Jean-Pierre Vernant's book, "The Origins of Greek Thought," is a critical reassessment of a dominant historical trope for Western antiquity: that Greek philosophy amazingly materialized out of thin air after the Dorian Invasion. As an alternative to this popular idea, Vernant rationalizes the revolution of Greek thought as it pertains to the development of the polis (city), the development of philosophy, along with the idea that logic was developed by accompanying death of the monarchy and the birth of democracy. This paper will focus on the relationship between the emergence of the polis, the origin of rational thought (logic) and its connection to the Greeks. Vernant posits that the development and expansion of the polis is diametrically related to the development of logic and philosophy.
In the first few pages of his book "The Origins of Greek Thought", Jean-Pierre Vernant maps out ways to "document the birth of rational thought."(Vernant pg. 11) In order to do this we need to compare and contrast certain aspects of Mycenaean history, specifically the time before the Dorian invasion, and follow the trail out of The Dark Ages.
We can begin to understand the life of an ancient polis by trying to understand the religious culture inside the palace and learning why that culture failed. Early Greek philosophers were deeply concerned with the cosmos, religious myths, and science. The first known Greek scientist believed that the architect of the world and all its inhabitants were somehow connected to science and the cosmos. Thales was supposedly the first philosopher linking scientific thought to the discovery of nature, around 585 B.C. Thales and Anaximander struggled with the puzzle of the origin of the universe, what was here at the beginning, and what things are made of. Thales suggested that in the beginning there was only water, so somehow everything was made of it. (Baaird / Kaufmann pg.7) Sprinkled throughout their explanations of the cosmos were bits of religious thought. Simply stated, early Greek thinkers were involved with explaining the infinity of things in the universe or ("the many") and tying it to religion. Thales and Anaximander believed that many separate things could be traced back to one specific thing; for example, there are many stars, but there is only one concept of a star. Parmenides argued that the every-day perception of reality of the physical is mistaken, and that the reality of the world is 'One Being.' (Baird / Kaufmann pg.19) Parmenides is important because he represents major turning point in the development of Greek thought. Thus, the early Greeks reasoned that this single, unifying thing was some material substance, like water, or air and all of these substances originated from one source ("the one").
Jean-Pierre Vernant believes that the idea of many things originating from one source is an important discovery. The genesis of Greek philosophy was exploratory, that is, it wasn't concerned with unnatural occurrences as much as it was concerned with the reasoning process itself. For this reason and according to Vernant, Greek thought can been understood or seen as a deviation from religious thought. He believed that with the decline of mythological thought came the birth of rational understanding.
Political Thought and Myths
In order for us to understand what Vernant means by the birth of reason or the significance of rational thought we must first look at Mycenaean culture before the Dorian conquered them (c. 1150 -750). Prior to the invasion, the sitting king ruled with absolute authority and in concert with his scribes and palace dignitaries, centered social life around the palace. The king's scribes were a professional class of writers who worked directly for the king. They archived everything from livestock, land, specialized trade, employment, slaves, taxes, and sacrifices to the gods and the standard rates for offerings. In addition, social, military, economics and...
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