The Truth Beyond Mortal Minds

Here’s a recent piece on Greek concepts of the truth from The Conversation. It is part of a series developed with WBUR’s On Point, called “In Search of Truth” (here’s the first episode)

Stobaeus 2.1.1

“Concerning those who interpret divine matters, the truth of these thoughts in reality is beyond comprehension for mortals.”

Περὶ τῶν τὰ θεῖα ἑρμηνευόντων, καὶ ὡς εἴη ἀνθρώποις ἀκατάληπτος ἡ τῶν νοητῶν κατὰ τὴν οὐσίαν ἀλήθεια.

Plato, Timaeus 71e-72a

“In remembering the missive of their father, those who made us when he ordered them to make a mortal race as good as they were able, purified the base part of us in such a way by establishing the power of divination so that we might approach the truth. A sufficient sign that god granted the power of divination to balance human foolishness is this: no one approaches inspired and true divination when they are in their right mind but only when his intelligence is compromised in sleep or sickness or set aside by some divine possession.

Instead, when someone is rational they need to reconsider and remember what was said in a dream or vision under the influence of divination and the nature of divine inspiration, to analyze however many visions were seen and to use reason to figure out what they mean for good or for ill in the future, the past, or the present. It is not the job of someone who is in a manic state still to judge what is seen or what they said. It was well insisted in ancient times that to know one’s own matters and one’s self is proper only to the rational mind.”

Μεμνημένοι γὰρ τῆς τοῦ πατρὸς ἐπιστολῆς οἱ ξυστήσαντες ἡμᾶς, ὅτε τὸ θνητὸν ἐπέστελλε γένος ὡς ἄριστον εἰς δύναμιν ποιεῖν, οὕτω δὴ κατορθοῦντες καὶ τὸ φαῦλον ἡμῶν, ἵνα ἀληθείας πῃ προσάπτοιτο, κατέστησαν ἐν τούτῳ τὸ μαντεῖον. ἱκανὸν δὲ σημεῖον ὡς μαντικὴν ἀφροσύνῃ θεὸς ἀνθρωπίνῃ δέδωκεν· οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔννους ἐφάπτεται μαντικῆς ἐνθέου καὶ ἀληθοῦς, ἀλλ᾿ ἢ καθ᾿ ὕπνον τὴν τῆς φρονήσεως πεδηθεὶς δύναμιν ἢ διὰ νόσον ἢ διά τινα ἐνθουσιασμὸν παραλλάξας. ἀλλὰ ξυννοῆσαι μὲν ἔμφρονος τά τε ῥηθέντα ἀναμνησθέντα ὄναρ ἢ ὕπαρ ὑπὸ τῆς μαντικῆς τε καὶ ἐνθουσιαστικῆς φύσεως, καὶ ὅσα ἂν φαντάσματα ὀφθῇ, πάντα λογισμῷ διελέσθαι, ὅπῃ τι σημαίνει καὶ ὅτῳ μέλλοντος ἢ παρελθόντος ἢ παρόντος κακοῦ ἢ ἀγαθοῦ· τοῦ δὲ μανέντος ἔτι τε ἐν τούτῳ μένοντος οὐκ ἔργον τὰ φανέντα καὶ φωνηθέντα ὑφ᾿ ἑαυτοῦ κρίνειν, ἀλλ᾿ εὖ καὶ πάλαι λέγεται τὸ πράττειν καὶ γνῶναι τά τε αὑτοῦ καὶ ἑαυτὸν σώφρονι μόνῳ προσήκειν.

Porphyry, Ad Marcella 24

“Let four elements rule chiefly when it comes to god: belief, truth, desire, and hope. For it is right to believe that the only safety is cleaving to god and having faith that must be eager to learn the truth about him and knowing how to desire what is known and once desired to nourish the mind on good hopes throughout your life. For good people supersede base ones thanks to good hopes. Hence, let these elements and this many rule.”

Τέσσαρα στοιχεῖα μάλιστα κεκρατύνθω περὶ θεοῦ· πίστις, ἀλήθεια, ἔρως, ἐλπίς. πιστεῦσαι γὰρ δεῖ ὅτι μόνη σωτηρία ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν ἐπιστροφή, καὶ πιστεύσαντα ὡς ἔνι μάλιστα σπουδάσαι τἀληθῆ γνῶναι περὶ αὐτοῦ, καὶ γνόντα ἐρασθῆναι τοῦ γνωσθέντος, ἐρασθέντα δὲ ἐλπίσιν ἀγαθαῖς τρέφειν τὴν ψυχὴν διὰ τοῦ βίου. ἐλπίσι γὰρ ἀγαθαῖς οἱ ἀγαθοὶ τῶν φαύλων ὑπερέχουσι. στοιχεῖα μὲν οὖν ταῦτα καὶ τοσαῦτα κεκρατύνθω.

Iamblichus, Protrepticus 42.2

“If a human being, then, is some kind of a simple creature and its essence is structured according to reason and thought, then it has no other work than the most precise truth alone and telling the truth about reality. But if a human being is a composite of many abilities, it is clear that it will function because it is created from more, always it is the best of these actions, for instance the health of a doctor or the preservation provided by a ship’s captain.”

εἰ μὲν οὖν ἁπλοῦν τι ζῷόν ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος καὶ κατὰ λόγον καὶ νοῦν τέτακται αὐτοῦ ἡ οὐσία, οὐκ ἄλλο ἐστὶν αὐτοῦ ἔργον ἢ μόνη ἡ ἀκριβεστάτη ἀλή-
θεια καὶ τὸ περὶ τῶν ὄντων ἀληθεύειν· εἰ δ’ ἐστὶν ἐκ πλειόνων δυνάμεων συμπεφυκός, δῆλόν ἐστιν ὡς ἀφ’ οὗ πλείω πέφυκεν ἀποτελεῖσθαι, ἀεὶ τούτων τὸ βέλτιστον ἔργον ἐστίν, οἷον ἰατρικοῦ ὑγεία καὶ κυβερνήτου σωτηρία. βέλτιον δὲ οὐδὲν ἔχομεν λέγειν ἔργον

The Delphic Priestess, Romeyn de Hooghe, 1687

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