BMCR 2007.06.33

Response: Curnow on Jirsa on Trevor Curnow, Ancient Philosophy and Everyday Life

Response to 2007.05.08

Response by

I am grateful to Jakub Jirsa (J) for his review of my book Ancient Philosophy and Everyday Life. My point in responding is to take issue with his observation that ‘When reading the book without a well-stocked library at your disposal, the references are completely useless.’ I entirely accept the criticism that the references could have been more comprehensive. At some point during the long evolution of the book I shortened them and later neglected to restore the full versions. However, the suggestion that what remains is ‘completely useless’ goes too far. I think this is an important point to address because it bears on the question of where ancient philosophy is located within the academic world. Classicists tend to see ancient philosophy as a specialist area within classics. However, ancient philosophy is increasingly of interest to many people with no background in either ancient Greek or Latin and without access to a classics library. (This includes large numbers of philosophy students in many universities and colleges.) Non-classicists are apt to find the large number of abbreviations of titles of works routinely used by classicists confusing, and some systems of internal referencing less than transparent. My aim in writing an introductory text was to make a basic understanding of the chosen schools of philosophy accessible to as wide an audience as possible. The ‘well-stocked library’ a reader would need to track down all the references would need to contain fewer than 20 books. It was a conscious policy to limit references to as few books as possible (and preferably easily available ones) in order to increase the possibility of an interested reader being able to locate them and delve further into the subject. I would expect (or at least hope) a decent philosophy section of a library to have a copy of Inwood and Gerson’s Hellenistic Philosophy: introductory readings (2nd edn, 1997). Consequently, while I understand, regret and apologise for the frustration of classicists at the incomplete references, classicists are not the book’s only potential readers. Finally, I would note that none of the ‘more comprehensive introductions’ to the area J mentions (listed in the book as recommendations for further reading) does justice to the Cynics, and some fail even to mention them.