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Eric  Voegelin  and  ancient  Greece

The major work of Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) included substantial reference to Greek philosophy, with a pronounced deference to the achievement of Plato in the Dialogues. Commencing with the poetry of Homer and Hesiod, Voegelin's analysis of ancient Greek society extended to the PreSocratics and Aristotle. A number of additional details are supplied in the version below.


1.      Homer  and  the  Polis

2.      Hesiod

3.      Orphism

4.      Xenophanes

5.      Parmenides

6.      Empedocles

7.      Heraclitus

8.      Socrates

9.      Plato

10.    Aristotle

11.    Pyrrho of Elis



Ancient  Greece

1.   Homer  and  the  Polis 

In the second volume of Order and History, Eric Voegelin industriously tackled the field of early Greek literature, philosophy, and the political dimensions of the polis or city-state. In the introduction, he laments the eclipse of Augustine's historia sacra in the trend spurred by Voltaire's Essay on General History. Yet he describes Voltaire's contribution here in terms of "the Gnosis of Progress toward the reason of the eighteenth century bourgeoisie." (1) Gnosis was a danger word in Voegelin's vocabulary, a rather unfortunate blanket term which he applied to diverse types of thought. See Gnosticism.

Voegelin affirms that "the Hegelian Gnosis is closely related to the speculation of the Upanishads on the identity of the atman" (Order and History Vol. 2, p. 18). He does qualify that the "acosmistic direction" of the Upanishads was "the exact opposite of the Protestant immanentist direction of Hegel's speculation" (ibid.), but follows up with an existential simplicity enjoining a parallel between two rather discrepant situations. Voegelin asserts that the Upanishads led to the "atheistic salvation" of the Buddha, while Hegel led to the "atheistic salvation" of Marx (ibid.).

The analysis is more convincing in respect of some Greek matters, concerning which Voegelin demonstrates an extensive degree of familiarity. He follows the process of transition from Achaian to Hellenic culture, and assesses the Homeric epics in the light of a Greek "experience of order." The Iliad and the Odyssey are considered to be "in existence by 700 [BCE] but not much earlier than 750," (ibid., p. 71), fusing older materials into a new literary composition. The information is given that passages from Homer and Pindar (a fifth century poet) formulate a theme of blindness and vision that is found also in the dramatist Aeschylus and recurring in Plato. "Who sees the world is blind and needs the help of the Muses to gain the true sight of wisdom" (ibid., p. 73).

However, Voegelin is committed to viewing archaic themes (prior to the philosophers) in terms of a "compactness" that lacked due differentiation. He asserts that "man could not yet... move toward the beatific vision" (ibid., p. 75). Analysts have discerned a Christian bias (though distinctive) in such reflections, and a different approach may be relevant.

Certainly, the Homeric epics and other literary manifestations were not in the same category as Plato and the PreSocratic philosophers. Pindar and Aeschylus catered for prevailing tastes in poetry and drama; Pindar was not really concerned with "wisdom" at all, though Aeschylus was reputedly an initiate of the secretive Eleusinian Mysteries, at his home town of Eleusis. The Victory Odes of Pindar commemorated athletic victories in the Olympic Games and related events; those activities were basically aristocratic, involving considerable expense and also the leisure time required for both competitors and spectators.

Homer is a more complex subject. Some scholars have argued that the Homeric poems evolved over a long period of time, being part of an oral tradition to which many poets or bards contributed. The Greek alphabet did not appear until about 800 BCE, and the written version of Homeric verse may not have become fixed until a few centuries later. The earlier "Homeric" culture, associated with Mycenae in the second millenium BCE, was "heroic" and patriarchal, though women appear to have enjoyed a freedom that was greatly diminished in classical times. Slavery did exist, though apparently on a smaller scale than later occurrences. Aristocratic activities extended to agriculture, and retainers may have performed similar work to slaves. The martial traditions were salient, and evident in the Iliad.

The world of bards, odes, and Athenian drama was not the religious sphere. Herodotus refers to the prophetes at a shrine of Dionysus and the temple at Delphi; their role as interpreters of oracles did not necessarily amount to wisdom. Yet as with the Hebrew and related Near Eastern versions of prophecy, too little is known about the subject to pronounce dogmatically. (2)

However, the phenomenon of pederasty intervenes in the historical record, and has suggested cultic retrogession. The controversial custom was in existence by the late seventh century BCE, facilitated by aristocratic habits and the increasing social seclusion of women. A prominent theory has attributed the origin of paiderastia to initiation ritual, especially the Cretan format of ritual abduction. There is no indication of pederasty in the Homeric epics. Yet the homosexual custom was established in many Greek cities by the fifth century BCE, and became regarded by Greek authors like Pindar as a legitimate part of aristocratic education. The aristocratic innovation was contested by some other writers. Hundreds of paederastic scenes are depicted on Attic vases dating to the sixth and fifth centuries BCE, leaving no doubt about the social influence of the disputed custom.

The age of the youth (eromenos) involved in aristocratic pederasty may sometimes have been as low as twelve, according to some estimates. The eromenos was usually in his teens, the partner being an adult. Athens was a major venue of these activities, which commenced amongst the aristocracy, and percolated other social strata in that city. "Greek vice" became notorious in Rome. In his fourth century Laws, the aristocratic Athenian Plato accused pederasty of causing sufferings, and advised the prohibition of such intercourse with boys. Many youths apparently hated the lustful elder (erastes) who appropriated them, despite the beguiling lore attending the indulgence, which was supposedly an idealised alternative to the sexual abuse of slave boys. Centuries later, Plotinus was forthright in his aversion at Rome to the practices associated with the orator Diophanes, who advocated pederasty.

"The matter of philosophical paederasty will have been a touchy point; there was a strong tradition of it from classical times. Its prevalence is borne out by countless bawdy stories that have come down to us and by the denunciations both of satirists like Juvenal and moralists like Plutarch, who equally regard the practice as a hypocritical and rationalised variety of lust." (3)

Pederasty apart, the limiting mentality of the polis is a major factor in Voegelin's argument. Political ideas and institutions differed from region to region, and even from polis to polis within a specific territory. Only after the Persian Wars, "when Athens became the center of power and culture, do we find the continuous preoccupation with the problem of order that culminated in the work of Plato and Aristotle" (Order and History Vol. 2, pp. 117-18).

2.  Hesiod

The poet Hesiod lived circa 700 BCE, and is credited with "the magnificent beginning of articulate concern about right order" (Order and History Vol. 2, p. 118), though seen as being "rather negative" in relation to the polis. Instead of promoting ideas of rulership and constitutional order, Hesiod was a "victimised subject" who complained about the princes whose corrupt lifestyle endangered his farming property.

Hesiod was a farmer and self-made poet who lived in Boiotia. He claimed the inspiration of the Heliconian Muses. His poems are described by Voegelin as "rather loosely jointed sequences of myths, fables, philosophical excursions, apocalyptic visions, exhortatory speeches, economic advices, and wisdom of the kind that can be found in a farmer's almanac" (ibid., p. 131). Yet the introductory lines of Works and Days are conceded importance because Zeus is there established as the god of the just political order, and because of the implication that "the men in power are unjust," while "the restoration of just order entails a breaking of the great and a raising of the humble" (ibid., p. 138).

Voegelin finds this theme of Hesiod enduring in Plato's idea that the men who have held power in this life are more likely to be condemned in the afterlife, while those who have not participated in political events will receive a reward. The favoured theme is also traced through the literary output of the Socratics, in which "the socially and spiritually humble Socrates is victoriously opposed to the aristocrat Alcibiades and to the intellectually proud sophists" (ibid.).

In the Works and Days, Hesiod exhorts his unsatisfactory brother Perses to follow the good Eris and not to exploit legal chicaneries inspired by the evil Eris. The name Eris signifies strife, and is personalised as a goddess. The evil Eris incites to war and injustice, while the benevolent counterpart stimulates men to peaceful competition in farming and other skills. Eris is also related to the dike (justice) of Zeus, an influence incompatible with violence. The life of the peaceful, hard-working peasant is in conformity with dike, and can achieve arete (success or virtue). The arete of the peasant is something quite different to the Homeric arete of the aristocratic warrior (ibid., pp. 139-40).

Significantly perhaps, the outlook of Hesiod is that of the small independent farmer, in contrast to Homer's identification with the aristocracy. A scholastic issue has been how much of the Hesiod texts represent an attribution to the named author. Yet the same query applies to the Homeric poetry, and so the basic division remains the low class versus upper class perspectives.

The ultimate refrain of Voegelin is that the insights of Hesiod were too "compact," meaning that the Greek poet was unable to sufficiently articulate or differentiate the Beyond, the Platonic Agathon or "Good." Plato's formulations are regarded as having discovered the principle of order in the soul, the "true self" of man thus emerging into consciousness. (4) The Platonic Dialogues here achieve a monolithic role in the history of ideas.

3.  Orphism

However, the admission is forthcoming that "our picture of Greek intellectual history is still substantially influenced by historiographic conventions of the Hellenistic period" (ibid., p. 165). Realistically, a great deal is missing from the picture. The phenomenon known as Orphism has received rather differing scholarly treatments. Voegelin gave but little space to Orphism, saying that this movement spread through Greece in the sixth century BCE, emphasising the purification of the soul, while "in Italy arose the related Pythagorean movement" (ibid.). The Orphic knowledge of the soul is stated to have been "pervasively present in the work of Xenophanes and Heraclitus" (ibid.), entities credited with a mystical authority and who "represented the order of the soul in opposition to the order of the polis" (ibid., pp. 165-6).

Voegelin also favoured the opinion that Pythagoreanism was an aristocratic branch of the mystery religions trend which "on the populist side expressed itself in Orphic cult communities" (ibid., p. 168). That leaves us with very little concrete information about the Orphic circles.

Voegelin is concerned to show that the philosophers discovered the order of the human psyche in opposition to the polis, and beyond the order of the polis. This process could not be institutionalised, but had to rely upon individual achievements. The elusive nature of this process is "the cause of the error that philosophy is an 'intellectual' or 'cultural' activity conducted in a vacuum, without relation to the problems of human existence in society" (ibid., p. 169). These are profound reflections.

4.  Xenophanes

The attack of Xenophanes on the poetry of mythology is described as "the paradigmatic expression of the tension between the mystic-philosopher and the poet" (ibid., p. 171), later reappearing in Plato's critique of Homer found in the Republic. Voegelin points out that this reservation did not imply any aversion to poetry itself, but to the public authority achieved by Homer and Hesiod. Xenophanes himself used the literary medium of poems, surviving in fragments. He complained that Homer and Hesiod had ascribed to the gods shameful actions such as stealing, adultery, and cheating each other. It was more appropriate to emphasise that "One God is greatest among gods and men, not like mortals in body or thought" (ibid., p. 171), as one fragment asserts.

Plato subsequently deemed the myths of the antique poets to be unsuitable for children, who require to be taught unflawed traits of character. That ideal is sadly lacking in contemporary media, where degenerate novelism and sick cinema contribute far more to flawed behaviour than Hesiod's reformation of myth in the Theogony, a work in which the older myths were designated as falsehood (ibid., p. 174).

Xenophanes (c.565-470) of Ionia left his native city of Colophon at the time of the Persian conquest, and is thought to have spent much of his life in Sicily, where the cult of athletes was prominent. In one of his poetic fragments, he criticises the aristocratic culture of the Hellenic polis, in which victory at the Olympic Games was so highly prized. Xenophanes has often been interpreted as a rationalist; the version of Voegelin is mystical.

The athletic victor at Olympia had succeeded the Homeric hero, but in opposition, Xenophanes elevated the factor of "holy wisdom (sophie)" above physical prowess (ibid., p. 184). Voegelin qualifies: "What the precise meaning of the term sophie is, cannot be determined by a simple translation" (ibid., p. 185). Yet he argued for a terminological continuity between Xenophanes and the sophia of Plato.

Although "the Sophia of the mystic-philosopher reaches beyond the polis towards a universal realissimum," the polis itself is said not to have been transcended. The participation of the mystical philosopher in "the competitive struggle for the formation of the polis" served the purpose of a philosophy of order until the period of the Macedonian conquest (ibid., p. 203).

Meanwhile, the Athenian reform of Solon was followed by the rule of the tyrant Peisistratus and the democratic reform of Cleisthenes. Under Peisistratus, "the cult of Dionysus was introduced as a state-cult in order to break the power of the hereditary priesthoods of the noble clans" (ibid., p. 243). Four annual festivals in honour of Dionysus were celebrated from that time. Despite popular enthusiasm, the frenzy of the Dionysus cult often excited derision. Although Voegelin does not expressly say so, this was surely another aspect of the polis in conflict with wisdom. Instead, he comments that "the Dionysiac component in tragic existence precludes the irruption of a divine revelation" (ibid., p. 264). This rather idiomatic statement was a reference to the dramatist Aeschylus, who is here said to have laid the foundations for Plato's philosophy of history.

5.  Parmenides

The "Way of Truth" advocated by the Eleatic philosopher Parmenides gained expression in a didactic poem of circa 485. Parmenides was born in Elea, a Greek city on the coast of Italy. His partially surviving poem has provoked different interpretations, and features a light-vision. That experience relates to a nameless goddess of light who grants instruction in the truth (aletheia), as distinct from the delusion or opinion (doxa) of mortals. The imagery of the prologue has been compared with the symbolism of mystery religions, and has been linked with the elusive Orphism. Parmenides refers to the "renowned way" of the goddess that leads far from the paths of men; this way is not safe for everyone but only for the "knowing man," who can travel unscathed. The select way leads from Night to Light (Order and History Vol. 2, pp. 204-50).

Voegelin describes the philosophy of Parmenides as a "speculation on the Eon, on Being" (ibid., p. 208). Yet he comments that the celebrated prologue probably gives expression to an experience undergone by Parmenides in his earlier years. We are told that "Parmenides has no predecessors" (ibid.). Plato's Republic "is animated by the Parmenidean conception of the light-vision" (ibid., p. 214).

Voegelin argues that a tradition of doubtful value opposed Parmenidean Being to the Becoming of Heraclitus, even though that tradition was supported by Plato (ibid., p. 214). The so-called speculation on Being should perhaps be described as a contemplative project. The Parmenidean starting-point for the Way of Truth is the world of kata doxan, the delusion of mortals; the Way leads from that afflicted world to the Eon, the "IS!"

The second part of the Parmenidean poem, known as "the Way of Opinion," is sometimes assumed to refer to opinions of other philosophers. Voegelin contradicts this surmisal with a deduction that the cosmology of Parmenides himself is here in formulation. Only fragments of this second part survive.

Some analysts have interpreted Parmenides in terms of the first logician, as a consequence of the method of exposition found in the first part of his didactic poem. However, according to Voegelin, Parmenides "has fully experienced the inner dimension of the soul" (ibid., p., 220), the articulation of which "has become part of the philosophia perennis" (ibid.). For Voegelin, this seems to mean that the Parmenidean experience was continued and developed in the Platonic myth of the Phaedrus.

Cf. the controversial interpretation of Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom (1999), urging that Parmenides was misunderstood and obscured by Plato, and stressing that the former was a priest of Apollo amenable to practices of "incubation." By comparison, Voegelin is unfashionable.

6.   Empedocles

Our Christian commentator believed that a knowledge of the soul did not exist in the Homeric period. The concept of an immortal soul (psyche) was here attributed, though only as a probability, to the Pythagorean movement. Yet Voegelin admitted that "we have no more than the barest indications of an answer" as to where Pythagoras and Empedocles each derived their knowledge of metempsychosis (Order and History Vol. 2, p. 223).

Empedocles was a figure of the fifth century BCE who is thought to have followed the Pythagorean way of life, at least to some extent. In one of his surviving fragments, he refers to a man of unusual knowledge who, in a state of special concentration, could see all things that are "for ten or twenty life-times of men" (ibid.). In Hellenic antiquity, this was understood as a reference to Pythagoras. Another fragment of Empedocles informs that before his present life, he had been a boy, a girl, a plant, a bird, and a fish. Voegelin comments that such testimonies "seem to point to an ecstatic experience in which the mind 'reaches out' or 'strains' to the utmost" (ibid.). The formulations suggest that the ecstasis was precipitated by a discipline, from which probably stemmed the conviction expressed by Empedocles in his address to the citizens of Akragas: "I go about among you, an immortal god, no longer a mortal" (ibid.).

The Pythagorean rules for purity and purification of life are seen to follow from the conception of the soul as a daimon that has fallen from a blessed existence to be imprisoned in a series of mortal bodies. The conception of the body (soma) as the prison or tomb (sema) of the soul is Pythagorean, and reappeared in Plato. Vegetarianism is said to have originated in the abhorrence at slaughter for sacrificial purposes (ibid.).

7.   Heraclitus

The extant fragments of Heraclitus have been described in terms of exhibiting an oracular format. Voegelin reflected that the complete "book" was less of an argumentative philosophical discourse than "a carefully considered concatenation of Delphic 'hints' or 'signs' " (ibid., p. 229). Another modern theory is that Heraclitus did not write any book, his sayings being collected together by some unknown hand during the early fifth century BCE.

Ancient writers expressed different opinions about the content of the "book" by Heraclitus. The view of Voegelin is that Heraclitus was expositing "a philosophy of order which had as its experiential center the order of the soul and from there branched out into the order of society and the cosmos" (ibid., p. 230). Heraclitus refers to "the Logos, meaning his discourse; but this Logos is at the same time a sense or meaning, existing from eternity" (ibid.). There is the indication that men at large will not understand the Logos. "With Heraclitus the gulf between the philosopher and the mass has widened," (ibid., p. 231), although there is an implication that the philosopher is obliged "to arouse the sleepwalkers from their slumber" (ibid.).

One Heraclitus fragment says that "those who are asleep each turn aside into their private worlds" (ibid., p. 232), missing the real world experienced by those who are awake.

There are various problems of elucidation for scholars of Heraclitus, including apparently contradictory formulations. His emphasis upon searching himself was traditionally interpreted as meaning that he was not the disciple of any preceptor. He was apparently scornful of other philosophers; he refers to Pythagoras as having pursued scientific inquiries (historie) more than any other man, and yet having only arrived at a wisdom (sophie) of his own, which Heraclitus designates as a polymathie, a word which has been translated as "bad art." This contention can be interpreted in the sense of Heraclitus believing that the knowledge of many things is trivial by comparison with knowledge of the one truth or wisdom that really counts. Yet a contradiction is posed by another fragment asserting that the "lover of wisdom" (philosophos) must have "inquired (historein) into many things" (ibid., p. 226).

According to Voegelin, "the Heraclitean attack is primarily directed against the polyhistoric collector of facts" (ibid., p. 227), while Plato was primarily targeting the poets, orators, and legislators. These two philosophers are said to be in fundamental agreement that "no composition can lay claim to 'truth' unless... authenticated by the movement of the psyche toward the sophon" (ibid.).

8.  Socrates

After the Persian Wars, Athens became an expanding and wealthy city, undergoing a marked change of intellectual climate, catching up with Ionia and Italy. The older culture of adjoining regions was assimilated via the so-called age of the sophists. The latter emerge as "foreigners" who migrated to opulent Athens to fill the new demand for knowledge. The sophist ranks comprised diverse teachers, of whom little is known. These pedagogues charged high fees for their instruction to the wealthy, though smaller fees applied to the less affluent. Difficulties arise in applying the term sophist by the end of the fifth century, when Athenians themselves began to show the effects of sophistic education in their politics and intellectual output.

Voegelin urges that the opposition of Socrates and Plato (both Athenians) to the sophistic trend has to be seen in the context of sophistic achievements being assimilated. "Our historiography of ideas pays more attention to Plato's vociferous criticism of sophists than to his quiet acceptance of their work" (ibid., pp. 269-70). Logic is a tool varying so much with user motivation. The sophistic heritage was employed in the "competitive game of the polis," which now required for success the "new form of politics through debate, speech, argument, and persuasion" (ibid., p. 270).

The third volume of Order and History is devoted to Plato and Aristotle, with the former gaining the lion's share of attention. Voegelin states that he is not concerned with a Platonic "doctrine," but with Plato's "resistance to the disorder of the surrounding society and his effort to restore the order of Hellenic civilisation through love of wisdom." (5)

Socrates (469-399 BCE) is a problem figure for scholars due to a lack of historical sources. A basic refrain of modern commentators has been: Socrates as seen by Plato. Voegelin adds: "The drama of Socrates is a symbolic form created by Plato" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 10). He sees the Platonic dialogue as being in opposition to the oration of sophists; the theme is wisdom versus the disordered society (ibid., p. 12). There are scenes in Protagoras and Gorgias "where Socrates threatens a walkout unless the sophistic partner stops his speechmaking" (ibid.). Socrates was probably far more scathing in his opposition to rhetoric than Plato's decorous literary creation would suggest.

The rivals of Socrates were professional sophists intent upon acquiring fees for their vocal performance. Plato and Xenophon insist that Socrates never taught for pay, though Aristophanes is in contradiction. (6) Plato was in contact with Socrates at Athens, although the factual details are obscure. Unlike Plato, Socrates was not an aristocratic figure. He "was almost an ordinary or everyday man: he had a wife and children, and he talked with everybody - in the streets, in the shops, in the gymnasiums; he was also a bon vivant who could drink more than anyone else without getting drunk, and a brave, tough soldier." (7) One view is that Socrates may originally have been a stonemason.

Plato's Symposium contains a well known commemoration of Socrates, ascribed to the aristocrat Alcibiades. That dialogue has been assessed in terms of historical fiction, but as conveying a vivid picture of Athenian society. Some wordings indicate the major problem for a citizen philosopher attempting to communicate with privileged politicians.

"He [Socrates] forces me [Alcibiades] to admit that there are many things crying out for attention in my own life, while I neglect them and engage in politics.... A sense of shame is something that no one would think I had in me; but he [Socrates] makes me ashamed; no one else does. I know I cannot deny that I ought to do as he says; but when I get away from him, I cannot resist popularity and applause." (8)

Much has been written about Socratic irony, visible in the Dialogues of Plato. A recent definition of this complexity states: "Socratic irony consists in pretending that one wants to learn something from one's interlocutor, in order to bring him to the point of discovering that he knows nothing of the area in which he claims to be wise... Socrates brought his interlocutors to examine and become aware of themselves." (9)

Socrates was apparently a critic of failing democracy, though scholarly views are not uniform. There is a well known dilemma in description of this entity, namely "the Socratic problem." Socrates appears to have opposed luxury lifestyles, even going about barefoot and unwashed. He was sentenced to death for impiety by the Athenian authorities, being administered poison, an event commemorated by Plato with literary flourishes. Socrates was condemned because he did not accept the civic gods, meaning the Hellenic pantheon which had formed the bedrock of the Greek polis. See further Debra Nails, Socrates (2009).

9.   Plato

Plato (c.428-c.348 BCE) came from an upper class family with political connections. Yet he declined a political career, reacting to the violence and corruption in that sphere. At Athens he founded the Academy, which he directed until his death. His affiliation with philosophy entailed an evident desire to correct social and political abuses. He chose the dialogue format for his writings, as distinct from any formal or logical treatise. Influences upon him have been much discussed. "We are justified in thinking that the foundation of the Academy was inspired both by the model of the Socratic form of life and by the model of the Pythagorean way of life, even if we cannot define the latter's characteristics with certainty." (10)

Two major works of Plato are the Timaeus and the Republic, and Voegelin commentated on these, including the famous story of Atlantis. "A myth of Plato becomes a trap for the interpreter - as the Egyptian myth has become a trap for the explorers of Atlantis - if he takes it literally" (Order and History vol. 3, p. 153). Voegelin concluded that the myth of Atlantis seems to have been entirely invented by Plato, and that the dialogue in Timaeus is ahistorical, signifying "a drama within the soul of Plato" (ibid., p. 178). He affirms that "it is Plato who finds Atlantis through anamnesis" (ibid.), here using a Platonist word which in the vocabulary of Voegelin means the bringing into consciousness of what was formerly unconscious.

In more general terms, the account via the astronomer Timaeus of the creation of the cosmos is viewed by Voegelin as Plato's acknowledgment of his debt to the Pythagoreans, "who awakened in him the sense for the fundamental measure and rhythm in nature" (ibid., p. 179). Whereas the recital of Athenian heroic prehistory and the war with Atlantis is interpreted in terms of Plato acknowledging his debt to Athens and the aristocracy of which he was a member.

The Republic is often considered to be the most important of the Dialogues. Plato believed that the problems in society would not be resolved until rulers became philosophers. This version of the ideal state or polis is attributed to Socrates by the author. Justice and education are two components. Arguments have attended Plato's dislike of democracy according to the Athenian model. He stressed that the polis moved from military aristocracy to democracy and then despotism. The accusation of totalitarianism was made against Plato by Sir Karl Popper. Popper was a refugee from the Nazis, and soon after wrote the The Open Society and Its Enemies. "It is reasonable to object that Plato was not equivalent to Hitler in the theme of an ideal society governed by philosophers." (11)

Voegelin was also a refugee from Nazism, but was not a critic of Plato. He had assimilated the Platonic terminology rather differently to Popper. He was obviously enthusiastic about the well known allegory of the Cave featuring in Book VII of the Republic, a section associated with the theme of philosopher ruler. Voegelin relays Plato's contention that when the candidates have fixed the "gaze of their soul" on the good (agathon), they can use this as a paradigm for the right ordering of the polis and themselves. The agathon is transcendent, and is the purpose of the ascent to the vision of what lies beyond (epekeina). A man has to pass through four faculties of knowledge when he ascends from the realm of shadows to the realm of ideas and ultimately to the vision of the agathon. To illustrate this process, the parable of the Cave is recounted.

The situation of humans is that of being chained in a dark cave, watching a play of shadows on the wall before them. They mistakenly confer honours on those who observe the shadows. Yet one prisoner is released from his bonds, and enabled to stand up and lift his head towards the light of a fire which the others cannot see. After this painful experience, he is dragged up the ascent to the mouth of the cave, where he recognises the sun as the source of light. He no longer wants to return to the miserable existence in the cave, and nor to any of the honours imagined by the prisoners, who have concocted a false wisdom. However, he is made to go back to his former seat, where he appears dazed and blinded. If he tries to loosen the shackles of the prisoners, they molest him, even being prepared to kill him. They think it is best not to ascend at all than to be like him, no longer concerned with shadows.

Plato advocates a "divine contemplation," the climax of which is eudaimonia (a word often translated as happiness or wellbeing). The person in that state no longer wants to dispute shadows with the prisoners of the cave. Plato also introduces the caution that if the only men who can establish good order withdraw into the life of contemplation, the government will be left to the unenlightened politicians or to those who strive for wisdom but never reach that objective. Therefore, the duty of returning to the "cave" is imposed in relation to the ideal polis outlined in the Republic.

That obligation cannot apply to the surrounding corrupt society (i.e., the prisoners in the cave). Philosophers of the ideal polis, having received the benefits of a due education, must go "down" after seeing the agathon. Voegelin comments of this theme: "Perhaps it recalls Orphic associations of a katabasis to Hades to aid the souls in the underworld" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 117). That would imply the "return" or "descent" to be much older than Plato; one could attribute the achievement to Pythagoras and others in that light. Plato concedes the factor of men achieving the contemplative life on their own, perhaps in opposition to the decadent polis, and thus not being under any obligation to "return" (ibid., pp. 112-170).

The psychological extensions of this theme are pronounced, and it is perhaps unlikely that Popperian reductionism would cognise anything resembling a katabasis, in the confusion with Marxist and Nietzschean ideas.

Plato's last work was the Laws, left in an unfinished state at his death. Voegelin does not exaggerate the factor of stylistic defects, and defends the work against modern critics, attaching to the Laws the significance that "Plato has poured out his mature wisdom on the problems of man in political society" (ibid., p. 216). The dialogue indicates that the content is the second-best plan for a polis; the constitution discussed will not be the ideal state, which should have no laws at all. The second-best polis here outlined has been described as a theocratic state, one which patronises festival rites. Voegelin reacts to the secularist views of modern historians and their reluctance to endorse Plato's "theory of politics which bases the order of the community on harmony with the divine measure" (ibid., p. 217).

The differences between the Laws and the Republic are significant. Plato's sorrow in his old age was that he could find no philosopher-kings who could rule. The Republic did not recognise historical traditions or customs, and nor the necessity of legal institutions. In contrast, the Laws is not utopian, and does not include the communal organisation of the guardians celebrated in the Republic. In the Laws, the highest social stratum is now a citizenry of petty landholders. The economic class of peasants and artisans featuring in the Republic is replaced in the Laws by slaves and aliens. In the Republic, Plato had abolished slavery; in the Laws, he reintroduced that factor.

The basic idea in this division is that the best polis (outlined in the Republic) requires a community of high-minded people who are bound together by a bond of special feeling (philia). However, the men who are capable of being true philoi are so rare that Plato speaks of them as "gods, or sons of gods" (ibid., p. 223).

The men of the Laws possess in their souls the logismos, the ability to discern values, but they nevertheless require the decree or dogma of the (just) polis to ensure that they do not take the wrong course. In the first two books, much space is given to the customs of social drinking, a topic which has frequently puzzled interpreters, though not Voegelin. The testing of logismos in this way is reserved for those over forty years old. While the children and younger people are governed by the Muses and Apollo, the third "chorus" of older men are governed by Dionysus. The older men are conceived as overseers of musical and dramatic performances in order to prevent the corruption of the polis.

Voegelin tends to be assertive on these issues, and emphasises a contrast with "the Athenian theatrocracy of the rabble" (ibid., p. 241). Populist tastes are not always the best guide to what is viable. Choral singing in honour of the god Dionysus should not be confused with the corruption of ritual in bacchic frenzy. In Athens, wine was strongly associated with Dionysus, but Plato's Athenian prohibits the taste of wine for males under eighteen, and enjoins a moderate use of wine to all men under thirty.

The Athenian theatrocracy stigmatised by Voegelin is signified in his comment that "the cultural decay of Athens found its most revolting expression... in the tyrannical imposition of the tastes of the illiterate rabble" (ibid., p. 261). Yet what really caused the bad taste which Plato disliked? Was it rather a retrograde tendency of the aristocrats, the literate dramatists, the literate drinkers? Certainly, in terms of the Laws, Plato tried to eliminate "bad pleasures" and to encourage "good pleasures" in the young, and under the auspices of a neo-Dionysian code of choral singing.

A law against impiety was allocated by Plato to the magistrates of the Nocturnal Council. This feature of the Laws has drawn criticism from moderns. The suggestion is made by Plato that disbelievers in the gods were to be confined for five years in a reformatory. If at the end of this period they were not persuaded differently, they were to be sentenced to death. On this point, Voegelin refers to "the theocratic limitations of Plato," and also "the secularist prejudices of the liberals" who have remonstrated against this aspect of second-best Platonic theory (ibid., p. 265). See also Richard Kraut, Plato (2009).

10.   Aristotle

Plato is clearly favoured above Aristotle in Voegelin's interpretation. Aristotle (384-322) of Stagira was the son of a court physician, and educated as one of the aristocracy. He entered the Academy at about the age of seventeen and remained a member until Plato's death nearly twenty years later. He is said to have retired from that grouping when the leadership passed to Plato's nephew Speusippos, who was reputedly less talented.

Subsequently, Aristotle tutored Alexander of Macedon, though perhaps only for a few years. In 335 he returned to Athens and founded his own school known as the Lyceum, which demonstrated a strongly polymathic orientation. The Macedonians had by then conquered the Greek mainland, including Athens.

One matter in which Voegelin tends to criticise Aristotle is that expressed in his reflection: "The mystical via negativa by which the soul ascends to the vision of the Idea in the Symposium is thinned out to the rise toward the dianoetic virtues and the bios theoretikos" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 276).

The Greek phrase bios theoretikos means the "theoretical life," but this is deceptive in modern English. The phrase has sometimes been interpreted in terms of a leisured or "scholastic" life of the intellect. However, some analysts stress that the "theoretical" connotation is not divorced from practical considerations. An alternative wording in some versions is "contemplative." The related word theoriai denoted mental activities. The Greek theorikos (theoretic) is not used by Aristotle, and this has the association of speculation. (12)

Voegelin regards the Aristotelian bios theoretikos as "the intellectualised counterpart to the Platonic vision of the Agathon" (ibid., p. 306). In his discussion, Voegelin translates nous as "intellect," though other interpreters have rendered that primary word as "mind" or "intuition." Nous has been defined as a state of knowledge of first principles gained by the soul via experiences. The science of first principles, the Aristotelian metaphysics, is extant in a problematic text of a rather disconnected contour.

Some scholars have maintained that Aristotle's Metaphysics reflects an empiricist orientation, though others have seen a Platonist complexion to the logic. This was an "inquiry into divine affairs," though such probing was officially considered undesirable. "He (Aristotle) is compelled to tread cautiously and to be apologetic about the expression of his new religiousness in the face of a conservative opposition" (ibid., p. 307).

At the end of his life, Aristotle was accused of impiety; he retired to Chalcis, on the island of Euboea, where his mother's family had estates, and where a Macedonian garrison gave protection. There he died soon after. He thus avoided the fate of Socrates, who was condemned to death. The main problem appears to have been that Aristotle was identified as a pro-Macedonian; in the troubled events attending Alexander's demise, an anti-Macedonian mood gathered strength in Greece.

In another well known work, the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle downgrades the political life in favour of his "theoretical" approach. Some interpreters have tried to harmonise that distinction with the description of the ideal polis ventured in the same author's Politics, which has been regarded as the successor work. Voegelin says that in the late Academy, the tendency was toward detachment from the political scene, leading to Aristotle's "theoretical life," which was not "the animated gymnasium of the Lysis or the Charmides, but the cabin in the secluded garden of the Academy." (13)

Aristotle probed the factor of happiness (eudaimonia), which was popularly believed to equate with pleasure, wealth, and honour. All these assumptions he rejected. "The identification of happiness with pleasure, rejected by Aristotle in the tenth book of the Ethics, returns in a cruder form with Epicureanism." (14) Aristotle concluded that real happiness exists in intellectual activity, including scientific research, and which is something not dependent upon political striving or success.

According to Voegelin, "the true eudaimonia [happiness] can be found only by transcending the life of politics into the practice of the dianoetic virtues" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 305). Yet in the Politics, the polis remains for Aristotle "the perfect form of political existence in history" (ibid., p. 310). That work covers political vicissitudes of the Greek city-states and a contemplated ideal regime not formerly existing. One may agree that Aristotle's method of accomodating the theoretical life into a political science "is somewhat complicated" (ibid.). The citizens of his envisaged ideal polis are credited with an advanced phronesis or practical wisdom, though objections have been lodged against the concept of non-citizens as producers for the elite.

Aristotle endorsed the traditional idea of organising society in "hereditary castes or classes" (ibid., p. 290), the precedent in Egyptian culture being urged. He understandably criticised the Platonic community of women, children, and property, but instead suggested that communal organisation should be "imposed on the lower classes in order to keep them weak and uninterested in their mode of existence" (ibid., p. 322). Aristotle proposed to exclude the artisans and slaves from citizenship in his ideal polis. The artisans were a large stratum "whose hard work and poverty prevents them from developing the excellences of the mature man" (ibid., p 329). The critical investigator could respond that the upper class Greek politicians were the instrument of war and oppression in too many situations of the type discernibly opposed by the executed Socrates.

By the late fourth century BCE, degenerate Greek socioculture had introduced on-stage violence in the distracting theatre, while even artists became preoccupied with violence; the painter Parrhasius purchased an elderly war captive from Philip of Macedon, subjecting the prisoner to fatal tortures for the purpose of illustrating a painting of Prometheus having his liver destroyed by vultures. (15)  Despite the glamourisation of ancient Greece occurring in the modern era, there is need of due critique, though not in any Nietzschean mould. The next step down was the Roman arena, where the victims were even more abused.

However, the Romans were at first prudent by comparison with Greek decadence. The powerful ruler Philip of Macedon was criticised for the time he wasted on slapstick comedies, which developed a tendency to depict cruelty; the late fourth century playwright Menander incorporated a scene of slave torture in a comedy that was later translated by the Roman playwright Terence, who omitted the barbarism, "which apparently went further than Roman taste at that time was prepared to accept." (16)

Slavery was considered by Aristotle to be a desirable institution "in so far as the persons who are legally slaves are also slaves by nature" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 329). He distinguished between slavery instituted by law and convention, and those who were slaves by nature. Many upper class people had slaves working in their households, and nothing seemed at all wrong to the former. With slight modifications, Aristotle supported the overwhelming aristocratic biases of his Hellenic environment. He did stress that the relevant domestic priority was the virtue of one's family, and not the control of slaves or the possession of property. "The conception of a slave by nature frequently arouses the indignation of egalitarians" (ibid.).

Aristotle's defence of slavery is a glaring defect in his Politics. He argued that "slaves by nature" are intellectually inferior, not possessing reason. Modern scholars have estimated that there were more slaves in Attica (i.e., Athens and the surrounding countryside) than there were citizens, indeed probably double the number. Aristotle was effectively subscribing to the conservative Greek version of ethnic superiority over neighbours, meaning Europeans and Asians, who were thus prime candidates for slavery. The "barbarians" were supposedly inferior at the level of political and intellectual accomplishments (and also artisan prowess). (17)

A more viable standpoint of Aristotle is revealed in a summation found in Book I of his Nicomachean Ethics. Here he refers to the pleasure-seeking life, the political life, and the theoretical (intellectual) life. He states that the majority of men identify the Supreme Good with pleasure, a slave-like disposition amounting to a bovine existence. Yet this appetite is condoned and exemplified by many people in high social position. The political life values honour and virtue, and the aristocracy are here implied. This category are basically convinced of their own merit and accomplishment. The theoretical life is quite different, and also quite separate to the pursuit of wealth. Wealth also is not the Supreme Good, but only at best a means to an end. The Good emerges in terms of exercising the rational faculties of the soul. (18)

In Books 7 and 8 of Politics, Aristotle focuses upon the ideal polis, an unprecedented community "comprised entirely of citizens who are unqualifiedly wise and just." (19) He apparently did not envisage all of these citizens as "theoretical" philosophers, the requirements involved being generally too exacting and rendering that category a strict minority in his own time. The scientific industry of Aristotle is well known, though critics emphasise that scientific priorities have so often gone hand in hand with colonial and technological exploitation.

A British historian stated that "those who disliked him [Aristotle] as pro-Macedonian laughed at his taste for smart clothes, jewellery and elegant dinners." (20) The same writer observes that Aristotle "criticises Plato's account of the typical life-cycle of the state (military aristocracy, capitalism, democracy, despotism), pointing out that history is full of exceptions; and we are reminded of modern scholars criticising Toynbee." (21) Platonists might rejoin that the sprawling new Macedonian empire achieved further oppression and injustices. The colonial mentality derived justification from the depreciation of "barbarians."

There is "nothing - or virtually nothing - in Aristotle's political writings which betrays interest in the fortunes of the Macedonian empire." (22) The extent of his connection with Alexander has been questioned; one suggestion has been that Aristotle was requested by Philip of Macedon to establish a school for sons of the Macedonian aristocracy, and "only secondarily, if at all, for Alexander." (23) Certainly, the later traditions about the polymathic philosopher are considered unreliable. (24)

In a more theological context, the ultimate verdict of Voegelin on Aristotle was negative. "The Aristotelian speculation ends in a serious impasse" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 362). Aristotle is upbraided for not issuing any "call for repentance," which the German commentator associates with the way of Plato in the Republic. Aristotle's intellectual life is not here in exaltation. However, Voegelin's major grievance appears to be that Aristotle lacked the experience of faith, the fides caritate formata in the Thomistic sense (ibid., p. 364). The complaint is that the immanentist metaphysics of Aristotle was a failure by comparison with the transcendental "symbolism" of Plato.

A number of modern scholars have regarded Aristotle as being unsystematic, at least in the extant corpus amounting to lecture notes. Voegelin follows suit, and thinks that this was the principal reason why the works of the Stagirite had little influence in the centuries immediately following his death. Peripatetic influence seems to have declined after Theophrastus, until the scholarch Andronicus edited the works of Aristotle in the first century BCE. That event led to a commentarial tradition which became the basis of a systematic philosophising in a number of schools from the time of Alexander of Aphrodisias. That tradition eventually percolated to the Muslim philosophers and the Christian schoolmen. "The conception of the systematic Aristotle grew in the commentarial tradition, and it has remained a serious obstacle to a critical understanding of Aristotle's work to this day" (ibid., pp. 280-1).

See further Christopher Shields, Aristotle (2008), and observing that "Aristotle left a great body of work, perhaps numbering as many as two hunded treatises, from which approximately thirty-one survive. His extant writings span a wide range of disciplines, from logic, metaphysics and philosophy of mind, through ethics, political theory, aesthetics and rhetoric, and into such primarily non-philosophical fields as empirical biology, where he excelled at detailed plant and animal observation and taxonomy."

11.   Pyrrho  of  Elis

A younger contemporary of Aristotle was Pyrrho of Elis (c. 365-275), who wrote nothing, and nor founded a school. He became associated with Skepticism, a later development in Greek philosophy, and in the format known as Pyrrhonism, identified with his name. Pyrrho appears to have taught that because the real nature of things is elusive, judgment must be suspended to overcome beliefs and opinions, a discipline from which will result silence (aphasia) and eventually tranquillity (ataraxia). "It is difficult to ascertain with precision the experiential core of the Pyrrhonean attitude" (Order and History Vol. 3, p. 370). Voegelin significantly credits Pyrrho with the silence of the mystic.

One source is Diogenes Laertius, a third century CE writer whose Lives of the Philosophers is often cited. According to Diogenes, Pyrrho accompanied his teacher Anaxarchus on the expedition to India of Alexander the Great. Pyrrho reputedly became acquainted with the "gymnosophists" of India, the ascetic sages who fascinated the Greeks. They impressed Pyrrho so much that he adopted their method of suspending judgment; the version of Diogenes has been doubted by some analysts. Whatever the origins of his teaching, there would seem to have been rather more in the outlook of Pyrrho than meets the eye in the very potted extant versions. He withdrew from the world to live a solitary life, rarely seeing even his relatives; this trait was explained in terms of his having heard one of the Indian ascetics admonish Anaxarchus for attaching himself to the royal court, a habit which would preclude his being able to teach what was worthwhile.

Voegelin credits an acqaintance of Pyrrho with Hindu mysticism, though he doubts that the chain of influence was quite so direct as Diogenes believed. "The continuity of his effectiveness seems to have died with his few pupils" (ibid., p. 371). The ideological system of Sextus Empiricus is several centuries removed from the life of Pyrrho. By that time, Skepticism was a method of destructive criticism employed by professional exponents against all definite knowledge. Pyrrho's doctrine was believed to have been revived by Skepticism, an assumption which may be strongly doubted. It was not until the first century BCE that "Pyrrhonism" appeared as a philosophical tradition, and this may not have reflected anything of the original teachings of Pyrrho and his disciples. (25)

Kevin R. D. Shepherd

May 2011



(1)    See Eric Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 2: The World of the Polis (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1957; repr. 1986), p. 16.

(2)     In a well known book of the 1950s, relating to Greek mythology, Professor Carl Kerenyi referred a number of times to prophets, a word rendered equivalent to seers and soothsayers in the index. See Kerenyi, The Heroes of the Greeks (London: Thames and Hudson, 1959). He dated the beginning of the Greek myths to about 1500 BCE, though that estimate may be conservative.

(3)    J. M. Rist, Plotinus: The Road to Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1967), p. 15, and referring to the views of Diophanes, here described as a rhetorician, who gave a doubtful speech at the school of Plotinus, advocating that the pupil should allow his teacher to have sexual intercourse with him for the purpose of gaining virtue. The social confusions that could ensue from such overtures should not be underestimated.

(4)    See also Order and History Vol. 5: In Search of Order (Louisiana State University Press, 1987), pp. 69ff. on Hesiod and Plato. Of Hesiod, Voegelin here says: "While the noetic pressure in his thought is manifest, it does not imaginatively advance to a symbolisation of the noetic Beyond" (ibid., p. 73). That reflection may not do full justice to Hesiod, a working man who has been characterised as the first voice raised from among the toiling masses. In his Theogony, Hesiod praised the Heliconian Muses as the divine mediators of the truth "about the things that shall come and the things that were before" (ibid., p. 70, and citing H. G. Evelyn-White, ed. and trans., Theogony, Loeb Classical Library). Hesiod is credited with authorship of the Theogony, which reworked much earlier legends about the gods that may have been influenced by Hittite models. The idea is conveyed that the Muses breathed into Hesiod the power of declaring the future and the past; this transmission occurred while he fed sheep on the hillsides of Helicon.

(5)    Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 3: Plato and Aristotle (Louisiana State University Press, 1957), p. 5.

(6)     Andrew R. Burn, The Pelican History of Greece (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1966; revised edn, 1979), p. 278, and also referring to the attack on Socrates by the comic playwright Aristophanes. See also Anne Glyn-Jones, Holding Up a Mirror: How Civilisations Decline (Thorverton: Imprint Academic, 1996), p. 38, observing that "in a spirit of robust indecency, Aristophanes satirised and parodied his respected contemporaries, including Euripides and Socrates." A relevant reflection is: "While serious-minded people concentrated on philosophy and science, dramatists, abandoning theology and its accompanying deities and heroes, turned to comedy" (ibid., p. 36).

(7)       Pierre Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy? trans. Michael Chase (Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 37.

(8)       Burn, op. cit., pp. 287-8.

(9)       Hadot, op. cit., pp. 27-8. See also Richard Kraut, Socrates and the State (Princeton University Press, 1984); Gregory Vlastos, Socrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher (Cambridge University Press, 1991); Debra Nails, The People of Plato (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002); Emily Wilson, The Death of Socrates (Harvard University Press, 2007).

(10)     Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, p. 58.

(11)     Shepherd, Some Philosophical Critiques and Appraisals (Dorchester, 2004), p. 253.

(12)     Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, pp. 80-1.

(13)     Voegelin, Order and History Vol. 3, p. 304, here citing the "empiricist" Werner Jaeger (1888-1961), author of an influential book on Aristotle that has since been contested; Jaeger's "developmental" interpretation assumed that Aristotle moved away from his Platonist beginnings to an independent empiricist mode of thought. See Jaeger, Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of his Development, trans. Richard Robinson (second edn, Oxford University Press, 1948). The original German work appeared in 1923, and was not seriously disputed until the 1960s. Jaeger was a classicist who moved from Nazi Germany to the universities of Chicago and Harvard. See also his Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, trans. Gilbert Highet (3 vols, Oxford University Press, 1939-1944).

(14)    J. M. Rist, Plotinus: The Road to Reality (1967), p. 139, observing that Plotinus was "greatly influenced by Aristotle's treatment of the subject" in Ennead 1.4.

(15)    Anne Glyn-Jones, Holding Up a Mirror: How Civilisations Decline, p. 36, and observing that the (dramatic) tragedies of the fourth century and later "leaned heavily on the more superficial aspects of Euripidean technique: violence, showmanship, a love of spectacle for its own sake."

(16)    Ibid., p. 41. The slightly earlier Plautus, a third century BCE Roman playwright, retained Greek settings in his productions, and in this manner, "could get away with a bawdiness which Romans would not have accepted as applicable to their own society" (ibid., p. 74). Terence followed suit in this frivolous activity. Plautus was depicting third century Athens, where young men were reportedly pleasure-loving and undisciplined (ibid., p. 56).

(17)    Richard Kraut, Aristotle: Political Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2002), pp. 277ff., and commenting: "That he [Aristotle] defended an institution that is inherently debasing and often brutal is a deeply disturbing feature of his political thought" (ibid., p. 277). This disconcerting defence was evidently a response to unnamed opponents who argued that slavery was unjust (ibid., pp. 277-8). Aristotle's facile argument here amounts to: "he seeks to show that most of those who serve as slaves in Greece are justly enslaved" (ibid., p. 285).

(18)     See further J. A. K. Thompson, trans., Aristotle: The Nicomachean Ethics (1953; revised edn, London: Penguin Classics, 1976); Roger Crisp, trans., Aristotle: Nicomachean Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 2000). The 1908 translation of William David Ross is available online. See also Richard Kraut, Aristotle on the Human Good (Princeton University Press, 1989); Kraut, ed., The Blackwell Guide to Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005). An anonymous entry at the Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy (2005) has the commentary: "Aristotle regards the slave as a piece of live property having no existence except in relation to his master. Slavery is a natural institution because there is a ruling and a subject class among people related to each other as soul to body; however, we must distinguish between those who are slaves by nature, and those who have become slaves merely by war and conquest" (accessed 02/05/2011).

(19)    Richard Kraut, Aristotle: Political Philosophy (2002), p. 471. See also ibid., pp. 192 ff. In the view of Aristotle, philosophy eventually conferred an understanding of the subjects investigated in his Metaphysics, meaning substance, essence, form, and the unmoved mover. "Someone who has completed this investigation has acquired wisdom (sophia) in the strict sense, and the exercise of this intellectual virtue is the activity Aristotle equates with perfect happiness in Ethics X.7-8" (ibid., pp. 197-8). See also Kraut, trans., Aristotle: Politics Books VII and VIII (Oxford University Press, 1997).

(20)    Burn, Pelican History of Greece, p. 346. See also J. L. Ackrill, Aristotle the Philosopher (Oxford University Press, 1981); W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy Vol. VI: Aristotle (Cambridge University Press, 1981); J. Barnes, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (Cambridge University Press, 1995).

(21)    Burn, op. cit., commenting on the Politics, and asserting that "the cool, clinical manner in which he [Aristotle] discusses the working of the various kinds of 'set-up' or 'establishment' (kathestos) has much charm" (ibid.). The componency and internal sequence of the Politics has been disputed. Werner Jaeger urged that separate treatises are here conflated, on the basis of a supposed difference in emphasis reflecting a transition from Plato's influence. Other analysts have regarded this interpretation as a confusion. See further Carnes Lord, trans., Aristotle: The Politics (University of Chicago Press, 1984); Peter L. Phillips Simpson, trans., The Politics of Aristotle (University of North Carolina Press, 1997); Simpson, A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle (University of North Carolina Press, 1998). See also Politics (Aristotle).

(22)     Jonathan Barnes, "Life and Work" (1-26) in Barnes, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle, p. 5, and emphasising that "what Aristotle said to Alexander, and Alexander to him, we do not know" (ibid.).  Of special interest is Jonathan Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle - The Revised Oxford Translation (2 vols, Princeton University Press, 1984).

(23)     Carnes Lord, trans., Aristotle: The Politics (1984), p. 4. 

(24)     For example, in question is a very late report in the Byzantine Suda, which implies that Aristotle had an eromenos, meaning a younger partner in a pederastic relationship. See Wikipedia Aristotle (accessed 02/05/2011). A fair number of scholars do not appear to give that report much credence. The Suda is a tenth century "encyclopaedia" in Greek, which has been described as an uncritical Christian compilation, and thought to be extensively interpolated. Aristotle was a married man, and when his wife Pythias died, he had a relationship with another woman who bore him a son.

(25)    See further Hadot, What is Ancient Philosophy?, pp. 111ff., and who says the philosophy of Pyrrho, like that of Socrates and the Cynics, "was thus a lived philosophy, and an exercise of transforming one's way of life" (ibid., p. 113). His disciple Philo of Athens was commemorated by Diogenes Laertius in terms of living in solitude "with no care for glory or disputes" (ibid.). See also Richard Bett, Pyrrho (2010), who observes that anecdotes in Diogenes Laertius and other sources indicate Pyrrho's resistance to normal social conventions, e.g., he performed "tasks that would normally be left to social inferiors, such as housework and even washing a pig."