I~. ~~ __ ~~-- ~~ __


[can-Pierre Vernant

Translated from the French


Ithaca, New York


The Structure of

the Human Cosmos

Religious ferment not only contributed to the birth OIf law, but ah;o provided the! impetus for a consrderation of moral and political questions. The dread of defilement ~whose role in the origin of lawsconcernlnghonrtrtde has been noted) was expressed most intensely in the mystical yE arning for a h fe free of all fleshly con tact. In the 5a me way, the popu lar ideal of a us terity tha t enle:rg:ed in reacfion to the growth of commerce, the display of luxuries, a ndthe high - h <'tnd€ dnes s of the rich is seen m extrern e form inthe ascetlci Sill extolled in some re Hgiau S otganizaticns, The cult circles thus helped to shape anew image of arete [virtue]. Aristocratic virtue was a natural quality associated with high birth, and was manifested in courage in battle and an opulent way 0 f life .Tn there ]igiolu S gmu P5, Q rete not 0 nly shed Hs,~1' a dH i onal W 1l.rUke aspect I but was now defined by its opposition to' everything r€p~

I nth is ch apterI have made extensive' use (If ~J:'f[fo~marioll pIlD-· \1'1 ded by L Gemet in an unpubhi:he cl series oJ lectures on. the origins of iPOm~c,il_lthought am,[ll'Ig the Greeks, given. a~ the ECDle Pratique des Hautes Erodes in 1951-


resented by the ideal of habmSy11.f [refinement], such as sensitive behavior and manners. Virtue was now ['Iega rde d as the fruit of a long andard uou S r'lskes.rs [tr a ining L of a hard I strict d isdp line, or mel« ie. I t set in motionan epimeleia ,a vigilant self-control. an unflagging readiness to flee the tempta tions of pleas ure I h edone, the lure of irtdolence and sensuality, ma{akia and tryphe, andto choose ;;I" llfe wholly de aka ted to ponos, ard UOlUS effort

These are the same rilgorous tendencies that we see in a somewhat exaggerated form among the cults, where they appeared as a discipline of aske's.~·s that enabled the ini hate toeseape the injustice s ofthis life, to break fr~~ of the cycle of rein earn <It ion and return to the divine source of things. We reco gnue themat wo rk in old inary life t minus a rrty eschatological concerns, tempering behavior r values, and institutions. Pomp. ease, and pleasure were rejected: luxury in dress, in one's dwelling, in food and d ri rtk were forbidden _ How furJo1Lllsly wealth W;iUj. denou need '! But the ttlrge t of the dernmcia tion WBI S the social cortSI1!quel1lces of wealth-the evils it bred within the group, the divisions and hatreds it stirred u.p in the dty, the condition of s tasfs l d vil discord] l t brought about a sort of natural .. law. Wealth had replaced all thearistocrane values.mamage. honors, privileges, reputation, power=-wealth could win them all. Now it wasmoney that mattered, money that made theman.But unlike all other "powers," wealth admitted of no limit: nothing in it could set a bound, restrict it, or make it complete. The~ ESSence of wealth was exoessr which was also the shape taken by h yb ris in the \.\1 or ld. This was the obsessi '!Ie]y recurring theme in the moral thought of the sixfh cen-


The Origins of G reek Thought

tury, The words of Solon, which had become proverbs CNo end to wealth: KOroS, surfeit, begets hybris"). were echoed by Thecgnis ("Those who today have the raost want to have twice <.'I_S much; wealth, i'ti cfirl'mlllil::I, turns a man to madness, aphosyP1eil). He who has, desires yet more. U1timatelyweaHh has no object but itself. Created to satisiythe needs of life , as arnere means of subsistence, it becomes ] ts own end, a Ulll versal, b'lsatiab]e, boundless craving that nothing will ever be able to aS~ S1(]lage, At the root of wealth one therefore discoversa corrupted disposition, a perverse , .... ill, a pler:mexia~the desire to have morethan others, more than one's share, to have everything" in Grl!;'ek eyes, plo~t(J5 [wealth] was bou nd up with a kin d of elisa s ter-notan economic disaster' but the necessary consequence ora. character trait, an dfios, the logic of a certain lodnd Qfbehavior- Kol'os,. kybris, pleo« exia were th e ina Honal for rns assumed by arlstocrabe arrogance in the [ron Age-diLat spirit of eris [strife] which now bred not high-minded ernulatlon, but only in }'U stice, oppre ssion, dys 1~ omia l d is order] "

The idea of SOP'1 nJsyne took shape in ccmtrOlst to the hybris ef the 'rich, It 'consisted of moderation. proportion, fail ltm.its, the golden mean. "No~hing.in excess" was the mort 0 of the new wis dam. This valuin g 0 f the me dera te, the mean, gave the Greek ldea of arete almost a "bourgeois" aspect it was the middle class that was able to play a moderating role in the city by striking a balance between extremes on both. sides-ethe minority of the rich who wanted to hold onto everythi:ngt~he mass of people who had nothing and who wanted to get everything.. ThoSi,eca.Ued hai mesoi were not only the members of a particular social class, midway between deshtu.tion and


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

a ffl uence: rheyrepresen ted a human typ e an d embodied f1H~W civic V alues, asthe rich emb odied the €?(tra v.aga n ce of hybn''S, from their median position in the group., the mesoi had the role of establishing a balance, a connecting link between the tWG parties that were tearing the dty apar+because each clalrned all ardie f.or itself. 5010:1"1,. himself a man of the "center," set out to. be arbiter, mediator, and reconciler. If he s ucceeded in ,]I pportioning arch e annong the various factions according to their respective rnerns, he would then have brought the harmony of the cosmos to a pobs set upon by dysnomia. But this balanced distributlon, this trunmrlia, imposed limits On the ambitions of those moved by the spirit of excess: i~ drew a line beyond which they might not step, At the center of the state stood Solon like an immovable pillar, a hQ1'os [boundary stone] markmg jhe line between two opposing mobs, which neither could CmSS. Corresponding to' sophr:osyne. the virtue of the happy medium, is the image of ill political order that sets up an equi..Ubri urn between opposing forces i establishing a IlL accord between rival gmups. But like the legal process, the new form of arbitration pre 51,] pposed a judge who r in handing down his decision an d if ru~,ces5ary enforcing it. refe rred [0 a la w su perior to ~he partie s, a. dike that w as necessaril y the same for everyone. "I wrote:' Solon said, "the S ilm€ I a w s for the 1aiko,$ [low J andthe agafhas [high], setting down impartiel [ustice for each." To pr~serve the m]e of a law that was common to all, Solon refuse d. the office of tyrant, which W;;I5 well 'iN tthin h is reach. How was he to take into his own hands, the hands of one man, the Mche that must remain el'l me-so? Wna'~ Solan accomplished, he did in th@ name ofthe community, by the toroe of Iaw, krate! riO~r:iOU,


The Origins of Gre>e'k Thought

joining together might with right, bian kai di~r,rNt.K:ra.t05 and Shit. the two ancient attendants of Zeus-a-who might n ot leave their places beside h is thronefor even a n in ~ stant, since theyembodied all that was absohite, irresistible, and irrational in the sovereign's pow~]"-had passed into the service of the law" Now they were servants of

,j . '. . - ., ., ..

~wmos,which reigned in place of the king at the c-enter or the city, Because of its relation [0 cNke, rfQ1'rJOS still had a certain religious connotation: but itwas expressed also a nd above all in a P ra ctica 1 e Hort 10 ~.@g]:5]a te, <I ra tional attempt to' bring art end to confhct.jo balance antagonis~k s ocia l force s, to reconcile op posmgh uma n a ttitudes .. Evidence of th is p ollrical "rationalism" is to befeu nd in Solon's fourth fragm.ent' We have comea long way from Hesi od's good king, whose 1'112' tigious Vlrtu€' a lone co uhf resolve all quarrels and surnmort forth peace and- all of earth's blessings. [ustice had seemed then to be entirely natural and self-reguJabng, It was human wickedness, the spirit of hybrts, the insatiable thirst for wealth that naturally brought forth dtsmder, by a process whose every phase could be marked out in advance: thus injustice gave ris€' to the enslavement of the masses. which in turn gave rise to rebellion. To reestablish order and hesy,hia [triilnquilHty], moderation must thus sirnultanecilJJs]y crush the arrogance of the rich and put an end ~o the enslavement of the af"rnos, yet without yielding to subversion. Such was the teaching [hat Solon set before the eo)' es of BI II citizens. The lesson m lght be tern pora rily In isunderstood or rejected, but the sBlge had faith in the power of time: once the truth had been made public-or,

IS~~ c. Vl<lSt05, "Solonian [usttce." Clas-si.'lll PlliliJlo8Y, 41 (194)6}, 6,5--.B3.


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

as he put it, had been laid down es to meson-the day wouldcome when the A~heni.m5 would acknowledge it.

With Solon, Dike and Sophrosyne came down from heaven to take up residence m the agora. That is to saYf they would h~r!L(@forrtn be accountable. The Greeks would most certai 1:11 y eontln ueto invoke them; but they would never agadn refrain from subjecting them to discussion.

Through this marked secularization of mO:rrBI~ thought, the idea of a virtue's ueh as soph ros!me co uld berenews d and r1ar:iHed.~rn. Homer, s0'Phros!lm~ had the very generfll mea ning of good sense: the gods restored it to one who had lest it ju st as 'th~y could CaJU se the shrew dest minds to lose it. l Bu~ before being reirtterpreted by the sages in a political con text, the idea seems to have been eJabo.:rated. in certain religious circles. There it designated iii returnto oil state of" calm, stability, and self-control aftara period of upheaval and demonic possession. The means employed were tnt:'! kind we hOI, v,e noted: music, song, dancing, purifies 60n rites, Some times more direct means could be used to produce a shock {'!ff'ecL In the shrine of Herades at Thebes, Pausanias Saw <I stone dla"t Athena. was said to have thrown at th e head of the r.aging herowhen ,. driven wild by man ie, he 5.1a ughtered hi.s own children ~n d was about tokill Amphitryon.? This stone, which numbed and calmed rum, was caned sophrom:ster" Orestes' recovery took place in somewhat diHere:rILl circumstances. DUI'~ in g his madn ess a He r m urderirrg his me tiler, the unforhrnate hero carne to a place named f'Of the Ftaries: Marlini. There he stopped an d cut off one of his fingers (which in

lOdyssey, xxru, 13. ~r<1lUsiilruas, LX, n, 2.


The Origins of Greek Thought

Pausanias' time WaJS still represented by a stone set on a mound called mMemti dactylou, the tomb of the finger). In that place, known as Ake, the Cure, he regained soph~ rosynf'. Pausanias adds the following detail: as kmg as the Furies had Orestes in their possession and rendered him ekphron, out of his mind, they appeared black to him; once he had cut off his finger and become sophron, sound in mind, he saw them as white." This same interplay between defilement and purificaticn, possession and recovery I madness. and sound mind. is evident even in the setting or the cave where the soothsayer Melampous, by secret rituals and kafhllrrtwi lpurificatiorrs], calmed the frenzy of Proitos' daughters: on one side flowed the waters of the St-P, the river of defilement, bringing disease and death to every living creature, and on the other the spring AlysS05, whose beneficentwaters cured the insane and all those possessed by the frenzy of lyssa. 5 But in UH..i.S be i ng define d in con trast to a rna dness t ha twas also pollution, sophrosyne's moderation took on an ascetic quahty in the religious climate of the cults. As the virtue of constraint and abstinence, it consisted of turning aside from evil. avoidingall defilement: not only refusing the criminal temptations {hal an evil spirit: can arouse in US,. but abstaining from sexual intercourse. reinlngi n the promptings of eros and all the appetites of the flesh, and serving an a pprenticeship in self-control, the conquest of self. by undergoing ordeals of initiation into the Way of Life. The self-mastery of whirh sopf1rosyne is composed seemed to imply, if not a dualism, at ],east a certain ten-

&P~us<lni<ls, VI[[, 34, }H.

sp.aUs.11m<lS, vtu, 17, 6U., and 19. 2~3.


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

sion between two opposing elements in human nature: those pertaining to thymos, the affections, emotions, and passions {favmit,e themes of lyric poetry), and those as~ sociatcd with a considered discretion, a reasoned calculation (as extolled by the gnomk poets). These powers of the soul were neton th€' same plane. Thymos was formed for obedience and submission. The cure and prevention of madness involved methods of "persuading" thymas, of ma.king it amenable to. discipline and receptive to command, so that it would never again be tempted to rebel, Or to assert a supremacy that would bring the soul to disorder. These techniques constituted a p'llideia leducation] that was not limited to individuals. To them it brought health and stabilHy; it made the soul "continent U beping in subjection the part intended to obey. But by the same token it took 011 a social aspect, a politic'al function, since the evils hom which the community suffered were the incontinence of the rich and the subversive' spirit of the' "spiteful." By doi.ng away with both, sophro5y~~e produced CI peaceful and harmonious city, in

. which the rich, far from always desiring mOH§!, gave away their surplus to the poor, and the masses, instead of rebelling. agreed to submit to their betters, who had the right to possess more. This preoccupation with political questicns could not have been alien to the principles of certain culls .. Among the Olympian and Eleusinian divinities in the sanctuary of Demeter at PergamuU1, where the religious fraternity tbat condurrsd the worship was required 10 sjngOrphic hymns (as the Lycornids had to do at Athens), were a number of Orphic gods who personified abstract ideas. Among them were two pairs, Aretc [Virtue] and Sophrosym-, Pistls [Trust] and


The Origins of Greek Thought

Hornonoia. ~ This grouping is worth emphasizlng.In the work of Thecgnis, Pistis is also associated w]th Sophrosyne. '1 Thiuf idea Is the subjective aspect of h.omorloia, and as such is social and political: the trust that citizens have for one another is the inner, psychological counterpart of social harmony. In the soul 21$ in thedty, it is through the power of Pisbs that the lower elemellts· are pers ua de d to obey thosew ho have tliLe fUrlchon of >COm ~ maud .. and willingly subject themselves to a rule that keeps the m intheir su bo rd inate position.

I n genera], however, it was outsi d e the cults tha t sophmsy11c acquired its pre,clse moral and political significance. A cleavage opened u.p very early between two sharp l y d i v,e:rgen t (:U rren t's of thought. One was (oncemed with individual salvation, the other with that of ~he city- On the one hand were the religious groups on the fringes of lhe community. turning in upon fhernsel yes In thetr sea rch for puri ty; on fI.·IiI~ other we re the eifel e 5 djrecdy in valved in P u bllc life, who ha dto deal with the divisions within the stale, BInd who used such. traditional ideas as 50p11 rosyJ1 e in a way that gave them a new political content: and a form that was practical rather than religious.

In an institul10fll suchas the Spartan agoge [educational system], saphra5yrr.e already showed all. essentially social cnaracter, lt entailed behavior that was regulated, OQfIL~

~~e W, K. C. Guthrie, OrpJ~eus ~~,Id GIT~k Rdigif)t1..' .A Study of lIre Orphic MOf,!~ri'I~'nl'. :l.d ed., revised (London, 1952), pp. 259ff.; H. Usener, Gilttem~mt!r!: Versl1clll.'irler Lelrr~ ~;\Cm dll., R~1igi~~en .l'kg'riffsbild~~g (Bonn, 1896), p, 368.

"Theognis, 1137-1138.


Th.e S tru ern re of the H uma n Cosmos

trolled, and marked by the reserve a young man was expeered to mali nta in irian. drcumsta nces: in his walk, j 111 his glance, in. his talk, in his behavior toward women and his elders, in the agorOl, in ]"egard~o pleasures and to drinking. Xenophon evokes just such solemnreserve when he compare s the La red aemonian kQU res. walking in s ilencs with eyes ]owered,~o 21. statue of a virgin, The dignity of one's behavior had an instrtutional significance: it externalized 21 moral attitude and a psychological mold that W@:n~ felt as obl iga nons: the future!' citizen must be trained to rule his, passions, his emotions, and his instincts. The Lacedaemonian agog,rt was specifically designed to test this self-mastery. Sophros:yne~hus held up each indivtdual toa common modelin his relaticns with others, consistent with the city's image of" "political man." The ci tizen' s re serve d. behavior was as far remove d from the easyg:oingness and ludicrous vulgari~y of the common herd as jt was from ~he aristocrat's haughty armgaJnC!e. The new style in h u m.<TII n re 121 tions eon formed to the standards of discipline, balance, and moderation expressed by such aphorisms as "Know thyself, ""No~hing in excess," an d "Mo deration is 'Des t." The sages' role wa s to idenmy BInd put into words, in poetry or maxims, the values that remained more Or less implicit in the dhzen's conduct and social life- But their intellectual efforts not only le d to a eonce p~uaJ formula tion; they pu t the moral problem into ~ political context and linked it with the development of public' life, They were caught up in civil stri.re and anxious to bring it to an end by their work as legislators. It WaJi5 thus as a consequence of a social situation, in the framework of a history marked by i.'I con-


The Origins of Greek Thought

flict of forces. by OJ confrontation of groups, that the sages worked out their ethical beliefs snd arrived at a pragmatic defirntion of the conditions under which order might be

established in the city. .

To understand the social realities that overlav the

ideal of sophrosyne, and how the notions of meirion [the

mean], pistis [trust). homonoia [unanimity], and eunomia [law and order] were blended to form a whole, it is necessary to consider such constitutional reforms as those of Solon .. They made a place [.or the equality-isotes:-that had already appeared as one of the foundations of the new conception of order. W.ithout isotes there would be no city because there would be no phi1ia [friendship], "The man who is an equal," wrote Sclon. "is incapable of starting a war.' But this was a hierarchical equality-c-or, as the Greeks would say, an equality that was geometrical rather than arithmetical. The essential idea was actually "proportion.' The city formed an organized whole, a cosmos, which was harmonious jf each of its constituent parts was In its place and had the share of power it was due by virtue of Us Own quality. '~T 0 the demos, «r 50]01'1 said, "I gave as much kn:HO$ [power] (or gems [privilegej) 2IS it needs, without diminishing or adding to its time [prestige]." Thus there was no equal right either to municipal offices (the highest being reserved for the best) or to landed property: Solon rejected a distribution of land that would have "given the kakm· [the lowbornl and the esthloi· [the highborn] equal shares of the richest lands." Where, then, was equality? It lay in the fact that the law, now set down, was the Same for all citizens, and that all could take part In the courts of justice and the


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

assembly. Heretofore it had been "pride," the "unruly spirit" of the Eich,~hat governed social relatioi LS. Solon was the first to refuse to obey U or let himself be "persuaded" by it. Now it was dike that determined the reap~ portionmen t 0 f timai [honors and offices]: written laws replaced the test of strength in which the powerful all,vays won, and established their own standard of impartiality r their requirement of fairness. Homonoia or concord was a harmony brought about by proportions that Solon made a H the more precise by giving them a quasinumerical form: the four da s ses in to w h ich the citizens were divided, and which corresponded to grades of honor, were based on ~he measures used for agricultural products: five hundred measures for the highest class, three hundred for the hippeis, two hundred for the zeugitai. The accord of the city's various factions was possible because the intermediate group-the middle classes=-d id not want to see ei [her the higher Or the lower class seize control of arch« The lawgiver and the law he promulgated were themselves the expression of this will of the middle, this "proportional mean" that gav'e the city its center of gravity.

The development of moral and political thought followed the same lines: for relations based on strength people tried to substitute connections of a "rational" kind, by establishing in every sphere a system of regulation based on moderation and Slimed toward accommodating and "equalizing" the various kinds of ex= change that made up the fabric of social life.

A remark attributed to Solon sheds light on the sign ifican ce of this cha nge I which had been effected, as


Th e 0 rigins of G ree k Though t

Plutarch notes, by reason and law: hypo logou kai nomou me,ta~ le. S :Anacha rsis hOI d rnocke d the At henia n sage who rmagined that written laws; could curb the Cldikia {injustice] and pleonexia [gr,eedJ of his fellow citizens: 1i.k~ cobwebs, the laws would restrain the weak and sman: while the rich and powerful would tear them apart Solon countered with the example of conditions with which two contracting parties complied because neither had any th i ng to ga in by violating in em, '.I So the d ty' s task was to promulgate rules that codified the relations between individuals according to [he same practical principles of reciprocal advantage that governed the drawing up of a contract.

As E. wm has shown, it is within the framework of this genera] process of codification and proportion that we must place the origin of money in the true sense ot the word-that is, a state currency, issued and guaranteed by the city. HI The economic consequences of this event are well known; on the economic level it operated as an agent of radical change, orienting Greek society in the direction of mercantilism. But at the beginning, gwen its social. moral, and inteUectuaJ signiikance, the es ta bhsh ment of ill currency was a n in tegral part of the "legislators" general undertaking, The aris-

8Plutarch, 'The Life of SOlon." XIV, 50. !)Plmarch. "The lite of Solon," V, 4-5.

'~E. Wnt KorruOW1'ka: R«herchlfS SEa I'his/tJirlt et I~ [iuil£sa~.i(tn de ~orinfne~~.r)rigifrl:s aJ.lx gU~1TfS metJiq!l~ [Paris, 1955}, PI'. 495-502; "De I aspect erhJq!.l.e de l"mig.il1e grecque de la monnaie,' Revue hisi(lr.iquf, 212 (1954), 209f£.; "Reflex~ons et hypothi'lses Sur les origines du mOlll'llayage, '" Ret'IJ€' fi ~mmmlilii\i'~t', 17 {] 955), 5-23.,


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

tocratic privilege of issuing stamped bullion was appropriated for the benef t of the comm unity as the state seized the sources of precious metal and substituted the city's seal for the devices of the nobles- At the same time' it was a means o,f codifying, regulating. and coordinating the exchange of goods and services among citizens according to an exact numerical valuation: perhaps it was also, as wm suggests, BIn attempt to equalize \· ... ealth to some extent by putting specie into circulation, or by altering its value without resort to unlawful confiscation" On the intellectual level, for the old hnage of wealth as hybris~so charged with affective force and religious implications-legal tender substituted the abstract idea of nom L~rna, a social s tanderdef value, a. ra tional con ~ trivance that allowed fora common measure of diverse realities, and thus equalized exchange as a social rel~ ti onship.

It Is quite remarkable that in their polemics the two great opposmgcurrents in the Greek world-s-the one aristocratic in inspiration, the other democratic in sp]r]t-both took their stand on the same ground and made the same appeal to equity, isotes. The aristocratic tendency was to envisage the city, in the perspective ofa Solonian eunomia, as a cosmos made up of sundry parts} maintained in hierarchical order by the law. Homorwia was analogous to' <I harmonic chord, based on a muslcal sort of relationship: 2/1, 3/2, 413. Moderation would harmonize forces that Well! by nature unequal by ensuring that the stronger did not go to excess, The harmony of eunomia thus implied the recognition of a certain dualism in the social body as in the individual, a polarity between


The Origins of Greek Thought

good and evil, and the need to ensutethepredorninance of the bette r over the worse. Thisw as the orienta tion that triumphed in Pythagoreanism; 11 Halso governed the theory of sophrosyne as Plato set it forthin the .RepubU,c. t2 .soph rosyn e was not aqua lily peculiar to any 0 ne party within the state" but the harmony of the whole, which made the city a cosmos and gave it self-mastery, in the same way that an individual was said h) be master of his own desires and diversions. Comparing it to singing in harmony, Plato defined it as "an agreement b€hv~'en the naturally superior and inferior voices as to which should lead, both in the s ta t~ and in~he individual" A~e.xt by Archytas. the Pythagorear; statesmen, brings us down from the philosophical heights ,or the .Republic and ill ]iule closer to social reality. He shows how the practice of commercial excha nge and its neces saF}' [iegula ti9'n by contract eont nbuted to the idea of 11 m easuremeu to! social relations, a precise evaluation of the relations among the activities, functions, services, benefits, and honors of the various social. orders, according to the principles of proporHona l equality. "Once discovered,' wrote Archytas, "rational computation pogismos ~ puts an end tJQ the condition of S ((Isis a nd introduces f.lomonoia; for there is truly no mere pleonexia, and ~:sotes is achieved; and if is equaJhty tha t permits bu sines s [0 be carried on in matters of con tract ual excha.nge. Thanks to allt his ,~h,e poor re~ ceive fromthe m]ghty and the rich give to those ~n need, all groups having the plstl:S that by these means they will halve i!iofes, equa]ity."

U5c-c A_ DebuE', £.s5tli sw·1IJ: plllifique pythagllrJ'cienne (Uege and Paris, 19m_

uPlato, R£publio::, W, 430d tL


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

Here, indeed, we see how social interccurse, now likened 10 aeontractual bond rather thart OJ law of dominance and submission, was expressed in terms of redprodty. of reversi bllity, A(cording to A ristntle' s accou fit of the situation at Tarentum, Archytas' intent was in practice to keep individual possession of property in the hands of the "best.' so ~ong as they permitted its, use by the mass of the poor; in such an arrangement, ev,eryml@ got something. For believers in eUrlomilll, equity was introd uced in to social rela tlensas it. result of a moral and psycholog leal tr a nsforma rlon of th e elite: instead of se elkingpower a:ndwe2lIth.;~he "best" were molded by i3J philosophical piJideitJ not to wish to have more (pleonektein], but on jhe contrary to give wifh open-handed generosity to the POOf, for whom. p.leonektdn was lit~ra1].y impossible.P In this willy the lower classes were kept in their proper subordtnate position, but wirhoutbemg subjected to any injustice, The equality thus. achieved re- 11;1a ined pm p ortional to' merit.

The democratic current went further when. it defined all d tizens, without regard to fortu [l[{I! or qu ali IY, as "equals" having precisely the same tights to take part in allaspects of public life, Such is the ideal of isonomia,. which envisaged equality in terms of the simplestrelationship: 111. The only "correct measure" capable of harmO'nizing relations among citizens was full and CO[]'lplete equ a Uty. The problem was no Ion ger, as it h a d been earlier r to find a scale for apportioning power by merit, one that produced a harmonic concord between dif:6elent and even discordant elements, but strictly to' equalize


The Origins of G reek Thought

participation in arche and access to public offices for all citizens, to eliminate all the differences that had set the various parts of the city against one another, and to blend and merge them so that on the political level citizen5were no longer differentiated in any respect. This was the objective achieved by Cleisthenes' reforms; they set up a comprehensive political structure that in its neatness and coherence, its utter practicahry, promised to be the solution to the problem of devising OJ law that would regulate the city so that it would be one in the multiplicity of its citizens and they wouldbe equal in their unavoidable


Throughout the period that preceded Cleisthenes.

from the archonsbip of Solon to the tyranny and then the fall of the Pisistratids, Athenian history had been dominated by a conflict among three factions, each ranged aga~m;t the others in their struggle for power. What did these factions represent?' They were the 'expression of a complex set of social realities that are not accurately covered by our own politi-cal and economic categories, They denoted, first of all, trsbal and territorial aff]1iaticms. Each of the three factions took its name from one of the three regions into which Attica was divided, The periiakoi were the plainsmen, the people of the pediofl~actuaUy the inhabitants of the city and of the fertile lands surrounding it: the p(l'rahoi lived along the coast; and the diakrioi were h]gh~anders, people of the hinterland-that is, the outlying demes farthest from the urban center - Corresponding to these ten] torial divisions were differences inw ay o,f life, social customs, and political orientation: the pedialwi were aristocrats, defending their privileges as el.4patri.a.al and their interests as landholders; the paralioi made up


The Strucn .. ire of the Human Cosmos

the new social stratum of the mesoi, who sought to avoid the triumph of either extreme; and the diacrioi made up the pBlrty of U1:e comrnon people, bringing tog~ther the population of thetes-smaU farmers, woodcutters, and charcoal burners-many of whom had no place in the tribal structure and were not vet assimilated into the framework of the aristocratic ~itv _ The three factions


arose as clients of the great aristocratic families they

served and whose rivalry dominated the political scene.

Among these factions, which amounted to distinct and opposing "parties'Lwithin the state, open conflict alternated with accommodation until Cleisthenes reoonsntured the polis on a new basis. 14 The old tribal structure was abolished. In place of the four Ionian tribes that made up Attic society, Cleisthenes set up a system of ten tribes. As before, each tribe consisted of three tl"'ittyes [voting districts], but now ail the dernes of Attica were divided among these districts, The citv was thus no longer organized according to e-onnectjOl~s between gene and blood ties. Tribes and dames were established on a purdy g,eographical basis; they brought together dwellers on the Same soil rather than blood relatives, as in the gene and the phratries, which continued to exist in their old form but now were outside the strictly political

l~'Ol'ie compromise solution seems to hllve b~el'l to assign the archonship to the leaders of th~ thn;)e riva] dans in tum; on tbis pomt, See Bepjami.n D, Meritt, "Greek Inscnptien: An Early Archon Llst," Hrsp-eri~',. 8. (1939), 59-65; Ii . T,Wade eery, "Mlltiades." fOIj rnal of HeUem'c Studies, 71 (1951), 212.:-221. This ~memp~ .at a balanced divj:siorl of power among oppO'£ing factions may be compared with one Aristotle reports from <In earlier period: the nomi na. tion of te·n a n;:hot!s-fi ve eupatridai [nobles], three agroik(Ji lfarmess], arid two droriurgoi lar~is,ansl (The AthC11ian Cim.5tituticJn, XIII. 2).


The Origins of Greek Th.ought

structure. And each of the ten newly formed tribes was an am.algamation 0& the three dtUer€'r'Ilt "parties" into which the city had pr,evious:ly been divided. So of the three tri tlyes of wh ich a.~dbe W61S composed, the first of necessity came from fhe coastal region, the SIi:'!(OrlO from the hin t~rian d, the third fromthe urban. area and its environs .. In this way each tribe embodied a crosssection of the population;, regional characteristics, and _ kinds of activity th.3il made up the city. As Aristotle noted, If Cleis~ thanes had set up twelve tribes instead of ten, he would ~h,en have .ass,ig~ed~he dhzens to the trHryes already in exisbmce (the four old tribes had in fact conststed of twelve tn:ttyf?s). and rhus would not have succeeded in uflirylng the body of citizens by mixing themtogether: arlarrdsgestha{ to p{dhO:iL 15

The admlrnstrative structure. then, was a respons.~ to

a deliberate intent t10 merge and unify the social body. Moreover, an arbitrary di vi s] on of civic tiffi!~ allo wed the complete equ,alizaHon of archE!' among allthe gmups~hus €sta.bUshed. The lunar calendar continued to r,eguJate rehgio u s life. Bu t the ad mm is tra bve ye arwas d i vi de d into ten periods of either thit~y-six or trdrty-seven days, ea~h cone span din g to 0 ne of theten tribe 5. The ~ero hers ~l p in the Council of F au r H undre d was r aise d to five hundred, fifty for each tribe, so that during the~en perilOds of the' year each of the tribes in turn rnade up the standing committee of the courtcil. With C~els1henes, the egalitarian ideal was directly linked to political. reality at~he same time that it was expressed in~he abstract concept of isonomia; it inspired a reshaping of


The Structure of the Human Cosmos

institutions. The world OJ social relations thus formed a coherent system, governed by numerical relations and correspondences that permitted the citizerts to declare themselves "the same." to enter into relations of mutual eq ua U ty r symmetry, a,fI d reci pro city, an d together to form a un iOed cosmo s, T he polis was see n BlS a homogeneouswhole. without hierarchy, without rank, without differentiation, Arr;:he was no longer cnncen~rated in a snrgle figure at the apex of the social structure, but was distributedequally throughout the entire realm of public me, in that common space where the city had its cen~e]', its meSon. SovE.[1eigfLly passed from erne gmup to <lnother I from on e individ ual to another, in a reg ular cy ~ de I so th at cornman d a fila Q be dience r rarh er th an being opposed to each other 315 two absolutes, became the two inseparable aspe-cts of one reversible relationship. Urtder the law (I f i:5on om.l(l, th e social Fe a! m ha d the form of a cen te red an d circular co smos I in which each citizen, becau S~ he W as like allthe 0 thers, would have to coverthe entire circuit as time went round, successively occupying and surrendering each of the syrrnnetncal positions that made up civic spa.oe.



Cosmogonies and Myths of Sovereignty

In the history of humankind, beginnmgs ordinanly elude U$, But if the advent of philcn;;ophy in Greece marked the decline of myt'ho~ogkaJl thoug,ht and the beginning of rational understanding, we can fix the date and place of birth of Greek reason-establish its civil status. H was at the beginning of the sixth century, in Ionian Miletus, that such men as Thales, Anaxlmander, and Anaximenes ushered in a new W.;l"Y ofU"iinking about nature, They made it the object of a detached and sYS<tematic mvestlgation {a historia) and offered a comp:rehensive view o.f it (a ,thEoria) , The explanations they proposed for the origin of th@world, its composition and structure, and 61H meteorolngical phenomena were unencumbered by the dramatic machinery of earlier theogo]1ies and cosmogonies, The figures of the great primordial powers were now obliterated, Gonce were the supernatural agen tsw h ose adve nture s, S truggles ,and. exploi ts formed the web of ere arion myth s tha t trace d the ~me-rgenCrt of the world and theestabllsbrnent of order; goneev,en any allusion to the gods that W~I'@' linked to


Cosmogonies artd My~hs of Sovereignty

the forces of nature by the beliefs and observances of the onicial reiiglon, for the "natural philosophers" of Ionia, a. spirit of positi vism perv,aded the w hole of existence 110m the outset. Nothing existed tha.t was not nature, physk The human,~he divine, and the natural worlds made up it u.nified, homogeneous universe, a U on the sa me plane, the~ were the parts or aspect's of one and the same phys~'s, which ev·@ryw.~"u~'re br()ugh~ into play the same powers a~d reveeled the same vi tal force. The wa y~ in which phySlS had come into being and. been diversified and ordered were entirely accessible to human intelligence: nature had not functioned "in the begi,u:dng" othe:l'wise~hafl it still functioned every day, when [lre dried a wet garment Or when a. sieve was shaken and the larger particles were sep_arated from~he rest As there was but one physis, w hich excl L1I ded the Ve ry riotion of anything 5U pernatural, so there was but a sing]e~emporaHly. The andent and the primordial were stripped of their grandeur and myst@ry; they had the reassuring baJna]ity of fanuhar phenomena. To mythorog]ca~ thought, daily experience was ]Ih;un~ned and gjvenmeaning by exemplary deeds pe rimmed by~he gods "]n~he begmning." .f or the ]:0- nians, the comparison was reversed. The primal events, U\te forces that produced the cosmos, were conceived ifl the image of the fa cts th at could be observed today, and could be explained in the same way .. It was no rong)er the ~egmni>ng that illumined and transfigured the everyday; H was the everyday that made the begirming irttelliglble, by supplying models for an, unders~andlng of how the wad d had been sha pedan d set in order,

This intellectual revelutior, appears to have been so sudden aad so radical fhat it has been considered in-


The Origins of Greek Thought

explicable in terms of historical causality: we speak. of ,a Greek miracle. All of a sudden, on the soil of lonia, togas presumably broke free of myth. as the scales feU from the blind man's eyes. And fhe light of that reason, revealed once an d for all. has never cea sed to guide th e P rog:r~S5o of the human rnind. "The early Ionian. teachers." writes Burnet, U, ... first pointed the way which E~mpe has followed ever since."? And he says elsewhere, "]t would be completely false to seek the oJ]gins of Ionian science in .some mythic conception. ,j

Thjs' interprelationis challenged point by point by F, M .. COFnford, According to Cornford, the eerhest philosophy remains closerto mythological construct tha~ to scientific theory. Ionian natural philosophy had nothmg in co mm on, in eith er in spira tic n or methods r wi th what we call science; specifically, it knew nothing whatever of experimentation, Nor w"s it the product or reason's naive and spontaneous reflection on nature. lit transposed into secular form, with a mereabstract v~~abulary, the concept of the v v orld worked out by religion, Tl~e cosmologies simply took up and extended the mam themes of the creation myths. They provided an answer to the same kind of question: they did not mquire/as science does, into the laws of nature; likemyth, they wondered how order had been established, how it had been possible for the cosmos to emerge from chao5., From. th~ creation myths the MHesi.ans took not on~y all! l1J'ul.ge of the uni v t' rse bu t SI w hole co nc ep t U OJJ a pparaJ ius and explanatory schemata: behind the "elements' of physis loom the old gods of myrhology.Jn becoming nature, the

dements shed the ~rappings of individualized deities, bUJ they were still acthN~, anirnate powers, and were stir] deeply fert to be dlvine; when pliysis was at work, i~ was imbued with the wisdom and justice' that were the attributes of Zeus. The Homeric world was get in order bv the a ppo rtto n irtg 0 f Ilea lm sand functions a mong~he c hile! gods: to Zeus the dazzling light of the sky (aWrer), to Hades the hazy ShiU:lO'V5 (aer}, to Poseidon the waterv element, and to all three jointly Gaia, the earth,\l",'her~ hum .. ns live along with the other mortal creatures. T.he Ionian cosmos WOIS divided into regions and seasons aJIrlong elemental powers that were variously opposed, munterbaiOlllced, or ,commingled, This is no vague analogy. Cornford' S aJ nal ysi s reveals elos e! corresporl d €'nces between the Theogcmy of Heslod and the philosophy of An,axlmander .. Tr1 .. re. one still spoke of divine generations w.hde the other described natural processes, refusing to play Ott the <'lmbiguity of such terms as phrp:in and genests, which mean "to bear'<as well as "[0 produce" +-birth as well as origin. As long as these various meanings were sHU mingled, it W<lS possible to speak of becoming In terms of sexual union. and ~o explain ol phenomenon by des]gnahng a ttl.tller and mother and drawing lUp11 family tree. NonetheJess, however important this difference between ~he natural phHosoph,er and the theologian may be, the general structure of their thoug.ht remained the same. Both posited at the beginning an inchoate state in which nothing had yer made its appearance (the Chaos of H.es]od; Nyx, Erebos, Or Tartaros, in the theogonies attnbuted to Orpheus, Musaeus, and Epimerddes; Ape~ron, the Undefined, of Anaximande-). From this primordial ut:Lity, by progressive segregation and dif-


The Origin 5 of G ree k Though t

ferentiation, paired opposites emer-ged-dl1ilrk and light, hot and cold, dry and wet, dense and rarefied, high and low __ , -\. ..... hich w01l11d delineate various categories and regions of the world: the sky (warm and brightt~he 0111" (dark and cold), the earth (dry). the ocean (watery). These opposites, which had rome lnto being. through a process, of separation, could also uniteand mingle to prod u ce certai n ph enomen a, S urn as the birth a nd death of every living thing-vegeotab~e, animal or human.

Bu.t 1 ~ wa 5 not on! y the schema 0 f the whole that was, essentially preserved" Even in the details, the symrnetrtcal. development and correspondence of certain themes show the persistence in the philosopher's, thought of mythic representations that had lost flame of their evocative force. 2 Sexual generation, the cosmic egg, the tree of life, the s~para tiOfl of a pre-vi olu;1y m ingled e arth and sky-~.llwere implicit images that: at€' visible like a watermark behind the "physical" explanations given by an Anaxirnander for the formation of the world: a seed or germ (gmlimvH) that was capable of generating heal and coldhad been secreted (tlp'Okrineslflai) from the Apeiron. At t he ce n ter of t he germ. was the co I d, ] n rhe form of Cler; em the outside, encirclmg the cold, heat developed (periphym,ai) as a shell of fire similar to the bark (phroios) that enca ses a tree. Atime cam e when th is fiery spherical casing separated (aporregrrysthai) from the l1JUdEUS within, and, like a broken shell, splintered into rings of fire, which are the stars. Scbolars have noted the use of embryological terms that simultaneously evoke and

2S~e MMtel dl!' Corte, "My the et philn&opilie chez AJ:1Iaximandre," UltoQI ti~~jug!fJ'U!! fi pliiJo5olJpfliqUt', 14 09513· li%oU. '9-211_



Cosmogonies and Myth~ of So .... erei,gn~}'

rationa lize th ~ the m e 5 of sexual gE neratian and Sa cred marriage: gonimor.l, apokr.i11esfnQi, aporregnysthm', and phlol:rJs. The last termis derived from. pldeo. a verb CO~nected w]th the idea. of generation, and may refer to the embryonic sac, the' shell of an egg, the bark of a tree, and in general to any skin that encloses a plant or anima] organism like a membrane as it grows. ~

nespite these echoes and analogies, however, there is no real continuity between myth. and philosophy. The philosopher WOIS not satisfied to repeat in terms of pJtysis what the theologian had expressed in terms of divme power. Corresponding to the change In tone and the use of <'1 secular vocabulary was. a flew menta] attitude, aJ different intellectual climate, Wi~h the Mlles-ians, the orig]n and ordering of the world fo]" the first thne took the form of anexpl let tl Y po sed problem to which an a ns we r must be: supplied without mystery, an answer gauged to human inteHigence,ca.pab1e ot being aired and publicly debated before the mass of dHze.ns like any question or everyday life. They thus posited a fund-ion ot understa nding free of an y concern wi rh rit ual. The "na rural philosophers" deliberately ignored the domain of religion, Their quest no longer had anything to do with those religious practices to which myth, despite its relative autonomy, <Ilways remained bcundjo some degree,

The desacralizarion off knowledge, the advent of a ktnd of thought foreign to religion-e-these were not isolated and irtcornprehensible phertornena. In its form, phi~osophy is directly lrnked to the spiritual realm that we

~H" C- Baldry, '"Embryologll[ill Analogies in PrcM)crati(' Cosmogony." CI~5Sjrrl Q~jllTffrly" 26 (1932)' 27-34,

The Origins of Greek Thought

have see n give order to the ci ty, and wh ich was so distine-tty charecterized by the seeulartzatiort and rarionalizanon of social life. But philosophy's dependence 011 the institutions of the poNs I.S 1110 lessmarke d in its (on ~ent. [f it is true fha r the M:i1esians borrowed from my thologyr they aJ ls 0 pro found Iy al reredt h e image of the un i verse by integrating it wi~hin a spatial framework, according to a more geometrka.~ model. In constructing jhenew cosmologies, they made use of ideas elaborated by moral and political thought, projecting onto the world of nature that conception of order and Iaw whose S'lH:ceS5 in the city had made the human world a cosmos,

The Greek th e 0 goni es and C'osm,ogo n ie s, like~he Co srnel 0 gi.e 5 tha t came after them, accords d with creation tales that told of the progressive erru~rgeru:e of an orderly world, B1l1~ also, and above alL they were myths of sovereignty, They exalted the power of a god who ruled over 2lU the universe: theytold of his birth, his sh·ugg]e's, his victnry .[n every domain, whether natural, social, or ritual, order W0I5 the- product of that victory of the SOVe:l:'eigrr divinity, If the world was no lo:ngel" given over to instability and confusion,it was because the god no ~onger had to fight battles agall.llst monsters and rivals; his supremacy was now so manifestly assured that no one could everagain q ues tlo nit, He si od's Th e"og(H~ 11 th us reads like a hymn to the glory of Zeus the king, The defeat of lb~ Titans and. of Typhon, alike vanquished by the son of Krone is, no ~ only serve s to 'comp I ete the structure of the poem and bring it to a conrlusien: each episode also recapitulates and summarizes the architectU:r€ of the cosmogenic myth. Each victory of Zeus is a crea-


rion or~hewo rld, The tale I,] f the battle that pits the two rival generations of Titans and Olympians against each other explicrtly evokes the return of the universe to an original state of inchoate disorder. Unsettled by combat, the prlmordtal powers, Gaia, Ouranas, Pontes, Okeanos, Sind T arraros t who pr:@vi.cII.1"siy were differentlatedaJod assigned their own places, are again filUng together. Ga~a and Ouranos, whose separation is deseribed by Hesied, seem to be rejoined with one another ami. m.ade onsagain as though they had fallen a part. H might be supposed that fhe un derwor Id had erupted into dayUght: '~hat the vislb~e universe, instead of being OJ sti;lJble, orderly scene spread out 'bel-ween the two fixed strata that bound it-the earth beneath, the abode of morta ls ,an d the h ea ven 5 above r the sea. t of the gods--had resumed its earlier look of chaos: a dark, vertiginous abyss, a bottomless hole, a chasm of directionless space whers the whirlwinds blow everywhere at on(~ . and i'lJ'~ random. ~ Zeus's victory p~r~s everything back hi place, Thelnfernal Titans are dispatched in chains to the wifldswep~ pH of Tartaros, The gusts can now toss about in endless. disorder in the underground abyss tn which ,earth, sky, and sea th ru 5 t down their co mmon roots. Po seid on ha s locke d up the Tita ns behind the doors that seal oU forever the dwelling places of night. Chaos will never again threatento rise into the ~igh~ to overwhelm the visibleworl d.

The battle agains~ Typhon (this JS an in~erpolahon that probably dales from the end of the seventh century) takes up comparable themes. Ina suggestive discussion,


Th~ Origi.ns of Greek Thought

Com ford ba s compared this episode to the battle of MarA duk against Tiamat. like Tisrnat, Typhon represents the po,,,,rers of confusion and disorder, the return to formlesSI'llfSS and chaos, It is easy to imagine what would have befallen the world if this monster of a thousand voices, the son or Ge and Tartarus, had managed to rule over gods and men in place of Zeus: fromhis remains are born tht' winds that, rather than blowing steOidilyand regularly irt the same direction (as. Notus, Boreas, and Zephyrus do), swoop down unpredictably in wild, randum gusts, now here, n ow there, With the Titans routed and Typhon overthrown. Zeus takes sovereignty upon hlrnse ~ f, a t the urgi ng of the gods, a nd assumes thethrone of the immortals. He then dlstrlbutes resportslbtbties and honors (rima!) a,'mong the Olympians. ln the same way Marduk, on being proclaimed ldng of the gods, killed Tiamat and C1Ut his corpse in two. Hingi.ng half of it into the air to form the sky; then he established the positions and movements of the stars, fTh.ed the year and the months, ordained time-and space, created the hU'!1J.121rl race, and distributed privileges and destinies.

Th ese resem bla nee s between G fee k thecgon y <lind ~he Babylonian creation myth are not accidental. Cornford's hypothesis of a borrowing has been confirmed-ebut also modified and rounded out-by the recent discoverv of two series of documents: the Phoeni-


dan tablets of Ras Sharnra, from ~h~ beginning of the fourteenth century s.c., and some fineenth~(entury HiJ~ tite texts in cuneiform which recapitulate an ancient Hurrian saga .. The almost simultaneous discovery of these two sets of documents has revealed a whole series


Ccsmogomes and Myths of Sovereignty

of new convergencesthat explain the presence of details '~ha t ha d seemed au t of plare or ineorn p roe he risible in the web of U"ie Hesiod tc aJCCOu n t. The preble m off eastern in ~ fluences On Greek origin my ths=-their scope a nd limi ts, how ;]IIlG when they first appeared-is here posed in precise and concrete fashion,

I]1~hesiC e<llstern theogonies, as if! the Greek t heogorues t lit a t were rno de le don them, the genesis ~hemes remain j n tegra ted W] th a Vas rroyal epic tha t de ~ picts the dash of successive generations of gods and variOllIS sacred powers fO! dommicn over the world. The in- 51:i tutio n of sovereign powe r a nd the establishment of order appear as twoJnseparable aspects or the same divine chama, rh e stakes tna single s truggle, th e frui,t of a single victory. This general feature marksrhe subordinatton of the mythic tale to the royal rifua]s of which it had been aJrI element from the beginning, and of which it was the or a I a ccorn P animent. Thus the Ba by lonjan poem of the Creation, the Ernm.!a dish, was SUllg ev~ry year in Babylon on th@ fourth day of the royal festival of the Creation of the New Year.ju the month o,f Nisan, On that date, time was supposed to have completed its cycle and ~he world retu rn ed to its start] fig poi nt-a critical momerit at which the w hole order was it ga.in rhre atened. During the festival the king mimed 21 ritual combat .1l.gains~ a dr Zl.gOliL Th us' each yea r he repea ted th ~ rea t performed by Marduk against Tiamat at the begiorung of the world. The ordeal and the royal victory had 01 double 5i gni ficance: even 21 5 rh ey CD n hrroed the power of th e monarch I S sovereignty i~h E'y sym bolized a. ~t?- crea han of the cnsmic, seasonal. and social order. Thanks eo the


The Origins of Greek Thought

klng's religious attributes, the strurture of file unlverse, after a period of crisis.was renewed and upheld for 31. new te m por a I cycle.

Babylonian ritual and myth reveal a particular conception of the relation between sovereignty and order. The king not only governed the social hiera['\chy, but also intervened in the workings of natural phenomena. The ordering of space, the creation of time, and the regulation of the seasonal cycle appear to have been part of the royal activity; these were aspects of the sovereign's [unction. No distinction was made between nature and society: in all its for-ms and all its spheres, order was made dependen t on the mona rch, In ne]thertthe human group nor the un i verse was it ye t though t of a bs tractl yor as existing i.n and of itself. To exist, U would have had to be established; to endure, it would have to be maintillined; illlways it presupposed an ordering agent, acreative POW@I capable of promoting it Within the framework of this mythic though tone could not ima ginean au tonomous real III 0 f nature or a. principle of organization immanent in the universe.

In Greece, Heated's Theogol1Y was Hot alone in having a gene ral design that accorde d with this perspecti ve: so do more highly elaborated cosmogonies such as that of Pherecydes of Syros,whom Aristotle placed among the theologians who mingled philosophy with myth. If Pherecydes, a contemporary of Anaxirnander, kept UU~ traditional figuf\e:s of the major divinities, he :nonetheless transformed the ir names by etymo 1 ogicalwo rd play to suggest or emphasize their aJttribuh'~s as natural fnrces. Krenos becomes Chronos (Time); Rhea, Rei which evokes the notion of flux or flow; Zeus is called Zas,

Cosmogonie s and Myths of Sovereignty

perhaps to indicate the magnitude of sovereign power. But the myth continued to center on the theme of ill struggle for the lordship of the universe. So far as we can ten from the fragments tha.t have come down to us, Pherscydes gav'e an account of the battle of Krenos against Ophlon, the dash between their two armies, and the plunge of the vanquished into the ocean, leaving Kronos to reign over the sky. Then came the attack by Zeus, his seizure of power, and his solemn union with Chthonie, with the mediation or assistance of Eros, With the hieros gamo5 [sacred marriage] of Zeus the ruler with the goddess of the underworld, the visible world emerged. and for the first time a mode] of the marriage rite as {1P1<lkalypl'cn·a, or "unveiling," was established .. By this marriage the somber Chrhorue was transformed. She was enveloped in the veil that Zeus. had woven and em= broidered for her, revealing the outline of the seas and the con to urs of the 101 nd. Acce ptlng the gift offe red her by Zeus as a token of her new prerogative {ger:as), the dark goddess o.f the u nderworld became G@, the vis] ole earth, Zeus then assigned to the various divinities their moira or portion of the cosmos. He dispatched to Tartaros, in. the custody of the winds and tempests, the forces of disorder and hybris.

In the thecgonies, then, the problem of origin in its strict sense iSJ if not wholly implicit, at least present in the background, The myth does not ask how an ordered world could arise out of chaos: it answers the question of who was the sovereign god, who had obtained dominion "ana~~ei rl, MS ileud n] over the uni verse. In this sense the myth's function was to' establish a distinction and a kind of distance between what is first from 8J tern-


The Origin s of G ree k Thought

P oral standpcm tan d what is Hrst from the stand pain t of power-between the principle that exists chronologically at the b€!ginning of the world and the prince who presides over its present arrangement. The myth ta1k.es shape 'Within that distance: it makes it the vier}' subject or its tale, retraclngfhe avatars of sov('!f\e]gnty down the line of the divine gerJi'f~r<l[h:ms untilthe moment when a definitive slipr~rnaty brings an end to the dramatic elaboration of the dyrwsteia, It must be emphasized. that the term archei which was of such impodaflc€ in philosophical thought, did not belong jo the poHhc2li vocabulary of myth. S h was not simply that myth retained tts attachrnent to expressions fhet were! more specifically "royal." but also that the word «rene, by refe rring in diserimi lila td.y to the firs t ] n a tern pm a 1 se des and to primacy m a soctal hierarchy, abolished the distance on which myth was based. When Anaxirnander adopted the term, conferring on it for the fiIst tim€! the phHosoph1ca~. sense of an elementary principle, the innuvation not only marked the philosopher' s rejection of the "monarchical" VQCOI bula ry ch 01 racteristic ofmy~h, bu t also expressed his wish~o bring together what the theologians inevitably separated-to unify to the fultlie'st extent possible that which came first chrcnclogically, that from which things took form, and that which rules and goverTls the universe: Indeed, for the natural philosopher th€ world's order could no longer have been established. at a. given moment bya single agent; the great ~21W that ruled the universe. immanent in physicS, had to be already present in some wa"y in the originalelement


C osmogorues an d Myth s of Sovereign ty

~IO~ which, Ii ttle by little, rh e we rid emerged. Aristotle, U1 his Metaphysics, points out that for the early poet's and "theologians, 's H was not hoi protei, the original powers-> Nyx, Okeanos, Chaos, OurElnos-that wielded ,~1Cche and basilda OVEr the world, but Zeus, a latecomer, 6 Anaximander, In c~ontrast, declares that there was nothing that was ardut w]threspect to the epeiro« (since that had always exi sred), but that the ape! rem was arche for ,] ll the rest-that H encompassed (p'lZriechein) and governed (kybemau) everythmg."

Let us now attempt a general. description of the fr~ll~e work within which th@ Gree!k r heo genies s ha ped th err rm age of the world.

L The universe was a hierarchy of powers. As the structuralanal ~gU!e of human socie ty i it COL] ld not be corredly represented bya purely spatial schema Or described in. ter~ls of position, distance, or movement, Its comple~ ~f1d :n~orou.s order expressed relations between agents; rt consisted o~ re Ja tions of force, hiera rch ies 0 f preceG.ence, au tho ri ty, U Ue, ties of d Om inance and su 'Om isSWR US spatial aspects-its. OOSH\k levels and directicms----:vere"conceim~o less with geometrical properties than with diff,e:reril.c@s il1 function, value, and rank.

2. ~his order d id not em erge inevitahl y ou t of the dynamic play of the elements that made up the universe, but ~as established ina dra.maticfashio:n through the exploits of an agent.

3: Theworldwas governed by the exceptional power of tl-usi!ligerilt, who was manifestly unequaled and entitled

~A.-jstoUe, Ml'lapf.iys;ir5, W91~.:B-I091b7.

'Ph;,-sics, ::l:03b7,



The Origins of Greek Thought

to preference, on a higher level than the other. gods- The myth projects him to the summit of the COSml( structure as its sovereign, and it is his morwrchra that pre5e~es the balance amongthe powers that makeup the UJ"'IIV~I',s<e, determining for each its. place in the hierarchy and £]);:Jng its duties, its prerogatives, and its share o~ hOI1or.,

These three features are interdependent, and gwe the mythic tale its peculiar logic andccherence. They a?so show Hslink, in Creece as in ths East, with a conception of sovereignty that gives the b.ng control over the 0r.~~r of the seasons. atmospheric phenomena, and the £elib~lly ofthe soil, of flocks, and of women. The image of the kIng as ma ster o f w eat her, I ainrnaker, bes tower of natural abundance-van image that in the Mycenaean age ~O1"!!veyed social realities and corresponded, to .ntual practsces=-is stillvisible in some passages of Homer 3Ind Hesiod" and in such legends as. those of Sa~mone1ilS and

D .•. ' '..,. the Creek world itcouldbeno lnoreth.an a

Aeacus. DU,l •. , ,~ .... "''' .... ,. .."- ,, __

survival, AHer the collapsE' of the Mycenaean kingship, when the palace-centerad system a~d the figure of the tMrWx had disappeared, nothing r~'J:rnamed. oftheold Fi:], rHu2Ils but vestiges whose meanmg had been lost. •... I,e mem.ory ofthe king who periodically recreated the order of the world hadbeen obliterated. the bond that had o~ce existed between mythical deeds attributed toa sovereign and the Iuncticning of natural phenomena was no longer

. . . "bl TL b kup .. o~ sovereignty and the

so clearly v1S1 e- I ne ,reat<..LA. . i ,,"v .. ,. ,

hmitation of royal power thus ccrttnbuted to the ~e_pa:t2ltion of myth from the ritual in which it had onglnall y


CQsmogo]";l i es and Myths of Sovere~ign~y

been rooted, Releas,ed from the reHgfous observance on which it' had .first been the oral! commentary, th€~ale could become mere autonomous and disinterested" In certain respects, It prepared for and prefigured the work of phHosophy" Evenin some passages of Hesiod, the cosm ic erde r was a lread y d issocia ted from. the royal offio@, freed of a ny link with ritu Eli L Thus the P roblem 0 f how order originated is posed in a more seU-cornta.lned way,. The emergence of the world was no IGng~r described in term s of exploit, bu [as 21 proces s of genera bon by po wers whose names c:i]n:dly evoked physical reaHHe~; sky, earth, sea, day, night, and soon" Scholars have noted the ,,~a,tur,aHsticrremphaSis of the beginnlng of the TheDgorry (lines 116~133), whteh sets it off from the rest of the poem. But what is perhaps most significant about this first atrem p t to de scribe the origin of th e cosmos according t~ a law of spont.a,,n,@(lllS generation is pteciselythat it faHed. D:espite the attempt 21t conoeptual delineat:ion it represents, Hsstod's thought remained the prisoner of its mythic framework Ouranos, Gaia, and Pontes were indeed physical realities, having the connete aspects of ~~Y' earth, and sea, but at the same time they were divinI.beSwhQ coupled, reproduoed, and behaved generally like human beings - Operati ng on two levels, though t apprehended the same phenomenon-fm example, the separation of the earth from the waters-c-as simultaneousiy a nafural event in the visible world and a divine childbirth in a pdm_ordia~~]lIiJ.e" To break with the vocabulary and logic of myth, Hesiod would have needed a comprehensive idea COl pable of repla citllg the m ythic schema of ~. hlerarchy of powers ruled by a soverefgn_


111 e Origins of G reek Thought

Whet t he did not have was th e a bili ty to portray a universe obedient to the rule of law, a cosmos set in order through the application to all its parts ofa single order of isonomia, consisting of equilibrium, reciprocity, and symmetry,



The New Image of the World

In assessing the magni tude of the in tellec tual revolutienwrought by the MUesj,a.f1S" we must rely primarily On the work of Anaximander. The doxography' gives us a more 'complete view of it, or at least a less sketchy one" than of the specula tions of Thale sand Anaximenes. And most important, Anaximander not on~y added to his voca bulary s uch an important term as arche, but also, by choosing to write in prose, completedthe rupture with the poetic style of the theegonies an dushered in a new literary genre suited to hiMoria peri physeos [inquiry on nature]. And jt is in Anaxima nder, finally, that we find the most rigorous expression of the newcosmological projection that was to leavea deep and permanent mark (IIi! the Greek conception of the universe.

This schema remained genetic, Ltke physl~ and genesis, archeke'pt it'S temporal ITI@anin.g of origin or source, The natura; philosophers inquired whence and

l'The totality of texts, from th!!~Ol1rth century EU:;;, to the Christian Er~,.r~parti[ll;g the oprini(rn$ of the; 'H"!.deflt philosophe'l"$_ [EdiWt'S note.]


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