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Courses Socrates

Enroll now for How to Live Like Socrates – Live from Athens

I am delighted to announce that I will be running my elearning course How to Live Like Socrates, which lasts four weeks, starting on Sunday 4th September. Enroll now if you want to join us! I will be delivering the webinars live from Athens, the birthplace of Socrates!

This is the first time I’ve run the course in over two years. It used to run 2-3 times per year but I’ve been busy writings books. I am currently working on a new book about Socrates. So some of that original material will find itself into the course this time around!

Donald Robertson Signature
Donald at the Acropolis in Athens

Categories
Events Philosophy

Announcing: Plato’s Academy Centre Virtual Conference

Ancient Philosophy Comes Alive

Virtual Conference on Greek Philosophy and the Good Life

If you’re interested in how Greek philosophy can help us live better lives today, this is the online event for you!

Tickets now available on EventBrite. Payment is by donation, an amount of your choosing, and all proceeds go toward the Plato’s Academy Centre nonprofit. Not available or in a different time zone? Don’t worry as recordings will be available afterwards to everyone booking tickets in advance.

What’s it all about?

We bring together a special program of world-class philosophers and renowned authors for an exclusive online event that you absolutely won’t want to miss.

Each speaker will share with you their knowledge and captivating insights into the most famous ancient philosophers, including effective and practical advice and strategies to help understand and manage the challenges of our uncertain and complex daily lives.

Speakers

  • Prof. Angie Hobbs, University of Sheffield; author of Plato’s Republic: A Ladybird Expert Book
  • Prof. Voula Tsouna, University of California, Santa Barbara; author of Plato’s Charmides: An Interpretative Commentary
  • Prof. Nancy Sherman, University of Georgetown; author of Stoic Wisdom: Ancient Lessons for Modern Resilience
  • Prof. Chloe Balla, University of Crete; author of Platonic Persuasion: From the Art of the Orator to the Art of the Statesman
  • Dr John Sellars, Royal Holloway, University of London; author of Hellenistic Philosophy and The Pocket Epicurean
  • Robin Waterfield, classicist and translator of Plato and Xenophon
  • Donald Robertson, author of How to Think Like a Roman Emperor: The Stoic Philosophy of Marcus Aurelius

NB: Presentation titles will be added shortly. Details may be subject to change without prior notification.

Who will be hosting?

Our hosts will be Donald Robertson, the president of the Plato’s Academy Centre, and Anya Leonard, the founder and director of the Classical Wisdom website.

About Plato’s Academy Centre

The Plato’s Academy Centre is a new nonprofit, based in Greece, run by a multidisciplinary team of volunteers from around the world. Our mission is to make ancient Greek philosophy more accessible to a wider international audience and to celebrate the legacy of Plato’s Academy in Athens. Everyone is welcome to join us.

FAQ

  1. Will recordings be available? Yes, everyone who orders a ticket in advance will automatically have access after the event to recordings of all presentations. So don’t worry if you’re unavailable at these times or located in another time zone.
  2. Will it be too academic for me? While many of our speakers are notable academics, the sessions are aimed at a nonacademic audience.
  3. How much does it cost? We’re making this event payment by donation, amount of your choosing, so it’s available to the widest possible audience. As a rough guide, tickets for a physical conference like this might cost €150. Your generosity helps support our nonprofit’s work and allows us to reach more people through future events.
  4. Why this date? 21st May is the approximate date of the Platoneia, on which Plato’s birthday is traditionally celebrated. The event begins at 12pm EST.
  5. Where can I get updates? Follow our Facebook Event page and our Twitter account for updates on this event.

Thanks

We’re grateful to our board of advisors, Orange Grove incubator, Classical Wisdom, and the Aurelius Foundation, for their support in bringing you this event. Special thanks to Phil Yanov, Gabriel Fleming, and Kasey Robertson for their help organizing the event.

Categories
Stoicism

The Dream of Scipio from Cicero’s Republic

On The Dream of Scipio

From Cicero’s Republic (51 BC)

Copyright © Donald Robertson, 2010.  All rights reserved.

The Dream of Scipio (Somnium Scipionis) is a famous section, only a few pages long, from Cicero’s massive six-volume On the Republic.  It was rightly seen as a condensation of important ideas from ancient philosophy and cosmology by scholars in the middle ages; an extensive commentary was written about it by Macrobius that ensured its continuing influence for over a thousand years. Scholars now recognise it as a superb example of a popular meditation technique widely practiced in different schools of classical philosophy, and known today as the “View from Above.”  Cicero’s account is fictional and draws on a variety of philosophical influences.  Cicero was a follower of Platonism, although like many Platonists of his time, he drew freely on ideas from Aristotelian, Stoic and Pythagorean philosophy as well.

The story goes as follows: It is the start of the Third Punic War (149-146BC BC).  Both by land and by sea, the mighty armies of Rome lay siege to the ancient city of Carthage in North Africa.  Upon his arrival, the Roman tribune Scipio Aemilianus (185-129BC), later known as Scipio Africanus the Younger, seeks the hospitality of King Masinissa of Numidia.  The King was an old friend of Scipio’s adoptive grandfather the famous warrior after whom he is named, Scipio Africanus the Elder (236-183 BC). The two men speak at great length about the deceased Roman general. Scipio the Elder was believed by many Romans to have attained a godlike status upon his death, in reward for his legendary victory over Hannibal at Carthage many years before, in the Second Punic War.  Ennius of Rudiae composed the epitaph for him: “From the place where the sun rises above the Maeotian marsh to farthest west, there is no man on earth who can match my deeds.”

In Cicero’s account, Scipio Aemilianus describes how, exhausted from feasting, drinking, and talking late into the night, “I fell into a deeper sleep than usual.”  As he sleeps, he dreams, and in his dreams he experiences a mystical revelation, a vision of his mighty forebear. In the dream, Aemilianus encounters his grandfather’s spirit in the outer rim of the heavens, where the ancients supposed pure souls to dwell, near to the gods. Hence, together they look down upon the stars, the earth, and the many different lands and nations dispersed across the surface of the globe.  Aemilianus exclaims:

These starry spheres were much larger than the earth. Indeed the earth now seemed to me so small that I began to think less of this empire of ours, which only amounts to a pinpoint on its surface.

The spirit of Scipio Africanus the Elder, assuming the role of mentor, proceeds to point out the overwhelming beauty and harmony of the cosmos to his grandson, who exclaims:

The scene filled me with awe and delight. And yet all the time I still could not help riveting my eyes upon our own world there below.

Africanus the Elder rebukes him:

I see that your gaze is still fastened, even now, upon the places where mortals dwell upon the earth. But can you not understand that the earth is totally insignificant? […] Scorn what is mortal! For the lips of mankind can grant you no fame nor glory worth seeking.

He elaborates:

Note how few and minute are the inhabited portions of the earth, and look upon the vast deserts that divide each one of these patches [in Africa] from the next.

He then points out the homeland of Aemilianus:

…you will realise, if you look, what a miniscule section of this region can really be regarded as your own property. For the land which you occupy is no more than a tiny island. […] And I must disabuse you of any idea that your own fame, or the fame of any one of us, could ever be great enough to extend beyond these known and settled lands.

He thereby forces the younger man to confront the fact that even those people who hear of his reputation will soon die, moreover the legends passed down to their children will also fade and be lost in due time. Hence not only is the extent of mortal fame small in the grand scheme of things, but its duration is but a brief moment in the vast river of time.  Scipio Africanus the Elder encourages his descendant to see beyond the opinions of other people, for good or for bad, and to be true to his soul, his “real self”, and to his own moral principles. “Strive on!”, the old general advises, “Understand that you are a god.” The rule of reason and freewill over your mind and body, Africanus points out, is like the rule of God himself over the physical universe.

Use this eternal force, therefore, for the most splendid deeds it is in you to achieve! […] A soul devoted to such pursuits will find it easiest of all to soar upwards to this place [in the Heavens], which is its proper habitation and home. And its flight will be all the more rapid if already during the period of its confinement within the body it has ranged freely abroad, and by visualising and meditating upon what lies outside itself [as you have just done], has worked to dissociate itself from the body to the greatest possible degree.

As prophesised in the dream, Scipio Aemilianus scales the political and military ranks at an extraordinary pace. Within a year he was made Roman consul and then general, and placed in command of the legions in Africa. In 146 BC the city of Carthage finally falls to the Roman troops under his  generalship. After six days of fierce hand-to-hand fighting in the surrounding streets the citadel was captured and Carthage was “torn apart, stone by stone”, securing Rome’s position as an ancient superpower for centuries to come. The historian Polybius, present at the scene, reported that Scipio the Younger surveyed the wreckage of the once mighty city and wept. As he cried he prophesised, “It is glorious, but I have a dread foreboding that some day the same doom will be pronounced upon my own country.”

Categories
Stoicism

The Platonic Dictionary: Cardinal Virtues

These come from the Platonic dictionary of philosophical terms called Definitions, which was probably written by one of Plato’s followers at the Academy.

aretê (virtue)

The best disposition; the state of a mortal creature which is in itself praiseworthy; the state on account of which its possessor is said to be good; the just observance of the laws; the disposition on account of which he who is so disposed is said to be perfectly excellent; the state which produces faithfulness to law.

phronêsis (prudence)

The ability which by itself is productive of human happiness; the knowledge of what is good and bad; the knowledge that produces happiness; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what is not to be done.

dikaiosunê (justice)

The unanimity of the soul with itself, and the good discipline of the parts of the soul with respect to each other and concerning each other; the state that distributes to each person according to what is deserved; the state on account of which its possessor chooses what appears to him to be just; the state underlying a law-abiding way of life; social equality; the state of obedience to the laws.

sôphrosunê (temperance)

Moderation of the soul concerning the desires and pleasures that normally occur in it; harmony and good discipline in the soul in respect of normal pleasures and pains; concord of the soul in respect of ruling and being ruled; normal personal independence; good discipline in the soul; rational agreement within the soul about what is admirable and contemptible; the state by which its possessor chooses and is cautious about what he should.

andreia (courage)

The state of the soul which is unmoved by fear; military confidence; knowledge of the facts of warfare; self-restraint in the soul about what is fearful and terrible; boldness in obedience to wisdom; being intrepid in the face of death; the state which stands on guard over correct thinking in dangerous situations; force which counterbalances danger; force of fortitude in respect of virtue; calm in the soul about what correct thinking takes to be frightening or encouraging things; the preservation of fearless beliefs about the terrors and experiences of warfare; the state which cleaves to the law.

Related Terms

eudaimonia (happiness/wellbeing)

The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.

Categories
Stoicism

The Axiochus of Pseudo-Plato

Axiochus of Pseudo-Plato