11. What is piety after all?

With all that has been said here, can we finally begin to provide a more secure defense to Socrates’ savage questions?  I think we can, though we have to disorder the vicious circle Socrates creates, drawing from the chaos two observations.

First, we ought to attend to the suggestion Socrates offers to Euthyphro as a definition of piety: “a sort of trading skill between gods and men” (14e).  Second, we need to think through that in light of the earlier idea that “the godly and the pious is the part of the just that is concerned with the care of the gods, while that concerned with the care of men is the remaining part” (13e).

As I have developed the conception of myth, myth serves as a material tool for ordering the mind so that it may more clearly discern the influence of the divine order in the material order.  The myth ‘works’ when it is considered alongside an actual situation.

In contemplating the right myth for a given situation, the mind is directed to consider the way in which the divine manifests within it.  With a better understanding of the divine, the mind comes to appreciate how the material order differs from the divine order and so gains insight in how to alter the material order to be more easily illuminated by the divine.

The myths are not true stories of the divine.  Rather, they are stories structured in such a way as to direct the mind to higher things while attending to the material-lower matters.  Myths provide the trading zone between the divine and the mortal, in part because they are things we have experience of but of which we have no direct experience.  They partake of the material that becomes and the divine that lies beyond becoming.

The knowledge that the mantis have, which Socrates cannot appreciate, is a know-how, a practical means of determining the proper myth with which to contemplate a situation and a sense of what it looks like when a situation is out of balance and the means for setting it right.  They have not just tools for understanding, but tools for retribution or, perhaps less harshly, tools for reordering the material world properly.

As a form of justice, it is concerned with the proper distribution of things, which is in constant disorder in the world of becoming.  The only way to express that disorder is through this hodge-podge of myths that seems contradictory, but are in fact true according to the situation in which they are employed.  At least, so long as truth is judged according to how well the myth assists the judge in ascertaining the proper means of setting the world in order.

Piety is, like myth, a means of persuasion, but in this case it is the means of disposing the gods toward the material world in a way that leads to the spiritual world acquiring a deeper bond with the material world.  Piety changes according to the nature of the god being honored, so that it, like justice more broadly, changes according to the situation in which it is exercised.

The gods do not just receive “honour, reverence…gratitude” (15a), but in proper propitiation acquire a deeper connection to the material world.  In the mantis case, through propitiation, the gods acquire a literal voice in the world of men.

Through myths, the minds of men are disposed toward Being and through piety the minds of gods are disposed toward Becoming.

No wonder, then, that Zeus is the image of justice, for the connection between the two realms is like lightning, sudden and transforming.  The two worlds enter into communication and enlivened.  Piety forms the lightning rod, calling down lightning, while myth is the sharp and sudden jolt from the earth back to the heavens, Oedipus joining to heaven.


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