In suppliciis deorum magnifici, domi parci, in amicos fideles erant.
(They were, in offerings to the Gods, lavish, at home frugal, in friendship
If a good man sacrifices to the Gods and keeps Them constant company in his prayers and offerings and every kind of worship he can give Them, this will be the best and noblest policy he can follow; it is the conduct that fits his character as nothing else can, and it is his most effective way of achieving a happy life.
(Plato, Laws IV, 716e).
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A friend just asked me what I was planning on reading in between school terms and looked positively shocked when I answered. LOL. Before the term ended (and after some of the crap that I dealt with here) I reached out to my friend Edward Butler for suggestions on what I should read to give myself a crash course in Plato and Aristotle (because I’m taking a course this coming term in philosophy — Intro to Augustine–and because, as previous posts have noted, it’s becoming more and more relevant to my theological work). He recommended some texts which I’ll share in a moment. An academic colleague and I also decided we’d each read the other’s favorite Euripidean play (mine is the Bacchae, his was Medea and talk about it when term starts again) so I’ll be doing that too.
I just want to say, before I continue, that it is crucially important for us to reclaim our philosophical traditions. Philosophy, Literature, the Sciences, Medicine, these things were born in the polytheistic world. In an effort to appropriate them, Christian scholasticism attempted to erase the Gods from the inventors and proponents of these disciplines. We see that in academia today with the dogged insistence by those who should know better that of course men like Plato and Socrates were atheists. Of course they couldn’t possibly believe in the Gods … when we have ample evidence that they did, quite piously in fact. There is an ongoing agenda of erasure and appropriation here and it’s high time we step up and stop it. Edward has been doing powerful work as a philosopher for years and years now (shout out to you, Edward, for your inspiring work). I”m sure there are others too. This year my goal is to better educate myself so that I can likewise do my part. For those of you unfamiliar with Edward’s groundbreaking work, check out his book here. He also has an academia.edu page and recently had a piece published for the general reader in “Witches and Pagans” in their issue on polytheism. go. read. This work is awesome.
Now the texts I’ll be reading over the next two weeks, for those who likewise might want to join me are (aside from Euripides’ “Medea 😉 ):
“Aristotle and the Theology of the Living Immortals” by Richard Bodeus
“Aristotle’s Metaphysics” translated and with commentaries by Hippocrates Apostle
“The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics” by Joseph Owens
“Plato’s Gods” by Gerd Van Riel (there are some translation issues with this one, just minor things that annoy me, like translating τέχνη as ‘technique;’ and at one point he insists that the Greeks didn’t have a commitment to personal belief in religion (p. 12) and then spends the next six or seven pages contradicting that rather reductionist statement, as the evidence clearly DOES contradict it. That being said, it’s still a really good book).
Aristotle’s “Poetics” and Plato’s “Timaeus” (been a good 20 years since i’ve read either) and probably ‘Ion’ and ‘Euthyphro’ in the original Greek.
If anyone wants to add any suggestions, by all means do. I’m not a philosopher and I’ll admit to being rather nervous about taking a philosophy course this term, but it’s unavoidable for anyone wanting to work in theology and if this past term taught me nothing else, it taught me that immersing myself in Plato and Aristotle and really understanding them as polytheists is essential going forward.
i’m going to end with a quote from Plato’s Laws that I just love:
If a good man sacrifices to the Gods and keeps Them constant company in his prayers and offerings and every kind of worship he can give Them, this will be the best and noblest policy he can follow; it is the conduct that fits his character as nothing else can, and it is his most effective way of achieving a happy life. (Laws IV, 716e).
“Holy places are dark places. It is life and strength, not knowledge and words, that we get in them. Holy wisdom is not clear and thin like water, but thick and dark like blood.”
— C.S. Lewis, “Till We Have Faces”
‘For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror which we are barely able to endure, and it amazes us so, because it serenely disdains to destroy us.’ – Rainer Maria Rilke
Came up on my twitter feed this morning: “Anything can be a warning sign of fascism when it’s espoused by someone you don’t like.”
and therein, my friends, lies the heart, i suspect, of why we’re all being called fascists.
Scholars Vishwa Adluri and Joydeep Bagchee discussing Phaedrus 229a-230a, note the following:(1)
“Returning to the Phaedrus, we detect the positivistic, scientific leanings of Phaedrus … He does not believe in either gods or accounts of them. He is a smug technician of words, pointedly without an ethical core. His adolescent, iconoclastic rationalism is either unaware of or puzzled by Socrates’ position, and he asks Socrates if he really believes in these tales. This is a question that philology, as it is practiced today, does not explicitly ask, and thus we are grateful to Phaedrus for bringing forth this point. Socrates’ answer complicates the violent simplicity of Phaedrus’ question. The question presents a false dichotomy: either you believe these tales and you are simplistic, old-fashioned, traditional, and unenlightened, or you do not believe these tales and you are enlightened, scientific, and wise. Plato’s genius consists in adding a further layer of complexity to this question … Turning the tables, Socrates himself offers a dichotomy: either one is clever (sophôtatos) and dabbles in the childish task of demythologizing ancient narratives, or one concerns oneself with self-knowledge. Socrates speaks from the point of view of the second option … The difference between a mature and immature philology is precisely philosophy. Otherwise it is a mere technique, a method. Socrates demonstrates that he is fully cognizant of what it is the clever intellectuals do. He himself provides a cameo of the first clever philologist: first disbelief and a pretension to intellectual maturity—to reject such tales. Then there is the scientific demythologization: the god must be the North Wind. Then there is a collation of versions (“or, was it perhaps, from the Areopagus?”). Finally, there is the forgetting of the seriousness of thinking, replaced instead by a “rough ingenuity” and much industry, that is, a hardworking ethic. Socrates, at least, finds this “amusing”. The serious question here is the “know thyself” commanded by the Delphic inscription. Socrates restores the mythic and its task of defining the mortal human being in relation to the divine.” (The Nay Science, pp. xii-xiii)
I”ll just leave this here for contemplation.
- Phaedrus is one of Plato’s dialogues presenting an exchange between Socrates and Phaedrus on, among other things, the art of rhetoric.