CLAS 1000 Chapter 11: CLAS 1000 Ancient Greece Chapter 11: The Transformation of the Greek World in the Fourth Century

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Week 5 – February 2nd-6th, 2015
Chapter 11 The Transformation of the Greek World in the Fourth Century:
The trial of Socrates had a profound effect on his most brilliant and creative follower, the
Athenian Plato
Plato made fundamental contributions to nearly ever branch of philosophical inquiry in the
form of dialogues
Plato did not confine himself to committing his philosophy to writing; he also established at
Athens a school, the Academy, which allowed him and his followers to engage in the pursuit
of philosophy without the need for participating actively in the chaotic political affairs of 4th-
century Greece
The most potent 4th-century orator was the Athenian Demosthenes, who repeatedly warned
his fellow citizens of the menace to their freedom posed by the growing power of Macedon,
under the leadership of King Philip II
Demosthenes’ eloquence, however, was no match either for Philip’s military might or for
Athenian indolence and, by 338 BC, Philip effectively brought Athens and virtually all the
other mainland poleis under the control of one leader for the first time in Greek history
On Philip’s death two years later, his kingdom and the control of the Greek poleis fell to his
son, Alexander the Great, who sought to unify the Greeks by leading an invasion aimed at
the conquest of the Persian Empire, which was entirely successful
By the time he died, Alexander had made himself sole ruler of an empire that included Egypt,
Greece, and all of Asia west of the Indus River valley
Alexander didn’t leave an heir to his throne and his empire was divided up among his
Plato’s Bright Ideas:
Plato produced a considerable number of written works, all of which survive today
They are among the most skillfully crafted and articulate pieces of prose literature ever
The problem is posed by the form the writing takes place
With the exception of some letters which were supposedly written by Plato but whose
authenticity is questionable, the works of Plato purport to convey in written form the words
spoken by various people, none of whom is Plato himself
For the most part, they are in the form of dialogues, primarily involving Socrates engaged in
fictional conversations with his contemporaries, which include both Athenians and prominent
visitors to Athens
Plato never speaks in his own words and never tells us what he knows
The question of what is known or what can be known, is intimately related to the dialogue
form that Plato adopted, under the influence, presumably, of his acquaintance with Socrates:
Socrates had not written anything, apparently convinced that he knew nothing of permanent
value; what Plato wrote, at least in his earliest works, has the permanent value of presenting
“Socrates” questioning the experts and demonstrating that their expertise lacks a secure
For the experts that he interrogated were the intellectual and political leaders whose advice
was often sought, on the assumption that they had a firmer knowledge than most people of
such concepts as justice, piety, and courage
One of the areas of study that fascinated well-educational (wealthy) Greeks in the time of
Socrates and Plato was geometry
Geometry has been a particular concern of the 6th-century philosopher Pythagoras of Samos,
who influenced Socrates and Plato in a number of important ways
Pythagoras had taught the doctrine of the transmigration of souls, namely that the souls
outlives the body and takes up residence in a succession of incarnations; he was also
credited with the discovery of the “Pythagorean Theorem”
In contrast to the messy world with which we come in contact every day, in which things are
constantly changing and about which intelligent people are often in violent disagreement, the
objects of geometric investigation enjoy a permanent, unchanging existence
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Week 5 – February 2nd-6th, 2015
The distinction between a world of permanently unchanging entities about which we can have
certain knowledge and the unstable, imperfect world of the senses which arouses unending
debate, suggested to Plato the existence of a realm in which everything that we are familiar
with from the world of the senses has a permanently unchanging correlate
To refer to these correlates, Plato used the word “idea”, meaning “shape, form, appearance,”
and this theory is often referred to as Plato’s “Theory of Forms”
There is an external unchanging Form of everything
If the Forms can be apprehended at all, it is only through reason
Reason, then, must have affinities with the realm of the Forms, rather than the world of the
senses, that is, reason must be everlasting, like the Forms themselves
The philosophy of Plato is never laid out in explicit terms, but must be reconstructed on the
basis of the discussion in his dialogues, which rarely comes to conclusions that the
interlocutors can agree upon
Philosophy is a process which, because of the inherent fallibility of human nature, cannot
attain the certain knowledge that is seeks to attain
Attic Oratory in the Fifth and Fourth Centuries:
In about 385 BC, Plato established in Athens an institute for higher learning in a public
gymnasium dedicated to the hero Academus
The institute, called The Academy, continued in existence for nearly a millennium
The Academy attracted philosophers from all over the Greek world who investigated the
philosophical questions raised by Plato
In his dialogues, Plato presents an unflattering image of the more practical type of instruction
engaged in by the sophists, and his Academy sought to distance itself form the practices of
those teachers of rhetoric
But the sophists attracted an impressive number of pupils willing to pay impressively high
fees because the instruction that they offered was designed to enable their pupils to succeed
in the world
For Athenians, that world was the everyday world of the democratic assembly and law courts,
in which success awaited the man who was most skilled in persuading his fellow citizens
The formal study of oratory had only begun around the middle of the 5th century, but it
immediately attracted the attention of many of the most brilliant and creative minds
The fact that rhetoric had developed so rapidly and had become fully professionalized is
testimony to the competitive nature of Greek civilization and to the pervasiveness of litigation,
particularly in Athens
It was up to the individual citizen to bring charges before the court, and it was required by
Attic law that that individual, as well as the person against whom the charges were brought,
address the court himself
For this reason, many Athenian citizens found it prudent to learn the skills that the sophists
promised to teach
The alternative was to hire a professional to write a speech, which one could then memorize
and deliver oneself this had the effect of creating a demand for professional speechwriters,
and teachers of rhetoric, who came to Athens from all over the Greek world, and of
encouraging the proliferation of speeches in written form
Two of the most prominent of those orators were Usicrates and Demosthenes, who illustrate
well the range of styles and outlooks among these men
Isocrates lived for almost a hundred years from 436-338 BC
Isocrates was a pupil of the Sicilian Gorgias, who had developed a dazzling, incantatory style
of delivery which introduced some of the effects of poetry into spoken prose
Gorgias and his pupil Isocrates had important things to say, some of which indicated that they
understood better than many of their contemporaries the direction in which Greek civilization
was headed, or rather, they helped to establish the direction in which Greek civilization was
headed, by reminding the Greeks of their glorious past, which Gorgias and Isocrates
themselves creatively reconstructed, representing the Trojan War and the Persian Wars as
instances of superior Greek culture triumphing over the hapless barbarians
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