Anya Leonard: Living a Life of the Mind

Anya Leonard is the founder and director of Classical Wisdom, a publishing business dedicated to bringing ancient wisdom to modern minds. Anya majored in philosophy and the history of science and math with a minor in comparative literature at St. John’s college in Annapolis and received her Master’s in Sociology at the University of Edinburgh. Born in Norway, Anya has lived in 12 countries, visited 85 and is currently residing in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She recently published a children’s book about the ancient Greek poetess, called Sappho: The Lost Poetess.

How did you become interested in philosophy?

It was my older brother who first introduced me to thinking about philosophy. When I was a teenager, we used to spend our summers visiting my father in Kazakhstan. My dad had studied astronomy in college, so we would all go up to the Tien-Shan observatory high up in the mountains and sleep on the stone benches after spending hours looking at the stars. I remember after one such night my brother purposefully asked a series of questions…

Where did we come from? How should we live? What is the purpose of life?

I no doubt provided an embarrassingly average, nonchalant 14-year-old response… to which he replied, “This is important. You need to think about these things.” And so I did.

While I enjoyed the philosophy segments in my high school (we had a class named “Man and his Measure”), my more formal training, so to speak, began at St. John’s college in Annapolis. There we studied ancient Greek, read the originals, discussed the texts for hours both in and out of the classroom. You can’t unlearn that experience if you tried! It was a full decade later I founded Classical Wisdom and now dedicate my full time to ancient philosophy, along with literature, history and mythology from the Classical world.

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

Generally speaking, the most important concept that we promote at Classical Wisdom is that there is real, meaningful value in learning ancient history, philosophy and literature. That the words and ideas that have survived thousands of years have worth in our here and now, if only we are willing to listen. Moreover, there is a beautiful tradition, a great conversation about how we should be that has involved the most inspiring minds from all over the world, from all walks of life, that has occurred throughout the centuries… and that we too can be part of that conversation.

Not only that, but we should continue the discussion. History can inspire, humble, warn, advise, as well as give an amazing perspective on how to live a purposeful life. Our mission at Classical Wisdom is to bring ancient wisdom to modern minds – so we really try to illustrate the importance of the ancient world.  

…always continue learning and to make learning a habit. We try to show the value and enjoyment of continuing one’s education, but more than that, to live a life of the mind.

Anya Leonard

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

We do promote a lot of Stoic philosophy and ideas and I love the practical aspects of that. However, another philosophy that I like to bring up because I think it is very useful for dealing with our current political environment is Skepticism. Of course, the word skeptic has many modern connotations that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the ancient philosophy, so the first hurdle is to explain the original meanings. The practical advice is to listen to another idea, though (even one that you feel you will really hate and dislike) with a truly open mind in order to ‘suspend judgment’. You can only form your own ideas with knowledge if you are able to listen to your opponent. Better still, if you really try to see it from your opposition’s view, you will either learn something and be the better for it or you will better understand your own position. Either way, you win.

Now, I’m not certain if that is the most important advice, simply because it is so specific. If I were to choose something more general it would be to always continue learning and to make learning a habit. We try to show the value and enjoyment of continuing one’s education, but more than that, to live a life of the mind.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use?

The pleasures arising from thinking and learning will make us think and learn the more.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics

I love this quote because it both illustrates the enjoyment of learning and the beautiful positive cycle that it inspires. The formation of meaningful habits starts with a thought, which becomes an action, a lifestyle, a character, a virtue. The beginning is gloriously simple and effective: think and learn.

What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

We have many ways where you can find and follow our work, depending on how you like to learn about the Classics. We have a free newsletter that goes out three times a week, if you enjoy receiving Classical Wisdom in your inbox. We also have a YouTube channel with fun videos as well as our podcast, Classical Wisdom Speaks.

Finally, we’ve been very involved on social media sites from the beginning. If you want tidbits of Classical Wisdom interspersed with your family pics and cat memes, you can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You can find all this on our website, including articles, books, webinars, etc.! Check us out at Classical Wisdom.

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy… 

To actually talk on the exact location of Plato’s Academy would be a real honor. One aspect that I really love about this project of restoring Plato’s academy is to bring to life the history and wisdom of Plato and his world. By walking in his footsteps and finding archeological artifacts as well as reading the original texts, we can traverse through time. It connects us in almost a magical way to history’s ancestors and reminds us that we are the continuation of a great tradition called human civilization.

4 Replies to “Anya Leonard: Living a Life of the Mind”

  1. if we don’t know where we come from, we don’t know which way we are facing and we surely cannot move forward (or backwards, or sideways, up or down – but you get my drift

  2. prof gerd gigerenzer wrote a paper on the psychology of not wanting to know and reckons that only 1% of people want to know – about anything and everything – i told him – i have to know – not knowing is not an option – surely if one is here and using the bit above their neck – one has to know and understand
    engaging with others opens the mind to others reality

  3. Wonderful article and perspective on the classical mind and finding purpose, shared by Anya Leonard. I am a teacher who stepped away from the academy during the pandemic to serve others in a different way. I am inspired! I will search for a new home among those in the world of ideas! (Just watched her fine collaboration with Barry Strauss, Kara Cooney, and William Murray on the Battle of Actium.)

  4. This is light in these dark and ever-darkening times …
    And there is more as I point to neoplatonism, especially the French psychoanalyste–philosophe Cynthia Fleury om whose balanced work I am building for my own students and, of course, myself.

What do you think?