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Callicles: from ‘Here’ to Hades

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image of Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought

In Plato’s Gorgias Callicles argues for a life rooted in insatiable desire and the endless experience of pleasure, justifying this by appealing to nature, with examples of the lion, Xerxes, and Heracles. This essay shows that Callicles’ examples undermine his own claims. Socrates examines the effects of Callicles’ imperialistic hedonism on the soul. Socrates locates Callicles in Hades twice: first demonstrating that insatiable desire amounts to infinite neediness, then alerting Callicles to the consequences of the hedonistic life. This essay argues that the move into Hades is occasioned by Callicles’ own position and that the two myths do philosophical work. In contrast to Callicles, Socrates demonstrates that his life is consonant with nature. It does not depend on an after-life for its satisfaction, but it is not afraid of the possibility of an after-life. Socrates emerges victorious in the contest between the hedonistic and the philosophical life.


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