Our Ghosts Are Mirrors of What We Were

From Porphyry’s on Styx [Fragments preserved in Stobaeus 1.49.50]

“The notion explored is that the souls [of the dead] are like images which appear in mirrors or those on the surface of water which appear to resemble us completely and imitate our movements but have no solid matter for grasping or touching. This is why he calls them “images of exhausted men” (11.476).”

῾Υποτίθεται γὰρ τὰς ψυχὰς τοῖς εἰδώλοις τοῖς ἐν τοῖς κατόπτροις φαινομένοις ὁμοίας καὶ τοῖς διὰ τῶν ὑδάτων συνισταμένοις, ἃ καθάπαξ ἡμῖν ἐξείκασται καὶ τὰς κινήσεις μιμεῖται, στερεμνιώδη δ’ ὑπόστασιν οὐδεμίαν ἔχει εἰς ἀντίληψιν καὶ ἁφήν· ὅθεν αὐτὰς ‘βροτῶν εἴδωλα καμόντων’ (λ 476) λέγει.”

From Porphyry’s comments on Kirkê and the transformation of the soul (Stobaeus, 1.49.60.48):

“These things are no longer myth and poetry, but the truth and an account of nature.”

Καὶ οὐκέτι ταῦτα μῦθος οὐδὲ ποίησις, ἀλλὰ ἀλήθεια καὶ φυσικὸς λόγος.

This makes me think of stories as ghosts of deeds:

Euripides, fr. 532

“Do good while people are alive; when each man dies
He is earth and shadow. What is nothing changes nothing.”

τοὺς ζῶντας εὖ δρᾶν· κατθανὼν δὲ πᾶς ἀνὴρ
γῆ καὶ σκιά· τὸ μηδὲν εἰς οὐδὲν ῥέπει.

fr. 509

“What else? An old man is voice and shadow.”

τί δ’ ἄλλο; φωνὴ καὶ σκιὰ γέρων ἀνήρ.

Tragic Adesp. Fr. 95

“I want to advise all mortals
To live our temporary life sweetly. For after you die,
You are nothing more than a shadow over the earth.”

πᾶσιν δὲ θνητοῖς βούλομαι παραινέσαι
τοὐφήμερον ζῆν ἡδέως· ὁ γὰρ θανὼν
τὸ μηδέν ἐστι καὶ σκιὰ κατὰ χθονός·

This connects to a repeated idea from classical Greek poetry:

Aeschylus, fr. 399.1-2

“Humanity thinks only about temporary seeds,
Its pledge is nothing more than the shadow of smoke”

τὸ γὰρ βρότειον σπέρμ’ ἐφήμερα φρονεῖ,
καὶ πιστὸν οὐδὲν μᾶλλον ἢ καπνοῦ σκιά

Sophocles, fr. 13.

“Man is only breath and shadow.”

ἄνθρωπός ἐστι πνεῦμα καὶ σκιὰ μόνον

Pindar, Pythian 8.95

“Alive for a day: What is a person? What is not a person? Man is a dream of a shadow”

ἐπάμεροι· τί δέ τις; τί δ’ οὔ τις; σκιᾶς ὄναρ

 

Democritus, fr. B145

“A story is the shadow of the deed”

λόγος ἔργου σκιή

 

Arsenius, 6.33a

“The shadow of Doiduks”: A proverb applied to nothing.”

Δοίδυκος σκιά: ἐπὶ τοῦ μηδενός.

 

Michael Apostolios, 5.74

“Shadow instead of a body”: A Proverb applied to those who seem strong but have no power.”

Σκιὰ ἀντὶ τοῦ σώματος: ἐπὶ τῶν δοκούντων κρα-
τεῖν τι, οὐδὲν δ’ ὅμως κρατούντων.

Image result for Ancient Greek burial sites

 

Leave a reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s