Mere Logomachy

Kenneth Burke (1897–1993), literary critic, essayist and philosopher, defined man as a "symbol using animal" in his work Language as Symbolic Action (1966).

Kenneth Burke (1897–1993), literary critic, essayist and philosopher, defined man as a “symbol using animal” in his work Language as Symbolic Action (1966).

Sed ego neque illis assentiebar neque harum disputationum inventori et principi longe omnium in dicendo gravissimo et eloquentissimo Platoni, cuius tum Athenis cum Charmada diligentius legi Gorgiam; quo in libro in hoc maxume admirabar Platonem, quod mihi [in] oratoribus irridendis ipse esse orator summus videbatur. Verbi enim controversia iam diu torquet Graeculos homines contentionis cupidiores quam veritatis.

Cicero, De Oratore 1.11.47

…But I agree neither with them nor with the inventor of these disputations and by far the chief of all in speaking, the most grave and eloquent Plato, whose work The Gorgias I read at that time rather eagerly with Charmadas; in which book I admired Plato most especially in this, that he seemed to me, in mocking the orators [or sophists, –Philokalos], himself to be an orator [or sophist] in the highest degree. For mere logomachy has long since been the bane of petty Greeks more desirous of argument than of truth.

Cicero, On the Orator 1.11.47


It is difficult to translate this passage, because for Cicero an orator is something very different from what for most contemporaries of Plato a σοφιστής  (sophist) was. We might be able to say that for Plato a σοφός (sophos) had to be one who sought what is true, good and beautiful, and that this differentiated him from the likes of Isocrates, who perhaps exerted more influence on the history of education, and certainly even on Cicero’s education, so that through Cicero, the single most influential thinker in the history of Western education, some have said (Henri Marrou, e.g.) that Isocrates was more influential, at least in the West.

But a σοφός and a σοφιστής are not the same thing, even if some would insist they are, including many today who labor under the ignorance of the fact that they are playing out again a tired old drama, heedlessly insisting on their fresh uniqueness and originality.

But in a world of iron perhaps it were better to be color-blind.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.



About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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