History of Literature





The Beginnings of Literature. Myths and Legends

Classical Myth

Myth and Mystery


Hebrew literature

Ancient Greek literature

Ancient Greek literature. Greek theatre

Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose

Latin (Roman) literature

Latin (Roman) Literature. The Silver Age

Latin (Roman) Literature. Renaissance

Modern Italian Literature

The Middle Ages Literature

The Middle Ages. Elizabethan England

The Restoration

The Rise of the Novel

Cervantes and Spanish literature

The Enlightenment


Classicism and Naturalism

The 19th century - Prose

The 20th century - Modernism

The 20th century - The Political Novel

Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose

Ancient Greek literature. Philosophical prose

Plato "Ion", "Phaedo", "Cratylus", "Meno", "Philebus"


Aristotle "Poetics"
collection: Aristotle and Phyllis

Ammonius Saccas
Anaximenes of Miletus
Antiochus of Ascalon
Apollonius of Tyana
Crates of Thebes
Eudemus of Rhodes
Eudoxus of Cnidus

Hippasus of Metapontum
Philostratus Flavius
Pyrrhon of Elis

Straton of Lampsacus
Thales of Miletus
Zeno of Citium
Zeno of Elea

Modern Greek literature
George Seferis

Constantine P. Cavafy

Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
The Death of Socrates

Ancient Greek literature

Philosophical prose



Philosophical prose

Prose as a medium of philosophy was written as early as the 6th century. Practitioners include Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heracleitus, Anaxagoras, and Democritus. Philosophical prose was the greatest literary achievement of the 4th century. It was influenced by Socrates (who himself wrote nothing) and his characteristic method of teaching by question and answer, which led naturally to the dialogue. Alexamenus of Teos and Antisthenes, both disciples of Socrates, were the first to use it; but the greatest exponent of Socratic dialogue was the Athenian Plato (428/427–348/347). Shortly after Socrates’ death in 399 Plato wrote some dialogues, mostly short; to this group of work belong the Apology, Protagoras, and Gorgias. In the decade after 385 he wrote a series of brilliant works, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium, and the Republic. His Socrates is the most carefully drawn character in Greek literature. Subsequent dialogues became more austerely philosophical; Socrates tended increasingly to be a mere spokesman for Plato’s thought; and in the last of his works, the Laws, he was replaced by a colourless “Athenian.” Plato’s style is a thing of matchless beauty, though ancient critics, who were likely to entangle themselves in the rules they had invented, found it too poetical.

Plato’s pupil Aristotle (384–322) was admired in antiquity for his style; but his surviving works are all of the “esoteric” sort, intended for use in connection with his philosophical and scientific school, the Lyceum. They are without literary grace, and at times they approximate lecture notes. His works on literary subjects, the Rhetoric, and above all, the Poetics, had an immense effect on literary theory after the Renaissance. In the ancient world, Aristotelian doctrine was known mainly through the works of his successor Theophrastus (c. 372–288/287), now lost except for two books on plants and a famous collection of 30 Characters, sketches of human types much imitated by English writers of the 17th century.



Plato ("Ion", "Phaedo",

Cratylus", "Meno",



Almost every type of literary composition with which we are familiar can be traced back to the Greeks. The most noted is probably tragic drama, but epic poetry and history are close behind, while in philosophy the Greeks created the foundation on which virtually all subsequent Western thought has been based. Western philosophy, it has been said, is essentially a series of footnotes to Plato ("Ion", "Phaedo", "Cratylus", "Meno", "Philebus").

The Athenian form of direct democracy, in which all citizens participated, not only encouraged public speaking, but also promoted the arts of oratory and rhetoric. At the highest level, there was intense debate on questions of morality and ethics. Against this background, Socrates appeared. His probing discussions with the bright young men of Athens turned philosophy from a somewhat fruitless speculation on the nature of the universe into the study of human society and moral values.

One of the most influential thinkers in history,
Socrates didn't write a word. His teaching is known to us through his disciples, in particular Plato, who, himself, was no mere reporter, but an original thinker, at least the equal of Socrates, who turned philosophical dialogue into an art form. He was the author of the seductive theory of the ideal: that there is a perfect essence of any concept which represents the truth. (A crude example: all tables are imperfect approximations of the essence of tableness.)

Aristotle, a pupil of  Plato and a thinker of limitless range, looked for reality in particulars rather than in essentials. He was to remain the supreme authority on most subjects (excluding religion) throughout the Middle Ages, and one of the hardest tasks of the thinkers of the European Renaissance was to gain credence for ideas that ran contrary to Aristotle's teaching.

There were also famous schools of philosophy, such as the Stoics whose ideas, seriously misrepresented by the word "stoical", were remarkably similar to those of Christianity and had a profound influence on Christian thinkers.




Aristotle  ("Poetics")

Aristotle and Phyllis



Greek philosopher

died 355

Greek philosopher whose ideas had their roots in Neoplatonism, a school of philosophy that grew out of the Idealism of Plato.

Aedesius founded the so-called Pergamum school of philosophy, whose major concerns were theurgy (the magic practiced by some Neoplatonists who believed miracles could be worked by the intervention of divine and beneficent spirits) and the revival of polytheism. He was the pupil of Iamblichus and the teacher of Maximus, Chrysanthius, Priscus, and Eusebius Myndius. None of his writings have survived, but there is an extant biography by Eunapius.



Ammonius Saccas

Neoplatonic philosopher

Ammonius Saccas (3rd century AD) was a Greek philosopher from Alexandria who was often referred to as one of the founders of Neoplatonism. He is mainly known as the teacher of Plotinus, whom he taught for eleven years from 232 to 243. He was undoubtably the biggest influence on Plotinus in his development of Neoplatonism, although little is known about his own philosophical views. Later Christian writers stated that Ammonius was a Christian, but it is now generally assumed that there was a different Ammonius of Alexandria who wrote biblical texts.


Not much is known about the life of Ammonius Saccas. He had a humble background, and appears to have earned a living as a porter at the docks of Alexandria, hence his nickname of "Sack-bearer" (Sakkas for sakkophoros). Most details of his life come from the fragments left from Porphyry's writings. The most famous pupil of Ammonius Saccas was Plotinus who studied under Ammonius for eleven years. According to Porphyry, in 232, at the age of 28, Plotinus went to Alexandria to study philosophy:

In his twenty-eighth year he [Plotinus] felt the impulse to study philosophy and was recommended to the teachers in Alexandria who then had the highest reputation; but he came away from their lectures so depressed and full of sadness that he told his trouble to one of his friends. The friend, understanding the desire of his heart, sent him to Ammonius, whom he had not so far tried. He went and heard him, and said to his friend, "This is the man I was looking for." From that day he stayed continually with Ammonius and acquired so complete a training in philosophy that he became eager to make acquaintance with the Persian philosophical discipline and that prevailing among the Indians.

According to Porphyry, the parents of Ammonius were Christians, but upon learning Greek philosophy, Ammonius rejected his parents' religion for paganism. This conversion is contested by the Christian writers Jerome and Eusebius, who state that Ammonius remained a Christian throughout his lifetime:

[Porphyry] plainly utters a falsehood (for what will not an opposer of Christians do?) when he says that ... Ammonius fell from a life of piety into heathen customs. ... Ammonius held the divine philosophy unshaken and unadulterated to the end of his life. His works yet extant show this, as he is celebrated among many for the writings which he has left.

Eusebius goes on to mention a work On the Harmony of Moses and Jesus, and in an epistle addressed to Carpianus speaks of a Diatessaron or Harmony of the Four Gospels composed by Ammonius.

However we are told by Longinus that Ammonius wrote nothing,and if Ammonius was the principal influence on Plotinus, then it is unlikely that Ammonius would have been a Christian. One way to explain much of the confusion concerning Ammonius is to assume that there were two people called Ammonius: Ammonius Saccas who taught Plotinus, and an Ammonius the Christian who wrote biblical texts.

To add to the confusion, it seems that Ammonius had two pupils called Origen: Origen the Christian, and Origen the Pagan. It is quite possible that Ammonius Saccas taught both Origens. Among Ammonius' other pupils there were Herennius and Cassius Longinus.

Hierocles, writing in the 5th century, states that Ammonius' fundamental doctrine was that Plato and Aristotle were in full agreement with each other:

He was the first who had a godly zeal for the truth in philosophy and despised the views of the majority, which were a disgrace to philosophy. He apprehended well the views of each of the two philosophers [Plato and Aristotle] and brought them under one and the same nous and transmitted philosophy without conflicts to all of his disciples, and especially to the best of those acquainted with him, Plotinus, Origen, and their successors.

According to Nemesius, a bishop and Neoplatonist c. 400, Ammonius held that the soul was immaterial.

Little is known about Ammonius's role in the development of Neoplatonism. Porphyry seems to suggest that Ammonius was instrumental in helping Plotinus think about philosophy in new ways:

But he [Plotinus] did not just speak straight out of these books but took a distinctive personal line in his consideration, and brought the mind of Ammonius' to bear on the investigation in hand.

Two of Ammonius's students - Origen the Pagan, and Longinus - seem to have held philosophical positions which were closer to Middle Platonism than Neoplatonism, which perhaps suggests that Ammonius's doctrines were also closer to those of Middle Platonism than the Neoplatonism developed by Plotinus , but Plotinus does not seem to have thought that he was departing in any significant way from that of his master.




Greek philosopher

born c. 500 bc, Clazomenae, Anatolia [now in Turkey]
died c. 428, Lampsacus

Greek philosopher of nature remembered for his cosmology and for his discovery of the true cause of eclipses. He was associated with the Athenian statesman Pericles.

About 480 Anaxagoras moved to Athens, then becoming the centre of Greek culture, and brought from Ionia the new practice of philosophy and the spirit of scientific inquiry. After 30 years’ residence in Athens, he was prosecuted on a charge of impiety for asserting that the Sun is an incandescent stone somewhat larger than the region of the Peloponnese. The attack on him was intended as an indirect blow at Pericles, and, although Pericles managed to save him, Anaxagoras was compelled to leave Athens. He spent his last years in retirement at Lampsacus.

Only a few fragments of Anaxagoras’ writings have been preserved, and several different interpretations of his work have been made. The basic features, however, are clear. His cosmology grows out of the efforts of earlier Greek thinkers who had tried to explain the physical universe by an assumption of a single fundamental element. Parmenides, however, asserted that such an assumption could not account for movement and change, and, whereas Empedocles sought to resolve this difficulty by positing four basic ingredients, Anaxagoras posited an infinite number. Unlike his predecessors, who had chosen such elements as heat or water as the basic substance, Anaxagoras included those found in living bodies, such as flesh, bone, bark, and leaf. Otherwise, he asked, how could flesh come from what is not flesh? He also accounted for biological changes, in which substances appear under new manifestations: as men eat and drink, flesh, bone, and hair grow. In order to explain the great amount and diversity of change, he said that “there is a portion of every thing, i.e., of every elemental stuff, in every thing,” but “each is and was most manifestly those things of which there is most in it.”

The most original aspect of Anaxagoras’ system was his doctrine of nous (“mind,” or “reason”). The cosmos was formed by mind in two stages: first, by a revolving and mixing process that still continues; and, second, by the development of living things. In the first, all of “the dark” came together to form the night, “the fluid” came together to form the oceans, and so on with other elements. The same process of attraction of “like to like” occurred in the second stage, when flesh and other elements were brought together by mind in large amounts. This stage took place by means of animal and plant seeds inherent in the original mixture. The growth of living things, according to Anaxagoras, depends on the power of mind within the organisms that enables them to extract nourishment from surrounding substances. For this concept of mind, Anaxagoras was commended by Aristotle. Both Plato and Aristotle, however, objected that his notion of mind did not include a view that mind acts ethically—i.e., acts for the “best interests” of the universe.




Greek philosopher

born 610 bc, Miletus [now in Turkey]
died 546/545 bc

Greek philosopher often called the founder of astronomy, the first thinker to develop a cosmology, or systematic philosophical view of the world.

Anaximander is thought to have been a pupil of Thales of Miletus. Evidence exists that he wrote treatises on geography, astronomy, and cosmology that survived for several centuries, and that he made a map of the known world. As a rationalist he prized symmetry and introduced geometry and mathematical proportions into his efforts to map the heavens. Thus, his theories departed from earlier, more mystical conceptions of the universe and prefigured the achievements of later astronomers.

Only one sentence of Anaximander’s writings survives, however, so that reports from later writers form the primary record of his discoveries. That sentence describes the emergence of particular substances such as water or fire in metaphors drawn from human society, in which injustices are penalized. For example, neither hot nor cold prevails permanently, but each “pays reparations” in order to keep a balance between them.

Anaximander derived the world from a nonperceptible substance called the apeiron (“unlimited”). This state preceded the “separation” into contrasting qualities, such as hot and cold, wet and dry, and thus represents the primitive unity of all phenomena. Anaximander subscribed to the philosophical view that unity could definitely be found behind all multiplicity. A novel element in Anaximander’s theory was his rejection of the older notion that the Earth was somehow suspended or supported from elsewhere in the heavens; instead, he asserted that the Earth remained in its unsupported position at the centre of the universe because it had no reason to move in any direction and therefore was at rest.


Anaximenes of Miletus

Greek philosopher

flourished c. 545 bc

Greek philosopher of nature and one of three thinkers of Miletus traditionally considered to be the first philosophers in the Western world. Of the other two, Thales held that water is the basic building block of all matter, whereas Anaximander chose to call the essential substance “the unlimited.”

Anaximenes substituted aer (“mist,” “vapour,” “air”) for his predecessors’ choices. His writings, which survived into the Hellenistic Age, no longer exist except in passages in the works of later authors. Consequently, interpretations of his beliefs are frequently in conflict. It is clear, however, that he believed in degrees of condensation of moisture that corresponded to the densities of various types of matter. When “most evenly distributed,” aer is the common, invisible air of the atmosphere. By condensation it becomes visible, first as mist or cloud, then as water, and finally as solid matter such as earth or stones. If further rarefied, it turns to fire. Thus hotness and dryness typify rarity, whereas coldness and wetness are related to denser matter.

Anaximenes’ assumption that aer is everlastingly in motion suggests that he thought it also possessed life. Because it was eternally alive, aer took on qualities of the divine and became the cause of other gods as well as of all matter. The same motion accounts for the shift from one physical state of the aer to another. There is evidence that he made the common analogy between the divine air that sustains the universe and the human “air,” or soul, that animates people. Such a comparison between a macrocosm and a microcosm would also permit him to maintain a unity behind diversity as well as to reinforce the view of his contemporaries that there is an overarching principle regulating all life and behaviour.

A practical man and a talented observer with a vivid imagination, Anaximenes noted the rainbows occasionally seen in moonlight and described the phosphorescent glow given off by an oar blade breaking the water. His thought is typical of the transition from mythology to science; its rationality is evident from his discussion of the rainbow not as a goddess but as the effect of sun rays on compacted air. Yet his thought is not completely liberated from earlier mythological or mystical tendencies, as seen from his belief that the universe is hemispherical. Thus, his permanent contribution lies not in his cosmology but in his suggestion that known natural processes (i.e., condensation and rarefaction) play a part in the making of a world. This suggestion, together with Anaximenes’ reduction of apparent qualitative differences in substances to mere differences of quantity, was highly influential in the development of scientific thought.



Antiochus of Ascalon

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Antiochus (Greek: Άντίοχος ὁ Ἀσκαλώνιος), of Ascalon, (lived c. 125–c. 68 BC, was an Academic philosopher. He was a pupil of Philo of Larissa at the Academy, but he diverged from the Academic skepticism of Philo and his predecessors. He was a teacher of Cicero, and the first of a new breed of eclectics among the Platonists; he endeavoured to bring the doctrines of the Stoics and the Peripatetics into Platonism, and stated, in opposition to Philo, that the mind could distinguish true from false. In doing so, he claimed to be reviving the doctrines of the Old Academy. With him began the phase of philosophy known as Middle Platonism.

He was a friend of Lucullus (the antagonist of Mithridates) and the teacher of Cicero during his studies at Athens (79 BC); but he had a school at Alexandria also, as well as in Syria, where he seems to have died. He was a philosopher of considerable reputation in his time, for Strabo in describing Ascalon, mentions his birth there as a mark of distinction for the city, and Cicero frequently speaks of him in affectionate and respectful terms as the best and wisest of the Academics, and the most polished and acute philosopher of his age.

He studied under the Stoic Mnesarchus, but his principal teacher was Philo, who succeeded Clitomachus as the head (scholarch) of the Academy. He is, however, better known as the adversary than the disciple of Philo; and Cicero mentions a treatise called Sosus, written by him against his master, in which he refutes the scepticism of the Academics. Another of his works, called Canonica, is quoted by Sextus Empiricus, and appears to have been a treatise on logic.

Antiochus was called the founder of the "fifth Academy," in the same way that Philo was called the founder of the fourth. This split occurred just before the First Mithridatic War began in 88 BC which would lead to the destruction of the Academy in 86 BC. During this time, Antiochus was resident in Alexandria. He had returned to Athens by the time Cicero studied there in 79 BC, and he seems to have died around 68 BC.

The Academic skepticism of the Academy before Antiochus probably had its origin in Plato's successful attempts to lead his disciples to abstract reasoning as the right method of discovering truth, and not to trust too much to the impressions of the senses. Cicero even ranks Plato himself with those philosophers who held that there was no such thing as certainty in any kind of knowledge; as if his depreciation of the senses as trustworthy organs of perception, and of the kind of knowledge which they convey, invalidated also the conclusions of the reason.

Later philosophers, either by insisting too exclusively on the uncertainty of the senses (in order like Arcesilaus to exaggerate by comparison the value of speculative truth), or like Carneades and Philo, by extending the same fallibility to reason, had fallen into a degree of scepticism that seemed to strike at the root of all truth, theoretical and practical. It was, therefore, the chief object of Antiochus, besides promoting particular doctrines in moral philosophy, to examine the grounds of our knowledge, and our capacities for discovering truth; though no complete judgment can be formed of his success, as the book in which Cicero gave the fullest representation of his opinions has been lost.

He professed to be reviving the doctrines of the Old Academy, or of Plato's school, when he maintained, in opposition to Philo and Carneades, that the intellect had in itself a test by which it could distinguish truth from falsehood; or in the language of the Academics, discern between the images arising from actual objects and those conceptions that had no corresponding reality. For the argument of the sceptics was, that if two notions were so exactly similar as that they could not be distinguished, neither of them could be said to be known with more certainty than the other; and that every true notion was liable to have a false one of this kind attached to it: therefore nothing could be certainly known. This reasoning was obviously overthrown by the assertion that the mind contained within itself the standard of truth and falsehood; it was also attacked more generally by the argument that all such reasoning refutes itself, since it proceeds upon principles assumed to be true, and then concludes that there can be no certain ground for any assumption at all. In this manner Antiochus seems to have taken the side of the Stoics in defending the senses from the charge of complete uncertainty brought against them by the Academics.

It is evident that in such discussions the same questions were examined which had formerly been more thoroughly sifted by Plato and Aristotle, in analyzing the nature of science and treating of the different kinds of truth, according as they were objects of pure intellectual apprehension, or only of probable and uncertain knowledge. The result was an attempt to revive the dialectic art which the Academics had ignored, so the existing accounts of Antiochus' moral teaching seem to show. Without yielding to the paradoxes of the Stoics, or the scepticism of the Academics, he held in the main doctrines nearly coinciding with those of Aristotle: that happiness consists essentially in a virtuous life, yet is not independent of external things. So he denied the Stoic doctrine that all crimes were equal, but agreed with them in holding that all the emotions ought to be suppressed. On the whole, therefore, though Cicero inclines to rank him among the Stoics, it appears that he considered himself an eclectic philosopher, and attempted to unite the doctrines of the Stoics and Peripatetics, so as to revive the old Academy.



Greek philosopher

born c. 445 bc
died c. 365

Greek philosopher, of Athens, who was a disciple of Socrates and is considered the founder of the Cynic school of philosophy, though Diogenes of Sinope often is given that credit.

Antisthenes was born into a wealthy family, and the philosophical ideas that he developed had their roots in the contradictions and injustices that he found embedded in society. He sought to build a foundation of ideas that would serve as a guiding principle toward a happier, more thoughtful way of life. Antisthenes believed that happiness was dependent on moral virtue and that virtue could be instilled through teaching.

In teaching people how to be virtuous, Antisthenes demarcated two categories of objects: (1) external goods, embracing such elements as personal property, sensual pleasure, and other luxuries; and (2) internal goods, including the truth and knowledge of the soul. He advocated great restraint on the part of an individual tempted to take pleasure in external goods, and he encouraged his students to accept the burden of physical and mental pain that accompanies the soul’s search for its own inner wealth. To dramatize his method of teaching, Antisthenes, after the myth of Hercules, would stand on his platform of ideas and beliefs and “bark” at the folly and injustices of his society. The Cynic (Greek: Canine, or Doglike) school of philosophy long survived him.



Apollonius of Tyana

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Apollonius of Tyana (Greek: Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Τυανεύς; ca. 15?–ca. 100? AD) was a Greek Neopythagorean philosopher from the town of Tyana in the Roman province of Cappadocia in Asia Minor. Little is certainly known about him. Being a first century orator and philosopher around the time of Christ, he was compared to Jesus of Nazareth by Christians in the fourth century and by various popular writers in modern times.

Life dates
Apollonius's dates are uncertain. His primary biographer, Philostratus the Elder (c.170–247 CE) places him c. 3 BCE to 97 CE. Others agree that he was roughly a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. Charles P. Eells[5] states that his date of birth was three years before Jesus, whose date of birth is also uncertain. However, Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius of Tyana, places him staying in the court of King Vardanes I of Parthia for a while, who ruled between c.40–47 CE. Apollonius began a five year silence at about the age of 20, and after the completion of this silence travelled to Mesopotamia and Iran. Philostratus also mentions emperors Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian, and Nerva at various points throughout Apollonius’ life. Given this information, a timeline of roughly the years 15–98 CE can be established for his adult life.

By far the most detailed source is the Life of Apollonius of Tyana, a lengthy, novelistic biography written by the sophist Philostratus at the request of empress Julia Domna. She took her own life in 217 CE, and he completed it after her death, probably in the 220's or 230's CE. Philostratus’ account shaped the image of Apollonius for posterity and still dominates discussions about him in our times. To some extent it is a valuable source because it contains data from older writings which were available to Philostratus but disappeared later on. Among these works are an excerpt (preserved by Eusebius) from On sacrifices, and certain alleged letters of Apollonius. The sage may really have written some of these works, along with the no-longer extant Biography of Pythagoras. At least two biographical sources that Philostratus used are lost: a book by the imperial secretary Maximus describing Apollonius’ activities in Maximus' home-city of Aegaeae in Cilicia, and a biography by a certain Moiragenes. There also survives, separately from the LIfe by Philostratus, a collection of letters of Apollonius, but at least some of these seem to be spurious.

One of the essential sources Philostratus claimed to know are the “memoirs” (or “diary”) of Damis, an acolyte and companion of Apollonius. Some scholars believe the notebooks of Damis were an invention of Philostratus, while others think it was a real book forged by someone else and used by Philostratus. Philostratus describes Apollonius as a wandering teacher of philosophy and miracle worker who was mainly active in Greece and Asia Minor but also traveled to Italy, Spain and North Africa and even to Mesopotamia, India, and Ethiopia. In particular, he tells lengthy stories of Apollonius entering the city of Rome in disregard of emperor Nero’s ban on philosophers, and later on being summoned, as a defendant, to the court of Domitian, where he defied the emperor in blunt terms. He had allegedly been accused of conspiring against the emperor, performing human sacrifice, and predicting a plague by means of magic. Philostratus implies that upon his death, Apollonius of Tyana underwent heavenly assumption.

How much of this can be accepted as historical truth depends largely on the extent to which modern scholars trust Philostratus, and in particular on whether they believe in the reality of Damis. Some of these scholars contend that he never came to Western Europe and was virtually unknown there till the third century AD when empress Julia Domna, who was herself from the province of Syria, decided to popularize him and his teachings in Rome. For that purpose, so these same scholars believe, she commissioned Philostratus to write the biography, where Apollonius is exalted as a fearless sage with supernatural powers, even greater than Pythagoras. This view of Julia Domna's role in the making of the Apollonius-legend gets some support from the fact that her son Caracalla worshiped him, and her grandnephew emperor Severus Alexander may have done so as well.

Apollonius was also a known figure in the medieval Islamic world as described later in this article.

Historical facts
Little can be derived from sources other than Philostratus. Hence if we dismiss Philostratus’ colorful stories as fiction, the figure of the historical Apollonius appears to be rather shadowy. As James Francis put it, "the most that can be said...is that Apollonius appears to have been a wandering ascetic/philosopher/wonderworker of a type common to the eastern part of the early empire." What we can safely assume is that he was indeed a Pythagorean and as such, in conformity with the Pythagorean tradition, opposed animal sacrifice, and lived on a frugal, strictly vegetarian diet. A minimalist view is that he spent his entire life in the cities of his native Asia Minor and of northern Syria, in particular his home town of Tyana, Ephesus, Aegae, and Antioch, though the letters suggest wider travels, and there seems no reason to deny that, like many wandering philosophers, he at least visited Rome. As for his philosophical convictions, we have an interesting, probably authentic fragment of one of his writings (On sacrifices) where he expresses his view that God, who is the most beautiful being, cannot be influenced by prayers or sacrifices and has no wish to be worshipped by humans, but can be reached by a spiritual procedure involving nous, because he himself is pure nous and nous is also the greatest faculty of humankind.

Philostratus implies on one occasion that Apollonius had extra-sensory perception (Book VIII, Chapter XXVI). When emperor Domitian was murdered on September 18, 96 AD, Apollonius was said to have witnessed the event in Ephesus "about midday" on the day it happened in Rome, and told those present "Take heart, gentlemen, for the tyrant has been slain this day...". The words that Philostratus attributes to him would make equal sense, however, if Apollonius had been informed that the emperor would be killed at noon on Sept. 18th. Both Philostratus and renowned historian Cassius Dio report this incident, probably on the basis of an oral tradition. Both state that the philosopher welcomed the deed as a praiseworthy tyrannicide.

Journey to India
Philostratus devoted two and a half of the eight books of his Life of Apollonius (1.19–3.58) to the description of a journey of his hero to India. According to Philostratus' Life, en route to the Far East, Apollonius reached Hierapolis Bambyce (Manbij) in Syria (not Nineveh, as some scholars believed), where he met Damis, a native of that city who became his lifelong companion. Pythagoras, whom the Neo-Pythagoreans regarded as an exemplary sage, was believed to have travelled to India. Hence such a feat made Apollonius look like a good Pythagorean who spared no pains in his efforts to discover the sources of oriental piety and wisdom. As some details in Philostratus’ account of the Indian adventure seem incompatible with known facts, modern scholars are inclined to dismiss the whole story as a fanciful fabrication, but not all of them rule out the possibility that the Tyanean actually did visit India.

What seemed to be independent evidence showing that Apollonius was known in India has now been proved to be forged. In two Sanskrit texts quoted by Sanskritist Vidhushekhara Bhattacharya in 1943[22] he appears as "Apalūnya", in one of them together with Damis (called "Damīśa"), it is claimed that Apollonius and Damis were Western yogis, who later on were converted to the correct Advaita philosophy. Some have believed that these Indian sources derived their information from a Sanskrit translation of Philostratus’ work (which would have been a most uncommon and amazing occurrence), or even considered the possibility that it was really an independent confirmation of the historicity of the journey to India. Only in 1995 were the passages in the Sanskrit texts proven to be interpolations by a modern (late 19th century) forger .

Several writings and many letters have been ascribed to Apollonius, but some of them are lost; others have only been preserved in parts or fragments of disputed authenticity. Porphyry and Iamblichus refer to a biography of Pythagoras by Apollonius, which has not survived; it is also mentioned in the Suda. Apollonius wrote a treatise On sacrifices, of which only a short, probably authentic fragment has come down to us.

Philostratus’ Life and the anthology assembled by John Stobaeus contain purported letters of Apollonius. Some of them are cited in full, others only partially. There is also an independently transmitted collection of letters preserved in medieval manuscripts. It is difficult to determine what is authentic and what not. Some of the letters may have been forgeries or literary exercises assembled in collections which were already circulated in the 2nd century AD. It has been asserted that Philostratus himself forged a considerable part of the letters he inserted into his work; others were older forgeries available to him.

In the second century the satirist Lucian of Samosata was a sharp critic of Neo-Pythagoreanism. After 180 AD he wrote a pamphlet where he attacked Alexander of Abonoteichus, a student of one of Apollonius’ students, as a charlatan, and suggested that the whole school was based on fraud. From this we can infer that Apollonius really had students and that his school survived at least till Lucian’s time. One of Philostratus’ foremost aims was to oppose this view; although he related various miraculous feats of Apollonius, he emphasized at the same time that his hero was not a magician, but a serious philosopher and a champion of traditional Greek values.

When emperor Aurelian conducted his military campaign against the Palmyrene Empire, he captured Tyana in 272 AD. According to the Historia Augusta he abstained from destroying the city after having a vision of Apollonius admonishing him to spare the innocent citizens.

In Philostratus’ description of Apollonius’ life and deeds there are a number of similarities with the life and especially the claimed miracles of Jesus. Perhaps this parallel was intentional, but the original aim was hardly to present Apollonius as a rival of Jesus. However, in the late third century Porphyry, an anti-Christian Neoplatonic philosopher, claimed in his treatise Against the Christians that the miracles of Jesus were not unique, and mentioned Apollonius as a non-Christian who had accomplished similar achievements. Around 300, Roman authorities used the fame of Apollonius in their struggle to wipe out Christianity. Hierocles, one of the main instigators of the persecution of Christians in 303, wrote a pamphlet where he argued that Apollonius exceeded Christ as a wonder-worker and yet wasn’t worshipped as a god, and that the cultured biographers of Apollonius were more trustworthy than the uneducated apostles. This attempt to make Apollonius a hero of the anti-Christian movement provoked sharp replies from bishop Eusebius of Caesarea and from Lactantius.[32] Eusebius wrote an extant reply to the pamphlet of Hierocles, where he claimed that Philostratus was a fabulist and that Apollonius was a sorcerer in league with demons. This started a debate on the relative merits of Jesus and Apollonius that has gone on in different forms into modern times.

In Late Antiquity talismans made by Apollonius appeared in several cities of the Eastern Roman Empire, as if they were sent from heaven. They were magical figures and columns erected in public places, meant to protect the cities from afflictions. The great popularity of these talismans was a challenge to the Christians. Some Byzantine authors condemned them as sorcery and the work of demons, others admitted that such magic was beneficial; none of them claimed that it didn’t work.

In the Western Roman Empire, Sidonius Apollinaris was a Christian admirer of Apollonius in the 5th century. He produced a Latin translation of Philostratus’ Life, which is lost.

Islamic world and Baha’i
Apollonius was a known figure in the medieval Islamic world. In the Arabic literature he appears as Balīnūs (or Balīnās or Abūlūniyūs). Arabic-speaking occultists dubbed him "Lord of the talismans" (Ṣāḥib aṭ-ṭilasmāt) and related stories about his achievements as a talisman-maker. They appreciated him as a master of alchemy and a transmitter of Hermetic knowledge. Some occult writings circulated under his name; among them were:

the Kitāb Sirr al-ḫalīqa (Book on the Secret of Creation), also named Kitāb al-῾ilal (Book of the Causes)
the Risāla fī ta�ṯīr ar-rūḥānīyāt fī l-murakkabāt (Treatise on the influence of the spiritual beings on the composite things)
al-Mudḫal al-kabīr ilā risālati aṭ-ṭalāsim (Great introduction to the treatise on the talismans)
the Kitāb ṭalāsim Balīnās al-akbar (Great book of Balinas’ talismans)
the Kitāb Ablūs al-ḥakīm (Book of the sage Ablus)
Medieval alchemist Jabir ibn Hayyan's Book of Stones According to the Opinion of Balīnās contains an exposition and analysis of views expressed in Arabic occult works attributed to Apollonius.

There were also medieval Latin and vernacular translations of Arabic books attributed to “Balinus”.

The Tablet of Wisdom written by Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the Bahá'í Faith, names "Balinus" (Apollonius) as a great philosopher, who "surpassed everyone else in the diffusion of arts and sciences and soared unto the loftiest heights of humility and supplication."

Modern era
In Europe, there has been great interest in Apollonius since the beginning of the 16th century, but the traditional ecclesiastical viewpoint still prevailed. Till the Age of Enlightenment the Tyanean was usually treated as a demonic magician and a great enemy of the Church who collaborated with the devil and tried to overthrow Christianity. On the other hand, several advocates of Enlightenment, deism and anti-Church positions saw him as an early forerunner of their own ethical and religious ideas, a proponent of a universal, non-denominational religion compatible with Reason. In 1680, Charles Blount, a radical English deist, published the first English translation of the first two books of Philostratus' Life with an anti-Church introduction. Voltaire praised Apollonius.

As in Late Antiquity, comparisons between Apollonius and Jesus became commonplace in the 17th and 18th centuries in the context of polemic about Christianity. In the Marquis de Sade's "Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man", the Dying Man compares Jesus to Apollonius as a false prophet. Some Theosophists, notably C.W. Leadbeater, Alice A. Bailey, and Benjamin Creme, have maintained that Apollonius of Tyana was the reincarnation of the being they call the Master Jesus. In the 20th century, Ezra Pound evoked Apollonius in his later Cantos as a figure associated with sun-worship and a messianic rival to Christ. Pound identifies him as Aryan within an anti-semitic mythology, and celebrates his solar worship and aversion to ancient Jewish animal sacrifice. In the Gerald Messadié's "The man who became god", Apollonius appears as a wandering philosopher and magician of about the same age as Jesus. The two of them supposedly met. French author Maurice Magre also wrote about Apollonius in his little known book Magicians, Seers, and Mystics.

In fiction
Apollonius appears as a fictional character in the 1935 novel The Circus of Dr. Lao and its 1964 film adaptation, 7 Faces of Dr. Lao. In these, Apollonius works in the circus as a fortune-teller, who is under a curse — he sees the future, but can only speak the exact truth, thus seeming to be cruel and hateful. He is blind and weary after many years of predicting disappointment for his clients.
The plot of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt's 1948 fantasy novel The Carnelian Cube hinges on a magical artifact passed down by Apollonius.
In the 1975 work The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Apollonius appears in discussion with Abbie Hoffman.
Apollonius appears as a fictional character in the 1977 television series The Fantastic Journey in the seventh episode named Funhouse. In this episode, Apollonius attempts to take possession of the scientist Willaway in a funhouse but is thwarted by Varian, "a man from the future possessing awesome powers".
Apollonius appears as a fictional character in the 1996 short story "The Garden of Tantalus" by Brian Stableford, which combines two of the accounts from Life of Apollonius of Tyana and removes the mystical aspects, turning it into a detective story. The narrator, Menippus from the account of Apollonius and the lamia, blames Damis for making Apollonius a magician by elaborating on what little of the story he knew. The story was published in Classical Whodunnits (1996).




Greek philosopher

born c. 435 bc, Cyrene, Libya
died 366, Athens

philosopher who was one of Socrates’ disciples and the founder of the Cyrenaic school of hedonism, the ethic of pleasure (see Cyrenaics). The first of Socrates’ disciples to demand a salary for teaching philosophy, Aristippus believed that the good life rests upon the belief that among human values pleasure is the highest and pain the lowest (and one that should be avoided). He also warned his students to avoid inflicting as well as suffering pain. Like Socrates, Aristippus took great interest in practical ethics. While he believed that men should dedicate their lives to the pursuit and enjoyment of pleasure, he also believed that they should use good judgment and exercise self-control to temper powerful human desires. His motto was, “I possess, I am not possessed.” None of his writings survives.




Greek philosopher

born c. 280 bc
died c. 206

Greek philosopher from Soli (Soloi) who was the principal systematizer of Stoic philosophy. He is considered to have been, with Zeno, cofounder of the academy at Athens Stoa (Greek: “Porch”). Credited with about 750 writings, he was among the first to organize propositional logic as an intellectual discipline.




Greek philosopher

born 331/330 bc, Assos in the Troad, Asia Minor
died 232/231

Stoic philosopher who became head of the Stoic school (263–232 bc) after the death of Zeno of Citium. Among his pupils were his successor, Chrysippus, and Antigonus II, king of Macedonia. Although Cleanthes produced little that is original, he brought a religious fervour to the teachings of Zeno, stressing the belief that the universe is a living entity and that God is the vivifying ether of the universe. He wrote about 50 works, of which only fragments survive, the most important being his hymn to Zeus. The principal fragments of Cleanthes’ works are contained in works of Diogenes Laërtius and Stobaeus; some may be found in Cicero and Seneca.



Crates of Thebes

Greek philosopher

flourished 4th century bc

Cynic philosopher, a pupil of Diogenes. He gave up his fortune and made it his mission to castigate vice and pretense. Hipparchia, daughter of a wealthy Thracian family and sister of the philosopher Metrocles, forced her parents to allow her to join him in his ascetic and missionary life. He had a gift for amusing parody of serious poetry, by which he mocked other philosophers and praised the Cynic way of living. He was reputed to be the author of philosophic dramas and philosophic letters: the letters extant under his name are spurious. His historical importance lies in the influence that he exerted on Zeno the Stoic, who greatly admired him. Plutarch’s biography of him is no longer extant.




Greek philosopher

born c. 460 bc
died c. 370

Greek philosopher, a central figure in the development of the atomic theory of the universe.

Knowledge of Democritus’ life is largely limited to untrustworthy tradition: it seems that he was a wealthy citizen of Abdera, in Thrace; that he traveled widely in the East; and that he lived to a great age. According to Diogenes Laërtius, his works numbered 73; only a few hundred fragments have survived, mostly from his treatises on ethics.

Democritus’ physical and cosmological doctrines were an elaborated and systematized version of those of his teacher, Leucippus. To account for the world’s changing physical phenomena, Democritus asserted that space, or the Void, had an equal right with reality, or Being, to be considered existent. He conceived of the Void as a vacuum, an infinite space in which moved an infinite number of atoms that made up Being (i.e., the physical world). These atoms are eternal and invisible; absolutely small, so small that their size cannot be diminished (hence the name atomon, or “indivisible”); absolutely full and incompressible, as they are without pores and entirely fill the space they occupy; and homogeneous, differing only in shape, arrangement, position, and magnitude. But, while atoms thus differ in quantity, differences of quality are only apparent, owing to the impressions caused on our senses by different configurations and combinations of atoms. A thing is hot or cold, sweet or bitter, or hard or soft only by convention; the only things that exist in reality are atoms and the Void. Thus, the atoms of water and iron are the same, but those of water, being smooth and round and therefore unable to hook onto one another, roll over and over like small globes, whereas those of iron, being rough, jagged, and uneven, cling together and form a solid body. Because all phenomena are composed of the same eternal atoms, it may be said that nothing comes into being or perishes in the absolute sense of the words, although the compounds made out of the atoms are liable to increase and decrease, explaining a thing’s appearance and disappearance, or “birth” and “death.”

Just as the atoms are uncaused and eternal, so too, according to Democritus, is motion. Democritus posited the fixed and “necessary” laws of a purely mechanical system, in which there was no room for an intelligent cause working with a view to an end. He explained the origin of the universe as follows. The original motion of the atoms was in all directions—it was a sort of “vibration”; hence there resulted collisions and, in particular, a whirling movement, whereby similar atoms were brought together and united to form larger bodies and worlds. This happened not as the result of any purpose or design but rather merely as the result of “necessity”; i.e., it is the normal manifestation of the nature of the atoms themselves. Atoms and void being infinite in number and extent, and motion having always existed, there must always have been an infinite number of worlds, all consisting of similar atoms in various stages of growth and decay.

Democritus devoted considerable attention to perception and knowledge. He asserted, for example, that sensations are changes produced in the soul by atoms emitted from other objects that impinge on it; the atoms of the soul can be affected only by the contact of other atoms. But sensations such as sweet and bitter are not as such inherent in the emitted atoms, for they result from effects caused merely by the size and shape of the atoms; e.g., sweet taste is due to round and not excessively small atoms. Democritus also was the first to attempt to explain colour, which he thought was due to the “position” (which he differentiated from shape) of the constituent atoms of compounds. The sensation of white, for instance, is caused by atoms that are smooth and flat so as to cast no shadow; the sensation of black is caused by rough, uneven atoms.

Democritus attributed popular belief in the gods to a desire to explain extraordinary phenomena (thunder, lightning, earthquakes) by reference to superhuman agency. His ethical system, founded on a practical basis, posited an ultimate good (“cheerfulness”) that was “a state in which the soul lives peacefully and tranquilly, undisturbed by fear or superstition or any other feeling.”




Greek philosopher

born Sinope, Paphlygonia
died c. 320 bc, probably at Corinth, Greece

archetype of the Cynics, a Greek philosophical sect that stressed stoic self-sufficiency and the rejection of luxury. He is credited by some with originating the Cynic way of life, but he himself acknowledges an indebtedness to Antisthenes, by whose numerous writings he was probably influenced. It was by personal example rather than any coherent system of thought that Diogenes conveyed the Cynic philosophy. His followers positioned themselves as watchdogs of morality.

Diogenes is the subject of numerous apocryphal stories, one of which depicts his behaviour upon being sold into slavery. He declared that his trade was that of governing men and was appointed tutor to his master’s sons. Tradition ascribes to him the famous search for an honest man conducted in broad daylight with a lighted lantern. Almost certainly forced into exile from Sinope with his father, he had probably already adopted his life of asceticism (Greek askesis, “training”) when he reached Athens. Referred to by Aristotle as a familiar figure there, Diogenes began practicing extreme anti-conventionalism. He made it his mission to “deface the currency,” perhaps meaning “to put false coin out of circulation.” That is, he sought to expose the falsity of most conventional standards and beliefs and to call men back to a simple, natural life.

For Diogenes the simple life meant not only disregard of luxury but also disregard of laws and customs of organized, and therefore “conventional,” communities. The family was viewed as an unnatural institution to be replaced by a natural state in which men and women would be promiscuous and children would be the common concern of all. Though Diogenes himself lived in poverty, slept in public buildings, and begged his food, he did not insist that all men should live in the same way but merely intended to show that happiness and independence were possible even under reduced circumstances.

The program for life advocated by Diogenes began with self-sufficiency, or the ability to possess within oneself all that one needs for happiness. A second principle, “shamelessness,” signified the necessary disregard for those conventions holding that actions harmless in themselves may not be performed in every situation. To these Diogenes added “outspokenness,” an uncompromising zeal for exposing vice and conceit and stirring men to reform. Finally, moral excellence is to be obtained by methodical training, or asceticism.

Among Diogenes’ lost writings are dialogues, plays, and the Republic, which described an anarchist utopia in which men lived “natural” lives.



Greek philosopher and scholar

born c. 490 bc, Acragas, Sicily
died 430, the Peloponnese, Greece

Greek philosopher, statesman, poet, religious teacher, and physiologist.

According to legend only, Empedocles was a self-styled god who brought about his own death, as dramatized by the English poet Matthew Arnold in “Empedocles on Etna,” by flinging himself into the volcanic crater atop Mount Etna to convince followers of his divinity. To his contemporaries he did indeed seem more than a mere mortal; Aristotle reputedly hailed him as the inventor of rhetoric, and Galen regarded him as the founder of Italian medicine. Lucretius admired his hexametric poetry. Nothing remains of the various writings attributed to him other than 400 lines from his poem Peri physeōs (“On Nature”) and fewer than 100 verses from his poem Katharmoi (“Purifications”).

Although strongly influenced by Parmenides, who emphasized the unity of all things, Empedocles assumed instead that all matter was composed of four essential ingredients, fire, air, water, and earth, and that nothing either comes into being or is destroyed but that things are merely transformed, depending on the ratio of basic substances, to one another. Like Heracleitus, he believed that two forces, Love and Strife, interact to bring together and to separate the four substances. Strife makes each of these elements withdraw itself from the others; Love makes them mingle together. The real world is at a stage in which neither force dominates. In the beginning, Love was dominant and all four substances were mixed together; during the formation of the cosmos, Strife entered to separate air, fire, earth, and water from one another. Subsequently, the four elements were again arranged in partial combinations in certain places; springs and volcanoes, for example, show the presence of both water and fire in the Earth.

Apparently a firm believer in the transmigration of souls, Empedocles declared that those who have sinned must wander for 30,000 seasons through many mortal bodies and be tossed from one of the four elements to another. Escape from such punishment requires purification, particularly abstention from the flesh of animals, whose souls may once have inhabited human bodies.



Greek philosopher

born 341 bc, Samos, Greece
died 270, Athens

Greek philosopher, author of an ethical philosophy of simple pleasure, friendship, and retirement. He founded schools of philosophy that survived directly from the 4th century bc until the 4th century ad.

Early life and training
Epicurus was born on the island of Samos of Athenian parents who had gone there as military settlers. His father, a schoolteacher, was named Neocles, his mother Chairestrate; both were of the same village, the deme Gargettos. According to his own report, Epicurus began his study of philosophy at the age of 14. One account has him turning to philosophy when his schoolmaster could not explain the concept of chaos in Hesiod, an early Greek philosophical poet. His first master is said to have been the Platonist Pamphilus of Samos. Much more significant, however, is the report that Epicurus was for three years (327–324) a student in the Ionian city of Teos, where his teacher was Nausiphanes, a disciple of the naturalistic philosopher Democritus. It may have been from this source that Epicurus’ atomistic theory came, which he used not as a means of studying physics but as the basis for a philosophical system that ultimately sought ethical ends.

At the age of 18, Epicurus went to Athens to perform the two years of military training required for Athenian citizenship. While there he may have heard Xenocrates, second in succession after Plato as head of his Academy, and Aristotle, who was then in Athens. One year later Epicurus rejoined his parents at Colophon, where they had gone as exiles when, at the close of the Lamian War, Athens lost Samos to the Macedonians. For the next 10 years, there is virtually no record. It seems probable that Epicurus travelled and studied, and it is reasonable to suppose that this was the period during which he developed his philosophical outlook and confirmed it in exchanges with the Platonists and Aristotelians. A letter written by him from Teos, addressed to his mother, was preserved by Diogenes of Oenoanda. At the age of 32, Epicurus began to teach, first at Mytilene and subsequently at Lampsacus, a period that lasted from 311/310 to 307/306.

In various places Epicurus met the disciples who were destined to follow him to Athens and to become of great significance as vehicles through whom the Epicurean school would achieve its mature development: at Mytilene, he met his first disciple, Hermarchus, who eventually succeeded him as head of the Athenian school; and at Lampsacus, he met Metrodorus and Polyaenus, whose death preceded the master’s and whose sons Epicurus provided for in his will; Metrodorus’ brother, Timocrates; Leonteus and his wife, Themista, who had been a hetaira (an independent courtesan); Colotes, whom Epicurus flattered with the pet name Colotarion; and Idomeneus and his wife, Batis, sister of Metrodorus.

Thus, apart from his two years in Athens, Epicurus spent the first 35 years of his life in Asia. This need not mean, however, that he developed an aversion to the literary circles in Athens. Instead, his Asiatic ties, which he continued to cultivate intensely all his life (including two or three actual journeys to Asia Minor) seem to have been reflected mainly in his choice of words and style and, more significantly, in the ecumenical scope of his philosophy.

The schools at Athens and elsewhere
When Epicurus and his followers came to Athens in 306, he bought a house and, in the garden, established a school, which came to be known as Ho Kepos (The Garden). At this time in Athens, cultural life was dominated by the Academy of Plato and the Lyceum of Aristotle, both of which had passed into the hands of successors. These schools attracted both the best theoretical students and those concerned with the application of philosophy to politics and public life. Therefore, any school that hoped to endure through this period had to enter into direct rivalry with the Academy and the Lyceum by establishing itself—as did the Stoa a few years later—in the city of Athens.

What Epicurus brought to Athens was more a way of life than a school or a community. Unlike both of the famous schools, it admitted women, and even one of Epicurus’ slaves, named Mouse. It taught the avoidance of political activity and of public life, although, when one follower from a school outside Athens rose to political power and then fell, he was succoured by the school. Quite different from the usual connotations borne by the term epicurean today, life in the house and garden was simple. Water was the usual drink, although a half-pint daily ration of wine was allowed, and barley bread was eaten. During a famine Epicurus saved his students by doling out a few numbered beans daily. There was no communal property, as was the case in Pythagorean schools. Whereas the relationships of the members of the school were not platonic, in either the contemporary or any later sense, there are only the attacks of Stoic opponents to support any idea of sexual irregularity. Epicurus wrote clearly but in no highly organized way. There was much correspondence with students in Athens and at other schools, some letters being concerned with doctrinal matters but many seeming to be merely social and friendly.

On the day in his 72nd year that Epicurus died painfully of prostatitis, he dictated an affectionate and touching letter to Idomeneus—probably intended, in fact, for all of his friends in Lampsacus—which displayed the spirit in which he had remained true to his philosophy of repose and serenity even in the throes of pain. Epicurus’ will left the house, garden, and some funds to trustees of the school. Remaining funds were left to honour Epicurus’ deceased family and to celebrate his birthday annually and his memory monthly. His slaves were freed, and provision was made that the daughter of Metrodorus should be wed to someone in the Athenian school, with the approval of Hermarchus.

Writings and assessment
Diogenes Laërtius described Epicurus as a most prolific writer and preserved three of his letters and the Kyriai doxiai (“Principal Doctrines”). The three letters are (1) To Herodotus, dealing with physics; (2) To Pythocles (probably a disciple’s abridgement), on meteorology; and (3) To Menoeceus, on ethics and theology. The Kyriai consists of 40 short aphoristic statements. Another major source is the papyri from the Casa dei Papiri discovered at Herculaneum (1752–54), which include not only parts of his great work Peri physeōs (“On Nature”), originally in 37 books, but also numerous fragments of correspondence with his friends.

Many of Epicurus’ methods made him comparable to a religious figure. The breadth of his appeal in Rome during the 1st century bc is indicated by the fact that the poet-philosopher Lucretius based his work on Epicurus (Lucretius in fact held Epicurus in reverential awe), by the references to his thought by the statesman-moralist Cicero, and by the detailing by the biographer Plutarch of how Cassius soothed the mind of Brutus with his Epicurean ideas. Epicurus’ atomistic theory was revived in the 17th century by Pierre Gassendi, a French philosopher-scientist.

Carlo Diano



born ad 55, probably at Hierapolis, Phrygia [now Pamukkale, Turkey]
died c. 135, Nicopolis, Epirus [Greece]

Greek philosopher associated with the Stoics, remembered for the religious tone of his teachings, which commended him to numerous early Christian thinkers.

His original name is not known; epiktētos is the Greek word meaning “acquired.” As a boy he was a slave but managed to attend lectures by the Stoic Musonius Rufus. He later became a freedman and lived his life lame and in ill health. In ad 90 he was expelled from Rome with other philosophers by the emperor Domitian, who was irritated by the favourable reception given by Stoics to opponents of his tyranny. The rest of his life Epictetus spent at Nicopolis.

As far as is known, Epictetus wrote nothing. His teachings were transmitted by Arrian, his pupil, in two works: Discourses, of which four books are extant; and the Encheiridion, or Manual, a condensed aphoristic version of the main doctrines. In his teachings Epictetus followed the early rather than the late Stoics, reverting to Socrates and to Diogenes, the philosopher of Cynicism, as historical models of the sage. Primarily interested in ethics, Epictetus described philosophy as learning “how it is possible to employ desire and aversion without hindrance.” True education, he believed, consists in recognizing that there is only one thing that belongs to an individual fully—his will, or purpose. God, acting as a good king and father, has given each being a will that cannot be compelled or thwarted by anything external. Men are not responsible for the ideas that present themselves to their consciousness, though they are wholly responsible for the way in which they use them. “Two maxims,” Epictetus said, “we must ever bear in mind—that apart from the will there is nothing good or bad, and that we must not try to anticipate or to direct events, but merely to accept them with intelligence.” Man must, that is, believe there is a God whose thought directs the universe.

As a political theorist, Epictetus saw man as a member of a great system that comprehends both God and men. Each human being is primarily a citizen of his own commonwealth, but he is also a member of the great city of gods and men, of which the political city is only a poor copy. All men are the sons of God by virtue of their rationality and are kindred in nature with the divinity. Thus, man is capable of learning to administer his city and his life according to the will of God, which is the will of nature. The natural instinct of animated life, to which man also is subject, is self-preservation and self-interest. Yet men are so constituted that the individual cannot secure his own interests unless he contributes to the common welfare. The aim of the philosopher, therefore, is to see the world as a whole, to grow into the mind of God, and to make the will of nature his own.



Eudemus of Rhodes

Greek philosopher
also spelled Eudemos, or Eudemis

flourished before 300 bc

Greek philosopher who was a pupil of Aristotle and a friend of Theophrastus.

Together with Theophrastus, Eudemus completed Aristotle’s philosophy from the point of view of systematization. The fragments of his Physics (preserved by Simplicius) and his Analytics paraphrase those of Aristotle—and it was Eudemus who edited or revised the Eudemian Ethics, which are preserved under Aristotle’s name. His history of geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy completed the Doctrines of the Natural Scientists of Theophrastus. The fragments have been edited by F. Wehrli, Eudemos von Rhodos (1955), being part viii of Die Schule des Aristoteles: Texte und Kommentar



Eudoxus of Cnidus

Greek mathematician and astronomer

born c. 395–390 bc, Cnidus, Asia Minor [now in Turkey]
died c. 342–337 bc, Cnidus

Greek mathematician and astronomer who substantially advanced proportion theory, contributed to the identification of constellations and thus to the development of observational astronomy in the Greek world, and established the first sophisticated, geometrical model of celestial motion. He also wrote on geography and contributed to philosophical discussions in Plato’s Academy. Although none of his writings survive, his contributions are known from many discussions throughout antiquity.

According to the 3rd century ad historian Diogenes Laërtius (the source for most biographical details), Eudoxus studied mathematics with Archytas of Tarentum and medicine with Philistion of Locri. At age 23 he attended lectures in Athens, possibly at Plato’s Academy (opened c. 387 bc). After two months he left for Egypt, where he studied with priests for 16 months. Earning his living as a teacher, Eudoxus then returned to Asia Minor, in particular to Cyzicus on the southern shore of the Sea of Marmara, before returning to Athens where he associated with Plato’s Academy.

Aristotle preserved Eudoxus’s views on metaphysics and ethics. Unlike Plato, Eudoxus held that forms are in perceptible things. He also defined the good as what all things aim for, which he identified with pleasure. He eventually returned to his native Cnidus where he became a legislator and continued his research until his death at age 53. Followers of Eudoxus, including Menaechmus and Callippus, flourished in both Athens and in Cyzicus.

Eudoxus’s contributions to the early theory of proportions (equal ratios) forms the basis for the general account of proportions found in Book V of Euclid’s Elements (c. 300 bc). Where previous proofs of proportion required separate treatments for lines, surfaces, and solids, Eudoxus provided general proofs. It is unknown, however, how much later mathematicians may have contributed to the form found in the Elements. He certainly formulated the bisection principle that given two magnitudes of the same sort one can continuously divide the larger magnitude by at least halves so as to construct a part that is smaller than the smaller magnitude.

Similarly, Eudoxus’s theory of incommensurable magnitudes (magnitudes lacking a common measure) and the method of exhaustion (its modern name) influenced Books X and XII of the Elements, respectively. Archimedes (c. 285–212/211 bc), in On the Sphere and Cylinder and in the Method, singled out for praise two of Eudoxus’s proofs based on the method of exhaustion: that the volumes of pyramids and cones are one-third the volumes of prisms and cylinders, respectively, with the same bases and heights. Various traces suggest that Eudoxus’s proof of the latter began by assuming that the cone and cylinder are commensurable, before reducing the case of the cone and cylinder being incommensurable to the commensurable case. Since the modern notion of a real number is analogous to the ancient notion of ratio, this approach may be compared with 19th-century definitions of the real numbers in terms of rational numbers. Eudoxus also proved that the areas of circles are proportional to the squares of their diameters.

Eudoxus is also probably largely responsible for the theory of irrational magnitudes of the form a ± b (found in the Elements, Book X), based on his discovery that the ratios of the side and diagonal of a regular pentagon inscribed in a circle to the diameter of the circle do not fall into the classifications of Theaetetus of Athens (c. 417–369 bc). According to Eratosthenes of Cyrene (c. 276–194 bc), Eudoxus also contributed a solution to the problem of doubling the cube—that is, the construction of a cube with twice the volume of a given cube.

In two works, Phaenomena and Mirror, Eudoxus described constellations schematically, the phases of fixed stars (the dates when they are visible), and the weather associated with different phases. Through a poem of Aratus (c. 315–245 bc) and the commentary on the poem by the astronomer Hipparchus (c. 100 bc), these works had an enduring influence in antiquity. Eudoxus also discussed the sizes of the Sun, Moon, and Earth. He may have produced an eight-year cycle calendar (Oktaëteris).

Perhaps Eudoxus’s greatest fame stems from his being the first to attempt, in On Speeds, a geometric model of the motions of the Sun, the Moon, and the five planets known in antiquity. His model consisted of a complex system of 27 interconnected, geo-concentric spheres, one for the fixed stars, four for each planet, and three each for the Sun and Moon. Callippus and later Aristotle modified the model. Aristotle’s endorsement of its basic principles guaranteed an enduring interest through the Renaissance.

Eudoxus also wrote an ethnographical work (“Circuit of the Earth”) of which fragments survive. It is plausible that Eudoxus also divided the spherical Earth into the familiar six sections (northern and southern tropical, temperate, and arctic zones) according to a division of the celestial sphere.

Eudoxus is the most innovative Greek mathematician before Archimedes. His work forms the foundation for the most advanced discussions in Euclid’s Elements and set the stage for Archimedes’ study of volumes and surfaces. The theory of proportions is the first completely articulated theory of magnitudes. Although most astronomers seem to have abandoned his astronomical views by the middle of the 2nd century bc, his principle that every celestial motion is uniform and circular about the centre endured until the time of the 17th-century astronomer Johannes Kepler. Dissatisfaction with Ptolemy’s modification of this principle (where he made the centre of the uniform motion distinct from the centre of the circle of motion) motivated many medieval and Renaissance astronomers, including Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543).

Henry Ross Mendell




From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Gorgias (Greek: Γοργίας, ca. 485-c.380 BCE) "the Nihilist", Greek sophist, pre-socratic philosopher and rhetorician, was a native of Leontini in Sicily. Along with Protagoras, he forms the first generation of Sophists. Several doxographers report that he was a pupil of Empedocles, although he would only have been a few years younger. "Like other Sophists he was an itinerant, practicing in various cities and giving public exhibitions of his skill at the great pan-Hellenic centers of Olympia and Delphi, and charged fees for his instruction and performances. A special feature of his displays was to invite miscellaneous questions from the audience and give impromptu replies."

His chief claim to recognition resides in the fact that he transplanted rhetoric from his native Sicily to Attica, and contributed to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose.

Gorgias originated from Leontini, a Greek colony in Sicily, and what is often called the home of Greek rhetoric. It is known that Gorgias had a father named Charmantides and two siblings – a brother named Herodicus and a sister who dedicated a statue to Gorgias in Delphi (McComiskey 6-7).

He was already about sixty when in 427 he was sent to Athens by his fellow-citizens at the head of an embassy to ask for Athenian protection against the aggression of the Syracusans. He subsequently settled in Athens, probably due to the enormous popularity of his style of oratory and the profits made from his performances and rhetoric classes. According to Aristotle, his students included Isocrates. (Other students are named in later traditions; the Suda adds Pericles, Polus, and Alcidamas, Diogenes Laërtius mentions Antisthenes, and according to Philostratus, "I understand that he attracted the attention of the most admired men, Critias and Alcibiades who were young, and Thucydides and Pericles who were already old. Agathon too, the tragic poet, whom Comedy regards as wise and eloquent, often Gorgianizes in his iambic verse").

Gorgias is reputed to have lived to be over one hundred years old. He accumulated considerable wealth; enough to commission a gold statue of himself for a public temple. He died at Larissa in Thessaly in 376 BC.

Rhetorical Innovation
Gorgias ushered in rhetorical innovations involving structure and ornamentation and the introduction of paradoxologia – the idea of paradoxical thought and paradoxical expression. For these advancements, Gorgias has been labeled the ‘father of sophistry’ (Wardy 6). Gorgias is also known for contributing to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose.

Gorgias’ extant rhetorical works (Encomium of Helen, Defense of Palamedes, On Non-Existence, and Epitaphios) come to us via a work entitled Technai, a manual of rhetorical instruction, which may have consisted of models to be memorized and demonstrate various principles of rhetorical practice (Leitch, et al. 29). Although some scholars claim that each work presents opposing statements, the four texts can be read as interrelated contributions to the up-and-coming theory and art (technê) of rhetoric (McComiskey 32). Of Gorgias’ surviving works, only the Encomium and the Defense are believed to exist in their entirety. Meanwhile, there are his own speeches, rhetorical, political, or other. A number of these are referred to and quoted by Aristotle, including a speech on Hellenic unity, a funeral oration for Athenians fallen in war, and a brief quotation from an Encomium on the Eleans. Apart from the speeches, there are paraphrases of the treatise "On Nature or the Non-Existent." These works are each part of the Diels-Kranz collection, and although academics consider this source reliable, many of the works included are fragmentary and corrupt. Questions have also been raised as to the authenticity and accuracy of the texts attributed to Gorgias (Consigny 4).

Gorgias’ writings are both rhetorical and performative. He goes to great lengths to exhibit his ability of making an absurd, argumentative position appear stronger. Consequently, each of his works defend positions that are unpopular, paradoxical and even absurd. The performative nature of Gorgias’ writings is exemplified by the way that he playfully approaches each argument with stylistic devices such as parody, artificial figuration and theatricality (Consigny 149). Gorgias’ style of argumentation can be described as poetics-minus-the-meter (poiêsis-minus-meter). Gorgias argues that persuasive words have power (dunamis) that is equivalent to that of the gods and as strong as physical force. In the Encomium, Gorgias likens the effect of speech on the soul to the effect of drugs on the body: “Just as different drugs draw forth different humors from the body – some putting a stop to disease, others to life – so too with words: some cause pain, others joy, some strike fear, some stir the audience to boldness, some benumb and bewitch the soul with evil persuasion” (Gorgias 32).

Gorgias also believed that his "magical incantations" would bring healing to the human psyche by controlling powerful emotions. He paid particular attention to the sounds of words, which, like poetry, could captivate audiences. His florid, rhyming style seemed to hypnotize his audiences (Herrick 42). Gorgias' legendary powers of persuasion would suggest that he had a somewhat supernatural influence over his audience and their emotions.

Unlike other Sophists (with Protagoras in mind especially) Gorgias did not profess to teach arete (excellence, or, virtue). He believed that there was no absolute form of arete, but that it was relative to each situation (for example, virtue in a slave was not virtue in a statesman) His thought was that rhetoric, the art of persuasion, was the king of all other sciences, since it was capable of persuading any course of action. While rhetoric existed in the curriculum of every Sophist, Gorgias placed more prominence upon it than any of the others.

Much debate over both the nature and value of rhetoric begins with Gorgias. Plato’s dialogue entitled Gorgias presents a counter-argument to Gorgias’ embrace of rhetoric, its elegant form, and performative nature (Wardy 2). The dialog attempts to show that rhetoric does not meet the requirements to actually be considered a technê but is a somewhat dangerous "knack" to possess both for the orator and for his audience. This is because it gives the ignorant the power to seem more knowledgeable than an expert to a group.

On The Non-Existent
Gorgias is the author of a lost work: On Nature or the Non-Existent. Rather than being one of his rhetorical works, it presented a theory of being that at the same time refuted and parodied the Eleatic thesis. The original text was lost and today there remain just two paraphrases of it. The first is preserved by the philosopher Sextus Empiricus in Against the Professors and the other by the anonymous author of On Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias. Each work, however, excludes material that is discussed in the other, which suggests that each version may represent intermediary sources (Consigny 4). It is clear, however, that the work developed a sceptical argument, which has been extracted from the sources and translated as below:

1.Nothing exists;
2.Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
3.Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others.

The argument has largely been seen as an ironic refutation of Parmenides' thesis on Being. Gorgias set out to prove that it is as easy to demonstrate that being is one, unchanging and timeless as it is to prove that being has no existence at all.

“How can anyone communicate the idea of color by means of words since the ear does not hear colors but only sounds?” This quote, written by the Sicilian philosopher Gorgias, was used to show his theory that ‘there is nothing’, ‘if there were anything no one would know it’, ‘and if anyone did know it, no one could communicate it’. This theory, thought of in the late 400s BCE, is still being contemplated by many philosophers throughout the world. This argument has led some to label Gorgias a nihilist (one who believes nothing exists, or that the world is incomprehensible, and that the concept of truth is fictitious). For the first main argument where Gorgias says, “there is nothing”, he tries to persuade the reader that thought and existence are not the same. By claiming that if thought and existence truly were the same, then everything that anyone thought would suddenly exist. He also attempted to prove that words and sensations couldn’t be measured by the same standards, for even though words and sensations are both derived from the mind, they are essentially different. This is where his second idea comes into place.

Rhetorical Works
Encomium of Helen
In their writings, Gorgias and other sophists speculated "about the structure and function of language” as a framework for expressing the implications of action and the ways decisions about such actions were made” (Jarratt 103). And this is exactly the purpose of Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen. Of the three divisions of rhetoric discussed by Aristotle in his Rhetoric (forensic, deliberative, and epideictic), the Encomium can be classified as an epideictic speech, expressing praise for Helen of Troy and ridding her of the blame she faced for leaving Sparta with Paris (Wardy 26).

Helen – the proverbial “Helen of Troy” – exemplified both sexual passion and tremendous beauty for the Greeks. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, the Queen of Sparta, and her beauty was the direct cause of the decade long Trojan War between Greece and Troy. The war began after the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite asked Paris (a Trojan prince) to select who was the most beautiful of the three. Each goddess tried to influence Paris’ decision, but he ultimately chose Aphrodite who then promised Paris the most beautiful woman. Paris then traveled to Greece where he was greeted by Helen and her husband Menelaus. Under the influence of Aphrodite, Helen allowed Paris to persuade her to elope with him. Together they traveled to Troy, not only sparking the war, but also a popular and literary tradition of blaming Helen for her wrongdoing. It is this tradition which Gorgias confronts in the Encomium.

The Encomium opens with Gorgias explaining that “a man, woman, speech, deed, city or action that is worthy of praise should be honored with acclaim, but the unworthy should be branded with blame” (Gorgias 30). In the speech Gorgias discusses the possible reasons for Helen’s journey to Troy. He explains that Helen could have been persuaded in one of four ways: by the gods, by physical force, by love, or by speech (logos). If it were indeed the plan of the gods that caused Helen to depart for Troy, Gorgias argues that those who blame her should face blame themselves, “for a human’s anticipation cannot restrain a god’s inclination” (Gorgias 31). Gorgias explains that, by nature, the weak are ruled by the strong, and, since the gods are stronger than humans in all respects, Helen should be freed from her undesirable reputation. If, however, Helen was abducted by force, it is clear that the aggressor committed a crime. Thus, it should be he, not Helen, who should be blamed. And if Helen was persuaded by love, she should also be rid of ill repute because “if love is a god, with the divine power of the gods, how could a weaker person refuse and reject him? But if love is a human sickness and a mental weakness, it must not be blamed as mistake, but claimed as misfortune” (Gorgias 32). Finally, if speech persuaded Helen, Gorgias claims he can easily clear her of blame. Gorgias explains: “Speech is a powerful master and achieves the most divine feats with the smallest and least evident body. It can stop fear, relieve pain, create joy, and increase pity” (Gorgias 31). It is here that Gorgias compares the effect of speech on the mind with the effect of drugs on the body.

The Encomium demonstrates Gorgias’ love of paradoxologia. The performative nature of the Encomium requires a reciprocal relationship between the performer and the audience, one which relies on the cooperation between the deceptive performer and the equally deceived audience (Wardy 36). Gorgias reveals this paradox in the final section of the Encomium where he writes: “I wished to write this speech for Helen’s encomium and my amusement” (Gorgias 33). Additionally, if one were to accept Gorgias’ argument for Helen’s exoneration, it would fly in the face of a whole literary tradition of blame directed towards Helen. This too is paradoxical.

Defense of Palamedes
In the Defense of Palamedes Gorgias describes logos as a positive instrument for creating ethical arguments (McComiskey 38). The Defense, an oration that deals with issues of morality and political commitment (Consigny 38), defends Palamedes who, in Greek mythology, is credited with the invention of the alphabet, written laws, numbers, armor, and measures and weights (McComiskey 47).

In the speech Palamedes defends himself against the charge of treason. In Greek mythology, Odysseus – in order to avoid going to Troy with Agamemnon and Menelaus to bring Helen back to Sparta – pretended to have gone mad and began sowing the fields with salt. Palamedes got Odysseus to disclose this information by throwing his son Telemachus in front of the plow. Odysseus, who never forgave Palamedes for making him reveal himself, later accused Palamedes of working with the Trojans. Soon after, Palamedes was condemned and killed (Jarratt 58).

In this epideictic speech, like the Encomium, Gorgias is concerned with experimenting with how plausible arguments can cause conventional truths to be doubted (Jarratt 59). Throughout the text, Gorgias presents a method for composing logical (logos), ethical (ethos) and emotional (pathos) arguments from possibility, which are similar to those described by Aristotle in Rhetoric. These types of arguments about motive and capability presented in the Defense are later described by Aristotle as forensic topoi. Gorgias demonstrates that in order to prove that treason had been committed, a set of possible occurrences also need to be established. In the Defense these occurrences are as follows: communication between Palamedes and the enemy, exchange of a pledge in the form of hostages or money, and not being detected by guards or citizens. In his defense, Palamedes claims that a small sum of money would not have warranted such a large undertaking and reasons that a large sum of money, if indeed such a transaction had been made, would require the aid of many confederates in order for it to be transported. Palamedes reasons further that such an exchange could neither have occurred at night because the guards would be watching, nor in the day because everyone would be able to see. Palamedes continues, explaining that if the aforementioned conditions were, in fact, arranged then action would need to follow. Such action needed to take place either with or without confederates; however, if these confederates were free men then they were free to disclose any information they desired, but if they were slaves there was a risk of their voluntarily accusing to earn freedom, or accusing by force when tortured. Slaves, Palamedes says, are untrustworthy. Palamedes goes on to list a variety of possible motives, all of which he proves false.

Through the Defense Gorgias demonstrates that a motive requires an advantage such as status, wealth, honour, and security, and insists that Palamedes lacked a motive (McComiskey 47-49).




Greek philosopher
also spelled Heraclitus
born c. 540 bc, Ephesus, in Anatolia [now Selçuk, Tur.]
died c. 480

Greek philosopher remembered for his cosmology, in which fire forms the basic material principle of an orderly universe. Little is known about his life, and the one book he apparently wrote is lost. His views survive in the short fragments quoted and attributed to him by later authors.

Though he was primarily concerned with explanations of the world around him, Heracleitus also stressed the need for people to live together in social harmony. He complained that most people failed to comprehend the logos (Greek: “reason”), the universal principle through which all things are interrelated and all natural events occur, and thus lived like dreamers with a false view of the world. A significant manifestation of the logos, Heracleitus claimed, is the underlying connection between opposites. For example, health and disease define each other. Good and evil, hot and cold, and other opposites are similarly related. In addition, he noted that a single substance may be perceived in varied ways—seawater is both harmful (for human beings) and beneficial (for fishes). His understanding of the relation of opposites to each other enabled him to overcome the chaotic and divergent nature of the world, and he asserted that the world exists as a coherent system in which a change in one direction is ultimately balanced by a corresponding change in another. Between all things there is a hidden connection, so that those that are apparently “tending apart” are actually “being brought together.”

Viewing fire as the essential material uniting all things, Heracleitus wrote that the world order is an “ever-living fire kindling in measures and being extinguished in measures.” He extended the manifestations of fire to include not only fuel, flame, and smoke but also the ether in the upper atmosphere. Part of this air, or pure fire, “turns to” ocean, presumably as rain, and part of the ocean turns to earth. Simultaneously, equal masses of earth and sea everywhere are returning to the respective aspects of sea and fire. The resulting dynamic equilibrium maintains an orderly balance in the world. This persistence of unity despite change is illustrated by Heracleitus’ famous analogy of life to a river: “Upon those who step into the same rivers different and ever different waters flow down.” Plato later took this doctrine to mean that all things are in constant flux, regardless of how they appear to the senses.

Heracleitus was unpopular in his time and was frequently scorned by later biographers. His primary contribution lies in his apprehension of the formal unity of the world of experience.



Hippasus of Metapontum

Greek philosopher

Hippasus of Metapontum (Ancient Greek: Ἵππασος), b. c. 500 B.C. in Magna Graecia, was a Greek philosopher. He was a disciple of Pythagoras. To Hippasus (or Hippasos) is attributed the discovery of the existence of irrational numbers. More specifically, he is credited with the discovery that the square root of 2 is irrational.

Until Hippasus' discovery, the Pythagoreans preached that all numbers could be expressed as the ratio of integers. Despite the validity of his discovery, the Pythagoreans initially treated it as a kind of religious heresy and they either exiled or murdered Hippasus. Legend has it that the discovery was made at sea and that Hippasus' fellow Pythagoreans threw him overboard.

But there are two other stories about Hippasus. The first says that Hippasus was expelled from the Pythagorean school because he published doctrines of Pythagoras, while the second says that he was drowned at sea for revealing the construction of the dodecahedron in the sphere and claiming it as his own. But since the Pythagoreans' supposed pledge to secrecy was most likely false[citation needed], the authenticity of these stories is questioned.

He was also noted as an early experimenter in acoustics and resonance. Few of his original works now survive.




Greek philosopher

flourished 5th century bc, probably at Miletus, on the west coast of Asia Minor

Greek philosopher credited by Aristotle and by Theophrastus with having originated the theory of atomism. It has been difficult to distinguish his contribution from that of his most famous pupil, Democritus. Only fragments of Leucippus’ writings remain, but two works believed to have been written by him are The Great World System and On the Mind. His theory stated that matter is homogeneous but consists of an infinity of small indivisible particles. These atoms are constantly in motion, and through their collisions and regroupings form various compounds. A cosmos is formed by the collision of atoms that gather together into a “whirl,” and the drum-shaped Earth is located in the centre of man’s cosmos.




Greek philosopher

born c. 515 bc

Greek philosopher of Elea in southern Italy who founded Eleaticism, one of the leading pre-Socratic schools of Greek thought. His general teaching has been diligently reconstructed from the few surviving fragments of his principal work, a lengthy three-part verse composition titled On Nature.

Parmenides held that the multiplicity of existing things, their changing forms and motion, are but an appearance of a single eternal reality (“Being”), thus giving rise to the Parmenidean principle that “all is one.” From this concept of Being, he went on to say that all claims of change or of non-Being are illogical. Because he introduced the method of basing claims about appearances on a logical concept of Being, he is considered one of the founders of metaphysics.

Plato’s dialogue the Parmenides deals with his thought. An English translation of his work was edited by L. Tarán (1965).



Flavius Philostratus

Greek author

born ad 170
died c. 245

Greek writer of Roman imperial times who studied at Athens and some time after ad 202 entered the circle of the philosophical Syrian empress of Rome, Julia Domna. On her death he settled in Tyre.

Philostratus’s works include Gymnastikos, a treatise dealing with athletic training; Ērōïkos (“Hero”), a dialogue on the significance of various heroes of the Trojan War; Epistolai erōtikai (“Erotic Epistles”), one of which was the inspiration for the English poet Ben Jonson’s To Celia (“Drink to me only with thine eyes”); and two sets of descriptions (ekphraseis) of paintings of mythological scenes, attributed to two men named Philostratus, possibly the well-known figure and his grandson. Flavius Philostratus’s Bioi sophistōn (Lives of the Sophists) treats both the Sophists of the 5th century bc and the later philosophers and rhetoricians of the Second Sophistic, a name coined by Philostratus to describe the art of declamation in Greek as practiced in the Roman Empire from the time of Nero (ad 54–68) to Philostratus’s own day.

Philostratus’s work on the life of the Pythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana (1st century ad), which was commissioned by Julia Domna, is revealing of religious attitudes in a transitional period. His idealized portrait of Apollonius as an ascetic miracle worker was taken up with enthusiasm by the pagan elites of the next centuries—when Christianity had become of political significance—as a counter figure to the Christian Jesus. In Philostratus’s moderately Atticizing prose (i.e., aspiring to the Classical style of 5th-century-bc Athens and opposed to the florid and bombastic style of Greek associated especially with Asia Minor), formal elegance was a way to give new significance and validity to the traditional cultural heritage of the pagan Greek world.




Greek philosopher

born c. 135 bc
died c. 51 bc

also spelled Posidonius Greek philosopher, considered the most learned man of his time and, possibly, of the entire Stoic school.

Poseidonius, nicknamed “the Athlete,” was a native of Apamea in Syria and a pupil of the Greek Stoic philosopher Panaetius. He spent many years in travel and scientific research in Spain, Africa, Italy, Gaul (modern France), Liguria, and Sicily. When he settled as a teacher at Rhodes, his adopted Greek city, his fame attracted numerous scholars. By his writings and his personal relations, he did more to spread Stoicism in the Roman world than anyone else except Panaetius. He was known to many leading men of his time, including the Roman statesman Cicero, who studied under him in 78–77 and whom he mentioned as a friend. Such other Roman writers as Strabo and Seneca provide the major source of knowledge about his life; until the 20th century scholars accorded him only a minor place in the development of Stoicism.

The titles and subjects of more than 20 of his works, now lost, are known. Like other Stoics of the middle period in the school’s history, Poseidonius was an eclectic who combined the views of older Stoics and of Plato and Aristotle. His well-known ethical doctrine diverged from contemporary Stoicism, however, in asserting that human passions are inherent qualities, not mere faulty judgments. Also interested in natural science, geography, astronomy, and mathematics, Poseidonius tried to calculate the diameter of the Earth, the influence of the Moon on tides, and the distance and magnitude of the Sun. His history of the period 146–88 bc filled 52 volumes and was undoubtedly a storehouse of knowledge for early writers. A gifted dialectician, Poseidonius was notable for his powers of observation, his travel reports, his ironic humour, and his practice of Stoic doctrine.




Greek philosopher

born c. 410, Constantinople [now Istanbul]
died 485, Athens

the last major Greek philosopher. He was influential in helping Neoplatonic ideas to spread throughout the Byzantine, Islāmic, and Roman worlds.

Proclus was reared at Xanthus in Lycia, and he studied philosophy under Olympiodorus the Elder at Alexandria. At Athens he studied under the Greek philosophers Plutarch and Syrianus, whom he followed as diadochos (Greek: “successor”), or head of the Academy founded by Plato c. 387 bc. Remaining there until his death, he helped refine and systematize the Neoplatonic views of the 3rd-century Greek philosopher Iamblichus, whose school stressed elaborate metaphysical speculation.

Like Iamblichus, Proclus opposed Christianity and passionately defended paganism. As a Neoplatonic Idealist, he emphasized that thoughts comprise reality, while concrete “things” are mere appearances. Ultimate reality, the “One,” is both God and the Good and unifies his ethical and theological systems. His attitudes significantly influenced subsequent Christian theology, in both East and West, through their adaptation by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, a 5th-century writer whose forgeries were long thought to be works by a 1st-century convert of the Apostle Paul, Dionysius the Areopagite.

The most important Arabic philosophical work to transmit Proclus’ ideas was the Liber de causis (“Book of Causes”), which passed as a work of Aristotle in medieval times despite its dependence upon Proclus’ own Institutio theologica (Elements of Theology). Latin translations of this, his most important work, and many of his other writings in Greek were made in the 13th century by the scholar William of Moerbeke and became the principal sources for medieval knowledge of Platonic philosophy. The Elements is a concise exposition of Neoplatonic metaphysics in 211 propositions. His Elements of Physics distilled the essence of Aristotle’s views, and his In Platonis theologiam (Platonic Theology) explicated Plato’s metaphysics. His commentaries on Plato, extant in their entirety, include those on The Republic, Parmenides, Timaeus, and Alcibiades I.

Although more highly regarded as a systematizer and commentator than as an original thinker, Proclus was also the author of numerous nonphilosophical writings, including astronomical, mathematical, and grammatical works. He wrote seven hymns and two epigrams, one of which he composed for the common tomb of himself and his master, Syrianus.




Greek philosopher

born c. 485 bc, Abdera, Greece
died c. 410

thinker and teacher, the first and most famous of the Greek Sophists.

Protagoras spent most of his life at Athens, where he considerably influenced contemporary thought on moral and political questions. Plato named one of his dialogues after him. Protagoras taught as a Sophist for more than 40 years, claiming to teach men “virtue” in the conduct of their daily lives. He is best known for his dictum “Man is the measure of all things,” probably an expression of the relativity to the individual of all perceptions and, according to some, of all judgments as well. He acquired great wealth and reputation from his teaching, prompting his appointment as lawgiver for the Athenian colony of Thurii in Italy. Though he adopted conventional moral ideas, Protagoras expressed his agnostic attitude toward belief in the gods in Concerning the Gods. He was accused of impiety, his books were publicly burned, and he was exiled from Athens about 415 bc for the rest of his life.



Pyrrhon of Elis

Greek philosopher
Pyrrhon also spelled Pyrrho
born c. 360 bc
died c. 272

Greek philosopher from whom Pyrrhonism takes its name; he is generally accepted as the father of Skepticism.

Pyrrhon was a pupil of Anaxarchus of Abdera and in about 330 established himself as a teacher at Elis. Believing that equal arguments can be offered on both sides of any proposition, he dismissed the search for truth as a vain endeavour. While traveling with an expedition under Alexander the Great, Pyrrhon saw in the fakirs of India an example of happiness flowing from indifference to circumstances. He concluded that man must suspend judgment (practice epochē) on the reliability of sense perceptions and simply live according to reality as it appears. Pyrrhonism permeated the Middle and New Academy of Athens and strongly influenced philosophical thought in 17th-century Europe with the republication of the Skeptical works of Sextus Empiricus, who had codified Greek Skepticism in the 3rd century ad. Pyrrhon’s teaching was preserved in the poems of Timon of Phlius, who studied with him.





Greek philosopher and mathematician

born c. 580 bc, Samos, Ionia [now in Greece]
died c. 500, Metapontum, Lucania [now in Italy]

Greek philosopher, mathematician, and founder of the Pythagorean brotherhood that, although religious in nature, formulated principles that influenced the thought of Plato and Aristotle and contributed to the development of mathematics and Western rational philosophy (see Pythagoreanism).

Pythagoras migrated to southern Italy about 532 bc, apparently to escape Samos’s tyrannical rule, and established his ethico-political academy at Croton (now Crotone, Italy).

It is difficult to distinguish Pythagoras’s teachings from those of his disciples. None of his writings have survived, and Pythagoreans invariably supported their doctrines by indiscriminately citing their master’s authority. Pythagoras, however, is generally credited with the theory of the functional significance of numbers in the objective world and in music. Other discoveries often attributed to him (e.g., the incommensurability of the side and diagonal of a square, and the Pythagorean theorem for right triangles) were probably developed only later by the Pythagorean school. More probably the bulk of the intellectual tradition originating with Pythagoras himself belongs to mystical wisdom rather than to scientific scholarship.



Straton of Lampsacus

Greek philosopher
Straton also spelled Strato, Latin Strato Physicus

died c. 270 bc

Greek philosopher and successor of Theophrastus as head of the Peripatetic school of philosophy (based on the teachings of Aristotle). Straton was famous for his doctrine of the void (asserting that all substances contain void and that differences in the weight of substances are caused by differences in the extension of the void), which served as the theoretical base for the Hellenistic construction of air and steam engines as described in Hero of Alexandria’s work. An orthodox Aristotelian, Straton tempered his master’s interpretation of nature with an insistence on causality and materialism, denying any theological force at work in the processes of nature. Straton’s writings as a whole are lost.



Thales of Miletus

Greek philosopher

flourished 6th century bc

philosopher renowned as one of the legendary Seven Wise Men, or Sophoi, of antiquity (see philosophy, Western: The pre-Socratic philosophers). He is remembered primarily for his cosmology based on water as the essence of all matter, with the Earth a flat disk floating on a vast sea. The Greek historian Diogenes Laërtius (flourished 3rd century ad), quoting Apollodorus of Athens (flourished 140 bc), placed the birth of Thales during the 35th Olympiad (apparently a transcription error; it should read the 39th Olympiad, c. 624 bc) and his death in the 58th Olympiad (548–545 bc) at the age of 78.

No writings by Thales survive, and no contemporary sources exist; thus, his achievements are difficult to assess. Inclusion of his name in the canon of the legendary Seven Wise Men led to his idealization, and numerous acts and sayings, many of them no doubt spurious, were attributed to him, such as “Know thyself” and “Nothing in excess.” According to the historian Herodotus (c. 484–c. 425 bc), Thales was a practical statesman who advocated the federation of the Ionian cities of the Aegean region. The poet-scholar Callimachus (c. 305–c. 240 bc) recorded a traditional belief that Thales advised navigators to steer by the Little Bear (Ursa Minor) rather than by the Great Bear (Ursa Major), both prominent constellations in the Northern Hemisphere. He is also said to have used his knowledge of geometry to measure the Egyptian pyramids and to calculate the distance from shore of ships at sea. Although such stories are probably apocryphal, they illustrate Thales’ reputation. The poet-philosopher Xenophanes (c. 560–c. 478 bc) claimed that Thales predicted the solar eclipse that stopped the battle between King Alyattes of Lydia (reigned c. 610–c. 560 bc) and King Cyaxares of Media (reigned 625–585 bc), evidently on May 28, 585. Modern scholars believe, however, that he could not possibly have had the knowledge to predict accurately either the locality or the character of an eclipse. Thus, his feat was apparently isolated and only approximate; Herodotus spoke of his foretelling the year only. That the eclipse was nearly total and occurred during a crucial battle contributed considerably to his exaggerated reputation as an astronomer.

Thales has been credited with the discovery of five geometric theorems: (1) that a circle is bisected by its diameter, (2) that angles in a triangle opposite two sides of equal length are equal, (3) that opposite angles formed by intersecting straight lines are equal, (4) that the angle inscribed inside a semicircle is a right angle, and (5) that a triangle is determined if its base and the two angles at the base are given. His mathematical achievements are difficult to assess, however, because of the ancient practice of crediting particular discoveries to men with a general reputation for wisdom.

The claim that Thales was the founder of European philosophy rests primarily on Aristotle (384–322 bc), who wrote that Thales was the first to suggest a single material substratum for the universe—namely, water, or moisture. A likely consideration in this choice was the seeming motion that water exhibits, as seen in its ability to become vapour; for what changes or moves itself was thought by the Greeks to be close to life itself, and to Thales the entire universe was a living organism, nourished by exhalations from water.

Thales’ significance lies less in his choice of water as the essential substance than in his attempt to explain nature by the simplification of phenomena and in his search for causes within nature itself rather than in the caprices of anthropomorphic gods. Like his successors the philosophers Anaximander (610–546/545 bc) and Anaximenes of Miletus (flourished c. 545 bc), Thales is important in bridging the worlds of myth and reason.




died 314 bc, Athens

Greek philosopher, pupil of Plato, and successor of Speusippus as the head of the Greek Academy, which Plato founded about 387 bc. In the company of Aristotle he left Athens after Plato’s death in 348/347, returning in 339 on his election as head of the Academy, where he remained until his death.

Xenocrates’ writings are lost except for fragments, but his doctrines appear to resemble Plato’s as reported by Aristotle. Among them is the “derivation” of all reality from the interaction of two opposite principles, “the One” and “the indeterminate dyad.” It is the dyad that is responsible for multiplicity, or diversity, evil, and motion, whereas the One is responsible for unity, good, and rest. Numbers and geometrical magnitudes are seen as the first products of this derivation. In addition Xenocrates divided all of reality into three realms: (1) the sensibles, or objects of sensation; (2) the intelligibles, or objects of true knowledge, such as Plato’s “Ideas”; and (3) the bodies of the heavens, which mediate between the sensibles and the intelligibles and are therefore objects of “opinion.” This tripartite division typifies the Academy’s tendency to bridge the gap between the two traditional modes of cognition, the mode of sense experience and the mode of intellection.

A second threefold division in Xenocrates’ thought separated gods, men, and “demons.” The demons represented semihuman, semidivine beings, some good and others evil. To these beings Xenocrates attributed much of what popular religion attributed to gods, and ritual mysteries were instituted to propitiate them, especially the evil ones. Though it is uncertain how literally Xenocrates viewed the demons, his demonology was highly influential, particularly on those early Christian writers who identified pagan deities with evil demons.

The classical distinction differentiating mind, body, and soul has been attributed by some to Xenocrates and by others to the Stoic philosopher Poseidonius. The same is true of the related doctrine that men die twice, the second time occurring on the Moon and consisting in the mind’s separation from the soul to make its ascent to the Sun. Sometimes considered an Atomist for his view that matter is composed of indivisible units, he held that Pythagoras, who stressed the importance of numbers in philosophy, was responsible for the Atomist view of acoustics, in which the sound perceived as a single entity actually consists of discrete sounds. The same Pythagorean influence on thinkers of the Academy can be seen in Xenocrates’ devotion to tripartite divisions. Yet another such division is found in his general view of philosophy, which he divided into logic, physics, and ethics. The origin of philosophy, he maintained, lies in man’s desire to resolve his anxieties. Happiness is defined as the acquisition of the perfection that is peculiar and proper to man; thus, enjoyment consists in being in contact with the things that are natural to him. This doctrine, which suggests the primacy of ethics over speculation in philosophy, foreshadows the Stoic view that ethical norms are to be derived from observation of the natural world. Xenocrates admitted, however, that external items are important for happiness, a notion that the Stoics rejected.



Zeno of Citium

Greek philosopher

born c. 335 bc, Citium, Cyprus
died c. 263, Athens

Greek thinker who founded the Stoic school of philosophy, which influenced the development of philosophical and ethical thought in Hellenistic and Roman times.

He went to Athens c. 312 bc and attended lectures by the Cynic philosophers Crates of Thebes and Stilpon of Megara, in addition to lectures at the Academy. Arriving at his own philosophy, he began to teach in the Stoa Poikile (Painted Colonnade), whence the name of his philosophy. Zeno’s philosophical system included logic and theory of knowledge, physics, and ethics—the latter being central. He taught that happiness lay in conforming the will to the divine reason, which governs the universe. In logic and the theory of knowledge he was influenced by Antisthenes and Diodorus Cronus, in physics by Heracleitus. None of his many treatises, written in harsh but forceful Greek, has survived save in fragmentary quotations.



Zeno of Elea

Greek philosopher and mathematician

(c. 495 bc–c. 430 bc), Greek philosopher and mathematician, whom Aristotle called the inventor of dialectic. He is especially known for his paradoxes that contributed to the development of logical and mathematical rigour and that were insoluble until the development of precise concepts of continuity and infinity.

Zeno was famous for the paradoxes whereby, in order to recommend the Parmenidean doctrine of the existence of “the one” (i.e., indivisible reality), he sought to controvert the common-sense belief in the existence of “the many” (i.e., distinguishable qualities and things capable of motion). Zeno was the son of a certain Teleutagoras and the pupil and friend of Parmenides. In Plato’s Parmenides, Socrates, “then very young,” converses with Parmenides and Zeno, “a man of about forty”; but it may be doubted whether such a meeting was chronologically possible. Plato’s account of Zeno’s purpose (Parmenides), however, is presumably accurate. In reply to those who thought that Parmenides’ theory of the existence of “the one” involved inconsistencies, Zeno tried to show that the assumption of the existence of a plurality of things in time and space carried with it more serious inconsistencies. In early youth he collected his arguments in a book, which, according to Plato, was put into circulation without his knowledge.

Zeno made use of three premises: first, that any unit has magnitude; second, that it is infinitely divisible; and third, that it is indivisible. Yet he incorporated arguments for each: for the first premise, he argued that that which, added to or subtracted from something else, does not increase or decrease the second unit is nothing; for the second, that a unit, being one, is homogeneous and that therefore, if divisible, it cannot be divisible at one point rather than another; for the third, that a unit, if divisible, is divisible either into extended minima, which contradicts the second premise or, because of the first premise, into nothing. He had in his hands a very powerful complex argument in the form of a dilemma, one horn of which supposed indivisibility, the other infinite divisibility, both leading to a contradiction of the original hypothesis. His method had great influence and may be summarized as follows: he continued Parmenides’ abstract, analytic manner but started from his opponents’ theses and refuted them by reductio ad absurdum. It was probably the two latter characteristics which Aristotle had in mind when he called him the inventor of dialectic.

That Zeno was arguing against actual opponents, Pythagoreans who believed in a plurality composed of numbers that were thought of as extended units, is a matter of controversy. It is not likely that any mathematical implications received attention in his lifetime. But in fact the logical problems which his paradoxes raise about a mathematical continuum are serious, fundamental, and inadequately solved by Aristotle.


Modern Greek literature

Byzantine literature

General characteristics

Byzantine literature may be broadly defined as the Greek literature of the Middle Ages, whether written in the territory of the Byzantine Empire or outside its borders. By late antiquity many of the classical Greek genres, such as drama and choral lyric poetry, had long been obsolete, and all Greek literature affected to some degree an archaizing language and style, perpetuated by a long-established system of education in which rhetoric was a leading subject. The Greek Church Fathers were the products of this education and shared the literary values of their pagan contemporaries. Consequently the vast and imposing Christian literature of the 3rd to 6th centuries, which established a synthesis of Hellenic and Christian thought, was largely written in a language already far removed from that spoken by all classes in everyday life, and indeed from that of the New Testament. This diglossy—the use of two very different forms of the same language for different purposes—marked Byzantine culture for 1,000 years; but the relations between the high and low forms changed with the centuries. The prestige of the classicizing literary language remained undiminished until the end of the 6th century; only some popular saints’ lives and world chronicles escaped its influence. In the ensuing two and a half centuries, when the very existence of the Byzantine Empire was threatened, city life and education declined, and with them the use of classicizing language and style. With the political recovery of the 9th and 10th centuries began a literary revival, in which a conscious attempt was made to recreate the Hellenic-Christian culture of late antiquity. Simple or popular language was despised; many of the early saints’ lives were rewritten in inflated and archaizing language and style. By the 12th century the cultural self-assurance of the Byzantines enabled them to develop new literary genres, including romantic fiction, in which adventure and love are the main motifs, and satire, which occasionally made use of imitations of spoken Greek. The period from the Fourth Crusade (1204) to the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks (1453) saw both a vigorous revival of narrowly imitative, classicizing literature, as the Byzantines sought to assert their cultural superiority over the militarily and economically more powerful West, and at the same time the beginning of a flourishing literature in an approximation to vernacular Greek. But this vernacular literature was limited to poetic romances, popular devotional writing, and the like. All serious writing continued to make use of the prestigious archaizing language of learned tradition.

Byzantine literature’s two sources, classical and Christian, each provided a series of models and references for the Byzantine writer and reader. Often both were referred to side by side: for example, the emperor Alexius Comnenus defended his seizure of church property to pay his soldiers by referring to the precedents of Pericles and the biblical king David. Much of Byzantine literature was didactic in tone, and often in content too. And much of it was written for a limited group of educated readers, who could be counted upon to understand every classical or biblical allusion and to appreciate every figure of rhetoric. Some Byzantine genres would not be considered of literary interest today, but instead seem to belong to the domain of technical writing. This is true in particular of the voluminous writings of the Church Fathers, such as Athanasius, Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, and Maximus the Confessor.

Principal forms of writing

Nonliturgical poetry

Poetry continued to be written in classical metres and style. But the sense of appropriateness of form to content was lost. An example is the transitional work of Nonnus, a 5th-century Egyptian-born Greek who eventually converted to Christianity. His long poem Dionysiaca was composed in Homeric language and metre, but it reads as an extended panegyric on Dionysus rather than as an epic. Nonnus is plausibly credited with a paraphrase, in similar metre and style, of the Gospel According to St. John, thereby fusing classical and Christian traditions. Several short narrative poems in Homeric verse, of mythological content, were composed by contemporaries of Nonnus. Paul the Silentiary in the mid-6th century used the same Homeric form for a long descriptive poem on the Church of the Divine Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople. Many brief occasional poems were written in hexameters or elegiac couplets until the late 6th century. But changes in the phonology of Greek, and perhaps declining educational standards, made these metres difficult to handle. A cleric, George the Pisidian, wrote long narrative poems on the wars of the emperor Heraclius (610–641), as well as a poem on the six days of the creation, in iambic trimeters (12-syllable lines, consisting in principle of three pairs of iambic feet, each of a short syllable followed by a long). His example was followed by Theodosius the Deacon in his epic on the recapture of Crete from the Arabs in the 10th century. This 12-syllable line became the all-purpose metre in the middle and later Byzantine periods and was the vehicle for narrative, epigram, romance, satire, and moral and religious edification. From the 11th century it found a rival in a 15-syllable stressed line, which was used by the monk Symeon the New Theologian in many of his mystical hymns and which became a vehicle for court poetry in the 12th century. It was also used by the metropolitan Constantine Manasses for his world chronicle and by the anonymous redactor of the epic romance of Digenis Akritas. It was in this metre, which followed no classical models, that the early vernacular poems were written, such as the romances of Callimachus and Chrysorrhoe, Belthandros and Chrysantza, the Byzantine Achilleid (the hero of which has nothing in common with Homer’s Achilles but his name), and the Romance of Belisarius. These are the most significant works of genuine fiction in Byzantine literature. Many of these poems were adaptations or imitations of medieval Western models: examples are Phlorios and Platziaphlora (the Old French Floire et Blancheflor), Imberios and Margarona, and Apollonius of Tyre, each a romantic narrative. The epic genre is represented by a long unpublished poem on the Trojan War, adapted from the Roman de Troie of the 12th-century French poet Benoît de Sainte-Maure. This openness to the Latin West was new. But even when they were based on Western models, Byzantine poems differed in tone and expression from their exemplars. Most of this vernacular poetry cannot be dated more precisely than to the 13th or 14th century.

Much Byzantine poetry is rather unimaginative, long-winded, and tedious. But some poets show a genuine vein of inspiration, for instance, John Geometres (10th century) or John Mauropous (11th century), or remarkable technical brilliance, such as Theodore Prodromus (12th century), or Manuel Philes (14th century). The ability to write passable verse was widespread in literate Byzantine society, and poetry—or versification—was greatly appreciated.

Liturgical poetry

From the earliest times song—and short rhythmic stanzas (troparia) in particular—had formed part of the liturgy of the church. Poems in classical metre and style were composed by Christian writers from Clement of Alexandria and Gregory of Nazianzus to Sophronius of Jerusalem. But the pagan associations of the genre, as well as the difficulties of the metre, made them unacceptable for general liturgical use. In the 6th century elaborate rhythmical poems (kontakia) replaced the simpler troparia. They owed much to Syriac liturgical poetry. In form the kontakion was a series of up to 22 rhythmical stanzas, all constructed on the same accentual pattern and ending with the same short refrain. In content it was a narrative homily on an event of biblical history or an episode in the life of a saint. There was often a marked dramatic element. Rich in imagery, complex in structure, and infinitely variable in rhythm, the new liturgical poetry can be compared with the choral lyric of ancient Greece. The greatest composer of kontakia was Romanos Melodos (Romanos the Melode; early 6th century), a Syrian probably of Jewish origin. In the late 7th century the kontakion was replaced by a longer liturgical poem, the kanōn, consisting of eight or nine odes, each of many stanzas and each having a different rhythmic and melodic form. The kanōn was a hymn of praise rather than a homily. Its great length encouraged repetition and inflation, and a more ornamental style of singing enhanced the importance of the music at the expense of the words. The most noteworthy composers of kanones were Andrew of Crete, John of Damascus, Theodore Studites, Joseph the Hymnographer, and John Mauropous. No new hymns were added to the liturgy after the 11th century, but kanones continued to be composed as a literary exercise. The original music of kontakia and kanones alike is lost.

Historical works

Conscious as they were of their classical and biblical past, the Byzantines wrote much history. Until the early 7th century a series of historians recounted the events of their own time in classicizing style, with fictitious speeches and set descriptive pieces, in a genre that owed much to the classical Greek historians Thucydides and Polybius. Procopius, Agathias, Peter the Patrician, Menander Protector, and Theophylactus Simocattes each took up where a predecessor left off. Thereafter this vein virtually ran dry for 250 years. The revival of cultural confidence and political power in the late 9th century saw a revival of classicizing history, with an interest in human character—Plutarch was often the model—and the causes of events. Joseph Genesius in the 10th century and the group of historical writers known collectively as the Continuators of Theophanes recorded, not without partiality, the origin and early days of the Macedonian dynasty. From then until the later 14th century there was never a generation without its historian. The most noteworthy historians were Symeon the Logothete and Leo the Deacon in the 10th century; Michael Psellus, Michael Attaleiates, and John Scylitzes in the 11th century; Anna Comnena, John Cinnamus, and Nicetas Choniates in the 12th century; George Acropolites and George Pachymeres in the 13th century; and Nicephorus Gregoras and the emperor John Cantacuzenus in the 14th century. The last days of the Byzantine Empire were recounted from very different points of view by George Sphrantzes, the writer known simply as Ducas (who was a member of the former Byzantine imperial house of that name), Laonicus Chalcocondyles, and Michael Critobulus in the second half of the 15th century.

Another kind of interest in the past was satisfied by world chronicles, beginning with the creation or some early biblical event. Often naively theological in their explanation of causes, black-and-white in their depiction of character, and popular in language, they helped the ordinary Byzantine to locate himself in a scheme of world history that was also a history of salvation. The Chronographia of John Malalas in the 6th century and the Paschal Chronicle (Chronicon Paschale) in the 7th century were succeeded by those of Patriarch Nicephorus at the end of the 8th century, Theophanes the Confessor in the early 9th century, and George the Monk in the late 9th century. Such chronicles continued to be written in later centuries, sometimes with critical and literary pretensions, as in the case of John Zonaras, or in vaguely romanticized form in verse, as in the case of Constantine Manasses.

The importance that Byzantine rulers attached to history is attested by the vast historical encyclopaedia compiled on the orders of Constantine VII (913–959) in 53 volumes, of which only meagre fragments remain.


Though there was no opportunity for political or forensic oratory in the Byzantine world, the taste for rhetoric and the appreciation of well-structured language, choice figures of speech and thought, and skillful delivery remained undiminished in Byzantine society. From the 10th century onward survives a vast body of encomiums, funeral orations, memorial speeches, inaugural lectures, addresses of welcome, celebrations of victory, and miscellaneous panegyrics. This outpouring of polished rhetoric played an important role in the formation and control of public opinion in the limited circles where opinions mattered and occasionally served as a vehicle of genuine political controversy. To this same domain belong the myriad Byzantine letters, often collected and edited by their author or a friend. These letters were not intended to be either private or informative—real information was conveyed orally by the bearer—but they were important in maintaining networks of contact among the elite as well as in providing refined aesthetic pleasure.

Robert Browning

Modern Greek literature (after 1453)

Post-Byzantine period

After the Turkish capture of Constantinople in 1453, Greek literary activity continued almost exclusively in those areas of the Greek world under Venetian rule. Thus Cyprus, until its capture by the Turks in 1571, produced a body of literature in the local dialect, including the 15th-century prose chronicle Recital Concerning the Sweet Land of Cyprus by Leóntios Machairás and a collection of translations and imitations in elaborate verse forms of Italian poems by Petrarch and others. Crete, which remained in Venetian hands until 1669, became the centre of the greatest flowering of Greek literature between the fall of Constantinople and the foundation of the modern Greek state. There a number of authors developed the Cretan dialect into a rich and subtle medium of expression. In it were written a number of tragedies and comedies, a single pastoral tragicomedy, and a single, anonymous religious drama, The Sacrifice of Abraham, mostly based on Italian models. The leading playwright was Geórgios Chortátsis. About 1600 Vitséntzos Kornáros composed his romance, Erōtokritos (Eng. trans., Erotocritos). These Cretan authors composed their works almost entirely in the 15-syllable iambic verse of the Greek folk song, whose modes of expression influenced them deeply.

In the Ottoman-ruled areas of Greece the folk song, which concisely and unsentimentally conveyed the aspirations of the Greek people of the time, became practically the sole form of literary expression.

Toward the end of the 18th century, however, a number of intellectuals emerged who, under the influence of European ideas, set about raising the level of Greek education and culture and laying the foundations of an independence movement. The participants in this “Greek Enlightenment” also brought to the fore the language problem, each promoting a different form of the Greek language for use in education. The leading Greek intellectual of the early 19th century was the classical scholar Adamántios Koraïs, who in voluminous writings on Greek language and education, argued for a form of Modern Greek “corrected” according to the ancient rules.


Independence and after

Old Athenian School

The Greek state established as a result of the Greek War of Independence (1821–29) consisted only of a small section of the present-day Greek mainland and a few islands. Athens, which became the capital of Greece in 1834, soon came to be the chief cultural centre, gathering together writers from various areas, particularly Constantinople. The Soútsos brothers, Aléxandros and Panayótis, introduced the novel into Greece, but they are best known for their Romantic poetry, which as time went by moved gradually away from the Demotic (“popular”), or commonly spoken, language toward the Katharevusa (“purist”) form institutionalized by Koraïs. The work of these writers, which relied greatly on French models, looks back to the War of Independence and the glorious ancient past. Their melancholy sentimentality was not shared by Aléxandros Rízos Rangavís, a verbose but versatile and not inconsiderable craftsman of Katharevusa in lyric and narrative poetry, drama, and the novel. By the 1860s and ’70s, however, Athenian poetry was generally of poor quality and was dominated by a sense of despair and longing for death. In the period 1830–80, prose was dominated by two opposing trends: the historical novel attempted to present a glorious picture of the Greek past while novels set in the present tended to be satirical or picaresque in nature. Emmanuel Roídis’ novel I Pápissa Ioánna (1866; Pope Joan) is a hilarious satire on medieval and modern religious practices as well as a pastiche of the historical novel. Pávlos Kalligás, in Thános Vlékas (1855), treated contemporary problems such as brigandage. In Loukís Láras (1879; Eng. trans., Loukis Laras) Dimítrios Vikélas presented a less heroic view of the War of Independence.

Heptanesian School

Meanwhile more interesting developments had been taking place in the Ionian Islands (Heptanesos). During the 1820s two poets from the island of Zacynthus made their name with patriotic poems celebrating the War of Independence. One of these, Andréas Kálvos, who composed his odes in neoclassical form and archaic language, never wrote poetry afterward, while the other, Dhionísios Solomós, went on to become one of the greatest of modern Greek poets. Dealing with the themes of liberty, love, and death, Solomós embodied a profoundly Romantic sensibility in extraordinary fragments of lyrical intensity, which gave a new prestige to the Demotic language. Solomós’ followers continued to cultivate the Demotic, particularly Antónios Mátesis, whose historical social drama, O vasilikós (1859; “The Basil Plant”), was the first prose work of any length to be written in the Demotic. Aristotélis Valaorítis continued the Heptanesian tradition with long patriotic poems inspired by the Greek national struggles.

Demoticism and folklorism, 1880–1922

From the 1880s onward the New Athenian School, inspired by the revived interest in folklore as a survival of ancient Greek culture, began to react against the sterile bombast of the Katharevusa versifiers, producing instead a more intimate poetry based on the language, customs, and beliefs of the Greek peasantry, and in particular on Greek folk songs.

The leading ideologist of this “demoticist” movement, which aimed to promote traditional popular culture at the expense of the pseudo-archaic pedantry fashionable in Athens, was Yánnis Psicháris (Jean Psichari), whose book My Journey (1888) was partly a fictionalized account of a journey around the Greek world and partly a belligerent manifesto arguing that the Demotic language should be officially adopted as a matter of national urgency. The demoticist movement inspired poets to enrich the Greek popular tradition with influences from abroad. Chief among these was Kostís Palamás, who dominated the literary scene for several decades with a large output of essays and articles and whose best poetry appeared between 1900 and 1910. In his lyric and epic poems he attempted to synthesize ancient Greek history and mythology with the Byzantine Christian tradition and modern Greek folklore in order to demonstrate the essential unity of Greek culture. Angelos Sikelianós continued this enterprise in effusive and powerful lyric poetry of a profoundly mystical nature.

In prose, the folklore cult fostered development of the short story, written initially in Katharevusa, with Demotic gradually taking over in the 1890s. These stories, and the novels that accompanied them, depicted scenes of traditional rural life, sometimes idealized and sometimes viewed critically by their authors. The pioneer of the Greek short story, Geórgios Vizyenós, combined autobiography with an effective use of psychological analysis and suspense. The most famous and prolific short-story writer, Aléxandros Papadiamándis, produced a wealth of evocations of his native island of Skiáthos imbued with a profound sense of Christian tradition and a compassion for country folk; his novel I fónissa (1903; The Murderess) is a fine study in psychological abnormality. The novel O zitiános (1896; The Beggar), by Andréas Karkavítsas, satirically depicts the economic and cultural deprivation of the rural population. From about 1910 this critical attitude is further reflected in the prose writing of Konstantínos Chatzópoulos and Konstantínos Theotókis. Meanwhile Grigórios Xenópoulos wrote novels with an urban setting and devoted considerable effort to drama, a medium that received a substantial boost from the demoticist movement.

One major figure defies categorization for it was outside Greece, in Alexandria, that Constantine Cavafy lived and wrote. His finely wrought, epigrammatic poems, with their tragically ironic views of Hellenistic and Byzantine history, contain daring, sensuous glimpses of homosexual love.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Constantine P. Cavafy, also known as Konstantin or Konstantinos Petrou Kavafis, or Kavaphes (Greek Κωνσταντίνος Π. Καβάφης) (April 29, 1863 – April 29, 1933) was a renowned Greek poet who lived in Alexandria and worked as a journalist and civil servant. In his poetry he examined critically some aspects of Christianity, patriotism, and homosexuality, though he was not always comfortable with his role as a nonconformist. He published 154 poems; dozens more remained incomplete or in sketch form. His most important poetry was written after his fortieth birthday.

Cavafy was born in 1863 in Alexandria, Egypt, to Greek parents, and was baptized into the Greek Orthodox Church. His father was a prosperous importer-exporter who had lived in England in earlier years and acquired British nationality. After his father died in 1870, Cavafy and his family settled for a while in Liverpool in England. In 1876, his family faced financial problems following the crash, so, by 1877, they had to move back to Alexandria.
In 1882, disturbances in Alexandria caused the family to move again, though temporarily, to Constantinople. This was the year when a revolt broke out in Alexandria against the Anglo-French control of Egypt, thus precipitating the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian War. Alexandria was bombarded by a British fleet and the family apartment at Ramleh was burned.
In 1885, Cavafy returned to Alexandria, where he lived for the rest of his life. His first work was as a journalist; then he took a position with the British-run Egyptian Ministry of Public Works for thirty years. (Egypt was a British protectorate until 1926.) He published his poetry from 1891 to 1904 in the form of broadsheets, and only for his close friends. Any acclaim he was to receive came mainly from within the Greek community of Alexandria. Eventually, in 1903, he was introduced to mainland-Greek literary circles through a favourable review by Xenopoulos. He received little recognition because his style differed markedly from the then-mainstream Greek poetry. It was only 20 years later, after the Greek defeat in the Greco-Turkish War (1919-1922), that a new generation of almost nihilist poets (e.g. Karyotakis) would find inspiration in Cavafy's work.
A biographical note written by Cavafy reads as follows:
"I am from Constantinople by descent, but I was born in Alexandria—at a house on Seriph Street; I left very young, and spent much of my childhood in England. Subsequently I visited this country as an adult, but for a short period of time. I have also lived in France. During my adolescence I lived over two years in Constantinople. It has been many years since I last visited Greece. My last employment was as a clerk at a government office under the Ministry of Public Works of Egypt. I know English, French, and a little Italian."
It is generally accepted that Cavafy was homosexual and overtly gay themes appear in a large number of his poems.
He died of cancer of the larynx on April 29, 1933, his 70th birthday. Since his death, Cavafy's reputation has grown. He is now considered one of the finest European and modern Greek poets. His poetry is taught at schools in mainland Greece and Cyprus, and across universities around the world.
E.M. Forster knew him personally and wrote a memoir of him, contained in his book Alexandria.[citation needed] In 1966, David Hockney made a series of prints to illustration a selection of Cavafy's poems, including In the dull village.
Cavafy was instrumental in the revival and recognition of Greek poetry both at home and abroad. His poems are, typically, concise but intimate evocations of real or literary figures and milieux that have played roles in Greek culture. Uncertainty about the future, sensual pleasures, the moral character and psychology of individuals, homosexuality, and a fatalistic existential nostalgia are some of the defining themes.
Besides his subjects, unconventional for the time, his poems also exhibit a skilled and versatile craftsmanship, which is almost completely lost in translation. Cavafy was a perfectionist, obsessively refining every single line of his poetry. His mature style was a free iambic form, free in the sense that verses rarely rhyme and are usually from 10 to 17 syllables. In his poems, the presence of rhyme usually implies irony.
Cavafy drew his themes from personal experience, along with a deep and wide knowledge of history, especially of the Hellenistic era. Many of his poems are pseudo-historical, or seemingly historical, or accurately, but quirkily, historical.
One of Cavafy's most important works is his 1904 poem "Waiting for the Barbarians". This work, in the person of a disingenuous Byzantine narrator, cynically explores the view that cultivating fear of an invisible external enemy usually serves internal purposes. Parallels have been drawn between the poem's message and the 21st-century war on terror. In 1911, Cavafy wrote Ithaca, inspired by the Homeric return journey of Odysseus to his home island, as depicted in the Odyssey. The poem's theme is that enjoyment of the journey of life, and the increasing maturity of the soul as that journey continues, are all the traveler can ask.

Literature after 1922

The Asia Minor Disaster of 1922, in which Greece’s expansionist designs on the Ottoman Empire were finally thwarted, brought about a radical change in the orientation of Greek literature. Before committing suicide in 1928, Kóstas Kariotákis wrote some bitterly sarcastic poetry conveying the gap between the old ideals and the new reality.

The reaction against the defeatism of 1922 came with the Generation of 1930, a group of writers who began publishing around that date. They reinvigorated Greek literature by discarding the old verse forms in poetry and by producing ambitious novels that were intended to embody the spirit of the times. Both poets and novelists sought to combine European influences with the best of what was Greek. The restrained poetry of George Seféris skillfully married references to ancient mythology with pensive meditation on man’s modern situation, while his finely written essays recast the Greek tradition according to his own priorities. Odysseus Elýtis celebrated the Aegean scenery as an ideal world of sensual enjoyment and moral purity. Each of these poets won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Seféris in 1963 and Elýtis in 1979. Yánnis Rítsos adopted various new modes of writing in his celebration of the Greek partisans in World War II, in long dramatic monologues spoken by characters from Greek mythology, and in laconic poems depicting everyday, but often ironically presented, scenes.

George Seferis

George Seferis, pseudonym of Giōrgios Stylianou Seferiadēs, also spelled Yeoryios Stilianou Sepheriades (b. March 13, 1900, Smyrna, Anatolia, Ottoman Empire [now İzmir, Tur.]—d. Sept. 20, 1971, Athens, Greece), Greek poet, essayist, and diplomat who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1963.

After studying law in Paris, Seferis joined the Greek diplomatic service and served in London and Albania prior to World War II, during which time he was in exile with the free Greek government. Following the war he held posts in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq and served as Greek ambassador in London (1957–62).

Seferis was at once acclaimed as “the poet of the future” on the publication of Strofí (1931; “Turning Point”), his first collection of poems. It was followed by I stérna (1932; “The Cistern”), Mithistórima (1935; “Myth-History”), Imerolóyio katastrómatos I (1940; “Log Book I”), Tetrádhio yimnasmáton (1940; “Exercise Book”), Imerolóyio katastrómatos II (1945), the long poem Kíkhli (1947; “Thrush”), Imerolóyio katastrómatos III (1955), and Tría krifá poiímata (1966; “Three Secret Poems”). Selections of his poetry have been widely translated; the most comprehensive collection in English translation is George Seferis: Complete Poems (1995). Seferis also translated poetry into Greek and wrote essays.

Seferis was the most distinguished Greek poet of “the generation of the ’30s,” which introduced symbolism to modern Greek literature. His refined lyricism and the freshness of his diction brought a new breath of life to Greek poetry. His work is permeated by a deep feeling for the tragic predicament of the Greeks, as indeed of modern man in general.

The Generation of 1930 produced some remarkable novels, among them Strátis Myrivílis’ I zoí en tafo (1930; Life in the Tomb), a journal of life in the trenches in World War I; Argo (2 vol., 1933 and 1936) by Yórgos Theotokás, about a group of students attempting to find their way through life in the turbulent 1920s; and Eroica (1937) by Kosmás Polítis, about the first encounter of a group of well-to-do schoolboys with love and death.

After World War II prose writing was dominated by novels reflecting the experiences of the Greeks during eight years of war (1941–49). Yánnis Berátis recounted his experiences of 1941 in an unemotional manner in To Platy Potami (1946; “The Broad River”). In a trilogy of novels entitled Akyvérnites politíes (1960–65; Drifting Cities), Stratís Tsírkas masterfully recreated the atmosphere of the Middle East in World War II. In the short story, Dimítris Chatzís painted ironic portraits of real and fictional characters in his native Ioánnina in the period before and during World War II, exposing their self-interested machinations.

Nevertheless, the most famous novelist of the period, the Cretan Níkos Kazantzákis, was a survivor from an earlier generation. In a series of novels, beginning with Víos ke politía tou Aléxi Zorbá (1946; Zorba the Greek) and continuing with his masterpiece O Christos xanastavronete (1954; Christ Recrucified), he embodied a synthesis of ideas from various philosophies and religions in larger-than-life characters who wrestle with great problems, such as the existence of God and the purpose of human life. Kazantzákis had earlier published his 33,333-line Odísia (1938; Odyssey), an epic poem taking up the story of Odysseus where Homer had left off. Pandelís Prevelákis published a number of philosophical novels set in his native Crete, the most successful being O ílios tou thanátou (1959; The Sun of Death), which shows a boy learning to come to terms with death.

During the 1960s Greek prose writers attempted to explore the historical factors underlying the contemporary social and political situation. In the novel To tríto stefáni (1962; The Third Wedding) by Kóstas Tachtsís, the female narrator tells the story of her life with venomous verve, unwittingly exposing the oppressive nature of the Greek family. Yórgos Ioánnou’s part-fictional, part-autobiographical short prose pieces present a vivid picture of life in Thessaloníki (Salonika) and Athens from the 1930s to the 1980s.

The 1980s saw the novel take over from poetry as the most prestigious genre in Greek literature. At the turn of the 21st century, many of the most successful new novelists were women, and some of the best novels presented an ironic challenge to traditional notions of historical truth. The novel also attracted poets and playwrights who saw in it the means of gaining popular success.

No individual poets of the postwar generations tower above the rest; among the first postwar generation, Tákis Sinópoulos, Míltos Sachtoúris, and Manólis Anagnostákis, all marked by their wartime experiences of the 1940s, are among those with the greatest reputations. The Generation of 1970, in which female and male poets played an equal part, came of age during the military dictatorship of 1967–74. Their poetry is characterized by the challenge it makes to social conformity, but it also shows the influence of the modernization and globalization of Greek culture. This poetry, which is typically ironic, avoids traditional lyricism and (with some exceptions) rural imagery.

Peter A. Mackridge


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