John Burnet (classicist)

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John Burnet (/bərˈnɛt, ˈbɜrnɪt/; 9 December 1863 – 26 May 1928) was a Scottish classicist. John Burnet may also refer to the University of St Andrews hall that was named in his honour, John Burnet Hall[1] He was born in Edinburgh and died in St Andrews.[2]

Life and work[edit]

Burnet was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, the University of Edinburgh, and Balliol College, Oxford, receiving his M.A. degree in 1887. In 1887 Burnet became an assistant to Lewis Campbell at the University of St. Andrews. From 1890 to 1915, he was a Fellow at Merton College, Oxford; he was a professor of Latin at Edinburgh; from 1892 to 1926, he was Professor of Greek at the University of St. Andrews. He became a Fellow of the British Academy in 1916. In 1909, Burnet was offered, but did not accept, the Chair of Greek at Harvard University.

In 1894, he married Mary Farmer, the daughter of John Farmer, who wrote the Preface for a collection of essays published after his death, Essays and Addresses.

Burnet is best known for his work on Plato. His interest in philosophy and in Plato in particular seems to have begun during his service as assistant to Lewis Campbell at St. Andrews.[3] Burnet was known for defending novel interpretations of Plato and Socrates, particularly the view that the depiction of Socrates in all of Plato's dialogues is historically accurate, and that the philosophical views peculiar to Plato himself are to be found only in the so-called late dialogues. Burnet also maintained that Socrates was closely connected to the early Greek philosophical tradition, now generally known as Pre-Socratic philosophy; Burnet believed that Socrates had been in his youth the disciple of Archelaus, a member of the Anaxagorean tradition (Burnet 1924, vi).

Burnet's philological work on Plato is still widely read, and his editions have been considered authoritative for 100 years, as 5 voll. OCT critical edition of Plato works and spuria (1900–1907). His commentaries on Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito and on the Phaedo also remain widely used and respected by scholars. Myles Burnyeat, for example, calls Burnet's Plato: Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito "the still unsurpassed edition".[4]

Early Greek Philosophy[edit]

John Burnet noted in his 1892 publication Early Greek Philosophy (p. 88)[5]

The Neoplatonists were quite justified in regarding themselves as the spiritual heirs of Pythagoras; and, in their hands, philosophy ceased to exist as such, and became theology. And this tendency was at work all along; hardly a single Greek philosopher was wholly uninfluenced by it. Perhaps Aristotle might seem to be an exception; but it is probable that, if we still possessed a few such "exoteric" works as the Protreptikos in their entirety, we should find that the enthusiastic words in which he speaks of the "blessed life" in the Metaphysics and in the Ethics (Nicomachean Ethics) were less isolated outbursts of feeling than they appear now. In later days, Apollonios of Tyana showed in practice what this sort of thing must ultimately lead to. The theurgy and thaumaturgy of the late Greek schools were only the fruit of the seed sown by the generation which immediately preceded the Persian War.


Major works[edit]

Editions edited and annotated by Burnet[edit]


  1. ^ "Memorial to Professor". The Glasgow Herald. 16 June 1962. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  2. ^ John Burnet - Oxford Index - Oxford University Press
  3. ^ Myles Burnyeat, "On the source of Burnet's construal of Apology 30b2–4: a correction", The Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. 125 (2005), pp. 139-142.
  4. ^ p. 2 n. 5: Burnyeat. M. "The Impiety of Socrates", Ancient Philosophy 17 (1997): 1–12.
  5. ^ John Burnet (1892). Early Greek Philosophy. p. 88. 

Further reading[edit]

  • The Dictionary of British Classicists, ed. Robert Todd, Bristol: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.

External links[edit]