>Philosopher from Istanbul: Gregory Vlastos


I’m in the middle of listening to a podcast of an interview with Gregory Vlastos (1907-92), and just realised that he was born in Istanbul, or Constantinople as the interviewer says in the introduction, presumably at the request of Vlastos.  Vlastos was a major figure in the study of Ancient Greek philosophy, most associated with the philosophy department at Princeton.  He had previously taught at Cornell and Ontario. The memorial webpage at Princeton also refers to Istanbul as Constantinople.  It also contains the information that Vlastos graduated from Robert College in 1925.  Robert College is the original name for what is now Boğaziçi (Bosphorus) University, the name Robert College now refers to the high school attached to Robert College.  Click for a list of his books constructed by a GoogleBooks search.  I bought the 1980 volume he edited, The Philosophy of Socrates, when I was an undergraduate.  I must admit it’s a long time since I read it, I must go back to it.  I remember finding it good reading, but I don’t think I used it much for my University of Warwick first year Ancient Philosophy exams and essays, the one and only Ancient Philosophy course I have ever taken.  I must go back to the book, because I am certainly a persistent reader of Greek philosophy and its commentaries, though no specialist.  

Vlastos appears to have not wished to associate himself with Turkey, or his home city under its Turkish name, so I can only suspect he was Turkophobic and disposed towards rather chauvinistic forms of Greek and Christian identity.  As he went to Robert College which was founded by Protestant missionaries and was still run by such people when he studied here, I suspected he might have been Protestant, and indeed he was.  In that case, his relationship with standard Greek nationalism, rooted in Orthodox Christian identity, and further linked with Ancient Greek philosophy by those philosophers and theologians inclined to religious nationalism, must have been unusual.

Vlastos may not have wished to be associated with Turkey or ‘Istanbul’, but none of us can deny the influence of the place where we spent our childhood and were educated.  Chauvinistic Turkish nationalists would also like to overlook Greek thinkers originating in Istanbul.  Whatever any of those people think, including Vlastos himself, he was a thinker from Istanbul.