Portrait of a Sophist

Portrait of a Sophist

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Apuleius. A Latin Sophist

That the opening of a work often repays close attention is a truth commonly, if not universally, acknowledged. Priscian in the sixth century devoted a treatise of more than fifty pages to the opening line of each book of the Aeneid. The opening paragraph of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses has spawned any number of articles, as well as a 1996 conference, and now a 300 page “companion.” 1 So it might be just as well to look closely at the opening sentence of Stephen Harrison’s new book and the capsule evaluation it offers of its subject: “Apuleius — display orator and professional intellectual in second-century North Africa, Platonist philosopher, extraordinary stylist, relentless self-promoter, and versatile author of a remarkably diverse body of work, much of which is lost to us.” (v) Uncontroversial, perhaps, at first glance. Or is it? What happened to the “author of the only complete surviving Latin novel,” “creator of the haunting story of Cupid and Psyche” or “source and inspiration to fabulists from Boccaccio to Pater”? H. does, in fact, turn to the Metamorphoses in the last of his six chapters, but the main purpose of his book is to look at Apuleius’s oeuvre as a coherent whole, of which the Metamorphoses forms only one part. Among recent studies, its closest affinity (as H. himself notes) is with Gerald Sandy’s 1997 study The Greek World of Apuleius. Both books are concerned to situate Apuleius’s works in the cultural context of the Second Sophistic both give unprecedented space to the Apology, Florida and philosophical works and both characterize Apuleius as a “Latin sophist.” 2 But where Sandy privileges the “sophist” half of the tag, stressing Apuleius’s connections with the Greek world of the title, H. gives the adjective equal time and keeps the spotlight firmly on Apuleius himself. Less repetitive and better organized than Sandy, he is also, to my mind, more successful at explaining how a sophistic reading of Apuleius affects the interpretation of the Metamorphoses, which is, after all, the work most readers will approach first and return to most frequently.

The opening chapter addresses “Apuleius in Context: Life, Background, Writings.” H. here outlines succinctly and accurately 3 the known facts of Apuleius’s life and briefly reviews the extant works ascribed to him. H. accepts the current consensus on the Apuleian canon. The De Platone and De Mundo are accepted as probably genuine and hence are treated in subsequent chapters. The Peri Hermeneias is omitted as probably non-Apuleian (and in any case too technical to benefit from H’s more literary approach) so too the Asclepius, which H., like most other scholars, views as certainly non-authentic. 4 The sparse evidence for dating is set out H. would prefer a late date (170s or 180s) for the Metamorphoses but acknowledges that the question is still open. There are no major novelties here, but the discussion is clearly laid-out and well-documented: this is a good introductory reading for an Apuleius seminar. Specialists by contrast will probably benefit most from the extremely full discussion of the Apuleian fragments and testimonia (pp.14-36). While providing something close to a commentary on these items, H. is also concerned to stress some overall themes, which he underlines in a concluding section. These include the deliberately encyclopedic nature of Apuleius’s corpus the large role that compilation, rather than original composition, played in it and finally the characteristics Apuleius shares with the sophistic movement of his day: “his status as a star performer …, his obvious self-promotion and cult of his own personality, and his prodigiously displayed literary and scientific polymathy” (38).

Chapter 2 (“A Sophist in Court”) is devoted to the Apology. H. begins by outlining the history of the Pudentilla affair, so far as that can be reconstructed, and discusses whether the speech underwent revision post-delivery (probably) and whether the title Apologia is Apuleian (probably not). He then offers a detailed analysis of the structure of the speech, with some comments on the strategy behind it, before turning to a close reading of the individual sections. He is concerned throughout to emphasize two strands in the speech. The first is its debt to forensic oratory — Cicero in particular — which is evident in phraseology (e.g., 25.5 aggredior … ad ipsum crimen, echoing Pro Cluentio 8), rhetorical figures such as the rapid-fire questions at 27.5ff. and 103.2f. or the prosopopoeia of the letter at 83.2, the expert exploitation of dilemma, and the masterful use of that Ciceronian specialty, the tendentious narratio. But these forensic features are intertwined with a second, more sophistic strand. Apuleius offers not only a refutation of the charges against him but a dazzling display of literary citations, mythological and Platonic allusions, anecdotes about Crates and Sophocles, meditations on poverty and dental hygiene, observations on pseudonyms in the elegiac poets, and bravura displays of zoological knowledge. In generic terms the speech thus “mixes the forensic with the epideictic” (44). As H. emphasizes, however, the epideictic elements are as important a part of Apuleius’s trial strategy as the forensic ones like the comic elements in the Pro Caelio, their purpose is to create a bond between speaker and audience while obstructing the opposition’s attempts to do the same. Specifically, Apuleius’s sophistic persona is here intended to ingratiate him with the philosophically-minded proconsul Claudius Maximus while constructing his opponents as boorish and malevolent rustics incapable of distinguishing an ichthyologist from a necromancer. Here the existence of a receptive audience is shown to be essential to the sophist’s self-presentation: “for a proconsul unsympathetic to literary and philosophical concerns, Apuleius might well have produced a defence rather different from the extant Apologia” (87). In the closing section of the chapter, H. notes Greek parallels for the association of sophistry with magic and for oratorical self-justification while at the same time re-emphasizing how much the Apology owes to Roman tradition.

In the third chapter, H. turns to the understudied Florida. The opening and closing sections of the chapter deal with the complicated textual situation. The extant Florida are a set of excerpts made by a later editor (perhaps the Crispus Sallustius who shows up in the subscriptiones to the other works?) from a longer collection in four books, perhaps compiled by Apuleius himself. The title probably points to the work’s origin as an anthology rather than representing a stylistic judgment. The final section discusses the principles of selection that might have produced the work we now have. Though H’s conclusions are inevitably tentative, the picture of the extant Florida as a kind of rhetor’s pattern book is convincing enough. He notes that “all the extracts provide useful models of particular rhetorical techniques” (133), while many of them have direct links to specific progymnasmata. The prominence of Carthage in the selections may point to a Carthaginian excerptor, though it might simply reflect Apuleius’s close connection with the city.

The central portion of the chapter analyzes the individual excerpts (including the so-called ‘false preface’ to the De Deo Socratis). H. focuses on theme and subject matter but also devotes a good deal of attention to the stylistic construction of each piece and to the circumstances of delivery, so far as those can be inferred from the text. The discussion is no substitute for the full commentary this text still badly needs, as H. is the first to acknowledge (89), but it is a valuable start. H. is of course primarily interested in the sophistic features of the excerpts. He draws attention to themes shared by Apuleius and his Greek counterparts, e.g. the anecdotes and chreiai involving intellectuals, the valorization of philosophers and polymaths, and the superficial ethnographic interests on display in Florida 6. He is also good at bringing out the incessant preening and self-aggrandizement contained in these pieces, behavior as characteristic of second century rhetoricians as of modern hip-hop artists (Herodes Atticus and Sean ‘Puffy’ Combs would have more to talk about than just their legal tribulations). Such sophistic jousting is often conducted in elaborate metaphors or through mythological proxies, as in Florida 3, where H. is surely correct to see the story of Apollo and Marsyas as a set-up for a comparison of Apuleius with some rival. Something similar no doubt underlies the famous parrot description of Florida 12, though H. is properly cautious here.

With chapter 4 we turn to the the philosophical works and specifically to the De Deo Socratis. Once again, H. begins by laying out the textual situation the work is acephalous and probably lacks its original conclusion as well. Though he acknowledges the value of the work for ancient demonology, H.’s primary emphasis here is on the literary aspects and once again on the interplay between sophistic and Roman elements. He notes the general interest in Socrates’s daemon among authors associated with the Second Sophistic, as well as the specific links with Maximus of Tyre’s treatment of the subject ( Or. 8 and 9), which probably indicate a common Greek source. At the same time, H. is concerned to underline the Roman elements that Apuleius introduces: a heavy Lucretian coloring, along with echoes of Cicero’s philosophica and Seneca citations from Ennius, Accius, Plautus and Vergil and other features of Roman cultural discourse, like the catalogue of omens and prodigies at 135, the accounting imagery at 170, and the condemnation of extravagant building at 171. “Once again Apuleius is seen to be purveying something of the culture of the Greek Second Sophistic to a Roman North African audience, adapting his protreptic discouse … to local cultural horizons” (173).

Chapter 5 covers the De Mundo and the De Platone, which are linked both by their didactic traits and by suspicions about their authenticity H. accepts a late dating for both and does not see differences in prose rhythm as a necessary bar to Apuleian authorship. In assessing the De Mundo, H. is convincing on the divergences between Apuleius’s Latin and the Greek original, which once again he sees as a conscious adaptation of a Greek original to the needs of a Latin-speaking readership. Thus Athenian institutions are transformed into Roman terms, items of interest only to a Greek audience are omitted, and Homeric allusions take a back-seat to new Vergilian echoes. The De Platone H. views as a “translation or adaptation of a Greek handbook belonging to the same Middle Platonist tradition as [Alcinous’s] Didaskalikos” (197), a comparison he develops in detail but without positing a direct connection between the two works. As in the other philosophic works, Apuleius introduces a certain amount of Roman literary color H. notes echoes of Plautus, Lucretius and Cicero in particular. Given the pedestrian nature of these two texts, H.’s literary approach has less to work with if readers are inclined to skip to the final chapter on the Metamorphoses, the blame lies largely with Apuleius.

H’s Golden Ass is “A Sophist’s Novel” in at least two senses: a book not only by a sophist but in some sense about one. Lucius, H. argues, is characterized “as a sophist in the making, or at least as a figure with recognizably high status and ambitions within the cultural world of the Second Sophistic.” I would myself prefer the second, more cautious formulation. That Lucius is capable of launching into an impromptu defence speech at the Risus festival suggests that he has undergone a standard upper-class rhetorical training — but surely it takes more than that to make a man a sophist. Lucius, after all, lacks many of the essential sophistic characteristics he travels, but not as a declaimer he has no students and though the Lucius of Book 11 makes a living with his tongue, it is forensic and not epideictic oratory that he practices. I am even less convinced by H’s suggestion that Lucius is specifically meant to recall the credulous orator Aelius Aristides. H. notes that both are gullible consumers of religion and have visions and dreams in which they receive instructions both are initiated into the cults of Egyptian deities both find the gods’ favor helpful in their oratorical careers. “It seems difficult to believe that these parallels are coincidental” observes H. (251) But I have to say that I find it not at all difficult. The survival of the Sacred Tales leaves Aelius Aristides as the best-documented example of what must surely have been a much more widespread phenomenon. One can accept that Apuleius is “sending-up his age’s taste for writing about religious cults and personal religious experience” (ibid.) without necessarily taking aim at a particular individual.

On the other hand, H. is certainly right to emphasize the sophistic features that characterize the text itself. Rhetorical improvisation does feature prominently at the Risus festival — a controversia come to life — while the story of the pauper and the rapacious neighbor at 9.35ff. recalls common declamatory situations (I wonder, incidentally, if Apuleius’s puzzling reluctance to give names to his characters might have something to do with his training in the generic world of the declamation schools, populated as it is with unnamed fratres, novercae, patres and uxores ?). Along with sophistic situations in the narrative, H. notes also the presence of sophistic compositional techniques: the various examples of ecphrasis (the Actaeon statue, Cupid’s palace, the robbers’ cave …), the omnipresent literary allusions (especially to epic), the sly reworking of the Phaedrus and Symposium, and the ostentatious display of technical knowledge, expended with equal facility on elephant pregnancy, the symptoms of rabies, or Isiac rituals.

As this last conjunction might suggest, H takes a more cavalier view of Lucius’s Isiac conversion than many recent interpreters. He is upfront about this: “the Metamorphoses shows an undoubtedly detailed knowledge of Isiac religion, but … this interest is used for cultural and intellectual display and satirical entertainment rather than to assert any ideological or personal commitment” (238). The final book is in fact a sophistic satire on religious charlatanry, comparable to Lucian’s “Alexander the False Prophet.” H. here owes (and acknowledges) a considerable debt to Jack Winkler, whose influential Auctor & Actor first laid out much of the evidence for this reading. But where Winkler saw the satirical reading as coexisting with a serious one — Apuleius inviting both while authorizing neither — H. opts decisively for the comic interpretation. The money, the endless string of new initiations, Lucius’s open-eyed naivete — for H. these are too much to swallow. Lucius’s visions remain somewhat problematic, but H. gets around them by arguing that Lucius, “a hyperdutiful and autosuggestive religious maniac” (246), is in effect complicit in his own exploitation. 5

But if the Metamorphoses is not intended to be a moving narrative of the soul’s journey to faith, an involved Platonic allegory, or a meditation on the nature of religious belief, what is its purpose? For H. it has two goals: to entertain its audience (is this not what the preface promises us, after all?) and to extend the fame of its author. The novel in fact is an extended “display of cultural capital” (a phrase borrowed from Pierre Bourdieu), intended to show off Apuleius’s powers of composition, for which it presents the supreme challenge. As H. puts it, “the problem for a self-promoting sophistic intellectual in writing fictional narrative is that of how to keep the spotlight on himself when not talking about himself” (232), as he can do when declaiming. Hence the novel’s obtrusive metafictional elements (the shifting voice of the prologue, the momentary replacement of the old woman by the huius Milesiae conditor at 4.32.6, the notorious “Madaurensis” passage in Book 11), together constituting a “strategy which draws attention to the existence and virtuoso status of the work’s author” (233). This is an insight, in fact, which could be extended more broadly. Readers have often noted that all the characters, from slaves and robbers to priests, magistrates and the goddess Isis herself, speak in the same elaborate Apuleian Latin. Why does Apuleius pass up the opportunity (so congenial to Petronius) to “do the police in different voices”? H. implicitly provides an answer: the usefulness of this style is precisely its uniform artificiality. Unlikely Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, who is instructed to “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” we are continually being reminded who is pulling the strings and moving the levers of this impressively baroque machine.

One shrinks at applying the word “radical” to such a painstaking, level-headed, and lucidly-argued book. Yet its conclusion is indeed a radical one. Paradoxically, H. argues, we can better appreciate Apuleius’s real achievement by taking him less seriously (deep down, he’s really very shallow). To be sure, others have expressed similar judgments from time to time. Many readers of H. will be reminded of Perry’s analysis of the Metamorphoses as a slapdash piece of Unterhaltungsliteratur (though H. has greater respect for Apuleius’s compositional skill) or Rudolf Helm’s characterization of the Apology as a masterpiece of the Second Sophistic. 6 But the center of discourse has been elsewhere. From Fulgentius and Beroaldus to Merkelbach and Winkler, criticism of the Metamorphoses has persistently yearned for deeper significance in Apuleius (or in Winkler’s case, perhaps, a deeper lack of significance). Not all intending readers will be delighted by H’s portrait of a writer “to whom breadth and rapid composition must have often been more important than depth and elaborate literary craftsmanship” (209). But even those who disagree will be stimulated by this book, easily the best study to date of this curious and perplexing author. 7

1. A. Laird and A. Kahane, eds. A Companion to the Prologue to Apuleius’ Metamorphoses (Oxford, forthcoming).

2. With H’s subtitle compare the subtitle of Sandy’s Chapter One (“The Formation of a Latin Sophist”), and the titles of Chapters Four (“Orator Sophisticus Latinus”) and Five (“Philosophus Sophisticus Latinus”).

3. One does sigh at reading that Apuleius probably “spoke Punic as his vernacular first language” (2). This may not be strictly untrue (note the qualifying “vernacular”), but it feeds the still too common belief that Latin was not Apuleius’s first language and that this somehow accounts for his baroque prose style — as if he were a sort of second century Nabokov. The important point is the one H. makes on the next page: “Apuleius … is fundamentally Roman in cultural identity and a native speaker and writer of Latin.”

4. Harrison is unconvinced (rightly, I think) by V. Hunink, “Apuleius and the Asclepius,” Vigiliae Christianae 50 (1996), 288-308, who attempts to move discussion to a more agnostic position.

5. H. does not deal with the later reception of Apuleius, but he might have noted that the Metamorphoses‘ best reader may be the anonymous author of Lazarillo de Tormes, whose picaresque hero concludes his account by describing how he settled down as the town crier of Toledo and married through the aid of a local prelate the sceptical reader soon realizes that the prelate’s motives are not as innocent as they seem. If they ever get around to making the movie of the Golden Ass that Helen Elsom once called for (“Apuleius and the Movies, GCN 2 (1989), 141-150 it will have to end with Lucius as a convert to scientology, working at a law firm to pay for his endless auditing sessions.

The social positivism of Comte and Mill

Comte’s positivism was posited on the assertion of a so-called law of the three phases (or stages) of intellectual development. There is a parallel, as Comte saw it, between the evolution of thought patterns in the entire history of humankind, on the one hand, and in the history of an individual’s development from infancy to adulthood, on the other. In the first, or so-called theological, stage, natural phenomena are explained as the results of supernatural or divine powers. It matters not whether the religion is polytheistic or monotheistic in either case, miraculous powers or wills are believed to produce the observed events. This stage was criticized by Comte as anthropomorphic—i.e., as resting on all-too-human analogies. Generally, animistic explanations—made in terms of the volitions of soul-like beings operating behind the appearances—are rejected as primitive projections of unverifiable entities.

The second phase, called metaphysical, is in some cases merely a depersonalized theology: the observable processes of nature are assumed to arise from impersonal powers, occult qualities, vital forces, or entelechies (internal perfecting principles). In other instances, the realm of observable facts is considered as an imperfect copy or imitation of eternal ideas, as in Plato’s metaphysics of pure forms. Again, Comte charged that no genuine explanations result questions concerning ultimate reality, first causes, or absolute beginnings are thus declared to be absolutely unanswerable. The metaphysical quest can lead only to the conclusion expressed by the German biologist and physiologist Emil du Bois-Reymond: “Ignoramus et ignorabimus” (Latin: “We are and shall be ignorant”). It is a deception through verbal devices and the fruitless rendering of concepts as real things.

The sort of fruitfulness that it lacks can be achieved only in the third phase, the scientific, or “positive,” phase—hence the title of Comte’s magnum opus: Cours de philosophie positive (1830–42)—because it claims to be concerned only with positive facts. The task of the sciences, and of knowledge in general, is to study the facts and regularities of nature and society and to formulate the regularities as (descriptive) laws explanations of phenomena can consist in no more than the subsuming of special cases under general laws. Humankind reached full maturity of thought only after abandoning the pseudoexplanations of the theological and metaphysical phases and substituting an unrestricted adherence to scientific method.

In his three stages Comte combined what he considered to be an account of the historical order of development with a logical analysis of the leveled structure of the sciences. By arranging the six basic and pure sciences one upon the other in a pyramid, Comte prepared the way for logical positivism to “reduce” each level to the one below it. He placed at the fundamental level the science that does not presuppose any other sciences—viz., mathematics—and then ordered the levels above it in such a way that each science depends upon, and makes use of, the sciences below it on the scale: thus, arithmetic and the theory of numbers are declared to be presuppositions for geometry and mechanics, astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology (including physiology), and sociology. Each higher-level science, in turn, adds to the knowledge content of the science or sciences on the levels below, thus enriching this content by successive specialization. Psychology, which was not founded as a formal discipline until the late 19th century, was not included in Comte’s system of the sciences. Anticipating some ideas of 20th-century behaviourism and physicalism, Comte assumed that psychology, such as it was in his day, should become a branch of biology (especially of brain neurophysiology), on the one hand, and of sociology, on the other. As the “father” of sociology, Comte maintained that the social sciences should proceed from observations to general laws, very much as (in his view) physics and chemistry do. He was skeptical of introspection in psychology, being convinced that in attending to one’s own mental states, these states would be irretrievably altered and distorted. In thus insisting on the necessity of objective observation, he was close to the basic principle of the methodology of 20th-century behaviourism.

Among Comte’s disciples or sympathizers were Cesare Lombroso, an Italian psychiatrist and criminologist, and Paul-Emile Littré, J.-E. Renan, and Louis Weber.

Despite some basic disagreements with Comte, the 19th-century English philosopher John Stuart Mill, also a logician and economist, must be regarded as one of the outstanding positivists of his century. In his System of Logic (1843), he developed a thoroughly empiricist theory of knowledge and of scientific reasoning, going even so far as to regard logic and mathematics as empirical (though very general) sciences. The broadly synthetic philosopher Herbert Spencer, author of a doctrine of the “unknowable” and of a general evolutionary philosophy, was, next to Mill, an outstanding exponent of a positivistic orientation.

Finding Primary Sources

Primary sources may remain in private hands or are located in archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, and special collections. These can be public or private. Some are affiliated with universities and colleges, while others are government entities. Materials relating to one area might be spread over a large number of different institutions. These can be distant from the original source of the document. For example, the Huntington Library in California houses a large number of documents from the United Kingdom. While the development of technology has resulted in an increasing number of digitized sources, most primary source materials are not digitized and may only be represented online with a record or finding aid.

Traditionally, historians attempt to answer historical questions through the study of written documents and oral accounts. They also use such sources as monuments, inscriptions, and pictures. In general, the sources of historical knowledge can be separated into three categories: what is written, what is said, and what is physically preserved. Historians often consult all three. However, writing is the marker that separates history from what comes before.

Archaeology is one discipline that is especially helpful to historians. By dealing with buried sites and objects, it contributes to the reconstruction of the past. However, archaeology is constituted by a range of methodologies and approaches that are independent from history. In other words, archaeology does not “fill the gaps” within textual sources but often contrasts its conclusions against those of contemporary textual sources.

Archaeology also provides an illustrative example of how historians can be helped when written records are missing. Unearthing artifacts and working with archaeologists to interpret them based on the expertise of a particular historical era and cultural or geographical area is one effective way to reconstruct the past. If written records are missing, historians often attempt to collect oral accounts of particular events, preferably by eyewitnesses, but sometimes, because of the passage of time, they are forced to work with the following generations. Thus, the question of the reliability of oral history has been widely debated.

When dealing with many government records, historians usually have to wait for a specific period of time before documents are declassified and available to researchers. For political reasons, many sensitive records may be destroyed, withdrawn from collections, or hidden, which may also encourage researchers to rely on oral histories. Missing records of events, or processes that historians believe took place based on very fragmentary evidence, forces historians to seek information in records that may not be a likely sources of information. As archival research is always time-consuming and labor-intensive, this approach poses the risk of never producing desired results, despite the time and effort invested in finding informative and reliable resources. In some cases, historians are forced to speculate (this should be explicitly noted) or simply admit that we do not have sufficient information to reconstruct particular past events or processes.


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Rhapsode, also called rhapsodist, Greek rhapsoidos, plural rhapsodes or rhapsoidoi, a singer in ancient Greece. Ancient scholars suggested two etymologies. The first related the word with the staff (rhabdos) on which the singer leaned during his performance. In that view, the rhapsode is a “singer with a staff.” The second connected the word with the poetic act of sewing (rhaptein) the poem (oide). Thus, the rhapsode is a “stitcher of songs.” Modern scholars prefer the second etymology, which is attested in a fragment of Hesiod (7th century bc ) and in Pindar’s Nemean ode 2, lines 1–3. Both passages use the word rhaptein to describe the act of poetic composition. The noun rhapsoidosis is first found in 5th-century- bc inscriptions and literary sources, including Herodotus (History, Book V, part 67) and Sophocles (Oedipus Tyrannus, line 391).

The common opinion is that rhapsodes were exclusively reciters of the compositions of others, which they consigned to memory. In the oral tradition of epic poetry, they represent the stage that followed that of the aoidoi, or bards, who created poems on traditional epic subjects each time they performed. The ancient testimonies, however, do not permit such a clear and secure distinction, at least through the 6th century bc . Inscriptions show that rhapsodes continued to perform through the 3rd century ad .

Portrait of a Sophist - History

Images of Authority II: The Greek Example

A striking feature of early Greek art is the relative absence of ruler images. This presents a stark contrast to the role ruler images played in Egyptian and Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. The work above at first seems to be a possible exception. This is a Roman copy of a bronze statue of the Athenian political leader Pericles, who was the great Athenian political leader of the middle of the 5th century BCE. This was the period of Athenian supremacy. It was under Pericles that Athens engaged in a great building campaign that included the major buildings on the Acropolis. We will discuss later in the semester the Parthenon, the centerpiece of this campaign. Pericles served in the position of strategos or military commander. The Athenians attempted to avoid the concentration of power in the hands of a single ruler or tyrant by forbidding leaders of higher offices to succeed themselves. It was only the military commanders that could hold office multiple times. Pericles was able to manipulate his position as strategos into becoming the de facto ruler of Athens.

The original statue of Pericles was probably done shortly after Pericles' death in 429 BCE and was created by the sculptor Kresilas. The inscription which reads "Pericles, son of Xanthippos, the Athenian" leaves little question of the identification. From our cultural perspective we would expect the portrait to have been individualized, but as demonstrated by the following examples, the strategos portrait was a defined type in Greek art:

Strategos portrait, c. 500-470 BCE

Strategos portrait, c. 430-400 BCE.

The differences between these "portraits" say less about the differences between the different individuals represented than they reflect the different stages in the development of Greek art. The one from c. 500-470 BCE still has strong traces of the Archaic style of the 6th and early 5th centuries, while the one from c. 430-400 BCE has the characteristics of the High Classical style of the middle of the 5th century. Characteristics of the strategos type include the helmet of a military commander and the beard. The latter says more about the venerable nature of the strategos. In considering the Pericles "portrait" we need to seriously qualify our assumptions about a portrait. As a truism of Greek culture, the Greeks did not emphasize what distinguishes one individual from another, but how the individual conformed to the common type. In other words they saw the particular from the perspective of the archetypal. So it is less Pericles' distinctness and more of how he conforms to the ideal or expectations of what a strategos should be. The Roman writer Pliny in describing the Kresilas "portrait" characterized it as "the Olympian Pericles," or in other words how Pericles reflects the Greek conception of their gods.

Protagoras of Abdera (c. 480-410 BCE), a Sophist philosopher, coined the famous dictum that "man is the measure of all things." A common theme of Sophist philosophy of the 5th century BCE was that man's subjective experience is the foundation of human thought including conceptions about the nature of existence, of ethics, and of knowledge. Greek classical culture was essentially anthropocentric or centered on man in marked contrast to theocentric cultures. In Classical art the distinction between the God and mortal man is blurred. This can be exemplified by an examination of the sculpture in the pediment over the western entrance of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia

Reconstruction of the West Pediment of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia. In the center is the God Apollo and is flanked by the legendary conflict between the Lapiths and Centaurs.

Central groups from the West Pediment with Apollo in the center.

The pediment represents the legendary conflict between the Lapiths and Centaurs. The centaurs were a fabulous race of half human and half horse creatures from untamed regions of Thessaly. They were invited to attend the wedding of the king of their neighbors, the Lapiths. In the midst of the wedding the centaurs became drunk and disorderly and attempted to abduct Hippodamia, the bride of Peirthoös. In the ensuing battle the Lapiths overcome the centaurs. The centaurs as both being half human and being in a state of drunkenness are clearly set off from the Lapiths. The wild ferocity of the centaur is here contrasted to the restrained expression of the Lapith. Clearly the Lapiths are like the stern and aloof figure of Apollo who towers over the center of the composition. The popularity of this subject matter in Greek Archaic and Classical art can be explained by its theme of order or cosmos overcoming chaos and a series of related binaries: reason and self-control overcoming immoderate passion, culture overcoming nature, civilization overcoming barbarism, human techné (technology) harnessing wild, animal forces of nature, and Greek defeating non-Greek. This contrast between the Greek and the non-Greek is further developed in the webpage entitled The Greek and the Other.

The standing nude male figure dominates Greek art of the Classical figure. One of the most famous of these statues was the Doryphoros by Polykleitos. The statue is no longer extant but it is well known through ancient descriptions along with later Roman copies.

The dominant subject matter in Greek free-standing sculpture of the Archaic (extending from the end of the seventh century BCE to the early fifth century BCE) and Classical periods was the nude male. While not made for explicit political purposes, these statue do still convey the cultural and political ideal for this culture. These are a clear testament to the anthropocentric nature of Greek culture. There is little to distinguish the representations between divine and mortal inthese statues. Scholars have long debated about the identity of the Archaic kouros figures, or standing nude male figures. Early scholars saw these figures as images of the god Apollo, while subsequent archaeological discoveries have revealed names associated with some of these statues. For example, the base of a kouros from the third quarter of the sixth century BCE from Anavysos bears an inscription that identifies the figure as Kroisos.

Like we saw in our discussion of the Pericles portrait above, we need to qualify our assumption that this is a representation of the individual likeness of Kroisos. Rather than focusing on what distinguishes Kroisos from other males, the work displays how is like or typical of the ideal male, whether mortal or immortal.

A major work from the middle of the fifth century BCE or the Classical period is the so-called Doryphoros by Polykleitos. Like the kouroi figures this statue is not a representation of a particular individual but again a representation of an ideal figure. Ancient references and modern studies have emphasized how Polykleitos intended this figure as a demonstration of his conception of kallos or the beautiful. He saw in the proportions of this figure a reflection or "measure" of the cosmos. Review the webpage I have dedicated to the Doryphoros.

Portraits of Alexander the Great : The later history of Greece is dominated by the rise of the kingdom of Macedon and the conquests of Alexander the Great. Under Alexander's father, Philip II, Macedon was able to subdue the other Greek city-states. After Philip's assassination in 336, Alexander was able to carry out a remarkable series of military conquests. By the time of Alexander's death in 323 BCE, Macedonian hegemony extended over Egypt, the Persian Empire, and extended to India. While the Empire was quickly politically fragmented with its subdivision among the followers of Alexander, the lands conquered by Alexander were culturally unified by the spread of Greek or Hellenic culture. including its religion, philosophy, literature, art, and architecture. This cultural unity would be a critical key to the later success of the Romans in establishing their Empire.

Alexander, undoubtedly influenced by the ruler portraits of the Ancient Near East and Egypt, was aware of the political importance of his image both in life and in his portraits. In life he fashioned himself on Achilles the epic hero of Homer's Iliad. At the same time he was aware of the effective role pictorial representations of himself could play in establishing his poltical rule over the domains he conquered. Alexander appointed Lysippos as his court sculptor. Only Lysippos was allowed to sculpt Alexander's image. Ancient sources describe a full length, heroically nude bronze portrait of Alexander holding a lance and looking to the heavens. Plutarch calls attention to the "leonine" or lion-like mane of Alexander's hair and his "melting glance." Plutarch records an inscription on the base which proclaimed, "I [Alexander] place the earth under my sway you, O Zeus, keep Olympus."Thus the order of Zeus over Olympus is paralleled to the order of Alexander over his Empire.

The original bronze made by Lysippos has been lost, but there are still extant a relatively large number of portraits of Alexander that are undoubtedly based on the Lysippos original:

Head of Alexander the Great, from Pella, c. 200-150 BCE.

Head of Alexander the Great from Pergamon, c. 200 BCE.

The three Alexander portraits illustrated above share the dramatic locks of hair, turning neck, and the animated gaze directed to the heavens described by Plutarch as a characteristic of the Lysippos original. All of the portraits of Alexander show him as beardless. This was a deliberate choice on the part of Alexander, and marked a break in the custom of political leaders wearing beards. We have already seen how in the strategos portrait of Pericles the beard was an integral part of the formula. Alexander's own father was consistently shown with a beard. The appearance of the beard was intended to convey the wisdom and venerable nature of the ruler. In contrast to that Alexander adopted the more youthful, beardless type. In so doing, Alexander was likening himself to the heroes of Greek epics like Achilles or the youthful god Apollo. The choice of wearing a beard or not will be an important factor in later ruler images. For example, it was deliberate on the part of the Emperor Augustus of Rome to have his portraits convention to be youthful and beardless while the later philosopher Emperor Marcus Aurelius will be represented with a beard to conform to the philosopher type. It is not by chance that the early period of Christian art shows competing conventions for representing Christ. In some cases you see him as being a beardless Apollo type as in the middle of the 4th century sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, while in other cases, like the mosaic from Santa Pudenziana from the end of the 4th century, he is represented with a beard that makes him like Zeus or Jupiter.

Christ as the Law Giver (traditio legis) with Sts. Peter and Paul from the Sarcophagus of Junius Bassus, c. 359.

Apse Mosaic of Christ in Majesty with Apostles from the church of Santa Pudenziana in Rome

In the portrait of Pericles discussed above, the emphasis was primarily on how Pericles conformed to the role of strategos rather than his individual identity or personality, but here in the portraits of Alexander, there is more of an emphasis on the heroic personality. The effect of the presence of Alexander's personality in these portraits is suggested by an anecdote included in Plutarch's biography of Alexander. Cassander, one time rival and successor as king of Macedon of Alexander, some years after the death of Alexander encountered the latter's portrait in a sanctuary in Delphi. At the sight of the statue,Cassander was struck "with a shuddering and trembling of the body from which he barely recovered, and caused a dizziness which blurred his vision." The relationship between Alexander and Lysippos as court sculptor establishes an alliance between politics and art that will be extremely influential in later Ancient and European history. Images of the king spread throughout his territory give physical testimony to his hegemony and become forceful expressions of his personality. The artist thus becomes an image maker like a modern PR-man attempting to fashion a public identity for a modern politician.

A floor mosaic found in the remains of a Roman house in Pompeii is likely a copy of a panel painting peainted by Philoxenos of Eretria about 310 BCE. The mosaic represents the pivotal moment in the Battle of Issus when the Persian king Darius retreats from the relentless attack of the Greeks led by Alexander on horseback. The narrative focuses on the contrast between the heroic Alexander personally leading the attack and the fearful Darius. Alexander was known to have had a horse named Bucephalus who was so wild only Alexander could tame and ride him. In a later context, we will relate this image to the importance of the horse in western culture with special emphasis on the equestrian figure.

To find images of authority and power in the early stages of Greek art we do not look at ruler images like we can see in Egyptian and ancient Near Eastern cultures but rather we look at representations of the Gods and of the type of the male figure.


Only a year before Magritte’s turn to words and objects and eventually affinities, Martin Heidegger published Being and Time (1927). The book was an audacious attempt to tackle what philosophy had been avoiding for hundreds of years: existence itself.

At the heart of our understanding of things, Heidegger held, is the way care (the German word Heidegger uses is “Sorge” which is somewhere between care and the verb concern) structures our interaction with the world and its objects: the mediation of things in experience.

Our experience of reality is dispersed into different activities where we have care or concern for objects. So long as there isn’t a hitch in these activities, objects around us and in our use are transparent to our consciousness.

Being is divided into “ready-to-hand” (“Zuhandenheit”) and being that is “present-to-hand” (“Vorhandenheit”). By making this distinction, Heidegger drew attention to the way reality was ensconced in our consciousness until it made itself rudely apparent.

The hammer, for example, is transparent to the carpenter’s consciousness as he hammers away. It is “ready-to-hand”. His care towards the task makes the objects he uses as tools transparent because they are taken for granted and part of the everyday flow of the carpenter’s experience.

It’s only when the hammer breaks that its “be-ing” becomes apparent to the carpenter, it becomes “present-to-hand” an object of study in itself.

To give a more basic interpretation of the care-structure of experience, there is an “as” to how any object presents itself to us in any moment depending on how that object fits into our care. More recently, philosopher Graham Harman has generalised Heidegger’s ideas around reality and its visibility and invisibility to consciousness in using tools.

In Harman’s interpretation, care gives an object an “as-ness” of its being, but not its being in its entirety. For example, a bowler hat could be a bowler hat as a head covering, a bowler hat as an object of aesthetic beauty, a bowler hat as a signifier of the inter-war conservatism or of the banking industry, a bowler hat as a vessel for liquid, and so on.

Everything exists as something at any one moment, but never as what it entirely is.

This “as-ness” is structural because there is a simultaneous unveiling and veiling of the object’s many guises and purposes as it is apprehended by our care for it.

Objects, be they anything from rainbows and soundwaves to trees and bowler hats, are best negatively defined in this way: things that, via the “as-structure”, withdraw from all theoretical and practical contact in the whole, things with always and forever more to them than can be expounded upon or felt by anything else.

But: by the necessity of the “as-structure” we know these objects are. As Graham Harman explains, “Being is what withdraws from all access, while the ‘as’ is what has emerged into access.”

What Harman is describing is the mysterious being before we mediate it into purpose (which he describes as “access”).

In the case of Sartre’s character Roquentin, being suddenly revealed itself. The seat was only accessible as something (as a seat), when Roquentin has his epiphany, the seat could have been anything at all.

Like the carpenter’s broken hammer or Roquentin’s seat on the trolley car, Magritte disrupts the as-structure of objects by “breaking” the laws of nature with paradoxes and non-sequiturs. These laws are responsible for causation (cause and effect) — the cosmic glue that holds our existence together.

In doing so the painter obliquely articulates the being behind the as (it’s impossible to do so directly). He takes Heidegger’s care-structure to an absurd parody and, in doing so, the objects he depicts make themselves known to us in their most sensuous, non-mediated, being.

Géricault’s Raft

Théodore Géricault, a promising young painter at the time, decided that the incident was going to be the subject of his most ambitious painting. He had read the testimony of two of the survivors and was as outraged by the tale of callousness and incompetence as much of French society was at the time.

He had for the most part taught himself in the Louvre, where he copied the works of renaissance and baroque masters, and the stables of Versailles, where he studied the anatomy of horses. This mostly self-led education enabled Géricault to make a name for himself as a painter of equestrian scenes.

Géricault had a minor reputation in 1818 when he began the work. He had exhibited successfully at the Paris Salon in 1812 but less successfully in 1814. The disappointment he had experienced as an exhibitor at the 1814 Salon led him to briefly join the army.

The ‘Paris Salon’ was the official exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts, open to artists from all over the world. In other words, the Paris Salon was 19th century art’s equivalent to what the Fifa World Cup is to soccer now.

It was the most prestigious regular showcase of contemporary art at the time, a ticketed event that the well-heeled public flocked to and one that generated a huge amount of debate on matters from history and taste to politics and censorship.

In the minds of many artists, a critical triumph at the Salon was a triumph in the eyes of the entire art world.

Upon his return to painting, Géricault made painstaking plans to immortalise the shipwreck in vivid detail for the 1819 Salon. He interviewed survivors, visited morgues to make studies and took body parts back to his apartment - including a severed head from a lunatic asylum, of which he made several famous studies in preparation for his painting.

A scale model of the raft was constructed in Géricault’s studio with the help of three survivors, one of whom was a carpenter on the ship. The moment the artist chose to depict was the moment that the Argus, another ship in the flotilla to Senegal, suddenly appeared on the horizon. The last remaining survivors attempted to signal the ship but it passed by. Of this moment one of the survivors wrote:

‘From the delirium of joy, we fell into profound despondency and grief.’

As it happens, the Argus did return and eventually rescued the last remaining survivors.

The Painting was finished in 1819, when Géricault was only 27 years old and exhibited at the Paris Salon with the title “The Scene of a Shipwreck”. It was a generic title but nobody was left under the illusion that this was a scene of anything but the raft of the Medusa. The painting even depicts Henri Savigny, the ship’s surgeon (standing by the sail in the painting), who wrote the testimony that scandalised France. He had posed on the reconstructed raft in Géricault’s studio.

It was a monumental painting, enormous in fact. About 5 by 7 meters — 16 by 23 feet — with over-life sized figures in the foreground of the scene. It’s almost like standing in front of a cinema screen.

The stage, so to speak, was set. The painting gained the immediate notoriety that the painter had been hoping for. It was seen as an indictment of a corrupt regime and caused an enormous stir at the often crowded salon. Many were fiercely critical of the painting gratuitous morbidity and modern style, but republicans were supportive. The historian Jules Michelet said of the painting: “our whole society is aboard the raft of Medusa.”

Portrait of a Sophist - History

The Worship of Venus, is an oil on canvas painting which is now preserved and housed in the world renowned Spanish national art museum, Museo del Prado in Madrid. Titian was commissioned to do a series of paintings in 1516, by the Duke of Ferrara, which took him over a decade to complete. The paintings, destined for the Alabaster Chamber, were a series of Dionysian themes, one of which was The Worship of Venus.

Description and Inspiration

This richly colorful piece of artwork incorporates the subjects of love, fertility, regeneration in nature, and comic gesture, while presented with a great formal elegance. The Worship of Venus was Titian’s first painting in his commissioned series, and he based the content on ancient Greek mythology, and the writings of Philostratus, a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period in the 3rd century AD.

The painting aesthetically describes a Roman rite of worship honoring Venus, the Roman goddess of love, beauty, sexuality, fertility, prosperity, and victory. On this day of worship, women would make offerings to the goddess Venus in order to cleanse themselves. In the painting you see two nymphs, or female nature spirits who were linked to Venus, standing to the right with a statue of Venus by their side.

Cupids were considered children of the nymphs, and they are plentiful in the painting. The cupids are found playing and expressing love in a meadow between the statue of Venus and a row of apple trees. Philostratus described cupids gathering apples in baskets with quivers of gold which they hung on the apple trees. This fresh and enchanting description is captured in The Worship of Venus with the playful and comic gestures of the small children, or cupids depicted.


The compelling interpretation onto canvas, of pagan myth, portrays the writings of Philostratus, and is so convincing, that we see Greek mythology through Titian’s paintings even today. Titian’s revolutionary and brave styles, his unmatched use of color, and his gradually evolving artistic manner made him the most celebrated painter of the ancient world. The Worship of Venus is not only pleasing to the eye, but also describes through art a past time which will be preserved forever in our minds.

7 Facts About Socrates, the Enigmatic Greek Street Philosopher

One of the giants of Western philosophy, Socrates (470 to 399 B.C.E.) is also one of history's most enigmatic figures. He left behind no published writings, so all we have are secondhand accounts written by his students and contemporaries, most famously the dialogues of Plato.

While scholars agree that Socrates changed philosophy forever, they argue furiously over who he was and what he really believed. We spoke with Debra Nails, professor emerita of philosophy at Michigan State University, to learn how the Socratic method turned education on its head, and why Socrates' infamous trial and execution remains the "founding myth" of academic philosophy. Here are some facts to help you get to know Socrates.

1. Socrates Stuck Out

By all accounts, Socrates cut a strange figure in Athens. A brilliant intellect, he chose not to pursue money, power or fame, but to live in abject poverty as a troublemaking street philosopher. And if you believe the descriptions of his appearance by his student Plato and the comic playwright Aristophanes, Socrates was one ugly dude.

First, Socrates was dirty and disheveled, wandering the streets in his unwashed bedclothes, his hair long and greasy. Nails says that Socrates' unattractive appearance was probably as offensive to his critics as his confrontational questioning style.

"The Greeks were devoted to beauty, and beauty meant proportion in their architecture and statues," says Nails. "And then there's Socrates with the mouth of a frog or maybe a donkey, and these eyes that bulge and don't track. He didn't fit the Greek ideal and I'm sure that bothered them."

Despite his looks, Socrates was married to a much-younger woman, Xanthippe, who was often portrayed as nagging and shrewish. But since he spent all his time philosophizing rather than earning a living, there was perhaps much to complain about. The couple had two sons together.

2. He Wasn't a 'Teacher'

Even though Plato is sometimes referred to as his "star pupil," Socrates flatly rejected the title of "teacher," or at least in the way that the Greeks understood the role of a teacher.

"During Socrates' time, teaching meant transmitting information and the receiver receiving it," says Nails. "When he says he's not a teacher, Socrates is saying that he doesn't have information to transmit and that's why he's asking questions. The important thing is for each person to be involved in the intellectual labor required to come to conclusions."

Socrates reserved some of his most cutting remarks for the sophists, paid philosophers who imparted their wisdom and knowledge to the rich and powerful of Athens.

3. The Socratic Method Was Genius at Work

Instead of writing dry philosophical treatises or lecturing students on the nature of knowledge, Socrates preferred a far more entertaining way of getting to the bottom of thorny questions. He'd hang around all day in the Agora, the bustling outdoor marketplace of Athens, and ask people questions.

No one was immune from Socrates' playful interrogations — young, old, male, female, politician or prostitute — and crowds of young Athenians would gather to watch Socrates use his stinging wit and unbreakable logic to force his victims into intellectual corners. The more pompous and pretentious the victim, the better.

It's known today as the Socratic method, but Nails says that Socrates wouldn't have recognized what passes for the Socratic method in places like law schools, where professors pepper students with questions until they arrive at a predetermined answer.

Socrates never claimed that he had the answer to whatever question was being posed — from the nature of knowledge to the meaning of life. For him, the Socratic method was an exercise in breaking down false assumptions and exposing ignorance so that the individual being questioned — not Socrates — could arrive at something true.

"The real Socratic method requires individuals to dig down to the reason why they're saying what they're saying," says Nails. "And when they uncover those reasons, they often find there are inconsistencies they need to think through."

While some people who got roped into Socratic shakedowns walked away furious, others were transformed. After a young poet named Aristocles witnessed Socrates' marketplace spectacle, he went home and burned all his plays and poems. That kid would become the philosopher known as Plato.

4. We Don't Know Much About the 'Real' Socrates

The historical Socrates, like the historical Jesus, is impossible to know. Neither men wrote the texts for which they're best known, but figure as main characters in the writings of others. In the case of Socrates, these second-hand sources aren't in agreement over how Socrates lived and what kind of philosophy he employed to understand the world around him.

The impossibility of knowing the real Socrates is called the "Socratic problem" and it complicates any easy reading of the three main historical sources on Socrates. The playwright Aristophanes, for example, features a character called Socrates in his comedy "Clouds," but the character is more of a caricature of all intellectuals — disheveled, impious and intent on warping the minds of the youth — than an unbiased portrait of the man.

Aristophanes and Socrates were contemporaries, but the men didn't see eye to eye. Aristophanes blamed the sophists and natural philosophers for poisoning the minds of Athenian youth, and his caricature of Socrates in "Clouds" became so well-known that it hounded the philosopher his entire life. By the time of his trial, Socrates blamed Aristophanes' plays for poisoning the jurors' minds against him.

A second source is Xenophon, a soldier-historian who, like Plato, was 45 years younger than Socrates. Xenophon has a solid reputation as a reliable historian of Athens, but he was a practical man with practical concerns. So, his quotations of Socrates have to do with mundane topics like estate management and moneymaking and may reflect Xenophon's views more than those of Socrates himself.

Plato's dialogues are the richest and best-known sources on Socrates, because Socrates is the main character in nearly all of the texts. Plato wrote the dialogues like plays, dramatizations of encounters that Socrates may or may not have had with real Athenians, some known to history. In the dialogues, the character of Socrates is an ingenious and often humorous interrogator, quick to confess his own ignorance while coaxing and teasing his fellow conversants toward philosophical revelations about morality and nature.

But are the dialogues historically accurate? Plato was 25 when Socrates was tried and executed. While Plato was undoubtedly inspired by Socrates, it's impossible to untangle which philosophies came from Socrates and which were Plato's alone. Further complicating the Socratic Problem is that ancient writers like Plato didn't distinguish between biography, drama, history and fiction.

5. Socrates is Best-Known as a Moral Philosopher

It's not easy to boil down Socrates' philosophies to a single statement, but if there's a key tenet that shows up again and again in the dialogues, it's this: it's never right to do wrong.

"Do no wrong, not even in return for an injury done to you," explains Nails. "Not even under threat of death, or to save your family. It is never right to do wrong. That's huge as a moral principle."

The best-known quote from Socrates comes during his trial, when he addresses supporters who ask him why he doesn't just go into exile and keep quiet in order to save his life. "The unexamined life," Socrates replies, "is not worth living."

The Socratic method was part of a system of self-examination that Socrates believed lead to virtue. And the only way to improve was to question everything until you arrived at greater wisdom and therefore greater virtue.

6. Socrates Heeded an Internal 'Voice'

Socrates was a fierce defender of reason and rationality, but he didn't fully dismiss the supernatural. For one thing, Socrates believed he was called by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi to safeguard the souls of all Athenians, making his confrontational conversations in the Agora part of his divine work.

But Socrates also believed he heard a daimonion or internal voice that stopped him from doing certain things. It was similar to a conscience, but it wasn't limited to chiming in on moral choices.

"You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me," says Socrates in Plato's "Apology." "This sign I have had ever since I was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything. "

Was Socrates schizophrenic? Nails doesn't think so. She points to scholars who say that there was nothing psychological or supernatural going on, but that Socrates would sometimes become intensely focused on a particular topic and slip into his own mind.

"That's when he would stand for hours and not move," says Nails. "That's when he would stop suddenly on the street and not continue along with his friends."

Whether supernatural or not, one of the reasons Socrates cites for going along with the trial in Athens is that his internal voice didn't tell him not to go. So he knew that the outcome, good or bad, would be for his ultimate benefit.

7. Socrates Died as He Lived, Uncompromising

The mood is Athens was bleak after suffering defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian Wars, and Athenians were looking for something or someone to blame. Some thought that the gods were angry at Athens for the impiety of its philosophers and sophists. And so, 70-year-old Socrates, a well-known philosopher with a passionate young following, was charged with two counts: irreverence toward the Athenian gods, and corruption of Athenian youth. (It didn't help that two of his students had briefly overthrown the city's government.)

As mentioned earlier, Socrates could have avoided the trial altogether by leaving Athens and going into exile. But that wasn't his style, says Nails. Instead, Socrates practiced "civil disobedience" in its original meaning.

"This is not resistance. This is not revolution. This is civil disobedience," says Nails. "I do what I believe I must do and if there are consequences, I must accept them."

Socrates said as much in the "Apology," written as a record of his final defense during the trial and sentencing:

Socrates was found guilty and sentenced to die by drinking a poisonous concoction containing hemlock, the Athenian method of execution. Before leaving, he gave final counsel to his supporters with a hint of his trademark irony.

"The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways — I to die, and you to live. Which is better, God only knows."

Socrates had some high-profile fans including Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela and Benjamin Franklin, whose personal recipe for humility was "Imitate Jesus and Socrates."

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