Famous Philosophers’ Surprising Hobbies
You might already be familiar with Socrates’ systems of logic and philosophy, with Descartes’ musings on geometry, and with Mary Wollstonecraft’s early feminism, but what about the things these famous philosophers got up to in their leisure time?
For many historical philosophers, thinking and hypothesising took up their every waking moment, but they did occasionally have time for a spot of merrymaking and relaxation too. Beyond their most talked about theories and gruesome deaths, there are interesting facts to be found about the pastimes of the world’s greatest thinkers.
Socrates (? – 399 BCE)
Although Socrates is often remembered as a somewhat stern and commanding figure who could keep his cool when involved in heated political discussions, it seems that he also knew how to find joy in everyday existence. He reportedly did this through dancing.
His contemporary Xenophon wrote about how Socrates enjoyed watching professional dancers as they performed, but the ancient philosopher confessed that he enjoyed dancing himself too, when alone. Socrates’ solitary, graceful movements were a search for harmony within the body and for balance, which he believed would lead to true happiness and beauty. This knowledge adds a welcome human aspect to the image of Socrates that we have today, and suggests that there was a lot more to him than the gruff scholar.
Epicurus ( 341 – 270 BCE)
Whilst it’s no secret that Epicurus was a big fan of food, what people don’t realise is that he formulated a completely new attitude to cooking and eating based around pleasure and simplicity.
His philosophy went that the simpler the cooking, the more time to enjoy the eating and spending time around the table with loved ones. His philosophical musings in general were about how to live a simple life, without over-indulgence or self-denial, and his focus in life was the pursuit of pleasure. So, you can see how he ended up being a big foodie! We now use the word ‘Epicure’ to describe somebody who is interested in and enthusiastic about food on a refined level.
Ptolemy (100 – 170 CE)
Ptolemy is remembered as an astronomer, mathematician and geographer who lived in the city of Alexandria, the ancient epicentre of knowledge and learning. However, he was also a keen astrologer. Ptolemy saw astrology as having just as practical an application as astronomy; in fact, he wrote four books on the subject! He is still considered an authority on the subject by modern-day astrologers, and wouldn’t have thought twice about referring to a horoscope in order to learn more about a situation. Astrology was viewed differently in the ancient world to how it is considered today, meaning that Ptolemy’s use of horoscopic astrology gained him much respect from his contemporaries.
Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179 CE)
Hildegard of Bingen was a long-lived German abbess, who was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012, over 800 years after her death. She was an accomplished and knowledgeable writer, philosopher and visionary, but she also enjoyed creating music. She was a prolific composer, with 74 distinct pieces of her work surviving into the modern day. The majority of her compositions come under the genre of monophony, or a single line of music without any additional accompaniment. To the modern listener, her music has an ethereal quality, making it easy to imagine it being performed by her Benedictine order of nuns within their holy place of worship.
Descartes (1596 – 1650 CE)
Scientist and mathematician René Descartes is often named as one of the founders of modern philosophy, but in his spare time he enjoyed visiting the casinos of Paris. It’s no surprise that such an accomplished mathematician and great thinker enjoyed the challenge of playing different card games – in fact, he was so good at it that he considered making a career out of it. Whilst modern enthusiasts might turn to the likes of online platforms like poker stars for gameplay, Descartes had no choice but to hone his card skills in person. He gained quite the reputation for being a skilful player, and this interest of his remained a part of his life even after he left the city of Paris. He remained a keen player until his death.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797 CE)
Mary Wollstonecraft was a vocal advocates for women’s rights, an accomplished author and the mother of Mary Shelley, who later went on to write Frankenstein.
Alongside all of this, she was also a keen traveller. During the French Revolution, she travelled to Paris in order to witness the events happening there, and wrote about her experiences in the piece, An Historical and Moral View of the French Revolution. Several years after leaving France, she published a travel narrative about her solitary travels around Sweden, Norway and Denmark. It was a big hit with readers and became her most popular book during her own lifetime.