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Plato's Two Paradigms
In Plato's Republic, Socrates contends that philosophers make the best rulers because only they behold with their mind's eye the eternal and purely intelligible Forms of the Just, the Noble, and the Good. When, in addition, these men and women are endowed with a vast array of moral, intellectual, and personal virtues and are appropriately educated, surely no one could doubt the wisdom of entrusting to them the governance of cities. Although it is widely-and reasonably-assumed that all the Republic's philosophers are the same, Roslyn Weiss argues in this boldly original book that the Republic actually contains two distinct and irreconcilable portrayals of the philosopher.
According to Weiss, Plato's two paradigms of the philosopher are the "philosopher by nature" and the "philosopher by design." Philosophers by design, as the allegory of the Cave vividly shows, must be forcibly dragged from the material world of pleasure to the sublime realm of the intellect, and from there back down again to the "Cave" to rule the beautiful city envisioned by Socrates and his interlocutors. Yet philosophers by nature, described earlier in the Republic, are distinguished by their natural yearning to encounter the transcendent realm of pure Forms, as well as by a willingness to serve others-at least under appropriate circumstances. In contrast to both sets of philosophers stands Socrates, who represents a third paradigm, one, however, that is no more than hinted at in the Republic. As a man who not only loves "what is" but is also utterly devoted to the justice of others-even at great personal cost-Socrates surpasses both the philosophers by design and the philosophers by nature. By shedding light on an aspect of the Republic that has escaped notice, Weiss's new interpretation will challenge Plato scholars to revisit their assumptions about Plato's moral and political philosophy.
Representations of Rural Life in Vergil’s Georgics
Playing the Farmer reinvigorates our understanding of Vergil’s Georgics, a vibrant work written by Rome’s premier epic poet shortly before he began the Aeneid. Setting the Georgics in the social context of its day, Philip Thibodeau for the first time connects the poem’s idyllic, and idealized, portrait of rustic life and agriculture with changing attitudes toward the countryside in late Republican and early Imperial Rome. He argues that what has been seen as a straightforward poem about agriculture is in fact an enchanting work of fantasy that elevated, and sometimes whitewashed, the realities of country life. Drawing from a wide range of sources, Thibodeau shows how Vergil’s poem reshaped agrarian ideals in its own time, and how it influenced Roman poets, philosophers, agronomists, and orators. Playing the Farmer brings a fresh perspective to a work that was praised by Dryden as "the best poem by the best poet."
Collective Decision Making and the Iliad
The Poetics of Consent breaks new ground in Homeric studies by interpreting the Iliad’s depictions of political action in terms of the poetic forces that shaped the Iliad itself. Arguing that consensus is a central theme of the epic, David Elmer analyzes in detail scenes in which the poem’s three political communities—Achaeans, Trojans, and Olympian gods—engage in the process of collective decision making. These scenes reflect an awareness of the negotiation involved in reconciling rival versions of the Iliad over centuries. They also point beyond the Iliad’s world of gods and heroes to the here-and-now of the poem’s performance and reception, in which the consensus over the shape and meaning of the Iliadic tradition is continuously evolving. Elmer synthesizes ideas and methods from literary and political theory, classical philology, anthropology, and folklore studies to construct an alternative to conventional understandings of the Iliad’s politics. The Poetics of Consent reveals the ways in which consensus and collective decision making determined the authoritative account of the Trojan War that we know as the Iliad.
The Roman writer Cornelius Nepos was a friend of Cicero and Catullus and other first-century BCE authors, and portions of his encyclopedic work On Famous Men are the earliest surviving biographies written in Latin. In The Political Biographies of Cornelius Nepos, Rex Stem presents Nepos as a valuable witness to the late Republican era, whose biographies share the exemplary republican political perspective of his contemporaries Cicero and Livy. Stem argues that Nepos created the genre of grouped political biographies in order to characterize renowned Mediterranean figures as role models for Roman leaders, and he shows how Nepos invested his biographies with moral and political arguments against tyranny. This book, the first to regard Nepos as a serious thinker in his own right, also functions as a general introduction to Nepos, placing him in his cultural context. Stem examines Nepos' contributions to the growth of biography, and he defends Nepos from his critics at the same time that he lays out the political significance and literary innovation of Nepos' writings. Accessible to advanced undergraduates, this volume is addressed to a general audience of classicists and ancient historians, as well as those broadly interested in biography, historiography, and political thought.
One of the masterpieces of Latin and, indeed, world literature, Virgil's Aeneid was written during the Augustan “renaissance” of architecture, art, and literature that redefined the Roman world in the early years of the empire. This period was marked by a transition from the use of rhetoric as a means of public persuasion to the use of images to display imperial power. Taking a fresh approach to Virgil's epic poem, Riggs Alden Smith argues that the Aeneid fundamentally participates in the Augustan shift from rhetoric to imagery because it gives primacy to vision over speech as the principal means of gathering and conveying information as it recounts the heroic adventures of Aeneas, the legendary founder of Rome. Working from the theories of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Smith characterizes Aeneas as a voyant-visible, a person who both sees and is seen and who approaches the world through the faculty of vision. Engaging in close readings of key episodes throughout the poem, Smith shows how Aeneas repeatedly acts on what he sees rather than what he hears. Smith views Aeneas' final act of slaying Turnus, a character associated with the power of oratory, as the victory of vision over rhetoric, a triumph that reflects the ascendancy of visual symbols within Augustan society. Smith's new interpretation of the predominance of vision in the Aeneid makes it plain that Virgil's epic contributes to a new visual culture and a new mythology of Imperial Rome.
Antigone and the Invention of Individuality
In Private Lives, Public Deaths, Jonathan Strauss shows how Sophocles' tragedy Antigone crystallized the political, intellectual, and aesthetic forces of an entire historical moment--fifth-century Athens--into one idea: the value of a single, living person. That idea existed, however, only as a powerful but unconscious desire. Drawing on classical studies, Hegel, and contemporary philosophical interpretations of this pivotal drama, Strauss argues that Antigone's tragedy, and perhaps all classical tragedy, represents a failure to satisfy this longing. To the extent that the value of a living individual remains an open question, what Sophocles attempted to imagine still escapes our understanding. Antigone is, in this sense, a text not from the past, but from our future.
These ardent, even obsessed, poems about erotic passion are among the brightest jewels in the crown of Latin literature. Written by Propertius, Rome's greatest poet of love, who was born around 50 b.c., a contemporary of Ovid, these elegies tell of Propertius' tormented relationship with a woman he calls "Cynthia." Their connection was sometimes blissful, more often agonizing, but as the poet came to recognize, it went beyond pride or shame to become the defining event of his life. Whether or not it was Propertius' explicit intention, these elegies extend our ideas of desire, and of the human condition itself.
Vergil's Georgics, Octavian, and Rome
Reading after Actium is a study of Vergil's Georgics, a didactic poem ostensibly about farming but in fact a brilliant exercise challenging readers to develop a broader perspective on the basic problems and the dangers of human life. Octavian is treated as one of the poet's students and given the opportunity to learn lessons in handling power, in controlling Rome's vast resources, and in preventing the bloody cycle of civil war from beginning again. Most of all the Georgics asks Octavian to consider what is involved in assuming godlike power over his fellow citizens. Reading after Actium provides an introduction to the history of scholarship surrounding the Georgics and the political questions surrounding Octavian and his career. Nappa gives a book by book analysis of the entire poem, and a conclusion that draws together the themes of the whole. Reading after Actium will appeal to students and critics of Vergil and other Augustan Literature as well as those of didactic poetry and its traditions. Students of Roman history and politics should read this as well. Christopher Nappa is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of Minnesota.
Discourses of Subjectivity in Imperial Rome
Reflections of Romanity: Discourses of Subjectivity in Imperial Rome, by Richard Alston and Efrossini Spentzou, challenges and provokes debate about how we understand the Roman world, and ourselves, by engagement with the early imperial literature of the mid-first to early second-century CE. Alston and Spentzou explore Roman subjectivity to illuminate a society whose fragmentation presented considerable challenges to contemporary thinkers. These members of the elite and intellectual classes faced complex ideological choices in relation to how they could define themselves in relation to imperial society. Reflections of Romanity draws on present-day reflections on selfhood while at the same time uncovering processes of self-analysis, notably by tracing individuals’ reactions to moments of crisis or uncertainty. Thus it sets up a dialogue between the ancient texts it discusses, including the epics of Lucan and Statius, the letters of the Younger Pliny, Silius Italicus’ Punica, and Tacitus’ historical writings, and works of the modern period. Given the importance of classical thinking about the self in modern thought, this book addresses both a classical and a philosophical/literary critical audience.
Prudentius and the Poetics of the Soul
The Roman Self in Late Antiquity for the first time situates Prudentius within a broad intellectual, political, and literary context of fourth-century Rome. As Marc Mastrangelo convincingly demonstrates, the late-fourth-century poet drew on both pagan and Christian intellectual traditions—especially Platonism, Vergilian epic poetics, and biblical exegesis—to define a new vision of the self for the newly Christian Roman Empire. Mastrangelo proposes an original theory of Prudentius's allegorical poetry and establishes Prudentius as a successor to Vergil. Employing recent approaches to typology and biblical exegesis as well as the most current theories of allusion and intertextuality in Latin poetry, he interprets the meaning and influence of Prudentius's work and positions the poet as a vital author for the transmission of the classical tradition to the early modern period. This provocative study challenges the view that poetry in the fourth century played a subordinate role to patristic prose in forging Christian Roman identity. It seeks to restore poetry to its rightful place as a crucial source for interpreting the rich cultural and intellectual life of the era.