2020 Accepted Abstracts

Abstracts Accepted in the First Round

Stephen Bay

Homeric ἀρετή in Chariton’s Callirhoe

Chariton’s novel Callirhoe is generally regarded as the earliest of the ancient novels. The text, which focuses on Siracusa in the late 5th century BCE following its defeat of the Athenian armada in the Peloponnesian War, contains dozens of references to and quotations of Homer. This is, perhaps, not surprising because many ancient novels make use of Homeric allusions; however, the majority of these other novels were written later, well within the Second Sophistic movement when Greek literary culture was deliberately rediscovering and re-establishing itself on the basis of its glorious Classical and Archaic past. Earlier scholarship on the ancient novel has interpreted many of these allusions as a sign of a sort of parasitic relationship to Homer and evidence of an attempt on the part of the novelists to legitimize their own low-brow genre through constant reference to the majestic texts of Homer. However, in this paper I will argue that Chariton is deliberately engaging in an intertextual dialogue with Homer. When Chariton cites Homer, he is deliberately tagging his character and/or a given situation with a marker of ἀρετή, and, thereby encouraging the reader to pause and compare the novel’s situation, characterization, or theme with that of Homer in much the same way that Homer’s epics utilize extended similes to cause the reader to pause and reflect in a deeper way on the text.


Federico Casella

Reshaping the Philosophers’ Excellence: Plato’s ἀρετή between Socrates and the Presocratics

In the central books of the Republic, Plato outlines the true philosophers’ typical characteristics: in Book VI, he focuses in particular on their numerous – and superior – virtues. Philosophers are moderate, courageous, and they know no wickedness (R. 485d6-487a5). Furthermore, thanks to their “science” (ἐπιστήμη) of ideas, they are καλοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί – the best condition a Greek man could achieve (489e5) – and θεῖοι, “divine men” (500d2). The various virtues they possess testify to their excellence and infallibility. Plato is renouncing the philosophical model embodied by his master: in fact, Socrates was an ‘incomplete’ philosopher, i.e. an individual perpetually in search of intellectual and moral perfection. Socrates tried to lead other men onto his same path of self-development: he was aware that he was not a perfect sage. On the contrary, the philosophers of the Republic are infallible individuals: they have already achieved both intellectual and moral excellence. In my opinion, in Book VI Plato has in mind another image for shaping the typical philosopher: Western Greek Presocratics such as Parmenides and Empedocles, i.e. men who are perfect and close to the gods thanks to the knowledge of the cosmic laws they have grasped. Plato introduces this ‘unfailing’ figure in the Republic in response to his master’s historical failure: philosophers could be accepted as the sole rulers by other citizens only by showing themselves as infallible men (500d1-500e4). In this way, the hostility and the prejudices towards philosophy could cease: Plato aims at destroying the stereotype of the useless philosopher (487c4-d5). The perfect city could thus be established with no opposition by “the many” (οἱ πολλοί). The purpose of my paper is to show that in the Republic Plato finally renounced the ἀρετή embodied by Socrates in favor of an older mode of excellence: the perfect sage, the Presocratic σοφός.


Lee Coulson

Άρετή Today: 21st c. norms of excellence

Classical Greek culture was imbued by the alembic of Homeric lore which held aretē as the essential quality of human excellence (cf. I. 1.224:15.64:: 20.411; 129; 1.140). The Choice of Herakles, as told by Xenophon (Mem. 2.1.21), implies that for Prodikos aretē was a markedly moral excellence. As Herakles contemplates how best to live two remarkable women appear. One, voluptuous and scantily clad to amplify allure, pushes forward and speaks. If you befriend me Herakles you will enjoy a pleasant and worry free life. Who are you? the young hero asks. I am called Eudaimonia (happiness), though my enemies call me Kakia (vice). Then the second figure, Aretē (virtue), speaks. Herakles, the virtuous way can lead you to do many noble deeds and live an honourable life: to be good by doing good. But know this, pursuing excellence obliges the courage to sustain effort. Kakia interrupts: Herakles, the way of aretē is slow and difficult; follow my easier path to happy pleasures. Aretē counters: Herakles, only those who labour to cultivate virtue can know the aretē which brings the poise of true happiness. Prodikos juxtaposes Eudaimonia and Aretē as Herakles’ choices. Either happy vice (kakia) or virtue’s (aretē) excellence can train his life. This contrast seemingly implies that the pursuit of happiness is vicious and of virtue excellent. Yet, Plato taught that “the happy are happy by acquisition of good things” (Symp. 205a), which axiomatically entailed cultivating virtue in order to become godlike, “ὁμοίωσις θεῷ” (Tht. 176bc). A difference, then, between Kakia’s happiness and Aretē’s virtue is the moral excellence of the “good things” that bring happiness. And that is the nub of my inquiry. Is the pursuit of “good things” and happiness in the 21st c. more persuaded by Kakia’s amorality or Aretē’s moral excellence? In an attempt to answer that I consider science’s departure from its philosophical parenthood and the concentration on econo-techno means to achieve the ends of apparent happiness. I then conclude that aretē today, as human excellence, is often organised by the hegemony of a normalised anodyne amorality that belittles the virtue of noble human purpose.


Jeremy DeLong

Argument by Thesis and Antithesis: Eleatic Metaphysics to Athenian Sophistry

Plato’s claims (in the Parmenides) that the historical Parmenides employed a style of argumentation that required examining the implications both: a) a thesis, and b) its antithesis.  Gorgias is often taken to make use of such “Parmenidean-style” argumentation in his writings, as such a method is indeed found in both the “Palamedes” and the “Encomium of Helen.” Even more importantly, Gorgias also seems to be using this same method in the extant fragments of “On Not Being,” in which many think he advances a direct attack on Parmenides’ own metaphysical positions.  The focus of this paper is to challenge this historical narrative. First, it will be argued that Plato’s own discussion of “Parmenidean” argumentation should not be taken as historically accurate; it  is in fact a result of conflating Parmenides with later developments in Eleatic thought, as well as the use of such latter argumentation by the Sophists (Gorgias in particular).  Having established this, it can further be argued that Gorgias is not in fact responding to Parmenides’ own views, or even his argumentative style.  Rather, Gorgias has also been influenced by later Eleatics, and his works are better characterized as influenced by, or even attacking, those later thinkers. Overall, the paper will explicate how the argumentative style and substance, first developed for metaphysical speculations by Parmenides in Sicily, comes to be altered in substantive usage by later Eleatics, and is then taken up and transmuted yet again by Gorgias.  By repurposing this methodology initially intended for metaphysical inquiry, turning it into a means of persuasion on all matters in an Athenian context, it becomes by default the only kind of αρετή Gorgian sophists could acknowledge.


Jay Elliot

The Virtues of Cities

Today we tend to think of individual human beings as the paradigmatic bearers of virtues, but in ancient Greek thought virtues were also ascribed to human groups, including political communities such as cities. How can a city possess a virtue? What is the relationship between the virtue of a city and that of an individual? These questions are at the heart of Plato’s philosophy, as well as his political project in attempting to create an ideal city in Syracuse. I focus on Socrates’s attribution of justice to the kallipolis in Republic IV. Recent readers have worried that Socrates’s account of justice in the kallipolis leads to incoherence. In an influential article, Bernard Williams reads Socrates as holding (1) that a city is just if and only if its people are; and 2) that justice is essentially the same attribute in both cities and souls. Williams goes on to argue that the combination of (1) and (2) is incoherent. According to Williams, (1) reduces justice in cities to justice in souls; but then justice in cities cannot be precisely analogous to justice in souls, on pain of a regress. In response, I argue that the apparent incoherence is dispelled when we recognize that (1) is not Socrates’s primary account of justice in cities. Although Socrates may hold a version of (1), he does not give it the reductionist role presumed by Williams’s argument. Instead, he presents cities as bearers of justice in their own right, on account of their macro-level political structure. More generally, I argue that, rightly understood, Plato’s Socrates offers us a model for how to think about cities and other human groups can be bearers of virtues.


George Harvey

Virtue Before Politics in Plato’s Laws

Book III of the Laws begins with an historical account of the origins of constitutions that includes a description of human life prior to the development of politics.  Despite the primitive conditions that characterize this pre-political age, the Athenian holds the ethical characters of individuals living under them in rather high esteem, in that he states that they are more courageous, temperate, and “in all ways more just” than people who live in civilized times (679d-e).  In this paper, I examine the conditions of the pre-political age and identify the factors that are responsible for these good characters.  I consider some reasons for thinking that the good qualities of pre-political individuals are not genuine virtues, but then show that there are better reasons for seeing these qualities as genuine virtues and not inferior imitations.  My claim is that the pre-political age is an age of divine rule, as all of its features, including those that are responsible for the ethical character of pre-political individuals, are the result of divine agency. Seen in this way, the pre-political age presents us with a familiar idea, one expressed by Socrates at the end of book IX of the Republic:  that it is best for each individual to live a life ruled by divine reason, even if doing so requires one to become the slave of the “best” person, namely, one who has divine reason within himself (590c-d). By observing how many of the Cretan colony’s laws have the effect of recreating some of the conditions of pre-political life, I point out that the pre-political age can provide important guidance to the legislator seeking to instill virtue in citizens.  I conclude by suggesting some of the ways in which the Athenian’s account of pre-political life may advance our understanding of many of Laws’ ethical themes


Christina Ionescu

True and Popular Virtue in Plato’s Symposium

In the Phaedo and the Republic Plato’s Socrates distinguishes explicitly between popular (civic) virtue and true virtue, the former consisting of right actions done unreflectively out of habit alone, while the latter presupposing that the rightful actions undertaken rely on philosophical reflection. While scholars have often discussed the distinction between popular and true virtue articulated in the Phaedo and the Republic, not much has been said about the way this distinction emerges implicitly in the Symposium. My paper attempts to address this lacuna. At the apex of her instruction of Socrates, Diotima declares that the lover of Beauty alone will be able to give birth to true virtue, and no longer merely to images thereof (eidola arete, 212a). I take from here my cue for arguing that Diotima’s teaching about love proposes an understanding of true virtue, while the other guests have been praising merely popular virtue. I begin by showing how Phaedrus, Pausanias, Eryximachus, Aristophanes, and Agathon respectively propose popular conceptions of courage, justice, moderation, piety, and wisdom respectively. In the next step I show how Diotima articulates the connection between the love of Beauty and true virtue. Finally, I signal a few novel nuances that the Symposium’s treatment of the distinction adds to what is witnessed in the Republic and the Phaedo. For one thing, Alcibiades proposes a level of virtue placed in between the lower grade popular virtue praised by the other symposiasts and the full true virtue, thereby suggesting a distinction with fine gradations within its range. For another, unlike the Phaedo and the Republic, the Symposium reveals also the connection between Beauty and virtue, thereby making headways towards acknowledging the interrelation of Forms.


Roopen Majithia

Aristotle on Virtue and the Highest Good in the Disrupted life of Priam

In suggesting that the individual living the practically virtuous, political life can seek the highest good of happiness (understood as the activity of contemplation) not just for his fellow citizens but for himself (1177b11-15), Aristotle makes an arresting claim that has not been discussed enough in the literature. For it seems to suggest that the hero of the good political life (such as Pericles or Priam) — who is usually contrasted with the exemplar of the private, philosophical one (1179a13-15) — is not restricted to a life of secondary happiness understood as the life of practical virtue.  Two questions interest me in this context; one concerns the content of contemplation available in the practical life and its relation to the content available to the philosophical one. Second, how Aristotle handles the possibility of the disruption of the good life, which is considerable in the case of the political life, and its effect on contemplation. Here, I want to focus on the latter question by discussing what Aristotle says about blessedness and happiness in relation to the disrupted life of Priam in Book I, and his discussion of pleasure as completing activity that arises in relation to state of the subject and object of that activity in Book X. What I hope to show is that Aristotle’s views can accommodate disruption in the political life that impact the agent’s happiness in important ways that may at least in part be because of the effect of the disruption on the activities of contemplation. This in turn will allow me to speculate briefly on the content of contemplation in the political life before I conclude.


Deborah Modrak

One Virtue or Many?

The question to be explored in this paper is whether virtue (arête) is best defined as a whole or whether certain distinctions should be drawn among virtues prior to attempting to define them.  Plato in the Meno attributes the latter strategy to Gorgias; however, he rejects this approach (72a-73c).  He chooses to address the question “what is virtue?”  Aristotle rejects the approach in the Meno in favor of one that takes gender and social role into account in the Politics (1260a20-31).

The temperance of a man and a woman are not, as Socrates maintained the same; the courage of a man is shown in commanding and of a woman in obeying.  And this holds of all other virtues…

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle differentiates between moral and intellectual virtues and within each category he distinguishes a number of specific virtues.  A moral virtue is by definition a disposition to choose a mean relative to the agent and the situation in which the agent finds him or herself; as a consequence, a moral virtue will differ in character and outcomes for agents occupying different gender and/or social positions. In this paper, we will examine the arguments for the Platonic approach focusing on universal maxims and the Aristotelian sensitivity to context including the social and gender roles of the agent.  We will then consider which one, all things considered, is better.  Since Gorgias and Aristotle take the gender and social status of the agent to be relevant to the definition of a virtue, this issue, too, will be addressed.


Guilherme Motta

Tekhne Politke: the art of promoting civic aretai in Plato’s Republic

The theme of arete and of whether or not it can be taught is a recurrent one in Plato’s early dialogues in which Socrates frequently presents an analogy between arete and tekhne. In Plato’s Protagoras, to explain the benefits of his practice, Protagoras argues that the sophists’ tekhne is an ancient one and, pressed by Socrates, agrees to name his practice “tekhne politike”. To answer Socrates’ objections to the contention that arete can be taught he presents a myth according to which human beings, due to their sense of shame and justice granted by Zeus, can be “taught” the fundamental civic aretai, namely temperance and justice. To substantiate his view, he offers a brief description of the traditional Greek education in his time and assigns to it, to the customs and to laws the power to “teach” the citizens the aforementioned aretai, although stressing the role of coercion in that process. Protagoras’ confidence that it would suffice to live in any civilized polis to acquire the civic aretai seems to be challenged by the more pessimistic view of the Republic, according to which only after a very profound intervention in traditional  education and customs can one expect men to acquire and maintain the fundamental civic virtues as intrinsic dispositions. This intervention must be based on a deep knowledge of the human soul, of the forces at play in it and of how to intervene in it in order to promote the proper arrangement of its elements.  An analysis of the education proposed by Socrates in the Republic through mousike and gymnastike will show that its provisions are intended to cause precise effects in each of the souls’ elements making the art of the legislator in the Republic a true tekhne politike which seek to promote the civic aretai.


Joyce Mullan

Odysseus and Changing Conceptions of Areté during the Peloponnesian War

In Homer’s Iliad early on, Achilles and Ajax were embodiments of traditional heroic virtues. These ideals gave way to the wily cunning Odysseus who provided the stratagem that actually helped them win the war. Odysseus provided a new ideal that was revered down through the centuries until the Peloponnesian War. The way Odysseus was portrayed in plays written during the War, especially by Sophocles and Euripides, is of great interest. For, it has been said that whenever Odysseus made his appearance in plays, with the exception of Sophocles’ Ajax, someone suffered.  This portrayal of Odysseus as a cunning deceiver, a villain and not a hero is remarkable, given how very influential his character was in shaping Greek self-understanding since the time of Homer. His strategic intelligence, his ability to face up to whatever happened and survive, his capacity to outwit a formidable enemy like the Cyclops have been held up as qualities that all Greeks aspired to. Athenians, in particular, seemed to model themselves on the qualities that Odysseus was most known for, and attributed their success precisely to those qualities. Yet, it seems evident that some Athenian playwrights began to rethink popular ideals and exemplars of manly virtue or Areté while prosecuting and finally losing the war. My project is to show how the Areté Odysseus represented became questioned and then reconceived during and then after the Peloponnesian War.


Allison Murphy

Communal Aretē

Aristotle opens his discussion of friendship (φιλία) (EN VIII & IX) with the claim that “friendship is either a virtue or involves virtue.” Nowhere in the ensuing text does he explicitly settle the matter, leaving the exact role of aretē in communal relations unclear. I argue that Aristotle considers two possible interpretations of the relation but sets them aside. Friendliness, the ability to handle appropriately those social occasions that might give pleasure or offense, is a virtue but it is not friendship (1126b12-25). And while friends are often the most appropriate beneficiaries of virtuous action (1169b11-16), Aristotle is more interested in the possibility for friends to share in the virtuous life actively and on an equal footing with the flourishing agent. I argue that Aristotle thinks friendship is most properly understood as a collaboration in shared virtuous activities (what he calls “living together,” συζῆν). These virtuous activities are equivalent to the eudaimonia that is the subject of the rest of the Ethics, only now it is eudaimonia considered from the communal perspective. I argue for this conclusion by showing how the criteria for eudaimonia noted in EN I – it is the most complete (τέλειον), choiceworthy (αἱρετὸν), and self-sufficient (αὔταρκες) – also attach to the shared virtuous activity that belongs to truly good friends. I further argue that these criteria enable us to distinguish virtue friendship from the lower forms of pleasure and utility friendships. To return to Aristotle’s opening disjunction, friendship is, then, not one virtue among others. Instead, it “involves virtue” in the same way that eudaimonia itself “involves virtue:” friendship, actively expressed, simply is the realization of aretē, though it is aretē realized communally.


Wim Nijs

Teaching Epicurean ἀρετή in Western Greece: Philodemus on ὑπερηφανεία and μεγαλοψυχία

In the first century B.C., Magna Graecia’s former Greek colony of Neapolis (Naples) has been integrated in the Roman Republic. Yet, the city and its nearby bay are still attracting Greek intellectuals and Roman Hellenophiles alike. They are all drawn to this ancient Greek stronghold, which has grown into a sanctuary of Greek culture and philosophy within the Roman society. The Epicurean Philodemus of Gadara is one such Greek, who lives under the patronage of Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesonius in the latter’s Herculanean villa. There he tries to make a life in accordance with Epicurus’ Greek doctrine possible for his mixed circle of Greek and Roman friends. One of the many works he writes for his students and friends is the multivolume work Περὶ κακιῶν καὶ τῶν ἀντικειμένων ἀρετῶν. In this work he vividly paints stereotypical pictures of people suffering from a certain vice, which he then contrasts with the Epicurean Sage’s corresponding virtue. Ideally, this setting-before-the-eyes of negative character sketches should deter Epicurean students from such κακίαι and spur them on towards the achievement of the Sage’s ἀρετή, which will help them reach a life of  ἀταραξία and ἡδοναί. This paper will demonstrate how Philodemus employs his therapeutic technique of setting-before-the-eyes in De superbia (PHerc. 1008), when contrasting the vice of arrogance (ὑπερηφανεία) with the Sage’s virtue of ‘greatness of soul’ (μεγαλοψυχία). Of special interest is the way in which he tailors Greek doctrine to the specific context of the Roman aristocrats in his company. By giving due attention to the impact of contextual factors on the adaptation of philosophical doctrine, this paper will study Philodemian Epicureanism as part and parcel of the unique culture of the Greco-Roman melting-pot that Western Greece’s Neapolitan region has become in the first century B.C.

Heidi Northwood

The Arete of Artisans & Laborers in Aristotle’s Politics

In the Politics, Aristotle writes that artisans and laborers are incapable of arete. This seems to be because such workers (a) lack a freedom from the dictates of and dependence on another, the servitude of wage-earning, and the brutality of hard, manual labor (all of which prevent the full actualization of arete), and (b) lack access to a liberal education, which develops the habits necessary for arete. This makes it sound as if what is thought to be Aristotle’s elitism regarding such workers could be fixed if only access to education were guaranteed for them (and the time necessary to engage in such an education) so that they might have the skills and character to be ‘their own men,’ still getting paid for their work, but without the lack of self-determination that seems, to our ears, to be the biggest impediment to arete in the Aristotelian sense. This is the line taken by a number of scholars who wish to defend or correct Aristotle on this issue, e.g., Mortimer Adler, Cary Nederman, and Moira Walsh. But this is to miss what is most significant about Aristotle’s views about artisans and laborers, and to gloss over his statement in I.13: that the artisan will “only attain arete in proportion as he becomes a slave.” It is not arbitrary circumstance that makes the laborer or artisan without arete, and it is not something that can be remedied by changing the number of hours he works, making the work less ‘brutal,’ providing access to education, or increasing wealth. Instead, Aristotle thinks that such a worker is incapable of arete because, unlike a slave, he is outside the structure of the family (and polis), and most significantly, takes money for his labor instead of being a ‘part of,’ and possession of a master.


Lidia Palumbo & Loredana Cardullo

L’areté e la dottrina delle aretai nei dialoghi di Platone e nella tradizione platonica

Nei dialoghi di Platone le parole cambiano significato a seconda dei personaggi che le usano e dei contesti in cui esse vengono usate. Nel Menone, per Menone, l’areté è l’insieme delle competenze che consentono all’individuo di primeggiare, soprattutto nell’ambito della vita politica e sociale. Questa concezione menoniana dell’areté è ciò che permette al lettore di comprendere chi è Menone. Menone parla con Socrate, il quale ha una concezione dell’areté diversa da quella di Menone. E anche in questo caso, per comprendere chi è, e che cosa rappresenta, il Socrate del Menone, dobbiamo guardare alla sua concezione dell’areté. Il termine assume poi negli altri dialoghi altri significati, ma è sempre collegato alla tensione degli enti a raggiungere la compiutezza della propria perfezione. Da questo punto di vista la nozione di areté si rivela preziosa per indagare un aspetto importante della filosofia di Platone che è quello che riguarda la tensione al divino. Nella tradizione platonica per realizzare l’assimilazione al divino prende corpo la dottrina delle aretai. Si analizzeranno passi da Plotino e Proclo per descrivere la significativa evoluzione che conosce la dottrina delle virtù nell’ambito del neoplatonismo; l’analisi considererà tale dottrina come un riflesso dell’evoluzione che il neoplatonismo conosce, nel passare da una scuola – quella di Plotino (Roma, III sec. d.C.) – che vede nella contemplazione e nelle virtù contemplative, e quindi nella pura filosofia e nell’intelletto, l’unico strumento per realizzare il ritorno (l’epistrophê) al Principio primo, ad un’altra scuola – quella di Proclo (Atene V sec.d.C.) – che considera oramai la filosofia insufficiente a consentire all’uomo il raggiungimento del divino, e le affianca la pratica magico-teurgica e le virtù corrispondenti. In questo cambiamento di paradigmi la dottrina delle virtù gioca un ruolo di primo piano, presentando interessanti variazioni sia rispetto alla tradizione platonica sia rispetto alla fase originaria del neoplatonismo, pur scandendo sempre il percorso formativo dell’uomo e configurandosi come un vero e proprio esercizio spirituale. Si porrà inoltre in assoluta evidenza come, nel cosiddetto “canone di Giamblico”, vale a dire in quello che è l’elenco dei dialoghi platonici che bisognava leggere nel cursus studiorum delle scuole neoplatoniche, ciascuno di quei dialoghi (dall’Alcibiade al Parmenide) contribuiva a fare acquisire un certo tipo di virtù, le quali, tutte insieme, costituivano una scala che dalla conoscenza di sé (gradino più basso) portava alla conoscenza del divino (gradino più elevato).


Jean-Claude Picot

Empedocles and Human Excellence

Clement of Alexandria (Strom. 4, 23 – 150.1) says that according to Empedocles the souls of the sages [τῶν σοφῶν τὰς ψυχάς] become gods. He quotes Empedocles, writing as follows [D39 LM = Fr. 146 K]:

At the end they become seers [μάντεις], hymn singers [ὑνμνοπόλοι], doctors [ἰητροί],

And leaders [πρόμοι] for humans on the earth,

And then they blossom up as gods, the greatest in honors [θεοί τιμῇσι φέριστοι].

We have excellent people there. Let us put Clement’s point into perspective. The verses of Empedocles are part of his belief in reincarnation and purification to get out of earthly reincarnations. In the language of the first centuries AD, the souls of the sages are the daimones, purified from the original fault, of which Empedocles speaks in his poem Katharmoi. Just before becoming blessed gods, the daimones would be wise men, namely seers, hymn singers, doctors and leaders (chiefs). Why just these four varieties of Human Excellence and not others? What do these men do to have the privilege of becoming gods? Undoubtedly, Empedocles, who advocates an ethic of purification, should be among these men. On closer examination, a doubt arises. What if these men, although honored, living in the time of growing Strife, with his honors, had not adopted the ethic of purification of Empedocles? We would like to believe that Empedocles as a poet will become a god, but how is it possible that all seers, all poets, and so on, enjoy the same privilege as Empedocles? The talk asks these types of questions and tries to answer them.


Jonah Radding

Bacchylides and the ἀρετή of defeat

Bacchylides’ 11th epinician ode begins in a manner that seems perfectly characteristic: an invocation to “Victory” who “decide[s] the prize of excellence [aretē] for immortals and mortals alike” [Bacch. 11.1, 6-7: Νίκα… κρίνεις τέλος ἀθανάτοισίν τε καὶ θνατοῖς ἀρετᾶς]. This epinician topos, however, soon becomes complicated by the admission that the poem’s laudandus, Alexidamos of Metapontum, had been unfairly denied victory at Olympia prior to his success at the Pythian games. The poem then embarks on a narration of the feud between Proetus and Acrisius for the throne of Argos which results in the former relinquishing his claim, and agreeing instead to found and rule over Tiryns. It is generally agreed that Proetus is an analogue for Alexidamos (MacFarlane 1998, Cairns 2005), but most analyses of the poem focus on Artemis’ role in the myth and Alexidamos’ connection to the cult of Artemis at Metapontum (Cairns 2005, Nicholson 2016, Foster 2017). In this paper, conversely, I focus on the acceptance of defeat in the two contests, and argue that this a crucial aspect of the relationship between Proetus and Alexidamos. I suggest that in both cases, it is only by relinquishing their (justified) claims that their aretē can be validated by future success. At the same time, I focus on an underrated aspect of the mythical narrative, namely the emphasis on the bloodshed that is avoided by agreeing to renounce his claim for the Argive throne. Here, based also on analogies to modern sporting controversies, I suggest that Bacchylides hints at a context in which Alexidamos’ actions had defused a similarly delicate situation, itself a demonstration of aretē. Ultimately, this reading clarifies not only the relationship between Alexidamos’ victory and the myth of Proetus, but also an aspect of aretē that Bacchylides’ poem implies.


Mark Ralkowski

Plato and the Navy: ThalassocracyAretē, and the Corruption of Desire

Plato’s dialogues are full of references to the sea and the navy (R. 616b-c, Phd. 109c-d, Tht. 144b, Criti. 109c, Lg. 803a-b, R. 488, Grg. 519a). In these passages, he uses nautical metaphors to describe the structure of the cosmos, the role of the gods in human life, the purpose of education, the place of the philosopher in the democratic city, and the limitations of Athens’ former leaders. In other passages, his attitudes toward the sea and the navy are almost exclusively critical. In the Laws, for example, he treats both as insidious causes of the pleonexia afflicting the Athens of his day, and he suggests that “it would have done [the Athenians] more good to lose seven boys over and over again rather than get into bad habits by forming themselves into a navy” (Lg. 706b-c). How should we understand Plato’s nautical imagination and critique of the Athenian navy? Were they a byproduct of his travels in Western Greece, or did he turn against thalassocracy after the Social War rekindled concerns about Athens’ imperial ambitions? The point of this paper will be to understand Plato’s views in light of the 4th-century debates about the virtues and vices of sea power. To do this, I will compare the mixed messages of Plato’s Atlantis Myth with the arguments against thalassocracy in Isocrates’ On the Peace, which links naval empire with the corruption of desire and the erosion of aretē in the polis. In the end I will conclude that, for Plato, there was nothing to be gained from life by the sea, or from sea power: foreign trade inflames the appetites (Lg. 704d); training in the navy inhibits the cultivation of courage and other virtues (Lg. 706b-707c), and cities dependent on sea power are inclined toward democracy and imperialism, both of which lead to a city with “a fever” (R. 372e) and divine punishment for a decline in aretē (Criti. 121b).


Heather Reid

The Prize of Aretē τὸ ἆθλον τῆς ἀρετῆς

The Western Greek historian Diodorus says the Western Greek athlete Milo led the Crotonites into battle wearing his six Olympic crowns as well as the lion skin and club of Herakles (12.10.1).  This seems impossible since the six leafy crowns, even if they could be worn with the skin, would long-since have disintegrated.  It is equally incredible that the Sybarites literally believed they were fighting Herakles. Diodorus must be referring to the symbolic power of the athlete’s crowns and his link to the hero, both of which, I argue, derive from ἀρετή.  It was Herakles himself, according to Diodorus, who stipulated that the Olympic ἆθλον should be an olive crown “since he himself had conferred benefits upon the race of men without receiving any monetary reward.” He also says the hero won all the events at the inaugural Games unopposed, since no-one dared challenge his exceeding ἀρετή (4.14.2).  In fact, Herakles is not associated with sport until the 5th century BCE, when Pindar first reports his founding of the Games (Ol. 10.45-63). Before that, the hero was famous only for his ἆθλα (labors), and this is what makes him the prototypical ἀθλητής.  When we examine the pre-sport use of these terms, we realize that what gives the, ἆθλον, and ἀθλητής their value is precisely the ἀρετή cultivated though the ἆθλος. Herakles and the Homeric heroes earn intangible prizes, such as honor, glory, even apotheosis.  Prizes in the Iliad’s funeral games are also linked to ἀρετή.  This is why in Plato’s Phaedo (114c), Socrates describes the ἆθλον of virtue as “beautiful,” and why Aristotle calls happiness the ἀρετῆς ἆθλον (NE1099b).  It was Milo’s ἀρετή that won the battle for the Crotonites in 511BC and it is ἀρετή that imbues athletics with value even today.

Thomas Schmid

Why Magnanimity?

In several respects, magnanimity seems to hold a special place within the NE. This essay offers four reasons why Aristotle would make it the “central virtue” within his ethical scheme.

Ethical object. In NE I.5, Aristotle distinguishes the common end of the political life, honor, from the true end, virtue. This distinction draws a moral line through various categories of ethical life—e.g. self, virtuous action, self-love, happiness—leading some scholars to characterize magnanimity as an achievement of “ethical egocentrism” and self-sufficiency (autarcheia). Magnanimity as ethical egocentrism identifies a core aspect of aretaic happiness.

Ethical subject. A second reason concerns the self-concept, spiritedness (thumos), and Aristotle’s moral psychology. To illustrate this I discuss several examples, including Rosa Parks. In contrast to distorted ego psychologies, the great-souled person is not merely ego-centric and self-sufficient, but ego-liberating and self-giving, actualizing a better self and humanity.

Ethical community. Here the focus is Pericles in Thucydides and Plutarch, where his magnanimity and wisdom shape a greatly enlarged self-concept, the ‘We’ of homonoia, mutual regard, and action that was Athens. This underscores the interwovenness of self-sufficiency with interdependency, shared speech, and collective action in a complete (teleios) life, how magnanimity can be both central and the “crown” of virtue.

Ethical vision. This addresses Pericles’ Funeral Oration and Aristotle’s ruler-king of the best polity. Aristotle’s statesman creates occasions for festive life, involving music and poetry, including tragic poetry. In such interactive perception (sunaesthesis) and enlightenment (sungnosis), the citizen-friends of the best regime are united and educated in a mode of being-in-truth that is contemplative, interpersonal, and communal all at once. This is a life including contemplative happiness, though it falls short of the more complete life of philosophical friendship suggested by NE IX and X—which itself can only approximate, not attain, perfect happiness.


John Serrati

Gender and the Ritual Lament: Women as the Arbiters of Arete and Virtus

Arete could be displayed in multiple places and instances; however, at its essence, the term was most associated with martial courage.  Battle was therefore the primary area in which males in ancient Greece displayed their arete.  Although the term is inherently masculine, women played a vital role in influencing a male to perform his civic duty by service in war.  Armed conflict in both ancient Greece and Rome was framed as one party taking vengeance upon another for a perceived wrong, and this framing meant that the war was just and in harmony with the divine cosmos.  Via the act of ritual lamentation, women called upon men to take revenge through warfare.  Lamentation was a ritualised female mourning tradition which regularly took place at funerals and for which there is strong evidence in both Greek and Latin literature.  The lamentation was not just undertaken to honour the deceased, but more importantly, it was directed at the living male members of society and served as a demand that these men take up arms and display their arete in order to avenge the wrongs perpetrated by an enemy.  A similar process can be found in ancient Rome, where women regularly performed lamentations in order to induce Roman males to take revenge by demonstrating their virtus in war.  This not only spurred a society’s males into martial action, but also afforded women a voice in the normally masculine spheres of political decision-making and warfare.  In demanding vengeance and armed displays of courage, women in ancient Greece and Rome played a necessary role in arete and virtus, acting as the arbiters of masculinity.


Tim Sorg

Human and Ecological Aretē in Archaic Sicily: Why the Syracusans valued Skilled Labor over Land

This talk will explore competing ideas about human and ecological aretē in archaic Sicily, and show why the Syracusans came to value the aretē of skilled labor over the aretē of fertile land. In antiquity, Sicily’s natural landscape was known for its excellence and cultivability: poets and prose authors praised the region for its ecological virtue (e.g. Pind. Nem. 1.13-16; Thuc. 6.20.4; Cic. Verr. 2.2.2; Diod. 23.1.1). Syrakousai, for example, was more than twice as cultivable as Attica: though under half the size of Attica at the end of the Archaic period, it could actually sustain a much larger population. Yet for over a century, the Syracusans regularly gave away land they confiscated in eastern Sicily to their Kalabrian allies and Peloponnesian mercenaries without asking for agricultural rents in return. It remains unclear why, if Sicilian land was so good, the Syracusans gave it away so regularly.  I argue that, by the beginning of the fifth century, Syrakousai remained an underpopulated “frontier economy,” which meant that there was more available land than people to work it. Since there was already plenty of good land around Syracuse, they learned that the land they confiscated beyond it was expendable. What they lacked was the skilled labor to compete with their rivals in eastern Sicily and beyond. To explain this trend, I begin by exploring the “archaic origins” of the Syracusan agricultural economy, a time when Syracusan society was fluid and elites became immensely wealthy exchanging agricultural surpluses for imported manufactured goods. Next, I show how the archaic frontier economy was good for creating agricultural surpluses, but not good for creating a competitive economy. Finally, I present archaeological and ecological data from Naxos (depopulated in 403 BCE) to show how the Syracusans willingly gave away good land so they could relocate skilled labor.


Michael Tremblay

The Moral Exercises of Epictetus

The Stoic Epictetus was well known for the practical orientation of his philosophical program. His ethical theory, as put out in the Discourses and Handbook, describes not just the nature of virtue, but also how we are best to go about cultivating virtue in ourselves. In service of the goal of cultivating virtue, Epictetus lists a variety of moral exercises to be practiced by the student of Stoicism outside of the classroom. The aim of this paper is to examine three of these exercises, and propose their function in cultivating virtue. The paper is divided into three parts. The first section explains Epictetus’ view that moral improvement consists of coming making correct judgements about the moral value of objects in the world. The second section argues that Epictetus thinks we fail to make correct judgements because of one of two reasons: (1) Precipitancy, which is when we make a judgement without applying the theory. (2) Weakness, which is when we fail in our application of theory because passion interferes with our reasoning. The third section argues that the moral exercises of Epictetus are ways to prevent the phenomena of Precipitancy and Weakness. They are tools to ensure that the agent reasons as well as possible, and is as likely as possible to make correct judgements. Three exercises are discussed in support of this claim: (A) Critical Assent, which prevents precipitancy by ensuring that all assents to impressions are intentional. (B) Repetition, which prevents precipitancy by ensuring that the relevant standard of judgement is accessible to the agent when reasoning requires it. (C) Abstinence, which prevents weakness by removing the agent from objects which trigger passions, and then slowly reintroducing these objects at a rate which the agent can handle.


María Velasco

Arete as δύναμις in Pindar’s Epinician

Virtue, or the virtues, unlike Athena, are not born or grasped fully formed. Instead, a kinetic (power of) dialectic is required in their formation, a sublime art of the harmony of words and deeds, a geometry of the taut in what is taught. This study emerges from investigating the place of “courage” within a Platonic pentagon made up of piety, wisdom, justice, and temperance. My concern is the movement, starting point(s), and directions of the vectors of the virtues. From where does one begin? My response is, with Piety. This presentation will explore the movements in-forming virtue(s) with reference to Plato’s dialogues, and seek an ordering principle, or vectors of virtue, to incite apprenticeships in the (re)enactment of virtue. I speak of apprenticeships as the (re)enactment of virtue to point out the bony structure of virtues in a pathēmata, or practical struggle of affections and qualities of the mobile (eukinéton) soul as reminders of the motion(s) proper to it. These reminders are trainings in mimesis (practical apprenticeships), relived in the movement of the “power of dialectic” (Parm. 135c). To trace and retrace a geometry of in-forming virtue(s), (the taut in being taught), reveals the bearing presence of a soul uplifted through education (see Symp. 209b-c). The work of tracing the movements in-forming the five virtues gestures towards a philosophical geometry, (or art of dialectic), though not severed from the struggle of the affections, examples, and qualities of the soul (Phlb. 56d-57b, Rep.VI, 510d-511b). Sections of the dialogues mentioned will be from the Crito, Euthyphro, Laches, Protagoras, Phaedo, Symposium, Republic, Parmenides, Phaedrus, Timaeus, Philebus, Laws, and the Epinomis. Whether as unity, equivalence, or meaning, it is only in the movements of the virtues where what is teachable and substantial in a soul is revealed. Piety begins this journey.