Hellenistic philosophy

Hellenistic philosophy is the period of Western philosophy that was developed in the Hellenistic period following Aristotle and ending with the beginning of Neoplatonism.

Hellenistic schools of thought


Pythagoreanism is the name given to the system of philosophy and science developed by Pythagoras, which influenced nearly all the systems of Hellenistic philosophy that followed. Two schools of Pythagorean thought eventually developed; one based largely on mathematics and continuing his line of scientific work, while the other focused on his metaphysical teachings, though each shared a part of the other.


In Ancient Greece, the sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching aretê—excellence, or virtue—predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.


The Cynics were an ascetic sect of philosophers beginning with Antisthenes in the 4th century BC and continuing until the 5th century AD. They believed that one should live a life of Virtue in agreement with Nature. This meant rejecting all conventional desires for wealth, power, health, or celebrity, and living a life free from possessions.


The Cyrenaics were a hedonist school of philosophy founded in the fourth century BC by Aristippus, who was a student of Socrates. They held that pleasure was the supreme good, especially immediate gratifications; and that people could only know their own experiences, beyond that truth was unknowable.


Platonism is the name given to the philosophy of Plato, which was maintained and developed by his followers. The central concept was the theory of forms: the transcendent, perfect archetypes, of which objects in the everyday world are imperfect copies. The highest form was the Form of the Good, the source of being, which could be known by reason. In the 3rd century BC, Arcesilaus adopted skepticism, which became a central tenet of the school until 90 BC when Antiochus added Stoic elements, rejecting skepticism. With the adoption of oriental mysticism in the third century AD, Platonism evolved into Neoplatonism.


The Peripatetic school was the name given to the philosophers who maintained and developed the philosophy of Aristotle. They advocated examination of the world to understand the ultimate foundation of things. The goal of life was the happiness which originated from virtuous actions, which consisted in keeping the mean between the two extremes of the too much and the too little.


Pyrrhonism is a school of philosophical skepticism that originated with Pyrrho in the 3rd century BC, and was further advanced by Aenesidemus in the 1st century BC. Its objective is ataraxia (being mentally unperturbed), which is achieved through epoché (i.e. suspension of judgment) about non-evident matters (i.e., matters of belief).


Epicureanism was founded by Epicurus in the 3rd century BC. It viewed the universe as being ruled by chance, with no interference from gods. It regarded absence of pain as the greatest pleasure, and advocated a simple life. It was the main rival to Stoicism until both philosophies died out in the 3rd century AD.


Paolo Monti - Servizio fotografico (Napoli, 1969) - BEIC 6353768
Zeno of Citium (333–263 BC), the founder of Stoicism

Stoicism was founded by Zeno of Citium in the 3rd century BC. Based on the ethical ideas of the Cynics, it taught that the goal of life was to live in accordance with Nature. It advocated the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions.


Eclecticism was a system of philosophy which adopted no single set of doctrines but selected from existing philosophical beliefs those doctrines that seemed most reasonable. Its most notable advocate was Cicero.

Hellenistic Judaism

Hellenistic Judaism was an attempt to establish the Jewish religious tradition within the culture and language of Hellenism. Its principal representative was Philo of Alexandria.


Neopythagoreanism was a school of philosophy reviving Pythagorean doctrines, which was prominent in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD. It was an attempt to introduce a religious element into Greek philosophy, worshipping God by living an ascetic life, ignoring bodily pleasures and all sensuous impulses, to purify the soul.

Hellenistic Christianity

Hellenistic Christianity was the attempt to reconcile Christianity with Greek philosophy, beginning in the late 2nd century. Drawing particularly on Platonism and the newly emerging Neoplatonism, figures such as Clement of Alexandria sought to provide Christianity with a philosophical framework.


Neoplatonism, or Plotinism, was a school of religious and mystical philosophy founded by Plotinus in the 3rd century AD and based on the teachings of Plato and the other Platonists. The summit of existence was the One or the Good, the source of all things. In virtue and meditation the soul had the power to elevate itself to attain union with the One, the true function of human beings. It was the main rival to Christianity until dying out in the 6th century.

See also


  • A. A. Long, D. N. Sedley (eds.), The Hellenistic Philosophers (2 vols, Cambridge University Press, 1987)
  • Giovanni Reale, The Systems of the Hellenistic Age: History of Ancient Philosophy (Suny Series in Philosophy), edited and translated from Italian by John R. Catan, Albany, State of New York University Press, 1985, ISBN 0887060080.

External links

Ancient Greek philosophy

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Ancient Greece was part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.Greek philosophy has influenced much of Western culture since its inception. Alfred North Whitehead once noted: "The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato". Clear, unbroken lines of influence lead from ancient Greek and Hellenistic philosophers to Early Islamic philosophy, the European Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.Some claim that Greek philosophy was in turn influenced by the older wisdom literature and mythological cosmogonies of the ancient Near East, though this is debated. Martin Litchfield West gives qualified assent to this view by stating that "contact with oriental cosmology and theology helped to liberate the early Greek philosophers' imagination; it certainly gave them many suggestive ideas. But they taught themselves to reason. Philosophy as we understand it is a Greek creation".Subsequent philosophic tradition was so influenced by Socrates as presented by Plato that it is conventional to refer to philosophy developed prior to Socrates as pre-Socratic philosophy. The periods following this, up to and after the wars of Alexander the Great, are those of "classical Greek" and "Hellenistic" philosophy.

Ancient philosophy

This page lists some links to ancient philosophy. In Western philosophy, the spread of Christianity in the Roman Empire marked the ending of Hellenistic philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of Medieval philosophy, whereas in Eastern philosophy, the spread of Islam through the Arab Empire marked the end of Old Iranian philosophy and ushered in the beginnings of early Islamic philosophy.

Cappadocian Fathers

The Cappadocian Fathers, also traditionally known as the Three Cappadocians, are Basil the Great (330–379), who was bishop of Caesarea; Basil's younger brother Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335 – c. 395), who was bishop of Nyssa; and a close friend, Gregory of Nazianzus (329–389), who became Patriarch of Constantinople. The Cappadocia region, in modern-day Turkey, was an early site of Christian activity, with several missions by Paul in this region.

The Cappadocians advanced the development of early Christian theology, for example the doctrine of the Trinity, and are highly respected as saints in both Western and Eastern churches.

Christianity and Hellenistic philosophy

Christianity and Hellenistic philosophies experienced complex interactions during the first to the fourth centuries.

As Christianity spread throughout the Hellenic world, an increasing number of church leaders were educated in Greek philosophy. The dominant philosophical traditions of the Greco-Roman world then were Stoicism, Platonism, and Epicureanism. Stoicism and, particularly, Platonism were readily incorporated into Christian ethics and Christian theology.

Clement of Alexandria

Titus Flavius Clemens, also known as Clement of Alexandria (Greek: Κλήμης ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς; c. 150 – c. 215), was a Christian theologian who taught at the Catechetical School of Alexandria. A convert to Christianity, he was an educated man who was familiar with classical Greek philosophy and literature. As his three major works demonstrate, Clement was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy to a greater extent than any other Christian thinker of his time, and in particular by Plato and the Stoics. His secret works, which exist only in fragments, suggest that he was also familiar with pre-Christian Jewish esotericism and Gnosticism. In one of his works he argued that Greek philosophy had its origin among non-Greeks, claiming that both Plato and Pythagoras were taught by Egyptian scholars. Among his pupils were Origen and Alexander of Jerusalem.

Clement is usually regarded as a Church Father. He is venerated as a saint in Coptic Christianity, Ethiopian Christianity and Anglicanism. He was previously revered in the Roman Catholic Church, but his name was removed from the Roman Martyrology in 1586 by Pope Sixtus V on the advice of Baronius.

Greek hero cult

Hero cults were one of the most distinctive features of ancient Greek religion. In Homeric Greek, "hero" (ἥρως, hḗrōs) refers to a man who fought (on either side) during the Trojan War. By the historical period, however, the word came to mean specifically a dead man, venerated and propitiated at his tomb or at a designated shrine, because his fame during life or his unusual manner of death gave him power to support and protect the living. A hero was more than human but less than a god, and various kinds of supernatural figures came to be assimilated to the class of heroes; the distinction between a hero and a god was less than certain, especially in the case of Heracles, the most prominent, but atypical hero.The grand ruins and tumuli remaining from the Bronze Age gave the pre-literate Greeks of the 10th and 9th centuries BC a sense of a grand and vanished age; they reflected this in the oral epic tradition, which would crystallize in the Iliad. Copious renewed offerings begin to be represented, after a hiatus, at sites like Lefkandi, even though the names of the grandly buried dead were hardly remembered. "Stories began to be told to individuate the persons who were now believed to be buried in these old and imposing sites", observes Robin Lane Fox.

Hellenistic astrology

Hellenistic astrology is a tradition of horoscopic astrology that was developed and practiced in the late Hellenistic period in and around the Mediterranean region, especially in Egypt. The texts and technical terminology of this tradition of astrology were largely written in Greek (or sometimes Latin). The tradition originated sometime around the late 2nd or early 1st century BCE, and then was practiced until the 6th or 7th century CE. This type of astrology is commonly referred to as "Hellenistic astrology" because it was developed in the late Hellenistic period, although it continued to be practiced for several centuries after the end of what historians usually classify as the Hellenistic era.

Hellenistic religion

Hellenistic religion is the late form of Ancient Greek religion, covering any of the various systems of beliefs and practices of the people who lived under the influence of ancient Greek culture during the Hellenistic period and the Roman Empire (c. 300 BCE to 300 CE). There was much continuity in Hellenistic religion: the Greek gods continued to be worshipped, and the same rites were practiced as before.

Change came from the addition of new religions from other countries, including the Egyptian deities Isis and Serapis, and the Syrian gods Atargatis and Hadad, which provided a new outlet for people seeking fulfillment in both the present life and the afterlife. The worship of Hellenistic rulers was also a feature of this period, most notably in Egypt, where the Ptolemies adapted earlier Egyptian practice and Greek hero cults and established themselves as Pharaohs within the new syncretic Ptolemaic cult of Alexander the Great. Elsewhere, rulers might receive divine status without the full status of a god.

Magic was practiced widely, and this too, was a continuation from earlier times. Throughout the Hellenistic world, people would consult oracles, and use charms and figurines to deter misfortune or to cast spells. Also developed in this era was the complex system of astrology, which sought to determine a person's character and future in the movements of the sun, moon, and planets. The systems of Hellenistic philosophy, such as Stoicism and Epicureanism, offered an alternative to traditional religion, even if their impact was largely limited to the educated elite.

Hypostasis (philosophy and religion)

Hypostasis (Greek: ὑπόστασις) is the underlying state or underlying substance and is the fundamental reality that supports all else. In Neoplatonism the hypostasis of the soul, the intellect (nous) and "the one" was addressed by Plotinus.

In Christian theology, a hypostasis is one of the three hypostases (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) of the Trinity.


Logos (UK: , US: ; Ancient Greek: λόγος, translit. lógos; from λέγω, légō, lit. 'I say') is a term in Western philosophy, psychology, rhetoric, and religion derived from a Greek word variously meaning "ground", "plea", "opinion", "expectation", "word", "speech", "account", "reason", "proportion", and "discourse". It became a technical term in Western philosophy beginning with Heraclitus (c.  535 – c.  475 BC), who used the term for a principle of order and knowledge.Ancient Greek philosophers used the term in different ways. The sophists used the term to mean discourse. Aristotle applied the term to refer to "reasoned discourse" or "the argument" in the field of rhetoric, and considered it one of the three modes of persuasion alongside ethos and pathos. Pyrrhonist philosophers used the term to refer to dogmatic accounts of non-evident matters. The Stoics spoke of the logos spermatikos (the generative principle of the Universe) which foreshadows related concepts in Neoplatonism.Within Hellenistic Judaism, Philo (c.  20 BC – c.  50 AD) adopted the term into Jewish philosophy.

Philo distinguished between logos prophorikos ("the uttered word") and the logos endiathetos ("the word remaining within").The Gospel of John identifies the Christian Logos, through which all things are made, as divine (theos), and further identifies Jesus Christ as the incarnate Logos. Early translators of the Greek New Testament such as Jerome (in the 4th century AD) were frustrated by the inadequacy of any single Latin word to convey the meaning of the word logos as used to describe Jesus Christ in the Gospel of John. The Vulgate Bible usage of in principio erat verbum was thus constrained to use the (perhaps inadequate) noun verbum for "word", but later Romance language translations had the advantage of nouns such as le mot in French. Reformation translators took another approach. Martin Luther rejected Zeitwort (verb) in favor of Wort (word), for instance, although later commentators repeatedly turned to a more dynamic use involving the living word as felt by Jerome and Augustine. The term is also used in Sufism, and the analytical psychology of Carl Jung.

Despite the conventional translation as "word", it is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις, léxis) was used. However, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb légō (λέγω), meaning "(I) count, tell, say, speak".

Neoplatonism and Christianity

Neoplatonism was a major influence on Christian theology throughout Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages in the West. This was due to St. Augustine of Hippo, who was influenced by the early Neoplatonists Plotinus and Porphyry, as well as the works of the Christian writer Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, who was influenced by later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus and Damascius.

Neoplatonism and Gnosticism

Gnosticism refers to a collection of religious groups originating in Jewish religiosity in Alexandria in the first few centuries CE. Neoplatonism was a school of Hellenistic philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century, based on the teachings of Plato and some of his early followers. While Gnosticism was influenced by Middle Platonism, neo-Platonists from the third century onward rejected Gnosticism.


Neopythagoreanism (or Neo-Pythagoreanism) was a school of Hellenistic philosophy which revived Pythagorean doctrines.

Neopythagoreanism was influenced by Middle Platonism and in turn influenced Neoplatonism. It originated in the 1st century BCE and flourished during the 1st and 2nd centuries CE. The 1911 Britannica describes Neopythagoreanism as "a link in the chain between the old and the new" within Hellenistic philosophy.

As such, it contributed to the doctrine of monotheism as it emerged during Late Antiquity (among other things influencing early Christianity). Central to Neopythagorean thought was the concept of a soul and its inherent desire for a unio mystica with the divine.The word "Neopythagoreanism" is a modern (19th century) term, coined as a parallel of "Neoplatonism".


Ousia (; Greek: οὐσία) is a philosophical and theological term, originally used in Ancient Greek philosophy, and also in Christian theology. It was used by various Ancient Greek philosophers, like Plato and Aristotle, as a primary designation for philosophical concepts of essence or substance. In contemporary philosophy, it is analogous to English concepts of being and ontic. In Christian theology, the concept of θεία ουσία (divine essence) is one of the most important doctrinal concepts, central to the development of trinitarian doctrine.The Ancient Greek term Ousia was translated in Latin as essentia or substantia, and hence in English as essence or substance.

Peregrinus Proteus

Peregrinus Proteus (Greek: Περεγρῖνος Πρωτεύς; c. 95 – 165 AD) was a Greek Cynic philosopher, from Parium in Mysia. Leaving home at a young age, he first lived with the Christians in Palestine, before eventually being expelled from that community and adopting the life of a Cynic philosopher and eventually settling in Greece. He is most remembered for committing suicide after giving his own funeral oration, cremating himself on a funeral pyre at the Olympic Games in 165. By 180 AD, a statue of Peregrinus had been erected in his home city of Parium; it was reputed to have oracular powers.


Soter derives from the Greek epithet σωτήρ (sōtēr), meaning a saviour, a deliverer; initial capitalised Σωτήρ; fully capitalised ΣΩΤΗΡ; feminine Soteria (Σωτηρία).

Soter has been used as:

as a title of gods: Poseidon Soter, Zeus Soter, Dionysus Soter, Apollo Soter, Athena Soteria, Asclepius Soteri, and Hecate Soteria.

as the name of a distinct mythical figure, Soter (daimon)

any heroized or deified leaders of Hellenistic dynasties, see Hellenistic ruler cult:

Antigonus Monophthalmus, awarded the title for liberating Athens from Cassander

Ptolemy I Soter of Egypt (reigned 323-283 BCE)

Antiochus I Soter of the Seleucid Empire (reigned 281-261 BCE)

Demetrius I Soter of the Seleucid Empire (reigned 161-150 BCE)

Diomedes Soter

Dionysios Soter

Polyxenos Epiphanes Soter

Rabbel II Soter

Attalus I

Seleucus III Ceraunus

Ptolemy IX

Diodotus I

Strato II

Strato I

Menander I

as a title of liberators (see also eleutherios (disambiguation)

a title of Jesus of Nazareth, most particularly in the fish acronym

Pope Soter, r. ca. 167-174.

Stoic passions

Stoic passions are various forms of emotional suffering in Stoicism, a school of Hellenistic philosophy.

Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta

Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta is a collection by Hans von Arnim of fragments and testimonia of the earlier Stoics, published in 1903–1905 as part of the Bibliotheca Teubneriana. It includes the fragments and testimonia of Zeno of Citium, Chrysippus and their immediate followers. At first the work consisted of three volumes, to which Maximilian Adler in 1924 added a fourth, containing general indices. Teubner reprinted the whole work in 1964.

The golden verses of Pythagoras

The Golden Verses of Pythagoras (Greek: Χρύσεα Ἔπη, Chrysea Epê; Latin: Aurea Carmina) are a collection of moral exhortations. They comprise 71 lines written in dactylic hexameter verse and are traditionally attributed to Pythagoras.

The exact origins of the Golden Verses are unknown and there are varying opinions regarding their dating. It appears that the verses may have been known as early as the third century BCE but their existence as we know them cannot be confirmed prior to the fifth century CE.The Golden Verses enjoyed great popularity and were widely distributed in late antiquity, being often quoted. Their renown persisted during the medieval ages and into the Renaissance. In 1494 the Neoplatonic Greek scholar Constantine Lascaris published in a famous printed edition of his Grammatica, deliberately, the Golden Verses translated into Latin, thereby bringing them to a widespread audience.The Neoplatonists used the Golden Verses as part of their preparatory program of moral instruction, and a number of Neoplatonic commentaries on the verses are extant. The commentary of the Neoplatonist Hierocles of Alexandria on the Golden Verses was first translated into French by André Dacier (1706) and then into English by Nicholas Rowe (1707); a recent English translation is by Schibli (2002).The most recent scholarly edition of the Golden Verses is by Thom (1994), who supplies a new English translation.


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