Comfort Classics: Leigh David Cobley






The world is in a state of upheaval at the moment, and we’re all looking for things to make us feel less anxious. Maybe Classics can help.




Today’s interview is with Leigh David Cobley




Is there a source from the ancient world that you find yourself coming back to when you want to feel better?


Most of what I research on antiquity is a bit grim, but confronting the terrible nature of existence also has its comforts! It’s ancient philosophy I come back to, the idea that it can be lived as well as studied and that it’s a form of training (askesis) to deal with the things that life can throw at us. If I had to pick just one source it’d be Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.




When did you first come across this text?


I skimmed it a few times when I was younger, but as Aristotle says in the work, philosophy is wasted on the young! I only got to know it properly a few years ago when I was visiting a friend in Thessaloniki. We spent evenings jamming on the lyre and discussing philosophy. I’d packed my Loeb as I knew we’d be visiting Aristotle’s school at Naoussa and when we drove up there we couldn’t resist doing a few recitations. It’s such a wonderfully quiet place, perfect for contemplation and peripatetic countryside walks!






Can you tell me a bit about this text and its context?


The work’s title supposedly refers to Aristotle’s son, so maybe he also had difficulties bringing his kids up, though most parents wouldn’t go so far as to write philosophical tracts to rein their kids in! Unfortunately, all of his actual books are lost and the surviving text is really a collection of lecture notes from the Lyceum, his school at Athens. The work goes in and out of philosophical fashion, but has recently been an influence on the virtue ethics of writers like Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum.




What is it about Aristotle that appeals to you most?


Maybe it’s his observation that happiness (or however you prefer to translate eudaimonia) is an activity rather than a state. It’s not so much being happy that’s important as doing something happily. Life has its ups and downs so we can’t expect to remain in a constantly happy state. Human beings are complex organisms with many emotions, but if what we do gives purpose to our lives, they will be rewarding nonetheless.




And finally… what do you do, outside of Classics, to cheer yourself up?


I’ve always been into languages, so Greek was just an extension of that. I live in a cosmopolitan city so it’s easy to meet people from different backgrounds and in Europe meeting up on a terrace for drinks and language exchanges is an everyday thing. More than any specific text, it’s the active use of languages which I find cheers me up. I’m not very talented at it, but I have the patience to persevere and not feel embarrassed by making mistakes, which are a natural part of language acquisition. The same goes for Classical languages. For instance, I recently started a Greek blog to practice my writing.  It’s hardly Attic prose, but it’s a very productive learning process as I gradually realise how much I still don’t know from a real world need to communicate and take the grammar from there. Aristotle said that the activity of contemplation is true happiness, but he was most likely a monolingual Greek. Maybe if he had taken the time to pick up some of those supposedly “barbarian” languages he would have done things even more happily still.



Leigh David Cobley (M.A. Classical Studies) is an artist, musician and philologist specialising in recreating the memes of antiquity. His blog is an ongoing project to practice writing Ancient Greek and produce materials for beginner students. His YouTube channel documents his other classical comfort, learning to play an Ancient Greek tortoise shell lyre. He can be followed on Twitter @LeighDCobley.





12 thoughts on “Comfort Classics: Leigh David Cobley

  1. Now then Leigh! I do get updates of your blog and I do like to look, but alas my Ancient Greek is non existent so either you will need to provide a translation or I will have to learn to read the language. All being well, I’ll be starting Ancient Greek this summer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Tony! For the blog epistles I’m using the “polis method” for learning Greek, meaning total immersion in the language (like we would learning any modern language), so translations are out, I’m afraid. However, I’ve glossed all the vocab, regardless of level, so beginners should be able to follow the epistles without too much difficulty. 
      You’re not really missing much though, as these epistles are all very basic writing aimed at Greek beginners, so I’m not really saying anything of interest (yet). It’s all very much “my name is Leigh”, “I have a pen” sorta stuff. If I write an essay type article with something more involved to say, it’s still gonna be in English, as the level of Greek would be beyond me anyway!
      Good luck starting Greek this summer… you won’t regret it!


  2. Naoussa & Meizza are lovely areas for archaeology! Bucolic glades, babbling brooks, polychromatic Macedonian Tombs & great agriculture. Very much worth a visit. The wine is pretty good too!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Valeria! Glad you liked it, it’s a very relaxing instrument to play. Thanks for listening!


    1. Hi Sarah, yes wonderful area isn’t it? The tombs are astonishing, especially the one with frescoes of Aeakos, Rhadamanthys and Hermes, very atmospheric! Sorry to say I missed out on the wine though… I was on the Mythos at the time 😄🍺


    1. Hi Colin, I had to take up the lyre with my classical studies (as my guitar was too much of an anachronism!) Can’t believe next month will be my 5th anniversary!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Leandros

    Please tell me you made your own lyre! Actually, I am a bit intrigued where you get these from, I can’t remember seeing a lyre shop on the high street! Am I right to think that the tortoiseshell (and probably it’s non tortoise adaption) acts like a soundbox for applification? Also, what are or should the strings be made from and where do you get them from?

    Loved the spoken Greek by the way. I was just chatting to a couple of people that Greek, to me, sounds so much more atmospheric than Latin. I am very much a beginner on both (Latin slightly more adavanced) and I am always very impressed by experts 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to tell you that I made the lyre myself, but it’s from Luthieros in Greece. That said I did come across a shell of my own in a forest while there. You can imagine what the first thing to cross my mind was, but alas that shell still sits silently on my balcony.

      Yes, the shell is the lyre’s soundbox and produces quite a different tone to its wooden counterparts. It’s difficult to capture in a video the exact live sound, or the way it resonates. The strings were originally nylon ones but are gradually getting replaced by gut strings as I’m always snapping them.

      The idea with the spoken Greek stuff is to share my attempts at improving my pronunciation. Everyone starts out a beginner and as with other languages I can’t be embarrassed about my attempts. Nobody gets to advanced level by hiding under a rock until they are perfect!

      Liked by 1 person

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