Memes aside, should I read Hesiod, Herodotus, and Thucydides if I only want to get into the philosophycal literature of the ancient Greeks (i.e. the Pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle, and the following philosophers)?
I do plan to read both Homeric epics and Hamilton's Mythology as a general background, but am not sure if Herodotus and Thucydides are that essential in order to understand Greek philosophy (perhaps Hesiod is, but I'm not really sure).
If your main interest is the philosophical literature, than those texts, while they'll be able to inform about certain historic and cultural contexts, will otherwise only be helpful at a very high level of intense study. The myth of the metals in Plato's Republic, for example, is modeled off of Hesiod's myth, but in order for that to mean anything more than "oh cool Plato cribbed an image from some poet," you'd have to already be at a level of study that sees the significance of what each of those means within their contexts, and then also what it means when you notice what Plato chose to *change* about his presentation of the same material, and how it's not a mere reference to but an actual substantial engagement with Hesiod's writings.
(This is also true of quotations of Homer all through Plato's writings; reading the Iliad and Odyssey alone won't offer much help, but looking up the quoted passages and surrounding context ends up providing a lot more relevant material to be worked out in the dialogues. As a brief example, in the opening of the Sophist, Socrates makes two allusions to the Odyssey, both which he ends up appearing as an antagonist; in the one, he's the Cyclops, in the other, I think he's Antinous, or some other suitor.)
You don't really *need* them to get started with the philosophers, but on the other hand, you won't be able to make it past a certain point with the Greeks at least without them.
Thanks, but that didn't answer my question--I'm already reading through all of Plato's works. What I meant to ask was: Would deeply studying Plato be of much use to one reading through the philosophical canon, or is it better to deeply study those one is interested in?
Hesiod is interesting for early metaphysic thought. His Theogony is also a key text if you are interested in ancient greece
Herodotus is not relevant at all to philosophical thought, but it's a good read nonetheless.
I have not read Thucydeides so I can't comment
Most of Plato's enquiries are still relevant, and very much so, in today's philosophy.
If you are exclusively reading Plato in depht, you will miss the answers that other brillant minds gave to the questions that Plato himself asked.
Thank you, my plan atm is to read Plato with some dabbling in secondary lit, then carry on with the main parts of the Canon. I'll probably return to him for deeper readings of the dialogues at some point.
Very sound plan IMO. You will find out that once you come back to Plato with newly acquired concepts and ideas from other philosophers you will be able to do a much better crítical reading of his work.
>For someone interested in philosophy, is there much use in going that deep into Plato? Or is it best to dig deep in those you're truly interested in?
If you're interested in the *tradition*, then there probably isn't, to be perfectly honest. In the light of the tradition it becomes very hard to argue for a deep study of Plato beyond the context it provides for Western philosophical thought, but having read a good portion of the canon, I've been led back to Plato by modern philosophy. Hegel's dialectic requires a careful study of Platonic dialectic, Nietzsche revives Platonic esotericism, Heidegger has to reach back to Plato in order to see how our understanding of Being was decisively shaped, Derrida sees in Plato something like an early articulation of logocentrism, and Strauss points back to Plato as a legitimate alternative to positivistic and historicist trends in modern philosophy.
I think there maybe is something to say that, unless one completely buys into very recent historicist ruptures of the past century that make it an intellectual sin to suggest that there is in fact a definite sort of answer to what it means to be a philosopher and to philosophize (the "who's to say what *really* is philosophy and what isn't" conversation and killer of thought), Plato is the first writer in the philosophical tradition to write extensively on the subject, and to really attempt to delimit what philosophy is, whereas the earlier writers were either much more obscure, or their works have come down too fragmented to make satisfying sense of. And Plato engages so widely among so many of those earlier thinkers (Pythagorean, Heraclitean, Eleatic, Ionic, Poetic, Sophistic, and Rhetorical claims to wisdom), that there's a very good possibility of being able to better make sense of how those figures fit into philosophy through Plato. Further, beyond being able to perhaps make better sense of those earlier figures, Plato's writings prefigure the vast majority of moves made in the history of Western thought, such that I've found that's been perfectly possible to, say, read Hobbes and see both consonances between their work and also occasions in Plato's writings wherein we could surmise philosophical responses to a large number of elements of Hobbes' work, and to do so without it merely degenerating into a lame, "yeah, but see, PLATO says THIS, ERGO HOBBES WRONG Q.E.D."
I think there's a balance that can be achieved (I mean, fuck, I've spent years reading Wittgenstein, Russell, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, and I still have time to fit Plato into all that and see something like a continuing relevance), but that only comes with time, wide reading, and an almost grotesque passion for the stuff. Read his stuff, and if at a later point in life, you feel it's time to revisit Plato more deeply, his works will still be there waiting.
Heh, that claim is always an involved one to offer proofs of, though I tried to the other day in a now dead Nietzsche thread. If you'd like to see some of the proof texts I pulled together, you can see the archived thread at: https://warosu.org/lit/thread/S7307804#p7315792
The tl;dr of it is that I do believe he has disagreements with Plato, but they seem to be differences in philosophical tactics, and he faults Plato for the long-term failure of tactics that Plato might have never intended to have long-term effect. In the archived thread, I quote and comment on some of the passages that suggest a much closer relationship than Nietzsche wants to let on, and one of the links I included at the bottom (one of the Joseph Martin links, I think) contains a short essay that shows some pretty surprising parallels between Nietzsche's thought and Plato's in the dialogues Sophist, Statesman, and Laws.
Thanks for the lengthy reply; while I've read the Pre-Socratics, I'm finding Plato to be a great introduction to philosophical inquiry as a whole--the range of topics he dealt with is brilliant, and he instills a great contemplative attitude in the reader.