Index of Greek Terms

aretê praxis
logos New! theoria
mythos New!
I have in mind a glossary of Greek terms, since my understanding of Greek is largely self-taught, and hard fought for. And since I tend to talk about the Greeks regularly, I thought this might make it easier for others. I intend to pool the resources I have available--explication of the terms is largely a selection of passages from books I happen to have on my shelf. These are what I learned from, so now it's a little more public for others to peruse.

This is a work in progress, so the list will expand, and old terms will be returned to as I find more bits to include and round out what is there. The object is to give a wide selection of authority, so not all the scholars will agree with each other. Conflict, in this case, is good to get a sense of scholarly controversy, which gives an amateur, like ourselves, a better sense of how far we might go in our meandering through the material.

One note on the Greek spelling: this is all cobbled together, none of it from any kind of teaching I've received. One of the difficulties of reading ancient Greek for an amateur is that, when you read writings from over a 100 year span, a single word evolves in its "look" as scholarship evolves (ideally, becomes better and better). Just as around the age of fifteen, I learned that Chiang Kai-shek was now Xiang Kai-shek, so we learn that the proper transliteration of Greek letters into Roman is not "Socrates," because Greek does not have a "C," but actually "Sokrates." However, the weight of tradition bears down, and no English-speaking classicist I've read actually spells it that way. Not so with other words however, as I learn that a "Y" is actually a "U": its neither "mythos" nor "physis," but "muthos" and "phusis" (so far as I can figure). And that's not even talking about the accents above the Roman versions, and let alone the proper Greek spellings (which themselves have changed as versions of the ancient texts have gotten better).

Because of all that, I've taken no principled measures at standardization, for how could I: the whole exercise is built out of my lack of professional training and knowledge, which is the only thing that would give me some principles to go by. Instead, I've done this--except in the case of aretê (which is Nehamas' version), I've eliminated all accents in my Roman transliterations. I have then used that single transliteration for all occurrences in passages I've chosen, thus giving the appearance of scholastic continuity. The reason for choosing one transliteration over another, however, is purely ad hoc: the weight of tradition (and most of my books) gives me still yet "mythos," but I like Hadot and he uses "phusis."

I'm intending to use, roughly, four different kinds of scholars. 1) The out-dated scholar (e.g., Zeller, Snell, Dodds)--these are the authorities who taught; 2) the current scholar (e.g., Nehamas, Vlastos, Nussbaum)--these are people, though sometimes now dead (Vlastos), are still presiding authorities in the field (as far as I can tell); 3) the scholarly philosopher (e.g., Bernard Williams, MacIntyre, Charles Taylor, Rorty)--these are people more interested in their own projects then "getting the Greeks right," but still produce fascinating insight into the Greeks and how they might be relevant today; 4) people lower down the foodchain--some you can tell more rely on other people's authority in their Greek explication (like me), some are scholars that I've never heard of from other scholars (and so, as far as I can tell, they are less authoritative figures). But they still tie together stuff interestingly and usefully sometimes.

I have two notes to the above:

1) All seven of the examples in (2) and (3) are professional philosophers, by which I mean none of them are classicists, in the strict sense, who should be my standard 2-types as opposed to 3-types. Nehamas, Vlastos, and Nussbaum I think all count (based on their work) and my only trouble is holding Williams off into (3), when a good demarcation point would be, say, "Has the person given the Sather Classical Lectures (one of the top honors for a classicist)?" Nehamas has, but then so has Williams. I hold Williams over into (3), though, partly as fanciful retribution for his jerky attitude to Rorty over all those years (it would pain him to be classed so), but mainly because I find that while Williams' cavalier ironing out of cultural differences serves him well in dealing, e.g., with some of Snell's more extravagant claims about the Greek Mind, I'm also not sure he allows for as much difference as there is (which is a tricky question he was certain to acknowledge). For people familiar with Rorty's categories, (2)-people are intellectual historians and historical reconstructors, while (3)-people are rational reconstructors and Geistesgeschichte-writers.

2) There are two people I foresee including that fall outside my four types: Heidegger and Walter Kaufmann. In Heidegger's case, it is well known that he talked a lot about Greek words, but willfully shaped them for his own purposes. He's a hyper-(3), and so I wish to be very explicit--take him as an historical authority at your own risk. He is very interesting, however.

Kaufmann's case is the opposite--I know very little about Kaufmann's place in the academic power-grid known as "authority." I've pieced together quite a bit about a lot of people from all sorts of different avenues, but Kaufmann is a virtual blank space. What I do know is that he was the authority on Nietzsche for a long time (comparable to Vlastos on Socrates and Plato). I think he was well-respected on Hegel. But otherwise, he was a maverick philosopher, who had a certain sort of--well, contempt for fellow professional philosophers. I have never found reference to his work on the Greeks, despite the fact that I find a lot of nourishment in them. So I'm including them, but I have no idea in what frame we should read them. One thing I do know is that Kaufmann, Vlastos, and Rorty all taught at Princeton at the same time (and Nehamas, I'm pretty sure, took classes from all three while there), and my guess is that Rorty--who was hired by Vlastos to teach Greek philosophy--over the course of his 15 some years there strayed from Vlastos (the consummate professional) to Kaufmann (the maverick, continental-lover). That's just my guess.

In addition to the Greek, I will also include when I can a Latin equivalent, culled from the helpful glossary Richard McKeon (the infamous Chairman of ZMM) appended to his Selections From Medieval Philosophers, Vol. II. He says there that the glossary's purpose "is to clarify the terms and distinctions used in the preceding translations." (422) This means that information he provides is in part conditioned by the scholastic tradition of philosophy, rather than common usage. As he says, the "writers in the middle ages had constantly in mind detailed distinctions and precise usages." (He also mentions that his selections, which determine the relevant list of terms, have focused on epistemology and logic, rather than ethics, politics, theology, metaphysics, and physics.) Since Greek philosophy has in part been handed to us through Latin mediators, I thought it would be useful to supply where possible some of the interconnections (and disconnects) between our Greek and Latin heritages.


Arendt, Hannah. The Human Condition. 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1958, 1998. (theoria)

Bloom, Allan. The Republic of Plato. Trans. with notes and interpretive essay. (New York: Basic Books), 1968. (aretê, logos, mythos)

Cornford, F. M. The Republic of Plato. Trans. with introduction and notes. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1941, 1945. (mythos)

Crisp, Roger. "Logos" in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Ed. Robert Audi. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1995, 1999. (logos)

De George, Richard T. "Praxis" in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. ed. Ted Honderich. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1995. (praxis)

Dent, Nicholas. "Logos" in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. ed. Ted Honderich. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1995. (logos)

Dodds, E. R. The Greeks and the Irrational. (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1951. (aretê)

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. The Idea of the Good in Platonic-Aristotelian Philosophy. trans. P. Christopher Smith. (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1978, 1986. (theoria)

-- --. Praise of Theory. trans. Chris Dawson. (New Haven: Yale University Press), 1983, 1998. (logos, mythos, praxis, theoria)

-- --. Truth and Method. 2nd rev. ed. 1st ed. trans. W. Glen-Doepel, 2nd ed. rev. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. (New York: Continuum), 1960, 1975, 1986, 1989. (theoria)

Guthrie, W. K. C. The Sophists. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1969, 1971. (aretê)

Hadot, Pierre. What Is Ancient Philosophy? trans. Michael Chase. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), 1995, 2002. (aretê, theoria)

Hallie, Philip P. "Carneades" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 2. ed. Paul Edwards. (New York: Macmillan Publishing), 1967. (theoria)

Harrison, Jane Ellen. Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. Rev. with additional chapters by Gilbert Murray and F. M. Cornford. (Cleveland: Meridian Books), 1912, 1927. (mythos)

Jaeger, Werner. Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, 3 vols. trans. Gilbert Highet. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1939, 1945, 1965. (aretê, theoria)

Kennedy, George A. On Rhetoric. (New York: Oxford University Press), 1991. (logos, theoria)

Kerferd, G. B. "Aretê/Agathon/Kakon" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 1. ed. Paul Edwards. (New York: Macmillan Publishing), 1967. (aretê)

-- --. "Logos" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 5. ed. Paul Edwards. (New York: Macmillan Publishing), 1967. (logos)

Kidd, I. G. "Socrates" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7. ed. Paul Edwards. (New York: Macmillan Publishing), 1967. (aretê)

Lee, Desmond. Plato: The Republic. 2nd Ed. Rev. Trans. with introduction. (Baltimore: Penguin Books), 1955, 1974. (mythos)

McDowell, John. Plato: Theaetetus Trans. with notes. (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1973. (logos)

McKeon, Richard. Ed. and Trans. Selections From Medieval Philosophers, Vol. II. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons), 193, 1958. (aretê, logos, praxis, theoria)

Nehamas, Alexander. The Art of Living. (Berkeley: University of California Press), 1998. (aretê)

Pembroke, S. G. "Myth" in The Legacy of Greece: A New Appraisal. Ed. M. I. Finley. (Oxford: Clarendon Press), 1981. (mythos)

Randall, John Herman, Jr. Aristotle. (New York: Columbia University Press), 1960. (logos, theoria)

Ryle, Gilbert. "Plato" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 6. ed. Paul Edwards. (New York: Macmillan Publishing), 1967. (logos)

Saunders, Trevor J. "Plato's Later Political Thought" in The Cambridge Companion to Plato. ed. Richard Kraut. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1992. (aretê)

Schrag, Calvin O. "Praxis" in The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. 2nd ed. Ed. Robert Audi. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), 1995, 1999. (praxis)

Snell, Bruno. The Discovery of the Mind in Greek Philosophy and Literature. trans. T. G. Rosenmeyer. (New York: Dover Publications), 1948, 1953, 1982. (aretê)

Stokes, Michael C. "Heraclitus of Ephesus" in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 3. ed. Paul Edwards. (New York: Macmillan Publishing), 1967. (logos)

Vlastos, Gregory. Socrates, Ironist and Moral Philosopher. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press), 1991. (aretê)

Williams, Bernard. The Sense of the Past. ed. Myles Burnyeat. (Princeton: Princeton University Press), 2006. (aretê)