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On the God of Socrates – Apuleius [Audiobook]


On the God of Socrates by Apuleius Read by Dan Attrell Plato has made a triple division of all nature,
and especially of that part of it which comprises animated beings; and he is of opinion, that
there are Gods of the highest, the middle, and the lowest station. Understand, however,
that this division is based not only upon local separation, but also upon comparative
dignity of nature, which is itself distinguished not in one or two, but in many modes. It was
the clearer way, however, to begin with the distinction of locality; for this has assigned
the heavens to the immortal Gods, conformably to what their majesty demands. And of these
celestial Gods, some we form a notion of by sight, while others we endeavor to comprehend
by the intellect. “—You refulgent ministers of light,
Who through the heavens conduct the gliding year.” We do not, however, perceive by the eyes,
those principal Gods only, the Sun the maker of the day, the Moon the rival of the Sun,
and the glory of night; whether she is horned or divided, whether gibbous or full; exhibiting
a varying brightness in her light; being more largely illuminated the farther she departs
from the Sun; and, by an equal increase both of her path and her light, defining the month
by means of her increments, and afterwards by means of her decrements in like degree:
whether it is, as the Chaldeans think, that she possesses a proper or permanent light
of her own, and is on one side gifted with light, but destitute of brightness on the
other, and so changes her appearance by manifold revolutions of her various colored face; or
whether it is that being wholly void of brightness of her own, and standing in need of foreign
light, with an opaque body, or with a body polished like a mirror, she receives either
obliquely or direct the rays of the Sun, and, to use the words of Lucretius, Book IV.— “—Throws from her orb a spurious light.” Whichever of these opinions is true, (for
that I shall afterwards consider,) there is not any Greek, or any barbarian, who will not easily conclude that the Sun and Moon
are Gods; and not these only, as I have observed, but also the five stars, which are commonly
styled “erratic,” or “planets,” by the unlearned, though, in their undeviating, certain, and
established course, they perform, by their divine changes, movements most orderly and
eternal; movements which are indeed various in appearance, but which are made with a celerity
that is always equable, and represent with wonderful alternation, at one time progressions,
and at another retrogressions, according to the position, ellipticity, and inclination
of their orbits, with which he is well acquainted who understands the risings and settings of
the stars. You who are of the same opinion with Plato,
must also rank in the same number of visible Gods those other stars, The rainy Hyades, Arcturus, both the Bears; and likewise the other radiant Gods, by whom
we perceive, in a serene sky, the celestial choir bedecked and crowned, when the nights
are painted with a severe grace and a stern beauty; beholding, as Ennius says, in this
most ”perfect shield of the universe,” engravings wrought with surprising brilliancy. There is another species of Gods, which nature
has denied to our sight; and still we may contemplate them with admiration through intellect,
acutely surveying them with the eye of the mind. In the number of these are those twelve
Gods who are included by Ennius, with a metrical arrangement of their names, in two verses: Juno, Vesta, Minerva, Ceres, Diana, Venus,
Mars, Mercurius, Jovi, Neptunus, Vulcanus, Apollo; and others of the like kind, whose names,
indeed, have been long known to our ears, but whose powers are conjectured by our minds,
our attention being called to them through the various benefits which they impart to
us in the affairs of life in those things over which they severally preside. The crowd,
however, of the ignorant, who are rejected by Philosophy as uninitiated, whose notions
of holiness are misplaced, who are deprived of genuine reason, who are destitute of religion,
and incapable of grasping the truth, dishonor the Gods, either by a worship most over acted,
or a most insolent disdain of them; one part being always in alarm through superstition,
while the other is always swelling with contempt. Very many there are who venerate all these
Gods, established in the lofty heights of the firmament, and far removed from human
contagion: but not in such manner as they ought: all fear them, but through ignorance;
a few deny their existence, but in a spirit of impiety. Plato thought these Gods to be
incorporeal and animated natures without an end or beginning, but eternal both with reference
to time past and time to come; spontaneously separated from the contact of the body by
the nature peculiar to themselves; through perfection of intellect possessing supreme
beatitude; good, not through participation in any extraneous good, but of themselves;
and able to procure for themselves every thing requisite, with a facility which is prompt,
simple, unrestrained, and absolute. But of the parent of these, who is the lord
and author of all things, and who is tree from all obligations to act or to suffer,
not being bound by any necessity to the performance of any duties, why should I now begin to speak?
For Plato, who was endowed with a heavenly eloquence, discoursing in language worthy
of the immortal Gods, frequently proclaims that on account of the incredible and ineffable
transcendency of his majesty, he cannot possibly be even in the slightest degree comprehended,
under any definition, through the poverty of human language; and that the intellectual
apprehension of this God can hardly flash upon wise men, when they have separated themselves
from body, as much as possible, through the vigor of the intellect; and that sometimes
this knowledge does blaze forth with a most instantaneous flash, like a dazzling light
amid the most profound darkness. I will therefore omit the discussion of this theme, for which
all words adequate to the amplitude of the subject are not only wanting to me, but could
not even be found by my master Plato. Hence I shall at once sound a retreat, as to things
which very far surpass my humble powers, and at length bring down my discourse from heaven
to earth, in which we men are the principal animated things, though most of us, through
the neglect of training, are so depraved, and are so imbued with all errors and the
most atrocious crimes, and have become so utterly ferocious, through having nearly quite
abandoned the mildness of our nature, that it may seem there is not an animal on the
earth more vile than man. But at present our object is not to discuss feelings, but to
treat of the natural distribution of things. Men, therefore, dwell on the earth, possessing
the gift of speech, having immortal souls, but mortal members, with frivolous and anxious
minds, with bodies brutish and infirm, of dissimilar manners, but similar errors, of
presumptuous audacity, long-lived hope, laboring in vain, with variable fortunes, severally
mortal, but taken altogether in their whole species, eternal, quitting the scene in regular
succession, and leaving offspring to supply their place, fleeting in their time, tardy
at gaining wisdom, speedy in meeting with death, and dissatisfied in life. You have,
then, in the meantime, two kinds of animated beings, Gods entirely differing from men,
in the sublimity of their abode, in the eternity of their existence, in the perfection of their
nature, and having no proximate communication with them; since those that are supreme are
separated from the lowest habitations by such a vast interval of distance; and life is there
eternal and never-failing, but here decaying and interrupted, and the natures are there
sublimated to beatitude, while those below are depressed to wretchedness. What then?
Has nature connected itself by no bond, but allowed itself to be separated into the divine
and human parts, and to be thus split and crippled, as it were? For, as the same Plato
remarks, “No God mingles with men.” But this is the principal mark of their sublime nature,
that they are not contaminated by any contact with us. One part of them only is to be seen
by us with our blunted vision; as the stars, about whose magnitude and color men are still
in doubt, while the rest are only known to our understandings, and that by no prompt
perception. This, however, ought by no means to be wondered at with reference to the immortal
Gods, since even among men, who are raised to opulence by the favor of Fortune, and are
elevated to the tottering throne and the unsteady tribunal of a kingdom, access is rare, all
beholders being kept at a distance, and they enjoy their dignity in retirement; familiarity
breeds contempt, but privacy gains admiration. “What, then, shall I do,” some person may
object, “after this very celestial, but almost inhuman decision of yours? if, so it is,
that men are entirely removed from the immortal Gods, and are so exiled in these Tartarean
realms of earth that all communication whatever with the heavenly Gods is denied them, and
not one of the celestials occasionally visits them, as a shepherd visits his flocks of sheep,
a groom his horses, or a herdsman his lowing cattle, in order that he may curb the more
vicious, heal the diseased, and assist those which are in want? No God, you say, interferes
in human affairs. To whom, then, shall I address my prayers? To whom shall I make my vows?
To whom shall I immolate victims? Whom shall I invoke throughout my whole life, as the
helper of the unfortunate, the favorer of the good, and the adversary of the wicked?
And whom, in fine, (a thing for which necessity most frequently occurs,) shall I adduce as
a witness to my oath? Am I to say, like Virgil’s Ascanius, “Now by this head I swear, by which before
My father used to swear?” Why, no doubt, lulus, your father might use
this oath among Trojans, who were allied to him by birth, and also perhaps among Greeks,
who were known to him in battle; but among the Rutuli, who were but recently known by
you, if no one believed in this head, what God would you have to be surety for you? Would
you have your right hand and your dart, like the ferocious Mezentius? For these only, by
which he defended himself, did he adjure: “For me my right hand and the missile dart,
Which now well-poised I hurl, are each a God.” Away, I beseech you, with such sanguinary
Gods; a right hand weary with slaughter, and a dart rusted with gore. Neither of these
is a fit object for you to adjure, nor that you should swear by them, for this is an honor
that is peculiar to the highest of the Gods. For a solemn oath, as Ennius says, is also
called Jovis jurandum. What, then, is your opinion? Am I to swear by Jupiter, in the
shape of a stone, after the most ancient custom of the Romans? Why, if the opinion of Plato
is true, that God never mingles with men, a stone will hear me more easily than Jupiter. Such is not the fact: for Plato shall answer
for his opinion in my words. “I do not affirm,” says he, “that the Gods are so far separated
and alienated from us, that not even our prayers can reach them; for I have not removed them
from attention to the affairs of mankind, but only from contact with them.” Besides, there are certain divine powers of
a middle nature, situate in this interval of the air, between the highest aether and
the earth below, through whom our aspirations and our deserts are conveyed to the Gods.
These the Greeks call by name “daemons,” and, being placed as messengers between the inhabitants
of earth and those of heaven, they carry from the one to the other, prayers and bounties,
supplications and assistance, being a kind of interpreter and message carriers for both.
Through these same demons, as Plato says in his Symposium, all revelations, the various
miracles of magicians, and all kinds of presages, are carried on. For specially appointed individuals
of this number, administer everything according to the province assigned to each; either by
framing dreams, or causing ominous fissures in entrails, or governing the flights of some
birds, or instructing others in song, or inspiring prophets, or by launching thunders, or causing
the lightning to flash in the clouds, or other things to take place by means of which we
obtain a knowledge of future events. And we have reason to believe that all these particulars
are by the will, the power, and the authority of the celestial Gods, but through the obedience,
aid, and services of demons; for it was through the employment, the services, and the care
of these, that dreams forewarned Hannibal of the loss of one of his eyes; that inspection
of the entrails foretold to Flaminius a perilous carnage; and that auguries assured to Attius
Navius the miracle of the whetstone. Just in the same manner, tokens of future empire
are imparted beforehand to certain persons; as, for instance, an eagle hovered over the
cap on the head of Tarquinius Priscus, and a flame shone from the head of Servius Tullius.
And lastly, to these are owing all the presages of diviners, the expiatory sacrifices of the
Etrurians, the sacrificial enclosure of places struck by lightning, and the verses of the
Sibyls; all which, as I have said, are effected by certain influences that carry on the communication
between men and Gods. Nor, indeed, would it be conformable to the
majesty of the celestial Gods, that any one of them should either frame a dream for Hannibal,
or withdraw the victim from Flaminius, or direct the flight of the bird for Attius Navius,
or form in verse the predictions of the Sibyl, or be willing to snatch the hat from the head
of Tarquin, and restore it, or place a splendid flame upon the head of Servius, but so as
not to burn him. It is not becoming that the Gods of heaven should condescend to things
of this nature. This is the province of the intermediate Gods, who dwell in the regions
of the air, which are adjacent to the earth, and on the confines of the heavens, just as
in each part of the world there are animals peculiarly adapted to it, those which fly
living in the air, and those which walk, on the earth. For since there are four elements
universally known, nature being as it were divided into four grand portions, and there
are animals peculiar to earth, water, and flame; (for Aristotle informs us that certain
animals peculiar thereto, and furnished with wings, fly about in burning furnaces, and
pass the whole period of their existence in fire, come to life therein, and with it die),
and besides this, since, as we have already observed, so many stars are beheld floating
above in aether, that is to say, in the very brightest heat of fire,— since this is the
case, why should nature suffer this fourth element, the air, which is so widely extended,
to be the only one void of every thing, and destitute of its own inhabitants? Why should
not animated beings be generated in this air in the same manner as animals that exist in
flame are generated in fire, animals that float, in water, and those of an earthly nature,
on earth? For you have every reason to pronounce his opinion false who assigns the birds to
the air; for not one of them raises itself above the summit of Mount Olympus, which,
though it is said to be the highest of all mountains, yet if you measure its height in
a straight line, the distance to its summit is not equal, according to the opinions of
geometricians, to ten stadia; whereas the immense mass of air extends as far as the
nearest portion of the cycle of the moon, beyond which aether takes its rise in an upward
direction. What, then, are we to say of such a vast body of air, which ranges in extent
from the nearest part of the revolutions of the moon as far as the highest summit of Mount
Olympus? Will that, pray, be destitute of its own appropriate animated beings, and will
this part of nature be without life, and impotent? Moreover, if you attentively consider the
matter, birds themselves may, with greater propriety, be said
to be terrestrial than aerial animals; for their whole living is always on the earth;
there they procure food, and there they rest; and they only make a passage through that
part of the air in flying which lies nearest to the earth. But, when they are wearied by
the rowing motion of their wings, the earth is to them as a harbor. If, therefore, reason
evidently requires that its appropriate animals must also be admitted to exist in the air,
it remains for us to consider what they are, and what is their nature. They are then by no means animals of an earthly
nature, for such have a downward tendency, through their gravity. But neither are they
of a fiery nature, lest they should be carried aloft by their heat. A certain middle nature,
therefore, must be conceived by us, in conformity to the middle position of their locality,
that so the nature of the inhabitants may be conformable to the nature of the region.
Well, then, let us form in our mind and generate in our ideas bodies so constituted as neither
to be so sluggish as terrestrial, nor so light as ethereal, but in a certain measure distinct
from both, or else composed of a mixture of both, either removed from, or modified by,
a participation of both. They will, however, be more easily conceived, if admitted to be
a mixture of both, than if they assumed to be mingled with neither. The bodies of these
demons, therefore, must have some little weight, in
order that they may not be carried aloft; and they must also have some lightness, in
order that they may not be precipitated to the realms below. However, that I may not
appear to you to be devising things that are incredible, after the manner of the poets,
I will just give you an example of this equipoised middle nature. We see the clouds unite in
a way not much different from this tenuity of body; but if these were equally light as
those bodies which are entirely devoid of weight, they would never cap the heights of
a lofty mountain with, as it were, certain wreathed chains, depressed beneath its ridges,
as we frequently perceive they do. On the other hand, if they were naturally so dense
and so ponderous that no union with a more active levity could elevate them, they would
certainly strike against the earth, of their own tendency, just like a mass of lead and
stone. As it is, however, being pendulous and moveable, they are guided in this direction
and in that by the winds amid the sea of air, in the same manner as ships, shifting sometimes
in proximity and remoteness; for, if they are teeming with the moisture of water, they
are depressed downward, as though for the purpose of bringing forth. And on this account
it is that clouds that are more moist descend lower, in dusky masses, and with a slower
motion, while those that are serene ascend higher, and are impelled like fleeces of wool,
in white masses, and with a more rapid flight. Have you not heard how Lucretius most eloquently
expresses himself concerning thunder in his Sixth Book? “The azure heavens with dreadful thunders
shake, Because th’ ethereal clouds, ascending high,
Dash on each other, driven by adverse winds.” But if the clouds fly aloft, all of which
originate from the earth, and again flow downward to it, pray what should you conclude as to
the bodies of demons, which are so much more attenuated in their composition? For they
are not heaped up from feculent vapors and dense mists, as is the nature of clouds, but
they are formed of the most pure liquid and serene element of air, and on this account
they are not visible on every occasion to the human eye, but only when by divine command
they allow themselves to be seen. For in them no earthly density occupies the place of light,
so as to encounter our perception, and necessarily to arrest our visual ray by that solidity;
but the lineaments of the bodies which they have are rare, shining, and attenuated, to
such a degree, that they allow all the rays of our vision to pass through them in consequence
of their rarity, refract them by their brightness, and baffle them by their subtlety. Hence that
description of Minerva, in Homer, presenting herself in the midst of the assembly of the
Greeks, for the purpose of checking the wrath of Achilles. If you will wait a moment I will
give you the Greek line in Latin, and here it is on the spur of the moment. Minerva,
then, as I said, by the command of Juno came, in order to moderate the wrath of Achilles, “Seen by him only, by the rest unseen.” [liad,
lib. i. v. 198] Hence, also, Virgil’s Juturna, when in the
midst of many thousands of men, for the purpose of aiding her brother, “With soldiers mingled, though by none perceived,”
[Aeneid, lib. xii.] fully accomplishing that which the captain
in Plautus boasted of having effected by his shield, “Which dazzled by its light the vision of
his foes.” And not to discuss prolixly the rest of the
instances, the poets, from this multitude of demons, are accustomed, in a way by no
means remote from the truth, to feign the Gods to be haters and lovers of certain men,
and to give prosperity and promotion to some, and to oppose and afflict others. Hence, they
are influenced by pity, moved by indignation, racked with vexation, elated with joy, and
are subject to all the affections of the human mind; and are agitated by all the fluctuations
of human thought, with similar commotions of the spirit and agitations of the feelings.
All which storms and tempests are far alien from the tranquil state of the celestial Gods.
For all the celestials always enjoy the same state of mind, with an eternal equanimity,
which in them is never driven from its own fixed state either in the direction of pleasure
or of pain; nor is it moved by any thing from its own everlasting rule, towards any sudden
line of conduct; neither by any external force, because there is nothing more powerful than
deity; nor of their own impulse, because nothing is more
perfect than deity. And furthermore, how can he appear to have
been perfect, who moves from a former condition of being to another condition which is better?
And this the more especially, as no one spontaneously embraces any thing new, unless he is tired
of what he had before; for a new mode of proceeding cannot be adopted, without disapproving the
preceding modes. Hence, it follows, that a God ought not to be employed in any temporal
functions either of beneficence or love; and, therefore, is neither to be influenced by
indignation nor by pity, nor to be disquieted by any anxiety, nor elated by any hilarity;
but he is free from all the passions of the mind, so as never either to grieve or to rejoice,
nor on sudden impulse to will or unwill. But all these, and other qualities of the
like kind, properly accord with the middle nature of demons. For they are intermediate
between us and the Gods, both in the place of their habitation, and in their nature;
having immortality in common with the Gods of heaven, and passions in common with subordinate
beings. For they are capable, just as we are, of being affected by all that soothes as well
as all that moves the mind; so as to be stimulated by anger, influenced by pity, allured by gifts,
appeased by prayers, exasperated by affronts, soothed by honors, and swayed by all other
circumstances, just in the same way that we are. For, to embrace the nature of them in
a definition, demons are as to genus animated beings, as to mind rational, as to feelings
passive, as to body aerial, as to duration eternal. Of these five characteristics which
I have mentioned, the three first are the same as those which we possess, the fourth
is peculiar to themselves, and the last they possess in common with the immortal Gods,
from whom they differ in being subject to passion. Hence, according to my idea, I have
not absurdly called demons passive, because they are subject to the same perturbations
as we are: and on this account it is that we may place some confidence in the different
observances of religions, and the various propitiatory offerings made in sacred rites.
There are likewise some among this number of Gods who rejoice in victims, or ceremonies,
or observances, nocturnal or diurnal, public or performed in secret, replete with the greatest
joy or marked with extreme sadness. Thus, the Egyptian deities are almost all of them
delighted with lamentations, the Grecian in general with dances, and those of the Barbarians
with the sound produced by cymbals, tambourines, and pipes. So, in like manner, other points
relating to sacred rites present considerable diversities, according to different regions;
as, for instance, the crowds that swell the sacred processions, the mysteries, the duties
performed by the priests, and the observances performed by the devotees: and then, again,
the images of the Gods, and their insignia, the rites performed in, and the situations
of, their temples, and the variety of blood and color in their victims. All these particulars
are regulated and set forth in the accustomed form peculiar to the usage of each place,
so much so that we have frequently ascertained by means of dreams, oracles and prophecies
especially, that the Divinities have been indignant, if anything in their sacred rites
has been neglected through slothfulness or contumacy; of which circumstances I have an
abundance of examples. They are, however, so universally mentioned, and so generally
known, that no one could attempt to recount them, without omitting a great number more
than he mentioned. On this account, I shall desist for the present from expending words
upon these particulars, which if they have not obtained assured credit with all men,
still, at least, are universally within the knowledge of all. It will be more advisable,
therefore, to discuss this point in the Latin tongue, that there are kinds of demons enumerated
by the philosophers, in order that you may more clearly and more fully come to an understanding
on the presage of Socrates, and his familiar demon. Now, according to a certain signification,
the human soul, even when it is still situate in the body, is called a demon. “O say, Euryalus, do Gods inspire
In minds this ardor, or does fierce desire Rule as a God in its possessor’s breast?”
[Virgil, Aeneid, Book IX] If, then, this is the case, a longing of the
soul that is of good tendency is a good demon. Hence it is that some think, as we have already
observed, that the blessed are called ευδαιμονες, eudaemones, the demon of whom is good, that
is, whose mind is perfect in virtue. You may call this demon in our language, according
to my mode of interpretation, by the name of “Genius,” whether quite correctly I am
not altogether sure, but at all events, at any risk you may so call it; because this
God, who is the mind of every one, though immortal, is nevertheless, after a certain
manner, generated with man; so that those prayers in which we implore the Genius, and
which we employ when we embrace the knees [genua] of those whom we supplicate, seem
to me to testify this connection and union, since they comprehend in two words the body
and the mind, through the communion and conjunction of which we exist. There is also another species of demons, according
to a second signification, and this is the human soul, after it has performed its duties
in the present life, and quitted the body: I find that this is called in the ancient
Latin language by the name of Lemur. Now, of these Lemures, the one who, undertaking
the guardianship of his posterity, dwells in a house with propitious and tranquil influence,
is called the “familiar” Lar. But those who, having no fixed habitation of their own, are
punished with vague wandering, as with a kind of exile, on account of the evil deeds of
their life, are usually called “Larvae,” thus becoming a vain terror to the good, but a
source of punishment to the bad. But when it is uncertain what is the allotted condition
of any one of these, and whether it is Lar or Larva, it is called a God Manes; the name
of God being added for the sake of honor. For those only are called
Gods, who being of the number of the Lemures, and having regulated the course of their life
justly and prudently, have afterwards been celebrated by men as divinities, and are universally
worshipped with temples, and religious rites; such, for instance, as Amphiaraus in Boeotia,
Mopsus in Africa, Osiris in Egypt, and others in other nations, but Esculapius everywhere.
All this distribution, however, has been made of those demons, who once existed in a human
body. But there is another species of demons, more
exalted and august, not fewer in number, but far superior in dignity, who, being for ever
liberated from the bonds and conjunction of the body, preside over certain powers. In
the number of these are Sleep and Love, who possess powers of a different nature; Love,
of exciting to wakefulness, Sleep of lulling to rest. From this more elevated order of
demons, Plato is of opinion that a peculiar demon is allotted to every man, to be a witness
and a guardian of his conduct in life, who, without being visible to any one, is always
present, and is an overseer not only of his actions, but even of his thoughts. But when
life is finished, and the soul has to return to its judges, then the demon who has presided
over it immediately seizes, and leads it as his charge to judgment, and is there present
with it while it pleads its cause; and censures it if it is guilty of any untruthfulness;
corroborates what it says, if it asserts what is true; and conformably to its testimony,
sentence is passed. All you, therefore, who hear this divine opinion of Plato, as explained
by me, so adapt your minds to whatever you may have to do, or to whatever may be the
subject of your meditation, as men who know that there is nothing concealed from those
guardians either within the mind or external to it; but that the demon scrupulously takes
part in all these matters, sees all things, understands all things, and dwells in the
most profound recesses of the mind, in the place of conscience. He of whom I speak is
entirely our guardian, our individual keeper, our watcher at home, our own proper regulator,
a searcher Into our inmost fibres, our constant observer, our inseparable witness, a reprover
of our evil actions, an approver of our good ones; if he is becomingly attended to, sedulously
examined and devoutly worshipped, in the way in which he was worshipped by Socrates in
justice and in innocence; he is our forewarner in uncertainty, our monitor in matters of
doubt, our defender in danger, and our assistant in need. He is able also by dreams, and by
tokens, and perhaps even openly, when necessity demands it, to avert from you evil, to increase
your blessings, to aid you when depressed, to support you when falling, to lighten your
darkness, to regulate your prosperity, and modify your adversity. What wonder, then, if Socrates, who was a
man perfect in the highest degree, and wise even by the testimony of Apollo, should know
and venerate this his God; and that hence, this Lar, his keeper, and nearly, as I may
say, his co-mate and his domestic associate, should repel from him everything which ought
to be repelled, foresee what ought to be foreseen, and forewarn him of what he ought to be forewarned
of, if at any time, the functions of wisdom falling short, he stood in need, not of counsel,
but foreknowledge; in order that when he was vacillating through doubt, he might take a
firm stand through being forewarned. For there are many things respecting which even wise
men have recourse to diviners and oracles. Do you not very clearly perceive in Homer,
as in a kind of large mirror, these two properties of divination and of wisdom separated widely
from each other? For when those two pillars of the whole expedition disagreed, Agamemnon
potent in sway, and Achilles powerful in battle, and a man famed for his eloquence and renowned
for his skill, was wanting, who might allay the pride of the son of Atreus, and curb the
anger of the son of Peleus, command the attention of both by the weight of his character, admonish
them by examples, and soothe them by his words; who, then, on such an occasion undertook to
speak? Why, Nestor, the Pylian orator, who was so bland in his eloquence, wary through
experience, and venerable for his age; who was known by all to have a body weakened by
years, but a mind vigorous in counsel, and words flowing with honeyed sweetness. In like manner, when in dubious and adverse
circumstances, spies are to be chosen, to penetrate into the camp of the enemy at midnight,
are not Ulysses and Diomedes selected for that purpose, as counsel and aid, mind and
hand, spirit and sword? But, on the other hand, when the Greeks are detained in Aulis,
kept back by the winds, and through weariness are shrinking from the difficulties of the
war; when the means of proceeding, the tranquillity of the sea, and the clemency of the winds,
have to be ascertained by means of the indications of the entrails, the courses taken by birds,
and the food devoured by serpents; then were those two supreme summits of the Grecian wisdom,
the Ithacan and the Pylian, both of them silent; but Calchas, who was far more skillful in
divining, as soon as he had surveyed the birds, and the altars, and the tree, immediately
through his divination appeased the tempests, brought the fleet out to the sea, and foretold
a war which should last ten years. Just so in the Trojan army also, when affairs required
the aid of divination, that wise senate is silent, nor does either Hicetaon, Lampus,
or Clytius, presume to give any opinion; but all of them listen in silence, either to the
distasteful auguries of Helenus, or to the discredited predictions of Cassandra. After
the same manner, Socrates too, if at any time advice not within the province of wisdom was
requisite, was then governed by the prophetic power of his daemon; and he was sedulously
attentive to his admonitions, and on that account was acceptable in a far higher degree
to his God. The reason also, has been in some measure
already stated, why the demon of Socrates was generally in the habit of forbidding him
to do certain things, but never exhorted him to the performance of any act. For Socrates,
being of himself a man exceedingly perfect, and prompt to the performance of all requisite
duties, never stood in need of any one to exhort him; though sometimes he required one
to forbid him, if danger happened to lurk in any of his undertakings; in order that,
being admonished, he might use due precaution, and desist for the present from his attempt,
either to resume it more safely at a future period, or enter upon it in some other way.
On occasions of this kind, he used to say, “That he heard a certain voice, which proceeded
from the divinity.” For so it is asserted by Plato; and let no one suppose that he was
in the habit of deriving omens from the ordinary conversation of men. Once, for example, when
he was with Phaedrus, beyond the precincts of the city, under the covering of a shady
tree, and at a distance from all overlookers, he perceived a sign which announced to him
that he must not pass over the small stream of the river llissus, until he had appeased
Love, who was indignant at his censure of him, by a recantation. And then, besides,
if he had been an observer of omens, he would sometimes also have received positive encouragement
from them, as we see frequently the case with many of those, who, through a too superstitious
observance of omens, are not directed by their own minds, but by the words of others; and
who creeping about the lanes, gather counsel from the remarks of strangers, and, if I may
use the expression, do not think with the understanding, but with the ears. But be this as it may, it is certain that
those who hear the words of soothsayers, generally receive a voice with their ears, concerning
the nature of which they have no doubt, and which they know to proceed from the human
mouth. But Socrates did not simply say that he heard a voice, but a “certain voice,” transmitted
to him: by which addition, you must certainly understand, that neither an ordinary nor a
human voice is signified; for had it been so, it would have been no use to say a “certain”
voice, but rather “a voice,” “or the voice of some one,” as the courtesan in Terence
says, “I thought just now I heard the captain’s
voice.” [The Eunuch of Terence] But he who says that he heard a certain voice,
is either ignorant whence that voice originated, or is in some doubt concerning it, or shows
that it had something unusual and mysterious about it, as Socrates did of that voice, which
he said was transmitted to him opportunely and from a divine source. And, indeed, I think
that he used to perceive indications of his demon, not only with his ears, but even with
his eyes; for he very frequently declared that not a voice, but a divine sign, had been
presented to him. This sign too might have been the form of his demon, which Socrates
alone beheld, just as, in Homer, Achilles beheld Minerva. I suppose that most of you will with difficulty
believe what I have just said, and will greatly wonder what was the form of the demon Socrates
was in the habit of seeing. Aristotle, however, who is a pretty good authority, I think, informs
us that it was usual with the Pythagoreans to express great surprise if any one denied
that he had ever seen a demon. If, therefore, the power of beholding a divine form may be
possessed by any one, why might it not, in an especial degree, fall to the lot of Socrates,
whom the dignity of wisdom rendered equal to the very highest divinity? For nothing
is more similar and more acceptable to Deity, than a man intellectually good in a perfect
degree, for he as much excels other men as he himself is surpassed by the immortal Gods.
Do we not, then, ourselves feel elevated by the example and mention of Socrates? And ought
we not to devote ourselves to the felicitous study of a like philosophy, and stand in awe
of like Divinities? A study from which we allow ourselves to be drawn away, for what
reason I know not. And nothing is there which excites in me so much surprise, as that all
men should desire to live most happily, and should know that they cannot so live in any
other way than by cultivating the mind, and yet leave their minds uncultivated. Just so,
if any one wishes to see clearly, it is requisite that he should pay attention to his eyes by
which he sees; if he desires to run swiftly, attention must be paid to the feet by which
he runs; and so, too, if you wish to be a stout pugilist, your arms must be strengthened
with which you engage in that exercise. So it is with all the other members; the care
of each must be made your study. And, as all men may easily see
that this is true, I cannot sufficiently account to myself, and wonder to the extent that the
thing deserves, why they do not, with the aid of reason, cultivate their minds. For
this art of living is equally necessary for all; whereas the same is not the case with
the art of painting, nor with the art of singing, which any worthy man may despise, without
any censure upon his understanding, without baseness, and without disgrace. I know not
how to play on the flute like Ismenias, still I feel no shame that I am not a player on
the flute: I know not how to paint in colors like Apelles, nor to carve like Lysippus,
still I am not ashamed that I am not an artist; and the same as to other arts, not to recount
them all individually; you are at liberty to be ignorant of them, and yet not to feel
ashamed. But, on the other hand, be good enough to say, I know not how to live aright as Socrates,
as Plato, and as Pythagoras lived, and I feel no shame that I know not how to live aright.
This you will never dare to say. It is, however, especially to be wondered
at, that people should still neglect to learn those things of which they by no means wish
to appear ignorant, and shun at one and the same moment, both acquaintance with and ignorance
of the same art. Hence, if you examine their daily outlay, you will find that they are
prodigally profuse in their ordinary expenditure, but bestow nothing on themselves; I mean on
proper attention to their demon, which proper attention is nothing else than the secret
obligations of philosophy. They build sumptuous villas, no doubt, richly decorate their houses,
and collect a numerous household; but in all these, and amidst such vast affluence, there
is nothing to be ashamed of but the master himself, and with good reason; for they have
an accumulation of things which they have collected with exquisite care, while they
themselves wander about among them, rude, uncultivated, and ignorant. Accordingly, you will find the things on which
they have lavished their patrimony, to be most pleasing to the view, and most exquisitely
built; villas raised that rival cities, houses decorated like temples, most numerous retinues
of servants, with carefully curled locks, costly furniture, every thing betokening affluence,
every thing bespeaking opulence, every thing bearing marks of refinement, except the master
himself; who alone, just like Tantalus, needy, poor, and in want in the midst of his riches,
though he does not snatch at retreating fruit, nor endeavor to quench his thirst with shifting
water, still hungers and thirsts for want of true beatitude, that is to say, a genuine
life, and a happy and discreet existence. For he does not perceive that ’tis usual to
look upon rich men in the same way that we do horses when we buy them; for in purchasing
horses we do not look to the trappings, nor the decorations of the belt, nor do we contemplate
the riches of the neck with all its ornaments, and examine whether chains of various patterns,
and made of silver, gold, or gems, are hanging from it; whether elaborate baubles surround
the head and neck; whether the bits are embossed, the saddle painted, and the girths gilt; but
all this outside show being removed, we survey the bare horse itself, and direct our attention
only to his body and his temper, in order to ascertain whether he is of handsome form,
vigorous for the race, and strong for purposes of carriage. In the first place, we consider
whether there is in his body “A head that’s slender, and a belly small,
A back obese, and animated breast. In brawny flesh luxuriant.” [Book III. of
the Georgics of Virgil.] And besides, whether a twofold spine passes
along his loins; for I would have him not only to carry me swiftly, but to
afford me an easy seat. In a similar manner, therefore, in examining
men, do not take into account these foreign particulars, but closely consider the man
himself, and look upon him in a state of poverty, as was my Socrates. But I call those things
foreign which our parents have produced, and which Fortune has bestowed, none of which
do I mingle with the praises of my Socrates; no nobility of birth, no high pedigree, no
long line of ancestors, no envied riches, for all these, I say, are foreign. It is glory
sufficient derived from Protaonius, if he was such a man that he was not a disgrace
to his grandson. In like manner, may you enumerate every thing of a foreign nature. Is he of
noble birth? You praise his parents. Is he rich? I put no trust in Fortune; nor do I
admire these things a bit the more. Is he strong? He will be weakened by sickness. Is
he swift in the race? He will fall into old age. Is he beautiful? Wait a little, and he
will be so no longer. But is he well instructed, and extremely learned in the pursuits of philosophy,
and wise, and skilled in the knowledge of good, as much as it is possible for man to
be? Now, then, at last you praise the man himself. For this is neither an hereditary
possession from his father, nor depending on chance, nor yet on the suffrages of the
people, nor subject to bodily decay, nor mutable through age. All these my Socrates possessed,
and therefore cared not for the possession of other things. Why, then, do not you apply
yourself to the study of wisdom, or, at least, strive that you may hear nothing of an alien
nature in your praises? but that he who wishes to compliment you, may praise you in the same
manner as Accius praises Ulysses, in his Philoctetes, where he says, at the beginning of that tragedy “Fam’d hero, in a little island born,
Of celebrated name and powerful mind, Once to the Grecian ships war’s leading light,
And to the Dardan race th’ avenger dire, Son of Laertes.” He mentions his father last of all. But you
have heard all the praises of that man; Laertes, Anticlea, and Acrisius, claim no share of
it. The whole of the praises are, as you see, a possession belonging to Ulysses alone. Nor
does Homer teach you anything else with regard to the same Ulysses, in always representing
Wisdom as his companion, whom he poetically calls Minerva. Hence, attended by her, he
encounters all terrific dangers, and rises superior to all adverse circumstances. For,
assisted by her, he entered the cavern of the Cyclops, but escaped from it; saw the
oxen of the Sun, but abstained from them, and descended to the realms beneath, but emerged
from them. With the same Wisdom for his companion, he passed by Scylla, and was not seized by
her; he was surrounded by Charybdis, and was not retained by her; he drank the cup of Circe,
and was not transformed; he came to the Lotophagi, yet did not remain with them; he heard the
Sirens, yet did not approach them.

Otis Rodgers

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