Phaedrus Part Seven


Phaedrus Kit

Earl Jackson, Jr.

Phaedrus Part Seven: The Chariot

Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever
a theme of large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly,
and in a figure. And let the figure be composite — a pair of winged horses
and a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the gods
are all of them noble and 246b
of noble descent, but those of other races are mixed; the human charioteer
drives his in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and
the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity
gives a great deal of trouble to him. I will endeavour to explain to you
in what way the mortal differs from the immortal creature. The soul in
her totality has the care of inanimate being everywhere, and traverses
the whole heaven in divers forms appearing; — when perfect 
and fully winged she soars upward, and orders the whole world; whereas
the imperfect soul,
losing her wings and drooping in her flight at last settles on the solid
ground — there, finding a home, she receives an earthly frame which appears
to be self-moved, but is really moved by her power; and this composition
of soul and body is called a living and mortal creature.

Earl’s Commentary.

For immortal no
such union can be reasonably believed to be; although fancy, not having
nor surely known the nature of God, may imagine an immortal creature having
both a body and also a soul which are united throughout all time. Let that,
however, be as God wills, and be spoken of acceptably to him. And now let
us ask the reason why the soul loses her wings!

The wing is the corporeal element which is most akin to
the divine, and which by nature tends to soar aloft and carry that which
gravitates downwards into the upper region, which is the habitation of
the gods. 
The divine is beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the like; and by these the
wing of the soul is nourished, and grows apace; but when fed upon evil
and foulness and the opposite of good, wastes and falls away. Zeus, the
mighty lord, holding the reins of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven,
ordering all and taking care of all; 
and there follows him the array of gods and demi-gods, marshalled in eleven
bands; Hestia alone abides at home in the house of heaven; of the rest
they who are reckoned among the princely twelve march in their appointed
order. They see many blessed sights in the inner heaven, and there are
many ways to and fro, along which the blessed gods are passing, every one
doing his own work; he may follow who will and can, for jealousy has no
place in the celestial choir. But when they go to banquet and festival, 
then they move up the steep to the top of the vault of heaven. The chariots
of the gods in even poise, obeying the rein, glide rapidly; but the others
labour, for the vicious steed goes heavily, weighing down the charioteer
to the earth when his steed has not been thoroughly trained: — and this
is the hour of agony and extremest conflict for the soul. For the immortals,
when they are at the end of their course, 
go forth and stand upon the outside of heaven, and the revolution of the
spheres carries them round, and they behold the things beyond. But of the
heaven which is above the heavens, what earthly poet ever did or ever will
sing worthily? It is such as I will describe; for I must dare to speak
the truth, when truth is my theme. There abides the very being with which
true knowledge is concerned; the colourless, formless, intangible essence, 
visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul. The divine intelligence, being
nurtured upon mind and pure knowledge, and the intelligence of every soul
which is capable of receiving the food proper to it, rejoices at beholding
reality, and once more gazing upon truth, is replenished and made glad,
until the revolution of the worlds brings her round again to the same place.
In the revolution she beholds justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute,
not in the form of generation or of relation, 
which men call existence, but knowledge absolute in existence absolute;
and beholding the other true existences in like manner, and feasting upon
them, she passes down into the interior of the heavens and returns home;
and there the charioteer putting up his horses at the stall, gives them
ambrosia to eat and nectar to drink.

Such is the life of the gods; but of other souls, 248a
that which follows God best and is likest to him lifts the head of the
charioteer into the outer world, and is carried round in the revolution,
troubled indeed by the steeds, and with difficulty beholding true being;
while another only rises and falls, and sees, and again fails to see by
reason of the unruliness of the steeds. The rest of the souls are also
longing after the upper world and they all follow, but not being strong
enough they are carried round below the surface, plunging, 
treading on one another, each striving to be first; and there is confusion
and perspiration and the extremity of effort; and many of them are lamed
or have their wings broken through the ill-driving of the charioteers;
and all of them after a fruitless toil, not having attained to the mysteries
of true being, go away, and feed upon opinion. The reason why the souls
exhibit this exceeding eagerness to behold the plain of truth is that pasturage
is found there, which is suited to the highest part of the soul; and the
on which the soul soars is nourished with this. And there is a law of Destiny,
that the soul which attains any vision of truth in company with a god is
preserved from harm until the next period, and if attaining always is always
unharmed. But when she is unable to follow, and fails to behold the truth,
and through some ill-hap sinks beneath the double load of forgetfulness
and vice, and her wings fall from her and she drops to the ground, then
the law ordains that this soul 
shall at her first birth pass, not into any other animal, but only into
man; and the soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth
as a philosopher, or artist, or some musical and loving nature; that which
has seen truth in the second degree shall be some righteous king or warrior
chief; the soul which is of the third class shall be a politician, or economist,
or trader; the fourth shall be lover of gymnastic toils, or a physician;
the fifth 
shall lead the life of a prophet or hierophant; to the sixth the character
of poet or some other imitative artist will be assigned; to the seventh
the life of an artisan or husbandman; to the eighth that of a sophist or
demagogue; to the ninth that of a tyrant; — all these are states of probation,
in which he who does righteously improves, and he who does unrighteously,
deteriorates his lot.

Ten thousand years must elapse before the soul of each
one can return to the place from whence she came, for she cannot 
grow her wings in less; only the soul of a philosopher, guileless and true,
or the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy, may acquire wings
in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand years; he is distinguished
from the ordinary good man who gains wings in three thousand years: —
and they who choose this life three times in succession have wings given
them, and go away at the end of three thousand years. But the others receive
judgment when they have completed their first life, and after the judgment
they go, some of them to the houses of correction which are under the earth,
and are punished; 
others to some place in heaven whither they are lightly borne by justice,
and there they live in a manner worthy of the life which they led here
when in the form of men. And at the end of the first thousand years the
good souls and also the evil souls both come to draw lots and choose their
second life, and they may take any which they please. The soul of a man
may pass into the life of a beast, or from the beast return again into
the man. But the soul which has never seen the truth will not pass into
the human form. For a man must have intelligence of universals, 
and be able to proceed from the many particulars of sense to one conception
of reason; — this is the recollection of those things which our soul once
saw while following God — when regardless of that which we now call being
she raised her head up towards the true being. And therefore the mind of
the philosopher alone has wings; and this is just, for he is always, according
to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things
in which God abides, and in beholding which He is what He is. And he who
employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries
and alone becomes truly perfect.
But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar
deem him mad, and rebuke him; they do not see that he is inspired.

Thus far I have been speaking of the fourth and last kind
of madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of earth,
is transported with the recollection of the true beauty; he would like
to fly away, but he cannot; he is like a bird fluttering and looking upward
and careless of the world below; and he is therefore thought to be mad.

And I have shown this of all inspirations to be the noblest and highest
and the offspring of the highest to him who has or shares in it, and that
he who loves the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it.
For, as has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature
beheld true being; this was the condition of her passing
into the form of man. But all souls do not easily recall the things of
the other world; they may have seen them for a short time only, or they
may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and, having had their hearts
turned to unrighteousness through some corrupting influence, they may have
lost the memory of the holy things which once they saw. Few only retain
an adequate remembrance of them; and they, when they behold here any image
of that other world, are rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what
this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive.

For there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas
which are precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen
through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images, behold
in them the realities, and these only with difficulty. There was a time
when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness,
— we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with
other gods; and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into
a mystery which may be truly called
most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had
any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of
apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining
in pure light, pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb
which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster
in his shell. Let me linger over the memory of scenes which have

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Earl Jackson, Jr.