And the following cannot be dismissed, what some super-cranky man might say, that “you people, why do you puff yourselves up and down with words, claiming that life is good, saying that thought is good, and that there is something beyond these things? Why should thought be good? Or what that is good can the thinker of the ideal forms derive while he hunts for each of them? If he is deceived and feels pleasure in them, well then he might soon say that it is god and that life is because it is pleasant.
But what if he remains in a state free of pleasure, why would he call them good? Is it just because this exists? What difference could there be in existing or totally not existing, unless someone establishes affinity for these things as the cause for it? Then, he would have to concede that the good of these things is posited because of this natural kind of deception and fear of the loss of these things.”
From Porphyry’s onStyx [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).”
“In the seventh book [Ptolemy Chennos reports that] Theodôros of Samothrace says that after Zeus was born he laughed without stopping for seven days. This is why the number seven is thought to be “final” [or whole, complete”]
“There’s a story of the tyrant of Troezen. Because he wanted to get rid of any plots and conspiracies against him, he ordered that no one could talk to anyone else in public or private. This was an impossible and harsh matter. But the people circumvented the tyrant’s command: they were nodding to each other and using hand gestures too. They also used angry, calm, or bright facial expressions. Each person was clear to all in his emotions, showing the suffering in his spirit on his face by grimacing at bad news or implacable conditions.
These actions caused the tyrant annoyance too—for he was believing that even silence accompanied by plentiful gestures was contriving something bad for him. So, he stopped this too.
One of those who was burdened and troubled by this absurdity was longing to end the monarchy. A group rose up with him and stood together sharing their tears. A report came to the tyrant that no one was using gestures any longer, because, instead, they were trafficking in tears. Because he was eager to stop this, he was proclaiming not only slavery of the tongue and gestures, but he was even trying to ban the freedom of the eyes we get from nature. So he went there without delay with his bodyguards to stop the tears. But as soon as the people saw him they took away his bodyguards’ weapons and killed the tyrant.”
“And this is also not unworthy of consideration: what will be the way of rebirth when everything has been destroyed by fire? For, when substance is completely burned up, then it is necessary that the fire burns out because it no longer has anything to feed it.
If the fire remains, then the essential logic of an orderly creation is preserved; but if fire is removed, then that disappears too. This is a double sacrifice and sacrilege—not only to ask for the destruction of the world but also to eradicate rebirth as if god took joy in disorder, lethargy, and all kinds of error.”
“There were another three who sat equally apart in a circle, each on her own seat, the Fates, those daughters of necessity, dressed in white clothes with fillets on their heads: Lachesis, Klotho, and Atropos, all joining the hymn with the chorus of Sirens. Lachesis sings what was; Klotho sings what is, and Atropos sings what will be.”
“There are three Fates—one allotted to different times—and part of the wool of their spindle is already spun, some still needs to be, and some is currently being worked. One of the Moirai is for the past—Atropos—because all things which are behind us cannot be altered (atrepta); the future, then, is Lakhesis, because that which is allotted [lêksis] by nature awaits everything; and the present belongs to Klôthô who decides what is proper for each as she spins (klôthein). That’s how the myth ends and not improperly.”
This toxic brew is one part myth, one part moral philosophy and at two parts misogyny mixed up with some delightful Xenophontic prose. It is as if Robert Frost wrote about the path less taken but in moralizing prose capitalizing on hateful stereotypes. Ok, so, it is not really like Robert Frost at all. Happy Tuesday!
Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.1.21-29
“Wise Prodikos in his composition on Herakles (which he performs for many people) also expresses similar views about virtue, he says this much, as far as I can remember. For he says:
“Herakles, when he was moving from childhood into adolescence, that time when the young take control of their lives and demonstrate whether they will turn onto the path of virtue or vice, went out to sit down in a quiet place because he was uncertain which road to take.
While he was there, two giant women appeared and approached him. The first was fine to look at and naturally free—her body was dressed in purity, her eyes with shame, her bearing with wisdom, and her clothing was white.
The other woman was fed too much and was thick and soft; her skin was all decorated so that she seemed whiter and pinker than she really was, and her bearing made her look taller than she was naturally. Her eyes were opened-wide; her clothing showed off how everything was especially “in season”; and she was looking over herself all the time, trying to spot if anyone else was looking at her. She often was peeking at her own shadow.
When they approached Herakles, that first woman went in the manner which was mentioned, but the second ran up to Herakles because she was eager to to defeat her. She said. “Herakles, I see that you are unsure what path to follow in your life. If you make me your friend, I will take you on the most pleasing and easy journey. You will not miss out on any of life’s pleasures, and you will live without experience of sufferings.”
Then, after Herakles listened to this, he asked “Woman, what is your name”. And she said, “My friends call me Happiness, the haters call me Vice.”
“Meanwhile, the other woman approached and said, “I have also come to you, Herakles, someone who knows your parents and I have learned your nature as you were educated. This is why I hope that, if you choose the path I am offering, you will become a great doer of noble and solemn acts and that I will seem more honorable and famous for the good things I bring. I will not lie to you with an introduction of pleasures: I will tell you the truth, how the gods have made the world for you.”