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Ancient Classics Philosophy and Mythology: Philosophy

Guide for Library Research on Ancient Classics

Philosophy Databases

Oxford Reference

Oxford Reference

Oxford Reference brings together language and subject reference works from one of the world's biggest and most trusted reference publishers into a single cross-searchable resource.
 
Philosopher's Index

Philosopher's Index

A current bibliographic database covering scholarly research in all major areas of philosophy and related fields. The Philosopher’s Index features author-written abstracts covering scholarly research published in journals and books, including contributions to anthologies and book reviews. The Philosopher's Index contains research published since 1940 including journals with content representing a variety of languages.

Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Pre-Socratic Philosophy

Socrates is considered to be the father of philosophy and all philosophy from the time he taught until today is influenced by him. However there were schools of philosophy that existed before and during the life of Socrates that were not influenced by him. These philosophies are known as Pre-Socratic philosophy. The pre-Socratic philosophers looked for natural explanations for the world around them instead of mythological or religious explanations. They looked for answers about the world around them including nature and mathematics. The pre-Socratic philosophers wrote many works but only fragments still exist today, mostly material that was quoted in other surviving works. Some famous pre-Socratic philosophers were Thales, Pythagoras, Heraclitus, and Diogenes.

Greek Philosophy

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David

Greek philosophy lasted about five hundred years, from Greek pre-history to the conquest of Greece by the Roman Empire. The philosophy of Ancient Greece is essentially the foundation of almost all philosophy that exists and has had a near total influence on the development of Western and Modern civilization. Greek philosophy has touched on every subject including rhetoric, metaphysics, ethics, and politics. There have been a variety of Greek philosophers, including some where only fragments of their work and writings have survived. The heart of Greek philosophy that has survived to modern times is based on the thought and works of three men: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Socrates Plato and Aristotle

Busts of Socrates Plato and Aristotle

Busts of Socrates Plato and Aristotle

The basis of almost all of Western philosophy is the works and teachings of three Greek philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. 

Socrates was the oldest of these three philosophers who's life and teachings are only known to us today because of the writings of his student Plato (and of another student, Xenophon). The method of teaching he used was to preach and ask endless questions of his audience and students. In 399 B.C. he was charged by the Athenian state with impiety (denying the Greek gods) and corrupting the youth of Athens. He was ordered to commit suicide which he did by drinking hemlock.

Plato was the most famous student of Socrates and it is from his works that we know that Socrates even existed. Plato's main idea was Rationalismthat people are born with knowledge that teaching helps them to remember (i.e Knowledge comes before experience) The style which Plato used in his works was called Socratic, because Socrates was the main speaker in all of Plato's works. Socratic dialog is a conversation in the form of endlessly asking questions  The most famous of Plato's works is called The Republic, a work in which Plato laid out his vision of what a perfect future society would look like and the type of education that would be needed to produce it.

Aristotle was a student of Plato and became famous not just for being a philosopher but for also being the main teacher of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Aristotle's main idea was different from Plato; it was Empiricism, that people are not born with knowledge but that they gain it from experience (i.e. Knowledge comes after experience). He was charged with impiety the same as Socrates was but rather face the charge, he fled. 

Epicureanism

A Meal in Roman Times by Roberto Bompiani

A Meal in Roman Times by Roberto Bompiani

Epicureanism is a philosophy that teaches that pleasure is the highest good and the way in which you attain tranquility and freedom from fear and physical pain. This philosophy was founded by Epicurus and the main known surviving book that presents the ideas of Epicureanism to the public is Lucretius' "On the Nature of Things".

Hellenism

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez

Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez

As Alexander the Great conquered most of the ancient world, he sought to make it more Greek in character by importing Greek thought, customs, and styles for the naitives to emulate, particularly in the cities that he founded throughout his empire. This culture was known as Hellenism and was prominent in the region from the death of Alexander to the rise of Christianity.

Zoroastrianism

Faravahr, Winged Symbol of Zoroastrianism

Faravahr, Winged Symbol of Zoroastrianism

Zoroastrianism is a religion that originated in Persia, today known as Iran, sometimes around 1800 B.C. In Zoroastrianism, the world is considered to be dualistic or divided into two parts, basically between good and evil. The main prophet of Zoroastrianism was Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra, a name used by the philosopher Frederick Nietzsche in his works). He preached that the entire world was a contest between two forces: on tthe side of good was Ahura Mazda (basically God) and on the side of evil was Angra Mainyu or Ahriman (basically the Devil). The way to achieve balance was through Good Thoughts, Good Words, and Good Deeds.

Philosophy Links

Perseus Digital Library (Project Perseus)
A website hosted at Tufts University collecting historical materials from ancient, medieval and modern periods, but including Greek and Latin classics, some in English, some in Greek and Latin -- as well as Papyri. Includes many supplementary, secondary texts.

Internet Ancient History Sourcebook
A website that has selected translated texts online.

Ostia Ancient Texts
A website that has selected ancient authors in the original Latin and Greek.

The Avalon Project
Very rich resource hosted by the Yale University Law School with special emphasis on law and diplomacy from ancient to modern.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Online Encyclopedia of Philosophy from Stanford University

American Philosophical Association
Major philosophical organization for American philosophers. Contains a public archive of their publications and conference materials, links to Web resources, and professional data. A 'members only' section contains job listings and a membership directory. Look under resources for a list of various philosophical societies and associations.

British Society for the Philosophy of Science
The purpose of the British Society for the Philosophy of Science is to study the logic, the methods, and the philosophy of science, as well as those of the various special sciences, including the social sciences. Shows current issue of The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

International Society For Philosophers
Holds that philosophy is for everyone, not just a select few. Sponsors three electronic journals.

Greek Philosophy Archive
Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Plotinus and others.

Encyclopedia of Religion and Society
The online version of the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, edited by William H. Swatos, Jr. and published in 1998, has been made available on the website of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research.

Internet Sacred Text Archive
The largest freely available archive of online books about religion, mythology, folklore and the esoteric on the Internet, dedicated to religious tolerance and scholarship,.

Roman Philosophy

Roman Philosophy

Like Roman mythology and theatre, most philosophy that the Romans adopted and practiced was based largely in Greek thought that they came into contact with as Rome conquered Greece. The two major schools of philosophy in Rome, though by far not the only ones, were Epicureanism and Stoicism.

Stoicism

Stoicism

Stoicism is a philosophy that teaches that life is best lived in harmony with reason and based on knowledge with complete indifference to pain and pleasure. This philosophy was founded by Zeon and remains a very popular philosophy down to modern times. Surviving ancient books that presents the ideas of Stoicism are the works of Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.

Ancient Chinese Philosophy

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.

The history of Ancient China is of several dynasties followed by a time known as the "Warring States" period and eventually ending in the Qin Dynasty from which the western name for China is derived. Intellectually the period was known as the "Hundred Schools of Thought", when several famous philosophies were formulated and refined,  including Confucianism, Taoism and Legalism among others.

Confucianism

Confucius by Unknown 1770

Confucius by Unknown 1770

Confucianism, founded by Confucius was a body of philosophy that emphasised virtue, ethics, and family as the ideal human structure. Every person is supposed to have a specific relationship in society with the highest form of social position being a "gentleman".

Taoism

Depiction of Laozi in E. T. C. Werner's Myths and Legends of China

Depiction of Laozi in E. T. C. Werner's Myths and Legends of China

Taoism, founded by Lao Tzu, was a body of thought that believes that the ultimate way to achieve peace, harmony, and enlightenment is for people to become aligned with the natural rhythm of the universe known as the Tao. Unlike Confucianism, which was a more rigid system intended to create an ordered and enlightened society and particularly government structure, Taoism was more free-wheeling, a school of thought that dealt with how an individual could adapt himself to the natural "flow" or Tao of the universe. The main book of this school of thought is the Tao-Te-Ching written by Lao Tzu.

Legalism

Shihuangdi, illustration from a 19th-century Korean album; in the British Library

Shihuangdi, illustration from a 19th-century Korean album; in the British Library

Legalism, founded by many scholars including Shang Yang, Li Si, and Hanfeizi, was a philosophical system that maintained that humans are basically bad and can only be controlled with strict rules from a strong and central government. It was the main philosophy of the first Imperial Chinese dynasty. In later dynasties, legalist thought and Confucianism were usually mingled together by the various governments.

Buddhism

Buddhism

Buddhism is a religion the originated in India and is based largely on the teachings of the  Siddhārtha Gautama, an Indian prince who lived sometime between the sixth and fourth centuries B.C. It spread throughout Asia but largely declined in India during the Middle Ages. It is the fourth largest religion in the world. There are several different schools of Buddhism, mostly that developed as the movement spread into China and the rest of East Asia. Among the key tenants of Buddhism are the "Four Noble Truths" and the "Eightfold Path".

The Four Noble Truths are basically that life in this world is pain, that pain is caused by desire, pain can be eliminated by ending desire, and a person can, with effort, escape from the endless cycle of pain, desire, and rebirth. The Eighfold Path are the main Buddhist practices that need to be followed to escape from being endlessly reborn and reach nirvana. The practices are right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.

Ancient Middle Eastern Philosophy

Ancient Middle Eastern Philosophy

Ancient Middle Eastern philosophies include a variety of cultures including Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, and Jewish beliefs. Most Middle Eastern philosophies tend to be theologies focused on pantheons (in the case of the Jews, a single monotheistic God) and concerned with history, proper behavior and ethics. They tend to have creation myths and focuses on legal systems as something in common between them.

Ancient Egypt

Egyptian Goddesses Maat and Isis

Egyptian Goddesses Maat and Isis

Ancient Egypt was one of the oldest civilizations on earth. The religion of the ancient Egyptians was polytheistic, meaning that they believed in many gods who were said to be in control of nature. The ruler of Egypt, called a Pharaoh was considered to be a god as well. According to their beliefs, Egyptians were supposed to conduct rituals and offer sacrifices that would keep the gods alive and allow for order to be maintained in the universe. In particular, ancient Egyptian belief put a lot of emphasis on the importance of the afterlife. This included building rich tombs that would be filled with goods and property as well as doing everything possible to preserve the body, usually through mummification. The age of Egyptian civilization, which measured in thousands of years, meant that the importance of specific gods and beliefs would change over time. For instance, sometimes the sun god Ra was considered more important and other times that shifted to other gods such as Amun or Osirus, or even to goddesses such as Isis.

In addition, ancient Egypt produced a significant amount of wisdom literature, works that dealt with ethics and living a life of virtue. Some surviving Egyptian works of wisdom literature included Instructions of Kagemni, The Maxims of Ptahhotep, the Instructions of Amenemhat, and the Loyalist Teaching.

Babylonian Philosophy

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel

The Tower of Babel by Pieter Bruegel

The area that is today Iraq was home in ancient times to a variety of civilizations including Babylon, an empire that was based out of the city-state also called Babylon, near what is today known as Baghdad. Like many civilizations in the Middle East in ancient times, Babylon had a history of wisdom literature and on law. Wisdom literature is material that discusses issues such as the problem of suffering, what makes up a good life, as well as myths, fables and proverbs. The most well know of the works of Babylonian civilization is the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story about the adventures of Gilgamesh, his friend Enkidu, and eventually his search for immortality. The most famous work of Babylonian law is the Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest recorded systems of law on earth still surviving.

Judaism

Michaelangelo Statue of Moses

Michaelangelo Statue of Moses

The two most famous contributions of the ancients Jews, also known in ancient times as Hebrews, Israelites, and Judaeans are monotheism and the Bible. Monotheism is the belief in one god in comparison to polytheism which is the belief in many gods, something that separated the Jews from the surrounding peoples of the ancient world. The bible meanwhile can be considered the most well known and still read of the ancient Middle East genre of wisdom literature. Wisdom literature is material that discusses issues such as the problem of suffering, what makes up a good life, as well as myths, fables and proverbs. Biblical books such as Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastics are examples of Jewish wisdom literature.

Other works include the Mishnah (a commentary on the bible) and the Gemarah (a commentary on the Mishnah), both of which make up together the Talmud or oral law of Judaism. (The Talmud is written down know but in ancient times was transmitted by word of mouth so it is still known as "oral law" for this reason.)

One of the more important Jewish philosophers of ancient times was Philo of Alexandria. After Alexander the Great conquered the Middle East, the ancient world and the Jews in particular came into contact with Greek concepts through the Greek policy of Hellenism. Traditional Jewish sources and Hellenism were in ideological conflict with each other and Philo sought to use Greek philosophy to defend and justify Judaism.

Indian Philosophy

Indian Philosophy

Indian philosophies share many concepts about the world including beliefs in reincarnation, renunciation, and meditation, with almost all of them focusing on the ultimate goal of liberation (nirvana) of the individual from an endless cycle of death and rebirth through diverse range of spiritual practices. Hinduism and Buddhism are examples of Indian religions and philosophies.

Hinduism

The Goddess Durga Killing the Buffalo Demon Mahishasura MardiniThe Goddess Durga Killing the Buffalo Demon Mahishasura Mardini (LINK)

Hinduism is the native religion of India with diverse roots. Hinduism did not arise from one specific founder but is instead based on the development and mixing of a variety of beliefs and pantheons in India in ancient times. There are many different philosophies and schools in Hinduism but they are linked together by rituals, holy text, and holy sites. The main texts of Hinduism are the Vedas, text written in Sanskrit and considered to be revelations from Indian gods. In addition there are three other works that are very important to Hindu belief: The Mahabharata, the longest Indian epic poem to survive to modern times, The Bhagavad Gita, technically a part of the Mahabharata that can be read as its own work, and the Ramayana. These works deal with questions of fate, duty, heroism, duties, rights, conduct and virtue.

The Vedas

A Page from the Vedas

A Page from the Vedas

The Vedas are Indian holy texts that are written in Sanskrit and form the scriptures of Hinduism. The Veda, are considered revelations from Indian gods (usually credited to the Hindu god Brahma) seen by ancient sages after intense meditation, and have been more carefully preserved since ancient times.

There are four Vedas: the Rig Veda, the Yajurveda, the Samaveda and the Atharvaveda. Each Veda covers four types of subjects: Mantras/Prayers, Rituals/Ceremonies, Commentary on Rituals, and Upanishads, discussions on meditation and philosophy.

The Upanishads

The Upanishads

The Upanishads are a collection of ancient Sanskrit texts that contain some of the central philosophical concepts of Hinduism. They are among the most important literature in the history of Indian religions and culture, that played an important role in the development of spiritual ideas in ancient India. The Upanishads discuss the nature of ultimate reality and the character of and path to spiritual liberation.