Philosophy and Hellenismos

Recently I have read some opinion which attacks the value of Philosophy upon the traditional Hellenic religion, even to the point of stating that Hellenic systems of Philosophy should be considered seperate from traditional worship of the Olympians as corruptive of the ancient religion. I find this idea rather strange since one of the oldest Hellenic philosophical traditions, the Orphic mysteries, is the heart of Hellenismos and is tied to the various mystery centers throughout Hellas…centers that were not unimportant by any stretch of the imagination. From this we have understandings of the immortal soul and our relationship to the divine. Granted there have been, and always will be, superstitious people and those who take myth and poetic reference literally, but there is nothing to suggest to me that philosophy is at odds with the worship of the gods. Certainly Socrates, as demonstrated by both Plato and Xenophon, fully worshipped the gods, but yet people will use the fact that he was charged and sentenced for “corrupting the youth” as a stigma against him that the philosophy descending from him is in some way contrary to the religious thought of the people. I suggest instead that this is not so. Though I am still reading through the Dialogues of Plato and have a rather extensive philosophy reading list, it is quite plain that the lectures of Socrates were not about maligning the gods or worship, nor about creating new gods as Aristophanes Clouds jests at, but rather emphasized thinking over blind acceptance. It is quite evident that the root of the Hellenic religion is one that has a kind of complexity by which meaning is put even in the names of the gods and in the very Hellenic language. Taking into consideration that in the Homeric period that Hellas was going through a dark age, and that a dark age in itself is a declination in thought and technology as we saw later in Medieval Europe during which people slip into superstition, excessive xenophobia (where a medieval village would have been very suspicious of strangers) we can infer that possibly similarly occurred in the dark ages of Hellas. It seems a little strange then to compare the religion of this time with the philosophical traditions as a be-all of Hellenic religion. This is not to belittle the work of Homer by any means, nor that of Hesiod, but rather to understand that philosophy, the pursuit of knowledge, is the means towards progress, alot of which has to be made up after a dark age has brought things crashing down. Such pursuits of knowledge in later Europe after all gave us the Enlightenment and the rebirth of science. Now, did Christianity use and abuse Hellenic philosophy…yes of course they did! Those who worship the gods are full aware of how much was “borrowed” by Christianity…and naturally a religion that sees anything that they feel is admirable will lay some especial claim to it, though unwarranted.  But this should not devalue the contributions of philosophy and the importance of the philosophical mystery traditions, such importance which is evident in the writing of Aeschylus, they are not alien monsters corrupting Hellenismos but an important part of the spiritual thought of the religion even if there are those who don’t personally acknowledge them as such. As humans were are gifted with these blessed cognitive powers, and it seems unlikely that Hellas, the cradle of Western civilization, would not have recognized the importance of this capability to acquire knowledge and wisdom considering how such was esteemed (especially if we look at some of the heroes like Odysseus who certainly weren’t dullards). Still there are those who like to sharpen their knives against Hellenic philosophy perhaps for the same reason that there were those among the Athenians levied charges against Socrates…having nothing to do with impiety or corrupting the traditional worship but because they personally do not care for them. And there is nothing that says that you have to agree with everything. There is no divine mandate, or gospel. And philosophy shouldn’t be viewed as gospel, any such opinion would probably have Socrates turning in his grave considering how many times he was said to admonish people to think of things themselves and not just accept all that he says to them. There are going to be things with which we will agree and disagree, but that we do so does not devalue what they have contributed to Hellenismos.

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4 thoughts on “Philosophy and Hellenismos

  1. I can’t get over the fact you encountered someone saying philosophy is separate and corruptive of the Hellenic religion… Philosophy is essential for Hellenists, not so much to adhere to one philosophical school or another and get the result of different denominations battling each other like we see in Christianity or Islam, but to learn to think for ourselves and be critical for what we are told. I think this is one of the things the Gods stand for. Although I feel it is important to distinguish philosophy and religion as practices, as far as Hellenismos is concerned these two practices are intricately entwined.

    • It perhaps wasn’t in so many words, but this is the distinct impression that I got from statements like what essentially boils down to Platonists, and Orphism, are not part of the Olympian worship. I am not a Platonist myself, I am an Orphic and the essential expulsion of these two bothered me. And despite not being a Platonist I do find a great dea of value in the writing of Plato, and I do think his writing can offer insight into the Hellenic religious thought because I don’t think ideas come from nowhere but build on what is already pre-existing concerning spiritual matters. Philosophy gives us a way to think of thinks, including religion, reality, ethics etc but is not in itself worship. That said I don’t care much for alot of the Neo-platonists

      • Well, that’s off course a personal preference 😉 I mostly stick with Platonism, as that’s the philosophy I know most of at this time (which to be honest isn’t all that much). I haven’t had the time yet to delve deeper into the different philosophies.

      • And indeed, it never hurts to learn more. I think the best way to understand ones own view, is to understand the other views that are out there 🙂

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