Wednesday, April 26, 2023

What books am I reading this summer in the Greek philosophy readalong? Some details.

Now that we are almost done with Plato, the bulkiest figure in my little Greek philosophy readalong, I thought it would be a good idea to revisit, clarify, and puzzle over the texts that will take us to the end of the project, now that I have given the matter a little more thought.

Next month I will turn to Aristotle and The Nicomachean Ethics, a substantial and as I remember readable book.  I am not sure if I will read much more Aristotle.  On the Soul, which sounds like it is about religion but is really more about psychology, is tempting, and only a hundred pages.  I read Politics thirty years ago and remember it as admirably clear, but I won’t revisit it now.  I may look Metaphysics but doubt I will really read it.

But just reading Ethics may be enough.  It is a real book.

In June the topic is Cynicism.  The first text I have picked is some version of the sayings or quips of Diogenes the Cynic (4th C. BCE).  I strongly recommend the presentation, stripped of sources, in Guy Davenport’s 7 Greeks (1995), best read for the extraordinary translations of the poets Sappho and Archilochos but full of other treasures as well, including the thirteen pages of Diogenes.  You gotta meet this nut, if you haven’t already.

The same material is presented with more verbiage in Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, and I am sure it can be found in many other books.

I want to supplement Diogenes with Lucian (2nd C.) who was not a philosopher but a Greek satirist whose target was often philosophy.  I recommend Selected Satires of Lucian (1962), translated by Lionel Casson, specifically the sections: Zeus’s World, Pluto’s World, and Man’s World.  If you are in a hurry, skip to the “Dialogues of the Dead,” “Philosophies for Sale” and “The Death of Peregrinus.”

If you are not in a hurry, the rest of the book contains extraordinary things, especially “A True Story.”  So many later works are direct descendants of “A True Story.”  It is, for example, the beginning of science fiction.

Satirical Sketches, tr. Paul Turner, contains some of the relevant pieces but I think not enough.  Otherwise I Think you have to rummage through the eight Loeb volumes, which would likely be interesting.

Reading Lucian as part of a philosophy sequence is my one semi-original idea.

July is Epicurianism.  This one is easy and obvious: the great Latin cosmological poem On the Nature of Things (1st C. BCE) by Lucretius.  There are many translations under many titles (I’ll read Rolfe Humphries).  My understanding is that some original works of Epicurus have been rescued from the cinders of Herculaneum, but I do not know if they have been edited and translated.

August is Stoicism.  I will read the old warhorse, the Meditations (2nd C.) of Marcus Aurelius, and will look at the Discourses of Epictetus if I have time.  Even better, perhaps, would be to wander around in the writings of Seneca, for example the Penguin Classics Letters from a Stoic.

Cicero was not a Stoic – I am not sure what he was – but he often wrote about Stoicism and other philosophical ideas.  I would like to revisit The Nature of the Gods (2nd C. BCE) in which a Stoic, an Epicurean, and a Skeptic debate.

Likely many Cicero works would be of interest.  I hardly know him.  I feel a bit bad about not giving a month to Skepticism; apparently the key text would be Cicero’s Academica.  Maybe I will squeeze it in.

The project wraps up in September with the great essayist Plutarch (1st-2nd C.), who often wrote on philosophical subjects in his essays collected under the title Moralia.  I thought this was an original idea, bit of course Adamson has a chapter on Plutarch.  Unfortunately, no selection of the Moralia quite suits my purpose, although the Oxford World’s Classics Selected Essays and Dialogues is not too bad.  I believe I will have to explore the sixteen (!) volumes of the Loeb translation to find the most relevant pieces.  Well, I will revisit the issue then.

Please suggest other books as alternatives or supplements.  Original texts or secondary, anything you have read that is good.  Thanks!


  1. I have made a list, some of which I have, but need to get several. I think for September I shall have to make do with the Oxford selections, as Loeb books, although wonderful, are expensive.

  2. Not as expensive as I thought, so when you have decided on volumes needed, I may follow suit .

  3. Why Cynicism in June??? That's my month.

  4. This kind of Cynicism is not particularly cynical. You should read about Diogenes. He may inspire you.

    I will confess, Clare, that I will likely be reading Loeb volumes online, at

  5. What a good idea, i'll have a look this afternoon..

  6. When you enter into a project I can understand, let me know. 😉 Then I can accompany you on your journey.

  7. You have me wondering whether your post-June readings will be anticlimactic after Diogenes and Lucian! Predictions?

  8. These philosophy books can get pretty difficult, I will not deny that. But I suppose the impetus to make something into a reading project is that the project is difficult. Making it a project creates momentum. I hope.

    Everything will be anticlimactic after Diogenes the Cynic.

  9. It sounds like you have enough to read, but if you want an entertaining footnote to Diogenes, I suggest John Lyly's play "Campaspe." Lyly put Diogenes, Plato, Aristotle, and other Greek philosophers on the Elizabethan stage, which is not a bad place for them. Not surprisingly, Diogenes gets all the best lines.

    (Doug Skinner)

  10. My copy of Nicomachean Ethics, translated by Robert C Bartlett and Susan D Collins came the other day, and I have dived in this evening. It has an interesting introduction, which I have just read. Tomorrow the work itself.

  11. Campaspe Is just the kind of extra reading I need. Amazing. Thanks!

    Tomorrow I, too, will dive into Ethics.

  12. I'm excited to read it tonight. I'm. Examine addicted to the Greek literature. It takes some thinking about, but that is a huge part of the dun. I'm starting to journal on my reading too. A new notebook is always fun.

  13. A new notebook! Yes, always a pleasant little lift when starting a new notebook.