Here is how Burnet emphasizes the Greek meaning of philosophy (in Burnet, Development of Greek Philosophy):

“The word ‘philosophy’ is Greek and so is the thing it denotes. Unless we are to use the term in so wide a sense as to empty it of all special meaning, there is no evidence that philosophy has ever come into existence anywhere except under Greek influences. … Of course philosophy may culminate in theology, and the best Greek philosophy certainly does so, but it begins with science and not with religion.”

There is truth and there is error in Burnet’s statements above. The word philosophy comes from philein (=to be friend of, to love) and sophia (=wisdom). Even the word itself asks for the meaning of friendship and of wisdom, if we are to understand philosophy. Is wisdom just “science” and is loving wisdom just an intellectual investigation? Beyond these questions: if loving wisdom, or “philosophy”, culminates in theology, as even Burnet admits, then would indeed be possible to have started as pure “science”? These are questions one can (should) think of even before starting to study the philosophers’ works, questions that would help avoid misunderstandings.

Burnet starts by applying modern schemes to Greek history, in particular by applying our recognition of an antithesis between religion and science, an antithesis that does not exist in Christianity, yet developed during the western medieval times by the dogmatical/authoritarian approach of Papacy to Christianity, which resulted to persecutions not only of heretics or supposed heretics, but even of scientists and any form of free thinking. The papal distortion of the meaning of faith is responsible for many of us today having difficulty to understand faith as something different from blind doctrinal belief.

If we (are able to) set aside these obstacles and attempt a fresh view of ancient religion, we see that it was not opposite to philosophical thinking, that, on the contrary, it nourished philosophical thinking. Greek philosophy, as all great Greek achievements, starts with Homer.

We don’t need to be specialized scholars in order to know this, we only need to have the questions above, questions that are natural if one wants to think seriously, and then remember some pretty basic characteristics of the world of Homer, e.g. that men and Gods share the same “nature” in terms of both the environment and the self (Gods are mightier, sometimes ideally beautiful and sometimes immortal, but they are and look like men – they are not monsters, they are not invisible, they don’t live in some unimaginable opposite-to-the-earth ‘place’ -; Gods speak with men, asking and being asked questions; Gods can be doubted and even ignored.

There is in Homer an almost absolute equality of man with god, inside which man starts to think about the meaning of history, the meaning of the whole of existence. The explanation of this meaning is man’s permanent question/prayer to God and it reveals his philosophical nature, out of which comes the later poetry and philosophy.

I won’t go on describing in details this history; perhaps these remarks are enough to let us at least guess that ancient Greek philosophy, or philosophy as such, does not start with science. If we study carefully and without prejudices it will be rather easy to understand that it starts with the philosophical poetry of Homer and continues sometimes as philosophical poetry and sometimes as poetical philosophy.