Platonic love (Latin: amor platonicus), in its modern popular sense, is a non-sexual affectionate relationship. A simple example of Platonic relationships is a deep, non-sexual friendship, not subject to gender pairings and not excluding close relatives.
At the same time, this interpretation is a misunderstanding of the nature of the Platonic ideal of love which, from its origin, was that of a chaste, but deep, love transcending mortal life. In its original Platonic form, this love was meant to bring the two people closer to wisdom and the Platonic Form of Beauty. It is described in depth in Plato's Phaedrus and Symposium. In the Phaedrus, it is said to be a form of divine madness that is a gift from the gods, and that its proper expression is rewarded by the gods in the afterlife; in the Symposium, the method by which love takes one to the form of beauty and wisdom is detailed.
The term amor platonicus was coined as early as the 15th century by the Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino as a synonym for amor socraticus. Platonic love in this original sense of the term is examined in Plato's dialogue the Symposium, which has as its topic the subject of love or Eros generally. Of particular importance there are the ideas attributed to the prophetess Diotima, which present love as a means of ascent to contemplation of the Divine. For Diotima, and for Plato generally, the most correct use of love of other human beings is to direct one's mind to love of Divinity. In short, with genuine Platonic love, the beautiful or lovely other person inspires the mind and the soul and directs one's attention to spiritual things. One proceeds from recognition on another's beauty, to appreciation of Beauty as it exists apart from any individual, to consideration of Divinity, the source of Beauty, to love of Divinity. The spiritual ideas of Platonic love — as well as the fundamental spiritual emphasis of all of Plato's writings — has been de-emphasised over the last two centuries.
Plato emphasized chastity in the case of homoerotic attraction, but suggested that recognition of beauty in a person of the same sex may still serve the aim of inspiration. Indeed, in some ways homoerotic attraction may have served Plato's illustrative purposes better than heterosexual love, since in the latter case issues of procreation complicate the picture.
The English term dates back as far as Sir William Davenant's Platonic Lovers (1636). It is derived from the concept in Plato's Symposium of the love of the idea of good which lies at the root of all virtue and truth. For a brief period, Platonic love was a fashionable subject at the English royal court, especially in the circle around Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I. Platonic love was the theme of some of the courtly masques performed in the Caroline era—though the fashion soon waned under pressures of social and political change.
Ironically, the very eponym of this love, Plato, as well as the forementioned Socrates, lived in a period where homosexuality was central to the "Greek history and warfare, politics, art, literature and learning, in short to the Greek miracle. The concept of Platonic love arose in Plato's early writings such as Symposium and Phaedrus, within the context of the debate pitting mundane sexually expressed homosexuality against the philosophic — or chaste — homoeroticism. Specifically, in Symposium, Alcibiades attempts to seduce Socrates, but Socrates rebuffs this pursuit and responds that if he does have this power to make Alcibiades a better man inside of him, why would he exchange his true beauty (i.e. the intellectual realm) for the image of beauty (i.e. the physical beauty) that Alcibiades would provide. However, Plato's opinions in the late period of his life are reflected in the last dialogue, Laws, where he condemns homosexuality as "unnatural".
According to Linda Rapp, Ficino, by Platonic love, meant "...a relationship that included both the physical and the spiritual. Thus, Ficino's view is that love is the desire for beauty, which is the image of the divine.
Because of the common modern definition, Platonic love can be seen as paradoxical in light of these philosophers' life experiences and teachings. Plato and his peers did not teach that a man's relationship with a youth should lack an erotic dimension, but rather that the longing for the beauty of the boy is a foundation of the friendship and love between those two. However, having acknowledged that the man's erotic desire for the youth magnetizes and energizes the relationship, they countered that it is wiser for this eros to not be sexually expressed, but instead be redirected into the intellectual and emotional spheres.
To resolve this confusion, French scholars found it helpful to distinguish between amour platonique (the concept of non-sexual love) and amour platonicien (love according to Plato). When the term "Platonic love" is used today, it generally does not describe this aspect of Plato's views of love. The understanding that Platonic love could be interpreted as masculine eros is alleged by some socio-historical critics to be linked with the social construction of a homosexual identity .