“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“Why do round and circular things move most easily of all shapes? A wheel has three different types of movement. It can move along the rim of the wheel as the center moves too (the way a wheel of a simple cart turns). It can also move around the center, the way that pulleys do, when the center stays still. Or, it may move parallel to the ground with the center still too, the way a potter’s wheel moves.
These movements are really fast because of the limited friction with the ground—this is the same as how a circle only touches a single point on a line and for that reason there is little resistance.”
“There is a certain kind of center and over it there is a circle shining out from it. In addition to these, there is another and light comes from light. Outside of these, there is no other circle of light, but a circle which, because it lacks its own illumination, requires rays of light from somewhere else. Let’s call this a wheel, or, instead, a kind of ball which emerges from the third (since it is situated around it) and it is illuminated by however much light the third has.
In this way, the great light remains, shining and its brilliance expands into the world in proper order. Other lights join its brightness: some remain in place, but others, pulled by the gleam of the light, are moved. And then, while those things that are filled with light require more consideration, they also bend inward to their own concerns, just as captains of ships in a storm pay more attention to the operation of their ships and forget to care for themselves and run the risk of drowning along with the wreck of their ship.”