Sunday, January 24, 2010

Paideia: The spirit began to turn inwards upon itself

John William Godward | The Delphic Oracle | 1899

It shook all moral laws; it struck at the roots of religion. If the disaster was to be repaired, the process must start with religion and ethics. This realization entered both the theorizing of philosophers and the day-to-day life of average man; because of it, the fourth century was an age of constant endeavors at internal and external reconstruction. But the blow had struck so deep that, from this distance, it seems doubtful from the very start whether the innate Greek belief in the value of this world, their confidence that they could bring the 'the best state', 'the best life', into being here and now, could have ever survived such an experience to be re-created in its original purity and vigour. It was in that time of suffering that the Greek spirit first began to turn inwards upon itself - as it was to do more and more throughout the succeeding centuries. But the men of that age, even Plato, still believed that their task was a practical one. They had to change the world, this world - even though they might not manage to do it completely at the moment. And (although in a rather different sense) that is how even the practical statesmen now envisaged their mission.

- From Werner Jaeger's Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture, Volume II: In Search of the Divine Center

 One of the finest quotes on 4th century Greek thought that I have ever read. It is testimony to the power of Jaeger's prose that the catastrophe alluded to - the Fall of Athens - feels current with our time.  One begins to examine "the state within" in terms of "original purity and vigour."

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