Hellenism. Science and philosophy.

The science.

Science has completely separated from philosophy. At the Ptolemaic Palace in Alexandria, a Museum was created (a place under the patronage of the muses), where many scientists and philosophers worked. Mathematics developed, Euclid created the famous "Beginnings" that underlie the later ideas of Europeans about geometry. Many scientists of that time were inclined to invent, as evidenced by the wonders of the world. Archimedes, who worked for some time in the Museum, laid the foundations of rational mechanics and hydrostatics, invented a special type of lever and the famous screw for lifting water with artificial irrigation. Eratosthenes created scientific geography and was the first to measure the length of the earth's meridian. In the field of astronomy, the heliocentric (Aristarchus from Samos) and geocentric (Hipparchus from Nicaea) systems emerged. Aristarchus' idea that the Sun is at the center of the universe, and the Earth revolves around it, formed the basis of Copernicus' theory.

There was a school of natural sciences in Alexandria, where the dissection of corpses was carried out, the secrets of mummification were investigated, there were zoological and botanical gardens. Medicine has made serious steps here: the nervous system (Herophilus of Chalcedon) and the circulatory system were discovered, and anatomy and surgery were separated into separate branches.

Science was still limited by the conditions of time, since there were no convenient Arabic designations of numbers, accurate observation tools, etc. But the flourishing of science became at the same time the limiting point of its development, since in this area the Romans never equaled the Greeks. Until the Renaissance, Europe will live off the scientific baggage acquired during the Hellenistic period. "Those who understand Archimedes and Apollonius," Leibniz said, "admire modern scientists less."

Military technics.

In connection with the development of exact sciences, military equipment was also improved. In the Hellenistic era, new types of throwing weapons emerged: catapults and ballistae, firing large arrows and stones, with a range of up to 350 m. In their design, a stretched elastic rope was used, made from animal tendons. As strings for the removal of levers of throwing machines, the best material was considered to be women's hair, oiled with oil, which patriotic wives themselves sacrificed in difficult military situations.6 Modernized types of siege towers (gelepol) appeared. The great technician of antiquity Archimedes also had a hand in the development of certain types of defensive structures and machines.


In the field of religious life, there was a gradual extinction of the polis religion: previously imbued with the spirit of civic collectivism, now it has acquired a personal character and in this sense prepared the ground for the spread of Christianity.

The people of the Hellenistic time were characterized by skepticism, which found expression in the cult of the goddess Tyukhe (Chance, Fortune), who embodied a complete denial of divine providence: the world is governed by a ruthless blind chance, therefore history has no orderly and purposeful movement subordinated to some system or the discretion of God.

The period of the collapse of the polis had as its consequence the appeal of people to the kings as the highest intercessors in earthly life. "The other gods are far away, or they don't have ears, or they don't exist. We see you, Demetrios, here in the flesh, and not stone or wooden," as one of the panegyrics to the eastern ruler said. This is how royal cults spread and strengthened - the core of the power of rulers who had the appropriate epithets Soter (Savior), Euergetes (Benefactor), Epiphanes (Who is like God).

In the era of Hellenism, there was a mixture of traditional Greek cults with oriental, exotic ones. For example, in Asia Minor, in Pergamon, the great mother of the gods, the three-headed Cybele, was revered. Her cult was accompanied by the frenzied, frenzied orgies characteristic of the East. Egypt enjoyed special prestige among the Greeks, in particular, the mysteries of Isis, identified with Demeter. Such correlations of Egyptian deities with Greek ones were often encountered: Amon - Zeus, Osiris - Dionysus, Thoth - Hermes. The renewal of the cults of the Egyptian gods was connected either with the active propaganda of the Ptolemies, or with the excessive spiritual zeal of the Greeks who lived in Egypt.

The emergence of hermeticism, a new form of religious and philosophical consciousness, is associated with Egypt. This teaching was expounded on behalf of Hermes, the Hellenistic counterpart of Thoth, who according to legend was the creator of the world, the inventor of writing and the distributor of sacred sciences, because he measured time and recorded fate. Hermeticism is a teaching of mystery that offered a path of spiritual insights, not rationalistic reasoning about the world2.

Hermeticism gave magical actions a philosophical basis that justified the spread of occult sciences. Astrology and alchemy were especially popular. Astrology is the doctrine according to which the movement of the planets influenced the fate of people. According to astrologers, life was governed by the signs of the Zodiac, so the organs of human senses are distributed among seven planets, from where the veneration of the number seven as sacred came from: seven wonders of the world, seven days in the week3, the seventh heaven, etc. Astrology in its popularity in the Hellenistic era eclipsed astronomy and hindered the serious development of science.

Alchemists pursued to find a recipe for turning metals into gold and silver. The symbol of alchemy was the Phoenix bird, dying and reborn from the ashes - the prototype of the famous idea of the philosopher's stone, capable of turning simple metals into precious ones. Alchemy, like astrology, had no direct relation to science, because empirical experiments for alchemists were a consequence of their own philosophical teaching about the world. Alchemists, like natural philosophers, have not yet set themselves the task of rationalistically exploring nature.

The appearance of alchemy and astrology reflected the dynamism and inconsistency of an era when significant achievements in science and scientific occult teachings could peacefully coexist, which were equally seriously perceived by people of the Hellenistic time.

Many small religious communities and fraternities appeared, which previously existed only among the inferiors to compensate for infringed civil rights, embodying the desire of the "little man" to approach the lifestyle of the aristocracy. Now, in the light of individual moral searches, the unification of people into spiritual corporations dedicated to individual deities has become quite natural.


Hellenistic philosophy was reoriented to the problems of ethics and morality. The leading positions were taken by two major schools: Stoics and Epicureans. The founder of Stoicism (the word comes from the name of the colored portico in Athens) was the philosopher Zeno (ca. 335 - ca. 262). In addition to a special vision of the universe, the Stoics' teaching concerned the problems of human external behavior. Regardless of social status, all people are spiritually equal because of their involvement with the deity, the world logos, therefore, for a person striving for virtue, the ideal should be in accordance with nature. The path to happiness is blocked by affects, human feelings. It is possible to get rid of them only through austerity, perfect dispassion, apathy. Stoicism has similarities with Buddhism, resembling the way to achieve Nirvana. The spirit of the East could really influence the Greeks.4

The founder of another teaching was Epicurus, who lived at the same time as Zeno and wrote a "Treatise on Nature". Later there was a distortion of the understanding of his philosophy, reduced only to the doctrine of pleasure. According to Epicurus, all living things strive for pleasure, but true pleasure is the absence of suffering and consists in mastering inner instincts, not in satisfying them, and virtue is a means to achieve happiness. Epicurus preferred a contemplative and apolitical life, paying special attention to overcoming the fear of death. Both the Stoics and the Epicureans regarded earthly life as a prelude to the future, since death for a virtuous person, in their opinion, was not an absolute end.