The Republic

Believing in the Republic

Plato's Republic is rife with evidence of, and commentary on, the nature of the Greek religion. Some of the treatment is overt, as in the censorship of canonical works of poets and dramatists or in the references to the powers and functions of the gods. In other cases, one can read about religion between the lines, not in what Plato says, but in how and why he says it, and in the evidence he feels it necessary to give.

Among the most interesting facets of Greek religion is the nature of the source material. There are no holy texts, no commandments from Zeus. The gods do speak to the people through oracles, but their prophecies are notoriously vague and difficult to interpret. The only available religious texts are the works of the poets and playwrights. These are forms which do not pretend to absolute historical accuracy, since their writers readily incorporate the fictional and hyperbolic; Plato calls them "allegorical" (378d). The entanglement of literature and theology gives Greek religion qualities which modern religions wholly lack. The texts on which the religion is based are known creations of human hands and minds. Every history of the gods' involvement in the human sphere and every tale about their...

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