Academic journal article Antichthon

The Dramatic Background of the Arguments with Callicles, Euripides' Antiope, and an Athenian Anti-Intellectual Argument

Academic journal article Antichthon

The Dramatic Background of the Arguments with Callicles, Euripides' Antiope, and an Athenian Anti-Intellectual Argument

Article excerpt

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INTRODUCTION

This paper does not aim to establish the 'dramatic date' of Plato's Gorgias, nor does it seek to establish with any precision the date at which Euripides' fragmentary Antiope was written. Nor does it aim to show that Athenian anti-intellectualism had some fixed beginning and conclusion rather than persisting, in some fashion, as long as intellectuals frequented its public places. It does, however, have aims that may easily be mistaken for these. First, while Plato was not too particular about fidelity to a dramatic date,1 he frequently shows a strong desire to supply an intellectual background for the views that his characters will propound and the debates that follow from them. In the case of dialogues that employ a single interlocutor that certainly tends to produce a reasonably coherent dramatic date, but what matters to Plato is not so much fidelity to history as the appropriate intellectual context. Second, I am not concerned to argue that Euripides' play Antiope was performed at a given festival, but I am very much concerned to demonstrate that its status as a post-412 play rests on flimsy foundations and does not agree with important evidence. Third, I aim to show that a particular kind of anti-intellectual argument, or anti-intellectual rhetoric, one that finds a place both in Zethus' criticism of Amphion in the Antiope and in Callicles' criticism of Socrates in the Gorgias, did have a place in public debate in the Athens of the late 420s, and for very good reasons.

1. THE BACKGROUND OF CALLICLES

Except where it has been an essential part of a wider project,2 attempts to determine a dramatic date for Plato's Gorgias have not been much in evidence since Dodds' somewhat satirical dismissal of such exercises in the introduction to his masterful commentary.3 Yet most of the genuine dialogues do have a reasonably coherent dramatic date, with some late exceptions including the Philebus and the Laws, that have none at all, and the Republic, whose fluctuating indications of dramatic date can easily be explained with reference to its evolution in a number of discrete stages.4 The Gorgias is the third longest dialogue of Plato, and its evolution was in all probability complex.5 To dismiss hastily issues of dramatic date is to remove a great deal of the 'evidence' upon which Athenian prosopography of the late fifth century relies, so that it is best to consider carefully whether even the Gorgias can be made to yield a satisfactory degree of consistency. It is true that we shall ultimately be compelled to accept at least one anachronism, the references to Archelaus of Macedon at 470d-471d and 525d1, as long as we insist on reading the work as a unity, and this inconvenient anachronism will need an explanation.

Even so, what I want to focus on is less a matter of dramatic date than of dramatic context. What we cannot fail to notice is that Plato has provided us with quite a detailed context for the colourful figure of Callicles, and that his care here stands in sharp contrast with his apparent lack of interest in supplying a setting for the arguments with Gorgias and Polus. It is the very professional lives of Gorgias and Polus whose purpose is being questioned, and the arguments were relevant just as long as they practised their own particular brands of rhetorical teaching. Plato feels no special need to have them examined in the course of a specific visit to Athens,6 and such indications of date as are present are there because of the convenience of the subject matter, not because Plato is at pains to supply a context.7 On the other hand, obvious anachronisms in the arguments with Callicles, which themselves occupy significantly more than half the work, would have undermined the setting that Plato was undoubtedly trying to create. This is especially so during Callicles' early exchanges with Socrates, while the context is being developed. …

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