Volume 61, 2018
Philosophy of Religion
Greek Art and Religion and their Relation to Ethical Life in Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit
The aim of this paper is to analyse the critical interpretation of Greek art and religion provided by Hegel in the “Religion in the form of art” section of Chapter VII of his Phenomenology of the Spirit (1807). The study will, thus, commence with an overview of the role played by art in the religion of ancient Greece, and then examine the reasons for the historical decline of this special phenomenon and the rise of Christianity, a religion referred to by Hegel as a “visible religion” as it is required to “disclose” and manifest its contents: the spirit (defined as the mark left by the events of the life of each member of mankind). Having focused special attention on the relationship between the people of ancient Greece and their gods and the role played by the concept of the ethical life (Sittlichkeit), the paper will then proceed to investigate the relationship between the individual, the population and the ancient polis or Greek State as illustrated in the early works of Hegel and in the Phenomenology of the Spirit (Chap. VI, A), in which Hegel develops his theory of ethical relations in ancient Greece as exemplified in the model of sibling relations within the family. The paper continues with an examination of Hegel’s criticism of Greek rituals and the inability of the modern world to understand such practices from the perspective of the life of the time, concluding, in line with Hegel, that our experience is now an external process as we no longer embrace the interiority of the ethical life of the past. Indeed, as Hegel considers the “spirit of destiny offered by those [ancient] works of art” to go beyond the ethical life of a nation, the fact that those works of art are no more considered useful and important is a tragic event, even though this destiny has shown us the spirit within them, and thanks to this tragic end, we have finally been able to reunite all the Greek gods in a single Pantheon in which “the spirit is conscious of itself as a spirit”.