JMC : Pre-Scholastic Philosophy / by Albert Stöckl

Section II. Philosophy of the Greeks.

Outline and Division.

§ 10.

1. It is undeniable that the Greeks received from the East many of the elements of their civilisation. Colonists from Egypt, Phoenicia, and Phrygia carried with them into Greece their arts and inventions, their knowledge of agriculture and of music, their religious hymns, their poetry, and their mysteries. There can be no doubt that philosophical notions also, those especially which were connected with religious beliefs, were introduced into Greece in the same fashion. This is clearly indicated by the close resemblance which we observe to exist between the secret dogmas of the oldest Greek mysteries, and the earliest teachings of the East. But we should not be warranted in concluding from this that the Greeks owe their civiisation wholly to the East, that the philosophy of Greece was drawn entirely from foreign sources, and was no more than a special development of Oriental notions. The Greek mind was stimulated by influences that reached it from the East, but it was independent in its growth; the philosophy of Greece, in its entirety, is a product of the Greek mind, though certain Oriental notions are unmistakably embodied in it.

2. With all peoples religion has been the basis and first beginning of civilisation. The Greeks are no exception to the rule. Their poetry and their philosophy alike grew out of their religion. Their poetry was first in its growth; for the effort of the poetic imagination to picture to itself the being and evolution of things human and divine precedes and prepares the way for genuine philosophical investigation. In the case of the nation, as in the case of the individual, activity of the imagination comes before activity of the intellect, the inquiries of the philosopher come after the efforts of the poet. It happened so in Greece. We may see in this truth an explanation of the fact that the poetic genius of Greece had reached its highest expression in the Drama of Athens, long before Attic philosophy had taken full possession of the riches of thought amassed by earlier thinkers, as of the further fact that the golden age of Attic philosophy outlasted, by a considerable time, the golden age of Attic poetry.

3. There are two sides to the religion of the Greeks, an internal and an external one. We notice among the Greeks what we may style an esoteric religion, embodied in the so-called mysteries, which, under sense-images and allegories, propagated certain higher religious notions, and an exoteric, or popular, religion, wholly concerned with these graceful outer forms, and with no thought for their primary meaning. Both these aspects of the religion of the Greeks found early expression in their poetry. The poems of Hesiod and Homer reproduce in many forms the myths of the popular religion, while the esoteric religion found expression in the so-called songs of Orpheus, a species of poetry much more speculative in character, and manifesting a much higher development of religious feeling.

4. Historians and poets alike inform us that Orpheus (as well as Linus and Musaeus) lived in the thirteenth century before Christ, and that he was the founder of the Thracian system of Bacchus-worship. They furthermore tell us that these men were not mere singers or poets, but that they were sages as well, who could tell of the birth of the gods and the origin of the universe. Orpheus cannot, however, be credited with all the songs which bear his name. At an early period, metrical compositions on Cosmogony -- the work of Onomacritus, who lived about the time of the Pisistratidae, in the sixth century before Christ, and of other authors -- were falsely attributed to him. For the most part, the songs of Orpheus, of which we have accurate knowledge, belong to a comparatively recent period. But the matter they contain comes down from a distant antiquity, for the later poets either reproduce the Orphic songs and legends, or model their own upon them. This observation applies also to Pherecydes, Epimenides, Antiphanes and Acusilaus, who, in the sixth century before Christ, imitated the Orphic lays in their poems on the origin of the world.

5. If we inquire what influence the religion of the Greeks exercised upon the rise and the structure of Greek philosophy, we shall find that the popular religion, with its merely external forms, was of little avail in giving a positive stimulus to philosophic thought. The gods of the Greek Olympus are no more than men, of ideal beauty it is true, but moving, nevertheless, in the same sphere of thought, will, feeling, and passion as other men. Some of the many myths connected with the several divinities seem to have a deeper meaning, to give a glimpse occasionally of an ancient faith of higher purity; but there are many other legends of the gods which have no such higher meaning, which belong purely and simply to the region of human passions, vices, and hateful animosities.

6. The popular religion contributed negatively rather than positively to rouse philosophic thought. The myths in which a deeper thought lay concealed might, perhaps, do positive service to the philosopher in his inquiry; and we notice that Plato has embodied many such in his philosophic writings, in order to bring higher truths within the reach of sense. But the other legends of the gods provoked philosophic thought to antagonism by the palpable errors and absurdities which they contained, and in this way impelled philosophy to seek, by reason, a higher theological knowledge. In this negative way, principally, did the popular religion of Greece contribute to stimulate philosophic investigation. And to this we may attribute the fact that philosophy in Greece, at an early stage, set itself to combat the popular faith, with its polytheistic doctrines and its theological myths. We remember Plato's censures of the popular religious legends, and his efforts to exclude them from the education of the young, and to replace them by higher notions of God and things divine (cfr. de Rep. Lib. 2 and 3).

7. The esoteric religion, on the other hand, and principally those notions which were embodied in the so-called Orphic hymns, must have exercised a positive influence on the early course of philosophy in Greece. This appears from the fact that these songs are already highly philosophic in character. The philosophic notions contained in them are no doubt still shrouded under a mythical veil, but they show clearly through the enveloping myth, and must naturally have stirred the thinking mind to a further advance on the road of philosophic research. We may, indeed, assert that the Orphic songs were themselves the first beginnings of philosophy among the Greeks, that in them the spirit of philosophy in Greece first warmed into life.

8. These songs deal for the most part with principles of Cosmogony and Theogony -- they contain indeed little more than theories of the kind. The fundamental notion in all these theories is the same -- that all things were originally contained in one being, one primal matter, out of which everything (heaven and earth) was formed by plastic forces, in accordance with the principle of dualism which divided the universe from the beginning. We have many accounts as to the form in which this common origin of all things was represented. According to Suidas the elements in the Orphic Cosmogony were, AEther, Chaos, and Night;{1} according to Simplicius, Time, Aether, Chaos; according to Apollonius of Rhodes, Heaven, Earth, Sea; while Athenagoras understands the primeval chaos to have signified a kind of ovum from which the universe grew. However this may be, we are warranted in attributing to tbe influence of these theories the fact that the earliest philosophers of Greece devoted themselves to the search after a single principle from which the cosmical order was evolved, and strove to trace back the origin of all things to primary matter.

9. In the maxims of the "Seven Sages" of Greece, we have the transition from the philosophy of religious belief to rational philosophy proper. The Seven Sages were -- Thales of Miletus, Pittacus of Mitylene, Bias of Priene, Solon of Athens, Cleobulus of Lindus, Chylon of Sparta, and Periander of Corinth. It was not philosophic principles scientifically evolved and combined which formed the subject of their brief and pithy maxims, but certain laws of human life and human society apprehended with precision, and enunciated with simplicity. We find in them, besides rules of prudent action, special commendation of self-knowledge, sagacity, control of the passions, abstinence and temperance. We have here a practical wisdom -- not yet philosophy strictly so-called, for it does not rest on a strictly philosophic basis; but an advance from the obscurity of the myth, a creation of the reflecting mind. These maxims could not fail to affect the development of the practical side of the philosophy of Greece.

10. The history of Greek philosophy may be divided into three periods -- the period of its rise and early development, the period of its maturity and its perfection, and the period of its decline and decay. In its highest development Greek philosophy did not compass the whole truth -- the light of a higher revelation was wanting to it. It could not, therefore, maintain itself at the height it reached at the period of its greatest glory. Notwithstanding its extraordinary fruitfulness at this time, it bore within it the seeds of dissolution; the point which marked its highest development marked also the beginning of its decline. It was during the epoch of its decline that the philosophy of Greece found its way to Rome.

11. We divide, then, the history of Greek Philosophy into three periods. The first period, embracing the rise and gradual development of philosophy among the Greeks, extends from Thales to Socrates. The second, the period of its highest perfection, extends from Socrates to Aristotle. The third, the period of its decline and decay, extends from Aristotle (end of the fourth century, B.C.) to the close of its history. This period falls partly within the Christian era. To this period belongs the Philosophy of Rome, which was, as we have already remarked, in contents and in general character, a mere offshoot of the Philosophy of Greece.

12. On the plan of this division, we shall set forth the history of Greek and Roman Philosophy. In the first period we shall observe a number of different philosophic schools -- the Ionic, Pythagorean, Eleatic -- grow up, side by side, with little interchange of influence during their growth, but towards the close of this period, mutually acting upon one another, and tending thereby to union. In the second period, the independent existence of the several schools comes virtually to an end, and there ensues a common movement of philosophic progress, represented in the three greatest philosophers of Greece -- Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. At first, indeed, several Socratic schools came into existence; but this was owing to the fact that the pupils of Socrates had not all been able to comprehend the spirit of his philosophy. The true development of Greek Philosophy, subsequently to Socrates, is represented in Plato and Aristotle, In the third period, Greek Philosophy was again divided into a number of independent schools. Union in progress was lost, and the decline of Philosophy among the Greeks was thereby assured.

13. The sources from which the history of Greek Philosophy may be drawn are immediate or mediate. Among the former are to be reckoned the writings of the philosophers themselves, which have been preserved to us sometimes in their entirety, sometimes only in a fragmentary state. The latter include the accounts which contemporary or subsequent writers give us of the doctrines of the several philosophers. Of special importance in this respect are the writings of Plato and Aristotle, in which frequent allusion is made to the opinions of earlier philosophers. "Plato indicates in various dialogues the views of Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Protagoras, Gorgias and other sophists, and in a special manner those of Socrates and of his several followers. Aristotle, in all his writings, follows the plan of beginning the discussion of every problem with a review of the tenable theories of earlier philosophers, and in this way he gives us -- particularly in the introduction to his Metaphysics -- a critical examination of the principles of his predecessors from Thales to Plato." The writings of Plato and Aristotle are thus important sources from which the historian of Greek Philosophy must draw. The writings of Xenophon, more particularly his Memorabilia, are of special importance for the history of Socratic Philosophy.

14. Among the Platonists, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Heraclides of Sinope in Pontus, and at a later date Clitomachus, in their writings, either treated expressly of the earlier philosophers, or otherwise furnished data for a history of philosophy. Like service has been rendered by the Aristotelians, Theophrastus, Eudemus, Aristoxenus, Decaearchus, Phanias of Lesbos, Clearchus, Strato, and others. The same may be said of a few of the Stoics and Epicureans. But the works of these writers, of which later philosophers made use, are no longer extant. The schools of Alexandria took up the work which the earlier philosophers had carried on. Ptolemy Philadelphus (B.C. 284-247), established the library of Alexandria, in which the works of the philosophers were collected. Callimachus of Cyrene (B.C. 260), Superintendent of this library, drew up a catalogue of celebrated authors and their works (Pinakes tôn en pasê paideia dialampsantôn kai ôn sunegrapsan). Aristophanes, of Byzantium, pupil of Callimachus and Zenodotus, arranged the dialogues of Plato, dividing them into trilogies and independent dialogues. Eratosthenes (B.C. 276-194), whom Ptolemy Euergetes set over the library of Alexandria, reviewed the various schools of philosophic thought (Peri tôn kata philosophian aireseôn), and his writings Apollodorus made the basis of his metrical chronicle, which he composed about B.C. 140. The lives, the disciples, and the doctrines of the philosophers, also furnished a theme to Duris of Samos about B.C. 270), to Neanthes of Cyzicus (about B.C. 240, Peri endozôn andrôn), to the Peripatetic Hermippus of Smyrna (B.C. 220), from whom Diogenes Laertius draws largely (Peri tôn sophôn, peri magôn Peri Puthagarou, peri Aristotelous, peri Theophrastou bioi), to the Peripatetic Sotion (B.C. 200 -- Peri diadochôn tôn philosophôn), to Sosicrates (about B.C. 150 -- Diadochai), Satyrus (B.C. 160 -- Bioi), Apollodorus (B.C. 140 -- Chronika and Peri tôn philosophôn aireseôn), and Alexander Polyhistor (in the time of Sylla -- Diadochai tôn philosophôn), Heraclides Lembus, son of Serapion, made a compilation of extracts from the Diadochai of Sotion, and the Bioi of Satyrus, to which Diogenes Laertius makes frequent allusion. Demetrius Magnes, one of Cicero's teachers, was the author of a critical work on the earlier philosophers, and from this also Diogenes Laertius borrows largely.

15. Of the later writers whose works have come down to us, and who furnish us with materials for the history of Greek Philosophy, we may mention (a) Cicero, Lucretius, and Seneca, whose writings are of special importance in this connection; (b) Plutarch (A.D. 120, De placitis philosophorum, sive de physicis philosophorum decretis Ll. 5); (c) the physician Galen (A.D. 181-200), whose works contain many references to Greek Philosophy -- the treatise Peri philosophôn historias which has been attributed to him is not genuine; (d) Sextus Empiricus (A.D. 200, Pyrrhoniarum Institutionum Ll. 3, and Adv. Mathematicos Ll. 11); (e) Diogenes Laertius (A.D. 230, of Laërte in Cilicia, De vitis, dogmatibus et apophthegmatibus clarorum philosophorum Ll. 10); (f) Flavius Philostratus (Vitae sophistarum); (g) Eunapius of Sardis (A.D. 400, Vitae philosophorum et sophistarum). Further materials for a history of Greek Philosophy are supplied by (h) Justin Martyr; (i) by Clement, of Alexandria, in his works: Cohortatio ad Graecos, Paedagogus, and Stromata; (k) by Origen, chiefly in his Philosophoumena (l) by Hippolytus in his treatise: Refutationes omnium heresium, Ll. 10; (m) by Eusebius in his Praeparatio Evangelica; (n) by the Neo-Platonists and the Commentators of Aristotle, notably by Simplicius, Comm. ad Arist. physicas auscultationes; also (o) by Gellius (A.D. 150) in his Noctes Atticae; (p) by Athenaeus (A.D. 200) in his Deipnosophistae; (q) by Joannes Stobaeus (A.D. 500) in his Florilegium, and Ecologae Physicae et Ethicae; (r) by Hesychius of Melitus (A.D. 520) in the treatise Peri tôn en paideia dialampsantôn sophôn; (s) by Photius (A.D. 880) in his Lexicon and Bibliotheca; (t) and by Suidas (A.D. 1000) in his Lexicon.

16. Of modern writers on the history of Greek Philosophy, it will be enough to mention (a) W. Traugott Krug, Geschichte der Philosophie alter Zeit, vornehmlich unter Griechen und Römern, Leipzig, 1815; (b) Christ. Aug. Brandis. Handbuch der Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie, Berlin, 1885; and Geschichte der Entwickelung der griechischen Philosophie und ihrer Nachwirkungen im römischen Reiche 1862-64; (c) Aug. Bernh. Krische, Forschungen auf dem Gebiete der alten Philosophie, Bd. I. Die theologischen Lehren der griechischen Denker, 1840; (d) Ed. Zeller, Die Philosophie der Griechen, Eine Untersuchung über Charakter, Gang, und Hauptmomente ihrer Entwickelung, 3 The.; Aufl. 1, 1844-46-52. Aufl. 2, under the title: Die Phiosophie der Griechen in ihrer geschichtlichen Entwickelung, 3 Thle.; (e) Historia philosophiae Graecae-Romanae, ex fontium locis contexta. Locos collegerunt, disposuerunt, notis auxerunt H. Ritter et L. Preller., Ed. 3; Goth. 1864; (f) Ludw. Strümpell, Die Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie, zur Uebersicht, Repetition und Orientirung bei eigenen studien entworfen, Leipz. 1854-61, Abth. 2.; (g) Albert Schewgler, Geschichte der griechisehen Philosophie, herausg. von Cöstlin, Tubing, 1858; (h) N. T. Schwarz, Manuel de l'Histoire de la Philosophie Ancienne, Liege, 1842 ; (i) Ch. Lévêque, Etude de la Philosophie Grecque et Latine, Paris, 1864; (k) Ed. Röth, Geschichte unserer Abendländischen Philosophie, Bd. 2 Griechsiche Philosophie, Mannheim, 1858; (l) Karl Prantl, Uebersicht der griechisch-römischen Philosophie, Stuttgart, 1854; (m) O. Caspari, Die Irrthümer der altclassischen Philosophen in ihrer Bedeutung für das philosophische Princip., Heidelberg, 1868.

Among the writers on the Greek and Roman systems of Jurisprudence and Political Philosophy may be mentioned: K. Hildenbrand, Geschichte und System der Rechtsund Staatsphilosophie, Leipzig, 1860 ; A. Veder, Historia philosophiae juris apud veteres, Ludw. Batav. 1832; H. Henkel, Lineamenta artis graecorum politicae, Berol. 1847; M. Voigt, Die Lehre vom jus naturale, aequum et bonum und ins gentium der Edmer, Leipzig, 1856. On the history of Philology among the Ancients we have the work of H. Steinthal, Geschichte der sprachwissenschaft bei den Griechen und Römern, Berl. 1863-64. We may add to the list of anthors here given: Grote, Plato, and other Companions of Socrates; London, 1865; G. H. Lewes, A Biographical History of Philosophy. Ancient Philosophy, Vol. I. and II.; London, 1845. W.H. Butler: Lectures on the History of Ancient Philosophy, 2 Vols.; Cambridge, 1866. Cfr. Ueberweg.

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{1} Epimenides, Antiphanes, and Acusilaus likewise represent all things as coming forth from "Night."