Notes on E.R. Dodds’ ‘The Greeks and the irrational’

Title: The Greeks and the irrational
Author: E.R. Dodds
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I read this 1951 work primarily because Julian Jaynes’ book ‘The origin of consciousness…,’ a great favorite of mine, seemed to be greatly influenced by it. ‘The Greeks and the irrational’ is a type of book I’m not used to reading, with its setting in Ancient Greece, which I’ve read little about. My lack of familiarity with the subject matter was partly made up for by the interest it aroused in me to read, among other writers, Plato.

It’s unfortunate that there is yet no edition that translates the original Greek contained in Dodds’ book, so much was said that was lost on me. But I still managed to learn a lot.

[E]rror in the sciences is only another name for the progressive approximation to truth.
– Location 46 (Amazon Kindle edition)

[T]he inward monition, or the sudden unaccountable feeling of power, or the sudden unaccountable loss of judgement, is the germ out of which the divine machinery developed.
– Location 309-310

A lot of what I read in the book was in light of Jaynes’ masterpiece. So when Dodds would discuss the nature of divine experience, I would think of bicameral theory.
[F]or Homeric man the thumos tends not to be felt as part of the self: it commonly appears as an independent inner voice.
– Location 337

Dodds was able to see that the Greeks experienced reality differently from us in the 21st century:
[I]f character is knowledge, what is not knowledge is not part of the character, but comes to a man from outside. When he acts in a manner contrary to the system of conscious dispositions which he is said to ‘know,’ his action is not properly his own, but has been dictated to him.
– Location 354-356

Man, I take it, feeds his dead for the same sort of reason as a little girl feeds her doll; and like the little girl, he abstains from killing his phantasy by applying reality-standards.
– Location 2747-2748

According to Dodds, even Plato conceded that an ‘enlightened’ view was not for all people.
What Jacob Burckhardt said of nineteenth-century religion, that it was ‘rationalism for the few and magic for the many,’ might on the whole be said of Greek religion from the late fifth century onwards.
– Location 3823-3824

[I]t is not always easy to decide where Plato is expressing a personal faith and where he is merely using a traditional language.
– Location 4145-4146

Plato’s universe was a graded one: as he believed in degrees of truth and reality, so he believed in degrees of religious insight.
– Location 4671

[R]itual is usually older than the myth by which people explain it, and has deeper psychological roots.
– Location 5364-5365

For more notes on books I’ve read, visit
Buy E.R. Dodds’ ‘The Greeks and the irrational’ on Amazon, here.
This document is guided by the fair-use doctrine, and is for the purpose of critiquing and educating.
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