Greek Thought in English Words

Essays and Studies 1950, G. Rostrevor Hamilton (ed.)

There is so much of it, that I had better begin by defining the limited scope of this essay. I am not, then, concerned with words like drama, episode, paragraph, climax, hysteria, all of which may be considered as pointers to history in general, rather than to the history of thought in particular. Not again with little etymological poems like the “nut-leaved” (καρυὀφυλλον) gillyflower or the “swallow-wort” (χελιδόνισν) called celandine, nor with the dubious divinity latent in panic, nor the snug immortality that nods to us in the familiar tansy. All these words are derived from Greek, and so are many of those with which I shall attempt to deal; but not all. I am concerned with Greek thought, still traceable in an English words, whether or not the word itself is a Greek derivative.

On the other hand the history of Western thought is so complex and interpenetrating, that there may well be few abstract words of any sort in which omniscience, or even erudition, would fail to detect a Greek influence at some point in the historical process which produced their present-day meaning. The vocabulary of the English New Testament is an obvious example. I shall limit myself to cases in which the Greek influence is directly traceable.

The facility with which the English language goes on creating imaginary Latin and Greek words to meet the expanding needs of science and philosophy seems to me to bring with it one disadvantage. Indispensable as such comparatively recent labels as centralization, positivism, cleptomania, anaesthetic, etc, undoubtedly are, it is a pity that their increasing plethora should tend to mask the historical strength and dignity of genuine Latin and Greek formations—of old words like essence, intelligence, hypothesis, mechanics, analogy. Many educated people would be surprised at the antiquity of some of these modern-sounding terms; they would be surprised to learn that hypotenuse and isosceles date back to the misty origins of Pythagorean philosophy, while astronomy, grammatical, phenomenon, cosmogony, physical, theory, hypothesis, eclipse, and many others—that is to say the Greek compounds of which they are anglicized forms—were all in use before Plato began to teach. I propose to notice more particularly a handful of English words which owe either their origin or some essential part of their meaning to the Greek philosophers.

The first of all is, of course, philosopher itself—a word believed, according to Liddell and Scott, to have been coined by Pythagoras as a label for himself and his followers—“lovers of wisdom.” Cosmos is another example of a word which goes back to the Pythagorean school, carrying our minds along with it to the “shapeliness” and harmony which these early philosophers perceived reigning  in the universe. Among the words for which Liddell and Scott give no earlier quotation than Plato, and which may possibly, therefore, have been created by him, are antipodes (Timaeus), criterion, enthusiasm, dialectic, theology, mathematical, synthesis, and analogy, while we seem to owe to Aristotle energy, ethics, physiology, fantasy and fancy, synonym, entelechy and, of course, metaphysics—which is a mere catalogue title for the treatise written next after the Physics.

Now many of these words are extremely important landmarks in the history of consciousness, denoting as they do either new modes of intellection or a more exact and conscious application of modes already in force before their appearance. Thus, the interest is not merely philological. Examining these common English words, we are reminded, for instance, of the rapidity with which the intricacies of Greek philosophy grew up out of the old mythological outlook that preceded it; we find them indicating with some precision the gradual evolution of intellectual faculties whose enjoyment we are apt to take for granted, faculties which anthropologists will sometimes even project back into the minds of the most primitive peoples. The naturalistic theory of myth, for example, is based on the assumption that “pithecanthropus erectus” confronted a sunrise with the same sort of curiosity that the apple aroused in Newton. It is a useful imaginative exercise, therefore, to try and strip our mental apparatus of all that part of it which is due to the employment of such words by generations of intellectual forebears, and then to see what is left. We may find it difficult to conceive of a time when the logical process of observing phenomena (things “appearing” or “seen”) and forming theories to account for their relationship was unknown; yet the  semantic development of the word θεωρία from its original meaning of mere contemplation or onlooking seems to confirm that this is so; while the two words analogous and analytic, the one invented, as we may believe, by Plato and the other by Aristotle, make an excellent starting-point for an imaginative reconstruction of the whole evolution of the logical faculty.

Plato and Socrates, like most of the philosophers before them, deal with feelings and thoughts, and even words, to some extent as though they were living beings.They related them to one another in accordance with what they conceived to be their own intrinsic natures, proving their points by analogy, and by etymology (i.e. the relation between words and things); it was only later, when men began to have a different feeling of the nature of thought, and of their own relation to the thoughts which passed through their minds, that this kind of reasoning came to be criticized as mere verbal quibbling. Thus, there is really no way of translating words like λόγος, λογικός, λογίζεσθαι, as they are used by Plato. Reason is quite inadequate to convey to a twentieth-century imagination the cosmic process which Plato must have felt to be taking place—as much out in the world and among the stars as “within” his own mind—when he spoke of τὸ λογιστικόν or contrasted νοῦς and ἐπιστήύη with δόξα. It was not until the “analytic” method of thought arose with Aristotle that such a word as logic could begin to take on its modern meaning. Indeed its strictly technical sense cannot be traced further back than a passage in which Cicero uses the Greek phrase in reference to the syllogistic method.  Syllogism itself is first found with that meaning in Aristotle’s works, and so “logic,” that exclusively subjective process, is revealed to us as something which the mind only discovered when it began to turn outward to “matter.”  In analysing its environment, it seems, and submitting itself humbly to the results of observation, the mind first began to feel its own shape and parts, much as the fingers discover their relation to one another when they are trying to fit themselves into a glove.

The rich legacy bequeathed by Greek philosophy to the English language is further masked by the fact that many of its terms have come to us in the form of Latin translations. For example, the simple quality and quantity, obvious as they seem and absolutely indispensable as they are to our thinking, are Latin translations1 of two Greek words invented by Plato and Aristotle or one of their respective contemporaries. These are ποιότης, which it looks as if Plato himself coined2 to express the notion of “of-what-sortness” or “quiddity”, and ποσότης (“how-much-ness”), which was used by Aristotle. Among the Latin words which appear to be conscious translations of terms in special use among the Greek philosophers down to and including Plato are qualitas, aer [air], essentia (οὐσία) idealis (ἐπʹ ίδέᾳ or ἐπʹ εἴδει), individuum (ἄτομον), vacuum (τὸ κενόν), and equivocalis (ὁμώνυμος). When we come to Aristotle, we find a much greater number. Quantitas has already been mentioned, and there are in addition subjectum (ὑποκείμενον), actualis (ἐνεργείᾳ), potentialis (δυνὰμει), substantia (ὑπόσταοις), quintessentia (πέυπτγ οὐσία), proprietas [property] (ἰδίωμα), accidens (συμβεβηκός), praedicamentum (κατηγορία), deductio (ἀπαγωγή), inductio (ἐπαγωγή), moralis (ἠθικός), and almost certainly definitio (ὁρισμός).

For about two thirds of these extremely useful expressions Cicero is responsible. He tells us more than once how he had deliberately set himself to render this service to his country, and it is often possible to find the exact passage in which, usually with some comment of half-humorous apology, he converts the Greek into Latin. Thus, we owe to his efforts quality, individual, (for it was formed by the Schoolmen from his individuum), vacuum, moral,3 property, induction, element, and probably definition and difference, though only in two cases—individual and moral—have we made the best possible use of his services, by retaining the Greek originals, atom and ethical, and adopting Cicero’s words alongside of them as doublets with a different shade of meaning. Cicero also enriched his native vocabulary with many translations of Greek words in use among later Greek philosophers but not found in Plato or Aristotle— particularly the Stoics, whose ethical doctrines were soon to take such a firm hold on the intellectual life of imperial Rome, and whose metaphysic remains even to-day deeply imbedded in our thought. Such are notio (ἔννοια or πρόληψις),4 comprehensio (κατάλψις), infinitio (ἀπειρία),5 and appetitio (ὁρμἡ).

It is not easy to determine the date of the others. Some were probably translated by obscure Greek schoolmasters in Rome, and others by medieval Schoolmen whom it would be a long labour to identify. For the rest, accidens is found in Seneca, essentia and substantia in Quintilian, idealis in Martianus Capella (A.D. 425), and it seems possible that praedicamentum was the work of St. Augustine.

But more interesting in a great many ways than the appearance of new words is the penetration of new meanings into the old ones. When we are dealing with ancient literatures of which only a fragment is still extant, we can often date these elusive phenomena and trace them to their sources more exactly than the words themselves. If, for example, we can never be quite sure that such a word as was not used until Plato used it, we need have no doubt about the new meanings which his writings, and no others, have injected into words like θεωρία, μέθοδος, μουσικός, and ἰδέα—or  into φιλεῖν and καγός, and through them, into the English love and beautiful. Of the words subsequently borrowed into English, which were re-baptized in the same way by Aristotle, syllogism has already been mentioned, and one could add category, poetic, politic, axiom, problem, synthesis, mathematical, dynamic, and others.

Some knowledge of the semantic history of such words is practically essential to an historical understanding of our Western outlook. Certainly we no longer feel, with the earlier etymologists, that by finding out what a word once meant we can learn what it means or “ought to mean” now. Yet, for this very reason, it is of great interest to trace out the way in which the modern meanings of such important instruments of thought have been arrived at; to try and see what our ancestors made them signify before us and what we have done with the legacy they bequeathed, What, for instance, of ideas—those curious abstractions which, in spite of their spaceless quality, we can scarcely avoid thinking of now as flitting about somewhere “inside” our heads? Once again the history of the word seems to carry us back to a time when the human mind could have no such experience, when it could not think of its own thoughts, or “apperceive”, as the psychologists used to say; and once again Plato and Aristotle appear to have played an important part in the development of that faculty.

Until Plato’s time the word idea (from ἰδεῖν, to see) meant the form or appearance of a thing. Most people are familiar enough with the later Platonic doctrine of Ideas to know that they were understood by Plato, not as something which existed solely in his own mind, but as eternal Beings which stood behind the ever-changing forms of material nature. Distrusting the information gained from the senses because of the obvious transience of all sense-phenomena, the Academics would only give the name of knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) to the contemplation by the human soul of these underlying and undying Ideas. Aristotle, who was Plato’s pupil, took over from him this doctrine of Ideas and proceeded to refashion it more in accordance with his own metaphysical outlook. He insisted that the ἰδέαι or εἴδη,6 as he preferred to call them, were, as we should say, immanent, that they existed in the objects and could have no being apart from them. In order to get at them, it was necessary not so much to be initiated into the Mysteries and to sink yourself in philosophic contemplation of the eternal, as to investigate nature herself with all the means of accuracy at your disposal.

It is convenient here, to say a word or two concerning the word theory. Both to Plato and to Aristotle the Greek θεωρεῖν meant, not hypothesis but contemplation. It expressed the act, not of a speculator, but of a spectator. It meant, not the result of the investigation of nature but the investigating, or rather, the beholding itself. In his Psychology, Aristotle makes a special use of the verb θεωρεῖν. The word which Plato used for knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) he seems to relegate to an unconscious or sleeping phase of the soul. The “knowledge” which the soul possesses ώς ἐπιστήμη is potential only But in the process of contemplating particulars this is changed into knowledge ώς τό θεωρεῖν, and it is this which is the soul’s entelechy. It is in this process that she may truly be said to awaken. It will be seen that such a meaning, although nearer to the modern meaning than Plato’s, is still a very long way from it. The word appears to have come into English through medieval Latin translations of Aristotle. But the earliest example the Oxford Dictionary records of its use in the commonest modern sense of a particular hypothesis or speculation is at the end of the eighteenth century. It would involve too long a digression to do more than suggest that Goethe was endeavouring, in his scientific writings, to restore a less superficial meaning to this ancient and honourable term; particularly when he said, speaking of Nature: “Her phenomenon is theory, if only we can find it.”

To revert now to the word idea, this does not seem to have been borrowed by English writers until the dawn of the Renaissance, when Lydgate used Idee with a definite Platonic allusion; and the earliest uses in English are all literary and allusive. Thus, it is often spelt with a capital letter, as by Spenser in his Hymns to Love and Beauty, or by Drayton who used Idea as the title for a sequence of love-sonnets. But by the end of the sixteenth century the word had gained a firmer footing in the English language. For example:

Xenophon in his Ciropaedia… having… under the person of Cirus, framed an idaea or perfect patterne of an excellent prince…

In such a sentence as the above, which is quoted from the Oxford Dictionary, it is noticeable that the word is used—probably metaphorically—to describe a pattern existing in the mind of the writer. Soon it acquired also the sense of a standard or principle to be aimed at, and the word ideal was adopted at about the same time. Meanwhile we find Shakespeare, and others, using it to express and image or picture retained by the memory:

Th’ Idea of her life shal sweetly creepe
Into his study of imagination. …
Much Ado IV, i, 226

while for Milton it has already weakened so much that it implies little more than a conception of something that ought to be done:

That voluntary idea, which hath long in silence presented itself to me, of a better education… than hath yet been in practice.

But now the philosophers were to take hold of the word again. In 1690 John Locke wrote in the introduction to his Essay on the Human Understanding:

I must here in the entrance beg pardon of my reader for the frequent use of the word idea, which he will find in the following treatise. It being that term, which, I think, serves best to stand for whatsoever is of the understanding when a man thinks, I have used it to express whatever is meant by phantasm, notion, species, or whatever it is which the mind can be employed about in thinking; and I could not avoid frequently using it.

He certainly could not; and after reading a few chapters of the Essay, we have no difficulty in realizing the part played by seventeenth-century philosophy in giving to the word that wide and colourless meaning of “any concept”, which it has retained since the eighteenth century.

Yet the doctrine which these philosophers were actually combating was no longer that of the objective reality of ideas, but that of innate ideas (κοιναὶ ἔννοιαι) or, to use Cicero’s word, notions. These were held to be present, subjectively, in every individual mind, from the date of birth; for without them, it was thought, the human mind would never have been able to apprehend abstract principles. As to the Platonic, and objective, or semi-objective, meaning, perhaps the most striking thing about the biography of the word in English is the rapidity with which this was discarded. What was the cause? We must look for it in the outlook of the age in which this word was borrowed, and this we can examine most easily by penetrating behind it.

Like the Greek philosophers themselves, Cicero, and others who translated their terminology, would commonly, instead of creating a new word, employ a Latin one already in existence. In so doing, they often drastically altered its meaning. We can, for example, trace the influence of Greek philosophy in our word universal, adopted from the Latin universalis, which was used by Quintilian to translate the Aristotelian καθολικος.7 Matter, which reached us through French from the late Latin materia, plainly embodies the new meaning given to that word by Lucretius and other Roman writers who employed it to translate the Greek ὕλη, and its older, purely Roman, and severely practical meaning is perceived in the later French matérial, and of course, an English derivative, material. Among the Latin words, subsequently adopted into English, which  Cicero renewed with draughts of Greek thought are elementa (found constantly in Lucretius, but used by Cicero to translate Aristotle’s στοιχεῖα), definire (ὁρίζειν), differre (διαφέρειν) (old meaning “to put off” or “delay”), instantia (ἔνστασις), and scientia (επισίήμη). Scientia in Latin had been used to express the knowledge or consciousness of some particular fact, never absolutely for knowledge or science.  In the same way Cicero employed imago—a bust or statue (generally of an ancestor)—to translate the Greek εἴδωλον,8 which was popular among the Stoics in the sense of a mental image. No doubt it is partly due to this that we find Virgil and Horace using imago for “phantom” or “ghost”, and we may suppose a sort of fusion of both meanings in the new verb imaginor, with the derivative imaginatio, which occur in Pliny and Tacitus.

But perhaps the most interesting of all these words is species. Derived, like ἰδέα, from a verb meaning “to see,” and possessing accordingly the meaning of “form” or appearance” (in late Latin a pretty girl was virgo speciosa) it was seized on by Cicero to translate the Platonic idea. In his Academicae Quaestiones (I. viii. 30) we find him writing:

Quamquam oriretur a sensibus, tamen non esse iudicium veritatis in sensibus. Mentem volebant (sc. Academici et Peripatetici) rerum esse iudicem: solam censebant idoneam cui crederetur, quia sola cerneret id, quod semper esset simplex et unius modi et tale quale esset. Hanc illi ἰδέαν appellabant, iam a Platone ita nominatam, nos recte speciem possumus dicere.

Cicero does not seem to have stressed the difference between the Academic and Peripatetic schools, and so, in the natural course of events, species came to be regarded as the received translation of the Aristotelian είδος. But what is especially curious is that Aristotle’s third century commentator, Porphyry, and after him the early Schoolmen, apparently transplanted this term out of his Metaphysics and into his Logic. At any rate, according to the Oxford Dictionary, the Latin species first appears in Scholastic philosophy as the second of Aristotle’s predicables (κατηγορικὰ). Aristotle himself in his Topics only recognises four: γένος (genus), ὅρος (definitio), ἴδιον (proprietas) [property], and σνμβεβηκός (accidens). This system was modified by Porphyry, who omitted ὅρος and inserted εἶδος (species) with διαφορά (differentia).

A new term had accordingly to be found to convey the wider metaphysical meaning of ἰδέα or εἶδος, and the Schoolmen fixed upon universale. For years the contest raged on between the three schools of thought Platonic Realism, with its doctrine of “Universalia in rem”, Aristotelian Realism (“Universalia in re”); and Nominalism (“Universalia post rem”). But we are the less surprised to see Nominalism carrying the day at last in the majority of minds , when we know that in the third century of the Christian era, a commentator like Porphyry had already unconsciously indicated that he could not help taking a mere subjective view of “species”. And this fact does suggest that, with all the exceptions, anticipations, and throwbacks, besides a sort of general recapitulation in the Middle Ages, there has been a more or less regular historical progression in the metaphysical outlook, the Weltanschauung of the Western world.

In Aristotle’s system—after Plato’s death—the Ideas are dragged down from heaven into nature; then, in the Middle Ages, they move, as abstractions, out of nature into the classifying and “naming” mind of man, where they are soon firmly entrenched by the increasing subjectivism of Descartes, Berkeley and Kant. When the natural science of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries began to question the dogma of a “special” creation it was, of course, carrying the matter a stage further. (For, after first a subtle but useful distinction between physiological and morphological “species”, it announced that to those who took long enough views, there were really no such things as species at all. “All”, in Empedocles’s phrase, “was one”; and the species were only “categories” invented by the mind of man for its own convenience. At the beginning of Plato’s career, and afterwards again in the Middle Ages, your opinion of “universals”, of which species was only one, was expected to be consistent with itself. If you wished to believe that the species Lion existed before or with individual lions, you also believed that the species Triangle existed before or with individual triangles, and that the same was true of Chair and chairs. Plato himself, however, by the time he wrote Timaeus, had apparently ceased to consider the existence of any Ideas, other than those of ζὧα (animal or vegetable creatures) and of the four elements. Philosophy had thus achieved, by the end of his life, an implicit distinction, at any rate, between logic and ontology. It remained for the Dark and Middle Ages to entangle once more, by misinterpreting Aristotle, the twin threads which the Greeks had almost succeeded in unpicking. By endeavouring to prove empirically that the difference between a was of the same artificial and “nominal” nature as the difference between a chair and a table, the nineteenth-century biologists raised the old question once more in a form which made it seem a burning issue; and, for a time, at all events, few educated men could remain wholly indifferent to the problem of the “origin of species.”

It was, I suppose, at about the time when the ἰδέα of Plato and the εἶδος of Aristotle were finally disappearing into the Darwinian species, that the Latin word which Cicero had used to translate their επισίήμη finished its metamorphosis into a hard-worked present-day “Science”. Here is another of those interesting parallels between the native term and the classically borrowed equivalent, or near-equivalent, in which the English language is so rich: science and knowledge. I have already indicated that there are other and more refined parallels to be absorbed between the Greek word and its Latin equivalent, both of which have often been anglicized with more or less divergent meanings. We may compare individual and atom, moral and ethical, potential and dynamic, universal and catholic, predicament and category. And I have been speaking at some length of idea and species.

Perhaps the English word kind bears much the same relation to species as knowledge does to science. It is a simple word, not very precise but much richer suggestion than its parallel. It has not been bullied and argued about in the way that so many of the classical borrowing have been and therefore seems out of place when we want to suggest anything systematic. The “origin of kinds” would not do at all. On the other hand, how much poorer the language would have been if, in welcoming Cicero’s species with both hands. we had altogether abandoned its Greek prototype idea!

With that reflection I find myself already over the borders of the pleasant, if dangerous, realm of might-have-been, and I cannot quite forbear some further speculations—speculations which take their rise in linguistics, but lead beyond it. I have mentioned Cicero’s use of scientia—a word with a more limited meaning—to translate επισίήμη. The particularity of the Latin term seems to have continued in two different ways to attach to its English derivative. We reflect a pragmatical and Roman attitude to “knowledge”, when we speak of such things as “domestic science” or the science of boxing”: meaning thereby a systematic study of some skill or calling intended to lead to its practical mastery. On the other hand, when Science is used to-day to signify purely theoretical knowledge, its meaning is limited in another and, I suggest, confusing way. For it signifies not merely systematic knowledge (which would in itself be a limitation) but knowledge acquired in a particular way. It implies for most people—and strongly suggests for all—knowledge acquired by the same method as that by which knowledge of physics and mechanics is acquired, the exactness of which depends on measurement. Yet such a connotation is in fact quite inappropriate to many of its most characteristic references, for the viability of that method varies enormously, I might almost say grotesquely, between one so-called “science” and another. There is indeed a sort of graduated scale of fitness.

It is well adapted to the science of mechanics, slightly less well so to physics, less so still to biology, much less to medicine or sociology, and to psychology hardly at all. I believe much harm has resulted from the long and desperate struggle to jockey all these realms of enquiry with the strait-waistcoat of science. To the extent that inquiries cover the morphology or behaviour of living beings, above all when the beings concerned are human (and therefore include the inquirer himself), both their effectiveness and their exactness depend less on tabulation and more on such things as imagination, insight and self-knowledge. We need a word to distinguish, for instance, the equipment of a successful psychologist from the unsystematic “knowledge” of human nature which endues many people whom no one would dream of calling psychologists. Most of us number such people among our acquaintance. Shakespeare, Goethe, Sir Walter Scott and many other writers have left monumental records of the sort I have in mind. Yet—however often we may find in some casual sentence from (let us say) the Waverley novels, a penetration into human motivation and human self-deception, about which practicing psychologists often appear to be more ponderous rather than more exact—the distinction still remains between a systematic and an unsystematic study of such matters. I have pointed out that the English language had been using species for a long time before it went back to the source and borrowed its prototype idea. Is it very fanciful to imagine a more enlightened age in which medicine and psychology and the like be recognised for what they are, neither sciences at one end, nor vague knowledges at the other, but—epistemies?

I sometimes wish the well of English would not go on being quite so undefiled. Nowadays, when writers make a raid of this sort on the treasure-house of Greek thought they will insist on remaining macaronic and italic. Otherwise a borrowing of the very kind I have just been suggesting—but this time from Hellenistic Greek—would actually have been affected, I believe, within the last decade. Between the all too systematic associations of charity—trailing clouds of poor-law and blankets—on the one side and the all too ambivalent love—meaning anything from Hollywood to the Bhagavad Gita—on the other certain theological writers have shown an increasing tendency to introduce the Pauline agapé. Any thoughtful Christian must, I think, agree that this is all to the good, for here is a depth and body of essential meaning unblurred as yet by irrelevancies; this is all to the good; but why not agapy?

Quo Musa tendis? And yet speculations of this kind are not perhaps quite as idle as they may appear at first sight. It is not necessary, and it is probably fallacious, to attribute much causal significance to a nation’s vocabulary. Causa sine qua non perhaps, but hardly causa causans. But forms of expression, whether or no they help to shape the forms of thought, are facts. And if you are inclined to wonder and reflect, it is better to reflect on facts than to reflect only on other people’s reflections. It is well on a summer day to climb a high hill and take an extensive view of the varied face of nature; but it is also well to kneel on the grass and look long and closely at the growing point of a flowering plant—buttercup, stichwort or even tansy, it does not matter which. A wide prospect is good, but so also is a certain depth of insight into particular goings on. Indeed the one is needed to give life and substance to the other. So it is with nature; and so it is, I believe, with the mind of man.

Owen Barfield



1 Qualitates igitur appellavi, quas Graeci ποιότητας appellant, quod ipsum apud Graecos non est vulgi verbum, sed philosophorum; atque id in multis. Dialecticorum vero verba nulla sunt publica, suis, utuntur. Et id quidem commune omnium fere est artium; aut enim nova sunt rerum novarum facienda nomina aut ex aliis transferenda. Cicero: Academicae Quaestiones, i, 25. Return.

2 …τὸ μὲνπάσχον αἰσθητικὸν ἀλλ᾽ οὐκ αἴσθησιν ἔτι γίγνεσθαι, τὸ δὲ ποιοῦν ποιόν τι ἀλλ᾽ οὐ ποιότητα; ἴσως οὖν ἡ ποιότης ἅμα ἀλλόκοτόν τε φαίνεται ὄνομα καὶοὐ μανθάνεις ἁθρόον λεγόμενον. Plato, Theaetetus, 182A.Return.

3 Eam partem philosophiae “de moribus” appellare solmus; sed decet angentem linguam Latinam norminare “moralem”. De Fato I. Return.

4 Notionem appello, quod Graeci tum tum dicunt (Topica 7, 31). Return.

5 Infinitio ipsa, quam ἀπειρίαν vocant (De Finibus i, 21). Return.

6 Plato had also used εἶδος as a synonym for ἰδέα, but less frequently. Return.

7 Praecepta, quae καθολικὰ vocant; id est (ut dicamus quomodo possumus) universalia, vel perpetualia. Quintilian II, 13, 14. Return.

8 …imagines, quae εἴδωλα nominant, quorum incursione non solum videamus sed etiam cogitemus. De Finibus I, 21. Cicero is referring to the peculiar Democritan theory of perception, which explained sight as caused by the impact of the eye of films or husks thrown off in endless procession from the surfaces of objects. Those “images” were also supposed to penetrate through the pores of the body to the mind, thus causing mental impressions. εἴδωλαον had been used by Homer for “phantom,” by Plato and Aristotle for images reflected in the water, etc., and so for unreal mental fancies. The technical sense which Cicero translated into imago is due to its use by the Stoics; the theological, which we have adopted with the word, to its use in the Septagint. Bacon’s attempt, in the Advancement of Learning, to revive its psychological reference (idols of the cave, idols of the market-place, idols of the theatre, and idols of the tribe) was never taken up. Return.

Copyright © 1997 — Owen Barfield Literary Estate.       Return to Top.