Essay on Reading Portfolio

Submitted By HannahluvChina
Words: 4314
Pages: 18

Reading Portfolio
Book: A History of Western Philosophy (Book one: Ancient Philosophy)

Part I. The Pre-Socratics
Chapter I. The Rise of Greek Civilization
IN all history, nothing is so surprising or so difficult to account for as the sudden rise of civilization in Greece. …What they achieved in art and literature is familiar to everybody, but what they did in the purely intellectual realm is even more exceptional. They invented mathematics and science and philosophy; they first wrote history as opposed to mere annals; they speculated freely about the nature of the world and the ends of life, without being bound in the fetters of any inherited orthodoxy. (Quoted from the first paragraph in Chapter I)
It’s not hard to tell that the author thinks highly of Greek civilization. Maybe that’s why he chooses to discuss the origins and development of it at the very beginning of this book. As far as I am concerned, this chapter mainly talks about religions in ancient times and how they guided people to live.
There was a considerable difference between Egyptian and Babylonian theology. The Egyptians were preoccupied with death, and believed that the souls of the dead descend into the underworld, where they are judged by Osiris according to the manner of their life on earth. Babylonian religion, unlike that of Egypt, was more concerned with prosperity in this world than with happiness in the next. Magic, divination, and astrology, though not peculiar to Babylonia, were more developed there than elsewhere, and it was chiefly through Babylon that they acquired their hold on later antiquity.(quoted from the book)
Although these two countries have different types of theology, their religions do have one thing in common-- fertility cults. Where a religion was bound up with the government of an empire, political motives did much to transform its primitive features. A god or goddess became associated with the State, and had to give, not only an abundant harvest, but victory in war. Through association with government, the gods also became associated with morality. Lawgivers received their codes from a god; thus a breach of the law became an impiety. The connection between religion and morality became continually closer throughout ancient times. (Quoted from the book) We can assume that during that period, the ruling classes must use religions as a tool to control the people. Take the Code of Hammurabi, the oldest legal code still known, as an example. This code was asserted by the king to have been delivered to him by Marduk (the head of the Babylonian pantheon). This definitely reinforced the law since according to the code breaking it was equal to blasphemy.
The Orphics were an ascetic sect. The intoxication that they sought was that of "enthusiasm," of union with the god. They believed themselves, in this way, to acquire mystic knowledge not obtainable by ordinary means. This mystical element entered into Greek philosophy with Pythagoras, who was a reformer of Orphism, as Orpheus was a reformer of the religion of Bacchus. From Pythagoras Orphic elements entered into the philosophy of Plato, and from Plato into most later philosophy that was in any degree religious. The Orphics, according to the author was a really popular belief then. The Orphics and many other religious beliefs related with agriculture seem very primitive. But they have a huge impact on philosophers of later generations. Those thinkers learn from these ideas and develop them into more mature and scientific theories.
The Orphics, unlike the priests of Olympian cults, founded what we may call "churches," i.e. religious communities to which anybody, without distinction of race or sex, could be admitted by initiation, and from their influence arose the conception of philosophy as a way of life.
Obviously, religions were like some sort of philosophy to people in the ancient time and this kind of philosophy was related to everyone. Great thinkers used religions to…