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Ancient Philosophy Suggestions?
Hello all,

I know that many RAT members are quite a bit more fluent in all aspects of ancient civilization/history than I am, so I was wondering if anyone might have suggestions in regards to ancient classical philosophy? Specifically, who/where to start, and who/where would be logical to progress to so as to gain a thorough understanding of various schools of ancient philosophy. So far, I've only read bits and pieces of (surprise) Plato and Marcus Aurelius. Beyond some of the more popular schools/ideas of Platonic and Stoic thought, I really do not have much exposure.

Thanks much,
I found The Fragility of Goodness. Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy (1986) by Martha Nussbaum quite good. It's focused on problems I could relate to, which is more than you can say of, for example, the metaphysical theories of Plato.

(It is sad to see that Nussbaum is currently losing herself in treatises like Not for profit. However, it is unfair to criticize a formerly great scholar for her latter day errors.)
Jona Lendering
Relevance is the enemy of history
My website
Ah! I love ancient philosophy, as one could guess based upon my nickname.

I would suggest starting with Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Ancient Philosophers. It is a quick round-up of all the major philosophers and philosophies.

To get into the good stuff, go to Epictetus’ Enchiridion, or Handbook, which is like a distillation of Stoicism. It is quite short, being a condensed, edited version of his longer Discourses, and which you could read in a leisurely afternoon. If you like the Handbook, move on to the Discourses. These were taken from Epictetus’ speaking to his students, compiled by Arrian.

Then move to Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Marcus quotes Epictetus freely, so it is helpful to read Epictetus first. I really like this one because it is so personal. Unlike practically everything else, it wasn’t written for public consumption. Some have complained that Marcus doesn't follow Stoic dogma, but Stoicism was always a flexible philosophy, changing to match the times. Marcus even tells himself to abandon Stoicism if he ever found anything better.

(It is interesting how interdependent many of the schools of thought were. Seneca frequently quotes Epicurus, and the “founding document” of Stoicism was Plato’s Crito, for example. They borrowed from each other freely.)

If you want to dig deeper into Stoicism, then you could move on to Seneca. Seneca has some good stuff in his letters and essays, but he is very long-winded, somewhat arrogant, and frequently contradicts himself.

With Plato, which is practically mandatory reading, some of my favourites are Apology, Crito and the Republic. Actually, the only writing of Plato I’m not a fan of is Laws. It is rather dry but helpful for research on specific topics.

Epicurus is another of the big philosophers that was popular around the height of the Empire. Unfortunately there is no definitive text for Epicureanism (although there may be some day – supposedly many of the works found in the Villa of the Papyri are Epicurean). You can find bits and pieces of Epicureanism in Diogenes Laertius and Cicero, for example. It might be easier to learn about Epicureanism through a secondary source that does all the homework for you, and then you could go back to the primary texts for what interests you.

This also applies to some of the other schools of thought, like Pythagoreanism.

Then if you still can’t find enough, you can always go to some of the first Christian writers. Much of what we know about ancient philosophy comes from people attacking it. When I first started digging into this I was surprised at how much I learned from them.
David J. Cord
Wow! Thanks for all of the great "to read" list is now becoming quite unwieldy (yes, I actually keep a list). In school, I took a philosophy course, alas accidently signed up for modern philosophy. We examined the topic of painfully boring lectures/subject material in detail. I remember that it was a modern philosopher, who's name escapes me, that stated "all of modern philosophy is but a footnote to Plato" or something to the same effect.

It will be nice to dig into the good stuff.

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