12362 - History of Ancient Philosophy (1)

Course Unit Page

Academic Year 2019/2020

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

The Wisdom of Socrates or the Apology of Self-Care: A Reading of Plato's Apology of Socrates

Second Semester, Third Period: February 5-March 13, 2019.
Hours: Wednesday, 5-7pm, Classroom III (Via Zamboni, 38); Thursday, 11am-1pm, and Friday, 11am-1pm, Classroom V (Via Zamboni, 38).

Start: Thursday, February 6, 11am, 2020, Classroom V.


After I had experienced myself in childhood, as an event and as a ghost in the silent everyday life, I knew that I would be occupied all my life in this (and such an occupation would have filled my life, claiming it all for itself: I would never have finished examining myself).

Peter Handke, The Weight of the World


It is said that around 430 a.C. a friend of Socrates, Chaerephon, travelled to Delphi to ask the Pythia if there was anyone wiser than Socrates. According to Plato’s testimony, the oracles’ response was: “No one is wiser than Socrates”. Traditionally this event―whether history or legend―is believed to be the beginning of Socratic philosophizing; namely, that peculiar form of philosophical activity that consists in dialogue viva voce with an interlocutor on the important things of life, and in particular in that form of asymmetrical dialogue that Plato’s Socratic dialogues testify to. The negative form of the oracle, however, renders its meaning anything other than perspicuous. What exactly does the God intend? The immediate meaning without doubt is that Socrates is the wisest of men (such is Chaerephon’s interpretation), but Socrates cannot accept this interpretation because it contradicts a belief deeply rooted in him, the belief that he is not wise at all. The profession of ignorance that characterises him, so far as we know at least from Plato, is a consequence of the investigation he undertook in order to unravel the ambiguity of the divine response. But then, is Socrates ignorant or wise? And what must ‘wise’ mean in this case? And why does Chaerephon decide to make the journey to interrogate the oracle? What prompted him to undertake the jouney if Socrates becomes the Socrates we know only after having heard and interpreted the sentence in his own way? Not only the oracle, therefore, but the whole original event assumes an enigmatic character. In the fifteen lessons of the course, we will read the Apology of Socrates and other important passages of the corpus Platonicum in search of an answer to the question of Socratic wisdom and its apparently paradoxical nature.


  • Capuccino, Carlotta, Socrate, in Umberto Eco (ed.), L’Antichità: Grecia, Milano: EncycloMedia, 2012, pp. 382-394 (to be found in Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino).
  • Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino 2017/18.
  • Platone, Apologia di Socrate, edited by Simonetta Nannini, Siena: Barbera, 2007 (repr. Santarcangelo di Romagna [RN]: Rusconi, 2016).

* Further readings will be suggested in class.

Teaching methods

LECTURES COURSE (12 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 cfu) consists in an oral test that requires (1) the study of the Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino, available on the teaching web page under course teaching materials or, in hard copy, at the printers Centotrecento at via Centotrecento 19 (under the heading 'Useful contents' a guide to the study of the handbook will be available); and (2) the study of the arguments discussed during the course in the form of a list of 10 questions that will be distributed at the end of the lessons. *** Motivated students that so desire may substitute the ten questions with a (discretionary) paper of 5-7,5 standard pages, to be formatted as indicated in the writing seminar, which will take place during the last three lessons of the course. The seminar handbookwill be available under teaching materials on my web page.

*** ATTENTION – Commencing from the summer session exam roll call (June 2020) the new exam programme may also be adopted for students of previous years who still need to sit the exam, subject to discussion with the teacher. Until then, Prof. Walter Cavini’s preceding programme will remain valid.

It is possible to sit an exam of 12 cfu by attending, in addition to SFA (1), the 30 hours of the course SFA (2), entitled The Wisdom of Oedipus or the Tragedy of Self-Knowledge: A Reading of Sophocles' Oedipus Rex, held by Prof. Walter Cavini in the fourth period (March-May 2020). In this case the exam will be both oral and written and will require (1) the study of the Dispensa di Storia della Filosofia Antica dai Presocratici ad Agostino and (2) a (obligatory) paper of 5-7,5 standard pages, which may be completed on the subjects of either the first or the second course according to the student’s preference.

*** ATTENTION – The writing seminar that will take place during the last three lessons of the course SFA (1) will be held together with Prof. Cavini and will also pertain to the students of SFA (2). The precise dates will be communicated at the appropriate time on the announcement sections on both of our web pages.

Furthermore, it is possible, subject to a confirmation of the appropriate knowledge of ancient Greek and/or the proper motivation, to participate in the reading seminar of an ancient Greek work held by myself along with Prof. Cavini between April and June (SFA [2] LM). Seminar attendance requires active and constant participation, which will consist in the presentation of a single seminar sitting, along with the preparation of an handout, and in the contribution to the common discussion at every sitting. *** Seminar participation substitutes the 10 questions (6 cfu) and permits the student to complete the written exercise (discretionary for 6 cfu, obligatory for 12 cfu) on the themes of the seminar instead of those of the course, and to earn, subject to attendance of at least 13 sittings out of 15, a bonus of 2 points out of thirty at the exam.


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, a cura di Mario Vegetti, Milano: BUR, 2006; and (2) Aristotele, Etica Nicomachea, a cura di Carlo Natali, Roma-Bari: Laterza, 1999. The rest of the exam programme will remain the same. *** Students who cannot attend are strongly advised to email me in order to make an appointment to discuss the details.

Teaching tools

  • Handout with passages taken from the sources.
  • Diagrams of partition and concept maps.
  • Handbooks: (1) Editing guidelines for a short essay; (2) Philosophical writing seminar.

* All materials will be screened during lessons and made available to students in .pdf format.

  • Web pages.
  • Databases and bibliographical repertoires.

Office hours

See the website of Carlotta Capuccino