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Posts Tagged ‘ancient greece’

In Defense of Plato

In the ancient greeks on 23/08/2011 at 12:32 pm

I recall reading, I don’t know where or when, a book analyzing Plato’s call to outlaw poetry. If I can reconstruct their striking conjecture as a pale ghost-image, it amounted to the following: within Ancient Greece, all societal problems were solved by performing a ‘biblical’ exegesis of The Odyssey. If two parties were in disagreement, Homer was called to the fore, and each side would make their case that their position best sided with Homer. Plato, then, was not out to forbid the high school production of King Lear or the publication of Yeats, but the dismissal of a way of life that was antithetical to his own. Problems could not be solved by appealing to an authoritative text, and with no view of precedent, but through universal law.

I do not know if this interpretation was correct, and I suspect that it is mistaken; however, it is still quite interesting, and in its defense, there are historical parallels: in The Eumenides, Aeschylus ends the ancient blood feud between the Furies and Orestes by way of a hung twelve-person jury. The Greeks show their progress towards unification of modern law and abandoning the ancient ways by way of an allegory. It may be wrong, but it gives a reading that makes far more sense to modern ears than the initial modern reaction to Plato.

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The Derveni Papyrus

In the ancient greeks on 15/07/2011 at 11:51 pm

The Derveni papyrus, found in 1962 among the remains of a funeral pyre at Derveni near Thessaloniki, may be perhaps Europe’s oldest surviving Greek manuscript, written some time in the fourth century B.C.E. The manner in which the author of the Deverni papyrus opposed competing Greek religions and mystery-cults on the one hand provides a glimpse into the understanding of magic during ancient Greece: the text offers a novel defense of a particular mystery-cult by simultaneously elucidating a cosmogony and theology eerily close to the cosmogony of several influential Presocratic sophist philosophers.

While Kouremenos notes that “attempting to identify the Derveni author in light of the available evidence seems to be an exercise of rather low epistemic value” (1), it is valuable in-itself to examine the attitudes of the author, the cosmological theories the author advances, and how the theories and attitudes relate to Presocratic sophists of the era. Thus, the Deverni papyrus may indicate that the sophists might have been heavily influenced by ancient Greek religion and magic. In departing in the conventional interpretation of the gods, the sophists may have instead offered a reinterpretation or re-imagination of Greek religion and mystery-cults, claiming to have discovered a deeper or hidden secret by means of allegory, rather than engaging in a full-scale rejection of the traditional Greek understanding of magic and religion.

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