Everything the soul endeavours or endures under the guidance of wisdom ends in happiness.
— Socrates, Meno
The early Ancient Greeks built their lives around their mythology, and while the gods were very real throughout antiquity, their cosmology gradually lost its central position in Greek life. Around 600 BCE, a thinker arose who worked to describe the world without reference to mythology. He built upon the Geometric Age’s knowledge more rigorous theories of geometry and cosmology, and for this reason Thales of Miletus is said to be the father of Western philosophy. Many attribute his use of hypotheses and general principles as the beginning of the scientific revolution. The rise of Greek civilization is inextricably tied to this rise in rationalism as well as to the rediscovery of writing. But what became of hubris?
As the tendency to seek explanation through principles rather than myth grew, rationalism brought the empire to its Classical period, a time full of invention in the qualities that characterize the height of ancient Greece: politics, art, architecture, literature, and philosophy. The caution against hubris provided by mythology gradually lost its privileged societal force, and the drive towards areté, the courage to face adversity, rose in its place as the central philosophy of virtue.
The natural complement to hubris, areté promotes those qualities that overcome it, and like hubris, areté is famously difficult to translate. Socrates, as he believed it was ordained by the Oracle, asked people what it meant and searched for its truth, but his questions brought him to a troubling end. The trial and execution of Socrates reveals something significant about the society being built: virtue does not come first. Our failure to heed Socrates is a sanguine testament to the hubris endemic to Western society. Though the Roman Empire drew great strength from Greece, it too pushed areté to the side, and the resultant triumph brought an even more fantastic demise.
This is part three of the tumblog series The Pride that Blinds.