“Where Is the Soul From?” And Other Casual Conversation Starters

Or, Philo just gets me…

Philo, On the Cherubim  32 (115)

“Where did the soul come from and where will it go? For how much time will it be our companion? Are we capable of saying that its nature is? When did we receive it? Was it before we were born? But, we did not exist then. Was it after death? But, then, we will not be as we are now, conjoined to bodies, but we will rush towards rebirth, among the bodiless, without characteristics, without connections.

And even now as we live we are ruled rather than ruling and we are known rather than knowing. The soul knows us even if we do not know it. It issues orders which we necessarily obey just as slaves obey their mistress. And whenever it wants, it will demand from the judge a divorce from us and it will depart, leaving behind a home bereft of life. If we try to force it to stay, it will escape. Its nature is so fine, that it provides nowhere for the body to cling to.”

πόθεν δὲ ἦλθεν ἡ ψυχή, ποῖ δὲ χωρήσει, πόσον δὲ χρόνον ἡμῖν ὁμοδίαιτος ἔσται; τίς δέ ἐστι τὴν οὐσίαν ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν; πότε δὲ καὶ ἐκτησάμεθα αὐτήν; πρὸ γενέσεως; ἀλλ᾿ οὐχ ὑπήρχομεν· μετὰ τὸν θάνατον; ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἐσόμεθα οἱ μετὰ σωμάτων σύγκριτοι ποιοί, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς παλιγγενεσίαν ὁρμήσομεν οἱ μετὰ ἀσωμάτων ἀσύγκριτοι ἄποιοί.

ἀλλὰ νῦν ὅτε ζῶμεν κρατούμεθα μᾶλλον ἢ | ἄρχομεν καὶ γνωριζόμεθα μᾶλλον ἢ γνωρίζομεν· οἶδε γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐ γνωριζομένη πρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ ἐπιτάγματα ἐπιτάττει, οἷς ἐξ ἀνάγκης ὑπηρετοῦμεν ὡς οἰκέται δεσποίνῃ· ἀπόλειψίν τε ὅταν ἐθέλῃ πρὸς τὸν ἄρχοντα χρηματίσασα μεταναστήσεται ἔρημον καταλιποῦσα ζωῆς τὸν ἡμέτερον οἶκον, κἂν ἐπιμένειν βιαζώμεθα, διαλύσεται· λεπτομερὴς γὰρ αὐτῆς ἡ φύσις, ὡς μηδεμίαν ἐμπαρέχειν λαβὴν σώματι.

The dead man before God.A demon attempts to steal his soul, but is attacked by St Michael the Archangel. 15th c. The Book of Rohan Hours.
The Book of Rohan Hours

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

“Where Is the Soul From?” And Other Casual Conversation Starters

Or, Philo just gets me…

Philo, On the Cherubim  32 (115)

“Where did the soul come from and where will it go? For how much time will it be our companion? Are we capable of saying that its nature is? When did we receive it? Was it before we were born? But, we did not exist then. Was it after death? But, then, we will not be as we are now, conjoined to bodies, but we will rush towards rebirth, among the bodiless, without characteristics, without connections.

And even now as we live we are ruled rather than ruling and we are known rather than knowing. The soul knows us even if we do not know it. It issues orders which we necessarily obey just as slaves obey their mistress. And whenever it wants, it will demand from the judge a divorce from us and it will depart, leaving behind a home bereft of life. If we try to force it to stay, it will escape. Its nature is so fine, that it provides nowhere for the body to cling to.”

πόθεν δὲ ἦλθεν ἡ ψυχή, ποῖ δὲ χωρήσει, πόσον δὲ χρόνον ἡμῖν ὁμοδίαιτος ἔσται; τίς δέ ἐστι τὴν οὐσίαν ἔχομεν εἰπεῖν; πότε δὲ καὶ ἐκτησάμεθα αὐτήν; πρὸ γενέσεως; ἀλλ᾿ οὐχ ὑπήρχομεν· μετὰ τὸν θάνατον; ἀλλ᾿ οὐκ ἐσόμεθα οἱ μετὰ σωμάτων σύγκριτοι ποιοί, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς παλιγγενεσίαν ὁρμήσομεν οἱ μετὰ ἀσωμάτων ἀσύγκριτοι ἄποιοί.

ἀλλὰ νῦν ὅτε ζῶμεν κρατούμεθα μᾶλλον ἢ | ἄρχομεν καὶ γνωριζόμεθα μᾶλλον ἢ γνωρίζομεν· οἶδε γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐ γνωριζομένη πρὸς ἡμῶν καὶ ἐπιτάγματα ἐπιτάττει, οἷς ἐξ ἀνάγκης ὑπηρετοῦμεν ὡς οἰκέται δεσποίνῃ· ἀπόλειψίν τε ὅταν ἐθέλῃ πρὸς τὸν ἄρχοντα χρηματίσασα μεταναστήσεται ἔρημον καταλιποῦσα ζωῆς τὸν ἡμέτερον οἶκον, κἂν ἐπιμένειν βιαζώμεθα, διαλύσεται· λεπτομερὴς γὰρ αὐτῆς ἡ φύσις, ὡς μηδεμίαν ἐμπαρέχειν λαβὴν σώματι.

The dead man before God.A demon attempts to steal his soul, but is attacked by St Michael the Archangel. 15th c. The Book of Rohan Hours.
The Book of Rohan Hours

Learning Requires Memory and Experience

Aristotle, Metaphysics 980a22-981

“All people naturally yearn for knowledge. A sign of this our delight in our senses: for we take pleasure in them beyond their use—especially in the use of our eyes. This is not only so we may act but also when we are about to do nothing we choose seeing before all of the other senses, in general. The cause of this is that this sense especially helps us learn and clarifies many differences.

Animals too are born having senses, and from these some have memory and some do not. This is why some animals have more thoughts and may learn better than those who are not capable of memory. Some are clever but without the skill of learning, for example the bee or another other type of this kind of creature. However so many creatures have perception in addition to memory can learn. The rest of the animals live by images and instincts and have a small portion of experience.

The human race survives both by skill and reasoning. Experience comes to us from memory—for the many memories of the same matter results in the power of a single experience. Experience certainly seems similar to knowledge and skill, but knowledge and skill come to people from experience. For, “experience produces art,”  as Polus has rightly pronounced, “while inexperience makes good luck.”

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Πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει. σημεῖον δ᾿ ἡ τῶν αἰσθήσεων ἀγάπησις· καὶ γὰρ χωρὶς τῆς χρείας ἀγαπῶνται δι᾿ αὑτάς, καὶ μάλιστα τῶν ἄλλων ἡ διὰ τῶν ὀμμάτων. οὐ γὰρ μόνον ἵνα πράττωμεν ἀλλὰ καὶ μηθὲν μέλλοντες πράττειν τὸ ὁρᾶν αἱρούμεθα ἀντὶ πάντων ὡς εἰπεῖν τῶν ἄλλων. αἴτιον δ᾿ ὅτι μάλιστα ποιεῖ γνωρίζειν τι ἡμᾶς αὕτη τῶν αἰσθήσεων, καὶ πολλὰς δηλοῖ διαφοράς. Φύσει μὲν οὖν αἴσθησιν ἔχοντα γίγνεται τὰ ζῷα, ἐκ δὲ ταύτης τοῖς μὲν αὐτῶν οὐκ ἐγγίγνεται μνήμη τοῖς δ᾿ ἐγγίγνεται. καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ταῦτα φρονιμώτερα καὶ μαθητικώτερα τῶν μὴ δυναμένων μνημονεύειν ἐστί, φρόνιμα μὲν ἄνευ τοῦ μανθάνειν ὅσα μὴ δύναται τῶν ψόφων ἀκούειν, οἷον μέλιττα, καὶ εἴ τι τοιοῦτον ἄλλο γένος ζῴων ἔστι· μανθάνει δ᾿ ὅσα πρὸς τῇ μνήμῃ καὶ ταύτην ἔχει τὴν αἴσθησιν. Τὰ μὲν οὖν ἄλλα ταῖς φαντασίαις ζῇ καὶ ταῖς μνήμαις, ἐμπειρίας δὲ μετέχει μικρόν· τὸ δὲ τῶν ἀνθρώπων γένος καὶ τέχνῃ καὶ λογισμοῖς. γίγνεται δ᾿ ἐκ τῆς μνήμης ἐμπειρία τοῖς ἀνθρώποις αἱ γὰρ πολλαὶ μνῆμαι τοῦ αὐτοῦ πράγματος μιᾶς ἐμπειρίας δύναμιν ἀποτελοῦσιν. καὶ δοκεῖ σχεδὸν ἐπιστήμῃ καὶ τέχνῃ ὅμοιον εἶναι ἡ ἐμπειρία, ἀποβαίνει δ᾿ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τέχνη διὰ τῆς ἐμπειρίας τοῖς ἀνθρώποις· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἐμπειρία τέχνην ἐποί- ησεν, ὡς φησὶ Πῶλος, ὀρθῶς λέγων, ἡ δ᾿ ἀπειρία τύχην.

Get Philosophical About Valentine’s Day: Love Keeps the World Together

Empedocles, fr. 17.23-33

 

“Come, listen to my stories: for learning will certainly improve your thoughts.
As I said before when I declared the outline of my speeches,
I will speak a two-fold tale. Once, first, the one alone grew
Out of many and then in turn it grew apart into many from one.
Fire, and Water, and Earth and the invincible peak of Air,
Ruinous strife as well, separate from these, equal to every one,
And Love was among them, equal as well in length and breadth.
Keep Love central in your mind, don’t sit with eyes in a stupor.
She is known to be innate to mortal bodies,
She causes them to think of love and complete acts of peace,
Whether we call her Happiness or Aphrodite as a nickname….”

ἀλλ’ ἄγε μύθων κλῦθι· μάθη γάρ τοι φρένας αὔξει·
ὡς γὰρ καὶ πρὶν ἔειπα πιφαύσκων πείρατα μύθων,
δίπλ’ ἐρέω· τοτὲ μὲν γὰρ ἓν ηὐξήθη μόνον εἶναι
ἐκ πλεόνων, τοτὲ δ’ αὖ διέφυ πλέον’ ἐξ ἑνὸς εἶναι,
πῦρ καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ γαῖα καὶ ἠέρος ἄπλετον ὕψος,
Νεῖκός τ’ οὐλόμενον δίχα τῶν, ἀτάλαντον ἁπάντηι,
καὶ Φιλότης ἐν τοῖσιν, ἴση μῆκός τε πλάτος τε·
τὴν σὺ νόωι δέρκευ, μηδ’ ὄμμασιν ἧσο τεθηπώς·
ἥτις καὶ θνητοῖσι νομίζεται ἔμφυτος ἄρθροις,
τῆι τε φίλα φρονέουσι καὶ ἄρθμια ἔργα τελοῦσι,
Γηθοσύνην καλέοντες ἐπώνυμον ἠδ’ ᾿Αφροδίτην·

Beginning and Ending the Week with Parmenides

Feeling metaphysical this morning? Some of our favorite lines from Parmenides:

 

Parmenides, fragment 3.7

“Thinking and being are the same thing.”

… τὸ γὰρ αὐτὸ νοεῖν ἐστίν τε καὶ εἶναι

For fun, invert the predicate and verb and pretend you’re Yoda.

Parmenides and other presocratics provide a good workout for the articular infinitive.

 

Parmenides, fr. 2.8-9

 

“These are the only paths of investigation to contemplate: how it both is and is not possible not to be…and how it is both unnecessary and necessary not to be”

 

αἵπερ ὁδοὶ μοῦναι διζήσιός εἰσι νοῆσαι·

ἡ μὲν ὅπως ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς οὐκ ἔστι μὴ εἶναι, ….

ἡ δ’ ὡς οὐκ ἔστιν τε καὶ ὡς χρεών ἐστι μὴ εἶναι

 

Some great structure in this piece. The stripped down version on the twitter-feed (“the only paths of investigation: how it is and isn’t possible not to be; and how it is isn’t and is necessary not to be”) seems vaguely (and haphazardly) Heraclitean.

 

Parmenides, fr. 6.16

 

 

“The path of all things goes backwards.”

…πάντων δὲ παλίντροπός ἐστι κέλευθος.

 

Yeah, yeah, Cole: and time is a flat circle, right?

 

Parmenides, fr. 7.1

 

 

“You can never prove that what doesn’t exist exists”

 

οὐ γὰρ μήποτε τοῦτο δαμῆι εἶναι μὴ ἐόντα·

 

Is the opposite true as well?

Now, I’m confused.

 

Parmenides, fr. 1 51-53

 

“It is right that you learn all things: both the steadfast heart of well-polished truth and the opinions of men…”

 

χρεὼ δέ σε πάντα πυθέσθαι

ἠμὲν ᾿Αληθείης εὐκυκλέος ἀτρεμὲς ἦτορ

ἠδὲ βροτῶν δόξας….