Monday, January 18, 2010

Plato's Debt to Ancient Egypt

Alice C. Linsley

Judaism and Christianity draw from ancient Egyptian-Sudanese belief, religious practice, and cosmology. [1] The ancient Greeks were also influenced by Egyptian-Sudanese ideas, especially their observation of sidereal astronomy.

The Egyptians regarded the Sun as the symbol of the Creator because it was the source of light and life. [2] They observed that whereas the Sun is the source of light, the Moon merely reflects light. This is why the Bible criticizes Mesopotamian moon worship and why Abraham's father was regarded as an idol-worshipper (Joshua 24:2) since he maintained households in Ur and Haran, cities dedicated to the moon god Sin.

Note the binary distinction between the source of light (Sun) and the reflection of light (Moon). This observation is the basis for Plato's famous Allegory of the Cave. Those in the cave are able to see only passing shadows, not the true objects that cast those shadows. Yet they believe that the shadows are the real objects. They continue to do so until they turn toward the cave's opening and walk out of the cave.

Plato’s Application of Egyptian Cosmology

Here is but one example of how Plato's thinking was informed by Egyptian cosmology. Another example involves the development of the Greek alphabet from the Pro-Canaanite alphabet which was based on Egyptian hieroglyphics. To understand how the alphabet expresses ancient Egyptian-Sudanese cosmology, consider the Teth (or Tau) below.

Read it all here.


Anonymous said...

I believe that Greek philosophy and spirituality owes a debt to Egypt, but I don't believe the Cave is a good example of that as presented here.

The dualism between shadows below / objects above is not light and dark, but thought / perception. In Plato, the highest reality is seen only with the mind. The prisoners in the cave are analogous to people who think that reality is perception and that objects represent the highest reality.

Anyway, the analogy of the Sun would be a better place to explore connections between Plato and Egypt IMO.

Egypt is mentioned a few times in the dialogs, but offhand can't recall the contexts....

Alice C. Linsley said...

You may be right that the Allegory of the Cave isn't the best example. Could you suggest a better example?

It isn't a bad example if Plato was thinking in a binary fashion (which I believe he was). You suggest that his was a dualistic way of thinking. There is a big difference between thinking in terms of binary oppositions and dualism. Plato's writings indicate that he viewed reality in terms of binary oppositions. That's rather the point of the eternal Forms as opposed to the temporal reflections of the Forms.

Ben said...

thanks for the link, I have another thing to study...