Order and History: The World of the Polis

Order and History: The World of the Polis

Order and History: The World of the Polis

Order and History: The World of the Polis


This second volume of Voegelin's magisterial Order and History, The World of the Polis explores the ancient Greek symbolization of human reality. Taking us from the origins of Greek culture in the Pre-Homeric Cretan civilizations, through the Iliad and Odyssey, Hesiod, and the rise of philosophy with the Pre-Socratics Parmenides and Heraclitus, this masterful work concludes with the later period of the Skeptics.

In The World of the Polis, Voegelin traces the emergence of the forms of the city-state and of philosophy from the ancient symbolism of myth. He maintains that the limits and ultimate goals of human nature are constant and that the central problem of every society is the same -- "to create an order that will endow the fact of its existence with meaning in terms of ends divine and human". Thus, Voegelin shows how "the meaning of existence" achieved concrete expression in the typical political, social, and religious institutions of Greece and in the productions of its poets and thinkers. He deals with more than fifty Greek writers in the course of his analysis of the rise of myth and its representation of the divine order of the cosmos as the first great symbolic form of order, one later supplanted by the leap in being reflected in the emergence of philosophy.

The book is a tour de force, a virtuoso performance by a philologist and philosopher of great power, learning, and imagination that places its subject matter in a new light. Scholars and students of political science, philosophy, and the history of ideas will find this work invaluable.


Order and History is aphilosophical inquiry concerning the principal types of order of human existence in society and history as well as the corresponding symbolic forms.

The oldest civilizational societies were the empires of the ancient Near East in the form of the cosmological myth. And from this oldest stratum of order emerged, through the Mosaic and Sinaitic revelations, the Chosen People with its historical form in the present under God. The two types of order, together with their symbolic forms, were the subject matter of volume I, Israel and Revelation.

In the Aegean area emerged, from the stratum of order in cosmological form, the Hellenic polis with the symbolic form of philosophy. The study of Polis and Philosophy matches, in the organization of Order and History, the earlier one on Israel and Revelation. Because of its size this second study had to be divided into volumes II, The World of the Polis, and III, Plato and Aristotle. The two volumes, although each stands for itself in the treatment of its respective subject matter, form a unit of study.

Brief sections of the two volumes have been previously published as “The World of Homer” (Review of Politics 15 [1953]: 491–523), “The Philosophy of Existence: Plato's Gorgias”(Review of Politics 11, 477–498), and “Plato's Egyptian Myth” (Journal of Politics 9, 307–324).

As in the earlier volume, I want to say my thanks for the material aid, which facilitates the final work on this study, to the institution that wishes to remain unnamed.

Eric Voegelin 1957 . . .

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