Skip to main content

Cassiodorus – The Natural Powers of the Soul

 Frontispiece showing

Flavius Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus

(seated opposite Theodoric),

fol. 2r of Leiden ms. vul. 46

(Gesta Theodorici), Manuscript on vellum.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is another quote from Cassiodorus’ work: ‘On the Soul’, published after his ‘Institutions of Divine and Secular Learning’ (543-555 AD.), Liverpool University Press, 2004. Page 258 and 259. Cassiodorus in his ‘Institutions’ develops a whole program of education involving the seven liberal arts, the quadrivium and the trivium. English translation from the original Latin by professor James Werner Halporn.


VIII. The Natural Powers of the Soul

‘There are five natural powers of the soul according to the ancients. The first is the power of sensation in every part that has given us the capacity for understanding: through it we sense with our complex imagination all incorporeal things. It also gives vigour to the corporeal senses-sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch by means of which we distinguish between hard and soft, smooth and rough.

Second is the imperative power that orders the organs of the body to execute the different motions that it has decided to carry out, to move from place to place, to emit sound, to bend the limbs, for example. I have set these down as example so that I may seem to have spoken of matters like these.

The third is the principal power that we employ on a subject more profoundly and firmly when, removed from all activity, we remain at rest while the body senses are still. Hence we believe that those who are ripe in years think better because their limb grow old and the bodily senses are weakened, they concentrate on offering advice, and the mind more widely employed becomes more robust because of a greater concentration. But, on the other hand, when the limbs are left unused because of excessive weakness, the soul loses sensation since it is natural for souls at the appropriate time to follow the needs of their bodies.

The fourth is the vital power, that is, the natural heat of the soul that has given us life and health through the deployment of its intensity and by the inhalation and exhalation of air.

The fifth is delight, that is, the appetite for good and evil that the mind joyfully yearns for.

Notice then, that this series of virtues can be rendered by a fourfold division to maintain the nourishment of the body. The first is the attracting power, seizing from nature what it feels is necessary to it. The second, the retaining power, keeps what is taken in until the useful extract has been taken from it. The third, the transferring power, turns what is taken in into something else and reposition it. The fourth, the expelling power, drives off what will be harmful to it so that its nature may be free…’


Original Latin


‘Virtutes animae naturales quinquepertitas ueteres esse uoluerunt. Prima est in utraque parte sensibilis quae nobis tribuit intellegentiae sensum per quam omnia incorporalia uaria imaginatione sentimus. Facit etiam corporales uigere sensus, id est, uisum, auditum, gustum, odoratum, et tactum quo dura et mollia, lenia asperaque sentimus. Secunda, imperatiua quae iubet organis corporalibus motus diuersos quos implere decreuerit, hoc est, transferri de loco ad locum, uoces edere, membra curuare. Haec exempli causa posuimus ut in his similia dixisse uideamur. Tertiam, principalem, cum ab omni actu remoti, in otium reponimur et, corporalibus sensibus quietis, profundius aliquid firmiusque tractamus. Hinc est quod aetate maturi melius sapere iudicantur quia, senescentibus membris et corporalibus sensibus mollitis, pro maxima parte in consilium transeunt. Vbi dum mens amplius occupatur, robustior uirtute adunationis efficitur, sed iterum desipiunt, cum nimia debilitate deponuntur, quoniam datum est animabus ad tempus suorum sequi corporum necessitates. Quartam, uitalem, id est, calorem animi naturalem, qui nobis propter suum feruorem moderandum aut auras aetherias hauriendo atque reddendo uitam tribuit et salutem. Quintam, delectationem, hoc est appetitum boni malique quem sub iucunditate animus concupiscit.

Ecce iterum quadripertita subdiuisione ad sustentationem corporis explicandam pars ista refunditur. Prima est attractiua, rapiens de naturali quod sibi necessarium sentit. Secunda, detentoria, assumpta retinens donec ex his utilis decoctio procuretur. Tertia, translatiua quae accepta in aliud conuertit atque transponit. Quarta, expellitiua quae, ut natura fiat libera, sibi nocitura depellit…’


Professor James Werner Halporn, Professor Emeritus of Classics, Indiana; Associate in Classics, Harvard. (January 14, 1929 — November 13, 2011).


More about Cassiodorus: 🌿 More about the book and the publishers: 🌿 Latin text source:🌿 / More about James Werner Halporn: 🌿And :—-november-13-2011
Cassiodorus – The Natural Powers of the Soul

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.

all rights reserved Via Hygeia 2022