Join the Philosophy and Classics departments at Agnes Scott College on Friday, April 6th and Saturday, April 7th, 2018 for a workshop exploring philosophical content, language, and themes in non-canonically philosophical works in Classical Greece.

Panel 1


David Konstan, New York (Keynote)

“Homer the Philosopher”

Although Plato banned Homer from his ideal republic and so launched the war between philosophy and poetry, Homer was regarded as a fount of wisdom by the Stoics and Neo-Platonists, and Plutarch found in Homeric epic a kind of propaedeutic to philosophy.  While ancient claims for Homeric infallibility are exaggerated, the epics in fact reveal, I argue, a philosophical way of thinking about human psychology, politics, and nature.  I suggest that the epic tradition culminating in the Homeric poems evolved in tandem and in dialogue with the genre of philosophical poetry represented by Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Empedocles, and that both are symptomatic of the emergence of a style of critical thought that may properly be called philosophical.


Rachel Barney, Toronto

“Hippo of Croton: Last and Least of the Presocratics”

Respondent: Prof. Tim O’Keefe (Georgia State)

This paper attempts to reconstruct, so far as our scanty and chaotic evidence allows, the central ideas and modes of argument of Hippo of Croton, a little-studied fifth-century cosmologist and medical writer. Hippo’s exclusion from the standard Presocratic canon is due to his repeated deprecation by Aristotle; I discuss this interesting moment in philosophical historiography and consider the evidence for and against various possible explanations of Aristotle’s hostility.  


Josh Billings, Princeton

“The Agon Sophias in the Late Fifth Century”

Respondent: Prof. Hal Thorsrud (Agnes Scott)

In late Euripides, I argue that we can identify a particular dramatic form or type-scene which I am going to describe as an agon sophias – not meaning a contest of wisdom (that is, which of two is wiser), as the term is conventionally understood, but a contest about wisdom, in which two notions of sophia are juxtaposed. I suggest that these debates became a specialty of Euripides, and that they demonstrate significant affinities across a number of different works (Antiope, Palamedes, and most significantly, Bacchae) – recognizable enough that Aristophanes’ agon in Frogs has to be understood in connection with them. Taken together, these agones sophias give us a window into some of the questions and tensions surrounding intellectual novelty in Athens at the end of the fifth century.


Gabriel Danzig, Bar-Ilan

“Socrates and the life of practical accomplishment”

Respondent: Prof. Richard Parry (Emeritus)

In this paper I outline the ways in which Xenophon seeks to assimilate his figure of Socrates to his general portrait of human excellence. The problem is not merely that Socrates was not a political or military leader, a farmer or a hunter, but also that Xenophon offers an account of human happiness that emphasizes the crucial role of accomplishments in these areas. Xenophon argues that Socrates shares the moral and intellectual virtues that characterize other Xenophontic heroes. He also makes a special effort to portray Socrates as a political person in three ways: 1) his teaching focused on valuable political lessons 2) he was himself a kind of political leader 3) his educational activities were comparable to political-military accomplishments and in some ways even greater than them. In addition, he praises Socrates for enjoying things that other leaders were prohibited from enjoying: leisure time, erotic flirting, and a sense of humor.


Scarlett Kingsley, Agnes Scott College

“Meteorology in the Peloponnesian War: Thucydides on Wind and Fire”

Respondent: Athanasios Samaras (UGA)

In this paper I reexamine Thucydides 2.77 and the historian’s incorporation of a fragment of Anaxagoras (DK A44) into the narrative of the failed Spartan attempt to set fire to Plataea. While this passage has often been read as a fulfilment of divine justice, either focalized through the Plataean informants or the narrator himself (Gomme 1956; Foster 2009; Bruzzone 2016), I will argue that the hitherto neglected philosophical content of the intertext primes the narratee to reject the Plataeans’ (λέγεται) veiled explanation of divine causal intervention. As is evident from the extant Presocratic fragments, intellectual culture was advancing an increasingly complex set of causal explanations for meteorological conditions. Thucydides’ reception of Anaxagoras in this context will provide an entrée to related theories of rain and thunder espoused by Diogenes of Apollonia, Leucippus, and Democritus. As a control for this reading, I will juxtapose the historian Herodotus’ inclusion of related meteorological phenomena and illustrate the Histories’ rather closer identification of extreme weather with divine causation (e.g., Hdt. 3.86, 4.28, 4.94, 5.85-6, 7.10, 7.42, 8.12-13). The results of this piece will contribute to contextualizing Thucydides’ status as an intellectual within the Presocratic philosophical milieu. At the same time, they will suggest that the later biographical tradition in which Thucydides was a student of Anaxagoras (Vit. Thuc. 22) is better understood as motivated by the historian’s inclusion of such material in the History – a rather tidier conclusion than seeing 2.77.4 as an interpolation by the commentator Antyllus (Calder 1984).

Bruzzone, R. 2016. ‘Weather, Luck and the Divine in Thucydides’, in K. Ulanowski (ed.), The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome. Vol. I (Leiden; Boston).

Calder, W. M. 1984. ‘A fragment of Anaxagoras in Thucydides?’, CQ: 485-86.

Foster, E. 2009. ‘The Rhetoric of Materials: Thucydides and Lucretius’, AJP: 367-399.

Gomme, A. W. 1956. A Historical Commentary on Thucydides. Vol. II (Oxford).


André Laks, U. de Paris-Sorbonne/U. Panamericana, Mexico

“Hesiod and Philosophy”

Respondent: Prof. Richard Patterson (Emeritus)

What is the relationship between Hesiod and the beginnings of philosophy, and with philosophy in general? The question depends in part on other questions, broader in scope, which concerns the relationships between myth and philosophy, between myth and poetry, between Myth and myths. But Hesiod’s case is specific. In this paper, I try to explain why by looking at the ways in which various philosophers and interpreters from Aristotle to Blumenberg have construed this relationship. I insist on a number of formal features of Hesiod’s poems that justify treating him as a proto-philosopher, independently of the more substantial assertions that are usually invoked in this context.  


Tom Mackenzie, UCL

“Creon and Teiresias Thinking Fast and Slow: Cosmology and Decision-Making in Sophocles’ Antigone

Respondent: Prof. Cindy Patterson (Emory)

The somewhat temerarious aim of the present paper is to elucidate the dynamics of the tragedy of Antigone with the help of two very different types of material: the modern social science of decision-making, and the ancient context of Presocratic cosmological speculation. It shall be argued that the psychologists Kahneman and Tversky’s theory of a distinction between two modes of thought, ‘system 1’ (which is fast, instinctive, and emotional) and ‘system 2’ (which is slow deliberative and more logical), seems peculiarly appropriate to the behaviours of Creon and Teiresias respectively, and can explain the former’s errors of judgement. Although this theory is clearly anachronistic as applied to antiquity, we need not rule out the possibility that Sophocles or his ancient audiences could have had an intuitive understanding of the patterns of behaviour that the modern distinction explains. The ancients could not, however, have supported such an understanding with the empirical evidence adduced by modern psychologists (not least because the mathematics of probability, used in many of Kahneman and Tversky’s case-studies to demonstrate the errors made by ‘system 1’, was not developed until the early modern period). Instead, it shall be argued, the play creates the impression of an underlying cosmic order which is accessible to the ‘slow’ thinking Teiresias, but is misunderstood by the ‘fast’ thinking Creon. In particular, it creates such an impression by evoking Presocratic speculation: as some recent commentators (Cairns, Seaford) have observed (albeit somewhat cursorily), the polarities that pervade the play ­– between male and female, polis and oikos, the young and the old, the living and the dead – recall the opposing forces that form the basis of the cosmologies of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and that attributed to the Pythagoreans. I shall argue that the backdrop of such an underlying rational and, theoretically, predictable cosmic order, implies that the disastrous consequences of characters’ decisions should have been forseeable. Sophocles thus poignantly exemplifies one of the virtues that Aristotle identified in the plots of great tragedies: that the course of events seems inevitable, but only in retrospect.


Kathryn Morgan, UCLA

“Isocrates, Thucydides, and the stasis in words.”

Respondent: Prof. Peter A. O’Connell (UGA)

Starting from Thucydides’ famous account of the transformation of language during the stasis in Corcyra, this paper will consider the “transvaluation” of words in Isocrates.  I will argue that Isocrates picks up and repeatedly returns to Thucydides’ concerns about the effects of political instability on language (and that he also resonates with Plato’s account of the democratic youth in his Republic).  We need to consider this phenomenon in concert with broader concerns in the fifth and fourth century about the “correctness of names” and diction.   After examining Isocratean passages that deal with the nature of democracy and equality, and dismiss disfavored versions of these concepts, I will focus on greed (pleonxia), and most crucially philosophia itself.  Philosophy turns out to be one of the terms which is most susceptible to transvaluation, and Isocrates’ solution to this problem is a rhetorical education that will produce orators and audiences alert to the possibilities.

Ava Shirazi, Princeton

“Love Otherwise: Beauty, body, and the beloved in Pseudo-Demosthenes’ Erotikos

Respondent: Prof. Gina White (Vanderbilt)

Discourses on erōs and beauty are hardly in scant supply in the fourth century BCE. But amidst the various tales of lovers and their beloveds, Pseudo-Demosthenes’ Erotikos emerges as a remarkably under-studied text about an over-examined body. Though generally classified as a “Socratic” erotikos logos, most modern critics do not believe that the text makes any significant literary, philosophical, or socio-historical contributions to our understanding of the genre or its discourses. Even Foucault, in the History of Sexuality, discusses the work (albeit at length) as an example of “insipid Platonism”, mediocre and banal in its treatment of Platonic themes (Foucault, 1990). In this paper, I argue, instead, that the text quite creatively incorporates and reorients fourth-century pederastic discourse, while differentiating its proposed visual modes from the heritage of Socratic, and especially Platonic, models. Furthermore, while deviating from Socratic discourse, the author at the same time engages with a much bigger tradition of erotic discourse, as seen in early lyric poetry. Thus far from being “insipid” and “banal”, the Erotikos presents a new and creative response to the major philosophical and cultural questions of its times.

Foucault, 1990:204. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure. Translated by Robert Hurley. New York.

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