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Nova tellus

Print version ISSN 0185-3058


CASERTA, Cristiana. Poverty and Life. Beggary and Philosophy in the Greek World. Nova tellus [online]. 2013, vol.31, n.1, pp.69-101. ISSN 0185-3058.

In the 5th and 4th centuries B. C., in Greek language and culture, poverty -like it appears in Aristophanes’ Pluto- occupies a middle position between wealth and beggary. It was distinguishable from the two extremes of the scale only from a quantitative point of view, and it was considered as a useful stimulus for social life and advancement of technai. In Periclean speeches by Thucydides, this idea is clearly expressed: technai, which must be exercised with restraint and only in view of the common good, helps to bring out the Athenian citizen from poverty and social darkness, promoting political participation in a perspective of horizontal reciprocity. The most obvious exception to this paradigm -linking poverty with the pursuit of technai- is that of Socrates: in the Platonic representation, this philosopher unbinds the exercise of technai from the pursue of wealth and questions the paradigmatic value of horizontal reciprocity, peculiar in financial transactions, in favour of an unbalanced self-giving attitude, a total care for others and their salvation on the part of the philosopher. The roots of the Socratic idea of poverty, to be taken Cynics, are found on the archaic idea of ptocheia, “begging”. In Homer, the beggar experience seems to be permanent and encoded by canons of behavior and signs of identity. Similarly, Socrates presents his own personal poverty as part of his identity and as the testimony of a life entirely spent in the service of the god of Delphi and devoted to philosophia. From Socrates onwards, the topic of philosophical life is closely linked to poverty, as shown by the singular coincidence between the artistic representation of the act of thinking and the iconography of the “poor”.

Keywords : begging; poverty; debt; technai; philosophy; daily life; work.

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