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Wednesday: August 17, 2005

Hybris In Action

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:54 PM UTC

If you’re going to sneer at a New York Times reviewer for his ignorance of Nietzsche and the Greeks, it’s best not to write sentences like this one:

Many figures from antiquity–Thales, Thucydides, Socrates, Plato, Phyrro–loom large for Nietzsche (as both targets and inspirations), but as every serious student of Nietzsche knows, Aristotle is notable for his almost total absence from the corpus.

Unfortunately for Prof. Leiter, ‘Phyrro’ is notable for his complete and total absence from the works of all competent philosophers, since the great Skeptic’s name was Pyrrho, with a pi, not a phi. (Πυρρων, not Φυρρων — the English forms of names like this one are latinized and drop the final nu.)

The error is oddly common on the web: I get 10 Google hits each for ‘Nietzsche + Phyrro’ and ‘Nietzsche + Pyrrho’. Similar common errors are easily explained: ‘Xeno’ for ‘Zeno’, the name of two important ancient philosophers,* is surely encouraged by subconscious thoughts of Xena the Warrior Princess, and ‘Hesoid’ for ‘Hesiod’ makes it look like an adjective from mathematics or the hard sciences. ‘Phyrro’ for ‘Pyrrho’ is more puzzling: perhaps the writers who make this particular mistake are thinking of Furries.

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*Zeno of Citium was the founder of Stoicism, while Zeno’s Paradox, also known as Achilles and the Tortoise, is named after Zeno of Elea.

Update: (twelve hours later)

Leiter has silently corrected his error. The original is still in the Google cache: it’s a Googlewhack for ‘Leiter + Phyrro’.