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Language and Learning in the Hellenistic Age


The book analyses how various scholars and philosophers provided vital input to the foundations of language during the Hellenistic age. The main consideration in the book is to engage the philosophy of language, linguistics, and other aspects such as the nature and origin of languages as a medium of communication. The book heavily relies on the concepts of Aristotle and Plato because these pioneer philosophers were instrumental in creating some form of structural definitions on the nature of language. The book is a collection of essays by various scholars and on a wide range of topical issues that are all connected to the Hellenistic era (Frede and Inwood 4).

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Some of the historical figures whose work is explored in the essays include Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Epicurus, and the general input of the Stoics. The authors of this book try to show how early language influencers impact modern theorists using scholarly discussions. Consequently, linguistic origins and theories of language during the 12th and 13th centuries are explored in detail by various experts. This paper is a review of Frede and Inwood’s edition of “Language and Learning: Philosophy of Language in the Hellenistic Age”, in the context of what was learnt in the “Ancient Science and Technology” lectures throughout the semester.


The book’s authors provide their readers with a great introduction of the factors that are of most influence to ancient developments and philosophical tones of language. According to the authors, the influence of philosophy on language only came later as opposed to the other influences on diverse field such as medicine and logical thinking. The book points out that philosophers who came later in the Hellenistic age are the ones who brought the existing connections between technical language issues and the broader aspects of human inter-communication.

Nevertheless, the essays clearly indicate that philosophical and linguistic connections during the Hellenistic period were not obvious and scholars have labored trying to establish this connection. Some of the existing nuances of this connection include the existence of meta-languages, Fregan propositions, and the scientific basis of linguistics and grammar. The biggest challenge when trying to make the connection between ancient philosophy and language development is that there is no general consensus between the philosophers who address this idea. Consequently, the authors of the book have to contend with making flimsy connections between the philosophical arguments and doctrines without the ability to offer clarity.

The book is delivered in the form of ten essays, whose only merit of selection is their ability to explain the connection between ancient philosophy and language. The authors are right to use this approach because it provides a museum-like approach to language issues. In the first four essays, the debate on origins of language is left to the two most prominent schools of philosophy in the Hellenistic age; Epicureanism and Stoicism. The book is effective in introducing the major protagonists in this debate even though the resources on linguistic authority are scantily reproduced. The authors’ method of analysis involves comparing two papers at a time, thereby bringing coherence to the book. It is understandable that the authors have the challenge of finding any material that provides any solid philosophical theories on language. Nevertheless, the authors are able to give a balanced assessment of the evidence and influence the readers to have a tangible opinion.

There is an issue with how raw data is controlled by the authors in this book. The effectiveness of the combination of essays that are used by the authors of this book is varied. While some of the editor’s choices are in synch, others do not achieve the right amount of resonance between philosophical theories and language. An example of this disparity in the book is the comparison between Verlinsky and Atherton’s theories (Frede and Inwood 56). The two authors dwell on the Epicurean proposal that language was once primitive but it has continuously evolved to its current form. However, it is quite difficult to present this similarity because Verlinsky and Atherton’s styles are quite different. This trend is replicated other areas in the book whereby flimsy ideas are used to support each other. Consequently, it can be argued that some of the articles that are combined by the authors are only similar on the outset but they do not necessarily support the same arguments.

Unlike other books that purport to exert a literally authority on the Hellenistic age, Frede and Inwood’s book turns to the views of the ancient scholars. In addition, the book also tries to create a viable connection between the past and the present as indicated by the titles of some of the articles that are in this book. The article by Ineke Sluiter provides a good example of this context as it lays out a title known as “Communicating Cynicism: Diogenes ‘gangsta rap’” (Frede and Inwood 139). The contents of this title indicate that there is a connection between Diogenes’ crude mode of language use and that of modern hip-hop music artists.

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The nature of orientation in this book can be compared to “Symposium Hellenisticum”, where events are listed with the view of observing them in the same medium (Laks and Schofield 56). The only difference between the two literatures is that in “Language and Learning”, a lot of comparisons are made between concepts. Nevertheless, the encyclopedic nature of this book and that of others such as “Symposium Hellenisticum” and “Symposium Aristotelicum” has become very relevant to modern-day scholarship. Therefore, the authors of this book have used a more up to date method of writing. The contest of the book is also attractive to readers who might want pre-synthesized information on the Hellenistic age.

The book is quite well written in its capacity to capture the image of an entire era. For example, the book is expected to act as a museum catalog of linguistic and philosophical elements of the Hellenistic age. To accomplish this task, the authors resolve on the use of ten essays that all offer distinct connections between language and ancient philosophy. The book is also able to combine popular notions on philosophy with linguistic arguments. For example, most potential readers of this book are conversant with the principles of Stoicism and Epicureanism. However, the authors present arguments that might be palatable to both those who may be familiar or unfamiliar with ancient philosophical principles. One of the unique aspects of the book is its fragmentation of facts and disciplines. Although this format favors scholars over non-scholars, the evidence is presented softly, in a tone that makes it easy for the readers to understand all claims. Even when the book’s claims are farfetched, it becomes easy for the readers to concentrate. The arguments were the main agenda for the book as there are no conclusions that are given at the end of each article comparison.

Final Assessment

This book is useful because it presents a catalog of independent arguments and merges them to form a singular topic. Although this approach does not accommodate deeper arguments, it is quite useful to those who might be seeking to conduct preliminary research. The book has an encyclopedic relevance in matters of philosophy of language because it provides a wide range of views and philosophers. The book is mostly useful to scholars who use it with the view of garnering insight into the primary sources of the book. Graduate students can find the book useful in providing various directions for research on Philosophy and linguistics.

Relevance to CLCV Lectures

This book is mostly relevant to the lecture topic two of class lectures: “Origins of Tech”. Although language is often assumed to be independent to the tech world, the two are mutually exclusive. For example, modern software is compiled using coded language. In the lectures, a matter of how speech came into existence and continued to evolve was covered. This main concept in this book is that language has evolved just like any other concept of life. The origin of language according to the Stoics is covered in the first chapter of Frede and Inwood’s book. Another relevance of the book to the lectures involves the influence of early thinkers on various areas of study including empirical research. The authors of this book use early philosophers’ views to determine how language was regarded during the Hellenistic age. Stoic and Epicurean philosophy in the book is used to indicate how language and its origins were represented in ancient times.

Works Cited

Frede, Dorothea, and Brad Inwood, eds. Language and Learning: Philosophy of Language in the Hellenistic Age. Cambridge University Press, 2005.

Laks, Andre, and Malcolm Schofield. Justice and Generosity: Studies in Hellenistic Social and Political Philosophy-Proceedings of the Sixth Symposium Hellenisticum. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

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