It is not by chance that in the proto-philosophical speculations of the pre-Socratics of the Milesian school, lists of opposites played a fundamental role. One thinks particularly of the pairs cold (wind/air) and hot (fire), wet (water) and dry (earth), which separate out of the substratum 'the Unbounded' (apeiron) in the thought of Anaximander. The abstraction vividly reflected in the theogonic genre of gods no doubt gave impetus to philosophical abstraction and classification. In any case, the linkage and continuity between theogonic speculation and cosmological speculation of the Milesian school is difficult to deny. As for the substratum of Thales (primordial water [Chaos]), of Anaximander (the Unbounded [apeiron]), and of Anaximines (air-wind-vapor), all are found in the theogonies of Phoenicia and Egypt. (81)The difference between the Greek and Israelite thought—for there is a difference and it is a great difference—is that Israelite thought led in Christianity to a focus on the very being of these theogonic realities, their act of existing, whereas Greek thought focused on their conceptual content. In this sense, as Eliade wrote, Plato truly remains the great philosopher of archaic ontology, a profoundly conservative figure, whereas Thomas Aquinas is the thinker who develops the latent tendencies of Israelite thought to their fullest potential.
Thus when Thales or Anaximines attempts to find the ultimate principle of the universe in water or air, he is following the same path that the writers of the Upanishads followed in their premature efforts to identify with Breath or Space. And as the latter prepared the way for the deeper and more metaphysical solution of the Atman theory, so also the crude speculations of the early Ionian thinkers are the first landmarks in the Hellenic search for a transcendent principle of reality. (RWH 93-94)For our own part we note that, in both Greece and Israel, thinkers sought to go beyond myth to deepen their understanding of the universe, and in both instances the path chosen was similar. In both Greece and Israel these thinkers showed a hostility to the younger gods--viewing their new truth as in opposition to the popular cult of the younger gods--while using themes drawn from the theogonic myths as either the starting point for their speculation or as the means of expressing their insights. In both cases these thinkers, different as they might appear at first glance, saw their efforts as profoundly moral. They saw their efforts as seeking to develop the fullness of man's understanding of reality as the greatest of human goods. The myths of the young gods of the cult—which in their literary elaborations had become increasingly unmoored from the animating experience of cosmic order--were seen not merely as incorrect but as leading man down a dehumanizing road. For this reason these thinkers sought, beyond the proliferating gods of the cult, a single unifying principle, and in this quest they turned to the theogonic myths of creation.
Moreover, in Greece, no less than in the East, this search was conditioned by the conception of a sacred order that was at once cosmic and moral [note here the similarity to archaic ontology's view of rites as expressing cosmic order]. If the powers of nature were divine, as the beliefs of the old religion taught, there was nevertheless a higher principle beyond them, whose laws even the gods were powerless to disobey since it was older than they and had allotted to each one his destined place and office. “Even the Sun,” says Heraclitus, “will not overstep his measures, for if he does, the Erinyes, the handmaids of Justice [Dike], will find him out.” (RWH 94)Clearly the early Ionian thinkers are still in the world of archaic ontology in which the gods themselves are part of a closed system, and are far from the conception of a universe whose order, as also its act of existing, is the expression of an infinite creator God. Indeed, for many Greeks the cosmos was viewed as itself a “single, animate, corporeal, possibly sentient, being.” (Max J. Latona, The mythological dimension of Parmenides' thought, 2001) This belief may explain the readiness with which the early Greek thinkers turned to the abstract theogonic divinities in their search for an explanatory principle of the cosmos: it is a relatively short step from the conception of theogonic divinities immanent in nature (air, water, the unbounded, etc.) to considering these divinities as abstract principles of nature.
What is the most just of things? The act of sacrifice.
What is the most wise? Number.
What is the most beautiful? Harmony.