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Psellos, Michael  

Stratis Papaioannou

Psellos, Michael (baptismal name Constantine) (1018–1078 CE) was born into a middle-class family in Constantinople, at a time when the capital of the Byzantine Empire was again at the peak of its power, after the crisis of the 7th and 8th centuriesce. Psellos’s life was punctuated by the reigns of the emperors and the careers of other members of the Constantinopolitan ruling elite, whose patronage and friendship he successfully or (occasionally) less successfully sought. Because of his education and learnedness in all fields of the Byzantine curriculum, which must have appeared spectacular in the eyes of his contemporaries, Psellos gained and sustained various posts in the imperial court and related networks of elite society as secretary, professional public speaker, and teacher during the thirty-five years (until 1078) when we can follow his career. His impressive erudition, but also his brilliant talent (by Byzantine standards) in literary discourse were also the reason for his inclusion, almost immediately after his death, in the reading canon of Byzantine advanced literacy and, therefore, the continued copying and preservation of his vast discursive production.



J. D. Mikalson

Isocrates (436–338 bce) of Athens is generally classified as an orator, although because of a weak voice and a lack of confidence, he never delivered an oration to a legislative or legal assembly. He wanted and practised a quiet life, free from political and legal wranglings. Early in his career he wrote legal speeches for others, but soon turned to moral and sophistic essays and pseudo-orations epideictic in style but serious in purpose. He earned a fortune as a teacher of rhetoric for elite local and foreign youth. His teachings included a philosophy directed to practical, conventional morality intended to produce good citizens and future leaders. From the Panegyricus of 380 bce to the end of his long life, he promoted in various writings the idea of a Panhellenic expedition, always with some form of Athenian leadership, to Asia Minor to free the Greeks living there from Persian domination. For military leadership of the expedition he appealed over the years, successively and unsuccessfully, to Dionysius I of Sicily, Archidamus of Sparta, and finally Philip of Macedon. In the 350s bce he unfavourably compared the current Athenian democracy with that established by Solon and Cleisthenes and decried Athenian mistreatment of their allies in the Second Athenian Confederacy.


Apuleius writer and orator, b. c. 125 CE  

Stephen J. Harrison

Apuleius was born of prosperous parents (Apol. 23) at *Madaurus in Africa Proconsularis, and educated in Carthage, Athens, and Rome ( Flor. 18, 20, 16); at Athens he gained enough philosophy to be called philosophus Platonicus by himself and others. He claims to have travelled extensively as a young man ( Apol. 23), and was on his way to *Alexandria (1) when he arrived at *Oea, probably in the winter of 156ce. The story from that point is told by Apuleius himself in his Apologia , no doubt in the most favourable version possible; at Oea he met a former pupil from Athens, Pontianus, who persuaded him to stay there for a year and eventually to marry his mother, Pudentilla, in order to protect her fortune for the family. Subsequently, Apuleius was accused by various other relations of Pudentilla of having induced her to marry him through magic means; the case was heard at *Sabratha, near Oea, in late 158 or early 159.


Melissus, of Samos, Presocratic philosopher, mid- to late-5th cent. BCE  

John Palmer

Melissus of Samos, the admiral who led the navy of his native island to a victory over the Athenian fleet commanded by Pericles in 441 bce (Plut. Per. 26–7), was also the author of a prose treatise entitled On Nature or On What Is, in which he advocated the strict monistic doctrine that there is just one thing. There is little other reliable information regarding his life. The chronographer Apollodorus of Athens, in placing his floruit during the 84th Olympiad (444–440 bce; D.L. 9.24), appears to have simply identified the peak of his life with the year of his naval victory, so that this dating of his peak is far from certain. The date of his treatise is also uncertain. Gorgias's On Nature or On What Is Not draws upon Melissus, and the author of the Hippocratic On the Nature of Man is also familiar with him. The extant remains of Melissus’s treatise are all preserved by Simplicius as quotations interspersed in his commentaries on Aristotle’s Physics and On the Heavens.


poetry, philosophers on  

S. Halliwell

The engagement of philosophers with poetry was a recurrent and vital feature of the intellectual culture of Graeco-Roman antiquity. By around 380 bce, *Plato (1) could already refer to “a long-standing quarrel between philosophy and poetry” ( Resp. 10.607b). Early Greek philosophy, while closely related to poetry (*Xenophanes, *Parmenides, and *Empedocles wrote in verse), set itself to contest and rival the claims of “wisdom,” sophia, made by and on behalf of poets. Xenophanes, repudiating anthropomorphic religion, cast ethical and theological aspersions on the myths of *Homer and *Hesiod (DK 21 B 11–12); Heraclitus expressed caustic doubts about the idea of poets as possessors of deep understanding (DK 22 B 40, 42, 56–57); Democritus, by contrast, despite his materialist physics, seems to have believed in poetic inspiration (DK B 17–18, 21). Philosophy and poetry could be considered competing sources of knowledge and insight. The stage was set for lasting debates about their relationship.


Parmenides of Elea, Presocratic philosopher, c. 515–post-450 BCE  

John Palmer

Parmenides of Elea is one of the most profound and challenging of the early Greek philosophers. He wrote a didactic poem treating metaphysical and cosmological themes presented in the form of a mystical revelation. It comprised a proem describing his journey to the Halls of Night, where a goddess greets him and presents this revelation in two main parts, which have come to be known as the Way of Truth and the Way of Opinion. The Way of Truth presents a tightly structured sequence of arguments that What Is must be “ungenerated and deathless, | whole and uniform, and still and perfect” (28B8.3–4 DK). The Way of Opinion comprised a cosmology based on the elemental principles Light and Night that contained numerous innovations, including identification of the sun as the source of the moon’s light. Parmenides’ thought inspired diverse reactions and appropriations in antiquity, and both its details and ultimate significance have continued to be intensely controversial. Modern interpretations divide into three main types: those that view Parmenides as a strict monist who denied the existence of the sensible world, those that view him as providing a higher-order characterization of the principles of any acceptable cosmology, and those that understand him as pursuing the distinctions between necessary being, necessary non-being or impossibility, and mutable or contingent being.


animals, knowledge about  

Pietro Li Causi

The Graeco-Roman zoological discourse comprises various development stages and various methods of observation and research. Traces of popular knowledge on animals are already present in the archaic literature, and several references to animals are found in the excursuses of the ancient ἱστορίαι. Aristotle organizes an autonomous body of philosophical theories on animals, the diffusion of which, among his contemporaries, is confined to the Peripatetic school. Subsequently, Theophrastus and the Hellenistic philosophers increasingly shift the focus of inquiry towards the behaviours and mental capacities of animals. That choice reinforces in turn the interest in marvels and singularities in both paradoxography and Roman natural history.Whereas the notions of “animality” and “humanity” tend to be polarized in almost all modern cultures, this was not the case in Graeco-Roman thought. Alcmaeon of Croton (24 A 5 DK) was the first to fix the border between humans qua rational and non-rational animals. Later on, several major philosophers, including .


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 .


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.



Ruben Post

The climate of the Mediterranean is defined by hot summers and mild, wet winters; high inter-annual variability; and strong seasonal winds. These characteristics impacted numerous aspects of life in the classical world, most notably agriculture and seafaring. The Greeks displayed a strong interest in climatic patterns beginning with Hesiod, and between the Archaic and Roman periods, Graeco-Roman intellectuals developed increasingly complex theories and models to explain them. Natural philosophers also posited that climatic conditions determined human characteristics, such as intelligence and behaviour.The dramatic increase of interest in and evidence for pre-modern climate change in the 21st century has revolutionised our understanding of climatic shifts in antiquity. While the scope and nature of ancient climatic developments are disputed, some major trends and their possible societal impacts have emerged as topics of interest, most notably the late Bronze Age–Iron Age climatic downturn, the “Roman Climatic Optimum,” and the “Late Antique Little Ice Age.”agricultureclimate changedeterminismgeographyhistory of environmentmeteorologynatural philosophyseafaringwindThe Mediterranean ClimateThe climate of the Mediterranean is generally characterised by dry, hot summers; rainy, mildly cool winters; relatively short transitional periods between these seasons in spring and autumn; and a high degree of interannual variability in precipitation.


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 .


Xenophon (1), Greek historian  

Christopher J. Tuplin

Xenophon (c. 430–c. 353 bce) came from a wealthy Athenian background and in his youth associated with Socrates. Participation in Cyrus’s unsuccessful rebellion in 401 and mercenary service with Spartan armies in Anatolia in 399–394 bce was followed by exile and prolonged residence near Olympia. Although there was a reconciliation with the Athenian state after 371, he may never have returned to live there permanently. In exile Xenophon became a writer, producing historical narratives, Socratic literature, technical treatises, an encomium of Agesilaus, a dialogue on tyranny, an analysis of Spartan success and failure, and a pamphlet on Athenian political economy. Many of these are the earliest (surviving) examples of particular genres or unusual variants on existing genres. Common to this extraordinarily diverse range of works are a didactic inclination, an intimate relationship with the author’s personal experiences combined with a variable authorial persona, use of the past as a way of talking about the present, a belief that purely practical pursuits have a moral component because they have social implications, and a style of exposition designed for engaged and informed readers who will ask questions of an apparently straightforward text while being prepared to be unsettled or wryly amused by the answers. The topic most persistently addressed by Xenophon’s oeuvre is leadership, broadly conceived—a task that demands special personal qualities, requires persistent careful effort, and, thanks to the unpredictability of events and of human behaviour, can rarely be pursued with prolonged and continuous success.


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.