A Tunic of Flesh and Kirke as an Allegory

Plutarch’s Moralia Fr. 200

“Our fated nature is identified by Empedocles as the force behind this remaking, “wrapping [us] in a tunic of strange flesh” and transferring souls to a new place. Homer has called this circular revolution and the return of rebirth by the name Kirke, a child of Helios, the one who unites every destruction with birth and destruction again, binding it endlessly.

The Island Aiaia is that place which revives the person who dies, a place where the souls first step when they are wandering and feel like strangers to themselves as they mourn and cannot figure out which direction is west nor where the “sun which brings life to people over the land / descends again into the earth.”

These souls long for their habits of pleasure and their life in the flesh and the way they lived with their flesh and they fall again into that mixture where birth swirls together and truly stirs into one the immortal and moral, the material of thought and experience, elements of heaven and earth. The souls are enchanted but also weakened by the pleasures that pull them to birth again. At that time, souls require a great amount of good luck and much wisdom to find some way to resist and depart from their worst characters and become bound to their most base parts or passions and take up a terrible 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.

Aristotle, Physiognomics 808b

“[in this case] the soul and the body would experience things together, but they would not have the same reactions as one another. But, now, it is entirely clear that one follows another. This is especially obvious from the following. For madness seems to be a matter of the mind; doctors, however, respond to it by cleansing the body with medicines and also by telling them to pursue certain habits in life which may relieve the mind of madness.

So, the form of the body is relieved by treatments to the body at the very same time that the soul is freed from madness. Since they are both relieved together, it is clear that their reactions are in synchrony. It is also clear from this that the forms special to the body are similar to the capabilities of the mind, with the result that all similarities in living things are clear signs of some kind of sameness.”

ἡ ψυχή τε καὶ τὸ σῶμα συμπαθῆ, οὐ μέντοι συνδιατελοῦντα ἀλλήλοις. νῦν δὲ καταφανὲς ὅτι ἑκάτερον ἑκατέρῳ ἕπεται. μάλιστα μέντοι ἐκ τοῦδε δῆλον γένοιτο. μανία γὰρ δοκεῖ εἶναι περὶ ψυχήν, καὶ οἱ ἰατροὶ φαρμάκοις καθαίροντες τὸ σῶμα καὶ διαίταις τισὶ πρὸς αὐτοῖς χρησάμενοι ἀπαλλάττουσι τὴν ψυχὴν τῆς μανίας. ταῖς δὴ τοῦ σώματος θεραπείαις καὶ ἅμα ἥ τε τοῦ σώματος μορφὴ λέλυται καὶ ἡ ψυχὴ μανίας ἀπήλλακται. ἐπειδὴ οὖν ἅμα ἀμφότερα λύονται, δῆλον ὅτι συνδιατελοῦσιν ἀλλήλοις. συμφανὲς δὲ καὶ ὅτι ταῖς δυνάμεσι τῆς ψυχῆς ὅμοιαι αἱ μορφαὶ τοῖς σώμασιν ἐπιγίνονται, ὥστ᾿ ἐστὶν ἅπαντα ὅμοια ἐν τοῖς ζῴοις τοῦ αὐτοῦ τινὸς δηλωτικά.

Epictetus, Fr. 26

“Epictetus used to say, ‘you’re a tiny soul lugging around a corpse’.”

Ψυχάριον εἶ βαστάζον νεκρόν, ὡς Ἐπίκτητος ἔλεγεν.

Related image
Wright Barker (British, 1863-1941) – “Circe” c.1889

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