Greek Ethical Thought from Homer to the Stoics

By Hilda D. Oakeley | Go to book overview
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INTRODUCTION

WE are accustomed to think of the ethical ideas of the Greeks as determined by a standpoint which can be definitely contrasted with the modern. It is thought to involve a different attitude to life and death, the questions of man's relation to the world, the meaning of duty, if not the meaning of good. The Greek ideal has, for instance, been contrasted as "affirmation of the world," with the Christian, as "denial of the world." Or, if it is recognised that the Greek views in regard to a worthy life, the most fitting way of meeting alike the best gifts, and the "slings and arrows" of fortune, had much in common with our own, it is nevertheless felt probably by most of us, that there is a subtle, all-pervasive contrast due perhaps to the difference of the medium, the environment of thought, knowledge, experience in which these views prevailed. A certain circle or ideas, as it may be said, in connection with practical life, must arise whenever a people reaches that stage of culture at which man desires in some sense, in some measure, to shape himself his history. These ideas emerge when individuals no longer feel themselves fast bound to some one mode of existence whose form is rigidly determined by tradition and custom, but seem capable of freely reflecting upon their life and directing it to ends which they desire. But the Greek ways of interpreting the chief problems which beset human existence, and those conceptions which return from age to age, as to what gives it value, and how this value may be secured or increased, belonged to a spiritual atmosphere very unlike that of the modern world. This unlikeness, it

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