Summary by Francesc Ruscalleda
0. The Age of the Wise
1. Madness is the source of wisdom
2. The Lady of the Maze
3. The god of divination
4. The Riddle Challenge
5. The “pathos” of the occult
6. Mysticism and dialectics
7. The destructive reason
8. Agonism and rhetoric
9. Philosophy as literature
0. The epoque of the sages.
Plato calls "philosophy"- love of wisdom- his research, his educational activity, linked to a written expression: the literary form of dialogue. And he contemplates with reverence the past, a world in which the “wise men” had truly existed. Our philosophy is nothing but a continuation, a development of the literary form introduced by Plato. It arises as a phenomenon of decadence, since the 'love of wisdom' is inferior to 'wisdom', since 'philosophy' did not mean - for Plato - an aspiration to something never achieved, but rather a tendency to recover what had already been achieved. and lived. The knowledge of man, his destiny, the highest value of life, belonged to wisdom. The cult of Apollo is the celebration of that knowledge.
1. Madness is the source of wisdom
At the origin of wisdom are the same gods as at the birth of tragedy: Dionysus and Apollo. And in this sphere we must grant primacy to Apollo. In Delphi the inclination of the Greeks to knowledge is manifested. For that archaic civilization, wisdom consisted above all in knowledge of the future. Throughout the Hellenic territory there were sanctuaries intended for divination. Its communicative aspect is produced by the word of the god, the oracle. The way the words are presented reveals that they are divine words. This is the oracle: the ambiguity, the darkness, the allusiveness that is difficult to decipher, the uncertainty. There is an ingredient of perversity in the image of Apollo that is reflected in the communication of wisdom. Heraclitus, one of the wise men, affirms: "The lord to whom the oracle that is in Delphi belongs does not affirm or hide, but rather indicates." Apollo is the one speaking through the priestess, not Dionysus.
Pythagoras was called, in Crotona, Apollo Hyperborean, attributing the origin of Apollo to the shamans of North Asia. From there comes the mystical facet of Apollo that is manifested in the delusional words of the Delphic oracle. Plato in the Phaedrus opposes madness to self-control, exalting the words of the prophetess of Delphi and the priestesses of Dodona, coming to distinguish four kinds of madness: prophetic, mysterious, poetic and erotic.
Later we will follow the forms according to which the words of divination in ancient Greece are coupled in speeches, are developed in discussions, are elaborated in the abstraction of reason to understand these aspects of the figure of Apollo.
2. The Lady of the Maze
But there is something that even precedes madness: the myth, which takes us back to a more remote origin. The origin of the cult of Dionysus must be sought in the middle of the II millennium before Christ, in Crete. The god himself buried Ariadne (the lady of the labyrinth) in Argos when she died (Pausanias). Equally ancient is the Labyrinth, whose archetype may be Egyptian, but whose symbolic importance is typically Greek. Plato in the Euthydemus uses the expression "thrown into a labyrinth" in reference to an inextricable dialectical and rational complexity. The man-god conflict, which in its visual aspect appears symbolically represented by the Labyrinth, in its interior and abstract transposition finds its symbol in the enigma. In the same way that Apollo draws man into the flattering net of the enigma, Dionysus seduces him – in an intoxicating game – to the meanders of the Labyrinth, which, moreover, is an emblem of the 'logos'. In both cases the game becomes a tragic challenge, a mortal danger from which only the sage and the hero can save themselves, but without boasting.
Over the centuries the figure of Dionysus softens, it also finds an expression in emotion and in mystical outpouring, in music and poetry. Orpheus is his singer and in the funerary tablets we find a dialogue between the initiate and the initiator to the mysteries: in the progression of that dialogue the reflection of the conquest of the supreme vision is projected. There is also a playful element in the way of manifesting itself to the men of Apollo, in the expressions of art and wisdom, but the Apollonian game concerns the intellect, the word, the sign. Instead, in Dionysus the game is immediacy, animal spontaneity that consists in abandoning oneself to chance. The dilaceration of Orpheus alludes to that inner duplicity of the soul of the poet, of the sage, possessed and torn by the two gods.
3. The god of divination
The word is the conduit between the world of the gods and that of men. comes from the exaltation of madness; it is projected to our illusory world and brings the multiple action of Apollo; on the one hand as a prophetic word, with the charge of hostility of a harsh prediction, of a knowledge of the rude destiny; and on the other hand, as a jovial manifestation and transfiguration that imposes itself on worldly images and intertwines them in the magic of art. The bow symbolizes his hostile action, the lyre his benevolent action. Heraclitus uses these symbols to interpret the nature of things. The sages comment on the metaphysical fracture on which the Greek myth is based: our world is the appearance of a hidden world, of the world in which the gods live.
Plato, in the Timaeus, establishes an essential distinction between the exalted, delirious man, called "fortune teller", and the "prophet", the interpreter who judges, reflects, reasons, solves enigmas, gives meaning to the visions of the diviner. The word, by manifesting itself as enigmatic, reveals its origin from an unknown world. This ambiguity is an allusion to the metaphysical fracture, it manifests the heterogeneity between divine wisdom and its expression in words. According to Empedocles, Apollo is inexpressible and hidden interiority, "sacred and ineffable heart"; that is, the divinity in metaphysical distance from him, and at the same time is dominating and terrible activity in the human world.
The future is predictable because it is the reflection, the expression, the manifestation of a divine reality that, regardless of any time, carries within itself its germ. The sphere of madness that corresponds to Apollo is not the sphere of necessity, but rather of will, of play, the alternative of hostile and benevolent action. However, the manifestation of it in the human sphere, 'nothing in excess', 'know thyself', sounds like an imperative rule of moderation.
4. The Riddle Challenge
Through the oracle, Apollo imposes moderation on man, while he, on his part, is immoderate, manifesting himself with an uncontrolled pathos: with this the god challenges man, provokes him, provokes him to disobey him. He turns the word of the oracle into a riddle. The awesome darkness of the answer indicates the difference between the human world and the divine world. For the Greeks, the formulation of an enigma is accompanied by an extreme charge of hostility.
The connection between divination and enigma is primitive, but since ancient times the enigma tends to distance itself from divination. The most famous example is provided by the Theban myth of the Sphinx: the Sphinx imposes on the Thebans the deadly challenge of the god, it formulates the enigma about the three ages of man. Only the one who solves the enigma can save the city and himself: knowledge is the last instance on which the supreme fight of man is waged. The decisive weapon is wisdom. And the fight is deadly: whoever does not solve the riddle is devoured or slaughtered by the sphinx, whoever solves it – only Oedipus was victorious – makes the Sphinx fall into the abyss.
From the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. we have much more humanized enigma formulations, starting with Homer and Hesiod. After Heraclitus, in whose thought the enigma is something central, the sages begin to focus their attention on the consequences of the enigma and not on the enigma itself, but their religious background subsists in tragedy and comedy. In its formulation a mystical condition is presupposed; it is the manifestation in words, of the divine, of the hidden, of an ineffable interiority. Even in various passages of Plato the enigma is connected with the mystical and mysterious sphere; and whoever falls into the trap of the enigma is destined for perdition.
Finally, Aristotle characterizes the enigma as 'saying real things joining impossible things', which means that the enigma designates something real from a contradiction, using metaphors. The enigma has thus been left empty of the original 'pathos'.
But... what happens, during the most humanized period of the enigma, among the wise? Two diviners, Calchas and Mopsus, fight each other over an enigma: the god no longer intervenes, the religious background remains, but a new element intervenes, agonism, which in this case is a struggle for life and death. One more step and the religious background falls away, and agonism occupies the foreground, the struggle of two men for knowledge: they are no longer diviners, they are sages or fight to conquer the title of sage.
5. The “pathos” of the occult
In this chapter Colli builds a conceptualization of the human soul from known fragments of Heraclitus, some of them implicitly related to the story of Homer's death. The original story is the fundamental document on the connection between wisdom and enigma. The text is reproduced by Aristotle: “… Homer questioned the oracle to find out who his parents were and what his homeland was; and the god replied thus: 'The island of Ios is your mother's homeland, and it will welcome you when you die; but you guardate from the riddle of young men. Not long after, Homer arrived in Ios. There, sitting on a cliff, he saw some fishermen approaching the beach and asked if they had anything. These, as they had not caught anything but, given the lack of fishing, were dedicated to delousing, they said: 'What we have caught we have left; what we haven't caught we bring it', alluding with an enigma to his work with lice. Homer, being unable to solve the riddle, died of grief."
Homer was a sage, and what Heraclitus finds noteworthy is not Homer's sad end, but the fact that a would-be sage was fooled. Thus the enigma is defined as an attempt to deceive; and the wise man who is defeated in a challenge to intelligence ceases to be wise, since he who is wise is not deceived. But Heraclitus goes much further and poses a new enigma. To interpret it, it is necessary to keep in mind the passages that deny any kind of external reality to the objects of the sensible world. The first part of the formulation of the enigma, in its universal expansion, would read as follows: "The manifest things that we have taken, we leave them", which is interpreted as meaning that we apprehend sensible things and then let them fall, because when we fix them we also we falsify And the second part of the enigma, in the transposition of Heraclitus, applying a parallel antithesis to that of Homer's episode: "The hidden things that we have not seen or taken, we bring them." On the one hand, it is about what we call the “pathos” of the occult, the tendency to consider the ultimate foundation of the world as something hidden; and on the other hand of the mystical vindication of the pre-eminence of interiority over the illusory corporeity of the external world. And now we glimpse in the interiority of the soul a possible solution to the enigma of Heraclitus. Indeed, the soul, the occult, the unity, the wisdom, are what we do not see or take, but we carry permanently within us, even more: when it manifests itself, it 'increases itself'. Heraclitus not only uses the antithetical formulation in most of his fragments, but also maintains that the very world that surrounds us is nothing but a tissue – illusory – of opposites.
6. Mysticism and dialectics
If the origin of Greek wisdom lies in 'mania', in pictorial exaltation, in a mystical and mysterious experience, how then is the passage from this religious background to the elaboration of an abstract, rational, discursive thought explained? In the mature phase of that era of the sages we find a reason formed, articulated, a non-elementary logic, a high-level theoretical development. Well, what made all this possible was dialectics, understood in its own original sense, that is, the art of discussion between two or more living people, not created by a literary invention. Aristotle clarified all this material and erected his general theory of dialectical deduction. The famous table of Aristotelian categories is a final product of dialectics, but the use of these categories was alive among the sages, and can be documented.
The dialectic is born in the field of agonism. A man challenges another man to answer him in relation to any cognitive content: arguing about that answer, it will be seen which of the two men has a stronger knowledge. To achieve victory, it is necessary to develop the demonstration, which is articulated through a long and complex series of questions, whose answers constitute the particular links of the demonstration. The respondent need not realize that the series of his responses constitutes a demonstrative connection. On the contrary, the questioner tries to prevent the purpose of his argument from becoming clear. The victory of the questioner is a consequence of the discussion itself, since it is the questioned who affirms the thesis and then refutes it. On the other hand, the victory of the interrogated occurs when he manages to prevent the refutation of the thesis.
We have seen that the enigma, when humanized, takes on an agonistic figure and, on the other hand, dialectics arises from agonism. Examining the oldest testimonies and comparing the terminology used in the two cases, there are reasons to suppose that the enigma appears as the dark background, the matrix of the dialectic: the enigma is the intrusion of the hostile activity of the god in the human sphere, his challenge, just as the interrogator's initial question is the opening of the dialectical challenge, both designated etymologically with the term 'problem'.
In the same way that the formulation of the enigma in most cases is contradictory, the formulation of the dialectical question explicitly proposes the two options of a contradiction, the thesis and its antithesis. The interrogator, by formulating the questions and guiding the discussion with his fatal traps for the adversary, embodies the character of Apollo as a god "who strikes from afar.", whose hostile action is deferred. In the dialectical sphere there is still a religious background: the direct cruelty of the Sphinx becomes in this case mediate cruelty, disguised, concealed, but in this sense even more Apollonian. We cannot be sure that in dialectics the risk is fatal, as it was with Homer. For an elder the humiliation of defeat was intolerable. And perhaps Parmenides, Zeno, Gorgias were never defeated in a public discussion, in a real fight.
7. The destructive reason
Many generations of dialecticians elaborated in Greece a system of reason, of "logos", as a living, concrete, purely oral phenomenon. But is this elaborate system really a useful building? That is to say, in addition to being constituted by the analysis of abstract categories and by the development of a deductive logic, that is, by the formation of the most universal concepts that the abstractive capacity of man can reach, and by the determination of the regulatory norms of human reasoning, does it offer something constructive, concrete propositions that can be imposed on everyone? We have already seen that for the perfect dialectician, the thesis adopted by the questioned is indifferent, the refutation will follow inexorably. If victory smiles at the interrogated, it must be attributed to a dialectical imperfection of the interrogator.
The consequences of this mechanism are devastating. Any judgment, in the truth of which man believes, can be refuted, since the whole dialectic considers that if a proposition is shown to be true, then the proposition that contradicts it is false, and vice versa; so, in the case where the contradicting proposition is first shown to be true, both propositions will turn out to be true and false at the same time, which is impossible. That means that neither one nor the other proposition indicates something real, not even a thinkable object. Any science will be exposed to destruction.
With Parmenides the dialectic had reached this degree of maturity. Its destructive character had been the consequence of an excess of exclusively human agonism. Heraclitus had positively resolved the tension between the divine world and the human world: his lapidary words had revealed through enigmas the hidden and ineffable divine nature. Parmenides is already implicated in the dialectical whirlwind. The terms of his speech are taken from the height of abstraction: being and not being, the necessary and the possible. He imposes his law in such a way as to safeguard the divine background from which we come. To the alternative 'to be or not to be' Parmenides commands to answer 'to be'. Being is the word that safeguards the metaphysical nature of the world, that translates it into the human sphere, that manifests what is hidden. And the goddess who presides over this manifestation is precisely "Aletheia", the one who 'is not hidden'.
The dialectic serves the great disciple of Parmenides, Zeno of Elea, to defend his teacher from the attacks of the opponents of his monism. However, Zeno's attitude is one of disobedience, and he follows the destructive path of "not being" to its extreme consequences. We can assume that previous generations had carried out a demolition work linked to the contingency of individual dialectical interlocutors and of particular theoretical problems, probably linked to the practical and political sphere. Zeno generalized this research, extended it to all sensible and abstract objects. In this way dialectics ceased to be an agonistic technique to become a general theory of "logos".
Dialectical destructiveness only with Zeno reaches that degree of abstraction and universality that transforms it into theoretical nihilism, against which any belief, conviction, constructive rationality, scientific proposition, is illusory and inconsistent. Schematically, his method consists of proving that any sensitive or abstract object that is expressed in a trial exists and does not exist at the same time, and it is also shown that it is possible and at the same time impossible. The result, obtained in all cases through rigorous argumentation, constitutes as a whole the destruction of the reality of any object, and even of its thinkable character.
In this way he tried to show the illusory character of the world that surrounds us, to impose on men a new look at the things that the senses offer us, making them understand that the sensible world, our life in short, is a simple appearance, a pure reflection of the world of the gods.
8. Agonism and rhetoric
After Parmenides and Zeno the age of the sages was declining. Here we must remember Gorgias, who theoretically surpasses even Zeno if we consider the details. He maintains three fundamental points: “The first that nothing exists; the second, that although something exists, it is unknowable; and the third, that even if it is knowable, it cannot be cannot communicate or explain to others. This formulation seems to cast doubt even on the divine nature, and in any case completely isolates it from the human sphere. Gorgias is the sage who declares the end of the age of the wise, of those who had put the gods in communication with men.
The appearance of Gorgias accompanies a profound change in the external, objective conditions of Greek thought, which occurred with the centralization of culture in Athens from the middle of the 5th century BC. In the Athenian confluence, the refined atmosphere reserved for Eleatic dialogues was replaced by the framework of more noisy and frequented dialectical exchanges. Dialectical language enters the public sphere, it is used outside the discussion: the listeners are not chosen, they do not know each other, and the word is addressed to laypeople who do not discuss, but merely listen.
Rhetoric had been born with the popularization of the primitive dialectical language, within a different sphere and for different purposes. As a technique constituted on principles and rules, it is grafted directly onto the trunk of dialectics. There is no longer a community that discusses, but only one that comes forward to speak. The rhetoric is equally agonistic, but in an indirect way, since it is the listeners who will have to play the speakers by comparing them. Whereas in discussion the questioner fights to subjugate the questioned, to bind him with the bonds of his argument, in rhetorical discourse the orator fights to subjugate the mass of his hearers by persuasion. If in dialectics one fights for wisdom, in rhetoric one fights for a wisdom aimed at power. What must be controlled, excited or placated, are the emotions of men, their political interests. It is no accident that Gorgias, the champion of dialectics, was at the same time one of the great artificers of rhetorical art, with his indirect demonstrations by reductio ad absurdum, his favorite because of their more persuasive effect.
An essential element of the transformation of dialectical language into public is writing, which in its literary use spread after the middle of the 6th century, and remains above all linked to the collective life of the city, in the forms and in the contents. And rhetoric was born as a living creative word, comparable to sculpture. Its essence lies in the live voice recitation, the speakers wrote their speeches, and once transformed into plastic expression they learned them by heart. Once the oratory had been worked on, they were recited without daring to improvise. This exceptional nature of rhetoric influenced the emergence of a new literary genre: philosophy.
9. Philosophy as literature
With those public speeches, a radical falsification was launched, since what cannot be separated from the interiority of the subjects that have constituted it, was transformed into a spectacle for a community. In writing, the vicissitudes of the spirit that are only captured by participating in them are lost, in a hodgepodge that cannot be divided. The interior is lost.
In Gorgias the dialectic, at least partially, shows signs of becoming literature. But only with Plato is the phenomenon declared openly. Plato invented dialogue as literature, as a particular type of written dialectics and rhetoric, presenting the contents of imaginary discussions to an undifferentiated audience in a narrative frame. After Plato, this written form was to remain in force and, although the genre of the dialogue was to become the genre of the treatise, in any case the written exposition of abstract and rational themes, and even expanded, was still going to be called 'philosophy'. after the confluence with rhetoric, to moral and political content.
The 'philosophy' arises from a rhetorical disposition accompanied by a dialectical training, from an uncertain agonistic stimulus about the direction to take, from the appearance of the first interior fracture of the thinking man, in which the fickle ambition of worldly power is insinuated, and lastly, of a high-level artistic talent, which is unloaded by deviating, tumultuous and arrogant, towards the invention of a new literary genre. The emotionality, dialectical and rhetorical at the same time, which still vibrates in Plato, was destined to be exhausted in a short period of time, to settle and crystallize in the systematic spirit.