Transcript: 100 - Michael Trapp and Caroline Humfress on Ancient Culture and Philosophy

A special double interview with Caroline Humfress (Birkbeck College London) and Michael Trapp (King's College London) celebrates reaching 100 episodes by looking at the cultural status of philosophy in the ancient world.
Podcast series

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.


PA: Thanks to both of you for coming on the podcast. I thought I would start by asking you, Mike, something about the general cultural attitude towards philosophers and philosophical texts in antiquity. 


MT: OK, well I think the first thing to say is that attitudes were very interestingly mixed. There are a number of different currents in play. To a large extent, general attitudes to philosophy through the period we're talking about were strongly positive. Philosophy was part of the cultural heritage. Philosophical texts, the great works of the fourth century BC in particular, were classics, not just of philosophy, but of good Greek writing: they were the kind of texts you learnt how to speak, how to write, how to express yourself across a huge range, not just in philosophical material. So there's a strong sense that philosophy and philosophers are acknowledged as firmly embedded in the good things of culture: what counts as high culture. And yet at the same time, there was also considerable scope for scepticism at the kind of claims that philosophy and philosophers make on their own behalf. And after all, think about it, they are claiming to be repositories of ultimate insight into the structure of reality, how to communicate, how to live your life. I mean, this is religion with a capital R, science with a capital S, and lifestyle guidance all rolled up together. And that very claim to that kind of status opens the way to all sorts of expressions of scepticism. 'Can these guys really be all they're cracking themselves up to be?' 


PA: The first point you mentioned about how philosophers were often paradigms of stylistic perfection, I guess that applies to a rather narrow range of philosophers, doesn't it? So in particular Plato? So people didn't think Aristotle or at least the exoteric works of Aristotle that we know were perfections in terms of style, right? 


MT: Yeah, Plato is clearly the giant. But it is broader than that, and Aristotle does get a look in because what people were reading of Aristotle is not what we now read. It's the exoteric works, the ones that we now haven't got. Works like the Protrepticus, which were masterpieces of Greek style, so too some of the works of Theophrastus. So it's not... a terribly narrow canon: there's a big body of material there that people are working from. 


PA: In that case, how wide was the knowledge of philosophical texts actually spread throughout what we're sort of generally calling ‘ancient cultures’? Does it mean that anyone with an aristocratic upbringing would have read some Plato? Would that be going too far? 


MT: That might be going slightly too far, but really not very much too far, because these are classics of the heritage. I think you get a strong sense that anybody who wants to count themselves as a cultivated person has got to be able to recognize the names and (to some extent) the doctrines. You've got to be able, at the very least, to keep your end up in polite conversation when it turns to matters of the intellect. 


PA: At dinner parties, as it were. 


MT: Symposia. 


PA: Right. Okay, so that's very interesting, but it seems like it would apply only to people who are reading Greek and speaking Greek with each other. Because once we have a transition to the Roman Empire, you would think that dinner parties would be in Latin, and one doesn't imagine them quoting Plato to each other in Greek at Latin-speaking dinner parties. Or did they do that as well?


MT: Well, they would, but the key factor here is that if we're thinking about the educated elite, the educated elite from the first century BC onwards is bilingual – they read their Greek as well as their Latin. Yes, there does remain an asymmetry: people don't write first order philosophy very much in Latin – it takes a long time for Latin to become a philosophical language. But Latin speakers are also characteristically Greek speakers as well, so they have access to the primary material.


PA: And were there also Latin philosophical works that became classics in the same way that texts like Plato were classics? So I'm thinking that, for example, of Cicero. I mean, in late antiquity, people who are talking about rhetoric – and they're thinking about Latin texts – say Quintilian, for example, would give Cicero as a kind of standard text that you're supposed to know. And if you know your Cicero really well, then the implication seems to be that you would know something about Hellenistic philosophy. 


MT: Yes, Cicero is a classic in his core business as orator and as rhetorical theorist. He doesn't ever acquire the status of philosophical classic, I guess because his works are so obviously works of reporting, they're not works of original thought: he is summarizing and passing on. And I think this is the situation for the vast majority of Latin philosophical writing through the late republic and the early empire. It is... whatever its other qualities, it is also derivative in terms of its content. You get moments of things that start to look like first order philosophizing in Seneca… but they are only moments. 


PA: Well, Seneca brings me on to something I wanted to ask Caroline about, which is something more specific, and this is the impact of Stoicism on ancient culture, and a very specific aspect of ancient culture, which is Roman law. Because I was thinking that one difference between the Greek attitudes toward philosophy, and reception of philosophy and Roman attitudes and reception of philosophy might be that the Romans are known for having this very sophisticated legal system. And I guess that there's a kind of widespread assumption or belief that the Roman legal system was deeply influenced by Stoicism. So is that even true?


CH: Okay, so if we start with the wide context first, I think it's certainly true to say that both ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and philosophical schools had very distinctive ideas about law and justice. And you're absolutely right that Stoicism in particular has been connected with the Roman juristic science. And that sort of brings us to one contrast in the legal sphere between the ancient Greek world and the Roman world, because of course the ancient Greeks had their speech writers, their legal individuals who would go into court and would argue just like the Romans did, but it was the Romans who had that juristic class of individuals. So that class seems to have risen to predominance in the late Republic. Originally, the Roman jurists were very highly educated - so we're talking about quite elite individuals who had had the sort of intellectual formation that Michael just mentioned. And it used to be thought quite widely, especially 19th century scholars working from backgrounds of Hegelian idealism, that Stoicism was taken, you know, as a philosophy and was transmitted into these Roman juristic ideas. I think today that's questioned more and more - there are certainly philosophical ideas that you can see in Roman juristic texts: I'm thinking of things like ideas about natural reason, about natural law, what the Roman jurists refer to as the jus gentium – the idea that there are certain types of law which are shared by all peoples across the globe -, ideas about private property, about marital fidelity, filial piety... But the problem is that we can't really say that any of those particular ideas in Roman jurisprudential texts definitely come from Stoic principles or Neoplatonic principles. It's very difficult to make that link. I could give you one concrete example of the way in which a second century AD jurist thought: that's second century AD Gaius who wrote a very famous text called The Institutes. And he gives this example of adult guardianship of women. So he says that was peculiar to the Romans that the guardianship of minors - so children who don't have full rational capacity - can be found in all nations. So it's part of natural reasoning that children need their legal capacity to be supplemented. But he says that this is not true for women. So why do the Romans do it when it's not part of natural reasoning? And ultimately Gaius says, 'Well, you know what, it doesn't really make a difference whether it's part of natural reasoning or not, because it's part of Roman civil law. So we all have to do it anyway.' So there we have an example of Gaius using a philosophical type of reasoning, reaching a position which should then logically cause him to question Roman civil law. But because he's a Roman lawyer, he jettisons the natural reasoning and sticks with the civil law. 


PA: Is that because precedent has more importance for him than some kind of independent standard of how the law should have been written in the first place?


CH: Yeah, I think it also comes from the idea that the Roman jurists had of themselves as being professionals. So, I know that's a tricky term, and we shouldn't perhaps push it too far because it has all kinds of modern associations. But these Roman jurists from the late republic onwards, I think were quite conscious of themselves as a class. [Laughter] So, you know, they thought of themselves as in conversation with each other in their Roman jurisprudential writings. So Gaius is not going to jettison that, you know, the rest of the thinking that he's engaging with when he writes his Institutes within that legal context in favour of something which we would perhaps call a more philosophical attitude. 


PA: And I guess maybe the implication of that is that when these philosophical ideas sneak into legal texts, it's not because these jurists consider themselves to be something like philosophers of law, but because philosophy is in the groundwater of the education that they've had, for example?


CH: Yeah, I think that's a good way of thinking about it. So we shouldn't go away thinking that the Roman jurists don't talk about Roman philosophers or Greek philosophers, because they do. Just occasionally, they refer to abstract philosophical ideas, and some of them refer quite concretely to philosophers. So Marcion, the third century jurist, cites Chrysippus by name in his definition of law. So he says that law is the ruler of divine and human affairs: it's what enables men to distinguish good from evil, just from unjust, etc, etc. So there you have an example of a third century jurist looking to philosophy for some kind of philosophy of law definition. But what you don't find was a jurist like Marcion then going on to write a treatise on the philosophy of law. It's a sort of self-contained little part of his text, and he then moves into talking about law properly. Another problem, of course, with looking at the jurisprudential tradition is that most of our textual material comes from the sixth century digest of the Emperor Justinian. So you have a sixth century Byzantine emperor cutting all of the various texts of these ancient jurists up into little pieces and then literally pasting them together. So it's very difficult to see what kinds of reasoning and dialectic argument the jurists were actually making themselves, because we don't have the extant texts: we only have them as transmitted in this early sixth century corpus.


PA: So it's sort of like working on early Stoics or Presocratics in the sense that you're trying to reconstruct what they said from these later reports?


CH: Yeah, absolutely. And it also creates all sorts of problems. So there's a very famous example in Justinian's Institutes where natural law is said to be the law observed by all nations and it's said to have been appointed by a divine providence, which always remains firm and immutable. So you'll have scholars arguing whether the divine providence which established natural law is the Christian divine providence, because that text comes from a sixth century context; or whether it's a Stoic divine providence, because the text is based on the second century text of Gaius’ Institutes. So the textual transmission of the Roman jurist's prudential writings makes a huge difference to the kinds, you know, of Stoic philosophy spotting that scholars have done in the past. 


PA: And, of course, Stoic ideas about providence were very influential on Christian ideas of providence anyway…


CH: Absolutely.


PA:... which makes it even more murky. 


CH: Yeah, absolutely.


PA: I guess one possible place to look at the possible impact of philosophy on law, or maybe just the philosophical relevance and interest of ancient law, would be the way that the law treats different types of people, by which I guess I mean... women, children, slaves, as opposed to free men, as opposed to citizens and so on. And I take it that there were these distinctions made in legal texts. A lot of philosophy, I think especially in late antiquity, seems to lose interest in that to some extent. So you don't find, for example, extensive discussion of the role of women in society in Plotinus the way that you do in Plato – so that's one of the themes from Plato that he doesn't really pick up. How much does ancient law tell us about the way that these people were, different kinds of people were treated and conceived of? 


CH: So again, I think it's useful to just widen out the parameters first before we then narrow them down again. So if we're thinking ancient law in general, and if we start to think about the advocates, and the courtroom, and the way in which arguments were actually made in a legal and forensic context, then I think there we can see quite, you know, a big impact of philosophical ideas. So there's a famous quotation by Augustine writing in the early fifth century, complaining about how judges in the Roman Empire are more keen on, you know, wisecracks from Chrysippus, you know, and introducing ideas from Plato than they are in actually listening to the cases. [Laughter] So I suppose, again, that's, you know, judges trying to show their cultural background. But if we look at the jurists, then they have very set distinctions in terms of how you should divide society up and how legally, how we should think about the rights and obligations which individuals owe each other. So the first main distinction that we get overall in juristic literature is that between slave and free: so that's a huge distinction. Then the distinction between citizen and non-citizen, of course, you would also get the distinction between being a citizen of Rome, or being a citizen of some other city. Then you have the distinction between what the Roman jurists called those who were sui juris: those who were in their own power and could actually go into a courtroom and could sue and be sued. And individuals who were dependent on the power of another. Now I think that tells us a great deal about the set up of Roman society and culture because it gets us to this institution of the Roman pater familias – that kind of incredible power which the male head of a household had in Roman society. And that's something I think you could trace through philosophical debate as much as you can trace through Roman juristic principles and literature, and also in Roman statute legislation too.


PA: Something that just occurred to me now is that sometimes you see people comparing the later Neoplatonic system where you have a single first principle all the way at the top whose power then sort of descends cascading down through the levels. People have compared that sometimes to the 

relationship between the emperor and the rest of society. And I wonder whether it also, maybe, echoes this more domestic setting of the pater familias, right? This sort of single principle of power and authority who then orders and governs everything else. 


CH: Yeah, absolutely. So I think in lots of late antique (whether we call it philosophical or theological, or philosophical and theological) thought that kind of top down model of power cascading and descending is incredibly important. But we shouldn't also go away thinking that that's in fact just ties in exactly with reality. Because I mentioned before Gaius about the guardianship of adult women. In actual fact, if we look at papyri from Egypt and actual court cases, women had a lot more power and a lot more ability to, you know, manage their own property, run businesses, and do things than you would think from looking at works of political thought or works of the jurists. 


PA: Right. And actually to go back to the example of Plotinus; although it's true that he doesn't thematize the role of women in his philosophical works, we know that he had... basically, intellectual companions or friends who were women. And that's something that continues right down through Neoplatonism, I think. And actually, I wanted to ask you about that, Mike. So, there are these figures of... - Hypatia is probably the most famous example -, but there are other bits of evidence that we have of women actually participating in very high level intellectual discussion. Augustine's mother, Monica, would be another example. And I'm wondering on the basis of that whether we could think about philosophy as a way for the disempowered of ancient society to get access, if not actually, to something like political power, then at least to this more advanced kind of intellectual activity. So I guess not only women, but also slaves, right? Epictetus was a slave.


MT: Well, as far as participation of women is concerned, it's certainly true that one gets a lot of (what seem like) very positive noises in philosophical texts of the first and second century AD. One thinks, I guess, of Musonius Rufus on female education, on what Plutarch has to say about the structure of the good marriage. Positive noises about the desirability of educating women, though always only up to a position of continued subordination of some kind, and not necessarily educating them in advanced philosophy. I think in general we probably have to be a bit cautious of the notion that philosophy is somehow blazing a trail, because if you look at the larger record of participation in cultural activity more general, you can find the examples from earlier on. I mean, you've got people like the elegist Sulpicia, who is playing the boys' game from a female vantage point; and there's something philosophical about that, but she's able to do it. 


PA: So it's actually maybe, sorry to interrupt, but I guess that suggests that it's the other way around. So it's the fact that at least aristocratic women had found ways to participate more…


MT: Yeah.


PA:...or less fully in society. 


MT: And philosophy can come in as part of that side of activities. When it comes to slaves, I think I'd want to urge the same sort of caution about attributing too much to philosophy. The star case, clearly, as you mentioned, is Epictetus, who was of servile origin, allegedly born a slave, and certainly on his own testimony already receiving philosophical instruction from Musonius Rufus, while still a slave. But... he's a freed man before he actually sets up as a teacher in his own right, when he leaves Rome and goes off to Nicopolis. And if you then look at the people who are coming to his lectures, - coming to be harangued by him about their various personal failings – they are all members of the elite. So it really doesn't look as if Epictetus builds on his own servile origins to try and open things out. 


PA: In general, then, would it be right to say that these educational establishments, philosophical schools, but also schools of grammar, rhetoric… These would have been freed men teaching other freed men, without exception, is that right? 


MT: Freed or free.


PA: Yeah, freed or free men, yeah. 


MT: Yes. We have to remember that you need a pretty comfortable lifestyle and level of resources to be a player in this game in the first place. 


PA: Yeah. Augustine actually talks about his father sort of scraping the money together to send him off to a first-rate rhetorical education. 


CH: There's a wonderful story in Eunapius, The Lives of the Philosophers and the Sophists from the fourth century, about the rhetorician Prohairesis, who goes off to study in Athens, and apparently was so poor that he could only share his clothes with a fellow student. So one of them had to stay in bed while the other one went to lectures. [Laughter]


PA: And then they traded clothes when he got home. 


CH: Exactly. But that's thought of as being such an extreme, incredible example that it's worthy of showcasing as far as Eunapius is concerned. So I think it's the exception that proves the rule. 


PA: Yeah, that example may speak to some grad students who are out there listening, [laughter] sadly. So I guess at the other extreme, we might want to think about these literary figures who are really aristocratic, I guess, for the most part; and are weaving philosophy into the fabric of texts that may or may not seem to be explicitly philosophical works. And, actually, there's a couple of people to mention here, who you've worked on a great deal, one of whom is Maximus. So can you tell us a little bit about him?


MT: I wish I could: we know [laughter] pathetically little about his life and times.He is supposed to have delivered a course of lectures in Rome in the reign of the Emperor Commodus, so around about 190 AD... But beyond that, we have very little biographical information. What you have to do is to look at the style of the work... and ask, 'Who would want this kind of material?', 'What are the conditions that make it possible in the first place?' And it seems to me that you need to be looking in two directions. First of all, the rooting of philosophy in general culture, the fact that philosophical texts and a certain level of knowledge of philosophical doctrine is absolutely, irremovably part of what it means to be a cultivated man – in Greek terms, a “pepaideumenos”: somebody who has been educated. You have to know about this stuff: you can't neglect it. And your own personal style as a writer and a communicator will in part have been formed by reading philosophical classics and imitating them in your own verbal productions. So from that side of things, there's absolutely no problem about people bringing philosophical material into what we might think of as works of literature, because philosophical classics are by this stage classics of literature, and we're dealing with a culture that writes its modern literature out of the literature of the past, stylistically in terms of contents. So that's on the one side. On the other side, I think it also helps to think of philosophy again as something that everybody needs to know about to be able to present themselves as members of the educated elite. So there is a demand for philosophical material, people want to have it flowing around them to give them that polish and that degree of knowledge that they need for their own social status. So there's a kind of customer demand: people want texts, orations, works of literature that will have some level of philosophical content; but will not commit them too deeply to the thing itself. 


PA: So it's almost like it's to help them feel clever and to catch all the illusions without 

necessarily making them think they should give away all their money…


MT: Yeah.


PA:...or something really radical.


MT: Yes, that's very definitely the story I'd want to tell about Maximus, not quite the same about Plutarch. 


PA: At least it's been argued that Plutarch's ethical works, his so-called practical ethical works, are very much intended to help you kind of take philosophical perspective on your life without necessarily radically undermining the values of aristocratic Greek and Roman society. 


MT: Yes, and that runs across not only the works collected in what we now call the Moralia, the ethical treatises, but also the Parallel Lives, these lives of great heroes of Greek and Roman politics and military achievement whose lives Plutarch puts under the microscope in order to provide material for moral reflection. 'How should one handle the situations of one's life?' 'How can one learn lessons for one's own practice by comparing and contrasting how broadly comparable people have played comparable hands in life?' So there is... Yes, there is a serious project there and it's one that can be combined with a life that is not the life of a card-carrying philosopher. 


PA: So the message about Alexander the Great is not, 'Oh, he should have become Diogenes the Cynic', right? It's that 'Alexander the Great was a great moral exemplar of his own kind'. 


MT: An instructive moral exemplar. He's not somebody one can straightforwardly follow in the footsteps of. But if you think hard about his life and think comparatively about his life (you compare him with Julius Caesar), then there are all sorts of useful lessons that you can learn and to apply to your own life.


PA: So Caroline, do you think that that suggests a kind of depressing conclusion about philosophical works and philosophical tradition in antiquity that by at least this time of late antiquity, they had found a way to kind of defuse it and take away the potential of philosophy to undermine aristocratic values? 


CH: I was just thinking actually as Mike was speaking about Augustine, who, you know, in so many ways is the kind of philosophical overachiever. The guy who doesn't so much defuse philosophy as infuse it with all kinds of theological virtues which are going to hold such importance later on into the Middle Ages as well. And I was thinking in particular of the very famous story that he tells in the Confessions. So age 19, Augustine the aspiring politico who's gone off to Rome to study, you know, wants to make it big, wants to become a rhetorician. And he says that in the course of the usual study, he comes across Cicero's Hortensius, which is a kind of propadeutic introduction to philosophy. So Augustine, and this is the Augustine from many, many years later commenting on the early young self, he says that he sees the Hortensius, he read it and it completely revolutionized him. It took him another 15 years or so to really act on that revolutionary sentiment. But if we take him at his word, then reading Cicero's Hortensius planted the seed of an idea which would subsequently leave…, lead him towards, you know, setting all of that secular ambition to one side, leaving Rome, traveling back to North Africa, becoming a Christian bishop, becoming a Christian monk... So I think that in that transition – Christians reading philosophy and, you know, wondering what to do with it once they become Christian -, some of the radicalness of ancient philosophy does get retained. And just looking forward again, when Augustine comes to write his very famous work on the Trinity (so you couldn't get possibly a more technical treatment of Christian theology) in Book 14, he goes back again to Cicero's Hortensius. And I'll just read you one of the quotations that he gives. So this is Augustine quoting from Cicero's Hortensius in Book 14 of on the Trinity. 'When we reflect day and night and sharpen our understanding, which is the cutting edge of the mind, and take care that it is never blunted, that is when we live in philosophy - there is great hope for us.' And I think that sense of living in or living through philosophy, philosophy as a way of life, is very much transposed into ideas about Christianity as the true philosophy, as many Christians would subsequently argue, but also that Christianity is in itself not just theology, not just doctrine and thinking about God, but actually a way of life in the same way that ancient philosophical movements were, or at least comparable to them. 


PA: That's really interesting. So maybe the thought here could be that Christianity was encouraging 

the same kind of radical critique of earthly life that at least some philosophical traditions had been making for centuries. So not only cynicism, but also stoicism to some extent, even though they're materialists and the Platonists. 


CH: Definitely. Although again, I would have to echo Mike's point that, you know... There is certainly that radical element in early Christianity, but by the time you get to the fourth and fifth centuries, you still have bishops who own huge swathes of properties, hey still own slaves, they still have their symposia where their parishioners come around, and they discuss philosophical ideas, but now they may also link them into Holy Scripture. So I think we, again, we shouldn't be too idealistic about this, but I don't think that sort of idea is necessarily lost from the earlier period. 


MT: Yes, I find this whole question of how radical philosophy is vis-à-vis conventional values – the accepted ways of doing things -..., certainly the notion that philosophy is something you convert to is written into pagan philosophy: it's something that is there for Christianity to appropriate. But at the same time, there are all sorts of ways in which people turn out to be able to have their cake and eat it: to show knowledge of, even show some degree of allegiance to, philosophical values without it very much changing what they do, and the ways they actually live. Sometimes this is deliberate and legislated for. There's a lovely declaration of Seneca talking about how the person of philosophical commitment ought to relate to society around him, where he says, 'Let's make it so that everything is absolutely the same on the outside. It's just inside that the difference will be.' And that this seems, maybe this is unfair, but something that seems to go particularly with Stoicism – this strategy for having your cake and eating it – saying that you are where it really matters, your core values completely different, but the outside observer will almost never notice any difference in you. 


PA: You would think that wouldn't be possible with Christianity to be an inner Christian and an outer non-Christian, but I guess it's possible to be an inner Christian and an outer rich guy. [Laughter]


MT: Well, that situation is going to change as the status of Christianity in the empire shifts. 


CH: I still think there's also a lot up for grabs, as it were, because what we tend to think of as late antique Christianity has very much been formed by what we call patristic texts, so these kind of fairly, sometimes quite elite individuals writing sermons and treatises... And I think increasingly what's becoming clear is that these bishops mostly have in their heads a very set idea of what it means to be a Christian: you know, that you should give up your property, you should behave in certain ways, you should live according to the gospel... But the mass of their parishioners – the people who actually come to church – who may well include, you know, people who aren't even Christian, have very different ideas. So for example, if you're...If you have a patron who invites you to meet him in a temple and you're a Christian, is it necessarily a problem to go and fulfil your obligations to your patron by meeting him in the temple if you're a Christian? So it's about, you know, bishops trying to say, ‘Actually, Christianity should outstrip and outrank all your other social obligations.’ And I think to a lot of non-Christian overachievers, this simply wasn't clear. They thought it was enough to be a Christian to have had the sign of the cross on their forehead, possibly to have been baptised, and maybe to go to church at Easter. 


MT: And if we're thinking about the situation earlier on, in terms of philosophy, there is always going to be some tension or some possibility of alternative strategies, and how you play points where apparently normal social values conflict with or are in some kind of tension with philosophical values and different people are going to negotiate this in different ways. You've got Epicurean withdrawal, you've got Cynic anti-civilised behaviour (though we really don't know how much of that actually went on). But also you can find quieter moments where forms of tension are 

being felt around. So a favourite example of this for me comes in one of Plutarch's treatises called ‘Advice to a Politician’, where he's giving a whole string of wise counsels to a younger man who is about to enter not the politics of the empire, but the local politics of his own home town. 'How are you going to manage your own career and your own influence on your fellow citizens as you 

gradually rise to positions of local political influence and control?' And what's interesting to me is that Plutarch is – in a very quiet way, but a very determined way – trying to give all this a philosophical cast. He is trying to persuade you, ultimately, that you will only realise the brief as a top politician if you are also a philosopher. And this leads him to a point where he will say things like, 'You don't actually need the conventional signs of public approval. I know people like not just to be applauded and not just to be thought well of by their citizen assemblies, but they really like the wreaths and the statues. The physical embodiments of your status, your honour, your “timê” [Greek for honor - ed.] as a politician. But you don't need that. That's not important.' Now from a philosophical point of view, that makes perfect sense, because the externals don't matter, they don't have any bearing on you or anybody else's happiness. But if you look at that same situation from the point of view of the less philosophical member of a local elite, the physical monuments, the tokens, the things that will embody your reputation to posterity are absolutely crucially important. And yet here is somebody purporting to give advice to any and every local politician saying, 'Forget about the wreaths! 

Forget about the statues! That's not what matters.' You wonder how that went down. [Laughter]


PA: So actually, I'll be coming on in the podcast soon to precisely these patristic texts and so on that we were just talking about. But before closing today, I wanted to look ahead a little bit further than that to the medieval period, just to think a little bit about how these philosophy versus culture issues look in a period where the, kind of, fairly relaxed prosperity and, you know, 'Do I want a wreath and a statue?' This doesn't seem to be a very medieval concern. So when things, so to speak, fell apart, how much continuity do we have in terms of all these dynamics we've been talking about? 


CH: Well, I think the question of continuity, it can be treated in different ways; so we can think 

about continuity of ideas and transmission of texts, or we could think about continuity and inheritances of actual institutions and the kinds of social and cultural things that we've been talking about. There is a bit of a temptation, I think, to see the Middle Ages, you know, the late antique period as the kind of really important standard bearers or baton carriers in a philosophical intellectual relay race. So you have Augustine, who gets the baton from Plotinus, who inherited it from Plato, and Augustine then passes it on in turn to Boethius in sixth century Ostrogothic Italy, and Boethius hands it on to Aquinas and, you know, on it goes. And I think that's an, it's an interesting kind of way of thinking about ideas and texts - and I do think ideas and texts can 

leap contexts. But if we're thinking institutionally, I suppose the big thing for the medieval West has to be the institutional Christian church. So the fact that, you know, once the Empire, the Roman Empire falls in the West, you do still have bishops whose jurisdiction is based on that civic model, that they're exercising both what we would call secular and spiritual functions. I mean, that's hugely important for the medieval West. Of course, it's also important for Byzantium, and it's important in different ways to differing effects for Islam in the seventh century. Other ways that the institutions which get inherited and which completely revolutionize day-to-day lives are things like festivals and the way in which we divide up the calendar. So the notion of saints days, certain days for certain types of activity... And of course, that's also something I think that has ancient philosophical and cultural inheritance, but it's really established in late antiquity. Perhaps the biggest shift though is that very famous one where, you know, you move from the classical, what scholars sometimes call the politics of perfection - the notion that the civic arena, civic life is actually somewhere where humans can flourish, that we can become the best that we can be by living together within certain types of civic organizations. And of course, Augustine again, and other Christian thinkers are really going to question that classical legacy. So politics for Augustine, as he states quite bluntly, is the result of sin. It's sinful in itself, it can't establish good order, but politicians can help you minimize disorder. And I think that tension between what medieval scholars call ‘political Augustinianism’, and the rediscovered Aristotelianism of the Middle Ages is an important legacy that late antiquity does give to medieval philosophical and political thinking. 


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