28017 - History of Ancient Philosophy (1) (LM) (G.B)

Academic Year 2023/2024

  • Teaching Mode: Traditional lectures
  • Campus: Bologna
  • Corso: Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Philosophical Sciences (cod. 8773)

Learning outcomes

At the end of the course the student has acquired (1) the in-depth knowledge of a philosophical topic or problem typical of Greek and Roman antiquity and (2) three types of skills: (a) philological – he/she knows how to analyze an ancient text using the advanced philological tools needed for the study of Greek and Roman philosophy; (b) dialectical – he/she is trained to discuss a philosophical problem in a synchronic and diachronic way, through the comparison between ancient and modern philosophers; (c) rhetorical – he/she is capable of arguing exegetical and philosophical theses in oral and 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) (LM) – Between Shadows and the Ideas: The Intermediate Entities in Plato’s Ontology


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


Monday, 1-3pm, Classroom D (Via Centotrecento, 18);

Thursday, 1-3pm, Classroom I (Via Zamboni, 38);

Friday, 1-3pm, Classroom I.


Start: Monday, January 29, 1pm, 2024, Classroom D.

*NOTICE* - There will be no class on Monday 5.02.24.


Course contents

The famous allegory of the Cave that opens the seventh book of Plato’s Republic is the metaphorical representation of human nature with regard to the education (paideia) and lack of education (apaideusia) of our soul. Plato is a cognitive pessimist: he believes that no man at birth desires to know anything because he is afflicted by a condition of double cognitive illusion (de seand de re). As the prisoners of the Cave have always seen only the shadows cast on the wall of the cave – those of their own bodies and those of the artifacts carried behind them by anonymous puppeteers – and therefore they believe that those shadows are all and only reality, that are the things themselves, so we human beings are deceived from birth about the external world, considering as real things that are not, and about our cognitive state, mistakenly believing that we know reality, as if we were living in a daytime dream, a dream that lasts a lifetime. Self- deception is the worst evil for the soul because it makes it impervious to education – in fact, no one wants to know something they think they already know –, but nature has in store the antidote that dilutes cognitive pessimism into an educational optimism: each of us, “by nature” (physei), can know, has the cognitive ability (dynamis). What is needed is a lucky encounter capable of activating the ability to be educated, transforming it from a natural power into an act.

What the image represents is then the basic intuition of Platonism: a vision of the world in which the human condition is suspended between copies and originals: on the one hand, the deceptive images (natural, such as shadows and dreams, but also artificial, such as cultural, pictorial and poetic images), at the other extreme, the ideal entities in their motionless perfection. In the middle, to ensure the educational process and the cognitive ascent, the so-called “intermediate entities” (ta metaxy): (i) on the side of the object, the mathematical entities, difficult to place in the allegory but well represented in the previous image of the divided line; (ii) on the side of the subject, the soul, similar to Ideas while not being an Idea; to which, extending the investigation from the Republic to Plato’s late dialogues, we can add: (iii) in terms of space, the receptacle (chora); and (iv) in terms of time, the instant (exaiphnes).

The aim of the course is to trace the boundaries of Platonic ontology from shadows to the Ideas, from “minor entities” to ideal entities, with particular attention to the nature and function of these mentioned and other possible intermediate entities.


*The course will be supported by the permanent seminar Il Vento del Logos: Ancient Philosophy Today. Participation in all the meetings of the seminar 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.


The attending students will have to know the excerpts from ancient works quoted in the handout of the course. The critical literature useful for writing the paper will be provided during the course.


*Optional but recommended readings:

  • Ademollo, Francesco, On Plato’s Conception of Change, «Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy», 55 (2018), pp. 35-83.
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Omnino suspectum?: Un altro dettaglio trascurato nella caverna di Platone (prima parte), «Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia», 13 (2021) 1, pp. 119-149; Omnino suspectum?: Un altro dettaglio trascurato nella caverna di Platone (seconda parte), «Annali della Scuola Normale Superiore. Classe di Lettere e Filosofia», 13 (2021) 2, pp. 427-459.
  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Strane Ombre: Una risposta a Jacques Brunschwig, «Estetica. Studi e Ricerche», early access(2021), pp. 1-32.
  • 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.
  • Fronterotta, Francesco, Luogo, spazio e sostrato ‘spazio-materiale’ nel Timeo di Platone e nei commenti al Timeo, in Delfina Giovannozzi e Marco Veneziani (ed.), Locus-Spatium: XIV Colloquio Internazionale, Roma, 3-5 gennaio 2013, Firenze: Olschki, 2014, pp. 7-42.
  • Fronterotta, Francesco, Modello, copia, ricettacolo: Monismo, dualismo o triade di principi nel Timeo?, «Méthexis», XXVII (2014), pp. 95-120.
  • Fronterotta, Francesco, Plato’s Conception of the Self: The Mind-Body Problem and its Ancient Origin in the Timaeus, in von D. De Brasi und S. Föllinger(hrsg.), Anthropologie in Antike und Gegenwart: Biologische und philosophische Entwürfe vom Menschen, Freiburg-München 2015, pp. 35-57.
  • Fronterotta, Francesco, “Do the Gods Play Dice?”: Sensible Sequentialism and Fuzzy Logic in Plato’s Timaeus, «Discipline Filosofiche», XXVIII (2018) I: Ancient Ontologies. Contemporary Debates, a cura di R. Chiaradonna, F. Forcignanò, F. Trabattoni, pp. 13-32Sedley, David, An Introduction to Plato’s Theory of Forms, «Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement», 78 (2016), pp. 3-22.
  • Sedley, David, An Introduction to Plato’s Theory of Forms, «Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement», 78 (2016), pp. 3-22.


** 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).



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

Assessment methods


The exam (6 credits) includes (1) a paper of 10/15 standard pages, to be drawn up according to the instructions of the writing seminar to be held during the last week of the course (summarized in the guidelines uploaded online), and (2) an oral interview. The paper will be delivered about two weeks before each exam call on the reported date; individual interviews will provide a discussion of the paper and the study of the topics covered in class (a list of 10 questions will be distributed at the end of the lessons). (2*) Students who have never taken an exam into the history of ancient philosophy in their career will have to study in addition the Diagramma cronologico [Chronological diagram] (by heart) and chapters 8 to 12 of the Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino, uploaded online.



Students who cannot attend for motivated reasons will have to choose, as an alternative to the 10 questions, one of the texts listed in the final bibliography of the course (see Virtuale).

Points (1) and (2*) of the exam programme remain unchanged.



The exam will be considered overall sufficient only if the two exam tests (written and oral) are 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


Good health and well-being Quality education

This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.