[1953. Review of The Greeks and the Irrational, New Scholasticism 27 (1):118-120]
The Greeks and the Irrational. By E. R. Dodds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951. Pp. ix + 327, with index. $5.00.
If Greek culture was the triumph of rationalism, were the Greeks blind to the non rational factors in human nature? The author seems to believe it paradoxical, surprising, or at least noteworthy that a civilization should contain great philosophers, artists, and statesmen and also popular irrational elements. Whether this is quite so surprising or not, the author wishes to make sure that the latter elements are not overlooked. However, in order that philosophical readers will not be disappointed, it must be noted that Professor Dodds is not concerned with the anti-intellectualism of the Sophists, but with the irrational superstitions of religion.
No adequate condensation of the details can be included in a review, for the work consists of eight chapters (and two appendices), each about twenty pages long, and each followed by about twenty pages of footnotes. The description of ATE, divine insanity; of MENOS, energy or spunk; of divine madness caused by Apollo, Dionysius, the Muses, or Aphrodite and Eros; of the pattern of dreams; of shamanism; as well as of the treatment accorded to these phenomena by Plato, Aristotle, and the tragedians—the descriptions of these defy condensation.
They also defy criticism. The author is cautious and modest. He recognizes the limitations under which such a study can be conducted; and while, or because, he quite probably knows as much as any living scholar, he is keenly aware of how much is unknown. The unknown comprises not only lost sources of information but also a fuller knowledge of the psychological principles of interpreting the irrational. In this regard, only recently in the Freudian theory have satisfactory principles been obtained for this purpose. And much remains to be done. Here, also the author is cautious. While he evidently holds the Freudian development in high estimation, he does not wish to accept it uncritically. Whether or not he has in fact depended too greatly on this type of interpretation, each reader must estimate for himself.
As the detailed description piles up, a sort of theme slowly emerges. The Greeks, apparently, were more superstitious even than “my own superstitious countrymen, the Irish” (p. 13). But primitive peoples do not believe magic because they reason faulty; rather, they reason