On December 4th, Prof. Mauro Bonazzi (Philosophy and Religious Studies) delivers his inaugural lecture as professor in the History of ancient and medieval philosophy. In this oration, titled 'Ulysses’ journey and the ambitions of philosophy', he discusses the workings and importance of philosophy as seen through the construction of the hero Ulysses.
Inaugural lecture Mauro Bonazzi: Ulysses' journey and the ambitions of philosophy
When we first meet Odysseus (Ulysses in Latin), in Odyssey book 5, he is standing on a rock in front of the sea, the face wet with tears. His only desire is to return home. Surprising as it may seem at first sight, Ulysses is not interested in travelling or knowing. Where does the idea come from, then, that he is the hero of knowledge, always ready to embark on journeys of discovery? There is a simple answer to give, and a complex story to reconstruct. The inventor of our Ulysses, the archetype of the hero of knowledge, is not Homer, but Dante Alighieri in his Inferno. And Dante’s source is Aristotle: Ulysses, in the Divina comedia, represents Greek philosohy in all its grandeur and misery.
By reconstructing the complex relation between Dante and Aristotle, Bonazzi tries to show not only what philosophy was for the ancients, but also why it continues to be so important to us, today. Simplifying to the extreme, the ambition of philosophy is to understand the world as God understands it. In spite of its apparent distance from our concerns, this ambition reflects and anticipates the tension between knowledge and ethics, which is the subject of so many controversies in the present days. (Greek) philosophy is valuble insofar as it helps us to better understand our problems, and not for the answers it supposedly offers.