Yes, that’s exactly what he’s talking about. Yet another moment in the history of Greek philosophy that you don’t hear much about in school.
Though these techniques are largely neglected in contemporary philosophy, the textual evidence (such as the philosophical gossip of Diogenes Laertius and his sources) indicates clearly that the traditional dialectical curriculum of Classical and Hellenic Athenian philosophy involved extensive training in the rhetorical arts of “reading a bitch”and “cutting a bitch” (kunalektia and kunalusia, in Ancient Greek).
Diogenes of Sinope, the legendary Cynic, seems to have been the queen bitch of Ancient Athens, but Diogenes Laertius offers considerable textual evidence for the suggestion that Arcesilaus, Aristippus, and Bion also gave good face, as did Aristotle, founder of the House of Aristotle. Timotheus the Athenian, in his book On Lives, notes that Aristotle “spoke with a lisp…his calves were slender…and he was conspicuous by his attire, his rings, and the cut of his hair.” Gurrrl. And while getting his hair did Aristotle wrote over 300 treatises; bitch was one busy drag queen! When Xenocrates succeeded to the leadership of the Academy, Aristotle was away giving private lessons to Alexander the Not-Yet Great of Macedonia. On returning to Athens to find Xenocrates at the head of the school, bitch raised an eyebrow, twirled, left the room without saying a word, and set up shop “in the Lyceum where he would walk up and down discussing philosophy with his pupils until it was time to rub themselves with oil.” (Hot damn, now I know what my philosophy school will look like. All of these quotes are real and in Diogenes Laertius’s Lives, BTW).
In the Classical and Hellenic periods of Greek philosophy, each school was traditionally led by a “scholarch” or “house mother.” The initial succession of scholarchs in Plato’s Academy was this: Plato, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, Crates, Cranor, Arcesilaus. Arcesilaus was thus the 7th scholarch of the Academy and by far its most influential leader since Plato, since it was Arcesilaus who introduced skepticism into Academic discourse and essentially established the Skeptical orMiddle Academy which is the primary subject of Cicero’sAcademica. Of Arcesilaus, Diogenes Laertius also notes that “He was devoted to dialectic…Very fertile in invention, he could meet objection acutely or bring the course of discussion back to the point at issue, and fit it to every occasion. In persuasiveness he had no equal, and this all the more drew pupils to the school, although they were in terror of his pungent wit. But they willingly put up with that; for his goodness was extraordinary and he inspired his pupils with hopes” (my kind of teacher). “He was also fond of boys and very susceptible…And yet for all that he was modest enough to recommend his pupils to hear other philosophers. And when a certain youth from Chios was not well pleased with his lectures and preferred those of…Hieronymus, Arcesilaus himself took him and introduced him to that philosopher, with an injunction to behave well.”
Arcesilaus inherited leadership of the Academy from his
sugar-daddy teacher Crantor, the previous scholarch. Diogenes describes their meeting like this: When Arcesliaus entered the room, Crantor quoted a line from Euripides: “O maiden, if I save thee, wilt thou be grateful to me?” in reply to which Arcesilaus quoted the next line of the play: “Take me, stranger, whether for maidservant or for wife.” Crantor’s teacher, Crates, was himself the buttboy of his own teacher, Polemo, and of their quadrivial relationship Diogenes reports the following: “Their common table was in the house of Crantor; and these two and Arcesilaus lived in harmony together. Arcesilaus and Crantor shared the same house, while Polemo and Crates lived with Lysicles, one of the citizens. Crates, as already stated, was the favorite of Polema and Arcesilaus of Crantor.”
They don’t make grad students like they used to, apparently…
(Addendum: Thank you to Jeff for the Greek grammar check!)