How Philosophers Challenged Greek Mythology and Worship of the Gods – History Brought Alive
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How Philosophers Challenged Greek Mythology and Worship of the Gods

In Ancient Greece the gods were all-powerful and they all admired beings of the universe. However, during the 6th century B.C.E., a new wave of thinking took place and the age of Greek philosophy was born. The philosophers, unlike the majority of the Greek populace at the time, looked to challenge the beliefs of the Greek pantheon and wanted to view the world from a more scientific perspective. This movement began during the period of the Ionian philosophers, particularly due to the work of one of the founding fathers of philosophy, Anaximander. Anaximander was the first scholar to have made a map of the inhabited world and developed a theory of the creation of the world without the influence of the Greek pantheon. Anaximander came up with a theory of the origin of the world known as the concept of the Apeiron.

Anaximander explains this theory as “the first principle and element of existing things was boundless . . . he has creation take place not as a result of any of the elements undergoing qualitative change, but as a result of the opposites being separated off by the means of motion, which is eternal,” (Decibelboy, 2012).

Anaximander’s views of the creation of the world through the concept of Apeiron is the first time that somebody had taken the perspective of the creation of the world as, if not scientific, at least a perspective that is non-mythic. However, having said this Anaximander’s attempts to explain the realities of the world the Ancient Greeks were living in were still tied within a mythic context as it seemed he still considered the Aperion to be a result of divine intervention. However, what is important was that it completely ignored the influence of the Greek pantheon.

Anaximander’s views birthed a new revolution and led to the inspiration of countless philosophers. Another great philosopher around the same time as Anaximander was Xenophanes. He too had his own theory of the universe outside of the influence of the Greek gods. Xenophanes’ ideas were strongly linked to a reason. He was known to challenge the ideas of the anthropomorphic gods.

However, at the pinnacle of the use of reason, scientific perspective, and logic to challenge the ancient Greek myths was the legendary philosopher Socrates. Socrates himself did not write a single word, however, his teachings were used extensively by the Greek philosopher Plato. Thanks to Plato’s work, we can learn from Socrates’ beliefs through the dialogues Plato had documented. Through this documentation, we are able to learn about how Socrates challenged the gods and are left to see how many holes in the myths of Greek mythology have been prodded upon through arguments of science, reason, and logic.

However, Socrates’ story does not end well, as the ruling classes of ancient Greece took a dislike to the teachings of Socrates and would sentence the philosopher to his death. This is an incredibly important event in the evolution of Greek society and the progression of classical mythology. Before the philosophers, the myths of the ancient Greek world were used as a means to understand and explore the realities of the world. However, at this point in history, it seems it was the first time that the myths’ power as tools of explanation had been credibly challenged. These challenges to the ancient myths represented a desire among the Greek populace to escape from what they had been brought up to believe and move towards a more logical explanation of the realities of the world.

The ruling bodies of the ancient Greek world were not fond of this idea and realized that if this was left unpunished, problems would occur from Socrates’ new logical thinking. The ruling bodies believed that if Socrates was allowed to continue expressing his views it would change their society and everything in it which the ruling classes would not accept. Instead, they would act, by labeling all philosophers as criminals, to ensure that the myths stay intact to shield the majority of the Greek populace from this new form of thinking. Thus, this marked the age where there was a divide in belief between those who believed in the gods and those who desired to seek a more logical and scientific explanation of the world.

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