Political Thought: Ancient Greek, Part-2

Political Thought: Ancient Greek
Political Thought: Ancient Greek

Struggle Of The Gods

The struggle of the gods for power over the world was one of the main themes of ancient theogonic and cosmogonic myths (in the interpretation of the orphic, Homer, and Hesiod). The passing of the highest power from Uranus to Cronos and then to Zeus had been accompanied, according to myth, by radical changes in the principles and methods of governing the world. These changes affected not only relations between the gods themselves, but also their attitude to people and the whole organization of terrestrial life. According to Greek theogony, it was only after supreme power was seized by the Olympian gods with Zeus at the head that justice and the rule of law were established on the earth (i.e. in polis life).

Supreme Guardian Of Universal Justice

From the viewpoint of ethics, Zeus was considered the supreme guardian of universal justice (dike); its violation was not only an anti-social act but, first and foremost, an offense of the gods bound to incur divine punishment. This view is clearly expressed, for instance, in homer.

As when, in autumn time, the dark-brown earth
is whelmed with water from the stormy clouds,
When Jupiter pours down his heaviest rains, Offended
at men’s crimes who override the laws by violence,
and drive justice forth from the tribunals, heedless
of the gods and their displeasure……….

(Political Thought: Ancient Greek)


the notions dike (justice) and themis (custom, law justice) used by homer are very characteristic of the sense of right of Greek society in the Heroic Age (the late second and the early first-millennium B.G)commonly known as Homeric society or Homeric Greece. Describing this society with its system of government (the council – boule, the popular assembly-agora, and the military commander-basileus) father right, and the inheritance of property by the children, Engels notes that in the Heroic Age the state was still non-existent: “Only one thing was missing: …an institution that would perpetuate, not only the newly-rising class division of society but also the right of the possessing class to exploit the non-possessing classes and the rule of the former over the latter.”

Specific Organization Of Class Domination

In view of the state as a specific organization of class domination, Homeric society, naturally enough, did not know the law in the sense of the state legislation, but it knew the law as custom and justice(themis), as well as the principle of social and legal justice(dike). Law and justice, though closely linked together in the consciousness of Homeric society, were not identical and differed from one another even terminologically. Justice (dike) was the foundation and principle of law as existing custom and tradition (themis), whereas custom or common law (themis) was understood as a kind of materialization of eternal justice(dike), as its presence, manifestation, and observance in relations between people and the gods themselves.

Custom Or Common Law

As distinct from themis standing for custom or common law based on justice (dike), the honor due to every god or man by right and custom is called by Homer time. The meaning of this word is clearly revealed in Iliad in the passage where Poseidon claims his “honor” as the realm he received by lot:

we are three brothers,-Rhea brought us forth,-
The sons of Saturn,-Jupiter, and I,
And Pluto, regent of the realm below.
Three parts were made of all existing things,
And each of us received his heritage.
The lots were shaken; and to me, it fell
To dwell forever in the hoary deep,
And pluto took the gloomy realm of night,
lastly, Jupiter the ample heaven
And air and clouds. Yet doth the earth remain,
With high Olympus, common to us all.
(Iliad, P.69[Book XV, pp.232-242].)
Political Thought: Ancient Greek

Each God Or Hero Has His Own Honor

Each god or hero has his own honor (time) and, consequently, his rights. In point of fact. This is just what time means. The right to be in charge of a certain field of activity and relations, to possess one’s own domain. For instance. Ares is in charge of war and bloody battles. Aphrodite’s domain is love, Athena Pallas is Pre-eminent as a civic goddess wise in the protection of city-states (polises), etc. Heroes also have “honors” and the “honor” of Achilles as a goddess’s son is higher than that of mortal Hector. Both the gods and the heroes fight for their “honor”. This fight is no easy matter and calls for the utmost exertion of one’s power. In other words, for a feat of valor.

The legal significance of this fight for”honor” is obvious: in the Heroic Age described by Homer and notable for the transition from primitive-communal society to the state organization “honor” was nothing else but an individual’s claim corresponding to his merits (feats) and founded on the right of the stronger.

law Of Homeric Society

This close interdependence of right and “honor” attest to the fact that the law of Homeric society was understood as a body of rights vested in an individual in accordance with the principle of justice (dike) and in compliance with the existing custom(themis). Since both the content and scope of rights depended on the bearer and therefore had a strictly individual character. Rights were in fact nothing but privileges. That means that not only the idea of equal rights. But even the conception of law as n equalizing principle and a standard were entirely alien to Homeric society. Moreover, the very purpose of law in that society was to consolidate and formalize inequality, though this inequality was understood to derive not from arbitrariness, but from justice (dike) and custom (themis).

Consequently, the just (in accordance with dike and themis) was the foundation and the criterion of the lawful. The notion of law was inseparable from that of justice. It was only due to the legitimation of what fell within the notion of justice (dike) that one or another claim acquired legal status and became a custom (themis), a generally recognized standard of conduct and relations among the members of a community
(Political Thought: Ancient Greek.)

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