The Faith of the Ancients, pt. 2

God orders me to fulfill the philosopher’s mission of searching into myself and other men…I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living.” ~Socrates

In this second podcast in the series we dive in to two Ancient Greek writings – Oedipus Rex and Apology – and look for the ideas around the Mantic-Sophic debate that they bring to the forefront. In Oedipus Rex we see the true purpose Sophocles had in writing it – to convince the Greeks to let God lead their lives. In Apology we get the real story from Socrates when he tells us he has been accused only because he is devoted to his mission from God.

These and other Ancient Greek writings, when seen through the eyes of the Mantic vs. Sophic frame of reference, come alive with a civilization that looks very much like our own. One where smart men who think they’ve discovered all the answers and no longer need God, seek to persuade others to abandon their faith and lean on reason alone. Yet the greats hold strong and stand up for God and truth – sometimes at the expense of their lives

Listener’s Guide:

Use the time stamps below to skip to any part of the podcast. 

3:33  Greek culture at the time of Oedipus Rex
6:20  Sophocles’ purpose
8:29  Background of the play
11:00  Oedipus commits to follow God
14:56  Oedipus begins to turn on everyone – reveals his Sophic beliefs
18:11  Oedipus’ real history
22:00  How Oedipus was not “fated”
26:38  Background of Apology – conversion of Socrates and Plato

28:52  Why Socrates was on trial 
31:50  Socrates’ mission

Quotes from this episode:

“Both Plato and Aristotle placed inspiration above reason and moral insight…because it comes from God—for while reason is far from infallible, ‘the sureness of inspiration, on the other hand, is like lightning.’” ~from “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic and Sophistic”

“‘When I was young,’ Plato wrote about Socrates, ‘I was fanatically devoted to the intellectual quest which they call natural science. Filled with pride and youthful conceit, I was convinced that I could know the reason for everything…I was always experimenting to discover the secrets of nature and life.’ He was convinced, as was Socrates, ‘that no one need look any farther than science for the answers to everything.’ That is the ‘Sophic’ state of mind clearly set forth. Then it was, he says, that he read the passage that completely changed his point of view: ‘There is a mind that orders things and causes all things to be.’  The idea electrified him: he turned from the majority to join a very small minority. ‘Shall we say,’ he asks in discussing the nature of the earth, ‘that God the Creator made it? Or would you prefer the teaching and language that everybody follows today—that it all came about simply by spontaneous cause and without any intelligence?’ Here we have the basic dichotomy: on the one hand, things just happen—the physics holds itself the explanation for everything; on the other hand, things do not just happen. Note well that in Plato’s day public opinion was all on the side of the former…At the end of life Socrates explained that he had taken the course he had through the years ‘because, as I said, the way was shown me by God through oracles and dreams and by whatever other means divine providence directs the actions of men.’ He was dead serious about this…’Now my concern is how I may present my soul to the judge in its healthiest condition.’ The next world and the judgment are his guiding light.” ~from “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic and Sophistic”

“No, the Greeks did not have the true religion: even Plato didn’t, and he knew he didn’t. His Socrates is a seeker, convinced as he is that true enlightenment can come only by revelation.” ~from “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic and Sophistic”

Plato is simply appalled at the Athenians’ lack of belief in anything, based on the comforting popular creed that science knows all the answers and that the important thing in religion is to go along with the group. This was the safe, conventional, respectable creed of educated Athens, and Plato despised it. In the Crito Socrates points out that his colleagues know even less than he does about things, since they think they the answers while he at least is aware of his ignorance; but of two things he is convinced, (1) that the important questions of life are spiritual ones and (2) that these can be answered only by revelation.” ~from “Three Shrines: Mantic, Sophic and Sophistic”


Priest: “it was God that aided you, men say, and you are held with God’s assistance to have saved our lives…Perhaps you’ll hear a wise word from some God…”

Oedipus: “I sent Menoeceus’ son Creon, Jocasta’s brother, to Apollo, to his Pythian temple, that he might learn there by what act or word I could save this city…But when he comes, then, may I prove a villain, if I shall not do all the God commands.”

Oedipus: “Justly you will see in me an ally, a champion of my country and the God…so I stand forth a champion of the God and of the man who died.”

Oedipus: “It was not God, it was I who solved the riddle of the Sphinx, by my own unaided powers. I did it by using my brains and not by any supernatural hokum.”

Teiresias: “I am not your servant but God’s…You have usurped divine authority; you are willfully blind—in darkness at noon. After all, you begged for my instructions.”

Jocasta: “…that human beings have no part in the craft of prophecy. Of that I’ll show you a short proof.”

Oedipus: “…accused me of being bastard…So I was comforted for their part, but still this thing rankled always, for the story crept about widely…”

Oedipus: “O God, I think I have called curses on myself in ignorance…And it is I, I and no other have so cursed myself. And I pollute the bed of him I killed by the hands that killed him…Yes, I’m afraid that Phoebus may prove right.”

Oedipus turns on those closest to him:

about Cleon – “I will kill you…wherever he is, I shall hate him.”

about Teiresias – “I think you were com plotter of the deed and doer of the deed.”

about Jocasta – “Perhaps she is ashamed of my low birth, for she has all a woman’s high-flown pride.”

Cleon: asks Oedipus 5 times to petition the Gods about what he should do – he refuses every time 


The oracle said that he was the wisest man in Athens and he says, “When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? And what is the interpretation of this riddle? For I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie; that would be against his nature.

“The truth is, O men of Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that her snot wise; and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

“…a man who is good for anything ought not to calculate the change of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong—acting the part of a good man or of a bad.”

God orders me to fulfill the philosopher’s mission of searching into myself and other men, if I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned in court for denying the existence of the gods.”

“…are you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which  you never regard of heed at all?”

“I proceed to interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue in him…I shall repeat the same words to every one whom I meet…For know that this is the command of God; and I believe that no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul…this is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.”

“I would have you know, that if you kill such an one as I am, you will inhere yourselves more than you will injure me.”

“I cared not a straw for death, and that my great and only care was lest I should do an unrighteous or unholy thing.”

“I have been always the same in my actions, public as well as private.”

He asked himself, “where I could do the greatest good privately to every one of you, thither I went, and sought to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests.”

“…to do as you say would be a disobedience to the God.”

“I say again that daily to discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living.

“…the difficulty my friends, is not to avoid death, but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death.”

“I should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the divine faculty of which the internal oracle is the source has constantly been in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make a slip or error in any matter.”

“…know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods.”

Books from this episode: