Ah, the Menexenus. Honestly, I'm not a Plato scholar so I didn't know about it at all before this class. But, if you get the Thucydides-Plato combo I pushed last post, you get to do a cool comparison between funeral orations. Good stuff.
Below are two versions of paragraph summaries we did for last Friday's class. The first summary was done by two (unnamed) lovely ladies from my class, and the second is mine. Check out the differences--mine is more historical, theirs is more conceptual. Proves there's more than one way to analyze a text, and that you don't need a PhD to do it.
You may work in groups of 1-3, but all students should have notes in class Friday.
Read 236.d-246a (p.37-50)
Write one sentence/phrase per paragraph that finds the point while summarizing
Decide if you would group these paragraphs into larger sections
This is transcribed exactly from student notes with the students’ permissions.
Socrates recalling what Aspasia has told him
236a (Honor) The men who have fallen deserve tribute.
237b The current generation is the most superior in Athens (implies born in Athens).
237c It is an honor for Athens to be respected by the gods.
237d (Superior) Athens is worthy of praise.
The gods praise us, so we are praiseworthy.
238b Gods have provided for Athens, so Athenians should be grateful (military, natural resources).
Athens needs/received help in order to achieve greatness.
Gods deemed them great, so they are great.
239a (Superior) Athens’ democracy is unique and praiseworthy.
Is it referring to transition: slavery -> democracy?
241c Greeks are courageous by nature (ancestors were courageous).
241d Civil war of Greece?
242a Athens not responsible for war.
242c Athens only takes credit when credit is earned. Is credit actually due?
242c (Honor) Athens will help those in need.
243c Preparation always occurring? Athens believes they are prepared in nature.
244c Athenians are self-reliant/don’t rely on allies.
249b (Courage) They are willing to help others, but are not willing to accept help.
246a Fallen are praiseworthy.
239a&d/241c Fallen deserve tribute.
*The first numbers refer to paragraphs, with Stephanus numbers after the comma.*
Good speeches can bring more honor than good deeds.
These men honored their mother country and we should all praise her, the source of our greatness.
Our country is most praised by gods and men.
Our country is praised for creating and sustaining intelligent life (human beings).
Our ancestors created our noble and praiseworthy aristocracy with its virtue of equality and blessing of the multitude.
Our good heritage and birth led to our nobility, which has been documented by poets in part but we must expand on it here so that no one forgets and future poets can write about us.
The Persians once enslaved all men, including us—despite our greatness—they enslaved us and our minds.
The Athenians and Spartans rose up against barbarians at Marathon and gave birth to our freedom.
Those at sea battles (Salamis) enhanced our reputation for freedom among all Greeks.
Platea was “greatest and most difficult” but successful due to the joint work of Athens and Sparta.
The reports of the King of Barbarians destroying Greece led to a battle that gave “full safety.”
All Greeks loved Athens until their desire to emulate turned to envy.
Athens won over Sparta not necessarily in battle, but definitely in helping Greeks be free.
Athens vanquished them but made peace and did not destroy them.
In the third war, the Greeks hated Athens so much that they asked the King to help. Thus Athens “took them down” all together.
Athens wasn’t overcome in any war but the inner discord brought on by the tyrants hurt them; fortunately, the exiles deposed them. (See footnote 28!)
Athens wanted peace but eventually Sparta’s aggression led Athens to intervene for the sake of freedom of other Greeks and even the King. But then the Greeks re-enslaved themselves.
Athens was winning against Sparta, so the King got scared, which led the other Greek allies to desert Athens, and Athens was left alone in its pure Greek virtue.
The nobility of Athens’ dead ancestors means Athenians today must strive to be good and noble.
Note: As far as I can tell, the King always refers to the king of Persia.
For those of you who have never read this or for those who haven't in a while, go to amazon right now and buy this edition/translation! I can vouch for Collins and Stauffer being good people and good scholars--an unusual mix!
Plato’s Menexenus and Pericles’ Funeral Oration, Empire and the Ends of Politics
trans., intro., and notes Susan Collins and Devin Stauffer
(Newburyport, MA: Focus Publishing, 1999)
Yep, we're two weeks into the semester now. However, if you're just joining us, please go to my syllabi page and download the syllabus (updated on the website when things change), the notes on assignments, and eventually, the portfolio how-to guide.
If you missed my introductory lecture, here are my notes, slightly edited. This gives you an idea of why we're here and what I hope to accomplish:
Things to discuss:
Who am I?
--native MD, TX transplant, back home
--love to teach!
--Machiavelli and Madison scholar
--public school kid, excited to see how this is different
Questions? (Reasonable ones J)
Why this class/why is it this way?
I’m a blend of approaches—some of my teachers only wanted to read text, some were obsessed with context over text. Philosophy of politics—and I will use theory and philosophy interchangeably—are heavy on persuasion, rhetoric, and argument. In short, studying political philosophy requires heavy attention to details of argument and persuasive powers.
BUT it’s really hard to combine the two? Can anyone think of any career politician alive who does both? Charisma and wonkishness are difficult to combine.
That’s not to say it doesn’t happen—Lincoln, Churchill—Pericles, who we’ll meet this week—but it is also important to notice that we appreciate these men (and women—though even for me it’s hard to think of someone we’d put in this league in politics…) more when they’re dead…probably because they convinced us and became heroes.
So, because good politicians are hard to find and good governments hard to keep, political philosophy started up. We’re doing a “Plato to NATO” course here, but I think that’s good. Even if you’re not interested in theory ultimately, this gives you a great background.
This course is divided into four sections—ancient, medieval, modern, contemporary. Some of this is arbitrary, but the way it goes in this course is this: ancient is Greeks, medieval starts with monotheism, Machiavelli kicks off modernity, somewhere around Nietzsche and the 20th century contemporary starts.
I won’t do much contemporary here. Why? I really don’t think you can understand a contemporary rejection of Plato without reading Plato first. It’s hard to read Plato alone. Really, it’s hard to read any of this alone. So your contemporary will mostly consist of variations on themes that we’ve already covered.
Why no women?? I know. I really know. Unfortunately, there’s not much until recently. Fortunately, that will change. The same is true (in Western thought) for non-white men. Makes me nutsy, but I don’t know a way around it.
This course aims to cover a variety of themes, and we will focus on themes every day.
Constitutionalism gets more airtime because that’s what I do (take out pocket Constitution) and because without a good political order philosophy can’t have much of an effect. I think we’d all rather discuss American constitutionalism rather than Spartan constitutionalism in ancient Greece, given that none of us in the room (I’m guessing) read Ancient Greek (if there are, I’m in awe) and we don’t have access to much there.
My goals for this course:
--Give you a basic understanding of history of Western political philosophy
--Give you tools to dissect arguments (see portfolio work) so that we’re not at sea here and for your future academic success
--Have good discussions about this and learn things myself
I hope to convince you as your teacher that…
…philosophy and politics need each other to function.
…precise argumentation and rhetoric should be friends.
…there is a serious difference between mere and substantiated opinion, and that you should only use the latter.
…reading “the classics” with the right tools is satisfying.