The Theology of the Early Greek Philosophers

By Werner Jaeger | Go to book overview

CHAPTER VIII
EMPEDOCLES

AT the time when the Greeks of the mother country were making history in the battles of Salamis and Plataeae by repelling the advance of the Persian hosts across the Aegean, and concentrating all their energies upon the inner and outward development of their states for decades after the victory, the philosophical movement begun in Ionia remained, no less than in the preceding sixth century, chiefly confined to the outlying regions of Greek culture. In its turn the movement was unaffected by the creative renascence which the mainland of Greece was enjoying in the great poetry of Pindar and the Attic tragedians. The men of the mother country, apparently more than a century behind the times in comparison with the enlightened cosmological thought of the Ionians, continued to draw from the still unexhausted depths of their own native powers the ability to bring about this great poetic transformation of their universe, even when the rationalistic movement had already largely taken hold of the more outlying territory. Their point of departure was altogether different from that of the philosophers. The world-view of the poets centred in their experience of human destiny itself and of the way in which it could be overcome through that spirit of heroism in the midst of tragedy which had grown to maturity in the hard struggles of a century filled with inward upheaval and threatened with constant danger from without.

In the poetry of the Greek mainland, which was the passionate expression of a new closeness to life, the urge for sober and rational thinking seemed to have come to a standstill; and the trend of the times took a decidedly anthropocentric turn in manifest reaction to the sovereignty of the inquiring reason. But in the periphery of colonial Greece, both in the east and in the west, philosophy still followed with remarkable persistence the path it had originally struck out. For an entire century its development had been glorious and unhampered; retrogression was here no longer possible; even the new emergence of ethical and religious problems served merely as an occasion for philosophy to strengthen and enrich itself. Xenophanes

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