Thursday, October 6, 2011

Plutarch. His Work, Duality and the Soul

The Man
Plutarch (c. 46 – 120 CE) of Chaeronea was a Greek author who became a Roman citizen after which he adopted the name Lucius Mestrius Plutarchus. His sponsor for Roman citizenship was Lucius Mestrius Florus, a Roman of consular status who Plutarch used as a source for his work Life of Otho. Plutarch also held the position of a Delphi priest, the Temple of Delphi being some thirty kilometers from his home and the site of the famed Oracle of Delphi.

Plutarch's Works
Two principle collections of his works are known as Parallel Lives, a set of dual comparative biographies of Greek and Roman personages, and Moralia. An example of a set of paired biographies are those of Alexander and Caesar. Biographers writing on Alexander often follow either the 'vulgate' tradition of the biographer Cleitarchus, or the 'good' tradition of Ptolemy, one of Alexander's generals. Plutarch, for his part, combines both traditions.

Plutarch's works also contain four biographies that are not paired. One such biography is that of Artaxerxes.

Plutarch the Nationalist
In On the Malice of Herodotus Plutarch accuses the classical Greek historian Herodotus of prejudice and misrepresentation. Among these alleged prejudiced assertions was that Herodotus alleged that in v.97, Athens provoked Persia to war by sending ships to aid the Ionian Greeks in Asia Minor and who were part of the Persian Empire. According to R. H. Barrow, "Plutarch is fanatically biased in favor of the Greek cities; they can do no wrong."

Plutarch's Pragmatic Philosophy
Plutarch's works also display a pragmatic philosophy whose aim was to make people more virtuous and therefore happier.

Plutarch on the Soul
In his Moralia's The Consolation, Plutarch notes that "The soul, being eternal, after death is like a caged bird that has been released. If it has been a long time in the body, and has become tame by many affairs and long habit, the soul will immediately take another body and once again become involved in the troubles of the world. The worst thing about old age is that the soul's memory of the other world grows dim, while at the same time its attachment to things of this world becomes so strong that the soul tends to retain the form that it had in the body. But that soul which remains only a short time within a body, until liberated by the higher powers, quickly recovers its fire and goes on to higher things."

Plutarch's Dualism
The common theme of Plutarch's works was the dualistic opposition between good and evil principles, and he cites Zoroastrian ideas in Isis and Osiris in this regard. The Apollo-Dionysus (Bacchus) opposition of Plutarch in Moralis', On the EI at Delphi is developed further by Nietzsche as the analytic/rational - intuitive opposition.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy's page on Plutarch, "(Plutarch's) significance as a philosopher... lies in his attempt to do justice to Plato's work as a whole, and to create a coherent and credible philosophical system out of it." "Plutarch focuses primarily on (Plato's dialogue) Timaeus for his understanding of Plato's "doctrines," and his interpretation of it shapes his understanding of Plato. Plutarch defends a literal interpretation of the Timaeus, according to which the world has come about in time from two main principles, the creator god and the "Indefinite Dyad." While the Dyad accounts for disorder and multiplicity, such as that of disordered matter before the creation of the ordered physical world, as Timaeus describes it in the Timaeus, God accounts for order and the identity of objects and properties in the world. This metaphysical dualism is further strengthened by the assumption of two mediating entities through which the two principles operate; the Indefinite Dyad operates through a non-rational cosmic soul, while God through a rational one. This is the same soul, which becomes rational when God imparts reason from him to it. As a result of God's imparting reason, matter ceases to move in a disorderly manner, being brought into order through the imposition of Forms on it. The postulation of a non-rational pre-cosmic world soul (cf. the Zoroastrian Geush Urvan), inspired by (Plato's) Laws (Book) X (but absent from the Timaeus), allows Plutarch to dissolve the apparent contradiction in different works of Plato that the soul is said to be both uncreated (eternal) and created. It also allows Plutarch to account for the existence of badness in the world, because residual irrationality abides in the world soul even when it becomes rational, which is accounted for by the fact that the world soul is originally non-rational in the sense that its movement is such, i.e. disorderly, and reason is an element external to it."

"This dualism pervades also the sensible or physical world, since the human soul, being derivative from the world soul, has a rational and a non-rational aspect too, as the Republic proposes. Plutarch distinguishes both in the world and in human beings three aspects, body, soul, and intellect. The soul's concern with the body gives rise to the non-rational aspect, which amounts to disorder, vice, or badness, while the co-operation between soul and intellect promotes rationality, that is, order, virtue, benevolence. In an attempt to accommodate the diverse strands of ethical thought in Plato (e.g. in the Protagoras, Republic, Phaedo, Theaetetus), Plutarch is the first to distinguish different levels of ethical life, namely the civic/practical and the theoretical/purified ones, depending on whether virtue pertains to the soul as organizing principle for one's daily life, or to the intellect as one's guide to knowledge of Forms."

"The two principles are constantly opposing each other (De def. or. 429B-D, De Iside 369E; Dillon 1977, 203). Although God, the One, prevails over the Dyad (De def. or. 429C-D), order and goodness are always in danger of being displaced by disorder and badness. Both the Indefinite Dyad and God relate to the universe through intermediaries, a non-rational and a rational world soul, which operate as antithetic powers of the two antagonistic cosmic principles. The result of the interaction of the two cosmic principles through these powers is the cosmos."

Some writers focus their discussion on whether Plutarch's dualism was more akin to 'Aristotelian' dualism than it was to 'Platonic' dualism. This discussion relates to whether of not the intellect is part of the soul - Plutarch's assertion being "the intellect is not a part of the soul, just as the soul is not a part of the body." However, this discussion and definition of dualism is one of the many myriad facets of dualism. Other authors argue that those who propose that Plutarch was a dualist, fail to notice that Plutarch proposed "that at higher levels of reality, the divine is harmonious and unified" (Radek Chlup). Also see Plutarch's Ethical Writings and Early Christian Literature by Hans Dieter Betz. These arguments are quite beside the point. For a definition of duality and dualism, see our page on Dual, Duality & Dualism. Definitions.

Extracts from Plutarch's Isis and Osiris
(The following is a representation of theological dualism which became prevalent in orthodox post-Achaemenian Zoroastrianism.)

45. Hence it is not unreasonable to say that the statement of each person individually is not right, but that the statement of all collectively is right; for it is not drought nor wind nor sea nor darkness, but everything harmful and destructive that Nature contains, which is to be set down as a part of Typhon.

The origins of the universe are not to be placed in inanimate bodies, according to the doctrine of Democritus and Epicurus, nor yet is the Artificer of undifferentiated matter, according to the Stoic doctrine, one Reason, and one Providence which gains the upper hand and prevails over all things. The fact is that it is impossible for anything bad whatsoever to be engendered where God is the Author of all, or anything good where God is the Author of nothing; for the concord of the universe, like that of a lyre or bow, according to Heracleitus, is resilient if disturbed; and according to Euripides:

The good and bad cannot be kept apart,
But there is some commingling, which is well.

Wherefore this very ancient opinion comes down from writers on religion and from lawgivers to poets and philosophers; it can be traced to no source, but it carried a strong and almost indelible conviction, and is in circulation in many places among barbarians (sic) and Greeks alike, not only in story and tradition but also in rites and sacrifices, to the effect that the Universe is not of itself suspended aloft without sense or reason or guidance, nor is there one Reason which rules and guides it by rudders, as it were, or by controlling reins, but, inasmuch as Nature brings, in this life of ours, many experiences in which both evil and good are commingled, or better, to put it very simply, Nature brings nothing which is not combined with something else, we may assert that it is not one keeper of two great vases who, after the manner of a barmaid, deals out to us our failures and successes in mixture, but it has come about, as the result of two opposed principles and two antagonistic forces, one of which guides us along a straight course to the right, while the other turns us aside and backward, that our life is complex, and so also is the universe; and if this is not true of the whole of it, dyet it is true that this terrestrial universe, including its moon as well, is irregular and variable and subject to all manner of changes. For if it is the law of nature that nothing comes into being without a cause, and if the good cannot provide a cause for evil, then it follows that Nature must have in herself the source and origin of evil, just as she contains the source and origin of good.

46. The great majority and the wisest of men hold this opinion: they believe that there are two super-natural beings, rivals as it were, the one the Artificer of good and the other of evil. There are also those who call the better one a God and the other a daemon, as, for example, Zoroaster the sage, who, they record, lived five thousand years before the time of the Trojan War. He called the one Oromazes (Ormozd > Hormozd > Ahurmazd > Ahura Mazda) and the other Areimanius (Ahriman > Angra Mainyu); and he further declared that among all the things perceptible to the senses, Oromazes may best be compared to light (and wisdom), and Areimanius, conversely, to darkness and ignorance, and midway between the two is Mithras: for this reason the Persians give to Mithras the name of "Mediator." [Note here the use of the phrases 'among all things perceptible to the senses' and 'best compared to'. The stated comparisons are those we humans can best perceive in describing the indescribable. The reference to Mithra as the mediator is quite remarkable. There is no sense of this sentiment anywhere else in Zoroastrian theology. Perhaps, as with other pronouncement by Plutarch, this sentiment is his own interpretation or that of his source.]

47. Oromazes, born from the purest light, and Areimanius, born from the darkness, are constantly at war with each other; and Oromazes created six divinities (cf. Amesha Spentas, archangels), the first of Good Thought, the second of Truth, the third of Order, and, of the rest, one of Wisdom, one of Wealth, and one the Artificer of Pleasure in what is Honourable. But Areimanius created rivals, as it were, equal to these in number.

Then Oromazes enlarged himself to thrice his former size, and removed himself as far distant from the Sun as the Sun is distant from the Earth, and adorned the heavens with stars. One star he set there before all others as a guardian and watchman, the Dog-star (Sirius, Tishtar. See our page on Zoroastrian Astrology).

Twenty-four other divinities (cf. Yazatas, angels) he created and placed in an egg (the celestial sphere was likened to an egg). But those created by Areimanius, who were equal in number to the others, pierced through the egg and made their way inside; hence evils are now combined with good. But a destined time shall come when it is decreed that Areimanius, engaged in bringing on pestilence and famine, shall by these be utterly annihilated and shall disappear; and then shall the earth become a level plain, and there shall be one manner of life and one form of government for a blessed people who shall all speak one tongue.

Theopompus says that, according to the sages, one super-natural being is to overpower, and the other to be overpowered, each in turn for the space of three thousand years, and afterward for another three thousand years they shall fight and war, and the one shall undo the works of the other, and finally Hades shall pass away; then shall the people be happy, and neither shall they need to have food nor shall they cast any shadow.

And in this manner the duality of life will cease to exist - engulfed in the embrace of an ultimate divine unity.

Duality & Dualism pages of this blog:
» Bon, Zoroastrianism & Dualism
» Dual, Duality & Dualism. Definitions (New)
» The Two - Ta Mainyu (New)
» Yin-Yang Dualism. Development of the Concept (New)
» Yin-Yang in Daoism / Taoism. The Daodejing by Laozi. Zhuangzi (New)
» Plutarch. His Work, Duality and the Soul (New)

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