Ancient Greek language & the first philosophers

We will discuss some key fragments of the first philosophers whose discovery of the meaning of nature began the traditions of philosophical and scientific inquiry that influence Plato, Aristotle and beyond.

Taught by Martin Black in collaboration with the Independent School of Philosophy

  • Six weekly small-group sessions suitable for beginners
  • Including an elementary introduction to the ancient Greek language
  • No previous knowledge of the Greek alphabet or the Greek language is required.
  • No previous knowledge of these philosophers is required.
  • All course materials will be provided in PDFs for each class.


This class will likely run again in 2022. Watch this space for details or subscribe to our blog.


Course Outline

First Session | Nature and the discovery of philosophy and science

We will discuss some of the surviving testimonies of the thought of Thales, who is reputed to be the first philosopher.
We will also begin with the Greek alphabet and some key words.

Second Session | “The ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry”

We will discuss some fragments of Anaximander and Xenophanes and their attempts to replace the prior understanding of wisdom given by the poets.
We will begin to study the different forms of Greek verbs and nouns and some syntax basics.

Third Session | Nature and custom, logos (reason) and mythos (myth, narrative)

We will read key fragments of Heraclitus, the first thinker who used the word “philosophy” and whose uncanny description of a world in flux that somehow has an intelligible order has attracted sustained attention from Socrates to Heidegger.

Fourth Session | Nature and the question of being

Parmenides changed the character of philosophy by raising the fundamental question: What is being?

Fifth Session | Nature, mind and mathematics

We will study the key philosophers Philolaus and Anaxagoras whose advances proved important for later philosophy. Aristotle said that Anaxagoras was like a sober man amongst drunks.

Sixth Session | Nature and self-knowledge

We will read a pivotal excerpt from Plato’s Phaedo, where Socrates explains why his initial passionate interest in the philosophising of his predecessors exposed problems that led to his own dialectical approach to philosophy.