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                  THE HELLENIC INSTITUTE



Hellenic Concepts of Political Friendship and Enmity:

a Contribution towards the Understanding

of Conflict in the Modern World




Tuesday 24 June 2008


Senate House, North Block, Room 336

Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU, UK


We live in a period in which terrorism, political and religious wars, and ethnic genocide are parts of daily reality. The belief that the end of Cold War would eliminate these horrors has vanished. The world now anticipates ever broadening conflicts. With this in mind the Institute of Classical Studies and The Hellenic Institute are organising a one-day colloquium to explore the diachronic causes of enmity and notions of political friendship within societies and between civilisations, in the context of the Hellenic cultural heritage.


Provisional Programme







Welcome by Professor Mike Edwards




Professor Pat Easterling (Cambridge): Greek tragedy and the ethics of revenge




In our world, familiar as we are with recent history in Bosnia, Rwanda, Afghanistan and Iraq, and with the growing phenomenon of global terrorism, revenge continues to be a painfully contemporary issue, which presents a challenge to 'civilised values'.  This paper suggests that we can usefully look to Greek tragedy for insights into the ethical problems posed by revenge. Even allowing for the very different cultural context of Athens in the fifth century BC, modern readers and audiences can find surprisingly pertinent explorations through drama of some of the factors that drive revenge in our own times.  Examples are drawn from Euripides' Hecuba, Medea and Hippolytus, Sophocles' Electra, Ajax and Oedipus at Colonus, and Aeschylus' Eumenides.




Ms Bernadette Descharmes (Freiburg): Enmity in Attic Tragedy

When George W. Bush proclaimed "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" he divided the world in two halves, forcing nations, groups, and individuals to take extreme sides. This dichotomy is not only a simplified reflection of reality but rather a highly problematic means of political pressure, for it leaves no space for military and political neutrality. Characterized by dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, the construction of such a dichotomy has always been a useful instrument in politics, including the Hellenic world. This is strongly represented in Attic Tragedy. By means of mythic private revenge affairs and family conflict, tragedy focuses on questions of solidarity within the dichotomic thinking of friend and enemy. This paper will attempt to illuminate aims, practices and the rhetoric of constructing enmity in these plays, in an effort to understand the political implications and use of this dichotomy today. For, revenge and enmity, as legal instruments to pursue political interests, were as highly controversial in the classical period as they are in the 21st century.




Dr Kostas Kalimtzis (Athens and London): Nurturing the thymos

In the Republic, Plato, speaking through Socrates, argues that the just polis will require a program of education, and that its most difficult, yet most important, phase is that which occurs during the time of birth to the beginning of formal education. Plato calls this phase trophe,  a word that can be translated as 'nurturing' but also quite literally, 'nutriment'.  As one reads on it becomes evident that what is being educated during this time-frame is the thumos,  the spirited part of the soul, for nous is still but a raw power and the appetites are irrational, and though they can be and must be habituated they are incapable of acquiring or relating to knowledge. Given the importance of this phase of education we must ask ourselves what is the aim of thumotic nurturing? What type of knowledge does it wish to impart to the thumos? And how can we speak of knowledge during a period when the child is still in its diapers? And yet Plato asserts that the thumos must be molded correctly during this phase and that a sign of failure in this regard will be a character incapable of engaging in political friendship. This paper examines the web of ideas underlying this assertion and poses the question of whether Plato’s ideas on thumos allow us to identify and gain insight into the thumotic disorders of our own time.




Buffet lunch




Ms Stavroula Kiritsi (London): The politics of character in Menander




Menander’s own political affiliations and the politics embedded within his works is a subject of debate among scholars. Depending on their approach, some consider Menander as a defender of the past Athenian democracy, while others detected in his plays certain pro-Macedonian attitudes. In addition, it has been argued that Menander’s plays reveal a message of retreat away from the affairs of the polis, an ‘escapism’ from reality. Focusing on  Dyskolos  the paper offers a new interpretation by exploring Menandrean characters with relation to their behaviour within the oikos and polis, on the basis of Platonic and Aristotelian theories of character.




Professor Peter Hadreas (California): The Hellenic understanding ofaidōs and its social implications




In the ethical treatises, Aristotle understands noble shame (aidōs) to be an emotion which promotes the development of virtue. He distinguishes it from its deficiency, shamelessness, and its excess shamefacedness. But these passions also have their analogues as political passions, characteristically incited by political strife. Thucydides writes of the shamefacedness of the Athenians at the news of the Sicilian disaster and how the Corinthians found the political policies of the Corcyraeans to be shameless. This paper explores the analogies between the personal and political virtues and vices connected with noble shame. Reflections upon modern political directions are suggested.












Professor John Anton (Florida): Political leadership in Hellenic thought: the forgotten lessons of wisdom




Political developments in the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st have brought to the surface the urgent problem of political leadership. The continual social crises, two world wars within one generation, the new forces advocating globalization and other issues, have put the idea of leadership back on the table for re-examination. Not surprisingly, these developments have granted the Hellenic experience regarding the demands for political leadership a renewed sense of urgency and relevance how to face enmity at the various levels of confrontation, including global. Once more, the Greek theory of political leadership has become a model for fresh investigations. The paper will discuss how and why the classical Greek thinkers, dramatists, historians and philosophers, the first in human history to raise the issue of competency in political leadership, posed the fundamental question of the survival and, most importantly, that of the fulfillment of human existence. Both Plato and Aristotle drew attention to the vital issues that go to the heart of political life: How do politicians come to power? How do certain citizens rise to leadership, especially when political power has not been inherited? Whether attaining leadership is done through violence, in whatever form, or through popular trust and support, the real issue lies not with the native ability of gifted individuals to pursue positions of power but with the ultimate qualifications one must possess to serve the public and the common good. The vital problem, then, is a twofold one: (a) defining nature of the qualifications, and (b) specifying the conditions to be met for obtaining them. Citizens, who aim at positions of leadership, need to have certain native talents, but that is not enough. How such talent is to become a character trait for the pursuit of political justice is fundamental to the preparation for such a mission. This is what lies at the heart of political paideia, whether through the family, the polis as such, or instruction by special individuals. The results from reflection on these matters provided public guidance regardless of the success of their application. In effect, Plato’s Republic is perhaps the first systematic study of political leadership. Whether his treatment is pertinent to the investigation and therapy of the political malaise of the contemporary world or not, remains an open question. But the critical issue of the requisite role of political leadership has lost none of its age-old urgency.




General discussion








Musical interlude by Mr Sebastian Moro: Selections from J.S. Bach, Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009.


















Organising Committee: Kostas Kalimtzis, Julian Chrysostomides, Olga Krzyszkowska and Charalambos Dendrinos

Sponsored by the Institute of Classical Studies, the Hellenic Institute and the Faculty of History and Social Sciences of Royal Holloway, University of London

For further information please contact Dr Charalambos Dendrinos, The Hellenic Institute, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, SurreyTW20 0EX, UK; tel. +44 (0)1784 443791/443086; fax: +44 (0)1784 433032

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