Sophrosyne: In Search of Moderation
Krishnan Venkatesh + Michael Golluber
Sophrosyne is the ancient Greek word for moderation, which is one of the four classical virtues. But what does Socrates’ definition of moderation really mean and how is it connected to another classical virtue: courage? Santa Fe tutor Michael Golluber explores this question by juxtaposing Plato’s Charmides against his own passion for the good life, which he defines as consisting of good food, good wine, good company, and good conversation. Together with host Krishnan Venkatesh, Golluber seeks to untangle the complexity of sophrosyne—a virtue that often masks a desire for order and control—revealing how difficult it is to both understand and attain.
In this Episode
Guest Michael Golluber
Michael Golluber is a tutor at St. John’s College. He is leading two online study groups with recent alumni, one on Plato and another on Paglia, and is participating in a faculty study group on the junior mathematics tutorial, as well as an Italian language speaking group.
Host Krishnan Venkatesh
Krishnan Venkatesh is a tutor at St. John’s College. This semester, he is reading Austen in junior seminar, translating Molière in junior language, and leading a Chinese tutorial in the Graduate Institute.
The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? Is war a courageous way of fulfilling human nature and, ultimately, of embracing the reality that death awaits us all? This episode, in which Annapolis host Louis Petrich and tutor Erica Beall delve into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful and war potentially beautiful, invites us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.
Browse All Episodes
What are the limitations and possibilities of perception—and what do the ancient mathematics of Euclid’s Optics and the modern literature of Proust have to say about this question?
Family is an inexhaustible source of conflict for dramatists, novelists, and filmmakers—perhaps more inexhaustible than war. From Greek dramatists Aeschylus and Sophocles to Confucius, Vyasa, and Ozu, family is a problem, a question, and a source of both self-destruction and self-actualization.
Can an ideal human community ever be achieved? Socrates believed such a community would only be possible if and when humans develop an “erotic zeal for philosophy.” Santa Fe tutor Patricia Greer, a founding pioneer of the intentional ecovillage of Auroville, India, discusses the tension between philosophical ideals that exist in both Eastern and Western philosophy and the political realities that arise when humans attempt to realize them together.
Does a contemplative life bring us closer to the divine, as Aristotle believed? Is it the highest form of human life or is it self-centered and lived at the expense of others? Can one lead a contemplative life while living in the real world? Philosophers, artists, mystics, and students have long pursued lives of solitude, contemplation, and creative exploration, only to encounter a recurring set of practical obstacles and vexing moral questions—which this episode delves into.
What is it to write? What roles do ceremony, beauty, and material play in the act of writing? Not only is The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon an early classic of Japanese literature, written in the 10th century by a lady of the Heian-era court, it is also—five hundred years before Montaigne—the world’s first sustained portrayal of an individual self as she lives, thinks, and feels from day to day.
Liberal education is education for freedom. What kind of freedom does it or should it cultivate? Freedom without discipline is anarchy, and life without freedom is tyranny—or so says Annapolis tutor David Townsend, who joins host Zena Hitz in this probing conversation into the nature of freedom, the ways in which individuals and communities can cultivate it, and the need for self-discipline in tempering our freedoms.
What is home? Santa Fe tutor Paola Villa, Italian by birth, begins this episode with the Elvis Presley cliché “Home is where the heart is.” But for Villa, the heart is the crossroads between the stomach and the brain—and, in her native language, “to know” and “to taste” have the same root, a reminder that food and mind are one, each mediated through the tongue. This episode, rich in metaphor and poetry, connects gastronomy, language, thought, and community to a theme to which all humans can relate: wanting to know and be at home in the world.
Sophrosyne is the ancient Greek word for moderation, which is one of the four classical virtues. But what does Socrates’ definition of moderation really mean and how is it connected to another classical virtue: courage? Santa Fe tutor Michael Golluber explores this question by juxtaposing Plato’s Charmides against his own passion for the good life, which includes good food, good wine, and, of course, good conversation.
Is a book dead or alive? Can one be friends with a book, or with the author behind the book? What are the promises and hazards of such friendships? Should we seek stability, loyalty, and reassurance of our deepest convictions and impulses? Or do real friends provide conflict, mystery, and depth, challenging and surprising us continually with new insights and contradictions? This episode explores the very personal relationships that humans have with books—and with the complex questions they bring up in all of us.
In the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln proclaimed that soldiers gave their life at the battle of Gettysburg for a “new birth of freedom.” But what did he mean? This conversation explores important Lincoln speeches and ideas within their Civil War context, eventually delving into the difficult contemporary question: how has, and hasn’t, the nation realized Lincoln’s vision at Gettysburg?
Is it important to feel when we read literature? Or when we learn math and science? On a related front, what is the role of order and disruption in literature, in life, and in our observation of the universe? Through dramatic moments and characters in the Iliad, the Aeneid, The Brothers Karamazov, Principia Mathematica, and Beyond Good and Evil, this episode investigates what makes us feel and how to feel about deep feeling.
Why do writers travel? Why do some authors write their most influential works in foreign countries? Does the unknown bring new insights and transformation, or do new lands provide nothing more than romantic myths for the imagination? In the essay “Self-Reliance,” Emerson says “Traveling is a fool’s paradise … My giant goes with me wherever I go.” Is he right? Or is getting lost the best way of finding higher truths?
Annapolis tutor Chester Burke has spent many years teaching and shaping the laboratory program of St. John’s College, where mathematics and science are studied as liberal arts. This means that all students read the foundational texts of some of history’s greatest mathematical and scientific minds while performing original observations, demonstrations, and experiments. This episode springboards from classical physics into the startling world of quantum mechanics via the works of Galileo, Leibniz, Maxwell, Schrödinger, Bohr, Einstein, Heisenberg, Faraday, Descartes, and more.
Socrates says that the intellectual practice of philosophy is a practice for dying. But what if the body is the vessel that can best prepare us for the end of life? In this episode, martial artists (and Santa Fe tutors) Krishnan Venkatesh and Claudia Hauer explore the problem of the philosophical separation of mind and body through the lens of two essayists—the 13th-century Japanese author Dogen and the 16th-century French essayist Montaigne.
If one could perfectly translate a literary work, would that translation make the original idea of the author universally understood by all readers? Or do the greatest translations bring new layers of creativity and meaning to a work, making its latent textures relevant for another culture or time—such as feminist translations of the Odyssey and Christian translations of Plato—even as they may dampen the original intentions of the author? This episode explores the complexities of translation, including the role of interpretation and emotion, as humans attempt to understand and communicate ideas across linguistic boundaries.
What is the relationship between sports and war? And what is seminar's relationship to both? In this episode, St. John's host Santa Fe tutor Sarah Davis and Santa Fe tutor Julie Reahard talk about Reahard’s passion for sports, her long-running commitment to the St. John's ice hockey team, and whether her experiences on the court are similar to those that play out on the battlefield of great texts like the Iliad and War and Peace.
Why is it difficult for people to talk to one another? Annapolis tutor Howard Zeiderman proposes a likely culprit: the difficulty that most humans have with listening. This episode explores the value of hearing and understanding those who are unlike us, and of building true community through the committed practice of listening.
The power and beauty of Homer’s imagery in the Iliad is undeniable, and his scenes of battle often prompt vexing questions about ancient and modern virtues. Can killing and dying in war be beautiful? Is a just cause required for glory to be gained? This episode delves into the dramatic contrasts that make Homer’s work powerful, inviting us to question our own modern perspectives on this ancient text.
In the ancient world, art and religion provided a sense of meaning and order that was upended by science and technology. Today, our world is defined by consumerism, self-expression, and a gnawing lack of meaning. Can the contemplative life of the mind play a central role in addressing this void?
This episode takes us through a close reading of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 94, which many consider to be his most enigmatic. Annapolis tutor Eva Brann brings a clear argument to the poem, taking us quatrain by quatrain through the poet’s descriptions of the beloved’s power over the poet through cold detachment and contingent self-mastery.
Continuing the Conversation was funded through the philanthropy of donors to St. John’s College. If you’d like to give to the college’s Annual Fund, your gift will go to support the kinds of inquiry and conversation that comes to life at St. John’s College. It also frees up money for creative projects like this one, which brings great conversation and great books into homes across the world.
Subscribe for Updates
St. John’s College invites the community to awaken their intellect by engaging in mindful exploration. The college offers an array of online and in-person events, ranging from world-class concerts and art exhibitions to lectures and theater performances, as well as tutor-led seminars that provide lifelong learners opportunities to study the Great Books.
Sign up to learn about upcoming events.