A Religious Festival in the Piraeus
A Religious Festival in the Piraeus

A Religious Festival in the Piraeus

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A philosophy worksheet from the FHSU Scholars Repository.

A Religious Festival in the Piraeus


​The dialogue opens on a summer’s day at an unspecified time during the Peloponnesian War (431-404 BCE) in the streets of the Piraeus , the seaside port of Athens and its primary link to the outside world. Plato is writing in hindsight, years after the war. So he and his audience know things that the characters in the dialogue do not. Remarkable military blunders are to result in the fall of Athens to Sparta and the Peloponnesian League. An oppressive anti-democratic government known as “the Thirty” is to come to power. The wealth of the house of Cephalus is to be confiscated. Lysias is to be driven into exile. Niceratus is to be put to death. Polemarchus is to be put to death. The Thirty are themselves to be overthrown, only to be replaced by a restored democracy that in four years time is to try and convict Socrates for promoting unorthodox religious views and corrupting the youth. Socrates is to be put to death. Plato sets his intellectual drama against this background: ruinous war (with Athenian greed and pride at its root), civil strife, political instability, and injustice upon injustice. But in the foreground we find ourselves in a setting of apparent peace and civility. Socrates narrates in retrospect – how long after is unclear, but at least one season has gone by. He and one of Plato’s two older brothers, Glaucon, have gone down to the Piraeus to take part in religious festivities dedicated to “the goddess.” This goddess, who is identified as Bendis , was worshipped by the Thracians, allies of Athens during the war. The worship of Bendis may have been instituted in Athens in support of this important alliance. “Do you see how many we are?” Polemarchus asks, playfully. “Certainly.” “Well, then, either you must prove yourselves stronger than all these people or you will have to stay here.” “Isn’t there another alternative still: that we persuade you that you should let us go?” “But could you persuade us, if we won’t listen?” Socrates is evidently on good terms with Polemarchus and the others. And yet, one is reminded through this interchange how people deaf to rational persuasion can band together and wield political power.


D1

How is persuasion different from coercion?


D2

Is it possible to persuade a person who refuses to listen?


D3

How does religious ceremony benefit people?


D4

When if ever are innovations in religion appropriate?


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