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The influence of Egyptian thought on Plato

Grant number: 23/16231-3
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctoral
Effective date (Start): May 01, 2024
Effective date (End): April 30, 2026
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Principal Investigator:Roberto Bolzani Filho
Grantee:Carlos Augusto de Oliveira Carvalhar
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


This project aims to amplify the discussion about the influence of Egyptian thought on Plato. In practical terms, the purpose is to carry out a bibliographical review on this topic and then carry out a direct search for textual sources and analyze some images in the corpus platonicum that show possible textual parallels with Egyptian texts. It is common knowledge in academia that Plato brings some influence from Egypt, since in some dialogues he mentions or alludes to Nilotic gods and cities, but there are not as many works on this subject as one would expect. Some researchers have studied the subject, for example Susan Stephens, who discusses the influence of the m#%t in the Republic, and Pierre-Maxime Schuhl, who highlighted Plato's conservative appreciation of Egyptian art, but their interest has generally been reserved for historical discussions or some specific aspect that they wanted to highlight, without trying to find textual parallels. Only with Christoph Poetsch, in 2021, was there a cognitive turning point, as he was able to highlight convincing textual parallels between the criticism of writing in Phaedrus 266c-279c and the Book of Thoth (published by Egyptologists Richard Jasnow and Karl-Theodor Zauzich in 2005). As this is an area that has yet to be explored, this field of study looks promising. After all, if Plato directly mentions Egypt and other ancient authors attest to his stay on the banks of the Nile for several years, isn't it surprising that there are only a few contemporary works discussing the influence of Egyptian thought on this author? This project, therefore, aims to occupy a well-defined place in this discussion. The aim is to carry out a comparative textual analysis between passages from the corpus platonicum and Egyptian texts from before Plato's time (or even later, Ptolemaic, but with noticeable older parts at their core), with the aim of making explicit the philosophical decisions involved in choosing these mentions and their implicit contextual meanings. The research will not only focus on obvious allusions to Egypt, e.g. when cities and gods are named, but will also seek to uncover analogies, images, similes and expressions that present some feasible correlation with narratives present in Egyptian texts. In addition, it should be noted that this stance is part of a broader critical perspective, given the kairós of our contemporary academia and the expectation of decolonizing the canons and all the issues involved in the revision of the Greek miracle, as this would bring up the discussion on Egyptian Philosophy and its impact on Greek culture. This project is interdisciplinary in nature, but is rooted in Platonic studies and the History of Philosophy, as the interest behind this research is to uncover the remnants of Egyptian thought that are present in Platonic dialogues. Regarding the potential of the result, it is hoped that it will contribute both to raising the level of the current discussion on the main subject, encouraging the profusion of new work and research, and to confronting the secure but outdated views of those who refuse to accept that there is philosophical content in Egyptian thought, since it will be shown how Plato was influenced by them, as it is possible to trace them in his work through textual comparison. Therefore, this project will occupy a scarcely explored space in academia, given the relatively low amount of textual production on the subject, but especially in Brazilian academia, which lacks similar investigations, thus demonstrating the innovative nature of the research, which could encourage a better understanding of Platonic philosophy and also contribute to the democratization of knowledge. Therefore, the fruits of this work will offer greater access to little-studied bibliographies, fostering discussion on this topic in Brazilian academia and enabling new research to follow on from what has been done here.

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