Page images

istence and destiny of the soul. When one of them wept that he, being so innocent, should be condemned to die, he replied: "What then, would you have me die guilty ?" A few hours before his death, he said to those around him: “I must die, while you continue in life. The gods alone can tell which is to be preferred, for in my opinion no man can know.” To one who doubted the existence of Deity he said: “O Aristodemus, apply yourself sincerely to worship God. He will enlighten you, and then all your doubts will be removed." After drinking the poison, he said: “It would be inexcusable in me thus to despise death, if I were not persuaded that it will conduct me into the presence of the gods, who are most righteous governors, and into the society of just and good men; but I derive confidence from the hope that something of man remains after death, and that the condition of good men will then be much better than that of the bad.” Again he said: “The soul, which cannot die, merits all the moral and intellectual improvement we can possibly give it. A spirit formed to live forever should be making continual advances in virtue and wisdom. To a well cultivated mind the body is merely a temporary prison. At death, such a soul is conducted by its invisible guardian to the heights of empyrean felicity, where it becomes a fellow commoner with the wise and good of all ages.' When Crito asked in what manner he wished to be buried, he replied, with a smile: “Any way you please, provided I do not escape out of your hands." Then, turning to his other friends, he asked: "Is it not strange, after all I have said to convince you I am going to the society of the happy, that Crito still thinks this body to be Socrates ? Let him dispose of my lifeless corpse as he pleases, but let him not mourn over it, as if that were Socrates.” A few moments before he expired, he reminded Crito not to forget to sacrifice a cock, which he had vowed to Æsculapius. He died in the seventieth year of his age. The tidings of his death occasioned such general indignation throughout the states of Greece, that the Athenians became thoroughly ashamed, and manifested their repentance by a decree of public mourning and the erection of a statue to his memory.

Plato, born four hundred and twenty-nine years before Christ, was a pupil of Socrates. When his father first conducted him to the school, the teacher was just saying that he dreamed a young swan flew from the altar of Eros and alighted on his lap, whence he soared singing into the air, alluring all who heard his high sweet voice. Plato entered while he spoke, and he said: “Behold the swan!" This illustrious pupil was accused of preferring metaphysical speculations, and the mysteries of Egypt, to the plain practical wisdom of his master, for whom, however, he had great reverence. His own soul was of another mould. It was essentially poetic, and gave that tinge to everything it touched. After the death of Socrates, he went to Magna Grecia and staid some time with the followers of Pythagoras, of whom he is said to have purchased some of his recorded opinions at a high price. He afterward went to Egypt, where he spent thirteen years at the most celebrated priestly schools. He is supposed to have been more than forty years old when he returned to Athens, and opened a school of philosophy in the beautiful grove of Academus, shaded by lofty plane trees, intersected by a gentle stream, and adorned with temples and statues. In the midst of his fame, he evinced as much desire to learn of others, as to teach. One of his friends, observing this, asked him how long he intended to be a scholar. He replied: “As long as I am not ashamed to grow wiser and better.” He adopted the Egyptian fashion of concealing his opinions on spiritual subjects; partly, perhaps, because he was warned by the fate of Socrates.

"It is a difficult thing,” says he, "to apprehend the nature of the Creator of the universe; and it would be impossible, and even impious, to expose the discovery to common understandings.” He did not shut his gates, or demand an oath of secresy from his disciples, like Pythagoras, but he purposely threw a veil of obscurity over his public instructions, and removed it only with very conAdential friends. He inculcated temperance, prudence, justice, and self-control. His own command of temper was so great, that once when he had raised his hand to strike a servant for some offence, he stopped and kept his arm in that position. A friend coming in asked what he was doing. “I am punishing an angry man,” replied he. But the strongest tendency of his mind was toward the supernatural; and more than all philosophers he reasoned about the origin and destiny of the soul. He taught the existence of one Supreme Being, without beginning, end, or change. This being he called The Good, and compared him to the sun, “which not only makes objects visible, but is the cause of their generation, nutriment, and increase. So The Good, through superessential light, imparts being, and the power of being known, to everything which is the object of knowledge."

He supposed God and Matter to be two eternally distinct principles, opposite in their nature. Matter, which he calls “the mother and receptacle of forms,” had within it an inherent perversity, a refractory force, which distorted whatever of the Divine became connected with it; thus it was the origin of evil. The first emanation from The Good was Mind ; immortal, indivisible, unchangeable, a portion of Deity himself. This Power being mingled with the feminine principle of Matter caused the birth of a third, which he calls The Soul of the World, and supposes to be the pervading and animating principle of the universe. This Platonic Trinity was purely figurative. It related to the attributes of the Divine Being, not to persons. It was merely a metaphysical way of saying that the Good Being, by agency of his Wisdom, produced a manifestation of his ideas, which was the Model World, according to which this visible earth was made. In the same metaphorical way,

he often calls the world The Son of God. Sometimes he asserts that it was without beginning; in other places he speaks of it as begotten. He doubtless means that the Model World of ideas was eternal, being co-existent with

Vol. J.-30*

the Divine Mind; but that the inferior world was produced by union with Matter.

From the Soul of the World, God separated inferior souls, equal in number to the stars, and assigned to each its proper celestial abode. These souls, not being direct emanations from pure Divinity, but through the intervention of The Soul of the World, which was itself debased by an admixture with Matter, have in them two dominant springs derived from their two different origins; the love of good, and the desire of pleasure. These are the wings of the soul, and so long as they are not separated, all is well; but when the love of pleasure becomes divided from the love of good, then souls descend in the scale of being.

He represents Jupiter, followed by subordinate Gods and Spirits, traversing the heavens and admiring the wonders of the universe. They ascend above the spheres, to a region where souls contemplate that True Existence, which has neither colour nor form, and can be perceived only by the eyes of the spirit. There they see Goodness and Truth as they exist in Him who is Being itself. They contemplate this glory till they can no longer endure its radiance; then they descend to Olympus, where they refresh themselves with nectar and ambrosia. Souls who faithfully follow Jupiter in this mode of life remain pure. But if they prefer nectar and ambrosia to the contemplation of truth in its Divine Essence, they become dull and heavy, lose their wings, and fall downward, instead of ascending. For such souls was this earth provided, and human bodies.

He supposes the world to be divided into three parts, or zones; the ethereal, the aerial, and the material. The ethereal, in the pure regions of heaven, where are the stars, is the former residence of our souls, before we fell. That is the permanent world; there are the real ideal types of being, fresh from the Divine Mind. “All is beautiful, harmonious, transparent. Fruits of exquisite flavour grow spontaneously; rivers of nectar flow; they breathe light, as we breathe air, and drink water more pure than air itself." “We who live in this profound abyss (the material world) imagine that we are in an elevated place, and we call the atmosphere heaven; as if a man looking at sun and stars from the bottom of the ocean, and seeing them reflected through the water, should imagine the sea itself was the sky. If we had wings to rise on high, we should see that there is the true heaven, the true light, and the true earth. As in the sea all is troubled, and disfigured by the salts which abound there, so in this present world all is deformed and ruined, in comparison with that primitive world.”

Our perceptions of the true and the beautiful are merely "recollections of what the soul formerly saw, when it dwelt with Divinity, in a perfect state of being; when it despised what we now consider realities, and was supernally elevated to the contemplation of that which is true. Unless the soul of man had once perceived divine realities, it could not have entered the human form. But few remember the sacred mysteries they once perceived ; and these, when they behold any similitude of supernal forms, are astonished, and, as it were, rapt above themselves. But at the same time, they are ignorant what this passion may be, because they are not endowed with sufficient perception."

He compared souls in this world to men fettered in a deep cave, where the only light admitted proceeded from a fire burning far above and behind them. Many objects passed and repassed in the light, but the prisoner could only see shadows on the wall, caused by the reflection of the fire. All things in this material world he considered mere transitory illusive phantoms, deformed by connection with Matter. Souls imprisoned in mortal bodies, subject to debasing and distorting passions, he likened to Glaucus, who, plunging into the sea, is imagined by poets as half transformed into a fish, his manly figure rendered shapeless by incrustations of sand, shells, and sea-weed.

Of the multitude of Spirits intermediate between gods and men, he says: “Their office is to convey and interpret to the gods the prayers and offerings of men, and bring to men the commands of the gods. These demons are the

« PreviousContinue »