Episode 40: Hellenism and the Birth of the Self

The Hellenistic period – 330-30 BCE, saw Alexander’s successor kingdoms rotting away in the east, the rise of Rome, and the birth of modern consciousness.

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History, Culture and Religion from 330-30 BCE

Hello, and welcome to Literature and History. Episode 40: Hellenism and the Birth of the Self. This particular show is going to be almost entirely a history program. When I decided to do Literature and History, I knew that this episode was one of the most important programs I wanted to record. I knew it would be a complex story, and that it would need to be foregrounded with a lot of literary and religious history from the ancient world. We’ve been through that foreground, now. And we’re ready to talk about a transition that I believe was, perhaps after the birth the writing, the most far reaching change in human history. This change, in a sentence, was an evolution from community based religions and localized governments and toward intercontinental capitalism and religions focused on the self – religions that centered on the individual, individual ethics, and individual salvation over and above one’s role in his or her local community. The Hellenistic period, or the three centuries before the birth of Christ, gave rise to an era in which we are still living today, particularly in countries historically tied to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And I would like to begin telling you this story – the story of how this change happened – in the middle of things – on perhaps a cloudy afternoon in early December of 164 BCE, in the city of Jerusalem, with a single object – an ivy-wreathed wand. [music]

Second Maccabees and the Thyrsis in the Temple

In the Books of Maccabees in the Bible, we hear about a violent conflict centered in Jerusalem – a conflict that came to a head in the mid-160s BCE. Jerusalem, at this time, was a subject kingdom. Jerusalem’s imperial overlords were the Seleucids – the descendants of one of Alexander the Great’s successors. The Seleucid capital, Antioch, was a little over 300 miles up the eastern Mediterranean coast from Jerusalem, and so Jerusalem’s doings were always under careful supervision. The relationship between Jerusalem and Antioch in the 160s was a typical model for a client kingdom and its ruler – Jerusalem offered Antioch’s kings annual tributes of silver, and subsequently enjoyed relative sovereignty.

Unfortunately for little Jerusalem, this relative sovereignty was suddenly curtailed at the beginning of the 160s. On his way back from a frustrated campaign in Egypt, the Seleucid King Antiochus IV was stomping back up north to Antioch, and he passed through the dry hill country of Jerusalem on his way home. The Seleucid king was in no frame of mind to tolerate any sort of insurrection, and so when he saw that Jerusalem, which had always been a little prickly, seemed to be in the midst of a revolt, he bore down on the little city with all the wrath and self assurance of an emperor asserting himself in his own territory. Antiochus IV didn’t know that he’d actually just happened upon an internal leadership squabble at an inopportune moment – one man was trying to usurp the High Priesthood of Jerusalem from the man who had usurped it from him. None of that mattered to Antiochus IV, though. The Seleucid king pacified the city, set up imperial troops there, and proceeded with a series of religious regulations that would thereafter make him one of the more vilified figures in the history of Judaism.

Antiochus IV was tired of the Jews of Jerusalem having a free reign to practice their ancestral religion. After all, this ancestral religion was causing a lot of chaos and infighting in the city, infighting which made the region unstable, and of course every emperor wants stable regions that pay their taxes on time. And so, in the Autumn of 168 BCE, Antiochus IV issued a series of orders demanding that the Jews of Jerusalem worship Dionysus, and, just as bad, the emperor went into their sacred 350-year-old Second Temple and set up idols to Dionysus there.1

To the everyday devout Jew of Jerusalem, it was an awful moment. Their ancestral law codes told them again and again not to worship foreign idols, and of what happened when a Jew did so. It wasn’t so long after this, according to 2 Maccabees, that “On the monthly celebration of the king’s birthday, the Jews were taken, under bitter constraint, to partake of the sacrifices; and when a festival of Dionysus was celebrated, they were compelled to wear wreaths of ivy and to walk in the procession of Dionysus” (2 Macc 6:7). For the strict followers of the Torah, this moment was insufferable – this moment at which they were forced to break their own commandments and do exactly what they were forbidden to.

An Attic red figure bell krater of Dionysus with an ivy-wrapped thyrsis, flanked by a satyr and maenads. Photo by Dorieo Wikimedia Commons, (License CC-BY-SA 4.0).

Now, sadly, the Historical Books of the Old Testament are full of moments like this, when this or that imperial force thunders up to the gates of Samaria or Jerusalem, be it Assyria, or Egypt, or Babylon, and ends up deporting Jews to the far corners of the ancient world. But Maccabees tells a different story. 1 and 2 Maccabees are about a recalcitrant family – chief among them Judas Maccabeus, whose epithet is “The Hammer,” who lead a vigorous and successful armed rebellion against Seleucid oppression. The details of this insurrection make for a riveting read, and Judas Maccabeus and his brothers ultimately prevail, and the pivotal moment of the story takes place in late November or early December of the year 164. By this point, the oppressive king Antiochus IV had gone off to attend to a major rebellion in modern day Iran, and he died of disease there. And in the early winter of 164, Judas Maccabeus and his battle hardened and faithful brothers rededicated the Jerusalem Temple, clearing it of blasphemous idols and purifying it with incense and sacrifices so that it was holy once more. It was a great triumph, and an eight day celebration was held there. And if you’ve ever seen a Hanukkah Menorah, with its nine candles and its single central candle used to light the other eight – the Menorah, and Hanukkah, come from that triumphant day in ancient Jewish history in the winter of 164 when Judas Maccabeus and his family purified the Second Temple and reinstated the old traditions there, crowning their victory with eight days of festivities.2

You may well know Hanukkah’s origin story already, but there’s one detail of it that’s central to our own story for today. At the climax of this hard-won eight day celebration in the Second Temple, this originating moment of Hanukkah, amidst the incense and cries of joy, “carrying ivy-wreathed wands and beautiful branches and also fronds of palm, [the Jews] offered hymns of thanksgiving to him who had given success to the purifying of his own holy place” (2 Macc 10:7).3 That’s Second Maccabees, Chapter 10, Verse 7. Now there is one infinitesimal but very fascinating detail in this particular verse – this verse about a joyous consecration ceremony. And that is that the rejoicing Jerusalemites in Second Maccabees were “carrying ivy-wreathed wands” (10:7) to celebrate the purification of their temple. We have seen ivy-wreathed wands before. And they were not emblems of Judaism. They were, in Euripides’ The Bacchae, called thyrsis wands, and they were emblems of the cabalistic rites of Dionysus. So at this central, pivotal moment in 2 Maccabees, the author of the book, bizarrely, has the celebrating Jews waving around emblems of the very religion that they’ve worked so hard to get rid of.4 [music]

Jason of Cyrene

Now, that image – the image of the Dionysian wand in the sacred Second Temple of Jerusalem in the early winter of 164 BCE, will be a good one to keep in your head throughout the remainder of this episode. I don’t intend it to be an image that cheapens the sacredness of Hanukkah – of course a little sprig of vine is of no significance to one of the oldest and most revered holidays in world religion, and liturgical history is full of co-optings and borrowings that have only made our religions richer and stronger. What the ivy wand in the temple may mean, more than that Judas Maccabeus and his brothers didn’t eliminate all traces of Dionysian worship there, is that the person who wrote 2 Maccabees – it was written in Greek, by the way – ten years or so after Maccabees – that the author of 2 Maccabees might not quite have had a grasp on which ritual objects belonged to which religion.

This is understandable, considering the name of who wrote it. 2 Maccabees, says the book’s second chapter, is an abridgement of a long history written by a person called Jason of Cyrene. Now, Jason is not a Greek name, and Cyrene was a city on the Mediterranean coast just over a hundred miles east of modern day Benghazi in Libya. So the biblical book that describes the instantiation of Hanukkah was written by a man with a Greek name, from a Greek colony in north Africa, in Greek, and in his attempt narrate the purification of the Jerusalem temple from Greek religious influence, this Greek named, Greek speaking author puts Greek wands of Dionysus at the center of the eight day temple consecration.

By the time the first Hanukkah in history happened – again late November or early December of 164, five generations of Jews in Jerusalem had been conversing and doing business in Greek. The Septuagint, or Greek Old Testament, had already existed for a hundred years, though it didn’t – obviously – include Maccabees, or Daniel, or Judith, or certain other books that were born after the Septuagint was undertaken. Whoever Jason of Cyrene was, this Libyan, Greek named Jewish historian, he lived five generations down from Alexander’s conquest of Canaan. And he had, it seems, a tad bit of trouble differentiating where strictly Jewish practices ended and Jewish adaptations of Greek practices began. It’s a complicated image to start our story with today – this image of a Dionysian wand, waved in the Jerusalem temple, but nonetheless it’s an image that perfectly introduces the central topic of today’s show – the three centuries between about 330 and 30 BCE, an epoch that we call the Hellenistic period. [music]

Hellenism’s Cultural Confluences

So let’s talk about Hellenism. When we study history, we like things that we can arrange into some sort of sequence, and associate with a place. Rome, for instance, had its consuls and emperors, England and France has had their kings and queens, and these things had geographical centers, as well – the Forum, London, Paris – from these hubs and on the backbone of central leadership changes, we can anchor a wide assortment of disparate events. Even wars, chaotic as they are, in retrospect have anchoring points – this battle happened on this day of this month, and this next battle on this subsequent day, and so on. But some periods of history – some very fascinating and unique periods of history, do not have the scaffolding of central leadership changes, nor a geographic center, nor pivotal events like central battles to help us understand them. Some periods of history are unruly.


A map of the full extent of Alexander’s Macedonian Empire, which failed to endure more than half a decade after he died.

The Hellenistic period – the three bustling centuries between about 330 and 30 BCE – saw Alexander the Great’s successor kings fighting one another in the east while Rome grew stronger in the west. These were not peaceful centuries, nor are they centuries that are particularly easy to understand. For duration of the Hellenistic period, at least three empires were operating simultaneously, and sometimes as many as six, each with their own territorial gains and losses, leadership struggles and succession disputes, internal rebellions and wars with barbaric outsiders. Memorize the way the successor kingdoms looked on the map in 300 BCE, and you see a rather different picture in 270, and then again in 200. It’s a tough era of history for anyone – even career specialists on the period.

We started with a story about a Dionysian wand in the sacred Second Temple of Jerusalem, but for a minute let’s get even simpler, and define Hellenism in a sentence. In Alexander the Great’s bloody eastward conquest – which began with crossing the Bosphorus in 334 BCE and ended with the near mutiny of his army in India a decade later, he uncorked the contents of dozens of cultures – Greek polytheism and cult religions, Persian Zoroastrianism, Mesopotamian polytheism, Judaism and Phoenician religions, and even Buddhism, and for three centuries, the theologies, languages, local customs and economic systems of all these cultures washed together under the messy and violent reigns of Alexander’s successors. That is, in a sentence, Hellenism.

Thus, by the 160s BCE, everywhere – not just Jerusalem but in almost all the territories conquered by Alexander, imperial subjects had known five generations of Greek rule. And even before that, they had known another two hundred years of Persian rule. In 160 BCE, then, the imperial subjects living in modern day Israel, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere had become accustomed to dealing with the imperial regime in one language, and retaining their own native language. But as generations passed, and trade and commerce necessitated living in close proximity, and younger generations grew up speaking the imperial language and married regardless of their ancestral linguistic and ethnic groups – as all of this happened, even the proudest and most insular cultural and theological traditions found themselves slowly knitting together with what was around them.

Within Judaism, Hellenistic cultural synthesis wasn’t just marked by the birth of the Greek Septuagint in the mid 200s, nor what may have been a Greek thyrsis wand at the original Hanukkah celebration. Some time in the next century, a writer historians have called Ezekiel the Dramatist, a Greco-Jewish author living in Alexandria, created a stage tragedy about Moses and the Exodus – a Greek tragedy along the lines of Sophocles and Euripides, only starring the patriarchs of the Hebrew Bible.5 Fragments of this fascinating historical hybrid, called the Exagoge, survive and are studied today, and they show that just as the Old Testament itself was rendered into the Greek language, the Old Testament’s stories, for some Greek speaking believers, deserved to be converted into the literary forms of Golden Age Athens.6 Ancient Greek drama wasn’t the only force that influenced Jewish theology. Greek philosophy did, as well. By the year 100 BCE, as Jerusalem enjoyed a period of independent sovereignty, Judaism had splinter groups heavily shaped by Ancient Greek philosophy – most famously the Pharisees, whom the historian Josephus calls “kin to the sect of the Stoics.”7 Ideas from Greek cult religions had begun to pervade Judaism, and the Pharisees, Saduccees, and Essenes all pulled Second Temple leadership in various ways. The late Second Temple books bear the ideological marks of the 200s and 100s – in the Book of Daniel, for instance, we witness the doctrines of reincarnation and heavenly rewards, ideas which come from an earlier confluence between Greek cult religions and Persian Zoroastrianism. What was happening to Judaism was happening everywhere by the 100s BCE. Far from having a single state religion, the theology of the Hellenistic period was a mishmash of regional crossbreeds. There were some general tendencies in these crossbreeds, which we’ll talk about later, but for now it will suffice to say that a map of religion in the Hellenistic age looks more like a tie-dye shirt than a polka dot one.

I don’t mean to concentrate on Jerusalem here – it’s just that Jerusalem happens to have been so centrally located, and left such copious writings behind, that it seems like a good place to begin to tell the story of Hellenism. Jerusalem, like all other regions in the east, found Greek ideology trickling into its cultural practices in intractable ways. Young Jews might be taught Hebrew, and the sacredness of Mosaic Law, but when they were out in the agora, speaking Greek, exposed to an ungovernable assortment of foreign ideas, there was no telling who they’d meet, or the ideas to which they’d be exposed.

Certain Jewish traditionalists, like the Maccabees, worked to resist the religious evolutions of the period. And Rome did the same. The Roman Republic, as it first began to have extensive dealings with the Greek world, noticed fairly soon that Greek philosophy and theology made for a refractory, independent-minded citizenry. Just like Judas Maccabeus would 20 years later, the Roman senate took issue with the worship of Dionysus in their capital, and issued the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus, which prohibited cult celebrations to Dionysus in Italy in 186 BCE.8 These push backs against Greek cult religion – by Romans in the 180s, and by Jews in the 160s, were not particularly successful. In fact, as Greek culture began to spread westward into the Roman Empire during the 100s, the Roman poet Horace wrote that “captive Greece took its wild victor captive, and imported the arts into rustic Latium.”9 Now that quote – that captive Greece took its captor captive, is one of the most famous statements about the Hellenistic period. To Horace, you could institute your bans on Greek religion, and you could lock down Greek territories and make them into Roman provinces, but even as you did so, Greek ideology just kept permeating your own culture, generation after generation. The name of the era – the Hellenistic period – is perhaps embodied in that quote – this notion that Ancient Greek culture, philosophy, theology, and architecture percolated widely into three different continents after Alexander the Great.

Captive Greece taking her captor captive is a good way to begin thinking about Hellenism and Hellenization. But we’re a bit more historically knowledgeable than we were than in the first days of the Roman Empire. There is an old and silly tradition of pinning the originating point of civilization and intellectualism in 5th-century Athens, a tradition which has been outdated since the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs and Mesopotamian cuneiform over a hundred and fifty years ago, but which still persists in generalizations about antiquity. Because we know much more about ancient Egypt and the Fertile Crescent, today’s historians think of the Hellenistic period not so much as a flood tide of Greek culture subsuming several continents as it washed eastward and westward. Today’s historians think of the Hellenistic period as a time when many different traditions converged and produced “something new” that had not existed before – a fusion of Greek, and Egyptian, and Mesopotamian, and Persian, and even Indian culture.10

This “something new” is what we’ll talk about during the remainder of this episode. This “something new” was bigger than Greek cultural imperialism. It had already been rumbling and crackling during the Peloponnesian War. When Euripides staged The Bacchae in 405 BCE, the play was in some ways an indictment of Dionysian cult religion – the same sort of indictment that the Roman Senate passed in the 180s, and that the Maccabee brothers would have applauded in the 160s. Cult religions – religions unaffiliated with states, that focused on individual joy and salvation rather than public ceremony, that slid sideways into your city or empire and became a volatile cultural force without ever shedding a drop of blood – cult religions were one of the most important products of Hellenization. But there were many others.

As the Romans issued a decree against Bacchic rites, and as the Maccabean revolt exploded in Judah to combat Greek religious oppression, as not only Greek but Egyptian and Jewish sects began to spread in an interstate fashion, and religions began to puddle together beneath the gridwork of often transient Hellenistic states, the great Greek historian Polybius came of age and began making observations about the history around him. One of Polybius’ observations is particularly trenchant for our purposes. Polybius wrote that for him, the 140th Olympiad, or the years from 220-216, marked an absolutely critical moment in the history of the world.
In earlier times, [wrote the Greek historian Polybius some time in the mid 100s BCE,] world events had been, so to speak, dispersed, since the various deeds of men showed no unity of initiative, outcomes, or geography. But from this point on, history started to be an organic whole, and the affairs of Italy and Africa became interwoven with those of Asia and the Greeks, all of them now tending towards a single end.11

And this, I think, is what makes the Hellenistic period mesmerizing, and also what makes it difficult. Polybius observed the Hellenistic world over 2,100 years ago, and what he saw was globalization replacing what had previously been a set of only partially linked cultures and economies. What I want to do in the remainder of this episode is offer you a high level overview of the events in the Greco-Roman world between about 330 and 30 BCE. We’ll spend a bit of time up front talking about the imperial leaders and kings of the period. But our main focus will be on everyday life during these three centuries – the way that economic, social, and religious systems changed beneath the reigns of Alexander’s successor kings, and the far reaching effects of these changes. [music]

December of 335

Histories of the Hellenistic period generally begin with Alexander the Great, and his egomaniacal continent-long eastward march to India. But I don’t want to talk about that march, yet. I want to talk about a mistake.

Charles Le Brun - Entry of Alexander into Babylon - WGA12531 hellenistic history scene

Charles Le Brun’s Entry of Alexander into Babylon (c. 1664). Alexander’s conquests were fueled by cash earned by selling his victims into slavery, which in turn destabilized Eurasian populations and made mercenary armies and liquid assets more important than land ownership and territorial allegiances during the Hellensitic period.

In December of 335 BCE, before he ever left the Aegean world to fight Persians, Alexander had to subdue foes at home. The most formidable of these foes was Thebes, which, amidst the post-Peloponnesian War rumble, had slowly emerged as the dominant force in mainland Greece. Thebes was subject to Alexander’s homeland of Macedon, and in the late autumn of 335, acting on an incorrect rumor that young Alexander had died in a foreign campaign, the city of Thebes revolted. Alexander’s retribution was swift. He and his armies covered a distance of hundreds of miles in two weeks. The Thebans retracted into their city, and a short siege began. Alexander offered the Thebans generous terms – the two men at core of the revolt would be surrendered to him, and he’d withdraw his campaign-hardened troops, and consider the insurrection over. But the Thebans rejected the offer.

And so Alexander moved in and took the city. Thebes was his in a matter of days. And December of 335 saw a sad sight in the hilly lake country thirty miles northwest of Athens. Every Theban who was not killed fighting was sold into slavery. The city was leveled. It was a punishment of almost biblical proportions. On one hand Alexander’s total destruction of Thebes was a successful scare tactic. Other Greek cities, Athens among them, capitulated readily thereafter to Macedonian leadership. But on the other hand, in hindsight, the ruination of Thebes was the first of many mistakes Alexander would make out of anger and impatience, mistakes which would leave the world he left behind him an awful place.

Following the wholesale destruction of Thebes, the notion of Macedon in the imagination of mainland Greece and the Peloponnese hardened irreversibly. To the southerners – in Athens, Corinth, Sparta, and elsewhere, Alexander, like his father, was a crude northern barbarian, an oppressor with a bloated army full of men with long spears. It might be prudent to cooperate outwardly with him for the time being. But – to the Greeks who learned of the annihilation of Thebes in the winter of 335 – Macedon was an oppressor, and an alien hardly different from the Persian Empire. So the total destruction of Thebes presented Alexander with problem – a seething, untamed territory that would revolt at the slightest provocation, and Alexander had to leave a huge Macedonian military force behind just to guard his own kingdom’s immediate southern front.12

Alexander did not walk away from the decimation of Thebes empty handed. Tens of thousands of Thebans were sold into slavery. Their sale was, at least for the purposes of political theater, a part of Alexander’s punishment of the city state for attempting an insurgency. But practically speaking, selling the civilian victims of his conquests as slaves was one of Alexander’s main fundraising strategies throughout the course of his short, violent career. His paymasters, supply trains and engineer corps needed barrels of silver in order to keep them operational, and so when Alexander saw as many as 40,000 Theban citizens vulnerable for the taking, he sold their liberty for immediate personal gain.

In the year after destroying Thebes, Alexander headed eastward into Turkey. To any ambitious young general and king, splitting your forces nearly in half, leaving one half behind in territories you’ve subdued months before, and then leading the others into war with the largest empire in the world would seem tactically untenable. A year or two on the home front, on Alexander’s part, spent ironing out relations in the Aegean world, and manning his own military with loyal Spartans and Athenians – moreover, taking time to spin the eastward campaign as a war of Greek self assertion and get the major powers of the Aegean world behind him – all of these things seem like they would have been a good idea. But Alexander did none of it. In 334, a huge part of Alexander’s motivations to head eastward were financial ones. He knew that Persian imperial command made almost 2,000 silver talents a year from territories in modern day Turkey. Macedon, Alexander knew – Macedon, and his own outsized military ambitions needed this money. So a huge reason for his hasty departure to Asia Minor in 334 was a search for loot.

The story of Alexander the Great has often been staged as an ideologically motivated Greek campaign against an authoritarian Persian east. Modern biographers no longer tell this story. As historian Peter Green writes, Alexander
had the Homeric pirate’s mentality when it came to riches: the best way of acquiring them was by relieving less manly opponents of them in battle. Neither [Alexander nor his father] had any real economic sense beyond immediate needs. . .What all this meant was that the expedition was fundamentally disruptive rather than constructive in any unifying sense. It began with an urgent need for booty and ended in megalomania. It took over an empire that had lasted for two long centuries, shattered its theocratic rationale, patched a Macedonian superstructure onto its administrative system, treated its accumulated wealth as fairy gold to be poured out at will, and looked no further than the grandiose personal ambitions of its leader.13

Well, let’s not belabor the point. Alexander was a ten year munitions attack that threw multiple continents into bloody disarray and left behind death, chaos, and a pack of hungry generals. For a moment, we need to talk about those generals. [music]

The Attrition of the Diadochi Wolfpack

Let’s start at a very high level. Alexander died in June of 323. He died having had a Great-Pyramid sized tomb planned for himself, and also having commenced preparations for invasions of the Arabian Peninsula and the central Mediterranean. None of it materialized. When the great warlord died, the thing that had temporarily, forcibly unified a Greek, Turkish, Egyptian, Canaanite, Iraqi, Iranian, Afghani and Indian swath of turf ended. What was left was a small but hard Macedonian superstructure, screwed into the central economic nodes of territories Alexander had conquered. This superstructure, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, was arranged and rearranged for the next fifty years by Alexander’s successors, until something slightly more stable emerged.

A simplified map of the warring Diadochi states after Alexander’s death. Graphic by Hidro.

In the winter and subsequent year after Alexander died, there was initially going to be an attempt to continue central Macedonian rule. Alexander had a younger brother who was mentally disabled. And, in his marriage to a Bactrian princess, Roxane, Alexander had managed to produce a male heir – Bactria, by the way, was essentially the far north of modern day Afghanistan. So initially, Alexander’s mentally disabled younger brother and an infant son were expected to take sovereignty of the huge empire, while seven successors were to begin regency in Macedon, central and northern Turkey, Egypt, Thrace, western Turkey, and eastern Turkey.14 Now, as I’m sure you can expect, all of these warmongering generals peacefully accepted the provinces they were given, got along with one another harmoniously, and humbly awaited the coming of their either mentally disabled or adolescent regent. Just kidding. Of course, Alexander left behind him a pack of wolves – a militarily experienced pack of wolves accustomed over the past decade of far flung wars to winning loot, power, and territory by the sword. Murderous expansionism was what they had learned from Alexander, and they did not forget the lesson.

Four of the initial successor generals were dead by 320.15 Others rose up. Nine years later, a loose quintet had emerged, a quintet which already included Ptolemy in control of Egypt – the beginning of the only dynasty which would last down to the end of the Hellenistic period.16 There was in 311 still a vague idea that Alexander’s son or younger brother would reunite the separated districts under central Macedonian rule – indeed one of the successors, Cassander, was in charge of Europe nominally up until the point Alexander’s child came of age. But in practice, Alexander’s successors were hardly waiting with bated breath for their liege’s pubescent son to come and rule over them. In fact, in 310, Alexander’s successor general Cassander had Alexander’s son and wife murdered. For his trouble, over the next decade of war, Cassander received control of Greece, though he died in 298.

The year 300 BCE would have been an particularly bad time to come to age, particularly in modern day Turkey. A conflict the size of a World War was raging – successor generals hammered armies together in a battle royale that makes the Iliad look like a croquet match by comparison, and the details of these brutal decades are a whole discipline of study in and unto themselves. At the end of the carnage, in the last years of the 280s– after seven decades of violence which had really started in the Greek speaking world with the campaigns of Philip II down into central Greece in the 350s, the volume of war began to abate.

At this juncture, a ruler named Antigonus Gonatus was sovereign in Greece, Ptolemy II emerged from a succession dispute to begin a long and successful reign in Egypt, and a ruler named Antiochus I, the son of Alexander’s infantry general Seleucus I, assumed power over the vast eastern region that would later be called the Seleucid empire. By the 270s, the generation of Alexander’s warlords had passed, in many cases as a result of hostilities between one another, and they left behind them something old and familiar – a trio of hereditary monarchies. At least one of these monarchies – the Ptolemies – would last all the way down to 30 BCE. [music]

Persian Silver and the Economic Impacts of Alexander’s Campaigns

So far I’ve told you about the beginning of Alexander’s campaign, and the moment that the dust began to settle from the wars of his successors. The trio of kingdoms still standing in the 270s – the Ptolemies in Egypt, Antigonids in the north and Eastern Mediterranean, and the Seleucids in the far east – these three kingdoms were generally in conflict with one another, with the Ptolemies and Seleucids, particularly, fighting six wars between 274 and 168 BCE. Now one path we could take would be to talk a bit about these wars, and the overlords who spurred them along – the generations of Ptolemies, Demetriuses, Antigonuses, Antiochuses, and Seleucuses, the succession disputes, the alliances and betrayals, and that kind of thing. I think that would be a titanic amount of information to put into a single show – and in my experience as a teacher one can only learn a certain number of new proper nouns over the course of an hour or two. So let’s stick with the three names we’ve generated so far – the Ptolemies in Egypt, Antigonids in the north and Eastern Mediterranean, and the Seleucids in the east. A triangle of hereditary monarchies ruled during much of the Hellenistic period, this triangle flexing and writhing according to the schemes and ambitions of its three ruling kings, the rise of new regional powers and insurgencies, and, increasingly, the slow eastward intrusion of Republican Rome.

Increasingly, Rome began to dictate terms to Hellenistic kings. The Seleucids and Ptolemies spent over a hundred years fighting one another. When they weren’t fighting one another, a series of succession disputes – particularly on the part of the Seleucids, who grinded through 15 kings during the 100s alone, kept life systemically unstable in these monarchies, as did rebellions by indigenous peoples within the imperial borders – Egyptian peasants in the south of Ptolemaic Alexandria, or powerful leaders in modern day Afghanistan and India chiseling away at the Seleucid east until it began to cave in. Republican Rome is a fascinating point of contrast. Its system of consulships made leadership disputes – at least until the end of the Hellenistic period – nonexistent. It did not keep fighting the same foes for the same turf for many generations – its great nemesis, Carthage, once defeated, stayed down. And so as the hereditary monarchies of the Seleucids, Ptolemies, and Antigonids suffered from all the normal problems of dynastic kingship, Rome just kept getting stronger, and larger, and more efficient, and more ambitious.

At a high level, all of this isn’t too difficult to understand. And in fact, I want to stay at a high level for a while longer, and talk about some of the interstate trends and changes to everyday life that unfolded during the 200s and 100s BCE.

Tetradrachm, Halikarnassos protectorate, Persian empire, 350-333 BC pre-Hellenistic

A Persian coin dated from 350-333 BCE. Alexander’s campaigns caused a hemorrhage of Persian silver to spill all over the Ancient Near East, radically destabilizing the administrative and economic order of the Achaemenid Persian Empire. Photo by the Classical Numismatic Group.

One of the most pivotal, and destabilizing impacts of Alexander’s campaign was economic. Alexander, we learned earlier, was in constant search for money to steal from conquered enemies in order to finance his continued wars. He found this money in abundance in the Persian Empire – in places like the Anatolian city of Sardis, the Egyptian hubs of Memphis and Thebes, and the eastern cities of Babylon, Susa, and Persepolis. Alexander did not take all of the silver and treasure that he found and send it home to some huge vault in the Macedonian palace. He used it. Silver showered into the hands of his soldiers, and the further east Alexander went, the more attrition he saw from Greek forces, and the more his army was staffed by men picked up along the way – from modern day Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Persian safes were smashed and looted, and treasures flowed everywhere. Persia had by this point been coining currency for a long time, and what we know about Hellenistic kings is often supplied by the coins that they minted – minted, often, from Persian bullion and Persian coins.

So one of the immediate impacts – even during the 320s, of Alexander’s famous campaign was a huge injection of coin money into the Fertile Crescent and Eastern Mediterranean. This injection, as any currency flood does, caused a depreciation in the value of precious metals and at the level of the landed aristocracy it catalyzed a devaluation of savings. But the gush of silver and gold from Persian coffers had a more enduring and by all means more pernicious effect. Kings, after Alexander, could buy their armies much more easily, paying their service men at standard rates, using mercenaries rather than native soldiers. It is impossible to imagine the wars of the successors without mercenary armies. When a dumpster of cash money is poured into a volatile territory, the raising of an army no longer requires any moral rationale or pretense thereof, no sense that anyone will benefit from the war. Mercenaries fight, and are driven to win, by money and loot. Further, Rome, whose policy was divide and conquer from the beginning, became particularly adept at financing this or that successor king’s feud with his brother or his rival successor king, and thus whittling down the real sovereignty of the Hellenistic territories to the east of the Italian peninsula. So, the injection of precious metal currency into the Hellenistic world at its birth was one of the things that made the three centuries BCE so violent and unstable. Wealth, rather than land and agricultural resources, more than ever meant power.

That said, the ready availability of cash money had some obvious positive effects. Well funded mercenary armies spent readily, whether in towns they passed through on campaigns or at home in their own villages and cities. Persian silver thus found its way into the purses of millions of traders, bakers, farmers, artisans, builders, and even teachers and artists. One of the most important impacts of this giant financial runoff was urbanization. Trade and commerce, and the shared currency that facilitates them mean a less agrarian population. In the wake of Alexander, all over Eurasia, large, master planned cities sprang up – Seleucus I alone, in Syria alone, founded the cities of Seleucia, Laodicea, Antioch, and Apamea, and all over the Hellenistic kingdoms, as far east as the city of Aï-Khanoum in what is now Afghanistan, grid-based cities appeared, complete with Greek theaters, agoras, and temples.

The economic prosperity suddenly possible was astounding. Opportunities for moneymaking became more diverse, and more widespread. There were even scattershot state sponsored institutions for the arts and sciences – most famously, the Library of Alexandria, which we talked about in Episode 38, but also a similar one in Pergamon, in the far west of present day Turkey. But unfortunately, these intellectual institutions, and the economic opportunities afforded in these new urban centers were only as stable as the monarchical regimes behind them. And the monarchical regimes behind them were often not particularly durable. In 144 BCE, the Egyptian king Ptolemy VIII exiled the vast majority of Alexandria’s academic community, evidently because they hadn’t supported him in a succession dispute.17 Thus ended the intellectual golden age of Alexandria – on the whim of a bloated Greco-Egyptian king married to his own sister. [music]

The Asymmetrical Impacts of Hellenism’s Economic Changes

From what we’ve talked about thus far, particularly our discussion of the economic changes wrought by Alexander’s injection of silver into the kingdoms of his successors, it might seem that across the board, a whole generation at the end of the 300s stood shoulder to shoulder and saw radical cultural changes taking place right in front of them. These radical cultural changes, however, happened asymmetrically. Aristocratic classes and members of the upper middle class who could take advantage of the ready new cash money did experience tangible cultural change in the century between 330 and 230. These men and women had money to spend and invest, or advanced skill sets to make use of, and as urbanization spread across the Hellenistic world, an upper crust gravitated toward new metropolises in order to reap the benefits of the changing social order.

Theocritus-greek-poet-born-in-syracuse Hellenistic period

Theocritus, a Greek poet who worked during the 200s BCE, writing about provincial life.

In the midst of this wave of urbanization, a new genre of literature seems to have been born, one that we often call “bucolic poetry,” or idealized writings about the countryside. My doctoral dissertation was on a nineteenth-century iteration of bucolic poetry called local color fiction, and from century to century, bucolic poetry is always the same. A sect of urbanites, with a sense that their city lives are cramped and overly convoluted, fantasizes about the green pastures and simpler times of life in the country. Oh, life is enervating and alienating in the city, and if we could only just live close to the wholesome odors of green verdure and be one with the changing seasons, we would be made happy and restored once more. This is the general message of bucolic poetry, or city folk writing about country life, and its first historical iteration came in the lines of the poet Theocritus, who lived in the mid 200s in the city of Alexandria.

A minute ago I said that the socioeconomic changes wrought by Hellenization were asymmetrical. Let me explain. While the noble castes of Alexandria, Antioch, Pergamon and Athens were reading Theocritus’ rosy poems about wholesome country shepherds and milkmaids, daffodils and babbling brooks, in the real Hellenistic countryside, life was most often nasty, brutish, and short.

In Ptolemaic Egypt, a wool merchant might negotiate for better deals with his foreign buyers, and might make more silver coins due to the new mass of ready money that had flooded into the economy. At the low end of the economic food chain, however, the fiscal opportunities of farmers and herdsmen had not changed. And far worse, the peasantry became the prey of crippling levels of taxation and graft during wartime. The city of Alexandria, Hellenism’s epicenter of some half a million people during the Ptolemaic period, was built on the backs of Egyptian peasants, whose flatland riverside territories perpetually made them the prey of the taxman throughout ancient history. And starting in 245 BCE, but particularly in the four decades between 220 and 180, Egypt was in a nearly perpetual civil war, with nativists in the south trying to ouster the Greek aliens in the north and free themselves from crippling taxation.

As the Hellenistic period deepened, and Rome grinded into Greece and Turkey, the peasantry found themselves increasingly vulnerable to merciless exploitation. To quote Peter Green again,
While the Ptolemies and Seleucids, amid widespread secessions and revolts, pursued their self-destructive internal rivalries, the Greek cities of Asia Minor were getting a taste of the laissez-faire methods of Roman private enterprise. This appalling and largely uncontrolled regime of graft and exploitation—the [result] of the Successors’ attitude to “spear-won territory” – had engendered a violent, if seemingly helpless, groundswell of furious resentment.18

This groundswell led to various insurrections, the most famous of which was the rise of Mithridates in northeastern Turkey, who unexpectedly became one of the fiercest and resourceful enemies Rome would ever face. Unfortunately for Hellenistic commoners, the Mithridatic uprising was an exception rather than the rule. The rule for the vast majority of men and women during the Hellenistic period was the same sort of agricultural work that had been going on since the Neolithic, only with heightened levels of taxation and interstate instability. A Ptolemy, or an Antiochus, low on cash and desperate to swell his army, was likely to pass on his fiscal problems to his peasantry, and a buffer of greedy middle men were there to exacerbate the problem. The Hellenistic countryside, far from being like the rosy bucolic portraits of Theocritus, was often a place of dreadful collateral damage.

But one sect – below even the peasantry – had it worst of all, and this sect was, of course, Hellenism’s gigantic and always expanding population of slaves. Earlier, we talked about how Alexander sold off the entire surviving population of Thebes – a population of tens of thousands of men, women, and children, in order to finance his continued military aggressions. This, sadly, was not an uncommon means of fundraising. A city unlucky enough to resist one of Alexander’s armies, or an army of his successors, could find itself violently decimated and then made into human property. Even worse, isolated settlements vulnerable to maritime traffic or along imperial highways, during wartime, could simply be forcibly enslaved for quick cash. Whether we’re talking about the Atlantic slave trade in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, or the north African Arab slave trade that began in the 600s, or the Hellenistic human trafficking that exploded throughout the 200s and 100s BCE, when there is a profit to be made by selling human beings for money, people step in to make that profit.

The fact that loosely affiliated settlements could suddenly be swept up and put into shackles already sounds awful enough. As generations of Seleucids and Ptolemies and Antigonids and others continued to raise armies against one another, slaves became a large scale fungible resource, akin to oil or coal – something to be harvested, and stored, regardless, needless to say, of the cost in terms of human suffering. But as the Hellenistic period continued, something even worse happened. The sheer volume of human beings in bondage made the lives of slaves cheaper. A circumspect aristocracy hoarded wealth, a specialized urban labor force enjoyed the occasional windfall of profit from the wars of the successors, but a massive and expanding slave population was treated as human tools – tools to be abused, worked to death, and abandoned.19

Now, slavery was nothing new. But again the volume of slaves, caused by the Hellenistic era’s high volume of military campaigns, made for labor markets and social hierarchies dependent on slave labor, which in turn mandated the enslavement of more people. Further, because territories in, particularly, Turkey, and the Aegean were changing hands so many times, communities in these territories were made more vulnerable to pirate slave traders. Try to kidnap and enslave a coastal village of Athenian commoners in 450 BCE, during the height of the Athenian empire, and good luck. You’d have a hundred triremes after your pirate ship by the week’s end. But try to do so on the southern coast of Turkey two hundred years later, as the lowland settlements there were tossed like a hot potato between various successor kings, and you would indeed find that villages and towns could fall into the hands of profiteering human traffickers, and never be heard from again.

Between 350 BCE, when the tightly run Persian Empire controlled the Eurasian heartland, and 250 BCE, when this same region had rotted into an unending scrimmage for power and silver, human life became shorter, less stable, and more subject to the greed and cruelty of an elite few. This was the legacy that Alexander left behind. In the Seventh Canto of the Inferno, Dante puts Alexander in a very specific place in hell. Dante and Virgil scramble down a rocky slope and see a river of boiling blood, guarded by centaurs. This river of boiling blood is the place where violent are punished, cooked and blistered for eternity for all the sufferings that they indiscriminately inflicted on humanity. I don’t always agree with, or even understand Dante’s placement of this or that medieval Italian politician, or Roman statesman in this or that grisly infernal punishment. But the placement of Alexander boiling in a river of blood – this particular image from the seventh circle of hell – this one I understand perfectly.

So we’ve talked a bit about Alexander’s campaign, and its immediate financial impacts. We’ve talked a little about the wars of the successors. And we’ve discussed the impacts – some positive, but most negative, that Alexander’s military aggressions ultimately had on millions of human beings living in North Africa, the Fertile Crescent, Greece, and Central Asia. What I want to do now is talk about Hellenistic philosophy and religion. I started this whole show on Hellenism by telling you a story about a Greek ivy-wrapped wand in the sacred Second Temple of Jerusalem in the winter of 164 BCE. And I told you that modern historians no longer see the Hellenistic period as a time during which other cultures squatted, inert, while Greek ideology saturated them – but instead the consensus nowadays is that Hellenistic culture was a multidirectional fusion of many different traditions coming together. What this amalgamation produced, I believe, is a period of religion and philosophy in which we’re still living today. [music]

458-258 BCE: From Public Sacrifice to Cultic Ritual

A number of episodes ago, in Episode 25, if you happen to remember, we went to the Dionysian festival of Athens on the morning of April 2nd, 458 BCE. We kicked it off the previous evening with a solemn public procession in honor of the god of wine, and then, as the night drew on, during the comus parade, we got blitzed and staggered over to the southeastern slope of the Athenian acropolis to watch some bulls being sacrificed and then hear the names of the plays that were going to be staged.

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The tondo of an Attic red-figure cup, produced around 510-500 BCE. Public animal sacrifices, together with shared recitations and songs, administrated by locally appointed religious officials, were the core of religion before the Hellenistic period. Afterwards, as cult religions and Stoicism all variously recommended removal from the rough and tumble of public life and the cultivation of a personal relationship with a deity, the public, liturgical face of religion became ancillary to the private world of individual-centered religions.

That same day – again, April 2nd, 458 BCE, if we happened to be Jews in Jerusalem, we could have gone to the Second Temple and heard the Psalms sung to the lyre by parallel choruses, after which we could have stood side by side with other Jewish and watched goats and rams sacrificed to Yahweh at the temple’s altars. Or, if we were Babylonians, we could have gone in the spring of 458 BCE to the Etemenanki ziggurat – AKA the Tower of Babel, swigged some beer with other Babylonians, and observed sacrifices to our beloved gods Marduk and Enki. Wherever we were on this spring morning of 458 BCE, we would have stood alongside others from our region who shared our faith, and, in a public setting, with pomp and ceremony, watched our lunch being prepared. In Athens, or Jerusalem, or Babylon, our priests performing the sacrifices would have said that the animals had been given to the gods so as to consolidate a public covenant between our community and our deities. Our religious experience, there at our theater, or our temple, or our ziggurat – our religious experience was a shared, public, state sponsored affair, buttressed by our tax revenue. Our theology would have been social, and communal, based on public recitations accompanied by music, and capped off by animal sacrifices designed to help ameliorate the problems that we faced as a locality or society. Our cultural stories that morning in 458 BCE exchanged in a public arena, orally, to the music of stringed instruments. For as long as we have written records of civilizations, this was religion before the Hellenistic period. Public. Theatrical. Geographically affiliated. A thing bolstered by tax collecting civic institutions.

That image – the image of a crowd standing on temple steps and watching a priest slaughter livestock – that is the image of religion before Hellenism. And during Hellenism, that image started to change. In a sentence, and if you remember just one thing from this episode – it should be this sentence – during the Hellenistic period, religion and philosophy became more concerned with individual ethics, individual relationships with deities and the pursuit of posthumous rewards. In a period of imperial chaos, and rapid socioeconomic change, of war and enslavement ripping through Eurasia on a scale that humanity had never before seen – during all of this, the citizens of Alexander’s successor kingdoms began to look inward, rather than outward. The average Athenian farmer, or shepherd of the hill country east of Jerusalem, or Babylonian fisherman – these people found that their best laid plans were invariably subject to the spear points of mercenary armies. The peasantry discovered that however much they might give the younglings of their flocks, or their best bushels of barley, or their baskets of fish to their community’s religious officials – however much they devoutly donated and attended public religious ceremonies, even the most ancient and storied city could fall apart in a day. Worse, as Jerusalem discovered during the late 200s, the sacred priesthood of a religion could grow putrid to the core, wheeling and dealing with foreign kings in order to enlarge its own strongboxes of silver.

Imagine, just because we’ve spent a lot of time in Classical Athens in this podcast, how the average Athenian must have felt two centuries after the lives of Aeschylus, Socrates, and Sophocles. In the 200s BCE, Athens still had a reputation as an intellectual center. It still celebrated its annual Panathenaia – this ancestral holiday honoring the city’s patron goddess. But by 250, Athens was no longer the commanding city-state that it had been two centuries earlier. After Alexander and his father, Athens had seen a succession of imperial commanders, and Rome would soon join them. To an Athenian, any notion that the city’s patron goddess was mightier than the gods of all other regions and would steer the city to triumph would, by the 200s, have seemed untenable. The old processions and sacrifices, the trappings of the democracy and state sponsored theater would persist. But what people actually believed began to change.

Additionally, people were moving around more than ever. Canaanites had been forcibly relocated to Mesopotamia all the way back in the 720s, and the postexilic books like Esther, Tobit, Daniel, and 3 Maccabees make clear some of the challenges that faced Jews as they bounced around the Persian and later Hellenistic worlds. But the waterfall of silver from Alexander’s campaigns, which ultimately resulted in successive waves of urbanization and nationally unaffiliated mercenary armies zipping all over the Fertile Crescent, and millions of slaves, bought and sold willy nilly their regional origins – these changes meant that not just Jews, but everyone was moving around on a much greater scale. If your religion is based on a cult at the temple of a water god on the banks of the Euphrates, and your citizens are deported to the far reaches of Afghanistan or the Peloponnese – well, that religion is more or less over. On a larger scale, the communitarian, city-based ritualism of earlier Iron Age religion faced massive upsets due to population migrations. The bottom line is, the religions that began to float to the top, over the course of the 200s and 100s, tended to be those unconnected to a specific place or political body. And they tended, as I said before, to be more concerned with the conduct of the individual and the pursuit of life after death, than the mediation of a covenant between a city and its people.

I hope all of this is pretty clear so far. Alexander and the mess he left behind led Hellenistic men and women to seek stability, and happiness, not in state affiliations or public ritual, but in a more private world of religious hope and expectation. To quote Peter Green again, “The record we have, though limited to an intellectual minority, still speaks with some eloquence to the dilemmas that faced a thinking man in a world where, no longer master of his fate, he had to content himself with being, in one way or another, captain of his soul.”20

So far we’ve talked about Hellenistic religion’s evolution at a general level – this turn from public to private, from civically affiliated to transnational. What I want to do now is offer you some details about specific religions and sects in which this evolution took place. [music]

Common Features of the Hellenistic Cult Religions

We talked about something called Greek cult religion back in Episode 34, about Euripides’ play, The Bacchae, which premiered in Athens in 405 BCE. This was the last year of the Peloponnesian War. And already by 405, cult religions were gaining hold in the war torn territories of Ancient Greece.

I’m going to make a lot of references to cult religions in the remainder of this program, so let me define what I mean with “cult religion.” The term “cult religion” may seem to have mildly negative connotations – for some reason it makes me think of druidic figures doing some sort of questionable things by firelight. But when historians talk about cult religions during the Hellenistic period, all that’s meant is religious sects that are not state sponsored and do not have a definitive geographical anchor point. Cult religions, which are not centralized in a state or temple, spread laterally through populations based on their appeal at any given historical moment. Lacking integrated leadership, cult religions are free to evolve and fuse with one another, and splice and fork according to historical forces and the imperatives of individual believers.

We should start with the Dionysian cult, which was controversial and novel in 405 BCE, and had evidently become so orthodox by the early 100s that it was the state religion of the Seleucid Empire. In 405, Euripides depicted the followers of Dionysus as madwomen, dashing around the hinterlands of Thebes, kidnapping children, ripping livestock apart, and, in the end, dismembering the Theban king and returning to the city with his head spiked onto an ivy-wound wand. Euripides’ depiction is probably an anxious disparagement of a real historical movement. There really were Dionysian cults holding secret meetings and drinking binges as Greece buckled during the 25th and 26th years of the Peloponnesian War. But other than the heavy drinking and occasional moonlit orgy, actually the Dionysian cult’s beliefs, and the beliefs of all of the Hellenistic cult religions will probably seem very familiar.

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The Goddess Isis, from the tomb of of Seti I in the Valley of the Kings (1380-1335). The Isis cults and others that flourished during the Hellenistic period promised posthumous succour and hope to the powerless masses traumatized during the Wars of the Diadochi.

First of all, let’s talk about some of these cults. From Greece, we have the Pythagorean, Orphic, and Dionysian cults, along with the more well known cult of Demeter. From Egypt, the cult of Isis, though it was already two thousand years old by the Hellenistic period, began making its way north and east. From ancient Turkey came another earth goddess like Demeter and Isis – her name was Cybele. From India and Iran, a deity the Greeks came to call Mithras permeated the Hellenistic world – by the 200s CE Mithraic places of worship covered the Roman Empire. These seven cults, which converged and evolved during the Hellenistic period, have some features in common.

The first common feature of Hellenistic cults was that each cult involved rites of purification and initiation – rites held in either isolated grottos or private sanctuaries and not, in other words, in public squares or city temples. Today’s Catholics are baptized and go to confession; today’s Muslims wear ritual clothing on the hajj to show their equality before god – in these ritual acts, believers undertake forms of personal supplication before their deities in order to cleanse and renew themselves. Hellenistic worshippers of Dionysus, or Isis, or, a little later, Cybele and Mithras also underwent rituals to initiate and then solidify and renew their private relationships with their deities. So the first aspect of widespread Hellenistic cult religions was that these religions inspired private communions with likeminded believers – communions where mysterious ordinances and recitations took place out of the eye of the general public. Let’s talk about the second main aspect of these cult religions.

Hellenistic cult religions promised believers a direct connection with the cult’s god or gods. Now, let me explain why this is exceptionally important. Earlier religion – to return to the spring of 458 BCE, and the Dionysian theater festival of Athens, the Jewish Second Temple of Jerusalem, and the main ziggurat of Babylon – earlier religion had been a public business. Remember all of those Old Testament kings, one leading his people astray, the next following Yahweh’s laws, the one after that leading people astray again? To the modern Christian reading 1 or 2 Kings, these passages are bafflingly strange, as these older books of the Hebrew Bible were composed at a time during which salvation or damnation were often written about as collective affairs. To Christianity, of course, each person is a discrete entity, whose afterlife is determined on an individual level, and not on a collective, scattershot level. So this – I guess we can call it this individualization of relationships with gods – this individualization came to the forefront in Hellenistic cults. You no longer had to trust that the guy up at the altar cutting the goat’s throat was going to help get rain to fall on your field. You could, once initiated, ask your deity for rain yourself.

So we’ve talked about the first two features of these cult religions – that they involved mysterious rites and rituals, out of the public eye, and that these rites and rituals were geared toward helping individuals negotiate their relationships with their gods or goddesses. There’s a third feature of these cult religions that we should talk about, too, though. That is that the cults of Dionysus, Orpheus, Isis, Cybele, Mithras, and others, to varying degrees, all promised pleasure and prosperity after death. Now, as we enter the Roman world in the next major section of the Literature and History podcast, we will encounter these cults again and again – in other words, we’ll talk about them a lot in the future. For now, though, let’s stick with Dionysus, since we started with him, and talk a little about what we know of his cult’s beliefs on the afterlife.

Dionysus, like Orpheus, Isis’ husband Osiris, and Demeter’s daughter Persephone, had died, and been born again anew. Cult rituals surrounding these figures concentrated particularly on each deity’s suffering and sacrifice, and in turn the joy of their imminent returns. According to Dionysian cult religion, which again had evidently overtaken the Seleucid ruling administration by the early 100s BCE, Dionysus was the son of Zeus, and had been handed control of the earth. Dionysus, however, was betrayed by the Titans, who cooked and ate him. The Titans, glutted by eating Dionysus, received a divine punishment from Zeus, who struck them with a thunderbolt. Out of the ashes, thus enabled by Dionysus’ sacrifice, came mankind. Dionysus was reconstituted, and thus became the recipient of the eternal gratitude of humanity, for allowing them to live through his death.21 One surviving text from slightly before the Hellenistic period adds that after their cult initiations, those who correctly undertook the sacred rites to Dionysus would be able to have exclusive access to a blessed afterlife. After death, so the story went, they would find a white cypress tree perched over a frightful pool of water, and – thanks to their secret initiation rites – they would know a sacred password which would be their key to a blessed afterlife.22

We talked about all of this before, back in Episode 34. From being a secretive practice – a fringe practice – carried out in woodlands and caves during the time of Euripides, the Dionysian cult had become so big by the 160s BCE that the Seleucid Empire was trying to force its practices on the Jews, who, as we saw, even in their attempts to stamp it out, may have been around it so long that some of its ideas and furnishings made its way slantwise into Jewish theology and ritual. The twelfth chapter of the Book of Daniel, probably produced during the 160s, as well, contains core ideas from the Hellenistic period – a vision of a judgment day, bodily resurrection, everlasting life doled out to some, and unending punishment to others. The Pythagorean cult had been talking about reincarnation since the 500s BCE, and resurrection and the divine judgment of the individual were at the heart of the cult of Isis and Osiris.

So, let’s zoom out a bit. We could spend a lot of time looking at the convergences of cult religions on Judaism’s Second Temple period books, and indeed I’ve done this a lot on a five show upcoming bonus series on the Apocrypha. But our scope for this particular show needs to remain wide. To summarize the religious changes that took place during the Hellenistic period, historian Ann Tripolitis writes,
[The] new cosmology and view of the individual, together with the new Hellenistic cosmopolitanism, lessened the individual’s interest and confidence in the traditional gods and their cults, who were bound to a particular place and its politics. . .[T]he ordinary man and woman no longer placed their hope or faith on the ancient gods, whom they believed could not alleviate their daily encounters with the vicissitudes of Hellenistic life.23

All of the Hellenistic cults – to Dionysus, Demeter, Pythagoras, Orpheus, Isis, and later Cybele and Mithras, these cults focused on empowering the individual by giving her the ability to mediate her own relationship with her deity or deities, and secure for herself – not her polis or village, but for herself, an afterlife of pleasure and happiness. So, to repeat the main trend of Hellenistic religion and philosophy, in a period of international instability, when cash money, whatever hideous way it was acquired, meant power, citizens of the successor kingdoms began looking inward, and cultivating private relationships with their deities. They could have no meaningful revenge on imperial despots or slavers, and so belief systems that promised self determination, divine reckoning and the punishment for the wicked – these religious systems began to take hold. They have been with us ever since, and continue to dominate the way we think about the world. [music]

Stoicism, Epicureanism, and Zoroastrianism in the Mix

Historically, when we study the growth of religion we must imagine the practical effects that belief systems have on their constituencies. Hellenistic period scholars readily understand that the individual-centered, salvation based faiths that spread in the three centuries before Christ offered their adherents a sense of peace and security that would have otherwise been unavailable to them. The historicist, or the sociological study of religion seems curious to some. After all, we like to think that we believe what we believe due to the intrinsic logic of this or that philosophy, or even the otherworldly spiritual power of our religions’ appeal. Admitting that we subscribe to this or that ideology – at least in part – out of intense personal need for hope and answers, admitting this isn’t always easy to do.

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Zeno of Citium, founder of the Stoic school and a tremendously important figure in the evolution of Hellensitic religion and philosophy.

Yet during the Hellenistic period, offering consolation and hope were openly, and professedly the aims certain branches of philosophy. The philosopher Xenocrates, who headed the Platonic academy in Athens from 339-314, wrote that “[T]he reason for discovering philosophy is to allay that which causes disturbance in life.”24 In other words, philosophy’s task, to Xenocrates, was not an impartial investigation of the phenomena around us in the world – philosophy’s task was, to this contemporary of Alexander the Great, to sooth our anxieties. The two great schools of Hellenistic philosophy, and these are Epicureanism and Stoicism – these offered their adherents various answers to the tribulations of Hellenistic life. Epicureanism taught believers to enjoy a moderate, limited circuit of existence and not worry about a grander compass of events, as there was no afterlife. And stoicism encouraged a minimalist, ascetic way of living, and a contemplate life out of the rough and tumble of current events. These two philosophies, in their separate ways, advised believers that the volatile world of current events was less relevant to their lives than the everyday actions that they took as individuals. Plato’s Theory of Forms, which similarly taught that the material world was a lesser tier of reality than a supersensory realm of master copies and concepts, also offered believers the promise of something more enduring than the wars, enslavements, massacres, and recessions of the Hellenistic centuries.

Whether we’re talking about the Indo-Iranian cult of Mithras, or the cults of Dionysus and Demeter, or the philosophies of stoicism and epicureanism, the great trend in all of these Hellenistic belief systems was the care of the self, and the focus on the individual more than the community – the pursuit of a sequestered, apolitical life for the pursuit of ethical and spiritual goals. But there is one more ingredient in Hellenistic ideology – one that very often doesn’t get enough discussion, and this ingredient is Zoroastrianism.

There were millions of Zoroastrians in the Hellenistic world. The Achaemenid Persian Empire had been Zoroastrian, and components of Zoroastrianism pervade the ideologies of the centuries before and after Christ. It’s from Zoroastrianism that we get the notions of good and evil, and angels and demons, and a patriarchal god enmeshed in an unending struggle between dark and light. Look for good and evil in the Iliad or Enuma Elish, Gilgamesh or the plays of Golden Age Athens, and you’ll be searching for a long time. In the Old Testament books written before the Second Temple period, there is something like good and evil, but this dichotomy is geared toward adherence to Yahweh and his sacrificial and cleanliness requirements – good kings worship Yahweh and encourage sacrifices at the central temple that contribute economically to the priesthood, and wicked kings worship foreign idols and thus break the great covenant between the Israelites and their god. Good and evil, as otherworldly, absolute concepts, are most commonly associated with the teachings of Zoroaster, who lived at the end of the Bronze Age Collapse. Zoroastrianism begins to enter the Old Testament heavily around the Book of Tobit, which includes a Persian demon called Asmodeus as a character. But by this time, the primary concern of Zoroastrianism – righteous acting and speech, and the pursuit of a holy afterlife with the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda – by 200, these ideas could have been found in half a dozen major cult religions.25

Zoroastrianism was, therefore, an early and thereafter constant ingredient in the Hellenistic period’s shift in religion and philosophy toward the individual and away from the polis and collective ritual. Sacrifices at temple altars, public parades, and state sponsored ceremonies and offertories were shouldered aside by cult gatherings and, likely, private recitation and prayer.

The Aristocracy and Hellenistic Religion and Philosophy

At the level of the peasantry and slaves, the individualizing patterns of Hellenistic religion and philosophy offered commoners hope for something beyond powerless poverty. Mercenary armies could come through and steal, Ptolemaic or Seleucid kings could ravage earnings with high taxes, and slavers might seize a whole neighboring village but – whether it was Dionysus, or Isis, or Cybele, Mithras, or Ahura Mazda, some manner of divine being would come along and punish the evil and reward the good. The Hellenistic masses thus had a variety of divine beings to choose from who would reward their tribulations and good conduct and crush their oppressors.

Epicurus Hellenistic period

Epicurus’ philosophy, which disregarded the orthodox polytheism of the Greco-Roman world and favored a moderatist lifestyle and the overall pursuit of personal happiness, was another important ingredient to the growing individualization of the Hellenistic period.

At the level of the aristocracy, though, and even the monarchy, the general pattern of individualization of religion had slightly different effects. The move away from polis and collective temple ritual and toward the individual and household proved quite amenable to the spirit of opportunistic capitalism. The urban tycoons of the Hellenistic period were no longer tied to a particular community. Their philosophies – stoicism and epicureanism, encouraged living at a distance from the unwashed masses, and flourishing in the private world of their own tempered enjoyments and ethical contemplations. The slaves that flowed through their stockades were no longer a community that they actually saw on temple steps and civic ceremonies – these slaves were a churning mass of strangers shackled by far off wars, and nothing that the ruminating stoic or comfortable epicurean needed to be concerned about. Hellenism’s philosophical appendages – stoicism and epicureanism, proved ready partners to capitalist ambition, and continued to do so during the early imperial period of Rome.

The upper crust of Hellenistic society received another benefit from the period’s growing emphasis on the individual over the communal body. There was, as we’ve talked about, a belief, spreading throughout Eurasia in the three centuries before Christ, with a number of variations, that piety would be rewarded and impiety punished in some sort of afterlife. One might think that this new emphasis on self-determination could have caused men and women in power to consider the ramifications of their own earthly actions on their own afterlives. In other words, we would think, perhaps, that the Ptolemies and Seleucids and the rich magnates in their kingdoms would act with a greater degree of charity and circumspection in their dealings with commoners. The effect, in fact, seems to have been the opposite.

Hellenism’s focus on the relationship between self and deity, and between the self and absolute otherworldly principles, seems to have made aristocratic Greeks and Romans feel even less accountable to the plebian classes than before. They were no longer chained to longstanding temples and inherited priestly traditions, and so the wealthy of newly founded Hellenistic cities were free to amass money regardless of the humanitarian costs. Whether secular devotees of stoicism and Epicureanism, or pursuants of an afterlife courtesy of Dionysus or whoever else, Hellenistic aristocrats were accountable to their new ethical systems, and not the imperatives of their cities or villages or religious organizations. Likewise, Hellenistic kings, choosing epithets like Ptolemy Soter, or Antiochus Soter, or Demetrius Soter – and Soter means “savior” – had a new vocabulary from Hellenistic religion to imagine themselves as benefactors.

The effect on individualized religion and ethics on the Hellenistic aristocracy was simple. Religion was no longer moored in community institutions. No long standing polis politicians, and no respected local priesthood were there to monitor or rebuke the aristocracy. Every king, and every mogul, and every up and coming merchant could now and live and breathe for self determination. When salvation based religions and ethical philosophies become unhooked from community institutions, believers are free to pursue their own path to an afterlife based on their needs and desires, and so even one of the Roman Republic’s most famous moral purists, Marcus Brutus, felt it permissible to charge a 48 percent interest per year on the loans that he made.26

Alright. We’ve covered a lot of ground so far. Let’s consider the story as a whole. Life during the Hellenistic period was unstable, and people were moving around to an unprecedented degree. This instability was caused, most immediately, by the campaigns of Alexander the Great from 335-323, and from the cash injected into the Eurasian economy by these campaigns. A corollary of these changes was a massive mixing of cultures, a mixing so complete that by the 160s the North African Greek speaking Jew who wrote 2 Maccabees didn’t quite seem to know he’d put a Dionysian ritual wand into the inaugural Hanukkah celebration. As a result of these social and economic changes, Diasporas and regional instabilities, Hellenistic men and women of all echelons joined mystery cults and studied ethical philosophies – belief systems that appealed to them at an individual level, and that, at an individual level, offered them a sense of personal agency over their fate that would have otherwise been unavailable.

The Hellenistic period had two definitive outcomes. The first was the slow triumph of the Roman Republic. Hellenistic kingships, like those of Alexander and his father, could be marvelously efficient when undisputed and administrated competently from the top. But more often than not, Hellenistic kingships decomposed slowly from their cores, caving in to barbarian incursions from the north and east and south, and slowly losing ground to Rome from the west.

The second outcome of the Hellenistic period was the triumph of individualized cult religion and the falling off of national, geographically anchored faiths. This triumph would result in first Mithraism becoming the most widespread religion in the early Roman Empire, and then later, of course, Christianity, which synthesizes Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, the cult religions of Ancient Greece, Egypt and Turkey, the ethical philosophies of stoicism, the metaphysics of Plato, and the origin stories of Judaism. Whether or not you believe Christianity’s arrival on the scene was divinely ordained, it’s easy enough to see that the teachings of the New Testament successfully synthesize the more compelling aspects of Hellenistic religions, combining many of their most appealing features, and doing away with some of their less agreeable ones.

So the story of Hellenism, of course, ends with Rome, and later Christianity. But I want to leave you with one last thought. We’ll have plenty of time in the future devoted to the Roman end of the Hellenistic world, and later, of course, the writings of Christianity. And so this thought will be about the world before Hellenism, and not after it. It is something that I read years ago, that’s haunted me ever since, something about the turning of the eras from the first millennium BCE to the first millennium CE, and I want to share it with you now.

Aristotle Goes Wading

Sanzio 01 Plato Aristotle

In this detail of Plato and Aristotle from Raphael’s The School of Athens (1509) – possibly the most famous image in philosophical history – Aristotle (right) points downward, illustrating his overall materialist empiricism in contrast to Plato’s deductive rationalism. Aristotle’s work at Lesbos was driven by just this sort of empiricism.

At some point later in his life, after he had tutored Alexander the Great, the philosopher Aristotle travelled to the island of Lesbos to study its biology. While Alexander was chopping the Persian Empire apart and enslaving its citizens, Aristotle went to wade in the shallows of Aegean lagoons, walking through sand, and silt, and along gravelly beaches, and observing fish, and crustaceans, corals and cephalopods, taking careful notes about their behavior and their interactions with one another. Aristotle’s program of study was inductive – he sought to make observations of natural life and then draw conclusions from the things that he saw – mating habits and the care of young, population demographics, coloration, discharges and defecation, seasonal migrations – dogfish, crawfish, frogs, scallops, bonitos, eels, sponges, mollusks – and not just aquatic animals, but birds, and insects, and the adaptations of all these creatures. Aristotle’s careful notes from these investigations fill several books – one of them, The History of Animals, is occasionally assigned in Classics courses.

The History of Animals is a beautiful testament to Aristotle’s unconditional curiosity. As Alexander burned the world and set the stage for the continuing wars and enslavements of Hellenism, Aristotle poked around inlets and estuaries, warm bays and salt marshes, taking quill to papyrus day after day to document his discoveries. In his time at Lesbos, Aristotle studied gestation, and cataloged hundreds of species of animals; he created a taxonomic system in which he classified animals and plants according to their morphology and behavior. I want to quote an excerpt from Aristotle’s The History of Animals, written some time during the campaigns of Alexander – an excerpt in which Aristotle records his findings about a lagoon on the Aegean island of Lesbos.
Out of the lagoon of Pyrrha all the fishes swim in winter-time, except the sea-gudgeon; they swim out owing to the cold, for the narrow waters are colder than the outer sea, and on the return of the early summer they all swim back again. In the lagoon no scarus is found, nor thritta, nor any other species of the spiny fish, no spotted dogfish, no spiny dogfish, no sea-crawfish, no octopus either of the common or the musky kinds, and certain other fish are also absent; but of fish that are found in the lagoon the white gudgeon is not a marine fish. Of fishes the oviparous are in their prime in the early summer until the spawning time; the viviparous in the autumn, as is also the case with the mullet, the red mullet, and all such fish. In the neighborhood of Lesbos, the fishes of the outer sea, or of the lagoon, bring forth their eggs or young in the lagoon; sexual union takes place in the autumn, and parturition in the spring.27

I’ve had a copy of this book for a long time. I don’t know where it came from, but for a while it was stuck in a box with some other materials I wasn’t certain I’d ever look at again. It’s not in this box anymore. Now, The History of Animals sits alongside the Iliad and the plays of Sophocles, because it is more important than both of them.

You and I grew up with biology textbooks lying round us, with state sponsored education programs teaching us about the Periodic Table and taxonomy and the architecture of the cell and all that. The disciplines of science began with a tiny fringe of figures from the classical world – Thales, Democritus, Eratosthenes, and Archimedes. They were a privileged bunch. No fourth-century Egyptian peasant or Turkish thresher would have been able to afford a long stay on Lesbos, for the purposes of an extended project of documenting the biology there. But in their scientific curiosity, these thinkers embodied a trend interrupted by the Hellenistic period – a trend not to be continued in any significant volume for almost two thousand years. This trend is something we can simply call curiosity about the world beyond human affairs.

The Hellenistic period produced many casualties – human lives, and freedom; Achaemenid Persian art and literature smelted and incinerated, governments crushed and educations interrupted, a myriad of human potential squandered in wars and recessions. But one of its chief casualties was scientific curiosity. By the 100s BCE, humanity had generated something like atomic theory.28 We had harvested water power to vertical mills.29 We had gone deep into hydrostatics, biology and astronomy. We knew the earth was round, and the tilt of its axis, and had generated a reasonable estimation of our planet’s circumference.30 We had even, as one of Greece’s most famous artifacts demonstrates, begun to design something like an analog computer. The Antikythera mechanism, discovered in the southern Aegean in 1900, and dated to the 100s BCE, is a machine with thirty interlocking gears used to measure the movement of stars and planets. But nothing like it was built again for a millennium and a half.

After the awful centuries of the Hellenistic period, and the Hellenistic turn toward cult religions – cult religions that placed utmost emphasis on the individual, and her relationship with a deity that could offer her salvation – after this, the carving of brass gears on astronomical mechanisms, the tentative investigation of hydrodynamics, the careful work of documenting the molting patterns of island birds – all of this proved inessential to the central concerns of the average person – her conduct, and her now posthumous salvation and pleasure in the afterlife. Platonic metaphysics invite us to believe that the world of the senses is crude, false, and transitory alongside an unseen one. This is not, sadly, the kind of ideology that invites investigations in the physical sciences.

The mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell considered Hellenism’s slow fall away from science one of its great tragedies. Russell wrote that Greece’s earlier philosophers had an attitude that
in the main, was genuinely scientific whenever it did not merely embody the prejudices of their age. But it was not only scientific; it was imaginative and vigorous and filled with the delight of adventure. They were interested in everything – meteors and eclipses, fishes and whirlwinds, religion and morality; with a penetrating intellect they combined with the zest of children. From this point onwards, there are first certain seeds of decay, in spite of previously unmatched achievement, and then a gradual decadence. What is amiss, even in the best philosophy after Democritus, is an undue emphasis on man as compared with the universe.31

By now, you understand the point, I’m sure. The late Roman Republic, and the first days of the Empire are, from a historical perspective, mesmerizing in their eventfulness and scale. And though Aristotle would never be forgotten, his biological studies wouldn’t prove influential for a long time. Instead, the marvels of the natural world, whether we consider them a divine creation or simply an elegant efflorescence of physics and chemistry – the world beyond human affairs, with all of its frogs, and tide pools, and flocks of migrating birds, took second place next to our central pursuits of material power and blessed afterlives. We looked down into lagoons, but only to see our own reflections and envision extrasensory worlds that would some day welcome us. It would be a long, long time before we, like Aristotle did 2,300 years ago, again took to wading in tide pools and making notes about what we saw there. [music]

Moving on to Episode 41

Well, folks, thanks for sticking with me through a pure history episode. I hope I was able to tell the dark and complex story of the Hellenistic period, and the general rise of individual-centered religions in a coherent way. What we learned today is intrinsically interesting, but it will also be really useful as we move forward. The Hellenistic period is ultimately the story of the decay of the eastern Mediterranean and the rise of the western Mediterranean. From the beginning of our shows on Roman literature – the next major phase of the Literature and History podcast, we’ll meet Roman dramatists heavily influenced by their Greek predecessors, and, again and again, see Greek ideology and themes flickering up through the lines of Latin prose and poetry.

In the next show, we’re going to pause the forward march of Literature and History, and take a good long look at what we’ve covered so far. We’ve come a long way from Episode 1, when we looked at a single piece of proto-cuneiform from the Bronze Age Sumerian city of Uruk – forty shows totaling over sixty hours. Next time, we’ll consider all of it together – what we’ve learned, what stands out from the body of literature we’ve already covered, and where the show will be headed in the long term. And also next time, along with Episode 41, I will be releasing fifteen full length bonus episodes, totaling about 31 hours, and I’ll tell you all about all that in about two weeks. Thanks for listening to Literature and History, and I’ll see you next time.

1.^ See Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A.. The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version. Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition, p. 1559.

2.^ The Gemara also tells of how a single day’s supply of olive oil lasted eight days, or the course of the entire celebration.

3.^ Quoted in n.1.

4.^ The Festival of Booths, a celebration of the fruit harvest, is described as being celebrated with “branches of palm trees [and] boughs of leafy trees” (Lev 23:40). It’s of course possible that ivy wands, along with other vegetal props were used in temple celebrations long before the Hellenistic period. Yet considering the only other time ivy is mentioned is in 2 Macc 6:7, and this mention is in conjunction with an abjection suffered by the Jews under Antiochus IV, the celebration with ivy wands appears to be a direct reference to a ceremonial object of Dionysian worship – an object that dates back to late 5th-century Greece.

5.^ See Thonemann, Peter. The Hellenistic Age. OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition, p. 16.

6.^ See Jacobson, Howard. The Exagoge of Ezekiel. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

7.^ Quoted in Josephus, Flavius. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. www.DelmarvaPublications.com. Kindle Edition, location 49.

8.^ Tripolitis, Antonia. Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age. Grand Rapids and Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Kindle Edition, Locations 301-6.

9.^ Quoted in Rhodes, P.J. A Short History of Ancient Greece. London and New York: I.B. Tauris, p. 208. (Horace Epis 2.1.156).

10.^ As historian Lester Grabbe writes, “Greek forms did not replace native culture; they rather supplemented it. That is, Greek forms and Near Eastern forms flourished side by side, and only gradually did they begin to intermix in a syncretistic sort of way. To be Hellenistic was not to be Greek; Hellenization was [unique] – it was a true synthesis of Greek and Near Eastern into something new.” Grabbe, Lester L. An Introduction to Second Temple Judaism: History and Religion of the Jews in the Time of Nehemiah, the Maccabees, Hillel, and Jesus. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2010. Kindle Edition, location 339.

11.^ Quoted in Thonemann, Peter. The Hellenistic Age. Oxford: OUP. Kindle Edition, p. 35.

12.^ See Green, Peter. The Hellenistic Age. Random House Publishing Group, 2008. Kindle Edition, location 545.

13.^ Ibid, locations 567, 684-8.

14.^ These include Craterus and Antipater (Macedonia), Antigonus (Phrygia, Lycia and Pamphylia), Ptolemy (Egypt), Lysimachus (Thrace), Leonnatus (Western Phrygia) and Eumenes (Cappadocia).

15.^ Leonnatus, Neoptolemus, Craterus and Perdiccas.

16.^ The 311 armistice included Cassander in Europe, Ptolemy in Egypt, Lysimachus in Thrace, Antigonus in Turkey, and Seleucus in the far east.

17.^ Footnote See Thonemann p. 85.

18.^ Green, Peter. The Hellenistic Age. Random House Publishing Group, 2008. Kindle Edition, location 2211.

19.^ Ibid, locations 1637-69.

20.^ Ibid, location 2298.

21.^ See Robertson, Noel. “Orphic Mysteries and Dionysiac Ritual.” In Cosmopoulos, Michael, ed. Greek Mysteries: The Archaeology and Ritual of Ancient Greek Secret Cults. London and New York: Routledge, 2003, pp. 218-240.

22.^ See Bukert, Walter. Greek Religion: Archaic and Classical. Maiden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 1988, pp. 293-5.

23.^ See Antonia Tripolitis. Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman Age. Eerdmans, 2001. Kindle Edition, location 180.

24.^ Quoted in Green, Peter, Location 2289.

25.^ The ahu of Zoroastrianism, or the two worlds of the spirit and embodiment, are earlier analogs of what Plato outlines in the Republic. See Skjaervo, Prods Oktor. The Spirit of Zoroastrianism. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition, p. 8.

26.^ See Green, Peter location 2318.

27.^ Aristotle. The History of Animals. Waxkeep Publishing. Kindle Edition, p. 340.

28.^ The work of the 5th-century Thracian scientist Democritus, building on monist system of Heraclitus and others, postulates infinitesimal base matter as the substance of all material things.

29.^ See Thonemann p. 79.

30.^ Through the work of the geographer and polymath Eratosthenes.

31.^ Russell, Bertrand. A History of Western Philosophy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945, p. 158.