Religion and History

Thu Jun 18 14:46:55 2009

Religion was extremely important to the Greeks and it was inextricably entwined in all aspects of Greek thought. While religion seems to be important why do writers like Herodotus and Thucydides come across as athiests? They try not to bias in their work, but their religious preferences do not show.

I never thought of Herodotus as an atheist. He seems to have too much interest and respect for religious practice, but you are right in that his interest is more like an anthropologist or psychologist (as we see in the Croesus story) than a believer or practitioner.

I don’t remember Thucydides ever explicitly condemning religion but I do sense a good bit of condescension when he writes about it. I think this stands out because it is so different than other writers of the time. All the more so when you compare him to Xenophon, who borrows so heavily from Thucydides in many other respects. Religious practice is an essential motivating and causal agent for Xenophon (at times he seems even more pious than Plutarch). For Thucydides religion may be an event or occurrence but seems to lack the causal force we see in men, money and power.


~ by severalfourmany on June 18, 2009.

2 Responses to “Religion and History”

  1. There’s an article by Borimir Jordan, “Religion in Thucydides.” Very interesting. Jordan reviews all of the mentions of religion in Thucydides and concludes that he was not an aetheist.

  2. […] The description of the Sicilian Expedition is similar. Alcibiades is a bold and dynamic leader, in many ways similar to his guardian, Pericles. In this case, hubris is somewhat more directly linked to military disaster. But it is also indirectly juxtaposed with the breakdown of the cultural and religious fabric of Athenian society so well described in Borimir Jordan’s article “Religion in Thucydides” mentioned in an earlier comment. […]

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