I return now to my lecture on ancient Pseudepigraphy, the practice of writing a book falsely claiming to be someone else, a famous person.  I have been arguing that even in the ancient world this was considered to be a form of lying, the use of literary deceit, and authors who were detected doing it were outed and, if any moral judgment was passed, condemned for it.  Today we would call it “forgery,” and the ancient discussions of it were similarly negative.   Here is where I pick up in the lecture, part 3 of my 4 posts.  (I think one of my most important points comes half way through, where I explain the key difference between “intention” and “motivation” – i.e., what we intend to do and what motivates us to do so.




One could ask whether anyone on record in antiquity ever condoned the practice of pseudepigraphy.  To my knowledge, there is only one possible trace of approval, in a single sentence of the late antique neo-Platonist Iamblichus, who does say, in reference to the followers of Phythagoras, some 800 years earlier, that “It was a fine custom of theirs also to ascribe and assign everything to Pythagoras, and only very seldom to claim personal fame for their discoveries, for there are very few of them indeed to whom works are ascribed personally.”

It is an intriguing comment, and is one of the principle pieces of evidence used by generations of scholars to claim that it was a standard practice in philosophical schools for students to write in the name of their teachers as an act of humility.  In fact Iamblichus doesn’t say anything about …

It gets pretty interesting after this.  Why would someone be motivated to lie, if they thought lying was generally bad?  Keep reading!  If you’re not a member of the blog, you’ll need to join before being able to do so.  So join!  It’s a reasonable fee, and all of it goes to charity.