Dodds, E. R. The Ancient Concept of Progress. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1973.

The Ancient Idea of Progress by E. R. Dodds

Plato and the Irrational

In the theory of knowledge a rationalist is opposed to an empiricist: he is one who believes that reason and not the sense provide the ἀρχαί, the first principles on which scientific knowledge is built. p. 107

The common man wants to be happy; but Plato, who is legislating for him, wants him to be good. Plato therefore labors to persuade him that goodness and happiness go together. That this is true, Plato happens to believe; but did he not believe it, he would still pretend it true, as being ‘the most salutary lie that was ever told.’ p. 110

[from Footnote 6] Apology 38a. Prof. Hackforth has endeavored (C.R. 59, I ff.) to convince us that Plato remained loyal to this maxim throughout his life. But though he certainly paid lip-service to it as late as the Sophist (230 c-e), I see no escape from the conclusion that the educational policy of the Republic, and still more clearly that of the Laws, is in reality based on very different assumption. Plato could never confess to himself that he had abandoned any Socratic principle; but that did not prevent him from doing it. Socrates’ θεραπεία ψυχῆς surely implies respect for the human mind as such; the techniques of suggestion and other controls recommended in the Las seem to me to imply just the opposite.1 p. 111

The Religion of the Ordinary Man in Classical Greece

Although the Aegean world has passed through two great religious changes, from Minoan to Classical Greek religion and from Classical Greek religion to Christianity, there are actually cult practices which have survived both these changes. Let me give you a small instance. At harvest festivals in the Greek Church today they use a peculiar type of vessel consisting of a set of little cups and candle-holders attached to a common base like a modern cruet, and the cups being filled with corn, wine, olive oil, and other country produce. This same vessel and its use for the same purpose, to contain harvest offerings, was described in the hellenistic age by the antiquarian Polemon, who calls it a kernos. And now actual examples of kernoi have been dug up, not only in the agora at Athens and elsewhere in mainland Greece, but in Creten graves some o which date back to the Early Minoan age. One could not wish for a better instance of the timelessness of ritual usage. p. 144

There was a holy spring near Nauplia in which the goddess Hera used to bathe once a year in order to renew her virginity. That spring still exists, and it appears that its waters still keep their miraculous power—for it stands today in the garden of a nunnery. p. 145

It [Ancient Greek Religious Sentiments] is a pattern of anxiety punctuated by relief, and it repeats itself every year in much the same form. The anxiety is always there, but every year it mounts to a crisis at certain crucial periods: at seedtime, when the previous grain is committed to the earth (the Greeks do their main sowing in autumn, about the end of October); and again in the spring, when the farmer measures the dwindling store in his barns and worries about the yield of the coming harvest—for spring, as the poet Alcman unpoetically defined it, is the season when ‘things are growing but there is not enough to eat.’ Then following the stages of the harvest: cutting in most parts of Greece is at the end of May, threshing in June, vintage in late September. If it is a good harvest the farmer’s year ends in relief and thanksgiving, only to begin again with the October sowing and a fresh crisis of anxiety. It is a pattern of endless recurrence, unchanging through the generations of men. p. 146

  1. This is wrong-headed. Plato in the Laws treats the common man as a parent a child. He teaches the child first through simple conformity to the parents will, then though obedience despite the child not understanding, and finally obedience in understanding. The habituation of oneself to the good ends with the assent of the will, but it hardly begins there. Plato must treat most men as intellectual children because they have not brought themselves to escape the shadows of the cave, and therefore need kindly prodding and direction from one (or a tradition) which presumably has escaped. (Else the wise man suffers the fate of the example of the Navigator on the boat in the Republic).