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Hellenic Philosophy, Arabic and Syriac reception of  

Dimitri Gutas

Hellenic philosophy died a lingering death even before Islam appeared. The Christianization of the Roman empire, and the increasing self-identification by the Greek-speaking population as Romans in the so-called Byzantine age, rendered Hellenic philosophy the object of scorn. By the end of the 6th century, philosophy was neither practised nor taught, nor were philosophical texts copied. In addition, all Greek texts, and not only the philosophical ones, went through two periods of sifting in their physical transmission—from papyrus rolls to codices (3rd–4th centuries) and from uncial writing to minuscule script (8th–9th centuries)—at the end of which only a small fraction survived.

By late antiquity the Hellenic philosophical and scientific corpus had been organized into a potent curriculum, based on the classification of the sciences originally introduced by Aristotle, which represented the sum total of human knowledge. It was received as such by the Hellenized peoples of the Near East, who had been participating in the philosophical enterprise in Greek. As the practice of philosophy attenuated in the Greek-speaking world, Persians in the Sasanian empire, and Arameans, now Christianized into the churches of the East, began translating selectively parts of the philosophical curriculum into Middle Persian and Syriac, respectively. With the emergence of Islam in the 7th century and the subsequent development of scholarship in Arabic, political, social, and cultural exigencies required that the rulers of the new empire participate, own, and promote the high Hellenic culture cultivated amid the Persian- and Syriac-speaking subjects. As a result there was launched a far-flung translation movement into Arabic, from Sanskrit, Middle Persian, Syriac, and especially from Greek, of all sciences and philosophy. The philosophical texts that passed into Arabic were primarily the Aristotelian corpus, the near-totality of which was translated with some notable omissions, and the long list of commentators from Alexander of Aphrodisias to the last Neoplatonists of Alexandria. The Platonic tradition was not favoured, Platonism having been proscribed in Greek, and to a lesser degree in Syriac, Christianity. Not a single complete dialogue was translated into Arabic; what was available of Plato was various selections from the dialogues, Galen’s summaries of the dialogues, biographies, and sayings. Selections from Plotinus and Proclus were available in paraphrastic and interpolated versions that were attributed to Aristotle. The remaining schools of Hellenic philosophy, already extinct long before the rise of Islam, were known primarily through quotations among the translated authors like Aristotle and Galen.


demons in Christian thought  

Gregory D. Wiebe

The background of early Christian demonology was in both Hebrew and Greek culture. Jews associated the Greek word daimōn with the false gods of the surrounding nations. This was in many ways an intuitive application of the Greek term. It carried the sense of ambivalent divine or semi-divine power, which significant philosophical traditions understood to mediate between humans and gods. The New Testament carries this theme, though its focus is more on Christ’s exorcisms of demons, and his gift of that power to his disciples, with the early church tying the two together in the theological literature, as well as baptismal exorcisms and renunciations of the devil and idolatry.Demons were widely thought to have aerial bodies, which allowed them to perform various marvels, like foretelling the future. They were ultimately taken to be fallen angels with Satan as their leader, though this was not a given early in the tradition. While the Christian understanding was that Christ had defeated them on the cross, this was not taken to preclude the ongoing influence of demons in human affairs prior to the final judgement. Indeed, they constituted a significant moral problem for the Christian life, which absolutely opposed them. For Christians, Christ and the demons were the two sides of the fundamental dilemma of every human soul. The problem of demons manifested differently depending on the context, whether in its encounter with false religion, from idolatry to the persecutions the gods inspired; or in the innumerable tempting thoughts encountered in the pursuit of ascetic discipline.


Derveni papyrus  

Valeria Piano

As one of the most ancient Greek papyri ever found (it dates back to the second half of the 4th century bce), and given the length of its extant part, the Derveni papyrus effectively represents the oldest “book” of Europe. It was found at Derveni, near Thessaloniki, in 1962, close to the rich tomb of a knight belonging to the army of Philip II or Alexander the Great. The volumen had been placed on the funeral pyre along with other offerings, and thanks to the process of semi-carbonisation it underwent, the upper half of the roll was preserved, maintaining a good degree of readability. The papyrus contains a philosophical-religious text, mostly in the form of an allegorical commentary on a theo-cosmogonical poem attributed to Orpheus. The first columns expound a religious and ritual discourse that deals with issues related to sacrifices, souls, daimones, retribution, cosmic justice, and divination. In the commentary (cols. VII–XXVI), the Orphic hexameters are systematically quoted and interpreted in terms of natural philosophy of a Presocratic brand. The mythical narrative of the succession of the gods, as well as of the origin of the cosmos, is thus matched by a cosmological and physical account, which is equally related to the origin and the functioning of the universe, and is sustained by a theologised conception of nature.


philosophy, early modern reception of  

Anna Corrias

The early modern period saw a tremendous revival in interest in ancient philosophy. New Platonic texts became available. New ways of analyzing Aristotle were explored. Stoic and Epicurean philosophy began to exert an influence on key thinkers. The impact of ancient philosophy was felt in a number of key areas, these included natural history, theology, and epistemology.The history of Western philosophy can be seen as a continuous and intensive dialogue with the past in which the texts of classical antiquity were tirelessly interrogated, imitated, praised, criticized, transformed, and zealously restored. The early modern period has a special place in this history. At the dawn of modernity, philosophical inquiries were deeply informed by the questions raised by the Greeks and Romans.Throughout the early modern period, the works of Aristotle and his commentators were the most prominent of the texts discussed. Plato enjoyed a more complex reception history. Recovered in the .


philosophy, modern reception of  

David K. Glidden

Ancient philosophy’s modern reception reflects methods of transmission and dissemination of ancient philosophic texts. Ancient Greco-Roman philosophy impacted modernity via six means of influence: printed books, libraries, critical scholarship, vernacular translations, eclectic borrowing, and thematic resonance.

The beginnings of the Italian and Northern European Renaissance awakened interest in ancient Greco-Roman authors. The increased wealth of a propertied class and the leisure time afforded by that prosperity stimulated literacy both for business and pleasure and provided fertile ground for philosophic reflection. The philosophical writings of antiquity were transformed as ancient authors became heralds and guides for the future, rather than relics of the past. All of the following modern philosophic discussions have classical roots: the concepts of virtue, human thriving, equality before the law, the centrality of hypothetical reasoning for scientific inquiry, the foundations of semiotics, the mathematically fathomable structures of physical reality, the existence of natural kinds and the identities they confer on particulars, as well as predicate and propositional logic and their impacts upon computing code. The ways we variously view reality and truth and how we gain confidence in fashioning a comforting reality owes everything to ancient insights. The same is true of the dichotomies that organize conceptual discrimination: being/nonbeing, permanence/impermanence, motion/rest—building blocks used in constructing varied understandings of the world, continually subject to revision and refinement. The impact of ancient philosophy on the modern era is broad and deep.



Douglas Cairns

Thymos (or thumos), cognate with Indo-European words meaning “smoke,” is one of a number of terms in Greek which associate psychological activity with air and breath. In the Homeric poems, thymos is one of a family of terms associated with internal psychological process of thought, emotion, volition, and motivation. Though the range of the term’s applications in Homer is wide, that in itself gives us a sense of the unity of cognitive, affective, and desiderative processes in Homeric psychology. No post-Homeric author can rival that range, but something of the richness of the Homeric conception of thymos as an interrelated set of motivations re-emerges in Plato’s conception of the tripartite soul in the Republic and the Phaedrus. Plato’s thymos represents a pared-down model of human agency typified by one central desire or aim in life but also exhibiting whatever further capacities of persons are necessary to enable it to pursue that aim in interaction with the other elements of the personality. As in Homer, the metaphorical agency of Plato’s thymos does not detract from the notion of the individual as the real centre of agency.


knowledge, theories of  

Richard Bett

Questions about the nature and possibility of knowledge extend throughout Greek philosophy. In the early period, several thinkers raised doubts about our ability to know the truth of the proto-scientific theories they themselves were developing. Plato depicted Socrates as disclaiming knowledge about anything important but searching for fundamental ethical truths. He (Plato) also introduced the idea of unchanging Forms, a grasp of which is crucial for knowledge; in one dialogue, he examined a number of proposed definitions of knowledge itself. Aristotle developed an ideal of scientific knowledge centered on demonstrations of why the objects under examination must have certain features, the starting points of which are an understanding of the essences of the things in question. The Stoics and the Epicureans both offered robustly positive accounts of how knowledge is possible, and they were challenged on this by sceptics of both the Academic and Pyrrhonian traditions.A number of ancient cultures had highly developed methods for organizing knowledge. However, it was in ancient Greek philosophy that systematic, self-conscious reflection on the nature of knowledge itself appears to have begun. It is not clear that we can speak of fully worked out .


Xenarchus (3) of Seleucia, Peripatetic philosopher, c. 30 BCE  

Myrto Hatzimichali

Xenarchus taught at Alexandria, Athens, and Rome, and his acquaintances included the geographer Strabo and the emperor Augustus. He is best known for his critique of Aristotle’s fifth element, which constitutes the material of the heavenly bodies according to the De caelo. Xenarchus targeted in particular Aristotle’s reliance on direct correspondences between simple bodies and simple motions and suggested that the ontologically privileged fire “in its natural place” could perform circular motion and was thus a plausible candidate for the material constituent of the heavens. He made further contributions in physics, psychology, and ethics, but he does not seem to have shown the same interest in the Categories as his Peripatetic contemporaries.

We are able to date Xenarchus’ activity to the 1st century bce, probably towards the latter half, thanks to Strabo’s testimony that he (Strabo) was his pupil (14.5.4). From Strabo we also learn that Xenarchus quickly left his native Seleucia in Cilicia to teach at Alexandria and Athens, and finally at Rome. He was held in great honour thanks to his friendship with Arius of Alexandria, Augustus’ court philosopher and political adviser, as well as with Augustus himself.


Hierocles of Alexandria  

Hermann S. Schibli

Hierocles of Alexandria (to be distinguished from Hierocles, Stoic) was a Neoplatonic philosopher whose studies, teaching, and writing took place in the first half of the 5th centuryce, corresponding to the reign of Theodosius (3) II (408–450ce).Little is known of the life of Hierocles. From Photius we learn that Hierocles dedicated his treatise On Providence to the historian Olympiodorus (3), whose work covers the period from 407 to 425ce (Bibl. cod. 214.171b 22–32). Photius provides us a further chronological clue, as well an important testimony to Hierocles’s philosophical lineage, when he records that Hierocles studied with Plutarch of Athens, who died in 431/432ce (Bibl. cod. 214.173a 32–40). Hierocles describes Plutarch as his guide in the teachings of the “sacred race” of true Platonic philosophers, Ammonius (2) Saccas, Plotinus, Origen (2), Porphyry, Iamblichus (2), and their followers (which implicitly should include .


the self in Greek literature  

Christopher Gill

The notion of “self” is a non-technical one, bridging the areas of psychology and ethics or social relations. Criteria for selfhood include psychological unity or cohesion, agency, responsibility, self-consciousness, reflexivity, and capacity for relationships with others. “Self” is a modern concept with no obvious lexical equivalent in Greek (or Latin); the question therefore arises of the relationship between the modern concept and ancient thinking, as embodied in Greek literature. Three approaches to this question can be identified. One focuses on the idea that there is development within Greek literature towards an understanding of the self or person as a cohesive unit and bearer of agency and responsibility. Another approach sees certain aspects of Greek literature and philosophy as prefiguring some features of the modern concept of self. A third approach underlines the difference between the Greek and modern thought worlds in the formulation of concepts in this area, while also suggesting that Greek ideas and modes of presenting people can be illuminating to moderns, in part because of the challenge posed by their difference. These approaches draw on a range of evidence, including psychological vocabulary, characterization in Greek literature, and Greek philosophical analyses of ethical psychology. There are grounds for maintaining the credibility of all three approaches, and also valid criticisms that can be made of each of them.