Adam Drozdek: Greek Philosophers As Theologians at Amazon.

This is chapter 1:

It is not very often that the Ionian thinkers are considered to be theologians. An exception might be made for Xenophanes and Heraclitus, but the first three Ionians, the Milesians, are perceived as philosophers who were primarily interested in cosmogony, cosmology, physics, and biology rather than in theology. Nevertheless, the meaning of the ideas put forth by the Milesians is drastically impoverished if the religious aspect is not taken into account or is treated as a negligible element. Their theology should, however, be set against the background of religious views of the epic poets.

Epic gods

Homer and Hesiod “provided the Greeks with the account of the origins of the gods and gave the gods their names and defined their honors and skills and indicated their shapes” (Herodotus 2.53), but Homer transmitted religious tradition as much as he created it. Not always is it possible to separate the old from the new. It is assumed here that the tremendous importance of Homer for the Greeks is due in no small measure to his theology.1

The most pronounced attribute of Greek gods is their immortality. The gods are immortal (ἀθάνατοι, Il. 19.2, Th. 21, 105), they live forever (αἰὲν ἐόντες, Il. 1.290, Th. 33, ἀειγενέται, Il. 6.527). There were times when gods did not exist. There were times when inanimate matter had the potential to generate them through an inscrutable mechanism of theogony. Other attributes included in divinity of immortal gods is their intelligence and, consequently, being alive; next, their superhuman knowledge, superhuman powers, and an ability to appear in any form.

There is also unrelenting fate, moira. To see the meaning of moira, it is helpful to consider the phrase κατὰ μοῖραν. Someone can speak kata moiran, according to right or order, as is suitable (Il. 1.286, 8.146); an action can be undertaken kata moiran, in good order, for example, a trench is crossed by Trojans in disorderly fashion (Il. 16.367), the Greeks sit in an assembly in order (Il. 19.256), or a heifer is cut up for a feast in due order (Od. 3.457). It seems that “the underlying idea of the phrase is that of order, which may find expression in different ramifications of life.”2 In at least one case, there is a strong ethical coloring of the phrase as when Odysseus rebukes Polyphemus that what he did was not right, ou kata moiran (Od. 9.352).


1 And thus “we would be quite wrong to set aside the model of divinity that we find in the Homeric poems and imagine it as purely literary fiction and no part of the ‘sense’ of Greek religion,” John Gould, ‘On making sense of Greek religion’, in P.E. Easterling and J.V. Muir (eds), Greek Religion and Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p. 25.

2 B.C. Dietrich, Death, Fate and the Gods (London: The Athlone Press, 1967), pp. 209, 227, 275.