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.
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.
Guilherme da Costa Assunção Cecílio, Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The agonistic character of Aristotle’s Metaphysics A, 3-10
In Metaphysics A, 3-10 Aristotle bequeathed us one of the earliest organized accounts of the doctrines of previous thinkers. However, this account is anything but neutral and has provoked heated scholarly debate. But both detractors and defenders of the Aristotelian procedure tend to agree that, if taken as a real “history of philosophy”, Metaph. A, 3-10 leaves much to be desired. For instance, household names of Greek philosophy receive little or no attention at all. Conversely, figures of questionable philosophical pedigree get more attention than they seem to deserve. And those are not the only problems raised by the passage at issue. According to the standard interpretation, Metaph. A, 3-10 consists in a sort of “proof by exhaustion” that there only are the four types of causes mentioned in the beginning of the passage. Nonetheless, as many have noted, the mere review of the predecessors may be too fragile a basis for such an outcome. In this paper I aim to advance an interpretation of Metaph. A, 3-10 that is capable of resolving these difficulties. To that end, I will argue that the relationship between Metaph. A, 1-2 and Metaph. A, 3-10 is much narrower than is usually assumed. Inasmuch as in Metaph. A, 1-2 the supreme science is called σοφία and defined as knowledge of first causes and principles, I will contend that the remainder of Metaph. A consists not so much in mere survey of the types of causes that had allegedly been only glimpsed by the predecessors, but in the agonistic appraisal of the models of σοφία (i.e. knowledge of principles) put forth by other thinkers, models that would thus compete with the newly introduced Aristotelian model.
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.
Chiara Ferella, Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, Germany
Moral Implications in Empedocles’ Metaphor of the Cosmic Conflict
In her 2016 paper, Patricia Curd claimed that in Empedocles’ cosmic cycle, “there is […] not a moral necessity … [The] cycles are morally neutral” (69). In this paper, I will challenge Curd’s claim by analyzing Empedocles’ metaphor of conflict in his cosmological description. To show that Empedocles’ representation of the cosmic conflict displays moral implications, I will compare his metaphor use with analogous metaphors in Heraclitus. In fact, although drawing from the same metaphor cluster, they emphasized, and accordingly concealed, profoundly different aspects of the conceptual domain of conflict they inherited from tradition and personal perception. Specifically, Heraclitus concealed the traditional notion that conflict brings death, violence and civil disorder, by identifying it, instead, with the principle of generation, justice and civil regulation. In contrast, despite his representation of the world conflict being profoundly reminiscent of Heraclitus’, Empedocles’ metaphor use emphasized the moral implications commonly associated with the notion of conflict (such as hostility, oppression, violence, suffering and the like). Accordingly, Strife is depicted as oulomenon, kakon and mainomenon, whereas Love, also called Joy and Harmony, enables people’s friendly thoughts and deeds of concordance. Moreover, by destroying Love’s Sphairos, the most peaceful and ideal form of the universe, Strife is responsible for the outbreak of the cosmic conflict, whereas Love, in her attempt to reconquer her lost ‘territories’ and re-establish peace and harmony, occupies the moral high ground. Finally, I will show that Empedocles’ narrative of conflict can be seen as a bridge to his religious belief, as it establishes our earthly existence as a disgrace, our race as wretched and our world as a horrible place that we should escape. Accordingly, those who work to avoid earthly rebirths occupy the same moral high ground that Love claims for herself in the cosmic battle. Indeed, with Love they fight the same battle.
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.
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.
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).
Mark Morelli, Loyola Marymount University, USA
Plato’s Gorgias: The Layered Personality of the Inverted Soul
Plato’s Gorgias opens with an allusion to war and battle and terminates in open hostility between Socrates and his primary interlocutor. No other Platonic dialogue is as emphatically polemical. Despite the Thrasyllan subtitle “On Rhetoric”, Gorgias of Leontini, the father of rhetoric, plays a negligible role and is quickly replaced by the rhetoric textbook author, Polus, who in turn is replaced by the politician Callicles who becomes Socrates’ primary interlocutor. While Socrates does characterize the nature of rhetoric and its relation to the conduct of human life, in his much longer discussion with Callicles he provides an account of the differences that distinguish the well-ordered soul, attuned to the true and the good, from the inverted or radically disordered soul, untethered from the true and the good and governed by the desire for power and pleasure. Why did Plato title the dialogue Gorgias, adumbrate the discussion with Gorgias and extend the discussions with other interlocutors? Are the relationships among the four interlocutors symbolic of Platonic insights into deeper relations among these character-types and their lived expressions? Is the Calliclean figure, who is one of only two interlocutors in Plato’s dialogues of whom no historical trace remains and who may be fictitious, perhaps a dramatic depiction of the interior depths of the seemingly respectable and entertaining Gorgias? Is the eponymous Gorgias an illustration of what Hannah Arendt meant by “the banality of evil”? Plato seems to be peeling off the surface layers of Gorgias’ personality, as one peels an onion, as he has Socrates turn from the polite and well-regarded Gorgias, a personification of disorientated Nous, to the brash Polus, a personification of misaligned thymos, and then to the shameless immoralist Callicles, a personification of the inverted soul, at war with itself, in which nous is enslaved by epithymia.
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!
Nicholas D. Smith, Lewis & Clark College USA
“The Agony of Defeat”: Socrates’ Agonistic Use of Shame in Plato’s Gorgias
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
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.
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.
William Wians, Merrimack College and Boston College, USA
Agon and the Philosophical Myth of Progress
Standard accounts of the origins of philosophy in ancient Greece often contrast what J.H. Lesher termed the pessimism of Greek poets and the optimism of early philosophers. While one can’t deny the optimistic conviction that investigations into nature and the causes of things are not a form of hubris, one should also not ignore that philosophical optimism originates in and never fully leaves behind a profound tragic sensibility, rooted in the tragic agon. In speaking of a tragic agon, I have in mind the dictum of Aeschylus that learning comes alone through suffering, expressed in a dramatic trilogy that ends in a supremely optimistic celebration of the institution of civic law. In this paper, I will apply the Aeschylean dictum to several of thinkers associated with the Greeks in Sicily. The tragic sensibility will be grounded in close readings of Prometheus’s boast of his gifts to human beings in Aeschylus’s Prometheus Bound, followed by an examination of the theme of agon and the possibility of human progress in Xenophanes and Empedocles.
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.