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Religion & Philosophy in Ancient Greece 10/10/2007

Philosophy: criticism of epic gods
Significance of epic poetry
• Education: memorization, recitation, discussion
• Medium of earliest philosophers
• Example: Parmenides (6th century; from Elis in southern Italy)
The gods in epic
• Early cosmogonic, cosmological, theological thought
o Ex: Hesiodic Theogony, Works and Days; Homeric Hymns
• Anthropomorphic: consume, copulate, fight, lie, kill
o Ex: Zeus & Hera in the Iliad
• Pan-Hellenic abstractions
o Ex: Apollo, but no Delphi in early epic
• Theodicy: explanation of divine justice
o Ex: Zeus in the Odyssey (stupidity causes suffering)
• Manifestations of psychological states (double motivation)
o Ex: Agamemnon, Achilles and Athena in the Iliad
Pre-Socratic philosophy
Origins of philosophy: edges of the Greek world, 600-500 BCE
• Ionia: leading edge of Greek culture (until Persia)
• Sicily-south Italy: fastest-growing part of Greece
o Parmenides of Elea: way of truth vs. way of opinion
o Theagenes of Rhegion: traditional religion as allegory
 Zeus = thunder, Hera = Air, Apollo = fire, etc.
He “Ionian Enlightenment” (6th century)
• Thales, anaximander, etc.
• Xenophanes of Kolophon
o Wanders after Persians control Ionia
o Medium: lyric poetry
o Critical of received wisdom
o Relativism
• Heraklitos of Ephesos
o Writes riddling prose
o Focuses on impermanence and change
 “one cannot step in the same river twice”
criticisms of traditional conceptions of deity (poetry, art, myth)
• anthropomorphism
o moral: gods display human weaknesses
o physical: gods in human form, interacting like people
• cultural relativism
o each culture makes gods like themselves
• the divine is transcendent (beyond human grasp)
o not simply super-human: remote, effortless, harmonious
o search for unifying element: water, fire, etc.
• the divine is pervasive
o all things linked by common creator
 study world to know humanity (> natural philosophy)
• philosophy as revelation
o precedent for idea of religious conversion
o analogy of mysteries: ex. Of Pythagorean “mysteriosophy”
challenges/alternatives to traditional religion
sophists (5th c.): from sophos, “wise”
• popularize of philosophy, mathematics
• teach persuasive speech
• radical relativism
o mutability of nomos (custom, law)
o good/bad, pious/impious, etc. culturally determined
• agnosticism: Protagoras of Abdera
o “man is the measure of all things”
• cultural evolution: Prodikos of Keos
o gods shrink with human achievement
pattern: progress in arts follows culture generally
• Ionia-Sicily > Athens
Socrates-Plato (Athens, 5th-4th centuries)
• No writings by Socrates
o Accounts y Plato, Xenophon, etc.
• Stance of skepticism
• Assertion of absolutes
• Aim of just polis:
o Recreate the moral superiority of the gods
• Daimon (“spirit”): internal voice of reason
o Element of divine present in humans
• Becomes embroiled in politics
o Executed in 399 on charge of sacrilege
Socrates-Plato (Athens 5th-4th centuries)
• State censorship of religious expression
• Preservation of ritual
o Benefit to individual and polis
• Immorality of soul (psyche)
Natural philosophy: application of reason
• Lacking: experiments, diffusion of knowledge
• Branch of “love of knowledge”
o Thales of Miletos: predicts eclipse in 582
o Demokritos of Abdera: atomic theory
 Soul atomic and perishable
 Immortal gods impossible
• Aristotle (4th century, works in Athens)
o Student of Plato, more practical
o Theoretician, compiler, teacher
Aristotle (4 century, works in Athens)
• Naturalist/rationalistic explanations
o Biology: taxonomy; evolution
o Medicine: physical diagnosis (not moral)
o Astronomy: planets, stars natural
o Government: institutions evolve
• Not intended to supplant traditional religion
o Aristotle’s will:
 Set up statues of Zeus and Athena in repayment for
History: application of reason to human affairs
• Herdotos, Thucydides (Athenians, 5th century)
o Reject gods as historical agents
 Look to material, psychological causes
Philosphy’s challenges to traditional religion: indirect
• Most philosophers support traditional religion for society
o Result: “going throught the motions”
• Reaises issue of what “ture” deity is and how to worship it
o If polis, oikos relgion is fod the good of community,
 What do the gods themselves realy want?
• Diminishes role of gods
o Offers alternative explanations (nature, huan behavior)
• Undermines popular ways of thinking about the gods
o Emphasis on shortcomings of religios art, epic, drama
10/10/2007 12:58:00
10/10/2007 12:58:00