The Origins of Greek Thought
Jean-Pierre Vernant's concise, brilliant essay on the origins of Greek thought relates the cultural achievement of the ancient Greeks to their physical and social environment and shows that what they believed in was inseparable from the way they lived. The emergence of rational thought, Vernant claims, is closely linked to the advent of the open-air politics that characterized life in the Greek polis.
Vernant points out that when the focus of Mycenaean society gave way to the agora, the change had profound social and cultural implications. "Social experience could become the object of pragmatic thought for the Greeks," he writes, "because in the city-state it lent itself to public debate. The decline of myth dates from the day the first sages brought human order under discussion and sought to define it. . . . Thus evolved a strictly political thought, separate from religion, with its own vocabulary, concepts, principles, and theoretical aims."