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Common Themes in Greek Philosophy: Plato, Democritus, Xenophon, and Epicurus

If you are unsure of Greek philosophy, you may wish to read up on the works of Plato, Democritus, Xenophon, and Epicurus. The four philosophers of Greek philosophy have shaped the way we think about the world. Each philosopher has a unique approach to the world, and their philosophy differs somewhat from the next. However, there are some common themes that appear throughout their writings. These common themes are discussed in the sections below.


The use of myths in Plato’s philosophy is well-known. The Greek philosopher believed that few people could follow philosophical discourses without being attracted to the story behind the words. His use of myths in his work conveyed his philosophical reasoning by using traditional and invented myths. Notable Plato myths include the Myth of Er and the story of Atlantis. In the Allegory of the Cave, he refers to the nature of the human soul, which is essentially a mythical representation of the human condition.

The dialogues of Plato deal with many issues related to human and political virtue. Socrates’ characters have distinctive personalities. Some have friends, while others have enemies. Socrates is no exception. In the Apology, he disparages sophists and jabs at the sophist Prodicus. The enlightened man stumbles in a court. His dialogues have a strong political undertone and are often considered to be one of the best-known works of Greek philosophy.

Socrates’ work is rooted in Greek philosophy, but its ideas are not necessarily based in this language. In the Republic, he outlines the relationship between man and society. Humans can have moral and spiritual virtues as long as they are in touch with their soul. The “good” is the highest object of the “Intelligible World” and corresponds to states of knowledge and thinking. The Good, according to Plato, is the highest object of human knowledge and is the source of all other forms.


One of the greatest philosophers in Greek history was Democritus, who lived around 460 to 370 B.C.E. He wondered about the natural world and came up with an important concept: everything has an atom. In order to understand this idea, Democritus divided a piece of cheese into small pieces and named them atomos, meaning “uncuttable.” This concept was later echoed by other philosophers, including Leucippus, Zeno of Elea, and Parmenides.

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The philosopher Democritus is famous for his observations about the nature of shapes. He proved that cones and pyramids contain one-third of their volume. However, his mathematical proofs are derived from other works, and they contain extensive citations to other works. Some of his greatest ideas have survived into the modern world, such as the theory of shape, chemistry, and the nature of gravity. Democritus’ theories are still popular, even today.

While studying with Leucippus, Democritus was also influential in the development of atomist philosophy. Leucippus, a contemporary of Democritus, wrote two books about atomism. Democritus would later develop this theory into the idea of an atomic universe. However, despite his numerous contributions to science, it is unknown what exactly he said about space, and what it means for the universe.


Xenophon’s works are divided into five parts: the first, historical context, the second, individual works, literary techniques, and an epilogue by Edith Hall. Her essay-style approach to Xenophon offers a series of rich insights and useful methods for studying his works. The volume concludes with an epilogue that continues the conversation about Xenophon’s reception. This is a valuable resource for students and scholars of ancient philosophy.

The political philosophy of Xenophon is a matter of interpretation. Critics have theorized that the relationship between Xenophon and the Spartans influenced his political views, causing him to turn away from democracy in Athenian society and become allegiant to the absolute monarchy. Yet this is only one of several possible interpretations. Aside from the political philosophy of Xenophon, this philosopher’s work is interesting for describing the development of a political system.

While the Anabasis, a book by Xenophon about Cyrus’ expedition, invites readers to judge the virtue of Cyrus based on the story. Xenophon describes the transformation of old Persia, which bears similarities to Spartan culture, into the empire of Cyrus. However, his presentation of Cyrus’ education contains important lacunae. Although he specifies that these years were his most important time for education, Xenophon never reveals exactly what Cyrus learned.

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In Epicurus’s view, the soul is composed of atoms and has no independent existence outside of the body. Its texture is too delicate to exist independently, so it is necessary to maintain a connection with the body in order to experience sensations. Because the soul cannot be separate from the body, there can be no punishment or regret for a life lost. This view is fundamental to contemporary philosophy and can be seen in the work of the philosopher-scientist Sedley.

Although his work is rarely quoted in full, portions of it do survive in other texts. In particular, Diogenes’ “Principal Beliefs” and “Principles” are excerpts from Epicurus’ works, and the latter survive in a surviving independent manuscript. Epicureanism was widely popular, so much so that it influenced the development of Western philosophy. The main sources of Epicurean philosophy include Diogenes’ Lives of Eminent Philosophers, and the Arrighetti 1973 and Ramelli 2002 collections. Both of these compilations are fairly comprehensive, but they often include excerpts from other works.

For Epicurus, the ultimate goal of human life is happiness. Thus, the greatest pleasures of life are those that do not involve painful absence. Epicurus equates ataraxy with freedom from physical pain. The philosopher’s view was ultimately influenced by his own experiences, and he sought to reaffirm his own views. Therefore, the work of Epicurus is largely a compilation of his own philosophy, as well as the work of others.

Diogenes the Cynic

Diogenes the Cynic was a famous philosopher from the ancient world who wrote some of the most influential works of Greek philosophy. Born in the Ionian colony of Sinope, a town on the Black Sea coast of Turkey, Diogenes influenced the development of philosophy in a wide variety of ways. He was called “Diogenes the Cynic”, “the dog,” and “the fanatic.” While born into a wealthy family, he was exiled from his home city of Sinope after debasing its currency.

Among other things, he rejected authority, and advocated a simpler life. The philosopher also believed that women’s genitalia aren’t obscene but war and poverty are. Many hippies found Marcuse’s philosophy appealing, and he was influenced by Foucault. Today, we can find scholars who argue that Diogenes is relevant to our society today.

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Cynicism has many similarities with Christianity. It promotes the abandonment of worldly goods and the disparaging of the rich. Cynicism was popular among Hellenized cities, such as Gadara, and Cynicism is often associated with this philosophy. It is easy to think of Diogenes as a pessimist, but he earned the respect of other philosophers and Alexander the Great.

Diogenes the Cynic was known as a “Cynic philosopher” because of his emphasis on direct verbal interaction with fellow humans. One of his famous writing tablets is a famous example of this. His life was as much philosophical as his texts. This makes him a fascinating philosopher to study. Diogenes’ writings and life are among the most influential works of Greek philosophy. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle were all highly influential in the development of philosophy.


Many philosophers trace their philosophical heritage to the ancient Greek mathematician Pythagoras. However, Pythagoreanism grew in popularity during the later part of the fourth century BCE and likely died out in the mid-fourth century BCE. Aristotle and others introduced the Pythagoreans to the world in different ways. While it is unknown if Aristotle knew about Pythagoras before his time, it is thought that he was familiar with the concept through oral transmission.

Although it is unclear when Pythagoras’ teachings came to be widely known, the early history of this philosophy is influenced by the work of Hippasus. He was an important figure in the history of Pythagoreanism, and his tradition suggests that even in the fifth century, Pythagoras’ teachings were already regarded as having a mathematical dimension. Hippasus was probably a philosopher from Croton and Metapontum, and he was referred to under the names Sybaris and Polyplaton.

The pseudepigrapha attributed to Pythagoras were written by two separate authors. The pseudepigrapha of Simus and Ocellus of Lucania are both attributed to Pythagoras. Although Iamblichus lists two authors named Timaeus, they do not belong to the same city. The pseudepigrapha of the era are also attributed to both men.