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Ancient Sophistry & The Car Salesman

by on February 15, 2019

By Jacob Bell, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
My recent venture into the world of car sales caused me to realize that sophistry, in its most shameful guise, is still alive and well today. I am speaking of the sophistry that seeks to deceive in order to profit… either in sales or politics.
During the second half of the fifth century B.C.E., sophistry began to gain its reputation as a means of rhetorical persuasion. It was, and still is, used in politics, and speaks to the emotions, often leaving logic out of the conversation. Plato and Aristotle regarded sophistry with disgust because for them, the term signified the “deliberate use of fallacious reasoning, intellectual charlatanism, and moral unscrupulousness.”
Illustration of Plato Gorgias

Gorgias is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC. The dialogue depicts a conversation between Socrates and a small group of sophists at a dinner gathering.

Is this starting to sound like your last car salesman?

Empedocles, the Eccentric Philosopher

by on February 12, 2019

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Empedocles, born c. 490 BCE in Akragas, Sicily, is perhaps one of the more eccentric pre-Socratic philosophers. He himself claimed other-worldly powers, is credited by Aristotle as the inventor of rhetoric, and is thought to have originated the cosmogonic theory of the four elements: fire, air, water, and earth.
Temple in Akragas

The temple of Hera at Akragas, built when Empedocles was a young man, c. 470 BC.

Empedocles’ Personal Life
While relatively little is known about Empedocles’ personal life, we do know he was born to a wealthy family who was involved in the overthrow of the Akragas tyrant in 470 BC.

Hippolytus: The Man, The Myth, The Legend

by on February 7, 2019

By Jocelyn Hitchcock, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
It sounds like something straight out of a modern –albeit extremely tragic- weekday soap opera: step-son (Hippolytus) incurs the wrath of someone higher up (Aphrodite) because he fails to honor the cultural customs associated with her; scorned woman (Aphrodite) initiates plan of revenge on step-son by having step mother (Phaedra) fall in love with him; step-son rejects step-mother’s advances; step-mother kills herself and blames it on step-son; father (Theseus) exiles step son; father discovers truth; father is racked with guilt; father and son make up; son dies.
All that’s missing is a bad plastic surgeon and someone miraculously coming back from a full brain transplant.
Painting of Theseus and Hippolytus

Crop of Phaedra and Hippolytus (1802), by the French neoclassical painter Baron Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (Louvre, Paris). The painting manages dramatically to squeeze in several elements of the plot: the youth expresses his resistance to Phaedra, even as the nurse whispers in her ear; meanwhile Theseus clenches his fist in rage.

It’s a story about love, deception, honesty, and vengeance. The characters, both human and divine, are deeply flawed and show a sweeping range of human emotion and spirit.

The Sailor Who Ruined Trojan Heroes’ Lives

by on February 6, 2019

The Trojan War cycle is replete with anecdotes of home-wreckers and homecomings. Sure, everyone knows the sad stories of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra and Odysseus and Penelope, but there are a few more tragic tales lurking in the background. Enter Nauplius, a nasty, vengeful sailor who made quite a few soldiers’ returns from the war very, very miserable.
Portrait of the Revenge seeking Sailor


Keeping the Helen Oath
In his Epitome, often included as part of his Library, Pseudo-Apollodorus retells the story of – what else? – the Trojan War. In his version of events, when Menelaus, king of Sparta, realizes that his wife, the beauteous Helen, has absconded with the Trojan prince Paris, he calls upon his brother, High King Agamemnon, to raise an army. Agamemnon invokes an oath sworn by all the former suitors for Helen’s hand, that, if anyone should abduct or threaten Helen, all of them must come to help her husband get her back.
Painting of Helen of Troy

‘Helen of Troy’ (1865) by Frederic Leighton, 1st Baron Leighton.

One such suitor was Odysseus, king of Ithaca and husband of Helen’s cousin, Penelope. Although the oath had been his idea, he is not all too keen at having to leave home to make war on a foreign city for God-knows-how-long. As a result, he fakes madness when Agamemnon’s men come to pick him up. But clever Palamedes – son of the aforementioned Nauplius – realizes his ruse and proves Odysseus’s sanity by threatening the life of Odysseus’s infant son, Telemachus. To protect his little boy, Odysseus drops the act and then must join Agamemnon’s forces, since he isn’t insane. To avenge himself, Odysseus forges a letter from King Priam of Troy that makes Palamedes out to be a traitor and hides some gold in Palamedes’ tent. Agamemnon discovers the letter and orders Palamedes stoned to death for his perceived treachery.

Hypatia-The Last Academic (Part Two)

by on February 4, 2019

By Mary Naples, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Under Christian rule, Alexandria, once the definitive center of learning throughout the empire, was fast becoming anti-intellectual and inhospitable to Hypatia and the academic circle in which she traveled. In fact, this burgeoning new religion was oftentimes suspicious of learning, equating it to the work of the devil. Faith in Christ replaced scholarship in this brave new world.
An example of this hatred for scholarship was demonstrated in 392 when Theophilus (384 CE-412 CE) Bishop of Alexandria, led a braying mob of Christian zealots in the pummeling of the Serapeum, the city’s premier temple and library complex. Elevated by one-hundred steps on the acropolis of Alexandria, the Serepeum was made of luminous marble and rose above all other structures commanding the city skyscape. Equally impressive, the library within the Serapeum was considered the daughter to the defunct Library of Alexandria housing hundreds of thousands of scrolls. After the extremists razed the Serapeum complex and set fire to the scrolls, the swarm went on a holy mission tearing down other temples, statuary and religious sites, when all was said and done destroying over twenty-five hundred structures in total.

Hypatia: The Last Academic – Part One

by on February 1, 2019

By Mary Naples, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
They came to her by land. They came to her by sea. They came to her from the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire and they came to her from close by. Amongst the literati, Hypatia (355-415 CE), acclaimed philosopher and leading mathematician, was a rock star.
She was bold, she was beautiful, but most of all, she was brilliant. Her students, many of them adherents in the burgeoning new religion, Christianity, adored her and flocked to hear her every word. Congregating not only in the classroom but in the public square and even at her home—just to hear her speak. Hers was the school all serious students throughout the empire wished to attend. But students weren’t the only ones who were captivated by her brilliance. Amongst academics from near and from far, she was the one with whom they sought council.
Portrait of Hypatia

This fictional portrait of Hypatia by Jules Maurice Gaspard, originally the illustration for Elbert Hubbard’s 1908 fictional biography, has now become, by far, the most iconic and widely reproduced image of her.

But how did Hypatia, a woman in a deeply misogynist society, earn such high acclaim? By the tender age of thirty, Hypatia had become a legend within academic circles for fusing the two apparently disparate disciples of mathematics and philosophy together in the classroom. Although well-versed in both disciplines, academics tended to be trained as either philosophers or mathematicians and had schools in one discipline or the other but not in both. Hypatia’s school was the exception.