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About us Faculty of Religion, Culture and Society Organization Staff PhD Research Jewish, Christian and Islamic Origins

Eryc de Oliveira Leão

The City and the Naturalists – Impiety Accusations in Ancient World
“The Death of Socrates” (1787) by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
“The Death of Socrates” (1787) by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)

“How to approach the ancient “science” in a non-anachronistic way?” This may be the biggest challenge of antiquity scholars and is still right for historians of science who want to look back to the pre-modern history of science in a more honest way, using concepts less related to our 19th and 20th century way of seeing nature.

In order to investigate the motivations and risks of studying the sky, the human body and the movement in antiquity this project investigates the idea of impiety ( ἀσέβεια ), paying particular attention to the naturalist impiety while studying, mainly, celestial phenomena, but also other mysterious phenomena of nature (φύσις).

The trial of Socrates is the most famous process based on an impiety accusation and although the Socratic tradition does not consider Socrates as a Naturalist, what we know about his defense shows a Socrates dedicating a considerable part of his defense to show that he did not had interest in natural studies and prefered to dedicate his time to more practical subjects. The evidence of the Diopeithes’ decree, who criminalized teachings regarding celestial (μεταρσίων) theories shows that this may not have been an isolated case of persecution of naturalists, as if impiety crimes were a first version of heresy accusations that natural philosophers would latter face. According to Plutarch, "[Diopeithes] brought in a bill providing for the public impeachment (εἰσαγγέλλεσθαι) of those who did not recognize the gods, or who taught doctrines regarding the heavens (λόγους περὶ τῶν μεταρσίων)” (Plutarch, Pericles, c.32 s.2 apud Whitmarch (2015): Battling the gods)

Plato’s Apology of Socrates exemplifies how naturalistic concepts surround the juridical, social and political problems related to impiety crimes. The accusation of not recognizing the gods of the city are put in parallel with the idea of investigating the two sacred and mysterious realms of the cosmos - the heavens and the depth (τά τε ὑπὸ γῆς καὶ οὐράνια, Ap. 24b). The study of celestial beings such as the moon (σελήνην) and the sun (ἥλιον) were related with the accusation of introducing new gods in the city (Pl. Ap. 14c-d). The impiety crime is showed, not longer as an absence of some ritual or customary ( νόμοι ) acts, but as lack of conviction, faith or religiously-not-official intellectual work.

This serves as evidence for the rationalization of the “perception” of “nature” and may be just one evidence of a more big shift in naturalistic thinking, related to a more rational conception both of “Nature” and “Human” and showing the first debates surrounding the interaction between them. This research is framed in the big aim of clarifying these concepts and the relationship between them.

Supervisors: Prof. dr. Lautaro Roig Lanzillotta and Prof. dr. Delfim Leão

Laatst gewijzigd:25 juli 2023 12:08