Front Page Titles (by Subject) TWO: FROM OLYMPUS TO THE FORM OF THE GOOD - The Perfectibility of Man
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TWO: FROM OLYMPUS TO THE FORM OF THE GOOD - John Passmore, The Perfectibility of Man 
The Perfectibility of Man (3rd ed.) (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2000).
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FROM OLYMPUS TO THE FORM OF THE GOOD
For the Homeric Greeks, the situation was clear. Not even the gods were perfect, if perfection entails freedom either from moral or from metaphysical defect. As the poet-sage Xenophanes complained, and Plato after him: “Homer and Hesiod have ascribed to the gods everything that is a shame and a reproach amongst men, stealing and committing adultery and deceiving each other.”1 Had Zeus laid down the commandment: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your father in heaven is perfect” this would have been the sheerest hypocrisy, at least if the perfection in question is moral perfection.
In respect to metaphysical defects—or what Descartes, for example, took to be such—the Olympian gods were scarcely better off. They were, it is true, immortal and powerful, Zeus immensely so, but they were not self-created. They were born, even if sometimes by rather unorthodox mechanisms; they could suffer injury; there is not the slightest suggestion that they were indivisible or that they had an infinity of infinite attributes. Not even Zeus could stand alone in the Universe, a world complete in himself.
This is an important fact. There is a tendency nowadays to suppose it to be an a priori truth that what is divine must be perfect, both morally and metaphysically: that this is “part of what is meant” by being divine, or “part of the definition” of God. Sometimes this attitude is carried to the point of denying that the Olympian religion is “a religion at all.” That Homer should write of the gods as he does, in a tone which is unmistakably ironic, is particularly liable to shock and disturb the modern reader, persuading him that the Homeric gods were a mere literary convention who could not have been taken seriously, whether as objects of worship or as powers to be placated.
Such a view is clearly mistaken. It may be permissible to laugh at the gods; in a somewhat different sense, however, they have to be taken very seriously indeed. Some of the gods, it would seem, were more sensitive than others, more demanding, more insistent on their rights. But, in general terms, not to sacrifice to the gods, to neglect their rites, to profane their shrines, or to encroach in any way upon their privileges was to invite disastrous consequences, as Odysseus’ men learnt to their cost. There were deeds the gods would not brook: sacrilege, a breach of the laws of hospitality, the killing of a blood-relation. In fifth-century Athens, certainly, to deny their divinity was a crime; Anaxagoras was charged with impiety for declaring that the sun was not a god, but a stone. The fact remains that it was by no means impious, let alone a contradiction in terms, to deny that the gods were perfect.
Nor, equally, was it at all obvious to the Homeric Greeks that men ought to imitate the gods, even in so far as the gods did approach perfection. Quite the contrary. To set out to imitate the gods was to exhibit hubris, to be arrogant, to get above oneself. “Do not try to become Zeus,” the poet Pindar exhorted his readers. For, he continues, “mortal things suit mortals best.”2 In so far as men should guide their actions by models, it is the heroes, not the gods, on whom they should model themselves.3 If the heroes are perfect, however, it is only as exemplars of how to confront a particular situation. When, in the Odyssey, Athena exhorts Telemachus to take Orestes as his model, she does not suggest that Orestes was a perfect man; he is, rather, a perfect example of how a man ought to act in a particular situation, a perfect revenge-taker. His perfection is a technical perfection, not an immaculate perfection.
The gods, indeed, will not tolerate men thinking of themselves as perfect in any but this limited sense. That this is so may not be apparent in the Iliad, where both Greeks and Trojans are conspicuously vainglorious. By the fifth century, however, the doctrine that the gods are, in the words of Herodotus, “envious and interfering” was established as traditional orthodoxy. The gods, Herodotus depicts Solon as saying, are “envious of human prosperity.” Solon warns Croesus that “no man is ever self-sufficient; there is sure to be something missing.” And Herodotus goes on to suggest that Croesus suffered his dreadful fate “presumably because God was angry with him for supposing himself to be the happiest of men.”4 Perfect happiness is for the gods alone; to set oneself up as being godlike, whether in respect to happiness or any other respect, was, to this way of thinking, the surest way to ruin. As the chorus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon warns us:
There was, however, no metaphysical problem, as distinct from a lack of common prudence, in a man’s setting out to imitate the gods, in the sense in which there certainly is a metaphysical problem in understanding how any finite being could imitate the metaphysically perfect God of Christian theology—eternal, infinite, unchanging and indivisible. A passage from one of Pindar’s Odes is in this respect instructive. Men and gods, he says, both derive from the same mother, the earth-goddess Gaia. In intelligence and even in strength men therefore resemble the gods. If in comparison with the gods man is “as nothing,” this is only because he lacks their power, and the security which derives from their immortality.6
Since they are of the same race, should some mortal attract the roving fancy of a god or goddess, they can interbreed—although it is rash, as Ixion discovered to his cost, for mortals, even royal mortals, to take the initiative in such matters. The same passions inspire both men and gods; Eros can shoot his darts at either. In their everyday behaviour, then, the gods can be imitated. To do so, however, was certainly not the path to moral perfection. Paradoxically, it is only after philosophers and theologians had attempted to set up a God who would be more worthy of imitation than the Olympian pantheon that the question arose how it is possible for men to imitate God.
Could man find perfection, if not by imitating the Olympian gods, then at least by obedience to them, by subservience to their will? That, too, was a difficult attitude for the Olympian religion to adopt, seeing that the will of the gods was seldom unanimous. In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates draws attention to this problem. Euthyphro has defined piety as “doing that which is pleasing to the gods”; at the same time, he claims that he has acted piously in prosecuting his father for being responsible for the death of a slave. As Socrates points out, Euthyphro’s action might well be “welcome to Zeus but hateful to Cronos or Uranus, and pleasing to Hephaestus but hateful to Hera.”7 Euthyphro’s own action, that is, demonstrates how impossible it is to act in such a way as to please all the gods. To take another example, although in Aeschylus’ trilogy, the Oresteia, Orestes obeys the express command of Apollo in killing his mother, that is no excuse in the eyes of “the servants of the old gods”—the Eumenides.
No doubt, the will of Zeus is supreme,* and if men knew what Zeus had decided, they would know what they had to do. But there is not the slightest indication that the will of Zeus seeks to perfect those it works upon. The events recounted in the Iliad, Homer begins by remarking, express the will of Zeus, but they do nothing to perfect the nature of Homer’s human—or indeed, his divine—characters. If Helen shows signs of remorse, there is no suggestion that this is Zeus’ doing.
Man, in relation to the gods, is often enough represented, indeed, as a mere victim: “Zeus controls the fulfilment of all that is,” wrote the poet Semonides of Amorgos in the seventh century bc, “and disposes as he will. But insight does not belong to men: we live like beasts, always at the mercy of what the day may bring, knowing nothing of the outcome that God will impose upon our acts.”8 In Sophocles’ Women of Trachis the only explanation which is offered of Hercules’ suffering is that Zeus chose to impose it upon him. “Mark the malevolence of the unforgiving gods.” Thus it is that the play concludes. Perfection, so much is clear, was not to be sought in obedience to the will of such gods as these.
It is not surprising, then, that one can discern in sixth-century Greece a growing dissatisfaction with the Olympian religion—related perhaps to a fundamental change in the nature of Greek society, the decline of the heroic age. Men were no longer content with the typically military view that it is men’s task to do or die, to endure or fight, not to question or understand. Their dissatisfaction might, in principle, have taken either of two forms: a moralizing of the traditional religion, which, while preserving the humanity of the gods, would more strongly emphasize that they, and especially Zeus, are on the side of goodness or, alternatively, a rejection of the Olympian pantheon in favour of some quite different conception of the divine.
It did, in fact, take both forms. In the plays of Aeschylus, for example, there is an obvious “moralizing” of the gods. No doubt, his Agamemnon depends for much of its dramatic force on the conception of hubris. On his return to Mycenae, Agamemnon is deliberately enticed by Clytemnestra to tread on a carpet suitable only for the gods and this prepares the way for his murder. But a different doctrine is also invoked, according to which human suffering has a moral purpose. “Man,” intones the chorus, “must suffer to be wise.” Prosperity, it is suggested—as an admittedly unorthodox doctrine—need not provoke calamity unless the prosperity is accompanied by sin: “sin, not prosperity, engenders grief.”9
But the attempt merely to reform the Olympian religion was, in the very long run, destined to fail—although it is worth observing that its general effect was to make Zeus a figure more readily assimilable to, or replaceable by, Jahweh. Jahweh, like Zeus, made no pretence to metaphysical perfection, but he is depicted as being a righteous as well as an all-powerful God, even if his righteousness, as in his dealings with Job, sometimes takes a form quite incomprehensible to man. For our immediate purposes, however, the revolutionaries were more important than the reformers.
One important source of the religious revolution was the new speculative cosmology, traceable back to the teachings of Thales at the beginning of the sixth century. Precisely what Thales meant when he pronounced that “All things are full of gods,” it is now next-to-impossible to determine. But this consequence, at least, seems to follow: things can be divine which are not at all like human beings, which are not “of the same race as man.” They can be divine, in the sense of being the supreme powers, ultimately responsible for things happening as they do. So, in order to understand, for example, what supports the earth, it is not necessary to suppose that it is held in position by a god; Thales’ own conjecture was that it floats on water.
In Thales’ successor, Anaximander, divinity is ascribed particularly to to apeiron—the “Boundless” or “Indefinite.” The Boundless, indeed—except in respect to its material extension—begins to look very like what Pascal was to call “the God of the philosophers and the scientists,” as distinct from “the God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” Aristotle sums up Anaximander’s view thus: “Of the Boundless there is no beginning . . . but this seems to be the beginning of the other things, and to surround all things and steer all. . . . And this is the divine; for it is immortal and indestructible.”10 The Boundless, that is, takes over from the Homeric gods their power, their immortality, their indestructibility. But it is everlasting, not merely immortal—it has no beginning, whereas the gods were born. All things begin from it, and it controls all things; it has the power, that is, of a monotheistic God, not of a polytheistic god who must share his power with other gods. In short, it is like “the God of the philosophers” in its freedom from what philosophers were later to think of as “metaphysical defect.” If it is not simple, it is at least everlasting and uncaused. On the other hand, it does not in the least resemble the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is no point in praying to the Boundless, or making sacrifices to it; if the Boundless is free of moral defect, this is only because moral predicates have no application to it. It is neither righteous nor sinful, good nor evil.
In the satirical poetry of Xenophanes the impact of these new cosmologies on the old Olympian religion is made explicit. Xenophanes, no doubt, was first and foremost a moralist. As we have already seen, he condemned Homer and Hesiod for having ascribed to the gods “everything that is a shame and a reproach amongst men.” It is not unlikely that he influenced the “reformed theology” of Aeschylus. But Xenophanes was a revolutionary, not merely a reformer. Men everywhere, he says, have constructed gods in their own image: “the Ethiopians say that their gods are snub-nosed and black, the Thracians that theirs have light blue eyes and red hair.” If horses were capable of representing their gods in the form of images, he sardonically remarks, they would no doubt make their images look like horses, giving the gods bodies like their own bodies.
This anthropomorphic approach to the divine, Xenophanes argues, must be totally abandoned. In place of Homer’s human-all-too-human Zeus, Xenophanes sets up “One god, greatest amongst gods and men, in no way similar to mortals either in body or in thought.” Whereas Homer’s Zeus left Olympus on a variety of missions and employed messengers and physical agents to work his will, Xenophanes’ supreme god has no need either of travel or of subordinates. “Always he remains in the same place, moving not at all; . . . without toil he shakes all things by the thought of his mind.”11 And this for a particular reason: it is not fitting for him to move about the universe.* Xenophanes’ conception of a supreme God, then, is governed by ideas about what it is “fitting” for God to do. God is no longer just a power: he is, it is presumed, morally and metaphysically perfect. He will do nothing that is “not fitting”; this includes what is not metaphysically fitting as well as what is not morally fitting. Zeus is no longer to be depicted as committing adultery, not only because adultery is, morally speaking, “a shame and a reproach,” but also because adultery implies both a degree of humanity and a degree of restlessness not appropriate to God.
Greek historians of philosophy, from Aristotle onwards, described Xenophanes as the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy, and in particular, as the teacher of Parmenides. Modern scholars generally reject this view.12 Yet there is a kind of rough justice in the Aristotelian “placing” of Xenophanes, even if little historical exactitude. From our present point of view, particularly, it is natural to think of Parmenides as carrying further Xenophanes’ metaphysical perfecting of the divine.
Although the supreme God of Xenophanes is not like man either in bodily form or in his manner of thought, he still operates in ways which are at least analogous to human modes of action. God has neither eyes, nor ears, nor a brain, but the fact remains that “all of him sees, all thinks, and all hears.”13 He acts without toil, but he still acts. Parmenides, in contrast, ruled out all these ways of talking: the Parmenidean “Being” neither sees, nor hears, nor thinks, nor acts. So far Being is like Anaximander’s Boundless; but unlike the Boundless, it must not be described as a power, as acting. “One way only is left to be spoken of,” Parmenides concluded, “that it is.” On our path to realizing this, however, we also come to see that Being is “uncreated and imperishable, for it is entire, immovable and without end.”
Nor is Being only “imperishable” in the sense of everlasting. In Parmenides the eternal is for the first time distinguished from the everlasting. Being is eternal in the full sense that “it was not in the past, nor shall it be, since it is now, all at once, one, continuous.”14 Simple, indivisible, eternal, lacking nothing, devoid of all properties which involve negation or defect—for of negation, “what is not,” it is impossible, so Parmenides argued, either to think or to talk—the Parmenidean Being represents the ideal of metaphysical perfection in the purest form it had so far assumed.
The modern reader may find it more than a little odd, when, having described Being in these terms, Parmenides goes on to say of it that it is spherical, “like the bulk of a well-rounded sphere.”15 He is liable to complain, like the spokesman for Epicureanism, Velleius, in Cicero’s The Nature of the Gods, that he sees no reason for believing that the sphere is any more “perfect” than any other geometrical figure. However, the Greeks generally took it for granted that sphericity was essential to perfection. In the Timaeus Plato has no doubt that a Demiurge-creator, setting out to construct a universe which is as perfect as it can be, will make it “rounded and spherical, equidistant every way from centre to extremity—a figure the most perfect and uniform of all; for he [the Demiurge] judged uniformity to be immeasurably better than its opposite.”16 As the Stoic Balbus replies to Velleius in Cicero’s dialogue: “What can be more beautiful than the figure that encircles and encloses in itself all other figures [since all the solid figures can be inscribed in a globe], and that can possess no roughness or point of collision on its surface, no indentation or concavity, no protuberance or depression?”17
This is an aesthetic sense of perfection. In the manner we normally take to be typical of classicism Parmenides and Plato and Balbus all presume that completeness, uniformity, evenness, regularity are obviously perfections, and that their opposites, the cragginess, irregularity, diversity so loved by romantics, are obviously aesthetic flaws.* To ascribe sphericity to Being, therefore, is to suppose it to be not only metaphysically but aesthetically perfect.
Even after this explanation we may still be puzzled by the sphericity of the Parmenidean Being. Is not to call Being a sphere at once to think, as Parmenides forbids us to do, of something as lying outside Being? But the Greeks, in a manner which was to have disastrous consequences for astronomy, were greatly struck by the fact that the circle is a continuous line. “The circle is of all lines,” as Aristotle puts it, “the most truly one, because it is whole and complete.”18 And they were no less struck by the fact that the sphere is the only solid body which can move—by revolving—without requiring any space outside of itself to move into. Aristotle calls the sphere “perfect” just in virtue of this fact. So the spherical nature of Being is presumed not to detract from but rather to emphasize its perfection, in the sense of its all-embracing completeness.
Now, if this perfect, spherical Being is identified with God—and Parmenides seems to think of it in this way, to judge from the religious atmosphere of the poem in which he formulates his philosophical ideas—men cannot possibly imitate God or take him, or it, as a moral ideal, any more than they can take Anaximander’s Boundless as an ideal. This conclusion was, of course, a consequence even of Xenophanes’ theology. For how can men imitate a God “in no way similar to mortals, either in body or in thought”? But it is even more obvious that no man can set out to imitate Parmenides’ Being. As for praying to Being or seeking its aid, that would be wholly absurd.
It might therefore be supposed that the Parmenidean Being would be automatically rejected, as obviously irreligious, by the adherents of any kind of religion for which God is an object of prayer. In fact, however, particularly by way of Plato’s much-misunderstood discussion of Parmenides’ Being—as “the One”—in his dialogue Parmenides, Being came to be regarded as a sort of philosophical preview of the God of Christianity. So the Christian Boethius, writing his Consolation of Philosophy in the fifth century ad, felt free to describe God in what are explicitly Parmenidean terms: “For such is the form of the Divine Substance,” he writes, “that it is neither divided into outward things, nor receives any such into itself, but as Parmenides says of it: “in body like a sphere well-rounded on all sides,” it rotates about the moving orb of things, while keeping itself immovable.”19 It is one of the most extraordinary facts in the history of that most extraordinary phenomenon—Christian theology—that Parmenides’ Being and Plato’s “One” should be thus identified with the Christian God.* But the identification arises naturally enough, in a sense, out of the attempt to set up a God who would be metaphysically, as well as morally, perfect, when this is combined with a definition of perfection as freedom from any sort of negation (evil, as we have already seen, was defined as a special variety of negation). Of such a God we are obliged to say not only that he is characterizable by all those attributes which do not involve negation, but that these characteristics themselves are ultimately identical. For to distinguish is to negate, to say of one property, or of one part, that it is not another. (It is interesting to observe that Hindu religious thinkers reached the same conclusion: “As a unity only is it to be looked upon,” according to the Brihadāranyaka Upanishad, “—this indemonstrable, enduring Being.”)20
So Aquinas, having begun by arguing that God has to be immobile, eternal, simple, simultaneous in his existence—it is interesting to observe that he quotes Boethius on this point—not possessed of a body, infinite, and possessed of all perfections, goes on to maintain that all these perfections must, in the end, be the same perfection. “God is simple,” Aquinas writes, “but where there is simplicity, there can be no distinction among the perfections that are present. Hence, if the perfections of all things are in God, they cannot be distinct in Him. Accordingly, they are all one in Him.”21 No doubt men ascribe various names to God, but that is only because, Aquinas argues, they are in this life restricted to what Parmenides called “the Way of Seeming.” When men come to see God as he really is, when they attain to the vision of the Divine Essence, their idea of God will be as simple as is God himself. And the essence of this metaphysically simple God is nothing other than his existence. It will be obvious how close this brings Aquinas’s God to the Parmenidean Being, of which we can ultimately say only that “it is.”22 Of course, not only the great figures of Plato and Aristotle but Philo, Plotinus, Proclus and that ardent expropriator of neo-Platonism in the name of Christian theology, Dionysius the Areopagite, have intervened between Aquinas and Parmenides. Aquinas is quite convinced that, with Aristotle’s help, he can take over a Parmenidean-type God while avoiding a Parmenidean-type monism. But that he can in fact do so, not all his critics have been convinced.
Parmenideanism was the culminating point in the revolutionary transformation of the Olympian religion by pre-Socratic philosophers. The Olympian religion, however, by no means exhausted the religious life of Greece. The cult of Dionysus, uniting God and man in the ecstasy of orgy, had only a loose association with the Olympian pantheon; the mystery rites, especially at Eleusis, involved a relationship with the divine much more intimate than the Olympian religion allowed. The initiated were promised, after death, entrance to the world of the gods. However widely it may have been believed that human beings ought not to aspire to be godlike, not everyone was prepared to accept so modest an estimation of what was humanly desirable.
In Empedocles’ fifth-century poem, significantly entitled Purifications, a most un-Olympian view prevails. Man, according to Empedocles, is a demi-god, who, at the beginning of human history, committed a crime, involving the shedding of blood, for which all men since have had to pay the penalty.* Banished from their proper home among the gods, men must live, as a consequence of their guilt, in cycles of reincarnation, life after life defiled by sin until, by the exercise of purifying virtues, they finally return to earth, like Empedocles himself, as “prophets, bards, doctors or statesmen.” Then at last they escape from the cycle: “I go about among you all,” Empedocles therefore writes, “an immortal god, mortal no more.”23
To what extent is Empedocles expressing views which circulated generally in Greece? This is a much disputed question. According to some scholars, there arose in fifth-century Greece a distinctive religious movement, the Orphic religion, with sacred books and dogmatic teachings, whose adherents, setting themselves apart from the Olympian religion, lived in Orphic communities, much as the Christians were to live in Rome—although with a greater willingness to make the traditional formal sacrifices to the Olympian gods. More sceptical scholars have argued that what is commonly called “Orphism” is at most an inchoate mass of popular beliefs, corresponding roughly to that body of superstition which persists in Christian communities and may, in some degree, affect the beliefs and the conduct of the most ardent Christians. Its supposed doctrines, they suggest, are in large part the invention of a much later day, of Christian Platonists and of neo-Platonists, constructing poetic myths for their own polemical purposes.24
Let us therefore say only this, that there circulated in fifth-century Athens, more or less widely diffused, a set of beliefs of which the most important ran somewhat as follows: the human being is latently immortal and divine; his latent divinity can be made manifest only if he purifies himself by ritualistic and ascetic practices. With this belief may have been associated a mythology, according to which man’s nature is flawed and his divinity obscured as a consequence of his origins. The Titans dismembered and ate the god Dionysus; Zeus struck them dead with his thunderbolts and lightning; out of the ashes sprang the race of men.
So man is at once divine and earth-born. It is now his responsibility to free himself, by purifying rites, from the element of earth he owes to his Titan origins and from the guilt arising from his share in the crime the Titans committed. Men can attain to such freedom from mortality and guilt only through a cycle of reincarnations, somewhat in the manner of Buddhist transmigration, from which they can finally escape only when they are sufficiently enlightened to see the need for purifying themselves. Then they become immortal gods. Whereas the Buddhist sects disagree amongst themselves about whether immortality or annihilation is the final consummation, for Orphic-type religions it was clearly the first. Godlike perfection, then, by no means lies beyond the reach of man: and purification is the path to it.
If it is a controversial question exactly in what Orphism consists, it is even more puzzling to know how to relate Orphism to the teachings of Pythagoras, which Herodotus explicitly linked with Orphism.25 The Pythagoreans formed, it would seem, a kind of secret society; there were penalties for revealing Pythagorean doctrines to the uninitiated. To make matters worse, the followers of Pythagoras had the amiable, but historically disconcerting, habit of ascribing their own teachings to their master. Pythagoras himself wrote nothing, nor did his successors for some generations. Not surprisingly, then, it is difficult, almost to the point of impossibility, to determine what the historical Pythagoras taught.26
Some of the teachings which have come down to us as “Pythagorean” suggest the leader of a mystery religion rather than a philosopher—rules of prohibition, for example, which forbid his followers to step over a cross-bar or to allow swallows to nest under their roof. Yet there are also contemporary references to Pythagoras as a scientist, particularly a mathematician, with the strong suggestion that for him religion and mathematics were somehow allied. Amongst his successors, certainly, men proud to call themselves Pythagoreans, there were great mathematicians and great astronomers.
The two sides to Pythagoreanism, religious and philosophical, were linked by means of a set of ideas which were to be of very great importance in the subsequent history of perfectibility: the idea of contemplation, the idea of order or harmony, and the idea of purification by wisdom. Before the time of Pythagoras, sophia (wisdom) had no particular connexion with contemplation. It was possible to talk, as Homer does, of the sophia of a shipbuilder, as a way of referring to his practical ability. For Pythagoras, in contrast, sophia consists in looking on at the world: to him is ascribed—and although the ascription is doubtful, the general sentiment is certainly Pythagorean—the comparison of life to the festival-games at which “some come . . . to compete, some to ply their trade, but the best people come as spectators.”27 Here are the roots of the doctrine, which Aristotle was later to espouse, that the life of God is a life of pure contemplation—not a form of activity to which the Olympian deities were conspicuously devoted. The contemplation the Pythagoreans thus extolled is a contemplation of the order of the universe, and especially of its mathematical order. With the help of such contemplation, the soul, identifying itself with the order of the Universe, could purify and perfect itself and thus emerge from the cycle of transmigration.
If this account of Pythagoras—based on evidence, it must be confessed, which is both insubstantial in quantity and dubious in quality—is anything like the truth, then one sees how Pythagoreanism, Orphism and the teachings of Empedocles at once converge and diverge. For all three, the soul is involved in cycles of transmigration, from which it can escape only by purifying itself. But for the Orphics and for Empedocles, as not for Pythagoras, that cycle originates in a primeval deed, the guilt of which all men bear. All three agree that to escape from the cycle some form of bodily abstinence is essential. But for Empedocles and Pythagoras, as not for the Orphics, one must also become a person of a rather special sort—according to Empedocles, a poet, or prophet, or statesman, according to Pythagoras, a philosopher. And for Pythagoras alone, men are purified by contemplation of an ordered universe, achieving through that contemplation an orderly perfection in their own mind.
Now we are in a better position to understand the first systematic theory of perfectibility. This was worked out by Plato under Orphic-Pythagorean influence. But it was greatly influenced, too, by the Parmenidean analysis of metaphysical perfection and the Socratic identification of goodness and knowledge—the Socratic presumption that no one does evil willingly. As a deduction from Plato’s general metaphysics, we should expect to find him arguing that no particular man can perfect himself, that only the ideal form of humanity can be perfect, just as he argues that no particular work of art, but only the ideal form of beauty, can be perfectly beautiful, or that no particular triangle, but only the ideal form of triangularity, can be perfectly triangular. But in the Phaedo Plato avoids this conclusion by making a sharp distinction between body and soul. The soul, he suggests, is more like a form than it is like a particular; in virtue of this fact a human being is perfectible.
What does “being more like a form” involve? The forms, so far as this is compatible with there being more than one of them, exhibit that metaphysical perfection which Parmenides took to be peculiar to Being. Whereas particular works of art—a particular painting, for example—may fade away, the form of Beauty, Beauty-in-itself, Plato tells us, can never be destroyed, nor can the form of Triangularity-in-itself or the form of Goodness-in-itself. The forms, that is, are eternal—or, at the very least, everlasting—and this, above all, is why Plato does not hesitate to call them divine.
That ordinary things—particulars—pass away is, he suggests, a necessary consequence of the fact that they are complex, composite, changeable. The forms, therefore, as eternal, must be simple, indivisible, unchangeable. The soul is “like the forms” precisely in respect to these metaphysical perfections. “The soul,” Plato says, “most closely resembles the divine and immortal, intelligible and uniform and indissoluble and ever-unchangeable, while the body most resembles the human and mortal, the unintellectual and dissoluble and ceaselessly changing.”28 When Plato speaks in such contexts of “the soul” he does not mean the form of the soul—the soul-in-itself. It is each individual soul which possesses these perfections, or “something like them.”
The conclusion might seem to follow that there is no question of perfecting the soul; it is already perfect, by its very nature. But the soul, Plato argues, does not ordinarily exhibit, in this life, its full perfection. This is because it is tainted by the body in which it is “imprisoned”—a metaphor he ascribes to Orphic origins.29 The body, itself metaphysically imperfect, impermanent, mutable, corrupts the soul and drags it down to its own level.
This is a view which has obvious logical difficulties, partly concealed by Plato’s use of the phrase “like the forms.” In order to deduce the soul’s immortality from its likeness to the forms, he has to treat this likeness as rather more than likeness, and as a likeness which applies equally to all souls. If souls have only some resemblance to forms, then it would not follow that they share with the forms the particular property of not passing out of existence—this could well be one of the points on which they differed. And if only perfected souls are like the forms, then the conclusion would seem to follow that only perfected souls are immortal. So Plato’s interest in demonstrating the immortality of the soul leads him to insist on the close resemblance of each and every soul to the forms—indeed, to describe souls in the very same language he applies to the forms themselves.
On the other hand, his desire, as a moralist, to set before men the care of their souls as a moral task leads him to describe the soul not as unchangeable but as capable of being corrupted, not as simple but as capable of being “interpenetrated by the corporeal.” More than likely, it was Plato’s own uncertainty about the soul’s nature which led Renaissance Platonists to deny that the soul has any fixed metaphysical nature, to think of it as capable of becoming either something like the divine or something like a material object, but as in itself not belonging to either category. For Plato, however, the soul is naturally divine, even if it can only too easily be corrupted. So perfection is a task, but a task in which success can be hoped for—it is a task because most souls are not in fact morally perfect, it is a task in which success can be hoped for because the soul’s metaphysical nature allies it with the perfect.
Since the unwillingness of the body to submit to its authority is the principal cause of the soul’s imperfection, the path to perfection involves some measure of asceticism. The philosopher, so Plato argues, will not be greatly concerned with “such so-called pleasures as eating and drinking,” or “the pleasures of love,” or the adornment of the body.30 This asceticism, however, by no means involves the mortification of the body; there is in Plato no suggestion that in order to achieve perfection the philosopher should, as Diogenes the Cynic was to do, live in a barrel, or that like the Christian hermits he should cut himself off from society, or that he should fast to the point of malnutrition, or that he should entirely eschew all sexual relations. The Socrates who in the Phaedo is depicted as bidding the philosopher not to devote himself to bodily pleasures is the very same Socrates who is a convivial guest in the all-night drinking party described by Plato in the Symposium. Simply, the philosopher is not “much concerned” with eating and drinking, or sexual relations, or personal adornment.
The crucial point for Plato, furthermore, is that the soul frees itself from the body not by asceticism as such—let alone by ritual incantations or ceremonial rites—but by acquiring knowledge. And knowledge, for Plato, consists in the apprehension of relationships between ideal forms; it is not to be acquired by any kind of empirical observation, involving the use of the bodily senses. “She [the soul] reasons best,” he writes in the Phaedo, “. . . when most she is alone and apart, paying no heed to the body.” When the soul tries to make discoveries by means of sensory observation “she is torn away by the body into the region of constant fluctuation, and she herself wanders about in confusion, reeling like a drunken man, because of her contact with things in similar confusion.” When, on the contrary, the soul relies entirely on her own resources, forgetting the body, she “remains ever constant and changeless with the unchanging, because of her contact with things similarly immutable.”31
What Plato says at this point obviously rests on the presumption that the human being becomes like what he perceives. There is, one might object, no reason why an orderly soul should become disorderly merely as a result of contemplating the disorderly, or a disorderly soul become orderly merely as a result of contemplating the orderly. But Plato, like the censors of our own time, thought otherwise. This presumption is even more important in the Republic where Plato introduces a supreme form, the form of the good, the knowledge of which he takes to be a sufficient and necessary condition of all wisdom. That it is a necessary condition, he explicitly argues: “This form of the good must be seen by anyone who hopes to act wisely, either in public or in private.”32 That it is a sufficient condition he takes for granted: to know the form of the good is to be good, indeed to be perfect.
It should be observed, however, that in the Republic he speaks of the philosopher not only as a knower, but as a lover: philosophers are, he says, “lovers . . . of that reality which always is.”33 And this is suggested by the etymological root of the word “philosopher,” its derivation from philein, to love. He reaches the conclusion that by “associating with what is divine and ordered [a philosopher] becomes ordered and divine as far as mortal may,” by relying on the principle that a man naturally imitates “that with which he lovingly associates.”34 Love and knowledge are, in Plato’s thinking, closely associated, even if sometimes his stress is on knowledge and at other times, as in the Symposium, on love. So his fundamental presumption might be more plausibly put by saying that we become like what we lovingly-know; that presumption we shall observe, too, in Christian mysticism.
Plato described the form of the good in terms which readily lend themselves to a mystical interpretation. It is, he says, “the cause of knowledge and truth . . . but while knowledge and truth are both beautiful, you will be right in thinking it other and fairer than these.” “It . . . transcends,” he also writes, “even Being in dignity and power.”35 These are among the most influential statements in the whole history of human thought—the most disastrously influential, we might say, considering how often they have been used to lend philosophical respectability to beliefs which are in spirit totally anti-philosophical.
In neo-Platonic thought, and in the writings of such Christian theologians as were influenced by it, the form of the good was not uncommonly identified with God. This is not altogether astonishing, considering that Plato described the form of the good as “the cause of all that is right and beautiful in all things.”36 Nor is it, I suppose, wholly surprising that the form of the good was also identified with the supreme Beauty of the Symposium. But what is surprising, on the face of it, is that the form of the good was also identified with “the One” of the first Hypothesis of Plato’s Parmenides. For the context makes it perfectly clear what Plato was doing when he wrote: “The One neither is one nor is at all. . . . It cannot have a name or be spoken of, nor can there be any knowledge or perception or opinion of it. It is not named or spoken of, not an object of opinion or of knowledge, not perceived by any creature.”37 He was constructing a reductio ad absurdum, not defending “negative theology.”
Yet if, as a scholar, one finds it surprising that Plato should have been thus interpreted, from another point of view it is not at all surprising. For what resulted from the conflation of the form of the good, the One, and Beauty was the conception of a Being in all respects perfect: perfect in beauty, perfect in goodness, perfect in divinity, perfect in every metaphysical property. The Platonic forms, as they were represented in the Phaedo, had, from the point of view of the perfectibilist metaphysician, one great disadvantage: they were a multiplicity. Even in the Republic, where Plato came as close as he ever did to a Parmenidean monism, it is not suggested that the form of the good has the kind of absolute metaphysical superiority possessed by the Parmenidean One.38 In none of his dialogues, indeed, does Plato show himself fully prepared to put all his metaphysical eggs in one basket, by subordinating, for example, the perfection of the forms to the perfection of God. Only by taking that step for him, by identifying God, the form of the good, Beauty and the One, could his authority be claimed for so absolute a metaphysical amalgam.
The resulting inconvenience—a supreme Being which “is not named nor spoken, not an object of opinion or knowledge”—was easily borne by mystics, and even by theologians whom one might have expected to rebel against it. So just as, by an exaggeration of a certain tendency in his teachings, Plato came to serve as a principal authority for ascetic doctrines of perfectibility, he also came to serve as a principal authority for mystical doctrines of perfectibility, according to which perfection has to be sought by rising above the body, above any sort of knowledge or truth or being, to a God describable only in negative terms. Mysticism and asceticism were, indeed, often allied: asceticism was conceived of as the first stage on the process towards mystical perfectibility. The renunciation by the ascetic of his material possessions, his desires, his attachments to the world, served as a symbol of his final renunciation of his individuality, of all those predicates which made of him a distinctive human being.
For Plato himself, however, the situation was very different. For one thing, mysticism is essentially a doctrine of individual perfection. Individual perfection is no doubt the kind of perfection principally emphasized in the Phaedo, concerned as it is with the situation of a man confronting that essentially solitary experience—death. But even in that dialogue, Socrates is depicted as delighting in, and learning from, the company of his fellow-men. There is no sign whatever of the ascetic misanthropy of the early Christian Sayings of the Fathers; it is impossible to imagine Plato writing: “A man who avoids men is like a ripe grape. A man who companies with men is like a sour grape.”39 In the Republic, furthermore, Plato makes it perfectly clear that on his view no man can achieve perfection except by way of a perfect society, a society ruled by philosopher-kings. “Neither city nor constitution,” he writes, “and not even any individual man, will ever be perfect, until philosophers . . . are in some way compelled to take charge of the state . . . or until those who now have charge of dominions and kingdoms are inspired by the love of true philosophy.”40
Granted that the ideal city does not exist, the man who tries to perfect himself will nevertheless, so Plato suggests, try to live his life by its laws: the ideal city “is laid up in heaven as a pattern for him who wills to see, and seeing, to found a city in himself.”41 But only if the city can be actualized, it would seem, can men find the absolute perfection they are seeking. At the very least, this approach to perfection requires that men should think of themselves as citizens, not as engaged in a solitary pursuit of perfection.
No less important was Plato’s insistence on education. This, above all, distinguishes him from the Christian mystic. Even if the final contemplation of the form of the good is, on Plato’s view, a direct vision which defies all description and all analysis, the fact remains that in order to achieve that vision men, on Plato’s view, have first to undergo a long and rigorous philosophical education. Education, not prayer and self-mortification, is the path to perfection.
Such an education, Plato adds, is not for all men. “A multitude cannot be philosophical.”42 Most men cannot achieve what Plato significantly calls “philosophical” goodness, for him the only true goodness. The most they can hope for is perfection in “civic” goodness, the sort of goodness they can acquire by obedience to the laws laid down for them by the philosopher-kings, by those rulers, that is, who in virtue of their knowledge of the good are capable of philosophical goodness. Men who live civically good lives, Plato suggests in the Phaedo, may return to earth, in a subsequent life, as “bees . . . or ants”—symbols of industry and order. They have no prospect, however, of joining “the company of the gods.”43
Both Plato’s emphasis on education as a means to perfection and his distinction between a perfectible élite and a non-perfectible multitude were to assume, in the centuries to come, a variety of shapes, religious and secular. Not that they were wholly peculiar to Plato. The Greek mystery-religions commonly drew a distinction between “beginners” and those who were, in virtue of a prolonged initiation, fit to be admitted to the highest mysteries. It is interesting to observe, too, that the highest mystery, at least at Eleusis, seems to have involved the vision of some object—perhaps a corn-ear. Plato, one might say, replaces initiation by education and the corn-ear by the form of the good.44 But, by so doing, he greatly reduces the accessibility of the highest vision to the ordinary man.
In Plato’s later thought, the theological impulse is more naked. In his earlier dialogues, the forms, in an extremely abstract sense, are rather like the Homeric heroes.45 They act as exemplars: it is by reference to them that we are to judge ourselves and our own actions; they are the ideals we must try to match, the models to imitate. In his later dialogues, however, Plato came to lay the primary stress not on the forms but on the gods. Thus it comes about that perfection is defined in the Theaetetus as “likeness to the gods.”
In the Timaeus—a dialogue which through the accident of its survival in a Latin version was to represent “Plato” to the medieval world—Plato described in more detail the relation between divine perfection and human perfectibility. He begins by entirely rejecting the view that the gods are in any sense jealous of men. The maker of the world or, as Plato calls him, the Demiurge—a word which literally means “craftsman”—was, he says, perfectly good, and in the perfect no jealousy can possibly arise. The Demiurge set out, therefore, to make a world in which “all things should come as near as possible to being like himself.”46
The Demiurge is not, it should be observed, omnipotent. That is why not all men are in fact godlike. Although the Demiurge brought order into the world the material on which he had to work was too recalcitrant for him to construct a wholly perfect world. But as a result of the Demiurge’s desire that all things should be as far as possible like himself, every man has within him a divine element, a “guiding genius.” By cherishing this godlike element—as he can best do by contemplating the ideal harmony of the universe—man can bring himself into likeness with the gods. Here, then, the Pythagorean account of perfection receives a more explicit, Platonic, formulation. Man has a divine element in himself; he perfects that divine element by contemplating the ordered glory of the universe; in so doing he becomes “godlike.”
[1. ]KR, fr. 169. All fragments from the pre-Socratics are as trans. in G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven: The Presocratic Philosophers (Cambridge, 1957).
[2. ]Pindar: Isthmian Odes, V, lines 14–16.
[3. ]W. Jaeger: Paideia, trans. G. Highet, Vol. 1 (3rd Eng. ed., Oxford, 1946), pp. 33–34.
[4. ]Herodotus: History, Bk. I, 32, 34, as trans. Aubrey de Selincourt, Penguin Classics (Harmondsworth, 1954).
[5. ]Aeschylus: Agamemnon, lines 467–69, as trans. Philip Vellacott in The Oresteian Trilogy, Penguin Classics (Harmondsworth, 1956; rev. repr. 1959).
[6. ]Pindar: Nemean Odes, VI, lines 1–10.
[7. ]Euthyphro, 8b, trans. W. D. Woodhead in Plato: Socratic Dialogues (Edinburgh, 1953), p. 13.
[* ]Or supreme at least over the gods. Whether Zeus was also supreme over Fate—moira—is a much disputed question. There is an amusing dialogue by the satirist Lucian, Some Awkward Questions for Zeus, in which Zeus is asked to explain his relationship to moira. His complete inability to do so is matched by the inability of scholars to make up their minds on this same point.
[8. ]As trans. in E. R. Dodds: The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley, 1951), p. 30.
[9. ]Agamemnon, lines 177, 758, trans. P. Vellacott, ed. cit.
[10. ]Aristotle: Physics,Γ4, 203b7, as trans in KR, fr. 110. I have, however, preferred the word “Boundless” to their “Infinite.” There is some dispute whether, in spite of this remark of Aristotle, Anaximander actually called the Boundless “divine.” See W. K. C. Guthrie: A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. I (Cambridge, 1962), p. 89 n., for a defence of Aristotle on this point.
[11. ]KR, frs. 171–174, pp. 168–69.
[* ]It is interesting to observe that the second-century pagan critic of Christianity, Celsus, argued in precisely Xenophanes’ manner against the Christian conception of a God who took flesh. “Was he then unable to correct men merely by divine power,” Celsus asked, “without sending someone specially endowed for the purpose?” From the point of view of philosophically-educated pagans, Christianity represented a reversion to the anthropomorphic pre-Xenophanes way of thinking about God. Compare Origen: Contra Celsum, IV. 3, as trans. H. Chadwick (Cambridge, 1953), p. 186.
[12. ]See, for example, Kirk and Raven, op. cit. pp. 165–66, or, in more detail, W. Jaeger: The Theology of the Greek Philosophers (Oxford, 1947), ch. 3. Guthrie, in his History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. I, pp. 373–83, strongly emphasizes the points of resemblance between Xenophanes and Parmenides. Xenophanes, he argues, identifies God and the cosmos. My own statement of the case is a relatively “neutral” one.
[13. ]KR, fr. 175, p. 170.
[14. ]KR, fr. 347, p. 243. Like most other points in the history of Greek philosophy, this is disputed, as by L. Tarán in his Parmenides (Princeton, 1965). The idea of the eternal, it is sometimes argued, does not emerge until the neo-Platonists. See the references in John Whittaker: “The ‘Eternity’ of the Platonic Forms,” Phronesis, Vol. XIII (1968), pp. 131–44. I have accepted the traditional account as recently presented, for example, in W. K. C. Guthrie: A History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. II (Cambridge, 1965), ch. I, p. 29. The point is not, for my purposes, a crucial one.
[15. ]KR, fr. 351, p. 276.
[16. ]Timaeus, 33b, as trans. F. M. Cornford in Plato’s Cosmology (London, 1937; repr. 1952), p. 54.
[17. ]De natura deorum, II, xviii, as trans. H. Rackham, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1933; rev. 1951, 1956).
[* ]As late as the sixth century ad it was argued on similar grounds that the resurrected body must be spherical. In Buddhist thinking, the “perfected” man is often compared to the “well-rounded moon” or “the moon on its fifteenth day”; the moon in its perfectly rounded shape has reached maturity or completeness. The sphericity of the full moon may have had some influence on Greek thought, too. It is worth observing, that in spite of what is said above (p. 16) about the Japanese fondness for incompleteness, the word maru may mean either circular, or all-embracing, or perfect. The seventeenth-century Thomas Burnet in his Sacred Theory of the Earth argued that the earth when it was first created by God must have been “smooth and uniform, without Mountains or Sea” (Bk. I, ch. V). God could not make it craggy; it took the Flood to do that.
[18. ]Metaphysics,Δ.6.1016b as trans. in The Works of Aristotle, ed. W. D. Ross, Vol. VIII, 2nd ed. (Oxford, 1928), based on trans. by W. Christ (Leipzig, 1895).
[19. ]The Consolation of Philosophy, Bk. III, Prose XII, based on the trans. by I. T. (1609), rev. H. F. Stewart, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1918; repr. 1953). It is true that The Consolation of Philosophy is sometimes denied to be Christian. But the important thing, for our purposes, is that it was certainly read as such; indeed, early medieval philosophy is often called “the Boethian era.” The issues are summed up in H. Liebeschütz: “Western Christian Thought from Boethius to Anselm” in A. H. Armstrong, ed., The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 550–54.
[* ]In medieval thought the “spherical” conception of God was, however, to be strangely transformed in an attempt to reconcile divine sphericity with divine infinity—an infinity which medieval theologians, unlike the Greeks, valued very highly. “God,” it was said, “is an intelligible sphere, the centre of which is everywhere and the circumference nowhere.” A very odd sphere indeed! Compare [anon.] A Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey: Medieval Mystical Tradition and Saint John of the Cross (London, 1954), p. 68.
[20. ]Brihadāranyaka Upanishad, IV. iv. 20, as trans. in S. Radhakrishnan and C. A. Moore, eds.: A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, 1957), p. 88.
[21. ]Thomas Aquinas: Compendium of Theology, trans. Cyril Vollert (St. Louis, Mo., 1947; repr. 1955), ch. 22, p. 24.
[22. ]Compare R. Garrigou-Lagrange: The One God: A Commentary on the First Part of St. Thomas’s Theological Summa, trans. Bede Rose (St. Louis, Mo., 1943; repr. 1959). Garrigou-Lagrange draws attention to Aquinas’s criticism of Parmenides and his indebtedness on this point to Aristotle (p. 196).
[* ]The Homeric heroes sometimes feel ashamed of themselves; they can “lose face” by acting in an unworthy manner. But they do not feel “guilty” or “sinful.” In his The Greeks and the Irrational, Dodds describes in detail the transition in Greek thought from “shame” to “guilt.” Why Western man should develop, at this point of time, a sense of guilt—of guilt, even more remarkably, for a crime he has not himself committed—remains a mystery. It is highly likely that, as Dodds argues, these ideas originated outside Greece. But this still does not explain why they “caught on” or why they have continued to characterize Western society. The possibility cannot be ignored that what happened is that feelings of guilt were transferred from one form of activity to another rather than actually created de novo. Japan is usually quoted as the supreme example of a “guilt-free” society, a “shame” society, but some observers believe that the peculiarity of Japanese society lies in the fact that feelings of guilt are aroused in circumstances which are different from the “guilt-stimuli” of Western society. (See R. K. Beardsley: “Personality Psychology” in J. W. Hall and R. K. Beardsley: Twelve Doors to Japan (New York, 1965), pp. 369–71.) It would be rash, then, to conclude from the fact that the Greek heroes do not feel guilty when we would expect them to do so that the idea of guilt was quite unknown to the Homeric Greeks. It is related in complex ways to the idea of pollution, a pollution which can arise not out of a moral fault but an unwitting action—like the pollution which, in the Archaic version of the story, Oedipus incurs and which is passed on as a curse to his descendants. In the Homeric version of the same story, Jocasta kills herself but Oedipus continues to rule as a prosperous king.
[23. ]KR, fr. 478, p. 354.
[24. ]For the “Orphic religion” view, see W. K. C. Guthrie: Orpheus and Greek Religion (London, 1935; 2nd ed. rev., 1952). Under the influence of I. M. Linforth’s highly sceptical The Arts of Orpheus (Berkeley, 1941), Guthrie presents a more “minimal” account in The Greeks and Their Gods (London, 1950), ch. xi. See also E. R. Dodds: The Greeks and the Irrational, whose conclusions I have largely accepted.
[25. ]Herodotus: History, Bk. II, 81.
[26. ]For the evidence on which I have relied see Guthrie: History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. I, ch. IV, and Kirk and Raven, especially p. 228.
[27. ]KR, fr. 278, p. 228.
[28. ]Phaedo, 80b, as trans. Woodhead in Socratic Dialogues, p. 124. All quotations from the Phaedo are from this ed.
[29. ]Cratylus, 400c.
[30. ]Phaedo, 64d–e.
[31. ]Phaedo, 65c; 79c–d.
[32. ]Republic, Bk. VII. 517c. All quotations from the Republic are based on the trans. by A. D. Lindsay, but I have sometimes preferred a freer rendering.
[33. ]Ibid., Bk. VI. 485b.
[34. ]Ibid., Bk. VI. 500d.
[35. ]Ibid., Bk. VI. 508e, 509b.
[36. ]Ibid., Bk. VII. 517c.
[37. ]Parmenides, 142a, as trans. in F. M. Cornford: Plato and Parmenides (London, 1939), p. 129. For the neo-Platonic interpretation see pp. 131–35 of Cornford’s commentary. Cornford is perhaps somewhat too hard-headed in his interpretation of Plato. But about the main point there can be no real doubt. This passage is a criticism of Parmenides, an attempt to show that the Parmenidean One is unintelligible. For an interpretation of Plato, which, without renouncing scholarship, emphasizes the mystical element in his thought, see A. J. Festugière: Contemplation et vie contemplative selon Platon, 2. éd. (Paris, 1950), and G. Vlastos: “A Metaphysical Paradox” in American Philosophical Association: Proceedings and Addresses, Vol. 39 (1966), pp. 5–19. Festugière defends the view that Beauty in the Symposium is, like the form of the good, “beyond all being.” His arguments have not won wide acceptance.
[38. ]It is possible, however, that Plato was in the Republic influenced by Eucleides, the leader of those philosophers who tried to conjoin the teachings of Socrates and Parmenides. He taught, according to Diogenes Laertius, that “the supreme good was one, though called by many names—sometimes wisdom, sometimes God, sometimes reason and so forth” (Lives of Eminent Philosophers, Bk. II, 106, based on the trans. by R. D. Hicks, Loeb Classical Library (London, 1925), Vol. 1, p. 235). This is roughly what Plato was taken, by the neo-Platonists, to teach, and in the Republic he came as close to it as he ever did. On this point see W. D. Ross: Plato’s Theory of Ideas (Oxford, 1951), p. 44.
[39. ]Sayings of the Fathers, II. 10, as trans. in Western Asceticism, ed. and trans. O. Chadwick, Library of Christian Classics, 12 (London, 1958), p. 42.
[40. ]Republic, Bk. VI. 499b.
[41. ]Ibid., Bk. IX. 592b.
[42. ]Ibid., Bk. VI. 494a.
[43. ]Phaedo, 82b–c.
[44. ]In several places Plato deliberately formulates philosophical ideas in language borrowed from the mysteries. Compare Symposium, 210a, or Phaedo, 69c.
[45. ]Compare W. Jaeger: Paideia, Vol. I, p. 34.
[46. ]Timaeus, 29d, as trans. in Cornford: Plato’s Cosmology, p. 33.