“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

An Untold Number of Gods and the Path to Eternal Fame

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.5 16–18

“This is the reason it is possible to estimate a greater number of divinities than there are humans: individuals make a number of gods equal to their number by adopting their own Junos and Genii. Indeed, some peoples have animals, even horrible ones, for gods and many others too shameful to report, such as swearing by rotten food or other similar things.

Believing in marriage among the gods but without anyone being born from them for such a great span of time or that some are always old and graying while others are eternally young even children, or that some gods are dark-colored, winged, crippled born from eggs, or dying and living on alternating days, these beliefs are like childhood delusions. But it is beyond every kind of shame to imagine adultery among them, then strife and hatred, and that there are powers of thieves and criminals. “God” is a person helping another person; this is the path to eternal fame.”

quamobrem maior caelitum populus etiam quam hominum intellegi potest, cum singuli quoque ex semetipsis totidem deos faciant Iunones Geniosque adoptando sibi, gentes vero quaedam animalia et aliqua etiam obscena pro dis habeant ac multa dictu magis pudenda, per fetidos cibos et alia similia iurantes. matrimonia quidem inter deos credi tantoque aevo ex eis neminem nasci, et alios esse grandaevos semper canosque, alios iuvenes atque pueros, atricolores, aligeros, claudos, ovo editos et alternis diebus viventes morientesque, puerilium prope deliramentorum est; sed super omnem inpudentiam adulteria inter ipsos fingi, mox iurgia et odia, atque etiam furtorum esse et scelerum numina. deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via.

File:Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Florence, Plut. 82.4.jpg
Pliny the Elder, Natural History in ms. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 82.4, fol. 3r.

An Untold Number of Gods and the Path to Eternal Fame

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 2.5 16–18

“This is the reason it is possible to estimate a greater number of divinities than there are humans: individuals make a number of gods equal to their number by adopting their own Junos and Genii. Indeed, some peoples have animals, even horrible ones, for gods and many others too shameful to report, such as swearing by rotten food or other similar things.

Believing in marriage among the gods but without anyone being born from them for such a great span of time or that some are always old and graying while others are eternally young even children, or that some gods are dark-colored, winged, crippled born from eggs, or dying and living on alternating days, these beliefs are like childhood delusions. But it is beyond every kind of shame to imagine adultery among them, then strife and hatred, and that there are powers of thieves and criminals. “God” is a person helping another person; this is the path to eternal fame.”

quamobrem maior caelitum populus etiam quam hominum intellegi potest, cum singuli quoque ex semetipsis totidem deos faciant Iunones Geniosque adoptando sibi, gentes vero quaedam animalia et aliqua etiam obscena pro dis habeant ac multa dictu magis pudenda, per fetidos cibos et alia similia iurantes. matrimonia quidem inter deos credi tantoque aevo ex eis neminem nasci, et alios esse grandaevos semper canosque, alios iuvenes atque pueros, atricolores, aligeros, claudos, ovo editos et alternis diebus viventes morientesque, puerilium prope deliramentorum est; sed super omnem inpudentiam adulteria inter ipsos fingi, mox iurgia et odia, atque etiam furtorum esse et scelerum numina. deus est mortali iuvare mortalem, et haec ad aeternam gloriam via.

File:Pliny the Elder, Natural History, Florence, Plut. 82.4.jpg
Pliny the Elder, Natural History in ms. Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut. 82.4, fol. 3r.

Problem of Evil, What About the Problem of Good?

Boethius, Consolation 1.90-95

“For what advantage is there of speaking about those falsely attributed works in which I am said to have agitated for Roman freedom? Their fakeness would have been obvious if it had been allowed for me to use the confession of those informers of mine, since this has the most potent influence in all of this business.

What freedom remains to be hoped for? If only some remained! I would have then responded in that phrase of Canius. When Caligula accused him of being aware of a conspiracy underway against him, Canius is reported to have said, “If I had known of it, you would not.”

Sorrow has so thoroughly weakened my senses in this matter that I complain that evil men have attempted to do evil, but I am in fact surprised that they have accomplished what they hoped to. For, while it is perhaps our special weakness as humans to desire to do the worse thing, it is nearly monstrous that whatever a criminal mind can conceive of he can do while God looks on.

This is why it is not surprising that one of your friends asked “If there is really a God, where does evil come from? Ah, but where is good from if there is not?”

Nam de compositis falso litteris quibus libertatem arguor sperasse Romanam quid attinet dicere? Quarum fraus aperta patuisset, si nobis ipsorum confessione delatorum, quod in omnibus negotiis maximas vires habet, uti licuisset. Nam quae sperari reliqua libertas potest? Atque utinam posset ulla! Respondissem  Canii verbo, qui cum a Gaio Caesare Germanici filio conscius contra se factae coniurationis fuisse diceretur: ‘Si ego,’ inquit, ‘scissem, tu nescisses.’ Qua in re non ita sensus nostros maeror hebetavit ut impios scelerata contra virtutem querar molitos, sed quae speraverint effecisse vehementer admiror. Nam deteriora velle nostri fuerit fortasse defectus, posse contra innocentiam, quae sceleratus quisque conceperit inspectante deo, monstri simile est. Unde haud iniuria tuorum quidam familiarium quaesivit: ‘Si quidem deus,’ inquit, ‘est, unde mala? Bona vero unde, si non est?’

Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, f.24 (289 x 218 mm), 15th century, Alexander Turnbull Library, MSR-19 (5986125942).jpg
Boethius, Consolatio Philosophiae, f.24 Alexander Turnbull Library, By National Library NZ on The Commons – 

God-hunters! Seeing Divine Footprints

Homer, Iliad 13.71–72

“For I easily recognized the prints from his feet and legs
As he was leaving. The gods are really conspicuous.”

ἴχνια γὰρ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων
ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ·

Porphyry, Quest. Homer. 396-7

“They say it is impossible that Aphrodite changes her skin into the form of an old women and that Helen recognizes instead the goddess. The explanation is that the poen toften shows the demigods reading the forms of the gods in disguise as when Poseidon appears similar to Kalkhas and Aias says “this is not the prophet Kalkhas, for I easily recognized….”

ἀδύνατόν φασιν εἰς γραῦν μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ νοῆσαι τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν τῆς θεᾶς δειρήν. λύσις· πολλαχοῦ ποιεῖται τοὺς ἡμιθέους τεκμαιρομένους τὰς τῶν θεῶν μορφάς, ὡς ὅταν ὁ Ποσειδῶν Κάλχαντι ἀπεικασθεὶς φαίνηται ὅ τε Αἴας φησίν· οὐδ’ ὅγε Κάλχας ἐστὶ θεοπρόπος· ἴχνια δὲ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ

Image result for medieval manuscript poseidon neptune

Apollo’s Esteem for Human Beings

Schol. BT ad. Il. 21.465

“Whenever the poet turns his gaze to divine nature, then he holds human affairs in contempt.”

ὅταν δὲ ἀποβλέψῃ εἰς τὴν θείαν φύσιν ὁ ποιητής, τότε τὰ ἀνθρώπινα πράγματα ἐξευτελίζει. b(BCE3)T

Iliad 5.440-442

“Think, son of Tydeus, step off, don’t wish to think
Equal to the gods, since not at all similar are the races
Of immortal gods and humans who walk on the ground.”

φράζεο Τυδεΐδη καὶ χάζεο, μηδὲ θεοῖσιν
ἶσ’ ἔθελε φρονέειν, ἐπεὶ οὔ ποτε φῦλον ὁμοῖον
ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ’ ἀνθρώπων.

Iliad 21.461-465

“Then lord Apollo the far-shooter answered,
“Earthshaker, you would not think that I would be prudent
If indeed I fought with you over mortals,
Wretched men who are like the leaves now flourish
Until they grow full, eat the fruit of fields,
And then they diminish until they die…”

Τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπεν ἄναξ ἑκάεργος ᾿Απόλλων·
ἐννοσίγαι’ οὐκ ἄν με σαόφρονα μυθήσαιο
ἔμμεναι, εἰ δὴ σοί γε βροτῶν ἕνεκα πτολεμίξω
δειλῶν, οἳ φύλλοισιν ἐοικότες ἄλλοτε μέν τε
ζαφλεγέες τελέθουσιν ἀρούρης καρπὸν ἔδοντες,
ἄλλοτε δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἀκήριοι…

 

Image result for Ancient greek vase apollo

“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

Tracking (And Seeing) Divine Footprints

Homer, Iliad 13.71–72

“For I easily recognized the prints from his feet and legs
As he was leaving. The gods are really conspicuous.”

ἴχνια γὰρ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων
ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ·

Porphyry, Quest. Homer. 396-7

“They say it is impossible that Aphrodite changes her skin into the form of an old women and that Helen recognizes instead the goddess. The explanation is that the poen toften shows the demigods reading the forms of the gods in disguise as when Poseidon appears similar to Kalkhas and Aias says “this is not the prophet Kalkhas, for I easily recognized….”

ἀδύνατόν φασιν εἰς γραῦν μεταβαλεῖν τὴν ἰδέαν τὴν ᾿Αφροδίτην καὶ νοῆσαι τὴν ῾Ελένην τὴν τῆς θεᾶς δειρήν. λύσις· πολλαχοῦ ποιεῖται τοὺς ἡμιθέους τεκμαιρομένους τὰς τῶν θεῶν μορφάς, ὡς ὅταν ὁ Ποσειδῶν Κάλχαντι ἀπεικασθεὶς φαίνηται ὅ τε Αἴας φησίν· οὐδ’ ὅγε Κάλχας ἐστὶ θεοπρόπος· ἴχνια δὲ μετόπισθε ποδῶν ἠδὲ κνημάων ῥεῖ’ ἔγνων ἀπιόντος· ἀρίγνωτοι δὲ θεοί περ

Image result for medieval manuscript poseidon neptune

Apollo’s Esteem for Human Beings

Schol. BT ad. Il. 21.465

“Whenever the poet turns his gaze to divine nature, then he holds human affairs in contempt.”

ὅταν δὲ ἀποβλέψῃ εἰς τὴν θείαν φύσιν ὁ ποιητής, τότε τὰ ἀνθρώπινα πράγματα ἐξευτελίζει. b(BCE3)T

Iliad 5.440-442

“Think, son of Tydeus, step off, don’t wish to think
Equal to the gods, since not at all similar are the races
Of immortal gods and humans who walk on the ground.”

φράζεο Τυδεΐδη καὶ χάζεο, μηδὲ θεοῖσιν
ἶσ’ ἔθελε φρονέειν, ἐπεὶ οὔ ποτε φῦλον ὁμοῖον
ἀθανάτων τε θεῶν χαμαὶ ἐρχομένων τ’ ἀνθρώπων.

Iliad 21.461-465

“Then lord Apollo the far-shooter answered,
“Earthshaker, you would not think that I would be prudent
If indeed I fought with you over mortals,
Wretched men who are like the leaves now flourish
Until they grow full, eat the fruit of fields,
And then they diminish until they die…”

Τὸν δ’ αὖτε προσέειπεν ἄναξ ἑκάεργος ᾿Απόλλων·
ἐννοσίγαι’ οὐκ ἄν με σαόφρονα μυθήσαιο
ἔμμεναι, εἰ δὴ σοί γε βροτῶν ἕνεκα πτολεμίξω
δειλῶν, οἳ φύλλοισιν ἐοικότες ἄλλοτε μέν τε
ζαφλεγέες τελέθουσιν ἀρούρης καρπὸν ἔδοντες,
ἄλλοτε δὲ φθινύθουσιν ἀκήριοι…

 

Image result for Ancient greek vase apollo