Skip to Content

Master of Stories: Odysseus in the Kingdom of the Dead

by on February 26, 2021

Written by Justin D. Lyons, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Just as the adventures described in Books 9-12 of the Odyssey are often the most-remembered episodes due to their fantastic character, so Odysseusaccount of the underworld is one of his most striking. But did it really” happen? Are we meant to believe that, within the horizon of the poem, Odysseus actually traveled to the underworld—or is he telling another tall tale?

Of all the stories Odysseus tells the Phaeacians, his account of the underworld is the only one to contain an interruption, emphasizing that this is a story being told to an audience. Odysseus pauses to suggest that it may be time to break off story-telling and go to sleep. But King Alcinous urges him to continue: The nights still young, Id say the night is endless. For us in the palace now, its hardly time for sleep. Keep telling us your adventures—they are wonderful.” Odysseus is spinning a yarn to please a king from whom he has much to gain, and the King wants more.

Alcinous prompts Odysseus by asking if he saw any heroes in Hades: But come now, tell me truly: your godlike comrades—did you see any heroes down in the House of Death, any who sailed with you and met their doom at Troy?”  His host and benefactor has indicated a subject he would like to hear about, and Odysseus obliges in style, dropping a great many well-known names to help set the stage.

Melissus of Samos: Philosopher and Admiral

by on February 24, 2021

Written by Ed Whalen, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Too often, students of philosophy are only aware of the great names in ancient Greek philosophy. There are many lesser-known philosophers who developed remarkable arguments that are still relevant today. One of these is the somewhat mysterious figure of Melissus of Samos. Not only was he a great thinker he was also a successful military man who even reportedly defeated the Athenians.

Life of Melissus of Samos

The Isle of Samos

There are few details about the life of Melissus of Samos, but he was believed born on the Aegean Island of Samos about 500 BC. At the time of his birth, Samos was an important naval and trading power. It appears that Melissus was a student of philosophy and was also probably a member of the Samian elite. Sources indicate that he studied under the great Parmenides of Elea, founder of the Eleatic school. Melissus likely traveled to Elea (located in modern-day southern Italy) to study under Parmenides.

Philo of Alexandria, Jewish Philosopher

by on February 23, 2021

Written by Ed Whalen, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Many ancient societies were deeply influenced by Graeco-Roman Civilization, including early Judaic culture. The exchange between them produced important thinkers in Judaism, among them the philosopher Philo. He is perhaps the most important representative of Hellenistic Judaism whose works had a decisive influence on later Christian thinkers.

The Life of Philo

A print of Philo of Alexandria from a 16th century French text

The exact date of Philo’s birth is not known, but it may have been about 20 BC. He was born into an influential family in Alexandria, Egypt, home at that time to one of the largest Jewish communities in the diaspora. His brother went on to become one of the wealthiest men in the city and even had connections with the imperial family during the reigns of Nero and Claudius.

Telling Tall Tales: The Wanderings of Odysseus

by on February 19, 2021

Written by Justin D. Lyons, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

The most well-known episodes in Homers Odyssey are the adventures described in Books 9-12. Full of one-eyed giants, amorous goddesses and narrow escapes, they are considered the most memorable and thus most likely to be included in collections of excerpts. They have received so much attention that it is often forgotten that they make up only a small part of the epic—an epic that is far more concerned with the homecoming of Odysseus than with his wanderings.

These stories are told in the first person by Odysseus himself. Given what we know of his character from both the Iliad and the Odyssey, Odysseus does not hesitate to deceive when circumstances allow. Thus, we should carefully consider the veracity of his tales. After all, Homer calls Odysseus a man of twists and turns,” and we expect him to live up to the description.

Odysseus’ reputation thus begs the question: Is it possible that the tales are not meant to be taken as relating real” events? In other words, could it be that Odysseus did not actually have these adventures, or at least did not have them as he relates them?

Learning Greek with the Ancients: Noesis

by on February 17, 2021

Written by Visnja Bojovic, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

It is old news that ancient thinkers were constantly questioning human learning, morals and behavior. Greek perceptions of the mind or soul were very different from contemporary views, which can make them all the more difficult to grasp for the modern reader.

However, we will make an effort to understand quite a complex concept in the ancient Greek thought: mind. Considering that the mind is quite a broad topic, I decided to focus on what it meant to just one philosopher—Plato.

Mosaic from Pompeii (1st c. BC) showing Plato’s Academy.

Starting as early as Homer, ancient thinkers began differentiating learning through perception or sensation from the learning that comes through awareness. Even though we can claim with certainty that this distinction existed, these two ways of learning were never clearly defined, and a lot of things about them remain obscure.

Greece or Rome: Which was more Influential?

by on February 16, 2021

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to stir the proverbial pot. (While anyone who watched this weekend’s webinar knows I completely forgot about the actual pot…on the stove).
It’s for this very reason I so enjoy our Monday (sometimes Tuesday) mailbags. I love to grow a good debate, birth a lively discussion, or stoke a controversial conversation.
I often do this with the help of philosophical inquiries or political disputations… lend our classical minded perspectives to modern issues or add our own contemporary opinions to age old issues.

Lord Elgin… always a controversial character

Other times, all I have to do is hit a hot topic, such as the Elgin marbles, slavery in the ancient world… or indeed, the question of today’s issue.