women to learn about women's feelings or attitudes about love. Diotima as a woman reveals this to Socrates - something that he by being a man does not naturally understand.
But this is not the case. The context here is love between males, between an adult man and male youth - the practice of paiderastia.
So why did Plato make the one who teaches Socrates about the true meaning of love be a woman? I find this exceedingly strange in this male homoerotic context.
I searched for an answer and basically found three explanations:
- To not evoke the suspicion that young Socrates was an eromenos (the youthful lover of an older man)
- To make her "aloof" - if she was a man, her teachings might have been regarded with suspicion, i.e. interpreted as a seduction tactic.
- To make her conflation of sexuality and reproduction more realistic, since it was assumed that this was the feminine perspective.
Regarding this, I say:
- Isn't Socrates simply too old for this at the time when he met Diotima? The eromenos is supposed to be free of own desires. She's certainly talking to him like he's old enough to not be a boy, but to understand desire towards boys.
- I find her own manner of presentation way too flirtatious for this (she teases Socrates, laughs at him). She doesn't sound like a solemn, unapproachable priestess.
- Yes, that's realistic, but still it's not a strong enough reason, given that women do not occur anywhere else in the Platonic dialogues.