Cosmos of the Ancients
The Greek Philosophers on Myth and Cosmology
uripides (480-406 BC) cannot be grouped among the philosophers, but in his plays some parts are serving well to illustrate by this one example, how questions on the gods and the myths of them could be treated by the writers of drama. He did, of course, allow discussions on cosmology and such to enter his plays through the mouths of their characters. That certainly does not imply their views being identical with his own, suffice it here to use him as example of in what manner these questions were discussed in his time.
He lets one of his characters reason in Bacchae: "The goddess Demeter, - she is earth, call her by whichever name you wish." In the same monologue, the legend of Dionysos being sewn into the thigh of Zeus is explained as a change of word through time. Not that what Euripides regards as the authentic version is any less fabulous: "Having broken off a part of the air of heaven that encircles the earth, he gave this as a hostage, removing Dionysos from quarrels with Hera."
Another view, downright atheist in its reasoning along the lines repeated innumerable times in the Christian era - according to Euripides old already at his time, questioning how a benevolent god could allow injustice, is expressed in Bellerophon, a drama remaining only in fragments:
Does someone say that there are gods in heaven?
There are not, there are not, if a man will
not in folly rely on the old argument.
Consider it yourselves; do not build your opinion
on my words. I say that a tyranny
kills many men and deprives them of their possessions,
and breaking oaths destroys cities;
and doing this they are more happy
than those who live each day in pious peace.
And I know of small cities that honor the gods
which obey greater and more impious ones,
overcome by the greater number of spears.
, translated by Richard Seaford, Warminster 1996.
Barnes, Jonathan, The Presocratic Philosophers, volume 2, London 1979.
© Stefan Stenudd 2000
The Greek Philosophers
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