Byzantine Philosophy and Its Ancient Sources

By Katerina Ierodiakonou | Go to book overview

I
Greek-Latin Philosophical
Interaction

STEN EBBESEN


Introduction

In antiquity Europe was divided into a Greek and a Latin zone of influence. The limits of the Greek zone had been established about 300 BC. In the eastern Mediterranean Greek was the language of all central and much local administration, and it functioned as a lingua franca for all sorts of purposes. The Roman conquest changed nothing in that regard: it just put a wafer-thin layer of Latin administration on top of the Greek, and after less than a millennium that thin layer had worn off. But in the West, which prior to the advent of the Roman legions had no international language of administration, commerce, and higher culture, Latin filled the vacuum and obtained the role that Greek had in the East.

It makes sense to see a lot of European history, political and cultural alike, as a meeting between two cultures defined by the use of the Greek and the Latin language, respectively. This is the perspective that I now want to apply to the history of philosophy.1 But it is only in a very long perspective that we can talk about the Greek and the Latin cultures as entities of the same rank. For most of history one of them has been dominant.

There was the time when the Latin world was in most matters at the receiving end. While avidly absorbing as much Greek culture as they possibly could, Romans like Cato the Elder would stiffen their sagging self-esteem by calling Greeks Grœculi and extolling the superior virtues of mos maiorum. There came a time when the Greek world was in most matters at the receiving

1 Proper documentation of the claims made in this article would require a book-length bibliography. References in the footnotes below will generally regard lesser known/accessible scholarly works and/or details rather than broad issues. Some general help, especially on the medieval Latin material, may be found in Kretzmann et al. (1982); Dronke (1988); De Libera (1993); Ebbesen (1995). I have compared certain aspects of the Byzantine and Latin traditions in Ebbesen (1992, 1996a).

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