On the Obsolescence of Oracles

By Plutarch

Plutarch’s answer to the question why many oracles in Greece have ceased to function is that the population is now much less than it was, and so there is less need for oracles now than in earlier times. For example, at Delphi there used to be two prophetic priestesses with a third held in reserve; now there is only one, and yet she is sufficient for every need.

The statement of this simple fact hardly requires twenty-nine folio pages, but in this essay, as in the two preceding, there is much of the conversation of cultured persons which is not directly connected with the subject. Thus we find a discussion of whether the year is growing shorter, whether the number of the worlds is one or some number not more than five or is one hundred and eighty-three. We have further discussion of the number five, some astronomy, and a good deal of geometry, some interesting bits of information about Britain and the East and a rather long discussion of the daimones, the beings a little lower than the gods and considerably higher than mortals; perhaps the translation ‘demi-gods’ might best convey the idea in English. These beings are thought by many persons to be in charge of the oracles; certainly the god himself does not appear personally at his oracles; and in the case of the |349| oracle at Delphi some account is given of the accidental discovery by a shepherd of the peculiar powers of the exhalation from the cleft in the rocks.

Students of English literature will be interested in the dramatic description of the announcement of the death of Pan; and students of religion will be interested in the essay as a very early effort to reconcile science and religion. That the essay had an appeal to theologians is clear from the generous quotations made from it by Eusebius and Theodoretus. We could wish that they had quoted even more, since their text is usually superior to that contained in the manuscripts, which in some places are quite hopeless. The MSS. have also an unusual number of lacunae. Much has been done in the way of correction, sometimes perhaps too much, since Plutarch’s thought is not always necessarily so logical as the editors would make it.

Some parts of the essay make rather difficult reading, but it also contains passages of considerable interest and even beauty.

The essay is No. 88 in Lamprias’s list of Plutarch’s works.

The conversation is professedly narrated by Plutarch’s brother Lamprias to Terentius Priscus, but some have thought that Plutarch has used the person of Lamprias to represent himself, possibly because of the official position held by Plutarch at Delphi.

On the Obsolescence of Oracles

The persons taking part in the conversation are Lamprius, Demetrius, Cleombrotas, Ammonius, Philip, Didymus, and Heracleon.

§1 The story 1 is told, my dear Terentius Priscus, that certain eagles or swans, flying from the uttermost parts of the earth towards its centre, met in Delphi at the omphalus, as it is called; and at a later time Epimenides 2 of Phaestus put the story to test by referring it to the god and upon receiving a vague and ambiguous oracle said,

Now do we know that there is no mid-centre of earth or of ocean;
Yet if there be, it is known to the gods, but is hidden from mortals.

Now very likely the god repulsed him from his attempt to investigate an ancient myth as though it were a painting to be tested by the touch.

§2 Yet a short time before the Pythian games, which were held when Callistratus 3 was in office in our own day, it happened that two revered men coming from opposite ends of the inhabited earth met together at Delphi, |353| Demetrius 4 the grammarian journeying homeward from Britain to Tarsus, and Cleombrotus of Sparta, who had made many excursions in Egypt and about the land of the Cave-dwellers, and had sailed beyond the Persian Gulf; his journeyings were not for business, but he was fond of seeing things and of acquiring knowledge; he had wealth enough, and felt that it was not of any great moment to have more than enough, and so he employed his leisure for such purposes; he was getting together a history to serve as a basis for a philosophy that had as its end and aim theology, as he himself named it. He had recently been at the shrine of Ammon, and it was plain that he was not particularly impressed by most of the things there, but in regard to the ever-burning lamp he related a story told by the priests which deserves special consideration; it is that the lamp consumes less and less oil each year, and they hold that this is a proof of a disparity in the years, which all the time is making one year shorter in duration than its predecessor; for it is reasonable that in less duration of time the amount consumed should be less.

§3 The company was surprised at this, and Demetrius went so far as to say that it was ridiculous to try in this way to draw great conclusions from small data, not, as Alcaeus 5 puts it, “painting the lion from a single claw,” but with a wick and lamp postulating a mutation in the heavens and the universe, and doing away completely with mathematical science. |355|

“Neither of these things,” said Cleombrotus, “will disturb these men; certainly they will not concede any superior accuracy to the mathematicians, since it is more likely that a set period of time, in movements and cycles so far away, should elude mathematical calculation than that the measurement of the oil should elude the very men who were always giving careful attention to the anomaly and watching it closely because of its strangeness. Besides, Demetrius, not to allow that small things are indication of great stands directly in the way of many arts; for it will result in taking away from us the demonstration of many facts and the prognostication of many others. Yet you people try to demonstrate to us also a matter of no small importance: that the heroes of old shaved their bodies with a razor, because you met with the word ‘razor’ in Homer; 6 also that they lent money on interest because Homer 7 somewhere says that ‘a debt is owing, not recent nor small,’ the assumption being that ‘owing’ signifies ‘accumulating.’ And again when Homer 8 speaks of the night as ‘swift,’ you cling to the expression with great satisfaction and say that it means this: that the Earth’s shadow is by him called conical, being caused by a spherical body; and as for the idea that medical science can predict a pestilential summer by a multitude of spiders’ webs or by the fig-leaves in the spring when they are like crows’ feet, who of those that insist that small things are not indications of great will allow this to go unchallenged? Who will endure |357| that the magnitude of the sun be measured by reference to a quart or a gill, or that, in the sun-dial here, the inclination of the acute angle which its shadow makes with the level plane be called the measurement of the elevation of the ever-visible pole above the horizon? This was what one might hear from the priests of the prophetic shrine there; so some other rejoinder must be offered to them, if we would make for the sun the wonted order of its course immutable, in accord with the tradition of the ages.”

§4 Thereupon Ammonius the philosopher, who was present, exclaimed, “Not for the sun only, but for the whole heavens. For the sun’s course in passing from solstice to solstice must inevitably become shorter and not continue to be so large a part of the horizon as the mathematicians say it is, since the southern portion is constantly subject to a contracting movement, which brings it closer to the northern portion; and so our summer must become shorter and its temperature lower, as the sun turns about within narrower limits and touches fewer parallels of latitude at the solstitial points; moreover, the phenomenon observed at Syenê,

8^ where the upright rods on the sun-dials cast no shadow at the time of the summer solstice, is bound to be a thing of the past; many of the fixed stars must have gone below the horizon, and some of them must be touching one another, or have become coalescent, as the space separating them has disappeared! But if, on the other hand, they are going to assert that, while all the other bodies are without change, the sun displays |359| irregularity in its movements, they will not be able to state the cause of the acceleration which affects the sun alone among so many bodies, and they will throw into confusion almost all the celestial mechanics, and into complete confusion those relating to the moon, so that they will have no need of measures of oil to prove the difference. In fact, the eclipses will prove it, as the sun more frequently casts a shadow on the moon and the moon on the earth; the other facts are clear, and there is no need to disclose in further detail the imposture in the argument.”

“But,” said Cleombrotus, “I myself actually saw the measure; for they had many of them to show, and that of this past year failed to come up to the very oldest by not a little.”

“Then,” said Ammonius, taking up the argument again, “this fact has escaped the notice of the other peoples among whom ever-burning fires have been cherished and kept alive for a period of years which might be termed infinite? But on the assumption that the report is true, is it not better to assign the cause to some coldness or moisture in the air by which the flame is made to languish, and so very likely does not take up nor need very much to support it? Or, quite the reverse, may we assign the cause to spells of dryness and heat? In fact, I have heard people say before this regarding fire, that it burns better in the winter,

10^ being strongly compacted and condensed by the cold; whereas in warm, dry times it is very weak and loses its compactness and intensity, and if it burns in the sunlight, it does even worse, and takes hold of the fuel without energy, and consumes it more slowly. Best of all, the cause might be assigned to the oil itself; for it is not unlikely that in days of old it |361| contained incombustible material and water, being produced from young trees; but that later, being ripened on full-grown trees and concentrated, it should, in an equal quantity, show more strength and provide a better fuel, if the people at Ammon’s shrine must have their assumption preserved for them in spite of its being so strange and unusual.”

§5 When Ammonius had ceased speaking, I said, “Won’t you rather tell us all about the oracle, Cleombrotus? For great was the ancient repute of the divine influence there, but at the present time it seems to be somewhat evanescent.”

As Cleombrotus made no reply and did not look up, Demetrius said, “There is no need to make any inquiries nor to raise any questions about the state of affairs there, when we see the evanescence of the oracles here, or rather the total disappearance of all but one or two; but we should deliberate the reason why they have become so utterly weak. What need to speak of others, when in Boeotia, which in former times spoke with many tongues because of its oracles, the oracles have now failed completely, even as if they were streams of flowing water, and a great drought in prophecy has overspread the land? For nowhere now except in the neighbourhood of Lebadeia has Boeotia aught to offer to those who would draw from the well-spring of prophecy. As for the rest, silence has come upon some and utter desolation upon others. And yet at the time of the Persian Wars many had gained a high repute, that of Ptoan Apollo no less than that of Amphiaraüs; Mys, as it seems, made |363| trial of both. 11 The prophetic priest of this oracle, accustomed in former times to use the Aeolic dialect, on that occasion took the side of the barbarians and gave forth an oracle such that no one else of those present comprehended it, but only Mys himself, since it is quite clear from the inspired language then used by the prophetic priest that it is not for barbarians ever to receive a word in the Greek tongue subservient to their command. 12

“The minion who was sent to the oracle of Amphiaraüs had, in his sleep 13 there, a vision of the servant of the god who appeared to him and tried first to eject him by word of mouth, alleging that the god was not there; then next he tried to push him away with his hands, and, when the man persisted in staying, took up a large stone and smote him on the head. All this was in harmony, as it were, with events to come; for Mardonius was vanquished while the Greeks were led, not by a king, but by a guardian and deputy of a king; 14 and he fell, struck by a stone just as the Lydian dreamed that he was struck in his sleep.

“That time, too, was the most flourishing period of the oracle at Tegyrae, which place also by tradition is the birthplace of the god; and of the two streams of |365| water that flow past it, the inhabitants even to this day call the one ‘Palm’ and the other ‘Olive.’ 15 Now in the Persian Wars, when Echecrates was the prophetic priest, the god prophesied for the Greeks victory and might in war; and in the Peloponnesian War, when the people of Delos had been driven out of their island, 16 an oracle, it is said, was brought to them from Delphi directing them to find the place where Apollo was born, and to perform certain sacrifices there. While they were wondering and questioning the mere possibility that the god had been born, not in their island, but somewhere else, the prophetic priestess told them in another oracle that a crow would show them the spot. So they went away and, when they reached Chaeroneia, they heard the woman who kept their inn conversing about the oracle with some strangers who were on their way to Tegyrae. The strangers, as they were leaving, bade good-bye to the woman and called her by her name, which actually was ‘Crow.’ Then the Delians understood the meaning of the oracle and, having offered sacrifice in Tegyrae, they found a way to return home a short time thereafter. There have been also more recent manifestations than these at these oracles, but now the oracles are no more; so it is well worth while, here in the precinct of the Pythian god, to examine into the reason for the change.”

§6 Proceeding onward from the temple, we had by this time reached the doors of the Cnidian Clubhouse. 17 Accordingly we passed inside, and there we saw sitting and waiting for us the friends to whom |367| we were going. There was quiet among the other people there because of the hour, as they were engaged in taking a rub-down or else watching the athletes. Then Demetrius with a smile said, “Shall I tell you a falsehood or speak out the truth? 18 You seem to have on hand nothing worth considering; for I see that you are sitting about quite at your ease and with faces quite relaxed.”

“Yes,” said Heracleon of Megara in reply, “for we are not investigating which of the two lambdas in the verb ‘hurl’ 19 is the one that it loses in the future tense; nor from what positives the adjectives ‘worse’ and ‘better’ and ‘worst’ and ‘best’ are formed; for these and similar problems may set the face in hard lines, but the others it is possible to examine in a philosophic spirit, without knitting the brows, and to investigate quietly without any fierce looks or any hard feelings against the company.”

“Then permit us to come in,” said Demetrius, “and with us a subject which has naturally occurred to us, one which is related to the place and concerns of all of us on account of the god; and beware of knitting your brows when you attack it!”

§7 When, accordingly, we had joined their company and seated ourselves among them and Demetrius had laid the subject before them, up sprang at once the Cynic Didymus, by nickname Planetiades, and, striking the ground two or three times with his staff, cried out, “Aha! a difficult matter to decide and one requiring much investigation is that which you have come bringing to us! It is indeed a wonder, when so much wickedness has been disseminated upon earth that not only Modesty and Righteous Indignation, as Hesiod 20 said long ago, have deserted the life |369| of mankind, but that Divine Providence also has gathered up its oracles and departed from every place! Quite the contrary, I propose that you discuss how it happens that the oracle here has not also given out, and Heracles for a second time, or some other god, has not wrested away the tripod 21 which is constantly being occupied with shameful and impious questions which people propound 22 to the god, some of whom try to make a test of him as though his wisdom were an affectation, while others put questions about treasures or inheritances or unlawful marriages; so Pythagoras 23 is proved to be utterly wrong in asserting that men are at their best when they approach the gods. Thus those maladies and emotions of the soul which it would be good to disclaim and conceal in the presence of an older man, they bring naked and exposed before the god.”

He would have said more, but Heracleon seized hold of his cloak, and I, being about as intimate with him as anybody, said, “Cease provoking the god, my dear Planetiades; for he is of a good and mild disposition,

And towards mortal men he hath been judged the most gentle,

as Pindar 24 says. And whether he be the sun 25 or the lord and father of the sun and of all that lies beyond our vision, 26 it is not likely that he should deny his utterance to people of the present day because of |371| their unworthiness, when he is responsible for their birth and nurture and their existence and power to think; nor is it likely withal that Providence, like a benign and helpful mother, who does everything for us and watches over us, should cherish animosity in the matter of prophecy only, and take away that from us after having given it to us at the beginning, as if the number of wicked men included among a larger population were not larger at that earlier time when the oracles were established in many places in the inhabited world! Come, sit down again and make a ‘Pythian truce’ 27 with evil, which you are wont to chastise with words every day, and join us in seeking some other reason for what is spoken of as the obsolescence of oracles; but keep the god benign and provoke him not to wrath.”

What I had said was so far effective that Planetiades went out through the door without another word.

§8 There was quiet for a moment, and then Ammonius, addressing himself to me, said, “See what it is that we are doing, Lamprias, and concentrate your thoughts on our subject so that we shall not relieve the god of responsibility. The fact is that the man who holds that the obsolescence of such of the oracles as have ceased to function has been brought about by some other cause and not by the will of a god gives reason for suspecting that he believes that their creation and continued existence was not due to the god, but was brought about in some other way. For prophecy is something created by a god, and certainly no greater or more potent force exists to abolish and obliterate it. Now I do not like what Planetiades said, and one of the reasons is the inconsistency which it creates regarding the god, |373| who in one way turns away from wickedness and disavows it, and again in another way welcomes its presence; just as if some king or despot should shut out bad men at certain doors and let them in at others and have dealings with them. Now moderation, adequacy, excess in nothing, and complete self-sufficiency are above all else the essential characteristics of everything done by the gods; and if anyone should take this fact as a starting-point, and assert that Greece has far more than its share in the general depopulation which the earlier discords and wars have wrought throughout practically the whole inhabited earth, and that today the whole of Greece would hardly muster three thousand men-at‑arms, which is the number that the one city of the Megarians sent forth to Plataeae 28 (for the god’s abandoning of many oracles is nothing other than his way of substantiating the desolation of Greece), in this way such a man would give some accurate evidence of his keenness in reasoning. For who would profit if there were an oracle in Tegyrae, as there used to be, or at Ptoüm, where during some part of the day one might possibly meet a human being pasturing his flocks? And regarding the oracle here at Delphi, the most ancient in time and the most famous in repute, men record that for a long time it was made desolate and unapproachable by a fierce creature, a serpent; they do not, however, put the correct interpretation upon its lying idle, but quite the reverse; for it was the desolation that attracted the creature rather than that the creature caused the desolation. But when Greece, since God so willed, had grown strong in cities and the place was thronged with people, they |375| used to employ two prophetic priestesses who were sent down in turn; and a third was appointed to be held in reserve. But to‑day there is one priestess and we do not complain, for she meets every need. There is no reason, therefore, to blame the god; the exercise of the prophetic art which continues at the present day is sufficient for all, and sends away all with their desires fulfilled. Agamemnon, 29 for example, used nine heralds and, even so, had difficulty in keeping the assembly in order because of the vast numbers; but here in Delphi, a few days hence, in the theatre you will see that one voice reaches all. In the same way, in those days, prophecy employed more voices to speak to more people, but today, quite the reverse, we should needs be surprised at the god if he allowed his prophecies to run to waste, like water, or to echo like the rocks with the voices of shepherds and flocks in waste places.”

§9 When Ammonius had said this and I remained silent, Cleombrotus, addressing himself to me, said, “Already you have conceded this point, that the god both creates and abolishes these prophetic shrines.”

“No indeed,” said I, “my contention is that no prophetic shrine or oracle is ever abolished by the instrumentality of the god. He creates and provides many other things for us, and upon some of these Nature brings destruction and disintegration; or rather, the matter composing them, being itself a force for disintegration, often reverts rapidly to its earlier state and causes the dissolution of what was created by the more potent instrumentality; and it is in this way, I think, that in the next period there are dimmings and abolitions of the prophetic agencies; for while the god gives many fair things to |377| mankind, he gives nothing imperishable, so that, as Sophocles 30 puts it, ‘the works of gods may die, but not the gods.’ Their presence and power wise men are ever telling us we must look for in Nature and in Matter, where it is manifested, the originating influence being reserved for the Deity, as is right. Certainly it is foolish and childish in the extreme to imagine that the god himself after the manner of ventriloquists (who used to be called ‘Eurycleis,’ 31 but now ‘Pythones’) enters into the bodies of his prophets and prompts their utterances, employing their mouths and voices as instruments. 32 For if he allows himself to become entangled in men’s needs, he is prodigal with his majesty and he does not observe the dignity and greatness of his preeminence.”

§10 “You are right,” said Cleombrotus; “but since it is hard to apprehend and to define in what way and to what extent Providence should be brought in as an agent, those who make the god responsible for nothing at all and those make him responsible for all things alike go wide of moderation and propriety. They put the case well who say that Plato, 33 by his discovery of the element underlying all created qualities, which is now called ‘Matter’ and ‘Nature,’ has relieved philosophers of many great perplexities; but, as it seems to me, those persons have resolved more and greater perplexities |379| who have set the race of demigods midway between gods and men, 34 and have discovered a force to draw together, in a way, and to unite our common fellowship — whether this doctrine comes from the wise men of the cult of Zoroaster, or whether it is Thracian and harks back to Orpheus, or is Egyptian, or Phrygian, as we may infer from observing that many things connected with death and mourning in the rites of both lands are combined in the ceremonies so fervently celebrated there. Among the Greeks, Homer, moreover, appears to use both names in common and sometimes to speak of the gods as demigods; but Hesiod 35 was the first to set forth clearly and distinctly four classes of rational beings: gods, demigods, heroes, in this order, and, last of all, men; and as a sequence to this, apparently, he postulates his transmutation, the golden race passing selectively into many good divinities, and the demigods into heroes.

“Others postulate a transmutation for bodies and souls alike; in the same manner in which water is seen to be generated from earth, air from water, and fire from air, as their substance is borne upward, even so from men into heroes and from heroes into demigods the better souls obtain their transmutation. But from the demigods a few souls still, in the long reach of time, because of supreme excellence, come, after being purified, to share completely in divine qualities. But with some of these souls it comes to pass that they do not maintain control over themselves, but yield to temptation and are again clothed |381| with mortal bodies and have a dim and darkened life, like mist or vapour.

§11 “Hesiod thinks that with the lapse of certain periods of years the end comes even to the demigods; for, speaking in the person of the Naiad, he indirectly suggests the length of time with these words: 36

Nine generations long is the life of the crow and his cawing,
Nine generations of vigorous men. 37 Lives of four crows together
Equal the life of a stag, and three stages the old age of a raven;
Nine of the lives of the raven the life of the Phoenix doth equal;
Ten of the Phoenix we Nymphs, fair daughters of Zeus of the aegis.

“Those that do not interpret ‘generation’ well make an immense total of this time; but it really means a year, so that the sum of the life of these divinities is nine thousand, seven hundred and twenty years, less than most mathematicians think, and more than Pindar 38 has stated when he says that the Nymphs live

Allotted a term as long as the years of a tree,

and for this reason he calls them Hamadryads.”

While he was still speaking Demetrius, interrupting him, said, “How is it, Cleombrotus, that you can say that the year has been called a generation? For neither of a man ‘in his vigour’ nor ‘in his eld,’ as some read the passage, is the span of human life such |383| as this. Those who read ‘in their vigour’ make a generation thirty years, in accord with Heracleitus, 39 a time sufficient for a father to have a son who is a father also; but again those who write ‘in their eld’ and not ‘in their vigour’ assign an hundred and eight years to a generation; for they say that fifty-four marks the limit of the middle years of human life, a number which is made up of the first number, the first two plane surfaces, two squares and two cubes, 40 numbers which Plato as took in his Generation of the Soul. 41 The whole matter as stated by Hesiod seems to contain a veiled reference to the ‘Conflagration,’ when the disappearance of all liquids will most likely be accompanied by the extinction of the Nymphs,

Who in the midst of fair woodlands,
Sources of rivers, and grass-covered meadows have their abiding. 42

§12 “Yes,” said Cleombrotus, “I hear this from many persons, and I observe that the Stoic ‘Conflagration,’ just as it feeds on the verses of Heracleitus and Orpheus, is also seizing upon those of Hesiod. But I cannot brook this talk of universal destruction; and such impossibilities, in recalling to our minds these utterances, especially those about the crow and the stag, must be allowed to revert upon those that indulge in such exaggeration. Does not a year include within itself the beginning and the end of ‘all things which the Seasons and the Earth make grow,’ 43 and is it not foreign to men’s ways to |385| call it a ‘generation’? As a matter of fact you yourselves surely agree that Hesiod by the word ‘generation’ means a man’s life. Is not that so?”

“Yes,” said Demetrius.

“And this fact also is clear,” said Cleombrotus, “that often the measure and the things measured are called by the same name, as, for example, gill, quart, gallon, and bushel. 44 In the same way, then, in which we call unity a number, being, as it is, the smallest number and the first; so the year, which we use as the first measure of man’s life, Hesiod has called by the same name as the thing measured, a ‘generation.’ The fact is that the numbers which those other persons produce have none of those notable and conspicuous qualities which may be inherent in numbers. The number nine thousand, seven hundred and twenty 45 has been produced by adding together the first four numbers and multiplying them by four, 46 or by multiplying four by ten. Either process gives forty, and when this is multiplied five times by three it gives the specified number. 47 But concerning these matters there is no need for us to disagree with Demetrius. In fact, even if the period of time in which the soul of the demigod or hero changes its life 48 be longer or shorter, determinate or indeterminate, none the less the proof will be there on the basis which he desires, fortified by clear testimony from ancient times, that in the confines, as it were, between gods and men there exist certain natures susceptible to |387| human emotions and involuntary changes, whom it is right that we, like our fathers before us, should regard as demigods, and, calling them by that name, should reverence them.

§13 “As an illustration of this subject, Xenocrates, the companion of Plato, employed the order of the triangles; the equilateral he compared to the nature of the gods, the scalene to that of man, and the isosceles to that of the demigods; for the first is equal in all its lines, the second unequal in all, and the third is partly equal and partly unequal, like the nature of the demigods, which has human emotions and godlike power. Nature has placed within our ken perceptible images and visible likenesses, the sun and the stars for the gods, and for mortal men beams of light, 49 comets, and meteors, a comparison which Euripides 50 has made in the verses:

He that but yesterday was vigorous
Of frame, even as a star from heaven falls,
Gave up in death his spirit to the air.

“But there is a body with complex characteristics which actually parallels the demigods, namely the moon; and when men see that she, by her being consistently in accord with the cycles through which those beings pass, 51 is subject to apparent wanings and waxings and transformations, some call her an earth-like star, others a star-like earth, 52 and others the domain of Hecatê, who belongs both to the earth and to the heavens. Now if the air that is between the earth and the moon were to be removed and withdrawn, the unity and consociation of the universe would be destroyed, |389| since there would be an empty and unconnected space in the middle; and in just the same way those who refuse to leave us the race of demigods make the relations of gods and men remote and alien by doing away with the ‘interpretative and ministering nature,’ as Plato 53 has called it; or else they force us to a disorderly confusion of all things, in which we bring the god into men’s emotions and activities, drawing him down to our needs, as the women of Thessaly are said to draw down the moon. 54 This cunning deceit of theirs, however, gained credence among women when the daughter of Hegetor, Aglaonicê, who was skilled in astronomy, always pretended at the time of an eclipse of the moon that she was bewitching it and bringing it down. 55 But as for us, let us not listen to any who say that there are some oracles not divinely inspired, or religious ceremonies and mystic rites which are disregarded by the gods; and on the other hand let us not imagine that the god goes in and out and is present at these ceremonies and helps in conducting them; but let us commit these matters to those ministers of the gods to whom it is right to commit them, as to servants and clerks, and let us believe that demigods are guardians of sacred rites of the gods and prompters of the Mysteries, while others go about as avengers of arrogant and grievous cases of injustice. Still others Hesiod 56 has very impressively addressed as

Holy givers of wealth, and possessing in this a meed that is kingly,

“implying that doing good to people is kingly. For |391| as among men, so also among the demigods, there are different degrees of excellence, and in some there is a weak and dim remainder of the emotional and irrational, a survival, as it were, while in others this is excessive and hard to stifle. Of all these things there are, in many places, sacrifices, ceremonies, and legends which preserve and jealously guard vestiges and tokens embodied here and there in their fabric.

§14 “Regarding the rites of the Mysteries, in which it is possible to gain the clearest reflections and adumbrations of the truth about the demigods, ‘let my lips be piously sealed,’ as Herodotus 57 says; but as for festivals and sacrifices, which may be compared with ill-omened and gloomy days, in which occur the eating of raw flesh, rending of victims, fasting, and beating of breasts, and again in many places scurrilous language at the shrines, and

Frenzy and shouting of throngs in excitement
With tumultuous tossing of heads in the air, 58

“I should say that these acts are not performed for any god, but are soothing and appeasing rites for the averting of evil spirits. Nor is it credible that the gods demanded or welcomed the human sacrifices of ancient days, nor would kings and generals have endured giving over their children and submitting them to the preparatory rites and cutting their throats to no purpose save that they felt they were propitiating and offering satisfaction to the wrath and sullen temper of some harsh and implacable avenging deities, or to the insane and imperious passions of |393| some who had not the power or desire to seek satisfaction in a natural and normal way. But as Heracles laid siege to Oechalia for the sake of a maiden, 59 so powerful and impetuous divinities, in demanding a human soul which is incarnate within a mortal body, bring pestilences and failures of crops upon States and stir up wars and civil discords, until they succeed in obtaining what they desire. To some, however, comes the opposite; for example, when I was spending a considerable time in Crete, I noticed an extraordinary festival being celebrated there in which they exhibit the image of a man without a head, and relate that this used to be Molus, 60 father of Meriones, and that he violated a young woman; and when he was discovered, he was without a head.

§15 “As for the various tales of rapine and wanderings of the gods, their concealments and banishment and servitude, which men rehearse in legend and in song, all these are, in fact, not things that were done to the gods or happened to them, but to the demigods; and they are kept in memory because of the virtues and power of these beings; nor did Aeschylus 61 speak devoutly when he said

Holy Apollo, god from heaven banned;

nor Admetus in Sophocles, 62

My cock it was that sent him to the mill.

“But the greatest error in regard to the truth is that of the theologians of Delphi who think that the god |395| once had a battle here with a serpent for the possession of the oracle, and they permit poets and prose-writers to tell of this in their competitions in the theatres, whereby they bear specific testimony against the most sacred of the rites that they perform.”

At this Philip the historian, who was present, expressed surprise, and inquired against what hallowed rites Cleombrotus thought that the competition bore testimony. “These,” said Cleombrotus, “which have to do with the oracle here, and in which the city recently initiated all the Greeks west of Thermopylae and extended the rites as far as Tempê. For the structure which is erected here near the threshing-floor 63 every eight years 64 is not a nest-like serpent’s den, but a copy of the dwelling of a despot or king. 65 The onset upon it, which is made in silence through the way called ‘Dolon’s Way,’ by which the Labyadae with lighted torches conduct the boy, who must have two parents living, and, after, applying fire to the structure and upsetting the table, flee through the doors of the temple without looking back; and finally the wanderings and servitude of the boy and the purifications that take place at Tempê — all prompt a suspicion of some great and unholy deed of daring. For it is utterly ridiculous, my good friend, that Apollo, after slaying a brute creature, should flee to the ends of Greece in quest of purification and, after arriving there, should offer some libations and perform those ceremonies which men perform in the effort to placate and mollify the wrath of spirits whom |397| men call the ‘unforgetting avengers,’ as if they followed up the memories of some unforgotten foul deeds of earlier days. And as for the story which I have heard before about this flight and the removal to another place, it is dreadfully strange and paradoxical, but if it has any vestige of truth in it, let us not imagine that what was done in those days about the oracle was any slight or common affair. But that I may not seem to be doing what is described by Empedocles 66 as

Putting the heads of myths together,
Bringing no single path to perfection,

“permit me to add to what was said at the outset the proper conclusion, for we have already come to it. Let this statement be ventured by us, following the lead of many others before us, that coincidently with the total defection of the guardian spirits assigned to the oracles and prophetic shrines, occurs the defection of the oracles themselves; and when the spirits flee or go to another place, the oracles themselves lose their power, but when the spirits return many years later, the oracles, like musical instruments, become articulate, since those who can put them to use are present and in charge of them.”

§16 When Cleombrotus had expounded these matters, Heracleon said, “there is no unsanctified or irreligious person present, or anyone who holds opinions about the gods that are out of keeping with ours; but let us ourselves be stringently on our guard lest we unwittingly try to support the argument with extraordinary and presumptuous hypotheses.”

“That is a very good suggestion,” said Philip, |399| “but which of the theses of Cleombrotus makes you the most uncomfortable?”

“That it is not the gods,” said Heracleon, “who are in charge of the oracles, since the gods ought properly to be freed of earthly concerns; but that it is the demigods, ministers of the gods, who have them in charge, seems to me not a bad postulate; but to take, practically by the handful, from the verses of Empedocles 67 sins, rash crimes, and heaven-sent wanderings, and to impose them upon the demigods, and to assume that their final fate is death, just as with men, I regard as rather too audacious and uncivilized.”

Cleombrotus was moved to ask Philip who the young man was and whence he came; and after learning his name and his city he said, “It is not unwittingly, Heracleon, that we have become involved in strange arguments; but it is impossible, when discussing important matters, to make any progress in our ideas towards the probable truth without employing for this purpose important principles. But you unwittingly take back what you concede; for you agree that these demigods exist, but by your postulating that they are not bad nor mortal you no longer keep them; for in what respect do they differ from gods, if as regards their being they possess immortality and as regards their virtues freedom from all emotion or sin?”

§17 As Heracleon was reflecting upon this in silence, Philip said, “Not only has Empedocles bequeathed to us bad demigods, Heracleon, but so also have Plato, Xenocrates, and Chrysippus; 68 and, |401| in addition, Democritus, 69 by his prayer that he may meet with ‘propitious spirits,’ clearly recognized that there is another class of these which is perverse and possessed of vicious predilections and impulses.

“As for death among such beings, I have heard the words of a man who was not a fool nor an impostor. The father of Aemilianus the orator, to whom some of you have listened, was Epitherses, who lived in our town and was my teacher in grammar. He said that once upon a time in making a voyage to Italy he embarked on a ship carrying freight and many passengers. It was already evening when, near the Echinades Islands, the wind dropped, and the ship drifted near Paxi. Almost everybody was awake, and a good many had not finished their after-dinner wine. Suddenly from the island of Paxi was heard the voice of someone loudly calling Thamus, so that all were amazed. Thamus was an Egyptian pilot, not known by name even to many on board. Twice he was called and made no reply, but the third time he answered; and the caller, raising his voice, said, ‘When you come opposite to Palodes, announce that Great Pan is dead.’ On hearing this, all, said Epitherses, were astounded and reasoned among themselves whether it were better to carry out the order or to refuse to meddle and let the matter go. Under the circumstances Thamus made up his mind that if there should be a breeze, he would sail past and keep quiet, but with no wind and a smooth sea |403| about the place he would announce what he had heard. So, when he came opposite Palodes, and there was neither wind nor wave, Thamus from the stern, looking toward the land, said the words as he had heard them: ‘Great Pan is dead.’ Even before he had finished there was a great cry of lamentation, not of one person, but of many, mingled with exclamations of amazement. As many persons were on the vessel, the story was soon spread abroad in Rome, and Thamus was sent for by Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius became so convinced of the truth of the story that he caused an inquiry and investigation to be made about Pan; and the scholars, who were numerous at his court, conjectured that he was the son born of Hermes and Penelopê.” 70

Moreover, Philip had several witnesses among the persons present who had been pupils of the old man Aemilianus.

§18 Demetrius said that among the islands lying near Britain 71 were many isolated, having few or no inhabitants, some of which bore the names of divinities or heroes. He himself, by the emperor’s order, had made a voyage for inquiry and observation to the nearest of these islands which had only a few inhabitants, holy men who were all held inviolate by the Britons. Shortly after his arrival there occurred a great tumult in the air and many portents; violent winds suddenly swept down and lightning-flashes darted to earth. When these abated, the people of the island said that the passing of someone of the mightier souls had befallen. “For,” said they, “as |405| a lamp when it is being lighted has no terrors, but when it goes out is distressing to many, 72 so the great souls have a kindling into life that is gentle and inoffensive, but their passing and dissolution often, as at the present moment, fosters tempests and storms, and often infects the air with pestilential properties.” Moreover, they said that in this part of the world there is one island where Cronus is confined, guarded while he sleeps by Briareus; for his sleep has been devised as a bondage for him, and round about him are many demigods as attendants and servants.

§19 Cleombrotus here took up the conversation and said, “I too have similar stories to tell, but it is sufficient for our purpose that nothing contravenes or prevents these things from being so. Yet we know,” he continued, “that the Stoics 73 entertain the opinion that I mention, not only against the demigods, but they also hold that among the gods, who are so very numerous, there is only one who is eternal and immortal, and the others they believe have come into being, and will suffer dissolution.

“As for the scoffing and sneers of the Epicureans 74 which they dare to employ against Providence also, calling it nothing but a myth, we need have no fear. We, on the other hand, say that their ‘Infinity’ is a myth, which among so many worlds has not one that is directed by divine reason, but will have them all produced by spontaneous generation and concretion. If there is need for laughter in philosophy, we should laugh at these spirits, dumb, blind, and soulless, which |407| they shepherd for boundless cycles of years, and which make their returning appearance everywhere, some floating away from the bodies of persons still living, others from bodies long ago burned or decayed, whereby these philosophers drag witlessness and obscurity into the study of natural phenomena; but if anyone asserts that such demigods exist, not only for physical reasons, but also for logical reasons, and that they have the power of self-preservation and continued life a long time, then these philosophers feel much aggrieved.”

§20 After these remarks Ammonius said, “It seems to me that Theophrastus was right in his pronouncement. What, in fact, is there to prevent our accepting an utterance that is impressive and most highly philosophical? For if it be rejected, it does away with many things which are possible but cannot be proved; and if it be allowed as a principle, it brings in its train many things that are impossible or non-existent. 75 The one thing that I have heard the Epicureans say with reference to the demigods introduced by Empedocles 76 is that it is not possible, if they are bad and sinful, that they should be happy and of long life, inasmuch as vice has a large measure of blindness and the tendency to encounter destructive agencies, so that argument of theirs is silly. For by this reasoning Epicurus will be shown to be a worse man than Gorgias the sophist, and Metrodorus worse than Alexis the comic poet; for Alexis lived twice as long as Metrodorus and Gorgias more than a third as long again as Epicurus. It is in another |409| sense that we speak of virtue as something strong, and vice as something weak, not with reference to permanence or dissolution of the body. For example, many of the animals that are sluggish in movement and slow in their reactions and many that are lascivious and ungovernable live a longer time than the quick and the clever. Therefore they do not well who make God’s eternal existence to be the result of watchfulness and the thrusting aside of destructive agencies. No, immunity from emotion and destruction ought to reside in the blessed Being, and should require no activity on His part. Perhaps, however, to speak thus with reference to people that are not present does not show great consideration. So it is right that Cleombrotus should resume the topic which he discontinued a few moments ago about the migration and flight of the demigods.”

§21 Then Cleombrotus continued, “I shall be surprised if it does not appear to you much more strange than what has already been said. Yet it seems to be close to the subject of natural phenomena and Plato 77 has given the key-note for it, not by an unqualified pronouncement, but as the result of a vague concept, cautiously suggesting also the underlying idea in an enigmatic way; but, for all that, there has been loud disparagement of him on the part of other philosophers. But there is set before us for general use a bowl of myths and stories combined, and where could one meet with more kindly listeners for testing these stories, even as one tests coins from foreign lands? So I do not hesitate to favour you with a narrative about a man, not a Greek, whom I had great difficulty in finding, and then only by dint of long wanderings, |411| and after paying large sums for information. It was near the Persian Gulf that I found him, where he holds a meeting with human beings once every year; and there I had an opportunity to talk with him and met with a kindly reception. The other days of his life, according to his statement, he spends in association with roving nymphs and demigods. He was the handsomest man I ever saw in personal appearance and he never suffered from any disease, inasmuch as once each month he partook of the medicinal and bitter fruit of a certain herb. He was practised in the use of many tongues; but with me, for the most part, he spoke a Doric which was almost music. While he was speaking, a fragrance overspread the place, as his mouth breathed forth a most pleasant perfume. Besides his learning and his knowledge of history, always at his command, he was inspired to prophesy one day in each year when he went down to the sea and told of the future. Potentates and kings’ secretaries would come each year and depart. He made most account of Delphi and there was none of the stories told of Dionysus or of the rites performed here of which he had not heard; these too he asserted were the momentous experiences of the demigods and so, plainly, were those which had to do with the Python. And upon the slayer of that monster was not imposed an exile of eight full years, 78 nor, following this, was he exiled to Tempê; but after he was expelled, he fared forth to another world, and later, returning from there, after eight cycles of the Great Years, pure and truly the ‘Radiant |413| One,’ he took over the oracle which had been guarded during this time by Themis. Such also, he said, were the stories about Typhons and Titans; 79 battles of demigods against demigods had taken place, followed by the exile of the vanquished, or else judgement inflicted by a god upon the sinners, as, for example, for the sin which Typhon is said to have committed in the case of Osiris, or Cronus in the case of Uranus; and the honours once paid to these deities have become quite dim to our eyes or have vanished altogether when the deities were transferred to another world. In fact, I learn that the Solymi, who live next to the Lycians, paid especial honour to Cronus. But when he had slain their rulers, Arsalus, Dryus, and Trosobius, he fled away from that place to some place or other, where they cannot say; and then he ceased to be regarded, but Arsalus and those connected with him are called the ‘stern gods,’ and the Lycians employ their names in invoking curses both in public and in private. Many accounts similar to these are to be had from theological history. But, as that man said, if we call some of the demigods by the current name of gods, that is no cause for wonder; for each of them is wont to be called after that god with whom he is allied and from whom he has derived his portion of power and honour. In fact, among ourselves one of us is Dius, another Athenaeus, another Apollonius or Dionysius or |415| Hermaeus; but only some of us have, by chance, been rightly named; the majority have received names derived from the gods which bear no relation to the persons, but are only a travesty.”

§22 Cleombrotus said nothing more, and his account appeared marvellous to all. But when Heracleon inquired in what way this was related to Plato and how he had given the key-note for this topic, Cleombrotus said, “You well remember that he summarily decided against an infinite number of worlds, but had doubts about a limited number; and up to five 80 he conceded a reasonable probability to those who postulated one world to correspond to each element, but for himself, he kept to one. This seems to be peculiar to Plato, for the other philosophers conceived a fear of plurality, 81 feeling that if they did not limit matter to one world, but went beyond one, an unlimited and embarrassing infinity would at once fasten itself upon them.”

“But,” said I, “did your far-away friend set a limit to the number of worlds, as Plato did, or did you not go so far as to sound him on this point when you had your interview with him?”

“Was it not likely,” said Cleombrotus, “that on anything touching these matters, if on nothing else, I should be an inquisitive and eager listener, when he so graciously put himself at my disposal and gave me the opportunity? He said that the worlds are not infinite in number, nor one, nor five, but one hundred and eighty-three, 82 arranged in the form of a triangle, |417| each side of the triangle having sixty worlds; of the three left over each is placed at an angle, and those that are next to one other are in contact and revolve gently as in a dance. The inner area of the triangle is the common hearth of all, and is called the Plain of Truth, in which the accounts, the forms, and the patterns of all things that have come to pass and of all that shall come to pass rest undisturbed; and round about them lies Eternity, whence Time, like an ever-flowing stream, is conveyed to the worlds. Opportunity to see and to contemplate these things is vouchsafed to human souls once in ten thousand years if they have lived goodly lives; and the best of the initiatory rites here are but a dream of that highest rite and initiation; and the words of our philosophic inquiry are framed to recall these fair sights there — else is our labour vain. This,” said he, “is the tale I heard him recite quite as though it were in some rite of mystic initiation, but without offering any demonstration or proof of what he said.”

§23 Then I, addressing Demetrius, said, “How do the verses about the suitors run, when they are marvelling at Odysseus as he handles the bow?” And when Demetrius had recalled them to my mind, I said, “It occurs to me to say this of your far-away friend:

Surely he liked to see, or else was given to filching 83

beliefs and tales of all sorts. He had ranged widely in literature and was no foreigner, but a Greek by birth, and replete with Greek culture to a high degree. The number of his worlds convicts him, since it is not |419| Egyptian nor Indian, but Dorian and from Sicily, being the idea of a man of Himera named Petron. Petron’s own treatise I have never read nor am I sure that a copy is now extant; but Hippys 84 of Rhegium, whom Phanias 85 of Eresus mentions, records that this was the opinion and the account of it given by Petron: that there are one hundred and eighty-three worlds in contact with one another according to element; but what this is, ‘to be in contact according to element,’ he does not explain further nor subjoin any plausible proof.”

Demetrius, joining in, said, “What plausible proof could there be in matters of this sort in which even Plato, without stating anything reasonable or plausible, simply set down his own account?”

“But,” said Heracleon, “we hear you grammarians attributing this view to Homer on the ground that he distributed the universe into five worlds: 86 the heavens, the water, the air, the earth, and Olympus. Of these he leaves two to be held in common, the earth for all below and Olympus for all above, and the three that lie between were assigned to the three gods. In this wise Plato 87 also, apparently, associated the fairest and foremost forms and figures with the different divisions of the universe, and called them five worlds, one of earth, one of water, one of air, one of fire, and last of all, the one which includes all of these, the world of the dodecahedron, of wide expanse and many turnings, to which he assigned a form appropriate to the cycles and movements of the soul.” |421|

“Why,” said Demetrius, “do we call up Homer in the present instance? Enough of legends! Plato, however, is very far from calling the five different divisions of the world five different worlds; and in those passages again, in which he contends against those who postulate an infinite number of worlds, he says that his opinion is that this world is the only-begotten and beloved of God, having been created out of the corporeal whole, entire, complete, and sufficient unto itself. Wherefore one might well be surprised that he, in stating the truth himself, has supplied others with a source for a doctrine that is unconvincing and lacking in reason. For not to defend the idea of a single world implied somehow an assumption of the infinity of the whole universe; but to make the worlds definitely just so many, neither more nor less than five, is altogether contrary to reason and devoid of all plausibility — unless,” he added, with a glance at me, “you have anything to say.”

“It appears,” said I, “that we have already discontinued our discussion about oracles, feeling it to be completed, and are now taking up another topic just as large.”

“Not discontinued that topic,” said Demetrius, “but not passing over this one which claims our attention. We will not spend much time on it, but only touch upon it long enough to inquire into its plausibility; and then we will follow up the original proposition.”

§24 “In the first place, then,” said I, “the considerations that prevent our making an infinite number of worlds do not preclude our making more than one. For it is possible for God and prophecy |423| and Providence to exist in more worlds than one, and for the incidence of chance to be reduced to the very smallest limits, while the vast majority of things and those of the highest importance attain to genesis and transmutation in a quite orderly sequence, none of which things does infinity, by its nature, admit. Then again it is more consistent with reason that the world should not be the only-begotten of God and quite alone. For He, being consummately good, is lacking in none of the virtues, and least of all in those which concern justice and friendliness; for these are the fairest and are fitting for gods. Nor is it in the nature of God to possess anything to no purpose or for no use. Therefore there exist other gods and other worlds outside, in relation with which He exercises the social virtues. For not in relation with Himself nor with any part of Himself is there any exercise of justice or benevolence or kindness, but only in relation with others. Thus it is not likely that this world, friendless, neighbourless, and unvisited, swings back and forth in the infinite void, since we see that Nature includes individual things in classes and species, like seeds in pods and envelopes. For there is nothing in the whole list of existing things for which there is not some general designation, nor does anything that does not possess certain qualities, either in common with others or solely by itself, obtain such an appellation. Now the world is not spoken of as having qualities in common with others. It has its qualities, therefore, solely by itself, by virtue of the difference when it is compared with other things which are akin to it and similar in |425| appearance, since it has been created with such qualities as it possesses. If in all creation such a thing as one man, one horse, one star, one god, one demigod does not exist, what is there to prevent creation from having, not one world, but more than one? For he who says that creation has but one land and one sea overlooks a matter which is perfectly plain, the doctrine of similar parts; 88 for we divide the earth into parts which bear similar names, and the sea likewise. A part of the world, however, is not a world, but something combined from the differing elements in Nature. |425|

§25 “Again, as for the dread which some people especially have felt, and so use up the whole of matter on the one world, so that nothing may be left over outside to disturb the structure of it by resisting or striking it — this fear of theirs is unwarranted. For if there are more worlds than one, and each of them has received, as its meet portion, substance and matter having a restricted measure and limit, then there will be nothing left unplaced or unorganized, an unused remnant, as it were, to crash into them from the outside. For the law of reason over each world, having control over the matter assigned to each, will not allow anything to be carried away from it nor to wander about and crash into another world, nor anything from another world to crash into it, because Nature has neither unlimited and infinite magnitude nor irrational and disorganized movement. Even if any emanation is carried from some worlds to others, it is certain to be congenial, agreeable, and to unite peaceably with all, like the rays of starlight and |427| their blending; and the worlds themselves must experience joy in gazing at one another with kindly eyes; and for the many good gods in each, they must provide opportunities for visits and a friendly welcome. Truly in all this there is nothing impossible or fabulous or contrary to reason unless, indeed, because of Aristotle’s 89 statements some persons shall look upon it with suspicion as being based on physical grounds. For if each of the bodies has its own particular space, as he asserts, the earth must of necessity turn toward the centre from all directions and the water be above it, settling below the lighter elements because of its weight. If, therefore, there be more worlds than one, it will come to pass that in many places the earth will rest above the fire and the air, and in many places below them; and the air and the water likewise, in some places existing in positions in keeping with nature and in other places in positions contrary to nature. As this, in his opinion, is impossible, the inference is that there are neither two worlds nor more, but only this one, composed of the whole of matter and resting firmly in keeping with Nature, as befits the diversity of its bodies.

§26 “All this, however, has been put in a way that is more plausible than true. Look at it in this way, my dear Demetrius,” said I; “when he says of the bodies that some have a motion towards the centre and downwards, others away from the centre and upwards, and others around the centre and in a circular path, in what relation does he take the centre? 90 Certainly not in relation to the void, for according to him it does not exist. And according to those for whom it does exist, it has no centre, just as it has no point where it begins or where it ends; |429| for these are limitations, and the infinite has no limitations. And if a man could force himself, by reasoning, to dare the concept of a violent motion of the infinite, what difference, if referred to this, is created for the bodies in their movements? For in the void there is no power in the bodies, nor do the bodies have a predisposition and an impetus, by virtue of which they cling to the centre and have a universal tendency in this one direction. It is equally difficult, in the case of inanimate bodies and an incorporeal and undifferentiated position, to conceive of a movement created from the bodies or an attraction created by the position. Thus one conclusion is left: when the centre is spoken of it is not with reference to any place, but with reference to the bodies. For in this world of ours, which has a single unity in its organization from numerous dissimilar elements, these differences necessarily create various movements towards various objects. Evidence of this kind is found in the fact that everything, when it undergoes transformation, changes its position coincidently with the change in its substance. For example, dispersion distributes upwards and round about the matter rising from the centre and condensation and consolidation press it down towards the centre and drive it together.

§27 “On this topic it is not necessary to use more words at present. The truth is that whatever cause one may postulate as the author of these occurrences and changes, that cause will keep each of the worlds together within itself; for each world has earth and sea, and each has its own centre and occurrences that |431| affect its component bodies; it has its own transmutations and a nature and power which preserves each one and keeps it in place. In what lies beyond, whether it be nothing or an infinite void, no centre exists, as has been said; and if there are several worlds, in each one is a centre which belongs to it alone, with the result that the movements of its bodies are its own, some towards it, some away from it, and some around it, quite in keeping with the distinctions which these men themselves make. But anyone who insists that, while there are many centres, the heavy substances are impelled from all sides towards one only, 91 does not differ at all from him who insists that, while there are many men, the blood from all shall flow together into a single vein and the brains of all shall be enveloped in a single membrane, deeming it a dreadful thing in the case of natural bodies if all the solids shall not occupy one place only and the fluids also only one place. Such a man as that will be abnormal, and so will he be who is indignant if everything constituting a whole has its own parts, of which it makes use in their natural arrangement and position in every case. For that would be preposterous, and so too if anybody called that a world which had a moon somewhere inside it; 92 as well call that a man who carries his brains in his heels or his heart in his head! 93 But to make more worlds than one, each separate from the other, and to delimit and distinguish the parts belonging to each to go with the whole is not preposterous. For the land and the sea and the heavens in each will be placed to accord with nature, as is fitting; and each of the worlds has its above and below and its round |433| about and centre, not with reference to another world or the outside, but in itself and with reference to itself.

§28 “As for the stone which some assume to exist in the regions outside the world, it does not readily afford a concept regarding either its fixity or its motion. For how is it either to remain fixed, if it has weight, or to move towards the world like other heavy substances when it is no part of the world and has no place in the order of its being? Land embraced in another world and bound up with it ought not to raise any question as to how it comes about that it does not break away from the whole and transfer itself to our world, because we see the nature and the tension under which each of the parts is held secure. For if we take the expressions ‘below’ and ‘above’ as referring, not to the world, but outside of it, 94 we shall become involved in the same difficulties as Epicurus, 95 who would have all his atoms move to places under our feet, as if either the void had feet, or infinity granted us to conceive of ‘below’ and ‘above’ within itself! Wherefore we may well wonder at Chrysippus, 96 or rather be quite unable to understand what possessed him to assert that the world has been firmly set in the centre and that its substance, having pre-empted the central place from time eternal, thereby gains the greatest help towards its permanence, and that is as much as to say its immunity from destruction. This is actually what he says in the fourth book of his work on Things Possible, where he indulges in a day-dream of a central place in the infinite and still more preposterously ascribes the cause of the permanence of the world to the non-existent centre; yet in other |435| works he has often said that substance is regulated and held together by its movements towards its own centre and away from its own centre.

§29 “Then again, who could feel alarm at the other notions of the Stoics, who ask how there shall continue to be one Destiny and one Providence, and how there shall not be many supreme gods bearing the name of Zeus or Zen, if there are more worlds than one? For, in the first place, if it is preposterous that there should be many supreme gods bearing this name, then surely these persons’ ideas will be far more preposterous; for they make an infinite number of suns and moons and Apollos and Artemises and Poseidons in the infinite cycle of worlds. But the second point is this: what is the need that there be many gods bearing the name of Zeus, if there be more worlds than one, and that there should not be in each world, a god possessing sense and reason, such as the one who among us bears the name of Lord and Father of all? Or again, what shall prevent all worlds from being subject to the Destiny and Providence of Zeus, and what shall prevent his overseeing and directing them all in turn and supplying them all with first principles, material sources, and schemes of all that is being carried out? Do we not in this world of ours often have a single body composed of separate bodies, 97 as, for example, an assembly of people or an army or a band of dancers, each one of whom has the contingent faculty of living, thinking, and learning, as Chrysippus 98 believes, while in the whole universe, that there should be ten worlds, or fifty, or an hundred even, living under one reasoned plan, and organized under one government, is an |437| impossibility? Yet such an organization is altogether appropriate for the gods. For we must not make them unable to go out, like the queens in a hive of bees, nor keep them imprisoned by enclosing them with matter, or rather fencing them about with it, as those 99 do who make the gods to be atmospheric conditions, or regard them as powers of waters or of fire blended therewith, and bring them into being at the same time with the world, and burn them up with it, since they are not unconfined and free like drivers of horses or pilots of ships, but, just as statues are riveted and welded to their bases, so they are enclosed and fastened to the corporeal; and are partners with it even unto destruction, dissolution, and transmutation, of whatsoever sort may befall.

§30 “That other concept is, I think, more dignified and sublime, that the gods are not subject to outside control, but are their own masters, even as the twin sons of Tyndareüs 100 come to the aid of men who are labouring in the storm,

Soothing the oncoming raging sea,
Taming the swift-driving blasts of the winds, 101

not, however, sailing on the ships and sharing in the danger, but appearing above and rescuing; so, in the same way, one or another of the gods visits now this world and now that, led thither by pleasure in the sight, and co-operates with Nature in the directing of each. The Zeus of Homer 102 turned his gaze not so very far away from the land of Troy towards the |439| Thracian regions and the wandering tribes about the Danube; but the real Zeus has a fair and fitting variety of spectacles in numerous worlds, not viewing the infinite void outside nor concentrating his mind upon himself and nothing else, as some have imitated, 103 but surveying from above the many works of gods and men and the movements and courses of the stars in their cycles. In fact, the Deity is not averse to changes, but has a very great joy therein, to judge, if need be, by the alternations and cycles in the heavens among the bodies that are visible there. Infinity is altogether senseless and unreasoning, and nowhere admits a god, but in all relations it brings into action the concept of chance and accident. But the Oversight and Providence in a limited group and number of worlds, when compared with that which has entered one body and become attached to one and reshapes and remodels it an infinite number of times, seems to me to contain nothing involving less dignity or greater labour.”

§31 Having spoken at this length, I stopped. Philip, after no long interval, said, “That the truth about these matters is thus or otherwise is not for me to assert. But if we eliminate the god from one world, there is the question why we make him the creator of only five worlds and no more, and what is the relation of this number to the great mass of numbers; and I feel that I would rather gain a knowledge of this than of the meaning of the E 104 dedicated here. For the number five represents neither a triangle nor a square, nor is it a perfect number nor a cube, nor does it seem to present any |441| other subtlety for those who love and admire such speculations. Its derivation from the number of elements, at which the Master 105 hinted darkly, is in every way hard to grasp and gives no clear intimation of the plausibility which must have drawn him on to assert that it is likely that when five bodies with equal angles and equal sides and enclosed by equal areas are engendered in matter the same number of worlds should at once be perfected from them.” 104 The meaning is discussed in the second essay of this volume.

§32 “Yes,” said I, “Theodorus of Soli 106 seems to follow up the subject not ineptly in his explanations of Plato’s mathematical theories. He follows it up in this way: a pyramid, an octahedron, an icosahedron, and a dodecahedron, the primary figures which Plato predicates, are all beautiful because of the symmetries and equalities in their relations, and nothing superior or even like to these 107 has been left for Nature to compose and fit together. It happens, however, that they do not all have one form of construction, nor have they all a similar origin, but the pyramid is the simplest and smallest, while the dodecahedron is the largest and most complicated. Of the remaining two the icosahedron is more than double the octahedron in the number of its triangles. For this reason it is impossible for them all to derive their origin from one and the same matter. For those that are simple and small and more rudimentary in their structure would necessarily be the first to respond to the instigating and formative power, and to be completed and acquire substantiality earlier than those of large parts and many bodies, from which class comes the dodecahedron, which requires |443| more labour for its construction. Hence it follows that the only primal body is the pyramid, and not one of the others, since by their nature they are outdistanced by it coming into being. Accordingly, the remedy which exists for this strange state of affairs consists in the division and separation of matter into five worlds, one where the pyramid shall acquire substantiality first, another for the octahedron, and another for the icosahedron; then from the one that first acquires substantiality in each world the rest will have their origin, since a transmutation for everything into everything takes place according to the adaptability of parts to fit together, as Plato 108 himself has indicated, going into the details of nearly all cases. But for us it will suffice to acquire the knowledge in brief form. Since air is formed when fire is extinguished, we must observe the behaviour of each of the generative elements and their transmutations. The generative elements of fire are the pyramid, 109 composed of twenty-four primary triangles, and likewise for air the octahedron, composed of forty-eight of the same. Therefore one element of air is produced from two corpuscles of fire combined and united; and that of air again, when divided, is separated into two corpuscles of fire, and again, when compressed and condensed, it goes off into the form of water. The result is that in every case the one which first acquires substantiality always affords the others a ready means of coming into being through transmutation; and it |445| is not one alone that first exists, but another in a different environment is endowed with movement, which takes the lead and forestalls the others in coming into being, and thus the name of being first is kept by all.”

§33 “Manfully and zealously,” said Ammonius, “have these matters been worked out by Theodorus; but I should be surprised if it should not appear that he has made use of assumptions which nullify each other. For he insists that all the five shall not undergo construction at the same time, but the simplest always, which requires the least trouble to construct, shall first issue forth into being. Then, as a corollary to this, and not conflicting with it, he lays down the principle that not all matter brings forth the simplest and most rudimentary form first, but that sometimes the ponderous and complex forms, in the time of their coming into being, are earlier in arising out of matter. But apart from this, five bodies having been postulated as primary, and on the strength of this the number of worlds being put as the same, he adduces probability with reference to four only; the cube he has taken off the board, as if he were playing a game with counters, since, because of its nature, it cannot transmute itself into them nor confer upon them the power of transmutation into itself, inasmuch as the triangles are not homologous triangles. For in the others the common triangle which underlies them all is the half-triangle; but in this, and peculiar to it alone, is the isosceles triangle, which makes no convergence towards the other nor any conjunction that would unify the two. If, therefore, there are five bodies and five worlds, and in each one body only has precedence in coming into being, then where the cube has been the first to come |447| into being, there will be none of the others, since, because of its nature, it cannot transmute itself into any one of them. I leave out of account the fact that they make the element of the dodecahedron, as it is called, something else and not that scalene from which Plato constructs the pyramid and the octahedron and the icosahedron. So,” added Ammonius, laughing, “either you must solve these problems or else contribute something of your own concerning this difficulty in which we all find ourselves involved.”

§34 “For the present, at least,” said I, “I have nothing more plausible to offer; but perhaps it is better to submit to examination on views of one’s own rather than on another’s. I repeat, therefore, what I said at the beginning, that if two natures be postulated, one evident to the senses, subject to change in creation and dissolution, carried now here now there, while the other is essentially conceptual and always remains the same, it is a dreadful thing that, while the conceptual nature has been parcelled out and has variety within itself, we should feel indignant and annoyed if anyone does not leave the corporeal and passive nature as a unity knit together and converging upon itself, but separates and parts it. For it is surely fitting that things permanent and divine should hold more closely together and escape, so far as may be, all segmentation and separation. But even on these the power of Differentiation has laid its hand and has wrought in things conceptual dissimilarities in reasons and ideas, which are vaster than the separations in location. Wherefore Plato, 110 opposing those who declare for the unity of the whole, says that these five things exist: Being, Identity, |449| Differentiation, and, to crown all, Movement and Rest. Granted, then, that these five exist, it is not surprising if each of these five corporeal elements has been made into a copy and image of each of them respectively, not unmixed and unalloyed, but it is because of the fact that each of them participates most in its corresponding faculty. The cube is patently a body related to rest because of the security and stability of its plane surfaces. In the pyramid everybody may note its fiery and restless quality in the simplicity of its sides and the acuteness of its angles. The nature of the dodecahedron, which is comprehensive enough to include to figures, may well seem to be a model with reference to all corporeal being. Of the remaining two, the icosahedron shares in the nature of Differentiation mostly, and the octahedron in that of Identity. For this reason the octahedron contributed air, which in a single form holds all being in its embrace, and the icosahedron water, which by admixture assumes the greatest variety of qualities. If, therefore, nature demands an equal distribution in all things, there is a reasonable probability that the worlds which have been created are neither more nor less in number than the patterns, so that each pattern in each world may have the leading rank and power just as it has acquired it in the construction of the primary bodies.

§35 “However, let this be a comfort for him that wonders because we divide Nature into so many classes in its generation and transmutation. But here is another matter 111 which I ask you all to consider, |451| and to give your undivided attention to it: of those numbers which come at the very first (I mean the number one and the indeterminate duality), the second, being the element underlying all formlessness and disarrangement, has been called infinity; but the nature of the number one limits and arrests what is void and irrational and indeterminate in infinity, gives it shape, and renders it in some way tolerant and receptive of definition, which is the next step after demonstration regarding things perceptible. Now these first principles make their appearance at the beginning in connexion with number; rather, however, larger amounts are not number at all unless the number one, created from the illimitability of infinity, like a form of matter, cuts off more on one side and less on the other. Then, in fact, any of the larger amounts becomes number through being delimited by the number one. But if the number one be done away with, once more the indeterminate duality throws all into confusion, and makes it to be without rhythm, bounds, or measure. Inasmuch as form is not the doing away with matter, but a shaping and ordering of the underlying matter, it needs must be that both these first principles be existent in number, and from this has arisen the first and greatest divergence and dissimilarity. For the indeterminate first principle is the creator of the even, and the better one of the odd. Two is the first of the even numbers and three the first of the odd; from the two combined comes five, 112 which in its composition is common to both numbers and in its potentiality is odd. For when the perceptible and corporeal was divided into |453| several parts because of the innate necessity of differentiation, that number had to be neither the first even nor the first odd, but the third number, which is formed from these two, so that it might be produced from both the primary principles, that which created the even and that which created the odd, because it was not possible for the one to be divorced from the other; for each possesses the nature and the potentiality of a first principle. So when the two were paired, the better one prevailed over the indeterminate as it was dividing the corporeal and checked it; and when matter was being distributed to the two, it set unity in the middle and did not allow the whole to be divided into two parts, but there has been created a number of worlds by differentiation of the indeterminate and by its being carried in varying directions; yet the power of Identity and Limitation has had the effect of making that number odd, but the kind of odd that did not permit Nature to progress beyond what is best. If the number one were unalloyed and pure, matter would not have any separation at all; but since it has been combined with the dividing power of duality, it has had to submit to being cut up and divided, but there it stopped, the even being overpowered by the odd.

§36 “It was for this reason that among the people of olden time it was the custom to call counting ‘numbering by fives.’ 113 I think also that ‘panta’ (all) is derived from ‘pente’ (five) in accord with reason, inasmuch as the pentad is a composite of the first numbers. 114 As a matter of fact, when the others are multiplied by other numbers, the result is a number different from themselves; but the pentad, |455| if it be taken an even number of times, makes ten exactly; and if an odd number of times, it reproduces itself. 3 I leave out of account the fact that it is the first composite of the first two squares, unity and the tetrad; 115 and that it is the first whose square is equal to the two immediately preceding it, making with them the most beautiful of the right-angled triangles; 116 and it is the first to give the ratio 1½ : 1. 117 However, perhaps these matters have not much relation to the subject before us; but there is another matter more closely related, and that is the dividing power of this number, by reason of its nature, and the fact that Nature does distribute most things by fives. For example, she has allotted to ourselves five senses and five parts to the soul: 118 physical growth, perception, appetite, fortitude, and reason; also five fingers on each hand, and the most fertile seed when it is divided five times, for there is no record that a woman ever had more than five children together at one birth. 119 The Egyptians have a tradition 120 that Rhea gave birth to five gods, an intimation of the genesis of the five worlds from one single Matter; and in the universe the surface of the earth is divided among five zones, and the heavens by five circles, two arctic, two tropic, and the equator in the middle. Five, too, are the orbits of the planets, if the Sun and Venus and Mercury follow the same course. The organization of the world also is based on harmony, just as a tune with us is seen |457| to depend on the five notes of the tetrachord; 121 lowest, middle, conjunct, disjunct, and highest; and the musical intervals are five: quarter-tone, semitone, tone, tone and a half, and double tone. Thus it appears that Nature takes a greater delight in making all things in fives than in making them round, as Aristotle 122 has said.

§37 “‘Why, then,’ someone will say, ‘did Plato 123 refer the number of his five worlds to the five geometric figures, saying that God used up the fifth construction on the universe in completing this embellishment?’ Further on, where he suggests the question about there being more worlds than one, 124 whether it is proper to speak of one or of five as in truth naturally existent, it is clear that he thinks that the idea started from this source. If, therefore, we must apply reasonable probability to his conception, let us consider that the variations in movement necessarily follow close upon the variations in the bodies and their shapes, as he himself teaches 125 when he makes it plain that whatever is disunited or united changes its place at the same time with the alternation of its substance. For example, if fire is generated from air by the breaking up of the octahedron and its resolution into pyramids, or again if air is generated from fire by its being forced together and compressed into an octahedron, it is not possible for it to stay where it was before, but it escapes and is carried to some other place, forcing its way out and contending against anything that blocks its course or keeps it back. |459| What takes place he describes more clearly by a simile, 126 saying that in a manner like to ‘grain and chaff being tossed about and winnowed by the fans and other tools used in cleaning the grain’ the elements toss matter about and are tossed about by it; and like always draws near to like, some things occupying one place and others another, before the universe becomes completely organized out of the elements. Thus, when matter was in that state in which, in all probability, is the universe from which God is absent, the first five properties, having tendencies of their own, were at once carried in different directions, not being completely or absolutely separated, because, when all things were amalgamated, the inferior always followed the superior in spite of Nature. 127 For this reason they produced in the different kinds of bodies, as these were carried some in one direction and others in another, an equal number of separate divisions with intervals between them, one not of pure fire, but fiery, another not of earth by itself alone, but earthy; and above all, in keeping with the close association of air with water, they contrived, as has been said, 128 that these should come away filled with many foreign elements. It was not the Deity who parted substance and caused it to rest in different places, but, after it had been parted by its own action and was being carried in diverse ways in such great disarray, he took it over and set it in |461| order and fitted it together by the use of proportions and means. Then, after establishing Reason in each as a governor and guardian, he created as many worlds as the existing primal bodies. Let this, then, be an offering for the gratification of Plato on Ammonius’s account, but as for myself, I should not venture to assert regarding the number of worlds that they are just so many; but the opinion that sets their number at more than one, and yet not infinite, but limited in amount, I regard as no more irrational than either of the others, when I observe the dispersiveness and divisibility implicit by nature in Matter, and that it neither abides as a unit nor is permitted by Reason to progress to infinity. But if in any other place we have recalled the Academy 129 to our mind, let us do so here as well, and divest ourselves of excessive credulity and, as if we were in a slippery place in our discussion about infinity, let us merely keep a firm footing.”

§38 When I had said this, Demetrius remarked, “Lamprias gives the right advice; for

The gods make us to slip by many forms

not ‘of tricks,’ as Euripides 130 says, but of facts, whenever we make bold to pronounce opinions about such matters as if we understood them. ‘But the discussion must be carried back,’ as the same writer says, 131 to the assumption made at the beginning. For what was said then, that when the demigods withdraw and forsake the oracles, these lie idle and inarticulate like the instruments of musicians, raises another question of greater import regarding the causative means and power which they employ to |463| make the prophetic priests and priestesses possessed by inspiration and able to present their visions. For it is not possible to hold that the desertion by the demigods is the reason for the silence of the oracles unless we are convinced as to the manner in which the demigods, by having the oracles in their charge and by their presence there, make them active and articulate.”

Here Ammonius joined in and said, “Do you really think that the demigods are aught else than souls that make their rounds, ‘in mist apparelled,’ as Hesiod 132 says? To my mind the difference between man and man in acting tragedy or comedy is the difference between soul and soul arrayed in a body suitable for its present life. It is, therefore, not at all unreasonable or even marvellous that souls meeting souls should create in them impressions of the future, exactly as we do not convey all our information to one another through the spoken word, but by writing also, or merely by a touch or a glance, we give much information about what has come to pass and intimation of what is to come. Unless it be, Lamprias, that you have another story to tell. For not long ago a rumour reached us about your having had a long talk on these subjects with strangers at Lebadeia, but the man who told of it could recall none of it with exactness.”

“You need not be surprised,” said I, “since many activities and distractions occurring in the midst of it, because it was a day for oracles and sacrifice, made our conversation desultory and disconnected.”

“But now,” said Ammonius, “you have listeners with nothing to distract them and eager to seek and |465| gain information on this point or that; all strife and contention is banished and a sympathetic hearing and freedom of statement, as you observe, is granted for all that may be said.”

§39 As the others also joined in the request, I, after a moment of silence, continued, "As a matter of fact, Ammonius, by some chance you happen to be the one who provided the opening and approach for what was said on that occasion. For if the souls which have been severed from a body, or have had no part with one at all, are demigods according to you and the divine Hesiod, 133

Holy dwellers on earth and the guardian spirits of mortals,

why deprive souls in bodies of that power by virtue of which the demigods possess the natural faculty of knowing and revealing future events before they happen? For it is not likely that any power or portion accrues to souls when they have left the body, if they did not possess them before; but the souls always possess them; only they possess them to a slight degree while conjoined with the body, some of them being completely imperceptible and hidden, others weak and dim, and about as ineffectual and slow in operation as persons that try to see in a fog or to move about in water, and requiring much nursing and restoring of the functions that properly belong to them and the removal and clearing away of the covering which hides them. Just as the sun does not become bright when it bursts through the clouds, but is bright always, and yet in a fog appears to us indistinct and dim, even so the soul does not acquire the prophetic power when it goes forth from the body |467| as from a cloud; it possesses that power even now, but is blinded by being combined and commingled with the mortal nature. We ought not to feel surprised or incredulous at this when we see in the soul, though we see naught else, that faculty which is the complement of prophecy, and which we call memory, and how great an achievement is displayed in preserving and guarding the past, or rather what has been the present, since nothing of all that has come to pass has any existence or substantiality, because the very instant when anything comes to pass, that is the end of it — of actions, words, experiences alike; for Time like an everflowing stream bears all things onward. But this faculty of the soul lays hold upon them, I know not how, and invests with semblance and being things not now present here. The oracle given to the Thessalians about Arnê 134 bade them note

A deaf man’s hearing, a blind man’s sight.

But memory is for us the hearing of deeds to which we are deaf and the seeing of things to which we are blind. Hence, as I said, it is no wonder that, if it has command over things that no longer are, it anticipates many of those which have not yet come to pass, since these are more closely related to it, and with these it has much in common; for its attachments and associations are with the future, and it is quit of all that is past and ended, save only to remember it.

§40 “Souls therefore, all possessed of this power, which is innate but dim and hardly manifest, nevertheless oftentimes disclose its flower and radiance in |469| dreams, and some in the hour of death, 135 when the body becomes cleansed of all impurities and attains a temperament adapted to this end, a temperament through which the reasoning and thinking faculty of the souls is relaxed and released from their present state as they range amid the irrational and imaginative realms of the future. It is not true, as Euripides 136 says, that

The best of seers is he that guesses well;

no, the best of seers is the intelligent man, following the guidance of that in his soul which possesses sense and which, with the help of reasonable probability, leads him on his way. But that which foretells the future, like a tablet without writing, is both irrational and indeterminate in itself, but receptive of impressions and presentiments through what may be done to it, and inconsequently grasps at the future when it is farthest withdrawn from the present. Its withdrawal is brought about by a temperament and disposition of the body as it is subjected to a change which we call inspiration. Often the body of itself alone attains this disposition. Moreover the earth sends forth for men streams of many other potencies, some of them producing derangement, diseases, or deaths; others helpful, benignant, and beneficial, as is plain from the experience of persons who have come upon them. But the prophetic current and breath is most divine and holy, whether it issue by itself through the air or come in the company of |471| running waters; for when it is instilled into the body, it creates in souls an unaccustomed and unusual temperament, the peculiarity of which it is hard to describe with exactness, but analogy offers many comparisons. It is likely that by warmth and diffusion it opens up certain passages through which impressions of the future are transmitted, just as wine, when its fumes rise to the head, reveals many unusual movements and also words stored away and unperceived.

For Bacchic rout
And frenzied mind contain much prophecy,

according to Euripides, 137 when the soul becomes hot and fiery, and throws aside the caution that human intelligence lays upon it, and thus often diverts and extinguishes the inspiration.

§41 “At the same time one might assert, not without reason, that a dryness engendered with the heat subtilizes the spirit of prophecy and renders it ethereal and pure; for this is ‘the dry soul,’ as Heracleitus has it. 138 Moisture not only dulls sight and hearing, but when it touches mirrors and combines with air, it takes away their brightness and sheen. 139 But again the very opposite of this may not be impossible: that by a sort of chilling and compacting of the spirit of inspiration the prophetic element in the soul, as when steel is dipped in cold water, is rendered tense and keen. And further, just as tin |473| when alloyed with copper, which is loose and porous in texture, binds it together and compacts it, 140 and at the same time makes it brighter and cleaner, even so there is nothing to prevent the prophetic vapour, which contains some affinity and relationship to souls, from filling up the vacant spaces and cementing all together by fitting itself in. For one thing has affinity and adaptability for one thing, another for another, just as the bean 141 seems to further the dyeing of purple and sodium carbonate 142 that of scarlet, when mixed with the dye;

All in the linen is blended the splendour of glorious scarlet,

as Empedocles 143 has said. But regarding the Cydnus and the sacred sword of Apollo in Tarsus we used to hear you say, my dear Demetrius, that the Cydnus will cleanse no steel but that, and no other water will cleanse that sword. There is a similar phenomenon at Olympia, where they pile the ashes against the altar and make them adhere all around by pouring on them water from the Alpheius; but, although they have tried the waters of other rivers, there is none with which they can make the ashes cohere and stay fixed in their place.

§42 “It is not, therefore, anything to excite amazement if, although the earth sends up many streams, it is only such as these that dispose souls to inspiration and impressions of the future. Certainly the voice of legend also is in accord with my statement; |475| for they record that here the power hovering about this spot was first made manifest when a certain shepherd fell in by accident and later gave forth inspired utterances, which those who came into contact with him at first treated with disdain; but later, when what he had foretold came to pass, they were amazed. The most learned of the people of Delphi still preserve the tradition of his name, which they say was Coretas. But I incline most to the opinion that the soul acquires towards the prophetic a close and intimate connexion of the sort that vision has towards light, which possesses similar properties. For, although the eye has the power of vision, there is no function for it to perform without light; 144 and so the prophetic power of the soul, like an eye, has need of something kindred to help to kindle it and stimulate it further. Hence many among earlier generations regarded Apollo and the Sun as one and the same god; but those who understood and respected fair and wise analogy conjectured that as body is to soul, vision to intellect, and light to truth, so is the power of the sun to the nature of Apollo; and they would make it appear that the sun is his offspring and progeny, being for ever born of him that is for ever. For the sun kindles and promotes and helps to keep in activity the power of vision in our perceptive sense, just as the god does for the power of prophecy in the soul.

§43 "Those, however, who had reached the conclusion that the two are one and the same god very naturally dedicated the oracle to Apollo and Earth in common, thinking that the sun creates the disposition and temperament in the earth from which the prophet-inspiring |477| vapours are wafted forth. As Hesiod, 145 then, with a better understanding than some philosophers, spoke of the Earth itself as

Of All the unshaken foundation,

so we believe it to be everlasting and imperishable. But in the case of the powers associated with the earth it is reasonable that there should come to pass disappearances in one place and generation in another place, and elsewhere shifting of location and, from some other source, changes in current, 146 and that such cycles should complete many revolutions within it in the whole course of time, as we may judge from what happens before our eyes. For in the case of lakes and rivers, and even more frequently in hot springs, there have occurred disappearances and complete extinction in some places, and in others a stealing away, as it were, and sinking under ground; 147 later they came back, appearing after a time in the same places or flowing out from below somewhere near. We know also of the exhaustion of mines, some of which have given out recently, as for example the silver mines of Attica and the copper ore in Euboea from which the cold-forged sword-blades used to be wrought, as Aeschylus 148 has said,

Euboean sword, self-sharpened, in his hand.

And it is no long time since the rock in Euboea ceased to yield, among its other products, soft petrous |479| filaments like yarn. 149 I think some of you have seen towels, nets, and women’s head-coverings from there, which cannot be burned by fire;but if any become soiled by use, their owners throw them into a blazing fire and take them out bright and clear. Today all this has disappeared, and there are scarcely any attenuated fibres or hairs, as it were, running through the mines.

§44 “And yet the school of Aristotle 150 would make it appear that exhalation is the author of all these changes that have taken place in the earth, and that things of this nature must of necessity follow with it in disappearing, changing their locality, and bursting forth once more in full vigour. Plainly the same sober opinion is to be held regarding the spirits that inspire prophecy; the power that they possess is not everlasting and ageless, but is subject to changes. For excessive rains most likely extinguish them, and they probably are dispersed by thunderbolts, and especially, when the earth is shaken beneath by an earthquake and suffers subsidence and ruinous confusion in its depths, the exhalations shift their site or find completely blind outlets, as in this place they say that there are still traces of that great earthquake which overthrew the city. And in Orchomenos they relate that a pestilence raged and many persons died of it, and the oracle of Teiresias became altogether obsolescent and even to this day remains idle and mute. And if a like fate has befallen those in Cilicia, as we have been told, there is nobody, Demetrius, who could give us more certain information than you.” |481|

§45 “I do not know,” said Demetrius, “the state of affairs there at present; for as you all know, I have been out of the country for a long time now. But, when I was there, both the oracle of Mopsus and that of Amphilochus were still flourishing. I have a most amazing thing to tell as the result of my visit to the oracle of Mopsus. The ruler of Cilicia was himself still of two minds towards religious matters. This, I think, was because his skepticism lacked conviction, for in all else he was an arrogant and contemptible man. Since he kept about him certain Epicureans, who, because of their admirable nature-studies, forsooth, have an arrogant contempt, as they themselves aver, 151 for all such things as oracles, he sent in a freedman, like a spy into the enemy’s territory, arranging that he should have a sealed tablet, on the inside of which was written the inquiry without anyone’s knowing what it was. The man accordingly, as is the custom, passed the night in the sacred precinct and went to sleep, and in the morning reported a dream in this fashion: it seemed to him that a handsome man stood beside him who uttered just one word ‘Black’ and nothing more, and was gone immediately. The thing seemed passing strange to us, and raised much inquiry, but the ruler was astounded and fell down and worshipped; then opening the tablet he shoed written there the question: ‘Shall I sacrifice to you a white bull or a black?’ The result was that the Epicureans were put to confusion, and the ruler himself not only duly performed the sacrifice, but ever after revered Mopsus.”

§46 When Demetrius had told this tale he lapsed into silence. But I, wishing to crown, as it were, |483| the discussion, glanced again towards Philip and Ammonius who were sitting side by side. They seemed to me to be desirous of saying something to us, and again I checked myself. Then Ammonius said, “Philip also has some remarks to make, Lamprias, about what has been said; for he himself thinks, as most people do, that Apollo is not a different god, but is the same as the sun. 152 But my difficulty is greater and concerns greater matters. I do not know how it happened, but a little time ago we yielded to logic in wresting here the prophetic art from the gods and transferring it merely to the demigods. But now it seems to me that we are thrusting out these very demigods, in their turn, and driving them away from the oracle and the tripod here, when we resolve the origin of prophecy, or rather its very being and power, into winds and vapours and exhalations. For these temperings and heatings and hardenings that have been spoken of serve only the more to withdraw repute from the gods and suggest in regard to the final cause some such conclusion as Euripides 153 makes his Cyclops employ:

The earth perforce, whether it will or no,
Brings forth the grass to fat my grazing flocks.

But there is one difference: he says that he does not offer them in sacrifice to the gods, but to himself and to his ‘belly, greatest of divinities,’ whereas we offer both sacrifices and prayers as the price for our oracles. What possesses us to do so, if our souls carry within themselves the prophetic power, and it is some particular state of the air or its currents which stirs this to activity? And what is the significance of the |485| libations poured over the victims and the refusal to give responses unless the whole victim from the hoof-joints up is seized with a trembling and quivering, as the libation is poured over it? Shaking the head is not enough, as in other sacrifices, but the tossing and quivering must extend to all parts of the animal alike accompanied by a tremulous sound; and unless this takes place they say that the oracle is not functioning, and do not even bring in the prophetic priestess. Yet it is only on the assumption that they ascribe the cause almost entirely to a god or a demigod that it is reasonable for them to act and to believe thus; but on the basis of what you say it is not reasonable. For the presence of the exhalation, whether the victim be excited or not, will produce the inspiration and will dispose the soul auspiciously, not only the soul of the priestess, but that of any ordinary person with whom it may come into contact. Wherefore it is silly to employ one woman alone for the purpose of the oracles and to give her trouble by watching her to keep her pure and chaste all her life. As a matter of fact, this Coretas, who the people of Delphi say was the first, because he fell in, to supply any means of knowing about the power with which the place is endowed, was not, I think, any different from the rest of the goatherds and shepherds, if so be that this is not a fable or a fabrication as I, for one, think it is. When I take into account the number of benefactions to the Greeks for which this oracle has been responsible, both in wars and in the founding of cities, in cases of pestilence and failure of crops, I think it is a dreadful thing to assign its discovery and origin, not to God and Providence, but to chance and accident. But regarding |487| these matters,” he added, “I wish that Lamprias would say something to us. Will you wait?”

“Certainly I will,” said Philip, “and so will all who are here. For what you have said has set us all thinking.”

§47 Then I, addressing myself to him, said, “Not only has it set me thinking, Philip, but it has filled me with confusion, if, in the presence of so many men such as you all are, I seem, in contradiction to my years, to give myself airs over the plausibility of my argument and to upset or disturb any of the briefs regarding the Deity which have been conceived in truth and in piety. I shall defend myself by citing Plato as my witness and advocate in one. That philosopher 154 found fault with Anaxagoras, the one of early times, because he was too much wrapped up in the physical causes and was always following up and pursuing the law of necessity as it was worked out in the behaviour of bodies, and left out of account the purpose and the agent, which are better causes and origins. Plato himself was the first of the philosophers, or the one most prominently engaged in prosecuting investigations of both sorts, to assign to God, on the one hand, the origin of all things that are in keeping with reason, and on the other hand, not to divest matter of the causes necessary for whatever comes into being, but to realize that the perceptible universe, even when arranged in some such orderly way as this, is not pure and unalloyed, but that it takes its origin from matter when matter comes into conjunction with reason. Observe first how it is with the artists. Take as our first example the far-famed stand and base for the mixing-bowl here which |489| Herodotus 155 has styled the ‘bowl-holder’; it came to have as its material causes fire and steel and softening by means of fire and tempering by means of water, without which there is no expedient by which this work could be produced; but art and reason supplied for it the more dominant principle which set all these in motion and operated through them. And, indeed, the author and creator of these likenesses and portraits here stands recorded in the inscription: 156

Thasian by race and descent, Aglaophon’s son Polygnotus
Painted the taking of Troy, showing her citadel’s sack;

so that it may be seen that he painted them. But without pigments ground together, losing their own colour in the process, nothing could achieve such a composition and sight. Does he, then, who is desirous of getting hold of the material cause, as he investigates and explains the behaviour of the red earth of Sinopê and the changes to which it is subject when mixed with yellow ochre, or of the light-coloured earth of Melos when mixed with lamp-black, take away the repute of the artist? And he that goes into the details of the hardening and the softening of steel, how it is relaxed by the fire, and becomes pliant and yielding for those who forge and fashion it, and then, plunged anew into clear water, is contracted and compacted by the coldness because of the softness and looseness of texture previously engendered |491| by the fire, and acquires a tenseness and firmness which Homer 157 has called ‘the brawn of steel’ — does such an investigator any the less preserve intact for the artist the credit for the creation of the work? I think not. In fact there are some who question the properties of medicinal agents, but they do not do away with medical science. And thus when Plato 158 declared that we see by the commingling of the irradiation from our eyes with the light of the sun, and that we hear by the vibration of the air, he certainly did not mean by this to abrogate the fundamental fact that it is according to the design of Reason and Providence that we have been endowed with sight and hearing.

§48 “To sum up, then: while every form of creation has, as I say, two causes, the very earliest theological writers and poets chose to heed only the superior one, uttering over all things that come to pass this common generality:

Zeus the beginning, Zeus in the midst, and from Zeus comes all being; 159 but as yet they made no approach towards the compelling and natural causes. On the other hand the younger generation which followed them, and are called physicists or natural philosophers, reverse the procedure of the older school in their aberration from the beautiful and divine origin, and ascribe everything to bodies and their behaviour, to clashes, transmutations, and combinations. Hence the reasoning of both parties is deficient in what is essential to it, |493| since the one ignores or omits the intermediate and the agent, the other the source and the means. He who was the first to comprehend clearly both these points and to take, as a necessary adjunct to the agent that creates and actuates, the underlying matter, which is acted upon, clears us also of all suspicion of wilful misstatement. The fact is that we do not make the prophetic art godless or irrational when we assign to it as its material the soul of a material human being, and assign the spirit of inspiration and the exhalation as an instrument or plectrum for playing on it. For, in the first place, the earth, which generates the exhalation, and the sun, which endows the earth with all its power of tempering and transmutation, are, by the usage of our fathers, gods for us. Secondly, if we leave demigods as overseers, watchmen, and guardians of this tempered constitution, as if it were a kind of harmony, slackening here and tightening there on occasion, taking from it its too distracting and disturbing elements and incorporating those that are painless and harmless to the users, we shall not appear to be doing anything irrational or impossible.

§49 Nor again, in offering the preliminary sacrifice to learn the god’s will and in putting garlands on victims or pouring libations over them, are we doing anything to contradict this reasoning. For when the priests and holy men say that they are offering sacrifice and pouring the libation over the victim and observing its movements and its trembling, of what else do they take this to be a sign save that the god is in his holy temple? For what is to be offered in sacrifice must, both in body and in soul, be pure, unblemished, and unmarred. Indications regarding the body it is not at all difficult to perceive, but they |495| test the soul by setting meal before the bulls and peas before the boars; and the animal that does not eat of this they think is not of sound mind. In the case of the goat, they say, cold water gives positive proof; for indifference and immobility against being suddenly wet is not characteristic of a soul in a normal state. But for the most part, even if it be firmly established that the trembling is a sign of the god’s being in his holy temple and the contrary a sign of his not being there, I cannot see what difficulty in my statements results therefrom. For every faculty duly performs its natural functions better or worse concurrently with some particular time; and if that time escapes our ken, it is only reasonable that the god should give sign of it.

§50 “I think, then, that the exhalation is not in the same state all the time, but that it has recurrent periods of weakness and strength. Of the proof on which I depend I have as witnesses many foreigners and all the officials and servants at the shrine. It is a fact that the room in which they seat those who would consult the god is filled, not frequently or with any regularity, but as it may chance from time to time, with a delightful fragrance coming on a current of air which bears it towards the worshippers, as if its source were in the holy of holies; and it is like the odour which the most exquisite and costly perfumes send forth. It is likely that this efflorescence is produced by warmth or some other force engendered there. If this does not seem credible, you will at least all agree that the prophetic priestess herself is subjected to differing influences, varying from time to time, which affect that part of her soul with which the spirit of inspiration comes into association, and that she |497| does not always keep one temperament, like a perfect concord, unchanged on every occasion. For many annoyances and disturbances of which she is conscious, and many more unperceived, lay hold upon her body and filter into her soul; and whenever she is replete with these, it is better that she should not go there and surrender herself to the control of the god, when she is not completely unhampered (as if she were a musical instrument, well strung and well tuned), but is in a state of emotion and instability. Wine, for example, does not always produce the same state of intoxication in the toper, 160 nor the music of the flute the same state of exaltation in the votary; but the same persons are roused now to less, now to more, extravagant conduct by the Bacchic revels or stimulated by the wine, as the temperament within them becomes different. But especially does the imaginative faculty of the soul seem to be swayed by the alterations in the body, and to change as the body changes, a fact which is clearly shown in dreams; for at one time we find ourselves beset in our dreams by a multitude of visions of all sorts, and at another time again there comes a complete calmness and rest free from all such fancies. We ourselves know of Cleon here from Daulia and that he asserts that in all the many years he has lived he has never had a dream; and among the older men the same thing is told of Thrasymedes of Heraea. The cause of this is the temperament of the body, just as that of persons who are prone to melancholy, at the other extreme, is subject to a multitude of dreams and visions; wherefore they have the repute of possessing the faculty of dreaming straight; for since they turn now to this |499| and now to that in their imagery, like persons who shoot many arrows, they often manage to hit the mark.

§51 “Whenever, then, the imaginative and prophetic faculty is in a state of proper adjustment for attempering itself to the spirit as to a drug, inspiration in those who foretell the future is bound to come; and whenever the conditions are not thus, it is bound not to come, or when it does come to be misleading, abnormal, and confusing, as we know in the case of the priestess who died not so long ago. As it happened, a deputation from abroad had arrived to consult the oracle. The victim, it is said, remained unmoved and unaffected in any way by the first libations; but the priests, in their eagerness to please, went far beyond their wonted usage, and only after the victim had been subjected to a deluge and nearly drowned did it at last give in. What, then, was the result touching the priestess? She went down into the oracle unwillingly, they say, and half-heartedly; and at her first responses it was at once plain from the harshness of her voice that she was not responding properly; she was like a labouring ship and was filled with a mighty and baleful spirit. Finally she became hysterical and with a frightful shriek rushed towards the exit and threw herself down, with the result that not only the members of the deputation fled, but also the oracle-interpreter Nicander and those holy men that were present. However, after a little, they went in and took her up, still conscious; and she lived on for a few days.

“It is for these reasons that they guard the chastity of the priestess, and keep her life free from all |501| association and contact with strangers, and take the omens before the oracle, thinking that it is clear to the god when she has the temperament and disposition suitable to submit to the inspiration without harm to herself. The power of the spirit does not affect all persons nor the same persons always in the same way, but it only supplies an enkindling and an inception, as has been said, for them that are in a proper state to be affected and to undergo the change. The power comes from the gods and demigods, but, for all that, it is not unfailing nor imperishable nor ageless, lasting into that infinite time by which all things between earth and moon become wearied out, according to our reasoning. And there are some who assert that the things above the moon also do not abide, but give out as they confront the everlasting and infinite, and undergo continual transmutations and rebirths.

§52 “These matters,” I added, "I urge upon you for your frequent consideration, as well as my own, in the belief that they contain much to which objections might be made, and many suggestions looking to a contrary conclusion, all of which the present occasion does not allow us to follow out. So let them be postponed until another time, and likewise the question which Philip raises about the Sun and Apollo.”


1^ The numerous other references to this story may be found most conveniently in Frazer’s Pausanias, v. p. 315.

2^ Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, ii. p. 191, Epimenides, no. b 11.

3^The year 83-84 A.D.

4^ Cf. Inscript. Graec. xiv. no. 2548 θεοῖς τοῖς τοῦ ἡγεμονικοῦ Πραιτωρίου Σκριβώνιος (others σκρῖβα) Δημήτριος and Ὠκεανῷ καὶ Τηθύι Δημήτριος. cf. also Huebner, Ephemeris Epigr. iii. 312; Clark, Archaeol. Jour. xlii. p. 425; Dessau, in Hermes, xlvi. (1911) pp. 156 ff.

5^ Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. iii. p. 184, Alcaeus, no. 113.

6^ Il. x. 173.

7^ Od. iii. 367-368.

8^ Il. x. 394., for example; cf. also Moralia, 923b. Further explanation of the idea that θοός may mean "conical" may be found in the Life and Poetry of Homer, 21 (Bernardakis’s edition, vol. vii. p. 347).

9^ Syenê was on the Tropic of Cancer, and because of the fact that on the day of the summer solstice the sun was directly overhead it was used by Eratosthenes (third century B.C.) as one of the termini in calculating the circumference of the Earth. Cleomedes, On the Circular Movement of Heavenly Bodies, i. 10, describes Eratosthenes’ method.

10^ Cf. Plutarch, Comment. on Hesiod, Works and Days, 559 (Bernardakis’s edition, vol. vii. p. 78).

11^ The MSS. show several lacunae and corruptions here; the general sense must be restored from Herodotus, viii. 133-135. For some unexplained reason Plutarch in his Life of Aristeides, chap. xix. (330 C) and Pausanias, ix. 23, lay this scene at the oracle of Trophonius at Lebadeia.

12^ Cf. Life of Themistocles, chap. vi. (114d); Life of Cato the Elder, chap. xxiii. (350 C).

13^ The oracle of Amphiaraüs was an incubation oracle; the consultants went to sleep in the shrine and received their answer in dreams.

14^ Mardonius was defeated at Plataea in 479 B.C. by the Greeks under the command of Pausanias, who was regent of Sparta and guardian of Pleistarchus, son of Leonidas.

15^ Plutarch gives more information about Tegyrae in his the Life of Pelopidas, chap. xvi. (286b).

16^ In the year 421 B.C. (Thucydides, v. 1).

17^ In the northeast corner of the sacred precinct. The foundations may still be seen.

18^ Homer, Od. iv. 140.

19^ Present βάλλω, future βαλῶ.

20^ Works and Days, 199.

21^ Cf. 387d supra, and the note.

22^ Cf. 408c, supra.

23^ Cf. Moralia, 169e.

24^ Ibid. 394a and 1102e; Pindar, Frag. 149 (ed. Christ).

25^ Cf. 386b, supra, and the note.

26^ The language is reminiscent of ἐπέκεινα τῆς οὐσίας (Plato, Republic 509b).

27^ The sacred truce, made throughout the Greek world, for the duration of the Pythian games.

28^ Cf. Herodotus, ix. 21 and 28.

29^ Homer, Il. ii. 96.

30^ Cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 311, Sophocles, no. 766 (no. 850 Pearson). The same thought is in the Oedipus at Colonus, 607.

31^ Eurycles was a famous ventriloquist. Cf. Plato, Sophist, 252c, and Aristophanes, Wasps, 1019, with the scholium.

32^ Cf. 397c and 404b, supra.

33^ In the Timaeus, 48e ff., for example.

34^ Cf. Plutarch, Comment. on Hesiod, Works and Days, 122 (Bernardakis’s edition, vol. vii. p. 52); cf. also 390e, supra.

35^ Cf. Plutarch, Comment. on Hesiod, Works and Days, 122 (Bernardakis’s edition, vol. vii. p. 52); cf. also 390e, supra.

36^ Hesiod, Frag. 183 (ed. Rzach); cf. the Latin version of Ausonius, p. 93, ed. Peiper (1886). See also Moralia, 989a; Martial, x. 67; Achilles Tatius, iv. 4. 3.

37^ Cf. Aristophanes, Birds, 609.

38^ Pindar, Frag. 165 (ed. Christ); quoted also in Moralia, 757f.

39^ Cf. Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. p. 76, Heracleitus, no. A 19.

40^ That is 1 + (1 × 2) + (1 × 3) + 4 + 9 + 8 + 27 = 54.

41^ Cf. Plato, Timaeus, 34c-35a.

42^ Homer, Il. xx. 8‑9.

43^ Cf., Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. p. 97, Heracleitus, no. B 100.

44^ Cf. Censorinus, De die natali ad Iu. Caerellium, xviii. 11, and Geffcken in Hermes, xlix. 336.

45^ Cf. 415d, supra.

46^ (1 + 2 + 3 + 4) × 4 = 40.

47^ 40 × 35 = 9720.

48^ Cf. 415b, supra.

49^ “All last night the northern streamers flashed across the western sky.”

50^ Cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 674, Euripides, no. 971. Plutarch quotes the lines again in Moralia, 1090c.

51^ Cf. Moralia, 361c, and the lines of Empedocles there quoted.

52^ Ibid. 935C.

53^ Cf. Republic, 260d, and Symposium, 202e.

54^ Cf. the note on 400b supra.

55^ Cf. Moralia, 145c.

56^ Works and Days, 123, 126; cf. also Moralia, 361b, supra.

57^ Herodotus, ii. 171; cf. Moralia, 607c and 636d.

58^ Pindar, Frag. 208 (ed. Christ). Cf. Moralia, 623b and 706e.

59^ Iolê; cf. e.g. Sophocles, Trachiniae, 475‑478.

60a id="carat"href="#note60">^ A son of Deucalion.

61^ Aeschylus, Supplices, 214.

62^ Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 311, Sophocles, no. 767 (no. 851 Pearson).

63^ At the right of the second section of the sacred way, as one progresses upwards toward the temple of Apollo.

64^ See Moralia, 293b‑e.

65^ That is, a copy of the primitive circular house.

66^ Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. p. 235, Empedocles, no. B 24.

67^ Cf. Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. p. 267, Empedocles, no. B 115.

68^ Cf. von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, ii. 1104 (p. 321).

69^ Cf. Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, ii. p. 94, Democritus, no. 166; and Life of Timoleon, chap. i (235B).

70^ Cf. Herodotus, ii. 145.

71^ Presumably the Scilly islands; cf. Moralia, 941a-942a.

72^ Cf. the interesting account which Plutarch gives in Moralia, 941a ff., and Lucretius’s statement that a smouldering lamp may cause apoplexy.

73^ Cf. von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, ii. 1049 (p. 309).

74^ H. Usener, Epicurea (Leipzig, 1887), 394.

75^ Some editors would insert a negative in the last sentence.

76^ Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. 267, Empedocles, no. B 115.

77^ Cf. 421f, infra.

78^ Cf. Moralia, 293b‑c.

79^ Cf. 360f, supra.

80^ Cf. Plato, Timaeus, 55C‑D; Moralia, 389F, supra, and 430B, infra.

81^ Cf. Aristotle, De Caelo, i. 8 (276a 18).

82^ Cf. Proclus on Plato, Timaeus, p. 138B.

83^ Homer, Od. xxi. 397.

84^ Frag. 6, Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. vol. ii. p. 14.

85^ Frag. 22, Müller, Frag. Hist. Graec. vol. ii. p. 300.

86^ Cf. 390c, supra; Homer, Il. xv. 187.

87^ Cf. Plato, Timaeus, 31a, and 55c; Moralia, 390a and 887b.

88^ The Homoeomeria of Anaxagoras; cf., for example, Lucretius, i. 830 ff.

89^ Cf. Aristotle, De Caelo, i. 7 (276a 18).

90^ Cf. Moralia, 925b and 1054b.

91^ Cf. Moralia, 928a-b.

92^ Instead of revolving around it.

93^ Cf. Demosthenes, Oration vii. 45.

94^ Cf. Moralia, 1054b.

95^ Frag. 299.

96^ Cf. von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, i. 551 (p. 174), and Moralia, 1054c.

97^ Cf. Moralia, 142e; Sextus Empiricus, Adversus Mathematicos, vii. 102.

98^ Cf. von Arnim, Stoicorum Veterum Fragmenta, ii. 367 (p. 124).

99^ Ibid. 1055 (p. 311).

100^ Repeated with some variants by Plutarch in Moralia, 1103c-d; cf. Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. iii. p. 730.

101^ Homer, Il. xiii. 3.

102^ Cf. Aristotle, The Eudemian Ethics, vii. 12. 16 (1245b 14).

103^ Castor and Pollux, the protectors of sailors.

104^ The meaning is discussed in the second essay of this volume, On the ‘E’ at Delphi.

105^ Presumably Pythagoras, but possibly Plato.

106^ Cf. Moralia, 1027d.

107^ The five solids of which each has the same number of sides on all its faces, and all its solid angles made up of the same number of plane angles. Cf. Plato, Timaeus, 53c‑56c, and Grote’s Plato, iii. 269.

108^ Plato, Timaeus, 55e ff.

109^ Does Plutarch (or Plato before him) see an etymological relation between “pyramid” and “pyr” (fire)? See also 428d infra.

110^ Plato, Sophist, 256c; cf. also Moralia, 391b, supra.

111^ Cf. 387f ff., supra.

112^ Cf. 388a, supra.

113^ Cf. 374a and 387e, supra.

114^ Cf. 388 D, supra.

115^ Ibid. 391a.

116^ Ibid. 373f.

117^ Ibid. 389d.

118^ Cf. 390f, supra; Plato, Republic, 410b, 440e-441a; and much diffused in Timaeus, 70 ff.

119^ Cf. Moralia, 264b; Aristotle, Historia Animalium, vii. 4 (584b 33); since Plutarch’s time there have been a few authenticated cases of sextuplets.

120^ Cf. 355d-f, supra.

121^ Cf. 389e, 1028f, 1138f-1139b.

122^ Cf. Aristotle, De Caelo, ii. 4 (286b 10).

123^ Plato, Timaeus, 55c.

124^ Ibid. 31a; cf. 389f and 421f, supra.

125^ Plato, Timaeus, 57c.

126^ Plato, Timaeus, 52e.

127^ Some would prefer to make Plutarch say ‘in keeping with Nature.’

128^ Cf. 428d-e, supra.

129^ Cf. 387f, supra.

130^ Cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 674, Euripides, no. 972.

131^ Cf. the note on 390c, supra.

132^ Works and Days, 125.

133^ Works and Days, 123.

134^ Cf. Thucydides, i. 12.

135^ Cf. Plato, Apology, 39b.

136^ Cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 674, Euripides, no. 973; cf. Moralia, 399a, supra.

137^ Bacchae, 298.

138^ ‘A dry soul is best (and/or wisest)’ is the dictum of Heracleitus, which is often quoted; see Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. p. 100, Heracleitus, no. B 118; cf. also Moralia, 995e, and Life of Romulus, chap. xxviii (36a).

139^ Cf. Plutarch, Moralia, 736a-b.

140^ Cf. Aristotle, De Generatione Animalium, ii. 8 (747 A 34).

141^ Cf. H. Blümner, Gewerbe und Künste bei Griechen und Römern (Leipzig, 1875), i. 236.

142^ Ibid. 238.

143^ Cf. Diels, Frag. der Vorsokratiker, i. p. 255, Empedocles, no. B 93.

144^ See 436d, infra, and Plato, Republic, 508a-509b.

145^ 145 Theogony, 117.

146^ Cf. 432e, supra.

147^ A not uncommon phenomenon in Greece; cf. Moralia, 557e.

148^ Cf. Nauck, Trag. Graec. Frag. p. 107, Aeschylus, no. 356. The hardness and temper of cold-forged copper is well attested.

149^ An interesting early notice of the use of asbestos.

150^ Cf. Aristotle, Meteorologica, i. 3 (340 B 29); Cicero, De Divinatione, i. 19 (38); ii. 57 (117).

151^ Frag. 395 Usener; Diogenes Laertius, x. 135.

152^ 152 Cf. 376b, supra, and 1130a, for example.

153^ Euripides, Cyclops, 332‑333.

154^ Plato, Phaedo, 97b-c.

155^ The stand, dedicated by Alyattes (king of Lydia from 617 to 560 B.C.), was of wrought iron and welded together, not riveted. Cf. Herodotus, i. 25; Pausanias, x. 16. 1. Of interest also in this connexion is the dedication recorded in the Sigeum inscription, C.I.G. i. 8, or Roberts, Introduction to Greek Epigraphy, no. 42 (p. 78).

156^ Bergk, Poet. Lyr. Graec. iii. p. 502, Simonides, no. 160; or Edmonds, Lyra Graeca, ii. p. 399 (L. C. L.) Cf. also Pausanias, x. 25. 1.

157^ Od. ix. 393.

158^ Cf. 433d, supra, and Plato, Republic, 507c-d, and 508d.

159^ Orphic Frag. vi. 10 (21a, 2); cf. Mullach, Frag. Phil. Graec. i. p. 169. 11.

160^ Cf. 406b, supra.

Top ↑

Plutarch of Chaeronea
(46 A.D.–died after 119 A.D.)
Plutarch was a notable Greek Platonist philosopher, historian, biographer, essayist, and was the priest at the Temple of Apollo in Delphi for 30 years. He is known primarily for his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of illustrious Greeks and Romans, and Moralia, a collection of essays and speeches.

The Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi
As the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo, the Pythia served as the voice of the god from 800 B.C. to 400 A.D. He inspired her prophecies by imbuing her with the spirit of his being (enthusiasmos). She was commonly regarded as the most powerful woman of the Classical era.


The Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, the High Priestess of the Temple of Apollo. In 1891, John Collier painted the Pythia showing her seated on a tripod, veiled by vapor (pneuma, the breath of spirit, rising from a cleft in the earth beneath her.

The omphalos stone: Zeus released two eagles at opposite ends of the world, commanding them to fly across the earth and meet at its centre, which was at Delphi. There, at the center of the earth, Zeus placed an omphalos (navel) stone as a sign to humanity, signifying that Delphi was the center. A later legend says that omphalos marked the location where Apollo slew the great serpent Python to establish his oracular temple at this sacred site. Significantly, the serpent symbolizes wisdom and the creative fire.


Plutarch, “The Obsolescence of Oracles” (De Defectu Oraculorum), Moralia, F. C. Babbitt, trans., vol. v. Loeb Classical Library ed., pp 347‑501, 1936. The text is in the public domain.