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Lecture 1: The Place of Poetry and Philosophy in the Development of Greek Religious Thought

WHEN I accepted the invitation to deliver the Gifford Lectures at the University to which I owe the greatest intellectual impulse of my life, I was fully sensible of my inability to rival some of my distinguished predecessors in their own particular field. The studies which circumstances as well as inclination have led me to pursue are concerned with the past rather than with the present; and I cannot pretend either to criticise any existing system of philosophy, or to construct a new one in its place. But it seemed to me that there was room for a series of lectures which should attempt, however imperfectly, to reproduce, as far as may be without prejudice or passion, the kind of answers which the religious teachers of ancient Greece—that is to say, the poets and philosophers—were able to supply to those spiritual problems which are not of to-day or yesterday, but for all time. There is a profound truth in the ancient saying, neminem vere vivere diem praesentem, nisi dierum practeritorum memorem. In its special application to the history of religious thought, it is difficult to exaggerate the significance of this remark. I do not think merely of the historical fact that the science of Natural Theology—to quote the words of Professor Case—“in its foundation and main principles, is a development of Greek metaphysics.” That in itself would seem to be ample justification for discussing the philosophers of Greece in a course of Gifford Lectures; but the particular suggestion which I desire to make is that the religious ideas of Greek philosophy are of peculiar importance for the student of early Christian literature in general, and more especially for the student of St. Paul's Epistles and the Fourth Gospel. “Neque sine Graecis Christianae, neque sine Christianis Graecae litterae recte aut intellegi aut aestimari possunt.” The early Fathers of the Church were conscious of the spiritual connexion between Greek philosophy and Christianity when they spoke of philosophy as the preparation or propaedeutic—προπαρασκευή or προπαιδεία—for the Christian faith; and it is from this point of view, as well as on account of the bearing of the subject upon Natural Theology and Theism, that I invite you to consider the development of religious ideas in Greek philosophy and poetry from Homer down to Plato.

Let us begin by endeavouring to form a general idea of the relative position of poetry and philosophy in Greek religious development. In a well-known passage of the Republic,1 it is said by Plato that between philosophy and poetry there was an ancient and hereditary feud. By way of illustrating and enforcing his assertion, Plato cites a number of poetical fragments in which Philosophy and her votaries are satirised by the followers of the Muses. Philosophy, one of the poets says, is but “a clamorous hound, baying at her master”; the philosopher, says another, is “great” only “in the vain babblements of fools”; a third speaks of the “rabblerout of wiseacres”; while another ridicules the poverty and destitution of “these threadbare thinkers.” This deep-seated antagonism, which continually meets us in Greek literature, is not sufficiently explained by a reference to the familiar antithesis between the philosophic and the artistic temperaments; for whether that antithesis is true or false in modern life, it is subject to essential qualifications before we can apply it to Greek antiquity, in which the provinces of the poet and philosopher continually overlap. Nearly all the greatest Greek philosophy is coloured by poetical imagery and ideas: and, conversely, there are few of the great Greek poets in whom we do not meet with reflections indicative of a decidedly philosophical habit of mind. It is enough at present to mention Heraclitus among philosophers, and Aeschylus and Euripides among poets. And, as we shall afterwards see, it is precisely in Plato, who more than any other Greek author unites the poet and the philosopher, that this hostility to Greek poetry is most marked.

What, then, are we to suppose to have been the originating cause of the antagonism? From a passage in the Laws,2 it appears that the first of the four quotations selected by Plato to exemplify the feud between poetry and philosophy has reference to the atheistical views of Anaxagoras and his disciples on the subject of the heavenly bodies. The ordinary Greek believed the sun and moon to be Gods: Anaxagoras robbed them of their divinity, and maintained that the sun was nothing but a red-hot mass of stone; while the moon, according to him, contained hills and ravines, and was inhabited like the planet on which we live.3 In thus rebelling against the national religion and its deities, philosophy resembles a dog barking at its master. This is the meaning and application of the first of the passages cited by Plato; and as the others refer to more accidental and superficial occasions of dislike, we are led to conjecture that the quarrel between poetry and philosophy originated in differences about theology and religion. The conjecture becomes a certainty as soon as we study the other side of the picture. It will be observed that the quotations which Plato gives serve only to illustrate the attitude of Greek poetry to Greek philosophy. If we are fully to understand the meaning of the quarrel, and appreciate its true significance in the history of religion and religious development, we must also consider some of the attacks of early Greek philosophy on the poetry of Homer and Hesiod. By so doing we shall be enabled once for all to conclude that the most potent cause of strife was the antagonism between poetry and philosophy on the subject of the attributes of the Godhead and his relations with mankind.

Among the pre-Socratic philosophers who appear to have expressly protested against the Homeric and Hesiodic theology, three names stand out above all others—Pythagoras, Xenophanes, and Heraclitus. There are traces of similar protests also in Empedocles,4 although Homer and Hesiod are not mentioned in his surviving fragments; and we may infer from the general tone and attitude of other pre-Socratic writers on philosophy that they did not sympathise with the Homeric representations of the divine nature, although they may not have given public expression to their dislike. In one of those apocalypses or “descents into Hades” of which we find traces in early Pythagorean legends,5 it seems to have been related of Pythagoras that in his sojourn in the lower world “he saw the soul of Hesiod, bound to a brazen pillar and crying out, together with the soul of Homer, suspended from a tree, and surrounded by snakes, in return for what they said about the Gods.”6 The story is in keeping with the pervading spirit of Pythagorean theology and ethics, and may well preserve an echo of some of Pythagoras' own sayings. In the fragments of Heraclitus, there is a contemptuous allusion to poets in general,7 as the leaders and guides of the populace, along with severe animadversions upon Homer and Hesiod in particular,8 the former of whom, he says, “is worthy to be cast out of the arena and scourged, ay, and Archilochus along with him.” But we have to look to Xenophanes, himself a poet as well as a theologian and philosopher, for the strongest and most emphatic protest in Greek literature against the Homeric conception of the divine nature, at all events until we reach the time of Plato. Xenophanes proclaims his dissent from the anthropomorphism of the Olympian theology in the famous lines preserved for us by Clement. “There is one God, greatest both among Gods and men, resembling mortals neither in form nor in thought.” “But mortals think that Gods are born, and have dress and voice and form like their own.” “But if oxen or lions had hands, or could draw with their hands and make works of art like men, horses would draw figures of Gods like horses, oxen figures of Gods like oxen, giving them bodies like the form which they themselves possessed.” “The Ethiopians say their Gods are black and flat-nosed; the Thracians make theirs fair-eyed and with red hair.”9 The satirist Timon, author of the famous σίλλοι or satirical verses on Greek philosophers, describes Xenophanes as “the reprover of Homer's lies,”10 and in other fragments of Xenophanes' writings we meet with strictures on both Homer and Hesiod for falsely attributing immorality to the Gods. “Homer and Hesiod”—these are his words—“ascribed to the Gods every thing which is a disgrace and shame among men, theft, adultery, and mutual deception.”11 The old legends imputing discord and strife to the divine nature, such as the stories about theomachies, and battles between Gods and giants, are summarily dismissed as “figments of the ancients.”12

These and similar invectives, which in reality foreshadow from afar the early patristic diatribes against Paganism, make it sufficiently clear that the feud between philosophy and poetry, of which Plato speaks, was mainly inspired by the odium theologicum. On the one hand we have poetry, as a German writer has well said, “immortalising in imperishable creations the traditional faith,” and on the other hand philosophy, “just on account of that faith, condemning those creations,”13 and at the same time—we may add—providing materials for a purer and more elevated conception of the divine nature. What is the historical significance of this conflict between philosophy and poetry? What is its bearing on the religious history of the world? It will be one of the objects of these lectures to furnish some indirect contributions to the solution of this question by expounding, with occasional references to later religious thought, some of the principal conceptions entertained by Greek philosophers and poets about God and Man and Nature. Our review of the religious teaching of Greek poetry will show, of course, that the philosophers are seldom altogether just to their rival: they fix their attention too exclusively on the naturalistic features of the poetical theology, and tend to ignore the elements of spirituality and idealism which are inherent in it from the very first, and become more and more active as time goes on. But at present we are concerned only with the nature of the quarrel, and its cause; and in order that we may the better understand the circumstances by which the antagonism was produced, it is necessary at this stage to consider the character and extent of the authority and influence exercised by the poetical religion and theology upon the life and thought of ancient Greece. And when I say the poetical theology, I mean first and foremost the theology of Homer and Hesiod, the two great protagonists on behalf of poetry in the feud of which I have spoken.

To speak of anything like dogmatic orthodoxy or heterodoxy in connexion with ancient Greek religion is, of course, to use words somewhat freely and inaccurately; for there was comparatively little persecution for religious beliefs in Greek antiquity. Religious institutions and ceremonies were carefully guarded; but in respect of dogma the limits of toleration were very wide. We may infer from a remark of the Platonic Socrates that the Athenians in general cared little what a man believed, so long as he did not attempt to proselytise.14 It is nevertheless true to say that certain views of the Deity, and certain versions of the legends about the Gods and heroes, enjoyed an exceptional authority such as may justify us in designating them as orthodox, in a certain qualified sense of the term; and in this restricted meaning of the word, it is Homer and Hesiod who are the representatives of Greek orthodoxy. As such, we shall see, they were almost universally regarded by the Greeks themselves, by those who dissented from their teaching, as well as by those who, like Euthyphro in the dialogue of Plato, accepted it without reserve.

The ordinary well-educated Greek looked upon Homer and Hesiod as the founders of the national, that is, the Panhellenic or Olympian, theology. We are expressly told by Herodotus that it was Hesiod and Homer who “made the Greek theogony, assigned to the Gods their appellations, distinguished their provinces and arts, and indicated their various forms.”15 The Olympian theology did not, of course, spring self-created from the imagination of Homer and Hesiod, like Athena from the head of Zeus; nor does Herodotus imagine anything of the kind. The idea of absolute genesis or creation out of nothing is always foreign to Greek thought, and the poet, who is universally regarded by the Greeks as a maker, may be said to “make a theogony” when he reduces theological discord and chaos into harmony and order, just as the Creator himself, according to Plato, created or made the universe by imprinting definite mathematical forms on indeterminate and shapeless matter. In this sense of the term, Herodotus is not improbably right when he asserts that Homer and Hesiod “made” the Greek theogony; for although the elements of the Homeric pantheon are pre-Homeric, in the Iliad and Odyssey perhaps for the first time they are combined into a more or less coherent and organic whole. We may well suppose that it is the genius of the poet which has to a large extent brought order out of the chaos of pre-existing legends and belief—that it is the universalising instinct of poetry which has apprehended and transfigured the universal element in the particular cults, creating out of local and provincial deities the awe-inspiring figures of a single Zeus, a single Apollo, a single Poseidon, and so on, and thus establishing what may truly be called a national or Panhellenic theology. But in any case, the important point for us to grasp is that Herodotus attributes to Homer and Hesiod something of the authority which the adherents of a religious system ascribe to the founders of their faith. That Homer was regarded in antiquity as primarily responsible for the Hellenic theology is apparent from many other indications in Greek literature, and especially from the fact that it is Homer whom Plato chiefly quotes to illustrate the false and unworthy notions of the divine nature against which he protests in the Republic.

We may therefore regard the poems of Homer and Hesiod as the chief literary monuments of Greek orthodoxy, according to the conception of orthodoxy that prevailed in the most flourishing period of Greek intellectual life. As Professor Butcher has remarked, “the Greeks, like the Jews, had their sacred volume. Already in the seventh century B.C., at the Delian festival and in many other parts of the Hellenic world, they assembled to hear their minstrels recite the Homeric poems. At Athens, from the sixth century onward, a public recitation of Homer was held every fourth year at the Panathenaic festival. It was analogous to the Jewish provision that once in every seven years the law was to be read at the Feast of Tabernacles in the hearing of all Israel.”16 The modern reader is so accustomed to look on Homer as a poet and nothing more, that it is difficult for him to realise that Homer was also a great religious teacher, whose representations of the Godhead and his attributes had a practical influence on the lives and conduct of the Greeks. But if we transport ourselves into the atmosphere of ancient Greek life, we shall see that it was not only natural but inevitable that Homer should exercise an authority of this kind. For one thing, the Greeks almost invariably conceived of the poet as a teacher. “Poets,” says Plato in the Lysis, “are as it were our intellectual fathers and guides.”17 Aristophanes' ideal of the poet was essentially the same, although his practice fell short of his profession. In the Frogs he passes the following judgment on certain features of ancient realism which frequently meet us in what we may perhaps call the problem-plays of Euripides: “No doubt the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus is true; but it is not a fit subject for dramatic treatment. It is the duty of the poet to suppress what is evil, and not exhibit it upon the stage. For just as children have a schoolmaster to direct them, so poets are the schoolmasters of grown men.”18 There is an echo of Aristophanes' sentiment in the second book of Plato's Republic, where the philosopher insists that little children must be taught by their teachers only those fables and legends which are morally pure and wholesome, and that poetry must be required to make tales of a similar character for them as they grow older.19 It is the conception of the poet as a moral and religious teacher that explains in some degree the lofty prophetic tone of writers like Pindar and Aeschylus. Nor should we omit to notice that the underlying presumption of the whole of Plato's attack upon Greek poetry is that poetry was the universally recognised teacher of Greece. The head and front of his indictment is not that poetry does not teach, but that her doctrines—so Plato at least believed—are too often demoralising and degrading.

We have seen that Aristophanes and Plato speak of poets as the teachers or schoolmasters of adult Greece; but in another and more literal sense they were also the teachers of the young. “As soon as children have learnt how to read,” says the Platonic Protagoras, “and are likely to understand what is written, their teachers set before them the good poets to read as they sit upon the benches, and compel them to commit the poems to memory; for these poems contain many exhortations, many descriptive passages, many eulogies and encomia of the heroes of old. The object of this is to kindle a spirit of emulation and induce the boy to imitate these heroes and aspire to become like them.”20 The orator Aeschines declares that “we study the maxims of the poets in our youth in order that we may use them when we have grown to manhood.”21 We learn from another passage of Plato that poetic anthologies were sometimes made with the object of instilling the wisdom of the poets into the youthful mind;22 and it is to a later anthology of this kind, the anthology of Stobaeus, that we owe many of the finest fragments of the Greek dramatists. The poets who played the chief rôle in the education of the young were Homer, Hesiod, and the so-called gnomic poets, particularly Theognis. How thoroughly they were assimilated may be seen from the frequency with which these poets, and especially Homer, are quoted and alluded to throughout the whole history of Greek literature. “Most men who had an opinion to defend,” says Grote, “rejoiced to be able to support or enforce it by some passages of Homer, well or ill-explained—just as texts of the Bible are quoted in modern times.”23

With regard to Homer in particular, we have a considerable body of evidence showing that the most extravagant claims were advanced on his behalf about the time of Plato by those votaries of Homer who were called “Homeridae.” Not content with describing him in general terms as the educator of Greece, they sometimes went so far as to maintain that all the lessons of statesmanship, war, religion, and morality were to be found in Homer, and that the sole and indispensable requisite for living well was to know this poet thoroughly.24 The contention in fact was that the Iliad and Odyssey contained the sum of human knowledge, and were a kind of inspired revelation of the whole duty of man, in every department of human life. Just as Tertullian suggests that the Christian revelation in the New Testament satisfies all legitimate curiosity, and supersedes the necessity of further inquiry, so also, in the view of these enthusiasts, if we may trust the description of them which Plato gives, whatever is not in Homer, is either superfluous or untrue. The exposition of the ethical and religious doctrine of the Homeric poems occupied the energies of many writers in the time of Plato. In those cases where the plain and literal meaning of Homer's text appeared to convey an undesirable lesson, recourse was had to the hypothesis of a hidden or cryptic meaning (ὑπόνοια)in order to save the character of Homer as a teacher of religion and morality; for “assuredly,” as Heraclides afterwards said,25 “Homer was an impious person, or else he spoke in allegories.” This allegorical method of interpretation was, however, by no means confined to passages in which a literal exegesis would have imputed falsehood and immorality to the Gods; and in course of time it became the instrument for reading into Homer whatever ethical, political, religious, and even metaphysical doctrines were believed by his expositors. “At one moment,” says Seneca, “they make Homer a Stoic, at another an Epicurean, at another a Peripatetic, at another an Academician.”26

The habit of interpreting Homer allegorically is an interesting testimony to the half-sacred character of the Iliad and Odyssey; for sooner or later there is nearly always a tendency to allegorism in the exposition of writings to which a peculiar sanctity is attached. The method began very early in Greek literary criticism. It was practised in the end of the sixth century B.C. by Theagenes of Rhegium, who is said to have been the first to write a book on Homer.27 In the fifth century, Anaxagoras, we are told, asserted that the subject of Homer's poetry is in reality virtue or righteousness;28 and the same method underwent a new development in the hands of his pupil Metrodorus of Lampsacus, who anticipated the Stoics by interpreting the Homeric Hera, Athene, and Zeus as physical principles, and seems to have conceived of the different Homeric heroes as purely symbolical representations of physical and other ideas.29 Agamemnon, he said, means the aether, Achilles the sun, Helen the earth, Alexander the air, and Hector the moon. The Goddess Demeter is an allegorical representation of the liver, while the spleen and the bile are symbolised by Dionysus and Apollo.30 Democritus also wrote a book called Τριτογέ́νεια, in which the Homeric Pallas was identified with wisdom, because she is the mother of the three component elements on which all the prosperity of mankind depends—good reasoning, good style, and right action.31 Other pre-Socratic writers and teachers of less importance were addicted to the same method; and even so rationalistic a thinker as Socrates himself occasionally employs this weapon of interpretation, though only in a vein of mingled playfulness and earnest.32

Among the immediate pupils of Socrates, Antisthenes, the founder of Cynicism, wrote a series of works upon Homer in which he seems to have given an allegorical interpretation to various episodes of the Odyssey, as for example those of Circe and the Cyclops.33 In the Second Alcibiades of Plato we have an excellent description of the allegorical theory of poetry. “Let me tell you, my good sir,” says the Platonic Socrates, not without a touch of his usual irony, “Homer is in the habit of speaking in riddles, and not only Homer, but nearly all the other poets too. For the whole of the poetic art is enigmatic from its very nature, and it isn't possible for the man in the street to understand the meaning of a poet; moreover, in addition to the naturally enigmatic character of poetry, it sometimes happens that the Muse lays hold of a man who is of a grudging disposition, and anxious to conceal his wisdom as far as possible instead of revealing it to us, and then it is found to be a task of quite portentous difficulty to make out the idea in the poet's mind.”34 It is clear that we are dealing with a theory of literary criticism which requires us to suppose, not only that Homer is inspired, but that a measure of inspiration is necessary also to his interpreters, if they are to fathom his true meaning: and here again we are struck by the remarkable analogy presented by the history of Christianity and Christian dogma. Such a theory of inspiration is actually outlined by Plato in the Ion.35 It is suggested in that dialogue that Homer, his interpreter, and the audience are as it were a chain of magnetic rings, the first of which is the poet, the second the rhapsodist, and the third the listener. By means of these rings, says Plato, “the God draws men's souls wherever he lists, communicating his power from link to link of the chain. One poet is attached to one Muse, another to another; and we call the phenomenon possession or inspiration.”

The later history of the allegorical method of criticism forms an instructive chapter in the history of human thought. A great impetus was communicated to it by the Stoics, who made an attempt to show that the Homeric deities and legends were only symbolical expressions of the truths of ethics, natural philosophy, and metaphysics. In the hands of the Jewish Hellenists, and especially of Philo the Jew, the same method is applied to the interpretation of the Old Testament, much of which Philo construes as a cryptic or esoteric presentation of Platonism, or rather of that eclectic fusion of Plato with Stoicism which had so great an influence on the development of early Christian doctrine. Allegorical expositions of the Old Testament are found also in the Epistles of St. Paul, as for example in the Epistle to the Galatians.36 The allegorical method afterwards became a favourite weapon among the early apologists of Christianity, by whom it is constantly used in the elucidation of sacred as well as profane literature. It was to a large extent by means of this arbitrary and elastic principle of interpretation that they endeavoured to establish their favourite thesis that Plato is only Μωυσῆ̑ς ἀττικίζων—“Moses speaking in Attic Greek.” The Neoplatonists, too, for their part, are never weary of seeking allegories in the works not only of Homer, but also of Plato; both in the myths, where we expect to encounter a veil of symbolism, and even more eagerly and indefatigably in the sterner abstractions of his dialectical dialogues, such as the Parmenides. With the single exception of the Pentateuch, it may be doubted whether any body of literature has suffered so severely at the hands of the professional allegoriser as the dialogues of Plato, in spite of the fact that Plato himself rarely alludes to this mode of criticism without some degree of irony, and has actually furnished us in the Protagoras with a long and elaborate satire on the violent and arbitrary canons of interpretation employed by writers of this school.37

But it is time to return to Homer. The evidence which I have adduced will enable us to form some idea of the moral and religious influence of poetical literature in ancient Greece, and especially of the Homeric poems; but in order to realise the practical effect of the writings of Homer and Hesiod on the lives of men, it may be well to consider some of those passages in Greek literature in which the teaching of these poets is appealed to in recommendation or defence of some particular line of conduct. In the Eumenides of Aeschylus, after Apollo has urged that Orestes had slain his mother in obedience to the commands of Zeus, the Furies reply: “According to thy words, Zeus hath regard to a father's doom; howbeit he put in chains his own aged father, Cronus.”38 The murder of Orestes' father is excused or palliated by the example of Zeus himself. In like manner, the Athenian Euthyphro, who is represented by Plato as the impersonation of consistent and self-satisfied orthodoxy, defends his own unfilial conduct to his father by citing the treatment of Cronus by Zeus. A more instructive illustration is furnished by the Clouds of Aristophanes. One of the scenes of that drama represents a contest between the Just and Unjust Arguments, which are brought upon the stage and hold a debate on the rival claims of Righteousness and Unrighteousness to the allegiance of mankind. “Where is Justice?” asks the Unrighteous Argument. “Her seat is in heaven,” is the reply. “How comes it then, if Justice exists, that Zeus has not been put to death for imprisoning his father?”39 And in a later passage of the same play the Unjust Argument formulates this rule of life: “Follow the impulses of nature; be frolicsome and laugh; consider nothing shameful: for if you are caught in adultery, you can plead that you have committed no sin; you can appeal to the example of Zeus, and point out that he too is the slave of love and woman; and how can you, that are but a mortal, be stronger than a God?”40 This is just the motive to which the Nurse in Euripides' Hippolytus appeals when she encourages her mistress to sin; and, indeed, Euripides is always insisting on the incentive to immorality which is furnished by the example of the Gods. It may be desirable to quote a single illustration, perhaps the most vigorous of all the many vigorous attacks upon the Gods contained in the writings of the most iconoclastic of Greek poets. The youthful Ion in the play which bears his name thus expostulates with Apollo:

“Yet must I plead

With Phoebus—what ails him? He ravisheth

Maids, and forsakes: begetteth babes by stealth

And heeds not, though they die. Do thou not so!

Being strong, be righteous. For what man soe'er

Transgresseth, the Gods visit this on him.

How were it just then that ye should enact

For men laws, and yourselves work lawlessness?

For if—it could not be, yet put it so—

Ye should pay mulct to men for lawless lust,

Thou, the Sea-king, and Zeus the lord of heaven,

Paying for wrongs should make your temples void.

For, following pleasure past all wisdom's bounds,

Ye work unrighteousness. Unjust it were

To call men vile, if we but imitate

The sins of Gods:—they are vile which teach us this.”41

More than any other Greek poet Euripides reflects the modes of thought and feeling current in his generation; and it is therefore reasonable to suppose that there were many of the Greeks who argued in this way. The strictly orthodox view, indeed, as we shall afterwards see, required the Gods to teach by precept only, and not also by example; and hence it is the Unjust Argument which in the play of Aristophanes appeals to the conduct of the Gods as an excuse for immorality; but as soon as men began to reflect on the ethical significance of their theology, we may be sure that it began to influence their lives. If such legends had been purely otiose and inoperative, Euripides and Plato would never have attacked them with so much vehemence. In point of fact, it is precisely on the ground that the Homeric theology exercised a corrupting and degrading influence upon character that Plato falls foul of it in the Republic and elsewhere. Plato declares that there is no possible alternative except to reject such stories altogether. “It is not true,” he says, “that Uranus committed the actions attributed to him by Hesiod; it is not true that Cronus thus avenged himself upon his father; and as for the deeds of Cronus and his sufferings at the hands of his son, I would not have them told in this light-hearted way to the young and foolish even if they were true.… We must not tell a youthful listener that if he commits the greatest crimes he will be doing nothing new or strange,…but only what the first and greatest of the Gods has done before him.”42 In the same way Plato proscribes the Homeric and Hesiodic stories of feuds and battles between the Gods, lest they should encourage the citizens of his Republic to think lightly of quarrelling with one another. The theory of a deeper or hidden meaning will not help us here; for even if Homer spoke in parables, children, says Plato, cannot distinguish between fact and allegory. They inevitably take the symbol for the truth.43 According to Plato himself, the object of all true religion is “assimilation to God, so far as it is possible for man.”44 It is therefore an essential part of his conception of the divine nature that it should furnish an ethical ideal for mankind. The theology of Homer, in his opinion, provided no such ideal, and must therefore be discarded.

After what has now been said, it will readily be conceded that the feud between philosophy on the one hand, and the old Homeric and Hesiodic religious ideas on the other hand, is one of the most striking features in Greek religious development. Regarded from this point of view, the evolution of theological and religious thought in Greece, as it is embodied for us in the works of Greek literature, may be regarded as the result of the action and interaction of the two rival principles of orthodoxy and dissent. We must beware, however, of supposing that the poetical theology itself remained stationary. The truth is rather that there are two main streams of development, the poetical and the philosophical, which for the most part pursue a separate and independent course until the time of Euripides. On the one hand the poets, especially Pindar, Aeschylus, and Sophocles, without abandoning the old Homeric anthropomorphism, gradually purified and spiritualised the elements of religious idealism already contained in the Homeric poems, at the same time allowing the grosser features of the Homeric and Hesiodic theologies to recede into the background, without, however, entirely vanishing from view. It is Sophocles who represents the climax of this movement on the part of Greek poetry: more than any other Greek poet he seems to lay hold of whatever there is of divine and imperishable in the traditional faith of Greece, and consecrates it for all time in those incomparable dramas, which are the most perfect embodiment of the Hellenic genius at its best. On the other hand, the pre-Socratic philosophers were more and more led by their physical speculations towards a view of the universe in which no room was left for the Homeric Gods, and began to express their dissent at a very early period of Greek thought. As the poetical development culminates in Sophocles, so the philosophical—I speak at present only of pre-Socratic philosophy—culminates in Anaxagoras, whose doctrine of a world-forming Nous contained the promise of a teleological interpretation of Nature, such as Plato and Aristotle afterwards developed. In Euripides, whom the ancients were fond of calling “the philosopher upon the stake,” the two concurrent streams converge and meet: there is hardly a single idea of first-rate importance in pre-Euripidean theology and ethics, whether popular, poetical, or philosophical, which is not re-echoed some where in the writings of that extraordinary man. But the effect of the Euripidean drama upon traditional beliefs was in the main destructive; and in a survey of Greek religious development he should be considered in connexion with the so-called epoch of Illumination, whose poetical interpreter he was. With Socrates a new era begins, and from this point onwards the advancement of religious thought in Greece is effected by philosophy alone.

Such, in brief outline, is the course which our inquiry will pursue. We shall first consider the poetical development from Homer to Sophocles, and afterwards the philosophical from Thales to Anaxagoras. The teaching of the Sophists and of Euripides will claim our attention next; and the remainder of the lectures will be devoted to Socrates and Plato.

  • 1.

    x. 607 B.

  • 2.

    967 C, D.

  • 3.

    Diog. Laert. ii. 8.

  • 4.

    Diels, poet. phil. frag. p. 160 f.

  • 5.

    Dieterich, Nekyia p. 129.

  • 6.

    Diog. Laert. viii. 21.

  • 7.

    fr. 111 Bywater.

  • 8.

    fr. 35, 43: cf. Diog. Laert. ix. 1.

  • 9.

    Diels, frag. d. Vorsokratiker2 i. p. 49 ff.

  • 10.

    fr. 60 Diels.

  • 11.

    fr. 11, 12.

  • 12.

    fr. 1. 22.

  • 13.

    Krohn, der Plat. Staat p. 262.

  • 14.

    Euthyphro 3 C.

  • 15.

    ii. 53.

  • 16.

    Harvard Lectures p. 105.

  • 17.

    214 A.

  • 18.

    1052 ff.; cf. 1032 ff.

  • 19.

    378 C, D.

  • 20.

    Prot. 325 E.

  • 21.

    In Ctesiph. 135.

  • 22.

    Laws 811 A.

  • 23.

    Plato i. p. 455.

  • 24.

    Plato, Rep. x. 606 E.

  • 25.

    Alleg. Hom. ad init.

  • 26.

    Epist. 88. 5 (quoted by Grote, Plato i. p. 455).

  • 27.

    Diels, frag. d. Vorsokratiker, p. 510.

  • 28.

    Diog. Laert, ii. 11.

  • 29.

    See Zeller, Phil. d. Griechen5 i. p. 1019.

  • 30.

    Diels2 i. p. 326, § 4.

  • 31.

    Zeller, l.c. p. 930 n. 4.

  • 32.

    Xen. Mem. i. 3. 7; cf. Symp. 3. 6.

  • 33.

    Diog. Laert. vi. 17 f.

  • 34.

    147 B ff.

  • 35.

    533 D ff.

  • 36.

    iv. 21–31.

  • 37.

    339 A ff. Cf. Phaedrus 229 C ff. For an interesting account of the allegorical method of interpretation in antiquity, the reader may be referred to Stewart's Myths of Plato pp. 230–258.

  • 38.

    643 ff.

  • 39.

    903 ff.

  • 40.

    1078 ff.

  • 41.

    436 ff, tr. Way.

  • 42.

    Rep. ii. 377 E ff.

  • 43.

    378 D.

  • 44.

    Theact. 176 B.