The Fall of Apollo;
Our records of Western Philosophy begin in Greece about 600 BC. About 100 years previously, the Greek myths and the exploits of their Gods were first written down by Homer and Hesiod. Before this, these beliefs were transferred by word of mouth from generation to generation, undoubtedly changing and adapting as society changed. That was the way it was in oral traditions, stories and myths were passed down from generation to generation but the story always grew in the telling. Significant events, wars, earthquakes, floods and the like were incorporated into the myths and given an explanation, often an explanation which involved the passions of the Gods, anger, jealousy or love.
Writing though changed everything. Once recorded the stories became frozen in time, their evolution ceased and they were subject to examination, evaluation and ultimate rejection by the philosophical dwellers of the Greek city-states which also developed at this time.
Society was more organised in city states, work became more specialized, those with money and power often didn’t work but lived off the produce of others, bakers, butchers and the like. These early city states were the true beginnings of our consumer societies. Food was grown in the country and delivered to the city markets by farmers and merchants.
The fact that these city dwellers had more free time, time to discuss and debate, and because they lived their lives once-removed, like distant cousins, from the vagaries of agricultural interactions with Nature, only increased their licence to question the old beliefs. They no longer lived in fear of the weather, were not daily seeking to appease the gods so that droughts and floods did not destroy their crops.
Distance, however slight, makes the questions grow tougher.
And the questioners grow bolder.
One of the criticisms the early Greek philosophers had for these Gods was that they resembled mortals too much, in their virtues, in their vices and even in their appearances.
The Greek Gods brought about their own destruction by being too human. A true tragedy.
Even then, philosophers expected more of their Gods; if indeed they believed in their existence at all. These early philosophers concerned themselves mainly with Nature and the physical world as they tried to understand it based on reason. This resulted in a growing separation between philosophy and religion as the first, faulting, steps were taken towards scientific reasoning.
Of course, the majority of the inhabitants of these city states lived life as they had always done, in the acceptance and acknowledgement of the presence, and superiority, of their Gods, in observing rituals and behaviors and in condemning anything new or different.
Somethings, Gaarder tells us, do not change. We hear echos of Morrie when Gaarder says, “Although philosophical questions concern us all, we do not all become philosophers. For various reasons most people get so caught up in everyday affairs that their astonishment at the world gets pushed into the background” .
‘Brainwashing’, Morrie would call it.
‘Awaken, awaken’, deMello would tell us.