+1 (208) 254-6996 [email protected]
  

That this trend of thought had much larger implications can be seen from the fact that the beginnings of religious and natural philosophy are connected with similar critical departures from the inherited traditions of the past; as W.B. Yeats wrote, with another tradition in mind, “Science is the critique of myths, there would be no Darwin had there been no Book of Genesis”.59 Among the early pre-Socratics there is much evidence of the close connection between new ideas and the criticism of the old. Thus Xenophanes of Colophon (fl. ca. 540 B.C.) rejected the “fables of men of old”, and replaced the anthro- pomorphic gods of Homer and Hesiod who did “everything that is disgraceful and blameworthy among men” with a supreme god, “not at all like mortals in body and mind” ;60 while Heraclitus of Ephesus (fl. ca. 500 B.C.), the first great philosopher of the problems of knowledge, whose system is based on the unity of opposites expressed in the Logos or structural plan of things, also ridiculed the anthropomorphism and idolatry of the Olympian religion.61

The critical and sceptical process continued, and according to Cornford, “a great part of the supreme god’s biography had to be frankly rejected as false, or reinterpreted as allegory, or contemplated with reserve as mysterious myth too dark for human understanding.” 62 On the one hand the poets continued to use the traditional legends for their poems and plays; on the other the prose writers attempted to wrestle with the problems with which the changes in the cultural tradition had faced them. Even the poets, how- ever, had a different attitude to their material. Pindar, for example, used mythos in the sense of traditional stories, with the implication that they were not literally true; but claimed that his own poems had nothing in common with the fables of the past.63 As for the prose writers, and indeed some of the poets, they had set out to replace myth with something else more con- sistent, with their sense of the logos, of the common and all-encompassing truth which reconciles apparent contradictions.

Don't use plagiarized sources. Get Your Custom Essay on
That this trend of thought had much larger implications can be seen from the fact that the beginnings of religious and natural philosophy are connected
Just from $13/Page
Order Essay

From the point of view of the transmission of the cultural tradition, the categories of understanding connected with the dimensions of time and space

58 Reflections on Violence, trans. T. E. Hulme (New York, 1941), p. 136; cit. Robert Redfield, The Primitive World and its Transformations (Ithaca, New York, 1953), p. 125. 59 cit. Joseph Hone, W. B. Yeats (London, 1942), p. 405 (our italics). 6o Hermann Diels, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker (Berlin, 1951), fr. 11, 23; see also John Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (2nd ed. London, 1908), pp. 131, 140-141, and Werner Jaeger, The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947), pp. 42-7; Kirk and Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers, pp. 163 ff. 61 Diels, Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, fr. 40, 42, 56, 57, 106; see also Francis M. Cornford, Principium Sapientiae: The Origins of Greek Philosophical Thought (Cam- bridge, 1952), pp. 112 ff.; Kirk and Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers, pp. 182 ff. 62 Francis M. Cornford, Greek Religious Thought from Homer to the Age of Alex- ander (London, 1923), xv-xvi. See also Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, p. 1. 63 1st Olympian Ode.

323

 

 

JACK GOODY AND IAN WATT

have a particular importance. As regards an objective description of space, Anaximander (b. 610 B.C.) and Hecataeus (fl. ca. 510-490), making use of Babylonian and Egyptian techniques, drew the first maps of the world.64 Then their crude beginnings were subject to a long process of criticism and correction – by Herodotus 65 and others; and from this emerged the more scientific cartography of Aristotle, Eratosthenes and their successors.66

The development of history appears to have followed a rather similar course, although the actual details of the process are subject to much con- troversy. The traditional view gave priority to local histories which were followed by the more universal accounts of Herodotus and Thucydides. Dionysius of Halicarnasus writes of the predecessors of these historians who “instead of co-ordinating their accounts with each other … treated of in- dividual peoples and cities separately … They all had the one same object, to bring to the general knowledge of the public the written records that they found preserved in temples or in secular buildings in the form in which they found them, neither adding nor taking away anything; among these records were to be found legends hallowed by the passage of time. ..” 67

Jacoby however has insisted “the whole idea is wrong that Greek historio- graphy began with local history.” 68 As far as Athens is concerned, history begins with the foreigner Herodotus who, not long after the middle of the fifth century, incorporated parts of the story of the town in his work because he wanted to explain the role it played in the great conflict between East and West, between Europe and Asia. The aim of Herodotus’ History was to dis- cover what the Greeks and Persians “fought each other for”;69 and his method was historia – personal inquiry or research into the most probable versions of events as they were to be found in various sources. His work rested on oral tradition and consequently his writings retained many mythological ele- ments. So too did the work of the logographer, Hellanicus of Lesbos, who at the end of the fifth century wrote the first history of Attica from 683 to the end of the Peloponnesian war in 404. Hellanicus also tried to reconstruct the genealogies of the Homeric heroes, both backwards to the Gods and forwards to the Greece of his own time; and this inevitably involved chronology, the objective measurement of time. All he could do, however, was to rationalize and systematize largely legendary materials.70 The development of history as a documented and analytic account of the past and present of the society in permanent written form took an important step forward with Thucydides,

64 See Eric H. Warmington, Greek Geography (London, 1934), pp. xiv, xxxviii. 65 History, 4, 36-40. 66 Warmington, Greek Geography, pp. xvii-xviii, xli ff. 67 Cit. Lionel Pearson, Early lonian Historians (Oxford, 1939), p. 3. 68 Felix Jacoby, Atthis (Oxford, 1949), p. 354. 69 History, I, 1. See also Moses I. Finley (ed.), The Greek Historians (New York, 1959), pp. 4 ff. 70 See Pearson, Early Ionian Historians, pp. 152-233, especially pp. 193, 232-33.

324

 

 

THE CONSEQUENCES OF LITERACY

who made a decisive distinction between myth and history, a distinction to which little attention is paid in non-literate society.71 Thucydides wanted to give a wholly reliable account of the wars between Athens and Sparta; and this meant that unverified assumptions about the past had to be excluded. So Thucydides rejected, for example, the chronology that Hellanicus had worked out for the prehistory of Athens, and confined himself very largely to his own notes of the events and speeches he related, or to the information he sought out from eye-witnesses and other reliable sources.72

Order your essay today and save 10% with the discount code ESSAYHELP