I would now like to analyze a new form of parrhesia which was emerging and developing even before Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. There are, of course, important similarities and analogous relationships between the political parrhesia we have been examining and this new form of parrhesia. But in spite of these similarities, a number of speciﬁc features, directly related to the ﬁgure of Socrates, characterize and differentiate this new Socratic Parrhesia.
In selecting a testimony about Socrates as a parrhesiastic ﬁgure, I have chosen Plato’s Laches (or “On Courage”) and this, for several reasons. First, although this Platonic dialogue, the Laches, is rather short, the word “parrhesia” appears three times [178a5, 179c1, 189a1] — which is rather a lot when one takes into account how infrequently Plato uses the word.
At the beginning of the dialogue, it is also interesting to note that the different participants are characterized by their parrhesia. Lysimachus and Melesias, two of the participants, say that they will speak their minds freely, using parrhesia to confess that they have done or accomplished nothing very important, glorious, or special in their own lives. And they make this confession to two other older citizens, Laches and Nicias (both of them quite famous generals) in the hope that they, too, will speak openly and frankly — for they are old enough, inﬂuential enough, and glorious enough to be frank and not hide what they truly think. But this passage [178a5] is not the main one I would like to quote since it employs parrhesia in an everyday sense, and is not an instance of Socratic parrhesia.
From a strictly theoretical point of view the dialogue is a failure because no one in the dialogue is able to give a rational, true, and satisfactory deﬁnition of “courage” — which is the topic of the piece. But in spite of the fact that even Socrates himself is not able to give such a deﬁnition, at the end of the dialogue Nicias, Laches, Lysimachus, and Melesias all agree that Socrates would be the best teacher for their sons. And so Lysimachus and Melesias ask him to adopt this role. Socrates accepts, saying that everyone should try to take care of himself and of his sons [201b4]. And here you ﬁnd a notion which, as some of you know, I like a lot: the concept of “epimeleia heautou”, the “care of the self”. We have, then, I think, a movement visible throughout this dialogue from the parrhesiastic ﬁgure of Socrates to the problem of the care of the self.
Before we read the speciﬁc passages in the text that I would like to quote, however, we need to recall the situation at the beginning of the dialogue. But since the Laches is very complex and interwoven, I shall do so only brieﬂy and schematically.
Two elderly men, Lysimachus and Melesias, are concerned about the kind of education they should give to their sons. Both of them belong to eminent Athenian families; Lysimachus is the son of Aristeides “the Just” and Melesias is the son of Thucydides the Elder. But although their own fathers were illustrious in their own day, Lysimachus and Melesias have accomplished nothing very special or glorious in their own lives: no important military campaigns, no signiﬁcant political roles. They use parrhesia to admit this publicly. And they have also asked themselves the question, “how is it that from such a good genos, from such good stock, from such a noble family, they were both unable to distinguish themselves?” Clearly, as their own experience shows, having a high birth and belonging to a noble Athenian house are not sufﬁcient to endow someone with the aptitude and the ability to assume a prominent position or role in the city. They realize that something more is needed, viz., education.
But what kind of education? When we consider that the dramatic date of theLaches is around the end of the Fifth Century, at a time when a great many individuals — most of them presenting themselves as sophists — claimed that they could provide young people with a good education, we can recognize here a problematic which is common to a number of Platonic dialogues. The educational techniques that were being propounded around this time often dealt with several aspects of education, e.g., rhetoric (learning how to address a jury or a political assembly), various sophistic techniques, and occasionally military education and training. In Athens at this time there was also a major problem being debated regarding the best way to educate and train the infantry soldiers — who were largely inferior to the Spartan hoplites. And all of the political, social, and institutional concerns about education, which for, the general context of this dialogue, are related to the problem of parrhesia. In the political ﬁeld we saw that there was a need for a parrhesiastes who could speak the truth about political institutions and decisions, and the problem there was knowing how to recognize such a truth-teller. In its basic form, this same problem now reappears in the ﬁeld of education. For if you yourself are not well-educated, how then can you decide what constitutes a good education? And if people are to be educated, they must receive the truth from a competent teacher. But how can we distinguish the good, truth-telling teachers from the bad or inessential ones?
It is in order to help them come to such a decision that Lysimachus and Melesius ask Nicias and Laches to witness a performance given by Stesilaus— a man who claims to be a teacher of hoplomachia or the art of ﬁghting with heavy arms. This teacher is an athlete, technician, actor, and artist. Which means that although he is very skillful in handling weapons, he does not use his skill to actually ﬁght the enemy, but only to make money by giving public performances and teaching the young men. The man is a kind of sophist for the martial arts. After seeing his skills demonstrated in this public performance, however, neither Lysimachus nor Melesius is able to decide whether this sort of skill in ﬁghting would constitute part of a good education. So they turn to well-known ﬁgures of their time, Nicias and Laches, and ask their advice [178a-181d].
Nicias is an experienced military general who won several victories on the battleﬁeld, and was an important political leader. Laches is also a respected general, although he does not play as signiﬁcant a role in Athenian politics. Both of them give their opinions about Stesilaus’ demonstration and it turns out that they are in complete disagreement regarding the value of this military skill. Nicias thinks that this military technician has done well, and that his skill may be able to provide the young with a good military education [181e-182d]. Laches disagrees and argues that the Spartans — who are the best soldiers in Greece— never have recourse to such teachers. Moreover, he thinks that Stesilaus is not a soldier since he has never won any real victories in battle [182d-184c] Through this disagreement we see that not only ordinary citizens without any special qualities are unable to decide what is the best kind of education, and who is able to teach skills worth learning, but even those who have long military and political experience, like Nicias and Laches, cannot come to a unanimous decision.
In the end, however, Nicias and Laches both agree that despite their fame, their important role in Athenian affairs, their age, their experience, and so on, they should refer to Socrates — who has been there all along — to see what he thinks. And after Socrates reminds them that education concerns the care of the soul [185d], Nicias explains why he will allow his soul to be “tested” by Socrates, i.e., why he will play the Socratic parrhesiastic game. And this explanation of Nicias is, I think, a portrayal of Socrates as a parrhesiastes:
NICIAS : “You strike me as not being aware that, whoever comes into close contact with Socrates and has any talk with him face to face, is bound to be drawn round and round by him in the course of the argument — though it may have started at ﬁrst on a quite different theme — and cannot stop until he is led into giving an account of himself, of the manner in which he now spends his days, and of the kind of life he has lived hitherto ;and when once he has been led into that, Socrates will never let him go until he has thoroughly and properly put all his ways to the test. Now I am accustomed to him, and so I know that one is bound to be thus treated by him, and further, that I myself shall certainly get the same treatment also. For I delight, Lysimachus, in conversing with the man, and see no harm in our being reminded of any past and present misdoing: nay, one must needs take more careful though for the rest of one’s life, if one does not ﬂy from his words but is willing, as Solon said, and zealous to learn as long as one lives, and does not expect to get good sense by the mere arrival of old age. So to me there is nothing unusual, or unpleasant either, in being tried and tested by Socrates; in fact, I knew pretty well all the time that our argument would not be about the boys if Socrates were present, but about ourselves. Let me therefore repeat that there is no objection on my part to holding a debate with Socrates after the fashion that he likes”
Nicias’ speech describes the parrhesiastic game of Socrates from the point of view of the one who is “tested”. But unlike the parrhesiastes who addresses the demos in the Assembly, for example, here we have a parrhesiastic game which requires a personal, face to face relationship. Thus the beginning of the quote states: “whoever comes into close contact with Socrates and has any talk with him face to face”[187e]. Socrates’ interlocutor must get in touch with him, establish some proximity to him in order to play the parrhesiastic game. That is the ﬁrst point.
Secondly, in this relationship to Socrates, the listener is led by Socrates’ discourse. The passivity of the Socratic hearer, however, is not the same kind of passivity as that of a listener in the Assembly. The passivity of a listener in the political parrhesiastic game consists in being persuaded by what he listens to. Here, the listener is led by the Socratic logos into “giving an account” — didonai logon — of himself, “of the manner in which he now spends his days, and of the kind of life he has lived hitherto” [187e -188a]. Because we are inclined to read such texts through the glasses of our Christian culture, however, we might interpret this description of the Socratic game as a practice where the one who is being led by Socrates’ discourse must give an autobiographical account of his life, or a confession of his faults. But such an interpretation would miss the real meaning of the text. For when we compare this passage with similar descriptions of Socrates’ method of examination — as in the Apology, Alcibiades Major, or the Gorgias, Where we also ﬁnd the idea that to be led by the Socrates logos is to “give an account” of oneself — we see very clearly that what is involved is not a confessional autobiography. In Plato’s or Xenophon’s portrayals of him, we never see Socrates requiring an examination of conscience or a confession of sins. Here, giving an account of your life, your bios, is also not to give a narrative of the historical events that have taken place in your life, but rather to demonstrate whether you are able to show that there is a relation between the rational discourse, the logos, you are able to use, and the way that you live. Socrates is inquiring into the way that logos gives form to a person’s style of life; for he is interested in discovering whether there is a harmonic relation between the two. Later on in this same dialogue [190d-194b] for example, when Socrates asks Laches to give the reason for his courage, he does not want a narrative of Laches’ exploits in the Peloponnesian War, but for Laches to attempt to disclose the logos which gives rational, intelligible form to his courage. Socrates’ role, then, is to ask for a rational accounting of a person’s life.
This role is characterized in the text as that of a “basanos” or “touchstone” which tests the degree of accord between a person’s life and its principle of intelligibility or logos: “Socrates will never let [his listener] go until he has thoroughly and properly put all his ways to the test [188a]. The Greek word “basanos” refers to a “touchstone”, i.e., a black stone which is used to test the genuineness of gold by examining the streak left on the stone when “touched” by the gold in question. Similarly, Socrates’ “basanic” role enables him to determine the true nature of the relation between the logos and bios of those who come into contact with him.
Then, in the second part of this quotation, Nicias explains that as a result of Socrates’ examination one becomes willing to care for the manner in which he lives the rest of his life, wanting now to live in the best possible way; and this willingness takes the form of a zeal to learn and to educate oneself no matter what one’s age.
Laches’ speech, which immediately follows, describes Socrates’ parrhesiastic game from the perspective of one who has inquired into Socrates’ role as a touchstone. For the problem arises of knowing how we can be sure that Socrates himself is a good basanos for testing the relation between logos and bios in his listener’s life.
LACHES: “I have but a single mind, Nicias, in regard to discussions, or if you like, a double rather than a single one. For you might think me a lover, and yet also a hater, of discussions: for when I hear a man discussing virtue or any kind of wisdom, one who is truly a man and worthy of his argument, I am exceedingly delighted; I take the speaker and his speech together, and observe how they sort and harmonize with each other. Such a man is exactly what I understand by “musical”, he has tuned himself with the fairest harmony, not that of a lyre or other entertaining instrument, but has made a true concord of his own life between his words and his deeds, not in the Ionian, no , nor in the Phrygian nor in the Lydian, but simply in the Dorian mode, which is the sole Hellenic harmony. Such a man makes me rejoice with his utterance, and anyone would judge me then a lover of discussion, so eagerly do I take in what he says: but a man who shows the opposite character gives me pain, and the better he seems to speak, the more I am pained, with the result, in this case, that I am judged a hater of discussion. Now of Socrates’ words I have no experience, but formerly , I fancy, I have made trial of his deeds; and there I found him living up to any ﬁne words however freely spoken. So if he has that gift as well, his wish is mine, and I should be very glad to be cross-examinated by such a man, and should not chafe at learning
As you can see, this speech in part answers the question of how to determine the visible criteria, the personal qualities, which entitle Socrates to assume the role of the basanos of other people’s lives. From information given at the beginning of the Laches we have learned that by the dramatic date of the dialogue, Socrates is not very well-known, that he is not regarded as an eminent citizen, that he is younger than Nicias and Laches, and that he has no special competence in the ﬁeld of military training — with this exception: he exhibited great courage in the battle at Delium where Laches was the commanding general. Why, then, would two famous and older generals submit to Socrates’ cross-examinations? Laches, who is not as interested in philosophical or political discussions, and who prefers deeds to words throughout the dialogue (in contrast to Nicias), gives the answer. For he says that there is a harmonic relation between what Socrates says an what he does, between his words (logoi) and his deeds (erga). Thus, not only is Socrates himself able to give an account of his own life, such an account is already visible in his behavior since there is not the slightest discrepancy between what he says and what he does. He is a “mousikos aner”. In Greek culture, and in most of Plato’s other dialogues, the phrase “mousikos aner” denotes a person who is devoted to the Muses — a cultured person of the liberal arts. Here the phrase refers to someone who exhibits a kind of ontological harmony where the logos and bios of such a person is in harmonic accord. And this harmonic relation is also a Dorian harmony.
As you know, there were four kinds of Greek harmony: the Lydian mode which Plato dislikes because it is too solemn; the Phrygian mode which Plato associates with the passions; the Ionian mode which is too soft and effeminate; and the Dorian mode which is courageous.
The harmony between word and deed in Socrates’ life is Dorian, and was manifested in the courage he showed at Delium. This harmonic accord is what distinguishes Socrates from a sophist: the Sophist can give very ﬁne and beautiful discourses on courage, but is not courageous himself. This accord is also why Laches can say of Socrates: “I found him living up to any ﬁne words however freely spoken”. Socrates is able to use rational, ethically valuable, ﬁne, and beautiful discourse; but unlike the sophist, he can use parrhesia and speak freely because what he says accords exactly with what he thinks, and what he thinks accords exactly with what he does. And so Socrates — who is truly free and courageous — can therefore function as a parrhesiastic ﬁgure. Just as was the case in the political ﬁeld, the parrhesiastic ﬁgure of Socrates also discloses the truth in speaking, is courageous in his life an in his speech, and confronts his listener’s opinion in a critical manner.
But Socratic parrhesia differs from political parrhesia in a number of ways. It appears in a personal relationship between two human beings, and not in the parrhesiastes’ relation to the demos, or the king. And in addition to the relationships we noticed between logos, truth, and courage in political parrhesia, with Socrates a new element now emerges, viz., bios. Bios is the focus of Socratic parrhesia. On Socrates’ or the philosopher’s side, the bios-logos relation is a Dorian harmony which grounds Socrates’ parrhesiastic role, and which, at the same time, constitutes the visible criterion for his function as the basanos or touchstone. On the interlocutor’s side, the bios-logos relation is disclosed when the interlocutor gives an account of his life, and its harmony tested by contact with Socrates. Since he possesses in his relation to truth all the qualities that need to be disclosed in the interlocutor, Socrates can test the relation to truth of the interlocutor’s existence. The aim of this Socratic parrhesiastic activity, then, is to lead the interlocutor to the choice of that kind of life (bios) that will be in Dorian-harmonic accord with logos, virtue, courage, and truth.
In Euripides’ Ion we saw the problematization of parrhesia in the form of a game between logos, truth, and genos (birth) in the relations between the gods and mortals; and Ion’s parrhesiastic role was grounded in a mythical genealogy descended from Athens. In the realm of political institutions the problematization of parrhesia involved a game between logos, truth, and nomos (law); and the parrhesiastes was needed to disclose those truths which would ensure the salvation of welfare of the city. Parrhesia here was the personal quality of an advisor to the king. And now with Socrates the problematization of parrhesia takes the form of a game between logos, truth, and bios (life) in the realm of a personal teaching relation between two human beings. And the truth that the parrhesiastic discourse discloses is the truth of someone’s life, i.e., the kind of relation someone has to truth: how he constitutes himself as someone who has to know the truth through mathesis, and how this relation to truth is ontologically and ethically manifest in his own life. Parrhesia, in turn, becomes an ontological characteristic of the basanos, whose harmonic relation to truth can function as a touchstone. The objective of the cross-examinations Socrates conducts in his role of the touchstone, then, is to test the speciﬁc relation to truth of the other’s existence.
In Euripides’ Ion, parrhesia was opposed to Apollo’s silence; in the political sphere parrhesia was opposed to the demos’ will, or to those who ﬂatter the desires of the majority or the monarch. In this third, Socratic-philosophical game, parrhesia is opposed to self-ignorance and the false teachings of the sophists.
Socrates’ role as a basanos appears very clearly in the Laches; but in other Platonic texts — the Apology, for example — this role is presented as a mission assigned to Socrates by the oracular deity at Delphi, viz., Apollo — the same god who kept silent in Ion. And just as Apollo’s oracle was open to all who wished to consult it , so Socrates offered himself up to anyone as a questioner. The Delphic oracle was also so enigmatic and obscure that one could not understand it without knowing what sort of question one was asking, and what kind of meaning the oracular pronouncement could take in one’s life. Similarly, Socrates’ discourse requires that one overcome self-ignorance about one’s own situation. But of course, there are major differences. For example, the oracle foretold what would happen to you, whereas Socratic parrhesia means to disclose who you are — not your relation to future events, but your present relation to truth.
I do not mean to imply that there is any strict chronological progression among the various forms of parrhesia we have noted. Euripides died in 407 BC and Socrates was put to death in 399 BC. In ancient culture the continuation of ideas and themes is also more pronounced. And we are also quite limited in the number of documents available from this period. So there is no precise chronology. The forms of parrhesia we see in Euripides did not generate a very long tradition. And as the Hellenistic monarchies grew and developed, political parrhesia increasingly assumed the form of a personal relation between the monarch and his advisors, thereby coming closer to Socratic form. Increased emphasis was placed on the royal art of statesmanship and the moral education of the king. And the Socratic type of parrhesia had a long tradition through the Cynics and other Socratic Schools. So the divisions are almost contemporary when then appear, but the historical destiny of the three are not the same.
In Plato, and in what we know of Socrates through Plato, a major problem concerns the attempt to determine how to bring he political parrhesia involving logos, truth, and nomos so that it coincides with the ethical parrhesia involving logos, truth, and bios. How can philosophical truth and moral virtue relate to the city through the nomos? You see this issue in the Apology, the Crito, the Republic, and in the laws. There is a very interesting text in the laws, for example, where Plato says that even in the city ruled by good laws there is still a need for someone who will use parrhesia to tell the citizens what moral conduct they must observe. Plato distinguishes between the Gardians of the Laws and the parrhesiastes, who does not monitor the application of the laws, but, like Socrates, speaks the truth about the good of the city, and gives advice from an ethical, philosophical standpoint. And, as far as I know, it is the only text in Plato where the one who uses parrhesia is a kind of political ﬁgure in the ﬁeld of the law.
In the Cynic tradition — which also derives from Socrates — the problematic relation between nomos and bios will become a direct opposition. For in this tradition, the Cynic philosopher is regarded as the only one capable of assuming the role of the parrhesiastes. And , as we shall see in the case of Diogenes, he must adopt a permanent negative and critical attitude towards any kind of political institution, and towards any kind of nomos.
Last time we met we analyzed some texts from Plato’s Laches where we saw the emergence, with Socrates, of a new “philosophical” parrhesia very different from the previous forms we examined. In the Laches we had a game with ﬁve main players. Two of them, Lysimachus and Melesius, were well-born Athenian citizens from noble houses who were unable to assume a parrhesiastic role — for they did not know how to educate their own children, Laches and Nicias, who were also unable to play the role of parrhesiastes. Laches and Nicias, in turn, were then obliged to appeal to Socrates for help, who appears as the real parrhesiastic ﬁgure. So we can see in these transitional moves a successive displacement of the parrhesiastic role from the well-born Athenian and the political leader -who formerly possessed the role- to the philosopher, Socrates. Taking the Laches as our point of departure, we can now observe in Greco-Roman culture the rise and development of this new kind of parrhesia which, I think, can be characterized as follows.
First, this parrhesia is philosophical, and has been put into practice for centuries by the philosophers. Indeed, a large part of the philosophical activity that transpired in Greco-Roman culture required playing certain parrhesiastic games. Very schematically, I think that this philosophical role involved three types of parrhesiastic activity, all of them related to one another. Insofar as the philosopher had to discover and to teach certain truths about the world, nature, etc., he or she assumed a epistemic role. Taking a stand towards the city, the laws, political institutions, and so on, required, in addition, a political role. And parrhesiastic activity also endeavored to elaborate the nature of the relationships between truth and one’s style of life, or truth and an ethics and aesthetics of the self. Parrhesia as it appears in the ﬁeld of philosophical activity in Greco-Roman culture is not primarily a concept or theme, but a practice which tries to shape the speciﬁc relations individuals have to themselves. And I think that our own moral subjectivity is rooted, at least in part, in these practices. More precisely, I think that the decisive criterion which identiﬁes the parrhesiastes is not to be found in his birth, nor in his citizenship, nor in his intellectual competence, but in the harmony which exists between his logos and his bios.
Secondly, the target of this new parrhesia is not to persuade the Assembly, but to convince someone that he must take care of himself and of others; and this means that he must change his life. This theme of changing one’s life, of conversion, becomes very important from the Fourth Century BC to the beginnings of Christianity. It is essential to philosophical parrhesiastic practices. Of course conversion is not completely different from the change of mind that an orator, using his parrhesia, wished to bring about when he asked his fellow citizens to wake up, to refuse what they previously accepted, or to accept what they previously refused. But in philosophical practice the notion of changing one’s mind takes on a more general and expanded meaning since it is no longer just a matter of altering one’s belief or opinion, but of changing one’s style of life, one’s relation to others, and one’s relation to oneself.
Thirdly, these new parrhesiastic practices imply a complex set of connections between the self and truth. For not only are these practices supposed to endow the individual with self-knowledge, this self-knowledge in turn is supposed to grant access to truth for further knowledge. The circle implied in knowing the truth about oneself in order to know the truth is characteristic of parrhesiastic practice since the Fourth Century, and has been one of the problematic enigmas of Western Thought e.g., as in Descartes or Kant.
And a ﬁnal point I would like to underscore about this philosophical parrhesia is that it has recourse to numerous techniques quite different from the techniques of persuasive discourse previously utilized; and it is no longer speciﬁcally linked to the agora, or to the king’s court, but can now be utilized in numerous diverse places.
The practice of parrhesia
In this session and next week — in the last seminar meeting — I would like to analyze philosophical parrhesia from the standpoint of its practices. By the”practice” of parrhesia I mean two things: ﬁrst, the use of parrhesia in speciﬁc types of human relationships (which I shall address this evening); and secondly, the procedures and techniques employed in such relationships (which will be the topic of our last session).
Because of the lack of time, and to assist on the clarity of the presentation, I would like to distinguish three kinds of human relationships which are implied in the use of this new philosophical parrhesia. But, of course, this is only a general schema, for there are several intermediate forms.
First, parrhesia occurs as an activity in the framework of small groups of people, or in the context of community life. Secondly, parrhesia can be see in human relationships occurring in the framework of public life. And ﬁnally, parrhesia occurs in the context of individual personal relationships. More speciﬁcally, we can say that parrhesia as a feature of community life was highly regarded by the Epicureans; parrhesia as a public activity or public demonstration was a signiﬁcant aspect of Cynicism, as well as that type of philosophy that was a mixture of Cynicism and Stoicism; and parrhesia as an aspect of personal relationships is found more frequently either in Stoicism or in a generalized or common Stoicism characteristic of such writers as Plutarch.
Parrhesia and Community Life: Epictetus
Although the Epicureans, with the importance they gave to friendship, emphasized community life more than other philosophers at this time, nonetheless one can also ﬁnd some stoic groups, as well as Stoic or Stoico-Cynic philosophers who acted as moral and political advisors to various circles and aristocratic clubs. For example, Musonius Rufus was spiritual advisor to Nero’s cousin, Rubellius Plautus, and his circle; and the Stoico-Cynic philosopher Demetrius was advisor to a liberal anti-aristocratic group around Thrasea Paetus. Thrasea Paetus, a roman senator, committed suicide after being condemned to death by the senate during Nero’s reign. And Demetrius was the régisseur, I would say, of his suicide. So besides the community life of the Epicureans there are other intermediate forms.
There is also the very interesting case of Epictetus. Epictetus was a Stoic for whom the practice of speaking openly and frankly was also very important. He directed a school about which we know a few things from the four surviving volumes of Epictetus’ Discourses as recorded by Arrian. We know, for example, that Epictetus’ school was located at Nicopolis in a permanent structure which enabled students to share in a real community life. Public lectures and teaching sessions were given where the public was invited, and where individuals could ask questions — although sometimes such individuals were mocked and twitted by the masters. We also know that Epictetus conducted both public conversations and interviews. His school was a kind of école normale for those who wanted to become philosophers or moral advisors.
So when I tell you that philosophical parrhesia occurs as an activity in three types of relationship, it must be clear that the forms I have chosen are only guiding examples; the actual practices were, of course, much more complicated and interrelated.
First, then, the example of the Epicurean groups regarding the practice of parrhesia in community life. Unfortunately, we know very few things about the Epicurean communities, and even less about the parrhesiastic practices in these communities — which explains the brevity of my exposition. But we do have a text entitled “On Frank Speaking“ written by Philodemus (who is recording the lectures of Zeno of Sidon). The text is not complete in its entirety, but the existing manuscript pieces come from the ruins of the Epicurean library discovered at Herculaneum near the end of the Nineteenth Century. What has been preserved is very fragmentary and rather obscure; and I must confess that without some commentary from the Italian scholar, Marcello Gigante, I would not have understood much of this fragmentary Greek text.
I would like to underline the following points from this treatise.
First, Philodemus regards parrhesia not only as a quality, virtue, or personal attitude, but also as a techne comparable both to the art of medicine and to the art of piloting a boat. As you know, the comparison between medicine and navigation is a very traditional one in Greek culture. But even without this reference to parrhesia, the comparison of medicine and navigation is interesting for the following two reasons.
(1) The reason why the pilot’s techne of navigation is similar to the physician’s techne of medicine is that in both cases, the necessary theoretical knowledge required also demands practical training in order to be useful. Furthermore, in order to put these techniques to work, one has to take into account not only the general rules and principles of the art, but also particular data which are always speciﬁc to a given situation. One must take into account the particular circumstances, and also what the Greeks called the “kairos”, or the critical moment. The concept of the kairos — the decisive or crucial moment or opportunity — has always had a signiﬁcant role in Greek though for epistemological, moral and technical reasons. What is of interest here is that since Philodemus is now associating parrhesia with piloting and medicine, it is also being regarded as a technique which deals with individual cases, speciﬁc situations, and the choice of the kairos or decisive moment. Utilizing our modern vocabulary, we can say that navigation, medicine, and the practice of parrhesia are all ‘clinical techniques’.
(2) Another reason why the Greeks often associated medicine and navigation is that in the case of both techniques, one person (the pilot or physician) must make the decisions, give orders and instructions, exercise power and authority, while the others — the crew, the patient, the staff — must obey if the desired end is to be achieved. Hence navigation and medicine are also both related to politics. For in politics the choice of the opportunity, the best moment, is also crucial; and someone is also supposed to be more competent than the others — and therefore has the right to give the orders that the others must obey. In politics, then, there are indispensable techniques which lie at the root of statesmanship considered as the art of governing people.
If I mention this ancient afﬁnity between medicine, navigation, and politics, it is in order to indicate that with the addition of the parrhesiastic techniques of ‘spiritual guidance’, a corpus of interrelated clinical technai was constituted during the Hellenistic period. Of course, the techne of piloting or navigation is primarily of metaphorical signiﬁcance. But an analysis of the various relations which Greco-Roman culture believed existed between the three clinical activities of medicine, politics, and the practice of parrhesia would be important.
Several centuries later, Gregory of Nazianzus would call spiritual guidance the ‘technique of techniques’— ‘ars artium’, ‘techne technon’. This expression is signiﬁcant since statesmanship or political techne was previously regarded as the techne technon or the Royal Art. But from the Fourth Century A. D. to the Seventeenth Century in Europe, the expression ‘techne technon’ usually refers to spiritual guidance as the most signiﬁcant clinical technique. This characteri-zation of parrhesia as a techne in relation to medicine, piloting, and politics is indicative of the transformation of parrhesia into a philosophical practice. From the physician’s art of governing patients and the king’s art of governing the city and its subjects, we move to the philosopher’s art of governing himself and acting as a kind of ‘spiritual guide’ for other people.
Another aspect of Philodemus’ text concerns the references it contains about the structure of the Epicurean communities; but commentators on Philodemus disagree about the exact form, complexity, and hierarchical organization of such communities. DeWitt thinks that the existing hierarchy was very well-established and complex; whereas Gigante thinks that it was much simpler. It seems that there were at least two categories of teachers and two types of teaching in the Epicurean schools and groups.
There was ‘classroom’ teaching where a teacher addressed a group of students; and there was also instruction in the form of personal interviews where a teacher would give advice and precepts to individual community members. Whereas the lower-ranked teachers only taught classes, the higher-level teachers both taught classes and gave personal interviews. Thus a distinction was drawn between general teaching and personal instruction or guidance. This distinction is not a difference in content, as between theoretical and practical subject matters— especially since studies in physics, cosmology, and natural law had ethical signiﬁcance for the Epicureans. Nor is it a difference in instruction contrasting ethical theory with its practical application. Rather the difference marks a distinction in the pedagogical relationship between teacher and disciple or student. In the Socratic situation, there was one procedure which enabled the interlocutor to discover thee truth about himself, the relation of his bios to logos; and this same procedure, at the same time, also enabled him to gain access to additional truths (about the world, ideas, the nature of the soul, and so on). With the Epicurean schools, however, there is the pedagogical relation of guidance where the master helps the disciple to discover the truth about himself, but there is now, in addition, a form of ‘authoritarian’ teaching in a collective relation where someone speaks the truth to a group of others. These two types of teaching became a permanent feature of western culture. And in the Epicurean schools we know that it was the role of the ‘spiritual guide’ for others that was more highly valued that that of group lecturer.
I do not wish to conclude the discussion of Philodemus’ text without mentioning a practice which they engaged in— what we might call ‘mutual confession’ in a group. Some of the fragments indicate that there were group confessions or meetings where each of the community members in turn would disclose their thoughts, faults, misbehavior, and so on. We know very little about such meetings, but referring to this practice Philodemus uses an interesting expression. He speaks of this practice as ‘the salvation by one another’ — ‘to di’ allelon sozesthai’. The word ‘sozesthai’ — to save oneself — in the Epicurean tradition means to gain access to a good, beautiful, and happy life. It does not refer to any kind of afterlife or divine judgment. In one’s own salvation, other members of the Epicurean community [The Garden] have a decisive role to play as necessary agents enabling one to discover the truth about oneself, and in helping one to gain access to a happy life ? Hence the very important emphasis on friendship in the Epicurean groups.
Parrhesia and Public Life: the Cynics
Now I would like to move on to the practice of parrhesia in public life through the example of the Cynic philosophers. In the case of the Epicurean communities, we know very little about their style of life but have some idea of their doctrine as it is expressed in various texts. With the Cynics the situation is exactly reversed; for we know very little about Cynic doctrine — even if there ever was such an explicit doctrine. But we do possess numerous testimonies regarding the Cynic way of life. And there is nothing surprising about this state of affairs; for even though Cynic philosophers wrote books just like other philosophers, they were far more interested in choosing and practicing a certain way of life.
A historical problem concerning the origin of Cynicism is this. Most of the Cynics from the First Century B. C. and thereafter refer to either Diogenes or Antisthenes as the founder of the Cynic philosophy, and though these founder of Cynicism they relate themselves back to the teachings of Socrates. According to Farrand Sayre, however, the Cynic Sect appeared only in the Second Century B. C. , or two centuries after Socrates’ death. We might be a bit skeptical about a traditional explanation given for the rise of the Cynic Sects — an explanation which has been given so often to account for so many other phenomena; but it is that Cynicism is a negative form of aggressive individualism which arose with the collapse of the political structures of the ancient world. A more interesting account is given by Sayre, who explains the appearance of the Cynics on the Greek philosophical scene as a consequence of expanding conquest of the Macedonian Empire. More speciﬁcally, he notes that with Alexander’s conquests various Indian philosophies -especially the monastic and ascetic teaching of Indian Sects like the Gymnosophists- became more familiar to the Greeks.
Regardless of what we can determine about the origins of Cynicism, it is a fact that the Cynics were very numerous and inﬂuential from the end of the First Century B.C. to the Fourth Century A. D. Thus in A. D. 165 Lucian — who did not like the Cynics — writes:”The city swarms with these vermin, particularly those who profess the tenets of Diogenes, Antisthenes, and Crates.” It seems, in fact, that the self-styled ‘Cynics’ were so numerous that the Emperor Julian, in his attempt to revive classical Greek culture, wrote a lampoon against them scorning their ignorance, their coarseness, and portraying them as a danger for the Empire and for Greco-Roman culture. One of the reasons why Julian treated the Cynics so harshly was due to their general resemblance to the early Christians. And some of the similarities may have been more than mere superﬁcial resemblance. For example, Peregrinus (a well-known Cynic at the end of the Second Century A. D. ) was considered a kind of saint by his Cynic followers, especially by those who regarded his death as a heroic emulation of the death of Heracles. To display his Cynic indifference to death, Peregrinus committed suicide by cremating himself immediately following the Olympic Games of A.D. 167. Lucian, who witnessed the event, gives a satirical, derisive account. Julian was also disappointed that the Cynics were not able to represent ancient Greco-Roman culture, for he hoped that there would be something like a popular philosophical movement which would compete with Christianity.
The high value which the Cynics attributed to a person’s way of life does not mean that they had no interest in theoretical philosophy, but reﬂects their view that the manner in which a person lived was a touchstone of his or her relation to truth — as we saw was also the case in the Socratic tradition. The conclusion they drew from this Socratic idea, however, was that in order to proclaim the truths they accepted in a manner that would be accessible to everyone, they though that their teachings had to consist in a very public, visible, spectacular, provocative, and sometimes scandalous way of life. The Cynics thus taught by way of examples and the explanations associated with them. They wanted their own lives to be a blazon of essential truths which would then serve as a guideline, or as an example for others to follow. But there is nothing in this Cynic emphasis on philosophy as an art of life which is alien to Greek philosophy. So even if we accept Sayre’s hypothesis about the Indian philosophical inﬂuence on Cynic doctrine and practice, we must still recognize that the Cynic attitude is, in its basic form, just an extremely radical version of the very Greek conception of the relationship between one’s way of life and knowledge of the truth. The Cynic idea that a person is nothing else but his relation to truth, and that this relation to truth takes shape or is given form in his own life — that is completely Greek.
In the Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic traditions, philosophers referred mainly to a doctrine, text, or at least to some theoretical principles for their philosophy. In the Epicurean tradition, the followers of Epicurus refer both to a doctrine and also to the personal example set by Epicurus — whom every Epicurean tried to imitate. Epicurus originated the doctrine and was also a personiﬁcation of it. But now in the Cynic tradition, the main references for the philosophy are not to the texts or doctrines, but to exemplary lives. Personal examples were also important in other philosophical schools, but in the Cynic movement — where there were no established texts, no settled, recognizable doctrine — reference was always made to certain real or mythical personalities who were taken to be the sources of Cynicism as a mode of life. Such personalities were the starting point for Cynic reﬂection and commentary. The mythical characters referred to included Heracles [Hercules], Odysseus [Ulysses], and Diogenes. Diogenes was an actual, historical ﬁgure, but his life became so legendary that he developed into a kind of myth as anecdotes, scandals, etc., were added to his historical life. About his actual life we do not know all that much, but it is clear that he became a kind of philosophical hero. Plato, Aristotle, Zeno of Citiun, etc., were philosophical authors and authorities, for example; but they were not considered heroes. Epicurus was both a philosophical author and treated by his followers as a kind of hero. But Diogenes was primarily a heroic ﬁgure. the idea that a philosopher’s life should be exemplary and heroic is important in understanding the relationship of Cynicism to Christianity, as well as for understanding Cynic parrhesia as a public activity.
This brings us to Cynic parrhesia. The main types of parrhesiastic practice utilized by the Cynics were: (1) critical preaching; (2) scandalous behavior; and (3) what I shall call the “provocative dialogue.”
First, the critical preaching of the Cynics. Preaching is a form of continuous discourse. And, as you know, most of the early philosophers — especially the Stoics — would occasionally deliver speeches where they presented their doctrines. Usually, however they would lecture in front of a rather small audience. The Cynics, in contrast, disliked this kind of elitist exclusion and preferred to address a large crowd. For example, they liked to speak in a theater, or at a place where people had gathered for a feast, religious event, athletic contest, etc. They would sometimes stand up in the middle of a theater audience and deliver a speech. This public preaching was not their own innovation, for we have testimonies of similar practices as early as the Fifth Century B.C. Some of the sophists we see in the Platonic dialogues, for example, also engage in preaching to some extent. Cynic preaching, however, had its own speciﬁc characteristics, and is historically signiﬁcant since it enabled philosophical themes about one’s way of life to become popular, i.e., to come to the attention of people who stood outside the philosophical elect. From this perspective, Cynic preaching about freedom, the renunciation of luxury, Cynic criticisms of political institutions; and existing moral codes, and so on, also opened the way for some Christian themes. But Christian proselytes not only spoke about themes which were often similar to the Cynics; they also took over the practice of preaching.
Preaching is still one of the main forms of truth-telling practiced in our society, and it involves the idea that the truth must be told and taught not only to the best members of the society, or to an exclusive group, but to everyone.
There is, however, very little positive doctrine in Cynic preaching: no direct afﬁrmation of the good or bad. Instead, the Cynics refer to freedom (eleutheria) and self-sufﬁciency (autarkeia) as the basic criteria by which to assess and kind of behavior or mode of life. For the Cynics, the main condition for human happiness is autarkeia, self-sufﬁciency or independence, where what you need to have or what you decide to do is dependent on nothing other than you yourself. As, a consequence — since the Cynics had the most radical of attitudes — they preferred a completely natural life-style. A natural life was supposed to eliminate all of the dependencies introduced by culture, society, civilization, opinion, and so on. Consequently, most of their preaching seems to have been directed against social institutions, the arbitrariness of rules of law, and any sort of life-style that was dependent upon such institutions or laws. In short, their preaching was against all social institutions insofar as such institutions hindered one’s freedom and independence.
Cynic parrhesia also had recourse to scandalous behavior or attitudes which called into question collective habits, opinions, standards of decency, institutional rules, and so on. Several procedures were used. One of them was the inversion of roles, as can be seen from Dio Chrysostom’s Fourth Discourse where the famous encounter between Diogenes and Alexander is depicted. This encounter, which was often referred to by the Cynics, does not take place in the privacy of Alexander’s court but in the street, in the open. The king stands up while Diogenes sits back in his barrel. Diogenes orders Alexander to step out of his light so that he can bask in the sun. Ordering Alexander to step aside so that the sun’ s light can reach Diogenes is an afﬁrmation of the direct and natural relation the philosopher has to the sun in contrast to the mythical genealogy whereby the king, as descended from a god, was supposed to personify the sun.
The Cynics also employed the technique of displacing or transposing a rule from a domain where the rule was accepted to a domain where it was not in order to show how arbitrary the rule was. Once, during the athletic contests and horse-races of the Isthmian festival, Diogenes — who was bothering everyone with his frank remarks — took a crown of pine and put it on his head as if he had been victorious in an athletic competition. And the magistrates were very happy about this gesture because they thought it was, at last, a good occasion to punish him, to exclude him, to get rid of him. But he explained that he placed a crown upon his head because he had won a much more difﬁcult victory against poverty, exile, desire, and his own vices than athletes who were victorious in wrestling, running, and hurling a discus. And later on during the games, he saw two horses ﬁghting and kicking each other until one of them ran off. So Diogenes went up and put a crown on the head of the horse who stood its ground . These two symmetrical displacements have the effect of raising the question: “What are you really doing when you award someone with a crown in the Isthmian games? “ For if the crown is awarded to someone as a moral victory, then Diogenes deserves a crown. But if it is only a question of superior physical strength, then there is no reason why the horse should not be given a crown.
Cynic parrhesia in its scandalous aspects also utilized the practice of bringing together two rules of behavior which seem contradictory and remote from one another. For example, regarding the problem of bodily needs. You eat. There is no scandal in eating, so you can eat in public (although, for the Greeks, this is not obvious and Diogenes was sometimes reproached for eating in the agora). Since Diogenes ate in the agora, he thought that there was no reason why he should not also masturbate in the agora; for in both cases he was satisfying a bodily need (adding that “he wished it were as easy to banish hunger by rubbing the belly”) . Well, I will not try to conceal the shamelessness (anaideia) of the Cynics as a scandalous practice or technique.
As you know, the word “cynic” comes from the Greek word meaning “dog-like” (kynikoi); and Diogenes was called “The Dog”. In fact, the ﬁrst and only contemporary reference to Diogenes is found in Aristotle’s Rhetoric, where Aristotle does not even mention the name “Diogenes” but just call him , “The Dog”. The noble philosophers of Greece, who usually comprised an elite group, almost always disregarded the Cynics.
The Cynics also used another parrhesiastic technique, viz., the “provocative dialogue”. To give you a more precise example of this type of dialogue — which derives from Socratic parrhesia — I have chosen a passage from the Fourth Discourse on Kingship of Dio Chrysostom of Prusa (c.A.D.40-110).
Do you all know who Dio Chrysostom is? Well, he is a very interesting guy from the last half of the First Century and the beginning of the Second Century of our era. He was born at Prusa in Asia Minor of a wealthy Roman family who played a prominent role in the city-life. Dio’s family was typical of the afﬂuent provincial notables that produced so many writers, ofﬁcers, generals, even emperors, for the Roman Empire. He came to Rome possibly as a professional rhetorician, but there are some disputes about this. An American scholar, C.P. Jones, has written a very interesting book about Dio Chrysostom which depicts the social life of an intellectual in the Roman Empire of Dio’s time. In Rome Dio Chrysostom became acquainted with Musonius Rufus, the Stoic philosopher, and possibly through him he became involved with some liberal circles generally opposed to personal tyrranic power. He was subsequently exiled by Domitian — who disliked his views — and thus he began a wandering life where he adopted the costume and the attitudes of the Cynics for several years. When he was ﬁnally authorized to return to Rome following Domitian’s assassination, he started a new career. His former fortune was returned to him, and he became a wealthy and famous teacher. For a while, however, he had the life-style, the attitude, the habits, and the philosophical views of a Cynic philosopher. But we must keep in mind the fact that Dio Chrysostom was not a “pure” cynic; and perhaps with his intellectual background his depiction of the Cynic parrhesiastic game puts it closer to the Socratic tradition than most of the actual Cynic practices.
In the Fourth Discourse of Dio Chrysostom I think you can ﬁnd all three forms of Cynic parrhesia. The end of the Discourse is a kind of preaching, and throughout there are references to Diogenes’ scandalous behavior and examples illustrating the provocative dialogue of Diogenes with Alexander. The topic of the Discourse is the famous encounter between Diogenes and Alexander the Great which actually took place at Corinth. The Discourse begins with Dio’s thoughts concerning this meeting (1-14) then a ﬁctional dialogue follows portraying the nature of Diogenes’ and Alexander’s conversation (15-81) and the Discourse ends with a long, continuous discussion — ﬁctionally narrated by Diogenes — regarding three types of faulty and self-deluding styles of life (82-139).
At the very beginning of the Discourse, Dio criticizes those who present the meeting of Diogenes and Alexander as an encounter between equals: one man famous for his leadership and military victories, the other famous for his free and self-sufﬁcient life-style, and his austere and naturalistic moral virtue. Dio does not want people to praise Alexander just because he, as a powerful king, did not disregard a poor guy like Diogenes. He insists that Alexander actually felt inferior to Diogenes, and was also a bit envious of his reputation; for unlike Alexander, who wanted to conquer the world, Diogenes did not need anything to do what he wanted to do :
[Alexander] himself needed his Macedonian phalanx, his Thessalian cavalry, Thracians, Paeonians, and many others if he was to go where he wished and get what he desired; but Diogenes went forth unattended in perfect safety by night as well as by day whithersoever he cared to go. Again, he himself required huge sums of gold and silver to carry out any of his projects; and what is more, if he expected to keep the Macedonians and the other Greeks submissive, must time and again curry favor of their rulers and the general populace by words and gifts; whereas Diogenes cajoled no man by ﬂattery, but told everybody the truth and, even though he possessed not a single drachma, succeeded in doing as he pleased, failed in nothing he set before himself, was the only man who lived the life he considered the best and happiest, and would not have accepted Alexander’s throne or the wealth of the Medes and Persians in exchange for his own poverty.
So it is clear that Diogenes appears here as the master of truth; and from this point of view, Alexander is both inferior to him, and is aware of this inferiority. But although Alexander has some vices and faults of character, he is not a bad king, and he chooses to play Diogenes’ parrhesiastic game:
So the king came up to [Diogenes] as he sat there and greeted him, whereas the other looked up at him with a terrible glare like that of a lion and ordered him to step aside a little, for Diogenes happened to be warming himself in the sun. Now Alexander was at once delighted with the man’s boldness and composure in not being awestruck in his presence. For it is somehow natural for the courageous to love the courageous, while cowards eye them with misgiving and hate them as enemies, but welcome the base and like them. And so to the one class truth and frankness [parrhesia] are the most agreeable things in the world, to the other, ﬂattery and deceit. The latter lend a willing ear to those who in their intercourse seek to please, the former, to those who have regard for the truth.
The Cynic parrhesiastic game which begins is, in some respects, not unlike the Socratic dialogue since there is an exchange of questions and answers. But there are at least two signiﬁcant differences. First, in the Cynic parrhesiastic game it is Alexander who tends to ask the questions and Diogenes, the philosopher, who answers — which is the reverse of the Socratic dialogue. Secondly, whereas Socrates plays with his interlocutor’s ignorance, Diogenes wants to hurt Alexander’s pride. For example, at the beginning of the exchange, Diogenes calls Alexander a bastard (181), and tells him that someone who claim to be a king is not so very different from a child who, after winning a game, puts a crown on his head and declares that he is king [47-49]. Of course, all that is not very pleasant for Alexander to hear. But that’s Diogenes’ game: hitting his interlocutor’s pride, forcing him to recognize that he is not what he claims to be which is something quite different from the Socratic attempt to show someone that he is ignorant of what he claims to know. In the Socratic dialogues, you sometimes see that someone’s pride has been hurt when he is compelled to recognize that he does not know what he claims to know. For example, when Callicles is led to an awareness of his ignorance, he renounces all discussion because his pride has been hurt. But this is only a side effect, as it were, of the main target of Socratic irony, which is: to show someone that he is ignorant of his own ignorance. In the case of Diogenes, however, pride is the main target, and the ignorance/knowledge game is a side effect.
From these attacks on an interlocutor’s pride, you see that the interlocutor is brought to the limit of the ﬁrst parrhesiastic contract, viz., to agree to play the game, to choose to engage in discussion. Alexander is willing to engage Diogenes in discussion, to accept his insolence and insults, but there is a limit. And every time that Alexander feels insulted by Diogenes, he becomes angry and is close to quitting off , even to brutalizing Diogenes. So you see that the Cynic parrhesiastic game is played at the very limits of the parrhesiastic contract. It borders on transgression because the parrhesiastes may have made too many insulting remarks. Here is an example of this play at the limit of the parrhesiastic agreement to engage in discussion:
… [Diogenes] went on to tell the king that he did not even possess the badge of royalty. . .”And what badge is that?” said Alexander. “It is the badge of the bees, “he replied, “that the king wears. Have you not heard that there is a king among the bees, made so by nature, who does not hold ofﬁce by virtue of what you people who trace your descent from Heracles call inheritance? “ “What is this badge ?” inquired Alexander. “Have you not heard farmers say, “asked the other, “that this is the only bee that has no sting since he requires no weapon against anyone? For no other bee will challenge his right to be king or ﬁght him when he has this badge. I have an idea, however, that you not only go about fully armed but even sleep that way. Do you not know,” he continued, “that is a sign of fear in a man for him to carry arms? And no man who is afraid would ever have a chance to become king any more than a slave would. “
Diogenes reasons: if you bear arms, you are afraid. No one who is afraid can be a king. So, since Alexander bears arms he cannot be a real king. And, of course, Alexander is not very pleased by this logic, and Dio continues: “At these words Alexander came near hurling his spear”. That gesture, of course, would have been the rupture, the transgression, of the parrhesiastic game. When the dialogue arrives at this point, there are two possibilities available to Diogenes for bringing Alexander back into the game. One way is the following. Diogenes says, in effect, ‘Well, allright. I know that you are outraged and you are also free. You have both the ability and the legal sanction to kill me. But will you be courageous enough to hear the truth from me, or are you such a coward that you must kill me?’ And, for example, after Diogenes insults Alexander at one point in the dialogue, he tells him:
“… In view of what I say rage and prance about … and think me the greatest blackguard and slander me to the world and, if it be your pleasure, run me through with your spear; for I am the only man from whom you will get the truth, and you will learn it from no one else. For all are less honest than I am and more servile.”
Diogenes thus voluntarily angers Alexander, and then says, ‘Well, you can kill me; but if you do so, nobody else will tell you the truth.’ And there is an exchange, a new parrhesiastic contract is drawn up with a new limit imposed by Diogenes: either you kill me, or you’ll know the truth. This kind of courageous ‘blackmailing’ of the interlocutor in the name of truth makes a positive impression upon Alexander: “Then was Alexander amazed at the courage and fearlessness of the man” . So Alexander decides to stay in the game, and a new agreement is thereby achieved.
Another means Diogenes employs for bringing Alexander back into the game is more subtle than the previous challenge: Diogenes also uses trickery. This trickery is different from Socratic irony; for, as you all know, in Socratic irony, Socrates feigns to be as ignorant as his interlocutor so that his interlocutor would not be ashamed of disclosing his own ignorance, and thus not reply to Socrates’ questions. That, at least, was the principle of Socratic irony. Diogenes’ trick is somewhat different; for at the moment when his interlocutor is about to terminate the exchange, Diogenes says something which his interlocutor believes is complimentary. For example, after Diogenes calls Alexander a bastard — which was not very well-received by Alexander — Diogenes tells him:
“… is it not olympias who said that Philip is not your father, as it happens, but a dragon or Ammon or some god or other or demigod or wild animal? And yet in that case you would certainly be a bastard.”
Thereupon Alexander smiled and was pleased as never before, thinking that Diogenes, so far from being rude, was the most tactful of men and the only one who really knew how to pay a compliment.
Whereas the Socratic dialogue traces an intricate and winding path from an ignorant understanding to an awareness of ignorance, the Cynic dialogue is much more like a ﬁght, a battle, or a war, with peaks of great agressivity and moments of peaceful calm — peaceful exchanges which, of course, are additional traps for the interlocutor. In the Fourth Discourse Dio Chrysostom explains the rationale behind this strategy of mixing aggressivity and sweetness; Diogenes asks Alexander:
“Have you not heard the Libyan myth ? “ And the king replied that he had not. Then Diogenes told him with zest and charm, because he wanted to put him in a good humor, just as nurses, after giving the children a whipping, tell them a story to comfort and please them.
And a bit further on, Dio adds:
When Diogenes perceived that [Alexander] was greatly excited and quite keyed up in mind with expectancy, he toyed with him and pulled him about in the hope that somehow he might be moved from his pride and thirst for glory and be able to sober up a little. For he noticed that at one moment he was delighted, and at another grieved, at the same thing, and that his soul was as unsettled as the weather at the solstices when both rain and sunshine come from the very same cloud.
Diogenes’ charm, however, is only a means of advancing the game and of preparing the way for additional aggressive exchanges. Thus, after Diogenes pleases Alexander with his remarks about his ‘bastard’ genealogy, and considers the possibility that Alexander might be the son of Zeus, he goes even further: he tells Alexander that when Zeus has a son, he gives his son marks of his divine birth. Of course, Alexander thinks that he has such marks. Alexander then asks Diogenes how one can be a good king. And Diogenes reply is a purely moral portrayal of kingship:
“No one can be a bad king any more than he can be a bad good man; for the king is the best one among men, since he is most brave and righteous and humane, and cannot be overcome by any toil or by any appetite. Or do you think a man is a charioteer if he can not drive, or that one is a pilot if he is ignorant of steering, or is a physician if he knows not how to cure? It is impossible, nay, though all the Greeks and barbarians acclaim him as such and load him with diadems and scepters and tiaras like so many necklaces that are put on castaway children lest they fail of recognition. Therefore, just as one cannot pilot except after the manner of pilots, so no one can be king except in a kingly way.”
We see here the analogy of statesmanship with navigation and medicine that we have already noted. As the “son of Zeus,” Alexander thinks that he has marks or signs to show that he is a king with a divine birth. But Diogenes shows Alexander that the truly royal character is not linked to special status, birth, power, and so on. Rather, the only way of being a true king is to behave like one. And when Alexander asks how he might learn this art of kingship, Diogenes tells him that it cannot be learned, for one is noble by nature [26-31].
Here the game reaches a point where Alexander does not become conscious of his lack of knowledge, as in a Socratic dialogue. He discovers, instead, that he is not in any way what he thought he was — viz., a king by royal birth, with marks of his divine status, or king because of his superior power, and so on. He is brought to a point where Diogenes tells him that the only way to be a real king is to adopt the same type of ethos as the Cynic philosopher. And at this point in the exchange there is nothing more for Alexander to say.
In the case of Socratic dialogue, it also sometimes happens that when the person Socrates has been questioning no longer knows what to say, Socrates resumes the discourse by presenting a positive thesis, and then the dialogue ends. In this text by Dio Chrysostom, Diogenes begins a continuous discourse; however his discussion does not present the truth of a positive thesis, but is content to give a precise description of three faulty modes of life linked to the royal character. The ﬁrst one is devoted to wealth, the second to physical pleasure, and the third to glory and political power. And these three life-styles are personiﬁed by three daimones or spirits.
The concept of the daimon was popular in Greek culture, and also became a philosophical concept — in Plutarch, for example. The ﬁght against evil daimones in Christian asceticism has precursors in the Cynic tradition. Incidentally, the concept of the “demon” has been elaborated in an excellent article in the ‘Dictionnaire de Spiritualite’ [F.Vandenbrouke vol3, 1957]
Diogenes gives an indication of the three daimones which Alexander must ﬁght throughout his life, and which constitute the target of a permanent “spiritual struggle” — “combat spirituel”. Of course, this phrase does not occur in Dio’s text; for here it is not so much a speciﬁc content which is speciﬁc and important, but the idea of a parrhesiastic practice which enables someone to ﬁght a spiritual war within himself.
And I think we can also see in the aggressive encounter between Alexander and Diogenes a struggle occurring between two kinds of power: political power and the power of truth. In this struggle, the parrhesiastes accepts and confronts a permanent danger: Diogenes exposes himself to Alexander’s power from the beginning to the end of the Discourse. And the main effect of this parrhesiastic struggle with power is not to bring the interlocutor to a new truth, or to a new level of self-awareness; it is to lead the interlocutor to internalize this parrhesiastic struggle — to ﬁght within himself against his own faults, and to be with himself in the same way that Diogenes was with him.
Parrhesia and Personal Relationships: Plutarch and Galen
I would now like to analyze the parrhesiastic game in the framework of personal relationships, selecting some examples from Plutarch and Galen which I think illustrate some of the technical problems which can arise.
In Plutarch there is a text which is explicitly devoted to the problem of parrhesia. Addressing certain aspects of the parrhesiastic problem, Plutarch tries to answer the question: ‘How is it possible to recognize a true parrhesiastes or truth-teller ?’ And similarly: ‘How is it possible to distinguish a parrhesiastes from a ﬂatterer ?’ The title of this text, which comes from Plutarch’s Moralia, is “How to tell a Flatterer from a Friend”.
I think we need to underline several points from this essay. First, why do we need, in our personal lives, to have some friend who plays the role of a parrhesiastes of a truth-teller ? The reason Plutarch gives is found in the predominant kind of relationship we often have to ourselves, viz., a relation of “philautia or “self-love”. This relation of self-love is, for us, the ground of a persistent illusion about what we really are :
It is because of this self-love that everybody is himself his own foremost and greatest ﬂatterer, and hence ﬁnds no difﬁculty in admitting the outsider to witness with him and to conﬁrm his own conceits and desires. For the man who is spoken of with opprobrium as a lover of ﬂatterers is in high degree a lover of self, and, because of his kindly feeling toward himself, he desires and conceives himself to be endowed with all manner of good qualities; but although the desire for these is not unnatural, yet the conceit that one possesses them is dangerous and must be carefully avoided. Now If Truth is a thing divine, and, as Plato puts it, the origin “of all good for gods and all good for men” [Laws,730c], then the ﬂatterer is in all likelihood an enemy to the gods and particularly to the Pythian god. For the ﬂatterer always takes a position over against the maxim “Know Thyself,” by creating in every man deception towards himself and ignorance both of himself and of the good and evil that concerns himself; the good he renders defective and incomplete, and the evil wholly impossible to amend.
We are our own ﬂatterers, and it is in order to disconnect this spontaneous relation we have to ourselves, to rid ourselves of our philautia, that we need a parrhesiastes. But it is difﬁcult to recognize and to accept a parrhesiastes. For not only is it difﬁcult to distinguish a true parrhesiastes from a ﬂatterer; because of our philautia we are also not interested in recognizing a parrhesiastes. So at stake in this text is the problem of determining the indubitable criteria which enables us to distinguish the genuine parrhesiastes we need so badly to rid ourselves of our own philautia from the ﬂatterer who “plays the part of friend with the gravity of tragedian” [50e] . And this implies that we are in possession of a kind of “semiology” of the real parrhesiastes. To answer the question: ‘How can we recognize a true parrhesiastes?’ Plutarch proposes two major criteria. First, there is a conformity between what the real truth-teller says with how he behaves — and here you recognize the Socratic harmony of the Laches, where Laches explains that he could trust Socrates as a truth-teller about courage since he saw that Socrates really was courageous at Deliun, and thus, that he exhibited a harmonious accord between what he said and what he did.There is also a second criterion, which is: the permanence, the continuity, the stability and steadiness of the true parrhesiastes, the true friend, regarding his choices, his opinions, and his thoughts:
… it is necessary to observe the uniformity and permanence of his tastes, whether he always takes delight in the same things, and commends always the same things, and whether he directs and ordains his own life according to one pattern, as becomes a freeborn man and a lover of congenial friendship and intimacy; for such is the conduct of a friend. But the ﬂatterer, since he has no abiding place of character to dwell in, and since he Leads a life not of his own choosing but another’s, moulding and adapting himself to suit another, is not simple, not one, but variable and many in one, and, like water that is poured into one receptacle after another, he is constantly on the move from place to place,and changes his shape to ﬁt his receiver.
Of course there are a lot of other very interesting things about this essay. But I would like to underscore two major themes. First, the theme of self-delusion, and its link with philautia — which is not something completely new. But in Plutarch’s text you can see that his notion of self-delusion as a consequence of self-love is clearly different from being in a state of ignorance about one’s own lack of self-knowledge — a state which Socrates attempted to overcome. Plutarch’s conception emphasizes the fact that not only are we unable to know that we know nothing, but we are also unable to know, exactly, what we are. And I think that this theme of self-delusion becomes increasingly important in Hellenistic culture. In Plutarch’s period it is something really signiﬁcant.
A second theme which I would like to stress is the steadiness of mind. This is also not something new, but for late Stoicism the notion of steadiness takes on great importance. And there is an obvious relation between these two themes — the theme of self-delusion and the theme of constancy or persistency of mind. For destroying self-delusion and acquiring and maintaining continuity of mind are two ethico-moral activities which are linked to one another. The self-delusion which prevents you from knowing who or what you are, and all the shifts in your thoughts, feelings, and opinions which force you to move from one thought to another, one feeling to another, or one opinion to another, demonstrate this linkage. For if you are able to discern exactly what you are, then you will stick to the same point, and you will not be moved by anything. If you are moved by any sort of stimulation, feeling, passion, etc., then you are not able to stay close to yourself, you are dependent upon something else, you are driven to different concerns, and consequently you are not able to maintain complete self-possession.
These two elements — being deluded about yourself and being moved by changes in the world and in your thoughts — both developed and gained signiﬁcance in the Christian tradition. In early Christian spirituality, Satan is often represented as the agent both of self-delusion (as opposed to the renunciation of self) and of the mobility of mind — the instability or unsteadiness of the soul as opposed to ﬁrmitas in the contemplation of God. Fastening one’s mind to God was a way, ﬁrst, of renouncing one’s self so as to eliminate any kind of self-delusion. And it was also a way to acquire an ethical and an ontological steadiness. So I think, that we can see in Plutarch’s text — in the analysis of the relation between parrhesia and ﬂattery — some elements which also became signiﬁcant for the Christian tradition.
I would like to refer now, very brieﬂy, to a text by Galen [A.D.130-200] — the famous physician at the end of the Second Century — where you can see the same problem: how is it possible to recognize a real parrhesiastes? Galen raises this question :in his essay “The Diagnosis and Cure of the Soul’s Passions”, where he explains that in order for a man to free himself from his passions, he needs a parrhesiastes; for just as in Plutarch a century previously, philautia, self-love, is the root of self-delusion:
… we see the faults of others but remain blind to those which concern ourselves. All men admit the truth of this and, furthermore, Plato gives the reason for it [Laws,731e]. He says that the lover is blind in the case of the object of his love. If, therefore, each of us loves himself most of all, he must be blind in his own case… There are passions of the soul which everybody knows: anger, wrath, fear, grief, envy, and violent lust. In my opinion, excessive vehemence in loving or hating anything is also a passion; I think the saying ‘moderation is best’ is correct, since no immoderate action is good. How, then, could a man cut out these passions if he did not ﬁrst know that he had them? But as we said, it is impossible to know them, since we love ourselves to excess. Even if this saying will not permit you to judge yourself, it does allow that you can judge others whom you neither love nor hate. Whenever you hear anyone in town being praised because he ﬂatters no man, associate with that man and judge from your own experience whether he is the sort of man they say he is…
When a man does not greet the powerful and wealthy by name, when he does not visit them, when he does not dine with them, when he lives a disciplined life, expect that man to speak the truth; try, too, to come to a deeper knowledge of what kind of man he is (and this comes about through long association). If you ﬁnd such a man, summon him and talk with him one day in private; ask him to reveal straightaway whatever of the above mentioned passions he may see in you. Tell him you will be most grateful for this service and that you will look on him as your deliverer more than if he had saved you from an illness of the body. Have him promise to reveal it whenever he sees you affected by any of the passions I have mentioned.
It is interesting to note that in this text, the parrhesiastes — which everyone needs in order to get rid of his own self-delusion — does not need to be a friend, someone you know someone with whom you are acquainted. And this, I think, constitutes a very important difference between Galen and Plutarch. In Plutarch, Seneca, and the tradition which derives from Socrates, the parrhesiastes always needs to be a friend. And this friend relation was always at the root of the parrhesiastic game. As far as I know, for the ﬁrst time with Galen, the parrhesiastes no longer needs to be a friend. Indeed, it is much better, Galen tells us, that the parrhesiastes be someone whom you do not know in order for him to be completely neutral. A good truth-teller who gives you honest counsel about yourself does not hate you, but he does not love you either. A good parrhesiastes is someone with whom you have previously had no particular relationship.
But of course you cannot choose him at random. You must check some criteria in order to know whether he really is capable of revealing your faults. And for this you must have heard of him. Does he have a good reputation? Is he old enough? Is he rich enough? It is very important that the one who plays the role of the parrhesiastes be at least as rich, or richer than you are. For if he is poor and you are rich, then the chances will be greater that he will be a ﬂatterer — since it is now in his interest to do so.
The Cynics, of course, would have said that someone who is rich, who has a positive relation to wealth, cannot really be wise; so it is not worthwhile selecting him as a parrhesiastes. Galen’s idea of selecting someone who is richer than you to act as your truth-teller would seem ridiculous to a Cynic.
But it is also interesting to note that in this essay, the truth-teller does not need to be a physician or doctor. For in spite of the fact that Galen himself was a physician, was often obliged to ‘cure’ the excessive passions of others, and often succeeded in doing so, he does not require of a parrhesiastes that he be a doctor, or that he possess the ability to cure you of your passions. All that is required is that he be able to tell you the truth about yourself.
But it is still not enough to know that the truth-teller is old enough, rich enough, and has a good reputation. He must also be tested. And Galen gives a program for testing the potential parrhesiastes. For example, you must ask him questions about himself and see how he responds to determine whether he will be severe enough for the role. You have to be suspicious when the would-be parrhesiastes congratulates you, when he is not severe enough, and so on.
Galen does not elaborate upon the precise role of the parrhesiastes in “The Diagnosis and Cure of the Soul’s Passions”; he only gives a few examples of the sort of advice he himself gave while assuming this role for others. But, to summarize the foregoing, in this text the relationship between parrhesia and friendship no longer seems to obtain, and there is a kind of trial or examination required of the potential parhesiastes by his ‘patron’ or ‘client’.
I apologize for being so brief about these texts from Plutarch and Galen; but they are not very difﬁcult to read, only difﬁcult to ﬁnd.