Skip navigation
Paperback | $24.00 Short | £16.95 | ISBN: 9780262631488 | 206 pp. | 5 x 8 in | September 1993
 

Socrates' Ancestor

An Essay on Architectural Beginnings

Overview

Socrates' Ancestor is a rich and poetic exploration of architectural beginnings and the dawn of Western philosophy in preclassical Greece. Architecture precedes philosophy, McEwen argues, and it was here, in the archaic Greek polis, that Western architecture became the cradle of Western thought. McEwen's appreciation of the early Greek understanding of the indissolubility of craft and community yields new insight into such issues as orthogonal planning and the appearance of the encompassing colonnade - the ptera or "wings" - that made Greek temples Greek.

Who was Socrates' ancestor? Socrates claims it was Daedalus, the mythical first architect. Socrates' ancestors were also the first Western philosophers: the pre-Socratic thinkers of archaic Greece where the Greek city-state with its monumental temples first came to light. McEwen brilliantly draws out the connections between Daedalus and the earliest Greek thinkers, between architecture and the advent of speculative thought. She argues that Greek thought and Greek architecture share a common ground in the amazing fabrications of the legendary Daedalus: statues so animated with divine life that they had to be bound in chains, the Labyrinth where Theseus slew the Minotaur, Ariadne's dancing floor in Knossos.

Socrates' Ancestor is an exploration as remarkable for its clarity as for its avoidance of reductionism. Drawing as much on the power of myth and metaphor as on philosophical, philological, and historical considerations, McEwen first reaches backward: from Socrates to the earliest written record of Western philosophy in the Anaximander B1 fragment, and its physical expression in Anaximander's built work - a "cosmic model" that consisted of a celestial sphere, a map of the world, and the first Greek sun clock. From daedalean artifacts she draws out the centrality of early Greek craftsmanship and its role in the making of the Greek city-state. The investigation then moves forward to a discussion of the polis and the first great peripteral temples that anchored for the meaning of "city."

Indra Kagis McEwen teaches architecture at the National Theatre School of Canada and at l'Université du Québec à Montréal.

About the Author

Indra Kagis McEwen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Centre for Architecture and lecturer at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal.

Endorsements

“If architecture is concerned with order, its omnipresent origins must be told in connection with the history of philosophy. This extraordinary book is more than an imaginative work of scholarship and a philological tour de force; it is essential reading for architects aware for the need to grasp the story of emerging order at the ‘end of modernity,’ a time mysteriously a/symmetrical with that of Anaximander.”
Alberto Pérez-Gómez, Saidye Rosner Bronfman Professor of the History of Architecture, McGill University

“McEwen manages, through a learned and indeed dizzying play of tropes and verbal analysis of the relevant Greek terms, to display the processes through which the archaic Greeks, building on mythical figures such as Daedalos, began to think about and organize their cities and temples. It is a virtuoso performance.”
George Hersey, Professor, Department of the History of Art, Yale University

Socrates’ Ancestor is a gem of brilliant scholarship. All through the work I encountered insights and observations that answer questions I have nurtured for a long time. McEwen’s achievement of uniting the rigor of mature and impeccable scholarship with the world of the imagination that is so often sacrificed in our universities make this book into a text which should be read by all students of architecture and architectural history, and students of classical Greece too.”
Robert-Jan van Pelt, Associate Professor of Cultural History, School of Architecture, University of Waterloo