Plato and Pericles

2 February 2017

In this essay I would like to talk about the nature of sophism and how it changes religion, politics and education. In the first part of my essay I am going to define the meaning of sophism, in the second part I am going to talk about the connection of sophism and aristocrats, in the third part of my essay I am going to talk about the changes in religion with the help of sophism; in the fourth part I will examine the changes in decision-making and in last part I will talk about Socrates use of cross-examination to find out the meaning of the oracle’s message.

As a source of information I am going to use Plutarch’s essays Pericles and Alcibiades, Plato’s Apology and Crito, and Thucydides’ Peloponnesian War. I The meaning of sophism. In Athens all young aristocrats were getting traditional education in gymnasium. They studied music, poetry, mathematics, athletics, etc. But for some wealthy aristocrats it was not the only education they were getting, they had private tutors that taught them sophism. A number of sources proves the fact that many successful and famous leaders in Athens had sophist teachers.

Plato and Pericles Essay Example

Pericles was one of the most popular leaders in ancient Greece. He had three teachers named Damon, Zeno, and Anaxagoras. Damon was a sophist who taught music.

He was teaching Pericles how to speak with confidence, how to use words to affect human psychology. He was using music to show him the art of giving a good speech: “This Damon appears to have been a sophist of the highest order, who used his musical teaching as a screen to conceal his real talents from the world in general; in fact it was he who trained Pericles for his political contests, much as a masseur or trainer prepares an athlete. (Pericles, p. 168, par. 4). Pericles was also taught by Zeno. Zeno was lecturing him on natural science (biology and astronomy) and the technique of cross-examination. And, the third teacher that Pericles had was Anaxagoras to whom he was very close. Anaxagoras taught Pericles how to deal with Gods, omens and oracles. The teacher also taught Pericles how to properly dress, behave, and act before the audience.

Anaxagoras was playing a role of all educators combined in one: “But here was one man more closely associated with Pericles than any ther, who did most to clothe him with a majestic bearing that was more potent than any demagogue’s appeal, and who helped to develop the natural dignity of his character to the highest degree. ” (Pericles, p. 168-169, par. 4) All three teachers were teaching Pericles different subjects but if summoned together it would be easy to understand what sophism is. It is the knowledge of science, rhetoric and cross-examination. The meaning of sophism can also be found in Plato’s Apology where he describes the charges against Socrates.

Socrates is charged on account of being a sophist because he uses cross-examination to make weaker argument defeat stronger, because he teaches science and supposedly is getting paid for it, and because he knows science he can easily give a scientific explanation to any omen which means that he does not believe in Gods: “Socrates is committing an injustice, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example. (Apology, p. 41, par. 19b) II Sophism and Aristocrats. Sophism is the only way aristocrats can get power over peasants. The most powerful leaders in Athens had sophist teachers who would teach them how to use words to manipulate people’s minds. One of the brightest examples is Pericles. He proved that rhetoric “in Plato’s phrase, is the art of working upon the souls of men by means of words” (Pericles, p. 182, par. 15).

The ability to play with peoples’ emotions and speak in persuasive way helped Pericles to manage a chaos among the population of Athens: “There were as might be excepted, all kinds of disorders to be found among a mass of citizens who possessed an empire as great as that of Athens, and Pericles was the only one man capable of keeping each of this under control. ” (Pericles, p. 182, par. 15) Pericles exercised political interest through giving speeches. He became very popular and earned his name in political arena by mastering oratory skills.

His manner of speaking helped him to become the best of all speakers in Athens. Pericles was great as a leader, and he used all his skills as a logical man in order to occupy Athenians who weren’t involved in the army and who were unskilled. Because he did not want them to just get benefited from national income for doing nothing, he proposed to them different plans for public works and buildings where all kinds of industries could be involved. Since he didn’t have money of his own he was spending public money for building, and that is what he was accused of by Thucydides and other members of his party.

Using the knowledge of psychology of people, Pericles knew how to persuade people in the Assembly. He didn’t have his own money, but still made the Athenians believe as though he did; and his reply to the accusation was as follows: “Very well then, do not let it be charged to the public account but to my own, and I will dedicate all the public building in my name” (Pericles, p. 181, par. 14). Because Pericles knew that people would not accept his proposition for the reason that the people put their work into the structure of the buildings, he was able to convince Athenians to let him use the public money even more.

Further, whoever criticized Pericles was forced to exile from the city of Athens. Another bright example of a powerful leader who had a sophist teacher is Alcibiades. His teacher was Socrates. Not only did Alcibiades have good looks but he also was very educated which helped him to go through a lot of traps set by his opponents. However, being a sophist could hurt an aristocrat too. That is what Alcibiades felt for himself. Because his opponents knew his weak spot, being a sophist, they were putting traps everywhere he turned.

Since religion was very sacred in ancient Greece anybody who didn’t believe in the gods was charged with atheism. The charge of atheism was very serious: “…anybody who did not believe in the gods or taught theories about celestial phenomena should be liable to prosecution. ” (Pericles, p. 198, par. 32). Atheism and science went hand-in-hand at that time. Atheism was not tolerated; anyone who did not tolerate the Gods had to be punished. Not only that, if one had a scientific answer for the natural causes, he would be considered to be an atheist.

Alcibiades was taught science and therefore knew explanations for the natural causes and apparently did not believe in Gods. One of the first accusations that Alcibiades had to face was when one of his biggest enemies Androcles brought slaves into Assembly to testify on the account that Alcibiades and his friends made fun of Gods: “… accused Alcibiades and his friends of having disfigured other sacred images and parodied the Mysteries of Eleusis in one of their drunken revels. ” (Alcibiades, p. 263, par. 19) And these charges were put before him right at the time when he was supposed to sail off to the sea.

He sailed to the sea but the charges were still on his record. However, later on he was still condemned by default. His teacher was also charged on the account of being a sophist. Although his teacher was not a politician, he was using cross-examination to find out who was the wisest man on earth and prove that oracle is not the right thing to believe in. People knew he was a student of Anaxagoras, who was a known sophist and in his turn was also smuggled out of the city, but Socrates was denying his interest in science and politics.

The only thing he could not deny is use of cross-examination because of which he was condemned to death. III Religion and Sophism: What before was considered as omens and signs from Gods, after sophism, it could be easily explained as something unusual but predictable. The science became a natural explanation for what ancient Greeks thought of signs and omens. Anaxagoras gave a natural explanation to a one-horned ram, which was thought to be a sign of one leader instead of two.

At that time the city of Athens was led by two people Thucydides and Pericles; and, when Lampon, the soothsayer, saw that the ram had one horn he said the power would be concentrated in the hands of one leader. However, Anaxagoras was able to explain the reason why the animal had one horn: “Anaxagoras, on the other hand, had the scull dissected and proceeded to demonstrate that the brain had not filled its natural space, but had contracted in to a point like an egg at that place in the cavity from which the horn grew. ” (Pericles, p. 170, par. 6).

Pericles learned from Anaxagoras that there are no such things as signs from Gods. Only people who lacked education were superstitious and would think that any unusual behavior of nature were omens and signs from Gods and they would fear them to the point of madness. However, Pericles had knowledge of natural causes which was letting him sleep peacefully without worries. It seemed as though, Thucydides was a sophist himself; it could be seen from the way he was talking about omens and oracles in his book The Peloponnesian War. In the Acropolis, there was a peace of land that was under a curse and it was forbidden to live there.

According to Pythian oracle, if someone was to put his house there, a misfortune would come to Athens. However, during the war people had to move from one place to the other and, finally, they had to move to that forbidden place. As Thucydides says, people interpreted oracles’ message as though the war came because they moved to the forbidden place. However, people forgot that the war came first and everything came backwards. Thucydides said that the oracle did not predict anything but people, accustomed to believing in oracles’ messages, interpreted it as a true message from Gods.

Another example of sophist explanation to an omen is when Thucydides gives a scientific explanation to an eclipse of the sun that usually happens during the beginning of a new lunar month which obviously suggests that Thucydides had a sophist teacher to teach him understand natural causes. IV Decision-making: Sophism put a tremendous impact on politics. During the Mytilenian debate, it is seen how decision over the punishment of the Mytilenians changes from one side to completely different. In the beginning of the debate, Cleon was saying that if one makes up his mind it is once and for all.

His point was to punish the Mytilenians and make an example out of them. Through discussions and with help of Diodotus, Athenians understood that discussions played an important part in their decision-making. With the discussions of possible causes of the punishment, Athenians could visualize what would happen if they made an example out of the punishment of Mytilenians. In the end of the debate, as Thucydides puts in, the votes were still about equal but Diodotus’ motion was passed. These discussion were taking place in a year of 427bc, however, Thucydides describes in his book another debate.

This debate was not among the Athenians, it was between the Athenians and Melians; and, this debate took place in a year of 416/5bc. The reason why Athenians were having discussions with Melians was that the Melians were the islanders and in Athenian understanding they were supposed to be under their control. The Athenians had a very rational argument saying that it was in Melians best to agree to their negotiations. However, Melians, having a much smaller army than Athenians, were still hoping to get lucky.

Through their discussion, it is noticeable how Athenians changed their position over the manner of the debate in comparison to the Mytilenian debate. During the debate the Athenians directly attack the use of oracles and omens: “…turn to what is blind and vague, to prophecies and oracles and such things which by encouraging hope lead to men to ruin. ” (Peloponnesian War, p. 404, par. 103) Over time, it appears that sophism played an important role in changing Athenian way of decision-making and understanding of omens and oracles which played an important role during wars.

V Socrates and cross-examination: The purpose of cross-examination is to point out internal contradictions, and once you remove internal contradictions the truth and logical consistence will remain. The oracle of Apollo said that Socrates was the wisest man. Using omens and oracles were problematic. The way a sophist tried to find out what oracle is trying to say is by using technical analyses. However, the jury didn’t understand the true symbolic meaning of oracle’s statement and took it literally, charging Socrates on the account of sophism and atheism.

Socrates was cross-examining people with different occupations, professions, and backgrounds, in search for the wisest man. He came to a conclusion of the symbolic meaning of oracle’s statement: “The truth of the matter, gentlemen, is likely to be this: that real wisdom is the property of the god, and this oracle is his way of telling us that human wisdom has a little or no value… “The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he really worthless. ”” (Apology, p. 46, par 23b). As a result Socrates was also charged not only on the account of being a sophist but also in corrupting the young aristocrats.

The young aristocrats misunderstood the true meaning of “the wisest man”, started cross-examining everybody and found a number of people “who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing. ” (Apology, p. 46, par. 22e. ). The result of these cross-examinations by young aristocrats was the irritation and anger at Socrates which led to his death. However, even after being sentenced to death Socrates proved to be just and logical. After having last speech with his beloved friend Crito, who wanted Socrates to escape from prison, Socrates spoke with the voice of “Laws of Athens”.

He pointed out to his friend by cross-examining different positions of his situation that by the “Law of Athens” Socrates would be acting unjustly and against the law and that was also against his moral believes: ” Socrates will achieve nothing by escaping: the stigma of a law-breaker will attach to him wherever he goes, it will make a mockery of his past moral views, and it will not help his sons. ” (Crito, p. 94, par. 53a) Socrates was one of the most famous Athenians who were not using cross-examination for politics but for moral issues. In conclusion, sophism can be defined as knowledge of science, rhetoric and cross-examination.

At that time, it was very beneficial but cruel at the same time. Sophist could give a scientific explanation to unusual but predictable causes of nature. The art of rhetoric could benefit any aristocrat who wanted to get people voices. Through cross-examination and discussions, people could find out real truth so that innocent people would not be blamed for other’s wrongdoings. However, at that time being a sophism was punishable even if you were not a politician. And, that is what happened to Socrates who was using cross-examination to contradict the meaning of the oracle.

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