Platonic love is the type of love between two people that transcends obsessive physicality.
The term has its roots with the Greek philosopher Plato (c. 424-c. 348 BCE), who used it in his philosophical text The Symposium, written in c. 360 BCE. In the text, Plato dissects a series of speeches made by men at a drinking party, or symposium, held in the Athenian household of the poet Agathon. The speeches, expressed in the form of a dramatic dialogue, are written “in praise of love,” and those invited to speak include an aristocrat, a legal expert, a physician, a comic playwright, a statesman, Plato himself in the roles of both host and tragic poet, and Socrates (c. 470-399 BCE), Plato’s own teacher and one of the founders of Western philosophical thought.
It is Socrates’s speech that has since been interpreted as introducing the concept of platonic love. Socrates condemns the sort of love that sees a man and a woman obsess over the physical act of love (eras in Greek) to the detriment of the pursuit of higher ideals in philosophy, art, and science. He speaks of the ideas of a prophetess and philosopher, Diotima of Mantinea, for whom love is a vehicle through which we can contemplate the divine and possess what she calls the “good.” According to Diotima—here “teaching” with Socrates in the role of “naive examinee”—a physically beautiful person should inspire us to seek spiritual things. Her idea of love does not exclude the possibility of physical love, however; the idea that platonic love should exclude physical love altogether is a later, and quite inaccurate, Western construct.
Thomas Hardy said in Jude the Obscure (1895): “We ought to have lived in mental communion, and no more.”