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The “Tomb” Of The Soul

Ο ΤΑΦΟΣ ΤΗΣ ΨΥΧΗΣ
  • 51 Cp. Heraclitus fr. 62 DK. ἀθάνατοι θνητοί, θνητοὶ ἀθάνατοι, ζῶντες τὸν ἐκείνων θάνατον, τὸν δὲ ἐκεί (...)

27.In other dialogues, however, Plato does tease out the ramifications of these images. The basic idea that soul is entombed in the body introduces the Heraclitean paradox of living in death and dying in life, creating the image of a life lived in death – or, as we might say, in afterlife, thus setting up the descriptions of a lively afterlife as a way of talking about the present life.51 However, the relation of the living soul to the dead body as one buried in a tomb can be further elaborated for rhetorical effect, comparing the body not just to a tomb but a torture and a prison.

  • 52 Clement of Alexandria Stromata 3.17.1 = Philolaus fr. 14 = OF 430iii. μαρτυρέονται δὲ καὶ (...)
  • 53 Athenaeus 4.157c = OF 430vi. The fragment of Anaximander, despite Nietzsche (Werke X, 22 Philosophi (...)
  • 54 Iamblichus Protrepticus 43.21-44.9 = Aristotle fr. 60 Rose = OF 430v. Who indeed looking at these (...)
  • 55 Like Philolaus, Aristotle attributes the idea that the soul is in the body for punishment (ἐπὶ τιμω (...)
  • 56 The indefinite nature of such references suggests that no single original sin is imagined for which (...)

28.Clement of Alexandria quotes the Pythagorean Philolaus, who attributes to ancient wisdom the idea that the soul is buried in the body : “The ancient theologians and seers testify that the soul is conjoined to the body to suffer certain punishments, and is, as it were, buried in this tomb.”52 Another Pythagorean, Euxitheos, appears in Athenaeus as the source of the idea that the soul is yoked to the body for punishment.53 A related image of torture, that combines the ideas of tomb and prison, is associated with the idea of the soul in the body for the payment of penalties. In his exhortation to live a philosophic life, Aristotle uses the image of a torture apparently practiced by certain Tyrrhenian pirates, who tied their living captives to dead bodies, to describe the soul placed in the body for punishment.54 Aristotle too links the idea that the soul is attached to the body for purposes of torment, in expiation for unspecified crimes, to the authority of ancient wisdom and to the practice of rituals.55 None of these sources specifies the crimes for which the soul is being punished ; the reference is always indefinite - certain crimes, the things for which the soul pays the penalty, etc.56 The soul is placed in the body to suffer the torments of life as a way of paying the penalty, like a prisoner in a torture chamber, and the life of the body is consequently imagined as the source of all these woes. Plato, it is interesting to note, generally avoids such language of compensatory punishment ; the body may be an inferior location for the soul, a burden and a trouble, but it is not actively designed by the gods to torment us. Just as he moves in the Cratylus from the idea he attributes to those around Orpheus that the soul is imprisoned in the body to pay a penalty to the idea that the soul is being safeguarded in the enclosure of the body, so too in the Phaedo he introduces the idea of the φρουρά, taking advantage of its polyvalence to blur the lines of the argument.

  • 57 Plato Phaedo 62b = OF 429i. ὁ μὲν οὖν ἐν ἀπορρήτοις λεγόμενος περὶ αὐτῶν λόγος, ὡς ἔν τινι φρουρᾷ (...)
  1. 29. The prohibition of suicide is the context for this famous and problematic image of the φρουρά. Socrates responds to the amazement of his interlocutors that he welcomes the approaching hour of his death with the argument that, just as he refuses Crito’s offer to help him escape because of his respect for the laws, he believes that suicide, as a premature and unauthorized escape from the body, is forbidden. “Now the tale that is told in the secret rites (ἐν ἀπορρήτοις) about this matter, that we men are in a kind of custody (φρουρά) and must not set ourselves free or run away, seems to me to be weighty and not easy to understand.”57 Socrates presents this image as an expression that comes from rites of the kind which cannot be spoken openly (ἀπορρήτα), and his respect for the cult prohibitions is reinforced by his evaluation of the image as impressive and profound. The scholiast on the passage identifies the idea as coming from Orpheus, but Socrates’ characterization of his source as both special and profound again already marks the idea as Orphic in the broadest sense.
  • 58 Cp. Bernabé 2004, p. 357 ; Edmonds 2004, pp. 176-178. Cicero glosses it as praesidium et statio (de (...)
  • 59 Damascius preserves a list of the different interpretations. Ὅτι τούτοις χρώμενοι τοῖς κανόσι ῥᾳδίω (...)
  1. 30. The term φρουρά itself has been the subject of much debate, since it more often means some sort of garrison outpost than the sense of prison that it seems to have in the passage.58 At issue is whether the soul’s relation to the body is negative, an imprisonment for crimes committed previously, or whether it is more positive, a kind of protective custody or dangerous garrison service overseen by the gods. The controversy over the meaning raged even in the ancient Academy.59 Some of these interpretations are extremely puzzling, and it is hard to see what φρουρά would mean in the Phaedo if it were identified with, e.g., the Good or the Demiurge.
  • 60 In the Platonic Axiochus, by contrast, the image of the φρουρά is used, not as an argument against (...)

31.Regardless of the later interpretations, in the Phaedo Socrates clearly links the life of the philosopher as a practice for dying (μελέτη θανάτου) with this image of the soul in the body, whether as a prisoner like Socrates awaiting release or as an Athenian sent out for dangerous service at a garrison outpost. In Plato, as in the Pythagorean Euxitheos cited in Athenaeus, the argument against suicide hinges on the the idea that the gods have placed the soul in the body for their own purposes and, however painful life might be, humans have no right to remove the soul from the body before the gods decide the time of service is over.60

  • 61 Cp. the image of trimming one’s hair in mourning for abandoning the argument in Phaedo, as well as (...)
  • 62 Burkert 1972, p. 126, n. 33. While φρουρά may not come from dactylic hexameter, Plato may have borr (...)
  • 63 Phaedrus 250c. Bernabé 1995, pp. 233-4, notes similar word play with σῶμα and σῆμα

32.A far more positive image comes from the other possible sense of φρουρά, the idea that the body is somehow a protective guard for the soul, a fortification in perhaps a hostile world, but something set up by gods who are not simply maliciously trying to torment mortals. In the Phaedo, the philosophic life is a kind of heroic venture, from which it would be shameful to desert like a soldier slipping away from the fortified frontier φρουρά to return to his comfortable home in Athens.61 While the sense of φρουρά as prison is certainly dominant in the dialogue, given the prison setting, Plato manages to add in a more positive sense of the word, which may indeed be why he uses φρουρά, a word which, as Burkert has noted, cannot have come from a hexameter text.62 A similar type of transposition, as Bernabé calls it, may be at work in the Cratylus. Socrates refers to the body as a prison for the purpose of paying a penalty, but he extends the idea to make this δεσμωτηρίον into a protective περίβολος and derives the word σῶμα from σῴζω, softening the harshness of the tomb imagery and putting a more positive spin on the incarceration. A comparison with the image in the Phaedrus of the soul emerging from the body as from an oyster shell reinforces this image of a tough, protective covering, rather than simply a restrictive prison.63

  • 64 Timaeus 73b, 74a. οἱ γὰρ τοῦ βίου δεσμοί, τῆς ψυχῆς τῷ σώματι συνδουμένης, ἐν τούτῳ διαδούμενοι (...)
  • 65 Timaeus 81d.

33.As Ferwerda notes, this idea that the soul needs to be protected by the body is developed at length in the Timaeus’ account of the formation of the body. “For life’s chains, as long as the soul remains bound to the body, are bound within the marrow, giving roots for the mortal race. … So, to preserve (διασῴζων) all of the seed, he [the Demiurge] fenced it in with a stony enclosure (περίβολον).”64 Later, in discussing how the soul departs from the body when it dies of old age, he uses the image of the soul slipping through the interlocking triangles that hold the soul in. “Eventually the interlocking triangles around the marrow can no longer hold on, and come apart under stress, and when this happens they let the bonds of the soul go. The soul then is released in a natural way, and finds it pleasant to take its flight.”65 The image of prison, recalled in the Timaeus by περίβολον and διασῴζων that echo the Cratylus, makes way here for a woven fabric that holds the soul in the body until it wears out or is prematurely broken.

  • 66 Aristotle de gen. anim. 734a16 = OF 404. How, then, does it make the other parts ? For either all t (...)
  • 67 Suda s.v. Ὀρφεύς (Adler III 564.27) = OF 403. Cp. Suda s.v. ἵππος Νισαῖος = OF 405, where Orpheus i (...)
  • 68 West 1983, p. 10. He compares the idea to Philolaus’ number cosmogony in which the world is built u (...)
  • 69 In Phaedo 87, Cebes suggests that the body may be like a cloak for a soul that uses up many such ga (...)
  • 70 Porphyry de antro nymph. 14 = OF 286i. Orpheus’ poem describing the weaving of Kore, which is more (...)
  1. 34. The image in the Timaeus is closer to an image that appears in Aristotle, which he attributes to the verses of Orpheus, that an entity comes into being like the weaving of a net.66 Other sources attest to the existence of an Orphic poem with the title of the Net (Δίκτυον), which is attributed in the Suda to a Pythagorean author, either Zopyrus or Brontinus.67 While the image is not entirely clear, West suggests that the soul is imagined as air occupying the interstices of the physical elements that make up the net.68 In any case, the image of the body as a net that holds the soul together within the body, like the Timaeus’ image, suggests a much more positive interaction of soul and body - the body protects and maintains the soul. However, the image of the body as a net woven together to hold the soul until it deteriorates emphasizes the temporary nature of the body’s hold on the soul. Rather than a heavy tomb (or even an oyster shell), a net is a lighter and briefer thing, less burdensome in its binding and easier to unravel and remove. This idea of the body as temporary and easily removable is even more notable in a related image, the body as the garment of the soul. The Suda mentions a Robe (Πέπλος) in the same list of Pythagorean Orphica as the Net, and, like a net, a robe or tunic may be woven together to bind and cover the soul.69 In his allegorical explanation of the Cave of the Nymphs in Homer, Porphyry depicts the nymphs, weaving together on their looms of stone the sea-purple substance of bodies for the souls descending into birth. He compares the work of these nymphs to the weaving of Kore in a poem by Orpheus, noting also that the ancients described the heavens as a robe.70