Socrates and Philosophy in the Dialogues of Plato by
Sandra Peterson (Cambridge University Press) In Plato's Apology, Socrates says he spent his life examining and questioning people on how best to live, while avowing that he himself knows nothing important. Elsewhere, however, for example in Plato's Republic, Plato's Socrates
presents radical and grandiose theses.
In this book Sandra Peterson offers a new hypothesis which explains the puzzle of Socrates' two contrasting manners. She argues that the apparently confident doctrinal Socrates is in fact conducting the first step of an examination: by eliciting his interlocutors' reactions, his apparently doctrinal lectures reveal what his interlocutors believe is the best way to live. She tests her hypothesis by close reading of passages in the Theaetetus, Republic, and Phaedo. Her provocative conclusion, that there is a single Socrates whose conception and practice of philosophy remain the same throughout the dialogues, will be of interest to a wide range of readers in ancient philosophy and classics.
Excerpt: The Socrates of some of Plato's dialogues is the avowedly ignorant figure of the Apology who knows nothing important and who gave his life to examining himself and others. In contrast, the Socrates of other dialogues such as the Republic and Phaedo gives confident lectures on topics of which the examining Socrates of the Apology professed ignorance. It is a long-standing puzzle why Socrates acts so differently in different dialogues.
To explain the two different manners of Socrates a current widely accepted interpretation of Plato's dialogues offers this two-part, Plato-centered, hypothesis: (i) the character Socrates of the dialogues is always Plato's device for presenting Plato's own views; and (ii) Plato had different views at different times. The Socrates who confidently lectures presents these famous four doctrines: Plato's blueprint for the best state, Plato's "Theory of Forms," Plato's view that philosophy is the knowledge of those Forms that fits the knower for the highest government stations, and Plato's arguments for the immortality of the soul.
To explain Socrates' two different manners this book offers instead an interlocutor-centered hypothesis that the character Socrates, who is permanently convinced that he knows nothing great, has reason to conduct different kinds of examination with different interlocutors. With some, he is the avowedly ignorant questioner. With others, he has reason to appear to be a confident lecturer: the reaction of interlocutors to an apparently confident lecture reveals them. Revealing them is the first step of an examination of them. Throughout Plato's dialogues Socrates' philosophizing centrally involves examining.
This book discusses some putatively doctrinal passages that seem the greatest obstacles to its thesis of the constantly ignorant and examining Socrates. Details of each containing dialogue show that, appearing to instruct, Socrates is instead conducting the revelatory first step of an examination. The second step would be critical logical scrutiny of the beliefs revealed. We do not see that second step after these apparently doctrinal passages. Nevertheless, Socrates' practice in these passages is exactly the examination that he says in the Apology that he continually engaged in.
The book's argument has the result — important though negative — that the dialogues it considers give the reader no reason to believe that Socrates, as depicted, held the famous four doctrines or that Plato was endorsing them through his presentation of Socrates.
Since Socrates does not critically examine the famous four putatively Platonic teachings in the dialogues it considers, the book does some examining on his behalf. The book finds that the putative teachings it considers fail critical scrutiny. Their failure gives us reason for the stronger positive result that Socrates, as depicted, and hence Plato, would in fact reject the putative teachings.
The Socrates of Plato's Apology, on trial for his life, announces an intention to his jurors:
While I breathe and am able, I will not stop philosophizing (philosophôn) . . . saying the sorts of things I usually do. (290|/p>
His example of what he usually says is this:
Best of men — being an Athenian, from the city the greatest and most reputed for wisdom and strength — are you not ashamed that you are concerned about having as much money as possible, and reputation and honor, while you are not concerned for (epimelê(i)) nor do you think about thoughtfulness and truth and how your soul will be the best it can be? (29d—e)
He also says:
My total concern is to be practicing nothing unjust or impious. (32d)
We can then infer that concern for "how your soul will be . . . best" is for Socrates concern about how to live justly and. piously.' So Socrates' usual address involves issuing a challenge about the rightness of your way of living.
Socrates further reports that his challenge can lead to examination and that the examination can lead to reproach under certain conditions:
And if one of you disputes this and says he is concerned, I won't directly let him off or go away, but I will question him and examine (exetasô) and test (elegxô) and if he does not seem to me to possess virtue, but says he does, I will reproach him that things that take their signs to resemble a moral position(29oer_th3otah) he makes the most of what he makes least of, but the more trivial things
So Socrates' philosophizing, his usual or habitual activity throughout his life, as he describes it in the Apology, has several components. First he makes a challenge. Then he examines: that is, he subjects his interlocutor to a test — an elenchus — concerning how he conducts his life. Then, under certain conditions, Socrates reproaches. The examination that can follow upon an initial challenge is evidently an especially important component, for Socrates elsewhere closely links philosophizing with examining (28e: "philosophizing . . . and examining (exetazonta).
His examining others involves examining himself, since he says to
jurors that they have heard him "examining both myself and others" (38a).
At the end of the Apology Socrates further describes his lifelong activity:
When my sons grow up, punish them, paining them with these very same things with which I pained you, if they seem to you to care for money or something else before virtue, and if they are reputed to be something when they are nothing, reproach them just as I did you, that they do not care for what one ought, and they think they are something when they are worth nothing. (41e)
Here Socrates considers his constant activity to have involved paining people by reproaching them that they don't care about living in the best way and — a new detail — that they think they are something when they are worth nothing.
This Socrates of the Apology who describes himself as constantly exam-ining seems to many readers to contrast with the Socrates of some of Plato's other dialogues. The Socrates of certain other dialogues, for example, the Phaedo and the Republic, apparently enunciates and recommends to his audience extraordinary views that he does not examine with them. He is an apparently doctrinal Socrates. I emphasize that the positive theses that this new Socrates offers to his interlocutors are controversial, and yet he leaves the theses quite unexamined. The fact is that Socrates appears to have contrasting manners of conversation in Plato's dialogues.
Some readers think that the contrasting conversational manners of the depicted Socrates are irreconcilable. Gregory Vlastos, for example, says this to account for the division between the Socrates who questions and examines, for example in the Euthyphro, and the Socrates who offers unex-amined instruction, for example in Republic books 2—10:
I submit that to make sense of so drastic a departure from what Plato had put into his portrayals of Socrates from the Apology to the Gorgias, we must hypothesize a profound change in Plato himself If we believe that in any given dialogue Plato allows the persona of Socrates only what he (Plato) at that time considers true, we must suppose that when that persona discards the elenchus as the right method to search for the truth, this occurs only because Plato himself has now lost faith in that method.
Vlastos explains further:
This is the grand . . . hypothesis on which my whole interpretation of Socrates-in-Plato is predicated.
[The hypothesis ... proposes that Plato in those early works of his, sharing Socrates' philosophical convictions, sets out to think through for himself their central affirmations, denials, and reasoned suspensions of belief ... Employing a literary medium which allows Socrates to speak for himself, Plato makes him say whatever he — Plato — thinks at the time of writing would be the most reasonable thing for Socrates to be saying just then in expounding and defending .. . [Plato's] own philosophy ... The writer's overriding concern is always the philosophy ...
As Plato changes, the philosophical persona of his Socrates is made to change, absorbing the writer's new convictions ...
Much interesting scholarship has accepted Vlastos' grand hypothesis as confirmed and has treated it as no longer a hypothesis but as a sort of axiom or datum.' Vlastos, however, emphasized that he was treating it as a hypothesis under testing throughout his writings:
That it is offered as hypothesis, not dogma or reported fact, should be plain. Such it will remain as I pursue it step by step. Of its truth the reader must be the judge.
In the judgment of this reader, Vlastos' hypothesis is false. I propose a different hypothesis. Pursuing it, I have found that it more adequately accounts for the same features of Plato's dialogues for which Vlastos was attempting to account. Other readers may find it worth the effort to judge the adequacy of this different hypothesis.
My hypothesis is that the Socrates in any of Plato's dialogues is examining his interlocutor and so engaging in the central component of the complex activity, philosophizing, which Socrates calls in the Apology his habitual activity throughout life. But examination is itself a multi-stage activity. Its first step is revealing the interlocutor. Socrates' awareness of what is appropriate to reveal his interlocutors occasions Socrates' different speaking styles, tailored to different interlocutors in different dialogues. With certain interlocutors Socrates appears to be recommending teachings of which he is certain. With them he appears to be teaching in those very areas of which he disclaims knowledge in the Apology. That is because Socrates as depicted realizes that appearing to enunciate doctrine, and observing his interlocutor's receptivity to it, is the best way of revealing for certain interlocutors their beliefs and inclinations that need to be examined. Revealing a receptive interlocutor, Socrates thereby enacts the first stage of an examination. So in the apparently doctrinal dialogues we still see Socrates living the single-minded life of examination that he attributes to himself in the Apology.
While I pursue my alternative hypothesis in this book, I will nevertheless be retaining some assumptions that underlie Vlastos' hypothesis. I retain the assumption that Plato's character Socrates has a special status: what Socrates says must be taken very seriously as our best clue to Plato's own convictions. I also retain the assumption that Plato's "overriding concern is always the philosophy." I will later discuss the force these assumptions have for me.
Vlastos' grand hypothesis says that Plato enunciates, through the character Socrates, some striking teachings in dialogues written in the middle of Plato's writing career. For example, the Republic recommends a novel polit-ical system. The Phaedo, Symposium, Phaedrus, and Republic offer what the secondary literature calls "the theory of forms."' The Republic and Phaedo offer some specialized conceptions of what a philosopher is and does. The Phaedo gives memorable arguments for the immortality of the soul. John Cooper comments about these offerings:
[It is] the overwhelming impression not just of [ancient readers] but of every modern reader of at least many of his dialogues, that Platonism . . . constitutes a systematic body of "philosophical doctrine" — about the soul and its immortality; . . . the eternal and unfaltering Forms whose natures structure our physical world and the world of decent human relations within it; the nature of love and the subservience of love in its genuine form to a vision of that eternal realm. These and many other substantive philosophical ideas to be explored in Plato's dialogues are his permanent contribution to our Western philosophical culture."
Given this comment, it is remarkable that so many readers, including Plato scholars, find Plato's "permanent contribution to our Western philo-sophical culture" quite unbelievable. I will later discuss the constituents of the Platonic "systematic body of 'philosophical doctrine'" in more detail. For now I simply record the reception by very many prominent readers. Readers find the political arrangements of the Republic loathsome:5 Many readers agree that the theory of forms of the Republic and Phaedo, on the standard account of that theory, is a "baroque monstrosity.' The con-ception of the philosopher in the Republic excludes almost everyone. The conception of the philosopher in the Phaedo is unworkable for anyone living an ordinary life. And even first-year undergraduates who are con-vinced of their souls' immortality for reasons of their own find the Phaedo's arguments for the immortality of the soul to be foolish.
Here is one reader's statement of his incredulity about the views of Plato as expressed by a putatively doctrinal Socrates:
Plato's philosophical views are mostly false, and for the most part they are evidently false; his arguments are mostly bad, and for the most part they are evidently bad. Studying Plato . . . can . . . be a dispiriting business: for the most part, the student of Plato is preoccupied by a peculiar question — How and why did Plato come to entertain such exotic opinions, to advance such outré arguments.
For my alternative hypothesis this question does not arise, since my hypothesis does not suppose that the depicted Socrates who appears to assert exotic views and to assert weird arguments actually does so and in so doing speaks what Plato believes.
My alternative hypothesis that Socrates often speaks to reveal interlocutors who would profit from examination provokes its own different questions. For example: how do we tell when Socrates' apparent assertions in Plato's dialogues are not straightforward assertions or endorsements but are instead revelation of an interlocutor? I will answer that question with different details for each dialogue I consider. Subsequent chapters will find evidence hitherto overlooked that Socrates' apparent offering of doctrine is mere appearance. The evidence is often within what Socrates' interlocutors ask him to do. They sometimes request of him a particular type of contribution to the discussion, and he responds entirely literally. He has listened to his interlocutors much better than they seem to have listened to themselves.
There is also the question: why would Plato think that any readers would be interested in Socrates' revelation that various interlocutors are inclined toward "exotic opinions" and "outré arguments"? I will answer that question later.
As preliminary to outlining the plan of this book I consider briefly the naturalness of my alternative hypothesis from two slightly different approaches.
If one feels a need to explain certain dialogues' drastic departure from the portrayal of Socrates in other dialogues, then one has done some back-ground reasoning as follows. There appears to be a departure. Therefore there is a departure. Therefore we should ask: how can we explain the departure?
But another approach is to reason differently from the same starting point. There appears to be a departure. But there are strong reasons to expect that there would not be a departure. After all, Plato does not change Socrates' physical description, the details of his biography, or his manner-isms of speech.' Socrates reports no conversion experiences — for example, no conversion from his avowed ignorance about death in the Apology to the conclusions of the (unconvincing) arguments for immortality thirty days later in the Phaedo as he awaits execution. Therefore we should ask: how can we explain why there would seem to be a departure if there is no departure? Having asked that question, one is naturally led to suspect that apparent presentation of doctrine might be a way of examining, and to ask how that could be so.
A second approach begins from four observations after dwelling on which the hypothesis that the Socrates of Plato's dialogues is constantly the examining Socrates might, again, naturally occur to one as something worth testing in the way this book's chapters test it.
A first observation concerns the kind of question-and-answer discussion via which Socrates, as depicted in certain of Plato's dialogues — the aporetic or puzzle-raising dialogues — elicits views of his conversational partner. Such question-and-answer discussion does not at all commit Socrates the questioner to any of the premises of the arguments he constructs. Socrates is committed at most to the connection between the premises and the conclusion: it is his answerer who is responsible for any assertions in the course of the argument.
A second observation is that serious study of certain arguments that Plato presents leaves a vivid impression that Plato's logical acumen is substantial. (My own favorite arguments are in the Euthyphro, Hippias Major, Parmenides, Theaetetus, and Sophist.") Even as one makes this observation, one will be aware that Plato's writings have many other arguments, some of which one has not yet understood. And of course one's views would be better grounded if one understood everything. But there will not be sufficient reason to think that anyone else understands everything, either. So one may reasonably consider oneself warranted in starting from where one is, with one's very strong impression that Plato is capable of solid reasoning.
Granted, capacities are not always actualized. And we have seen one opinion that Plato's arguments are mostly bad." So the impression that we should expect Plato to reason expertly is not universal. But still one may reasonably start from one's own vivid impression.
Let us recall here a familiar distinction, among flawed arguments: some are flawed by invalidity because they rest on an objectionable pattern; others are flawed because they have a false premise, although they may have a valid pattern. In many instances one can most usefully view the arguments that Socrates elicits from his interlocutors as captured by this irreproachable, simple pattern. Socrates asks: "Do you accept that p?" (What "p" represents may be a complex conjunction of several premises.) Socrates asks. "Do you accept the conditional premise that if p, then q?" If his interlocutor assents to these questions, Socrates may conclude: "Then you must accept that q." The second question about the conditional is sometimes not stated by Socrates. Nevertheless, an interlocutor who accepts an inference to the conclusion that q from a certain premise that p has implicitly accepted the conditional — if p, then q — that yields the result that q. On occasion the conditional premise that underlies an argument that Socrates has extracted from an interlocutor is questionable. But the argument extracted from an interlocutor, and its flaw, belongs to the interlocutor, not to Socrates or Plato. Plato almost never has Socrates, as depicted, presenting invalid arguments. Socrates usually employs the simple inference pattern of modus ponens outlined above decisively.'
Although this overall form of many of Socrates' arguments is irreproachable and available to any ordinary thinker, the inner details of the arguments and the choice of premises display Plato's ingenuity.
To arrive at this observation that Plato can argue with outstanding ingenuity and care, one uses only one's simple reflective common sense. Plato's depicted Socrates, often deploying outstanding arguments in examination, is evidently convinced that such reasoning is nevertheless available to any patient interlocutor for self-scrutiny.
Having arrived at the observation that Plato could reason very well, one will naturally arrive at a two-part third observation. First, it is unlikely that a Plato who shows a mastery of critical examination would rely on conspicuously bad arguments to support his own unexamined convictions. And, second, it is quite difficult to believe any account of Plato that implies that he at some time in his life had views that would not withstand persistent commonsense examination of the sort that the Socrates of the aporetic dialogues uses. It then will become pretty much impossible for one to believe that Plato created — or at the least fully understood — the solid arguments of dialogues that according to the grand hypothesis were written early in his career and then declined into a middle phase in which he no longer had a grip on critical reasoning, and still later got his grip back. To arrive at the third observation is to be unable to accept that in mid-life writings Plato fell into ill-supported views that he used his old character Socrates to present.
I would like to make clear that the last observation is not a symptom of a disabling interpretative attitude. One interpreter of Plato gives this diagnosis of the attitude:
Some scholars may be suspected of dismissing this or that remark in a Platonic text as "ironic," without specific evidence, for no better reason than misplaced charity — the apparent desire to rescue Plato from believing something which they themselves find either naive or distasteful.
For one thing, I do not dismiss any remark on the ground of irony. And, so far as I can tell, my standard for what Plato could believe is not my personal impression of naiveté or distastefulness. My standard has been the thought — based on the evidence of certain dialogues — that Plato can employ the shared human capacity for commonsense examination — the reflective consideration that is available to an ordinary person — as well as anyone can. I assume that if an ordinary reader can see on the basis of commonsense reflection that an argument is bad, or that a proposal does not withstand examination because of inconsistent parts, Plato could see it too, and probably faster. I have not been supposing, anachronistically, that Plato had at his disposal logical developments after the nineteenth century.
We should indeed be alert to the possibility of a misplaced charity that desires to absolve Plato of naiveté. But there are other varieties of misplacement. There is the possibility of misplaced low expectations for reasoners in antiquity; there is a misplaced readiness to find quaint and charming errors among the ancients. I hope to be as alert to other misplaced attitudes as to misplaced charity.
A fourth observation is that Plato's choice to write dialogues in which he never has a speaking part suggests that he is reluctant to make pronouncements as an authority who is certain about what he recommends. This in turn suggests, though of course it does not decisively imply, that it would be odd if a Plato reluctant to write as an authority yet in mid-career chose to present Socrates as an authoritative spokesperson, apparently to lend weight to Plato's new presentation of doctrine.
I now put the four observations together. First, in the question-and-answer discussions of the aporetic dialogues Socrates is not responsible for any assertions, and he is not there presenting teachings that represent his convictions. Second, Plato can reason capably, early and late. Third, given Plato's demonstrated capabilities, he is unlikely to have had bad reasons for what he believed and endorsed; he is unlikely to have had views whose inconsistency would emerge quickly from commonsense examination. Fourth, Plato is reluctant to act as an authority presenting views of which he is certain.
These observations together naturally lead to the suspicion that the depicted Socrates of the putatively doctrinal dialogues with some memorably flimsy arguments and some unsustainable theses was not presenting Plato's convictions that Plato was recommending to the reader. That suspicion leads to the further suspicion that the Socrates of the apparently doctrinal dialogues might be doing something other than presenting doctrine. He might be no more responsible for his apparent doctrine than
the examining Socrates of the aporetic dialogues is responsible for what he elicits by questioning. Interlocutors receptive to lectures they have occasioned from Socrates might instead be responsible for what they applaud, just as interlocutors from whom Socrates elicits views by questioning are responsible for their answers. Having now suspected that Socrates is not presenting doctrine, one asks what he might be doing instead.
This book will argue, first, that study of some apparently doctrinal dialogues or passages shows that they lend themselves very well to my thought that many of the views Socrates enunciates should not attach to Socrates, but to his receptive interlocutors and, second, that these apparently doctrinal passages are likely beginnings of examinations.
To test my hypothesis that the Socrates of all of Plato's dialogues is the avowedly ignorant and examining Socrates I consider a selected few passages that initially seem to be the most difficult cases for the hypothesis.' The hypothesis that Socrates as depicted is starting an examination makes much better sense of these allegedly doctrinal passages than the hypothesis that he speaks as an authority and represents the newly confident Plato in a later stage of his writing career instructing his readers. I think that once I have presented my main idea for those few passages, readers can easily continue on by themselves to confirm that the hypothesis stands up to testing in connection with other passages or dialogues that initially appear to show a doctrinal Socrates and not an examining one.
This is the plan of the book. In this introductory sketch I present conclusions for which the chapters, with close attention to the text, give the full arguments.
As preliminary to actual testing of my hypothesis chapter 2 spells out the hypothesis by studying the Apology to draw from it an account of the Socrates who there sums up his life as the habitual activity of examining. Socrates' summary gives us something to look for in dialogues that depict other times in his life.
Chapter 3 tests my hypothesis against a famous passage of the Theaetetus (172,b-177c) , its so-called "digression," which seems to some readers to have a decidedly doctrinal Socrates. The Socrates of the Theaetetus digression, speaking to a secondary interlocutor, Theodorus, articulates a conception of the philosopher that is quite different from the conception of the Apology. Many interpreters have thought that Socrates in the Theaetetus embraces the digression's recommendation of how best to spend one's life. I will argue that Plato takes pains to identify the Socrates of the Theaetetus with the Socrates of the Apology who said he constantly philosophized, that is, examined. Moreover, Plato takes pains to show that the Socrates of the Theaetetus could not possibly embrace for his own life the digression's picture of the philosopher. Several details within the Theaetetus tell us that the digression reveals what the interlocutor Theodorus thinks a philosopher does. Theodorus' receptivity to the digression is a first step of examination that reveals what needs examination. (We do not see any further steps of examination of Theodorus.)
Chapters 4 and 5 test my hypothesis against the Republic and find that it explains the Republic well. My argument here is in two parts. Chapter 4 argues that the Republic gives us signs distinctive to it that Socrates is articulating views that appeal to his interlocutors rather than expressing his own convictions. For example, in book 2 the interlocutors request from Socrates a speech, a counter-speech as in a law-court, a response to their own speeches, to persuade them of an assigned conclusion. (Law-court speeches are not good evidence of the speaker's thoughts. They reveal what he thinks likely to persuade his jury.) In books 2—10 Socrates gives his speech. Given the interlocutors' insistent request, and given several conditions on Socrates' speech that the interlocutors impose, we have good grounds to think that the city described in the Republic expresses Glaucon's and Adeimantus' aspirations and no reason to think it expresses Socrates'. Chapter 5 shows the incoherence of the account of philosophers and of the discussion of forms in book 5. Their incoherence gives us reason for the stronger conclusion that the Republic's Socrates is in fact not endorsing them.
Chapter 6 tests my hypothesis against the Phaedo. The Phaedo's interlocutors also bluntly ask Socrates to persuade them of a conclusion that they assign to him in advance. He undertakes to do as they ask, quite literally. The request to persuade someone of an assigned conclusion is not likely to inspire from the literal-minded Socrates a speech about his own convictions. The Phaedo also gives other indications that Socrates is articulating views that would persuade his interlocutors rather than expressing his own convictions. Moreover, the weakness both of the Phaedo's conception of philosophy as well as of its arguments for immortality give us reason for the stronger result that the depicted Socrates would reject them.
Chapter 7, the final piece of my main argument, is of a different type from the preceding ones. I discuss some conceptions of philosophy that characters other than Socrates articulate. These conceptions turn up in the Lovers, Euthydemus and Sophist. Socrates recognizes them as current conceptions of philosophy. For the Lovers and Euthydemus it will be obvious that although Socrates recognizes that others have those conceptions, Socrates does not live by those conceptions any more than he lives by the conceptions of philosophy he articulates in the Theaetetus, Republic, and Phaedo. Chapter 7 will also compare Socrates' conception of philosophy from the Apology with the conception that the Eleatic visitor of the Sophist presents while he rather pointedly refrains from including Socrates under it.
Chapter 8 will review my progress on Socrates, consider some objections, and make some proposals about the author Plato. Chapter 9 will reconsider the question of what Socrates, as depicted, understood philosophy to be. Since the previous chapters will have considered Plato's presentation of conceptions of philosophy that belong to other interlocutors and that are at odds with the philosophizing that Socrates does, chapter 9 will ask why the Socrates of the Apology would choose to call his lifetime activity "philosophizing." His awareness that the word is widely used for activities alien to him makes his choice of it for his own activity not an obvious one.
I have already said that in treating my hypothesis about Plato, I retain a central presupposition of Vlastos' "grand hypothesis": I retain the assumption that Plato presents his own views through his depiction of the character Socrates. While I do not take the extreme position that Socrates represents Plato by the direct device that any extended speech of Socrates' states beliefs of Plato, I can nevertheless almost fully concur with this assessment:
The twin considerations that the dialogue's apparent argument (1) is legitimately attributable to the dialogue's author, and (2) is itself located in the questions and assertions of the primary speaker, surely suffice to make the primary speaker recognizably Plato's spokesperson. And that is why Plato's readers have always been able to set themselves the realistic goal of discovering his doctrines in his dialogues.
I disagree with many interpreters on the matter of which exactly, among the many proposals that Socrates articulates, are his assertions. So I will disagree also on the matter of which exactly are the convictions of Plato's that we can locate in the dialogues.
Terence Irwin suggests one way of helping to decide which are the convictions of Plato's that we can locate in his dialogues:
if... we find that a reasonably coherent philosophical outlook and a reasonably intelligible line of philosophical development can be ascribed to the Platonic Socrates, we have some grounds for claiming to have found Plato's views.
As I understand Plato's character Socrates, the views to which he shows his commitment, and which seem to me a "reasonably coherent philosophical outlook," reduce to a very few, among which these are prominent: he does not know the greatest things; people who think they do know the greatest things are worth nothing; and his philosophizing consists in examining others and himself while acknowledging his profound ignorance. The reasonable coherence of this outlook, together with the failure of some other outlooks sketched in the dialogues to withstand commonsense examination, are some grounds for electing this outlook as Plato's.
Vlastos' assumption that Plato's "overriding concern is always the philosophy" I also retain. Unlike Vlastos, I do not believe that concern with the philosophy was ever in opposition to concern to present a character Socrates who remains profoundly the same throughout the dialogues.
My hypothesis still faces the question why Plato thought that readers would be interested to watch a Socrates in occasional apparently doctrinal mode revealing interlocutors' sometimes exotic and often ill-supported beliefs that stand in need of examination that is not forthcoming in the dialogue that reveals those beliefs. The quality of being exotic has its own kind of interest, of course, but I think there is an answer closer to home that will emerge from my book. An anecdote from the ancient Plato interpreter, Plutarch, helps to make a start at that answer. Plutarch tells us, four times in his Moralia, that Plato asked himself — or, as Plutarch twice puts it, was accustomed to ask himself — "Am I not possibly like that?" Plutarch writes:
Speakers, not only when they succeed, but also when they fail, render a service to hearers who are alert and attentive. For poverty of thought, emptiness of phrase, an offensive bearing, fluttering excitement combined with a vulgar delight at commendation, and the like, are more apparent to others when we are listening than in ourselves when we are speakers. Wherefore we ought to transfer our scrutiny from the speaker to ourselves, and examine whether we unconsciously commit such mistakes . . . And everyone ought to be ready ever to repeat to himself, as he observes the faults of others, the utterance of Plato, "Am I not possibly like them?" For as we see our own eyes brightly reflected in the eyes of those near us, so we must get a picture of our own discourse in the discourses of others, that we may not too rashly disdain others, and may give more careful attention to ourselves in the manner of speaking. (Moralia, "On Listening to Lectures," 40c—d)
I do not know how Plutarch obtained this detail of Plato's biography. But if it is accurate, it would explain why Plato, and we too, should be interested in the life-guiding views of Socrates' interlocutors as revealed in the speeches of the Socrates who reflects his interlocutors back to themselves by speaking their inclinations for them. While interlocutors have an opportunity to see themselves better as they react to Socrates, Plato's readers have an opportunity to see themselves better as they react to the dialogues. Reacting to what appeals to Socrates' interlocutors, Plato's reader can ask, "Am I not possibly like that?" Plato prepares a reader who sees himself in the reflecting pool of the dialogues for critical self-examination. In this Plato stands toward his reader as Socrates stands toward his interlocutor.
The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life by Bettany Hughes (Knopf) WE THINK THE WAY WE DO because Socrates thought the way he did; in his unwavering commitment to truth and in the example of his own life, he set the standard for all subsequent Western philosophy. And yet, for twenty-five centuries, he has remained an enigma: a man who left no written legacy and about whom everything we know is hearsay, gleaned from the writings of Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes. Now Bettany Hughes gives us an unprecedented, brilliantly vivid portrait of Socrates and of his homeland, Athens in its Golden Age.
His life spanned "seventy of the busiest, most wonderful and tragic years in Athenian history." It was a city devastated by war, but, at the same time, transformed by the burgeoning process of democracy, and Hughes re-creates this fifth-century B.C. city, drawing on the latest sources—archaeological, topographical and textual—to illuminate the streets where Socrates walked, to place him there and to show us the world as he experienced it.
She takes us through the great, teeming Agora—the massive marketplace, the heart of ancient Athens—where Socrates engaged in philosophical dialogue and where he would be condemned to death. We visit the battlefields where he fought, the red-light district and gymnasia he frequented and the religious festivals he attended. We meet the men and the few women—including his wife, Xanthippe, and his "inspiration" and confidante, Aspasia—who were central to his life. We travel to where he was born and where he died. And we come to understand the profound influences of time and place in the evolution of his eternally provocative philosophy.
Deeply informed and vibrantly written, combining historical inquiry and storytelling élan, The Hemlock Cup gives us the most substantial, fascinating, humane depiction we have ever had of one of the most influential thinkers of all time.
Those who are already wise no longer love wisdom — whether they are gods or men. Similarly, those whose own ignorance has made them bad, rotten, evil, do not strive for wisdom either. For no evil or ignorant person ever strives for wisdom. What remains are those who suffer from ignorance, but still retain some sense and understanding. They are conscious of knowing what they don't know. --Socrates, in Plato's Lysis, 218b, fourth century BC
PUT TWO AUTHORS TOGETHER IN A room and someone is bound to leave mildly depressed. The only exception seems to be when one of the pair is Peter Cook. Meeting a fellow writer in a bar, so the anecdote goes, he was asked whether he was penning a book. `Yes, I'm not either' came the soothing reply.
No such comfort for me. Sharing breakfast in an Edinburgh hotel with an award-winning novelist, just as I embarked on this book, the friendly chat came round to our next projects.
Socrates! What a doughnut subject!' he exclaimed. 'Gloriously rich, with a whacking hole in the middle where the central character should be .. My smile fixed. Of course he is right: because as far as we know, Socrates wrote down not one word of philosophy. The idea of Socrates is immensely influential, and yet everything we know of him is hearsay. He is, historically, conspicuous by his absence. And thus for the past five years, as I've typed, I have had a spectral doughnut hovering over my shoulder.
But painters will tell you that the truest way to represent a shape is to deal with the space around it. The primary-source, autobiographical, historical Socrates is a lacuna; my hope is that by looking at the shape around the Socrates-sized hole, at the city in which he lived — Athens in the fifth century BC — I can begin to write not quite a life of Socrates, but a vivid sketch of Socrates in his landscape; a topography of the man in his times.
I have a warehouse full of unusual allies in this task — the earth-shifters, bulldozers, spades and trowels that have been picking over the Greek landscape in the last few years. The millennial year of 2000, the promise of a Greek Olympics in 2004, the new Acropolis Museum, a change in planning law — all these things have yielded huge amounts of material evidence from the fifth century BC. Socrates is an eidolon — the Greek word gives us idol, a ghost — who haunts a very real landscape. By exploring this physical landscape my hope is to flesh out this idol, and to imagine the life of one of the most provocative and provoking thinkers of all time.'
The unexamined lye is not a lye worth living for a human being.---Socrates, in Plato's Apology, 38a'
WE THINK THE WAY WE DO because Socrates thought the way he did. Socrates' belief that, as individuals, we need to question the world around us stands at the heart of what it means to live in `modern times'. In the Socratic Dialogues, generated twenty-four centuries ago, we find the birth of ethos — ethics — and the identification of the psyche. `The First Martyr' — the Greek martys means 'witness' — a witness to 'truth, virtue, justice' and 'freedom of speech', is commemorated as a bedrock of our civilisation.
Socrates stands at the beginning of our world — when democracy and liberty are first conceived as fundamental values of society. We need to understand him because he did not just pursue the meaning of life, but the meaning of our own lives .
Socrates sees us coming. He worries that the pursuit of plenty will bring mindless materialism, that 'democracy' will become just a banner under which to fight. What is the point, he says, of warships and city walls and glittering statues if we are not happy? If we have lost sight of what is good? His is a question that is more pertinent now than ever. He asks: 'What is the right way to live?'
I am a stinging fly, sent to goad the city as though it were a huge, thoroughbred horse, which because of its size is rather sluggish and needs to be stirred.
When Socrates comes into focus, in Greece in the fifth century BC, he is no didact: he wanders through the streets of Athens, debating the essence of what it means to be human. For the young men (and women) of the city he is irresistible: his relentless questioning appears to tap man's potential for self-knowledge. His 'ethics' programme centres on the search for the good life'. His, it was whispered — then and through the next 2,400 years — is a voice of incomparable sophia: of knowledge, skill, wisdom and truth.
The greater part of Socrates' life was spent out in public, in Athens, philosophising unrestricted. But when the philosopher was seventy, Athens turned against him. In March 399 BC the ageing citizen was tried in a religious court and found guilty of both primary and secondary charges: 'not duly acknowledging the city's gods and inventing new ones' and 'corrupting the youth'. The death sentence was passed: four weeks or so later Socrates killed himself by drinking the hemlock poison left for him by his jailer in his Athenian cell.
Socrates' arguments were perhaps just too incendiary, too dangerously charismatic. He believed that man had the potential to enjoy perfect happiness. A clue to the contemporary impact of his ideas is given by his pupil Plato. In the Allegory of the Cave,' with cool detail, Plato has Socrates describe a race of men who have been born in chains, and who, staring for ever at a cave wall, see only the shadows of creatures above them and believe these shadows to be reality. He then reveals the dismay and joy these captives feel when they are brought, blinking, into the light of the real world. The chained men represent those of humanity who have yet to hear or understand what Socrates has to say.
However, when it comes to wholeheartedly embracing the new, mankind displays a poor record. In a superstitious city, Socrates' spiritual and moral make-up was unconventional, troubling. He seems to have suffered from some form of epilepsy or 'petit mal' (hence his curious cataleptic seizures, when he stared into the distance for hours on end), which in a pious age was interpreted as a malign 'inner voice'? His contemporary the playwright Aristophanes talks of the passionate men who go to hear him preach and turn their minds to fundamental issues rather than frivolities as having been Socratified'. And in his comedy Clouds,' Aristophanes jeers at Socrates' high-minded eccentricities, has him clamber into a raised bath and scramble around in the clouds to 'peer at the arse of the moon'. Democracies need pragmatists, yet Socrates refuses to contain himself, to temper the power of principle. So pheme — rumour, gossip — starts to fly through Athena's city. As the robust philosopher is only too aware, a whispering campaign is the most pernicious and insidious of enemies.
These people who have thrown scandal at me are genuinely dangerous. They've used envy and slander and they're difficult to deal with. I cannot possibly bring them into court to cross—question them or refute their charges. I have to defend myself as if I were boxing with shadows.
Socratic thought and the living Socrates
In all cities, it is easier to hurt a man than to help him.---Plato, Meno, 94e
n the Metropolitan Museum in New York hangs a painting of Socrates, In just before death, by the great neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David. Socrates — speaking slowly but determinedly, the hemlock about to run through his veins, a martyr to virtue and high principle — is surrounded by agitated disciples." Crouched around his bed are those men such as Plato who will carry his words into literature and thus on into the very DNA of world civilisation.
Now it is time for us to go away, for me to die and for you to live; but which of us is going to a better condition is not known to anyone except god.
This is not a book of philosophic theory. I am a historian, not a philosopher, and cannot possibly better the work of those who have gone before me, who have squeezed ever-evolving interpretations out of Socrates' philosophical ideas; Plato, Aristotle, Diogenes the Cynic, Al-Kindi, Yehuda ha-Levi, Thomas Hobbes et al. — all these men have tussled with what Socrates' philosophy means. That is a bulging canon and one I would not presume to augment. But I can turn my eyes to the stones under my feet. I can see how Socrates' philosophy evolved in his time and his place.
For the purposes of this book, the joy of Socratic thought is that Socrates did not believe in or deal with abstracts. For him, morality stemmed from and emerged to deal with real problems in a real world. The characters he employs as porters for his ideas are often cobblers, bakers, priestesses, whores. Socrates continually emphasises that he is flesh and blood, and that it is as a flesh-and-blood man that he lived and understood life. It is one of the reasons his philosophy is so accessible to all of us. So bringing the humble, the archaeological and the physical back into the Socratic experience is appropriate. The totemic ideas that Socrates delivered were, put simply, as much to do with the religious ritual he had just witnessed down at his local harbour, with the pleasure of walking barefoot through Athens, with the death of a loved one, or the horror of living through a wasting-war, as they were with any kind of purely intellectual concept. Socrates' prime concern was with the world as lived. As this book weaves together the mongrel evidence for his life, where material remains are as valued as literary and documentary sources, a picture emerges of a world that is, for the first time, self-consciously trying to build a 'civilisation' that is based on a 'clemocracy',
Yet Socrates is not concerned just with our surroundings, but what is within us. 'He who orders us to know ourselves is bidding us to become acquainted with our soul'. Socrates is soulful. The philosopher believes open conversation an essential balm for the psyche. His method gets inner thoughts out into the public sphere, not as a monologue, but as a dialogue. For him this was cathartic — Plato uses the Greek word katharsis— releasing 'bad things' from the spirit. Socrates is the first man for whom we have an extant record who explores how we should all live in the world, as the world was working out how to live with itself.
Truth is in fact a purification [katharsis] . . . and self-restraint and justice and courage and wisdom itself are a kind of purification.''
Socrates' philosophy is relevant to all of us, not least because it has been so tenacious. From Elizabeth I to Martin Luther King, from the Third Reich to twenty-first-century America, Socrates' example has been used to try to understand what society is, and what it should be. Socratic words filled the halls of Italian Renaissance humanists. The Jewish philosopher Yehuda ha-Levi in the eleventh century AD cites Socrates in a dialogue with King Khazar concerning the nature of Judaism. John Locke and Thomas Hobbes scatter their treatises of political theory with Socratic quotations.
Socrates, was also a central influence in early Islam. Al-Kindi, the 'first' self-professed Arab philosopher, certainly the first Muslim philosopher, wrote extensive (long-lost) treatises on Socrates in the ninth century AD. Socratic wisdoms were quoted in coloured stone, mortared into the very fabric of public buildings in Samarkand. The philosopher was nominated one of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his nickname 'The Source'. Socrates' inner voice was thought by medieval Muslims a sign that he was an angel in poor man's clothing. Throughout the Arab world from the eleventh century AD up until the present day he was said to refresh and nourish, 'like . . . the purest water in the midday heat'.
And yet why should we still care for him? Why commemorate this
long-ago life? One good reason is because Socrates does that
shocking thing —that thing we still crave — he implies there might
be a`way to be fulfilled on this earth. Socrates was magnetic
because he counselled care of the soul.
He believed that men can achieve true happiness only when they are at
peace with themselves?' He suggested it is 'us', not 'them', who can make things better.
Socrates, as I have said, is tantalisingly elusive. But what we do have in our favour is the physical setting of his 'not thereness'. If the play of fifth-century BC Athenian life was lovingly crafted by Plato, and Socrates was his inspiration, then the stage-set, Athens, is still available to all of us. All agree, when it comes to Socrates, that he was down-to-earth. His was a great mind supported by feet of clay. And it is those muddy footsteps that I will follow. So this is not a philosophical, but a topographical map of the man.
There are many reasons why Socrates' story demands to be told. It is, at its most basic, an electric courtroom drama. The men of Athens vote to exterminate Socrates. They think he is a threat. He thinks he can save the soul of the city. Is this mob-rule, a political conspiracy, or the perfect example of the rule of the majority? Is Socrates' story a tragedy or a useful staging post in the development of civilisation? Who is in the right? The story of Socrates also incarnates the tension between the freedom of the individual and the regulation of the community. His refusal to compromise ends in his death. It is for this reason that he is hailed as humanity's first-recorded ideological martyr.
Socrates' life was spent in search of treasure, of an intimate understanding of humanity. And the combusting energy of that search drove him around the city of Athens. This book pursues the path he burned. His quest was to identify what place 'the good' might have in human society. We might not find that ultimate prize; Socrates himself was never sure that he had done so, and the only thing he seems to have been certain of was the futility of trying to find 'real' scientific explanations for everything in life. He thought it fruitless to stare at the skies and travel to the ends of the earth in order to catalogue the world, without learning to love it. Yet by inhabiting the Athens that raised him, we might just get a glimpse of the treasure-seeker: hot and cross sometimes, bad-tempered, self-absorbed, brilliant, dangerous, droll. Socrates never lost sight of his own temporality. The day he is condemned to death he declares: 'I am, as Homer puts it, "not born of an oak or a rock" but of human parents'. And so this books aims, physically to inhabit the space experienced. Athens — not just as recorded and as promoted, but as lived in.
The city of Athens is Socrates. Nothing means more to Socrates than Athens, and, more importantly, than the Athenians within it. He tells one of his colleagues, Phaedrus, that his home, his world, is the city — a city full of people. For Socrates, people are his magnetic North: he loved them. Xenophon reports that his conversations 'were always about human concerns. He dealt with questions such as how people please and displease the gods, what is the essence /purpose of beauty and ugliness, justice and injustice, prudence and moderation, courage and cowardice'. All his philosophy is drawn to understanding the being of men and women around him. This understanding, this consciousness of one's own consciousness, is what Socrates calls the psyche — the life-breath or soul. And it is in the city of Athens, between the years 469 and 399 BC, that Socrates' soul flits.
My ambition is very simple: to re-enter the streets of Athens in real time. Not to revisit a Golden Age city, but to look at a real city-state that was forging a great political experiment and riveting a culture; a city that suffered war and plague as well as enjoying great triumphs. To inhabit a place that is at once absolutely recognisable and utterly strange. To breathe the air Socrates breathed. To meet democrats who pre-date democracy and philosophers who operate before the science of philosophy is born.
This history is pathos. Socrates' life and trial and death by hemlock are stories that Athens did not want fully told, but which we need to hear.
The words of Socrates survive and always will, although he wrote
nothing and left no work or testament.---Dio Chrysostom, On Socrates, 54, first century AD
TRADITIONALLY WE MEET Socrates when a few of the key authors from antiquity, in particular Plato and Xenophon (both pro-Socrates) and Aristophanes (mixed), decide to open the door to him: but in that doorway there is always the screen of the authors' opinions, their take on what they choose us to see. So, when we read the `words' of Socrates, it is hard to tell whether these are his or another's attitude, another's philosophical enterprise.'
There is a second challenge. Plato, Aristophanes and Xenophon —Socrates' immediate or close contemporaries, men who are the fathers of Western philosophy, drama and chronicle — each deal with Socrates in a notably theatrical way.
Plato writes as a dramatist, a frustrated playwright. In his work the 'character' of Socrates is — as all great theatrical characters are — essentially charismatic, articulate and, to some extent, fabricated. The dramatic persona is both amplified and collapsed, it is extra-articulate and two-dimensional. Plato's Socratic Dialogues — crafted between twenty and forty years after Socrates died — are brilliantly constructed, designed to engage. Plato teases us and plays with us (he throws all the tricks of the entertainer into his work), which of course leaves us with the possibility that it is all just a fantasy. Xenophon is not much more help. Although more down-to-earth and literal, his hard-fact histories are communicated via animated, reported dialogue. Aristophanes, who satirises Socrates mercilessly, is not a biographer — he is a dramatist with a biting wit, he plays to the gallery; he strives to make his audience howl with laughter. Spend long enough with the Socratic texts from the fifth and fourth centuries BC and you feel as though you have sat through a series of 'Socrates Shows' — the TV docudrama, the West End, Hollywood and Broadway versions of a man's life.
Yet these individuals, Socrates' contemporary biographers, were not just showmen. They understood that drama can be an arterial route to truth. Socrates never wrote anything down, because, as he went about his philosophical business on the streets of fifth-century Athens, he believed in the honesty of joint-witnessing. For Plato to give Socrates a living voice in dialogue was as close as he could get to the original 'Socratic' experience. The detail in Plato's work is conspicuous. We hear of the species of trees that shade Socrates, the birds he hears sing, the discomfort of the wooden benches he lies upon, the shoemakers he talks to, the hiccups he cures.
If this detail were utterly inappropriate, or fanciful, Plato would have been laughed out of the Academy he set up in around 387 BC, and out of history. Plato, along with Xenophon and Aristophanes, wrote for their fifth-and fourth-century BC peers — for men who were contemporaries of Socrates, many of whom were intimately involved in the philosopher's life and eyewitnesses to the events of the age. Downright lies just wouldn't have washed.
Plato's memory matters. As a species, we remember and often we think in pictures, lot words. Our visual memories are more acute than our aural.' In neuroscience these experiences are known as 'episodic memories' — vivid, patchy, but with a sensory quality that can be remarkably accurate. It is very likely that the physical setting that Plato provides for Socrates can be relied upon; the punchy, sensuous real-life scenarios he supplies are exactly the kinds of details that stick in the cortex. Add to that the fact that the Ancient Greeks invested in landscape in a way we can only begin to imagine: not only was visual stimulus, visual expression fundamental to society, but the world they saw was a place where spirits resided, a place full of signs and symbols. One begins to realise that the Platonic setting of ancient Athens was no mere convenient backdrop, but a four-dimensional landscape that Socrates, in real life as well as in Plato's imagination, almost certainly, vigorously occupied.'
Plato was perhaps over-compensating; doubtless some of those 'Socratic' sentiments were in fact his own — and so he gave us a virtual world, stocked with the real things that he and Socrates saw around them, copper-plating his own credibility as the historical Socrates' mouthpiece. But Plato's reputation now has archaeology on its side.' His philosophies work on many levels, but the hard facts they contain were certainly not all a lie. Archaeological digs — each year — are substantiating and backing up in precise detail the picture of fifth-century Athens that Plato so skilfully and energetically painted just after Socrates' death, 2,400 years ago. For the first time, for example, we can walk beside the narrow streets that lie under the new Acropolis Museum and across the Painted Stoa (a covered area or walkway) where Plato, as a young, impressionable man, sat and listened to Socrates speak. The ancient stones match Plato's ancient words .
And so my attempt has been to re-create Socrates' world.'" To follow the clues in Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes to the physical reality of fifth-century Athens and therefore the physical reality of the story of Socrates' life. Through his dialogues Plato has given us the 'play' of Socrates' life, and described the most appropriate scenery before which the character of Socrates should enter. It is that scenery, that setting, that is now turning up in digs across the city.
The life of fifth-century Athens was itself, in essence, dramatic. Not only does Socrates' life span seventy of the busiest, most wonderful and tragic years in Athenian history, but the Athenians did, physically, construct a backdrop of democratic 'theatre' in which to play out their lives — democratic buildings, scenery, speeches, statues, props, music to help make their new democracy feel real.
Socrates will be best served not by Aristophanes' pantomime Clouds, but by a solid stage to stand on, from which he can speak audibly and directly to us, his audience. To this end I have used the latest sources —archaeological, topographical, textual — to construct a life for a man we can all benefit from getting to know a little better."
On the Daimonion of Socrates: Human Liberation, Divine Guidance & Philosophy by Heinz-Gunther Nesselrath (Scripta Antiquitatis Posterioris Ad Ethicam Religionemque Pertinentia: Mohr Siebeck) Note Errata here
Il est des ouvrages en Plutarque ou it oublie son theme, oil le propos de son argument ne se trouve que par incident, tout estouffé en matiere estrangere: voyez ses alleures au Daemon de Socrate. 0 Dieu, que ces gaillardes escapades, que cette variation a de beauté, et plus lors que plus elle retire au nonchalant et fortuite!
Montaigne (Essais III. ix) here admires the inconsequentiality of De genio. Most modern scholarship has been disconcerted by the combination of exciting historical romance and serious philosophical and religious discussion. Many attempts have therefore been made to identify themes and connections which might be held to unify the whole: Liberation (as the soul is freed with difficulty from the ills of the body, so Thebes is freed from the Spartan occupation); divine guidance (Epaminondas, like Socrates, is under a special tutelary daimon); or a general concern with signs and portents. It is doubtful whether any of these ideas is a guide to Plutarch's intentions.1 These should be sought rather in his educational concerns. In the preface to De audiendis poetis (14E) he observes that young students, not yet ready for the formal study of philosophy, nevertheless take pleasure in works like Heraclides' Abaris and Ariston's Lycon, in which philosophy and fabulous narrative are combined. If we consider De genio in this light, it is clear that it fills the bill very well. There is the exciting patriotic story of the liberation of Thebes; there is also the speculation about divination and the fate of the soul after death; there is even a miniature Socratic dialogue on doing good (584B-585D) and a suggestion that it is a good thing to study mathematics (579A—D). We should also recall that the narrator, Caphisias, Epaminondas' younger brother, is young, and emphasises his youth (he has lovers, he spends time in the gymnasia), and that the bravery of Charon's fifteen year old son is given special prominence (595B—D). It would be foolish to suggest that Plutarch is primarily targeting an adolescent readership (or his own pupils) but he certainly has one in mind, as he does also in his Banquet of the Seven Wise Men and in Gryllus. And it is a Boeotian audience: he makes the visionary who relates the myth a native of his own city Chaeronea, and he gives us a great deal of antiquarian detail about the religions and political practices of Boeotia in classical times.
The frame dialogue (not resumed at the end, cf. Plato's Phaedo, Theaetetus) serves as a preface. It limits the scope of the following narrative (Archedamus explains what he and his friends already know: 575F-576B) and it makes an important statement about the value of detail and motivation, as against mere information about the upshot of events, for hearers who are connoisseurs of the moral aspects of actions. This recalls prefatory statements in several Lives: e.g. Nicias 1, Alexander 1, Timoleon 1 and 6. And we are again reminded of De audiendis poetis; Archedamus' friends are like those serious readers of poetry who are not just in search of amusement.
The exact occasion of this frame dialogue is unclear. It is perhaps thought of as preceding the Athenian renunciation of the Theban alliance (Pelopidas 14.1, Xen. Hell. 5.4.19), but we do not learn whether Plutarch had any evidence that Caphisias participated in any such mission. Archedamus' Boeotian sympathies, however, are well attested, as is the unpopularity they caused him.
The initial scenes of Caphisias' story are set outdoors, as a party of the conspirators makes its way to Simmias' house. Simmias is in many ways the central character of the whole dialogue. Famous, from Phaedo, as an intimate of Socrates and a pupil (at Thebes) of the Pythagorean Phidolaus, he has travelled far and acquired much knowledge. He is of course involved in the conspiracy, though his illness prevents him from taking an active part. Like Theages in Plato (Rep. 6.496D) his infirmity keeps him loyal to philosophy. The day has come when the exiles are due to return, and a messenger arrives from Athens to bring word that there are twelve of them, and to inquire who will give them lodging. Charon offers (576D). This prompts the prophet (mantis) Theocritus to compare this readiness on the part of a comparatively uneducated person with the reluctance of the highly educated Epaminondas to take an active part. Caphisias naturally defends his brother. There is no doubt that Epaminondas' stance is an important theme of the whole dialogue. We learn later of his Pythagorean upbringing and his steadfast refusal of material gain. Theanor, the mysterious visitor, will declare that the daimon who guarded the dead Pythagorean philosopher Lysis, now guides his pupil Epaminondas. Here is at least one link between the philosophical topics and the narrative, for we are led to conclude that a political life too can be divinely guided. The loss of Plutarch's Epaminondas prevents us from knowing whether the career development suggested in De genio — from quietism to military leadership —was a theme in the Life also.
Caphisias' conversation on this subject is interrupted (577A) by Galaxidorus, who has seen two officers of the Spartan occupation, Archias and Lysanoridas, approaching. Archias takes Theocritus aside. Everyone is worried about the reason for this. Another conspirator, Phyllidas, now appears, and discusses matters with Caphisias. There is a longish lacuna in the text at 577D, which must cover the return of Theocritus to the group. They are then joined by yet another figure, Phidolaus of Haliartus, who asks them to wait a little before entering Simmias' house, because Simmias is trying to negotiate with the pro-Spartan Leontiadas about the fate of a leader of the anti-Spartan party, Amphitheus, who is in prison. The narrative now takes a new turn. Theocritus is glad to see Phidolaus, because he wants to ask him about the remains of Alcmena, which Agesilaus removed from Haliartus to Sparta some years before. It appears that there was a mysterious inscription on the tomb, which Agesilaus submitted to Egyptian priests for interpretation: 'Simmias may have something to tell us about this.' Theocritus, on hearing Phidolaus' account, reveals that his recent conversation with Lysanoridas was about some ominous sign, and that Lysanoridas will go to Haliartus to offer some ritual reparation to Alcmena. When he comes back, says Theocritus, he is just the man to pry into the Theban secret of the whereabouts of Dirce's tomb.
What has all this to do with the main themes of the dialogue? It is not unusual for some minor matters to be discussed before a main theme is addressed: thus in De Pyth. or. 8-16, several disconnected topics delay the introduction of the main issue. In De genio, there is a dramatic reason for sending Lysanoridas to Haliartus, since he is (crucially) to be out of town on the day of the coup. And the series of episodes enhances the atmosphere: portents ominous for the Spartans, deep concern for Theban customs and ritual.
The scene changes to Simmias' house, and a further series of episodes, preliminary both to the development of the plot and to the main discussion, takes place here. Simmias has been disappointed in his attempt to win over Leontiadas; but he has learned from him of the arrival of a mysterious stranger, who has been performing some ritual at Lysis' tomb, and inquiring for the family of Polymnis, the father of Epaminondas and Caphisias. Phidolaus, however, is still preoccupied with the Alcmena inscription: can Simmias throw any light on this (578E)? Only indirectly, it would appear. Simmias tells a story about another text sent by the Spartans to Egypt, while he and others were studying there, which turned out to be an exhortation to the Greeks to pursue the arts of peace, not war. The same message was intended by the oracle given to the Delians, ordering them to 'double the size of the altar'; this baffled them, until Plato explained to them the necessary mathematics. The true meaning of this oracle, again, was an exhortation to peace and the civilized pursuits of science and learning.
Two things are achieved by this section: the Pythagorean stranger is introduced, and the point is made that science and philosophy go with a peaceful life. If we venture to look at this in the light of Plutarch's own day, it is an acceptance of the role of Greece as the peaceful partner in the Roman world, whose contribution lies in the sciences and the arts.
Polymnis arrives. We hear more about the visitor, who will shortly be brought before the company. Simmias likes very much what he hears of the man. Galaxidorus does not: to him, the visitor sounds like a superstitious charlatan, unworthy of philosophy, which Socrates (in contrast to Pythagoras and Empedocles) showed to be a rational and down-to-earth business. This view is at once challenged by the mantis Theocritus, who thinks that it implies an acceptance of the charge of impiety brought against Socrates by his accusers.
This leads immediately to the daimonion, which (according to Theocritus) shows Socrates a greater prophet than Pythagoras himself. We may distinguish five stages in this first 'act' of the discussion:
1. Theocritus' acceptance of the fact that Socrates had a divine guide (a 'vision' [580C] though this perception will not be maintained), and his reminiscence of a rather trivial episode in which it figured.
2. Galaxidorus' argument that Socrates was really skilled in observing signs (e.g. sneezes or casual words) as other diviners do.
3. Polymnis' rejection of the sneeze theory (which he attributes to Terpsion) on the ground that it could not possibly explain Socrates' nobility of character, his prophecy of defeat in Sicily, or his inspired behaviour at the battle of Delium.
4. Polymnis' appeal to Simmias, supported by Phidolaus.
5. Galaxidorus' second speech, in which he too defers to Simmias, but (i) refutes Phidolaus by saying that small signs may indicate great events, and using the analogy of writing, in which a few small scratches can display great wars and sufferings to the literate scholar, and (ii) answers Polymnis by urging that Socrates called his sign daimonion not out of pretentiousness but because he knew the difference between agent (the god) and instrument (the sign).
The discussion is broken off by the entrance of Epaminondas and Theanor, who dominate the following scene. Theanor explains who he is, and the circumstances which have led him to track down the exiled Lysis. He has had a dispute with Epaminondas, because he wishes to pay the family for their care of Lysis, and Epaminondas refuses to accept anything. A lengthy dialogue, in a Socratic style, shows Epaminondas able to justify his point of view. Finally, Theanor gives his decision: Lysis' body is to remain where it is. He looks hard at Epaminondas, for he has come to believe that the young man is guided by the daimon who once guided Lysis.
At this point, Phyllidas comes in, and asks the others (including the narrator) to go outside with him. There is cause for alarm: Hipposthenidas has gone so far as to send a messenger to warn the exiles not to enter the city. Why? Because he thinks the plot may have been discovered, and he takes this to be confirmed by a friend's rather ominous dream. Theocritus comes to the rescue by suggesting a more favourable interpretation; and the messenger, Chlidon, unexpectedly returns, having been unable to ride out to meet the exiles, as he had been ordered, because his wife had lent his bridle to a neighbour! There had been quite a scene about this; but they conclude that the alarms were all false, and the plan is to go ahead. Theocritus and Caphisias go back to Simmias' house, where the discussion is still going on.
This central part of the dialogue, the definitive discussion of its nominal subject, is best considered as a whole.
(1) The narrator has not heard Simmias' reply to Galaxidorus, and so cannot tell what it was. This is (I think) an important clue to the general tendency of the dialogue. Galaxidorus is not a figure to be ridiculed, like Thrasymachus in Plato's Republic or Planetiades in Plutarch's De defectu (413A—D). True, he is contemptuous of people like Empedocles and Pythagoras, and Pythagoreanism is very much in evidence in everything to follow. But it is probably3 a mistake to make too much of this. Galaxidorus has maintained Socrates' superiority as a man of reason, and he has deferred to Simmias' superior knowledge. (His view is akin to the Stoic interpretation reported in Cicero [De divinatione 1.122], which treats Socrates as indeed an observer of signs, but one whose capacity depends on a pure and chaste mind.) Much of what he said would be acceptable to Plutarch, and it is worth noting that in one of the very few ancient references to De genio (Eustratius in Eth. Nic. 5,13 Heylbut), Galaxidorus' and Simmias' speeches are dovetailed together.
(2) Simmias' theory.4 Simmias believed that Socrates' daimonion was not a vision (so Theocritus was wrong), but the apprehension of a thought not articulated in speech, but rather like the words we seem to hear in dreams. Socrates' special aptitude (due to his unconcern with material things) was to pick up these signals even when awake (the comparison and contrast with dreams occurs again in Cic. De div. 1.c., and is a motif common in such discussion). The theory is that the thought (logos) of a daimon can communicate itself to gifted souls without the violent 'blow' involved in ordinary communication by sound. These souls yield readily to 'the intellect (vows) of the higher being...' The best Simmias can do is to make this plausible by analogies: the ship guided by the tiller, the potter's wheel controlled by the fingertip, and our common experience (however difficult it is to understand the mechanism of it) of the power of mind over matter (589A—B). There is a sort of illumination or effulgence in the thoughts of the superior powers which makes them accessible to specially privileged minds; by contrast, our knowledge of the thoughts of others is dim, mediated only by voice. If this is hard to grasp (589C), the analogy of sound may help. Sound depends on an impact made on the air, and we may suppose that the daimon's thoughts also produce a physical change, discernible only to those specially endowed minds. Or try another analogy, this time a military one: the presence of sappers in a tunnel can be detected by resonance on a bronze shield held in the right place. And if (once again) it seems odd that something we think of as a dream-experience should be possible to a person who is awake, yet another analogy (suggested by the harmonia arguments of Phaedo) presents itself: a musician needs his lyre tuned, not unstrung. The essential point is that Socrates is very special. An oracle given when he was a child (not otherwise known to us) declared that he had his best guide within himself. Pressed, this implies that the guide was in some sense his own Nous: This is inconsistent with the theory of com munication just developed, but it is indeed a Platonic idea (Timaeus 90) and we shall find it again in the myth which soon follows.
This repetitive and complicated speech has been much discussed, and its 'sources' conjectured. It is no doubt Plutarch's own synthesis, but there are some texts, of Platonic provenance, which are very similar to it, and it may be convenient to mention the most striking of these here:5
(a) Within the writings of Plato himself, one may draw attention to Critias 109c, where Critias describes how in early times the gods guided human beings "like pilots from the stern of the vessel, ... holding our souls by the rudder of persuasion" (translation Jowett).
(b) Philo, De decalogo 32-35, where it is explained that God spoke to Moses not with a physical voice but miraculously, 'commanding an invisible sound to be created in air, more wonderful than any instrument [cf. 588F], not without soul ... but itself a rational soul ... which shaped the air and gave utterance to an articulate voice.'
(c) Calcidius §255: 'the voice of which Socrates was aware was not such as would result from impact on air, but such as might reveal the presence and company of a familiar divinity to a soul whose exceptional chastity made it clean and therefore more intelligent.' Calcidius goes on, almost in Plutarch's terms, to draw the comparison between our dream experience and Socrates' waking perception of a divine presence.
(3) The myth of Timarchus.8 Timarchus consults the oracle of Trophonius in order to learn about Socrates' divine warnings. He gets no explicit answers but he (and we) can draw some conclusions.
In reading the myth, we must of course have in mind both its Platonic models (esp. Phaedo) and Plutarch's other attempts in this genre (in De sera numinis vindicta and De facie).9 But we must also remember that there is much room left for invention, fantasy, and deliberate mystification. Plutarch's myths (like Plato's) draw on a fund of religious, philosophical and scientific lore; but this fund does not amount to a coherent system, and it would be rash to assume that there is such a thing, and that Plutarch is just revealing parts of it to us, a bit at a time. (He is not at all like J.R.R. Tolkien.)
Timarchus is probably named after a person mentioned in Theages 129A, in connection with the daimonion. Plutarch makes him a Chaeronean, and sets his vision at the great Boeotian oracle of Trophonius at Lebadea. The story begins (590B—C) with Timarchus lying in the cave (having performed all the due rituals), not knowing whether he is asleep or awake. He feels a blow on his head, followed by a pleasurable sensation of rising and expanding, bright light, and a harmonious sound (presumably the music of the spheres). His soul has escaped from the opening sutures of his skull (an unparalleled detail in such stories, it would seem). He cannot see the earth, but when he looks up (from a standpoint not clearly indicated), he sees innumerable islands moving through a great sea, and all shining with variously coloured light. These islands are the heavenly bodies, planets included; the sea represents the whole celestial sphere. There is clearly (590E) an allusion, not without mystification, to the inclination of the ecliptic to the celestial equator. When Timarchus looks down, as he does next (590F), he sees a dark gulf, from which emerge sounds of human suffering: this gulf is Hades, and it is (or at least includes) the earth on which we live." Timarchus sees, but as yet does not understand. An unseen speaker (591A) offers to enlighten him, but only with regard to 'the realm of Persephone', because 'the things above' belong to 'other gods'. So the vision is limited. Persephone's realm is bounded by Styx, which is, we are told, the earth's shadow, periodically in its revolution catching the moon, and causing an eclipse. Though the voice cannot tell much about the world beyond, it does offer a curious metaphysical system (591B), which seems to be a complication of one set out in De facie (943-4). This involves the triad Monas-Nous-Physis, which puts us in mind of later Neoplatonism, but which is no doubt based largely on a text of Plato, Sophist 248.14 The system plays no part in what follows, for the voice goes on to explain simply that 'Styx' catches many souls in the air below the moon, and takes them back for rebirth. Some, the wicked, are rejected by the moon altogether and in anger; others, whose time has come, are rescued by her, and (presumably) suffer no further reincarnation.
This is the explanation given by the Voice: all Timarchus can actually see is a lot of stars moving up and down. These are souls, more or less obedient to their daimon (or Nous), but also more or less submerged in the body. This variation in obedience and recalcitrance occurs, it seems, both in incarnate souls and after death, when the souls seek to escape from the trammels of the body altogether. But what of Socrates? We must infer that he was one of these most obedient and least troubled by the demands of the body, and this was evident in his lifetime: He is not mentioned by name; the example given is Hermodorus of Clazomenae, whose soul travelled freely around the world while his body lay asleep.
(4) Theanor's speech. Theanor does not mention Socrates either. He treats the myth as something to be dedicated to the god, and so uncriticized; he accepts, in general, what Simmias has said. But he has his own point of view, and presents it in a magisterial fashion. Some men are specially favoured by gods, and these are they who can understand the thought of the gods, as is (he thinks) shown by the example of Helenus in Homer (but see notes). More generally, humans are in the care of daimones, these being disembodied souls, whose special function seems here to be to guide towards final salvation souls which have completed their cycle of births and deaths. This is a classical 'demonology', such as Apuleius and Maximus use in their accounts of Socrates. Based on classic texts of Hesiod and Plato, and probably developed by Xenocrates, it is a standard element in Platonism by Plutarch's time.16 Where does Socrates fit in? Was he one of the rare ones guided by a god? We are not told. But the guidance he receives, we must infer, is from an outside power (as Simmias said), not from something like his vows, which could be I interpreted as within him.
The conclusion of the narrative is rapid and skilful, and is not again interrupted. Epaminondas tells Caphisias to go to the gymnasium; he himself remains to continue the discussion. For this, he makes his apologia: he will not take part in violence or illegal executions, but reserves himself to come to the front later. At the gymnasium, plotting continues, and Archias and Philip go off to the dinner which is to be fatal to them (25). And now the conspirators join forces with the twelve exiles, who have had a good omen (lightning on their right) on entering the city (26). They all meet together at Charon's house, and are greatly alarmed when Archias sends for Charon; he obeys the summons, and leaves his son in his friends' charge, with an emotional speech. Cephisodorus and Theocritus advise prompt action, to preempt betrayal; and they get ready (27-28). But Charon soon returns, and is quite cheerful: he does not think Archias has had any sure information, and there is no reason to believe that the plot has been disclosed (29). The conspirators hesitate no longer: one party goes to deal with Leontiadas, the other (including some disguised as women) to the party having dinner with Archias. (Archias has in fact had another warning, but has disregarded it, with the remark 'Serious business tomorrow!' — a saying which became proverbial). (30). The attack on the dinner is successful, the archon Cabirichus is killed, the servants killed or locked in (31). Meanwhile, the second party (which includes Pelopidas) has prevailed against Leontiadas and Hypates, despite strong resistance (32). Finally, the two parties are united. Amphitheus and others are released from prison. There is a general rising, and the Spartan garrison surrenders (33-34).
The Liberation of Thebes from Spartan control was one of the crucial moments of the fourth century. With the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Sparta had become the unchallenged master of Greece, but the events of the night in midwinter 379/8 which provide the setting of Plutarch's dialogue, De genio Socratis, changed all that. The Spartan garrison was expelled from the Cadmea and the rise of Theban power began. In 371 on the battlefield of Leuctra the Thebans at a stroke set Sparta on the defensive for the rest of her history while Thebes became the leading military power of Greece. It was only the intervention of Macedon that deposed her. Much was at stake as those philosophically minded discussed the daimon of Socrates and the conspirators set about their murderous plans.
The rise of Thebes in the 370s and the 360s1 was due primarily, in the view of Ephorus (Diod. 15.39.2), to three men who feature in the De genio, Pelopidas, Gorgidas and Epaminondas. The part of Epaminondas in the liberation, as Plutarch describes it, was minor; he had declined actively to take a hand in an action that might damage innocent citizens (594B) though he said that he and Gorgidas had known the expected date of the exiles' return, and when the uprising was under way both men had assembled with their friends ready to assist the cause (598C, D).2 Elsewhere Plutarch made plain his high esteem for Epaminondas (Timoleon 36, Philopoemen 3) and, if one can accept that Pausanias' account of the career of Epaminondas (9.13-15.6) is an epitome of Plutarch's (lost) life, he rounded off his account by citing the elegiac verses on the statue of Epaminondas in Thebes, where it was proclaimed that it was due to him that 'all Hellas is independent and in freedom'. So Plutarch's silence in the De genio is challenging. Pelopidas' part is fully recounted (596C, 597D—F) but Plutarch drops no hint of their future partnership, nor of Pelopidas' large share in the northern extension of Theban power. Gorgidas, who had been a Hipparch before 382 (578BC), was the founder of the Sacred Band (Pelopidas 18) and his minor part in the liberation is adequately described (594B, 598C).4 The failure to point the contrast between the Epaminondas of 379/8 and the Epaminondas of 371 and later is surprising.
Of course, it may be simply that Plutarch chanced to tell it all that way, but one inevitably wonders whether he was reflecting whatever source he had concerning the liberation. His model for the whole dialogue is Platonic and just as it is vain to look to Plato's Dialogues for reliable factual information, so one might hesitate to give great credit to Plutarch's account of that historic night if it were not that the De genio chimes with barely a dissonant note with the account of the liberation in the Life of Pelopidas. There are furthermore very few Thebans named of whom we do not hear in other sources and there is only one historical fact which is anachronistic, viz. Jason of Pherae's tenure of the office of 'um* of Thessaly (583F).5 So the account of the liberation is not fiction but history. The philosophical dialogue may or may not have taken place on that night but the historical account is to be taken seriously.
Whence then did Plutarch derive it? The likely enough guess is that he drew on the Hellenica of Callisthenes of Olynthus (FGrHist 124), a work covering in ten books the thirty years between the Peace of Antalcidas and the outbreak of the Sacred War. This must have been a full work, and it is highly likely that his account of the liberation of Thebes was full. There are other candidates of course, like the shadowy Daimachus of Plataea (FGrHist 65) and Aristophanes 'the Boeotian' whom Plutarch used in the De Herodoti Malignitate (FGrHist 379), but no matter. What is clear is that Plutarch did not use Xenophon's Hellenica. The two accounts differ in detail, and there is one very striking difference. Xenophon spoke of seven conspirators (5.4.1), Plutarch of twelve (576C; cf. Pelopidas 8), and Xenophon makes no mention at all of Pelopidas' part in the action. This is consistent with Xenophon's treatment of both Pelopidas and Epaminondas. The former does not appear in the Hellenica apart from the embassy to the Great King in 367 which Xenophon treated as shabby and disgraceful (7.1.33-38). The latter is not named in connection with Leuctra and makes his first appearance during the second Theban campaign in the Peloponnese (7.1.41). Xenophon's silences about Pelopidas and Epaminondas were deliberate, and scandalous. Plutarch was not deceived. Wherever it was, he found a full account of that dramatic night; what he says and does not say is seriously to be considered, a matter not of historiography but, it would seem, of fact.
The career of Epaminondas is indeed poorly attested before he appears centre-stage in the Peace Conference at Sparta in 371 where he met Agesilaus' demand for the dissolution of the Boeotian Federation with a demand that the Spartans let the Perioecic peoples go, and then he had the Thebans refuse to join in a treaty that returned them to submission. Twenty days later he fought and won the battle of Leuctra, a cataclysmic victory, his first appearance, in a military role, as Boeotarch. The De genio shows he was not an active participant in 379/8; he knew about the plotted liberation but tried to dissuade the plotters (576E, F, 594B); he and Gorgidas had their friends ready to give support when the dirty work had been done (594 B) but he would not initiate the violence. This all fits with his abstaining from action in the years down to 371, and the reason Epaminondas gave for his abstinence, viz. that 'unless there was great necessity, he would not kill any of his fellow-citizens without trial' (594 B), is consistent with his attitude at the height of his power and glory. According to Diodorus (15.57), when the Thebans after Leuctra campaigned against Orchomenus, once the chief obstacle to Theban domination of Boeotia and still at least dissident, and they intended to enslave the city, Epaminondas dissuaded them saying that 'those aiming to have the leadership of the Greeks' should not so behave. The Orchomenians, Diodorus declares, were then made 'allies' and in the same mood the Phocians were made 'friends' of Thebes but on terms hardly suitable to 'those aiming to have the leadership of the Greeks', for they were able to refuse to join the army of Epaminondas on its way to settle the affairs of the Peloponnese in the battle of Mantineia; they declared that their treaty with Thebes obliged them to lend military aid in the case of an attack on Thebes but said nothing about campaigns against others (Xen. Hell. 7.5.4). In comparable spirit Epaminondas was later to treat with moderation 'the best men' of Achaea (ibid. 7.1.42). The criticism made of him by Theocritus the diviner in 379/8 (576DE) foreshadows the enmity he aroused at the height of his career.6 Epaminondas was, in short, a credit to philosophy if not to Realpolitik. The De genio makes a useful contribution to our understanding of this great man.
The Platonic intertextuality will provide the essential background for this discussion. There is a vast amount of this in the essay, and other aspects of this are explored elsewhere in this volume: questions of souls dipping up and down in the manner of Timaeus, questions of how a myth of rebirth works in the manner of Republic 10, and so on.6 But it is the Phaedo that is particularly relevant. There are several particular echoes right at the beginning, the discussion of whether there is time to talk and whether those present are willing to listen (575D—E Phaedo 58c—d), and the introduction of 'Simmias', the man of Thebes who was so important in Phaedo and is now the host here. There is some wryness too in the way he is introduced. He has 'been away for a long time in foreign parts and had travelled among strange peoples' (576C, 578A): exactly as the Socrates of Phaedo had encouraged his interlocutors to do (78a, where Socrates was in fact talking to Cebes — but Cebes is not forgotten here either, 580E, 590E). Now Simmias has arrived home 'full of all sorts of myths and barbarian stories'. People keep visiting him at his home, not unlike the way they visited Socrates in prison; but Simmias has a rather different reason for not being able to roam around, for he has suffered a nasty ailment of the leg and can only lie on his couch. That is most convenient, as it means Simmias cannot involve himself in the action himself, and Plutarch therefore sidesteps the issue whether he would be an active participant like Pelopidas or a philosophical bystander like Epaminondas: the question cannot arise for him. But this participant who was closest to the Platonic Socrates shows a further wry Socratic touch: for does not the Phaedo itself end with a Socrates on his couch, as the hemlock gradually strikes at his — legs? There is even a 'fastening' here as well, the that has just been removed from Simmias' leg (589A) — a blander equivalent of the fetter removed from Socrates' leg at Phaedo 59e.7
The mild divergences between Plutarch's two accounts have been well studied by others, most recently and thoroughly by Georgiadou 1997. Here I shall give a broader comparison of Life and essay under three headings that have become familiar from narratological theory: duration, focalisation, and voice. One recurrent question will be what we might call the intertwining of 'theme' and 'event': how far the various issues of conscience and political activism are affected by and affect the events of this stirring story. Ziegler thought the intertwining of theme and event in De genio was superficial and contrived, a shallow imitation of their thorough integration in the Phaedo.8 Perhaps we can be a little more generous.
First, duration. The version in the Life is quite expansive, by Life standards, but is still only seven chapters long. The essay is developing the narrative all through the work: after the dialogue introduction, it starts with the arrival of the news that the plotters are on the way from Athens, and at the end it goes through to the moment when the Spartan garrison withdraws. The Life version might take twenty minutes to read aloud; the essay version would require more like two hours, and is getting close to an equivalent in duration to the length in real time that the events would take (so, in the terms made familiar by Bal, the 'story' becomes equivalent in extent to the 'fabula'). That is especially so as the back-narrative is given in very compressed form at the beginning in 575F-6B, 'we all know already how...', and then there is a quickening of pace at the end once the action itself finally starts at 596D—E: the time in between, that taken by the discussion as the conspiracy develops, is pretty well exactly the time that the discussion, if real, would have taken. That 'isochronic' equivalence of duration is not unusual in Plutarch (compare, for instance, De Pythiae Oraculis, where the conversation occupies the time it would take to climb the hill at Delphi); and it is very much on the pattern of a Platonic dialogue, including the Platonic dialogue that has the most important, indeed cataclysmic action interwoven with it, the Phaedo.
This point of duration has several effects. The first, of course, is that this is extremely mimetic, almost the extreme case of narrative mimesis. The longueur, the agonising waiting that attends even such exciting and swift-moving events as these, is caught by the way the participants talk, almost literally, to pass the time: rather as the Spartan partisan Archias liked philosophical conversation to distract others from his disgraceful actions (576C), so the conspirators too seem to be talking as much to distract themselves as to buoy up their spirits or to provide the suspicious with an excuse for their gathering. When we come to the interaction of theme and action, this is not just a ploy of Plutarch himself to inject a factitious literary 'unity': it characterises too, for instance when the conversation turns to how a momentary inspiration allowed Socrates to escape mortal danger at the hands of, not coincidentally, the Thebans (581D—E of Delium, with a hint of Plato's Symposium). At times like this a mind drifts easily into preoccupation with mortal danger, and dwelling here on divine inspiration may be wishful thinking, but is psychologically just right. It is something of a contrary counterpart of the Phaedo itself, where it is so natural for Socrates and his friends to talk of immortality.
Not that the main point of the discussion is to illuminate the moment, tense though it is. The forward movement of the essay is carried not by the action but by the discussion of Socrates' daimonion, and the moments of action or of news punctuate it, even serve as panel-dividers to separate the discussion. We might compare the Amatorius, another dialogue peculiarly rich in Platonic reminiscence, where the debate is interwoven with and affected by the news coming from Thespiae of Ismenodora's doings (754E, 756A, 771D). It is a mirror-image of the phenomenon familiar from many Lives, though not Pelopidas itself, where the narrative action is divided into panels by 'digressions' (what used to be called 'eidology'), digressions that themselves have something of the manner of the Moralia: take, for instance, the discussion of divine inspiration at Coriolanus 32 or of the way mantic signs work at Pericles 6, both Moralia-like topics which happen to overlap closely with the themes of De genio Socratis.
There is more to it still, though, and this brings us on to the interlocking of theme and event. Some interaction is exactly what we should expect: in that Coriolanus case, for instance, the 'Homeric' texture of the digression has an interesting interplay with the 'Achillean' figure we have so far seen in that Life and the 'Odyssean' crisis of powerful womenfolk that he is about to face. In De genio the most obvious interaction is the way that reflections and actions affect one another: just as the characters' thoughts change under the pressure of events, so also their thought-processes drive their actions. Thus the texture of the discussion becomes different once the tingling-nerved Hipposthenidas has told how, among other things, he found the dream of Hypatodorus so frightening that he decided to abort the whole affair (587A—B). Not merely does Hipposthenidas himself illus trate the point made earlier, that one has to have the right mindset if one is to receive divine guidance and interpret it aright; this is also the point where dreams and visions are dropped as appropriate vehicles for inspiration, and Simmias moves the discussion on to a new level by talking of a sort of (perhaps wordless) 'voice' that Socrates always found much more reliable (588D—E). So the alarming 'events' of that night do affect the way the 'theme' of inspiration is viewed.
What is difficult is to find this interaction going the other way. The participants' determination to act may certainly be driven by their moral and philosophical convictions; but, if they are looking for divine inspiration to guide their actions now, they do not seem to find it once the narrative of events begins, and it is good planning and good luck that carries the day.
It is easy to represent this sort of narrative or dialogue dynamic as a purely artistic matter, just as we did a paragraph ago in asserting the thematic unity of Coriolanus. But the comparison with Plato suggests a further point. A Platonic dialogue is not merely an airing of philosophical issues, but an indication of the right way to do philosophy, through discussion, dialectic, and testing rather than by simple exposition. The Phaedo illustrates how to act and (more important) how to think in a moment of crisis, in the presence of imminent and unjust death. Cannot we make the same move with Plutarch too, and see him as exploring the way that events are not merely conditioned by but also affect the way the participants think about the biggest issues? (Though in the Phaedo, it is true, the more basic point is that Socrates' stable insight is not unsettled or revised by the imminence of death.) A cultured and insightful response to the present involves applying one's knowledge of and reflection on the paradigmatic past; and it also affects how we read and interpret the past, and we can see that in the thought-processes of the participants themselves. The impact of the present crisis means that some approaches are dropped and others become more attractive. And, if that is true of an Artemidorus and a Galaxidorus and a Simmias, might there not be a moral for Plutarch's own readers too and the ways they should think about the biggest moral dilemmas?
Plutarch would never, I think, be regarded as being anywhere close to what one might term the 'Neopythagorean wing' of Middle Platonism —that space inhabited by such figures as Moderatus of Gades, Nicomachus of Gerasa and Numenius`of Apamea — but there is no question, on the other hand, that he knew a good deal about the Pythagorean tradition, and greatly respected what he knew.
To begin at the beginning, there is the intriguing problem as to what he means by his self-portrayal in the Eat Delphi (387F), as, in his youth (around 66-7 A.D.), "devoting myself to mathematics with the greatest enthusiasm, although I was destined soon to pay all honour to the maxim 'Nothing in excess' when I joined the Academy." This sounds very much like a mildly ironic confession of excessive enthusiasm for Pythagorean-style numerology at some early phase of his intellectual development, which is depicted as being somehow 'outside' the ambit of 'the Academy' — which can only really mean the (more) orthodox, or main-stream, Platonist tradition, since there was, after all, in his day no Platonic Academy in an institutional sense.
This will have been succeeded by a 'conversion' to a more moderate, and on the whole Peripateticizing, Platonism, presumably under the influence of his later mentor Ammonius. He also, however, portrays Ammonius in this same dialogue (391E), as holding that "in mathematics was contained not the least important part of philosophy," which, in the context, would seem, once again, to imply some interest in Pythagorean number-theory — although such an assertion could reasonably be made by any Platonist.
All that we can tentatively derive from this piece of information is that there would seem to have been a period in Plutarch's youth when he was exposed to, and attracted by, Pythagorean number-mysticism. How much of this, we may wonder, together with interest in other aspects of Pythagoras' life and teachings (and those of early Pythagoreans such as Archytas or Philolaus) continued into later life?
If we take our start from the first principles of his metaphysics, we can certainly identify Pythagorean influence, if we wish, in his postulation of a pair of supreme principles, the One and the Indefinite Dyad, though there is at the same time nothing un-Platonic about this. However, at De Defectu Oraculorum 428F, we find quite a starkly dualist scenario presented which is compatible with the oldest Pythagorean traditions:
"Of the supreme (anótató) principles, by which I mean the One and the Indefinite Dyad, the latter, being the element underlying all formlessness and disorder, has been called Limitlessness (apeiria); but the nature of the One limits and contains what is void and irrational and indeterminate in Limitlessness, gives it shape, and renders it in some way tolerant and receptive of definition."
This pair of principles turns up at various places in Plutarch's works, attributed to a wide range of authorities, including Zoroaster, and various pre-Socratic figures, such as Heraclitus, Parmenides and Anaxagoras, e.g. De An. Proc. 1024D-1025D, De Is. et Os. 370C-371A, where 'the Pythagoreans' are included. Pythagoras is not included in the list in this passage of the De An. Proc., but elsewhere, at 1012E, we find the information that 'Zaratas' (whom Plutarch does not seem to identify with Zoroaster!) was a teacher of Pythagoras, and called the Indefinite Dyad the mother of Number, the One being its father.
In the third of the Quaestiones Platonicae, a propos the analysis of the Divided Line of Republic VI, we find, at 1001Eff., a system of derivation of number, and then point, line and solid from the Monad and the Dyad, which, while not being attributed to Pythagoras, agrees with the system set out by the 1st. Cent. B.C. Neopythagorean Alexander Polyhistor in his History of Philosophy (ap. Diog. Laert. 7.25), except that Alexander describes the Pythagoreans as deriving the Dyad from the Monad, which Plutarch does not do. How far back such a system goes, however, is a moot point; it might well be itself derived from the speculations of Old Academicians such as Xenocrates, with whom Plutarch was well acquainted.
Plutarch's distinctive doctrines on the nature of the soul, both World Soul and individual soul, on the separable intellect (as set out, for example, at De genio 591D-592D), and on daemonology, do not seem to owe anything to the Pythagorean tradition, though one cannot be sure that they do not depend on some Neopythagorean sources not available to us.2 There does, however, seem some warrant for claiming at least a belief in a personal daimon as distinctive of Pythagoreanism from Plutarch's presentation of the doctrine in De genio 585E—F (see below).
Presenting various attempts by the speakers in De genio to explain the daimonion of Socrates, Plutarch enters a field which he has dealt with repeatedly in his writings. As the main question is how Socrates came to receive inspirations from a higher sphere, we have to do with a special form of divination.
An interest in all forms of prophecy runs through all of Plutarch's oeuvre: wherever an occasion presents itself, in the Lives as well as in the Moralia, Plutarch loves to talk about such things wherever an opportunity offers. He also devotes whole treatises to these topics.
Of some of these, we know only the titles or small fragments. We owe them to a list of Plutarch's writings probably dating from Late Antiquity, the so-called Lamprias Catalogue, and to quotations in later authors. In one or two works Plutarch defends the compatibility of believing in divination with Academic philosophy (Lamprias Cat. 71 and 131, fr. 147 Sandbach), in another he discusses the question whether to know future events in advance is useful (fr. 21-23 Sandbach). Furthermore, he collected oracles (Lamprias Cat. 171) and wrote on the Oracle of Trophonius near Lebadeia (Lamprias Cat. 181), which plays an important role also in De genio. While these works are lost, we still have — besides De genio — the dialogues "The Pythia's prophecies" (De Pythiae oraculis) and "The decline of Oracles" (De defectu oraculorum).
Both these dialogues are given a Delphic setting and deal wholly or in part with questions concerning the Delphic Oracle in particular. Not only literary or philosophic and theoretical interests connected Plutarch with Delphi; for many years he held priestly office there.1 In this function he appears on the base (found in Delphi) of a statue which the Amphictyons dedicated to the Emperor Hadrian (Syll. 829A), and in his "Table Talk"
(220.127.116.110E) he calls one of the participants in the conversation "his colleague in priestly office". Finally, in his essay An seni sit gerenda res publica 17.792F he claims to have performed sacrifices in the service of Pythian Apollo and to have participated in processions and cultic dances already for "many Pythiads". Plutarch evidently rendered great services to Delphi: the Delphians (together with the citizens of his hometown Chaeronea) honoured him by setting up a berm, the head of which has unfortunately been lost, but its shaft (together with its verse inscription, Syll. 843A) has been found in the excavations.
Let us now have a look at the two essays on oracles and then try to relate the ideas set out in De genio to them.
In Plutarch's eschatological myths the reader will discover himself as a player in a universal drama of guilt and atonement, success and failure, in which his future — which, as he discovers, was also his past — is significantly revealed (before a truly cosmic background) as something now brilliantly bright, now threateningly dark. This drama is a Tua res agitur, transposed from the earthly present into the temporal and spatial dimensions of the cosmos, from which the reader can hardly escape.
Of the three myths which will be discussed here,' two (in De sera and in De facie) are integrated into the course of the presentation, so that they form the grand final act of a series of arguments, which are developed in lively discussion. Many times announced and full of powerful mythical imagery, they transcend the preceding logos, and the reader has the task of interpreting both the myth by means of the logos (as rational argument) and the logos by means of the myth; for Plutarch declines to be a guide and interpreter, as I the concluding words of De facie show (945D): After its myth has been told by Sulla as the tale (logos) of a stranger, Sulla remarks: "You and your companions, Lamprias, may make what you will of the tale (logos)." In De sera Plutarch even teases the reader with the deceptive hope that he will be enlightened: The dialogue ends with the myth itself, without further comment on it; but shortly before the myth is told Olympichus remarks (563B, after Plutarch, who is one of the participants, has ended his argument): "We do not applaud, lest you imagine we are letting you off from the myth, on the ground that your argument suffices to prove your case. No; we shall pass judgement only when we have heard that further recital." The judgement of the participants, however, we never learn, so that a hint by Plutarch is lacking here as well. In both cases the myth is neither a mere extra nor just a poetic game which might allow us to neglect the significance of the myth for the whole work or even not to take it seriously; on the contrary, the reader is called upon to do for himself what was expected of the participants of both dialogues: to continue the discussion`and to do this now in the light of the myth.
In De genio, on the contrary, the myth is situated in the middle of the dialogue and apparently has - at first sight - hardly a real connection with its general theme, i.e. the narrative of the liberation of Thebes; but it does have a function within the discussion about the daimonion of Socrates. Here, too, we may observe that much weight is ascribed to the myth, but that an interpretation of it in the light of the preceding discussion fails to take place and must again be supplied by the reader. Thus the Pythagorean Theanor, when called upon to express his opinion, does not comment upon the myth itself (which he calls logos at all, but simply states (593A): "My opinion [...] is that Timarchus' account (logos) should be dedicated to the god, as sacred and inviolable" - a judgement that does not permit us to call individual assertions of the myth into question or examine them critically.
As we have seen, the myth, being a report or narrative, can also be called 'logos', so that we might assume that it may not be easy to make a distinction between myth and logos (the latter weighs arguments against each other and is subject to rational demonstration, as well as being severely critical of all assertions which cannot be verified empirically), especially as in our three myths—apart from the sublime and dramatic cosmic experiences, the geography of the Beyond, and the daimones as guides therein—the structure of the Beyond, and dynamic of its processes are given a thoroughly rational basis. The closeness of myth to logos, however, does not invalidate the differences, and this becomes particularly clear, when the participants of the dialogues consider whether the myth might in fact be understood as a logos. Compare Simmias' words in De genio 589F: "As for the account of this which we heard from Timarchus of Chaeronea, it is <more like> myth than rational argument (logos), and perhaps it is best left unsaid", to which Theocritus answers: "Not at all, tell us about it. Myth too does touch on truth, even if not very precisely." Similarly Plutarch (as speaker in the dialogue) remarks in De sera 561B: "that [...] is shown by an account (logos) I recently heard; but I fear you would take it for a myth. I confine myself accordingly to probabilities", to which Olympichus responds: "By no means do so, but let us have it too", after which Plutarch proposes: "First let me complete my account (logos) of the probabilities; later, if you decide, let us venture upon the myth - if myth it is." As the participants of the dialogues vacillate, they make it clear that the dignity of logos may indeed be ascribed to the myth, but that the myth's approach to knowledge (to 'truth') is apparently so different and of such a special kind that the speaker who is going to relate the myth at first hesitates to tell it or even does not want to tell it at all."
Thus we may say that Plutarch so shapes the myths that they can and should be interpreted. The myths do not primarily spring from an urge for artistic creation, and they are not simply a compositional means for the aesthetic play of the author's imagination. Of course, they also serve to 'cite' a tradition of literary style deriving from Plato and to satisfy the demands of a sophisticated technique of dialogue, but this should not be taken as the decisive reason why Plutarch introduces myths into his writings.
Summarily - and rather provisionally - we can describe the inner relationship between each of the three myths and the argumentative parts of the three dialogues as follows.
(1) De facie: Important topics of the 'scientific' part - like the moon's earthly nature, its size and motion, the earth's shadow and the moon's eclipse, the explanation of the moon's surface (the "face of the moon") -are again taken up in the myth, individual hypotheses and explanations are accepted, rejected, extended or interpreted afresh. At the end of the 'scientific' part (940C-F) some arguments for the habitability of the moon are presented, thus providing a 'bridge' to the conception of the moon as the place of the souls in the myth.
(2) De genio: Simmias' attempt to explain the daimonion of Socrates as a phenomenon of direct contact between the nous of a daimon with the nous of Socrates corresponds with the defining role that the freedom of the nous from soul and body and the definition of the nous as daimon have in the myth.
(3) De sera: The participants of this dialogue discuss the question why God allows wrongdoers to suffer just punishment for their deeds only very late and often not at all during their lifetime. The starting-point of this discussion is an Epicurean's attack against divine providence (at the beginning of the work, 548C): divine agency seems sufficiently refuted by the fact that punishments are delayed. In the further course of the argument Plutarch (as one of the participants of the dialogue) ventures the hypothesis that the concept of divine providence must be combined with the idea that the soul continues to exist after man's death, 560F: "It is one and the same argument, then, [...] that establishes both the providence of God and the survival of the human soul, and it is impossible to upset the one contention and let the other stand." This paves the way to the myth: divine justice is made complete by the punishment of the souls of wrongdoers in the Beyond, and the doctrine of the soul, on which the myth is based, is itself founded on the continuing existence of the soul as laid out in the 'scientific' part.
In the myths we thus (re-)encounter the topics of the dialogues' arguments in the guise of imaginative narrative. The story, however, that is the core of the myth needs corroboration; for when the myth is introduced in order to gain a wider perspective of understanding, it becomes necessary to give a convincing justification of the particular advantage of this perspective as against the procedure by rational argument. This purpose is served by the introduction of informants who tell the story from their own immediate experience. These guarantors, however, are never identical with those who relate the myth to the other participants of the dialogue — a strategy of the author, which on the one hand guarantees the credibility of the story and on the other relieves him from having to take responsibility for details, especially for those arising from the free play of imagination and the delight in experimenting with ideas.
In De sera and De facie we even get a third person between the author and the narrator of the myth functioning as its transmitter. In De sera Thespesius (also called Aridaeus) is introduced as a relative and friend of Protogenes, a well-known acquaintance of the participants of the dialogue; Thespesius told him and other friends what he had seen in the Beyond, after everybody could see that some quite extraordinary experience had to be the cause for the radical change in his way of life, from a reckless rogue to a good and pious man. So, the story came to Plutarch through Protogenes, and Plutarch relates it to the other participants of the dialogue.
In De genio, too, the author of the myth is — according to the fiction of the dialogue — a historical person, who was closely connected to Socrates and his circle: Timarchus, a friend of Socrates' son Lamprocles. Timarchus descends into the Oracle of Trophonius to learn something about the daimonion of Socrates, and he then relates to Simmias and others what he has experienced during his removal into the world beyond, and Simmias tells his story in De genio. Thespesius and Timarchus both report what happened to them, and Plutarch leaves no doubt that these men are to regarded as reliable and trustworthy witnesses: the death which was prophesied to Timarchus during this vision has already happened, as Simmias remarks, and of Thespesius' surprising change of character we have already heard.
The myth related by Sulla in De facie has its origin with a widely-travelled stranger, who is highly educated in philosophy and natural sciences; this stranger, however, does not draw on an immediate and personal experience of the Beyond as the two authors of the other myths do, but reports what the daimones dwelling on the Isle of Kronos (to the west of Britain) have taught him about the moon, when he stayed on this island for thirty years. Later on the myth will make it clear that the daimones belong to the moon and thence come down to earth to fulfil important tasks. It is just such daimones that the stranger must have encountered on the Isle of Kronos, which is described as an earthly paradise; there they look after Kronos, who sleeps in a deep cave, this sleep being the fetters that Zeus has ordained for him. These informants are, of course, even more to be believed than human beings; Plutarch seems here to have succeeded in strengthening the grounds for credibility. For the same reason he makes Sulla stress once more (at the very end of his tale) that the stranger has learned all this from the servants of Kronos (945D): "[...] and he had the account, as he said himself, from the chamberlains and servitors of Kronos." This proof, of course, rests wholly on the trustworthiness of the stranger. Does not his report of the journey to the Isle of Kronos look all too much like the fantastic tales of travel romances? The Carthaginian Sulla, however — who in a long preliminary remark (which serves as the introduction to the myth) portrays the stranger's travels and his astonishing thirst for knowledge —can point out that the stranger came to Carthage, because Kronos enjoys high honours there,5 and here he discovered holy books which had long remained hidden. Who would refuse to believe such an extraordinary man? Still, some doubts remain. How trustworthy is Sulla (who is perhaps too partial regarding his native Carthage), and how are we to check whether the stranger has really lived on the Isle of Kronos, especially as apparently other travellers,6 too, have heard of its existence? Compared with that, both the fall of Thespesius and Timarchus' visit in the famous oracular cave — each being the prerequisite of their souls' journeys — acquire a very different degree of credibility: everything in these prerequisites is verifiable and very well attested; even Socrates himself would very much have liked to hear Timarchus' report from himself and to have asked him questions, if only he had learnt about it soon enough (592F).
In what follows we will — always starting with De genio — discuss topics that play a part in all three myths. Our synopsis of them will bring out with increasing clarity both common traits and differences, and it will finally help us to answer the question whether Plutarch's myths are based on a uniform and internally consistent conception of the Beyond and of the eschatological conditions of the soul or whether the peculiarities and aims of each work had priority over his wish to stress the unity of his concept.
2. Travelling into the Beyond and eschatological
In De genio and De sera humans hovering between life and death venture into the world beyond: they are presumed dead (either because of a dangerous fall, as in Thespesius' case in De sera, or because, as in Timarchus' case in De genio, a return out of the oracular cave is no longer expected), but they are still alive, with their bonds to their bodies preserved, though they have left the earth. In De facie no• being crosses the frontier between life and death, and a direct experience of separation from the body is not part of the story.
In Timarchus' case external agency leads to the separation of soul and body: a blow on the head, accompanied by a loud noise, causes the sutures of the skull to open and release the soul (psyche). Thespesius falls on his neck so unfortunately that his consciousness (his organ of thinking, TO manous, 563E) jumps out of his body, and he experiences a plunge into the deep like a helmsman thrown off his ship; soon afterwards he is lifted up a bit and feels as though he was breathing freely throughout his whole being — Timarchus experiences the same —, and then his gaze reaches everywhere, as if his soul (psyche, 563E) had opened like a single eye. Timarchus' experience is different: he hears something before he looks up, and he looks up, because he hears a pleasant whirring above his head. As Timarchus (when looking up) can no more see the earth but only shining islands, so Thespesius sees nothing of what was before but only the stars in their mighty size. Not only is their beam of light brilliantly coloured, but it also possesses vigorous energy (nous), so that Thespesius' soul, using this light as a vehicle, can move easily and quickly in every direction. Thespesius sees very much more, of which he does not tell us; he may have seen the sea of stars with its islands, coasts and mouths of fiery rivers, which Timarchus describes in detail.
Timarchus reports that his soul — immediately after leaving the body, but before breathing its sigh of relief and relaxing while extending — blends with clear and pure air, 590BC). This phase is not related by Thespesius, who at once proceeds from breathing to watching, but he, too, mentions the realm of air. However, it is not he that is affected by it, but the souls of the dying ascending from below, whom he observes undergoing the following change (563F/564A): they form a fire-like bubble, while the air divides (i.e. while the air makes room for the ascending souls9), then the bubble bursts and the soul in the form of a human comes out of it. We may therefore say with certainty that for the souls — after they have left their body and the earth — the realm of air is the first stopping-place on their way. This is confirmed by De facie 943C, where every soul has to stay in the space between earth and moon for a certain time, the good ones "in the gentlest part of the air, which they call 'the meads of Hades'". The realm of air itself is apparently divided into several regions: where the air is "gentlest", the uppermost layer (so we may assume) is reached, and this serves for cleansing the good souls from remains of corporeal contacts. Probably this layer is also alluded to in De sera, where two groups are distinguished among the ascending souls according to their motions (564A): on the one hand those moving aimlessly to and fro, on the other hand those moving straight up and probably identical with those who seem cheerful to Thespesius, being situated (564B), and so at the highest point of the space encompassing the souls, i.e. of the realm of air.
Where exactly, however, are the observers Timarchus and Thespesius?
is it said that he moves to another place in the Beyond. with Thespesius: Already at the beginning it is said that the starlight allows his soul to move quickly and easily in every direction (563F). Thus his relative — acting as knowledgeable cicerone of the Beyond — leads him on beams of light like wings across a vast distance to a deep abyss, the Place of Lethe (565E-566A), then across another distance just as vast to another deep abyss into which mighty streams plunge as into a mixing bowl (566A—C). And still he remains in motion: an attempt to get nearer to the Oracle of Apollo fails, continuing on his way he listens to the Sibyl and is finally driven in the opposite direction by the momentum of the moon (566D—E). His next stop is the site of horrendous punishments, which he has to pass through. Even the end of the tale is characterized by change of places: Thespesius wants to turn round, but is forbidden to do so; suddenly he finds himself again in his body, the change from the other world into this being complete (568A).
The series of stops on this way through the Beyond may be interpreted as follows: (1) Thespesius is at first where the souls arrive straight after death; there he encounters not only the souls of the dying, but also those whose death happened some time ago, like the soul of his guide through the Beyond. (2) Then his relative talcs him to the Place of Lethe, an abyss near which Thespesius' soul and the other souls are abandoned by the carrying force of the light. The souls move down towards the abyss and —not daring to fly across it — just circle it. We may assume that these other souls correspond to those souls (or at least to some of them) whom Thespesius has observed during and after their ascent, although this is not said explicitly. Now the abyss of Lethe is not a dark and dreadful gorge, but a place of Dionysiac joys, a paradise full of flowers, scents, laughter, play and pleasure. It therefore exerts tremendous attraction, seducing the soul to remember its existence within the body and thus enticing it to yearn for the world of becoming. This abyss, then, is an intermediate stop for the souls on their way back to earth, but for Dionysus (and later Semele as well) it was the place of ascent (566A). Thespesius must not linger here. We do not learn what happens to the souls circling round this seductive abyss; evidently the scents wafting out of it have a beneficial effect on them. Whether, however, these souls proceed from the rim into the deep and join the banqueters (or are even identical with them) or whether, on the contrary, there is a strict distinction between those outside and those inside the abyss, cannot be decided. (3) The next stop, the Mixing Bowl of the Dreams, another abyss, is called the Oracle of Night and Moon by the soul guide. Orpheus (the guide says) came this far, while searching for the soul of his wife, though he later talked erroneously of an Oracle of Apollo and Night at Delphi. It is from the Oracle of Night and Moon that dreams come to humans as a mixture of truth and falsehood. Here, then, we have a second connection with earth, and Thespesius is now apparently in the region of the moon. This is confirmed by the guide's attempt to lead Thespesius still higher to show him the Oracle of Apollo; this, however, fails, because Thespesius is still bound to his body and the beam of the light of the Oracle is too bright. Thespesius, then, cannot transcend the sphere of the moon; he remains there, as is shown by his encounter with the Sibyl, who — wandering in front of the face of the moon — tells him the future (apparently also the time of his death). The movement of the moon, however, drives him off in the opposite direction.' (4) The last stop is the terrible spectacle of punishments, extending to the circle of hell where the souls are suitably moulded for their rebirth (567E—F). We do not learn, however, where exactly Thespesius now is. At first both Thespesius and his guide watch the humans being tortured; but as Thespesius encounters his criminal father, he wants to flee in desperation, but his guide has vanished, and he has to follow other dreadful beings pushing him onwards (567A). The fields of punishment, then, must be located where the face of the moon cannot be seen and pure (or purified) souls, like that of his guide, are not allowed to linger.
So the narrative leads us from the place where the souls first arrive and dwell provisionally, to the starting-point of return to life on earth, from the place of oracles, dreams and prophecies — which concern life on earth as well — and thus from the moon and its face to its rear side, which is (it may be thought) the place of hellish punishment and of preparation for rebirth.
As for Thespesius change of place is decisive, so for Timarchus it is change of perspective, of view.
(1) Looking up, Timarchus at first perceives the world of stars (star circles, fixed stars, planets, the Galaxy) as a multi-coloured sea of light (with islands and currents), which delights him. Then, looking down, he sees a big circular abyss, deep and dreadful, full of darkness and restlessly moving, and from its depths varied wails of living beings, sounds of lament and tumultuous noises can be heard.
(2) At this moment a voice (Timarchus will never see the speaker) offers to be his guide and to interpret what he sees. This invisible guide, however, will only be able to enlighten Timarchus adequately about that region of the Beyond to which he himself belongs and which he administers together with the other daimones; the higher region, in which he (and the others of his kind) have only little part, is the realm of other gods. His sphere of action (that of Persephone) is the last of four within the hierarchy of the parts of the cosmos, the border area of the zone of light, up to which Styx, the way into Hades reaches from below with its extreme tip (of shadow).
(3) The explanation of the nature of Styx makes it necessary to explain also the whole structure of the cosmos to Timarchus, i.e. the hierarchy not only of the four Principles (Life, Motion, Becoming, Decay), but also of the three connecting links (Monad, Intellect, Nature) together with the three
associated regions of the cosmos (that of the Invisible, of the Sun, and of the Moon) and the three Moirai (Atropos, Clotho, Lachesis).
(4) Only now is the exact location of the area in which the guide is active revealed: it is the moon, the turning-point of Becoming, to which the earthly daimones belong, while the other islands are inhabited by gods. Thus we assume that Timarchus' guide is an earthly demon dwelling on the moon. We have returned — but not without having learned something — to the starting-point of the guide's explanation of the cosmos.
(5) Now it is also possible to describe the special relationship between Styx and moon in more detail and to regard the border region between these two as the stage on which the future of the soul is decided. The guide now focuses on the fate and nature of the soul; he opens Timarchus' eyes for what he sees but cannot understand without explanation.
His following remarks further develop this theme of the soul. (a) In connection with the (periodically failing) attempt of the moon to escape Styx a 'drama of souls' unfolds: on the one hand the souls who are still impure are rejected by the moon, tumble back, become the prey of Hades, and have to go down again into Becoming; on the other hand the souls for whom the end of Becoming has arrived are accepted by the moon. (b) At first Timarchus does not understand this 'drama of souls', because he sees only stars and their various movements: stars that move up and down around the abyss , 591D), (b2) stars that plunge into it, (b3) stars that dart up from below. (c) Timarchus does not comprehend — as the guide recognizes — that he is watching the daimones themselves. (d) Therefore the guide has to explain the structure and nature of the soul, i.e. its participation in Intellect, so that Timarchus may recognize its nature as being that of a daimon.
The moon and the cosmic region bordering the world of Becoming are at the centre of Timarchus' experience of the Beyond. As the voice instructing him does not seem to have a body and a fixed place in space, so the location at which Timarchus gets his round view of the heavenly regions remains oddly indefinite: is he on the moon or near to the border region of moon and Styx or directly above the moon? One thing seems certain: the abyss is below him, for he must look down to see it.
If we compare this to the Thespesius myth, we detect surprising gaps. First of all regarding spatial dimensions: Thespesius has to overcome tremendous distances to arrive at the abyss of Lethe and the Mixing Bowl of Dreams. Of these two abysses Timarchus tells us nothing, and for him space in all its extension is also totally unimportant, when he looks down into his abyss of darkness. We learn nothing of the place of punishment that is the climax of Thespesius' tale, perhaps to be located in the moon region, because that is the last stage of Thespesius' journey in the Beyond. To be sure, the abyss that terrifies Timarchus sends up wailings and laments of men and women, but also of countless little children: is this to be the place of punishment that we know from De sera?
What, however, is missing in both myths? Both are silent about the dwelling place of the good and pure souls. This holds true for the period between the soul's separation from the body and its reincarnation as well as for the unlimited time of an existence that has surmounted the need to return into the world of Becoming. To be sure, there are some hints: The voice mentions the impure souls, which are rejected by the moon and return into the circle of Becoming, and the souls, which arrive on the moon having reached the end of Becoming; but there follows no description where and how they then dwell on the moon. In the Thespesius myth the paradise-like abyss of Lethe serves as the starting-point for rebirth; this may refer to the realm of the blessed and describe the form of existence of the souls after their arrival in the Beyond and before their reincarnation, but the negative aspect of the beguilement and seduction of the souls into association with the body is surely the dominant theme in the description of the place.
We may perhaps get a complete picture by turning to the myth in De facie and its topography, for here the moon is at the centre of the story.
The space between earth and moon has already been described as a region for punishing and purifying the souls. Their stay here varies in length, and there is a plain higher up reserved for the good souls, the Meadow of Hades (943C). Only the pure souls reach the moon itself, to lead a life there which is extremely pleasant but neither blessed nor divine, until the Intellect separates from the soul (942F). At the same time the moon is a place of punishment and reward for the souls that have already become daimones. There are two ways21 for them, the one leading to the side of the moon that is turned towards heaven, the other to that turned towards earth. The side turned towards heaven is called the Elysian Field.22 How the souls live there and whether this is a temporary stay, we are not told, but as the separation of soul from Intellect happens on the moon, this stay can only be temporary.
So we get more detailed indications of topography only in De facie, but even they do not help us to locate and understand better certain places named in De genio and De sera. We may just try to make a few conjectures. Both of the abysses in De sera are so far apart from each other that only the
Mixing Bowl of the Dreams (the Oracle of Night and Moon) can be thought to be near the moon, but about this Oracle De sera stays silent.' Again, the great distance of the Dionysiac abyss of Lethe from the Mixing Bowl (and thus from the moon) prevents us from connecting this abyss with the Gorge of Hecate or with the side of the moon turned towards earth, though it is here that an intermediate stay of the souls before returning into the world of Becoming might at least be conceivable. The (futile) attempt of the guide to take Thespesius higher towards the light of the Oracle of Apollo might have been launched from the heavenward side of the moon. Shortly after that, when Thespesius, listening to the Sibyl's prophecies, is pushed in the opposite direction by the momentum of the moon,25 this should take him to the moon's earthward side, which is perhaps identical with the place of punishment Thespesius visits after the episode with the Sibyl.
Neither of the two abysses to which Thespesius is led can be compared with the dark abyss terrifying Timarchus; it is through this abyss of horror that, for the most part, the souls ascending from earth and returning to it move. There is no lack of dark colours either in Thespesius' scenario of 'ascent' or in De facie: Thespesius describes the dismay of some of the souls and their "inarticulate sounds, mingled with outcries as of lamentation and terror" (564B); Sulla's report mentions the wailing and lamenting of the souls that are brought to their just punishment in the space between earth and moon (944B, cf. 943C): "At the same time too with wails <and> cries the souls of the chastised then approach through the shadow from below." Wailing and weeping, of course, also fill the place of punishment in De sera (566E and 567D), and there we also encounter (at the end) the motive of return, for Thespesius visits the souls who are being prepared for their second birth (567E; here, however, there is no more talk of wailing and lamenting, although the tortured souls would have good reason for this). So there is common ground, but the abyss in De genio still preserves its peculiarities — and its mystery, for we would like to separate cleanly what here seems to be treated as a single process: the up and down of the souls on the one hand, their fear and failure on the other, and, thirdly, their punishment. The comparison with the other myths makes clear that these are separate things.
The heavenly space above the moon is to be our last topographical problem; it is also well suited to lead us to the 'anthropology'. We have already seen that there are allusions to this realm beyond the moon in De genio and De sera: The voice instructs Timarchus that the islands in the heavenly sea are ruled by gods, while the moon is administrated by the daimones, stating: "we have little to do with what is above; that belongs to other gods" (591A).26 Thespesius, too, is permitted to see the stars and their size and distance from each other at the beginning of his heavenly journey (563EF), but his attempt to look up towards the Oracle of Apollo fails because of the excessive brightness of its source of light (566D). In both texts, then, the space above the moon is not really part of the myth; the allusions to it only serve to inform the reader of the restriction of perspective. It is all the more astonishing that in the outline of cosmic hierarchy with which the voice of the guide prefaces his explanations, two further spheres above the moon are mentioned (the Invisible and the sun), but have no part at all to play in what follows. This is further proof that Plutarch wants to exclude the Invisible and the sun as topics and alert the reader to this. Why then is the sun so important in De facie? There, the relationship of Intellect to the sun is brought up again and again: Intellect separates from the soul on the moon and longs for the sun (944E), the sun brings Intellect into existence (943A) and 'sows' it on the moon (945C). Why, on the contrary, is the topic of the sun avoided in De genio, although the distinction between soul and Intellect is here at the centre of the anthropology of the myth as well? The answer must be: only in De facie can the myth cover all aspects of the doctrine of the soul and thus also of cosmology, for it is to the daimones that the stranger owes his knowledge, and the daimones can give information about the doctrine of the soul and the hierarchy of the cosmos, because it is their nature to wander between the worlds. Timarchus and Thespesius, however, remain fettered to their earthly existence while experiencing the Beyond: there is, on the one hand, a detailed description of the "bond of the soul", which plays a role also in the tale about the end of Hermodorus (De gen. 591F-592D), and on the other — in De sera — the "cable of the soul", which prevents Thespesius from ascending any higher (566D). Thus the way into the spheres beyond the moon is closed to both of them. The myths of De genio and De sera, however, gain their importance from their protagonists' personal experience of the beyond, so that this has to be at the centre of their stories, while a more abstract discussion would not carry the conviction of something personally experienced; Plutarch therefore forgoes a presentation of the supra-lunar world in this context.
3. The doctrine of the soul and the anthropology of the myths
Both in De genio and in De facie the whole doctrine of the soul is based on a sharp distinction between soul (psyche) and intellect (nous). In De genio 591D we read that every soul possesses a share in Intellect and that there is no soul without reason (logos) or without intellect (nous); this is stated (as the context shows) of the human soul. Now it is important that most people regard intellect as residing in themselves, while it actually exists outside of them; so those with the right understanding call it. An even sharper distinction of soul and intellect is worked out in De facie: here, too, we find the statement (polemically arguing against a widespread misunderstanding) that the intellect is in no way a part of the soul (as the soul itself is no part of the body), but that it is better and more divine than the sou1. During man's "second death" (on the moon) the intellect is indeed separated from the soul, so that only the soul remains on the moon. We do not, however, find an identification of Daimon and intellect in this text; it even talks of souls who have become daimones.
We will understand the differences between these very similar concepts of intellect only if we pay close attention to the intentions of the respective texts. We therefore have to begin with a detailed analysis of De genio 591D-592C. The train of thought of this passage can be described as follows.
(6) The soul has a share of Intellect. When it combines with the body, this means a turn towards the irrational (logos). There are various degrees in intensity of the connection of soul and body: (a) there are souls which sink wholly into the body, (b) souls which on the one hand combine with the body up to a certain degree, but on the other "to some extent leave their purest element outside". After this the right definition of soul and Intellect / daimon is explained. So this section has the function of shifting the centre of the presentation from the "drama of the souls" and the observation of the stars to the form of existence of the soul within a living man's body and of highlighting the meaning of the term 'daimon'.
(7) Timarchus is now able to connect the stars he discovered when he looked at the abyss and the motions of which he described (see above nr. 5b; 591D) with souls: (a) the stars that are flickering out are the souls sinking wholly into the body; (b) the stars that are lighting up are the souls re-emerging from the bodies after death; (c) the stars moving above are the daimones of people distinguished by Intellect. Section 7, then, has the function of combining both themes treated hitherto (i.e. the "drama of the souls" and the term daimon), focusing (at last) on the relationship between daimon and soul while the soul is still in the body and making this the real topic of the question about the daimonion of Socrates; section 7c provides the transition.
(8) The guide asks Timarchus to have a close look at the bond of each daimon to its soul. Timarchus then observes stars that (a 1) toss up and down to a lesser degree, those that (a 2) do so to a higher degree, and those that (b) move in confused spirals and do not manage a motion in one straight direction. Obviously only those souls are here being described that have entered a body, so that the distinction between soul and intellect-daimon is now in the foreground.
(9) The motions of the stars reflect the behaviour of the souls within the body and their strength or weakness vis-a-vis their irrational element (or part, logos). The bond of the daimon to the soul acts on this irrational element like a rein: (a) a straight and well-ordered motion shows an easily guidable soul; (b) a disordered motion indicates the up and down of victory and defeat in the struggle with a disobedient and barely guidable one. The distinction (which made sense in section 8) between two variants of the (basically orderly) up-and-down motion of the stars (a 1 and a 2: the irrational, though pliable, element of these souls will not permit totally uniform movements of the stars / daimones, so that varying degrees of this up and down movement result) can be neglected here in section 9, because this section is meant to lead us to a special kind of humans with their , namely , of which Hermodorus is presented as an example. Therefore the distinction here is only between (a) fundamentally orderly and (b) totally disorderly motion, in connection with the respective nature of the soul. With this, also the question of the daimon of Socrates has finally found its answer, now that a number of prerequisites for the right understanding of it have been discussed and explained.
The whole passage derives its inner tension from the necessity (on the one hand) to elaborate the intimately connected linking and separation in the relationship between soul and Intellect, and (on the other hand) to determine exactly the relationship between soul and Intellect during the two mutually exclusive forms of existence of the soul (during life in the body and after death). The compositional device lies in creating a border region with its up and down (the moon) but to equip this up and down with a special ambivalence: now stressing ope strand of the argument (the soul after it has left the body), now the other (the soul in the body), or even letting both run side by side (sections 5b and 7), and finally making one of them (the soul in the body) the real aim of the argument (sections 6, 8-9).
In De facie as well there are (from 942F onwards) two primary strands of motifs connected in such a way that now one and now the other receives special emphasis, without the reader noticing this at once. There are some secondary topics as well, the significance of which for the development of the central argument does not immediately become clear.
The discussion (and correction) of the mythological interpretation of the moon's eclipse leads to the description of the border region between earth and moon, which is marked by the earth's shadow. Now Sulla, by describing the souls' ascent to the moon and their stay on it as well as the separation of Intellect from the soul on it, interweaves two main topics from the beginning: (A) the relation between soul and moon (i.e. the soul's movement towards the moon and away from it, the soul's existence on it, the soul's dissolution and renewed union with Intellect), (B) the basic anthropological conception and the separation of Intellect from the soul. Later, however, the tale focuses on topic B; the transition to topic A is then prepared by telling us what the main difference is between the two processes of separation taking place on earth and on the moon: that on earth is quick and violent, that on the moon (i.e. the separation of Intellect from the soul) is slow and gentle (943B). Taken by itself, this description of the mode of separation need not necessarily lead to topic A; topic B could very well be continued and brought to an end, so that the whole topic would be treated coherently and consistently. Plutarch chooses another way: the topic of the separation of intellect from the soul having been left behind, topic A comes into its own, occupying a long passage (943C-944E), which — in connection with the question about the substance of the moon — also discusses (on a fundamental level) hypotheses about the mixture of com ponents in the stars (starting from Plato and following the lead given by Xenocrates' doctrine as a guide: 943F-944A). It is only in 944E that the separation of Intellect from the soul turns up again — somewhat unexpectedly, after passages on the life and activities of the daimones on the moon — with the very important statement that this separation is brought about by Intellect's longing for the "image in the sun". Very soon the topic of moon and soul is dominant again (from 944F onwards), and the topic of separation is only briefly and incidentally alluded to,35 until finally (945C—D), with widening perspective, we get a description not only of the interplay of sun ("sowing" of Intellect), moon and earth during the genesis of the soul, but also of the function of the three Moirai for sun, moon and earth. Thus the demonstration returns to its beginning, but now, in the cosmological perspective, the role of the 'anthropology of sun and moon' has become much clearer.
Why does the separation of soul and Intellect so soon recede into the background? Why does it not continue to be discussed in connection with the topic of moon and soul, or — this could have been an alternative — why did Plutarch not treat these topics one after the other and bring each of them on its own to a neat conclusion? There are two important reasons for Plutarch's choice: (1) To do justice to the complex relationship between soul and moon, many elements and most of all the connection between these elements had to be taken account of; thus there had to be details of argument that did not allow a direct reference to the second main topic and in which a hint of the separation of Intellect from the soul would be an alien element. (2) On the other hand these details of argument create the conditions to take up the second main topic again and deepen it; for before the process of removal of the Intellect from the soul can be described with more detail, it is necessary to discuss both the soul's form of existence on the moon and the nature of the moon itself. The description of the form of the soul's existence on the moon after separation naturally follows from this.
We may assume that the strict separation of Intellect and soul is the more important of the two main topics: it is central both at the beginning and at the end and is also the prerequisite of the soul's peculiar existence on the moon; for if the Intellect could not remove itself from the soul entirely, i.e. if there were still traces of Intellect preserved in the soul, it would be unthinkable that the soul could dissolve itself entirely into the substance of the moon. For however a Platonist might define the soul and its parts or faculties, the immortality, indestructibility and immateriality of the rational soul and the Intellect remains the one prerequisite of the Platonic doctrine of the soul accepted by all. The moon, receiving Intellect from the sun, brings forth new souls (945C), i.e. it supplies Intellect with souls lacking Intellect. It is able to do that, because the souls dissolve themselves into it, and this makes the moon their basic element (, 945A). Both the separation of Intellect from the soul and the combination of Intellect with the soul happen on the moon. Without the moon there could be no genesis of the soul, but if soul and Intellect were not fundamentally distinct in nature, in origin and on the ontological scale of values, the process of the genesis of man could not even begin.
Let us now look once more at the respective conception of Intellect in the passages of De genio and De facie that we have discussed. Are both conceptions in harmony with each other? Does it at all make sense to presuppose or indeed demand a uniform conception? A comparison of the purposes of the respective texts quickly shows that this would mean to compare things which are not comparable — strange as this may sound in view of their basic agreement. Since in De genio the Intellect as daimon guides the human from outside, its separation from the soul seems just as much a given here as in De facie. The topic of separation, however, as we know it from De facie, plays no part here, because the fate of the Intellect-daimon after the soul's ascent to the moon is not so much as discussed in De genio at all! This text is only concerned with the Intellect-daimon during the existence of the soul within the body of a living human. To be sure, there is talk of the soul's ascent after death and of successful or failed attempts by the souls to get to the moon; but the lunar existence of this soul coupled with the Intellect-daimon — this must be stressed once again — is not investigated further. Having read Sulla's myth, the reader will be very keen to put questions to the Timarchus myth which are answered in the Sulla myth; but the Timarchus myth will have nothing to say. Again the Sulla myth will be dumb when asked about the identity of Intellect and daimon. We should therefore beware of playing off the statements of the two myths against each other.
In De sera the guide distinguishes between the faculty of reasoning, i.e. the intellect, of Thespesius and "the rest of your soul"; this part of the soul has remained in the body like an anchor. We do not learn any more. As passions and crimes on earth leave their imprints on the soul, the souls in the Beyond show clear traces of them. The nature of these souls is not explained in more detail, so that we can only gather from a few hints by the guide what role intellect plays here and to what extent the irrational element of the souls of the deceased also finds it way into the Beyond. There are souls whose power of reasoning is apparently too weak,41 so that they wish to enter a body again and experience a rebirth; so the rational element of the soul must be endangered in the Beyond as wel1. Furthermore there is an explicit distinction between a punishment in the Beyond directed only at the irrational part of the sou1, and one aimed at the rational part" as the hidden site of corruption. We may therefore assume that the soul arrives in the Beyond as an entity consisting of its rational and its irrational part (or element or faculty) and finds it place of punishment there.
The aspects of the doctrine of the soul just mentioned are important for De sera, because they explain the soul's ability to move around with its highest part even outside the body; this is a clear parallel to De facie and even more to De genio (where the connection to the body is described as well). Crucial, however, is the conception of the soul in the Beyond as an entity consisting of an irrational and a rational part; only so can the myth make it plausible that all transgressions and crimes, the most brutal and the most subtle, leave their mark on the souls and determine their future punishment. Indeed, the inquiry into the consequences for the soul of its offences on earth — their imprint on the souls and the resulting punishment — lies at the heart of the myth. Thus here too, the doctrine of the soul wholly serves the intentions of the text.
4. The 'corporeal' nature of the soul in the myths
De sera presents the 'materiality' of the soul in particularly drastic images. Right at the beginning of his tale, Thespesius observes the soul coming out of the "soul-bubble" (which formed when the dying human's soul started to ascend) like a kind of homunculus.45 If the souls did not become visible in this form, the myth could not be told, for Thespesius has to be able to identify dead people as relatives or acquaintances, like his guide and later his criminal father. The various colours, the scars and weals of the souls also imply this. The idea reaches a climax in the hellish punishments, in which the souls are depicted as suffering bodies. And corporeality is almost over-exaggerated at the end, when the souls are presented as metal objects receiving their appropriate animal form at the hands of craftsmen. It would be pointless to try to discover a philosophical concept behind this: Plutarch simply delights in graphically displaying punishment after death and thus permitting his imagination to present the doctrine (established by argument) of the chastisement and purification of immortal souls as a vivid tale. This is an experimental idea, which uses all the liberties allowed by a mythical narrative.
The image of the soul in De genio is very different. We might understand the description of the loud lamentations of the souls rejected by the moon as requiring the corporeality of these souls; this would, then, be a concession to the form of the tale and its dramatic elements. This assumption, however, is unnecessary, for Simmias — trying to explain the daimonion of Socrates — instructs us that contact between spiritual beings is possible without audible language, as with the voices we seem to hear in dreams (588D). Nowhere in the myth is the soul presented to us as corporeal or body-like. This is confirmed by the programmatic statement in 591D: "every soul has its share of Intellect, there is none which is without reason or Intellect." Deeply as the soul may sink into the body, and weak as its connection to Intellect may become, it will never lose its own nature by this change towards the irrational.
De facie has a peculiar intermediate position. Because of the strict distinction between soul and Intellect, and because of the special role of the moon as the place where new souls come into being, Plutarch here has no qualms about attributing special corporeal qualities to the substance of the soul that is freed from Intellect, because the (already mentioned) dissolution of the soul into the moon and the fact that the moon is the 'element' of the soul, itself being a mixture of earth and star (943E), can hardly be brought into harmony with an immaterial nature of the soul without Intellect. The corporeal affinity of the soul to earthly bodies is also shown by the fact that even after leaving the body it preserves traces of bodily life on the moon; indeed it has itself formed the body, as intellect in turn has formed the soul. Thus we read of the souls that have enjoyed a philosophical life, that after the loss of Intellect they have no more use for the passions and wither away. On the other hand, the souls of those who were ambitious and driven by passions obviously continue to live without Intellect, dreaming of their lives as in sleep, and must be held back by the moon when unrest and passion draw them away from the moon towards a new Becoming (945B). Here we get the impression that these souls do not really dissolve themselves into the moon but retain their nature. The passion-driven souls that nevertheless succeed in acquiring a body, act in harmful and destructive ways on earth (Tityus, Typhon and Python — whom, however, the moon at last took back into itself — belonged within this category): It seems indeed here as if the preservation of one's own passionate nature on the moon is a mark of a soul that was passion-driven on earth. Thus the dissolution of their irrational souls is accorded only to those who have lived reasonably on earth, as a kind of distinction or reward: where the passions have totally vanished, the irrational soul is free from everything that makes it what it is and consequently vanishes. Regarding this irrational soul, then, we observe a curious inversion of the values of dissolution (now seen as positive) and continuation (now seen as negative).
The souls that were so fortunate as to reach the moon resemble in their outward appearance a beam of light. What follows in the text is unfortunately corrupt, but it at least seems certain that the moon's aether — which, as we have already heard, is a part of the moon's mixed substance — stabilizes and strengthens the souls.' The subsequent explanation of this again strengthens the suspicion that what is spoken of here is some sort of corporeal entity, as we read (943DE): "for what laxness and diffuseness they still have is strengthened and becomes firm and translucent. In consequence they are nourished by any exhalation that reaches them."53 Next follows Heraclitus' fragment VS 22 B 98: "Souls employ the sense of smell in Hades." Scholars have long assumed Stoic influence on this whole passage up to the Heraclitus quotation.54 It is true that according to Stoic doctrine the moon is a mixture of air and fire,55 but there is also a Stoic notion of aither as being a form of fire.56 Plutarch is apparently using Stoic cliches to achieve the objects of his presentation. Plutarch certainly does not here surrender unconditionally to the influence of a Stoic source; if he really were using a source and not just a Stoic commonplace, he would do so as his own master, treating the source simply as a means to his end." As it can be said in De sera even of the Intellect:58 "the intelligent part of the soul is dissolved and liquefied," so here, too, Plutarch may speak of the soul in images evoking corporeal-material processes. All of this is allowed, because in this text the function of the moon — to receive the soul into itself (by making it a part of itself) and to generate it anew out of itself —is at the centre and also because the way in which the moon is an 'element' of the soul can only be expressed by means of imagery.
5. The 'doctrine of daimones'
The voice speaking to Timarchus is (as we have seen) that of one of the daimones belonging to the sphere of the moon. As it calls the 'intellect-daimones' (about whom it enlightens Timarchus) simply "daimones" without distinguishing them from the lunar daimones (i.e. those like himself), we have to regard the lunar daimones likewise as 'intellect-daimones' of souls. We may therefore draw the conclusion that the lunar daimones are 'intellect-daimones' that are no longer united to a body on earth. How this has happened, whether this form of existence is permanent, whether the lunar daimones distinguish themselves from the other 'intellect-daimones' that have reached the moon, and perhaps have broken the cycle of rebirths — all this we are not told. After the myth has been related, the Pythagorean Theanor voices his opinion about Simmias' hypothesis concerning the daimonion, but not about the myth. He knows of souls that have been freed from Becoming and now as daimones take care of humans (593D—E). These daimones then become the personal daimones of human souls that have fought bravely and overcome many rebirths; such a daimon, wanting to save a soul, spurs it on, and if it listens to him, it is saved, reaching the higher region of freedom from the cycle of Becoming. Souls, however, that do not obey their daimon, are left by him to their misfortunes (593F-594A). Plutarch here makes Theanor develop a doctrine of daimones that no-one present comments upon; it shows no relation to the central conception of the Timarchus myth and may perhaps be thought to illustrate a discarded preliminary stage of it. In this comparatively 'archaic' conception, the problem of the relationship between soul and intellect and the necessity to find a solution for it do not yet play any part.
We may now rather surprisedly discover that the idea of the soul becoming a daimon is assumed in De facie quite as a matter of course. There we meet good and bad daimones: the daimones dwell not only on the moon, they also go to earth, take care of sanctuaries, participate in the operation of mysteries, execute punishments and are at the same time rescuers and helpers. If, however, these daimones get carried away to perform unjust deeds — being seized by anger or envy —, then they must enter human bodies and are driven back to earth (944C—D). We may conclude from this that daimones act in an entirely uncorporeal way on earth; it is only after wrongdoing that they receive a body and apparently no longer function as daimones, but as human souls in human bodies. This helps us to better understand a passage in De facie, where there is talk (rather unexpectedly) of souls having already become daimones. In the biggest of the depressions on the moon, "Hecate's Recess", "the souls suffer and exact penalties for whatever they have endured or committed after having already become Spirits."62 So those daimones are punished who committed faults when they were active on earth. After their return from earth they first have to answer for their deeds in "Hecate's Recess" and are then punished by rebirth in a human body. They can commit evil on earth, because on the moon — like all pure souls — they still exist as a combination of soul and intellect,63 and it is only on earth that the soul gains the upper hand over intellect and itself gives in to the passions. The good daimones must presumably have painful experiences while acting as rescuers and avengers, so that they get compensation for that in "Hecatê's Recess". Which souls become daimones, we are not told. The triumph of reason over the passions and irrational inclinations distinguishes all souls that finally arrive on the moon (943D); but perhaps there are those among them that are even more perfect than others, or that have honoured oracle sanctuaries and mystery cults already on earth in some particular way, so that it is especially these that become daimones. It is, by the way, not totally excluded that after the 'sowing' of intellect on the moon the newly generated souls become daimones as well. All this is speculation. On the other hand, it is certain that the souls that have become daimones also die a 'second death', in which their intellect leaves the soul. We may note that Plutarch here chooses phrases that do justice to the peculiar dignity of the better daimones (944E): ("as they achieved the ultimate alteration").This separation of soul and intellect happens sometimes sooner, sometimes later.
As we have seen, in De sera the soul of a relative is the guide through the Beyond. This guide is later (566D) called a daimon. Thespesius meets yet other daimones: the three responsible for the mixing of dreams (566B), the daimones of punishment at the several lakes of metal (567C). As the guide explains, punishment is executed in three degrees of various severity; the middle one, of which Dike is in charge, concerns grave cases, the healing of which is difficult. The daimon leads these humans to Dike (564F); this is obviously the personal daimon, who leads the soul first into court and then into Hades in the Phaedo (107d—e). It is remarkable that although (only66) in this myth the conception of a personal daimon is just mentioned, this conception is then no longer required in the detailed description of punishments. Probably Plutarch just wants to remind us of his Platonic models — the final myth of the Republic also knows the personal daimon (617e; 620de) — and at the same time to encourage the reader to notice the differences too.
So the three eschatological myths are indeed creations of Plutarch himself, although he owes many individual traits and images to the Platonic models in Gorgias (523a-527a), Phaedo (107d-115a), and most of all in the Republic (613e-621b).67 With these myths — the creation of which may be called a success — he tries to find answers for new, exciting and controversial questions regarding the doctrine of the soul and the doctrine of intellect within the frame of cosmology and anthropology. These questions arose not least from reading Plato, and particularly from intensive concern with the Timaeus and the history of its interpretation.
6. The 'hierarchical models' in De genio and De facie
Timarchus wants to know everything, but the voice giving him information modestly points to the limits of its competence, only to contradict this modesty in what follows: Before starting its instructions the voice — by giving a very brief sketch of a complex and not easily comprehensible69 doctrine of cosmic principles (591B) — makes it clear to Timarchus (and the reader) how little he knows and still will know even after the guided tour through the cosmos. There remains, however, the incentive (and for the reader, the curiosity) to want to know more. With the four Principles (Life, Motion, Becoming and Decay) are coordinated three groups of three: firstly the ontological triad of Monad, Intellect and Nature, which guarantees the connection between the four Principles; secondly the cosmological triad of the Invisible, the Sun and the Moon, which marks the appropriate place of the connection in the cosmos; finally the three "daughters of Necessity", the Moirai Atropos, Clotho and Lachesis, who as "holders of the keys" are in charge of the connection of the four Principles. Life zoon may have been chosen as the highest Principle, because the model of the Demiurge in the Timaeus is the perfect intelligible living being 31b, 39e).70 Tim. 31a—b stresses the uniqueness of the living being, which becomes the model also for the visible cosmos, which is therefore similar to its model also. This leads us to the Movas of the ontological triad situated in the Invisible, which, being God, Intellect and the Demiurge, must have its place above the visible world and the movements of the stars. It is only by the creative act of the Demiurge that the cosmic soul comes into being; the Intellect (Noise), who combines Motion and Intellect in the sun, is not a second Intellect besides the first transcendental one, but presumably the Intellect of the cosmic soul, since the original soul attains orderly motion and becomes the world-soul only by participating in the intelligible being of the Demiurge. The world-soul itself carries out demiurgic functions, so the Principle of Becoming is important for it too. We will then have to interpret the combination of Becoming with Decay in the sphere of the Moon by the operation of Nature, psyche by saying that in this sphere the world-soul governs with its irrational part,74 for example, by supplying the 'soul-substratum' that is necessary for the soul's contact with the body, and then taking it back again after the individual soul has been separated from the body.
This doctrine of Principles has always been compared with the passage 945C in De facie, where we read: "Of the three Fates too Atropos enthroned in the sun initiates generation motion on the moon mingles and binds together, and finally upon the earth Lachesis too puts her hand to the task, she who has the largest share in chance." In contrast to the doctrine of Principles offered in De genio the sense of this passage is elucidated by the context. It is preceded by an explanation of how the sun 'sows' intellect into the moon, which then generates new souls, while earth supplies the body. The sun, then, is the origin of becoming for the souls, the moon combines its substance with the intellect, and on earth the soul enters a body.
Ferrarim wants to interpret the core of this cosmic hierarchy as the triad Intellect ("intelletto", i.e. "il piano trascendente e intellegibile"), soul (i.e. "il nivello matematico-astronomico"), and body, claiming an analogy with the doctrine of Principles in the Timarchus myth. He refers to 944E as proof that the sun is to be connected to the space of the Intelligible and to the transcendent god: in this passage the intellect takes leave of the soul "by love for the image in the sun through which shines forth manifest the desirable and fair and divine and blessed towards which all nature in one way or another yearns".' The same arrangement of the Moirai seems also to confirm Ferrari's order.
In De facie, however, the sequence sun, moon, earth necessarily follows from the central theme of the "first" and the "second" death. It suffices therefore to name only the cause of the intellect's striving towards the sun; there is no need for an ontological differentiation on the level of the intellect, all the more so as the idea of the 'sowing' of intellect by the sun is not used to explain the origin of intellect in more detail, but puts the moon right at the centre as the receiver of this 'sowing' (945C). It is thus more probable that the reference to serves only to remind the reader that the cosmic gradation mentioned here can be restricted to what illustrates the central topic of the text appropriately and sufficiently. We must therefore restrain our wish to make both hierarchies agree fully with each other, and content ourselves with stating that the sphere of the Monad (and of the Invisible) remains excluded here (although it has been alluded to in 944E) and that the sun-intellect-relationship (with Atropos in the sun) corresponds to the sun-intellect-relationship on the second level of the hierarchical model in De genio (with Clotho in the sun).79 When Plutarch joins Atropos to Intellect in De facie, this is not really a serious change compared with De genio, because the Monad too can be interpreted as Intellect. Incidentally, one is readily tempted to find the true key to the association of Becoming with Intellect as given in the De genio doctrine of Principles only in the statement of the function of Atropos in De facie 945C; in this way this doctrine of Principles would presuppose the hierarchical model of De facie.
Why, then, does the guide initiate Timarchus in the doctrine of Principles at all, as it plays no part in what follows, while the doctrine of hierarchy in De facie is in fact a necessary consequence of the train of argument? First, the tradition of eschatological myth is important in a purely formal way. The doctrine of Principles is, of course, constructed quite differently from the model of heaven in the Myth of Er in Republic 616b-617d, but Plutarch at least wants to remind us of this model. That is why he mentions the three Moirai; the model of heaven shows that they have a different function in the Myth of Er, but this does not lessen their potential allusive value. This makes them important for De facie too.82 It is not without reason that the doctrine of Principles is placed at the beginning of the guide's explanations, for the myth gives access only to a very restricted part of the cosmos. Thus the myth has a certain 'compensatory' function: we are to perceive the section of the cosmos we are introduced to as part of a multi-layered reality. Moreover, Timarchus is to recognize how tightly the bonds between the degrees of being, the powers at work and the levels of the cosmos are woven. The knowledge about this interplay of all levels and powers permits Timarchus to feel confident`that the ascent of the intellect-daimon does not end in the sphere of the moon. The doctrine of Principles also provides the ontological and cosmological foundation of the special existential status of the intellect-daimon and a promise for the future.
Looking back, we can see that Plutarch is indeed a masterly constructor of myths. Each of the three myths takes the reader into a world that far transcends his own experience and permits him to have a "view from above"; at the same time, however, this is also the world of his fears and hopes. Each myth fulfils a specific task of its own within the work for which it was conceived, and yet in each there are also motifs and elements that connect it with the other myths. It is a sign of Plutarch's great art that the myths supplement each other, but that they can hardly be subjected to a comprehensive synopsis or interpreted as parts of a uniform and overarching conception. The oscillating play of real or apparent 'doublets', which so fascinated 'Quellenforschung', sufficiently shows that the myths must not be taken as doctrinal treatises; they are a play of the philosophical and theological imagination, but at the same time a proclamation of the effort and seriousness of inquiry and research.