The sound of the first human step in recorded history, the prelude to the entrance of the producer on the historical scene, was the birth of philosophy in ancient Greece. All earlier cultures had been ruled, not by reason, but by mysticism: the task of philosophy—the formulation of an integrated view of man, of existence, of the universe—was the monopoly of various religions that enforced their views by the authority of a claim to supernatural knowledge and dictated the rules that controlled men’s lives. Philosophy was born in a period when . . . a comparative degree of political freedom undercut the power of mysticism and, for the first time, man was free to face an unobstructed universe, free to declare that his mind was competent to deal with all the problems of his existence and that reason was his only means of knowledge.
Ancient Greece tore away the heavy shroud of mysticism woven for centuries in murky temples, and achieved, in three centuries, what Egypt had not dreamed of in thirty: a civilization that was essentially pro-man and pro-life. The achievements of the Greeks rested on their confidence in the power of man’s mind—the power of reason. For the first time, men sought to understand the causes of natural phenomena, and gradually replaced superstition with the beginnings of science. For the first time, men sought to guide their lives by the judgment of reason, instead of resorting exclusively to divine will and revelation.
The Greeks built temples for their gods, but they conceived of their gods as perfect human beings, rejecting the cats, crocodiles and cow-headed monstrosities enshrined and worshiped by the Egyptians. Greek gods personified abstractions such as Beauty, Wisdom, Justice, Victory, which are proper human values. In the Greek religion, there was no omnipotent mystical authority and no organized priesthood. The Greek had only a vague idea of, and little interest in, an afterlife.