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Re: [neoplatonism] From the Phaedrus

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  • Thomas Mether
    Dennis and List, I like this passage also. I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year. My sons inform me that smart phones are killing email lists. I
    Message 1 of 2 , Dec 31, 2011
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      Dennis and List,

      I like this passage also. I would like to wish everyone a Happy New Year.

      My sons "inform" me that smart phones are killing email lists. I hope not.
      But they retort, look at the drop of email traffic across the bandwidth
      (they are engineers, btw). Perhaps email almost killed letter writing. I
      still write physical letters to family, friends, and former professors --
      and they back.
      Recently, I've been researching the Scotus "Platonic" argument against the
      "Aristotelian"-Thomist principle of "quidquid movetur ab alio movetur".

      Partly how I construe "happy" this coming year and what resolutions I make
      (I actually don't make ones that I break) are unfortunately contingent upon
      how elections this year turn out. Perhaps I should be more Stoically
      Neoplatonic than Platonic. Anyway, again, Happy New Year to the List.

      Thomas


      On Fri, Dec 23, 2011 at 10:39 PM, vaeringjar <vaeringjar@...> wrote:

      > **
      >
      >
      > I just remembered that every Christmas I try to find a passage that I
      > like, and this year I actually thought to do it before the day itself, for
      > once.
      >
      > I thought I would just pick what may be my own favorite passage in all of
      > Plato, if there is one. And I like Jowett's translation so much, I just
      > grabbed it. It of course is likely a passage favored by many, but such I am
      > sure does not detract from its great beauty,
      >
      > Phaedrus, 245C-251A
      >
      > The soul through all her being is immortal, for that which is ever
      > in motion is immortal; but that which moves another and is moved
      > by another, in ceasing to move ceases also to live. Only the self-
      > moving, never leaving self, never ceases to move, and is the
      > fountain and beginning of motion to all that moves besides. Now,
      > the beginning is unbegotten, for that which is begotten has a
      > beginning; but the beginning is begotten of nothing, for if it
      > were begotten of something, then the begotten would not come from
      > a beginning. But if unbegotten, it must also be indestructible;
      > for if beginning were destroyed, there could be no beginning out
      > of anything, nor anything out of a beginning; and all things must
      > have a beginning. And therefore the self-moving is the beginning
      > of motion; and this can neither be destroyed nor begotten, else
      > the whole heavens and all creation would collapse and stand still,
      > and never again have motion or birth. But if the self-moving is
      > proved to be immortal, he who affirms that self-motion is the very
      > idea and essence of the soul will not be put to confusion. For the
      > body which is moved from without is soulless; but that which is
      > moved from within has a soul, for such is the nature of the soul.
      > But if this be true, must not the soul be the self-moving, and
      > therefore of necessity unbegotten and immortal? Enough of the
      > soul's immortality.
      >
      > Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of
      > large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in
      > a figure. And let the figure be composite--a pair of winged horses
      > and a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the
      > gods are all of them noble and of noble descent, but those of
      > other races are mixed; the human charioteer drives his in a pair;
      > and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is
      > ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity
      > gives a great deal of trouble to him. I will endeavour to explain
      > to you in what way the mortal differs from the immortal creature.
      > The soul in her totality has the care of inanimate being
      > everywhere, and traverses the whole heaven in divers forms
      > appearing--when perfect and fully winged she soars upward, and
      > orders the whole world; whereas the imperfect soul, losing her
      > wings and drooping in her flight at last settles on the solid
      > ground--there, finding a home, she receives an earthly frame which
      > appears to be self-moved, but is really moved by her power; and
      > this composition of soul and body is called a living and mortal
      > creature. For immortal no such union can be reasonably believed to
      > be; although fancy, not having seen nor surely known the nature of
      > God, may imagine an immortal creature having both a body and also
      > a soul which are united throughout all time. Let that, however, be
      > as God wills, and be spoken of acceptably to him. And now let us
      > ask the reason why the soul loses her wings!
      >
      > The wing is the corporeal element which is most akin to the
      > divine, and which by nature tends to soar aloft and carry that
      > which gravitates downwards into the upper region, which is the
      > habitation of the gods. The divine is beauty, wisdom, goodness,
      > and the like; and by these the wing of the soul is nourished, and
      > grows apace; but when fed upon evil and foulness and the opposite
      > of good, wastes and falls away. Zeus, the mighty lord, holding the
      > reins of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven, ordering all
      > and taking care of all; and there follows him the array of gods
      > and demigods, marshalled in eleven bands; Hestia alone abides at
      > home in the house of heaven; of the rest they who are reckoned
      > among the princely twelve march in their appointed order. They see
      > many blessed sights in the inner heaven, and there are many ways
      > to and fro, along which the blessed gods are passing, every one
      > doing his own work; he may follow who will and can, for jealousy
      > has no place in the celestial choir. But when they go to banquet
      > and festival, then they move up the steep to the top of the vault
      > of heaven. The chariots of the gods in even poise, obeying the
      > rein, glide rapidly; but the others labour, for the vicious steed
      > goes heavily, weighing down the charioteer to the earth when his
      > steed has not been thoroughly trained:--and this is the hour of
      > agony and extremest conflict for the soul. For the immortals, when
      > they are at the end of their course, go forth and stand upon the
      > outside of heaven, and the revolution of the spheres carries them
      > round, and they behold the things beyond.
      >
      > But of the heaven which is above the heavens, what earthly poet
      > ever did or ever will sing worthily? It is such as I will
      > describe; for I must dare to speak the truth, when truth is my
      > theme. There abides the very being with which true knowledge is
      > concerned; the colourless, formless, intangible essence, visible
      > only to mind, the pilot of the soul. The divine intelligence,
      > being nurtured upon mind and pure knowledge, and the intelligence
      > of every soul which is capable of receiving the food proper to it,
      > rejoices at beholding reality, and once more gazing upon truth, is
      > replenished and made glad, until the revolution of the worlds
      > brings her round again to the same place. In the revolution she
      > beholds justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute, not in
      > the form of generation or of relation, which men call existence,
      > but knowledge absolute in existence absolute; and beholding the
      > other true existences in like manner, and feasting upon them, she
      > passes down into the interior of the heavens and returns home; and
      > there the charioteer putting up his horses at the stall, gives
      > them ambrosia to eat and nectar to drink.
      >
      > Such is the life of the gods; but of other souls, that which
      > follows God best and is likest to him lifts the head of the
      > charioteer into the outer world, and is carried round in the
      > revolution, troubled indeed by the steeds, and with difficulty
      > beholding true being; while another only rises and falls, and
      > sees, and again fails to see by reason of the unruliness of the
      > steeds. The rest of the souls are also longing after the upper
      > world and they all follow, but not being strong enough they are
      > carried round below the surface, plunging, treading on one
      > another, each striving to be first; and there is confusion and
      > perspiration and the extremity of effort; and many of them are
      > lamed or have their wings broken through the ill-driving of the
      > charioteers; and all of them after a fruitless toil, not having
      > attained to the mysteries of true being, go away, and feed upon
      > opinion. The reason why the souls exhibit this exceeding eagerness
      > to behold the plain of truth is that pasturage is found there,
      > which is suited to the highest part of the soul; and the wing on
      > which the soul soars is nourished with this. And there is a law of
      > Destiny, that the soul which attains any vision of truth in
      > company with a god is preserved from harm until the next period,
      > and if attaining always is always unharmed. But when she is unable
      > to follow, and fails to behold the truth, and through some ill-hap
      > sinks beneath the double load of forgetfulness and vice, and her
      > wings fall from her and she drops to the ground, then the law
      > ordains that this soul shall at her first birth pass, not into any
      > other animal, but only into man; and the soul which has seen most
      > of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher, or artist, or
      > some musical and loving nature; that which has seen truth in the
      > second degree shall be some righteous king or warrior chief; the
      > soul which is of the third class shall be a politician, or
      > economist, or trader; the fourth shall be a lover of gymnastic
      > toils, or a physician; the fifth shall lead the life of a prophet
      > or hierophant; to the sixth the character of poet or some other
      > imitative artist will be assigned; to the seventh the life of an
      > artisan or husbandman; to the eighth that of a sophist or
      > demagogue; to the ninth that of a tyrant--all these are states of
      > probation, in which he who does righteously improves, and he who
      > does unrighteously, deteriorates his lot.
      >
      > Ten thousand years must elapse before the soul of each one can
      > return to the place from whence she came, for she cannot grow her
      > wings in less; only the soul of a philosopher, guileless and true,
      > or the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy, may
      > acquire wings in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand
      > years; he is distinguished from the ordinary good man who gains
      > wings in three thousand years:--and they who choose this life
      > three times in succession have wings given them, and go away at
      > the end of three thousand years. But the others receive judgment
      > when they have completed their first life, and after the judgment
      > they go, some of them to the houses of correction which are under
      > the earth, and are punished; others to some place in heaven
      > whither they are lightly borne by justice, and there they live in
      > a manner worthy of the life which they led here when in the form
      > of men. And at the end of the first thousand years the good souls
      > and also the evil souls both come to draw lots and choose their
      > second life, and they may take any which they please. The soul of
      > a man may pass into the life of a beast, or from the beast return
      > again into the man. But the soul which has never seen the truth
      > will not pass into the human form. For a man must have
      > intelligence of universals, and be able to proceed from the many
      > particulars of sense to one conception of reason;--this is the
      > recollection of those things which our soul once saw while
      > following God--when regardless of that which we now call being she
      > raised her head up towards the true being. And therefore the mind
      > of the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is
      > always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in
      > recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding
      > which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories
      > is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes
      > truly perfect. But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in
      > the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, and rebuke him; they do not
      > see that he is inspired.
      >
      > Thus far I have been speaking of the fourth and last kind of
      > madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of
      > earth, is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he
      > would like to fly away, but he cannot; he is like a bird
      > fluttering and looking upward and careless of the world below; and
      > he is therefore thought to be mad. And I have shown this of all
      > inspirations to be the noblest and highest and the offspring of
      > the highest to him who has or shares in it, and that he who loves
      > the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it. For, as
      > has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature
      > beheld true being; this was the condition of her passing into the
      > form of man. But all souls do not easily recall the things of the
      > other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or
      > they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having
      > had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting
      > influence, they may have lost the memory of the holy things which
      > once they saw. Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them;
      > and they, when they behold here any image of that other world, are
      > rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what this rapture
      > means, because they do not clearly perceive. For there is no light
      > of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are
      > precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen
      > through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images,
      > behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty.
      > There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw
      > beauty shining in brightness,--we philosophers following in the
      > train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we
      > beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which
      > may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of
      > innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we
      > were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and
      > calm and happy, which we beheld shining in pure light, pure
      > ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry
      > about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in
      > his shell. Let me linger over the memory of scenes which have
      > passed away.
      >
      > But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in
      > company with the celestial forms; and coming to earth we find her
      > here too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of
      > sense. For sight is the most piercing of our bodily senses; though
      > not by that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been
      > transporting if there had been a visible image of her, and the
      > other ideas, if they had visible counterparts, would be equally
      > lovely. But this is the privilege of beauty, that being the
      > loveliest she is also the most palpable to sight. Now he who is
      > not newly initiated or who has become corrupted, does not easily
      > rise out of this world to the sight of true beauty in the other;
      > he looks only at her earthly namesake, and instead of being awed
      > at the sight of her, he is given over to pleasure, and like a
      > brutish beast he rushes on to enjoy and beget; he consorts with
      > wantonness, and is not afraid or ashamed of pursuing pleasure in
      > violation of nature. But he whose initiation is recent, and who
      > has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is
      > amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which
      > is the expression of divine beauty; and at first a shudder runs
      > through him, and again the old awe steals over him; then looking
      > upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if
      > he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would
      > sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god...
      >
      > Merry Christmas, all, and Happy New Year to all as well!
      >
      > Dennis Clark
      >
      >
      >


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