Tuesday Dec 12, 2023

79: M. D. Usher writes on ancient philosophy, animals and nature

I met the Stoics a long time ago, as an adult, sitting in a field outside a local library and reading Epictetus’ Enchiridion (the Handbook). In fact, it was probably one of these copies. 

Well, before Epictetus, there were the Cynics, and their philosophy was a little harder to follow. The famous Diogenes lived more like the animals than the Greeks around him, enjoying the sunshine, wearing whatever he could find, eating whatever he could find. A famous anecdote has him living in a large wine cask, and Alexander the Great asking him, with respect, what boon he could offer. To paraphrase, “If you could move a little to the left, you’re in my light.” 

So, the Cynical philosophy makes for good anecdotes, inspiring countercultural ideas, and a way of life that is probably out of reach of the average person … who doesn’t want to be homeless, wear rags, and live modestly and easily on whatever can be scrounged up. 

That’s a very rambling way of saying I saw a new translation of the Cynics at my local Barnes & Noble, and I jumped on it … then jumped on hunting an interview with the translator, M. D. Usher. And he’d written a marvelous assortment of other books—academic ones, popular and accessible ones, and even ones for kids. 

If you’re interested in practical philosophy and its connection to animals, us, and the web of life we share … well, enjoy my discussion with Mark Usher, the Lyman-Roberts Professor of Classical Languages and Literature in the Department of Geography and Geosciences at the University of Vermont in Burlington … 

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