ATTEMPTS TO MAKE CERTAIN OF IMMORTALITY

BESIDES the worship of the Olympian gods, the Greeks had other cults more closely connected with their own lives. Orphism, named after a mythical bard, Orpheus, taught that man was a sinful creature who could be cured by receiving inspiration from the god Dionysus. The converted were promised eternal bliss. Another way of finding salvation was by initiation into the Mysteries. At these, the imagination of the worshipper was wrought to a high pitch of excitement by fasting and religious ecstasy, and the priests then acted a miracle play, an allegory from the annual death and resurrection of the corn, " the young green corn divinely springing." This produced a sort of conversion among the spectators, who became better men in this life and believed that they were certain of immortality. Matthew Arnold has popularised the belief that the Greeks loved beauty, the Hebrews righteousness. The antithesis is too sharp. Nowhere is there more passion for righteousness than is shown in Plato (427-347 B.C.). He was not satisfied with the Orphic claim, " to save men by the barrel-load," but tried to give reasons for his views. He wrote many dialogues in which Socrates is supposed to be the chief speaker. In one of these, when told that the clever orator is so powerful that he can get the true statesman condemned to death, Socrates admits that this may be so, but does not give up his view that truth is best of all. The same spirit is shown in discussing punishment. If, he says, our aim in life is to make a man better, savage retribution will only make him worse. (Not until recent times did the English legal system show the same spirit of humane reasonableness.) Nor does this quality appear only in Plato. Once, when the Athenians had voted for the wholesale execution of rebellious subjects, a speaker pointed out that the death penalty was no deterrent if the motive for crime was strong enough, and suggested that generosity would be the truest wisdom. Plato's greatest work is The Republic, a picture of a state governed by philosophers. In spite of its narrow outlook; based on the conditions of the city-state, The Republic surpasses all other books, except portions of the Bible, in the power to inspire a hunger and thirst after righteousness. Plato taught that there exist ideas eternal and changeless, of which objects on earth are somehow copies. He said that the soul could learn to recognise these ideas and to guide its life on earth in accordance with them.