Circe’s Island Is Really about Reincarnation: An Allegorical Reading of Odyssey 10

Here is another allegorical interpretation of the Odyssey attributed to Porphyry.

from Stobaeus, i. 44. 60 

Τοῦ αὐτοῦ (sc. Πορφυρίου)·

“The things that Homer says about Kirkê contain a wonderful theory about the soul. The interpretation runs as follows:

Some have the heads, voice, head and skin of swine, but the mind remains constant as it was before. This myth is similar to the riddle about the soul presented by Pythagoras and Plato, that it is indestructible in nature and unseen but that it is not safe from harm or unchangeable. In what is called its destruction or death, it undergoes a change and then a transference into different kinds of bodies pursuing an appearance and fit according to pleasure, by similarity and practice to how it lived life. In this, each person draws a great advantage from education and philosophy, since the soul has a memory of noble things, judges the shameful harshly, and is able to overcome the unnatural pleasures. This soul can pay attention to itself, and guard that it might not accidentally become a beast because it has grown attracted to an hideously shaped, unclean body regarding virtue, a body that excites and nourishes uncultured and unreasoning nature rather than increasing and nourishing thought.

Τὰ δὲ παρ᾿ Ὁμήρῳ περὶ τῆς Κίρκης λεγόμενα θαυμαστὴν ἔχει τὴν περὶ ψυχὴν θεωρίαν. λέγεται γὰρ οὕτως,

οἱ δὲ συῶν μὲν ἔχον κεφαλὰς φωνήν τε τρίχας τε καὶ δέμας· αὐτὰρ νοῦς ἦν ἔμπεδος ὡς τὸ πάρος περ. ἔστι τοίνυν ὁ μῦθος αἴνιγμα τῶν περὶ ψυχῆς ὑπό τε Πυθαγόρου λεγομένων καὶ Πλάτωνος, ὡς ἄφθαρτος οὖσα τὴν φύσιν καὶ ἀίδιος, οὔ τι μὴν ἀπαθὴς οὐδ᾿ ἀμετάβλητος, ἐν ταῖς λεγομέναις φθοραῖς καὶ τελευταῖς μεταβολὴν ἴσχει καὶ μετακόσμησιν εἰς ἕτερα σωμάτων εἴδη, καθ᾿ ἡδονὴν διώκουσα τὸ πρόσφορον καὶ οἰκεῖον ὁμοιότητι καὶ συνηθείᾳ βίου διαίτης· ἔνθα δὴ τὸ μέγα παιδείας ἑκάστῳ καὶ φιλοσοφίας ὄφελος, ἂν μνημονεύουσα τῶν καλῶν ἡ ψυχὴ καὶ δυσχεραίνουσα τὰς αἰσχρὰς καὶ παρανόμους ἡδονὰς δύνηται κρατεῖν καὶ προσέχειν αὑτῇ καὶ φυλάττειν μὴ λάθῃ θηρίον γενομένη καὶ στέρξασα σώματος οὐκ εὐφυοῦς οὐδὲ καθαροῦ πρὸς ἀρετὴν φύσιν ἄμουσον καὶ ἄλογον καὶ τὸ ἐπιθυμοῦν καὶ θυμούμενον μᾶλλον ἢ τὸ φρόνιμον αὐξάνοντος καὶ τρέφοντος.

“Once the soul is translated, that which is fated and nature, which Empedocles named the divine force that “wraps us in a foreign robe of flesh”, also re-fits the soul.  Homer has named this circular journey and return of rebirth Kirkê, the child of the sun because the sun binds every destruction to birth and every birth in turn to destruction, always weaving them together. The Island Aiaia is also that place allotted to receive one who dies—where the souls first arrive as they wander, and suffer alienation as they mourn and they do not know which way is west nor “where the sun which brings mortals light comes upon the earth”. As they long for their habits of pleasure—their shared life in the flesh and their way of life with the flesh—they provide the draught with its character again: it is the drink where birth is mixed and stirs together what is truly immortal and mortal, the thoughts and sufferings, the ethereal and the earthbound. The souls are enchanted and weakened by the pleasures that will lead them back to birth again. At this time, souls require great luck and great wisdom in order to avoid pursuing their worst aspects or passions and dedicate themselves to a cursed and beastly life”.

Αὐτῆς γὰρ τῆς μετακοσμήσεως εἱμαρμένη καὶ φύσις ὑπὸ Ἐμπεδοκλέους δαίμων ἀνηγόρευται “σαρκῶν ἀλλογνῶτι περιστέλλουσα χιτῶνι”καὶ μεταμπίσχουσα τὰς ψυχάς, Ὅμηρος δὲ τὴν ἐν κύκλῳ περίοδον καὶ περιφορὰν παλιγγενεσίας Κίρκην προσηγόρευκεν, Ἡλίου παῖδα τοῦ πᾶσαν φθορὰν γενέσει καὶ γένεσιν αὖ πάλιν φθορᾷ συνάπτοντος ἀεὶ καὶ συνείροντος. Αἰαίη δὲ νῆσος ἡ δεχομένη τὸν ἀποθνήσκοντα μοῖρα καὶ χώρα τοῦ περιέχοντος, εἰς ἣν ἐμπεσοῦσαι πρῶτον αἱ ψυχαὶ πλανῶνται καὶ ξενοπαθοῦσι καὶ ὀλοφύρονται καὶ οὐκ ἴσασιν ὅπῃ ζόφος “οὐδ᾿ ὅπῃ ἠέλιος φαεσίμβροτος εἶσ᾿ ὑπὸ γαῖαν” ποθοῦσαι δὲ καθ᾿ ἡδονὰς τὴν συνήθη καὶ σύντροφον ἐν σαρκὶ καὶ μετὰ σαρκὸς δίαιταν ἐμπίπτουσιν αὖθις εἰς τὸν κυκεῶνα, τῆς γενέσεως μιγνύσης εἰς ταὐτὸ καὶ κυκώσης ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀίδια καὶ θνητὰ καὶ φρόνιμα καὶ παθητὰ καὶ ὀλύμπια καὶ γηγενῆ, θελγόμεναι καὶ μαλασσόμεναι ταῖς ἀγούσαις αὖθις ἐπὶ τὴν γένεσιν ἡδοναῖς, ἐν ᾧ δὴ μάλιστα πολλῆς μὲν εὐτυχίας αἱ ψυχαὶ δέονται πολλῆς δὲ σωφροσύνης, ὅπως μὴ τοῖς κακίστοις ἐπισπόμεναι καὶ συνενδοῦσαι μέρεσιν ἢ πάθεσιν αὑτῶν κακοδαίμονα καὶ θηριώδη βίον ἀμείψωσιν.

For it is right that it is called and considered a crossroad in the underworld around which the parts of the soul split: the rational, the emotional, and the desirous. Each of these produces a force or an inducement to the life appropriate to itself. This is no longer myth or poetry but truth and a story of nature. In this transformation and rebirth, when the aspect of desire overpowers and takes control, [Homer] is claiming that because of the dominance of pleasure and gluttony, they transform into the bodies of donkeys and pigs and receive unclean lives on the ground. The interpretation runs as follows. Whenever a soul has an emotional component that has grown completely savage because of harsh rivalries or murderous savagery developing from some disagreement or vendetta, that soul finds a second birth which is full of bitterness and angry thoughts and falls into the shape of a wolf or a lion, embracing this body as if it were a tool of vengeance for his controlling passion. For this reason, one must keep clean when near death as if for a religious rite and restrain from every kind of base pleasure, put every harsh emotion to bed, and to withdraw from the body by suppressing envies, enmities, and rages down deep. This “Hermes of the golden-staff” happens to be that very reasoning which indicates clearly the good and either wholly restrains or saves it from the deadly draught should it drink—it preserves the soul in a human life and character for as long a time as is possible.”

 

ἡ γὰρ λεγομένη καὶ νομιζομένη τῶν ἐν Ἅιδου τρίοδος ἐνταῦθά που τέτακται περὶ τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς σχιζομένη μέρη, τὸ λογιστικὸν καὶ θυμοειδὲς καὶ ἐπιθυμητικόν, ὧν ἕκαστον ἀρχὴν ἐξ αὑτοῦ καὶ ῥοπὴν ἐπὶ τὸν οἰκεῖον βίον ἐνδίδωσι. καὶ οὐκέτι ταῦτα μῦθος οὐδὲ ποίησις ἀλλ᾿ ἀλήθεια καὶ φυσικὸς λόγος. ὧν μὲν γὰρ ἐν τῇ μεταβολῇ καὶ γενέσει τὸ ἐπιθυμητικὸν ἐξανθοῦν ἐπικρατεῖ καὶ δυναστεύει, τούτοις εἰς ὀνώδη καὶ ὑώδη σώματα καὶ βίους θολεροὺς καὶ ἀκαθάρτους ὑπὸ φιληδονίας καὶ γαστριμαργίας φησὶ γίνεσθαι τὴν μεταβολήν. ὅταν δὲ φιλονεικίαις σκληραῖς καὶ φονικαῖς ὠμότησιν ἔκ τινος διαφορᾶς ἢ δυσμενείας ἐξηγριωμένον ἔχουσα παντάπασιν ἡ ψυχὴ τὸ θυμοειδὲς εἰς δευτέραν γένεσιν ἀφίκηται, πλήρης οὖσα προσφάτου πικρίας καὶ βαρυφροσύνης ἔρριψεν ἑαυτὴν εἰς λύκου φύσιν ἢ λέοντος, ὥσπερ ὄργανον ἀμυντικὸν τὸ σῶμα τῷ κρατοῦντι προσιεμένη πάθει καὶ περιαρμόσασα. διὸ δεῖ μάλιστα περὶ τὸν θάνατον ὥσπερ ἐν τελετῇ καθαρεύοντα παντὸς ἀπέχειν πάθους φαύλου τὴν ψυχὴν καὶ πᾶσαν ἐπιθυμίαν χαλεπὴν κοιμήσαντα καὶ φθόνους καὶ δυσμενείας καὶ ὀργὰς ἀπωτάτω τιθέμενον τοῦ φρονοῦντος ἐκβαίνειν τοῦ σώματος. οὗτος ὁ χρυσόρραπις Ἑρμῆς ἀληθῶς ὁ λόγος ἐντυγχάνων καὶ δεικνύων ἐναργῶς τὸ καλὸν ἢ παντάπασιν εἴργει καὶ ἀπέχει τοῦ κυκεῶνος, ἢ πιοῦσαν2 ἐν ἀνθρωπίνῳ βίῳ καὶ ἤθει διαφυλάσσει πλεῖστον χρόνον, ὡς ἀνυστόν ἐστι.

 

Circe & Odysseus | Pseudo-Chalcidian back figure vase painting

 

 

One thought on “Circe’s Island Is Really about Reincarnation: An Allegorical Reading of Odyssey 10

  1. Pingback: Our Ghosts Are Mirrors of What We Were | SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

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