Ancient philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A130-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 12, 2024, from

7. Survival

A very substantial body of works by ancient philosophical writers has survived in manuscript. These are somewhat weighted towards those philosophers – above all Plato, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists – who were of most immediate interest to the Christian culture which preserved them throughout the Middle Ages, mainly in the monasteries, where manuscripts were assiduously copied and stored. Some further ancient philosophical writings have been recovered through translations into Arabic and other languages, or on excavated scraps of papyrus. The task of reconstituting the original texts of these works has been a major preoccupation of modern scholarship.

For the vast majority of ancient philosophers, however, our knowledge of them depends on secondary reports of their words and ideas in other writers, of whom some are genuinely interested in recording the history of philosophy, but others bent on discrediting the views they attribute to them. In such cases of secondary attestation, strictly a ‘fragment’ is a verbatim quotation, while indirect reports are called ‘testimonia’. However, this distinction is not always rigidly maintained and indeed the sources on which we rely rarely operate with any explicit distinction between quotation and paraphrase.

It is a tribute to the philosophical genius of the ancient world that, despite the suppression and distortion which its contributions have suffered over two millennia, they remain central to any modern conspectus of what philosophy is and can be.

Citing this article:
Sedley, David. Survival. Ancient philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A130-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles