Rebirth From the Fire

Philo, The Eternity of the World 85-86 (504)

“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.”

Ἐκεῖνο δ᾿ οὐκ ἀνάξιον διαπορῆσαι, τίνα τρόπον ἔσται παλιγγενεσία, πάντων εἰς πῦρ ἀναλυθέντων· ἐξαναλωθείσης γὰρ τῆς οὐσίας ὑπὸ πυρός, ἀνάγκη καὶ τὸ πῦρ οὐκέτ᾿ ἔχον τροφὴν ἀποσβεσθῆναι. μένοντος μὲν οὖν, ὁ σπερματικὸς τῆς διακοσμήσεως ἐσῴζετ᾿ <ἂν> λόγος, ἀναιρεθέντος δὲ συνανῄρηται. τὸ δ᾿ ἐστὶν ἔκθεσμον καὶ ἀσέβημα ἤδη διπλοῦν, μὴ μόνον φθορὰν τοῦ κόσμου κατηγορεῖν ἀλλὰ καὶ παλιγγενεσίαν ἀναιρεῖν, ὥσπερ ἐν ἀκοσμίᾳ καὶ ἀπραξίᾳ καὶ τοῖς πλημμελέσι πᾶσι χαίροντος θεοῦ.

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Medieval Wheel of Fortune

The [Bark] of a Dear Friend

On Xenophanes: Diog. Laert. 8.36

“What [Xenophanes] says about Pythagoras goes like this:

People say that one day, when he was passing by as a puppy was being beaten, he pitied him and uttered this line: ‘Stop, don’t beat him, in truth, his is a soul of a dear friend of mine, one I recognized when I heard him cry.”

ὃ δὲ περὶ αὐτοῦ φησιν οὕτως ἔχει·

καί ποτέ μιν στυφελιζομένου σκύλακος παριόντα φασὶν ἐποικτῖραι καὶ τόδε φάσθαι ἔπος·“παῦσαι, μηδὲ ῥάπιζ᾿,ἐπεὶ ἦ φίλου ἀνέρος ἐστὶν ψυχή, τὴν ἔγνων φθεγξαμένης ἀϊών.”

καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ὁ Ξενοφάνης.

Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 1951, Folio 20r

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.

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

Our Bodies Are Punishment for Murder

Plutarch’s Moralia, The eating of Flesh 996a-C

“This is the third day since I made mention of that comment by Xenocrates in a discussion, that the Athenians rendered a judgment against the man who flayed a ram while it was still alive. But I think that someone who tortures something while it still lives is not worse than the one who kills it. Rather, as it seems to me, we are more sensitive to things that are against common practice than those against nature.

I am also saying these things in a more common way here. But this great, mysterious, and unbelievable matter, as Plato says, is something I am reluctant to frame with the principle of my belief with clever people who are mulling over mortal affairs, just as a captain in a storm pauses before moving his ship or a poet hesitates at raising the machine during the performance of a play.

But it may not be worse also to set the tune and anticipate the theme by using Empedocles’ words. For he allegorizes souls in his lines, suggesting that humans are imprisoned in bodies in order to pay the price for murder, eating flesh, and being cannibals. This belief has an older appearance, however. For there are stories told of the sufferings of Dionysus when he was dismembered and the outrages the Titans committed, how they were punished and struck by lightning after they tasted his blood. This myth is an occult tale about rebirth.”

ἐμνήσθην δὲ τρίτην ἡμέραν διαλεγόμενος τὸ τοῦ Ξενοκράτους ὅτι Ἀθηναῖοι τῷ ζῶντα τὸν κριὸν ἐκδείραντι δίκην ἐπέθηκαν· οὐκ ἔστι δ᾿, οἶμαι, χείρων ὁ ζῶντα βασανίζων τοῦ παραιρουμένου τὸ ζῆν καὶ φονεύοντος· ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον, ὡς ἔοικε, τῶν παρὰ συνήθειαν ἢ τῶν παρὰ φύσιν αἰσθανόμεθα. καὶ ταῦτα μὲν ἐκεῖ κοινότερον ἔλεγον· τὴν δὲ μεγάλην καὶ μυστηριώδη καὶ ἄπιστον ἀνδράσι δεινοῖς, ᾗ φησιν ὁ Πλάτων, καὶ θνητὰ φρονοῦσιν ἀρχὴν τοῦ δόγματος ὀκνῶ μὲν ἔτι τῷ λόγῳ κινεῖν, ὥσπερ ναῦν ἐν χειμῶνι ναύκληρος ἢ μηχανὴν αἴρειν ποιητικὸς ἀνὴρ ἐν θεάτρῳ σκηνῆς περιφερομένης. οὐ χεῖρον δ᾿ ἴσως καὶ προανακρούσασθαι καὶ προαναφωνῆσαι τὰ τοῦ Ἐμπεδοκλέους· . . . ἀλληγορεῖ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα τὰς ψυχάς, ὅτι φόνων καὶ βρώσεως σαρκῶν καὶ ἀλληλοφαγίας δίκην τίνουσαι σώμασι θνητοῖς ἐνδέδενται. καίτοι δοκεῖ παλαιότερος οὗτος ὁ λόγος εἶναι· τὰ γὰρ δὴ περὶ τὸν Διόνυσον μεμυθευμένα πάθη τοῦ διαμελισμοῦ καὶ τὰ Τιτάνων ἐπ᾿ αὐτὸν τολμήματα, κολάσεις τε τούτων καὶ κεραυνώσεις γευσαμένων τοῦ φόνου, ᾐνιγμένος ἐστὶ μῦθος εἰς τὴν παλιγγενεσίαν·

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From here

Teaching–“the most rigorous form of learning”

Solon, fr. 18

“I grow old, always learning many things.”

γηράσκω δ’ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος·

Kim Stanley Robinson The Years of Rice and Salt (2003: 758)

“Over time, Bao came to understand that teaching too was a kind of reincarnation, in that years passed and students came and went, new young people all the time, but always the same age, taking the same class; the class under the oak trees, reincarnated. He began to enjoy that aspect of it. He would start the first class by saying, “Look, here we are again.” They never knew what to make of it; same response, every time.

He learned, among other things, that teaching was the most rigorous form of learning. He learned to learn more from his students than they did from him; like so many other things, it was the reverse from what it seemed to be, and colleges existed to bring together groups of young people to teach some chosen few of their elders the things that they knew about life, that the old teachers had been in danger of forgetting.”

Kim Stanley Robinson is great-souled. This book is beyond simple description. Try it.

Thinking about aging today? Here is another great reflection on aging, teaching, and changing roles in life by Stephanie McCarter.

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