The World of the Polis

This is an outline of Order and History vol 2: The World of the Polis by Eric Voegelin, published in 1957.

The bold headings are from the Table of Contents.

Your comments and corrections are always welcome: please e-mail Bill McClain.

Return to the Eric Voegelin Study Page.


Introduction: Mankind and History

Multiple and parallel leaps in being

The generic-unique nature of Man

Concrete societies and mankind

Philosophy of history: the source of the difficulties

Mysteries and problems

The authoritative structure of history

The ranking of authorities

The ancients and the leaps in being

Israelite and Hellenic theology of history

Panaetius and Poseidonius

Truth of the present and untruth of the past

Limitations of the Israelite and pagan positions

St. Paul

Stages of the spiritual process toward the truth of existence

Coexistence of truth and untruth

The defect of the Pauline interpretation of history

The problem of Jewish existence

The pagan policy of tolerance

The moderns and the leaps in being

Bossuet and the Augustinian tradition


Parallel profane histories: Spengler and Toynbee

The expansion of sacred history: Hegel

Parallel sacred histories: Jaspers and Toynbee

Philosophy of history as a western symbolism

Clement of Alexandria

Part One: Cretans, Achaeans, and Hellenes

1. Hellas and History

1. Preliminary Questions

The delimitation of Greek order

Polis and philosophy

Cretan, Achaean and Hellenic societies

Minoan, Mycenaean, and Hellenic civilizations

The range of Greek order and the memory of the classic period

2. The Hellenic Consciousness of History

1. General Characteristics

The content of the Hellenic memory and the historical process

The growth of historical consciousness

2. Herodotus

The preservation of traditions

The case of the Trojan war

The common sense psychology of the Asiatic frontier

The destruction of the myth

The misunderstanding of Homer

3. Thucydides

The Athenian rationalism of power

The reconstruction of Greek history

4. Plato

Ordering memory

The return to the cave of Zeus

The transfer of the omphalos from Crete to Delphi

5. Conclusions

Spatial and temporal extension of the classic memory

The motif of power organization

The continuum of Greek history

The construction of the historical course

Its motive

The term history

The symbol of the course

2. The Cretan and Achaean Societies

Town culture as the basis of civilizations

The Aegean town areas and the non-urban invaders

1. The Cretan Society


Minoan symbols of order

The absence of imperial institutions

2. The Achaean Society


The Linear B tablets

The decline of the early civilizations

3. Homer and Mycenae

The migrations

The formation of an Aegean-wide society

1. Homeric Questions

F.A. Wolf

Homeric question and pentateuchal criticism

The date of the epics

The poet's break with the cosmological myth

The music authority--Homer, Pindar, Hesiod

Blindness and seeing, remembrance and oblivion

Immortality through song

The creation of the past through mnemosynic consciousness

2. Order and Disorder

1. The Constitutional Order of the Achaean Kingdoms


Federal organization for war

Constitutional procedure

Agamemnon's dream

Procedure in council, in assembly

Jovian order and royal rule

2. The Wrath of Achilles

The face

The obsession with death

The exhortation of Phoenix

The dialectics of guilt and restoration

The pathology of Achilles

Cholos and anxiety

The battle of the ships

The death of Patroclus

The acceptance of life

3. The Eros of Paris and Helen

The combat

The scene on the Scaean gate

The corruption of order

Dream and embrace

The assembly of the gods

4. The Odyssey on Disorder

The prologue

The disorder in Ithaca

5. The Aetiology of Disorder

The sources of evil

Homer's anthropology

Human and divine action

Agamemnon's apology

Blindness and seeing

Divine order and human disorder

The decline of Mycenaean civilization

Individual action and the pattern of history

Part Two: From Myth to Philosophy

4. The Hellenic Polis

1. Synoecism and Gentilitian Structure

The case of Athens

2. The Polis

Decline of aristocratic order

The people and the tyranny

Aristotle on the Athenian prostasia

3. Sympoliteia

The case of Olynthus

4. The Failure of the Leagues

Clan leagues

Amphictyonic leagues

The Spartan and Athenian leagues

The league of Corinth

5. Hesiod

1. From Myth to Metaphysics

Hesiod's transitional form

Aristotle on theological philosophies

Motivating experiences

The poet and his truth

Truth and falsehood

Catharsis through truth and memory

2. The Theogony

The origin of order

The titanomachia and the evolution of Zeus

Theogonic speculation

The self-generating origin

Mythopoetic freedom

3. The Works and Days

Invocation and exhortation

Paraenetic form

Oriental affinities

The great and the humble

The exhortation to Perses

The two Erides, Dike

The virtue of work

Truth and admonition

4. The Fables


Contents and paradigmatic purpose

The fable of Pandora

5. The Ages of the World

Contents of the logos

Anthropogonic and epic myth

The metal ages

Comparison with a Chinese myth of five ages

6. The Apocalypse

Delimitation and structure

Experience and form

The anxiety of spiritual annihilation

Aidos and Nemesis

The fable for princes


Collective suffering and reward

The unjust and the just cities

Parallels from the prophets

Historical reality as apocalyptic nightmare

The nightmare and true reality

6. The Break with the Myth

1. The Emergence of Philosophy

Area and carriers of Hellenic civilization

Freedom from imperial institutions

The style of intellectual adventure: Homer, Hesiod, and the Milesians

The schools of Pythagoras and Parmenides

The form of Hellenic civilization

Comparison with Israel

The individual breaks with the myth

2. Xenophanes' Attack on the Myth

1. The Seemliness of Symbols

The attacks on Homer and Hesiod

The classification of symbolic forms

Plato's types of theology

Truth and lie of the soul

2. Anthropomorphism

A fallacious charge in retrospect

Critique of Tylor's theory

3. The Universality of the Divine

The one god v. the parochialism of the myth

Universality of the divine and monotheism

4. The Divinity of the One

Aristotle's recognition of the problem


The Xenophantic glance at the heaven

7. The Aretai and the Polis

1. The Sophia of Xenophanes

The attack on the Olympiadic excellences

The discovery of transcendence as a source of authority

Universal appeal and limitation to the polis

2. The Savage Valor of Tyrtaeus

The arete of the polis v. the Homeric Excellences

The elegiac form

Existence v. justice

The lyricism of existence

Immortality through the memory of the polis

The discovery of the aretai and its completion through Plato

Plato on the valor of Tyrtaeus

3. The Eunomia of Solon

Disorder of the polis and the order of dike

Doxa as the cause of crisis

The Homeric excellences as doxa in the polis

Arete as faith in the unseen measure

Eunomia of the soul and the polis

The type of the lawgiver

Solon and Plato

4. "But I say unto you..."

The traditional order and resistance of the soul


The authority of eros

Subjectivity of opinion v. objectivity of the erotic soul

The common doxa and the solitude of truth

8. Parmenides

1. The Way

The prologue of Parmenides' poem

The transport

The knowing man and the renowned way

Divinity and immortality of the soul

Plato on the soul as daemon

2. The Truth of Being

The vision

Perception through nous and analysis through logos

Being and not-being

The exclamatory Is!

The subject of propositions concerning transcendent being

Propositions not transferable to immanent being

The predicates of transcendent being

The autonomy of the logos

The hieratic compactness of truth and being

3. Doxa

The world and the way

Doxa as cosmology, as not-being

The likely doxa of Parmenides and the likely myth of Plato

The ontological gap between doxa and aletheia

The Platonic myth as solution

4. The Rivalry between the Ways of Truth

The truth of the logos and the truth of revelation

9. Heraclitus

From Parmenides to Heraclitus

The dimensions of the soul

1. The Pythagorean Destiny of the Soul

The psyche of Homer, of Empedocles


2. The Exploration of the Soul

Ethos as daemon

The types of divine and human wisdom

Much-knowing and understanding

The philosopher

Plato's clarification of the term

The life of the soul: depth, increase through exploration

Love, hope and faith

3. The Philosophy of Order

The logos and its communication

The sleepwalkers

Reconstruction of Heraclitean concepts: xynon; logos; cosmos; common world and private worlds; the common, the nous, and the nomos; strife and war

The cycle; the way; the kingdom of the playing child


Passion of existence

The war of life and the peace of the logos

The many, the few, and the one

4. Conclusions

The challenge to the order of the polis

The new authority

The philosopher-king as the link between spirit and power

Part Three: The Athenian Century

10. Tragedy

1. The Truth of Tragedy

The awakening of Athens

Aristophanes and Aristotle on tragedy

The truth of action

2. The Meaning of Action

The Suppliants of Aeschylus

The experimental situation

Conflicts of Themis

Descent into the depth of the soul

The polis as the Heraclitean xynon


The decision for dike

The Aeschylean theory of action

3. Tragedy and History

The order of dike and the disorder of the world

The Prometheus

The theomorphic dramatis personae

The truth of being and daemonic existence

Titanomachia and dike

Force in order

The problem in the Oresteia



Wisdom v. self-reliance

Defiance and inventiveness

The spiritual disease

The forces of progress

Excess of pity and revolt against god

The interplay of Jovian and Promethean forces

The soul as the hero of the Prometheus

The birth of history from tragedy

Comparison with the meaning of history in China and Israel

Aeschylean tragedy and Platonic myth

4. The End of Tragedy

The disintegration of Athens

Its reflection in the world of Euripides

11. The Sophists

1. The Education of Athens

The sophistic personnel

The achievement

Education for political life



The art of politics


Law and order

The inventory of problems

Plato and the sophists

The propositions on God

Gorgias' On Being

The type of enlightened philosophizing

Continuity from the sophists to Plato

2. Plato on the Sophists. Hippias

Plato as a source

The Hippias anecdote



Truth about man through comparative study

The Hippias scene in Plato's Protagoras

Physis and nomos

The community of encyclopedic intellectuals

The essence of sophistic ideas

3. Plato's Protagoras

The position of Protagoras

The myth of Prometheus

Relation to Aeschylus

The sophist as the teacher of man

The Socratic attack

The debate on virtue

The art of measurement

The transfer of the Prometheus symbol from Protagoras to Socrates

4. The Fragments of Primary Sources

1. From Parmenides to Protagoras

The correlation of nous-logos and being

The immanentization of nous-logos

Anaxagoras; Protagoras

The immanentization of being: Zeno; the dialectics of being

The dissoi logoi

Anaxagoras' theory of sense perception

The Protagorean homo-mensura

2. Democritus

Immanentization of being: the atoms and the void

The element of Heraclitean depth

Toward the recognition of essence

Essentials of the psyche: eudaimonia


Knowledge and discipline

Joy and pleasure

Balance and multifariousness

Health and disease


From Democritus to Plato and Aristotle

3. Nomos and Physis

Nomos: Pindar; Heraclitus; six meanings of nomos

The conservative skepticism of Protagoras

Physis: Pindar; Protagoras

Physis as essence: Xenophanes; Empedocles; Anaxagoras

The pair nomos-physis: the Hippocratic Airs, Waters, Places; Herodotus

4. Antiphon

The fragments On Truth

Physis, nomos, and the sympheron


The antithetical method

The corruption of Athens as a motive

The quality of late sophistic debate

5. Critias

The Sisyphus fragment

Critias' pseudos logos and Plato's pseudos mythos

6. Equality, Inequality, Harmony

Disintegration and search for substance

A new climate of experience: Prodicus, Lycophron, Alcidamas

The Pseudo-Antiphonic Homonoia

The Anonymus Iamblichi

7. Hippodamus and Phaleas

12. Power and History

The great wars

Decline of civilization

Dramatic unity of mankind

1. Herodotus

Life and work

The program

The Hypothesis

The balancing of accounts

Anaximander and Heraclitus

The turning of the wheel

The power drive

Necessity and disaster

Historiographic method

The use of speeches

The expedition against Hellas

The great debate

The motives of action

Breakdown of the Heraclitean xynon

The dream of world dominion

The form of government

The speeches for and against the three forms

The cycle of antilogies and the cycle of history

Decision through action

2. The Old Oligarch

The Pseudo-Xenophontic Constitution of Athens

The polis a power unit

The change of ethos as the history of the polis

The merits of the democratic constitution

The merits of sea power

The game of power

Periclean democracy and imperialism

Types of man and types of order

3. Thucydides

1. The Syngraphe

The creation of the Peloponnesian War as a unit in history

2. The Method

The kinesis

Methodological attack on Herodotus

The influence of the Hippocratic treatises

Categories: cause, principle, method, eidos, thing-in-itself, disturbance, disease

Different methodological situations in medicine and politics

Empiricism of the craftsman and science

Thucydides' science of disorder and Plato's science of order

3. The Theory

The splendor of empire and the breakdown of ethos

Progress and enterprise v. connivance and backwardness

Necessity and justice

The Aeschylean dike of action

Attempted justification and despair

Theoretical vacillations

Kinesis and the end of tragedy

Thucydides and Machiavelli

4. The Form

The speeches as part and as interpretations of reality

Government by persuasion as condition of the form

The Hellenic interplay between types of life and art

Theory as a heightening of types in reality

The passing of the paradigms from the poets to the historians and philosophers

5. Formulations

The position of the protagonists

The pathos of Athens

The horror of atrocities

The Melian dialogue

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