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The Athens of Pericles - the Sophists and Socrates

A work-in-progress presentation on the philosophy of the fifth century b.C., created and shared with all the students of one of my CLIL class.

Maria Orestina Onofri

on 17 November 2017

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Transcript of The Athens of Pericles - the Sophists and Socrates

The golden age of Athens - Pericles' spell
The age of Pericles
Reasons of Pericles' popularity
The problem remained that most could not afford to attend the 4 monthly meetings (and emergency sessions) of the assembly or to participate in the Councils or other offices.
The solution was paying Athenian citizens to participate in political life.
Pericles ranks with Ramses II and the Roman Emperor Augustus as one of the 3 greatest builders of antiquity.
Many people worked to build all these monuments and public buildings, such as Pericles' friends Iktinos the architect (who designed the Parthenon) and Pheidias, the sculptor, made many statues among which the one of Athenas inside the Parthenon
The work also called for the manual labor of thousands of Athenians and unquestionably helped to keep the rowers employed during the winter non-sailing season.
Pericles also funded dramatic performances, tragedies and comedies during the public festivals
He was the most famous of the Sophists
Born in Abdera, he visited Athens several times during the mid-fifth century
He was employed by Pericles to draw up a constitution for the Athenian colony of Tury
Plato regarded the Sophists as a bad influence to the young
He was agnostic in religion and in metaphysics
Nothing can be absolutely true, as truth is only relative to a human community
When people differ in beliefs, there is noway in which one of them is right and the other wrong for if all believes are true, then among them there must also be the belief which says that not every belief is true
Truth is then what is agreed by a community
A very important sophist, excellent orator and a persuasive technician of rhetoric, was Gorgias from Leontini, Sicily
He went to Aethens on an embassy to seek helè in a war against Syracuse
He contributed to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose
He cathegorised different figures of speech, like anthithesis and rhetorical questions
Among his writings, there are two short philosophical works that survived.
Athens a cosmopolitan city
Great commercial city, a military power of enormous reach, the world's leading cultural center, Athens did the presence of so many talented people, such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides developing the tragedy, Aristophanes the comedy writer , Socrates, the famous philosopher

Estimates of the population of Athens:
45,000 adult male citizens
30,000 metics (resident aliens, mainly occupied in non-agricultural activities, such as handcraft, tanneries, military equipments, instruments-makers, mining at the state mines at Laurion).
100,000 slaves (many blacks from Africa, Asia Minor, Phyrgia, Lydia, Mysia, and Cappadocia)
175,000 women and children
Total 350,000
In the fifth century BC, there were the most glorious days of Ancient Greece
This century began with the Persian wars
Ionia had been under Persian rules
In 499, Ionian Greeks rose in revolt against the Persian King Darius
Under Pericles, Athens completed its democratization process
Each citizen (i.e. male, free and born-in-Athens) had the right to personally attend the various democratic assemblies
Philosophy came to Athens in the age of Pericles, mayoralty with Anaxagoras, the Sophists (Gorgias, Protagoras, etc.) and Socrates
Athens' democratic system
The origin of the Athenian democracy can be traced back to Solon (around 600 BC.) Solon did a constitutional reform package that laid the basis of the direct democracy implemented 100 years later by a progressive aristocrat called
, who championed a radical political reform movement which in 508/7 ushered in the Athenian democratic constitution
All citizens, divided into 10 main tribes, were annually drawn by lots to be part of one of the three main bodies of governance
You couldn't be selected twice, unless all the other citizens had been already selected once

Pericles emerged in the public arena at the end of the 460s BC and died during the plague that struck Athens in 429, at the very outset of the Peloponnesian War.
At that time he had held the office of strategos (general) 17 consecutive years
A gifted statesman, orator, and politician, Pericles simultaneously guided both Athens' foreign policy through the creation of empire, and its domestic policy through the rise of "radical democracy."
A traditional perception of Greco-Roman culture held that only those who participated in the military defense of their societies could claim the right to participate in political life.
The role of the thetes in the Athenian fleet and in the construction of the Athenian empire gave them new found legitimacy in politics.

Socrates has a place that has no parallel in the history of philosophy
He is credited as having inaugurated philosophy itself
From this point onwards all the thinkers before him were called pre-socratic as if philosophy prior to this era was somehow prehistoric
Socrates was born in Athens about 469 BC, 10 years after the Persian defeat at Platea.
He left no written works and the details of his life are obscure
In 431-404 there was the Peloponnesian War and Athens was defeated by Sparta
Socrates served in heavy infantry in three engagements, the best known of which is the retreat after the Dellium's defeat in 422
He took part to Athens' Assembly in 406 and was the only one voting against the execusion of the commanders who abbandoned the corpses of Athens' soldiers after a victorious sea battle at the Arginusae
This was because it was uncostitutional to try the commanders collectively rather than individually.
Composed of 500 citizens, the boule was responsible for a great portion of the administration of the state, but its initiative power was very poor
it had executive function, while in the former, it prepared measures for deliberation by the assembly, in the latter, it merely executed the wishes of the assembly
The presidency of the boule rotated monthly amongst the ten prytanies, or delegations from the ten Cleisthenic tribes (there were ten months in the Hellenic calendar)
The epistates (ἐπιστάτης), an official selected by lot for a single day from among the currently presiding prytany, chaired that day's meeting of the boule and, if there was one, that day's meeting of the assembly
he also held the keys to the treasury and the seal to the city, and welcomed foreign ambassadors.
It has been calculated that one quarter of all citizens must at one time in their lives have held the post, which could be held only once in a lifetime.

Its president changed every day (Prime Minister).
The Boule
The Ekklesia
This assembly had four main functions:
it made executive pronouncements (decrees, such as deciding to go to war or granting citizenship to a foreigner)
it elected some officials
it legislated
it tried political crimes
The standard format was that of speakers making speeches for and against a position followed by a general vote (usually by show of hands) of yes or no
There were two grades of suit, a smaller kind private suit, and a larger kind of public suit
For private suits the minimum jury size was 200 (increased to 401 if a sum of over 1000 drachmas was at issue)
For public suits 501
The juries were selected by lot from a panel of 600 jurors, there being 600 jurors from each of the ten tribes of Athens, making a jury pool of 6000 in total
For particularly important public suits the jury could be increased by adding in extra allotments of 500, up to 1000 and 1500
When the first time a new kind of case was brought to court, all 6,000 members of the jury pool were put onto the one case
The Courts
The Sophists were the first professional teachers/philosophers as they charged fees to impart their skills on various subjects
They gave performances and set up various debates, both for instructions and entertainment
Sophists can be considered the ancestors of media personalities, public relation professionals, barristers
They were itinerant teachers as they went from city to city offering their expertise
For instance, Hippias of Elis claimed to be expert in mathematics, astronomy, music, history, literature, mythology and practical skills such as tailor and shoemaker
Some others were expert in history and geography but all were skilled in rhetoric and dialectics.
The Sophists
One of his first public performances was in the house of Euripides and was entitled “On the Gods”
Its opening words were: “about the gods, I cannot be sure whether they exist or not, or what they are like to see; for many things stands in the way of knowledge of them, both the opacity of the subject and the shortness of human life” (D.L. 9. 51).
His most famous saying “man is the measure of all things” can be considered one of the first expression of relativistic epistemology
He was said to be able to make the worst argument the better so he was criticised (Aristophanes, the commedian, and Aristotle for instance) as being able to make wrong seem right.
His enemies told the story of his pupil Eualthus who was sued by Protagoras for not having paid the fees
Eualthus had refused to pay up arguing that he hadn't won a single case
Protagoras replied: “if I win the case, you must pay up because the verdict was given for me; if you win, you must still pay up, because you will have win your first case”.
Protagoras - 3
Protagoras - 2
Demosthenes (384-322 BC) was a prominent statesman and orator of ancient Athens
He learned rhetoric by studying the speeches of previous great orators
He delivered his first judicial speech at the age of 20, in which he argued effectively to gain from his guardians what was left of his inheritance
For a time, Demosthenes made his living as a professional speech-writer (
) and a lawyer, writing speeches for use in private legal suits
He opposed the Macedon's expansion and in fact motivated his compatriots against Philip II of Macedon
He sought to preserve his city's freedom and to establish an alliance against Macedon
However, his efforts failed and the revolt was met with a harsh Macedonian reaction
To prevent a similar revolt against his own rule, Alexander's successor in this region, Antipater, sent his men to track Demosthenes down
Demosthenes took his own life away
Solon (638 BC-558 BC) was an Athenian statesman, lawmaker, and poet
His works only survive in fragments and we are not really sure about their attribution
The laws he created were inscribed on large wooden slabs or cylinders attached to a series of axles that stood upright in the Prytaneum
They appear to have been constitutional, economic and moral in their scope
Solon operated a division of the society into classes (
(generals or military governors owning 500
of cereals)
(those who could afford to buy a horse)
(those who could afford to buy cows)
(manual workers who didn't own anything)
The Ekklesia made executive pronouncements (decrees, such as deciding to go to war or granting citizenship to a foreigner)
Everyone could access to it
At the beginning it was a tribunal, but then it started to approve or reject the laws written by the Boulé
In order not to make labourers lose their daily wages, Pericles decided to pay those of them who were drawn by lot to attend the Ekklesia with two oboluses (a daily wage of a worker).
Helen of Troy
defending Helen for having run off with Paris because either she did so because of the Gods' decision or because she was forced (so that the abductor is to blame not the abductee) or persuaded by speech (so that the persuader not the persuadee is to blame) or overwhelmed by love (love either comes from god or it is a mental illness so that the victim shouldn't be blamed for falling in love)
Going through each of these hypothesis, Gorgias argues that in any case she's not to blame.
Gorgias - 2
The other piece of philosophical work is entitled
On What is Not
and contained three sceptical conclusions:
there is nothing
if there is something it cannot be known
if anything can be known it cannot be communicated by one person to another
Gorgia's contemporaries dismissed these arguments as sophisms but they were taken into serious considerations by his successors:
manged to solve the first sceptical sentence in his work “The Sophist”,
solved the second in his “Logic”
the third in the 20th century.
Gorgias - 3
In 404 the Spartans replaced Athenian democracy with the oligarchy of the Thirty Tyrants.
Though Socrates refused to accept illigal orders (such as arresting an innocent man, Leon of Salamin) he didn't take part to the revolution that restored democracy
Socrates' associates were vary but included 2 among the 30 Tyrants: Critias and Charmides
Two aspiring democrat politicians, Anytus and Meletus wrote an indictment against Socrates for “impiety and introduction of new gods and corruption of the young” demanding death as penalty.
During the trial he was found guilty by the 500 jurors (though by a small majority) and was condemned to be poisoned by hemlock
. Plato and Xenophon reported his speech during the trial in their "Apology of Socrates" (see full text at
The description of Socrates' traits made in Aristophanes' The Clouds coincide with the one made by others: pot-bellied; sub-nosed; shambling in gait; shabby; waring threadbare clothes and barefoot; indifferent to privation; unusual ability to hold wine .
Socrates married Xantippe, mainly represented as a shrew (megera) and had a son, Lamprocles
He had a “platonic attachment” to the aristocrat Alcibiades, some twenty years younger than him.
Socrates- Curiosities
He lived in poverty, even though a lot of people followed him he didn't ask for money in exchange of his teaching
He said that
he was not a teacher
He had an higher opinion about women
He talked about "men and women" and "priests and priestesses"
He talked about some of his female teachers: Aspasia of Miletus (Pericles' lover) taught him rhetoric, while Diotima of Mantinea taught him erotics
He refused sexual advances of his younger lover because according to him the oracle of Apollo had given him the mission of watch over the improvement of their souls

Socrates often found himself in the marketplace where there were men, women, free men and slaves
There he could examine people's life because as he said at his trial "the unexamined human lives are not worth living for a human being"
He went around asking people what counted the most in life (i.g. love, courage, soul, etc.)
Socrates -Curiosities (2)
The Socrates' technique
He believed to help others and himself through philosophy
Philosophy for Socrates was dialogue
He used a precise technique: it was a form of discussion between individuals , based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas
It is a dialectical method, often involving a discussion in which the defense of one point of view is questioned; one participant may lead another to contradict himself in some way, thus strengthening the inquirer's own point
The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held truths that shape opinion, and scrutinizes them to determine their consistency with other beliefs
The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about some topic

Alcibiades was an Athenian politician and a general in the Peloponnesian Wars
After the death of his father in 447, he was brought up by Pericles and Pericles's brother Ariphron
Alcibiades had it all: looks, charm, money, brains, good family
Amongst his many admirers was Socrates, and they both saved each other's life in battle
After the death of Cleon in 422, Alcibiades became the leading figure amongst those who wished to continue with the war, and was one of the prime instigators of the Sicilian Expedition (415).
Plato situates this dialogue immediately before Socrates' trial
Socrates, awaiting trial outside the courthouse, meets young Euthyphro from Naxos, who has come to bring a private prosecution against his father
Euthyphro’s father had apprehended his labourer who had killed a servant in a brawl; while sending to Athens for an authoritative ruling about his punishment, he had had him tied up and thrown into a ditch, where he died of hunger and exposure
The son had now come to Athens to prosecute a charge of murder against his father
The case provides the setting for a discussion between Socrates and Euthyphro on the relation between religion and morality, the nature of piety, holiness, which is of keen interest to Socrates who is himself about to stand trial on a charge of impiety
So he asks Euthyphro to tell him the nature of piety and impiety
Piety, for Euthyphro, is prosecuting crime; even the supreme god Zeus punished his own father, Cronos. Socrates' difficulty with Euthyphro’s account of piety or holiness is that it merely gives a single example, and does not tell us what is the standard by which actions are to be judged pious or impious
Euthyphro obliges with a definition: holiness is what the gods love, and unholiness is what they hate.
Socrates points out that, given the stories about quarrels between the gods, it may not be easy to secure a consensus about what the gods love;
But let us waive this, and amend the definition so that it runs: what all the gods love is holy, and what all the gods hate is unholy.
A further question arises: do the gods love what is holy because it is holy, or is it holy because the gods love it?
The Aphorism "Know Yourself"
With this aphorism, Socrates wanted to say that:

each of us have different personalities and different characters that we use in various situations and with different people; we have to put away this attitude and find the core of our essence
if we know ourselves, what we want, what we can do, our needs, our faults and what are our purposes, then we can handle the challenges that life hands us
once we know ourselves, we can better judge our actions, keep out of trouble and live a life based on knowing the truth, not just live in ignorance
He said that with the intention of making us better people
Socrates' Maieutics
Socrates insisted on a logical reasoning, by making an interrogation to obtain knowledge from a person's mind
Like a midwife who facilitates childbirth, to facilitate maieutics, we need certain skills
These skills can be acquired either by experience or training
Socrates was considered the wisest person in his times
Socrates used to roam the streets of Athens and encourage the youth to examine their lives
He opened dialogs on a variety of topics such as justice, policy, friendship, courage, etc.
Another quotation from Socrates is "My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher". [specify the source]
Socrates' Aporia

Admitting your own ignorance was at the heart of Socrates' method
Through a process of repeatedly questioning, he would always attempt to tease the truth out of the people he was conversing with
Asked about whether an action was just or not, he would never simply say 'yes' or 'no'
Instead Socrates would ask the questioner what he actually meant when he used the word 'justice' and then invite him to explain how different understandings of justice might lead to different conclusions
Frequently, this process would come to no real conclusion and hit a frustrating dead end, called 'aporia' by the Greeks
Nevertheless to Socrates such conversations were still valuable, because only when someone admitted that he didn't know could he hope to learn anything at all
Aporia means put a question in doubt by developing arguments on an issue.
It is a phase of Socrates' maieutics which frees the mind from false knowledge or belief of having certain truths.
In ancient Greek philosophy it indicates the inability to give a correct answer to a problem because there were two solutions, both correct but completely opposite and since there were no conclusions, it was impossible to solve. the aporetic dialog was seen also as a paradox.
Socrates' daimon
The Greek called that distant voice within us, that higher source of inspiration and enlightenment, a person's daimon
Socrates possessed a personal daimon. "
The favor of the gods
," said Socrates, "
has given me a marvelous gift, which has never left me since my childhood. It is a voice which, when it makes itself heard, deters me from what I am about to do and never urges me on
Though he thought it was a gift from the gods which made him unique, future scholars speculated it was merely Socrates' voice of conscience or prudence; not something of supernatural origins, but a voice from within which we all possess.
The dæmon would always warn Socrates if he was undertaking something inappropriate, but remain silent if he did good.
Linked to this, the one well-known fact about Socrates' daimon is that it made no sign of opposition during the trail that would condemn Socrates to death
He took this to mean that death was not an evil to be feared, but was instead the next journey of existence.
The doctrine of Socrates: the Concept
Socrates can be considered the discoverer of the CONCEPT
The concept of which the Sophists talked about was merely an opinion, a fleeting instant of knowledge
Socrates did not undervalue such knowledge, but neither does he considered it to be full; for knowledge should be well enough established to serve as the foundation of science
True science is universal; that is, it is common to all men and to all times; it is objective, and is not subject to changes
True science consists in understanding through concepts
To get to a full understanding of such concepts, Socrates used the inductive method of DIALOGUE through which we can get to a general agreements, accepted by all, about the meaning of a particular concept
One of Socrates' pupil Chaerefon went to Delhi and asked to the Apollo's oracle Pythia who was the world wisest man
Pythia replied he was Socrates
Socrates couldn't believe it and started to investigate it by himself by asking questions to all those considered wise and skillful
He discovered that everybody was convinced to be expert in something but when tested by Socrates in the end s/he wasn't
That's why then Socrates was the wisest: he was aware to know nothing!
SOCRATES' DIALECTIC: pars destruens & construens
In first instance Socrates' questioning was aimed to destroy people's false knowledge
Once shown how ridiculous certain thesis could be there was a moment of embarrassment which lead to laughing (irony)
After that, Socrates could start building true knowledge, although no dialogue would ever end with knowing what "the real truth" was
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