Did Socrates and Plato believe in any of the Myths of their time? Kaly

This question needs to be narrowed down before it can be answered usefully. First, everyone speaking of ancient Greek religion has to bear in mind the complex relationship between that religion as a whole and the myths that -- to modern readers -- are its most famous element. Second, while it's not hard to answer the question as it asks about "any" of the myths (the answer is "Yes"), one comes to know Socrates and Plato better by trying to find out how many of the myths they might have believed, or which ones.

First, the relationship between myths and religion. Modern religions tend to be organized around beliefs, not only general doctrinal beliefs (e.g. "God exists") but also beliefs about events ("Jesus was crucified and resurrected"). So modern readers tend to gravitate toward the most visible beliefs in ancient religion, which are the myths or stories about what their gods did. The great poems of Homer and Hesiod contain many of those myths; Socrates and Plato would have heard more through other poems, such as those of Pindar and Bacchylides, and would have seen tragedies based on yet other myths. It seems that hymns about the gods and goddesses, including but not limited to the Homeric Hymns, were performed by choruses of young people, in a city like Athens, so that on numerous occasions during the year the public would have heard recitations of divine actions.

Religious practice, however, did not have to include recitation of myths. The standard religious practice was the sacrifice, normally the sacrifice of an animal but sometimes of such vegetable products as a honey cake; and these rituals could be carried out without anyone's stating or discussing a myth. So the first distinction to be drawn is between myths, many of which our philosophers did not believe in, and religious practices, which all the evidence suggests they did participate in. For instance, we see Socrates in Plato's _Symposium_ pouring out a splash of wine to Zeus the Savior, as the Athenians and other Greeks customarily did before drinking wine themselves. This was a religious practice toward which neither Socrates nor Plato expresses any skepticism.

Plato's _Republic_, for all its revolutionary proposals about Greek society and culture, likewise seems to assume the continuation of religious practice as it was known. There is talk of sacrifices in the new city that the philosophers are founding; and the highest authority remains the oracle at Delphi.

So, if you are asking "Was Plato religious?" then even though that word "religious" does not correspond exactly to anything in ancient Greek culture, nevertheless one can answer "Yes," inasmuch as "being religious" had more to do with participating in traditional rituals and practices than in believing this or that claim about the gods.

But suppose we don't want to know about religious practice. We want to know: Did these philosophers believe a word of the myths they had heard? Again, asking whether they believed "any" myths makes the question too easy to answer. There are enough references to specific myths scattered throughout the dialogues to imply that at least some of the myths passed muster with the philosophers. For instance, in Book 2 of the _Republic_ Socrates reviews what stories the children may hear about gods in the ideal city, and his discussion makes clear that quite a few traditional stories are worth keeping and retelling. Zeus judges the souls of the dead, punishing the wicked and rewarding the just. The great technological inventions that human beings possess were given to them by the gods. Such wholesome tales are to be repeated in earnest, so that the young may grow up with a pious sense of gratitude toward their divine benefactors.

More famously, Socrates speaks out in Plato's dialogues against those myths he refuses to believe. Relevant passages include Plato's _Euthyphro_ and the aforementioned Book 2 of the _Republic_. Any stories about the gods' quarreling with one another, or lying to human beings, or changing shape, or being overwhelmed by lust, or sleeping with one another's spouses, strike the Socrates we find in Plato's dialogues as unseemly, and impossible of containing truth. (If the truth in them is something allegorical, they still need to be suppressed, because the typical young listener cannot tell the difference between a symbolic meaning and the superficial narrative.)

In rejecting such myths both Socrates and Plato seem to be following the lead of the earlier philosopher Xenophanes. Xenophanes had no patience with the anthropomorphism in Greek religion. It was bad enough, from his point of view, that human beings pictured their gods in human form, with arms and legs, desires and emotions; far worse was the shabby morality those gods seemed to follow. Zeus repeatedly raped young mortal women, who then found themselves hounded and tormented by his jealous wife Hera. How could the king of the gods participate in such horrid injustice?

Plato apparently agrees with the critique. He has Socrates confess he cannot believe in such stories. They couldn't possibly be true, if the gods are to be (as we claim to believe them to be) perfectly powerful and honest and good. Some storyteller must have lied about the gods. The falsehood is not at all the falsehood that modern unbelievers experience. An atheist today is likely to say that religion is just far-fetched, or without evidence; atheism begins with epistemology. The Socratic and Platonic disbelief presupposes genuine belief that the gods exist, and only a refusal to agree that they could behave in such ungodlly manner.

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