Ancient Greeks: Monotheistic?

Discussion in 'Religion Archives' started by one_raven, May 11, 2008.

  1. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I was reading The Republic by Plato and came across something I found very interesting.

    In Book II he seems to be implying that the Ancient Greeks were actually monotheistic and all the different Gods that they created were commonly known to be Fables used to illustrate different aspects of their one God.

    Throughout all of the Socrates – ADEIMANTUS dialogue, he continually refers to God in the singular and speaks of him as the all-powerful creator God above all. Not Zeus or any other of the Greek Pantheon by name, but “God”.

    Take a look at this from the Socrates – ADEIMANTUS dialogue:
    ” Then, I said, let us begin and create in idea a State; and yet the true creator is necessity, who is the mother of our invention.
    Of course, he replied.”

    In the Socrates – ADEIMANTUS dialogue, they are discussing the censorship of “fiction” and we find this:
    “A fault which is most serious, I said; the fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie.

    But when is this fault committed?
    Whenever an erroneous representation is made of the nature of gods and heroes, --as when a painter paints a portrait not having the shadow of a likeness to the original.

    Yes, he said, that sort of thing is certainly very blamable; but what are the stories which you mean?

    First of all, I said, there was that greatest of all lies, in high places, which the poet told about Uranus, and which was a bad lie too, --I mean what Hesiod says that Uranus did, and how Cronus retaliated on him. The doings of Cronus, and the sufferings which in turn his son inflicted upon him, even if they were true, ought certainly not to be lightly told to young and thoughtless persons; if possible, they had better be buried in silence. But if there is an absolute necessity for their mention, a chosen few might hear them in a mystery, and they should sacrifice not a common [Eleusinian] pig, but some huge and unprocurable victim; and then the number of the hearers will be very few indeed.

    Why, yes, said he, those stories are extremely objectionable.

    Yes, Adeimantus, they are stories not to be repeated in our State; the young man should not be told that in committing the worst of crimes he is far from doing anything outrageous; and that even if he chastises his father when does wrong, in whatever manner, he will only be following the example of the first and greatest among the gods.

    I entirely agree with you, he said; in my opinion those stories are quite unfit to be repeated.

    Neither, if we mean our future guardians to regard the habit of quarrelling among themselves as of all things the basest, should any word be said to them of the wars in heaven, and of the plots and fightings of the gods against one another, for they are not true. No, we shall never mention the battles of the giants, or let them be embroidered on garments; and we shall be silent about the innumerable other quarrels of gods
    and heroes with their friends and relatives. If they would only believe us we would tell them that quarrelling is unholy, and that never up to this time has there been any, quarrel between citizens; this is what old men and old women should begin by telling children; and when they grow up, the poets also should be told to compose for them in a similar spirit. But the narrative of Hephaestus binding Here his mother, or how on another occasion Zeus sent him flying for taking her part when she was being beaten, and all the battles of the gods in Homer --these tales must not be admitted into our State, whether
    they are supposed to have an allegorical meaning or not. For a young person cannot judge what is allegorical and what is literal; anything that he receives into his mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.

    There you are right, he replied; but if any one asks where are such models to be found and of what tales are you speaking --how shall we answer him?

    I said to him, You and I, Adeimantus, at this moment are not poets, but founders of a State: now the founders of a State ought to know the general forms in which poets should cast their tales, and the limits which must be observed by them, but to make the tales is not their business.

    Very true, he said; but what are these forms of theology which you mean?

    Something of this kind, I replied: --God is always to be represented as he truly is, whatever be the sort of poetry, epic, lyric or tragic, in which the representation is given.”

    I know that much of Platonic dialogue is facetious in nature to point out obvious flaws in opposing arguments, but he seems to be acknowledging the wholly allegorical nature of the stories of the Gods, created by the poets, as aspects of a single God.

    And he seems to be implying that everyone knows this.

    Have you read The Republic – at least all of Book II?
    What do you make of it?
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Gods are metaphors for the individual elements of the human spirit. Psychology, art, literature and religion all lead to the same paradigm comprised of 23 of them, which is presumably an "archetype" or instinctive analysis of the way our thoughts and feelings sort themselves out. For the more scholarly and philosophical Greeks to imply that all gods are components of a single god is simply a tacit acknowledgment that they are fictional representations of our spirits, and that all of our spirits are components of a single person.
    Last edited: May 11, 2008
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  5. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member


    Where does 23 come from?
    Did Joseph Campbell define 23 archetypes.
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  7. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    I remember reading somewhere that Plato was influenced by Orphic beliefs, or Orphism. The literature is ascribed to Orpheus (who descended to Hades and returned) but I think it is connected to an ancient Egyptian religion and involves sun worship and an immortal soul with rewards and punishments.

    Perhaps that is what he is referring to in the Republic?

    edit: some more info from the ubiquitous wikipedia

    According to one of the myths about his life after the death of Eurydice

    I'll look for more later
  8. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    I seem to recall they killed Socrates, in part, for denying the city gods. So, even if Socrates was a monotheist (and assuming he was a pre-Plationist then it's possible he believed that there could only be one perfect god (and imperfect reflections), it would seem to be a stretch to call all the ancient Greeks monotheists. At least the majority of the ones who condemned him were not.
  9. draqon Banned Banned

    Ancient Greeks believed in so many things ... they had so many mythologies, with many Gods, some philosophers though believed in one God...some were atheists...
  10. Arkantos Registered Senior Member

    Check out Xenophanes. He proclaimed that God was one and was against the anthropomorphizing going on at the time. Before Plato he wanted to do away with all the nastiness being attributed to the gods. He also noted that men must not be satisfied with the revealed knowledge, but they must continue searching because God did not reveal all in the beginning.

    Here are some quotes:

    God is one, greatest among gods and men, not at all like mortals in body or thought.

    No man has seen nor will anyone know the truth about the gods and all things I speak of.

    By no means did the gods reveal all things to mortals from the beginning, but in time, by searching, they discover better.

    Give us no fights with Titans, no, nor Giants nor Centaurs-the forgeries of our fathers-nor civil brawls, in which no advantage is. But always to be mindful of the gods is good.

    Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods all deeds which among men are a reproach and a disgrace: thieving, adultery, and deceiving one another.

    Mortals believe that the gods are born and have human clothing, voice, and form.

    Ethiopians say that their gods are flat-nosed and dark, Thracians that theirs are blue-eyed and red-haired.
  11. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    I wasn't aware of that.
    It makes perfect sense now.

    Thank you.
  12. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Quite a few people have told me that.
    I will.

    Thanks, Sam.
  13. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    Not just Socrates, but many of the pre-socratic philosophers also envisioned the divine or absolute as something abstract...certainly nothing with a physical form one could sculpt in marble.
  14. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    'Is this not godlike...that there be gods, but no God?"
  15. Prince_James Plutarch (Mickey's Dog) Registered Senior Member

    One has to recall that Platonic philosophy is not religion, but philosophy. Accordingly, Plato introduced various topics into religion which were not in accords with polytheism. He reasoned (as would Aristotle a generation later) that it is wiser to speak of One God on the top of all else. This God (the Demiurge) is the creator.
  16. one_raven God is a Chinese Whisper Valued Senior Member

    Welcome back.
  17. Prince_James Plutarch (Mickey's Dog) Registered Senior Member

    Thank you, One Raven.

    It's a pleasure to see you again.

    But for a more in depth consideration of the Platonic notion of God, I would depart from the Republic (which really addresses The Good above all else - which is itself higher than the Demiurge) and reference The Timaeus.

    The Timaeus is the essence of Platonic theology. Also see The Sophist.

    But let us also remark that Plato was not a non-polytheist. He routinely speaks of the Gods, amongst them Ascelpius (God of healing) and Eros (God - although Plato calls him a daemon - of love). They just did not figure into his philosophy as the Ultimate Creator.
  18. S.A.M. uniquely dreadful Valued Senior Member

    Such a pleasure to have you back.

    Please Register or Log in to view the hidden image!

    Indian religions are also all philosophy. There was very little distinction between the two at the time.
  19. Prince_James Plutarch (Mickey's Dog) Registered Senior Member


    Thank you, my dear adversary. Though we stand apart, we stand closer together because of it. You have been well missed. How goes things?

    The appreciation of philosophy in Indian religion is one of the most positive aspects of all the "dharmic" religions and the Indian influences on Islam. Of course, it is also notable that because of it being accepted, we find no philosophy which is outside of religion, either. This leads to that gulf between Western and Eastern. The West has always hated philosophy to some extent when it came to religion, whereas the East has always loved it. This hatred and love certainly spice each uniquely.

    The closest we get to the sort of philosophy-mixed-with-religion like we have in the East, is curiously enough, the Platonic offshoots. Neo-Platonism almost philosophized paganism. If Justin the Apostate was succesful in giving a rebirth to paganism, it is likely that we'd place the Enneads on par with the Upanishads.
  20. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    He apparently uttered something rather cryptic on his deathbed...his last words:

    'Crito...we ought to offer a cock to Ascelpius. See to it, and dont forget."
  21. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    Religion, Philosophy and Mysticism have always had distinct characteristics in every culture.

    Religions are the affairs of the common people, who worship idols for earthly favours from on high...and a place in heaven when they die.

    Philosophy is entirely about mental conceptions of the metaphysical.

    Mysticism, the rarest of them all, seeks to attain not just conceptions but real perception of the if one were standing face to face.
  22. Prince_James Plutarch (Mickey's Dog) Registered Senior Member


    Yep. That was the last words of Socrates. Very touching.

    You are basically correct in your assessment.
  23. Carcano Valued Senior Member

    What do you think it means?

    A sacrifice is usually offered in thanksgiving...or as penance for some transgression.

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