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1998 Ancient Aesthetics Conference
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The 17th annual conference of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy and Social and Literary Thought, Binghamton University, October 23-25 1998, held two panel discussions on Classical Aesthetic Theory, organised and chaired by Chris Perricone (Iona College).

The Saturday morning session heard “Plato and Cooking. So What’s the Problem?” by Glenn Keuhn (SIU Carbondale) on Heidke’s and Curtin’s criticism of Plato’s baneful influence on food taken as a serious topic of philosophy. Keuhn suggested that perhaps the nature of justice itself, which is the focus of Republic, precludes taking cooking more seriously than as satisfaction of a basic need, without which pursuit of excellence is not possible. Since the aim of Republic is an ordered city where justice is in the overall harmony of each part, cooks have their proper place, although within a hierarchy. Responding to Heidke and Curtin who deplore Plato’s opposition between the mental and the physical as encouraging mortal creatures to be at war with themselves, Keuhn remarks that Plato doesn’t advocate elimination of the body because it wants to eat but that we should control the excessive desires of the body because they are non-productive in the pursuit of the just life (7).

The afternoon panel consisted of three papers. Olivia Delgado de Torres’ (College of Santa Fe) “Jocasta’s Widows’ Weeds,” an examination of some of the anomalies in Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannus that suggest a kind of incoherence in the behaviour of the Thebans, both populace and ruling family, in the face of regicide. In the case of Jocasta, the widow of the former king and wife of the present ruler, the incoherence takes the form of reversing certain crucial time-sequences, as she attempts to answer Oedipus’ probing questions about his origins. The paper encapsulates the incoherences in the question that gives the paper its title: was Jocasta wearing widows’ weeds when Oedipus arrived in Thebes?

The second paper, by James Caufield (SUNY Stony Brook), “Gorgias and Plato: Democratic Aesthetics and the Development of Philosophy” looked at the power of rhetoric and its preference for poetic language and sound, as shown by the enormous success of Gorgias. In questioning its connexion to a democratic audience, Caufield suggests Gorgias used rhetoric to criticise a rhetoric that induced popular audiences “to grant credence to speakers on the basis of the inadequate aesthetic standards inherited from the ancient poetic tradition” (17). Thus, in reevaluation, Gorgias would have knowingly administered stiff medicine to the democracy but coated the pill “with its most pleasing form.”

Mahesh Ananth (Bowling Green State U), “In Defense of a Cognitive Interpretation of Aristotle’s Concept of Catharsis,” argues, as its title suggests, stressing that certain intellectual virtues are necessary for developing the faculty of deliberation. The joy that comes from watching tragedy is the pleasure the viewer feels when she has understood the protagonist’s actions. “On my interpretation, then, tragic pleasure is the joy in deliberation. I conclude that such a cognitive interpretation of catharsis provides the requisite soul-enhancing response necessary to address Plato’s rejection of poetry in the Republic.

Sarah Worth

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