Great Religions and Philosophies. : Greek Philosophy.
In the 6th century B.C, there began a dualism in Greek Philosophy. The
development of Greek Philosophy became a compromise between Greek monistic and
oriental influences, in other words, a combination of intellectualism and
mysticism. Thus began the pre-Socratic philosophy. The interests of pre-
Socratic philosophers were centered on the world that surrounds man, the Cosmos.
This was during the time of great internal and external disturbances in the
Greek society, as it was right after the Peloponnesian war. The pre-Socratic
era of Greek Philosophy came to an end when the Sophists turned their attention
to man himself, delving into the moral and mental nature of man and dealing with
the practical problems of life.
The ancient Greeks mirrored their nature, beliefs, morals and customs in
Greek Philosophy. Through understanding Greek Philosophy, we can see how the
ancient Greeks regard the world around them. Greek Philosophy filled the void
in the spiritual and moral life of the ancient Greeks, where in the same place
other cultures had their belief in a religion. Wisdom, in the Greek sense,
included not only a theoretical explanation of the world around them, but also
provided a practical guide to life.
From Homer to Hesiod, we see the reflections of the ancient Greeks and
their use of Gods to fulfill their spiritual, social and psychological needs. A
lot of temples were erected for Greek deities, and the ancient Greeks worshipped
Gods to avert calamities, to secure the success of a certain harvest, or as
thanksgiving for success in battle or deliverance in wants and wishes. Homeric
songs tells stories of how man realizes that all events are governed by natural
laws. In the Homeric world, fantastic beliefs and superstitions governed one
important aspect of the ancient Greeks-- immutable fate. Homeric poems reflect
the occasional doubts of the ancient Greeks in prophecy, and the observation
about the shortness of life, and the suffering of earthly existence.
The great epic writer Hesiod's philosophy of life rests on the idea of
the deterioration of mankind. Hesiod's perspective runs along the idea that
according to the will of Zeus, the human world is governed by justice and the
animal world is governed by might. Hesiod reflects a society then that were
seeking the truth and searching for the morality guidelines. And the human
conduct of the ancients Greeks of the time were very much intertwined with the
behavior of Nature, for example, if they were morally good, they would be
blessed and rewarded with bountiful harvests. However, on the other end of the
continuum, when a sin has been committed, such as the unconscious incest of
Oedipus, all Nature is affected by the offense of man.
During the period of the Dorian migration, the ancient Greeks were
extending their territorial possessions to a greater extent. This brought about
a lot of different morals and customs changes due to social and political
changes. All this is reflected in the poetry, philosophies and writings of that
era. Passion and feeling was more eminent now, and the attitude of the ancient
Greeks towards nature was no longer observational and descriptive but emotional.
The ancient Greeks are becoming more conscious of individualism and one's own
strength and significance.
The increase in property and material goods in the Greek society
intensified the deep feeling in the ancient Greeks that earthly things are
transient and a lot of them started to look at a more superterrestial support
that would assure them security and permanence amidst all the changes in mortal
things. The ancient Greeks were also more possessed by an innate immense
religious fear, the fear of sinning or omission against any gods. A lot of them
felt the necessity for atonement and purification.
During this time came the advent of cleansing rituals, an example being
the purification of Athens by Epimenides after the defilement of the city by
Cylon. Epimenides and many similar holy people of his time would go into trances
that would provide him with divine revelations. Epimenides was considered very
close to the gods, due to a mode of life made holy by asceticism. Prophets and
priests like Bacides and Sibyls reflect the need of the ancient Greeks for
atonement. These prophets and priests were called upon to perform purification
rites and prophetic trances. Spirit conjuring became a common practice, too.
With Socrates and Socratic philosophy, the sophists and many
philosophers moved away from the ‘physics' of Nature and concentrated on man's
correct conduct of life. Great philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were the
important influences that would shape Western thought and culture. They sought
to unravel the intellectual limitations of man and the need to find answers to
ethical questions. Side by side with this, spawned the Hellenistic Philosophy,
which served to explain the change in world conditions at that time when the
Greek Polis was destroyed.
Inspite of all the Greek philosophers that sought for intellectual
wisdom, the fantastic myths and gods of the ancient Greeks still survive and
prevail. However, the Greek philosophers made a great effort to obtain a
dichotomy between myth and logic. The efforts of these philosophers would prove
to be of great influence in modern Western tradition and rationalism.
Cornford, F. M., From Religion to Philosophy. New York: Harper, 1957.
Guthrie, W. K. C., A History of Greek Philosophy. 5 vols. New York: Cambridge,
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