Behind the 'Lives of Philosophers:' Reading Diogenes Laertius in the Western Middle Ages


Lives of Philosophers
Diogenes Laertius
Latin translations

How to Cite

Copeland, R. (2018). Behind the ’Lives of Philosophers:’ Reading Diogenes Laertius in the Western Middle Ages. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, (3), 245–263.


The classical learning of medieval readers, especially those fortunate to have access to a good library, could be formidable. But in the Middle Ages knowledge was also a commodity, and there was powerful temptation to satisfy intellectual hunger with compressed, simplified digests and easy fare. One text, De vita et moribus philosophorum, long attributed to Walter Burley, seems to have achieved particular success in satisfying that hunger for an easy version of ancient lore. Its roots reach back to Diogenes Laertius' Greek Lives of the Philosophers. This essay explores the roads of transmission that led to the making of De vita et moribus philosophorum, which fed a popular fascination with ancient philosophy and the lives of ancient philosophers. Through what channels did the 'history' of ancient philosophy find a readership beyond the scholarly academy, and how can we explain the appeal of such classical knowledge?

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