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What Do Classicists Mean When They Talk about ‘Ethics’ and ‘Politics’?

Thursday Lecture Series

dateDecember 1, 2011 timeThursday, 12:15pm EST location The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room, Columbia University
  • Free and open to the public

With the help of the cultural-historically oriented classics scholarship of the last fifteen years, in which Imperial Greek politics has been recuperated (mainly from literary texts) through the Foucauldian-influenced examination of power-relations broadly construed, Greek culture in the Roman empire has begun to shake off the enduring label of “depoliticized.” While the new approach has been illuminating and valuable, it has shifted attention away from the actual business of governance at the local level. Aristocratic friendship provides a way to think about nondemocratic forms of Greek politics, which are often overlooked due to Classical Athens’ hold on our idea (and the Imperial Greek elites’ own idea) of what it means to be Greek. Two texts from the Moralia of Plutarch (c. 46–120 CE), How to Tell a Flatterer from a Friend and Political Precepts, reveal the centrality of aristocratic friendship to a range of political and ethical questions, in Plutarch’s time and among scholars today.