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Plato, knowledge and its objects  

Julia Annas

Plato’s interest in knowledge takes its start from Socrates’s concern to discover experts who understand their subject matter and can explain it. Throughout the dialogues it is developed in a variety of ways. The best known include: the idea in the Meno that understanding cannot be explained by our experience and so must be “recollected” by our soul before embodiment; the idea, developed in the Phaedo and Republic, that knowledge is a structured hierarchical whole, depending on the good; and the arguments about knowledge in these dialogues which lead to debates as to whether Plato does, or does not, hold that knowledge is only of Forms while our encounters with the world of our experience can produce only belief (the so-called two-worlds view).In the shorter, “Socratic” dialogues Socrates is constantly seeking wisdom (sophia), not distinguished from knowledge (episteme). Plato notably does not develop a technical vocabulary for talking about knowledge; sometimes his arguments require us to think in terms of .



Simon Goldhill

An anecdote in English means a short and pointed narrative, often of a biographical nature, which is not usually attributed to an author. The ancient Greek word anekdotos means no more than “unpublished,” and is a very rare term. But there are three main words—chreia, paradoxon, and paradeigma (exemplum in Latin)—which were used in Greek to categorize such stories. These terms together give an important insight into the literary culture of antiquity, especially in the Greek-speaking world of the Roman Empire, revealing how knowledge circulates and how elites performed their relationship to the past.A chreia is a very brief story culminating in or consisting of a single sentence put-down or witty rejoinder. It is often associated with Cynic philosophy: “Diogenes is to be praised for rubbing away on his genital organ in public and saying to the bystanders, ‘If only it were as easy to rub away hunger’” (Plutarch .


knowledge, theories of  

Richard Bett

Questions about the nature and possibility of knowledge extend throughout Greek philosophy. In the early period, several thinkers raised doubts about our ability to know the truth of the proto-scientific theories they themselves were developing. Plato depicted Socrates as disclaiming knowledge about anything important but searching for fundamental ethical truths. He (Plato) also introduced the idea of unchanging Forms, a grasp of which is crucial for knowledge; in one dialogue, he examined a number of proposed definitions of knowledge itself. Aristotle developed an ideal of scientific knowledge centered on demonstrations of why the objects under examination must have certain features, the starting points of which are an understanding of the essences of the things in question. The Stoics and the Epicureans both offered robustly positive accounts of how knowledge is possible, and they were challenged on this by sceptics of both the Academic and Pyrrhonian traditions.A number of ancient cultures had highly developed methods for organizing knowledge. However, it was in ancient Greek philosophy that systematic, self-conscious reflection on the nature of knowledge itself appears to have begun. It is not clear that we can speak of fully worked out .


Cornelius Celsus, Aulus  

Rebecca Flemming

Celsus was a Latin encyclopaedist of the early Roman Empire. Only the eight medical books of his Artes survive, but agriculture, rhetoric, and military matters were also encompassed in his work. The overall enterprise was aimed at synthesising and ordering bodies of useful technical knowledge for a Roman elite audience, knowledge often with Greek origins. Celsus selected, adapted, and reorganised this learning, rendering it into Latin. The extant books follow the tradition division of the medical art into regimen, drugs, and surgery, and are prefaced by an important critical history of ancient medicine.

Aulus Cornelius Celsus was author, probably in the reign of the emperor Tiberius (14–37ce), of a Latin encyclopaedic work entitled Artes, comprising five books on agriculture, eight on medicine, seven on rhetoric, and an unknown number on military matters. He also wrote on philosophy, though whether this was within or beyond the borders of his encyclopaedic enterprise is uncertain. The sources are unclear and the fit of such texts into an overall project aimed at summarising useful bodies of knowledge for Roman gentlemen is debatable.


magic, Roman  

Richard Gordon

Roman religion has conventionally been understood as a civic or “polis” religion in which the population performed the same rituals, attended the same festivals, and believed in the same divinities, an image conveyed by the extant Roman historians (including the Greek Polybius) and the antiquarian tradition. This convention has successfully obscured the fact that the range of religious activities in the City, to say nothing of the surrounding areas of central Italy, was in reality always far wider. More neutrally, we may view the religious field at Rome as a site of constant, if intermittent, conflict over effective means of relating to the other world and the legitimate use of religious knowledge, conflict that parallels in a different key the disputes over proper religious observance that took place within the ruling elite itself and its various priestly colleges. If the larger category of dismissal was superstition, the narrower and still more negative one was magical practice. There were however several sub-classes here, of which witchcraft and sorcery were but two. Over the thousand years of knowable Roman history, which saw a single city extend its political and extractive reach to a maximum of 4.4 megametres and then decline, the understanding of magic as malign (i.e., witchcraft/sorcery) altered in often dramatic ways, beginning with anxieties typical of agrarian communities, and culminating in Late Antiquity in charges of lese-majesty at court and routinized attempts at revenge by rival rhetors, to which we can add the deployment of allegations of magic by Christian hardliners in attacking paganism and heretics. A significant process in this history was the gradual appropriation over the last hundred and fifty years of the Republic of a term (magia) and its associated stereotypes from the Hellenistic Greek world, which together provided a medium, widely exploited in a variety of literary genres, for re-figuring the social disruptions that attended the violent self-destruction of the aristocratic régime and remained thereafter a powerful imaginative resource for constructing a variety of boundaries around a moral centre, claimed to be steady but in fact altering very considerably under shifting political, social, and religious conditions.