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The Beginnings of Philosophy in Greece

Translated by: Michele Asuni

A celebrated study of the origins of ancient Greek philosophy, now in English for the first time

How can we talk about the beginnings of philosophy today? How can we avoid the conventional opposition of mythology and the dawn of reason and instead explore the multiple styles of thought that emerged between them? In this acclaimed book, available in English for the first time, Maria Michela Sassi reconstructs the intellectual world of the early Greek "Presocratics" to provide a richer understanding of the roots of what used to be called "the Greek miracle."

The beginnings of the long process leading to philosophy were characterized by intellectual diversity and geographic polycentrism. In the sixth and fifth centuries BC, between the Asian shores of Ionia and the Greek city-states of southern Italy, thinkers started to reflect on the cosmic order, elaborate doctrines on the soul, write in solemn Homeric meter, or, later, abandon poetry for an assertive prose. And yet the Presocratics whether the Milesian natural thinkers, the rhapsode Xenophanes, the mathematician and "shaman" Pythagoras, the naturalist and seer Empedocles, the oracular Heraclitus, or the inspired Parmenides all shared an approach to critical thinking that, by questioning traditional viewpoints, revolutionized knowledge.

A unique study that explores the full range of early Greek thinkers in the context of their worlds, the book also features a new introduction to the English edition in which the author discusses the latest scholarship on the subject.

Author Information

Maria Michela Sassi teaches the history of ancient philosophy at the University of Pisa. Her books include The Science of Man in Ancient Greece.


"Avoiding the main pitfalls that beset her subject, Sassi looks afresh at the evidence for important early Greek thinkers, asks what can be attributed to them, and admirably allows for a great variety of responses to that question." —Geoffrey Lloyd, Needham Research Institute

"This elegant study shows how a variety of historical, social, and cultural questions and factors eventually led to the formation of a new discipline called ‘philosophy’ in ancient Greece. Sassi displays an admirable blend of anthropological and philosophical sensitivity that is perfectly adapted to the subject and illuminates it in many new ways."—André Laks, author of The Concept of Presocratic Philosophy

"This book is among the most illuminating contributions to the much-debated topic of how, why, and in what form the Greeks of the sixth and fifth centuries BC created philosophy. Its constructive blend of cultural history, anthropology, and philosophical analysis makes it particularly good to think with, and it is now finally available to a broader audience of Anglophone readers."—David Sedley, University of Cambridge

"This impressively learned book contributes to longstanding debates about the beginnings of Greek philosophy, its connections to earlier Greek writings that address similar topics, the way Aristotle shapes our access to Presocratic philosophy, and more."—Katja Maria Vogt, Columbia University