Bringing the Past to Life
It is easy for the teacher long familiar with ancient philosophy to forget that the subject matter of their courses may initially appear quite alien to students new to the subject. We are, after all, dealing with foreign names from an alien culture long past. One of the tasks of the ancient philosophy teacher is to try to bring some of these distant figures back to life in the imagination of ones students. There are a number of seemingly trivial, yet I think effective, ways in which this may be achieved. The use of maps, images of statues and busts, and archaeological findings can all help to add colour and form to the foreign names on the page. Similarly, students are often fascinated by the process by which ancient texts have come down to us. A brief introduction to the transmission of ancient texts, perhaps including images of manuscripts and papyri, can help not only to capture their imagination but also to introduce them to some of the sorts of problems involved in the editing of a classical text. It may also serve to emphasise the highly contingent nature of the surviving record for ancient philosophy. One could, for instance, note that Lucretius On the Nature of Things and Epictetus Discourses both appear to have survived the Middle Ages via only a single copy, while other texts such as Aristotles Constitution of Athens and Epicurus On Nature have only been discovered more recently in papyri from Egypt and Herculaneum. Reference to the recent Empedocles find, published for the first time in 1999, will serve to emphasise that the body of surviving evidence for ancient philosophy is far from static.
Looking at images of manuscripts and papyri, busts and archaeological sites, may not contribute directly to a students understanding of ancient philosophy, but they may well help to bring to life ancient philosophers and ancient texts in a way that will encourage students to explore the subject further.
Link: Contextual Resources
Next Section: Links between Ancient and Modern Philosophy
This site was created by Dr John Sellars for the PRS-LTSN, 2002.