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The Greeks and the Irrational by E. R. Dodds

The Greeks and the Irrational (1951)

by E. R. Dodds

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573726,163 (4.2)21
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    The Greeks and Greek Civilization by Jacob Burckhardt (Pandaros)
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    The Irrational in Politics: Sexual Repression and Authoritarian Conditioning by Maurice Brinton (bertilak)
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    The Harvest of Hellenism: A History of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity by F. E. Peters (trifkin1977)
    trifkin1977: Fascinating and erudite, bringing together the best of professorial wisdom and writing to create readable accounts of the past upon which much of the western world is built.

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While Ancient Greeks are most known for the triumph of rationalism over superstition and magic, E.R. Dodds presents an alternate history which demonstrates that, despite the intellectual advancements in the direction of reason, the Greeks (particularly Plato) of the Golden Age fundamentally retained certain pre-5th century magical (read: irrational) thinking within their traditions. Dodds thinks this is a good thing, since we are not merely thinking but also *feeling* agents--a fact that Socrates and Aristotle understood well. Dodds argues that the progressive excision of "irrationality" in the Stoic and Epicurean traditions turns out to be a regression--a failure to appreciate the affective elements of living a human life. He sees this failure culminate in medieval Christianity's devaluation of earthly life.

This book is essential and utterly fascinating. Because it was first delivered as a series of lectures (each chapter is relatively short--approx 15-20 pages), it is eminently digestible and suitable for any audience. But boy, does he pack a lot of detail in: on average there are about 100 footnotes a chapter. This makes this a great bibliographical source in addition to being a spectacular read. ( )
  reganrule | Feb 22, 2016 |
Despite being first published in 1951 and considering all of the advances in anthropology, psychology and our knowledge of Greek civilisation, Dodds' book still holds its place as an important understanding of the Greek mind and civilisation. It was hugely controversial when it was published and still has that tag.

However, to my mind there are only three chapters worth reading: Agamemnon's Apology, Guilt Culture to Shame Culture and Reactions to Rationalism. There is only so much one can say about irrationalism in Greek culture and the other chapters feel as if they were filler. ( )
  Pandaros | Dec 14, 2011 |
Another necessary corrective to the historiography of Western civilization. The view since at least the 17th c. of a distinctive Western civilization marked by rationalism counted on an autochthonous, rational, classical Greek foundation.

Dodds—drawing on the works of Homer through to the last pagan neoplatonists—points out that the Greeks themselves were careful not to neglect the superstitious, the impulsive, or the reactionary in human experience and behavior. And, Greek thought exhibited too many congruencies with Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Persian, and Brahman mentalities to support later interpretations of an ancient East-West divide.

First appearing in lecture form in 1949, The Greeks and the Irrational is a pleasure to read (because of the original lecture form, or despite the lecture form, I can’t decide), and one need not be a devotee of Ancient History to find much worthwhile in the discussion here. For those wanting to go further, the chapter notes constitute a rich and instructive bibliographical essay in their own right.
3 vote HectorSwell | Dec 4, 2011 |
A valuable introduction to Greek religious belief interlaced in the philosophers. The chapter and appendixes about magic were fascinating, but I was hoping for more of this and more about the mystery cults. ( )
  Darrol | Oct 15, 2011 |
This is a classic. Although at points it sounds dated, written as it was in an age dominated by Freud, the central thesis holds up well and is an important corrective to the predominant view of the Greeks as rational. Doods brings into question the view that religion is rational which I believe is an even more important, and long-lasting contribution. The earliest Age of Reason is more complex according to Dodds and he quite effectively surveys the counter irrational tradition coursing through Greek myths and philosophy. The more typical view of the Greeks overemphasizes the Ionian Enlightenment while Dodds wants us to see a more complex view including Pythagoran sounds, hints of Indian religion and mysticism, reincarnation associated with the cultic mysteries, and the polytheism denatured by later monotheism. Dodds reviews later European thought of Hegel and Nietzsche and others while expounding on the richness of the Greek artistic tradition as with Euripides' 'rationalizing.' Dodds, along with Gilbert Murray, points out that the Greek 'irrational' is not all that far removed from Indian culture during the Axial Age. Greek literary tradition is more akin to Indian thought than many care to consider. We may know less about rational Enlightenment, after Kant, than many thinkers care to admit.

The text is clear with a plethora of lengthy and fascinating sidelights contained in the copious notes. Composed originally as a series of lectures the text is academic but stimulating.

It is widely acclaimed such as in Robin Lane Fox's The Classical World.
3 vote gmicksmith | Aug 5, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0520003276, Paperback)

In this philosophy classic, which was first published in 1951, E. R. Dodds takes on the traditional view of Greek culture as a triumph of rationalism. Using the analytical tools of modern anthropology and psychology, Dodds asks, "Why should we attribute to the ancient Greeks an immunity from 'primitive' modes of thought which we do not find in any society open to our direct observation?" Praised by reviewers as "an event in modern Greek scholarship" and "a book which it would be difficult to over-praise," The Greeks and the Irrational was Volume 25 of the Sather Classical Lectures series.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:11 -0400)

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