12365 - History of Ancient Philosophy (2) (G.B)

Academic Year 2023/2024

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

Learning outcomes

Three main objectives: (1) philological: to provide the essential tools for the study of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy; (2) dialectical: train to the discussion of a philosophical problem by examining ancient solutions compared to other solutions, particularly in modern and contemporary philosophy; (3) rhetorical: to provide a philosophical writing method aimed at preparing a written exercise on ancient philosophy.

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 (2) – The boundaries of human life: dream and death according to the ancient Greeks

The course of History of Ancient Philosophy (2) will take place in the Second Semester, Forth Period: March 18-May 10 2024.


Tuesday, 3-5pm, Classroom C (Via Zamboni, 34);

Thursday, 11am-1pm, Classroom C;

Friday, 11am-1pm, Classroom C.


Start: Tuesday, March 19, 3pm, 2024, Classroom C.

*There will be no class on Tuesday 9 April.


Course contents

In the last pages of the Platonic Apology, Socrates formulates his disjunctive thesis on what death is, comparing it, in one of the two cases, to a long dreamless sleep (cf. 40c-d). In the central books of the Republic, Plato compares our natural life as human beings, as regards the lack of (true) education and culture, to “a kind of night day”, as if we were dreaming, mistaking our dreams for reality, until we slip from waking dream to death (7.521c). Sleep and Death, in myth, are twin brothers, children of the Night. The so-called “external dream” or divinatory dream, already present in Homer, can be thought of as a bridge or threshold between sleep and wakefulness: it allows two separate worlds to come into contact. But what is the connection between dreaming as a night activity of mind and death, which marks the end of human life? The answer depends on what we believe dreams are, mysterious daily thresholds between sleep and wakefulness, and death, an inescapable and equally mysterious extreme limit of life.

The course will be divided into two parts. (1) In the first part we will deal with the theories of dreams from Homer to Plato, classifying the types of dreams gradually encountered, and with the ancient origins of the so-called “skeptical argument from dream”, i.e. with the skeptical question ‘How do I know that I am not dreaming now?’. (2) In the second part we will instead see the development of Socrates’ disjunctive thesis according to which death is either being nothing, as in a long dreamless sleep, or else it is a transmigration and a moving of the soul from here to a better place. The second disjunct will become the thesis of the Platonic Phaedo, the first will be taken up by Epicurus in the famous Epistle to Meneceus. Finally, in the conclusions of the course, we will try to answer the question about the connection between dreams and death, which is at the same time a question about the importance that both have for human life.


*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. Program, 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 (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:

  • Bonazzi, Mauro, Creature di un sol giorno: I Greci e il mistero dell’esistenza, Torino: Einaudi, 2020.
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Aristotele e l’etica della felicità: Etica Nicomachea I, «Philosophia», XII-XIII (2015) 1-2, pp. 23-75.
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Strane Ombre: Una risposta a Jacques Brunschwig, «Estetica. Studi e Ricerche», early access(2021), pp. 1-32, URL = https://www.rivisteweb.it/issn/2039-6635/earlyaccess ).
  • Cavini, Walter, ΦΑΝΤΑΣΜΑ: L’immagine onirica come apparenza illusoria nel pensiero greco del sogno, «Medicina nei Secoli – Arte e Scienza», XXI (2009) 2, pp. 737-772.
  • Kagan, Shelly, Death, Yale: Yale U.P.,2012.
  • Warren, James, Facing Death: Epicurus and His Critics, Oxford: Oxford U.P., 2006.


** 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).
  • The research community method.



  • 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 Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino (for those who have already taken a first exam [SFA (1)], only chapters 16 to 23 of the index), available on the teacher’s web page (see Teaching materials) (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 entire oral exam 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 (the study of Diagramma cronologico and Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino) 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 paper will be considered overall sufficient only if its form and content will be both sufficient.

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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