Son of the muse Calliope and the god Apollo Orpheus was the greatest poet and musician in Greek mythology, capable of charming wild beasts with his song or seducing inanimate objects into movement. He was one of the Argonauts and it was his music which saved the Argo’s crew from being lured by the sirens to their death. The lyre of Orpheus was a gift from his father. The god of marriage, Hymenaeus, son of Dionysus and Venus, blessed the nuptials of Orpheus with Eurydice, but he brought no happiness to the event. Indeed, his smoking torch brought tears to their eyes and in accordance with the tragic omen, Eurydice died shortly after her marriage. Whilst wandering with her companions, the nymphs, a shepherd was enticed by her beauty and made advances towards her. As she fled she trod upon a snake in the grass and died from its bite.
Mad with grief, Orpheus sang of his loss to both gods and men, but to no avail. He resolved, then, to seek his wife in Tartarus, the underworld, at the gates of which he appealed to Pluto and Prosperine with his charmed lyre and spell-binding song. The ghosts of the underworld and even the furies shed tears at his song, whilst Sisyphus sat on his rock to listen. Prosperine could not resist and Pluto then gave way, calling up Eurydice to meet her beloved husband. She was permitted to return home with Orpheus on one condition, that he should not turn around to look at her until they reached the air above.
As they wandered through the dark tunnels Orpheus, in a moment of forgetfulness, turned to make sure his wife was still following and thereby lost her forever. He attempted to follow her but the ferryman Charon refused his passage. From this moment Orpheus removed his heart from all womankind. He even resisted the advances of the Maenads, the dangerous female followers of Dionysus. Eventually, in their frustrated desire, the maidens attempted to kill him with rocks, stones and javelins, but the power of his music repelled the objects, which instead fell at his feat. Their response was to drown out his music with their screams and were able to murder him, tearing him limb from limb and throwing his head and lyre into the river Hebrus. Down this river he floated, singing sad music, until he came to rest on the island of Lesbos. The Muses gathered up the pieces of his body and buried them at Libethra. There the nightingales saing over his grave and his lyre was placed by Jupiter among the stars.As a shade he returned to Tartarus in search of Eurydice, where they found and embraced one another. Now they roam the fields together and Orpheus gazes at her as much as he likes without fear of penalty for his thoughtless glance.
Orpheus was also the reputed founder of the Orphic religious cult In the Orphic theogony, which is significantly different to the more commonly known cosmogony of Homer and Hesiod, Orphism was a mystic cult of ancient Greece, allegedly based on Orpheus’s writings, or Orphic rhapsodies, which dealt with themes such as purification and the afterlife. No ‘Orphic church’, as such, ever existed, though there was clearly a broad pattern for initiation. Beliefs in this religion were commonly based on ‘ecstasy’ (from ekstasis, or ‘stepping out), in which it was held that only when ‘out of the body’ did the human soul – or psyche - reveal its true nature. This second self, through purification, might be restored to its original, high state, released from the prison chamber of the physical body. Like the Indian Vedas, the Orphic myths taught that individuals were locked into an endless cycle of reincarnation until purification was somehow completed. Also like the Vedic’s, Orphic disciples were strictly ascetic vegetarians.
Orphic religion had two features which were new in Greece: Written revelation as a source of religious authority and its believers were organised into communities based on voluntary membership and initiation rather than blood ties. The main purpose of Orphic observances and rites were to release the soul from the ‘wheel of birth’ in order to achieve everlasting bliss. They found an important opponent in Plato, who disagreed with the whole system of belief.
Dionysus, also known by the Roman name, Bacchus, had a dual nature derived from possibly differing cultural influences: on the one hand the patron of the Greek stage, god of wine, agriculture and fertility and, on the other hand, a major subject in mystery religions such as those practised at Eleusis. In this guise was he associated with initiation, ecstasy and transcendence. As the god of wine, his dual nature becomes pointed, in one aspect bringing joy and divine ecstasy, in the other stimulating brutality, senselessness and rage. Dionysus was capable of driving men or women mad and no chains were thought able to bind his followers.
One mythical story has Dionysus as the son of Zeus and the mortal Semele who completed his growth on the thigh of his father before being handed over to nymphs for his infancy. Another version sees the god as son of Zeus and Persephone, queen of the underworld, where Zeus’s jealous queen Hera has the child destroyed with the exception of his heart. Zeus remade his son from this heart and implanted him in Semele, thus accounting for the epitheth, ‘twice born’. This second account constituted an element of the religious mythology of Orphism. This idea of being twice born, or resurrected, became key to subsequent mystical religions, including Christianity. In fact, Scholars of Hermeticism see in Dionysus a principle model for a syncretic legend of Christ. In the vine lies an allegory for his rebirth, for the vine must be severely pruned for the winter in order for them to bear fruit in spring. The festival of Dionysus is held in spring and became a major event in the Greek calendar – most of the great plays were initially written to be performed at the feast of Dionysus.
This was a god who wandered the world actively encouraging his cult, surrounded by his female followers, the Maenads, who worshipped him in the woods rather than in temples. In these woods they might encounter animals and then rip them apart in order to eat them raw in their deranged state. One of the reasons for devotion to Dionysus was that he was thought able to bring back the dead from the underworld, as in the case of his mother, Semele.
In the course of his travels Dionysus found a girl weeping on the rocks of Naxos, Ariadne, daughter of king Minos who had recently been abandoned by Theseus. Ariadne and Dionysus fell in love, married and had many children. The Greek dramatic tradition is thought to have derived from the ecstatic rites of Dionysus through the Hellenic Mystery Schools, primarily that of the Orphic Mysteries, which incorporated allegorical versions of the Dionysian rites into their system. The ram, the dolphin, the serpent, the tiger, the lion, the lynx, the panther, the ox, the goat and the ass are sacred to Dionysus, whose symbols were the phallus, the bull and the thyrsus.
Pythagoras of Samos is widely held to be the first pure mathematician. A tyranny on Samos caused him to leave for Egypt in around 535BC, where many of his most deeply held beliefs appear to have been formed. In 525 BC he became a prisoner of war to the Persians following their defeat of the Egyptians, an event which did nothing to damage his philosophical horizons. Indeed, it was reported that in Babylon he associated with the Magoi, who instructed him in their sacred rites and mystical secrets. It was here that he achieved a mastery over arithmetic, music and other mathematical sciences taught by the Babylonians.
In around 520BC he returned to Samos and soon after founded a school, the ‘semicircle’. Outside of the city he made a cave the private site of his philosophical teaching and home to his mathematical research. According to Pythagoras, the dynamics of world structure is dependent upon the interaction of pairs of opposites and he saw the brain as being the location of the soul and prescribed certain secret cultic practices. He tried to use symbolic methods of teaching, similar to the methods he learned in Egypt but not appealing to the Samians. Thus did Pythagoras leave for southern Italy in 518BC, in all likelihood to escape political matters in which he had become embroiled. He founded a philosophical and religious school in Croton, where his closest followers, mathematikoi, had no personal possessions and were vegetarians. Pythagoras taught that: at its deepest level, reality is mathematical in nature; philosophy can be used for spiritual purification; the soul can rise to union with the divine; certain symbols have mystical significance and all brothers or sisters of the order should observe strict loyalty and secrecy.
Thanks to this vow of secrecy, nothing is actually known of Pythagoras’s work, although the school made outstanding contributions to mathematics. We also understand that he believed all relations could be reduced to number relations, viewing the entire cosmos in terms of scale and number. This generalisation stemmed from his observations in music through which he noticed that vibrating strings produce harmonious tones when the ratios of the lengths of the strings are whole numbers, and that these ratios could be extended to other instruments. He actually saw numbers as having distinct personalities, masculine or feminine, perfect or incomplete, beautiful of ugly and believed ten was the best number, contained in the first four integers, which when written in dot notation produce a perfect triangle.
Pythagoras's most famous theorem was of geometry. He learnt this from the Babylonians but may have been the first to prove the actual theorem, which is that for a right-angled triangle, the square on the hypoteneuse is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.He contributed tremendously to the mathematical theory of music and was himself a fine lyre-player, also using music to help those who were ill.
Athenian son of the sculptor, Sophroniscus and husband to Xanthippe. In his use of critical reasoning, by his commitment to truth and through the example he set through his own life, Socrates set the standard for all subsequent Western philosophy. he was unconcerned with physical or metaphysical questions; the issue of primary importance was ethics, living a good life. He left no written words himself and so we depend upon his pupil, Plato, and contemporary writers such as Aristophanes and Xenophon for our information about his life and work.
After serving with distinction in the Peloponnesian War, he became embroiled in the political turmoil which consumed Athens in the aftermath. After inheriting enough money from his father to become financially independent, Socrates spent the rest of his life in discussion with the aristocratic youth of Athens, challenging their confidence in the truth of popular opinions whilst steering clear of proposing a definite alternative.
Parents of these pupils were frequently disapproving and suspicious of Socrates’ influence, particularly as he had been associated with opponents of the democratic regime, such as the duplicitous Alcibiades and the feared oligarch, Critias. An amnesty in 405 following several years of political tyranny in Athens meant he escaped direct prosecution for his political activities, but an Athenian jury found him guilty, instead, of corrupting the youth and interfering with the religion of the city. In 399 BC he was sentenced to death by drinking hemlock.
The early Dialogues of Plato are perhaps the best sources of information about Socrates's philosophical views, in which the pupil attempted to provide a faithful picture of the methods and teachings of the master. Socrates also appears as a character in the later dialogues of Plato but these writings more often express philosophical positions Plato himself developed long after Socrates's death. In the Socratic Dialogues, his extended conversations with students, statesmen, and friends invariably aim at understanding and achieving ‘virtue’, or ‘arete’, through the careful application of the dialectical method. He taught that ‘virtue is knowledge’.
The youngest son of Ariston and Perictione who both came from famous wealthy families who had lived in Athens for generations. Plato was the most famous of Socrates's pupils, who carried on much of his former teacher's work following his death. and eventually founded his own school, the Academy, in 385BC. The Academy’s most famous pupil was Aristotle.
Plato wrote dialogues between Socrates and others exploring ethical issues such as the nature of friendship or virtue and whether virtue can be taught. In later years, Plato began to develop his own philosophy, the essential aspect of is the theory of "ideas" or "forms." His most famous dialogue is The Republic, which deals with the central problem of how to live a good life. There are several central aspects to the dialogue that sum up Platonic thought extremely well: What the nature of justice is; the nature of an ideal republic and the allegory of the cave and the divided line, both of which explain Plato's theory of forms.
The Allegory of the Cave and the Divided Line contains what is possibly the most influential passage in Western philosophy, the discussion of the prisoners of the cave and an abstract presentation of the divided line. For Plato, human beings live in parallel worlds of visible and intelligible things, the first of which is in a state of flux and uncertainty, whilst the second comprises the unchanging products of human reason and is, therefore, reality. In the intelligible world do ‘Forms’ or ‘Ideas’ exist. Plato imagines these two worlds as existing on a line that can be divided in the middle: the lower part of the line consists of the visible world and the upper part of the line makes up the intelligible world. Each half of the line relates to a certain type of knowledge: of the visible world, we can only have opinion but of the intelligible world we achieve knowledge,
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