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EN 104 - The Experience of Perplexity


This is a guide to selected sources of information related to Plato's Symposium and its historical and cultural context. It is meant as a starting point for your research. For further research assistance, please stop by the Reference Desk, or see our Ask a Librarian page for info on how to email, text, or call a reference librarian for help.


Research Basics

Visit Geisel Library's Research Help webpage for help with getting started.  In particular, check out the following:

  • Research Planner:  Create a timetable of milestones for completing your paper, with links to useful resources at each step
  • Research Strategy:  Helpful suggestions for every stage of the research process, from choosing a topic to citing your sources
  • Research Tutorials:  Web guides and videos on how to use library resources

Background Information

Before looking for books and journal articles on your topic, it is helpful to explore reference resources such as subject-specific encyclopedias. These resources can provide background information on authors and literary works, as well as the themes being addressed in this course. They can also help you determine keywords to search in the library catalog and journal databases. Use the bibliographies at the end of articles in reference resources to identify books and journal articles worth tracking down.

Starting Points

Encyclopedia of Philosophy
     Available in Gale Virtual Reference Library
See entries on Plato (including subsection on Eros), Logos, katharsos, and other important ideas.

Oxford Reference Online
This database enables you to search major reference works in the classics and philosophy, such as the Oxford Classical Dictionary and Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome.

Plato's Symposium: Oxford Approaches to Classical Literature
This reader's companion to the Symposium elucidates many of the important ideas and figures presented in this work.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
In this free scholarly encyclopedia, see entries on Plato, including sub-articles on myths and on friendship and Eros.

Additional Resources

Ancient Writers: Greece and Rome (2 vols.)
     Ref PA3002 .A5
Lengthy essays on Plato, Aristophanes, and other important figures in Greek literature.

Cambridge Dictionary of Classical Civilization
     Ref DE5 .C28
A good source of background info on ancient Greek culture and history.

Civilization of the Ancient Mediterranean: Greece and Rome (3 vols.)
     Ref DE59 .C55
Good background essays on the culture of the ancient world.

Dictionary of Classical Mythology [Grimal]
     Ref BL715 .G713
Overviews of characters and stories from Greek mythology that are referenced in the Symposium.

Encyclopedia of Classical Philosophy
     Available in Credo Reference
See entry on Plato, plus essays on other ancient Greek philosophers.

Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World
     Ref DF16 .S23
Thorough coverage of the history of ancient Greece, including the Peloponnesian War.

History of Greek Philosophy (6 vols.)
     Ref B171 G83
See especially volume 4, which includes commentary on Plato's Symposium.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Another free but scholarly encyclopedia. See entry on the philosophy of love.

Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
     Ref B51 .R68 (print version)
See entry on Plato, including a sub-section on the Symposium.


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Geisel Library Catalog
There are two approaches to finding books in the Geisel Library catalog:

1)  Keyword Searching
Try a Keyword search on terms that represent your topic of interest. Use the Boolean AND to combine together multiple concepts, and use the Boolean OR to expand your search with synonyms and related terms. Use the * (asterisk) to retrieve variant forms of a word; for example, friend* will find books with the words "friends" or "friendship" in the catalog record.

Here are some examples of keyword searches related to this assignment:

  • (Plato OR Platonic) AND (Eros OR love)
  • Plato AND (philia OR friend*)
  • Plato AND dialogue* AND (narrative* OR discourse OR language)
  • Plato AND (Logos OR wisdom)
  • Aristophanes AND Socrates

2)  Subject Searching
Try searching some of the phrases below as Subject Headings in the catalog. Subject headings are assigned to books to describe their primary subject matter and themes. Subject searching is effective for finding books about broad concepts like wisdom, Greek mythology, or the ethics of ancient Greece.

  • Eros (Greek deity)
  • Friendship
  • Greece - Civilization - To 146 B.C.
  • Greece - Ethics
  • Greece - History - To 146 B.C.
  • Greece - History - Peloponnesian War, 431-404 B.C
  • Greece - Intellectual life
  • Greece - Science - History
  • Literature and society - Greece
  • Love
  • Mythology, Greek
  • Philosophy, Ancient
  • Plato
  • Plato Symposium
  • Wisdom

Here are some books found through keyword and subject searching:

From Myth to Reason?: Studies in the Development of Greek Thought
     BL782 .F76

Nature of Love, vol. 1: Plato to Luther
     BD436 .S5

Philosophy of Love: From Plato to Popular Culture
     BD436 .S43

Plato's Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception
     B385 .P58

Plato's Symposium: The Ethics of Desire
     B385 .S52

Socrates on Friendship and Community
     B317 .N53

Socratic Perplexity and the Nature of Philosophy
     B105.P47 M37

By searching WorldCat, you can identify potentially useful books owned by other college libraries and have them delivered to Geisel Library for your use. Try searching the same keywords and subject headings that proved successful in the Geisel Library catalog. To request a book, open the book's WorldCat record, click the "Request via Interlibrary Loan" link, and follow the on-screen instructions. Allow 7-10 days for delivery. You will be emailed when your book arrives.


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Journal Articles

Below are several databases that may yield useful journal articles for your research. Try searching the same keywords that you used in the library catalog, combining concepts together using the Boolean AND and OR operators. Once you find relevant articles, examine their Subject Headings and conduct Subject searches on the ones that seem potentially fruitful.  Since journal articles tend to be more narrowly focused, you can search more specific topics in journal databases. Here are some sample keyword searches:

  • Alcibiades AND (Peloponnesia* OR Sparta*)
  • Myth* AND Logos AND Plato
  • Agathon AND Symposium
  • Aristophanes AND Clouds AND (Plato OR Socrates)

If you find a useful article for which no full-text link is available, click on the WebBridge icon to determine whether the journal is available in Geisel Library or in full-text via another database. If the article isn't available, consider clicking on the Interlibrary Loan link to request a PDF copy of the article from another library. Within a week, you should receive an email indicating that the article is available to access. To learn how to use WebBridge, please watch our video tutorial (3.5 mins.; includes audio).

Starting Points

Philosopher's Index
The place to start for citations to scholarly journal articles and books in the field of philosophy, with numerous articles on the philosophies of Plato.

Academic Search Premier
This multi-disciplinary database is an excellent starting point for finding scholarly journal articles and popular magazine articles on a wide range of topics.

Search here for full-text articles from major scholarly journals in the humanities and social sciences.    User Guide

Other Databases

APh: L'Annee Philologique
This classical studies database provides citations and abstracts to scholarly journal articles and other publications on the history of ancient Greece and Rome. The interface is difficult to use, so please consult our User Guide.

Project MUSE
This database offers full-text articles from over 100 peer-reviewed journals, plus citations and abstracts to about 300 other journals.

Use this to find psychological perspectives on love, friendship, and other concepts, in scholarly journal articles, conference papers, and books.    User Guide


CrossSearch enables you to search across multiple databases at once to find journal articles. For this assignment, you may wish to search in the Classics and/or Philosophy subject categories. If an article looks useful, click on the WebBridge icon to see if it is available in full-text or in Geisel Library's periodicals collection.  For tips on using CrossSearch, please watch our video tutorial (3.5 mins.; includes audio).

Journal Finder

Journal Finder will help you determine whether a particular article is available in Geisel Library's online databases or periodicals collection. Use it when you encounter citations to useful-looking articles in the bibliographies of reference books or other journal articles, and want to track down the full text. Search the journal's title in Journal Finder and use the resulting links to locate the article's full text in either a database or the library collection. If Journal Finder does not provide any links, you can request the journal article through Interlibrary Loan. To learn more about how to use the Journal Finder, please watch our video tutorial (3 mins.; includes audio).


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Selected Websites

These websites were handpicked for their relevance to your course topic. You may also want to conduct keyword searching on your topics in a search engine such as Google, but be sure to look for indications that the websites you find are authoritative, objective and reliable. For help with this, see our guide to Evaluating Websites.

Diotima: Women and Gender in the Ancient World
A variety of ancient texts, scholarly commentaries, articles, and book reviews pertaining to the role of women in ancient Greece and Rome. The website is named for a character in the Symposium.

Perseus Digital Library  (Tufts University)
A collection of primary and secondary sources for the study of ancient Greece and Rome, including R.G. Bury's well-regarded commentary on Plato's Symposium.

Plato and His Dialogues
This website offers links to both the original Greek texts and English translations of every one of Plato's known works, including the Symposium.


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Citing Sources

For assistance with formatting your citations in MLA style, see the online resources available on the library's Citing Sources webpage.  You can also ask for the MLA Handbook (Ready Ref LB2369 .G53) at the library's reference desk.


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