2019 Confirmed Abstracts (alphabetical by author’s last name)
Seemee Ali, Carthage College USA
Anticipating Empedocles: the Agon of Love and Strife in Homer
Empedocles’ cosmic vision features an ongoing, dialectical agon between love (philia)and strife (neikos). The vision is perhaps anticipated comically in Demodokos’ tale (Odyssey 8.266-366) when Aphrodite and Ares, in flagrante delicto, are caught in Hephaistos’ net and become the laughing stock of Olympos. The Iliad too engages the love/strife agon in its own, darker mode. The submerged story of the Judgment of Paris indicates that love was itself the seed of the great agon in Troy, well before the epic’s opening lines. The dispute with which the Iliad opens, between Agamemnon and Achilles over a woman, raises the submerged story of the Judgment of Paris to the surface of the epic, in new form. Hera’s seduction of Zeus (and, as I shall argue, of Aphrodite herself) raises the love/strife agon to the Olympian level. This paper will thus consider whether the understanding of Empedocles as “Homeric” (as Aristotle proposes) is a deeper matter than meter alone would suggest.
Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia
A Toast to Virtue: Drinking Competitions, Plato, and the Sicilian Tyrants
The paper examines the importance of wine-drinking in the court cultures of Sicilian tyrants such as Hieron, Dionysius the Elder and Dionysius the Younger vis-à-vis Plato’s discussion of the tyrannical man in the Republic (571c3-d5) and Socrates’ ability to withstand intoxication in the Symposium (e.g. 219d5-8). Given that symposia that possibly included drinking competitions, as reflected in the poetry of Pindar (e.g. Nemean 1, Pythian 6, Olympian 3; cf. Morgan 2015: 114-116), Bacchylides (fr. 16-17; fr. 20B with Fearn 2007: 44-48) and others (e.g. Alcaeus, Anacreon), were an indispensable part of the agonistic culture cherished by ancient Greek aristocrats, I argue that drinking offers a unique lens to appreciating the civic ethos that Plato champions in the Republic, especially for virtuous political leaders (that is, philosopher-kings). The paper argues (a) that Sicilian tyrants were aware of the need to promote their ability to handle heavy-drinking as a means of advocating their political and moral astuteness and (b) that Plato utilizes the literary topos of comparing drinking with composing/reciting poetry and engaging in debate, being an avid reader of earlier Greek lyric poetry, a trend most evident in the Symposium, but also, the Phaedrus and the Protagoras (cf. Aristotle Poetics 1448b27). In essence, Plato presents Socrates’ grappling with the correct way of drinking as an internal agôn in the pursuit of virtue: what Plato seems to suggest is a method of self-critique which tyrants, typically over-indulgent and prone to flattery, often (but not without exceptions; cf. McKinlay 1939) failed to apply. Thus, by exploring the principles of wine-drinking in ancient symposia, Plato contributes an excellent paradigm to the topos of the rhetorical tyrant, while comparing the polis constitution with that of its leader and eventually, the inner constitution of each citizen.
Audrey Anton, Western Kentucky University USA & Stephen Kershner, Austin Peay State University USA
The Ancient Hellenic Virtue of Success
Upon leaving for battle, Spartan mothers instruct their sons to “return with their shields or on them.” An allusion to the practice of transporting bodies of fallen soldiers atop their shields, the sentiment is clear: win or die trying. This standard seems harsh. We expect one another to try our best, and we are satisfied even when our best isn’t good enough. Our modern perspective is decidedly un-Hellenic. We argue that the ancient Greek virtue ethic has a success condition at the heart of its system. Through the lenses of Plato’s Socrates, Aristotle, and the Stoics, we illustrate that, unlike other customs and ethical systems, ancient Hellenic virtue ethics requires that the agent succeed. It is not possible to be a virtuous person who attempts virtuous acts and fails routinely. Plato’s Socrates identifies the good with knowledge, which he considers sufficient for right action. When Socrates understands that he can no longer impart knowledge—his personal moral imperative—he welcomes death. Aristotle is reluctant to judge a man happy before death since, while alive, an individual might suffer a fate similar to Priam’s; despite one’s virtuous intent, failure can nullify one’s flourishing, as good men must actively live in accordance with virtue. Aristotle tells us to be more afraid of losing our virtue than our own lives. The Stoics think similarly, but with a significant caveat: for them, successful virtue is correct thought. Once a person completes the bodily movements that constitute his action, whether the world unfolds such as to achieve the agent’s end is not up to him.
Paolo Babbiotti & Luca Torrente, Universite de Paris IV Sorbonne, France
Euripides’ Critique of theAgonistic Greek Model
Our contribution aims to highlight the critique of the agonistic model in Euripides’ plays. Studies of the ancient Greek world have sufficiently shown that ancient Greek culture, and therefore its own education (paideia), had its roots in a form of competition and agonism. Greek agonistic education aimed to curb impulses that otherwise would have been expressed in a violent and dangerous way, threatening the social order of the city. There was also another possibility, namely that of completely rejecting this model and of creating communities based on different forms of life, such as the Pythagorean and the Orphic ones. Within the Greek polis itself, however, there were those who tried to criticize this competitive model by staging its contradictions in the theatre. This is the case with Euripides, who, in several works – for example The Trojan Women and Helen – not only shows the connections between competition and war, but gives voice to victims of the same agonistic model: women, slaves and foreigners. For example, Cassandra’s speech directed to Hecuba in The Trojan Women (vv. 354-405) shows what we might call a “feminine and non-ideological view” of war. Thus the results of the violence of the war, the dead and the widows, the children without a father are put on stage. At the same time, the sacrifice of Iphigenia at the hands of Agamemnon is condemned, although men think that the captain of Achaeans is a wise man. Another example is in the Helen, where the Chorus complains about the horrible outcomes of the war and invokes the possibility of resolving the dispute not through armed confrontation, and therefore the war, but through the word, the logos (vv. 1151-1165).
Stephen Bay, Brigham Young University, USA
The Persona of the Flawed ἀγωνιστής/agōnistḗs in the Ancient Greek Novel
In this paper I will examine the surprisingly consistent motif of the defective ἀγωνιστής/agōnistḗs as found in the five extant Ancient Greek erotic novels (Callirhoe, by Chariton; Ephesiaca, by Xenophon of Ephesus; Daphnis and Chloe, by Longus; Leucippe and Clitophon, by Achilles Tatius; and the Ethiopica, by Heliodorus). These texts are thematically similar, have comparable plotlines, and all restrict their narrative actions to the eastern and western fringes of Greek society. They have been shown to be rich in allusions to earlier literature, particularly to Homer and the tragedians, and consequently allude to the ἀγών/agṓn and the ἀγωνιστής/agōnistḗs in their literal as well as their (post-Classical) figurative senses. However, in the novels, the protagonists as ἀγωνισταί/agōnistaī́ depart dramatically from their heroic literary predecessors. The novelistic ἀγωνιστής/agōnistḗs is defeated time and time again, and usually by antagonists that should be considerably inferior to him (or her) physically, socially, and culturally. In fact, certain passages that quote or paraphrase earlier literary traditions seem deliberately to contrast the ideal nature of the Homeric or tragic ἀγωνιστής/agōnistḗs with the defective novelistic version. In addition to an exploration of this feature, I will discuss the deeper thematic implications of the flawed ἀγωνιστής/agōnistḗs in each of the novels.
Elsa Bouchard, University of Montreal, Canada
Mythical and conceptual agōnes in Theocritus’ first Idyll
The embedded song performed by the shepherd Thyrsis in Theocritus’ first Idyll (64-145) contains an intriguing account of the story of Daphnis, the legendary founder of bucolic: the agonizing cowherd appears to be engaged in a life and death struggle with Eros and Aphrodite. This situation appears paradoxical since Daphnis otherwise seems to be largely modeled on the docile Adonis, as many recent studies have emphasized (Anagnostou-Laoutides & Konstan 2008). This paper argues that the paradox results from Theocritus’ unprecedented combination of two mythical models in his representation of Daphnis: 1. the consort of the goddess, whose fate is usually tragic, and 2. the poetic hero. In Greek myth as in the ancient biographical tradition, poetic heroes are regularly characterized by an agonistic relationship with a divinity by whom they are eventually killed or maimed (Weiler 1974; Compton 2006). Daphnis, who is simultaneously reputed to be the first bucolic singer and the subject of the archetypical bucolic song, qualifies as the culture hero behind the “invention” of bucolic. But why did Theocritus give this particular form to the mythical material he used in his inaugural piece of bucolic poetry? I further argue that the agōn in which Daphnis is involved in Idyll 1 is designed to evoke an anthropological contrast between human descendance and cultural posterity. At the metapoetic level, the Idyll also embodies a conceptual agōn between eros and poetic activity. Daphnis’ problematic relationship with eros is in line with Theocritus’ apparent belief in the necessity for poetry to transcend eros, which is also evinced elsewhere in his work—e.g. in the three vignettes appearing on the cup with which the goatherd repays Thyrsis’ performance in the external frame of Idyll 1 (32-54). This particular portrait of Daphnis is thus consistent with the (oft-stated) programmatic nature of Idyll 1.
Federico Casella, University of Salerno Italy
Conflict and opposition: Pythagorean strategies for the construction of an identity
A violent conflict ended Pythagoras’ teaching in Croton: the first, great revolt against the Pythagoreans in the late VI century BC. Among its causes, a precise regime of life, directly opposed to other citizens’ – hence their hostility, worsened by the establishment of a Pythagorean ‘city within the city’, which fostered bad relationships with the rest of Croton. Numerous schools founded in Southern Italy during the V century BC were driven by a sense of competition, since each claimed to be the true heir of Pythagoras. As a result, Pythagorean historiography is full of anachronisms, since the tales were intended to discredit rival schools, not to offer accurate descriptions. This would explain the contradictions – if not alterations – of the reports, and allow us to trace back each anecdote both to the period of its original diffusion and to the school that made it. Plato’s philosophy also posed a challenge for intellectual ‘supremacy’: some dialogues apparently aim to show the superiority of Platonism to the Pythagoreans. This would be the case of the Phaedo and the Timaeus, both imbued by Pythagorean ‘atmosphere.’ According to the first, Platonic philosophy is the only one to establish a perfect bios. According to the latter, only thorough the noetic forms is the cosmos properly explained, an idea which threatens the validity of both the ethical and theoretical teachings of Pythagoreanism. Letter VII shows the existence of a quarrel – on the figure of the true master and on the independence of the Platonic philosophy – between Plato and other intellectuals that could be the Pythagoreans (338c ff.): if true, this could shed a different light on the dialogues mentioned and on Pythagoreanism itself. The aim of this paper it to show that the Pythagoreans’ identity – and their intellectual production – was built, during the centuries, on opposition or conflict with external elements.
Giulia Corrente, Università degli Studi ‘Roma Tre,’ Italy
La dimensione agonale nella commedia in terra greca d’Occidente:
spunti iconografici, letterari ed epigrafici per un’ipotesi interpretativa
La dimensione agonale è connaturata allo spirito ellenico e si manifesta in molti aspetti della civiltà greca. A partire soprattutto dagli studi di Burckhardt questa dimensione è stata ampiamente esplorata e messa in rilievo. Ad essa non si sottrae il teatro, la forma artistica più identitaria della civiltà greca. Se si guarda all’ambito più specifico della commedia la dimensione agonale assume un duplice aspetto e offre, quindi, due direzioni di ricerca e di riflessione: una è quella dell’agone drammatico inteso come la gara tra i poeti comici che partecipavano, come i poeti tragici, a competizioni annuali inserite in feste religiose (ad es. le Lenee). L’altra direzione di ricerca è quella relativa all’agone inteso come parte costitutiva della commedia antica, la disputa fra due antagonisti, solitamente inserita fra parodo e parabasi. Questi due aspetti sono ben testimoniati per la commedia attica, non altrettanto si può dire se ci spostiamo sul versante della grecità occidentale: qui le testimonianze si fanno molto frammentarie ed esigue, ed è quindi difficile comporre un quadro coerente e assimilabile a quello della madrepatria. Ciononostante, è possibile ipotizzare anche per la Grecia d’Occidente l’esistenza di una dimensione agonale nel teatro, particolarmente in quello comico? A questa domanda intende rispondere lo studio qui presentato, attraverso l’analisi di alcune raffigurazioni vascolari di soggetto comico prodotte in Magna Grecia e di alcuni testi epigrafici e letterari (ad es. Epicarmo di Siracusa) e sulla base del confronto con la realtà meglio conosciuta della commedia attica. La tradizione greca delle gare teatrali, anche attraverso la sua declinazione più occidentale, magnogreca e siciliana, avrà un’irradiazione significativa e duratura nella tradizione romana e anche oltre, nella tradizione della commedia italiana almeno fino al XVIII secolo, in forme e modalità differenti ma pur sempre manifestazione di uno ‘spirito agonistico’ di indubbia matrice greca.
The agonal dimension in Western Greek comedy:
iconographic, literary and epigraphic evidence for an interpretative hypothesis
Agon is native to the Hellenic spirit and it manifests itself in many aspects of Greek civilization. Especially beginning from Burckhardt’s studies, this dimension has been widely explored and highlighted. Theater, the most representative artistic form of Greek civilization, does not escape this dimension. If we look at the more specific area of comedy, the agonal dimension takes two aspects and offers, therefore, two directions of research and reflection: that of the dramatic agon as competition among the comic poets who, as the tragic poets, participated in annual competitions during religious festivals (e.g. τὰ Λήναια), and that related to agon intended as a constituent part of ancient comedy: the dispute between two antagonists, usually placed between the parodos and parabasis. These two aspects are well attested in Attic comedy, however the same cannot be said of Western Greece: here the evidence is very fragmentary and scarce, and therefore it is difficult to build a picture which is coherent and comparable to that of the motherland. Nevertheless, is it possible to hypothesize also for Western Greece the existence of an agonal dimension in the theater, in the comic theater particularly? The paper presented here aims to answer this question, through the analysis of some comic vase paintings from Magna Graecia and some epigraphic and literary texts (e.g. Epicharmus of Syracuse) on the basis of comparison with the better-known reality of Attic comedy. The Greek tradition of theatrical contests, though diminished in its western forms from Magna Graecia and Sicily, has had a significant and long-lasting irradiation. Through the Roman tradition and even beyond, through Italian comedy, at least until the eighteenth century, it took different shapes and ways, but all were expressions of an “agonistic spirit” of unquestionably Greek origin.
Sean Costello, Oxford University, United Kingdom
Beating them at their own game: Socrates’s agonistic behaviour in Plato’s Protagoras
The agonistic nature of Plato’s Protagoras is forcefully-prevalent in the dialogue’s interlude, where the competitive rule is established that whoever can argue in both their own and their adversary’s style should endeavour to beat their opponent ‘at their own game’ (335c; 336b-d), and a referee is called for to monitor the competition (338b). In this paper, I explore Socrates’ agonistic behaviour in this dialogue and contend that, despite the apparent focus on ‘beating Protagoras at his own game’ and the possibility of obtaining ‘prizes’ for defeating him, Socrates remains principally-motivated by pursuing truth, and thus exemplifies real ἀγών. I first examine four cases of Socrates’s agonistic behaviour, with the final two being clear instances of ‘beating’ Protagoras ‘at his own game’. These are: (i) Socrates’s attempts to get Protagoras to take responsibility for his arguments in speeches and dialectic; (ii) the narrative comments Socrates makes about Protagoras; (iii) the role-reversal of the ‘Simonides speech’ episode; and (iv) the ‘one-and-a-half-person dialectical-speech-hybrid’ at 354e-357e. I argue that each of these cases can be understood – not as impeding Socrates’s oft-stated goal of pursuing truth – but as examples of Socrates adopting Protagoras’s understanding of punishment (again beating him ‘at his own game’) as educative in excellence for both the offender and the community (324b). Socrates, by punishing Protagoras, therefore brings all towards excellence – here cautiously identified with knowledge (361a) – and, thus, truth. I further suggest that pursuing truth remains Socrates’s real motivation, despite the possibility of winning three ‘prizes’ for defeating Protagoras. I contend that the first two of these – Hippocrates’s soul and taking Protagoras’s place as ‘the wise man’, or at least earning more respect – do not figure in Socrates’s desires at all. While the third prize – establishing the superiority of the telic and truth-oriented dialectic method, which ascribes outcome-responsibility to the answerer, over the atelic and speaker-dependent method of speechmaking –does feature in Socrates’s desires, it, nevertheless, is subordinated to the pursuit of truth. I conclude by arguing that Socrates’s agonistic behaviour expresses the real agonistic trait of – not crushing adversaries or prize-winning, but – achieving a noble victory, without enmity, over a worthy opponent which demonstrates and furthers excellence.
Lee Coulson, University of Sydney, Australia
Platonic Philosophy as Ἀγών: Victory Without Triumph
Plato lived in an agonistic culture accustomed to military conflict and the verbal combat of competing agonistes. His dialogues reflect the contestations of his day, and often use metaphors of hunting and battle to explain why courage and tenacity are necessary to accomplish philosophical aims. Plato wanted to change society. To do that he needed to amend attitudes and beliefs, among them the agonistic mores of his time. Platonism notably differed from the contemporary sense of rhetorical agon as contests that sought triumphant victory and subjugation. This paper reviews Plato’s agonistic imagery in the context of his assertion that good discourse is a quest for truth that must eschew the sophistic eristic that intends to defeat opponents. Nonetheless, Platonic philosophy is agonistic and its disciples are agonistes whose struggle is an inner quest for self-mastery. Plato taught that reason can employ the brave aspect of thumos to contest unruly appetite in order to attain harmony: “For great is the struggle … a far greater contest than we think it, that determines whether a man prove good or bad” (R. 608b). The would-be philosopher thus pursues victory over themselves, not triumph over others. I consider instances of Plato’s antagonism to triumphal agon, and argue that the only triumph permitted by the rules of Platonic agonism is that which accompanies the victory of truth over ignorance.
Jessica Elbert Decker, California State University San Marcos, USA
Fire Coming on Will Judge and Seize All Things: The Justice of Strife in Heraclitus’ Moving Kosmos
In Homer’s Iliad, the poet wishes that conflict would vanish from the world of men (XVIII.107). According to Aristotle, Heraclitus criticized this Homeric attitude, arguing that conflict between opposites is the necessary condition of the cosmos (DKA22). Even more radically, Heraclitus argues: “one must realize that war is shared and conflict is justice and that all things come to pass in accordance with conflict” (DK 80). Justice is a divine process that is continually taking place through the conflict of opposites, and humans can only come to understand Justice by attending to the process itself: the paradoxical tension between opposites. This tension is the kosmos, represented as fire in DK 30: “kosmos: the same for all, no god nor man has made, but it ever was and is and will be fire ever-living, kindled in measures and in measures extinguished.” Fire and justice are explicitly identified in DK 66: “fire coming on will judge (krinei) and seize (katalepsetai) all things,” just as “justice will seize (katalepsetai) those who invent lies and those who swear to them” in DK 28B. DK 102 criticizes the mortal failure to comprehend justice: “for a god all things are good and just while humans have taken some things as just, others as unjust.” Mortals perceive the world according to their flawed understanding of opposites, just as they misunderstand how the tension of the bow and lyre is simultaneously a “harmonie” and a “drawing apart” (diapheromenon) (DK 51). Human judging is arbitrary because it is radically subjective (idion, as in DK 2); we can only come to know justice through our experience of conflict: “if it were not for these things, they would not know the name of Justice” (DK 23). The process of change, like the fire continually kindled and extinguished, is the structure of Heraclitus’ kosmos, and strife is its catalyst. This paper will explore the role of justice as strife and demonstrate the manner in which strife is the essential productive force in Heraclitus’ moving kosmos.
Chrysoula Gitsoulis, FIT/SUNY USA
The Individual vs the State: a Study of Socrates and Antigone
The conflict (agon) between the wishes of the individual and the demands of the State (polis) is a theme that is central to Sophocles’ play, Antigone, and Plato’s philosophical works, The Apology and The Crito, which recount the trial and death of Socrates. This essay will be devoted to exploring the way in which this conflict surfaces in these works. I will begin by examining some apparent differences between Socrates and Antigone – with regard to their attitudes over their duties to the State, to their families, and to the burial rights of the dead – which have led some to believe that Socrates has more in common with Creon than Antigone, and indeed, that if Socrates were confronted with Antigone’s dilemma, he would have refrained from burying Polynices. In my essay, I will explore the noted differences and argue – using textual evidence – that they are more apparent than real. I will then turn to highlighting the deep similarities between Socrates and Antigone. They are both rebels, threats to the status quo, to the socio-political order, and to the sources of power in their respective societies. They are both models of free inquiry and expression, who force those around them to rethink their values and their manner of living. Both have deep faith in the discerning power of their individual conscience. And both are prepared to sacrifice their lives for their principles: they value what is honorable and just more than they fear death. A discussion of these and other similarities will form the main focus of my paper.
Luca Gili, Université du Québec à Montréal, Canada
Dialectic as an Agonistic Activity in Parmenides and in Plato
In Euthydemus 305e2, Plato’s Socrates compares the wisdom that the philosophers reach after their researches to the victory that is obtained after dangers and struggles (ἐκτὸς δὲ ὄντες κινδύνων καὶ ἀγώνων καρποῦσθαι τὴν σοφίαν). Plato implicitly establishes a comparison between dialectical inquiry (the philosophical method that leads to wisdom) and the struggles of the athletes or the soldiers. Interestingly, this image is entirely absent in Aristotle, who seems to portray dialectical research as entailing a ‘virtuous adversariality’ (Dutilh Novaes 2016), thereby stressing the cooperative character of dialectic over its ‘agonistic’ character. Before Plato, however, the image of the struggle was present in Parmenides. In this paper, I intend to stress all the references to struggles and efforts that the goddess proposes in Parmenides’ extant lines. I will thus show that Parmenides understands argumentative logic as a dialectical exercise (cf. Marion & Castelnérac 2009). Contrary to Rossetti (2017), I will be showing that the logic of Parmenides, fr. B8 is implicitly dialectical. The “agonistic” character of this early dialectic will be underlined and Plato’s later comparison will stress that the reforms of dialectics offered by Plato and Aristotle eliminated any ‘adversarial’ aspect from the practice of debating.
Drew Hyland, Trinity College Connecticut USA
Heraclitus the Jock
While Heraclitus lived in the Eastern rather than western Greek world, his influence surely extended throughout the ancient Greek world. Even the Eleatic Parmenides, from what is now Italy, makes references in his poem that are most plausibly directed against Heraclitus. My paper will concentrate on those fragments of Heraclitus that refer to paidia, polemos, eris, agon, and maxesthai. By loosening up appropriately the sense of “war” usually connected especially to polemos, eris, and maxesthai, and then connecting these to the famous fragment 52 “play” fragment, I shall argue that the model that Heraclitus might have had in mind – and in any case the most fruitful model – for joining these together is not war but athletic competition. I propose to begin with the polemos fragments, centering on probably the most famous, the “Polemos is the father of all” fragment. While I acknowledge that a possible sense of polemos is ‘war,” it becomes clear when we combine this fragment with the other fragments regarding polemos, agon, eris, and even maxesthai that Heraclitus has a much broader notion in mind than explicit “war,” something much more like “struggle” or “contest.” This reading makes it much more akin to the uses of agon and eris that I shall discuss. The capstone, in a way, is the famous fragment 52, that “lifetime is a child playing, playing at ‘backgammon’.” I shall conclude from all this that for Heraclitus, the image he has in mind when trying to capture the “play” of the happening of the world is the struggle, the agon, of competitive athletics.
Tobias Joho, Universität Bern, Switzerland
The life-giving force and nightmare of Greek culture: ἀγών in Burckhardt and Nietzsche
Jacob Burckhardt and Friedrich Nietzsche are chiefly responsible for the recognition of the ἀγών as one of the organizing principles of Greek culture. They agree that the ἀγών was a catalyst of tremendous energies, responsible for the development of the individual and the flourishing of the arts. While they also agree that a quintessential ambivalence attaches itself to the ἀγών, they differ with regard to the exact nature, and the depth, of this ambiguity. Nietzsche considers the ἀγών an institution that raised a purely destructive impulse towards strife and envy, prevailing in the pre-Homeric period, to a productive principle. The evil pre-Homeric twin of the ἀγών had been largely overcome in archaic and classical Greece but returned when genuine competition disappeared in the wake of a single individual’s achievement of peerless superiority. In such cases, the triumphant Greek individuals had a worrisome tendency towards savagery, which reflected the degeneration of their agonistic mentality into its crude pre-Homeric version. While Nietzsche thus thinks that the dark aspects of the ἀγών consist in a relic that, though never erased, is curbed as long as genuine competition prevails, Burckhardt locates the ambiguity within the ἀγών itself, even when it is functioning properly: he stresses the terrible inner tension that was pent up in the contestants’ psyche, and he thinks that widespread unhappiness was the inevitable result of a form of life whose paramount sense-making resource was victory in fierce competition with others. Compared with Nietzsche, Burckhardt gives the agonistic principle an inward turn, locating the struggle as much inside the psychic makeup of the participants as in their relationship with their competitors. Therefore, while for Nietzsche the ἀγών represents a transfiguration, however uneasy, of an ugly impulse, for Burckhardt its harrowing aspects are always part and parcel of the agonistic experience itself.
Ippokratis Kantzios, University of South Florida USA
Countryside vs. Sea in Idyll 11 of Theocritus
In his song/erotic plea to the sea-nymph Galatea (Id. 11.19-79), the young Cyclops Polyphemus builds his case not on his personal merits but rather on those of his pastoral environment, in fact juxtaposing them to the deficiencies of the “grey sea.” Polyphemus thus sets up an agon between the two domains, an agon which, in his mind, has an overwhelming favorite (“Who would ever choose the sea and the waves instead of these things
[sc. pastoral beauties]
?” 49). And yet, Galatea opts for the underdog by refusing the pastoral world—and him. Given Polyphemus’ great investment in the bucolic ways, we might understand his failure as a failure also of the latter. The poet, however, intervenes and seems to save the day, when he asserts that through his song Polyphemus has found an antidote (φάρμακον, 1) to the pain of rejection. Here Theocritus speaks of song alone, but in the Idylls its ubiquitous presence makes it such an integral part of the countryside that in essence it becomes its metonymy. Even in the idealized landscape Polyphemus paints for Galatea, song is alluded to in the imagery of the “divine water” (47-8) coming down from Aetna. In claiming the soothing and restorative powers of song/pastoral world, Theocritus adopts the Stoic idea of ἀταραξία (“calmness”, “imperturbability”), associated with the serenity of the countryside and contrasted with the restlessness of the sea (cf. Galatea’s aquatic kingdom as defined by its waves, κύμαθ᾿, 49). But Theocritus’ endorsement of the healing ability of song/pastoral world is paradoxical. If Polyphemus’ song enables him to forget Galatea, why does he keep singing about her? The poet, playful as he may be, introduces a darker nuance that makes the contrast between countryside and the sea more complicated than the Cyclops thinks.
Eleni Kornarou, Hellenic Open University, Greece
The Agonistic Element in Euripides’ Hippolytus
In this paper I intend to examine the motif of the agon, both literally and metaphorically, in Euripides’ Hippolytus, discussing the futile struggle of the heroes to achieve their aims. The plot of the play is summarized as follows: In order to destroy Hippolytus for his lack of reverence towards her, Aphrodite uses Phaedra as the instrument of her vengeance, making her to fall in love with her step-son. By contrast with Phaedra of the first Hippolytus, in this play the heroine is presented as a virtuous wife, conducting a vain struggle against her illicit passion. Initially Phaedra is steadfastly refusing to reveal her secret to the Chorus and the Nurse, yet later she succumbs to the Nurse’s supplication (335), describing in a long rhesis (373-430) the efforts she made to suppress her feelings. The Nurse, although initially reacting with horror to Phaedra’s revelation (353-361), soon recovers to deliver a speech (433-481) answering Phaedra’s preceding speech, revealing a contrasting ethic, a clash of alternative world-views often depicted in the two speeches of an agon. Phaedra’s revelation of her secret has disastrous consequences. When Hippolytus is informed of it by the Nurse, the heroine commits suicide, yet, in order to preserve her good fame and to take revenge on Hippolytus for his pride, she accuses him, in the tablet she leaves to Theseus, of attempting to rape her. Theseus, believing Phaedra’s letter, curses his son; hence Hippolytus’ attempts to defend himself in the subsequent agon between him and Theseus (902-1089) are doomed to failure as Theseus’ curse has already determined Hippolytus’ fate. To summarize, the rhetorical contests of Hippolytus reflect the tragic conflicts of the play, revealing the world-views of its main characters but also the futility of rhetorical ability in the context of an irrational situation.
Virginia Lewis, Florida State University USA
A Contested Homeland? The Immigrant Victor’s Homecoming in Pindar’s Olympian 12
In Olympian 12, Pindar celebrates the Olympic victory of the runner Ergoteles of Himera in either 470 or 466. Having fled a stasis in Knossos (O. 12.16), Ergoteles relocated to Himera in northern Sicily and won a victory in the dolichos as a citizen of that city. In this paper, I will explore the way in which Pindar’s poem integrates the formerly Cretan athlete into his new home at Himera by affiliating him with features of the local landscape and asserting his role as a citizen in a city that has itself recently undergone stasis. After a brief survey of the history of Himera and the historical context for the poem, the paper argues that the poet writes the hybrid victor, Ergoteles, himself into the local landscape of Himera by affiliating him with the hot springs of the local Nymphs. In this way, the poet quite literally integrates the exiled Cretan citizen into the landscape and thus into the civic fabric of Himera. The local topography thus participates in the formation of civic traditions that attempt to reconcile Ergoteles’ own hybrid status. Finally, I will propose that the victor’s affiliation with the farmed fields stakes his claim to contested lands that had been recently won by the combined Deinomenid and Emmenid tyrant families. By affiliating him with the landscape and ideology of Himera, the brief poem thus symbolically solidifies Ergoteles’ citizenship and his lasting claim to the land.
Prof. Flora P.Manakidou, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
Geography and Mythology of Athletics in Hellenistic Poetry
Hellenistic poetry mentioned athletics and athletes either as part of everyday life or in connection with the main Panhellenic games. In the former case they were treated as markers of different attitudes and priorities according to the context: Egypt is recommended for its wrestling and a young man for his athletic victories (Her. Mim. 1.28 and 50-53); an unfaithful lover is athletically active (Theocr. 2.80, 97, 121f.; 7.125; cf. the pseudo-Theocr. 23.56) and one oxherd in Croton’s area is participating in the Olympic games (Id. 4). In the latter case athletics are related to heroic biographies, such as Heracles, and other mythical stories. Callimachus dealt with athletic games both as a scholar (fr. 403; 450) and as a poet: he spoke of Arethusa and Alpheus in connection with the Olympic games (fr. 407.45-50). As it is known, Arethusa became the Sicilian emblem of bucolic poetry after Theocritus. He also composed epinician poems (fr. 384; Ia.fr.198; fr. 388 Pf.) and if we accept that Aetia’s Book 3 was framed by the Nemean victory of Berenice and the Olympian victor Euthycles this athletic background is worth noticing. Euthycles of Locri (frs. 84-85a), the boxer Euthymus of Locri (frs. 98-99b and 635?, 661?), the runner Astylus of Croton (fr. 666), Milon of Croton (758), Theugenes (607), and one uncertain story (541 either in περὶ ἀγώνων Pf. or in Aetia). He was interested in the origins of the Olympic and the Nemean games which he linked with Heracles (on the Olympic games and Olympia: Aetia 3 frs.76b-77d, Ia. 6; on the Nemean games: Victoria Berenices in 54-60j Harder). and in other issues related to the games (Ia. 4.58; cf. Euphorion fr.107 for the Isthmian and Verg. Ecl. 6.68) The emphasis he put on the martial and athletic nature of Artemis and Athena in Hymns 3 and 5 has been understood as implicit praising of the athletic spirit of the contemporary Ptolemaic royal women. Poseidippus’ Hippika is celebrating equestrian victories of these Ptolemaic women from a similar point of view. This paper will be asking whether these references promote the agonistic spirit within their poetic context. It will also be exploring the question whether the geography and mythology of athletic stories can be seen as a further marker of Greek values in the world that emerged after Alexander’s death and extended throughout the Mediterranean world. In this survey the geological couple of Alpheus and Arethusa that linked Sicily with Peloponnese and Heracles’ panhellenic action will be seen as two exemplary models.
Michael McShane, Carthage College USA
Reception of Empedocles in Shakespeare’s King Lear
This paper is about the cosmic thinking of Empedocles of Acragas (now Sicilian Agrigento!), especially as it is engaged by Shakespeare in his King Lear. Postulating a constant, dialectical agon between Love and Strife, Empedocles’ philosophy was especially important in Renaissance and early modern cosmology, as recent scholarship shows. More particularly, Empedoclean thought fundamentally informs Shakespeare’s understanding of temporality. Thus, as I will argue in this paper, King Lear is set in a crisis of massive, epochal shift, a meantime set between two cosmic moments. This intervalic moment, I argue, is best understood through Empedoclean categories. That is, close reading reveals that the time of Lear falls in an uneasy interregnum between an older period dominated by Strife, on the one hand, and a newer moment presided over by Love, on the other. This Empedoclean proposal explains many otherwise difficult-to-understand elements of King Lear, including its emphasis on astrological signs of cosmic change, its portrayal of a now-decadent Roman religion of war-like masculinity, and its strange focus on an anachronistic, nascent Christianity. Thus, viewed in an Empedoclean light, the play can be seen to have a comic undertone (birth of a new age) playing counterpoint to its main tragic lines (end of an ancient dispensation).
Robert Metcalf, University of Denver USA
Gorgias of Leontini and the Meaning of Agôn
In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates admonishes his audience to practice a distinctively philosophical form of agôn—involving refutative argument [elenchos] with one’s opponent, as well as discursive contestation [diamachesthai] of the dêmos as a whole—as distinct from the rhetorical agôn practiced by Gorgias and his associates, which he condemns as nothing more than shameful pandering [kolakeia]. But why, we should ask, does Plato choose Gorgias of Leontini as a foil for Socrates’ provocative articulation of philosophy as a form of agôn? In certain ways Plato’s choice of Gorgias as foil is not surprising. From what we can gather about Gorgias the historical figure, he was himself adept at agonistic self-display (e.g., exhibiting his ability to answer whatever he is asked in public gatherings), and his writings extol rhetorical ability as a kind of agonistic prowess comparable to that displayed in the Olympic games (cf. Gorgias fragment B8). And for the Athenian audience, at least, Gorgias was associated with the great agôn of the Peloponnesian War—a historical episode that lurks always in the background of Plato’s Gorgias, as the dialogue alludes to it throughout while reflecting on the dangers of rhetoric as a form of agôn in logoi. However, to further understand Gorgias’ significance for Plato’s reinterpretation of agôn, this paper focuses attention on two key concepts from Gorgias’ speech, Praise of Helen, that are then appropriated and radically reinterpreted by Socrates in the Gorgias: specifically, “power [dunamis]” and “opinion/seeming [doxa].” The paper argues that Gorgias’ understanding of doxa as the measure of demonstrative discourse, and thus as the measure of rhetorical dunamis, is precisely what Plato’s Socrates seeks to undermine in order to set philosophy as agôn apart from the rhetorical agôn practiced by Gorgias, Polus and Callicles.
Christopher Moore, Pennsylvania State University USA
Plato’s Contest with Critias
The point of departure for this talk is Critias’ account of sôphrosunê in the Charmides as “doing one’s own things” (to ta heautou prattein). Although Critias is often assumed to be parroting a Socratic formulation, we argue that there is strong reason to believe the phrase is Critias’ own. If so, then it is Critias who supplies Socrates with the terms for his definition of justice in the Republic. Plato thus puts his most astonishing literary creation in dialogue with the ethico-political vision of his most notorious relative, whose oligarchic reign of terror (according to the Seventh Letter to the friends of Dion of Syracuse) discouraged the young Plato from entering into practical politics. Plato’s engagement with Critias continues in the Timaeus–Critias – where he is presented as an associate of Hermocrates of Syracuse – and raises deeply puzzling questions about his philosophical aims in resurrecting such a problematic figure. To understand Plato’s Critian project, we first must recognize Critias’ central place in late fifth-century Greek intellectual culture – a status that has been obscured by the fragmentary nature of his literary remains and the focus in later authors on his political misdeeds. The surviving fragments and testimonia offer glimpses of an impressively varied and vital authorial output, which includes our first known examples of prose Politeiai (“Constitutions”), the prototype for Plato’s Republic and Laws. Plato therefore inherits both a model and a countermodel for his own literary-philosophical activity and attempts at political reform in Syracuse. This talk considers how the Charmides and Republic take up and challenge specific features of Critias’ political thought.
Joyce Mullan, Stevens Institute of Technology USA
Strife in Hesiod’s Works and Days
There has been a lot of work in recent years on the view of politics as agonistic as the best preserver of freedom and all viewpoints (see Chantal Mouffe, Bonnie Honig, Sheldon Wolin, and Michel Foucault). Others have honed in the specifically Greek concept of Agon as contest or struggle and its role in preserving democracy (see Hannah Arendt’s Human Condition, and more recently, in general Law and Agonistic Politics, and in particular in that work, Andreas Kalyvas’s “The Democratic Narcissus: The Agonism of the Ancients compared to that of the (Post)Moderns.”) I would like to trace the complex views of Strife in the earlier work of Hesiod and then trace its legacy in the Aristocratic Ethos of Homer, its meaning in Solon, its role in athletic competitions and war, and hint at the later legacy of the idea in Machiavelli’s Discourses, Hegel’s Philosophy of History as well as Adorno’s ‘Negative Dialectics’. I will end up arguing, following Hesiod, that there are two kinds of strife, one good and one evil. One constructive and supportive of excellence (Arête) and the Common Good, the other destructive, hegemonic, and annihilating. I will begin, however, with a close analysis with what Hesiod meant by it and its legacy in the domestic and international politics of Ancient Greece.
Ioanna Papadopoulou, Democritus University of Thrace, Greece
Nothing to do with the extant Persians? … νῦν ὑπὲρ πάντων ἀγών, (Aes. Pers. 405),
the riddle of the (second) staging of The Persians in Syracuse and the lost Aitnaiai
Scattered pieces of information, found in various sources (e.g. Aesch. Vita 8, 9, 10, 11 and 18; Sc. ad Aristoph. Ran. v. 1028; Paus. 1.2.3), report about Aeschylus’ trips, staying, death and his grave in Sicily, noting also the restaging of the successful in Athens Persians (472 BC) and the production of the not extant Aitnaiai (perhaps a satyr play and not a tragedy). In the first part of the paper: a) the relative sources will be shortly discussed in the light of some new proposals according the plot of The Aitnaiai (e.g. G. Basta-Donzelli, 2003; A. Duncan, 2011; K. Bosher, 2013; D.G. Smith, 2018), and b) connections between the extant Persians and the fragments of The Aitnaiai will be exploit in order to suggest possible hints and allusions in the meaning and concept of ‘agon’in these two plays. In the second part, sport metaphors, imagery, allusions and sport references in The Persians will be –in sum- categorized demonstrating the function of aspects of ‘agon’ (related to the Persian and the Greek army, the Chorus, Xerxes and Atossa) in the plot. The consequential and partly deductive aim is to demonstrate how intro-textual approach may support traces of Aeschylean playwriting in fragmentary preserved plays and further the study of their content.
Aura Piccioni, Institut für Klassische Archäologie der Universität Regensburg, Germany
Equestrian agones as rites de passage: development of a model
Some exemplars of friezes coming from the so-called Etruscan ‘palace’ of Murlo, from Poggio Buco and that of unknown provenance, now in Madrid (Museo del Prado), depict a particular subject: a group of youths, riding galloping horses, in what can be interpreted as a scene of an equestrian competition, as it is possible to understand by some details of these friezes. My paper will have a circular structure, departing in fact from these architectural terracottas, doing comparisons with Greek evidence, and then looking for a possible interpretation of the scheme in Etruscan art. The scene finds, in fact, its origin in some Greek archetypes: there are, for instance, vases, which preserve images of young horsemen, who seem to take part to an agon; but also models of horsemen in Western Greece are provided, later even depicted on some coins. These young riders could have alluded, in the Greek mainland and in Western Greece, to specific athla. Furthermore, the imaginary of the horsemen and the meaning of the ‘noble rider’ appears to have been transmitted to Etruscan equestrian agones. The agonistic meaning of the abovementioned friezes depicting youths competing – in contexts such as the palace of Murlo – seems to have acquired a specific symbolism connected to the aristocratic house and its celebrations, since similar images allude to ludi, that should have marked the passage of the youths into the adulthood.
Jean-Claude Picot, Centre Léon Robin, France
Fire and Strife in Empedocles
Plutarch (De frigido 16.952B) suggests that, in Empedocles, fire is closely related to Strife (Neikos). If so, then in precisely what sense is it true for the verses that have come down to us? The answer will be found in an examination of the different manifestations of fire and the action of Strife. It will be emphasized that fire, more than any other element, is remarkable for its movement, and that – at least in the long transition from Sphairos to dinos (that interim between poles of the cycle, i.e., that world in which we live) – Strife is the main cause of movement among the elements. But we will also have to consider the fact that, in Empedocles, “fire” is the ordinary nomen profanum for the Zeus of fr. 6, the fragment that names the four divine roots of all things. Finally, the observation will be made that even when fire is at times a separator — separation being the function of Strife –, it is harnessed by Love and utilized by her. In certain situations, Love knows how to “domesticate” Strife and fire. Fragments 6, 27, 56, 62, 71, 73, 84, 92, 109, 128, and 134 will be marshalled in support of the arguments.
Achim Preuss, Technical High School Rottenburg, Germany
The Empedoclean contest between Love and Strife – who will win?
The Presocratic philosopher Empedokles of Akragas used six constituents to expound an unconventional description of the world. Four elements as well as Love and Strife are involved in a cosmic cycle. Although there exist different interpretations about the meaning of Love and Strife in a physical world, their role as antagonists within a cosmic process is undoubted. Love causes mixture of the four elements and enables life on our planet, but Strife causes the separation of mixture. I suggest – in concordance with other interpreters – to describe both forces as opponents in a cosmic competition. According to the B30-Fragment Love and Strife have the same duration of reign. Interesting attempts were made to find a more detailed time schedule concerning the rulership of both forces, but these efforts relate only to the setting of the competition: there are no unexpected or unique events – all that happens will repeat in the same way with every cosmic cycle for an infinite number of years. Searching for individual events within a cosmic competition we should focus on Empedocles’ pupil Pausanias who developed increasing knowledge about the cosmos. I will expose, how learning and increasing knowledge can help Love – even in a physical and material way – to get advantage over Strife. So, Empedocles’ description of the cosmos may become a thrilling competition between Love, supported by all living beings, and Strife. Finally, we will see that Empedocles did a brilliant psychological analysis about conflicts: Obviously he knew that we need opponents to perform competitions or even battles and wars. The world has never seen a bigger competition than that between Love and Strife concerning the whole cosmos. According to Empedocles there remains only one opponent for us: Strife. All living beings together against one opponent – a fascinating concept to avoid conflicts and to make the world a worth living place!
Ewa Osek, The John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, Poland
Agōn, Agonistic Metaphor, and Agonistic Argument in Porphyry’s De Abstinentia
The contribution concerns the ascetic treatise De Abstinentia (On Abstinence from Killing Animals) written by Porphyry of Tyre in AD 270 when he succeeded Plotinus as a head of the Neoplatonic School at Rome. In De Abstinentia all topics focus on the question of diet, because Porphyry charges meat-eating and defends vegetarianism against his friend Firmus Castricius, a former vegetarian. The work is aimed at the rational demonstration for rejecting meat-eating and adopting vegetarianism by philosophers, ascetics, priests, holy men, and especially Neo-Platonists. In this context, there are several occurrences of Greek words on athletic competition: agōn (Abst. 1.35.1, 1.56.3, 3.15.3) and agonizesthai (Abst. 1.31.3). Besides, the author largely develops agonistic metaphors, such as stripping-off all clothes (Abst. 1.31.3: apodysasthai, 1.31.4: apodysis), being unclothed (Abst. 1.31.3: gymnoi de kai achitōnes), going to the stadium (Abst. 1.31.3: eis to stadion anabainōmen), competing in the Olympian games (Abst. 1.31.3: Olympia agōnisomenoi), and competing for a prize (Abst. 1.56.3 athlein agōna hyper), in the sense of inner struggle against passions, of moral progress, of spiritual perfection. Above all, the author of De abstinentia uses agonistic arguments (Greek antilogia, Latin argumentum in utramque partem). This type of argumentation consists in building an argument for a topic (e.g. “eating animal flesh is natural for humans”) and, then, in constructing the opposing argument on the same topic (e.g. “eating animal flesh is unnatural for humans”). In four books of his work, Porphyry constructs ten pairs of agonistic argument to demonstrate the superiority of vegetarianism and of bloodless offering over animal sacrifice and meat-eating. The agonistic metaphors and agonistic arguments play a key role in Porphyry’s ascetical teachings.
Christopher Raymond, Vassar College USA
Agôn and Aporia in the Charmides
The conversation in the Charmides takes place against the background of a thoroughly agonistic society: Athens has just suffered a major defeat in her struggle with Sparta, the next generation of warriors competes on the floor of Taureas’ palaestra, and the men vie for the attention of the young Charmides, ranked “most beautiful” and “most sôphrôn” by the Athenians. Yet the dialogue’s topic, sôphrosunê, is traditionally conceived as the anti-agonistic virtue par excellence – moderating ambition, resolving conflict, and preventing strife. This talk argues that Socrates, through his examination of Charmides and then Critias, reconstitutes sôphrosunê as a competitive virtue, though one which aims not at honor and glory but at overcoming self-ignorance for the common benefit of all. In the dialogue’s first half, Socrates challenges Charmides’ view of sôphrosunê as consisting in docility and deference, by bringing out its connection to physical and intellectual distinction. When Critias defends his own account, Socrates has to temper the older cousin’s agonistic approach to inquiry, and model philosophical conversation as a shared search where the opponent is not the interlocutor but one’s epistemic limitations and the difficulty of the conceptual terrain. The Charmides suggests that Socratic sôphrosunê, the vigilant awareness of our ignorance, involves seeking out and confronting aporiai even when – especially when – we risk exposure to defeat.
Heather L. Reid & Lidia Palumbo, Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, Italy
Wrestling with the Eleatics in Plato’s Parmenides
This paper interprets the Parmenides agonistically as a constructive contest between Plato’s Socrates and the Eleatics of Western Greece. Not only is the dialogue set in the agonistic context of the Panathenaic Games, it features agonistic language, employs an agonistic method, and may even present an agonistic model for participation in the forms. The inspiration for this agonistic motif may be that Parmenides and his student Zeno represent Western Greece, which was a key rival for the mainland at the Olympics and other Panhellenic festivals. This athletic rivalry was complemented by a philosophical rivalry, which is dramatized in the dialogue by pitting a very young (flyweight) Socrates against the Eleatic (heavyweight) Parmenides. Through dialectic, an agonistic form of philosophy attributed to the Eleatics, Plato subjects his theory of forms to a variety of conceptual challenges. This process is described as gymnasia (training) at 135d, and the power of dialectic and philosophy itself are said to depend on it. The object of gymnasia (136c) is to achieve a full view (kyriōs diopsethai)of the truth. This philosophical “vision” corresponds to the physical fitness achieved through athletic training, and it distinguishes philosophers (lovers of wisdom) from philtheamones (lovers of images) as explained at Republic 475d-476c. Just as trained athletes are able to participate in the contest while spectators merely watch it, philosophers are able to discern intelligible forms through the particulars that participate in them. In the words of the Seventh Letter 341c, it takes prolonged communion (synousia) with an idea to ignite the philosophical light in one’s soul. The Parmenides’s gymnasia provides an agonistic model for this process, inviting its readers to participate in philosophical training and develop a vison that transcends the material in a way these Eleatic spectators were unable to do.
Marija Rodriguez, University of Sydney, Australia
An Ear of Wheat in Silence Reaped: Grains and the Ethno/Economic ἀγών for Sicily
The grain economy served as an umbilicus between μητροπόλεις and ἀποικίαι in Μεγάλη Ἑλλάς. Abundant grain supply attracted Hellenic migration to the west, and its economy was an insidious force in the conflict between mainland Hellenes. The ἀγών between Ionians and Dorians was complicated by the underlying ethnic tapestry of Sicily, and the ways in which these ethnic groups controlled the agricultural trade within, and out of, the island. This research will explore the presence of Hellenic and indigenous peoples in Sicily prior to, and during, the Peloponnesian War, to assess the role that ethnic groups and their control of grain economies had in the ἀγών between Dorians and Ionians. The cultural value of grain to Σικελιώτης will also be explored and local Syracusan examples—such as the Fonte Ciane, a fountain approximately six kilometres inland from Ortygia and closely associated with the Fonte Aretusa—will be used to demonstrate how ethnic identity, myth, and ritual were manipulated to seize pastoral land and control the grain trade.
David Van Schoor, Rhodes University, South Africa
The Agōn of Self: Weighers, Wantons and True Bacchants in Euripides’ Last Trilogy
In the world of Euripides’ last trilogy – Iphigenia at Aulis, Alcmeon at Corinth, Bacchae: 405 BCE– protagonists are false to themselves and their kin or too calculatingly committed. Euripides’ characters are self-centred figures faced with choices and seductions they fail to resist. They struggle with one another, certainly, but most tragically with their own desires. Antipalos or Symmachos: that is the choice laid before Pentheus, will he be opponent or ally of Dionysus; more broadly, will Thebes best be served by agōn with the son of Theban Kadmos’ daughter, acting out hospitality, or truly wishing for him? Agamemnon is faced with a decision over where his deepest loyalty lies, what version of himself should prevail.The tragic self in late Euripides is constituted through struggle, contest between virtual versions that are convoked as vanishing possibilities. The tragic self in the moment of drama forms a virtual crossroads become manifest. Here, desire itself, real and the desire that characters only thought were theirs, becomes visible. The lines of character show through in the emotional and psychological wrestling bout of a failing prohairesis. In this paper, I mobilise the philosophy of agency and desire of Harry Frankfurt and Charles Taylor to reflect on how Euripides’ characters are constituted as personalities having apparent depths, through the dramatised agōn of desires. Protagonists are defined through their handling of the contest of alternative desires, potentialities and the virtual selves, from which they will realise or actuate their final tragic self, who we shall say they were in the end. Whether they weigh these up; wantonly fail to weigh; or make a leap of faith in what, through their actions, they actually value, determines whether they were ‘true bacchants’ or only ‘thyrsus bearers’.
John Serrati, University of Ottawa, Canada
Αγώv Σικελίᾳ: The Hannibalic War and the (Re)Organisation of Roman Sicily
The Second Punic War had a profound effect upon Sicily. The kingdom of Hieron II was destroyed and Syracuse, the island’s largest urban centre, was sacked after a bitter Roman siege. After the first conflict with Carthage, the Romans appear to have treated Sicily as an extension of Italy, with cities bound to Rome by treaty and contributing men or, more often, ships as socii to a communal military. The Hannibalic War changed all of this. The need for security and the desire for grain allowed the Romans to reset and reorganise their role in Sicily, as well as the role of Sicily itself within the Roman dominion. Sicily was vital to the Romans as a point of supply, as a centre for controlling the western Mediterranean, and for keeping a close watch on Carthage. Roman bureaucracy in Sicily increased as the island steadily became more important to the legions as a source of grain. In the context of Sicily, security and the grain supply were interrelated, as the system of military and political administration that was put into place gave Sicily the stability that was necessary for the agricultural resources to be exploited. This paper will explore the process which took Sicily first from newly conquered territory, to a zone of military occupation, and finally to an area of mostly administrative control which might properly be called a province. This process will reveal how administration and taxation of conquered lands were not imposed from the centre, but instead either continued native practices already in place, or developed in response to local conditions. In this way, Sicily acts as a microcosm for the development of Roman overseas bureaucracy during the Republic.
Karen Sieben, Ocean City College USA
Nietzsche on Empedocles: A Failed Reformer
In her introduction to Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Marianne Cowan quotes Friedrich Nietzsche as saying, “Empedocles is the great Reformer who failed.” Nietzsche’s comment is odd because he highly valued Empedocles’ work, especially his poetry used in Purifications. In addition, while Nietzsche comments that the claims of the pre-Socratics generally are naïve, he also speaks in admiration of Greek culture, which served as the wellspring from which their cosmological thinking was possible. One possible answer to Nietzsche’s estimation of Empedocles comes to us in another remark from his writings, in which Nietzsche refers to the reformer [Empedocles] who failed—failed to prepare the way for him. What Nietzsche possibly means here is that Empedocles failed to lay the groundwork for the continued advance of what the ancients were doing; and because he failed, all objective, far-sighted thinking about our nature and that of the cosmos stopped with him, opening the door for Socrates’ damaging overemphasis on reason to the exclusion of other sources of knowledge, including intuited knowledge from his predecessors. This paper looks at the issue of Empedocles’ failure in Nietzsche’s eyes to not only pinpoint what he meant, but also given Nietzsche’s insight, to expand our understanding of Empedocles’s accomplishments: his reduction of elements to four; his mechanism of love and strife which cause cosmological changes; his mysticism; and his calculated suicide. This information in turn sheds light on Nietzsche’s understanding of knowledge itself, its source, and its potential for our future understanding, and in the process greatly enhances our appraisal of the work of both men.
Becky Sinos, Amherst College USA
The Ultimate Prize: An “Orphic” Image of Victory
Among the inscribed “Orphic” tablets found in graves around the Mediterranean is a gold leaf from Thurii (Naples 111625) with hexameter lines, some corresponding verbatim to lines in other tablets. In others, unique to this tablet, the deceased speaks of having “reached the longed-for crown with nimble feet” and “sunk into the lap of the Lady, the Chthonian Queen,” allusions to attaining a blessed afterlife through images unlike those in other tablets. Here I pursue the generally accepted reading that “reaching the crown” refers to a victorious runner. In accord with the work of scholars who have shown that the Greek appreciation of athletic excellence recognizes achievements beyond physical prowess, I will examine this tablet’s use of the image of the victorious runner in the context of the deceased’s claim to a special status in the underworld. Indeed the runner’s athletic achievement embodies virtues required of those who receive this special afterlife. In this tablet, the claim to be a crown-bearing runner gains power from repetition and from placement framing a line epitomizing the deceased’s description of the experience of the blessed afterlife, attained by “sinking into the lap of the Chthonian Queen.” This phrase becomes more meaningful in the light of vase paintings and sculptures of divine and human daughters in the laps of their mothers. Fundamental are the images of Demeter and Persephone, for whom literary testimony indicates an idyllic harmony, which I suggest is what we see also on a very small piece of gold foil from a fourth-century B.C. grave in the Fusco necropolis of Syracuse. Drawing upon such images, the tablet from Thurii represents a vision of the experience of paradise that supplements our understanding of Greek views of the afterlife and provokes further thought on the experience of athletic victory in this world.
Nicholas D. Smith, Lewis & Clark College USA
“The Agony of Defeat”: Socrates’ Agonistic Use of Shame
In the 1960’s through the 1990’s, the American Broadcasting Company broadcast a weekly special entitled “The Wide World of Sports,” in which the introduction invited us to witness “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” In this paper, I argue that at least the latter experience is exploited by Socratic argumentation. In Plato’s Gorgias, Plato has Socrates confront the great Sophist, Gorgias, and two of his younger followers, on the topic of the value of rhetoric, and whether or not it qualifies as a craft (technē). The third of the interlocutors Socrates faces in the work, Callicles, complains that Socrates defeats his opponents by shaming them (Gorgias 482d-483b). Callicles then tries to turn the tables on Socrates, contending that it is Socrates who should be ashamed of the way he leads his life (486a). Even so, it is fair to say that Socrates actually engages in even more shaming behavior with Callicles, comparing the younger man to someone who spends his life scratching itches (494c-e) and is comparable to a catamite (494e). Scholarly treatments of Socratic argumentation have paid inadequate attention to the way in which he shames his interlocutors. Typically, scholars have sought to contrast the Socratic elenchus with Sophistic eristic, emphasizing the evidenciary and cooperative nature of the former and the competitive nature of the latter. In this paper, I do not deny that Socrates is interested in promoting the truth and refuting falsehood. But I do argue against those who discount the competitive and agonistic aspects of Socratic elenchus. My claim is that Socrates recognizes an epistemic process—that is, a process of belief formation—that has its etiology in such apparently non-rational psychological responses as shaming—and in particular, the shaming that occurs to people who are seen to falter and lose in a public debate. In this paper, I will show that Socrates seeks to employ this process in defeating opponents like Callicles, but not simply for “the thrill of victory,” but in order to improve Callicles epistemically. I will seek to explain how this process actually works, and show why it is fully compatible with the Socratic concern for virtue and the truth. Accordingly, we can still make out a difference between Socratic elenchus and Sophistical eristic, but on somewhat different grounds than have been promoted by scholars.
Tim Sorg, Stanford University USA
Foreign Workers in Imperial Syracuse: A Comparative Approach to Immigration, Interstate Competition, and Economic Production in the Early Fourth Century BCE.
This talk will explore how the Syracusans shaped their empire in eastern Sicily and southern Italy in the early fourth century BCE. Since the Archaic period, Syracusan tyrants regularly forced the people they conquered to relocate to Syracusan territory as citizens and then allot the land they left behind to people from outside of Syracusan society. Time and time again, the Syracusans gave away imperial land and concentrated imperial labor so they could compete economically with their contemporaries at Athens and Carthage. In recent years, historians have drawn comparisons to autocrats in the ancient Near East, concluding that Syracuse was a variation on a common theme—that Syracusan tyrants did the same kinds of things as kings in the Near East. In this talk, I show that analogies from the Near East hide what really set apart Syracusan imperialism in the ancient world: the Syracusans considered imperial land to be less a source of wealth than the people taken from it. First, I show that the Syracusans’ history of relocating the people they dispossessed back to Syracuse with citizenship and land was without precedent in the ancient world. Rather, the Syracusans drew from, and repurposed, a Greek political culture of allotment and citizenship to drive economic specialization. Second, I use the archaeological case study of Leontinoi to chart the movement of people to Syracuse. Even though Dionysios allotted the Leontines’ land to his mercenaries, I show that the process undercut non-agricultural production at Leontinoi to the benefit of Syracusan economic networks. Finally, I show how agricultural intensification at Syracuse went hand in hand with economic specialization. We see that the Syracusans thought about empire as a zero-sum competition (agon) among neighboring states where they could redirect non-agricultural production, trade networks, and economic activity to force along the growth of their metropole.
Richard Stoneman, University of Exeter, United Kingdom
Giants or Science: Cosmic Strife, Mt Etna and Aetna
In his treatise On the Face in the Moon, Plutarch is prompted by a mention of Mt Etna to speak both of the Gigantomachy and of Empedocles’ theory of Cosmic Strife. Is there a connection? Empedocles was regarded by Aristotle as an important physiologos, and he has a good deal to say about underground fires. But would his cosmological schema leave room for the myth of the Gigantomachy, even to reject it? (The Giants may not even have been conceived as imprisoned under Etna in Empedocles’ time).The poem Aetna also introduces the Gigantomachy as a false explanation to be rejected before expounding a scientific account of the volcanic activity of Mt Etna. The scientific theory is similar to that propounded by both Lucretius and Seneca (in Natural Questions). Both Lucretius and Aetna use imagery of battle and conflict to explain the activity of the winds that cause volcanic eruptions. Such anthropomorphism is also frequently employed by Seneca, and seems to be related to the use of analogy for scientific explanation by Empedocles.What are the philosophical affiliations of the theory? Plutarch uses the example of ‘underground fires’ as a means to attack the Stoic view that the element of fire properly belongs to the heavens (and, similarly, the moon does not fall even though it is earthy): for the Academic Plutarch, it is reason, nous, that controls cosmos, not Stoic Providence. But both Aetna and Seneca offer a purely natural (and not particularly Stoic) explanation of Mt Etna’s activity. One may conclude that the theory can be adopted by philosophers of varying persuasions, but is not itself philosophically charged. The value of a scientific explanation is that it removes amazement and fear (e.g. Sen. NQ 3.24.4), and dispels any danger of being seduced by myths. The conclusion of Aetna shows that the most valuable ‘lesson’ that can be drawn from eruptions is a moral one.
Charlotte Thomas, Mercer University, USA
Thucydides’ Sicily and the agon of Athens with Alcibiades and Nicias
The expedition to Sicily is Athens’ undoing in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War. The winnowing of the Athenian army under the command of its ill and conflicted General, Nicias, is painful to read, not least because Thucydides is such an admirer of Nicias. The Sicilian expedition, it seems, should have been undertaken with Alcibiades in charge or not at all. But why? What is it about Thucydides’ depiction of the Sicilian expedition that makes its success an exclusively Alcibiadean project, if it is? Why does Nicias oppose it so vehemently? Why is he so ineffective when he is compelled to lead? And, perhaps most directly relevant to the guiding questions of this conference, what is the nature of the dispute between Nicias and Alcibiades, between Alcibiades and Athens, and between Nicias and Athens that the Sicilian Expedition prompts. What is at stake in their struggles (agones)? What do those struggles illuminate about these characters? About Athens? About Sicily?
William Tortorelli, Texas Tech University USA
Competitive Poetics in the Greek Archaic Period
My presentation explores the poetics of the fragmentary archaic Greek poets, uncovering examples of eristic poetics—competitive postures adopted by poets toward their contemporaries and/or toward the Homeric epic tradition. The fragmentary nature of the surviving evidence makes it difficult to determine the contexts for these fragments, the relationships between individual poets, and even the nature of the poetic profession in that era. I describe examples of implicit and explicit statements of poetics, reconstructing attitudes toward genre and the purpose of song. Archilochus of Paros provides our earliest examples of counter-cultural expressions and rejections of Homeric era morality. I show that he also subtly expresses his poetic sensibilities, presenting a preference for brief polymetrical songs that make big points, rather than monolithic epic dactylic verse. Stesichorus of Himera shares much of Homeric mythic material while also full of surprisingly unHomeric style and variations in the stories. He seems to represent a divergent tradition, but there is not enough evidence to conclude that he composed in rivalry with Homer. Ibycus of Rhegium, on the other hand, is almost explicit in his rejection of Homeric stories and style, arguing that his lyric poetics (and presumably his shared “Western” Greek tradition) is superior. Sappho and Anacreon discuss which themes are appropriate to lyric song, supporting their own artistic modes in opposition to dominant popular themes. Solon and Alcaeus engage in contentious dialogues with Mimnermus and Archilochus, respectively. I explore how these statements prioritizing each author’s poetic sensibilities participate in the constitution of a poetic profession in the archaic period.
Yunus Tuncel, Lehman College-CUNY, USA
Agon and Victory in “Musical Contests” in Ancient Greece
So much is known and has been written about athletic contests in ancient Greece, and based on classical testimony, judges, especially the Elean judges at Olympia, did their best to ascertain fair game. Apart from a sense of justice on their part, ancient Greeks invented gadgets for the sake of fairness in contest games. In this paper, I would like to explore a more complicated topic, namely, the standards of judgment in “musical contests” such as music, singing, poetry, and drama. How did ancient Greeks determine the best work and the best contestant? What criteria did they use? In athletic games, there is physical evidence; yes, the evidence can also be tampered with, especially with bribed judges, but there is something to see in athletic games. There is no such physical evidence in non-athletic games other than the impact or the affect the work of art creates on the judges and the audience. Were the criteria entirely “subjective”, as opposed to the “objective” conditions of athletic contests? Can we even use these terms to apply to such standards? As I examine this and other subjects, I will explore the micro-dynamics of winning and victory-making in “musical contests” of ancient Greece with a focus on the Western part of the Hellenic world, Magna Grecia, and find out if musical contests were held in these cities and if there were victors of musical contests from major Greek cities such as Syracuse, Acragas, and Croton which, in their height, produced athletic victors.
Leon Wash, University of Chicago USA
Empedocles and others in the agon over physis
Empedocles famously denies the reality of physis (or “growth” or possibly “nature”) in fragment B8, saying that only mixing and the exchange of things mixed really exist, and physis is just a name used by human beings. It would seem then that his denial is a response not only to the common use of the word, but more particularly to competing claims about what it actually names. But what were these claims? As easy as it would be, it is highly contentious to situate B8 by way of the standard (and rightly criticized) Peripatetic narrative about the early physiologoi and their various proposals for what the ultimate physis really is (water? fire? etc.); and since the scholarly consensus takes Empedocles to be making a claim about “growth” or genesis rather than “nature,” it is still more contentious to do so in this case. Happily, we have other evidence that may better illuminate the context of B8: some Hippocratic texts (esp. Nat. Hom.) show just how lively the debate over human physis in particular was, and underscore the severity of Empedocles’ intervention; at the same time, a neglected fragment attributed to Archilochus (fr. 25 W), which mockingly repudiates the notion of a common human nature (notably as phyē), suggests that Empedocles may not have been the first to try to change the rules of the game by asserting “There is no physis!” In response to the vigorous agon over physis, Empedocles appears to be reinforcing a challenge to the very terms of the debate, and claiming, in effect, that what appears to be a physis is itself, as it were, a sort of agon. This paper will gather together this and other evidence in an attempt to better assess the intentions behind Empedocles’ fr. B8
Tom Wellmann, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
Agonality and Integrativity in Empedocles
Recent historical studies have emphasized the role of agonistic patterns in the development of early Greek philosophy, namely in the Pre-Parmenidean period. Even though its concrete relevance will remain a topic for scholarly discussion, it is undoubted that some motives of an agonistic singer-culture can fruitfully be applied as hermeneutical principles for understanding the structures of Presocratic intellectual discourse. One of these motives has been described by the notion of hypólepsis. Another is what in German is called Originalitätszwang. Its importance is evident in the cases of Heraclitus and Parmenides, who both claim that, among all mortals, themselves alone have gained insight in the true condition or nature of what is and what is not. However, in the Post-Parmenidean period things tend to become more complicated. As I attempt to show, the altered circumstances in which philosophical discourse then took place can best be examined by the example of Empedocles. To this end, I will explore the question to what extend the notion of agón can be applied for understanding the reflections of earlier thinkers or traditions to be found in Empedocles. These reflections have been explored in several studies focusing on the influence of a single author or tradition. Yet, what is still missing, is an uniting concept of how Empedocles’ references to his predecessors are to be interpreted, for it is obvious that neither a concept of outright polemical opposition nor one of modest acknowledgement of earlier achievements is sufficient here. Therefore, I aim to develop the idea that Empedocles transformed the patterns of hypólepsis and Originalitätszwang into a concept of integrativity: He demonstrates the superiority of his own theory by its capacity of integrating the insights of earlier thinkers. Hereby, Empedocles establishes a new type of agonality that became paradigmatic for wide parts of later philosophical discourse.
Deanna Wesolowski, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, USA
Depictions of Plants and Conflict in Theocritus’ Pastoral Idylls
This paper examines depictions of agōn in conjunction with role of plants in the
pastoral Idylls of Theocritus. Although the word agōn does not appear in Theocritus’ poems, competition
and conflict and strife – iterations of agōn – appear throughout the pastoral Idylls.
In the pastoral poems, botanical landscapes can create two types of
frames. They frame singing
competitions between herdsmen (Idyll 1, 5, 7, and perhaps 6), creating a
physical setting. Alternatively, plants also frame depictions
of emotional struggles, as is seen in Idyll 1 and the paraclausithyron of Idyll 3. These
landscapes create loca amoena which provide sensually pleasing places for
the enunciation of the strife – be it in a singing contest or a monody.
Theocritus thus heightens the tension between the pleasantness of the
place and the agōn of the
songs. Taken together, Theocritus’ combination of landscape and agōn create a natural world that can reflect the inner emotional state of the singers. When there is a lack of strife, abundant golden age imagery occurs, as in Idyll 5 and 7. Conversely, when there is strife, complete inversions of nature are imagined: plants incorrectly bear the fruit or flowers (Idylls 1 and 5). Theocritus’ herdsmen can envision the natural world responding to their emotions positively and negatively.In Theocritus’ Idylls, the physical landscapes can function outside the conflict as a frame or can mirror the emotions of characters. By examining the myriad depictions of agōn in the pastoral Idylls with alongside the natural world, it is possible to gain a deeper appreciation of Theocritus’ interconnected human and botanical worlds.
William Wians, Merrimack College and Boston College, USA
Imitating Socrates: Cleitophon and the Socratic Competitors
The little Platonic dialogue Cleitophon presents an enigma. Barely five pages in length, the dialogue represents a private conversation between the philosopher Socrates and the oligarchic politician Cleitophon. Two things make the dialogue remarkable. First, the normally garrulous Socrates falls silent after just the third speech, a role so unusual as to prompt some scholars to question whether Plato was in fact the dialogue’s author. Second, though presented as a rebuke, Cleitophon’s virtual monologue shows that the erstwhile Socratic follower has absorbed and displays in practice many important elements of Socratic philosophizing, particularly the ability to cross-examine self-declared followers of Socrates and to show how little they in fact know. Despite its brevity and Socrates’ uncharacteristic role as silent auditor, I shall argue that the Cleitophon exhibits an essential question about nature of Socratic philosophizing. What does it mean to imitate Socrates? Put another way, The dialogue’s author shows the reader what neither Cleitophon nor Socrates can tell us, the lived necessity of Socratic wisdom. Whether or not the dialogue is authentic, analysis has important implications for how any Platonic dialogue should be read.
Parrish Elizabeth Wright, University of Michgan USA
Identity and ἀγών: Locri after the Battle at the Sagra River
This paper will focus on the legends that surrounded one great ἀγών in Magna Graecia, the Battle at the Sagra River between Locri and Croton in the mid 6th c. BCE. This ἀγών, a pivotal moment in the political histories of both cities, also serves as a touchstone for the development and solidification of mythical identities for the Italian Locrians who won the battle against great odds. The myths which sprung up concerning the battle situated Locri as both a regional and panhellenic power. According to the legendary accounts, preserved mainly in Strabo and Pausanias, both Ajax, the founding hero of Greek Locris, and the Dioscuri appeared in the battle on the side of Locri. The divine twins allegedly came at the behest of Sparta, who were unwilling to otherwise send military aid to the Locrians. In the aftermath of a tremendous victory, Locri seems to have actively perpetuated mythical stories connecting it with its two strong allies on the Greek mainland through the process of kinship diplomacy. The use of kinship as a method both for asserting identity and creating connections between city states is a well-documented Greek phenomenon, most recently studied by Patterson (2010) and Jones (1999). Neither author, however, engages with the Western Greek world, which we know was rife with alliances between city-states as well as with local Italic groups. In this period the Locrians were consciously fashioning themselves as non-Achaeans in contrast to Croton and the growing power of the Achaean cities in Italy. Considering the myths of these cities in the context of kinship diplomacy allows us to better understand the political relationships between southern Italy and mainland Greece as well as the way myth functioned as a tool among cities in southern Italy, as both a remedy and source of ἀγών.
Coleen P. Zoller, Susquehanna University USA
Rejecting the Logic of Domination: Plato on Justice, Leadership, and Peace
Although Plato’s political work has garnered great attention from scholars, some aspects of his political philosophy have been ignored or gravely misunderstood. I will show that the political principles for which Plato advocates after his trips to Southern Italy aim at harmony and peace rather than conflict and war. Such a study is warranted, given how routinely commentators have argued that Plato is a champion of ἀγών (conflict, struggle, strife). For instance, feminist Wendy Brown (1994, 177-8) criticizes Plato, claiming that he “could not imagine power that was not domination but only the dominance of the powerful or collective powerlessness.” Often Plato is accused of beginning the philosophical tradition advocating a logic of domination and subjugation. We are really missing the multifaceted peace-seeking nature of Plato’s dialogues when we read Plato as a champion of combative struggle. Plato’s Socrates argues against interlocutors like Thrasymachus and Callicles who assert that might makes right, trying to convince them instead that just people do not want to “outdo” other just people (R. 349b-c) because they realize that we achieve more together by being just with each other rather than by being agonistic (R. 351b-d). But the position becomes complicated when, on the other hand, Plato’s Socrates presents us with a theory of justice that consists of a hierarchical account of the power dynamics both within an individual soul and within a political community (R. 441d-444a). However, as I will demonstrate, Plato’s hierarchy among unequals ultimately is not predicated upon the logic of domination. This project will show that Plato offers a conception of peace—both personal and political—that entails an approach to leadership focused on harmonious cooperation rather than agonistic domination. We see this especially in the Republic and Laws.
Jure Zovko, Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb; University of Zadar, Croatia
Agôn and Socratic Elenchus
The phenomenon of agôn was a central feature of Greek culture from Homer to Socrates and a fundamental determinant of their daily life (Jacob Burckhard, Griechische Kulturgeschichte). Nietzsche argues in Twilight of the Idols that Socrates “discovered a new kind of agôn and was its first fencing master for the noble circles of Athens. He fascinated people by stirring up the agonal drive of the Hellenes — he introduced a variation into the wrestling match between young men and youths.” ( KSA6, 71, “The Problem of Socrates”). A significant feature of Socrates’s understanding of agôn is that it is not concerned with physical athletics, but embodies a contest in argumentation in which the partners in the conversation strive to show their spiritual supremacy. Prominent experts for Socratic Method (Vlastos, Burnyeat, Irwin, Santas) do not consider agôn to be a relevant aspect of elenchus. This is probably because of their desire to portray Socrates as a model of the humanistic ideal which has left behind the Greek-agonistic model as principle of life. I aim to show that Socrates’ elenchus is fundamentally agonal in its structure and character, an ascertainment which applies equally to the purgative, defensive, and definitional forms of elenchus, as confirmed by Erler, Cleary, and Heather Reid. Socratic elenchus comprises not only refutation of inadequate definitions, but a contest by which judgments are formed. In the Sophist, Plato continues the Socratic tradition of agonal elenctic by proving that the art of testing the truth is closely tied to the art of refutation (hê elenktikê technê), which is itself a form of the art of contest (agônistike technê; Soph. 230 a sq.). As Socrates states in Gorgias (526e), the life of reasoning, “this life and this contest…is worth all other contests on this earth.”
Lise Zovko, Institute of Philosophy, Zagreb, Croatia
Agon and Eros in the Symposium
That the Symposium involves a contest like that of the Dionysian festival has long been recognized. Opinion is divided, however, regarding its precise nature. Some commentators believe it is a contest of poetic skill between Agathon and Socrates, others an example of ‘ancient quarrel between poetry and philosophy’. Robinson sees it as a “Contest of Wisdom between Socrates and Agathon” (2004) which Dionysos is called upon to judge (175e). In fact, the contest is between a human and a divine ideal of eros. Diotima’s teaching leads from preoccupation with physical beauty and limited attempts to make the good one’s own forever, to what truly ensures immortality: begetting upon the Beautiful in body and soul. Dionysos’ role is thereby relativized, for the wisdom to be desired lies beyond his jurisdiction. Its ideal is “prudence, and virtue in general”, and beyond these “the highest and fairest part of prudence”, which “concerns the regulation of cities and habitations”: “sobriety” (209a). Both tragedy and philosophy discourse regarding piety, justice, and the object of religion. Tragedy, however, references traditional accounts, addressing the broader public. Diotima’s discourse is addressed to the few, and as such parallels Dionysian thiasoi. However, Diotima’s version of philosophical eros is the antithesis of orgiastic Bacchic ritual. The path culminating in the vision of the Beautiful involves a transformation of eros, based on reason. The contest is thus between the Dionysian and a new form of erotic cult, an implicit challenge to god of the festival and popular religious conceptions. The judge of the discourses is not Dionysos, but Diotima. “Lord of the symposium” is not Dionysos, nor any other “man in the house”, but Diotima, a woman, in full possession of her powers, like her protegé Socrates, who departs as the last of the guests, unaffected by their drunken revelry.