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To this general picture there are two kinds of theoretical objection. First, that the crucial intellectual innovations – in Cassirer as in Werner Jaeger – are in the last analysis attributed to the special mental endowments of the Greek people; and insofar as such terms as “the Greek Mind” or “genius” are not simply descriptive, they are logically dependent upon extremely questionable theories of man’s nature and culture. Secondly, such a version of the transformation from “unphilosophical” to “philosophical” thought assumes an absolute – and untenable – dichotomy between the “mythical” thought of primitives and the “logico-empirical” thought of civilized man.

The dichotomy, of course, is itself very similar to Levy-Bruhl’s earlier theory of the “prelogical” mentality of primitive peoples, which has been widely criticised. Malinowski and many others have demonstrated the empir- ical elements in non-literate cultures,52 and Evans-Pritchard has carefully analyzed the “logical” nature of the belief systems of the Azande of the Sudan; 53 while on the other hand the illogical and mythical nature of much

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51 The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms (New Haven, 1955), II, p. xiii; and An Essay on Man (New York, 1953), especially pp. 106-130, 281-3. For Werner Jaeger, see especially The Theology of The Early Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947). 52 “Magic, Science and Religion” in Science, Religion and Reality, ed. Joseph Needham (New York, 1925), reprinted Magic, Science and Religion (New York, 1954), p. 27. For an appreciation of Levy-Bruhl’s positive achievement, see Evans-Pritchard, “Levy- Bruhl’s Theory of Primitive Mentality”, Bulletin of the Faculty of Arts, University of Egypt, 2 (1934), pp. 1-36. In his later work, Levy-Bruhl modified the rigidity of his earlier dichotomy. 53 Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande (Oxford, 1937). See also Max Gluckman’s essay, “Social Beliefs and Individual Thinking in Primitive Society”,





Western thought and behavior is evident to anyone contemplating either our past or our present.

Nevertheless, although we must reject any dichotomy based upon the assumption of radical differences between the mental attributes of literate and non-literate peoples, and accept the view that previous formulations of the distinction were based on faulty premises and inadequate evidence, there may still exist general differences between literate and non-literate societies somewhat along the lines suggested by Levy-Bruhl. One reason for their existence, for instance, may be what has been described above: the fact that writing establishes a different kind of relationship between the word and its referent, a relationship that is more general and more abstract, and less closely connected with the particularities of person, place and time, than obtains in oral communication. There is certainly a good deal to substantiate this distinction in what we know of early Greek thought. To take, for in- stance, the categories of Cassirer and Werner Jaeger, it is surely significant that it was only in the days of the first widespread alphabetic culture that the idea of “logic” – of an immutable and impersonal mode of discourse – appears to have arisen; and it was also only then that the sense of the human past as an objective reality was formally developed, a process in which the distinction between “myth” and “history” took on decisive importance.

a. Myth and History

Non-literate peoples, of course, often make a distinction between the lighter folk-tale, the graver myth, and the quasi-historical legend.54 But not so insistently, and for an obvious reason. As long as the legendary and doctrinal aspects of the cultural tradition are mediated orally, they are kept in relative harmony with each other and with the present needs of society in two ways; through the unconscious operations of memory, and through the adjustment of the reciter’s terms and attitudes to those of the audience before him. There is evidence, for example, that such adaptations and omissions occurred in the oral transmission of the Greek cultural tradition. But once the poems of Homer and Hesiod, which contained much of the earlier history, religion and cosmology of the Greeks, had been written down, succeeding generations were faced with old distinctions in sharply aggravated form: how far was the

Memoirs and Proceedings of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society, 91 (1949-50), pp. 73-98. From a rather different standpoint, Levi-Strauss has analysed “the logic of totemic classifications” (La Pensee sauvage, p. 48 ff.) and speaks of two distinct modes of scientific thought; the first (or “primitive”) variety consists in “the science of the concrete”, the practical knowledge of the handy man (bricoleur), which is the technical counterpart of mythical thought (p. 26). 54 e.g. the Trobriands (Malinowski, Myth in Primitive Psychology, pp. 33ff).





information about their Gods and heroes literally true? how could its patent inconsistencies be explained? and how could the beliefs and attitudes implied be brought into lines with those of the present?

The disappearance of so many early Greek writings, and the difficulties of dating and composition in many that survive, make anything like a clear reconstruction impossible. Greek had of course been written, in a very limited way, during Mycenean times. At about 1200 writing disappeared and the alphabet was not developed until some four hundred years later. Most scholars agree that in the middle or late eighth century the Greeks adapted the purely consonantal system of Phoenicia, possibly at the trading port of al Mina (Poseidon?). Much of the early writing consisted of “explanatory inscrip- tions on existing objects – dedications on offerings, personal names on prop- erty, epitaphs on tombs, names of figures in drawings”.55 The Homeric poems were written down between 750 and 650 B.C., and the seventh century saw first the recording of lyric verse and then (at the end) the emergence of the great Ionian school of scientist philosophers.56 Thus within a century or two of the writing down of the Homeric poems, many groups of writers and teachers appeared, first in Ionia and later in Greece, who took as their point of departure the belief that much of what Homer had apparently said was inconsistent and unsatisfactory in many respects. The logographers, who set themselves to record the genealogies, chronologies and cosmologies which had been handed down orally from the past, soon found that the task led them to use their critical and rational powers to create a new individual synthesis. In non-literate society, of course, there are usually some individuals whose interests lead them to collect, analyse and interpret the cultural tradition in a personal way; and the written records suggest that this process went con- siderably further among the literate elites of Egypt, Babylon and China, for example. But perhaps because in Greece reading and writing were less re- stricted to any particular priestly or administrative groups, there seems to have been a more thorough-going individual challenge to the orthodox cultural tradition in sixth-century Greece than occurred elsewhere. Hecataeus, for example, proclaimed at about the turn of the century, “What I write is the account I believe to be true. For the stories the Greeks tell are many and in my opinion ridiculous”,57 and offered his own rationalizations of the data on family traditions and lineages which he had collected. Already the mytho-

55 Jeffery, The Local Scripts of Archaic Greece, p. 46. 56 “It was in Ionia that the first completely rationalistic attempts to describe the nature of the world took place” [G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1957), p. 73]. The work of the Milesian philosophers, Thales, Anaxi- mander and Anaximenes, is described by the authors as “clearly a development of the genetic or genealogical approach to nature exemplified by the Hesiodic Theogony” (p. 73). 57 F. Jacoby, Die Fragmente der Griechischen Historiker, Vol. I, Genealogie und Mythographie (Berlin, 1923), fr. l.a.





logical mode of using the past, the mode which, in Sorel’s words, makes it “a means of acting on the present”,58 has begun to disappear.

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