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greek philosophy

Monday 14 November 2005

Alexander’s great conquests led to the end of the independence of most of the small city-states and the founding of huge empires ruled by dynasties of monarchs, with arbitrary powers and a massive bureaucracy; there was also a great deal of mixing of Greeks and non-Greeks because of the settlements of Greek armies and the founding of new cities, such as Alexandria and Antioch.

So there were no longer small communities of self-governing citizens, but great administrative organizations controlling taxes, the judiciary, water and corn supplies, etc. In a time of universalism and individualism the world expanded, linked by a common language (Greek). Cults of the Olympian gods yielded to worship of the ruler; educated men turned to philosophy, others to the mystery-cults and private religious associations.

Cults of Isis, Dionysus, Serapis became important; there was a tendency towards syncretism, fusing deities from several traditions to produce One God. Astrology, magic, and Fortune (or Chance: tyché ) grew in importance. There was little or no independent political life, but there was in general freedom of thought and religion. The centers of life were no longer assemblies and councils, but gymnasia (schools) and shrines of the mystery cults.

The great monarchs built mighty libraries; the greatest was at Alexandria, founded in 308, which became a center for research in lit-erature and science with a library of perhaps 700,000 scrolls. There were others at Antioch, Pergamum, and Rhodes. Athens became a university city, especially for the study of philosophy; Rhodes specialized in rhetoric.

In Athens, Plato founded the Academy in 385; after the death of Aristotle, his pupil Theophrastus founded the Peripatetic school in 317 to continue Aristotelean philosophy; around 307 Epicurus began to teach in his Garden; Zeno of Citium, the founder of Stoicism, came to the city in 313 and by 302 was teaching in the Stoa. These four great philosophical schools, and others, continued study and teaching until dissolved by the emperor Justinian in 529 A.D.