Intellectual Networks in Ancient Greece

Diogenet is a dataset and a series of web applications for investigating the impact of social networks on the emergence and development of ancient Greek philosophy. In contrast to most approaches to the intellectual history of classical antiquity, we do not only focus on philosophers but also on the social ties that linked them. In addition, we do not limit ourselves to studying relations among intellectuals, but also consider family members, romantic partners, friends, and benefactors. We think that moving away from the idea that philosophical and scientific fields are closed systems allows a better understanding of the social processes that underlie the construction of knowledge in the ancient world.

Two important aspects of ancient intellectual networks are their geographical distribution and the social actors who connected those communities across space. In fact, Diogenes Laertius and other ancient sources often point to the importance of philosophers’ travels in the formation of schools of thought and the exchange of ideas. For these reasons, we have included travel itineraries of ancient philosophers and their friends in our dataset. One interesting point our data shows (and that you can check by yourself in our interactive Map) is that school founders like Pythagoras, Democritus, Plato, and Zeno of Citium have a high degree of mobility.

The main ancient source that we use for this project is the Lives of Philosophers that Diogenes Laertius wrote in the third century CE, about eight hundred years after the appearance of the Pre-Socratics in Asia Minor. In this work, Diogenes reports not only about the theories of philosophers but also their lives. Despite his meticulous accounts, however, Diogenes has been much distrusted by modern historians of philosophy. A main argument raised against his work is based on the apparently excessive attention that he paid to matters perceived as irrelevant for the history of ideas. These digressions are, in fact, stories about the family, friends, romantic relations, benefactors, and travels of ancient philosophers. It is precisely this perceived weakness that makes his work a great starting point for the reconstruction of the social networks of the intellectual of ancient Greece.

Currently we offer two interactive apps (still under development) for the study of the social networks that Diogenes described in the Lives; these are Horus, a tool that produces network visualizations and centrality measures from both socio-centric and ego-centric perspectives, and the Map, a tool for the exploration of spatial mobility among ancient intellectuals. Soon we will also offer a tutorial both for Horus and the Map.

To make sense of the visualizations produced by Horus and the Map, some background both in social network theory and the history of ancient Greek philosophy is necessary. In the bibliography you can find introductory references to the subject.