12362 - History of Ancient Philosophy (1) (G.B)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: First cycle degree programme (L) in Philosophy (cod. 9216)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student has acquired (1) an essential knowledge of the history of ancient philosophy from its origins up to the 4th century BC and (2) three types of skills: (a) philological – he/she knows how to analyze an ancient text using the basic philological tools needed for the study of Greek philosophy; (b) dialectical – he/she is trained to discuss a philosophical problem in a synchronic way; (c) rhetorical – he/she is capable of arguing exegetical theses in oral and / or written form.

Course contents

History of Ancient Philosophy 2023-24

Boundaries Philosophy


ψυχῆς πείρατα ἰὼν οὐκ ἂν ἐξεύροιο, πᾶσαν ἐπιπορευόμενος ὁδόν· οὕτω βαθὺν λόγον ἔχει.

The boundaries of soul you would not be able to find, even if you traveled every path: so deep is its logos.

Heraclit. 22B45 DK


In August 2024, the XXV World Congress of Philosophy (Philosophy across BoundariesWebsite) will be held in Rome. As a tribute to the Congress topic, my four History of Ancient Philosophy courses this year will be devoted to the philosophy of boundaries in ancient thought. Boundary would seem an eminently philosophical topic: what philosophy above all does – at least starting from Plato – is to divide and reunite, or rather to draw boundaries while reflecting, at the same time, on their nature. And it is also a subject that was particularly dear to the ancients. The Greek language knew from its origins two different words to indicate the boundary: peras, the end of the known world and, more generally, the extreme limit(something that arouses both desire and fear); and horos, the boundary stone, which by extension becomes the frontier or threshold, i.e. the intermediate limit (in a figurative sense, the distinctive criterion). The reflection of the ancients on the subject of boundary is pervasive: it affects every area of knowledge – from the physical boundaries of space and time to the ethical boundaries of human life, from the boundaries of knowledge to those between the entities that populate the world –, sinking its roots in myth: from the original separation between Heaven and Earth in Hesiod’s Theogony to the “mad flight” of Dante’s Ulysses, from the Pillars of Hercules to Hermes, messenger among gods and men. But above all, it is a continuous reflection on the dialectic between what is separated and what unites. This dialectic of the boundary will be the common horizon from which the work of the four courses will be inspired.


Recommended reading:


SFA (1) – On the Edge of the Known: Socrates Atopos and the Invention of Philosopher


The course of History of Ancient Philosophy (1) will take place in the Second Semester, Third Period: January 29-March 8 2024.


Wednesday, 5-7pm, Classroom III (Via Zamboni, 38);

Thursday, 11am-1pm, Classroom V (Via Zamboni, 38);

Friday, 11am-1pm, Classroom V.


Start: Wednesday, January 31, 5pm, 2024, Classroom III.

*There will be no class on Thursday, 1 February 2024.


Course contents

The Greek adjective atopos is formed by a privative alpha followed by the noun topos (‘place’) and literally means ‘lacking a place’, i.e. ‘strange’ in the sense of ‘unclassifiable’ or ‘singular’. Socrates is singular first of all for his decision not to write, driven by the belief that philosophy has a dialogic nature: no form of writing would have been, in his eyes, an adequate substitute for the living dialogue between two souls and two voices. However, this radical decision has irreparably deprived us of his voice and his authentic thought, losing it in a plurality of mostly conflicting testimonies. According to Plato’s testimony, atopy is the distinctive character of Socrates and exceeds the lack of writing to invest every aspect of his figure, his thought and his life, to the point that it is not possible to compare him to any other man of the past or present, but to try to grasp his nature it is necessary to speak through images, comparing him to more or less human figures (from the gadfly to the sea torpedo, from Eros to the satyrs and the statuettes of Silenus) or to female figures, such as the midwives.

The course will be split into two parts. (1) In the first part we will reconstruct the figure of Socrates atopos, by reading and commenting on the pages that Plato devoted to illustrating the six characteristic features of his singularity: the external ones, i.e. concerning the body (appearance, physical resistance, relationship with space and time), and above all the internal ones, i.e. relating to the soul (thinking style, moral resistance and speeches). (2) In the second part we will reflect on the hypothesis that Plato’s Socrates is nothing more than the dialogic projection of a new, previously completely unknown, figure of philosopher. This figure was formed on the border with other figures of tradition and of the present, surviving, thanks to Plato’s work, the misunderstandings by which he was threatened. We will focus, in particular, on the events related to the trial and death sentence of Socrates, events which – in the Platonic version – transform him into a heroic figure and therefore a borderline between the human and the divine.

During the last week, the students of the course will stage the process.


*The course will be supported by the Rodolfo Mondolfo Seminars cycle, aimed at deepening the subject of the course. Participation in all the meetings of the cycle will entitle you to a bonus during the examination. Programme, dates and places of the meetings will be reported on the Facebook page Filosofia Antica a Bologna.


  • Diagramma cronologico [Chronological diagram] to know by heart (see Teaching material on Virtuale)
  • Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino 2017/18 (chapters from 0 to 15 of the index) (see teaching material on Virtuale)
  • Handout with the texts read and commented on during the course (available at the end of the lessons on Virtuale)


*Optional but recommended readings:

  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Socrate (2011), in Umberto Eco (ed.), L’Antichità: Grecia, Milano: EncycloMedia, 2012, pp. 382-394.
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Il dialogo platonico e la scrittura della filosofia, «Philosophia», VIII (2013) 1, pp. 81-100
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, ΑΡΧΗ ΛΟΓΟΥ: Sui proemi platonici e il loro significato filosofico, presented by Mario Vegetti, Firenze: Olschki, 2014 (ch. III).
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Platone: Ione, Santarcangelo di Romagna: Rusconi, 2017 (introduction).
  • Cavini, Walter, La dialettica (1982), second revised edition, Firenze: Le Monnier, 1983.
  • Montuori, Mario, Socrate: Fisiologia di un mito, introduced by Giovanni Reale, Milano: Vita e Pensiero, 1998.
  • Nannini, Simonetta, Socrate atopico e paradossale nei dialoghi di Platone (disponibile su Virtuale).
  • Stone, Irving F., Il processo a Socrate: Perché una democrazia condanna a morte un filosofo? (1988), italian translation by FrancescaOlivieri, Milano: Rizzoli, 1990.

** The bibliography can be supplemented during the course.

*** This bibliography is valid only for attending students. Non-attending students are invited to follow the bibliographic indications provided in the exam program reserved for them (see below).

Teaching methods

LECTURES COURSE (14 lectures)

Adopted methods:

  • Slow reading of the sources in the original language and through a comparison of translations.
  • Linguistic analysis and semantic fields.
  • Argumentative analysis and short essays (pensum).
  • Dramatization.



  • Editing guidelines.
  • Reading essay of an ancient work: form and contents.

Assessment methods


The exam (6 cfu) consists in an oral test that requires (1) the study of the Diagramma cronologico [Chronological diagram] (by heart) and the first part of the Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino (chapters from 0 to 15 of the index), available on the teacher’s web page (see Virtuale) (among the online teaching materials, a .pdf entitled Linee guida[Guidelines] will also be available: it must be read carefully); and (2) the study of the topics discussed in class: a list of 10 questions will be distributed at the end of the course.

*** Motivated students may substitute the 10 questions with a paper of 5-7,5 standard pages, following the indications of the writing seminar to be held in the last week of the course. The seminar handbooks will be available online (see Virtuale).



The students who cannot attend for legitimate reasons must substitute the 10 questions entailed by the exam programme with the study of one work of ancient philosophy selected from (1) Platone, La Repubblica, transl. Mario Vegetti, Milano: BUR, 2006; and (2) Aristotele, Etica Nicomachea, transl. Carlo Natali, Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1999. The rest of the exam programme will remain the same.

*** Students who cannot attend are strongly advised to read the guidelines and, if necessary, to email me in order to make an appointment to discuss the details.



The oral exam will be considered overall sufficient only if the historical and the philosophical part will be both sufficient.

The written and oral exam will be considered overall sufficient only if the two exam tests (written and oral) will be both sufficient. The final mark will result from the average of the marks of each single exam test.

Teaching tools

  • Handout with excerpts from ancient works.
  • Partition diagrams and concept maps.
  • Handbooks: (1) Norme di redazione per un saggio breve [Editing guidelines for a short essay]; (2) Seminario di scrittura filosofica [Philosophical writing seminar].
  • Web pages.
  • Databases and bibliographical repertoires.


* All materials will be shared in class and made available to students in pdf files.

Office hours

See the website of Carlotta Capuccino


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