Early Greek Philosophy by John Burnet, with Burnet's notes
8. Motion and Rest 10. Alleged Oriental Origin of Philosophy

From Burnet's Introduction

IX. The Secular Character of Ionian Science
In all this, there is no trace of theological speculation. We have seen that there had been a complete break with the early Aegean religion, and that the Olympian polytheism never had a firm hold on the Ionian mind. It is therefore quite wrong to look for the origins of Ionian science in mythological ideas of any kind. No doubt there were many vestiges of the older beliefs and practices in those parts of Greece which had not come under the rule of the Northerners, and we shall see presently how they reasserted themselves in the Orphic and other mysteries, but the case of Ionia was different. It was only after the coming of the Achaians that the Greeks were able to establish their settlements on the coast of Asia Minor, which had been closed to them by the Hittites,33 and there was no traditional background there at all. In the islands of the Aegean it was otherwise, but Ionia proper was a country without a past. That explains the secular character of the earliest Ionian philosophy.

We must not be misled by the use of the word θεός in the remains that have come down to us. It is quite true that the Ionians applied it to the "primary substance" and to the world or worlds, but that means no more and no less than the use of the divine epithets "ageless" and "deathless" to which we have referred already. In its religious sense the word "god" always means first and foremost an object of worship, but already in Homer that has ceased to be its only signification. Hesiod's Theogony is the best evidence of the change. It is clear that many of the gods mentioned there were never worshipped by any one, and some of them are mere personifications of natural phenomena, or even of human passions.34 This non-religious use of the word "god" is characteristic of the whole period we are dealing with, and it is of the first importance to realise it. No one who does so will fall into the error of deriving science from mythology.35

We see this, above all, from the fact that, while primitive religion regards the heavenly bodies and the heavens themselves as divine, and therefore of a wholly different nature from anything on this earth, the Ionians from the very first set their faces against any such distinction, though it must have been perfectly familiar to them from popular beliefs. Aristotle revived the distinction at a later date, but Greek science began by rejecting it.36

Burnet's Notes


33. See Hogarth, Ionia and the East, pp. 68 sqq.

34. No one worshipped Okeanos and Tethys, or even Ouranos, and still less can Phobos and Deimos be regarded as gods in the religious sense.

35. This is, I venture to think, the fundamental error of Mr. Cornford's interesting book, From Religion to Philosophy (1912). He fails to realise how completely the old "collective representations" had lost their hold in Ionia. We shall see that his method is more applicable when he comes to deal with the western regions, but even there he does not recognise sufficiently the contrast between Ionian science and the old tradition.

36. The importance of this point can hardly be exaggerated. See Prof. A. E. Taylor, Aristotle, p. 58.

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