La figure d'Ulysse chez les Socratiques: Socrate polutropos

Phronesis 50 (2005):181 - 214 (2005)
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At the end of the fifth century B.C.E., the character of Odysseus was scorned by most of the Athenians: he illustrated the archetype of the demagogic, unscrupulous and ambitious politicians that had led Athens to its doom. Against this common doxa, the most important disciples of Socrates (Antisthenes, Plato, Xenophon) rehabilitate the hero and admire his temperance and his courage. But it is most surprising to see that, in spite of Odysseus' lies and deceit, these philosophers, who condemn steadfastly the sophists' deceptions, praise his rhetorical ability, his polutropia. The word polutropia is ambiguous: for Antisthenes, it means either "diversity of styles and discourses" or "diversity of dispositions, characters, or souls". It is argued that the same distinction is implicitly at work in Plato's Hippias Minor, where Socrates defends Odysseus' polutropia against the pseudo "simplicity" of Hippias' favourite hero, Achilles. However, whereas Antisthenes tries to clarify these different meanings, Plato's Socrates exploits the ambiguity to confuse his interlocutor. Such a distinction sheds a new light on the Hippias Minor: Odysseus is polutropos in the first (positive) sense, while the simplicity of Achilles should be understood as a bad kind of polutropia. It provides an explanation for the first paradoxical thesis of the dialogue which many commentators do not admit as an expression of the true Socratic view, on the ground of its supposed immorality: that he who voluntary deceives is better than he who errs, for falsehood is, in one case, only in words, while in the other, it is falsehood in the soul itself. It is thus proposed that Odysseus' skill in adapting his logos to his hearers was probably a model for Socrates himself. The analogy between the hero and Socrates is especially clear in Plato's dialogues, which show the philosopher in an Odyssey for knowledge



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David Lévystone
Universidad Panamericana Sede México

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Socrates Polutropos?Don Adams - 2010 - Apeiron 43 (1):33-62.

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