This two-day workshop will introduce students with an interest in civic participation and leadership to aspects of democracy, one of the ancient world’s most lasting legacies. Working with Professors Norman Sandridge (Howard University) and Kenny Morrell (Rhodes College), the participants will focus on the type of democracy that the Athenians developed and practiced during the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. No prior knowledge of the ancient world is required.
This year we will focus on the figure of Socrates, whom the Athenians found guilty of impiety and corrupting the youth and consequently executed. Socrates, on the other hand, claimed otherwise (at least in Plato’s version of his defense), suggesting that his public critique of ignorance among the Athenians served the interests of the community and was worthy of the same honors accorded to Olympic victors. Thanks in no small part to Plato’s influence, this latter view has come to predominate popular opinion today. So, for example, Scott Samuelson asserts in his book,The Deepest Human Life: An Introduction to Philosophy for Everyone: “I put myself in that long line of philosophers who believe Socrates the wisest, most happy, most just man who ever lived. What Mozart is to music, Socrates is to being human.”
Through a careful reading of three short texts (Plato’s Symposium and Apology and Xenophon’s Apology), we will consider whether the Socrates depicted in those texts was guilty as charged and a threat to society or someone worth emulating in pursuit of a fulfilling life—or a person somewhere in between.
Friday, July 22
Introductions and Dinner
- An introduction to the Athenian “ephebeia”
- Viewing Of Gods and Men (Des hommes et des dieux) a film by Xavier Beauvois about a group of Trappist monks caught in a wave of Islamic extremism (a review by A. O. Scott from theNew York Times is available here).
- Who serves whom and why?
- What constitutes community and what is one’s obligation to any given community?
Saturday, July 23
Discussion of Plato’s Apology with attention to the
- Historical context of the trial
- Conventions of the Athenian judicial system
- Formal components of democratic governance
- Who were the young people in question
10:30-11:00 a.m. Break
Discussion of Plato’s Symposium with a focus on the
- Sympotic tradition
- Connection of historical events and the other symposiasts to Socrates
- Sexuality and the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades
Discussion of Xenophon’s Apology exploring the
- Differences between the two apologies
- Relationship of the anecdote about Anytus to the trial of Socrates
- Question of Socrates’ leadership
3:30-4:00 p.m. Break
4:00-5:30 p.m. Next Steps in the Ephebe’s Journey.
Discussion of the Ephebe’s journey
- Taking stock of one’s place in society
- Mentors, causes, engagement
- The Ephebic Oath