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Plutarch Of Chaeronea- The Pythagorean Visitor & Tymarchus’ Story

Ancient home gathering as imagined in the 19th century- akg-images.


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are extracts from Plutarch of Chaeronea’s ‘A Discourse Concerning Socrates’ Daemon’, in the ‘Moralia’, translations edited by William Watson Goodwin (1831-1912), from the edition of 1878, a text in the public domain digitized by the Internet Archive and reformatted/lightly corrected by Brady Kiesling. Plutarch often weaves a few stories together and it is the case with these dialogs. We tried to excerpt the two stories that are of our concern today. We will come back soon on ‘Socrates’ s daemon’, as it is a very fascinating subject. For the full text, please look at the bottom of the post where we share its address.

Plutarch offers here a glimpse of the Pythagorean way of life and ethics. In passing, we hear of Gorgias of Leontinoi heading back home from probably from his 427 B/C. embassy to Athens and his connection with Lysis, one of Pythagoras’ disciples, who with Philolaus escaped the destruction of their school in Metapontum at the hand of Cylon and his raging mob. This story is a known example of the Pythagorean ‘philia’ or brotherly love and care as embodied by Theanor and Lysis.

The story of Tymarchus that follows has the material and deepness of a legitimate myth: A young man  ventures into the famous Oracle Caves of Trophonius to seek an answer regarding Socrates’ daemon…


§ 8 Whilst Simmias was speaking, my father Polymnis came in, and sitting down by him said: Epaminondas desires you and the rest of the company, unless some urgent business requires your attendance, to stay for him here a little while, designing to bring you acquainted with this stranger, who is a very worthy man; and the design upon which he comes is very genteel and honorable. He is a Pythagorean of the Italian sect, and comes hither to make some offerings to old Lysis at his tomb, according to divers dreams and very notable appearances that he hath seen. He hath brought a good sum of money with him, and thinks himself bound to satisfy Epaminondas for keeping Lysis in his old age; and is very eager, though we are neither willing nor desire him, to relieve his poverty. And Simmias, glad at this news, replied: You tell me, sir, of a wonderful man and worthy professor of philosophy; but why doth he not come directly to us? I think, said my father, he lay all night at Lysis’s tomb; and therefore Epaminondas hath now led him to the Ismenus to wash; and when that is done, they will be here. For before he came to our house, he lodged at the tomb, intending to take up the relics of the body and transport them into Italy, if some genius at night should not advise him to forbear.

§ 9 As soon as my father had ended this discourse, Galaxidorus cried out: Good Gods! how hard a matter is it to find a man pure from vanity and superstition! For some are betrayed into those fooleries by their ignorance and weakness; others, that they may be thought extraordinary men and favorites of Heaven, refer all their actions to some divine admonition pretending dreams, visions, and the like surprising fooleries for every thing they do. This method indeed is advantageous to those that intend to settle a commonwealth, or are forced to keep themselves up against a rude and ungovernable multitude; for by this bridle of superstition they might manage and reform the vulgar; but these pretences seem not only unbecoming philosophy, but quite opposite to all those fine promises she makes. For having promised to teach us by reason what is good and profitable, falling back again to the Gods as the principle of all our actions, she seems to despise reason, and disgrace that demonstration which is her peculiar glory; and she relies on dreams and visions, in which the worst of men are oftentimes as happy as the best. And therefore your Socrates, Simmias, in my opinion followed the most philosophical and rational method of instructions, choosing that plain and easy way as the most genteel and friendly unto truth, and scattering to the sophists of the age all those vain pretences which are as it were the smoke of philosophy. And Theocritus taking him up said: What, Galaxidorus, and hath Meletus persuaded you that Socrates contemned all divine things? — for that was part of his accusation. Divine things! by no means, replied Galaxidorus; but having received philosophy from Pythagoras and Empedocles, full of dreams, fables, superstitions, and perfect raving, he endeavored to bring wisdom and things together, and make truth consist with sober sense.

§ 10 Be it so, rejoined Theocritus, but what shall we think of his Daemon? Was it a mere juggle? Indeed, nothing that is told of Pythagoras regarding divination seems to me so great and divine. For, in my mind, as Homer makes Athena to stand by Ulysses in all dangers, so the Daemon joined to Socrates even from his cradle some vision to guide him in all the actions of his life; which going before him, shed a light upon hidden and obscure matters and such as could not be discovered by unassisted human understanding; of such things the Daemon often discoursed with him, presiding over and by divine instinct directing his intentions. More and greater things perhaps you may learn from Simmias and other companions of Socrates; but once when I was present, as I went to Euthyphron the soothsayer’s, it happened, Simmias, — for you remember it, — that Socrates walked up to Symbolum and the house of Andocides, all the way asking questions and jocosely perplexing Euthyphron. When standing still upon a sudden and persuading us to do the like, he mused a pretty while, and then turning about walked through Trunk-makers’ [κιβωτοποιων] Street, calling back his friends that walked before him, affirming that it was his Daemon’s will and admonition. Many turned back, amongst whom I, holding Euthyphron, was one; but some of the youths keeping on the straight way, on purpose (as it were) to confute Socrates’s Daemon, took along with them Charillus the piper, who came in my company to Athens to see Cebes. Now as they were walking through Gravers’ Row [ἑρμογλύφων] near the court-houses, a herd of dirty swine met them; and being too many for the street and running against one another, they overthrew some that could not get out of the way, and dirtied others; and Charillus came home with his legs and clothes very dirty; so that now and then in merriment they would think on Socrates’s Daemon, wondering that it never forsook the man, and that Heaven took such particular care of him.

§ 11 Then Galaxidorus: And do you think, Theocritus, that Socrates’s Daemon had some peculiar and extraordinary power? And was it not that this man had by experience confirmed some part of the common necessity which made him, in all obscure and inevident matters, add some weight to the reason that was on one side? For as one grain doth not incline the balance by itself, yet added to one of two weights that are of equal poise, makes the whole incline to that part; thus an omen or the like sign may of itself be too light to draw a grave and settled resolution to any action, yet when two equal reasons draw on either side, if that is added to one, the doubt together with the equality is taken off, so that a motion and inclination to that side is presently produced. Then my father continuing the discourse said: You yourself, Galaxidorus, have heard a Megarian, who had it from Terpsion, say that Socrates’s Daemon was nothing else but the sneezing either of himself or others; for if another sneezed, either before, behind him, or on his right hand, then he pursued his design and went on to action; but if on the left hand, he desisted. One sort of sneezing confirmed him whilst deliberating and not fully resolved; another stopped him when already upon action. But indeed it seems strange that, if sneezing was his only sign, he should not acquaint his familiars with it, but pretend that it was a Daemon that encouraged or forbade him. For that this should proceed from vanity or conceit is not agreeable to the veracity and simplicity of the man; for in those we knew him to be truly great, and far above the generality of mankind. Nor is it likely so grave and wise a man should be disturbed at a casual sound or sneezing, and upon that account leave off what he was about, and give over his premeditated resolutions. Besides all, Socrates’s resolution seems to be altogether vigorous and steady, as begun upon right principles and mature judgment. Thus he voluntarily lived poor all his life, though he had friends that would have been very glad and very willing to relieve him; he still kept close to philosophy, notwithstanding all the discouragements he met with; and at last, when his friends endeavored and very ingeniously contrived his escape, he would not yield to their entreaties, but met death with mirth and cheerfulness, and appeared a man of a steady reason in the greatest extremity. And sure these are not the actions of a man whose designs, when once fixed, could be altered by an omen or a sneeze; but of one who, by some more considerable guidance and impulse, is directed to practise things good and excellent. Besides, I have heard that to some of his friends he foretold the overthrow of the Athenians in Sicily. And before that time, Perilampes the son of Antiphon, being wounded and taken prisoner by us in that pursuit at Delium, as soon as he heard from the ambassadors who came from Athens that Socrates with Alcibiades and Laches fled by Rhegiste and returned safe, blamed himself very much, and blamed also some of his friends and captains of the companies — who together with him were overtaken in their flight about Parnes by our cavalry and slain there — for not obeying Socrates’s Daemon and retreating that way which he led. And this I believe Simmias hath heard as well as I. Yes, replied Simmias, many times, and from many persons; for upon this, Socrates’s Daemon was very much talked of at Athens.

§ 12 Why then, pray, Simmias, said Phidolaus, shall we suffer Galaxidorus drollingly to degrade so considerable a prophetic spirit into an omen or a sneeze; which the vulgar and ignorant, it is true, merrily use about small matters; but when any danger appears, then we find that of Euripides verified: None near the edge of swords will mind such toys.” To this Galaxidorus rejoined: Sir, if Simmias hath heard Socrates himself speak any thing about this matter, I am very ready to hear and believe it with you; but yet what you and Polymnis have delivered I could easily demonstrate to be weak and insignificant. For as in physic the pulse or a whelk is itself but a small thing, yet is a sign of no small things to the physicians; and as the murmuring of the waves or of a bird, or the driving of a thin cloud, is a sign to the pilot of a stormy heaven and troubled sea; thus to a prophetic soul, a sneeze or an omen, though no great matter simply considered in itself, yet may be the sign and token of considerable impending accidents. For every art and science takes care to collect many things from few, and great from small. And as if one that doth not know the power of letters, when he sees a few ill-shapen strokes, should not believe that a man skilled in letters could read in them the famous battles of the ancients, the rise of cities, the acts and calamities of kings, and should assert that some divine power told him the particulars, he would by this ignorance of his raise a great deal of mirth and laughter in the company; so let us consider whether or no we ourselves, being altogether ignorant of every one’s power of divination by which he guesseth at what is to come, are not foolishly concerned when it is asserted that a wise man by that discovers some things obscure and inevident in themselves, and moreover himself declares that it is not a sneeze or voice, but a Daemon, that leads him on to action. This, Polymnis, particularly respects you, who cannot but wonder that Socrates, who by his meekness and humility hath humanized philosophy, should not call this sign a sneeze or a voice, but very pretendingly a Daemon; when, on the contrary, I should have wondered if a man so critical and exact in discourse, and so good at names as Socrates, should have said that it was a sneeze, and not a Daemon, that gave him intimation; as much as if any one should say that he is wounded by a dart, and not with a dart by him that threw it; or as if any one should say that a weight was weighed by the balance, and not with the balance by the one who holds it. For any effect is not the effect of the instrument, but of him whose the instrument is, and who useth it to that effect; and a sign is an instrument, which he that signifies any thing thereby useth to that effect. But, as I said before, if Simmias hath any thing about this matter, let us quietly attend; for no doubt he must have a more perfect knowledge of the thing.

§ 13 Content, said Theocritus; but let us first see who these are that are coming, for I think I see Epaminondas bringing in the stranger. Upon this motion, looking toward the door, we saw Epaminondas with his friends Ismenidorus and Bacchylidas and Melissus the musician leading the way, and the stranger following, a man of no mean presence; his meekness and good-nature appeared in his looks, and his dress was grave and becoming. He being seated next Simmias, my brother next me, and the rest as they pleased, and all silent, Simmias speaking to my brother said: Well, Epaminondas, by what name and title must I salute this stranger? — for those are commonly our first compliments, and the beginning of our better acquaintance. And my brother replied: His name, Simmias, is Theanor; by birth he is a Crotonian, a philosopher by profession, no disgrace to Pythagoras’s fame; for he hath taken a long voyage from Italy hither, to evidence by generous actions his eminent proficiency in that school. The stranger rejoined: But you, Epaminondas, hinder the performance of the best action; for if it is commendable to oblige friends, it is not discommendable to be obliged; for a benefit requires a receiver as well as a giver; by both it is perfected, and becomes a good work. For he that refuseth to receive a favor, as a ball that is struck fairly to him, disgraceth it by letting it fall short of the designed mark; and what mark are we so much pleased to hit or vexed to miss, as our kind intentions of obliging a person that deserves a favor? It is true, when the mark is fixed, he that misseth can blame nobody but himself; but he that refuseth or flies a kindness is injurious to the favor in not letting it attain the desired end. I have told you already what was the occasion of my voyage; the same I would discover to all present, and make them judges in the case. For after the opposite faction had expelled the Pythagoreans, and the Cylonians had burned the remains of that society in their school at Metapontum, and destroyed all but Philolaus and Lysis, — who being young and nimble escaped the flame, — Philolaus flying to the Lucanians was there protected by his friends, who rose for his defence and overpowered the Cylonians; but where Lysis was, for a long time nobody could tell; at last Gorgias the Leontine, sailing from Greece to Italy, seriously told Arcesus that he met and discoursed Lysis at Thebes. Arcesus, being very desirous to see the man, as soon as he could get a passage, designed to put to sea himself; but age and weakness coming on, he took care that Lysis should be brought to Italy alive, if possible; but if not, the relics of his body. The intervening wars, usurpations, and seditions hindered his friends from doing it whilst he lived; but since his death, Lysis’s Daemon hath made very frequent and very plain discoveries to us of his death; and many that were very well acquainted with the matter have told us how courteously you received and civilly entertained him, how in your poor family he was allowed a plentiful subsistence for his age, counted a father of your sons, and died in peace. I therefore, although a young man and but one single person, have been sent by many who are my elders, and who, having store of money, offer it gladly to you who need it, in return for the gracious friendship bestowed upon Lysis. Lysis, it is true, is buried nobly, and your respect, which is more honorable than a monument, must be acknowledged and requited by his familiars and his friends.

§ 14 When the stranger had said this, my father wept a considerable time, in memory of Lysis; but my brother, smiling upon me, as he used to do, said: What do we do, Caphisias? Are we to give up our poverty to wealth, and yet be silent? By no means, I replied, let us part with our old friend and the excellent breeder of our youth; but defend her cause, for you are to manage it. My dear father, said he, I have never feared that wealth would take possession of our house, except on account of Caphisias’s body; for that wants fine attire, that he may appear gay and gaudy to his numerous company of lovers, and great supplies of food, that he may be strong to endure wrestling and other exercises of the ring. But since he doth not give up poverty, since he holds fast his hereditary want, like a color, since he, a youth, prides himself in frugality, and is very well content with his present state, what need have we, and what shall we do with wealth? Shall we gild our arms? Shall we, like Nicias the Athenian, adorn our shield with gold, purple, and other gaudy variety of colors, and buy for you, sir, a Milesian cloak, and for my mother a purple gown? For I suppose we shall not consume any upon our belly, or feast more sumptuously than we did before, treating this wealth as a guest of quality and honor! Away, away, son, replied my father; let me never see such a change in our course of living. Well, said my brother, we would not lie lazily at home, and watch over our unemployed riches; for then the bestower’s kindness would be a trouble, and the possession infamous. What need then, said my father, have we of wealth? Upon this account, said Epaminondas, when Jason, the Thessalian general, lately sent me a great sum of money and desired me to accept it, I was thought rude and unmannerly for telling him that he was a knave for endeavoring, whilst he himself loved monarchy, to bribe one of democratical principles and a member of a free state. Your good will, sir (addressing the stranger), which is generous and worthy a philosopher, I accept and passionately admire; but you offer physic to your friends who are in perfect health! If, upon a report that we were distressed and overpowered, you had brought men and arms to our assistance, but being arrived had found all in quietness and peace, I am certain you would not have thought it necessary to leave those supplies which we did not then stand in need of. Thus, since now you came to assist us against poverty as if we had been distressed by it, and find it very peaceable and our familiar inmate, there is no need to leave any money or arms to suppress that which gives us no trouble or disturbance. But tell your acquaintance that they use riches well, and have friends here that use poverty as well. What was spent in keeping and burying Lysis, Lysis himself hath sufficiently repaid, by many profitable instructions, and by teaching us not to think poverty a grievance.

§ 15 What then, said Theanor, is it mean to think poverty a grievance? Is it not absurd to fly and be afraid of riches, if no reason, but an hypocritical pretence, narrowness of mind, or pride, prompts one to reject the offer? And what reason, I wonder, would refuse such advantageous and creditable enjoyments as Epaminondas now doth? But, sir, — for your answer to the Thessalian about this matter shows you very ready, — pray answer me, do you think it commendable in some cases to give money, but always unlawful to receive it? Or are the givers and receivers equally guilty of a fault? By no means, replied Epaminondas; but, as of any thing else, so the giving and receiving of money is sometimes commendable and sometimes base. Well then, said Theanor, if a man gives willingly what he ought to give, is not that action commendable in him? Yes. And when it is commendable in one to give, is it not as commendable in another to receive? Or can a man more honestly accept a gift from any one, than from him that honestly bestows? No. Well then, Epaminondas, suppose of two friends, one hath a mind to present, the other must accept. It is true, in a battle we should avoid that enemy who is skilful in hurling his weapon; but in civilities we should neither fly nor thrust back that friend that makes a kind and genteel offer. And though poverty is not so grievous, yet on the other side, wealth is not so mean and despicable a thing. Very true, replied Epaminondas; but you must consider that sometimes, even when a gift is honestly bestowed, he is more commendable who refuses it. For we have many lusts and desires, and the objects of those desires are many. Some are called natural; these proceed from the very constitution of our body, and tend to natural pleasures; others are acquired, and rise from vain opinions and mistaken notions; yet these by the length of time, ill habits, and bad education are usually improved, get strength, and debase the soul more than the other natural and necessary passions. By custom and care any one, with the assistance of reason, may free himself from many of his natural desires. But, sir, all our arts, all our force of discipline, must be employed against the superfluous and acquired appetites; and they must be restrained or cut off by the guidance or edge of reason. For if the contrary applications of reason can make us forbear meat and drink, when hungry or thirsty, how much more easy is it to conquer covetousness or ambition, which will be destroyed by a bare restraint from their proper objects, and a non-attainment of their desired end? And pray, sir, are you not of the same opinion? Yes, replied the stranger. Then, sir, continued Epaminondas, do you not perceive a difference between the exercise itself and the work to which the exercise relates? For instance, in a wrestler, the work is the striving with his adversary for the crown, the exercise is the preparation of his body by diet, wrestling, or the like. So in virtue, you must confess the work to be one thing and the exercise another. Very well, replied the stranger. Then, continued Epaminondas, let us first examine whether to abstain from the base unlawful pleasures is the exercise of continence, or the work and evidence of that exercise? The work and evidence, replied the stranger. But is not the exercise of it such as you practise, when after wrestling, where you have raised your appetites like ravenous beasts, you stand a long while at a table covered with plenty and variety of meats, and then give it to your servants to feast on, whilst you offer mean and spare diet to your subdued appetites? For abstinence from lawful pleasure is exercise against unlawful. Very well, replied the stranger. So, continued Epaminondas, justice is exercise against covetousness and love of money; but so is not a mere cessation from stealing or robbing our neighbor. So he that doth not betray his country or friends for gold doth not exercise against covetousness, for the law perhaps deters, and fear restrains him; but he that refuseth just gain and such as the law allows, voluntarily exercises, and secures himself from being bribed or receiving any unlawful present. For when great, hurtful, and base pleasures are proposed, it is very hard for any one to contain himself, who hath not often despised those which he had power and opportunity to enjoy. Thus, when base bribes and considerable advantages are offered, it will be difficult to refuse, unless he hath long ago rooted out all thoughts of gain and love of money; for other desires will nourish and increase that appetite, and he will easily be drawn to any unjust action who can scarce forbear reaching out his hand to a proffered present. But he that will not lay himself open to the favors of friends and the gifts of kings, but refuseth even what Fortune proffers, and keeps off his appetite, that is eager after and (as it were) leaps forward to an appearing treasure, is never disturbed or tempted to unlawful actions, but hath great and brave thoughts, and hath command over himself, being conscious of none but generous designs. I and Caphisias, dear Simmias, being passionate admirers of such men, beg the stranger to suffer us to be taught and exercised by poverty to attain that height of virtue and perfection.

§ 16 My brother having finished this discourse, Simmias, nodding twice or thrice, said: Epaminondas is a great man, but this Polymnis is the cause of his greatness, who gave his children the best education, and bred them philosophers. But, sir, you may end this dispute at leisure among yourselves. As for Lysis (if it is lawful to discover it), pray, sir, do you design to take him out of his tomb and transport him into Italy, or leave him here amongst his friends and acquaintance, who shall be glad to lie by him in the grave? And Theanor with a smile answered: Lysis, good Simmias, no doubt is very well pleased with the place, for Epaminondas supplied him with all things necessary and fitting. But the Pythagoreans have some particular funeral ceremonies, which if any one wants, we conclude he did not make a proper and happy exit. Therefore, as soon as we learned from some dreams that Lysis was dead (for we have certain marks to know the apparitions of the living from images of the dead), most began to think that Lysis, dying in a strange country, was not interred with the due ceremonies, and therefore ought to be removed to Italy that he might receive them there. I coming upon this design, and being by the people of the country directed to the tomb, in the evening poured out my oblations, and called upon the soul of Lysis to come out and direct me in this affair. The night drawing on, I saw nothing indeed, but thought I heard a voice saying: Move not those relics that ought not to be moved, for Lysis’s body was duly and religiously interred; and his soul is sent to inform another body, and committed to the care of another Daemon. And early this morning, asking Epaminondas about the manner of Lysis’s burial, I found that Lysis had taught him as far as the incommunicable mysteries of our sect; and that the same Daemon that waited on Lysis presided over him, if I can guess at the pilot from the sailing of the ship. The paths of life are large, but in few are men directed by the Daemons. When Theanor had said this, he looked attentively on Epaminondas, as if he designed a fresh search into his nature and inclinations.


§ 21 This, Phidolaus, was my notion of Socrates’s Daemon, whilst he lived and since his death; and I look upon all they mention about omens, sneezings, or the like, to be dreams and fooleries. But what I heard Timarchus discourse upon the same subject, lest some should think I delight in fables, perhaps it is best to conceal. By no means, cried Theocritus, let’s have it; for though they do not perfectly agree with it, yet I know many fables that border upon truth; but pray first tell us who this Timarchus was, for I never was acquainted with the man. Very likely, Theocritus, said Simmias; for he died when he was very young, and desired Socrates to bury him by Lampocles, the son of Socrates, who was his dear friend, of the same age, and died not many days before him. He being eager to know (for he was a fine youth, and a beginner in philosophy) what Socrates’s Daemon was, acquainting none but Cebes and me with his design, went down into Trophonius’s cave, and performed all the ceremonies that were requisite to gain an oracle. There he stayed two nights and one day, so that his friends despaired of his return and lamented him as lost; but the next morning he came out with a very cheerful countenance, and having adored the God, and freed himself from the thronging inquisitive crowd, he told us many wonderful things that he had seen and heard; for this was his relation.

§ 22 As soon as he entered, a thick darkness surrounded him; then, after he had prayed, he lay a long while upon the ground, but was not certain whether awake or in a dream, only he imagined that a smart stroke fell upon his head, and that through the parted sutures of his skull his soul fled out; which being now loose, and mixed with a purer and more lightsome air, was very jocund and well pleased; it seemed to begin to breathe, as if till then it had been almost choked, and grew bigger than before, like a sail swollen by the wind; then he heard a small noise whirling round his head, very sweet and ravishing, and looking up he saw no earth, but certain islands shining with a gentle fire, which interchanged colors according to the different variation of the light, innumerable and very large, unequal, but all round. These whirling, it is likely, agitated the ether, and made that sound; for the ravishing softness of it was very agreeable to their even motions. Between these islands there was a large sea or lake which shone very gloriously, being adorned with a gay variety of colors mixed with blue; some few of the islands swam in this sea, and were carried to the other side of the current; others, and those the most, were carried up and down, tossed, whirled, and almost overwhelmed. The sea in some places seemed very deep, especially toward the south, in other parts very shallow; it ebbed and flowed, but the tides were neither high nor strong; in some parts its color was pure and sea-green, in others it looked muddy and as troubled as a pool. The current brings those islands that were carried over to the other side back again; but not to the same point, so that their motions are not exactly circular, but winding. About the middle of these islands, the ambient sea seemed to bend into a hollow, a little less, as it appeared to him, than eight parts of the whole. Into this sea were two entrances, by which it received two opposite fiery rivers, running in with so strong a current, that it spread a fiery white over a great part of the blue sea. This sight pleased him very much; but when he looked downward, there appeared a vast chasm, round, as if he had looked into a divided sphere, very deep and frightful, full of thick darkness, which was every now and then troubled and disturbed. Thence a thousand howlings and bellowings of beasts, cries of children, groans of men and women, and all sorts of terrible noises reached his ears; but faintly, as being far off and rising through the vast hollow; and this terrified him exceedingly. A little while after, an invisible thing spoke thus to him: Timarchus, what dost thou desire to understand? And he replied, Every thing; for what is there that is not wonderful and surprising? We have little to do with those things above, they belong to other Gods; but as for Proserpina’s quarter, which is one of the four (as Styx divides them) that we govern, you may visit it if you please. But what is Styx? The way to hell, which reaches to the contrary quarter, and with its head divides the light; for, as you see, it rises from hell below, and as it rolls on touches also the light, and is the limit of the extremest part of the universe. There are four divisions of all things; the first is of life, the second of motion, the third of generation, and the fourth of corruption. The first is coupled to the second by a unit, in the substance invisible; the second to the third by understanding, in the Sun; and the third to the fourth by nature, in the Moon. Over every one of these ties a Fate, daughter of Necessity, presides; over the first, Atropos; over the second, Clotho; and Lachesis over the third, which is in the Moon, and about which is the whole whirl of generation. All the other islands have Gods in them; but the Moon, belonging to earthly Daemons, is raised but a little above Styx. Styx seizes on her once in a hundred and seventy-seven second revolutions; and when it approaches, the souls are startled, and cry out for fear; for hell swallows up a great many, and the Moon receives some swimming up from below which have run through their whole course of generation, unless they are wicked and impure. For against such she throws flashes of lightning, makes horrible noises, and frights them away; so that, missing their desired happiness and bewailing their condition, they are carried down again (as you see) to undergo another generation. But, said Timarchus, I see nothing but stars leaping about the hollow, some carried into it, and some darting out of it again. These, said the voice, are Daemons; for thus it is. Every soul hath some portion of reason; a man cannot be a man without it; but as much of each soul as is mixed with flesh and appetite is changed, and through pain or pleasure becomes irrational. Every soul doth not mix herself after one sort; for some plunge themselves into the body, and so in this life their whole frame is corrupted by appetite and passion; others are mixed as to some part, but the purer part still remains without the body, — it is not drawn down into it, but it swims above, and touches the extremest part of the man’s head; it is like a cord to hold up and direct the subsiding part of the soul, as long as it proves obedient and is not overcome by the appetites of the flesh. That part that is plunged into the body is called the soul, but the uncorrupted part is called the mind, and the vulgar think it is within them, as likewise they imagine the image reflected from a glass to be in that. But the more intelligent, who know it to be without, call it a Daemon. Therefore those stars which you see extinguished imagine to be souls whose whole substances are plunged into bodies; and those that recover their light and rise from below, that shake off the ambient mist and darkness, as if it were clay and dirt, to be such as retire from their bodies after death; and those that are carried up on high are the Daemons of wise men and philosophers. But pray pry narrowly, and endeavor to discover the tie by which every one is united to a soul. Upon this, Timarchus looked as steadfastly as he could, and saw some of the stars very much agitated, and some less, as the corks upon a net; and some whirled round like a spindle, having a very irregular and uneven motion, and not being able to run in a straight line. And thus the voice said: Those that have a straight and regular motion belong to souls which are very manageable, by reason of their genteel breeding and philosophical education, and which upon earth do not plunge themselves into the foul clay and become irrational. But those that move irregularly, sometimes upwards, sometimes downwards, as striving to break loose from a vexing chain, are yoked to and strive with very untractable conditions, which ignorance and want of learning make headstrong and ungovernable. Sometimes they get the better of the passions, and draw them to the right side; sometimes they are drawn away by them, and sink into sin and folly, and then again endeavor to get out. For the tie, as it were a bridle on the irrational part of the soul, when it is pulled back, draws in repentance for past sins, and shame for loose and unlawful pleasures, which is a pain and stroke inflicted on the soul by a governing and prevailing power; till by this means it becomes gentle and manageable, and like a tamed beast, without blows or torment, it understands the minutest direction of the Daemon. Such indeed are but very slowly and very hardly brought to a right temper; but of that sort which from the very beginning are governable and obedient to the direction of the Daemon, are those prophetic souls, those intimates of the Gods. Such was the soul of Hermodorus the Clazomenian, of which it is reported that for several nights and days it would leave his body, travel over many countries, and return after it had viewed things and discoursed with persons at a great distance; till at last, by the treachery of his wife, his body was delivered to his enemies, and they burnt the house while the inhabitant was abroad. It is certain, this is a mere fable. The soul never went out of the body, but it loosened the tie that held the Daemon, and permitted it to wander; so that this, seeing and hearing the various external occurrences, brought in the news to it; yet those that burnt his body are even till this time severely tormented in the deepest pit of hell. But this, youth, you shall more clearly perceive three months hence; now depart. The voice continuing no longer, Timarchus (as he said) turned about to discover who it was that spoke; but a violent pain, as if his skull had been pressed together, seized his head, so that he lost all sense and understanding; but in a little while recovering, he found himself in the entrance of the cave, where he at first lay down.

§ 23 This was Timarchus’s story; and when at Athens, in the third month after he had heard the voice, he died. We, amazed at the event, told Socrates the whole tale. Socrates was angry with us for not discovering it whilst Timarchus was alive; for he would very gladly have had a more full discovery from his own mouth. I have done, Theocritus, with the story and discourse; but pray, shall we not entreat the stranger to discuss this point? For it is a very proper subject for excellent and divine men. What then, said Theanor, shall we not have the opinion of Epaminondas, who is of the same school, and as well learned as myself in these matters? But my father with a smile said: Sir, that is his humor; he loves to be silent, he is very cautious how he proposeth any thing, but will hear eternally, and is never weary of an instructive story; so that Spintharus the Tarentine, who lived with him a long time, would often say that he never met a man that knew more, or spake less. Therefore, pray sir, let us have your thoughts.

§ 24 Then, said Theanor, in my opinion, that story of Timarchus should be accounted sacred and inviolable, and consecrated to God; and I wonder that any one should disbelieve his report, as Simmias has related it. Swans, horses, dogs, and dragons we sometimes call sacred; and yet we cannot believe that men are sacred and favorites of Heaven, though we confess the love of man and not the love of birds to be an attribute of the Deity. Now as one that loves horses doth not take an equal care of the whole kind, but always choosing out some one excellent, rides, trains, feeds, and loves him above the rest; so amongst men, the superior powers, choosing, as it were, the best out of the whole herd, breed them more carefully and nicely; not directing them, it is true, by reins and bridles, but by reason imparted by certain notices and signs, which the vulgar and common sort do not understand. For neither do all dogs know the huntsman’s, nor all horses the jockey’s signs; but those that are bred to it are easily directed by a whistle or a hollow, and very readily obey. And Homer seems to have understood the difference I mention; for some of the prophets he calls augurs, some priests, some such as understood the voice of the very Gods, were of the same mind with them, and could foretell things; thus, Helenus Priam’s son the same decreed, On which consulting Gods before agreed. And in another place, As I heard lately from th’ immortal Gods.” For as those that are not near the persons of kings or commanders understand their minds by fire-signals, proclamation, sound of trumpet, or the like, but their favorites receive it from their own mouth; so the Deity converses immediately but with very few, and very seldom; but to most he gives signs, from which the art of divination is gathered. So that the Gods direct the lives of very few, and of such only whom they intend to raise to the highest degree of perfection and happiness. Those souls (as Hesiod sings) that are not to be put into another body, but are freed from all union with flesh, turn guardian Daemons and preside over others. For as wrestlers, when old age makes them unfit for exercise, have some love for it still left, delight to see others wrestle, and encourage them; so souls that have passed all the stages of life, and by their virtue are exalted into Daemons, do not slight the endeavors of man, but being kind to those that strive for the same attainments, and in some sort banding and siding with them, encourage and help them on, when they see them near their hope and ready to catch the desired prize. For the Daemon doth not go along with every one; but as in a shipwreck, those that are far from land their friends standing on the shore only look upon and pity, but those that are near they encourage and wade in to save; so the Daemon deals with mankind. Whilst we are immersed in worldly affairs, and are changing bodies, as fit vehicles for our conveyance, he lets us alone to try our strength, patiently to stem the tide and get into the haven by ourselves; but if a soul hath gone through the trials of a thousand generations, and now, when her course is almost finished, strives bravely, and with a great deal of labor endeavors to ascend, the Deity permits her proper Genius to aid her, and even gives leave to any other that is willing to assist. The Daemon, thus permitted, presently sets about the work; and upon his approach, if the soul obeys and hearkens to his directions, she is saved; if not, the Daemon leaves her, and she lies in a miserable condition.

§ 25 This discourse was just ended, when Epaminondas looking upon me, said: Caphisias, it is time for you to be at the ring, your usual company will expect you; we, as soon as we break company, will take care of Theanor.



More about Plutarch: 🌿 Full Text here:
Plutarch Of Chaeronea- The Pythagorean Visitor & Tymarchus’ Story

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