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Pseudoscience through the Ages: From Delphi to Tarot

by November 18, 2020

Written by Titus, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Pseudoscience was seen differently in the ancient world than it is today, but many of its ancient practices continue to this day. Ancient disciplines of divination, such as astrology, have yet to be validated by modern science yet astrology continues to hold sway in the modern world.

In the ancient world, the Oracle of Delphi was one of the most celebrated intuitions. The Pythia of Delphi at the Temple of Apollo was the most sought-after woman in the world, attracting powerful figures such as governors, senators, and even the kings and emperors.

They would visit Delphi seeking knowledge about their personal lives and that of their empires. The Pythia often made sweeping predictions and would speak about empires and kingdoms as a whole entities unto themselves.

The Oracle at Delphi

The method in which Pythia allegedly saw the future was kept secret, and little is known about how she made her predictions. Most ancient historians agree that she would sacrifice a lamb and read the internal organs of the animal to make predictions on a specific question. She is not known to have heard any prophetic voices.

Interpreting the insides of the slaughtered animal may seem like a rather unreliable method of predicting the future, but according to historical records, it seems she did make some accurate predictions. The ancients staunchly believed in her prophecies, making her famous.

When Rome was defeated at the Battle of Cannae, the Senate of Rome sent a delegation to the Delphi to ask whether they should surrender or keep fighting. The Pythia was held in high regard in Greece and Rome. Even emperors such as Nero went to Delphi to enquire about their future as emperors. Eventually, Nero executed her for saying something he didn’t like and the institution slowly started losing its importance. The introduction of Christianity in the Roman Empire led to its complete elimination.

Reconstruction of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi, by Albert Tournaire, 1894

However, the practice of seeking guidance from the higher source, or the universe, has continued throughout the ages, and many people still believe there is some truth to this. Science has revolutionized the way we think to such an extent that many find divination practices a thing of the past and disregard it as pseudoscience.

Before the internet, psychic readers were consulted by those who believed in this practice. Such readings were largely shunned or even equated with attempts at magic or sorcery. Many people used to label psychics as witches or warlocks, and prosecuted them in the past. Others called it a con game.

With the advent of the internet, however, YouTube tarot readers have gained huge popularity in the recent few years. YouTube has monetized the videos and many tarot readers have found a genuine way of living by regularly uploading free tarot readings for the 12 astrology signs.

Tarot cards

The Tarot readers claim to connection to the “source,” or the universe, and interpret Tarot cards for those seeking guidance. The Tarot is ancient divination practice that some believe dates all the way back to ancient Egypt.

Each tarot deck has 78 cards that are shuffled and arranged in different positions according to a specific situation. The cards are then used to interpret the past, present, or future of a situation. Whether or not you consider Tarot readings valid, it is interesting that the internet has made the practice much more widespread.

While the Pythia of Delphi used to inspect the internal organs of the animals, modern YouTube tarot readers inspect a deck of cards that contain ancient archetypes. Both claim to consult the source, the higher power, or the universe, for guidance.

The core belief behind the modern YouTube tarot is no different from that of the Oracle of Delphi at the Temple of Apollo: that of connection to a greater intelligence and the ability to transmit that knowledge.

Today, YouTube tarot readers can also do a reading on a country or a political leader’s future. Only the medium has changed, as the internet has made it possible for tarot readers to reach hundreds of thousands of people.

Memento Mori in the Ancient World

by November 6, 2020

Written by Titus, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Almost every civilization and religion has been conscious of the inevitability of death. While it may sound terrifying, it is an eventual reality. No one comes out of life alive.

Memento mori is a Latin phrase that roughly translates as “remember that you die.” It originated in the Roman Empire but the same concept can be found in many ancient civilizations.

The Angel of Death, by Evelyn De Morgan, 1880

In Republican Rome, starting with Sulla, the Senate struggled to keep the popular Roman generals in check. The Senate and other political entities were very concerned with the possibility of a powerful general taking over the state and declaring himself king. The assassination of Julius Caesar was also the result of several senators being afraid of Caesar’s aspirations to crown himself.

It was in this context that the phrase memento mori came into being.

Highly successful generals were awarded a “triumph” in Rome, which was a magnificent ceremony held in honor of their victories. A triumph was an ultimate tribute. It was often the highest point of a general’s career. His soldiers and the population of Rome alike would honor him with unprecedented respect.

A typical Roman triumph; Detail of The Triumph of Aemilius Paulus, 1789

It was such a glorious ceremony that any general might start considering himself superior to everyone else on earth. To keep his ego in check, the Romans came up with an idea.

While the general would march in a chariot amidst a cheerful crowd, a slave sitting right behind him would whisper in his ear something along the lines of memento mori to remind him that all of that fame and honor was temporary, and that death was inevitable even for those who are at the height of their power and career.

Starting as a small gesture to keep generals’ ambitions in check, the phrase soon gained popularity. Stoic philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus took to it immediately. Epictetus often reminded his students of the slave whispering memento mori to the triumphant generals. He advised them to recall it every time they hugged or kissed their friends, children, or brothers, so as not to get too attached to impermanent bonds.

We are all mortals, as death is in everyone’s destiny. It doesn’t matter if someone is an emperor, a king, a peasant, or a mere beggar. We are all headed to the same destination.

Death and the Maiden, by Marianne Stokes, 1908

Memento mori had a lasting impact on Stoic philosophy. Emperor Marcus Aurelius lived a fairly virtuous life despite being the most powerful man on earth at his time, thanks in large part to memento mori.

Marcus Aurelius is often called the philosopher emperor and was heavily influenced by Stoicism. In his book Meditations, he said to himself, “You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.”

Memento mori holds a very important place in the Stoic practice; indeed, it is a fundamental part of Stoic philosophy to frequently recall, accept, and celebrate mortality.

Death and the Maiden, by Hans Baldung (1484-1545)

Memento mori has been portrayed by a human skull, an hourglass, guttering candles, and other similar symbols. It is often seen written on gravestones. Many believe that mortality should not be a source of anxiety and fear, but rather of calm and tranquility.

Time is like a river, it takes us along with its currents whether we like it or not. Memento mori has helped people, especially seekers of truth, to accept and embrace death. It is, in a way, related to another Latin phrase, amor fati, which means “love of fate.”

The phrase that the ancient Romans coined for the triumphant generals has gone down in history in a way few would have thought. In two short words, it sums up an important life lesson. Ever since Roman times, memento mori has been accompanying those seeking to understand the nature of life and encouraging us to embrace our mortality instead of running away from it.

The Education System In Ancient Greece

by November 3, 2020

Written by Katherine Rundell, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

In the disciplines of math and philosophy it is broadly accepted that we have the ancient Greeks to thank for them. From Aristotle to Pythagoras, these towering figures spent countless hours considering the deepest problems of their age, often coming up with new paradigms for them. Metaphysics, algebra, geometry and epistemology were all pretty much invented by the ancient Greeks.

We know that Athenian society devoted many resources to education, and ultimately produced some great minds. But beyond the big names – the scientists, philosophers and mathematicians that have become household names, you may know little about the Ancient Greek education system.

Greek school, illustration

The Structure Of School

In Ancient Greece, access to education was determined by gender and class. Athens was the founder of democratic political systems, but only a small proportion of the population were entitled to vote – land-owning male figures. Similarly, education was central to Greek society but simultaneously restricted to a narrow elite.

Girls were excluded entirely from education in Athens. Because schools were neither publicly funded nor state run, the parents themselves had to provide a place for education. This meant school was restricted to an elite who could afford to pay for it – even at the height of Greek civilization, it is estimated that only around a third of the population was literate.

Boys from wealthy backgrounds typically began schooling from the age of seven. In Ancient Greece, education was limited to a few key disciplines which were valued in Athenian society as necessary for producing ideal citizens. The schools in Ancient Greece were run by a triumvirate of schoolmasters – grammatistes, who taught writing and grammar, kitharistes, the music teachers, and paidotribes who handled the physical side of a child’s education.

A red-figure cup by the Eretria Painter, about 430 BC, depicting a schooling scene. A seated man unrolls a twisted roll in front of a youth, who has a set of tablets in his hands. Source: Louvre, Department of Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities


The Grammatistes

While grammar, music and physical education may seem like a narrow education in today’s world, the reality is these subjects were interpreted broadly.

For example, the grammatistes taught writing and the 24-letter Greek alphabets to their pupils, but linguistics, philosophy and literature were also under the remit of these teachers. Political science was also essential in the formation of these young citizens.

Homer reciting poems, by Paul Jourdy. École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris

The Kitharistes

In ancient Greece, music was connected to history and ethics; thus, the kitharistes were responsible for imparting great wisdom to their pupils. Students were frequently taught to play the lyre, and it was widely perceived as a characteristic of great learning to be a master of the lyre.

Students engaged in physical exercises, 6th century B.C. kylix. Source: The Lourve, Paris

The Paidotribes

In ancient Greek society, physical fitness was considered a virtue – indeed, if you’ve seen many Greek statues you’ll be intimately aware of the paradigm Greek physique. To this end, paidotribes took the boys through rigorous exercises in a variety of disciplines.

Ancient Greece was made up of city states which were frequently warring. Soldiers were essential to the continuation of these states, so javelin throwing and wrestling were prioritized in physical education. The Olympics originated in ancient Greece, further demonstrating the value of athletics in these times.

Young girls being instructed in dance, 6th century B.C. hydria. Source: British Museum, London

A Woman’s Education

While boys were sent to school to study under the gaze of the grammatistes, kitharistes, and paidotribes, most women were excluded from a formal system of education. Mothers would instruct their daughters in domestic chores and, in wealthy families, in running a household. Women were expected to handle the home in the patriarchal society of Ancient Greece.

School’s Out

For young men, schooling would typically end between the ages of 14 and 16. Families could then, on their son’s behalf, make choices that would determine his future: to work a trade, join the army, or further education. For the elite, who were destined to enter politics and public affairs, the subject of rhetoric was of paramount importance.

Arguing your case and winning debates were at the heart of Greek politics. Private tutors known as sophists had mastered this skill and commanded significant fees to educate the children of Athens’ elite.

An Ancient Society

The education system in Ancient Greece was structured to support the political and social life at the time. Women, excluded from mainstream education, were thus directed towards domesticity. Young boys were taught to be citizens, ultimately exercising the vote as a primary expression of this. Of course, this was only an elite. Even in these shining marble city states, many went uneducated.

Katherine Rundell is a history writer at PhD Writers and Paper Writing Service. She studied history and philosophy at Standford and is enthralled by the philosophical traditions stretching long into the past. She is also a proofreader at service.

A Short History of Wine

by October 21, 2020

Written by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

What is believed to be the first winery in the world was recently found in a cave in Vayots Dzor, Armenia, and dates back to around 6100 BC. It currently holds the title as the oldest-known winery (also, fun fact, it is home of the worlds oldest leather shoe).

It is believed that the Armenians were the first to use the barefoot method of winemaking, but there is evidence of wine production in China as far back as 7000 BC. Wherever it started, there is no doubt that the love affair between humans and wine is a long one. Wine has a very complex and interesting history with nations, consumers, and individuals who pioneered the spread of wine and wine cultivation.

Baccus by Caravaggio (1596-97)

The Rise of Wine

Along with the Armenian discovery, wine is also strongly associated with Ancient Egyptian society, but they did not start their wine production until 3100 BC when they began making a wine-like substance that was used in religious ceremonies due to its resemblance to blood.

Visiting Phoenicians took a liking to Egyptian wine and stored some to take back home. It was the Phoenician traders that began to spread its popularity to the rest of the world, taking wine to the Mediterranean, Middle East, and North Africa. Between 1200 – 539 they came in contact with Jews who also began using wine in religious ceremonies, as they do to this day.

In 800 BC the Greeks began to perfect the art of wine-making. It became a popular symbol of trade and health, with Dionysus becoming the God of Wine.

As the Greeks expanded their empire and conquered territories around the Mediterranean, they brought wine along with them. Sicily in Southern Italy became one of the first Greek colonies on the Mediterranean to begin making its own wine, and the beverage soon traveled north, to Rome.

Giuseppe Maria Crispi ‘The Sacraments: Holy Communion’

The Romans quickly adopted wine and in 146 BC they began honoring Bacchus, Roman God of Wine. The Romans further develop the art of wine-making and the territory becomes home to some of the most famous vintages. As the Roman Empire expanded, so did their wineries, with grapevines appearing in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Portugal.

Some even associate Christian monks with a love of wine. They certainly became the pioneers of western winemaking technology when Rome adopted Christianity, as pressure was put on the monasteries to produce holy wine for use in Catholic sacrament. Christian monks became the master vintners of Europe, and the Church brought wine to the masses (literally, through mass).

Wine in the Americas

Bought by the Spanish conquistadors during their conquests and exploration of the Americas between 1492 – 1600, European wine entered South America and became popular in Mexico and Brazil.

The French eventually traveled further had north to Canada, where it is believed that the Norsemen, under the command of Leif Erikson, cultivated wild grapes 500 years prior. The French claimed Canada as their official territory and establish settlements in 1608. The Jesuits arrived shortly thereafter and began using the local grapes to make wine. 

North America finally began cultivating its own wine from grapes imported from Europe in 1619. The first grapevines were planted in Virginia, and from there made their way up the Eastern Seaboard. Due to the region’s puritanical culture, it took a while for wine to become publicly accepted and widely consumed.

In 1769 it is once again the Catholic church that is responsible for the widespread adoption of wine. When Spanish missionary Junipero Serra traveled to California, he brought the gospel and a passion for wine. He opened a missionary in San Diego and planted grapevines, giving the region its first local wine from a variety of the vitis grape. The beverage became hugely popular across California.

Junípero Serra

Wine Across Australian, South Africa, and New Zealand

Back in Europe, the Dutch began expeditions to South Africa in 1659 and the Dutch East India Trading Company stored wine aboard their ships to supply their sailors on their long journeys. Thus wine arrived to South Africa and the sailors began planting grapevines there to supply their return voyages back to Europe. The Cape Province became one of the best-known regions for wine-making and remains so to this day.

In 1788 British fleets traveling from the UK to Australia made a pit stop in South Africa and brought wine aboard for their onward journey. Grape cuttings from the South African vineyards were planted in Australia, and Australian wine production began.

Photo by Sparky Marquis (Mollydooker Wines)

James Busby, a British resident in Australia, was appointed as a Jurist in New Zealand. James was a wine enthusiast and considered the father of Australian wine. He brought grape cuttings from Australia to New Zealand and began wine production there in 1832.

Over the next century, as the world became more open to international trade, wine became a popular household drink and a valuable commodity. The years 1830 – 1870 saw the return of wine to the lands of Algeria, where thousands of years before the Phoenicians had planted vast vineyards. After centuries of Islamic rule that prohibited wine, the French occupied Algeria in 1830. Native Algerians adopted the French method of winemaking, and the production of French wine in Algeria hit a high in 1970, eight years after the French ceded control of the country.

Cultivation of grapes and wine making in China during Ming Dynasty (1368- 1644)

Wine Culture in China and Japan

St Francis Xavier, a Spanish Catholic Priest, brought gifts of wine to Japanese lords during the Spanish missionary visits in 1543. As the Portuguese begin converting Japanese people to Catholicism, they also began trading in Spanish wine. Japan was reunified 1587 and Christianity was banned, along with any associating factors, such as wine. The country had to wait a further 300 years before the first grapevines were planted and the Japanese people began to adopt the beverage once again.

Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, The Peoples Republic of China opened itself up to international trade and western culture in the 1980s. French wine was one of the first imports to arrive on Chinese shores and became hugely popular.

The timing could not have been better. After years of political upheaval, the Chinese Republic saw a population boom and the middle and upper classes expanded. More families began purchasing luxuries such as wine. Since then, the Chinese have had a long love affair with wine. Today, the nation is one of the largest consumers of French wine and other European products.

From ancient Armenia to modern-day China, humanity’s love of wine has stood the test of time and slowly but surely conquered the world. From kings to emperors, politicians to bureaucrats, what was originally a symbol of religious sacrament has found its way into public events, the pages of history books, and a place at the dinner table.

Five Surprisingly Ancient Inventions from Greece and Rome

by October 16, 2020

Written by Lydia Serrant, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Robots, computers, showers and vending machines? Believe it or not, this article does indeed belong on Classical Wisdom instead of a publication like Modern Magazine! Here’s why…

Ever since the worlds first known analogue computer – the famous Antikythera mechanism – emerged from an ancient Greek shipwreck in 1901, historians have been trying to come to terms with the fact that ancient technological knowledge was far more advanced than previously thought.

The mechanism was first believed to be nothing more than a lump of rock. In 2012, it was revealed to be a complex system of cogs that could perform more calculations than a Swiss watch.

The discovery led to an increased interest in ancient technologies. Researchers have been re-examining old discoveries and making new ones, and the results have been enlightening.

So, without further delay we present five technological discoveries from Greece and Rome that are surprisingly ancient.

The automatic servant of Philon (3rd Century BC), by Philo of Byzantium

The automatic servant of Philon from the 3rd century BC, is seen at Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology in Athens, Greece February 13, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

Invented by Philo of Byzantium in the third century BC, the automatic servant of Philon is currently recognized as the worlds first robot. It is a human-shaped automaton that dispenses wine when a cup is placed in its hands.

The Greeks were known for diluting their wine with water, and the automaton is designed to do just that. Once the cup is placed in the empty hand, wine is poured followed by water. The liquids are dispensed in turn using a series of pipes hidden within the robot that lead from the robots arm to a central chamber in the torso. The pipes are controlled by air valves that open when the arm lowers with the weight of the cup, and close again once the cup is removed.

A series of vending machines that dispensed holy water were built by Hero of Alexandria using a similar mechanism. Valves were activated when a coin was dispensed. These machines were common at the entrance of holy places.

Aeolipile (The First Steam Engine)

An illustration of Hero’s aeolipile

Also known as a Heros Engine, the Aeolipile is the first world’s first-known steam engine. It featured a simple yet innovative system that relied on a radical steam turbine  powered by a central water container.

It was invented in the first century AD and described by Hero of Alexandria, who is credited for its invention.

The Aeoliple was believed invented as a demonstration of steam power, and not intended for any practical purpose. Even so, the machine is evidence of the period’s revolutionary scientific experimentation.

There is speculation that this invention did have a predecessor, as a similar device was mentioned by Vitruvius in his treatise De Architectura. However, historians say it could be the same device, which would make the invention slightly older than currently thought.


A modern Iranian flat Astrolabe (Tabriz, 2013), by Jacopo Koushan

Similar to the Antikythera Device, the Astrolabe was an intricate device used by astronomers and navigators to measure altitude.

The mechanism was designed to be used day and night. The Astrolabe made specific altitudinal calculations based on the horizons of celestial bodies. It was also used to identify stars and planets, and could provide the local latitude data based on a given local time (and vice versa!).

The earliest Astrolabe was invented by Apollonius of Perga somewhere between 220 and 150 BC. The design is an amalgamation of two earlier inventions the planisphere (a device used to calculate stars using two rotating disks) and a dioptra (a tubed device used to measure angles).

The astrolabe is not only a great invention in its own right, it is also evidence of how the ancient scientific community took inspiration from existing discoveries, just like scientists today.

The Lycurgus Cup

The Lycurgus cup

The Lycurgus cup is named after the mythical figure King Lycurgus, who adorns it. The cup changes from red to green depending on the light source. The discovery of this color-changing cup, dated to fourth-century Rome, baffled scientists for decades.

Recent investigations have discovered that the color-changing effect is produced by a painstakingly intricate process whereby minute shards of silver and gold nanoparticles, about 70nm in diameter, are diffused within the glass, causing the light to scatter and create the illusion that it is changing color. To give you an idea of the scale of this operation, 70mn is less than one thousandth the size of a grain of table salt.

What is amazing about this discovery is that the theory of light scattering in relation to nanoparticles wasnt believed discovered until 1908, and finally proven in practice in 1980.

Scientists and historians are unsure what method the Romans used to create the metallic particles, but they all agree that the ancient Romans were the true pioneers of ‘new’ nanotech!


Greek open-air shower baths for men, gouache painting. Credit: Wellcome Collection

It may not sound exciting, but the invention of showers possibly changed the lives of Ancient Greek people and beyond.

The first shower was rudimentary – literally a hole in the wall, with a servant pouring water through it from the other side. The invention of lead piping soon revolutionized this method.

Archaeologists stumbled upon evidence of Greek showers in a bathhouse while excavating the ancient Greek city of Pergamon. The site was relatively close to the sea, and a series of underground pipes collected the seawater and dispensed it within the bathhouse for public showering. This evidence corresponds with evidence of lead plumbing found at gymnasiums and fragments of carved shower heads.

There is also evidence via scripture and pottery illustrations that this same plumbing technique was common to Greek homes, not just public bathhouses. It is becoming increasingly accepted that Greek city-states may have added pipes to pre-existing aqueduct systems in order to bring water to showers in private homes as well as public buildings.

The History of the Symposium in the Ancient World

by October 14, 2020

Written by Titus, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Today, symposia are rather overlooked, considered something strictly limited to serious business or academic activities. In the ancient world, they were an important part of everyday life. The word symposium is derived from the Greek word “symposio” that translates as “drinking together.”

The symposium was often a part of the larger feast and took place after the meal. Ancient symposia involved both leisure and debate, as well as music and dancing.

Although no less scholarly, symposiums in the modern sense of the world are not nearly as fun as they were in the ancient world. Maybe this one of those (many) instances in which we can learn something from ancient history.


Symposium scene, from the interior of a sarcophagus found in the Tomb of the Diver at Paestum, ca 480 BC. (National Archaeological Museum of Paestum, Italy)

Ancient symposia were held quite often. Whenever there was a great victory in battles, a decisive court case, or public debates, there was a huge feast honoring it.

This was not unique to Greek culture — many other civilizations, including the Romans, held regular symposia. Given that ancient societies were highly patriarchal, it was a male-centric gathering in ancient Greece.

A symposium didn’t require a special setting, being held in any household with a large room. Pillowed couches were arrayed along all four walls of the room and men would then engage in lengthy discussions over drinks. The room was left with wide-open space between those couches which was used by dancers, singers, and other entertainers.

A modern rendition of Plato’s Symposium, by Anselm Feuerbach

Senior, respected men were given preference in the seating arrangements. Young men would stand and observe if there was no extra space. Considering the architecture of ancient Greek and Roman houses, a symposium would have probably accommodated between 14 to 27 men.

Drinking was an important part of the symposium. In Greece, the symposium was strictly held after the meal. The Roman symposium was slightly different. In Rome, women were also allowed and it was held before, during, or after meals.

Games were also sometimes also played. Drinking, although important, was not a free-for-all — there was often one glass of wine that was passed on to men one at a time. Slaves, high-class women entertainers, and poets were also hired for the event. From serious philosophical discussions to lighthearted fun, the symposium was multi-faceted ancient tradition.

Vase painting of a Symposium

There were different types of symposia that served different purposes. The kinds of symposia that individuals such as Socrates attended, for example, were fundamentally different from the kind of symposia that were held for the general public purely for entertainment.

Ancient symposia surely seem a lot more interesting than the modern ones. Boring conference rooms with straight faces have replaced heart-to-heart conversations and philosophical debates under the influence of wine. These days, music and dancing are considered ill-mannered in modern symposiums.

Perhaps this is why it was the ancient world that produced Socrates, Plato, and Xenophon. Ancient symposia were absolutely epic. In that environment, we all would have been encouraged to become great philosophers and debaters.

Marble anaglyph of ancient symposium. A couple in love time. Archaeological Museum of Nikopolis, Nikopoli, Preveza, Greece

But it is also understandable that the modern symposia aim to keep the attention limited to the subject at hand.

With the rapid advances in technology, there comes the opportunity to revive this ancient tradition. Digital symposia can be more engaging and interesting, featuring content and discussions that will be of vital interest to its attendants. In this way they can imitate the ancient symposia, which had the interest of common person in mind instead of a scholarly agenda.

Many individual ancient symposia are now considered important historical events. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, and Xenophon all have made famous speeches at a symposium. The Socratic dialogues, for example, were a collection of speeches that took place at those symposia.

Indeed, many works that came out of the symposia of the ancient world are now considered key philosophical texts fundamental to the development of Western civilization.