He who has been instructed thus far in the science of Love, and has been led to see beautiful things in their due order and rank, when he comes toward the end of his discipline, will suddenly catch sight of a wondrous thing, beautiful with the absolute Beauty; and this, Socrates, is the aim and end of all those earlier labours – he will see a beauty eternal, not growing or decaying, not waxing or waning; nor will it be fair here and foul there nor depending on time or circumstance or place, as if fair to some, and foul to others: nor shall beauty appear to him in the likeness of a face or hand, nor embodied in any sort of form whatever… whether of heaven or of earth; but Beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting: which lending of its virtue to all beautiful things that we see born to decay, itself suffers neither increase not diminution, nor any other change.
When a man proceeding onwards from terrestrial things by the right way of loving, once comes to sight of that Beauty, he is not far from his goal. And this is the right way wherein he should go or be guided in his love – he should begin by loving earthly things for the sake of the absolute loveliness, ascending to that as it were by degrees or steps, from the first to the second, and thence to all fair forms; and from fair forms to fair conduct, and from fair conduct to fair principles, until from fair principles he finally arrive at the ultimate principle of all, and learn what absolute Beauty is.
This life, my dear Socrates, said Diotima, if any life at all is worth living, is the life that a man should live, in the contemplation of absolute Beauty.
Plato, Symposium, c.370BC, translated by Robert Bridges in The Spirit of Man, 1916.