BMCR 2023.04.21

Response: Markovich on Moore on Markovich, Promoting a new kind of education: Greek and Roman philosophical protreptic

Response to 2023.02.19

Response by

I would like to thank Christopher Moore for taking the time to review my book on Promoting a New Kind of Education: Greek and Roman Philosophical Protreptic. His review is focused mainly on what the book is not, a synchronic account of the competition between various versions of philosophy in the 4th century BCE. The review claims that the book’s purpose is “certainly not to resolve scholarly conundrums about protreptic literature;” instead, it takes the paraphrases of relevant texts to be “the definite core of the project.” This is misleading.

It remains for me to say what the book really is. The paraphrases provide evidence for overarching arguments that contribute to several long-standing debates about the nature, origin, and functions of philosophical protreptic.

These arguments can be found in chapters 1 and 8 (“Introduction” and “Conclusions”). The fact that they are concise does not diminish their importance. The review includes only the page numbers of these two chapters, allowing that they discuss “some of the features shared most prominently among (sc. protreptic works).” In fact, they address some of what Moore terms “hard questions,” and more.

The first overarching argument of the book concerns what Paul Hartlich called the “nature” or “character” of protreptic.[1] It includes the questions of what exactly counts as philosophical protreptic, and whether the term really refers to a coherent body of writing in antiquity. The book argues that the best answers to these questions can be obtained from a diachronic perspective. This perspective allows us to see what has historically been understood and transmitted as philosophical protreptic, and how this putative genre influenced other kinds of writing. The architecture of the book is deliberately connected with these questions. The methodology and principles of selection are presented in chapter 1 (section 1) and explain why certain works are not included (the review wonders at the absence of the Phaedrus and the Symposium). The last sections of chapter 6 contrast philosophical protreptic with protreptics to medicine and Christianity.

The second central argument addresses the important problem of the origins of protreptic literature. The review points out that Greek philosophical protreptic grows out of a long tradition of exhortation to virtue. This is of course correct. Exactly the same point is made in the book—although not in the two fourth-century BCE chapters considered in the review. One of the main claims of the book, presented already in chapter 1, is that the principal models of philosophical protreptic should not be sought in hypothetical (and now lost) fifth-century BCE sophistic protreptics,[2] but rather in traditional exhortations to virtue, which include the martial elegy of Tyrtaeus of Sparta (e.g., pp. 15–16, 18). A section of chapter 4 discusses the Platonic connection of protreptic to virtue (arete) with protreptic to philosophy (philosophia) in the context of the same connection in Philo of Larissa (pp. 112–113 and n. 128).

Since protreptic has often been described as essentially “rhetorical,”[3] chapter 1 (section 2) maps philosophical protreptic onto Greek rhetorical theory in detail, revealing a significant overlap between the thematic repertoires of philosophical protreptic and deliberative oratory (as presented in the Rhetoric to Alexander and, more importantly, in Aristotle’s Rhetoric). These repertoires include virtues and other traditional goods (good birth, friends, wealth, health, etc.); they are parts of what, according to Aristotle, counts as the highest human good, namely happiness or eudaimonia. On the basis of this thematic overlap, and the fact that protreptics insist on hierarchy of these goods, the end of chapter 1 (section 3) proposes that we should understand the diachronic development of philosophical protreptic through the model of public deliberation—applied to the question of the best possible education. The review rightly points out the importance of the idea of competition for protreptic discourse. This is especially true for its synchronic aspects; but replacing the models of market and advertisement, mentioned in the review, with the model of deliberative rhetoric does not discard the element of competition (p. 24, cited in the review).

The presence of rhetorical elements in philosophical protreptic has led some scholars to doubt the philosophical status of this form of literature.[4] Chapter 8 is devoted to the actual role played by protreptic in the project known as philosophy in the sense formulated by Plato. By summing up the protreptic “worldview,” the chapter argues that the importance of protreptic is central, rather than peripheral, and that protreptic defines the entire project. The book’s discussion of the diachronic trajectory of protreptic literature from the 4th century BCE to the end of antiquity shows how ancient philosophy has always been conceptualized not only as a way of life,[5] but also as a revision of traditional education. Hence the title of the book.

In short, the book’s introduction and conclusions do real work, and engagement with them is necessary to appreciate the book overall. The book also provides three helpful indices (pp. 298–328) that dispel some doubts raised by the review (for example, Aelius Aristides is actually mentioned as a source for the Alcibiades of Aeschines of Sphettos, and Aeschines’s dialogue is referenced beyond the second chapter).

I hope that this brief summary of the book’s principal arguments clarifies its true aspirations and explains how its perspective differs from that of the review; the former is diachronic, the latter synchronic. Needless to say, neither is wrong.



[1] Paul Hartlich, “De exhortationum a Graecis Romanisque scriptarum historia et indole.” Leipziger Studien 11 (1889) 209–336.

[2] E.g., Konrad Gaiser, Protreptik und Paränese bei Platon. Stuttgart, 1959.

[3] E.g., James H. Collins II, Exhortations to Philosophy: The Protreptics of Plato, Isocrates, and Aristotle. Oxford and New York, 2015.

[4] Simon R. Slings, Plato: Clitophon. Cambridge, 1999.

[5] Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy? Cambridge MA, (1995)/2002.