History of the Concept of Mind: Volume 2: The Heterodox and Occult Tradition [1° ed.] 0754639916, 9780754639916

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History of the Concept of Mind: Volume 2: The Heterodox and Occult Tradition [1° ed.]
 0754639916, 9780754639916

Table of contents :
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Contents
Acknowledgements
Abbreviations
Introduction: The Heterodox Tradition in Western Philosophy
Chapter 1 Ideas About Human Nature in the Ancient Near East
1. Life, death and the soul in ancient Egypt
2. Life, death and the soul in ancient Mesopotamia
3. Life, death and the soul in the Zoroastrian religion
Chapter 2 The Ancient and Medieval Horizon of the Shamanic Soul
Chapter 3 Secret Teachings about the Soul in the Post-Classical World
1. Secret teachings about the soul in the Hermetica
2. Gnostic secret teachings about the soul
3. Manichean ideas about the soul in light and darkness
4. Oracles, ritual and theurgy in the soul's ascent
Chapter 4 Byzantine Doctrines of Mind, Soul and Spirit
Chapter 5 Christian Mystical Ideas About the Soul's Ascent
1. The emergence of mystical ideas from Neo-Platonism and Esotericism
2. The soul's ecstatic accounts of the other world
3. New ideas about the soul's place in nature in the twelfth century
4. The summit of Christian mysticism in the Late Middle Ages
Chapter 6 Magical Ideas about the Soul from Isidore to Goethe
1. The medieval rediscovery of magic and its view of the soul
2. The magical soul in the High Middle Ages
3. The magical soul in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance
4. The magical soul in the Early Modern Period
Chapter 7 Plurality of Dualisms and Duality of Life
Sectional Bibliographies
Index of Names
Index of Subjects

Citation preview

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HISTORY OF THE CONCEPT OF MIND VOLUME 2 ‘... this volume is a must ... There simply is nothing like it on the international publishing menu … the author has found a very appealing style of presentation, keeping the reader fascinated without sacrificing soundness of scholarship.’ Professor Horst Ruthrof, English and Philosophy, Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia

Exploring the ‘roads less travelled’, MacDonald continues his monumental investigation of the history of ideas. The history of heterodox ideas about the concept of mind takes the reader from the earliest records about human nature in Ancient Egypt, the Ancient Near East, and the Zoroastrian religion, through the secret teachings in the Hermetic and Gnostic scriptures, and into the transformation of ideas about the mind, soul and spirit in the late antique and early medieval epochs. These transitions include discussion of the influence of Central Asian shamanism, Manichean ideas about the soul in light and darkness, and Neo-Platonic theurgy, ‘working-on-god-within’. Sections on the medieval period are concerned with the rediscovery of magical practices and occult doctrines from Roger Bacon to Francis Bacon, the adaptation of Neo-Platonic and esoteric ideas by the medieval Christian mystics, and the survival of these ideas mixed with natural science in the works of von Helmont, Leibniz and Goethe. It concludes with an investigation of the many forms of dualism in accounts of the human mind and soul, and the concept of dual-life which underpins our aspiration to understand how humans could have an immortal nature like the gods.

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History of the Concept of Mind Volume 2 The Heterodox and Occult Tradition

PAUL S. MACDONALD

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First published 2007 by Ashgate Publishing Published 2016 by Routledge 2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN 711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an informa business Copyright © Paul S. MacDonald 2007 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers. Notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and explanation without intent to infringe. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data MacDonald, Paul S., 1951– History of the concept of mind Vol. 2: The heterodox and occult tradition 1.Philosophy of mind – History 2.Mind and body I. Title 128.2'09 Library of Congress Control Number: 2002100873

Typeset in Times Roman by Express Typesetters, Farnham

ISBN 13: 978-0-7546-3992-3 (pbk) ISBN 13: 978-0-7546-3991-6 (hbk)

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Contents Acknowledgements

vii

Abbreviations

ix

Introduction: The Heterodox Tradition in Western Philosophy Chapter 1 Ideas About Human Nature in the Ancient Near East 1. Life, death and the soul in ancient Egypt 2. Life, death and the soul in ancient Mesopotamia 3. Life, death and the soul in the Zoroastrian religion

xiii 1

Chapter 2 The Ancient and Medieval Horizon of the Shamanic Soul

65

Chapter 3 Secret Teachings about the Soul in the Post-Classical World 1. Secret teachings about the soul in the Hermetica 2. Gnostic secret teachings about the soul 3. Manichean ideas about the soul in light and darkness 4. Oracles, ritual and theurgy in the soul’s ascent

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Chapter 4 Byzantine Doctrines of Mind, Soul and Spirit

179

Chapter 5 Christian Mystical Ideas About the Soul’s Ascent 1. The emergence of mystical ideas from Neo-Platonism and Esotericism 2. The soul’s ecstatic accounts of the other world 3. New ideas about the soul’s place in nature in the twelfth century 4. The summit of Christian mysticism in the Late Middle Ages

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Chapter 6 Magical Ideas about the Soul from Isidore to Goethe 1. The medieval rediscovery of magic and its view of the soul 2. The magical soul in the High Middle Ages 3. The magical soul in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance 4. The magical soul in the Early Modern Period

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Chapter 7 Plurality of Dualisms and Duality of Life

403

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Sectional Bibliographies

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Index of Names

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Index of Subjects

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Acknowledgements To Prof. Richard Moran, Chairman of the Philosophy Department, for his kind invitation to spend my Sabbatical Leave at Harvard University in Fall 2004; to Prof. Rafael Woolf for discussing with me the intricacies of Plato’s account of the soul. To several members of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (NELC) at Harvard University: Prof. Piotr Steinkeller for his suggestions about the use of Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) texts for reconstructing ancient belief systems; Prof. Paul-Alain Beaulieu for reading the section on the ANE concept of soul, spirit and ghost, and Prof. James Russell for reading the section on Zoroastrian ideas and the section on Central Asian Shamanism. To Prof. John Duffy, Classics Department, for reading the section on Byzantine philosophy, and to Dr. Lawrence Berman, Curator of Egyptian Antiquities at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, for his helpful advice on the section on Ancient Egyptian ideas. To Prof. Michael McCormick, History Department, for letting me take part in an extraordinary conference on the Early Middle Ages (October 2004); also to Mark Mamigonian, Director of the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research (Belmont, Mass.) for his advice about the current state of Armenian studies abroad; to Greg Smith, Ph.D. student in the Cultural Setting of the Late Antique Soul, for his valuable comments on our overlapping areas of research interest, and to Father Paul at Schoenhof’s Bookshop (Cambridge) for his stimulating ideas about Arabic influences on Franciscan thinking in the thirteenth century. To Pat and Henry Breen for hospitality and kindness in their home during our four months in Cambridge, and for bringing to life Walden Pond and Mt. Auburn Cemetery. To the faithful members of Murdoch University’s Philosophy Work-in-progress Seminar (aka Walter’s Café Group), where many sections of the current work were first presented, for their questions, comments and suggestions: Rodrigo Becerra, Peta Bowden, Mark Brown, Tim Davey, Sam Delaney, Judith Glover, Clive Hutchinson, Matthew Jamieson, Joe Naimo, Steve Schofield, Lubica Ucnik, Robert Victorin-Vangerud and Koral Ward. To Dr. Brian Mooney, Philosophy Department, University of Notre Dame (Australia) for reading and critiquing the sections on Christian mysticism, and to Father Placid Spearett, Abbot of New Norcia Monastery, for helpful advice in sorting out my ideas about Pseudo-Dionysius. To the editors of Antiquity for permission to reproduce the BMAC seal on p. 76. As ever, with love and thanks to my wife Fiona, who listened with patience and good humor to three more years of unasked-for expatiation on these ideas, and who shared with me the delights of the Widener Library and all the old churches and museums of Boston.

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Abbreviations

Abraham

Lyndy Abraham, Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. AH I–XI Achaemenid History. H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg, Amélie Kuhrt et al. 11 vols. Leiden: Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten, 1987–98. ANRW Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt. Berlin: de Gruyter, 1972date. BICS Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies. BNP Brill’s New Pauly: Encyclopaedia of the Ancient World. Hubert Cancik & Helmuth Schneider (eds) English Trans. of NPEA. Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2002–date. BSOAS Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. CAD Oriental Institute (eds) The Assyrian Dictionary, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. CAH Cambridge Ancient History. New edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. CH Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius. Brian Copenhaver. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992. CHLGEMP Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy. A. H. Armstrong (ed.) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. CHRP Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Charles Schmitt et al. (eds) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988. DMA Dictionary of the Middle Ages. J. R. Strayer (ed.) 13 vols. New York: Scribner, 1982–89. DSA Dictionnaire de spiritualité ascétique et mystique doctrine et histoire. 17 vols. Paris: Beauchesne, 1937–97. EEC Encyclopedia of the Early Church. Angelo Di Berardino (ed.) 2 vols. Cambridge: James Clarke, 1992. EER Encyclopedia of Religion. Mircea Eliade (ed.) 16 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1987. EEP Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Paul Edwards (ed.) 8 vols. London: Macmillan, 1967. EHPhR Etudes de l’Histoire de Philosophie et Religion (journal). EI2 Encyclopedia of Islam. New Edition. H. A. R. Gibb (ed.) 7 vols. Leiden: E. J. Brill. EofC Encyclopedia of Christianity. Erwin Fahlbush & others (eds) 3 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001. ERE Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. James Hastings (ed.) 12 vols. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1913. ix

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GMPT HCM Hist Rel JAOS JECS JHI JHP JRAS JTS JWCI PGL LSJ NCE NEJ Nov Test NPEA NRSV NRT NTS OCD ODCC OED OLD PL PG RAC RAW REP RHPR RTAM Segal

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History of the Concept of Mind, Volume 2

The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation. Hans Dieter Betz (ed.) Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1986. History of the Concept of Mind, Paul S. MacDonald, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003. History of Religions (journal). Journal of the American Oriental Society. Journal of Early Christian Studies. Journal of the History of Ideas. Journal of the History of Philosophy. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society. Journal of Theological Studies. Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institute. Patristic Greek Lexicon. G. W. H. Lampe (ed.) Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976. Liddel, Scott & Jones (eds) Greek-English Lexicon. 9th edn rev. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968. New Catholic Encyclopedia. 16 vols. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967–74. Encyclopedia of Judaism. Jacob Neusner et al. (eds) Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2000. Novum Testamentum (journal). Der Neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike. Hubert Cancik & Helmuth Schneider (eds) Stuttgart: J. B. Metzler, 1997–date. New Revised Standard Version. Nouvelle Revue Théologique (journal). New Testament Studies (journal). Oxford Classical Dictionary. 3rd edn. Simon Hornblower & Anthony Spawforth (eds) New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 2nd edn. F. L. Cross & E. A. Livingstone (eds) New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Oxford English Dictionary. New edn. 13 vols. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985. P. G. W. Glare (ed.) Oxford Latin Dictionary. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968–72. Patrologiae Latina, cursus completus. J. P. Migne (ed.). Patrologiae Graeca, cursus completus. J. P. Migne (ed.). Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum. 18 vols. Stuttgart: Hiersemann, 1950–98. Religions of the Ancient World. Sarah Johnston (ed.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edward Craig (ed.) 10 vols. London & New York: Routledge, 1998. Revue d’Histoire et de Philosophie Religieuses. Recherches de theologie ancienne et medievale. Alan F. Segal. Life after Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

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Abbreviations

xi

TDNT

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. G. Kittel & G. Friedrich (eds) 10 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964–76. TDOT Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. G. J. Botterweck & H. Ringgren (eds) 10 vols. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974–90. Thorndike Lynn Thorndike. History of Magic and Experimental Science. 8 vols. New York: Macmillan, 1923–58. Note:

Greek and Latin texts are cited according to the standard abbreviations in OCD, 3rd edn.

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The true doctrine is like this: it is in relation to the king of all things and on his account that everything exists, and that fact is the cause of all that is beautiful. In relation to a second, the second kind of thing exists, and in relation to a third, the third kind. Plato, ‘Second Letter’ Human life is too impoverished not to be also immortal. Jorge Luis Borges, ‘The Immortal’ (1949) The eternal existence of my soul is proved from my idea of activity; if I work incessantly till my death, nature is bound to give me another form of existence when the present one can no longer sustain my spirit. J. W. Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann (1829)

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Introduction: The Heterodox Tradition in Western Philosophy There are two (or three) main highways along which western speculation about the nature of the world and the human soul have traveled: the Platonic dual nature account, the Aristotelian matter-form account, and the Epicurean materialist hypothesis (interrupted for 1500 years and not taken up again until the mid-17th century). But there are also other roads, ones less traveled; some twist and turn in unusual directions, some are cul-de-sacs. They are not so much unorthodox, ‘notright belief’, as heterodox, ‘other-belief’, that is, other than the mainstream. Homeric and ancient Hebrew ideas about the human soul squarely situated its principle and power in the life-force which originated with an individual’s birth and vanished with its death. Plato’s mature thought marks a watershed, since in the Phaedrus, the Republic and the Timaeus, he builds in an exogenous shamanistic concept of the soul as an immortal, autonomous entity contingently joined with its host’s body. As the ‘ruling part’ (or aspect) of this immensely influential and fruitful doctrine, the Platonic rational soul begins to lead a life of its own (so to speak) and reaches its highest state in a perfectly ordered cosmic hierarchy under Plotinus’ mystagogic teaching. Augustine syncretized this divinely ‘inspired’ soul with NT Christian ideas and propelled it forward through the Renaissance Hermeticism of Ficino and Pico. The Platonic and Augustinian rational soul finds its modern home in Descartes’ thinking thing, the human mind elevated to the status of a god in its own domain. Where for Plato the rationality of the rational (logismos) soul is the result of its inception in and participation with a divine mind (or power), for Descartes the cognitive power (vis cognitiva) of the human mind is due to its attainment of a godlike rationality. Aristotle’s concern to account for the conditions a concrete substance must realize in order to have a soul as its form relied on a matter-form model of explanation. He complained that the ‘mystics’ expounded only upon the nature of the soul itself and not on the nature of the body that is needed to receive or house the soul. For the mystics, the body might be anything, and thus it would really be irrelevant to its having a soul; in principle the soul might be taken into or housed in any kind of body. In contrast, since Aristotle’s idea of the soul is property-like, the soul is dependent upon its body, but not as another bodily part upon the whole body, since the soul is not any kind of body at all. Despite its official dominance in schools for five centuries or longer, it lost ground to the Neo-Platonist innovators and disappeared from the Latin West. Under the curatorship of Arabic and Persian scholars the Aristotelian model was made complete and consistent. This internal philosophical completeness was a distinct advantage when Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas reconciled the matter-form account with the Christian doctrine of xiii

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personal immortality. The third stream of tradition about the human soul had its source in Stoic and Epicurean physical theory and materialist ontology. This alternate route was rendered heretical by the Church Fathers for its overt denial of the human soul’s immortality and its alleged tendency toward atheism. It was not revived until the early seventeenth century under the tutelage of Pierre Gassendi and Kenelm Digby who thought that some version of atomism was more amenable to the new mechanistic theories of matter in motion. But there are other less well-remarked paths, trodden usually by the few or the chosen alone. These are the distinctive features of heterodox lines of thought about mind, soul and spirit. (1) They are arcane, esoteric teachings, kept secret from the public, open only to insiders. (2) Their emphasis is not on an explanatory account of nature, but on techniques for the soul’s ascent. (3) They are formed in close alliance with magical ideas and lend themselves readily to various occult theories: (a) some aspect of these ideas can be externalized in some form, such as rituals, spells, etc.; (b) these external forms can become detached from the theoretical base which explains them. (4) Their diagnostic, therapeutic and practical effects are achieved by natural and/or demonic magic. One of the earliest and most influential statements of the esoteric, hidden teaching is made by Plato in the ‘Second Letter’. Plato said that he would transmit ‘a secret teaching’ that must be written in riddles in case someone might read the letter while en route. The true doctrine, he said, ‘is like this: it is in relation to the king of all things and on his account that everything exists, and that fact is the cause of all that is beautiful. In relation to a second, the second kind of thing exists, and in relation to a third, the third kind’ (312e). This enigmatic statement was to become one of the cornerstones of Plotinus’ strange philosophy and a key text in the Neo-Platonists’ efforts to expound their theurgy, working on the god within each human. In addition to philosophical, naturalscientific and religious texts; the ancient world bequeathed to the early Christian world an abundance of works on magic by Greek, Egyptian and Roman writers. Empirical and medical accounts helped to explain what was possible and impossible in the physical world, at the same time that fabulae told stories about magical persons and events; some of the apocryphal texts of the NT also contributed to this magical repertoire. The Christians writers of the early centuries carried out a continuous diatribe directed against all magical practices, and routinely issued condemnations and prohibitions against such ‘evil’ and heretical activities. Richard Kieckhefer forcefully argues that the conflict between Christians and pagans rested on their differing notions about magic and its place in society: ‘For pagans who opposed magic, it was reprehensible because it was secret and antisocial. It was a force that worked against society, from within society itself, and for that reason it had to be uprooted.’ The pagans worshipped their gods in the open and did not call on them for help in carrying out evil deeds; moreover, the pagans were not intolerant of other gods and other forms of devotion than their own. On the other hand, ‘for the Christians, magic was reprehensible because it was the work of demons. These were evil spirits, ultimately subject to God, but they paraded as gods and received veneration.’ The Christians could not complain about secretive behavior because they themselves were secretive; in addition, they were intolerant of other gods and other forms of devotion except their own. Thus Kieckhefer concludes that, in

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sharply distinguishing between Christianity as the true religion and paganism as a parcel of false religions: early Christian writers in effect introduced a distinction between religion and magic which had not previously been made and which was not easily understood except from a Christian viewpoint. It was a short step from saying that paganism was inauthentic religion to maintaining that it was no religion at all, but mere idolatry and magic … In short, the pagan definition of magic had a moral and a theological dimension but was grounded in social concerns; the Christian definition had a moral and a social dimension but was explicitly centered on theological concerns. Between these two different models there was little room for discussion.1

Secrecy, exclusiveness and ‘right-opinion’ (orthodoxy) help to define the criteria that allowed for the separation of (true) religion and magic; the hidden (occult), dynamic and unnatural helped to define the criteria that separated the demonic, spiritual dimension from the natural dimension.2 The distinction between ordinary, manifest powers and occult powers could be subjective, that is, a power that is little known and arouses wonder, unlike those powers that are well known and taken for granted. But it could also be a power in a more objective sense, that is, one that resides in the object itself and which cannot be explained, but only educed through spells and charms. Natural magic was the ‘science’ of such occult powers and was strictly segregated from demonic magic which invoked the assistance of spiritual agents in bringing about the desired changes: ‘That which makes an action magical is the type of power it invokes: if it relies on divine action or the manifest power of nature it is not magical, while if it uses demonic aid or occult powers in nature it is magical.’ There is an alternate way of defining magic in terms of the intended action the operations are designed to elicit instead of the powers they invoke. According to this theoretical approach, the central feature of religion is that it supplicates God or the gods, and the main feature of magic is that it attempts to coerce spiritual beings or hidden forces.3 The history of magic is above all a crossing-point where the exploitation of natural forces and the invocation of demonic powers intersect. One could summarize the history of medieval magic in capsule form by saying that at the popular level the tendency was to conceive magic as natural, while among the intellectuals there were three competing lines of thought: [1] an assumption, developed in the early centuries of Christianity, that all magic involved at least an implicit reliance on demons; [2] a grudging recognition, fostered especially by the influx of Arabic learning in the twelfth century, that much magic was in fact natural; and [3] a fear, stimulated in the later Middle Ages by the very real exercise of necromancy, that magic involved an all too explicit invocation of demons even when it pretended to be innocent.4

One could distinguish between the wisdom of the magus and the learning of the philosopher, but they are actually interdependent aspects of the same enterprise. 1 Kieckhefer

1990 pp. 35–7. of secrecy are emphasized by Stroumsa 1996 pp. 1–7. 3 Kieckhefer rejects this approach for several reasons, 1990 pp. 15–16. 4 Kieckhefer 1992 pp. 16–17; also Jolly 2001 pp. 13–26. 2 Conditions

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According to Angela Voss, ‘the magus is a scientist, as he investigates the hidden laws of the cosmos, learns of the correspondences between all things, and seeks to understand the world from the perspective of the Creator himself. But he is also a diviner, as he does this through action, perfecting the techniques and rituals which may lead him to the deeper level of insight required to reap divine gifts.’5 Marsilio Ficino declared, ‘the perfect efficacy of ineffable works, which are divinely performed in a way surpassing all intelligence, and the power of inexplicable symbols, which are known only to the gods, impart theurgic union.’6 Voss draws a salutary lesson from this attitude: Thus images, prayers, invocations, talismans – in whatever ritual use appropriate for the particular condition of the individual – may all contribute to the process of realigning his or her soul. It is important to understand that divination does not originate from the energies used in everyday life, or from human fabrications or ingenuity. Rather, the devotion, intent and desire of the operator will allow a superior power to ‘perfect’ the ritual and impart its authority to it. In other words, human beings may partake of Divine Revelation through their own efforts.

In their final summary statement about Giordano Bruno, Copenhaver and Schmitt admirably characterize the central attitude of the magic-inspired heterodox view of human nature. They claim that Bruno did not care about individual human beings, but thought that particular things of any kind were no more distinct than ripples in the calm sea of being. ‘Nature thrives and breeds transitory forms out of living matter through her own internal force of soul. The single universal form is the world-soul that drives things from within as their principle. Causes that act externally are superficial; a deeper dynamism belongs to principles that move inside. Matter and form unite in the infinite substance that comprehends all … Individual souls … cannot be discrete specific forms because soul is really one; what enlivens a human and a fly are fragments of the same world-soul, which is like a light reflected in a shattered mirror whose splinters are the souls of particular beings.’8 Or, as Philip Batz said in 1876, in a now forgotten book, ‘humans are fragments of a desperate god who destroyed himself at the beginning of time; universal history is the shadowy death throes of those fragments.’9 The Cartesian-Galilean understanding of the mathematical order of the natural world and the mechanical laws that govern change and motion would definitively overthrow the fundamental principles of the late medieval and Renaissance picture of a dynamic, spiritual nature. The model of a world-machine would supplant the model of a world-spirit, imbued with celestial and terrestrial intelligences that could be intuited and handled by wisdom-seekers. Wisdom would no longer be the special endowment or privilege of a few initiates, but a collective achievement that can be realized through cooperative endeavors, pieces of which can become available to anyone with the right scientific education. The occult philosophy and its many 5 Voss

2001 p. 5. quoted in Voss 2001 p. 5. 7 Voss 2001 p. 7. 8 Copenhaver & Schmitt 1992 p. 315. 9 Philip Batz quoted in Culianou 1992 p. 56. 6 Ficino,

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heterodox variants are not so much driven underground as channeled into sideroads, away from the main highway; dusty roads traveled by amateur alchemists, juridical astrologers, counterfeiters, and the other conjurers and tricksters commonly satirized by the Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights. This work investigates both the richness and the strangeness of these less well-traveled paths in their speculations about the nature, function and structure of the human mind and soul.

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Chapter 1

Ideas about Human Nature in the Ancient Near East (1) Life, death and the soul in ancient Egypt The ancient Egyptian view of human life, death and the afterlife evolved over thousands of years; it was not fully formed in the earliest period. One of our tasks will be to trace the development of the central ideas about human nature from the formation of a unified state (c.3100 BCE) through the Pyramid Texts of the Old Kingdom (c.2350–2180 BCE), the Coffin Texts of the Middle Kingdom (c.1987–1640 BCE), and the various Books of the Underworld (the best known of which is the Book of the Dead) in the New Kingdom (c.1540–1075 BCE).1 Our investigations will employ different kinds of supporting evidence: (1) contemporary exposition from mortuary texts; (2) literary and pseudo-literary texts, such as ‘The Dispute Between a Man and his ba’, ‘The Eloquent Peasant’, ‘Merikare’s Instructions’, ‘The Story of Sinuhe’,2 and others; (3) images associated with mortuary texts and funerary practices, especially the vignettes found in the Coffin Texts and the Book of the Dead, and (4) artifacts associated with embalming, burial and funerary practices. The last group alone would not be sufficient for making certain claims about Egyptian beliefs, but is often suitable for supporting claims derived from direct and indirect exposition and testimony. The exposition from mortuary texts, as well as artifactual and testimonial evidence, strongly indicates that the ancient Egyptians did not hold anything like a dualistic idea of human nature, as John Taylor says. Their concept (or complex) of human nature was a composite of physical and non-physical components, or more accurately, aspects or modes of human existence. The most important of the physical components were the body and the heart; the most important of the non-physical components were the ka, the ba, the name, and the shadow. Each of these aspects was thought to ‘enshrine some unique quality of the individual … [each] was capable of supporting independently the continued existence of the person after death, but each had to be nurtured and maintained according to its special needs if the afterlife was to be successfully attained’.3 The great Egyptian archaeologist Alan Gardiner said that ‘the Egyptians believed that the human individuality could present itself under a variety of forms, which are less “parts” of its nature, as vulgarly stated, than shifting modes of its being. The often visualized bird-like soul (ba) is 1 In Hornung 1999 as follows: Pyramid Texts pp. 1–6, the Coffin Texts pp. 7–12, the Book of the Dead pp. 13–22; detailed summaries of the various Books of the Netherworld pp. 26–111. 2 Translations of these texts in Simpson 3rd edn 2003, pp. 25–45, 54–65, 152–65, 178–87. 3 Taylor 2001 p. 16.

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one of these forms, the ka or double another, the shadow a third, the corpse a fourth, and so on.’ Louis Zabkar says that Gardiner was correct in this assessment, but that his ‘trend of thought’ was not followed in subsequent discussions. In his highly influential commentary on the Pyramid Texts, Kurt Sethe4 was probably responsible for reinforcing an older view of the ba as part of human nature, introducing a dichotomy in the Egyptian concept, a dualistic opposition between body and soul.5 Karl Luckert also rejects the idea that the Egyptian view of human nature can be rendered in dualistic terms, one that employs the concept of two or more substantive entities. Rather he proposes something like Plotinus’ emanationist system: every single living thing is a manifestation of a cosmic life-force; every thing in its sentient being is a participant in the divine essence: The Egyptians called the invisible life force, that spark of life which energetically manifests itself from within, the ka. They named outward manifestations, which … register as phenomena or as phenotypal mutations of that life force, the ba. Both ka and ba are what we might call soul. The ba, appearing along the outer reaches of divine ka emanation, is a visible, shadow-tainted, and estranged unit of ka, whereas a ka unit by itself may be characterized as a relatively pure participant within the original plethora of divine essence. The ka represents divine essence, and as such it exists in and emanates from the divine source of all being.6

Zabkar vigorously concurs when he declares that there is no evidence whatsoever that the Egyptians thought in dualistic or trialistic terms.7 Phillipe Derchain says that the ancient Egyptians talked about numerous aspects of the human person, aspects which are difficult to understand and without equivalent in modern European languages. The commonly accepted polarity between body and soul cannot be applied ‘in every case’ to the Egyptian schema; it is not possible ‘to trace clear boundaries’ amongst the physical, social, religious and magical fields. Derchain suggests ordering all the essential aspects of human nature along two axes, the concrete and the imaginary, arranging them from the most perceptible (observable) to the most private, while noting a displacement between the two series which are not synonymous. The concrete series comprises: the body, the name, the shadow and the heart; and the imaginary series comprises the akh, the ka, the ba and the god-in-man. In the New Kingdom and late epochs there is a reduction and internalization of some psychical aspects which, Derchain says, caused the imaginary terms to disappear, ‘transferring to the organs themselves the functions that they expressed and that had always been manifested through those organs’.8 4 Kurt Sethe’s (still) definitive edition of the Pyramid Texts appeared in 1908–22 (reprinted, Darmstadt 1960); his exhaustive commentary in six volumes (1935–62) appeared only after his death. 5 Zabkar 1970 p. 1; Zabkar’s criticism is similar to the strong caution sounded in HCM pp. 47–50 about the illegitimate imposition of Latin partitive terms to translate Plato’s aspectual view of the human psyche¯. 6 Luckert 1991 p. 44; these aspects amount to ‘a harmony among forces’, Segal 2004 pp. 50–51. 7 Zabkar 1968 p. 112. 8 Derchain 1992 p. 220.

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In some respects, the setting or frame in which such aspects are manifest is an ordinary human being, but other texts speak of external entities or properties as falling within the domain of the psychic amalgam: ‘The limits of the person are not reached by the limits of the body and its faculties.’ The inclusion of such items as the stele, the tomb, the birth-stool, and so forth are claimed to be constituents of an individual’s personality; ‘but since they also belong to other categories of beings, it is impossible to establish an ontological distinction between human and the others’. However, the difference is only a quantitative one, depending upon the relative participation in the two facets of the world, the imaginary and the perceptible. The imaginary world is essentially composed of the gods, who are connected to the perceptible world through their statues, temples, and diverse manifestations. Human, by contrast, located essentially in the perceptible world, passes into the imaginary through the intermediary of the Pharaoh, who is the incarnation of the idea of human and is in this way on an equal footing with the gods on the level of artistic representation.9

However, it is not necessary that one postulate two axes of being, one real and the other unreal, in order to account for the otherwise disparate and incongruous properties and powers claimed as aspects of human beings. Some of the confusion in Derchain’s statement above comes through in the use of ‘essentially’ for ‘mainly’ or ‘mostly’, and by expecting but failing to find an ‘ontological distinction’ between one category and another category. The Egyptian concept of human nature appears to be diffuse, over-determined, polyvalent, and so forth because a cognitive concept employs the formal ideas of genus and species, substance and property, essence and attribute, whereas a cognitive complex embraces more than one genus and does not have one essence. Derchain also says that there is no ontological difference between human and god, ‘since it is possible to define both of them in connection with the same components’; hence, ‘the distinction must be sought elsewhere, essentially in the relative proportion of the real and the imaginary’. But the very ideas of ‘definition’ and ‘distinction’ are closely tied into the same Aristotelian categories that have already given rise to so much difficulty in accommodating the many diverse aspects. The structure of Egyptian religion, he says, is organized in a unitary way where the gods of every region are found in every temple and yet are entirely realized on the local level in each temple: ‘The indigenous god is the synthesis of all the gods of the country, whose functions he fulfills to the extent that they are differentiated; and his person is recognized in each foreign god who would, in his own locality, perform his specific function.’10 This is indeed very close to an appropriate formulation of the ideas involved in human nature: one might say that the ka or the ba (and so on) is the synthesis of all the psychic entities in the earthly domain whose functions it fulfills to the extent that it can be differentiated from other psychic entities, and can be recognized as that person’s ba or ka in the unearthly world insofar as it carries out functions specific to its ‘nature’.11 9 Derchain

1992 p. 223. 1992 p. 224; see Meeks & Meeks 1999 pp. 51–2; Assmann 1995 p. 41 note 19. 11 Taylor 2001 p. 17; on the imagery of divine bodies, see Meeks & Meeks 1999 pp. 57–60. 10 Derchain

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Let us now consider in detail the various aspects of human being according to the exposition and testimony of ancient Egyptian texts. One of the most striking features of the Egyptian picture was the notion that the human body played an important role in the individual’s survival after death. John Taylor is quite explicit about this: ‘It is clear that a physical body was considered essential for the deceased’s continued existence. Attainment of the afterlife depended on preservation of the body and the ability of the individual members to function, but more importantly the body served as the physical base for the entities known as the ka and the ba, which required a physical form.’ The production of a mummy was the preservation of the corpse by artificial means and arose in response to the need to maintain this physical substrate. But the mummy was not merely the same earthly body: ‘the aim was to transform the corpse into a new eternal body, a perfect image of the deceased. This body, the sah, was not expected to rise up and be physically active after death, since its principal function was to house the ka and the ba. Only through the survival and union of these aspects of the individual after death could resurrection take place.’12 The Egyptians distinguished between the earthly and the unearthly body with separate words: the words khet (form) and iru (appearance) referred to the earthly body in this life; the dead body or corpse could be referred to as khat, the embalmed body or the mummy itself as tut, and the unearthly body of the next life as sah: ‘The distinctive appearance of the sah is well known from mummies, anthropoid coffins, and mummiform statues: the limbs enveloped in brilliant white wrappings, the face and hands of gold, the hair a long tripartite wig, usually colored blue. These were attributes which belonged to divinities, and through the processes of mummification they were conferred on the deceased, making him too a divine being.’ Humans, as well as all other living beings, had been created by the potter god Khnum: a divine form constituted a totality that could not be apprehended in and of itself, for such a form coincided with the very being of the god it belonged to. It lay beyond what could be known or described and could only be grasped – imperfectly at that – through its projections. These projections constituted the kheperu, which corresponded to the series of ephemeral individual forms, indefinite in number, that a divinity was capable of assuming. None of them could encompass the totality of what a god was.13

Nevertheless, Meeks and Meeks argue, these localized specific forms did not constitute a change in the god’s basic nature, instead they showed the god undergoing a process of constant evolution. Each of these forms was a facet of the god in which he was fully implied. By adopting a kheperu, a god created for himself the possibility of signifying a state of his being or distinguishing one of his actions by individualizing it. To enter such a state or perform such an act was to inscribe the kheperu in visible reality. This projection, called the iru, was a perceptible, intelligible manifestation of the god, accentuated, as a rule by various material attributes.

12 Taylor 13 Meeks

2001 p. 16; Hornung 1992 pp. 169–70; and esp. D’Auria 1988 pp. 14–20. & Meeks 1999, p. 54; Silverman in Shafer 1991 pp. 33–8.

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The terms kheperu and iru often occur in texts as synonyms, so difficult was it to distinguish between their referents; no one form was the exclusive property of a single god. In general, the average person could recognize a god only in his or her iru, and Meeks and Meeks argue that only through religious and spiritual practices could a trained person perceive a god’s kheperu.14 According to John Taylor: In the ancient Egyptians’ view of the universe, the continued existence of the world and its inhabitants depended to a large degree on the fulfillment of natural cycles. The rising and setting of the sun, the phases of the moon, the motions of the stars, the annual flooding of the Nile, and the growth and death of plants were perceived as manifestations of potent creative forces and as reassuring signs that the ideal order of familiar things would continue indefinitely. Human life was also viewed as part of the great scheme of creation, and was regarded as cyclical, an experience which, like the endless re-emergence of the sun each dawn, could be expected to repeat itself throughout eternity.15

In this scene-setting statement, Taylor’s use of ‘manifestation’ is entirely apt since the ancient Egyptians viewed the stages of human existence as manifestations (kheperu) of one life, one continuous duration, whether on this earth in its living organic form, or beyond this earth in another form. An individual’s death was not considered to be an end, but a transition to another, and better, kind of life; the Book of the Dead (Spell 178) describes death as ‘the night of going forth to life’. The earlier Coffin Texts offers an enigmatic formulation: ‘You have departed living, you have not departed dead’, and again, ‘Rise up to life, for you have not died.’ Both of these sayings are issued from a posthumous perspective, however, and do not give voice to the natural and normal fear that the living may feel when they think of their own death. In addition to the body, the second important physical aspect of human being was the heart, symbolized by the glyph for a squat, lidded jar. The heart was regarded by the Egyptians as the anatomical, emotional and intellectual center of the living human. In the embalming and mummifying process the heart was removed and then replaced in its proper setting within the chest cavity. As the emotional center, it was in charge of and ruled over the positive and negative feelings, as well as being the seat of the moral sentiment.16 As the cognitive center, it was the locus of imagination and memory; in many vignettes showing an individual’s posthumous judgment, the heart is the witness of the measure of the person’s deeds.17 In amuletic magic, one 14 Meeks & Meeks 1999 p. 55; according to Finnestad, ‘the Egyptian deities were encountered face to face, in cosmic happenings as well as in temples. They were not invisible, spiritual beings imperfectly revealing themselves in material form. The kheperu of the deity is the spiritual and material manifestation of dynamic life. The focus of attention is on the becoming of life which … is a divine spiritual and material phenomenon’, Finnestad in Boreas 20, 1989 p. 34; for some instances of specialized priestly knowledge of the gods, see Assmann 1995 pp. 17–21; Zivie-Coche 2004 pp. 24–36. 15 Taylor 2001 p. 12; see also the comments by Segal 2004 pp. 27–30. 16 For details on the heart as the seat of conscience, see Piankoff 1930 pp. 78–93; Assmann 1993 pp. 96–106; and Brunner 1983 pp. 21–6. 17 Taylor 2001 pp. 17–18, 36–7; Derchain 1992 p. 221; Hornung 1992 pp. 101, 143–5.

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of the most important (and common) charms was a special type of scarab which protected the deceased’s heart. Since the heart contained a record of its owner’s deeds in its earthly life, a record that would be examined by the gods to see whether its owner deserved eternal life, it was crucial that the heart was protected against loss and damage. One of the spells in the Book of the Dead would guard against the heart revealing potentially damning information to the judges, another to ensure that the deceased retained his heart in the underworld, yet another against theft, and so forth.18 The heart was also the seat of cognitive activities and hence the locus of knowledge, memory and imagination. Meeks and Meeks’ recent study offers a lucid and concise description of the ancient Egyptian ‘picture’ of the gods’ knowledge, and by extension the more limited domain of human knowledge. The gods’ secret thoughts, they argue, were nothing more than the intimate knowledge lodged in their viscera or ‘inner selves’, knowledge which could not but be expressed in a creative manner. The totality of what could be conceived exactly coincided with the totality of what had been set in motion by the gods; this totality was reflected, at least to some extent, in the set of writings composed by [the god] Thoth. Nevertheless, what could be known never coincided perfectly with what was known. Between the one and the other, there remained a space open to the kind of knowledge that could be progressively elaborated and subjected to questioning. This type of knowledge was men’s portion and it set them on an endless quest.19

It was not the proper place or power of humans to invent anything, but rather to limit their beliefs and actions to appropriating a part of what was already known, provided that the gods gave their consent and a suitable means. Unlike the creator god, who knew everything, the other created gods could be ignorant of many things, though they could learn much more than they began with. Each created god knew certain things the other gods did not know; this inner knowledge was concealed by each god from the other gods and ensured their individual nature. The special faculty or power that enabled the gods to perceive an event when it occurred was called sia, whose limit concept embraced all the possible knowledge brought into being by the original act of world creation. Meeks and Meeks claim that this cognitive capacity was ‘a dormant kind of knowledge’ that became active in the presence of the event that brought it out; ‘it enabled the god to grasp, in the fullest sense of the word, what was going on’. In other words, sia made it possible for already extant knowledge to emerge at the conscious or explicit level.20 Not to have sia of some thing was thus not an issue of not knowing it, but rather of not being able, or no longer being able, to recognize or identify it. This served to establish a conceptual distinction between sia, which the authors call ‘synthetic knowledge’, and rekh, which they call ‘technical or practical knowledge’. Along these lines, ‘sia operated like an absolute intuition irreducible to logical knowledge. Rekh implied a way of defining concepts that necessarily entailed the use of speech, 18 Taylor

2001 pp. 205–6; Pinch 1994 pp. 155–6. & Meeks 1999 p. 94. 20 Meeks & Meeks 1999 p. 95; J. P. Allen in RAW pp. 533–4. 19 Meeks

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and later writing; they endowed it with its specific character, that is, the capacity to be transmitted. Only if filtered through the spoken and written word could sia become accessible in the field of rekh.’21 The god Thoth was the intermediary between the gods’ omniscience and humans’ limited acquisition of knowledge. As the recorder and preserver of the gods’ knowledge, Thoth had the power to diffuse information to whom he chose, and the vehicle of his transmission was rekh. In this sense, Thoth (for the Greeks, Hermes) was both the teacher of humans, through his gift of speech and writing, and the teacher of the practice of teaching itself, the means whereby humans could acquire knowledge from others. Unlike the heart, the brain was thought to be merely stuffing for the skull and was extracted through the nose during the embalming process and then discarded.22 The viscera were removed and stored in four canopic jars, one each for the liver, the lungs, the stomach and the intestines. Much later the standard mortuary practice was to remove the four main organs, wrap them in linen, and then replace them in the mummy.23 The intestines were considered to be vitally important because they consume and store life-energy (heka) via exogenous material.24 Of all the components of human nature, only heka was personified as a divine being, the titular deity in charge of magical power.25 Although Heka had no major temples, unlike the other Egyptian gods, he did have priests and shrines. The goddess Weret Hekau (Great of Magic) was usually depicted in cobra form and acted as foster-mother to the divine kings. Due to his god-like status, the king had heka, and in this respect was akin to the gods themselves and other unearthly beings. Pinch remarks that the ancient idea of heka is comparable to the modern Arabic idea of barraka, a magical force possessed by many kinds of beings and places; anything strange, exotic, or ancient can be credited with barraka.26 As a divine being, the Egyptian Heka is thus closely related to the ancient Greek goddess Hekate, the personified form of magical power. She was unknown to Homer and a harmless figure in Hesiod, but emerges in the fifth century BCE as ‘a more sinister divine figure associated with magic and witchcraft, lunar lore and creatures of the night, dog sacrifices and illuminated cakes, as well as doorways and crossroads’.27 The name (ren) was also considered to be an essential component of the individual’s survival; in part, this idea rests on the fundamental assumption that

21 Meeks

& Meeks 1999 p. 96; see also TDOT vol. 5 pp. 454–5. 2001 p. 53; D’Auria 1988 pp. 16–18. 23 Taylor 2001 pp. 64–76. 24 Meeks & Meeks 1999 pp. 96, 237; Taylor 2001 p. 86. 25 Baines in Shafer 1991 pp. 164–72; Sternberg in RAW pp. 454–6; Segal 2004 pp. 60–62. 26 Pinch 1994 pp. 3–5. 27 OCD 3rd edn 1996 p. 671. Despite the fact that many features of the Egyptian god(dess) Heka and the Greek goddess Hekate are parallel – patroness of magic, depicted with snakes, associated with childbirth, cults localized at crossroads, an epithet with ‘Great’, etc. – the OCD entry authors do not mention the Egyptian connection, but tentatively offer an unnamed exotic aetiology; see esp. Sarah Johnston, Hekate Soteira, New York: Oxford University Press, 1990; and H. D. Betz, Greek Magical Papyri, Chicago. IL: University of Chicago Press, 1992 pp. 78–92. 22 Taylor

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symbolic representations, such as images and words, are causally connected to the ‘objects’ the image or word signifies.28 Thus, it is more telling to speak of the cognitive ‘complex’ rather than the concept of a name. In the complexive understanding of representations, words have object-like and causal properties. Some words, in any case, were thought to strictly resemble the things they referred to; the thing was causally influenced when the word was written or spoken; sameness of word-sound (homophony) indicated sameness in ‘nature’ (homoöusia). Words for things were god-given to humans for use in communicating about and effecting things which were themselves god-given signs. When we turn our attention to the decorations and artifacts found in tombs we will see that the Egyptians thought that images of bread and drink could feed and refresh the deceased person.29 Further, one type of magic ritual consisted in the discovery and manipulation of a human (or a god’s) secret name in order to influence his wellbeing or his actions. The name was not only a means to identify an individual, it was also, like the physical and non-physical elements, a medium through which his existence was manifested, allowing one to be distinguished from others. It was common for Egyptian personal names to contain the name of a god in compound with a word meaning well-being, birth, prosperity, life, and so forth. One penalty for the most serious crimes was to have one’s name changed to contain a word meaning death, damnation, hate, and so forth. One extreme punishment exercised by some pharaohs and foreign conquerors was to physically remove all traces of a despised predecessor’s name. Aside from what we would think of this Stalinist rewriting of the historical record, this erasure process was designed to eliminate the memory of that person from the general population, as well as to actually ‘scrub away’ or diminish the deceased in the afterlife.30 On the other hand, the continued remembrance of an individual’s name by those left behind was thought to help ensure that person’s survival in the unearthly realm. The deceased person’s name (and sometimes his image) was carved on the tomb and elsewhere, not just to identify the burial, but also so that visitors could pronounce the name and hence ‘maintain’ the deceased’s existence. During the elaborate offering ritual in which food and drink (or their simulacra) were placed around the sarcophagus it was vital (sic) that the name was pronounced in order to call the deceased to the site.31 Derchain says that the name both gives power to its bearer when he is enclosed in the tomb and gives power to others who may call him back to collect the libations offered.32 The Egyptians ‘took great care to ensure that the names of the dead were preserved. They were inscribed prominently on the public parts of the tomb structure, such as doorways, façade, stelae, and funerary cones, and also on coffins, sarcophagi and other objects which were to be sealed up in the burial chamber and storerooms within the tomb. Although these 28 See Meeks & Meeks 1991 pp. 97–105; Hornung 1992 pp. 24–31; on the parallel idea in the ANE, see Bottero 1992 pp. 87–102. 29 See Taylor 2001 pp. 92–8; Pinch 1994 p. 153. 30 Taylor 2001 p. 23; Derchain 1992 p. 220. 31 Taylor 2001 pp. 192–3. 32 Derchain 1992 p. 220.

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things were not intended to seen again after the burial, the very presence of the written name on the objects would ensure the owner’s survival.’33 In addition to the name, an image or statue of the deceased had the same intimate connection to its owner; the name was almost always fixed to the substitute statue and/or the coffin. Yet another physical component of the whole person was his shadow, though its role is less clearly defined than the others. Like the ba (with which it was often confused), the shadow can become completely detached from the body after death, so that it can move and act freely.34 As with other ‘complexive’ entities associated with the individual, since it did indeed have a dependent relation to its owner during earthly life, it was thought to be an intrinsic ‘part’ of the individual. According to its nature, the shadow does not leave its owner when the sun is in the sky, but can wander about at night, since the sun’s absence is just like death. In the intense heat of the Egyptian setting, shadows provide coolness and protection, something like the succor of a god or a king. George also suggests that ‘the silent mobility of the shadow is also a quality that one would wish to retain in the hereafter, which was thought to be totally bereft of movement’.35 Derchain remarks that in the late Egyptian epoch, the shadow became confused with the ba and the name with the ka. He says that this ‘implies a simplification and an impoverishment of the anthropological analysis for reasons that are unknown to us. This runs in opposition to the evolution of cosmology, theology, temple architecture, and their symbolic system, all of which, by contrast, become more and more refined and differentiated.’36 This observation and hypothesis is strange indeed, since it reverses the direction of symbolic psychic evolution outlined in HCM Chapter 1, section 1. The schema for this was (concrete + outward) ➞ (concrete + inward) ➞ (abstract + inward) ➞ (self-referring or reflexive). The ka is yet another psycho-physical aspect of human nature; its most common hieroglyph was a pair of upraised arms, folded at the elbow. In later texts the kaglyph is shown walking behind a small copy of the individual; this probably inspired the now-outdated interpretation of the ka as the ‘double’. Along with the ba and the akh, the ka is a baffling idea, straddling several concepts normally rendered by ideas like life-force, double, and soul. Taylor says that it is ‘a highly complex notion, which defies direct translation into a single English word or phrase. The nature of the ka was multi-faceted and, as the concept changed over time, the Egyptians’ use of the term was not consistent.’37 The ka came into being with an individual’s birth, fashioned by the potter god Khnum on his wheel, and was severed from the individual at his earthly death. Although it was intimately connected with the person’s bodily life, it was not a physical entity, nor did it have a concrete form; it was only given substance through its depiction in funerary texts and images. Pinch 33 Taylor

2001 p. 23. Hornung says that ‘two main attributes characterize the shadow; it is able to carry and transfer power, and to move with uncanny agility and speed’, 1992 p. 179. 35 George 1970 in Derchain 1992 p. 222. 36 Derchain 1992 p. 222. 37 Taylor 2001 p. 18; Segal 2004 pp. 46–53; illus in D’Auria 1988 pp. 43, 57, 74, and so forth. 34

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says that the ka itself is a person’s vital force, without a distinct personality, but when it appeared as an image it was depicted as a double.38 Taylor, Derchain and Hornung agree that the idea behind the ka is life-force, a human or god’s vitality which allows him to enjoy food, drink, sex, and so forth.39 However, one should immediately note that the very concept of life involved here is not defined by an organic, bodily state; rather, the force of the life-force maintains an individual’s being in both the earthly and the unearthly state. The ka is active in some respects and passive in others during this life, whereas it becomes active in different respects after its host’s death, that is, when it becomes freed from certain corporeal constraints. It seems that the vital functions of the whole individual are interrupted by bodily death, but then resume in its posthumous state provided that the correct mortuary procedures have been followed. Hornung says that ‘the ka is all that enlivens. It is both a life force and the enjoyment of life – or, in even more concrete terms – well-being and appetite. Then vital energy that flows from the ka experiences only a temporary interruption in death.’40 The glyph for the ka is phonetically identical to the glyph for bull and hence connoted the idea of sexual potency; in its plural form, the same glyph denoted ‘food’ or ‘sustenance’, thus further tying it to the idea of life-force. After its bodily death, an individual could no longer feed himself, and hence the deceased relied on mourners to offer nourishment to its ka. The single most important role of the ka was as an intermediary to nourish the dead person in his journey through the underworld. Inscriptions and pictures in tombs clearly show that offerings of food and drink were made to the dead person’s ka. The ka could leave the body in the burial chamber, pass into the tomb chapel, and partake of the offerings left there. But the ka required a material vessel to inhabit during its unearthly ‘life’ and hence the dead body was mummified. Given that the tomb itself and the chapel were separate, the ka needed to move between them in order to find its food and drink. Thus, when it was in the chapel it was given a special statue to inhabit; these special statues could be located either in the tomb chapel or in a god’s temple. Such statues were called shesep r ankh, ‘receiver to live’, and should not be confused with the tiny full-figure shabtis or ushebtis which were images of the deceased’s servants who went proxy for their owner in the underworld.41 The receiver statues made it possible for the deceased to be ‘present’ in some other place aside from the location of its corpse.42 However, the Egyptians did not think that inert inorganic material like stone or wood could by itself manifest life, especially the life-force of a human being. Hence they employed an elaborate magical ritual known as the Opening of the Mouth, details of which have survived in a number of texts; this ritual was also performed on the mummy as the final stage of its reanimation.43 (Remote descendants of this magical ritual were probably the inspiration of Plotinus’ reference to magicians ‘bringing statues to life’ 38 Pinch

1994 p. 147. 2001 p. 19; Derchain 1992 p. 221. 40 Hornung 1992 p. 175. 41 Taylor 2001 pp. 117–35. 42 Taylor 2001 pp. 162–5. 43 Detailed reconstruction of the ritual and texts, Lorton 1999 pp. 147–8. 39 Taylor

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in Enneads 4.3.11, an assertion avidly taken up by the theurgists Iamblichus and Proclus.) The priests used several implements shaped like a sculptor’s adze, a chisel, and a finger-pointer, uttered incantations, and touched the statues’ apertures reinfusing it with the form of life.44 Magical animation of statues also had a precedent in Egyptian theistic ideas, since amongst other suitable vehicles the gods were thought to inhabit their temple statues by means of their ba’s union with the image.45 Derchain concludes his analysis with these words: The ka thus has a double nature, sometimes active, sometimes passive. It expresses life itself as an exchange of actions for food. This explains how during life the ka can never be distinct from its owner. After death its importance becomes central, as it must express a vitality of which no sign is to be found in the corpse. The assertion that the dead have a ka is in a way the negation of death, a negation that makes no sense unless the living continue to attend to their ancestors through remembrance and offerings.46

Taylor explicitly links the ka with another important human aspect in the afterlife, the akh: ‘The ka was thus essential for survival in the next world and in order to reach the transfigured state [akh] and enter the afterlife the deceased needed to be reunited with his ka, which separated from the body at death. Hence the dead were often referred to as “those who have gone to their kas”, while the tomb was termed the “house of the ka”.’47 Perhaps the most difficult to define component, and the one which has seen the most discussion, is the ba. The use of the ba ‘complex’ changed over time and according to whether it was applied to gods, the king, or non-royal persons.48 In the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts, the ba of a god or a king encompassed that being’s powers. It was the main vehicle by which they were manifested as individuals and hence it is sometimes translated as ‘personality’, though as Taylor and others point out, this is an unsatisfactory interpretation, since inanimate things such as a town or even a door could be said to have a ba. In these early texts, a god or a place or a building could have more than one bau (pl.) which manifested the totality of the divine powers or deities associated with them.49 Zabkar points out that the greater the god in the cosmic scheme, the greater was the power of his ba; this greater power was often expressed by saying that some god had a larger number of bau.50 Through his ba a god is manifest in various entities: (1) in another god, for example, ‘Re is the ba of the Lord of Heaven’, ‘Osiris is the ba of the Lord of the Cavern (Anubis)’, or ‘Amun is the ba of Shu’, and so on; (2) in sacred animals, for example, ‘the ram of Mendes is the ba of Osisis’, ‘the ram-god Harsaphes is the ba of Re’, ‘Apis (the bull) is the ba of Ptah’, and so on, and (3) in stars and other inanimate things, for 44 Taylor

2001 pp. 190–92; Pinch 1994 pp. 152–4. Zabkar 1968 pp. 39–40; Lorton 1999 pp. 179–201; Zivie-Coche 2004 pp. 170–75. 46 Derchain 1992 p. 221. 47 Taylor 2001 p. 20; on the development of ideas and images associated with the royal ka, see Frankfort 1978 pp. 61–78. 48 In brief, see Hornung 1992 pp. 179–83; J. P. Allen in D’Auria 1988 pp. 29, 43–5. 49 Taylor 2001 p. 20. 50 Zabkar 1968 p. 11. 45 See

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example, ‘Orion is the ba of Osiris’, ‘the moon is the ba of Osiris’, ‘the decan stars are the living bas of the gods’, and so on.51 However, by the time of the New Kingdom, in the texts associated with the new solar religion, the idea of the god’s ba has changed in important respects, as Jan Assmann has persuasively argued. In the hymn of Ramesses III to Amun-Re, god materializes in the world through life-giving elements. Amun is a cosmic god whose body is the world, whose ba is the vital principle, and who gives life to the cosmos in the same way that the human ba gives life to the individual. By way of this ‘aspect change inherent in the concept of ba’, Amun is referred to as ‘the ba with secret faces, who hides his name and conceals his image’. Hence, the divine ba concept indicates not a specific power, but the notion of absolute power, responsible for the totality of effects, whose visible manifestation is the entire cosmos. Solar theology extended these ideas by regarding not only the primordial light but also the total energies that perform life-giving functions in the world as proofs of power, that is, manifestations, of the many bau of Amun. Assmann proposes that, in this great solar hymn, the ten bau of Amun are divided into two pentads; the first five are life-giving elements (solar time, lunar time, air, water and light); the second five are the essences (?) of five classes of living creatures (humans, quadrupeds, birds, wateranimals and land-animals.)52 In his analysis of the various groups of gods centered around specific localities and associated with specific cults and theogonies, Zabkar concludes that the collective god-bau ‘indicate the same thing, that is, the divinized dead kings of the ancient cities … [They] reside in those famous religious centers but are at the same time present at all important events in the pharaoh’s life as guarantors of the divine kingly office and as protectors of their successor, the living Horus, who at death joins their company and becomes one of the divinized members of the ancestral corporations of dead kings.’53 In the Pyramid Texts, aside from the god’s ba, only the king is described as having or being a ba. In these passages it is clearly evident that the ba signifies either the manifestation of the power or distinction of a king or god or denotes the king or god in a state in which his power is manifest: ‘The ba possessed by the king and the ba which he is or becomes are very close in meaning. It may be that the idea of the king being or becoming a ba was the basis for the process of the personification of the ba in the direction of its meaning as the alter ego of the deceased.’ Zabkar cautions that one should not jump to conclusions about what these passages indicate about the king’s living ba: ‘the king acquired, was united with, or became a ba either at or after death’. The relevant texts are concerned with the king’s unearthly life and do not directly and univocally indicate whether the king had or became a ba while in his earthly life. In sum, it is not possible to determine whether or not the living kings of ancient Egypt were thought to have bau.54 51 Zabkar

1968 pp. 12–15. 1995 pp. 144–7; Assmann also comments that Zabkar seems to be completely oblivious of these Ramesside solar texts, p. 143 note 46. 53 Zabkar 1968 p. 35; on collectives of deities, see Goedicke 1970 pp. 26–8; Zivie-Coche 2004 pp. 83–9. 54 Zabkar 1968 pp. 54, 58, 61, 66–7; Silverman in Shafer 1991 pp. 58–70. 52 Assmann

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However, Zabkar also draws a more positive finding when he carefully distinguishes between becoming ba as an entity and having ba as a power: ‘The ba which a king is or becomes signifies the king in a state in which his power is manifest, while the ba which a king possesses is the manifestation of his power. This ba which the king possesses in some cases appears to be a quality, a kingly attribute, while in others it seems to be an entity … approaching in meaning the personified ba of the Middle and New Kingdom mortuary texts.’ Zabkar cites several passages which indicate that the ba in a prepositional clause ‘may describe the fullness of royal and divine power or distinction hovering, as it were, above the king or encircling him, permeating him, and emanating from him when he appears among the gods, thus manifesting him as their equal and even as their ruler for all eternity’.55 The key idea here is that the ba can be both an entity and a casual power, an idea we shall return to at the end of this section. Goedicke draws a different lesson from ba references in the Pyramid Texts; he says that ‘the ba is not connected with the institution of kingship or the king as mediator between the mundane and the divine spheres.’ Instead, he argues, the ba is ‘a spiritual power immanent’ in human nature, at the same time that it is formed (or generated) by human nature. It does not have a ‘transcendent origin’56 and is not then placed in a human, but originates within him: ‘It is formed – or better, gathered – during the mundane life but in that stage is not separate from man. It is rather the self with which man stands in a continuous interaction, simultaneously being source and product. By the projection of a self, man displays that individuality which separates him from the animal-like man, and as such the ba is the element of individualism.’ Against Zabkar he claims that the human ba is ‘a formative constituent’ during a human’s earthly life: ‘the non-material properties of man are not annihilated in the physical end of man as living total, but are dissolved into components. Thus upon death the ba, until then only an immanent potential, becomes manifest.’57 In the Middle Kingdom-era Coffin Texts, the idea of the ba in relation to an ordinary person is most clearly developed. Here each individual has his or her own ba, ‘personified as one of the modes in which he continues to exist after death. Although not a physical being, the ba was credited with many human characteristics. It was able to eat, drink, speak and move. The capacity for free and unrestricted movement was in fact the single most important characteristic which the ba possessed; it was the means by which the dead were empowered to leave the tomb and to travel.’58 In these texts the scribe attempts to answer the question about the origin of the ba and its destiny in the underworld. The texts repeatedly promise that the deceased will have power over his entire body, especially over his legs for walking about: ‘Not only the body but also the Ba and cognate entities (Ka, Akh, Shadow) are endowed with physical vitality.’ The written testimony that through all of these forms the dead person ‘acts and lives as a full individual, points to a 55 Zabkar

1968 pp. 72–3. Goedicke’s otherwise salutary discussion, he employs the words ‘immanent’ for ‘natural’ (or ‘intrinsic’) and ‘transcendent’ for ‘supernatural’ (or ‘extrinsic’). 57 Goedicke 1970 p. 29; see also Assmann in Baumgarten 1998 pp. 384–95. 58 Taylor 2001 p. 20; in exact agreement with this, see Hornung 1992 p. 182. 56 Throughout

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monistic concept of man … Even though the Ka and some of these other entities coexisted with the individual during his lifetime, they were, each one of them, considered to be full physical entities and not “spiritual” components of a human composite.’59 Zabkar is quite definite in rejecting the idea that the ba can be equated with the soul; it is neither an internal organic component, nor an external spiritual component. The dualistic view that is often associated with Greek thought about human nature is alien to the Egyptian view: ‘Thus the Ba is not a part nor an element of a man but is one of the forms in which he fully lives after his death; the Ba is the man himself, his personified alter ego.’60 Derchain argues that the ba is ‘more a function than an aspect’ – though he does not make it clear what other ‘complex’ component it is a function of. ‘This function’, he goes on, ‘may be defined as what joins the two faces of being, the real and the imaginary, the past and the future, the night and the day, the gods and men, and the hereafter and this world, and thus gives a person his continuity.’61 No doubt these five paired terms do indeed characterize the broad dimensions of human psychical and physical life on this earth, but one would be hard pressed to cogently explain either that each of the several pairs are functions of another third set of things, or that the five pairs collectively are functions of some other one thing. Derchain seems to have lost track of the principal premise that the ba is itself an entity since it can exist independently of the person whose ba it is, and hence cannot be identified or reduced to a function. For example, in Plato’s triplex scheme, reason, passion and spirit are forms or powers (dunameis) of the psyche¯, and inward reflection or contemplation is a function of reason (logismos), a function exercised by the psyche¯ when it turns to look at the truth. However, Derchain makes a valuable point about the importance of remembrance in maintaining the dead person’s survival in the underworld: It is quite understandable that this liaison between the real and the imaginary (this continuity) would be essential to man who, once dead, must have a means to maintain a contact with the living who will assure his worship … The permanence of memory is the only guarantee one has of not dying to posterity definitively; the memory that one preserves within oneself is the sum of one’s past, and losing it or forgetting it signifies a diminution of the personality, as sometimes happens to the aged. The ba memory will always return to places that it knew; it is also the ba who will show to a despairing man, who feels excluded from the world by the events that he witnesses, the contact that he may still have with those around him.62

Taylor observes that doubtless on account of its association with mobility, the form chosen for the representation of the ba was that of a bird with a human head, and often with human hands and arms as well.63 Sources from the New Kingdom onward

59 Zabkar

1968 p. 97. Zabkar 1968 p. 113, see also pp. 130, 146; for another interpretation of this vitalist monism, see Finnestad in Boreas 20, 1989 pp. 31–2. 61 Derchain 1992 p. 222. 62 Derchain 1992 p. 222. 63 Taylor 2001 p. 21; illus in D’Auria 1988 pp. 137, 154, 188, 194, and so forth. 60

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graphically depict the individual ba’s behavior; it has the ability to separate from the body at death, so that while the corpse was immobile in the tomb, the ba could fly upward to visit the world of the living, or ascend to the sky to travel with the sun god. Other images show the ba-bird perched on the tomb façade, and stelae from the Late Period sometimes show a small ba figure at the top.64 During its absence from the tomb the ba could partake of food and drink, but each night it had to return to the corpse in order to be reunited with its physical ‘anchor’. Several spells in the Book of the Dead are concerned with insuring the reunion of ba and corpse, since, as Taylor says, ‘without this periodic contact the deceased would perish’.65 This happened presumably through its second death, namely by voiding the criteria under which it could become an akh. One outstanding funerary papyrus contains a unique scene in which the ba is shown flying down the tomb shaft to the burial chamber where the mummy lies: ‘This union of ba and corpse produced resurrection, just as the uniting of the sun god and Osiris in the underworld each night. On account of this doctrine, it was essential that the corpse should be transformed through mummification into an eternal, perfect body which could be reunited with the ba.’66 The final (and perhaps the strangest) component of human nature is the mysterious entity known as the akh, symbolized by the glyph for a crested ibis bird. (The current standard translation is ‘transfigured one’ but we will have to resist this equation.) Derchain says that the akh designates all kinds of supernatural beings, such as phantoms and demons, and ‘thus belongs exclusively to the imaginary world that populates the unknown. The akh is the form of the deceased that possesses a superior power, which one may invoke in times of need, but which is also capable of manifesting itself simultaneously in a way that may be disagreeable to the living. It is, in short, the expression of the fear felt in the presence of the dead, a fear which would have left no traces in Egypt if one had to rely only on the traditional expressions of the funerary cult.’67 Well, this is not a good short version of the nature and status of the akh, nor does its meaning reside alone in the subjective feelings of the survivors. The Egyptians devoted exceptional attention to the preparation of the deceased’s body and other soul-like aspects, with the explicit aim in view that, having passed the tribunal’s judgment in the underworld, the individual could attain the status of akh, and hence live with the gods forever. Through the achievement of akh-status the individual acquired greater power or effectiveness, as well as other god-like qualities; although he was not the gods’ equal he could be counted in their company. Through akh-ification the gods endowed the newly dead human with a creative energy similar to that employed in the creation of the world. This energy gave them the means to arise from the inertia of death to a new life, just as the primordial chaotic state was transformed into the ordered, life-filled cosmos. According to the 64 ‘The stele is the symbolic gate that permits passage from the real world to the imaginary world’, according to Derchain 1992 p. 235. 65 On the interdependence of the ba and corpse, see the details in Zabkar 1968 pp. 106–11, 149–56; and Goedicke 1970 pp. 19–20, 31–2. 66 Taylor 2001 p. 23. 67 Derchain 1992 p. 223.

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scant remains of Egyptian cosmogony,68 the world’s creation began with the production of light, and the word akh is from the same root as the word for ‘light’. Taylor says that ‘to be akh, then, was to be an effective spirit, enjoying the qualities and prerogatives of the gods, having the capacity for eternal life and being capable of influencing others’. Unlike the ka, the ba and other aspects of the individual’s nature, the akh is a state (or entity) which can be achieved only after death, and only after having passed through many tests and dangers. Not every dead person could expect to become an akh, for those judged deficient were denied this privilege and were condemned to die a second death.69 For those who failed the heart-weighing examination a less than salutary ‘road’ lay ahead. They would become mut, the ‘evil dead’, or at least the ‘dangerous dead’. As Pinch points out, although the second death for failures was supposed to mean complete annihilation of the individual, it was believed that some aspect of these condemned ‘spirits’ survived to trouble the living. Pinch endorses the view, more fully expressed earlier by Zabkar and Zandee, that there were conditions under which the deceased would not achieve an akh state and instead be relegated to the mut state. Either the individual had died a violent death, or too young, or had been denied a proper burial or funeral rites. As such, the dead mut could be counted, not among the gods, but amongst the demons that inhabited the underworld.70 Taylor says that ‘whereas the akhu are said to have adored the sun god, the mut are equated with his foes (the forces of chaos who threaten the continuation of the cosmic order). They are condemned to a series of horrifying torments, including decapitation and burning in furnaces, images somewhat reminiscent for us of early Christian notions of hell. These tortures resulted in the total extinction of these negative entities, to whom the afterlife was forever denied.’71 There was a whole class of magical spells designed to protect the living from the noisome visits of the restless dead. One could propose here (with the utmost caution) an early version of the distinction between, on one hand, the basically good akh and the basically bad mut, and on the other hand, the ancient Greek psyche¯-double and the daimo¯n. As our previous analyses (HCM pp. 20–21) showed, the Homeric idea of the dead hero’s psyche¯ was that of a simulacrum or ephemeral double of the living person, one whose only role was to convey advice or issue warning to the bereaved.72 In contrast, from Homer onwards, the word daimo¯n is ‘used mainly in the sense of operator of more or less unexpected, and intrusive, events in human life … daimo¯n appears to correspond to supernatural power in its unpredictable, anonymous, and often 68 See inter alia, Derchain 1992 pp. 217–18, Frankfort 1978 pp. 24–35; Lesko in Shafer 1991 pp. 88–122. 69 Taylor 2001 pp. 31–2; in brief, Segal 2004 pp. 53–4; on the afterlife, Taylor in RAW pp. 471–7. 70 Pinch 1994 p. 148; Taylor 2001 p. 44; Zandee 1960 pp. 58–63. 71 Taylor 2001 p. 38. 72 This idea may underlie Derchain’s reference to the akh as a ‘ghost’ (1992, p. 236), but with the careful proviso that restricts the idea of a ghost to a simulacrum or eidolon. The Akkadian word etemmu has a similar translation problem, as the next section will show.

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frightening manifestations’. Hesiod introduced the notion that daimo¯nes can function as guardians or protectors (phulakes); hence, that each person had his or her own guardian spirit who could bring good or bad luck. Plato introduced yet another notion (Phaedrus 107d, Republic 617d) when he said that a human’s daimo¯n functioned as a personal advocate; by extension, the personal daimo¯n became identified with the divine mind that humans received from the gods. Plato also claimed (Symp. 202d–203a) that daimo¯nes were intermediate between gods and humans; an idea taken up by the Stoics and Neo-Platonists. The early Church Fathers ‘gratefully adopted’ all three interpretations, making the angels beneficent intermediaries from the eudaimo¯nes, the demons maleficent entities from the kakadaimo¯nes.73 The Swedish scholar Gertie Englund has carried out a meticulous investigation of the evolution of the concept of akh from the Old Kingdom to the New Empire; her findings about the human akh are summarized here. In the Pyramid Texts, akh appears connected only with the king’s unearthly life; in this royal privilege it has a restriction similar to the earliest appearance of the ba-complex. In the divine realm, the quality of akh appears above all with the gods who are involved in the repetition of creation. The notion of akh presents two aspects: the virtual akh and the manifest akh. The creator gods are said to be akh in phases of the daily cycle of night and day; in a virtual state when they are ‘dead’ through lack of efficacy, and in a manifest state when they are reborn in their efficacy. The word akh is also predicated of the deceased king insofar as the king is identified with the gods who are akh, though the gods attained their akh state by ‘the voice of the magic of analogies’. The magic that works here (even for the gods) is founded on a world-concept as ‘a network of forces where everything is connected by correspondence and analogy’. However, in the private tombs of the same epoch, the deceased affirm that they have attained an akh state through ‘knowledge of secret things’, knowledge that guarantees their future state. The notion of akh is intimately tied in with the idea of resurrection and here the two aspects become more clear. Following the divine prototype, the deceased king is an akh, due to the fact that he can rightfully expect to attain that hoped-for state – a state of new life, freedom of movement and power, one that can be arrived at through magical assistance. The manifest akh denotes an activity or movement by the person; in this way, its sense is borrowed from or takes part in the ‘nature’ and activity of light. The personal akh manifests itself in a manner akin to the stars; it can be characterized as indestructible, permanent, stable and other qualities of divine power. Thus the akh has both dynamic and static aspects which are ‘in constant and necessary play for the continuation of the created world’.74 Examples in the Coffin Texts are clear enough to permit the conclusion that the deceased in the tomb is called akh from the exemplum of Osiris called akh in the inertia of death. And yet after these utterances, there is a large difference between the deceased’s akh and the akh’s power and freedom of movement. This is one of the reasons that there seems to be an evolution in the akh-state; it inclines one to 73 OCD 3rd edn 1996 p. 426; LSJ 9th rev. edn 1968 pp. 365–6; see esp. J. Z. Smith, ANRW vol. 16.1 (1978) pp. 425–39; F. E. Brenk, ANRW vol. 16.3 (1986) pp. 2125–45. 74 Englund 1978 pp. 61–3.

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think that the virtual akh becomes an akh manifest also at this level. The importance of the funerary sphere as the milieu of the akh is more considerable in these texts. The akh does not have to stay in one place, but does have to leave and enter its future in the underworld where all its routes and all its travels are an image. In the earlier texts, this travel does not take multiple ordeals, but is an almost direct ascent, for example, on a bird’s flight, an insect, incense fumes, the wing of a god, or as a divine eye or climbing a ladder. There is then a becoming in parting from the primordial state and in parting from death. The two are parallel and can be considered homologous, since the primordial state is also the state of death, a state of inertia where it assumes a structural form. The question then is whether the deceased’s akh does not hope to find, by the grace of analogical magic, the energy, freedom and other properties of an autonomous power. Or whether it takes part in a primordial state and a divine energy by a ‘spark’, that is, an akh in a virtual state, that same power which helps it to pass through the inertial state and, in its free leaving, become a manifest akh.75 In the Books of the Dead, there is one difference in usage of akh in contrast with earlier texts; most of these examples concern the akh as the designation for an individual, and not for its state, but for some it seems to refer to the deceased’s akh. Another difference is that the earlier texts describe the location and circumstances of the akh in the other-world, above all its state and, in certain cases, its proper activity, whereas the latest examples mainly concern the akh as an object of rites. When it pertains to amulets placed on the corpse, it is provisioned, rendered perfect; when texts are recited over him, an image is manipulated, flaming candles are offered, and so forth. In certain cases the context mentions the effect of these rites on the deceased: it leaves, it descends with the gods, it leaves or sails in the barque of Re. There are very few examples where the akh is the subject, that is, cases that attribute an activity proper to the akh. Still other examples relate to the akh as the personification of a god or entity; the akh is luminous as the sun-disc and knows not its name, the akh-entities who announce Atum as he leaves the akhu, a guardian of the Janus-head gate, and an akh who with an anonymous god takes the road of the deceased.76 Diachronic studies by Taylor, Zabkar and Englund (amongst others) of the texts and images associated with the ka, the ba and the akh have indeed clearly shown that these Egyptian ‘complexes’ went through various types of alteration, not all of which could be called an ‘evolution’. But whatever their specific trajectories, all these ideas, at all stages, stabilize around the central platform of vitalist monism. Karl Luckert attempts to synopsize this view of human nature in these words: The Entire [Egyptian] theological system can be visualized as a flow of creative vitality, emanating outward from the godhead, thinning out as it flows farther from its source. Along its outer periphery this plethora of divine emanation becomes fragmented into what begins to appear as the light and shadow realm of our material world … Along its outer periphery the plethora of divine existence, of generation, of emanation, of being, and of life – the divine current of ka radiation – becomes visible as a multitude of ba apparitions. Along that outer periphery it meets with nonbeing, is stunned by nonbeing, and as a result 75 Englund 76 Englund

1978 pp. 136–7. 1978 pp. 173–4.

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curls inward on itself. Individualized and estranged ka units, that is, ka sparks in ba manifestations confronting nonbeing, may swirl for a while about, along that outer periphery of divinity, as ghostly apparitions in lostness and confusion. But these ka souls may also be meaningfully reoriented to again travel homeward to the source of their being, the godhead.77

Luckert continues in this vein: While the sole and hidden deity has thus been generating and giving birth to its selfemanations, in external visibility as if it were an ongoing process of ‘exhaling’, this same sole divine source has also continually been ‘reinhaling’ its own life essences. Along the outer edge of human ontology and epistemology these essences, perceived as finite manifestations, have been stunned by the kiss of death and nonbeing. They are thereby purified, turned around, or ‘resurrected’ with the help of religious funerary rites. Divine generation and emanation from the godhead, and the nostalgic return of estranged individual life-souls to their former source, therefore happens along a busy two-way dimension. The creative descending emanation ends in the cul-de-sac of life made manifest, as if being caught up in the curve of a U-turn. The entire road of creation leads hither from God to finitude; the road of resurrection and salvation leads home again toward the heart of God.78

If one abstains from the heavy and patent Plotinian purview in Luckert’s synopsis then there are some valuable insights in these comments. Thus, ka units estranged or detached from the cosmic life-force appear in the earthly domain as individual bau, that is, one ba for each human person. However, each of these individuated forms, when taken or considered only in its ka-unit aspect is an apparition, an unearthly simulacrum of the human person. Egyptian mortuary texts definitely depict the duration (or ‘perdurance’, following Luckert’s Bergsonian overtones) of human life, both before and after death, as a road or path, leading the dead person, in the form of its akh, to its original source amongst other divine beings. In his opening remarks on the evolution of the concept of ba from the Old Kingdom to the New Kingdom, Zabkar makes an unusual claim, one that does not accord with the standard interpretation of Aristotelian ontological categories, such as substance, property and relation. He declares that ‘the Egyptians conceived of the Ka, the Akh, and the Ba not only as qualities which a being possesses but also as entities which a being is or becomes. Thus we often find the term Ba, sometimes qualified by an appositive or an epithet, used as an equivalent for a god, indicating that the god is in a state in which his power is manifest.’79 In a later context, he says that ‘the ba which the king possesses in some cases appears to be a quality, a kingly attribute, while in others it seems to be an entity’.80 The idea that the ba is a median between an entity and a power, or perhaps a ‘complexive’ union of both entity and power, is striking similar to Herbert Granger’s statement about the pre-Socratics’ concept of the psychai of living things: ‘They are entities in their own right, and they are not the qualities or properties of an object that provides them with a subject and 77 Luckert

1991 pp. 45–6. 1991 p. 46. 79 Zabkar 1968 p. 8. 80 Zabkar 1968 p. 73; Hornung hints at the same idea, 1992 p. 183. 78 Luckert

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the basis of their existence. Nonetheless, they were not typically thought to exist independently or in isolation from other contrary qualities and the objects they compose. Quality-things in their thing-like nature also exercise causal agency upon one another.’81 In the pre-Socratic fragments, the soul is sometimes referred to as a thing or a substance with a nature or essence, whose functions are explained in terms of the predominance of one element, or the outgrowth of a mixture of elements with a predominant ‘profile’. At other times, psychical powers seem to be the properties of one specific element which, when combined in a highly determinate manner, produces a living thing manifesting such underlying functions (or properties). In conclusion, these are the aspects of human nature according to the ancient Egyptian ‘complex’: the whole person in his earthly life comprises (1) an animate body which contains the heart and the four main organs (except the brain), (2) his name and (3) his shadow. The heart and the four main organs are the loci of powers and exercise functions determined by (or dependent on) the whole person manifest in the earthly physical realm. The name and the shadow are functions of the whole, dependent in their ‘nature’ on the person whose name and shadow they are, but independent in their meaning of their bearer’s being embodied. The whole person also comprises (4) the ka and (5) the ba whose seat is the whole person and whose functions are manifest in the person’s bodily states, but whose ‘natures’ are independent of the person in his earthly life. (6) After death the person can be transmuted into a divine form, the akh. After bodily death, in the transition to an unearthly life, the heart and the four main organs cease to exercise their physical functions but are preserved in (or near) the mummy by means of embalming. The continued existence of the whole person is dependent on (at least) the presence of these five physical entities, which no longer act as organs but as vessels or ‘anchors’ for their unearthly simulacra. These organ simulacra are the unearthly doubles of those organs whose functions are now dependent, not on their former host’s body, but on the proper care exercised over them by the person’s ka. Insofar as the person’s ka receives sufficient nourishment by means of prayers and images, the person’s ba is able to maintain unity and integrate all of the person’s basic mental functions, especially memory. Insofar as the person’s previous earthly life has been judged to be of good merit according to the edicts of maat,82 his ‘nature’ is transmuted into an akh which lives eternally in a changeless state in the underworld. Every akh in its eternal changeless state is netjer (divine), like the gods and demons who have always existed in the underworld. The most important idea underlying the Egyptian ‘complex’ of human nature is that there is only one life for all created, finite beings. Hornung states this idea clearly: ‘Of crucial importance to the Egyptians is that no part, physical or spiritual, of a human being ever completely disappears. What death temporarily separates must be reunited in the afterlife, since only a whole, intact human being can experience reawakening.’83 This life is manifest (kheperu) in the earthly realm in the form of an animate, bodily entity, and is manifest in the unearthly life, after the first death, by way of the mummy and 81 Granger

Aristotle’s Idea of the Soul, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic, 1996 pp. 149–50. maat, see esp. Hornung 1992 pp. 131–45. 83 Hornung 1992 p. 107. 82 On

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associated practices, in the person’s akh. On one hand, a human’s akh is a consequence of its previous host in his earthly life having a specific bodily vessel; hence that person’s ka and ba are confined to that vessel during its earthly life. In contrast, a non-human akh (god or demon) is not in any way consequent on its having a specific bodily vessel; rather, a god or demon can assume any bodily form it wills to become manifest in. Hence, a god or a demon’s ka and ba exist independently of any form its power assumes. Nevertheless, all akhu, whatever their origin and previous manifestation, are divine, and hence human beings can be said to achieve a god-like status through death and judgment. (2) Life, death and the soul in ancient Mesopotamia The resources for our attempted reconstruction of the Egyptian picture of human nature consisted mainly of mortuary texts, such as the Pyramid Texts, the Coffin Texts and the various Books of the Dead. Other works of a literary or pseudo-literary character84 were of subsidiary importance and played a lesser role in building up this picture. The situation for an attempted reconstruction of the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) picture is nearly the reverse. Inscriptions from tombs and temples associated with the deceased offer only scanty hints about the other world; the bulk of pertinent texts comes from the great Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian stories and myths. Our investigation then will have to focus on those passages about the genesis and/or character of humans in such works as The Epic of Gilgamesh, Atrahasis the Supersage, Adapa and the South Wind, Enuma Elish, The Descent of Ishtar and others. In order to properly situate our examination of ANE ideas about the human mind, soul and body, it will be helpful to provide a succinct overview of these texts’ historical-cultural contexts. The Epic of Gilgamesh is the longest and most famous ANE narrative; in many episodes it recounts the story of a quest for fame and immortality. Gilgamesh is a hero with ‘an enormous capacity for friendship, for endurance and adventure, for joy and sorrow, a man of strength and weakness, who loses a unique opportunity through a moment’s carelessness’.85 The historical Gilgamesh probably lived about 2800–2500 BCE, but the earliest Sumerian group of tales about him date from c.2150. Old Babylonian tablets, written in Akkadian c.1800, diverge widely in some places from the Sumerian versions, but in other places are the same. During a statesponsored surge of literary collection and invention in the Kassite period (c.1500) many widely scattered tablets were sorted and inventoried. The longest, most complete version of the epic dates from the reign of Assurbanipal in the seventh century and was found at Nineveh.86 The Myth of Atrahasis, ‘the super-sage’ (or ‘ultra-wise’), concerns a figure of immense prestige and antiquity; known by various names and epithets, his fame spread through many lands and languages. In Sumerian he appears as Ziusudra at the dawn of recorded history; in Gilgamesh he appears as Utnapishtim (‘he found life’), the only human, with his wife, ever granted 84 The exact literary status of such texts is hotly debated by scholars; but whatever their character, for our purposes they can at least be clearly distinguished from mortuary texts. 85 Dalley 2000 p. 39; Foster 1987 pp. 21–3; George 1999 xvi–xxii; Segal 2004 pp. 83–95. 86 Dalley 2000 pp. 41–7; George 1999 pp. xxvii–xxx.

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immortality by the gods. He and his wife survived the great flood and hence he can be equivalent to the Greek Deucalion and the Hebrew Noah. The text of Atrahasis in Old Babylonian dates from c.1700 and is one of the rare cases where an author’s name is known – he is Nur Aya, the compiler of still earlier material.87 The Enuma Elish (so named for its opening words, ‘when skies above’) or Epic of Creation is a very well-preserved and lengthy narrative, inscribed on seven tablets, whose composition had been very difficult to date; it could be anytime between 1900 and 1100 BCE. It records in fine detail the assembly of the gods, the creation of the human species, strife among divine factions, and a series of violent struggles for supremacy. Its discovery and translation in the late nineteenth century occasioned a great deal of scholarly excitement about the obvious parallels with Biblical Genesis.88 In stark contrast, the text of Adapa and the South Wind is overly brief and incomplete, since it lacks the final scene(s). It is written in Akkadian and was found in Tell-Amarna in Egypt and Assur on the Tigris River; it dates from c.1400–1300 BCE. It tells an enigmatic story about Adapa (aka Oannes), one of the seven sages (apkallu) in remote antiquity. Adapa was sent by the wise god Ea (later named Enki) to bring civilized arts to his home city of Eridu. The short text recounts how Adapa, while sailing on the sea, offended the gods by stilling the winds. Summoned by Anu the chief god, Adapa ascends to heaven where Anu seems to promise him the reward of eternal life. Ea offers Adapa his help in obtaining this, but then appears to deceive him through ambiguous advice. In any case, Adapa fails to obtain his ambition to live forever, and instead, in the missing ending, he was probably banished to the sea where he had to live as a fish.89 In our present study we will first consider the divine creation of human according to various anthropogonic accounts, then the structure and function of the principal constituents of the human soul, and finally the post-mortem status of the soul in light of ANE cults of the dead. One of the most comprehensive accounts of the divine creation of human being occurs towards the end of the first tablet of Atrahasis. The wise god Ea proposes (in Jean Bottero’s synopsis) the creation of a new being whose clay will be made soft and malleable with the blood of a god, slain for that purpose. As a result, not only will it have both the aspect of the gods and of man, but the divine victim will be chosen to materialize with precision the model that Ea had conceived in his wise mind: the name and the definition of that god … will control the constitution itself of mankind. As the god answered to the name wê-ilu (wêgod), man will be awîlu, a term that in Akkadian means ‘man’. And as he had te¯mu, i.e. a certain aspect of intelligence and of psyche, this wê together with te¯mu will produce in man the (w)etemmu, the ghost, this untouchable and fantastic image of all of us that survives after death and that allows us to participate from afar in the divine privilege, certainly not of immortality, but that of longevity. These features show to what degree the project of Ea was wise, complex subtle, and precise.90

In his recent interpretation of this central genesis text from Atrahasis, Abusch offers 87 Dalley

2000 pp. 1–4. Heidel 1963 Chapter 1, for the history of modern scholarship on the Enuma Elish. 89 Dalley 2000 pp. 182–3; Segal 2004 pp. 74–6. 90 Bottero 1992 p. 241; Bottero 1982 pp. 24–32. 88 See

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an analysis of the key ideas which augment our understanding of these sparse lines. The flesh of the dead god is the source of the human ghost, whether the ‘ghost’ was the dead god’s own ghost, or whether the human ghost came into existence afterward. Abusch says that ‘the creation of the human being from a slain god imparts not only mortality or divinity to man, but also mortality. Mortality is inherited with the flesh itself.’ Since the gods do not die by their nature but only through an act of violence, the chosen god must be killed by his peers. In ANE stories about the prehistoric deluge, the human species comes to acquire the natural tendency toward death. Abusch insists that the god’s te¯mu is his intelligence or understanding, and that in combination with the god’s blood and the utterance of his name, humans come to acquire intellect, which ‘survives after death in the form of that ghost … [it] unites the two periods of human existence, for it is exercised during life in daily actions and is present after death phonetically as part of etemmu’.91 In other words, since te¯mu is part of the word etemmu, a god-like intellect is part of the human’s spirit. In addition, the dead god’s flesh and blood are mixed with clay; but Abusch claims that either clay or blood is superfluous, since other anthropogonic texts speak only of two ingredients. The original text’s stipulation of three ingredients is significant because, although the ghost adheres to the human body, it is meant to be immaterial or spiritual. The conflation of two originally separate accounts serves a purpose, however, for ‘while the clay retains the older function of matter, the god’s blood and flesh represent the divine sources from which, respectively, the life-force and nature of man, on the one side, and the body and ghost, on the other are created’. There seems to be some conceptual slippage in this inference by Abusch, since it equates flesh with body (without any clear reference to body in the text) and identifies mind with ghost. Despite this, he says that this passage ‘expresses the notion that the mind and body derive from the god’. Since the next line mentions the heartbeat, the structure of the whole account is: ‘Mind: inner, heart, blood, intelligence. Body: outer, body, flesh, ghost. The blood is the dynamic quality of intelligence, and the flesh is the form of the body that is imposed on the clay.’ The dead god’s te¯mu reflects the blood, the etemmu the body; the blood transmits human life and intellect, the flesh provides the bodily form, which is itself preserved and continued by the ghost. When natural death occurs, the blood is gone, but the form remains and continues in the hereafter.92 Abusch’s exegesis of the first tablet of Atrahasis leads to the following hypothesis: while the clay represents the material form of man and serves as a base, the blood and flesh transmit respectively the life and kinship of the god. That is to say, the blood serves as the force which preserves and imparts to the living the characteristic quality ‘god who had a plan’, and thereby provides the life principle and intelligence, while the flesh brings forth both the mortal and immortal ghost, the ghost of man and the memorial to the god who had been slain. From the god’s blood comes the person, the self; from the god’s body, the ghost.93 91 Abusch 1998 pp. 367–9, where he acknowledges the textual ambiguities; see also his earlier article, Abusch 1995 p. 588. 92 Abusch 1998 pp. 369–71. 93 Abusch 1998 pp. 380–81.

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The imparting of life-force takes care of the chief god’s injunction to bring about balatu (lifespan) in this creature, and the memorial to the dead god takes care of the notion that the creature’s etemmu should not forget its origin. However, one cannot help but puzzle at the equivocation in the notion of an immortal and mortal ghost; if the latter refers to the human mind, then it is not the same thing as the former. In any case, Abusch concludes by stating that in these passages, ‘the flesh defines physical identity, the body, and therewith the ghost, and places human being in relationship to the past, while the blood, and therewith the intelligence, defines the personality or living identity, and continues into the future through the blood (seed). Thus the personal god and the ghost may be drawn together for purposes of understanding the Mesopotamian construction of human nature.’94 Several comments on this interpretation are called for: first, a thing can have a body without having flesh, that is, when it is a non-living, inorganic thing. Flesh is not some other thing added to a body, but the manifestation of life-force in the body. Hence, the more plausible construal of this text is that clay comprises the human body which, with the admixture of the god’s blood confers life-force, and hence the body appears as human flesh. Whatever the character of the god’s body, its immortal blood confers life on humans through its quasi-immortal flesh. Its flesh is quasiimmortal in that through the god’s violent death his flesh loses its immortal property and renders its recipient, the human creature, intelligent and limited. The human thus ‘inherits’ the dead god’s flesh in the only way in which it can contain or include it in its nature, as the likeness or sign of an entity not bound by death, but still deceased – its etemmu. The human etemmu is as passive after its host’s death as the god had been active, as ignorant in the underworld as the god had been cognizant in the heavens. In addition, Abusch’s interpretation leaves out one of the single most important ingredients in the creation of human being, according to this same passage in Atrahasis: divine spit. Since this text is central to the ANE ‘complex’ of human nature it is quoted here in full; our discussion and interpretation follow. When the younger gods complain of their heavy workload for the elder gods, the divine counsel decides to take action. They summon the goddess Mami (also known as Nintu) who, with the crafty god Ea’s help, devises a plan to make a creature, ‘a primordial human’ (lullû amelu), that will bear the yoke of the gods. Ea says that he will purify himself by washing. ‘Let one god be killed’, he says, ‘so that all the gods may be purified by cleansing. From his flesh and blood, let Nintu mix it with clay. Then a god and a human will be mixed together in clay, so that we will hear the drumbeat forever. Let there be (or become) a spirit (etemmu) from the god’s flesh (shīru). Let it proclaim a living [thing] as its sign, and so that this is not forgotten [there is] a spirit.’95 The divine assembly agrees to her plan, make their purifying 94 Abusch 1998 p. 383; on the notion of personal god, see Jacobsen 1976 pp. 155–64; and Schmidt 1996 pp. 70–72, 123–5, 211–14; on parallels (and even contamination) from Atrahasis to Greek epic, see Burkert 2004 pp. 34–41. 95 An ambiguous and perplexing couplet: Dalley translates this, ‘let her proclaim it as his living sign, and let the ghost exist so as not to forget (the slain god)’, Dalley 2000 p. 15; she quotes Moran who translates this as ‘Let her inform him while alive of his token, and so that there be no forgetting, the ghost shall remain’, in Dalley 2000 p. 36 note 12; Abusch translates

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ablutions, and have the chosen god killed: ‘Then Nintu mixed his flesh and blood with clay, and for the rest of time [they would hear the drumbeat]’.96 She summoned all the gods and then she ‘cast spit upon the clay’ (ru’-tam id-du-ú e-lu ti-it-ti); only after that does she say that she has completed the task they had set her. All the gods applaud her and give her the epithet Be¯let-ilī, ‘mother of the gods’. Ea and Mami enter the house of destiny, where all things are assigned their purposes or ends, and she recites an incantation, prompted by the wise Ea. With the birth-goddesses (midwives) in attendance, Ea stamped on the clay,97 Mami nipped off fourteen pieces, and from seven males and seven females she produced the human race. Let us take note of some salient features of this account: 1 Like all the other gods, the slain god had been purified by washing; bathing and washing rituals appear in cultic and magical settings in order to remove outer and inner impurities.98 2 Twice the slain god is said to have te¯mu, and from him humans are granted etemmu; there is clearly some connection between the two words; if the former refers to ‘personality’ or ‘person’, the connection between ghost or spirit is not straightforward. 3 It is the flesh of a dead god used in the mixture, and whatever one might say of a living god’s flesh, viz. that it is immortal, cannot be said unequivocally of a dead god. 4 It seems more likely, as Abusch argues,99 that the god had intelligence or intellect and that a human’s etemmu is its mind, the agency or power of forming plans. 5 The human etemmu is the sign for this creature in its life or life-span (ba-alta), not in its life-force (naphistu); there is a subtle distinction between the two words. 6 In ANE thought a graphic or pictorial ‘sign’ (ittu) is causally and really linked with what it denotes.100 Hence the human etemmu is a real, causal part of the creature in the same way as a sign is a real part of that which it signifies. 7 The gods would hear the heart’s drumbeat ‘forever’, not because a human is immortal, but because the human race would multiply and continue indefinitely.

this as ‘to the living creature, let it make known its sign, that there be no forgetting let there be a ghost’, Abusch 1998 p. 365; and Lambert & Millard: ‘Let it proclaim living (man) as its sign, so that this be not forgotten let there be a spirit’, 1969 p. 59. 96 Lambert & Millard were baffled by the use of uppu (drum) in this context, 1969 p. 152 note 214; Dalley, Abusch and others plausibly surmised that this refers to the heartbeat, see Abusch 1998 p. 366 note 9 for detailed analysis. 97 Dalley speculates that this refers to the practice of brick–making as the sign of civilized life, 2000 p. 37 note 15; contra Lambert & Millard who thought it had something to do with the birth–stool. 98 Von Soden 1994 pp. 197–8. 99 Abusch 1998 p. 378; in agreement with Bottero on this, 1992 p. 242. 100 See, for example, Izr’eel 2001 pp. 131–5.

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8 The mother goddess’ task is complete only after she has spit upon the clay, blood and flesh mixture; spit is one of the crucial ingredients for the human creature; this is the only human genesis text that mentions spit.101 9 In Egyptian, Archaic Greek and ANE thought, spit was considered to have ‘magical’, strength-endowing properties; it was also employed to ward off evil forces.102 10 The mother goddess nips off fourteen pieces of clay mixture and fashions them as figures or models of humans; here is an archetypal idea behind the phrase ‘the spitting image’, that is, the exact replica of someone made by mysterious or magical means. The important role of divine spit in the creation of humans does not have many instances, though the idea of life-giving power in spittle is attested more often. The generative power of divine spit is attested in a Hittite cosmogonic myth which has clear parallels with the Babylonian pantheon.103 Alalu the First God was usurped by Anu the Father God and Alalu went down to Dark Earth, the Underworld. Anu’s reign as King of the gods is contested by Kumarbi (first equated with Enlil) and they engage in several running battles. Kumarbi bites off and swallows Anu’s penis which ‘unites with his insides like bronze’. Anu declares that Kumarbi has been impregnated with three new gods:104 Teshub the Storm God, the Tigris River, and the noble Tasmisu. Anu then flees to the skies to hide from Kumarbi’s wrath. Kumarbi (secondly identified with Marduk) ‘spits out from his mouth spittle mixed with semen’. The text is badly broken here but Kumarbi seems to spit this mixture into the earth at or near Mt. Kanzura. He then goes to Nippur in Babylon where he waits for seven (or nine) months, the standard gestation period. At this point each of the three embryonic deities discusses with Kumarbi which of the bodily openings they shall emerge from, that is, which orifice is ‘the good place’. One god, now named in Sumerian AGILIM (= Marduk?) effects his delivery, claiming seven (or more) virtues from various divine agencies. Without any prior mention, the god Ea now appears in his role as divine counselor. Ea speaks with Kumarbi’s insides, offering advice about ‘the good place’ for the next god to be born from. Instead of (or in addition to) the Tigris River, the valiant king KAZAL (‘lust’) is born from his skull, and then (although the text is again broken) the third being, Teshub the Storm God, is born. 101 Tigay drew attention to the omission of spittle from the closely parallel text in Gilgamesh, but does not make any inference about the meaning or function of spit, 1982 p. 195 note 10; see several related genesis texts side by side in Heidel 1963 pp. 61–81. 102 See W. Crooke, s.v. ‘saliva’ in ERE vol. XI pp. 100–4; English ‘spit’, ‘spew’ is from Latin spuo, sputum, itself from Greek ptuo¯ LSJ rev. edn 1968 p. 1549; Latin saliva is perhaps related to an earlier root from which salveo, salvus, etc. meaning ‘preserve’, ‘good health’. 103 Güterbock 1948 and 1961 in his 1997 pp. 40–42, 55–56; and Hoffner 1990 pp. 40–43; on Hittite religion in general, Wright in RAW pp. 189–96; on the Kumarbi cycle, Wright in RAW pp. 191–2. 104 There may be two groups of three gods, as Güterbock points out: the first group are Teshub, Tigris and Tamisu (who is not mentioned again); the second group are the giants Agilim, Kazal and Mt. Kanzura.

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Kumarbi demands that Ea give him his child and says that he will eat Teshub when he is born. Kumarbi tries to eat some rock, but it hurts his teeth. Next, Teshub is delivered and the fate goddesses close up the good place (an orifice) ‘like they would mend a garment’. The midwives prepare Kumarbi for the birth of Mt. Kanzura, after which Ea (perhaps) makes a prophecy, like Anu before him, that Teshub will overthrow Kumarbi. The next column abruptly alters the setting and characters, but it appears that Wagon’s penis (instead of Kumarbi’s) has been ingested by the Earth; the goddess Earth then sets out for Apzuwa (= Babylonian Apsu) and asks for Ea’s advice. After ten months she gives birth to two sons whom Ea approves and installs with royal garments. Güterbock remarks that the final birth scene, which may or may not provide a euhemeristic ancestry for the line of mortal kings, follows from Kumarbi spitting out Anu’s ingested seed into fertile ground.105 Obvious parallels have been drawn between this myth and Hesiod’s Theogony: where Anu = Ouranos, Kumarbi = Kronos, Teshub = Zeus, and the three giants = the Titans. According to Hesiod’s version, Kronos castrates Ouranos, Kronos warns that his son will overthrow him, Kronos devours his children (except Zeus), the mother of Zeus deceives Kronos by substituting a rock which Kronos spits out, and the rock becomes an object of cult worship.106 The Hittite cosmogony in the Kumarbi myth is pertinent to our discussion for several reasons: the emphasis that it places on the generative power of divine spit; the internal ‘location’ of divine powers in the cosmic body, and the light it casts on the complexive functions manifest in the Hittite royal funerary custom. Aside from these brief and isolated lemmas, some sense of the relevance of spit to the human genesis account can be teased out through a careful analysis of the episodes in the Assyrian Creation Story (Enuma Elish) when compared side by side with the sequence in Atarhasis. The table below presents the relevant events in the Atrahasis account (on the left side) in their original sequence; the events from the Enuma Elish are listed according to the order in which they appear (on the right side) with prefixed numbers which refer to the correspondent elements in the Atrahasis account. Atrahasis, Tablet I 1. The gods summon Mami107 (or Nintu) I.192 2. They instruct her to create human 3. So that the gods can be released from toil 4. Nintu asks for Ea’s help I.201–3 105 Güterbock

Enuma-Elish, Tablets IV–VI Marduk kills Tiamat IV. M. defeats Qingu, one of the rebellious gods IV. M. retrieves destiny-tablets IV. (20) Tiamat’s spittle108 [does something] V.32

(1948) in 1997 p. 41; but he is more cautious later (1961) in 1997 p. 56. Güterbock (1948) in 1997 pp. 45–6; West 1997 pp. 285–305; Beckman in RAW pp. 336–9. 107 Mami in Akkadian means ‘matrix’, matter in its guise as mater and hence materia. 108 The additional tablet is badly damaged; but it appears that Marduk uses all of Tiamat’s bodily parts to ‘create’ earthly features, for example, rivers, springs, winds, rain, and so forth, even heaven and earth. Hence, one can infer that her spittle must have been used to create something, perhaps the human species. 106

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5. Ea offers his plan to the assembly I.204–5 6. that one of the gods should be killed 7. Ea has a purifying wash I.207 8. Nintu will mix clay with 9. the dead god’s blood and flesh I.210–11 10. so that god and human will be mixed I.212–13 11. so that a heartbeat will be heard I.214 12. so that a ghost will come from god’s flesh I.215 13. it is his living sign (?) I.216 14. a ghost is a memorial to dead god I.217 15. Ilawela takes purifying wash I.222 16. the gods slaughter Ilawela I.224 17. Nintu mixes his flesh with blood & clay I.225–6 18. [Reprise as fact of the plan in I.210-5] I.227–30 19. Nintu summons the gods I.232–3 20. Nintu casts spit on clay mixture I.234 21. gods give her epithet Mother-of-allgods I.247 22. the gods enter the house of destiny I.249 23. Ea treads on clay (= makes bricks) I.252 24. Ea and Nintu chant spell I.253–4 25. Nintu nips off clay pieces109 I.256 26. She assists in delivery of first humans I.260

M. presents destiny-tablets to Anu (or Ea) V.54–5 M. makes images of Tiamat’s creatures V.60 As signs (=statues) that will not be forgotten V.61 (4) M. offers his plan to Ea VI.4 (8+9) to mix blood & make bones (10) to produce primeval human VI.5–7 (5) Ea tells Marduk his plan VI.12 (6) that a god should be killed, so that (12) humans can be created (from him) VI.14 (19) Marduk assembles the gods VI.17 (16) the gods kill Qingu VI.32 (18) Ea creates humans from Qingu’s blood VI.33 (3) humans release the gods from toil VI.34 (22) Marduk assigns decrees to Anu VI.41 (23) the gods make bricks to build city VI.60 [Among the many epithets given to Marduk:] (14) cults & shrines are reminders of him VI.114 (13) created humans, life-form that breathes VI.130 (12) His name is the protective spirit VI.150 He is the god who gives life VI.152 Who restores damaged gods (i.e. their statues) as if they were his own creation. VI.153 (24) Who revives dead gods with pure spells VI.154 (7) He is the pure god who purifies our path VI.157

Some of the central elements of the story of human genesis in Atrahasis appear in the first tablet of The Epic of Gilgamesh,110 though they are subsidiary to the 109 These clay pieces are the husks or shells for the human ‘ghost’, that is, animated statues. 110 Andrew George’s superb new edition includes several recently discovered tablets, as well as exact translations (with apparatus) of some otherwise hard to find Sumerian and OB fragments.

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principal narrative, which tells of the initial encounter between the prototypes of civilized and uncivilized humans.111 According to Elena Cassin’s recent study, the name awîlum signifies an elaborate form of the simple human creature called lullû. The difference which the creation myth offers between the two creatures is instructive. Lullû is a living being; above the social plan, the stature of lullû is that of an urmensch, whereas awîlum is the city-dweller, a freeman of the superior classes of society. In certain cases, awīlum may designate the chief of a state or a village – a king. This antinomy between two categories of humans expresses itself in a mythic form through the two principals, Gilgamesh and Enkidu. Their original settings are described as quite different – the mountain and the desert. The desert is the habitat of demons and is opposed to cultivated and irrigated territory. This is the main reason why the village is enclosed by walls. The way of life of lullû Enkidu is very different from the way of life of awīlum. Enkidu does not know how to bend his knee,112 or how to sleep in a bed. The bed in this context has multiple connotations: it is an important element of urban civilization; it signifies the conjugal bond, it means that one can trace legitimate descent, that is, the stock or family. The way Enkidu feeds himself is diametrically opposed to those who live in the village. He feeds on herbs and grasses by grazing on them like the beasts; he sucks milk from the gazelles’ breasts. He does not know meat as food nor the cooking of foods. All this and more is in sharp contrast to Gilgamesh, the prototype of civilized human; where Enkidu is a creature of nocturnal silence, Gilgamesh is described as an articulate, luminous creature.113 Enkidu, a hybrid being, comes from the union of two beasts who express savage nature; it seems that he is a type of perfect savage. It is in the desert that he becomes a hunter. His appearance is alarming: a strange being, half-human, half-beast, who befriends savage beasts which he then captures and kills. A village prostitute seduces Enkidu and they copulate for six days and seven nights. The first stage of his passage from lullû state to awīlum state is overcome by ordinary copulation. Afterwards, he ‘sets his face’ toward the gazelles who then run away; he loses his hairiness as well as his ability to run fast. He has acquired knowledge and become wise; the prostitute says that, in gaining knowledge, ‘he has become like a god’.114 The second stage of his passage occurs when he accepts the prostitute’s invitation to come to the village. Having entered their houses, he eats bread and drinks beer. Tasting these two foods allows him to take part in sedentary civilization since bread and beer are synonymous with cerealist culture. After this he sings and his features brighten: the song, in contrast with noise, is discourse according to norms. By successive stages Enkidu leaves the somber zone where he used to live. He is no more a creature of nocturnal silence, and has become a creature of song and light, like Gilgamesh.115 In the final section Gilgamesh attempts to secure the plant of 111 George

1999 pp. xxxii–xxv; Segal 2004 pp. 83–9. remarks that this phrase may mean either that he is ignorant of plowing or that he does not know any type of submission, 1982 p. 201 note 10. 113 Cassin 1987 pp. 36–8; see also Tigay 1982 pp. 198–205; Foster 1987 pp. 23–7. 114 On this phrase, see Tigay’s comments, 1982 p. 212 note 57; and in Hittite ritual, van den Hout in Bremmer 1994 pp. 46, 56. 115 Cassin 1987 pp. 37–40; Tigay 1982 pp. 205–13; see also Bottero 1992 pp. 193–4. 112 Tigay

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rebirth (or healing), but fails to do so.116 The Legend of Adapa presents some unusual problems for our attempted reconstruction, not least because the surviving texts do not include the final episode. But the very message of the story has baffled scholars: depending on how one interprets the god Ea’s words to Adapa it is either a deliberate deception or a regrettable misunderstanding. Adapa, one of the seven apkallu or great sages, offends the gods when he charms with potent words the forces of the winds – he breaks the South Wind’s wing. Adapa is called before the chief god Anu in heaven where he is offered food, water, a garment and ointment. Food and water are internal elements and signs of hospitality, whereas garment and ointment are external elements, as well as signs of mourning. Where food and water represent ordinary life matters, things shared with animals, clothing and ointment represent civilization, things that distinguish humans from animals.117 The crafty god Ea has already advised Adapa that when he is offered these things he should refuse them. When he arrives in heaven the two gatekeepers are surprised at his appearance, as though he were in mourning for the dead. Does his appearance as a mourner signify that he has made a transition from one world to the other? When he is brought into the audience hall Anu does indeed offer Adapa bread and water, which he refuses, and a garment and ointment, which he accepts. Anu is amazed that Adapa has turned down the chance to become immortal, and sends him back to earth. But this brief synopsis obscures many ambiguities. Did Ea deliberately deceive Adapa so that he would be cheated of what he desired? Or did Adapa offend Anu by refusing the god’s hospitality (bread and water) so that Anu punished him by denying him immortality? Further, when Ea mentions ‘bread and water’ is it the same bread and water that Anu later offers? In her notes to the text, Dalley says that an Akkadian pun on the word ‘heaven’ changes ‘bread of heaven’ into ‘bread of death’. She also speculates that ‘Ea appears to be advising Adapa to accept the rites of a dead man, but they can also be seen as the first tokens of hospitality. Thus Ea may trick Adapa with a double entendre into accepting from Anu the fate of mortality.’118 In other words, it may be symbolic death for an ordinary human to eat and drink in heaven since he might be confined there and not permitted to return to earth.119 In a comprehensive monograph on the text, Izreel argues that the gods have already recompensed Adapa for lacking immortality by giving him wisdom or intelligence, a god-like property that separates him from the animal world. The most telling sign of Adapa’s intelligence is his power of speech; it was through words of power that he was able to intervene with nature and it is this violation that annoys Anu: ‘Ea is the one who made Adapa what he is. Ea gave Adapa wisdom, which was his own signature attribute … Ea’s wisdom was realized in material knowledge and craftiness. In addition, Ea was renowned for his skill in finding clever solutions to

116 See M. L. West’s provocative parallels with the Iliad, 1997 pp. 336–47; Burkert 2004 pp. 21–7, 41–6. 117 Izr’eel 2001 pp. 121–2. 118 Dalley 2000 p. 188 notes 9 and 10. 119 Izr’eel 2001 p. 138; in brief, Segal 2004 pp. 74–6.

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mischief, whether gods’ or humans’ – in many instances through trickery.’120 On this interpretation, Ea outwits Adapa’s overweening ambitions by resorting to ambiguous speech, allowing Adapa to use that very skill to thwart Anu’s plan to punish Adapa by giving him what he wants. The final text in which we will examine the ANE concept of human soul is The Descent of Ishtar, an Akkadian myth from c.1500–1800; the Sumerian version, The Descent of Inanna is attested much earlier.121 In the corpus of Assyrian prophetic texts from Nineveh in the seventh century one can discern the lineaments of a concept of the immortal soul associated with an ecstatic mystery cult; some of the central symbolism for this cult appears in the myth of The Descent of Ishtar. The Finnish scholar Simo Parpola has laid out a striking and controversial set of claims based on twenty-five years of study of these and related texts. Here it is only possible to summarize the main points of his theory. 1 The Assyrian prophecies are integral parts of a larger religious structure, the ecstatic cult of Ishtar, an esoteric mystery cult which promised its devotees salvation and eternal life. 2 This cult had a sophisticated cosmogony, theosophy, soteriology and theory of the soul which were hidden from the uninitiated by a veil of symbols, metaphors and riddles. 3 The cornerstone of the cult’s doctrine of salvation was the myth of Ishtar’s descent to the underworld in which the goddess plays the role of the NeoPlatonic cosmic soul. 4 One central component of this doctrine was the concept of the heavenly perfect man sent for the redemption of mankind and materialized in the institution of earthly kingship. 5 The idea of perfection embodied in the king implied total purity from sin, implicit in the soul’s divine origin and personified in the figure of the goddess Mullissu, queen of heaven, the Assyrian equivalent of the Christian Holy Spirit. 6 The king’s perfection in the likeness of god made him a god in human form and guaranteed his resurrection after bodily death; he was a Christ-like figure loaded with messianic expectations. 7 The central symbol of the cult was the cosmic tree connecting heaven and earth, which contained the secret key to the psychic structure of the perfect man and thus to eternal life. 8 In addition to meditation on the main symbols, the worship of the goddess involved extreme asceticism and mortification, which when combined with other ecstatic techniques could result in altered states, visions and inspired prophecy. 9 The cult of Ishtar, whose roots are in the much earlier Sumerian cult of Inanna, has close parallels with the Canaanite cult of Asherah, the Phrygian cult of Cybele and the Egyptian cult of Isis. 10 These cults have clear affinities with Hellenistic, Graeco-Roman and Gnostic ‘systems of thought’, that is, esoteric teachings and/or myths, which are 120 Izr’eel 121 Dalley

2001 pp. 126, 131. 2000 pp. 154–62; Segal 2004 pp. 80–82.

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derived from earlier ANE traditions: ‘It is likely that all of them had been significantly influenced by Assyrian imperial doctrines and ideology which … continued to dominate the eastern Mediterranean world down to the end of classical antiquity.’122 These are very strong assertions: Parpola begins his analysis of the evidence for the Ishtar cult in the Assyrian prophetic corpus by stating that the multiplicity of ANE gods and goddesses in the texts is largely illusory. He argues that the pantheon of separately named deities conceals the real state of affairs: there is only one universal god (Asshur), the totality of all the gods, whose plural manifestations emanate from one source; these emanations were hypostatized as individual deities. The principal ANE divine scheme was Father-Mother-Son; the goddess Ishtar is Asshur in his mother aspect. In the seventh-century Assyrian prophecies, however, Ishtar is ‘at the same time also an entity distinct from Asshur: a divine power working in man [the prophet] and thus bridging the gulf between man and god’. The goddess is also distinct from the prophet as well, but through her action she makes him an agent of god, and for a fleeting moment, makes him one with god: ‘The goddess has to be understood concretely in terms of her human manifestation: she is the emotion (libbu) moving the prophet, the breath (sha¯ru) issuing from his or her ‘heart’, and the voice (rigmu) and words (dibbī) emerging from his or her mouth.’ Her place in the divine body is correlated with her momentary human manifestation since in both cases she occupies the heart. Hence, Ishtar can be identified with the spirit or breath of Asshur who inspires the prophet and speaks for the one god through his lips, much like the spirit of Yahweh.123 The main lines of the Assyrian cult of Ishtar can be reconstructed from the extant texts: The overall goal of the cult was the purification of the soul so that it would regain its original unity with god. The goal was encoded in the Assyrian sacred tree … [its trunk] symbolized Ishtar as the power bridging the gap between heaven and the material world … For a spiritually pure person, union with god was believed to be possible not only in death but in life as well … To achieve this union, one had to emulate the goddess, particularly in her sufferings and agony, which provided the starting point for her salvation. One way of doing this was self-inflicted bodily pain, whipping oneself to the point of fainting, stinging oneself with pointed spindles, cutting oneself with swords and flint knives, and even turning oneself into a eunuch in a frenzied act of self-mutilation … [The purpose] was to turn the devotee into a living image of Ishtar: an androgynous person totally beyond the passions of the flesh.124

The myth of The Descent of Ishtar has nothing to do with rituals of fertility or seasonal growth and decay, Parpola declares. Rather, like the goddess Hekate Soteira in the Chaldean Oracles and the Neo-Platonic cosmic soul, the myth of Ishtar’s descent is addressed to ‘the question of human salvation from the bondage of matter’. The Ishtar story also prefigures the narrative in the Gnostic tract, The Exegesis of the 122 Parpola

1997 pp. xv–xvi. 1997 p. xxvi; support for this thesis, notes on pp. lxxx–lxxxiii. 124 Parpola 1997 p. xxxiv; on Ishtar as trunk of the cosmic tree, p. xcv note 133; on the cult’s sexual asceticism and androgyny, pp. xcvi–xcvii notes 138–40. 123 Parpola

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Soul (NHC II.6) which describes the descent to earth of Sophia, the virgin soul, captured in the material world and polluted in her body. In The Descent of Ishtar the first half of the myth presents the soul’s heavenly origin and defilement in the material world; the latter half outlines the soul’s way to salvation. The goddess is a two-faced entity, ‘descending, she is the holy spirit entering the prison of the body; ascending, she is the penitent soul returning to her celestial home’. In sum, ‘it seems certain that the Descent of Ishtar contained the basic tenets of an ecstatic mystery cult promising its followers absolution from sins, spiritual rebirth, and resurrection from the dead. These rewards were in store for those who were ready to follow the path of the goddess from prostitution and suffering to the wedding in heaven.’125 Having examined the many ways in which human and divine souls appear in mythic texts, let us look more closely at the principal components of human nature according to ANE patterns of thought. In addition to the various meanings associated with the posthumous etemmu, there are several important terms associated with the living human being. One of the principal components, napishtu, has already been mentioned in our discussion of humans’ mortal status, but here one needs to lay out the specific nuances of the ANE use of this term. Seabass observes that the Akkadian usage of the verb and the noun ‘turns out to be extraordinarily similar to that of [Old Testament] nepesh, even though their range of meanings is greater. The similarity is all the more striking in that the sumero- and akkadogram for napishtu in Hittite represents totally different notions.’126 The Hittite language employed extant Sumerian and/or Akkadian cuneiform signs to stand for different syllables with their own meanings. Seabass isolates the similarity in both verb and noun usage: the Akkadian verb napa¯ shu, ‘to breath freely, to relax, to expand, to become abundant’, comprises a range of meanings greater than the Hebrew verb. The Akkadian noun naphistu comprises a range of meanings that one could associate with concrete and general object-classes, such as sustenance and provisions. Van den Hout offers some insight about this concept in his analysis of the Hittite royal funeral: At the point of death body and soul diverge: the body either decays or is cremated, but the soul, after having entered the body at birth, leaves. The ‘soul’, as it is traditionally rendered, is the means through which communication between those left behind and the dead remains possible … The ZI is any individual’s, whether dead or alive, seat of emotional and rational thoughts. GIDIM is the ‘(ghost of the) dead’, that may be invoked after death and through which contact can be established. Their relation may be compared to that of soul and body before death, that is, the GIDIM may have been conceived of as more ‘corporeal’ than the soul, as some immaterial but potentially visible body. In this respect, one could recall the encounters of Odysseus and Aeneas in the underworld with their mother and father respectively. Seeing them, talking to them, they both want to embrace their parent, but grab with their arms empty space.127 125 Parpola 1996 pp. xxxi, xxxiii; he says that Sarah Johnston’s analysis (1990) of the Hekate Soteira cult clearly shows that she ‘directly translates Mesopotamian Ishtar’, p. xc, note 105; for the ANE idea of three grades of soul, he cites Pausanias (32.4) who said that ‘the Chaldeans and Indian sages were the first to say that the human soul is immortal’, p. xc note 106. 126 Seabass in TDOT vol. IX p. 499. 127 Van den Hout, in Bremmer 1994 p. 44; van den Hout in RAW pp. 483–5; on parallels in

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According to the entry in the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary (CAD), the principal meanings of napishtu break down as follows.128 (1) It signifies ‘life, vigor, vitality, or good health’; the instances cited indicate it is the principle of life, that is, the lifeforce. This further signifies ‘the granting or bestowing of life’; there are numerous instances which refer to gods or goddesses who bestow life on humans, but there are as many cases where it is an authority (often the king) who grants life by not killing someone. It can be used in the privative to mean specifically the ending of earthly life, usually in conjunction with some conditional event, for example, starving, evil magic, execution, and so on. (2) It can be used to signify an abundance or surplus of life-force in the first sense; hence, it is most commonly translated ‘good health’. (3) It is used as a mass-noun for all living beings, though only in New Babylonian is this extended to include animals. (4) It can be used to mean ‘someone’, or in the privative sense, ‘no one’, and the latter is found (again) especially in cases where someone has been killed (one rare instance predicates this of an unborn child). (5) It can be used as a count-noun, that is, in the same way that Hebrew nepesh or Greek psyche¯ can mean numerable living things. (6) Naphistu was often used for the firstperson intensive, that is, periphrastic for oneself, for example, the injunction to guard someone’s life as you would your self (= your own life). (7) It has the concrete meaning derived from the verb-form napa¯shu for breath, that is, as the main indication or manifestation of the life-force within. (8) In an externalized general sense it means that which provides one with vitality and good health, viz. provisions or sustenance. (9) In an internalized concrete sense it means the throat or neck as the conduit for breath and food. And closely related to ‘throat’, it can mean (10) an opening or air-hole of any kind. Seabass remarks that neither the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary nor von Soden’s Handbook cite the meaning ‘soul’; despite its close association with Hebrew nepesh, ‘Akkadian does not yield an anthrop[ic] term, as can be seen from the rarity with which the word is used in the sense of “self’’’ and above all from the meanings for concrete objects.129 In addition to napishtu as life-force, Akkadian also employed a range of meanings associated with libbu, the heart; according to the entry in the CAD the principal meanings of libbu break down as follows.130 (1) It can mean the ‘heart, abdomen, entrails or womb’; the large number of instances cited cluster around the thorax, that is, that which holds or contains the heart-organ, or the abdomen, that is, that which holds or contains the intestines. Hence, it can be used equally well and equally often for an animal’s stomach or an inner organ, especially where it is removed as an offering. (2) It can be used in an externalized general sense to signify the inside or inner part of an area or building or region (this use parallels that of napishtu in no. 8 above). (3) It has an abstract internal sense that varies over several ‘complexive’ ideas: ‘mind, thought, intention, courage, wish, desire, choice or preference’. Amongst the large number of instances cited here definite trends can be detected: the Royal Ancestor cult in Mari, see Malamat 1989 pp. 96–107; Schmidt does not find evidence in Mari texts that the ancestral cult of the dead supported their benign powers, 1996 pp. 41–6; on evidence of ancestor cults in the ANE, van der Toorn in RAW pp. 424–7. 128 CAD vol. N pp. 296–304. 129 Seabass in TDOT vol. IX p. 501. 130 CAD vol. L pp. 164–76.

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that outward actions or words can belie inward intentions; that the heart is the locus of reflection and deliberation; and that it is also the seat of the emotions. In the last case, a common phrase that means ‘it pleases me’ is written as ‘according to my heart’ or ‘it is my heart’s wish’. When this same sort of phrase is negated, that is, ‘not according to (or with) my heart’, it means bad luck, especially with regard to the gods’ wishes or desires, hence, ‘it is against the god’s heart’. The third principal component of human nature is etemmu; this term has been discussed above in connection with a group of related human genesis myths. Within the whole corpus of the CAD entries for etemmu,131 it is never associated with a living human, though the gods and demons each have (or are) etemmu. (1) The gods can become the form of an animal as its etemmu, that is, the god can assume the appearance of an animal: ‘The etemmu of Enlil is a wild ass, the etemmu of Anu is a wolf, Be¯l made them roam the steppe, his (Anu’s) daughters are gazelles … the etemmu of Tiamat is a camel.’132 Whereas Egyptian gods’ bau sometimes appear in animal forms von Soden points out133 that ANE deities were always depicted with a human form, only demons had animal heads. Despite their not being represented with an animal form, the ANE gods’ etemmu is still more similar to the Egyptian divine bau than to their akhu. (2) Demons are only ever etemmu, or perhaps one should say that they are always etemmu-like entities. The CAD lists various demontypes such as utukku, she¯du, ra¯bisu, lillu, lamassu, and so forth, whose company the dead human etemmu can join. (3) The gods, demons and human etemmu are the objects of rituals and prayers; the etemmu are offered food and drink; they are said to eat, drink and move about.134 (4) They can sometimes be seen or heard, especially at night and/or in dreams; they can be summoned or called forth, by the mushêlu or ‘spirit-callers’, magicians who would later be called necromancers. (5) The etemmu are often said to cry out and trouble the living, either in an unspecified manner, that is, by making someone unhappy or depressed, or in a very specific manner, for example, when its ‘hand seizes someone’.135 ANE medical therapy even attempted a diagnosis of seizure symptoms: when the epigastrium is hot, the intestines are inflamed, and the neck (or temple) is painful.136 In sum, unlike the divine etemmu, the human etemmu after death is more like the Egyptian akh than the ba, since neither the etemmu nor the akh appears to play any role in humans’ ordinary existence. However, there are definite differences: (a) the ba and the ka are present in the earthly and the unearthly life, (b) there are no posthumous roles for naphistu or for libbu as there is for the ba and ka, and (c) the 131 CAD

vol. E pp. 397–401. vol. E p. 400. 133 Von Soden 1994 p. 175. 134 For details of ANE festivals for the dead, demon–types, and protective magic, see esp. J. A. Scurlock, ‘Baby–snatching Demons, Restless Souls, and the Dangers of Childbirth’, in Incognita 2 1991 pp. 137–85; J. A. Scurlock, ‘Magic Uses of Ancient Mesopotamian Festivals of the Dead’, in Ancient Magic and Ritual Power, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1995 pp. 93–107; and G. Castellino, ‘Rituals and Prayers against “Appearing Ghosts’’’, in Orientalia 24 1955 pp. 316–32; and Segal 2004 pp. 98–103. 135 According to Abusch, an Assyrian scholar conjectured that this ‘syndrome’ indicates epilepsy, Abusch 1998 pp. 380–81 note 41. 136 CAD vol. E pp. 400–1 sec. 2; on ANE medicine, Abusch in RAW pp. 456–8. 132 CAD

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ba provides the ‘mechanism’ that allows for the akh to eat, drink and move about, whereas nothing seems to play this role for the etemmu. The principal constituents of human being, aside from the body’s flesh and bones, are the organic life-force, the emotive and deliberative heart, and the divinely endowed spirit. Given the implication in the Adapa myth, that humans are denied immortality because they already have intelligence, it remains to be seen what kind of posthumous existence dead souls are accorded in ANE cults of the dead. The ANE concept of human mortality excludes the idea that the worthy dead will achieve an eternal condition like an Egyptian akh, which is a transfigured, light-like being. As The Legend of Adapa explicitly states, the archetypal human had striven for an immortal condition but had been denied this by the gods. Nevertheless, the principal ANE texts concerned with humans’ post-mortem status have much to say about the underworld, the realm of the gods and demons. According to Bottero, Even after his death man did not escape control and seizure by the gods. What remained of him was, besides a body that returned in stages to its first state of ‘clay’, a type of duplicate that was shady, volatile, and airy, a ‘phantom’ (etemmu) that entered its new abode through an aperture in the tomb, and rejoined the enormous group of its predecessors on earth in the Netherworld, an immense, dark, silent, and sad cavern where all had to lead a gloomy and torpid existence together.137

Insofar as all the dead entered the underworld, the ANE picture is similar to the Egyptian view; but it is dissimilar in describing their condition as the inverse of their earthly life. Although there are no CAD entries for the etemmu of human beings this does not contradict the Atrahasis statement that humans were formed from the etemmu. In the Atrahasis anthropogony the creative goddess uses the etemmu of a dead god in the creation of human being. Perhaps the English word closest to etemmu is not ‘ghost’ or ‘intellect’ but rather ‘spirit’, along the lines of the New Testament use of pneuma (or spiritus), but with the strong proviso that the etemmu did not have a chance at a ‘second life’. Despite their relegation to the underworld Bottero says that this did not prevent [the dead], however, from returning once in a while to scare and to torment the forgetful survivors who did not provide them with support for their sorry existence in the form of libations and small food offerings. But if they had changed in shape, they had not changed in condition: although they were passive and useless, they were still the subjects of the ruling gods in their Anti-heaven where everything that was positive on earth in some way assumed a negative aspect.138

Bottero links the ANE concept of life-force to the idea of ‘breath’, according to one of the letters from the Royal Archive of Mari. This letter refers to slaughtering an ox ‘by making him blow out his last breath’, that is, breath given to organic beings during their life, but at death the breath left forever. Despite the centrality of breath as a condition for their life on earth, the ancient Mesopotamians were reluctant to

137 Bottero 138 Bottero

1992 p. 230; on the ANE ideas about the afterlife, see Katz in RAW pp. 477–9. 1992 p. 230.

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consider that bodily death brought about ‘the definitive and total disappearance of the dead’. They would have observed that someone who died continued to exist as a person. But what remained of him, since clearly the visible and tangible parts of his being, the body (zumru, pagru) became a corpse (shalamtu) and disintegrated relatively fast by the disappearance [or dissolution] of the flesh (shîru)? What remained was first of all what they considered to be the framework and the support of a live person: the bones (esemtu). From this idea derives the extreme respect for tombs, evidenced especially by the funerary inscriptions. One had to leave in peace (nâlu, pashâhu) what still constituted the dead person, who was as if asleep (salâlu) when death overtook him. This is why the remains of ancestors were taken along when one left the country.139

Bottero offers his expert interpretation of the ANE term etemmu Something else remained that represented the dead more immediately and undoubtedly more essentially: his phantom, his ghost, his soul, his spirit … what was usually called his etemmu … [These] are more or less vague silhouettes, imprecise and phantom-like, but still recognizable and poorly distinguished from the material and actual objects of vision and real perceptions. They have given the idea of the ‘survival’ of the dead in an airy, impalpable form that resembles the person, represents him, and substitutes for him (ardanân mîti).

The ANE idea that the posthumous ‘form’ of a living person was a simulacrum of that person’s corporeal ‘nature’ and that, in its apparent shape, was hard to distinguish from sensible objects is remarkably similar to the character of the Homeric psyche¯ of dead heroes. Homer’s archaic use of eidolon (image) and phasma (phantom) offers the key to understanding an ambiguity in two senses of psyche¯, as life-force and as double. The dead Patroklos’ psyche¯ and the dead Antikleia’s psyche¯ are exact replicas or simulacra of the living person’s corporeal appearance. The psychai of the dead heroes share the same characteristics as these phantoms, replicas and simulacra; they are not the actual psychai of living beings, but the mere similitude of the being who had been ensouled. There is no survival of the human soul after the individual’s bodily death, no other form of human life beyond or after the extinction of humans’ life-force.140 In some ANE divinatory texts the titular god of dreams is called ‘Light-Breath’ (ziqîqu), a word also used to indicate the immaterial quality of a ghost, ‘a kind of double, evanescent, untouchable, and disincarnate, to which people are reduced after death’. In the treatise on the accidents of daily life the dead ghosts are also called ‘the dead as if they were alive’ (mitu kima balti); ‘one saw them, they frightened, they cried out, they stood at the end of the bed, they entered and left, etc’.141 Jean-Pierre Vernant expresses the distinction between psyche¯ as life-force and psyche¯ as double in clear terms, allowing one to see that two classes of entities were involved: 139 Bottero

1992 p. 271. of HCM pp. 20–22; see also Bremmer in Bremmer 1994 pp. 91–101. 141 Bottero 1992 p. 108. 140 Summary

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History of the Concept of Mind, Volume 2 The ‘double’ or ‘shade’ does not have the ontological status of an autonomous, selffounding being, the human individual’s soul minus its host’s body. A double is a wholly different thing from an image. It is not a ‘natural’ object, but it is also not a product of the imagination: neither an imitation of a real object, nor an illusion of the mind, nor a creation of thought. The double is a reality external to the subject and is inscribed in the visible world. Yet even in its conformity with what it simulates, its unusual character ensures its substantial difference from familiar objects and the ordinary setting of daily life. The double plays on two contrasting levels at the same time: at the moment when it shows itself to be present, it also reveals itself as not being of this world but rather as belonging to an inaccessible elsewhere.142

The ANE word etemmu has its own peculiar ambiguity as well, since it relates this kind of double to the world of demons. The Sumerian cuneiform sign for gedim, which became the Akkadian etemmu, is hard to distinguish from the Sumerian sign udug ‘demon’, which became the Akkadian utukku. On some occasions both the double and the demon are given the epithet ilu ‘god’ or ‘divine one’, much like the Egyptians could refer to gods, demons and human akhu with the word for ‘divine’, netjer. According to Bottero, whatever the hypothetical relation between the living person and its etemmu, two things remained after death: ‘one was plainly material, numb and paralyzed and then subject to gradual erosion – his skeleton; the other formal, airy, a shady and volatile image of what he was during life, but permanent – his ghost, his phantom, his spirit, his etemmu – active and mobile in its own way … The relations between the two remains were certain and very close, because it still involved the same person who still bore the same proper name after death.’143 One can perhaps regret the author twice using the clause ‘his phantom, his ghost, his soul, his spirit’ to render the idea of etemmu, since stringing together three or four distinct terms as the semantic extension of one word indicates that more than one concept is involved.144 In contrast with an over-determined concept etemmu is an under-determined ‘complex’: either the complexive idea embraces all of the predicate terms collectively as the sum of their parts or the idea can be expressed equally well by any one of these terms as parts. Some indication of how ANE thought viewed the nature of human beings can be gleaned from Mesopotamian texts that describe the conditions of the dead in the underworld. The underworld was characterized in terms diametrically opposite to the ordinary world: darkness replaced lightness, immobility and silence replaced noise and movement, things that are clean and bright by dust and filth. When the goddess Ishtar descends to the underworld, she goes to ‘the house where those who arrive are deprived of light, | where mould is their food, dust their bread | they dwell in darkness, they never see light. | They are dressed like birds, with feathers | while over the doors and bolts dust has settled.’145 Bottero points out that ‘even the gods who lived in this enormous, dirty and dark cavern had something oppressive, severe, and morose about them … They were not “dead”, however, and they laid claim as 142 Vernant

1991 p. 187; for Bremmer’s interpretation, see his 1994 pp. 100–6. 1992 p. 272. 144 Elena Cassin glosses etemmu as ‘l’esprit du mort, le revenant ou le spectre. L’imagerie de l’etemmu n’est pas fixée une fois pour toutes, mais peut varier’ 1987 p. 238 note 12. 145 Dalley 2000 p. 155; a clear echo of this in a Hittite lament, in Hoffner 1990 p. 33. 143 Bottero

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much as their celestial counterparts to respect and to the opulent life free of worries.’146 This comment is significant in two respects: first, unlike the Egyptian deceased who joined the ranks of gods and demons by becoming netjer like them, the Mesopotamian deceased did not partake in the divine ‘life’ of the gods. Second, it is the living gods in the underworld who are said to enjoy good health, mobility and appetite; in the Atrahasis genesis account, humans are created from a dead god’s flesh. Having entered the underworld, the deceased are informed that they are under the laws of that infernal domain. There has been much debate on whether or not there is any evidence that the dead are then subject to some sort of judgment (as the Egyptian dead were). Bottero claims that arguments in favor of this claim are ‘doubtful and false’, although the Annunaki, the senior group of gods, were indeed presented as judges in numerous texts and temple monuments. However, in the Mesopotamian context, rendering verdicts and delivering judgments ‘covered a semantic field that is broader than the simple exercise of judicial power’. In contrast with a judicial decision, the divine posthumous judgment assigned or imposed a destiny on the dead without necessarily taking into account the merits and demerits of each individual. Hence, there is nothing like the Egyptian dead becoming an akh, semi-divine, perfect and whole; all dead humans in ANE terms became etemmu, confined forever to the underworld: ‘The etemmu were thought to have an existence in their new kingdom that was nothing but dull and negative; asleep, powerless, immobile, and cadaverous, they were similar to the nocturnal birds that live in “holes” and caverns. They had nothing but mud to sink their teeth into, and as drink only the foul water of low-lying grounds – conditions entirely opposite to those of living people on earth.’147 Our conjecture about what accounts for the radically different status between the Egyptian dead and the Mesopotamian dead is that the former ‘complex’ of human nature included the ka and the ba, psychic agents or powers which made possible the dead person’s continuance as a whole being. Despite the fact that the recently deceased could be expected to have only a privative existence, the family survivors were obliged to do more than just mourn the dear departed. It should be pointed out here that there is no ANE parallel to Egyptian mortuary practices, especially to the essential custom of embalming the corpse and preserving the main organs, though there are clear parallels in their funerary practices and ancestral cults.148 Proper burial was required, whether in the grounds of the cemetery, near the temples, or in the family home. It was considered a severe punishment for the dead to be left unburied, a penalty reserved for criminals and outcasts.149 The newly dead were provisioned with furniture, vessels, ornaments, tools and magical seals; traces of food and drink have also been found. Bottero makes a curious comment on these funerary items: not only was it thought that the dead person was still ‘attached’ to these things, but these things would be ‘useful to him in his new existence’. Given the dead person’s entirely immobile, silent and 146 Bottero

1992 p. 277. 1992 p. 278. 148 Where the corpse could not be preserved, in Hittite practice an effigy took its place, van den Hout in Bremmer 1994 pp. 45–6, 63–4; van den Hout in RAW pp. 483–5. 149 See inter alia Abusch 1995 pp. 589–90; Segal 2004 pp. 101–3. 147 Bottero

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deprived state, it is hard to understand what they thought would be useful about these goods. The survivors had yet other duties, all of which involved protecting the dead person’s ‘survival’ in the underworld. First, they had to ‘pronounce his name here on earth so that he would not sink into oblivion’. This meant that, ‘in the land where a name was the same as a substance, one called upon his person, and conferred reality, presence, and existence upon him. It is in the same spirit that one always had to treat him with respect, with honor, with regard.’150 Second, the survivors were charged with supplying food and drink for the dead; a special pipe has been found in tombs for pouring liquids inside. Third, there were family ceremonies, often held at the end of each month, the central element of which was a communal meal to which the deceased were invited. Bottero says that this is how their survivors regularly provided the etemmu with the goods that were considered to be indispensable for maintaining them in their feeble existence. Those who were neglected by their descendants were pitied, even if they had been properly buried, and also those who had no one to prevent them from sinking into oblivion and who would therefore lead a very miserable ‘life’ in the Netherworld. They were pitied, and they were feared, as were all the dissatisfied in the Hereafter.151

Although some ANE experts may disagree about some of the details of these funerary artifacts and ancestral practices, two outstanding problems are posed by the inferences above. First, given the explicit characterization of etemmu as lacking by their very nature in mobility, appetite, and so on, what was the function of the specific offerings of food, drink, and tools? Second, in what way is the existence (or survival) of the dead, at least those that are properly buried, dependent on these offerings, given the presumption that all human dead, by their very nature, entered the underworld and became etemmu? What was the purpose of making offerings when the dead would be just as they are anyway? Again, in contrast, the Egyptian picture seems to be more coherent: the dead were thought to enjoy or take part in the unearthly ‘double’ or analogue of earthly pleasures and pursuits, so the simulacra of food and drink were indeed nourishment for them as ‘doubles’ of their earthly selves. Just as the living could seemingly act upon the dead souls’ existence through offerings, so also the dead souls could seemingly act for or against the living. ANE folklore is replete with stories about the dead souls’ visits to the living, where the dead appear like phantoms, where they make noise, move about, and cause fear and anxiety: ‘In spite of their belief that death indicated the definitive transfer to another universe, the ancient Mesopotamians … could not resist the fantastic imaginings that these experiences aroused.’ The souls of the dead could act among the living either for or against their favor. The dead souls’ helpful attitude had its basis in supportive family relations and the gratitude the dead would feel towards their carers. But the etemmu were also assimilated with the demonic infernal realm and hence were endowed with some supernatural powers to accomplish the missions the 150 Bottero 151 Bottero

1992 p. 281. 1992 p. 282.

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gods assigned to them.152 Etemmu were thought to be able to intercede with the infernal judges on behalf of the livings’ petitions for health and wealth. The dead were also thought to have more extensive and insightful knowledge than the living, especially with regard to the future. Skilled exorcists (mushêlu or ‘recallers’) could make the etemmu re-ascend from the underworld in order to be consulted about their privileged information.153 But the dead souls’ actions in this world could also be harmful to the living. The etemmu could appear at night, in dreams or otherwise, and terrify ordinary folk, inflicting mental and physical torment. ANE magical texts are full of spells to counter or annul the bad effects of evil etemmu (lemnu) whose numbers seemed to be much greater than the good ones (damqu). Nasty spirits were also called foreign (akhû), that is, those without family ties, those who had been improperly buried or never buried; those who had been executed were prone to becoming like this. They were vagrant spirits, wandering about, ‘looking for trouble’. The means and circumstances by which the dead returned to the land of the living are never explained, but its occurrence implies that the gods permitted it. There is an unresolved paradox at the heart of the ANE concept of the underworld and its denizens: ‘Even though it was called the Land-of-no-return [the ways] were filled with a perpetual coming and going of the dead.’ On the obverse side, it was a realm of forces hostile to humankind; on the reverse, it was a caricature or shadow of earthly activity, where action is replaced by inaction, happiness by melancholy, and light by darkness.154 In conclusion, any hope of resolving some of the difficulties brought out above by an appeal to conceptual analyses of the terms involved is likely to be frustrated. An adequate understanding of the way in which the ANE texts use words like naphistu, libbu, etemmu, and so forth, must take account of cognitive ‘complexes’ not concepts. Human nature cannot be ascribed either immortality or mortality as though these opposed ideas were polarized over the presence or absence of one property or condition, for example, being death-bound. Although it is certain that a human’s earthly life was bound by death, it is not true that life as such was bound by death. The fact that the archaic idea of death signified a transition between one state and another does not imply that some aspect of human being was free from termination, that it was separable from the host’s body at death. Although it may seem incongruous from our modern point of view, the archaic ‘complex’ was more or less upside-down. The true or real being of all living things was manifested in various forms, one of which was an individual’s earthly form qua organic being; hence, an individual’s existence in that form was bound to its earthly life, and not to its death.

152 The ranks of the underworld also comprised ‘dead gods’, that is, those defeated in divine power struggles, according to Schmidt 1996 pp. 212–16. 153 Bottero 1992 p. 283; on controllers of the dead in the pre–Exilic prophets, see Schmidt 1996 pp. 15–54. 154 Bottero 1992 pp. 284–5; cf. Abusch 1995 col. 593.

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(3) Life, death and the soul in the Zoroastrian religion The only extant documents in the Avestan language are the Avestan Scriptures, the sacred writings of the Zoroastrian religion. One set of central texts, the Ga¯tha¯s or ‘Songs’, are considerably older than other texts in these Scriptures. There are numerous lexical parallels between the Avesta and the Rig-Veda, the earliest work of Indian religion, composed in the middle second millennium. The grammar and syntax of the Ga¯tha¯s is decidedly archaic even by the standards of Old Persian and the Indo-Iranian languages, circa the sixth century BCE. Until quite recently standard, uncritical entries in non-specialized reference works routinely stated that Zoroaster’s dates were the early to mid-seventh century BCE.155 As great an IndoIranian scholar as Richard Zaehner perpetuates this legendary date-ascription when he passes along without comment the dates given by Theodore bar Konai156 (seventh century CE) that Zoroaster died 628 years before Christ, or in another version, that Zarathustra lived 258 years before the death of Alexander the Great.157 Another important anchor date is provided by the twentieth-century scholarly identification of two quasi-historical figures, Vistaspa and Hystaspes. In the Ga¯tha¯s, Zarathustra himself identifies his patron as King Vistaspa; Herodotus says that the great King Darius’ father was Hystaspes (Hist I.209); the equation of these two names has become an accepted scholarly premise. Despite Herodotus’ remarkable accuracy158 in recording many historical events, characters and customs, some of them already remote even in his day, he never once mentions Zoroaster.159 However, enormous advances in linguistic reconstruction and textual interpretation of the Ga¯tha¯s in the last half-century have permitted a better warranted date, one which is supported by a wide variety of archaeological discoveries. 155 For example, Ninian Smart says that he lived either in the tenth or ninth century, or in the sixth or fifth century, EEP 1967 vol. 8 p. 380; twenty years later, Gnoli says ‘probably in the beginning of the first millenium’, EER 1987 vol. 15 p. 579; sadly, Alan Segal declares for the eighth century in his most recent book, 2004 p. 176. Most recently, Alan Williams says the Ga¯tha¯s are dated c.1200–1000, REP 1999 vol. 9 p. 872; see also his much longer article in Companion Encyclopedia to Asian Philosophies, B. Carr and I. Mahalingam (eds), London: Routledge 1997 pp. 24–45. 156 This obscure text was excerpted by J. Bidet & F. Cumont, Le mages hellénisées, Paris, 1938 vol. II pp. 104–7; and again by Zaehner 1955 pp. 441–2; analyzed in detail by Benveniste, Monde Orientale, 26 (nd) pp. 170–215. 157 This traditional ascription was examined in great detail (and rejected) by Peter Kingsley, ‘The Greek origin of the Sixth Century dating of Zoroaster’, in BSOAS 53 (1990), pp. 245–65; and again, Kingsley in JRAS series 3, vol. 5 (1995) pp. 182–6, 191–5. 158 Herodotus’ reputation as a conscientious observer and reporter has swung back and forth over the past century; there is a long–running scholarly debate about this issue, one which cannot be broached here. But against the once-prevalent view that he was an inventive and colorful liar, archaeological discoveries in the last two decades in Central Asia, the Trans–Caucasus, the BMAC, and others have substantiated his (often unique) accounts; see the recent impartial comments by Sulimirski and Taylor in CAH vol. III Part 2 new edn, 1991 pp. 547–90; Christian 1998 pp. 123, 134, 141; Vogelsang in CAH vol. I 1987 p. 94; and an overview by John Gould in OCD 3rd edn 1996 pp. 696–8. 159 On Herodotus not mentioning Zoroaster see Boyce 1982 pp. 41–2, 68–9; Kingsley 1995 pp. 182–6; and Gershevitch’s 1967 Preface to AHM pp. 15–22.

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J. Varenne says that ‘philological comparison shows that the dialect of the Ga¯tha¯s is of the same linguistic stratum as that of the Veda, estimated to have been composed about 1500 BCE, if not several centuries earlier’.160 Varenne also says that it can be plausibly assumed that Zarathustra lived in Chorasmia (Khorezm), south of the Aral Sea, or in Sogdiana, the upper basin of the Amu Darya River, whose language during the period 1400–1000 BCE would have been similar to the Ga¯thic language. Sancisi-Weederbug, one of the great Achaemenid scholars, organizer and foundereditor of the Achaemenid History Project, states that the traditional mid-seventh century date must now be rejected, and that the best evidence now supports an approximate date for Zarathustra’s florit of c.1000 BCE.161 In the first edition of the first volume of her monumental History of Zoroastrianism (1975), Mary Boyce quite confidently asserted that the Rig-Veda was composed around 1700 BCE and that the archaic language and social context of the Ga¯tha¯s indicate that Zarathustra could not have lived later than about 1000 BCE.162 But in the corrected second impression (1989) she added two pages of changes; here she says that the Rig-Veda date should be 1500 BCE and Zarathustra’s dates are before 1200 BCE. In the second volume of her history (1982) she reaffirms the latter date: ‘One fact seems certain, which is that Zarathustra must have lived before the time of the great migrations, when wave after wave of Iranians … moved southward off the steppes to conquer and settle in the land now called Iran; probably, that is, before 1200 BC.’163 In his recent thorough assessment of Soviet-era and post-Soviet excavations in Central Asia, David Christian underscores the distinctive elements of early Iranian religious rituals, evidence for which has been found in the BactriaMargiana Archaeological Complex (BMAC) and Oxus Civilization in the period 2000–1700 BCE. Some of these discoveries bear striking similarities with the rituals and context of archaic Zoroastrian texts; ‘there may have been a direct link between the religious traditions of Margiana in the second millennium and the reformed religion of Zoroaster.’164 Viktor Sarianidi, one of the great Russian archaeologists of Central Asia, especially the BMAC, argues that the extensive evidence for fire rituals, libations and animal sacrifices strongly support the view that the socialreligious context for the emergence of Zoroaster’s reforms is in this region in the mid-second millenium.165 One of the most important developments in the last twenty years in our understanding of early Iranian religion and Zarathustra’s time and place are the significant discoveries in Central Asia and the BMAC. Central Asia is bounded on the west by the Caspian Sea, on the south by the Kopet Dag Mountains, on the north by the Aral Sea and the Kazakh steppes, and on the east by the plains and valleys that rise toward the Pamir Mountains. The BMAC is located within this area, its sites clustered around oases at or near river deltas. According to H. P. Francfort, the Bronze Age civilization of the western region of Central Asia emerged after 2500 160 Varenne

1992 p. 104. 3rd edn 1996 pp. 1639–40. 162 Boyce 1975 pp. 3, 190; 2nd imp., 1989 pp. 348–9. 163 Boyce 1982 p. 3. 164 Christian 1998 p. 114; see also pp. 138–9. 165 Sarianidi 1994 p. 397; Francfort argues that Zoroasters dates cannot be earlier than 1500 BCE, 1994 p. 416. 161 OCD

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from the indigenous cultures, assimilating elements from Turkmenia, the Indus River, early Iran and early Central Asian cultures. The BMAC flourished in Central Asia in the Oxus Basin 2300–1800 BCE; the Oxus culture itself is notably different from the better-known ANE complexes found in Mesopotamia, the Indus River and Avestan culture, but it is certainly related to Iranian-Elamite elements and deeply rooted in the BMAC: ‘The symbolic system of the Oxus Civilization is an original expression of a more general Eurasian mythological universe of very ancient origin, which can be termed shamanistic.’166 Until the early 1990s Soviet archaeologists had worked in this region for decades in near-complete isolation from the worldwide scholarly community.167 Frank Hiebert was one of the first (if not the first) Western archaeologists, ably assisted by his Russian colleagues, to explore the BMAC region. In his first major report, he said that specific elements of BMAC images appear in later icons and myths of Iran, South Asia and even the eastern Mediterranean (the Mitanni). This group of symbols is associated with a shared Indo-Iranian mythology reflected in both Vedic-Indian myths and Avestan-Persian myths: BCE

In the BMAC, other iconographic precursors of later Indo-Iranian mythology and Persian religion (Zoroastrism) are found. These include narrative scenes of power and domination, images of narcotic plants, and the use of amulets on bullae. BMAC artifacts include black/white (steatite/alabaster) symbolism evoking the structural dichotomy of good/evil and purity/pollution that emerges in later Zoroastrian ideology.168

For several decades Viktor Sarianidi was one of the foremost Soviet archaeologists in this region. In one of his recent articles he summarizes some of the finds pertinent to our present investigation. In the Gonur Depe shrine his team found a small round structure filled with white ash, tokens of a fire ritual. In another room coated in white gypsum, three ceramic vessels were found to contain traces of ephedra and hemp (cannabis); ‘these plants’, he said, ‘were used in the preparation of the haoma/soma type hallucinogenic beverages for use in libations.’ During the next building phase the shrine increased in overall size and new rooms were added, rooms whose purpose remains unclear. However, another gypsum-coated basin was found, containing the remains of a large amount of hemp. At several places in the Togolok sites, small shrines were discovered with similar hemp-laden vessels, firecenters, drainage for animal sacrifice, and white rooms. Sarianidi infers that the firecenters, the white rooms, the ceramic drug-vessels and blood-drainage channels are all evidence of a specific set of cultic rites:169 ‘Iranian shrines of fire originat[ed] in the Margiana temples of the late Bronze Age … These rituals were later included in the reformed view of the new prophet, Zoroaster, and his religious doctrine … Only

166 Francfort

1994 p. 406. As had the Chinese archaeologists in Xinjiang Province in the Northwest, the Autonomous Uyghur Region; Victor Mair was the first western scholar to be permitted to enter and study the Xinjiang finds. 168 Hiebert 1994 p. 139; on the past set of images he cites J. Chosky, Purity and Pollution in Zoroastrism, University of Texas Press, 1989. 169 Sarianidi 1994 pp. 389–93; next quote pp. 396–7. 167

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this area may claim the role of the motherland of the most ancient world religion, Zoroastrism.’ In addition to the distinctive early Iranian beliefs about human beings in this and the next life, there are important elements of ritual practice. Although it would take our investigation too far afield to consider the details of animal sacrifice and fire worship, one crucial element of Iranian orthopraxy reveals much about their attitude toward the human soul: the haoma ritual. Herodotus has already testified to the Persian custom of hemp-seed sauna, and recent discoveries in the BMAC confirm the ritual use of hemp and ephedra in the ‘white rooms’. The Ga¯tha¯s twice make reference to some activity connected to ritual consumption of haoma and there are many texts from the Achaemenid period onward (including one entire hymn) which discuss this ritual in detail. There is some consensus that the haoma ritual was the focal point of the Iranian domestic cult and that, together with animal sacrifice, it captured and repeated the original creation of living things. Boyce summarizes what can be gleaned about the haoma plant from the Avestan texts: it was green, with pliant shoots, fragrant, fleshy or milky; when crushed it yielded an exhilarating drink. It seems to have been distinguished from other ordinary intoxicants which caused drunkenness and the warrior’s frenzy (Avestan ae¯shma, Latin furor), something that the prophet condemned. However, in the ‘Hymn to Haoma’, it is entreated as a divine being to whom one prays for extra strength, health and victory over one’s enemies. It seems that there may have been two ingredients in the haoma preparation: at least one of which needed to be ground, crushed or pulverized. In the Persepolis Treasury from the early fifth century BCE nearly one hundred pestles and mortars have been uncovered, apparently votive objects, inscribed with cultic formulae.170 There has been a great deal of speculation about the actual plant(s) used in the original haoma-soma ritual and whether or not Zarathustra condemned its cult or turned a blind eye. In addition, it also seems quite clear that, after the Zoroastrian faithful moved west (perhaps from late Achaemenid, but certainly from the Parthian period onward), some portion of the ritual preparation was altered; in many cases only ephedra was used. Aside from the Greek references to hemp and/or poppy seeds, the key ingredient seems to have been an hallucinogenic compound – and ephedra is a strong stimulant, but not psychotropic. In the Xinjiang province ephedra is called ‘yellow hemp’ (although it is dark green when growing); recent excavations in that region’s graves have shown that almost every body was buried with clumps of ephedra.171 R. G. Wasson, in his landmark 1968 work, Soma: Divine Mushroom of Immortality, collected an enormous amount of evidence mainly from Indian texts, customs and artifacts, and argued strongly for the fly-agaric mushroom. One of main problems with this hypothesis is that mushrooms are not pounded or crushed, nor do they fit well with the various references to twigs. But the whole ancient drug scene changed dramatically in 1989 with the publication of Flattery and Schwartz’s Haoma and Harmaline.172 After an exhaustive analysis of the botany, medicine, 170 Boyce

1975 pp. 158–60; see Zaehner 1961 pp. 85–90; Varenne 1992 pp. 109–10. W. Barber, The Mummies of Urümchi, London: Macmillan, 1999 pp. 159–62. 172 D. S. Flattery & M. Schwartz, Haoma and Harmaline: The Botanical Identity of the Indo–Iranian Sacred Hallucinogen ‘Soma’… Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. 171 E.

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linguistics and ritual legacies, the authors identified a plant called harmaline, a very potent hallucinogen, which grows abundantly in north-east Iran, but not in the western areas and not in northern India. Hence, the authors proposed that there were two drugs in the haoma ritual, the hallucinogenic harmaline and the stimulant ephedra. Harmaline inspires severe hallucinations (as well as some painful sideeffects), the source of the experience of extra-somatic projection and ecstatic insight, and without the benefit of ephedra would render the officiant unconscious. When these early Indo-Iranians moved away from this area, they could not find any harmaline, and substituted an innocuous ‘look-alike’ plant. Nevertheless, as Gignoux has insisted in numerous articles, the original haoma ritual clearly indicates the influence of shamanistic beliefs and practices which filtered down from the northern Altaic regions in earlier migrations. Zaehner rightly underscores the intimate connection between the haoma ritual and eschatological doctrines when he quotes from the Pahlavi liturgy that haoma makes the human soul immortal and a portion of the animal sacrifice makes the human body immortal: ‘The fine-grown haoma in its pure metal [container] is the glorious earthly haoma blessed by Zoroaster, the symbol of that white haoma called go¯karen from which [springs] the immortality [that sets in] at the final restoration.’ The earthly sacrifice performed by the priests is the representation and repetition of the eternal sacrifice of haoma as the hyperstasis of wholeness and immortality: ‘The Haoma sacrifice and sacrament, then, is in every sense one of communion. The plant is identical with the son of god; he is bruised and mangled in the mortar so that the life-giving fluid that proceeds from his body may give new life in body and soul to the worshipper.’173 With regard to the prophet’s supposed contempt for the haoma ritual (Y48.10, 32.14), it seems more likely, as Boyce explains, that he only objected to non-ritual intoxication. She quotes from the Young Avestan text (Yasht 5.104) where Zarathustra is shown making the required observances: ‘with haoma, with corn (*yava), with flesh, with beresman (twigs), with skilled tongue … with offerings (zaothra), with well-uttered words.’ She agrees with Zaehner that it would be completely contrary to the evidence that ‘a cult denounced by a religious founder should have been adopted by his earliest disciples’.174 The Ga¯tha¯s or ‘Songs’ comprise the oldest, central portions of the Avestan Scriptures; they are contained in sections 28–34 and 43–53. Sandwiched between them is another group of texts, the so-called ‘Seven Sections’ (Haptanha¯iti), generally considered to have been written not long after the death of the prophet.175 Together these twenty-six sections, each designated yasna, comprise the liturgy of the Zoroastrian religion. From the Achaemenid Period onward (522–331 BCE), Zoroastrian priests added twenty-one hymns (yashts) to various deities, of whom the principal seven are known as the Amesha Spentas, ‘Bounteous Immortals’. These hymns are of unequal length and significance; some of the most important for the present study are the following:176 The ‘Hymn to Haoma’, the god of ecstasy; to the 173 Zaehner

1961 pp. 90–91. 1975 pp. 216–88, citing Zaehner 1961 p. 85. 175 See the chapter on them in Zaehner 1961 pp. 62–78; and also Boyce 1975 pp. 263–6. 176 On their sacred texts and liturgy, see Windfuhr in RAW pp. 360–62; Segal 2004 pp. 182–7. 174 Boyce

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Fravashis, the heroic spirits; to Haurvata¯t, that is, wholeness or good health; to Asha, that is, truth or rightness; to Aredvī Su¯ra¯, goddess of waters; to Vayu, the god of wind; to Sraosha, the redeemer or savior (contained in Yasna 57); to Khwarenah, the glory of the Iranian nation; and, perhaps the most famous and best studied, the ‘Hymn to Mithras’, god of war. After four decades of important investigations into the origins and central ideas of Zarathustra’s ‘true religion’, the great Indo-Iranian scholar H. Lommel had this to say about the complex links between the Avestan divinities and their creations: ‘For us [today] Good Purpose and the tending of cattle are admittedly two wholly different things. But must it always have been so? Could not at a certain epoch abstract and concrete have appeared to the human spirit as of unified being, the abstract and inner reality of the concrete? So that, for instance, Pious Devotion and the Earth were the spiritual and material aspects of the same thing.’177 In the chapter on the ‘Bounteous Immortals’ in her comprehensive history of the early period of Zoroastrian religion, Mary Boyce attempts to arbitrate between two Avestan ‘concepts’: the divine ‘persons’ in their individual characters and actual, material manifestations of these powers on earth. The Bounteous Immortals, she says, are ‘personifications of what was spiritual and desirable and yet at the same time guardians of the physical world in all its solidity’. The prophet himself was responsible for expressing this insight: ‘Zoroaster wove together abstract and concrete, spiritual and material, seeing mortality in the physical, and apprehending in all beneficent and wholesome things a striving, whether conscious or unconscious, towards the one ultimate goal – the recreation of the [original] harmonious and happy state of being.’178 Zaehner drew a very similar conclusion about Zoroaster’s appropriation and transmutation of the traditional pantheon of Indo-Iranian gods which, he says, the prophet made into ‘abstract concepts’.179 When Zoroaster turned his attention to the Bounteous Immortals, ‘he conceived of [them] not simply as abstract notions but as part of the divine personality itself, as mediating functions between god and man, and as qualities which sanctified man can himself acquire through the Good Mind with which god illuminates him.’180 The Neo-Platonist Plotinus’ metaphysical hypostases are well known, that is, the substantive transformation of abstract timeless ideals (One, Mind and Soul) into something like divine entities. In contrast with this term, one might better refer to Zarathustra’s hyperstases, the substantive transformation of divine entities (the Indo-Iranian gods) into abstract timeless ideals, for example, the Good Spirit, the Evil Spirit, Obedience, Sovereignty, and so on. 177 H. Lommel in Zarathustra: Wege der Forschung. B. Schlerath (ed.), Darmstadt, 1970 pp. 31–2; emphasis added; on Ahura Mazda and the Amesta Spentas, see Boyd & Kotwal in RAW pp. 339–40. 178 Boyce 1975 pp. 220–21; in her discussion of scholarly interpretations of the fravashi of the just dead souls, Boyce shows that Lommel and Soderblom could not sort out what they thought were entirely incompatible concepts; in their words, the ideas involved in this Iranian doctrine are ‘incomprehensible’, ‘inconceivable’ and ‘contradictory’, pp. 128–9. 179 In the section on Zoroastrian religion below this process is called hyperstasis, to contrast it with the more familiar (albeit esoteric and difficult to understand) Neo–Platonic hypostasis, whereby an abstract eternal concept, for example, the One, Soul and Mind, become like gods. 180 Zaehner 1961 p. 71.

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Mary Boyce says that the general character of these various hymns, and their place in Zoroastrian worship, show that the lesser divinities were praised because they had been honored in the original liturgy by Ahura Mazda himself. The yashts are ‘hymns chanted by private individuals or their family priests, but had no place in the “inner” worship of the pari, “pure place”’.181 The yashts contain inconsistencies and interpolated elements, showing the efforts by Persian Zoroastrian priests and exegetes to reconcile the archaic Ga¯thic declarations and prayers with the reintroduction of some rites and epithets either partially or wholly abjured by the prophet himself. Zaehner expresses the contrast between the yasnaliturgy and the yasht-hymns in rather dramatic words: whereas the bulk of the Yasna consists of monotonous invocation of every conceivable divine being, the Yashts are hymns … addressed to various deities singly. They are hymns of praise devoted to the reinstated gods. Most of these gods … belonged to the ahura class of deity before the Zoroastrian reform: few of them had ever been dae¯vas [false gods who became demons]. Like Mithra they were those deities which Zoroaster ignored, without attacking them.182

Zaehner says that the reinstatement of old Indo-Iranian gods through the yashthymns ‘did not do extreme violence’ to the prophet’s own views in the Ga¯tha¯s. He likens the hymnic, private ritual celebration of the other lesser yazatas to the agreeable acceptance by Muslims of their own religion’s saints and martyrs. Another important text, of very mixed character and reputation, is the work known as the Vide¯vda¯t (later corrupted to Vendidad), whose original title in Avestan was presumably Vi.dae¯va.da¯ta, ‘the law against demons’. Unlike the Ga¯tha¯s and the Hymns, this text, in Zaehner’s words, exhibits ‘gross grammatical blunders’ and ‘appalling grammatical confusion’.183 The Vide¯vda¯t is largely absorbed in meticulous regulations to guard against various types of impurity. The Zoroastrian priests of that period compiled ‘dreary prescriptions concerning ritual purity and … impossible punishments for ludicrous crimes’. It seems that ‘the authors are not only writing in a language that is not their own, but are doing so in one the rudiments of whose grammar they had quite failed to master’. Even so, these writers fare better in scholarly repute than the Pahlavi, that is, Middle Persian, authors or editors who, in Zaehner’s scathing words, understood nothing at all [of the Ga¯tha¯s] and did not hesitate to set down a meaningless concatenation of words which was supposed to render the thoughts of their Prophet … Even in the Sassanian period the clergy themselves no longer understood the liturgy they recited; for they freely admitted that the language in which it was written, and which their opponents described as ‘unknown and cryptic, passed all comprehension’.184

Zaehner does not refrain from pronouncing judgment on the aesthetic and edifying character of these three sets of texts: the Ga¯tha¯s have ‘a direct and urgent message 181 Boyce

1975 p. 270. 1961 p. 80; on the ahuras and dae¯vas, Vedic asuras and devas, see pp. 37–40. 183 Zaehner 1961 p. 162. 184 Zaehner 1961 p. 27. 182 Zaehner

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to convey: they are spiritually alive. The later Avesta, and particularly the Yashts, has its moments of freshness and beauty, but it neither fascinates nor awes; while the Vide¯vda¯t … shows no spiritual life at all, only a futile legalistic dualism which, if it had ever been put into practice, would have tried the patience of even the most credulous.’185 In contrast with Zaehner’s rather abrupt dismissal, Boyce deals at length with one of the most important and best-preserved stories in the Vendidad, the legend of Yima, the first human being (like the Vedic Yama and the OT Adam).186 This story contains crucial pieces of the puzzle for reconstructing an early (if not the earliest) version of the creation of the human species, the spiritual versus the material worldstate, and the Avestan attitude toward earthly death and the unearthly afterlife. In addition, the Vendidad records the geographical layout and emblematic status of seventeen lands created by Ahura Mazda, lands headed by Airyanem Vae¯jah, the Aryan (=Iranian) homeland, and its relations with its neighbors. With a more generous gesture, Boyce describes the Vendidad as ‘a collection of miscellaneous pieces of varying antiquity, put together at some relatively late date to form a night office celebrated to smite the powers of darkness’.187 In her own inimitable scholarly style, Boyce has captured the concentric layout of these many separate texts in a near-perfect image. She says that the Seven Chapters came to be enclosed by the Ga¯tha¯s, the most sacred utterances, set around the liturgy to provide it with complete security: And the Ga¯tha¯s themselves were in time enclosed in their turn by the other texts of the yasna, so that the liturgy grew to be like a fortress with many curtain walls, each helping to give protection and greater strength to what lay at the center. It was of the greatest importance that such walls should be strong, that is, that the mathras [sacred utterances] should be properly conceived and spoken, so that the rituals which they accompanied should be fully effective.

She employs another (and cognate) metaphor when she described the formation of the liturgy around the mathras of Zarathustra as something like the development of a pearl; accretions of beliefs around the original seed of truth.188 The Ga¯tha¯s proper, composed presumably between 1200 and 1000 BCE, pose enormous problems for translators, and hence for any interpreters of early Zoroastrian doctrine. These problems are primarily the result of the fact that they constitute the only linguistic corpus for the archaic Avestan language. First, the texts contain some unique words (hapax legomena) which occur only in the Ga¯tha¯s and whose meanings remain elusive.189 Semantic clues are sometimes found in cognate Central Asian languages, such as Sogdian, Khotanese, and so forth,190 but these are 185 Zaehner

1961 p. 171. 1975 pp. 93–6; Zaehner on Yama/Yima 1961 pp. 132–41. 187 Boyce 1975 p. 274. 188 Boyce 1975: for the ‘fortress’ image, p. 165; and for the ‘pearl’ image, p. 24. 189 For some details of these problems, see Insler’s Introduction to the Ga ¯ tha¯s 1975 pp. 5–17. 190 For the literature in these Central Asian languages see the relevant chapters in Ehsan Yarshater (ed.) Cambridge History of Iran, vol. 3 part 2 1983: on Sogdian, Dresden, pp. 1216–29; on Khotanese, Bailey, pp. 1230–43; on Khwarazmian, Mackenzie, pp. 1244–9; on 186 Boyce

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themselves often tentative. Second, some grammatical constructions are underdetermined, leaving the exact word-order unspecified. Third, syntactical rules are not completely understood, sometimes permitting whole lines to be read in more than one way.191 Despite these deeply entrenched difficulties, in this context we must make an effort to discern the earliest lineaments of the Zoroastrian concept of the human soul by avoiding as much as possible the temptation to fill in the blanks, or read between the lines, by recourse to texts composed five hundred years later. The archaic elements of the Bundahishn, for example, appear compatible with the Ga¯tha¯s only insofar as, at those places where ideas and praxis are parallel, they are in accord and not in discord – but that is surely begging the question as to what constitutes the genuine Zoroastrian view. One must also resist the temptation to elucidate aporiae and lacunae in any reconstructed Avestan doctrine or practice by recourse to near-contemporary testaments from the Rig-Veda, although the two cultures did indeed have a common ancestry. At some time in the mid to late third millennium, the Indo-Aryan peoples separated into two or more large groups, one moving east and south to eventually settle in the north-west of India, the Iranians moving west and north, separating into smaller nations (or tribes). In the early to mid-second millennium, these two large groups still shared many customs, language and social structures. An enormous amount of research has been devoted to examining their respective pantheons, mythologies and ritual practices. But the emergent circumstances of their new lifeways also brought divergences in these same areas; differences arose in response to their new situations. To explain or illustrate gaps in the early Iranian or Avestan picture by analogy with Indian material is to fall into an etiological trap. Insofar as substantial parallels have been demonstrated, this is taken to be sufficient grounds for gap-filling and supplementing the more meager Avestan texts. But then there are occasions where incongruities appear (for example, burial practices, water rituals, and so on); attempts to sort out the places of poor fit make appeal to otherwise similar patterns and then extrapolate anistropic conditions to explain the lack of congruence. But this line of argument could only work if one presupposes exactly what it has set out to explain, namely, that parallel congruous myths or rituals are expressions of similar beliefs and practices. However, at least to some degree these specific expressions, for example, that fire is the most sacred ‘element’, are bound to either the Indian or Iranian culture itself shaped by those circumstantial factors which support their separate, and not parallel, formation. With these cautions in mind let us turn our attention to the opening song in the Ga¯tha¯s. Yasna Y28 is a series of entreaties addressed to Ahura Mazda, the Wise Lord, and his two most effective forces, truth and good thinking. Zarathustra supplicates the Lord for power, strength and care for himself and his supporters, whose purpose is to defeat the forces of deceit in this world, and thus bring about the ‘foremost existence’, the best world-state. Here, Zarathustra says that the Lord Bactrian, Gershevitch, pp. 1250–60; for an overview of recent research, see N. Sims–Williams, ‘The Iranian Languages’, in A. G. Ramat (ed.) The Indo–European Languages, London: Routledge, 1998 Chapter 5. 191 For some striking examples of the last, see Gershevitch’s notes on variant translations in AHM 1967 pp. 160–2, 166–70, 188–91, 202–3, 206–7, and so forth.

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in granting his request satisfies the demands of good thinking (xratu¯ m mananho¯) and the soul of the cow (geushca¯ urvanem). The divine cow is Zarathustra’s image for a perfect world governed by the Lord’s virtue-powers. The next song (Y29) has been subjected to the most intense scholarly scrutiny; several characters speak and play roles in a dramatic scenario. Zarathustra alone understands the woeful condition the world has fallen into under the forces of deceit; he alone realizes that help for humans can come only through the intercession of the Wise Lord. The cow asks the Lord(s) why she has been created if she is to remain in oppression under these cruel and violent forces. The virtuous spirit appeals to truth to answer this entreaty, for truth knows that the proper judgment would be that the cow’s creators should provide a protector for the cow. Zarathustra is the one best suited to this task, and he also wishes to spread the good repute of these ahura forces amongst his fellows. He promises the Wise Lord that if the ahuras intercede on the cow’s behalf then all humans will give the Lord piety (a¯rmaitish) and obedience (seraosho¯). The cow is an important icon in the Ga¯tha¯s; in one respect, Zarathustra seems to draw an analogy between cattle guided by the herdsman (pastor) and humans guided by the Wise Lord. In another respect, the cow is a good thing in itself, a creature which provides nourishment in the form of milk and butter.192 The prophet uses cow and herd imagery throughout the Ga¯ tha¯s; horses are rarely mentioned, and there is no mention at all of grains, cereal, plowing or harvest of any kind.193 G. G. Cameron argued that cattle were to the early Iranian pastoralists what sheep were to the early Christians: pacific, gentle creatures often harried by marauders; they represented the community of the righteous in the eyes of the Lord.194 The Ga¯thic cow-imagery is also connected with the oblique references to animal sacrifice and the oblation of animal fat (for which see below). Zarathustra condemns cruelty toward cattle, the laying waste of pastures, riotous slaughter, and driving off herds. These were ‘actual happenings of his own time and place, which also symbolize the sufferings of goodness everywhere’.195 The good person seeks the ‘luck-bringing cow’ and other forms of bounty, that is, healthful increase, the basic meaning of the key word spenta. Boyce remarks that the true believer’s attitude toward the cow symbolizes the Zoroastrian ethic: the herdsman (va¯ strya) cherishes, rather than destroys, and needs patience and self-discipline; he also needs courage to guard his charges against depredations. One of the most significant historical indications is the distinctive pastoralist setting, an era before the horse-riding nomads drove them out. In this context, Sarianidi mentions the studies of V. Livshits, ‘the preeminent scholar on the Avesta and the origins of Zarathustra’ [in Russian], who suggested that, in the Late Bronze Age, ‘nomadic cattle breeders gradually took up agriculture’; Sarianidi comments that ‘new archaeological data strongly imply a new approach to the problem of Zoroastrian origins’.196 192 Milk

and butter are signs of ‘wealth’ on this earth, e.g. in Y49.5, 49.10, 50.8, 51.1. As Boyce astutely points out, 1975 p. 14 and pp. 210–11; see also Insler 1975 pp. 136–46. 194 Cameron, ‘Zarathustra the Herdsman’, in Indo–Iranian Journal, 10, 1968 pp. 261–81. 195 Boyce 1975 p. 210; distinctive beliefs tied to their semi–nomadic lifestyle, 1975 pp. 154–7, something that Zaehner also argues for, 1961 p. 40. 196 Sarianidi, in the Preface to Hiebert 1994 p. xxiv. 193

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In the next song (Y30) Zarathustra posits two primordial ‘spirits’ (mainyu¯), the good spirit and the evil spirit. They are twins ‘in thought, in word, in action’; when they came together, ‘they created life and death’: they set positive and negative conditions to earthly existence. The evil spirit brought about the worst things and the good spirit the best things; the prophet says that the good spirit is ‘clothed in hardest stones’ – a descriptive phrase for the Old Iranian belief that the sky-god’s body is stone or metal-like stone. This statement resembles various Mesopotamian and Egyptian theological utterances about the stone-like composition of the divinecelestial body.197 Into the midst of this conflict between the forces of good and evil, the Wise Lord brought the rule of good thinking and truth. By means of our pious obedience to this rule, the Lord provides body (kerpem) and breath (anma¯) – the syntax here is unclear. The Avestan words kerpem and anma¯ are, of course, cognate with Latin corpus and anima. Although anma¯ occurs only once there is another case of kerpem in the Ga¯ tha¯s where Zarathustra praises one of his noble patrons who has ‘constantly shown the esteemed form [of piety] for the sake of good ideas’ (Y51.17); where dae¯do¯isht kerpem … (and so on) may simply mean ‘nobly embodied … those good ideas’.198 For those who follow the rule of truth there is an ‘easy access’ to another existence (and hence salvation), while for those who follow the false there is no access (and hence destruction). Insler points out199 that body and breath are asyndetic objects of ‘give’ (dada¯t) and the equivalent pair in other verses are astvant and ushta¯na, for example, ‘since you [Ahura Mazda] created body and breath’ (Y31.11), and it is ‘desirable for body and breath’ (Y34.14). Let us attempt to take stock of some of the central Avestan ideas about human nature without reviewing the context and purport of each song. It is the Wise Lord who gives body and breath to humans, who along with other animals have souls (urvān). The human soul is often linked with thinking (mananha) and reason or intellect (xratush). Though the human soul can be misled and follow the false, it can also have (or adhere to) good thoughts and piety through following the truth. The Avestan root-word for thought is manas (and its other cases, mainyush, mainyū, sometimes translated as ‘spirit’); it is the power or faculty of thinking and having ideas (dae¯na). Boyce argues that Avestan mathra (Vedic mantra) means simply thought-instrument, that is, an utterance, specifically a sacred utterance.200 In one case at least (Y43.3), the embodied or material life is contrasted with the mind – astvato¯ mananhasca¯ (in Insler’s translation) – and in another (Y46.18) Zarathustra says that every person must choose between the good and the evil; ‘this is the decision of my will (or reason) and my mind’ – tat mo¯i xrate¯ush mananhascā vicithem. But it is not through possession of, or in accordance with, mana¯ s that humans are differentiated from other beings, since the bounteous immortals 197 On the divine stone-like body, see Boyce 1975 pp. 207–8; in her second volume she says this sky–stone has been identified as a translucent rock-crystal, 1982 p. 3; contra Insler who thinks that this clause means that the faithful person’s adherence to truth is as enduring and hard as stone, 1975 p. 167. 198 Gershevitch prefers ‘shape’ for kerpem, for example, tanu.kerpa, ‘bodily shape’, AHM 1967 p. 181 note 25; but Zaehner says there is no distinction between tanu and kerpa, 1955 p. 131 note 2. 199 Insler 1975 pp. 169–70. 200 Boyce 1975 p. 8; see also AHM 1967 p. 284.

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(amesha spentash) are also sometimes called mainyu¯, for example, the good ‘spirit’ and the evil ‘spirit’. Insler comments that two other words are ‘equivalent’ to body and breath: astvant for kerpem and ushta¯na for anma¯.201 This seems to imply that they are strictly synonymous and there are some cases for the latter pair’s usage that support this assertion. However, astvant and ushta¯na also seem to have a wider semantic field: Zarathustra says that Ahura Mazda made ‘living (things) such that they have ideas, thoughts, [and] reasons, insofar as (or since) he gave them body and breath’ (Y31.11) – gae¯thasca¯ tasho¯ dae¯ nasca¯ thwa¯ mananha¯ xratu¯ shca¯ hyat astvantem dada ushtanem. Much depends on how one reads the prepositions thwa¯ and hyat; nevertheless, having body and breath are material conditions for the presence (or operations) of the antecedent powers. But another passage clearly shows an extension for the two terms which includes an abstraction: Zarathustra entreats Ahura Mazda that ‘truth may be embodied and strengthened with breath’ (Y43.16) – astvat ashem hyat ushta¯na¯ aojonghvat. And in yet another passage he says that the ‘prize’ of a second, better life is ‘desirable for body and breath’ (Y34.14) – vairim astvaite¯ ushta¯nai da¯ta¯ – and given that the second existence is not the replica of the first material existence, body and breath are here tropical extensions. Hence, let us propose that astvant and ushta¯na are the physical and psychical manifestations of the two orders (or states) of being, later called getig and menog202 (for which, see below under the Creation Account). Astvant and ushta¯na are manifest in a living human as its body (kerpem) and soul (urva¯n); it is in virtue of being ensouled that a human can think, have ideas, desires, and so forth. When the human soul is in accord with good thought and piety (Y33.9), he is (or becomes) a virtuous spirit, and this is evident in ‘his understanding, his words, his actions [and] his ideas’ (Y51.21) – hvo¯ cistī uxda¯ish shyaothana¯ dae¯na¯. Zarathustra repeatedly endorses both orthodoxy, ‘right words’, and orthopraxis,203 ‘right actions’; for example, ‘through a virtuous spirit and the best thinking, through both action and word befitting truth’ (Y47.1). Words (mathra) are manifestations of thoughts (manas), just as actions (shyaothana¯) are manifestations of the body in action. In another instance he says that a person brings to realization the best state of the Wise Lord’s good spirit ‘with his tongue, through words stemming from good thinking, and with his hands, through (every) pious action’ (Y47.2).204 In contrast, a person is deceitful and false insofar as bad words are matched with bad deeds. It is in virtue of having reason or intellect (xratush) that humans are able to understand (cistish). H.-P. Schmidt argues that xratush is the stimulating, active counterpart to dae¯na¯ (vision), ‘that intellectual quality which triggers one’s insight (dae¯na¯) or cognition (cistish)’. Insler agrees with much of Schmidt’s analysis but is convinced that xratush ‘signifies will, determination [or] intention far more than a truly intellectual capacity’.205 In the very first verse of the Ga¯tha¯ s (Y28.1) the two terms 201 Insler

1975 pp. 169–70. connection with this contention, see Boyce 1975 pp. 229–30; Zaehner 1961 p. 200. 203 Avestan asha, Vedic arta ‘truth’ in the sense of ‘in accord with order’, and hence similar to Greek orthos, LSJ 1968 p. 1249, and Latin ordo, OLD 1970 p. 1267, sec. 11, order in time and space, sec. 15, established method or practice. 204 See also further instances in yasnas 31.20, 33.2, 34.15, 43.5, 48.4. 205 Insler 1975 p. 327; Schmidt, Zarathustra’s Religion and his Pastoral Imagery, Leiden: 202 In

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complement each other, but have an especial significance for Zarathustra’s chosen purpose: ‘[his] conception has given him insight into the possibility of a perfect world, but he also requires the determination to bring this to realization, and this determination stems from his good thinking. Will and mind must work in concert … “this is the decision of my will and my mind”’ (Y46.18). Insler also comments that Schmidt did not mention xratush with respect to Ahura Mazda himself. The verse ‘to them does piety announce the judgments of your will which no one can deceive’ seems to concern the will of Ahura Mazda, and ‘not with his ultimate reason’. The Wise Lord is free to act as he wills, he has the right to act as his will moves him. Insler concludes, ‘Thus he can create truth according to his will because he wished to make the creatures happy … or he can impose a differing fate upon the truthful and deceitful person according to his will.’ The power of reason is not in the same conceptual order or domain as truth, good thinking, and the virtuous spirit: ‘the will of god, as that of man, stands in a domain apart from his intellectual capacities, and that, to a large extent, the latter values are under the control of the former’.206 The semantic field of the key Avestan word dae¯na¯ is even more complex (or rather, complexive) than urva¯ n or xratush. Boyce hints at this complexive formation when she says that with regard to the divergence in meanings between two apparently distinct but related words, ‘once again one has here the characteristic Old Iranian development of a thing [the human conscience] and a hypostasis or personification of this’.207 Boyce cites several scholars who argue that there are two common nouns dae¯na¯, both used in the Ga¯tha¯ s, that is, it is possible that they are differently accented derivatives from the same root-word di- ‘see’, similar to Vedic dhi-. However, Nyberg thought that there was only one word which he rendered as either ‘seeing sense’ or ‘seeing soul’, one for each person, but which taken together referred to the true religious community: ‘those who see’ the right path.208 Molé also thought that there was only one word which he rendered throughout his translation as ‘true religion’, that is, ‘the aggregate of rituals whose acceptance decided the posthumous fate of the soul … This dae¯na¯ is not individual … but corresponds to the model to which he has conformed during his life.’209 Duchesne-Guillemin quotes the Italian scholar Pagliaro (1954) who said that dae¯na¯ must be connected to the root-word da¯y- ‘to see’; that gae¯tha indicates the forms of material things, and that dae¯na¯ indicates the image, species or eidos; in other words, ‘the model, type, kind, genus, and finally nature or essence’.210 Insler, on the other hand, asserts that ‘dae¯na¯ constantly stands for *dayana¯ in the Ga¯tha¯ s and represents the reworking of Middle Iranian de¯n into the redaction of the text. The word signifies “vision”, “conception” and thus continues the value of its underlying stative root di- “view”, “consider”.’211 University of Leiden, 1975. 206 Insler 1975 pp. 328–30; these key terms are analyzed by Shaked 1994 pp. 135–41. 207 Boyce 1975 p. 239. 208 Nyberg 1938 pp. 114–20. 209 Molé quoted in Boyce 1975 page 238 note 39. 210 Quoted by Duchesne–Guillemin 1958 p. 64. 211 Insler 1975 p. 192; although classical philosophical conjecture linked the Greek noun dianoia, ‘thought’, with nous, there are several Greek words that begin with diano-; the verb diano-eo¯, ‘to think, to have in mind’, is divided after the basic verb diano-, LSJ 1968 p. 405.

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The main problem posed for the single-word thesis is the latter Young Avestan usage of dae¯na¯, for example, in the Fravard Yasht and the Pahlavi Hadho¯kht Nask, to refer to the ‘double’ who greets the dead person’s soul on the Bridge of the Judge. In the Ga¯tha¯ s, dae¯na¯ does not mark out the ‘object’ as a particular concrete thing, but rather an abstract idea or concept. This feature fits well with the ‘in-accord-withtruth’ principle leading to the true religion, that is, having an abstract idea in accord with truth can be realized in good words and actions. The internalized sense of this idea-in-accord-with-truth could then be called ‘conscience’ as witnessed by verses from the Seven Chapters: ‘we worship the souls (urvana) of the just, wherever born, men and women, whose better dae¯na¯s conquer or shall conquer or have conquered’ (Y39.2). The Seven Chapters also sees the first appearance of the Avestan word fravashi, which unequivocally means the ante-natal soul, that is, an ancestor spirit.212 Lommel suggested that dae¯na¯-double was coined by Zarathustra to replace the ancient notion of fravashi, which does not occur in the Ga¯tha¯ s at all,213 but Boyce remarks that ‘this interpretation hardly satisfies the various uses of the word in the Avesta’. The most reasonable solution, the one that makes the best sense of all uses of the word dae¯na¯ across the Old and Young Avestan texts, is that there are two concepts involved. Insofar as the various meanings of dae¯na¯ are unstable over two semantic ranges, there are two concepts which employ one word, and that word picks out a cognitive complex, not an ambiguous or under-determined concept. To a limited degree, a person’s dae¯na¯-concept and dae¯na¯-double are similar to Homeric psyche¯-life-force and psyche¯-double. They are similar except for these three factors with respect to the two dae¯na¯s: (a) in Avestan ‘life-force’ is signified by gaethra, not dae¯na¯; the Wise Lord gives (or grants) life to humans and animals; (b) the dead person can encounter its own double on the Bridge of Judgment, an occurrence never recorded for psyche¯; (c) the two dae¯na¯s are linked in a moral dimension, such that the dead person’s inner concept (conscience) is externalized as the epitome of its good or bad actions. It is possible that dae¯na¯1 and dae¯na¯ 2 are further segregated in the Yashts through their being correlated with the urvan of the living, for the former, and the fravashi of the just dead, for the latter. The souls of the wicked dead do indeed meet their own dae¯na¯ on the bridge, but then they are cast down and become demons (daevas). Thus, in the latter case, the daevas of dead humans are associated with immortal, supernatural daevas in the same way as the condemned human souls in ANE schemes become etemmu. Hence the ideas behind the fravashis divide them from the ideas behind the dae¯na¯s, specifically along a moral axis. The strongest linguistic evidence shows that, in their original usage, the words urvan and fravashi had distinct semantic fields. In the Seven Chapters, the worshippers revere their own souls and the souls of domestic animals that nourished them. It is possible that the souls of animals consecrated for sacrifice were thought to descend to the underworld like human souls. But the word fravashi has posed far greater problems, a word whose kernel is the meaning of the root-verb var, conjoined with the prefix fra. Söderblom suggested that the original archaic concept was ‘a terrestrial continuation of more or less the whole person surviving invisibly, 212 For

which, see Zaehner 1961 pp. 76, 146–8; Boyce 1975 p. 118; Shaked 1994 pp. 56–8. 1930 (1971) pp. 150–52, quoted in Boyce 1975 p. 238 note 41.

213 Lommel

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a being of some menace, to be propitiated with offerings’. Moulton basically agreed with this derivation, but also connected it with the fravashis’ role in the birth process; hence, he thought that it was ‘a special cult-title for the ancestor spirits as the powers that continue the race’. H. W. Bailey argued that the root-verb must have been *varti, ‘valor’, linking this concept to an early hero-cult where the spirits of powerful, warlike ancestors were worshipped by their descendants. Boyce says that ‘the fravashi appears to have been conceived as a winged and warlike female being, like the Valkyries, and an inhabitant of the air rather than one dwelling beneath the ground, who was swift to fly to the help of those who had satisfied it with prayers and offerings’. She also conjectures that, due to similarities between the special fravashi cult and the common urvan cult, the two rituals became intermingled and the underlying beliefs became compounded and hence confused.214 According to both the Fravashi Hymn and the Pahlavi Creation account, the fravashis have an ante-natal as well as a post-mortem status. According to Boyce, ‘the fravashi not only lives after the death of a person on earth, but has had a preexistence as a spirit before that person was born – that it is in fact as immortal as the gods’. They were present at the creation of the world, assisted the Wise Lord, serve the just and righteous against their enemies, and provide benefits to supplicants in peacetime. The fravashi doctrine – if one may call it that – seems to have grown out of priestly speculation in the Achaemenid period, or at least in the Young Avesta, and was not original to Zarathustra’s teaching. It appears to have evolved with the sevenfold creation account, and since the ante-natal souls shared immortality with the gods, their ‘lives’ stretched forward and backward in time. The later, mature doctrine is that each individual fravashi existed from the beginning in a purely spiritual (me¯no¯g) state; in due course it was born into this world, clad in a material body. After death, it lives once more in a purely spiritual state, and then is reunited with its body at the final Restoration. In Boyce’s considered view, in the second and third states the fravashi tended to be identified with the urvan and this led to the question about their relative status. The basic Zoroastrian view is that ‘the fravashis of the great men of the faith, whether already dead or not yet born, were the most powerful, but that otherwise the fravashis of the living were the strongest – a doctrine which seems to reflect the profound universal instinct that it is better to be alive in the flesh in the present familiar world than to exist in any other state’. It also appears that even the gods can be said to have fravashis, their own ancestral spirits, an assertion which replicates the spiritual state at yet another higher level. There are thus many levels in the steady growth (like a pearl in its shell) of Zoroastrian soul-doctrine, ‘a slow accretion of priestly dogma around a core of popular belief and custom’, as well as ‘an amalgamation of such beliefs, with the fusing of a general cult of the departed spirit, the urvan, with the worship of the heroic dead’.215 The result of such fusions and developments was ‘a tangle of curious anomalies’ which has baffled many scholars in their efforts to sort out a coherent soul-account. In her final analysis of these documents, Boyce uses the terms ‘amalgamation’, ‘anomalies’, ‘contradictions’ and ‘complexity’, clear indications

214 Synopsis 215 Boyce

of various interpretations by Boyce 1975 pp. 118–20. 1975 pp. 128–9; see also Gershevitch’s notes, AHM 1967 pp. 154–6.

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that what is involved at the fundamental doctrinal level are image-bound, overdetermined cognitive complexes, and not categorical concepts. Zarathustra is generally considered to have been a religious genius and profound thinker for several reasons.216 First, for moving far beyond the common IndoEuropean pantheon of gods and its polytheistic trappings toward a consistent and thorough monotheism, the worship of one god, the Wise Lord. Second, in his constant admonitions to think good thoughts, speak good words and carry out good deeds, to have instituted a universal and uniform set of moral principles. Third, in transmuting the common coeval Indo-Iranian gods, who appear in all their splendor in the near-contemporary Rig-Veda, into abstract ideals – but making them into abstractions makes them no less real. The original gods had personal traits and associated images (they could be pictured), whereas the abstract ideals in his new scheme gain essential properties, but lose those traits (they cannot be pictured, images are banished). Fourth – though there are surely more – in holding that there is a systematic interdependence between god the creator and humans his creatures. This last feature of his original teachings may in fact be unique in the history of world religions. The divine-human interdependence appears forcefully in the numerous passages where Zarathustra appeals to (or extols) the dual ‘spirits’ (that is, abstracta) of wholeness (haurva¯t) and immortality (amereta¯t).217 There is a two-way dependence between Ahura Mazda and his creatures: wholeness and immortality accrue to Ahura Mazda from humans through their piety and good thinking.218 In the other direction, wholeness and immortality accrue to humans from Ahura Mazda through their obedience to him and their alliance with truth.219 Two striking aspects of this interdependence thesis stand out: Ahura Mazda’s existence is maintained through humans’ good thoughts, words and actions, that is, he does not exist independently of these forms of reverence. And human souls are not immortal in their ‘nature’, but achieve it through their own free choice in following the Mazdaen precepts. In this respect, Zarathustra’s teachings are much more similar to the Christian New Testament than to Greek philosophical theories. Moreover, there are two kinds of prizes or rewards for humans consequent on their observance of these precepts. In this earthly life they can be granted wealth (or prosperity) and long life;220 material wealth includes, for example, ten mares, a horse, a camel, a cow, and so forth. In the next life, they are granted ‘a second, better existence’.221 The prophet issues numerous warnings about what will happen to those who deny his precepts and 216 See, for example, Zaehner’s references to Zarathustra’s ‘profound originality’, 1961 pp. 49–50; and comments by Malandra in RAW pp. 200–2. 217 Wholeness (haurva ¯ t) is closely connected to good health and freedom from disease (which comes from evil); immortality (amereta¯ t) is a privative formation negating mereta¯ t, ‘mortality’; similar to the formation of Latin mortus; hence in the Ga¯ tha¯ s humans are sometimes called mashya¯ (mortals) and divine spirits amesha (immortals); on the IE root *mer–, see Bruce Lincoln, Myth, Cosmos and History, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986 p. 119. 218 The relevant texts are: Y31.21, 33.8, 34.1, 34.11, 45.10, 47.1. 219 The relevant texts are: Y43.5, 44.18, 45.5, 45.7, 51.7. 220 See Y43.1, 44.18, 46.19, 53.1, 53.4, 53.7. 221 See Y46.19, 49.9, 51.15.

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follow the lie – they will have woe, bad food and distress.222 The mention of bad food in the House of Deceit (the underworld) reminds one of the gloomy ANE description of dust, dryness and debris in the evil dead’s environs. But for those who affirm the precepts and whose souls are in accord with truth, they will have the best of all things, including sunlight, the ‘bright bull’ and glory. Zarathustra conjectures about the source or condition which renders (some) humans mortal, or prevents them from even trying to gain immortality. The daevas are the offspring of the Evil Spirit; ‘they spring from evil thinking, deceit and disrespect’. The worst mortals serve the daevas who have ‘deceived mankind out of the good way of life and immortality’ (Y32.5), which implies that the deavas use trickery and deceit to cheat humans of their chance for immortality. And later he says that during the present mixed epoch ‘hateful deceit has been taught by daevas and mortals for the sake of immortality’ (Y48.1), where ‘for the sake of’ signifies ‘at the expense of’. This oblique reference also reminds one of Gilgamesh and Etana who were cheated by the crafty god (Enki) into losing their chance to gain another life. In contrast with the good person who brings peace to his home and village, Zarathustra curses the liars: ‘Let that affliction, most strong with death’s bondage come to these, and let it come quickly’ (Y53.8). Where milk and butter are regularly extolled as signs of good words and actions, that is, the first ‘prize’ (Y49.5, 49.10, 50.8, 51.1), he indicts lack of health or wholeness for its evil signs: ‘poison adheres to them … they are in decline and darkness’ (Y53.9). The very idea of bodily health and wholeness is closely linked with attaining the best existence: one is saved (savo)223 from any affliction or disease by passing beyond the imperfect earthly realm into a perfect unearthly realm. However, it is no doubt true that in this earthly life, disease and violence did lead to bodily death. With regard to the Zoroastrian attitude toward the remains of dead humans, Varenne says that ‘for fear of soiling the elements that make up the universe, their bodies … are neither burned, submerged in water, nor buried, but are abandoned on boulders and cliffs where beasts of prey devour them’. The dead bodies are brought forth from the town and placed in the dakhma where they are torn apart by vultures. The practice of excarnation is in stark contrast to the Vedic practice of cremation, and the ANE practice of inhumation in the same period, that is, the Late Bronze Age or Early Iron Age. But against this claim Boyce quite confidently asserts that it is now generally accepted that the old funeral practice of the Indo-Iranians was burial … Even the Zoroastrian word dakhma, used later for the place where corpses were exposed, comes it seems not (as used to be thought) from the base dag, ‘burn’, but through *dafma from the IE base *dhmbh ‘bury’. This ancient rite of burial appears to have been associated with an equally ancient concept of a home of the spirits of the dead beneath the earth.

Boyce draws attention to an anecdote in Herodotus where he tells a story about an aged Persian queen who buried fourteen children alive, ‘in a effort to propitiate on her own account the god who is said to dwell beneath the earth’ (Hist VII.114). Note 222 See Y45.3,

45.7, 49.11, 53.6. The word savoi is used repeatedly in the Ga¯ tha¯ s for healthful redemption and hence is akin to Latin salvus, esp. in the Vulgate text of the NT. 223

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well, however, as Boyce does here, that the belief in chthonic gods and their residence is in conflict with the view that the gods’ dwelling, and the soul’s eventual home, is in the sky above. The Vedic funerary practice of cremation accords with both the thesis that fire is sacred and that the human soul rises up after death.224 The contraposition of the Indian and Iranian gods, the daevas and ashuras, perhaps accounts for the reversal in imagery regarding the original and final resting place of human souls. Hence, in early Indian thought the paths that the gods traverse uniting the earth below with the heaven above are often distinguished from the paths below the earth, leading to the land of the dead. After the dead person’s flesh was consumed by fire, his bones were collected and buried (so-called ‘secondary’ burial). In contrast, the practice of cremation is rarely ever attested amongst the ancient Iranians, although like their Indian kindred, they shared a deep belief in and hope for an afterlife. It also appears likely that some noble Iranians had the privilege of embalming the corpse before its deposition in the tomb. Herodotus records (Hist. I.140) that the Persians interred the dead body after coating it with wax, but ‘it is not likely that this elaborate procedure was common throughout the community, or connected with the ordinary rite of inhumation’. Boyce also speculates that the custom of preserving and entombing the body was linked with ‘the hope that both spirit and flesh would in due course ascend to immortality above’. So there appears to be divergence in belief between some nobles, on one hand, and the general population, on the other. (That only the most meritorious individuals received the gift of another life, the criterion of merit being tied closely to royal birth, has already been encountered in the earliest Egyptian mortuary practices, as well as the special Hittite custom of royal funerary procession.) In support of this, Boyce says that ‘priests and nobles, while hoping for heaven for themselves, still believed in a general after-life beneath the earth, and were prepared on occasion to propitiate the ancient lord of darkness by sending him other humans to people his realm, whose bodies were laid in earth as the nearest gateway to his abode’.225 Heaven above, the soul’s ascent, and the pathway to blessedness are then in opposition to the prevalent testimonies for the death realm’s location beneath the earth. But if one separates the classes of the dead then Herodotus’ anecdote about the Persian queen makes sense. She sacrificed only the best Persian children by having them buried alive in order to help ensure her own eventual entry into heaven. The great Hungarian-British explorer Sir Aurel Stein discovered numerous postexcarnation burials in stone cairns and enclosures in Baluchistan and speculated that post-mortem exposure was a distinctively nomadic practice. Extensive burial grounds have been discovered in Central Asia and hence it seems that inhumation was the customary Iranian practice before the latter practice of excarnation. Whereas in India inhumation gave way to cremation, in the Iranian lands inhumation gave way to excarnation. Despite the obvious differences between these two customs, Boyce says that that ‘both seem linked with a common desire to release the soul swiftly and allow it to mount upwards, free from the body, instead of being shut down with the corpse beneath the earth’.226 224 Boyce

1975 pp. 109–10. 1975 p. 111 note 16. 226 Boyce 1975 p. 113. 225 Boyce

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In his recent survey of the relevant excavations, Azarpay distinguishes between surface burials in stone or timber tombs and post-exposure fractional burials (that is, secondary burial in an ossuary). The proto- and early Scythians buried their dead in underground niche and chamber graves; this practice sometimes exists in conjunction with surface burials. But the modern dakhma, an artificially constructed stone tower used for exposure is not found in any pre-Islamic context in Iran. The rite of post-exposure fractional burial is first attested in the (early?) first millennium in Transoxiana and northern Pakistan. Despite the fact that secondary burial was fostered by the Zoroastrian church, there are no such material remains in eastern Iran before the second century BCE; this period marks the change from cremation to exposure in Chorasmia. On the other hand, the rite of cremation was introduced from the lower Oxus River basin to more western areas in the fourth century BCE: ‘If exposure is identified as a nomadic practice of Central Asian origin, then its adoption by sedentary communities might explain its accommodation in preexisting forms of funerary architecture in agricultural and urban centers.’227 In sum, for both the Vedic Indians and the Avestan Iranians there was an apparent tension between their ancestors’ practices and their own new customs, as well as some incongruity between the privileges of the few and the rights of the many. Here then is another indication of the reforms that Zarathustra brought about the pagan Iranians had presumably held, as did the Vedic Indians, that almost immediately after each blessed soul ascended to Paradise it was there re-united with its resurrected body, to live a happy life of full sensation. But for Zarathustra complete happiness could come only with a return to the first ge¯tīg [corporeal] condition, with the reunion, that is, of soul with body in a physical world restored to a flawless state. For him it was this earth … which made wonderful again would be the true Kingdom of God … The redeemed will live in me¯no¯g [incorporeal] state during the rest of the time of Mixture, to be united with their resurrected bodies only after the Last Judgment, when the earth shall render these up.228

Later Zoroastrian expositors struggled to answer the question of how even God could reassemble the scattered components of individual bodies. In the later Pahlavi texts this resurrected body is called the ‘future body’, an item of doctrinal faith that distinguishes Zoroaster’s views from the earlier pagan views.229 Zaehner, in fact, insists on seeing certain Zoroastrian ideas as precursors to Christian and Judaic doctrines (a tendency that Boyce is highly critical of). He says that in later Zoroastrism there is both an individual post-mortem judgment and a universal ordeal by fire and molten metal at the end of time. Both ideas are hinted at in the Ga¯tha¯s, but their full doctrinal details only emerge in the Younger Avesta from the Achaemenid period. The bridge crossing mentioned above is the standard form of individual judgment, where rightness and good works are rewarded by entry into heaven, and their opposites are punished by casting down into hell. Zaehner says that heaven and hell ‘are variously described in the Ga¯tha¯s; they are the best 227 Azarpay

1990 pp. 12–21. 1975 p. 236; on resurrection, Segal 2004 pp. 190–92. 229 Boyce finds Zaehner’s definition of the Pahlavi ‘future body’ in 1961 p. 318 to be ‘extremely doubtful’. Shaked also admits that there are incongruous and incompatible beliefs at work here, 1994 pp. 39–42. 228 Boyce

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and the worst existences, and these quite unlocalized conceptions of the future life survive in the Persian language today: behesht, heaven, meaning originally simply “the best”, and du¯zakh meaning “a wretched existence”’.230 Contra Zaehner, aside from their paraphrases as House of the Good Mind, the House of the Worst Mind, and so on, these terms do not denote anything like a separate sphere or domain. The good souls will, however, attain to long life, blessed with ease and comfort, and achieve ‘wholeness’ and ‘immortality’ (depending on how one translates the Ga¯thic word amereta¯t, that is, the privative of mortality). Here Zaehner quotes from Yasna 31, verse 20: ‘Heavenliness shall be the future possession of him who shall come to a truthful person (now). But for a lifetime of darkness, foul food, the word woe – to such an existence shall your conception, along with its actions, lead you, ye deceitful ones.’231 Zaehner claims that the theory of direct Zoroastrian influence on post-exilic Judaism does explain the sudden abandonment by the Jews of the older idea of Sheol, ‘a shadowy and depersonalized existence’, the destination of all humans, and the adoption at the time when the Jews came into contact with the Medes and Persians of ‘the Iranian Prophet’s teaching concerning the afterlife. Thus it is Daniel, allegedly the minister of “Darius the Mede”, who first speaks clearly of everlasting life and eternal punishment … Thus from the moment that the Jews first made contact with the Iranians they took over the typical Zoroastrian doctrine of an individual afterlife in which rewards are to be enjoyed and punishments endured.’ In addition, the later Judaic and Christian notion of a divine savior is prefigured in the Zoroastrian doctrine of Saoshyans who, at the end of all things, will raise the bodies of the dead and unite them with their souls; that there will be a cosmic conflagration in which humans will have to wade through streams of molten metal; that the sins of the wicked will be purged through this ordeal and all things will return to their creator in their original perfect state. However, Zaehner admits that the idea of the savior does not appear in the Ga¯tha¯s and that Zarathustra saw himself as bringing about a renewal of human existence; further, that the later Zoroastrian system adheres only to the notion of an individual, and not universal judgment.232 It is beyond doubt that there was significant contact between the Achaemenid Zoroastrians and the Judaic religion during Cyrus’ reign. In an important article forty years ago, Morton Smith analyzed passages in Second Isaiah which make reference to the Persian king;233 this is the only place in the OT where someone other than Jesus Christ is called ‘savior’. Second Isaiah reported ‘startling original theological utterances’ by one of the Persian visitors – these utterances are unequivocally Zoroastrian doctrines. Smith argued that this showed clear evidence that Cyrus had a political agent in Jerusalem. One of the peculiar features of Second Isaiah is a series of rhetorical questions which correspond closely with Zarathustra’s queries to Ahura Mazda in the Ga¯tha¯s (Y44). 230 Zaehner

1961 p. 56. trans. 1975 p. 43. 232 Zaehner 1961 pp. 58–59. 233 Morton Smith, ‘II Isaiah and the Persians’, in JAOS 83 (1963) pp. 415–21; discussed by Boyce 1982 pp. 45–8; Peter Ackroyd examines the evidence for Persian presence in other OT books, esp. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zechariah 1–8, ‘Problems in Biblical and Related Sources …’, in AH III 1988 pp. 33–54. 231 Insler’s

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In the conclusion of his analysis of the original Avestan texts, Shaul Shaked is rather dubious about any attempt to find a coherent account of human nature. He says that ‘there is no Avestan text which gives a comprehensive enumeration of human faculties, powers, members of the body, and spiritual constituents of the person’ since each text has a specific didactic purpose: ‘These texts specify either some of the aspects of the material and earthly existence of man, or deal with the “soul” components of the person. Each text would thus tend to ignore notions that do not belong to its sphere of current interest and would, on the other hand, tend to use superfluous terms … in order to enforce its own particular point of view.’ Although this basic incoherence is also present in the Pahlavi texts (some of which preserve fifth century BCE doctrines) the situation there is even more complex. But the Bundahishn makes an effort to systematize its own version of the Iranian account: ‘there are five me¯no¯g things in human’, it states, ‘one is called ja¯n, one ruwa¯n, one axw, one bo¯y, and one frawahr’. Shaked offers these comments: each one of these me¯no¯g entities or aspects has its own domain to look after: bo¯y is concerned with intelligence, wisdom, and memory; frawahr with the assimilation and digestion of food and with the excretion of coarse matter; ruwa¯n deals with the saying and doing of good things, and with the prevention of bad things being said or done; ja¯n holds the body in proper order, and is in charge of various ‘powers’, taste, discernment (?), spirit, [non-motion, and motion]; axw gives constant advice to the body, to ruwân and to the other associates of the person.234

With regard to the two separate spheres of existence, the spiritual (me¯no¯g) and the material (ge¯tīg), each of the soul components has its own ‘place’. According to the De¯nkard, Book III: the soul is the most prominent spiritual element within the material, as it is the entity that maintains and directs the body. A higher layer of spiritual existence within the material is the presence of the ‘essential being’, called in Pahlavi ox, within the soul … Just as the soul is spiritual with regard to the material of the body, so ox is spiritual with regard to the relative material of the soul. Each one of the various spiritual entities within the [human] body has its own individual function: anima [or anma] gives it life, consciousness causes it to see, and the soul rules it. The soul has several powers, among which are intelligence, awareness, wisdom, and spirit.

With regard to the peculiar status of spirit (waxsh), ‘it is defined as being not an entity by itself, but attached to, or inherent in, an entity. At the same time it acts as “the power within the soul”.’235 Again, this vividly reminds one of our earlier conjectures,236 that for the pre-Socratic thinkers, the psyche¯ is both an agent and a causal power, both a substance and an essential property. On the Zoroastrian view, the powers of the soul seem to be the properties of one thing which, when suitably 234 Shaked

1994 pp. 141–3. Shaked 1994 pp. 143–4; Shaked excerpts and translates the relevant passages in Appendix E pp. 153–60; for the sake of clarity, me¯no¯g is replaced by ‘spiritual’ and ge¯tīg by ‘material’ in the quotation. 236 On the ‘quality-thing’ conjecture, see HCM pp. 33–5 235

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combined, produce a living thing that manifests the underlying functions associated with those powers. But, at the same time, they are entities in their own right which can become separated through death; as such, they are quality-things in their thinglike nature and exercise causal agency upon one another.

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Chapter 2

The Ancient and Medieval Horizon of the Shamanic Soul In the first volume of History of the Concept of Mind (HCM) we laid out some of the evidence for the supposition that some Greek thinkers in the period from about 700 to 550 BCE were aware of non-indigenous beliefs about the immortal status of the human soul.1 Some of the pre-Socratic thinkers make unusual claims about the powers of their own souls, as well as generalizing these experiences in terms of the basic nature of the human soul. In various dialogues, Plato describes Socrates’ encounter with these alien ideas and his efforts to accommodate them to his own evolving view of the human soul. This chapter fully explores the historical and religious background for this hypothesis. In the first section we will consider the literary (or documentary) evidence that Greek ideas in this period did indeed reflect – often in distorted forms – characteristic features of shamanistic practices and what the core elements of these practices were. The second section turns to the archaeological evidence from Central Asia and the Transcaucasus region to support the claim that shamanistic practices were present in that area from which these various Greek ideas were imported. The third section is devoted to an examination of the principal features of Central Asian shamanism derived from ethnographic research carried out (mainly) by Russian scholars since the late seventeenth century. Adventurous Greeks in the seventh century, such as Pherecydes, Pythagoras and Aristeas, were the first to import into popular culture the ‘foreign’, shamanistic ideas about an immortal soul, going-under, ecstatic foresight, and so forth.2 Aristotle referred to Pherecydes and the Magi (Iranian mystics)3 as ‘mixed theologians, those who do not say everything in mythical form’, as did Homer and Hesiod, for example, and who claimed that ‘the first generator is the best’ (Meta 1091b8). In the opening lines of the first chapter of The Presocratic Philosophers, the editors said that these transitional ideas were not concerned with pure mythology, ‘but with concepts which, although expressed in the language and through the personages of myth, are not mythopoeic in kind but are the result of direct, empirical, nonsymbolical ways of thinking’.4 To claim that the concepts of Birth, Night, Chaos, and so on, and the four roots or elements of all things are the result of ‘direct, empirical’ thought is strange indeed, though Thales and his successors’ attention to See HCM pp. 23–4, 40–41. On Pherecydes’ views about the soul, or at least views which can be derived from the testimonia, the fullest account is in Schibli 1990 pp. 104–27. 3 The gifts of the Magi are interpreted along cosmological lines by West 1971 pp. 213–42. 4 G. S. Kirk, J. E. Raven & M. Schofield, eds, The Presocatic Philosophers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983 p. 7 [KRS]. 1 2

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water and fire could be said to be non-symbolic. Centuries later Pherecydes was routinely recognized by Latin writers as the first author to hold that the human soul was immortal.5 The one almost certain historical link between Greek speculative thinking and the remote lands of the Magi and shamans is the first-hand account made by Aristeas of Proconnesus (c. 630–20 BCE) of his travels to the land at the Back of the North Wind (Hyperborea), beyond the Black Sea, where he encountered the Scythians, the Arimaspi and other extraordinary peoples, returning many years later with an astonishing narrative,6 rehearsed by Herodotus. (Hist. iv.12–16) Bolton argued quite convincingly that many features of Aristeas’ account, filtered through Heraclides Ponticus’ reworkings, show up again in Empedocles’ writings and stories about his life. Aristeas’ own life attests to some sort of extra-somatic experience and he expressed sentiments closely connected to an immortal soul doctrine.7 In Empedocles of Acragas in Sicily in the early to mid-fifth century, several other principal features of the pre-Socratic account of soul began to take shape. In his one long poem in two parts (or, his two poems),8 Empedocles makes unambiguous references to an immortal soul, some of its basic functions, its physical composition and ritual operations to purify its bodily host. Near the start he refers to himself as ‘an immortal god, no longer mortal, honored among all’, an unusual assertion, to say the least, for no other figure ever claims to be a god in addition to being immortal. He was reputed to have been a skilled medical doctor, an ardent democrat, and to have leapt to his death (or fiery life) in the Mt. Etna volcano.9 Diogenes Laertius reported that Empedocles had claimed to be able to stop the winds, to bring rain when there was drought, and to lead forth from Hades the life-force of a dead man (DL 8.59). The Suda lexicon cited an anecdote to the effect that, after a woman had been without breath, food or water for thirty days, he had brought her back to life. These admittedly anecdotal details from his life and sayings have clear parallels with the sorts of shamanistic beliefs and rituals evident in Pherecydes, Pythagoras, Aristeas and others. In Epimenides the Cretan one finds further evidence of shamanistic incursions into Greek stories about wonder-workers and magicians.10 He was said to have slept for fifty-seven years in the cave of the Cretan mystery-god and to have subsisted entirely on a vegetarian mixture (like Pythagoras) which he stored in an ox’s hoof.11 5 See esp. Cicero, Tusc. Disp. 1.38; Lactantius, Div. Inst. 7.7.12; Augustine, Contra Acad. 3.37 and Letters 137.12; all testimonia and fragments excerpted by Schibli 1990 Appendix 2, pp. 140–75. 6 Bolton’s meticulous and ingenious reconstruction, 1962 pp. 74–118, has been confirmed at many points by recent archaeological investigations in Central Asia; see esp. Mallory & Mair 2000, Chapter 1, which retraces Aristeas’ route; also brought into Ginzburg’s thesis on the Eurasian origins, 1991 pp. 209, 212. 7 On indications in Aristeas about the ‘flight of the soul’ and his influence on Pythagorean doctrines, see Bolton 1962 pp. 146–57, 164–5; summary statement, pp. 172–5. 8 On this point see inter alia, KRS 1983 pp. 282–4; Kingsley 1995 pp. 363–70; see HCM pp. 31–3. 9 On the significance of his leap into fire, see Kingsley 1995 pp. 250–55. 10 The evidence for Epimenides’ shamanism was first laid out by Bouché-Leclercq in Divination, vol. II pp. 100–2; see also Johnston 1999 p. 106; Ogden 2002 pp. 15–16. 11 Dodds 1951 p. 142. On the significance of cave–cults, see Martin Nilsson, Minoan-

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His skin had tattoos and was used after his death (or murder) in some ritual fashion; he had the ability to ‘travel’ out of his body and to issue prophecies, and was credited with having been reborn, either in his own person or in other animals. The key detail about tattoos or skin-marks on its own is a decidedly non-Greek motif. The Thracian figure Zalmoxis had a tattoo on his forehead which later Greek writers explained by saying that he had been captured by pirates and branded for the slave market (Porph., Vita Pyth. 15). Herodotus mentions runaway slaves in an Upper Egyptian temple who were tattooed in order to show their dedication to the god (Hist. 2.113), Pliny says that tattoos were used by Sarmatians and Dacians in Asia Minor (NH 22.2), Strabo that tattoos were used by Illyrians and Thracians (Geo. 7.5.4), and Vergil that the Agathyrsi in Transylvania, whose tutelary god is Hyperborean Apollo as in Aristeas’ account, are tattooed (or painted) (Aen. IV.146).12 In Greek vase paintings tattoos mark out characters thought to be Thracian; some vases show Thracian maenads with fawn tattoos, others with snake tattoos.13 In contrast with these outsiders’ customs, the ordinary Greek view was that such marks on the skin were ‘shameful and disgraceful’ (Sextus, Outlines 3.202). E. R. Dodds suggests that ‘the tradition of psychic excursion’ may have been transferred from imagery in Aristeas’ journey to details of Epimenides’ life by Suidas, the same source as the attribution of tattoos to the latter figure.14 Whatever the literary source of these attributions, the details themselves point toward the magically inspired idea of an immortal soul.15 The so-called ‘Orientalizing Influence’ has long been recognized by Classical scholars, especially after the publication of Ancient Near Eastern texts in the 1950s, and the dissemination of the Russian research on shamanism about the time of Karl Meuli’s ground-breaking 1935 paper.16 The idea that the human soul is immortal was initially deeply interlinked with ecstatic foresight and magical practices. Plato’s dialogue Charmides exhibits some curious knowledge about shamanistic ideas through the retelling of the Zalmoxis story by an anonymous Thracian. The Zalmoxis tradition has been examined in great detail by Walter Burkert who showed its intimate connection with shamanism and its confusion with the Pythagorean legends.17 Since Burkert builds very strong arguments in favor of the signal Mycenaean Religion, 2nd edn Lund: CWK Gleerup, 1950 pp. 458–63; Burkert 1979 pp. 84–8, 90–93. 12 For tattoos amongst the ancient Balkan and Danubian tribes, see A. B. Cook, Zeus, 3 vols, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914–40, vol. II p. 123. 13 For example, T. H. Carpenter, Art and Myth in Ancient Greece, London: Thames & Hudson, 1991 plates 139, 170; also Dodds 1951 pp. 163–4 note 44. 14 Dodds 1951 p. 163 note 42. 15 For more details, see Kingsley 1995 pp. 233–8, 251–9; Johnston discusses his involvement in the so-called Cylonian affair in some detail, 1999 pp. 279–85. 16 Karl Meuli, ‘Scythica’, in Hermes 70, 1935 pp. 121–76; E. R. Dodds lucidly and succinctly expressed this insight some time ago, 1951 pp. 146–7; recently, Jan Bremmer has attempted to rebut Meuli’s main arguments, 2002 pp. 29–36 – not very convincing in my view. 17 Burkert, 1972 pp. 157–65; on the state of Pythagorean studies after Burkert’s work, see Huffman, in A. A. Long (ed.), Cambridge Companion to the Presocratics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999 pp. 66–87; for the Zalmoxis story, see also Eliade 1972 pp. 21–75.

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importance of the Zalmoxis story for an understanding of the evidence for an incursion of non-Greek soul-belief, it is worth recapping the story’s main points. The Zalmoxis legend is derived from Hellanicus’ Barbarian Customs, itself the source of the widely known account in Herodotus’ Histories (IV.94–6).18 Zalmoxis was the deified king of the Getae tribe, ‘those who live without death’, and he may have been a disciple of Pythagoras. Every four years the Getae send their god a message by sacrificing one of their warriors, one who has been entrusted with a petition for the tribe’s needs. Zalmoxis the King had built a banquet hall where he entertained his guests, and promised them that they and their descendants would not die, but would live forever enjoying all good things. He also built an underground chamber where he withdrew for three years and was mourned as dead; but in the fourth year he returned to the surface and was acclaimed for his conquest of death. Burkert considers it doubtful that this underground chamber really belongs to the Zalmoxis tradition; it is more likely that Zalmoxis dwelt in high places, where religious beliefs normally accord the holiest setting.19 Other features of the story also support the view that it has become amalgamated with the Pythagorean legends, especially his ‘going-under’ (katabasis). Both Zalmoxis and Pythagoras exhibit ritual techniques and issue sayings (acusmata) that pertain to shamanistic practices, ecstatic travel to other places, overcoming death, bringing back health to the sick, and conducting souls of the dead to their new home: ‘The significance of the idea of shamanism for the history of philosophy lies in the conjecture that the new conception of the soul, which was to become the dominant one through the influence of Plato, is to be traced to this source. The independence of the soul from the body is immediately experienced and depicted in the shaman’s ecstasy.’20 Perhaps the earliest written record of shamans and their practices occurs in Herodotus’ account of some strange Scythian customs (Hist. IV.64–75) Amongst other things, he reports that Scythian warriors flay dead enemies’ bodies and stretch their skins on frames; that these same warriors are known to take hemp-seed ‘baths’ (or saunas), which causes them to ‘howl with pleasure’. On the death of their king, Herodotus says, they execute his servants, stuff them with chaff, and bury them with the bodies of dead horses. Herodotus also offers his readers some intriguing clues about their priests: one group of priests, called the ‘enarees’, are androgynes (or transvestites21); they practice divination by casting willow-rods on the ground or winding lime-tree bark around their fingers. When the king (or some other noble) 18 Later account with other details in Strabo (7.3.5) where Zamolxis (sic) makes predictions from the stars, is addressed as a god, and spent his whole life in an underground place (kho¯rion abaton); Eliade comments on the main differences between Herodotus’ and Strabo’s accounts: ‘in short, for Strabo the cult of Zalmoxis is dominated by a high priest who lives alone at the top of a mountain, at the same time being associated with the king as his principal counselor, and this cult is Pythagorean because it forbids flesh food’, in his 1972 p. 61. 19 Burkert 1972 pp. 160–62; Eliade argues that Zalmoxis does not entirely fit the picture of a shaman but rather the deified human (or god) of a mystery cult, 1972 pp. 40–44. 20 Burkert 1972 p. 163; Eliade 1964 pp. 387–94. 21 Basilov explicitly connects Herodotus’ enarees with transvestite practices amongst the Central Asian shamans, in Dioszegi & Hoppal 1978 pp. 288–9; androgynous figures have been found on ritual objects from Sarmatian and Indo–Iranian sites, Neil Ascherson, Black Sea, New York: Hill and Wang, 1995 pp. 121–2.

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falls sick, they are called in to find the culprit; they are able to indicate guilt or innocence when evil magic has been detected. Other clues about shamans are scattered amongst his comments about the Thracians and the Scythians’ neighbors. The Neuri, for example, are said to ‘practice magic’, for the story (that is, rumor) is that ‘once a year every Neuri turns into a wolf for a few days and then turns back into a man again’ (IV.105). This rumor may obliquely refer to either the shaman’s alleged power to transform himself into an animal (but that would not connote ‘everyone’) or the ceremonial custom where celebrants dress in full-length animal skins.22 Eliade argues that this and other similar descriptions about humans in animal clothing (especially those of predators) indicates the common Eurasian association of young male warrior groups who work themselves into aggressive frenzies.23 The Scythian practice of hemp-seed saunas may lie behind Strabo’s reference to the Thracians as both ‘god-fearers’ (theosebeis) and ‘smoke-walkers’ (kapnobatai), those who walk through hemp smoke (Geo. 7.3.3; also Pomp. Mela 2.21). Strabo also mentions some Thracians who live apart from women, whom they call ktistas, a word translated as ‘founders’24 – which makes little sense in the context. Strabo confesses to being confused about the role of women and wifeless priests among the Thracians. He reports that all Thracians are promiscuous, regard life without sex as miserable, and yet consider a person pious and just who does without women. He says that this is contrary to their common belief, as well as to the fact that women are regarded as the ‘founders’ or organizers of religion (deisidaimonias arkhe¯gous); the first word means either good religious feelings or superstitious fears.25 To support this view he quotes the poet Menander whose character the woman-hater (misogune¯) declared: ‘we used to sacrifice five times a day, seven attendants (f.) beat the cymbals, and others ululated (o¯loluzon)’, that is, sang wordlessly. Here we have a strange group among the Thracians with a strange custom which Strabo struggles to describe. Among the promiscuous Thracians, there is a group of celibate males, dedicated to the gods, held in honor by the tribe, who live apart from women; they are called ‘god-fearers’ and ‘smoke-walkers’ and ktistas, which cannot mean ‘founders’, since the women are the founders. This group conducts sacrifices, attended by women beating cymbals, some of whom sing wordlessly. These wifeless males, set aside from the tribe as a whole, perform special rituals, which are directed toward the gods (or daimons). They are surely the same group that Herodotus called enarees four hundred years earlier, in other words, androgynous males who were shamans. One might (with caution) conjecture that ktistas may be a mangled form of (e)kstate¯s, ‘ecstatics’, those who went into trances. On the other hand, if Nyberg’s and Gignoux’s thesis is correct, and there was some sort of penetration of Iranian ritual ideas in the Roman East during the Augustan epoch, then ktistas may be an 22 Ginzburg suggests that the Neuri probably lived in Livonia, the homeland of werewolves, or were another proto-Baltic tribe, 1991 p. 157. 23 Eliade 1972 pp. 5–15, following the lead of Karl Meuli, Stig Wikander and Georges Dumezil; in contrast, Bremmer does not adduce all these details in his attempted rebuttal of the shamanist connection in Herodotus’ account, 2002 pp. 29–31. 24 See examples in LSJ 9th rev. edn 1968 p. 1003. 25 The word has both a positive and a negative sense according to LSJ 9th rev. edn 1968 p. 375.

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attempt to render in Greek the Iranian word chistish, ‘one who knows’, those with privileged knowledge in the Zoroastrian scheme.26 Whatever the meaning of these obscure Scythian words and the significance of the rituals in which reference is made to them, the Greek language had a basic simple word which meant ‘shaman’. Walter Burkert has recently argued that the preClassical and Classical usage of the Greek word goe¯s roughly approximates the shamanistic type which these early travelers brought with them into Greece from remote hinterlands. Sarah Johnston associates this alien influence with the goe¯s and not with shamanism as such: ‘there are good linguistic and historical reasons to suppose that [goe¯teia] entered Greece from elsewhere only during the archaic age. We should accept the Greeks’ association of goe¯teia with peoples who lived at the margins not only as an expression of its conceptual foreignness at the time that it was introduced, but also a valid reflection of its origins.’ She heartily endorses Burkert’s thesis, that ‘many new ritual techniques and beliefs were introduced during the orientalizing period by migratory practitioners as an excellent explanation of how many such things first reached Greece’.27 Burkert has assembled a great deal of textual evidence to support his claim that contemporary Greek writers were aware of shamanism and that they employed a distinctive Greek word (goe¯s) to name someone who carried out shamanistic activities (goe¯teia).28 It is certainly a strange irony that the modern word ‘magic’ is derived from the name of a Scythian priestly caste who were not sorcerers and who did not practice anything like ‘magic’ (in the standard, modern sense). The further irony is that those who were sorcerers and who did practice magic were called goe¯s, a word which became reserved for a bastard, inferior kind of trickery. Nevertheless, there is a certain discontent among Classical philologists with regard to immoderate efforts to explain Greek morphemes as coming from non-Greek concepts. There have recently been criticisms of the attempt to expand (or generalize) the concept of shamanism. In response to these critics there actually is an archaic Greek word which designates a realm of activity remarkably close in affinity to that of the shaman, and which has been used to describe both Pythagoras and Empedocles. When the original meaning of this word is investigated, the late antique classification must naturally be disregarded, in which goe¯tia, as low, crude, deceptive or even malicious magic is contrasted to the higher form of mageia.29 The word magos, which was to enjoy such success, came into currency in Greece as an Iranian loanword no earlier than 600 BCE. If one attempts to discover a more positive meaning and function of goe¯s in the oldest sources and testimonies, particular problems result, due to the peculiar nature of the literary tradition.30 The etymological history of a word like goe¯s leads back to the prehistory of the Greek spirit, to a state which it was the accomplishment of the Greeks to have 26 Of course, one should also mention that Ktesias was the name of a physician in the Achaemenid court who wrote a history of Persia, see esp. J. R. Gardiner-Garden, Ktesias on Early Central Asian History, Bloomington, IN: Papers on Inner Asia, 1987. 27 Johnston 1999 pp. 117, 119. 28 Burkert 1962 pp. 36–55; comments and notes by Thompson 1998. 29 Aug. Civ. Dei 10.9; Proclus Resp. 2.337; Hopfner in RE XIV cols. 373–75. 30 Burkert 1962 p. 38; Thompson 1998 p. 2; Johnston 1999 pp. 109–11.

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overcome. It is worth noting that goe¯s and sophiste¯ are often connected. Empedocles, who made his name as a magician, was the teacher of the sophist Gorgias. Is not the sophist an heir of sorts to the wandering wonder-worker? In place of the wailing lament, there is the persuasive speech. In place of magical formulae, there are rhetorical devices invented to have an effect upon an audience.31 In order to demonstrate the power of the logoi, Gorgias refers to enkeoi epo¯dai, which was to bring about delight instead of sadness through goe¯teia. The goe¯s gains power over the soul of another person: when Socrates brings his conversation partner to the point where he has forgotten what he believed he knew, and now no longer knows what to think, then Socrates falls under suspicion of being a goe¯s. Whoever uses magic songs, transformative techniques and illusions (deceptions) to fill people with delight and terror is said to be goe¯s.32 To the goe¯s belong the epo¯doi and the foundation of the Mysteries. Thus King Pentheus in Euripides’ Bacchae calls Dionysos goe¯s epo¯doi. It is this kind of ‘music magic’ which forms the bridge from the smithy’s work to this realm. However, epo¯do literally means the ‘magical song’, and therefore the Greek Mysteries were traced back to singers such as Orpheus, Musaios and Eumolpos.33 According to the testimony of Apollodorus, the sound of ringing brass especially belongs to the cult of the dead; the hierophant of Eleusis had a cymbal resound when Kore¯ was conjured up from the dead. According to Plato, summoning the dead (psychagogia) belongs to the arts of those who conjure with sacrifices, prayers and incantations. The activity of the goe¯s is closely associated with the cult forms of the Greek Mysteries; indeed according to Ephoros, they originated these devotions. Seen from this perspective, the position of the goe¯s shifts to the very center of Greek religion.34 For Plato goe¯s and mimete¯ belong together; the sophist who prides himself on knowing everything in reality only understands how to imitate everything, and instead of the truth, he produces mere illusions (eidolons). This kind of technique Plato ranks with the magic booths at fairgrounds; at best, one can tolerate them as mere jests. In common with the actor, the goe¯s performs in front of an audience, whom he tries to fool. The effect is seen on the one hand as phobos (fear) and ekple¯xei (consternation), and on the other hand as hedone¯ (pleasure). In the Republic, the Guardians must become resistant to the influences of delight and terror, which Plato designates as goe¯teia (Rep. 413b). Plato, Xenophon and Demosthenes use the word as a term of abuse (invective) for liars and deceivers. For Demosthenes, the true and the healthy are diametrically opposed to goe¯teia. Sorcery that wanted to be taken seriously used the term mageia. What was once a legitimate role in the society, inducing fear and delight, was degraded to a term of abuse. The enchanter became disenchanted and reduced to a charlatan and deceiver.35 The general translation of ‘sorcerer’ (Zauberer) for goe¯s can be more narrowly defined; he is someone who performs before a public. Neither drugs nor potions nor secret devices are decisive for his craft. What is decisive is the power of the Burkert 1962 p. 55; Thompson 1998 p. 7. Burkert 1962 p. 42; Thompson 1998 pp. 4–5. 33 On their magical songs, see esp. Johnston 1999 pp. 111–15. 34 Burkert 1962 p. 40; Thompson 1998 p. 3. 35 Burkert 1962 p. 42; Thompson 1998 p. 4; see also Johnston 1999 p. 103, footnote 51. 31 32

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sorcerer’s personality; the goe¯s conjures, it seems, from his own inner resources (goe¯teuei). The general explanation that the goe¯s takes his name from the ‘wailing’ or ‘howling’ sound of the conjurations (or exorcisms) he performs is no longer satisfactory. There is another, more essential interpretation: the goe¯s takes his name from the dirge because he conjures the dead. The goe¯s builds a bridge between the living and the dead – therefore the deceased is directly addressed in the dirge as a present ‘thou’. The proximity of this to the epo¯ dai, to the magical effect of song and music, is then immediately obvious. In this case the goe¯s was actually a shaman, one of whose primary functions is to lead the dead on ecstatic journeys along the dangerous path into the beyond. Ecstatic journeys are not directly referred to in connection with the goe¯s, though this is a characteristic of shamans. But if the ability to transform oneself is considered in a similar light, then the Greeks can speak in this regard of ekstasis also. Direct evidence for developed shamanistic practices are not to be found, alas, in the Greek tradition.36 Sarah Johnston argues that goe¯s ultimately derives from one of the archaic forms of lament for the dead: goo¯s is a spontaneous, emotional and sometimes excessive expression of grief; whereas thre¯nos is a more controlled, orderly expression. By the time of the tragedians, goo¯s had become a means of eliciting help from the living as well as a medium of complaint to the dead: ‘Rousing the living to action by complaining to the dead is but a short step away from asking the dead themselves to bring help as well.’37 The techniques for controlling the dead arose at about the same time when the lament was restricted by law; communicating with the dead was now the provenance of a specialist and not practicable by just anyone. Control of the dead, specifically when asked to perform the operator’s bidding, was the essence of goe¯teia, and was not connected with any other branch of magic. Ritual goetic practice was, however, connected with the emphasis that mystery cults placed on the afterlife: ‘the expert who knows enough about how the afterlife works to invoke and control the souls of the dead should also know how to ensure that a soul would get a good deal once it was down there, and especially how to protect a soul against the sort of postmortem intrusion it would otherwise suffer at the hands of the goe¯tes themselves.’38 The dual vocations of controller and initiator were combined by the goe¯s, since unhappy souls were dangerous when the living were undergoing initiation and when the newly dead soul was making its transition to the underworld. The goe¯s was an expert in the care and control of disembodied souls, whatever their status prior to his intercession. Johnston says that ‘the fact that the concept of mystery religions seems to have entered Greece at about the same time as the idea of magically manipulating the dead … supports this thesis beautifully’.39 However, she stops short of explicitly equating this concept of goe¯s with a shaman, for ‘such a figure would have been more likely to adopt a name cognate with thre¯nos, the song that praised and pleased the departing soul’. However, no separate threnodic word is attested in Greek descriptions of relevant magical practices associated with the cult of the dead. Burkert 1962 pp. 44–5; Thompson 1998 p. 5. Johnston 1999 p. 101. 38 Johnston 1999 pp. 105–6. 39 Johnston 1999 p. 108; and Burkert 1985 pp. 190–98. 36 37

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Matthew Dickie’s recent study goes a long way to help identify the sorts of people who were called goe¯s and magos in the ancient world. He acknowledges the thesis that goe¯tes were originally shamans who in an ecstatic state conveyed the spirits of the dead on their perilous journey to the other side. However, he says that, although some of those called goe¯tes undoubtedly did induce shamanic-like trances, ‘very little trace of the original meaning is to be found in the way in which the word was used in the literature of Classical Greece’. This dismissive statement seems to deliberately ignore the wealth of textual evidence advanced by Burkert and Johnston (amongst others) and fails to appreciate the significant development of the semantic field associated with the word goe¯s. Dickie also declares that ‘it does not follow that the practices of northern Asian shamans had made their way into the Greek world by means of the contacts that Greeks in the Black Sea had had with Scythian shamans. There is little secure evidence for the existence of shamans in northern Asia in antiquity and no evidence for the transfer of shamanistic practices from Asia to Greece.’40 A nugatory verdict based on ‘little secure evidence’ hardly does justice to the mass of data brought out in the last decade by archaeologists in the BMAC and Tarim Basin regions, as we shall see in detail below. Some scholars, especially Walter Burkert (again), have proposed that the mythical figure of Hercules can be interpreted in terms of an earlier shamanistic context. Burkert stresses that the hypothesis is not that Hercules himself was a shaman,41 but that the tales associated with him are built around the marks of a hunting ritual, and that these marks appear in both his own personal attributes and elements of the various stories. The foremost attribute of Hercules is that he is a master of animals; he slays the lion and the serpent; he captures other animals and brings them to humans for food; he hunts down the hind and the wild boar, and captures the birds of Stymphalos. He steals the man-eating horses from Diomedes the Thracian, from the island of Erytheia he rustles a herd of cattle which belonged to the three-headed roarer Geryonus. In one of the strangest stories he cleans out the stables of the sun’s cattle in order to obtain one-tenth of the herd from Augeias (‘sun-light’). There are numerous oriental motifs in these and other tales, many of which have clear parallels in Ancient Near Eastern myths pre-dating Hercules’ appearance in Greece in the eighth century by 2000 years or more.42 Magical gold plates, found in Crete, Thessaly and Thurii, were intended to accompany the dead soul into the underworld. The theme of the hero immortalized in his funeral pyre and his ascent to heaven appears in close association with legends of Empedocles in Sicily.43 Pindar’s ‘Second Olympian Ode’ refers to Herakles in its paean to the hero’s mystical passage to another birth and eventual liberation. However, Hercules is more than a master of animals since he is also a boundary crosser: between gods and humans, and between the living and the dead. Hercules Dickie 2001 p. 13. Burkert 1979 p. 96; see also Ginzburg 1991 pp. 237, 250, 259. 42 Burkert 1979 pp. 80–85; see also, J. M. Roberts, The Earliest Semitic Pantheon, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972 pp. 22, 24, 44; and H. Seyrig, Syria 24, 1945 pp. 62–80; and M. L. West 1997 pp. 458–72. 43 Kingsley 1995 pp. 252–8, 273–7; and Marcel Detienne, ‘Heracles, hero pythagoricien’, in RHPR 158, 1960 pp. 19–53. 40 41

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brings Cerebrus, the hound of Hades, back from the underworld and in Hesiod’s catalogues Hercules penetrates Hades, overcomes an adversary who can assume any form, and retrieves the cattle. In Herodotus’ otherwise unique account of the Scythians’ origins, Hercules is said to have gone to Scythia with his cattle but lost his chariot’s horses; they were only returned when he agreed to copulate with a snake-woman in a cave, giving her three sons who became the progenitors of the three Scythian tribes. Burkert observes that ‘the core of the Hercules complex … is probably considerably older [from the third millennium]: the capture of edible animals points to the time of the hunter culture, and the relation of the world beyond with the cattle of the sun, a red island, and man-eaters probably belongs to shamanistic hunting magic … It is the shaman who is able to enter the land of the dead and the land of the gods.’44 Hercules’ name (Herakles) may be derived from Hera-kleos (‘glory of Hera’) an identification of the most masculine, virile and hirsute hero with a female goddess. Perhaps it is more plausible, as Kingsley argues, that his name is derived from the Akkadian Erragal (Sumerian Nergal), an underworld god of war and plague.45 In any case, at one cult center, sacrifice was made to Hercules by a priest in woman’s clothes and Hercules disguised himself in woman’s dress.46 Burkert conjectures that in the ANE ‘the transvestite musicians, kurgarru or assinnu, who bring back Inanna-Ishtar from the nether-world are clearly shamans; this should bring back shamanism at least to the third millennium BC’.47 Other Herculean story elements fit the shamanistic scenario: like other great heroes who cross boundaries, such as Gilgamesh, Adapa and Theseus, Hercules seeks immortality. The golden apples of the sun which he retrieves from the distant garden of the Hesperides are probably an immortalizing (or at least rejuvenating) fruit. One detail of the Cerynean hind story fits very well with the shamanic context: the female hind is said to have antlers (kerussa elaphos) and there is only one wellknown species where the female hind has antlers, the reindeer of the far North, home of the Hyperborean shamans.48 Yet another motif evinces its original shamanistic milieu: Hercules is often depicted wearing a full-length lionskin, draped from his head, across his back and arms, and down around his legs; the lion’s hide is like his second skin.49 Now this sort of dress is also characteristic of some Central Asian and Siberian shamans, indicating their identification with, or transformation into, an animal. The animal skin is also linked to Hercules’ strange death; he was poisoned by the blood-stained skin of a dead centaur and, in a fit of madness, threw himself into a funeral pyre. There is an inexplicable reversal of fortune here: a quasiimmortal hero, half-human and half-divine, suffers death by the instrument of a creature who is half-human and half-animal. Burkert comments that on other Burkert 1985 p. 209. Summary of evidence for this thesis, Kingsley 1995 pp. 275, 394; or the Akkadian Ninurta, acc. to M. L. West 1997 pp. 467–8. 46 Burkert 1985 p. 210. 47 Burkert 1979 p. 183 note 12. 48 Burkert 1979 p. 94; Karl Meuli 1935 adduced impressive parallels for this from Finland. 49 Coins from Tarsus in Syria portray Nergal (=Erragal) with lion, bow and club, Kingsley 1995 p. 394; and M. L. West 1997 pp. 461–2. 44 45

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occasions Hercules’ madness is similar to the shaman’s ecstatic trance. And in his final torment Hercules may yet have escaped the fate of ordinary mortals since vase paintings show him ascending through the flames on his chariot.50 The first section has traced several twisting paths in the ancient Greek world, from reports by and about Greek travelers in the Black Sea and Caucasus regions, shamanic associations with Greek magicians, and the boundary-crossing exploits of various gods and heroes. Despite unresolved questions about the origin of words such as goe¯s and magos, and the origin and meaning of Herakles’ ventures, there is more than sufficient evidence to establish that ideas about the human soul (and the other-world) were imported from outside mainland Greece in this era and that these ideas center around what Herodotus called the Scythian culture. In his recent book on magic and witchcraft in the Greek and Roman world, Daniel Ogden asserts the shamanistic character of these thinkers’ views in unambiguous terms: The earliest variety of indigenous male sorcerer attested for the Greek world is the ‘shaman’. This term is commonly applied to a linked series of figures in the Pythagorean and Orphic traditions. They flourished, supposedly, in the archaic period. The notices of Herodotus and the fragments of Empedocles demonstrate that the notion of the shamantype had at any rate already become established by the early classical period.51

Ogden admits that the very word ‘shaman’ is taken from the Central Asian name for these ‘magicians’, as they have been studied in the modern period. He briefly mentions characteristic powers of the Central Asian shaman: he detaches his soul from his body in an ecstatic trance; the detached soul then speaks with the gods in their own language. He cures sick people by retrieving their souls from the land of the dead or by defeating evil demons in battle, attracts animals to the hunt with his music, and defeats the gods that preside over animals with his soul. Ogden says that ‘the Greek shamans are similarly characterized by their ability to manipulate their own souls, be it detaching them temporarily from their bodies and sending them on voyages of discovery, suspending them from life, reincarnating them, or “bilocating” between two places’. The principal figures in this series are, according to his own estimate, as follows: Orpheus, Trophonius, Aristeas, Hermotimus, Epimenides, Pythagoras, Abaris, Zalmoxis and Empedocles. But there are still other shamanic themes that recur in stories about these Greek figures: extended retreats into underground chambers, where they undergo symbolic death and descent to the underworld, divination whereby they see further in space and time, control of the elements, association with the cult of Hyperborean Apollo, and dismissal of pollution and pestilence.52 The second section turns to the archaeological evidence to support the claim that shamanistic practices were present in the area from which these various Greek ideas were imported sometime during the seventh and sixth centuries BCE. In the BMAC region (described in the section on Zoroaster), whose sites date from 2300–1800 BCE, archaeologists have recently made some startling discoveries, some of which almost certainly indicate the enactment of shamanistic rituals. Viktor Sarianidi, who Burkert 1985 p. 210; in support of his general thesis, see also West 1997 pp. 458–72. Ogden 2002 p. 9. 52 Ogden 2002 pp. 10–16. 50 51

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directed many of these excavations, describes several small shrines with hempencrusted vessels, fire-centers, drainage for animal sacrifice, and ‘white rooms’ for the preparation of the hallucinogenic haoma compound. Sarianidi infers that the fire-centers, the white rooms, the ceramic drug-vessels and blood-drainage channels are all evidence of a specific set of cultic rites.53 Perhaps the most striking find is an extraordinary cylinder seal depicting what is most likely to be some sort of shamanistic ceremony.54 Two humans with monkey heads (or masks) hold a tall pole over which another figure with a ridged spine (?) is poised; to their right an upright bovine being with four hooves stands (or dances?); kneeling on his right a third monkey-headed human holds a staff. A sixth figure sits beating on a large drum between his legs, over (or behind) which another figure holds two rattles (?), and over the head of the bovine figure is a real animal with a tail. Francfort says that ‘undoubtedly, this is a characteristic shamanic ceremony or initiation ritual’. It is conceivable that the figure above the main pole is not a leaping acrobat (note that this lateral figure is poised with his stomach over the sharp pole-end), but is instead a sacrificial victim. One of the bizarre stories that Herodotus records about the Thracian Getae55 tribe is their unique manner of contacting Zalmoxis in the otherworld (Hist. IV.94). The warriors select one of their number by lottery, give him their message for the god, and then throw him into the air so that he falls on their upturned spear-points56 – perhaps the cylinder seal depicts just such a sacrifice.

Whatever the exact interpretation of these images, this cylinder seal fits in quite nicely with the better-studied shamanistic aspects of the Oxus culture: the use of narcotic beverages, the great number of bird images, the multi-layered universe, the Sarianidi 1994 pp. 389–93; next quote pp. 396–7. Sarianidi 1994 p. 394; also reproduced and discussed by Francfort 1994 p. 425; Christian 1999 p. 415. 55 For more on the Getae tribe, see Mihailov in CAH vol. 3, part 2, pp. 597–9; on their connections with the Goths, Guti and Gushi tribes, see Mallory & Mair 2000 pp. 98–9. 56 Eliade argues that this bizarre Thracian ceremony is the re–actualization of the tribe’s original intimate connection with their tutelary deity: ‘The sacrifice and sending of the messenger in some sort constitute a symbolic (because ritual) repetition of the establishment of the cult; in other words, Zalmoxis’ epiphany after three years of occultation is reactualized with all that it implies, especially the assurance of the soul’s immortality and bliss’, 1972 pp. 48–50. But frankly this assertion is little more than redescription in other terms – the original sending of a message to the god is repeated in the sacrifice of a messenger to god. 53 54

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reciprocal metamorphosis between humans and animals, the division of space into four quarters, the pillar or tree as axis mundi, and so forth.57 Francfort concludes his overview of the BMAC evidence with some strong claims: that the ‘brilliant, eclectic Middle Eastern formal aspect of the Oxus Civilization is just the colorful blanket covering deeper structures of [an] “archaic” Eurasian type’; that ‘the survival of some [of these] elements in Avestan mythology is no more than a transmission and re-reading’ of their myths and icons. Further, he claims that ‘The symbolic system of the Oxus Civilization is an original expression of a more general Eurasian mythological universe of very ancient origin, which can be termed shamanistic.’58 Gignoux has insisted in numerous articles that the original haoma ritual clearly indicates the influence of shamanistic beliefs and practices which filtered down from the northern Altaic regions in earlier migrations. In his ground-breaking work on early Iranian religion,59 H. S. Nyberg argued that pre-Zoroastrian religion was dominated by communities of ecstatic warriors who performed shamanistic rituals and other-worldly journeys to the House of Song (heaven). Intoxicated with haoma, these warriors would reach a dangerous state of murderous furor (Avestan aeshma); Zoroaster’s reforms were directed against these male, warlike brotherhoods. Phillipe Gignoux and Gerhardo Gnoli have argued in several papers and books that the Iranian religion was based on a shamanistic ideology. According to Gnoli, the word maga in the Ga¯tha¯s refers to an ecstatic experience, a state of visionary union with the Bounteous Immortals (amesha spentas), and that the cisti means a state of special illumination, attained only by the priest.60 In contrast, Gignoux does not focus on the ritual use of drugs, but on the righteous (ashavan) condition of the priest, such that he alone can have a glimpse of the afterlife. These shamanistic ideas are clearly in the background of the Avestan references to the ‘bony soul’ (astvand ruva¯n).61 The notion of a bony soul records a trace of an essential shamanistic idea, that the shaman must be able to visualize his own skeleton, the result of an initiatory rite where a monster devoured his flesh and reduced him to his skeleton. Some strange archaeological evidence from Scythian-Sarmatian burials in this period supports this idea. Eileen Murphy has studied the remains from thousands of such burials; she discovered evidence for widespread deliberate defleshing of many dead bodies. She did not think that the Scythian community devoured their dead, but that they had solved the practical problem faced by all pastoral nomads: if their cemetery was centrally located, there was always the need to transport back their relatives who had died on the journey. Hence, the flesh was removed at or near the site where they died and then the bones alone were carried back to the permanent burial grounds: ‘The evidence of defleshing is primarily confined to those burials in which the skeleton is not in its correct anatomical position. One can easily imagine Francfort 1994 p. 415; next quote p. 416. Francfort 1994 p. 406. 59 H. S. Nyberg, Die Religionen des Alten Iran, trans. into German by H. H. Schaeder. Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1938; Nyberg had absorbed the lessons of Meuli’s 1935 paper. 60 Gnoli 1965 pp. 105–17; as well as Boyce’s discussion of Gnoli’s thesis in her second volume, 1982. 61 Gignoux 1979 pp. 41–79. 57 58

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how this apparent butchery of corpses might be misinterpreted by a stranger unaccustomed to such practices.’62 One can also imagine how the idea that a dead person can be identified with their skeleton could have appeared amongst a nomadic culture in that period. The majority of the burials from the Tuva region in southern Siberia date from the Scythian period (seventh to second century BCE); those that show ritual disarticulation and evisceration indicate that they were cleaned and processed prior to their final internment. Examination of the Tuva graves showed that many individuals had been mummified: the brain was removed and the crania filled with soil, pine needles and larch cones. Attempts were made to reassemble the skeleton by fastening the parts together with twigs; this was followed by careful efforts to preserve the facial features (as in the Pazyryk tombs). A clay mask was made from the face and then attached to the skull, after which the mask was painted and the mock body dressed. In the first centuries CE, mummies were gradually replaced with mannequins which were stuffed with grass and then clothed and adorned. The head was made from leather and a death mask painted on the surface, after which the cremated remains were placed inside the mannequin. In some rare cases, where the soft tissue had not decomposed before the death mask was applied, complete impressions of the deceased faces were still apparent in the interior of the mask. Not all the dead were mummified and secondary burial (of the bones alone) is also common; Murphy comments that ‘the practice of secondary burial and mummification was common to all semi-nomadic tribes of the southern Siberian region, at least during the Scythian period.’63 One can hazard the guess, as Murphy does, that reassemblage of body parts, mummies and mannequins represented attempts to ensure that the deceased had some sort of body for its existence in the other-world and that some aspect of the soul was permanently associated with the body. One of the most famous discoveries in the Siberian region are the so-called ‘frozen tombs’ at Pazyryk in the Altai Mountains. They date from c.300–100 BCE and have been variously attributed to the Scythians, the Chinese Xiongnu, and even to the mythical Arimaspians. After ancient grave-robbers broke into the tombs, they filled with water and promptly froze in the very cold, high mountain climate, preserving much of the organic remains. Recovery of the mummified bodies revealed that they had been eviscerated and the brains removed; the corpses were then stuffed with straw and sewn back together. Evidence of tattoos was found on many bodies, and one of the bodies had an extensive tableau of mythical and real animals on both arms and one leg.64 They depicted a stylized gryphon, ibex and catfish, ‘probably an individual pictogram about his lineage, territory and cult’.65 The bodies had been stuffed with many of the herbs recorded by Herodotus in his account of Scythian burial practices: marsh-plants, frankincense, parsley and anise seed. In one corner of the frozen tomb a fur bag contained cannabis, and with it were bronze cauldrons filled with stones, and the frame of a small, four-foot-high tent, for Mallory & Mair 2000 p. 40; referring to Murphy in Davis–Kimball 2000 pp. 279–85. Murphy in Davis-Kimball 2000 p. 282. 64 Mallory & Mair 2000 pp. 203–4. 65 Ascherson 1995 p. 79. 62 63

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their marijuana-saunas. It is possible that evisceration and cavity-stuffing were used in order to preserve the corpse during the long winters, when the ground was too frozen for primary burial, but another suggestion is afforded by contemporary burials in the Tagar culture. In these burials, the facial features of the dead person were preserved in clay masks. The soft tissues were removed from the skeleton, an interior mannequin of grass was built, and a facial mask was sculpted. The grasswrapped bones were then fastened together to form a false body to which the masked head was then attached, followed by painting and dressing the mummy. While this is quite an elaborate production, ‘this is a far cry from the result achieved in natural or artificial mummification: it provides an effigy, not a fully preserved body’.66 One intriguing conjecture is that in such arid regions as those of the high mountain plateaus and deserts, dead bodies would often become naturally desiccated and mummified. Over many centuries, the very idea of bodily integrity after death was something that an elite found attractive and would have made into a funerary practice. Within the same cultural horizon of the Altai Mountians, the Russian archeologist Natalia Polosmak made an astonishing discovery on the Ukok Plateau. In a burial kurgan (mound), the mummified body of a woman in her twenties (dated c.400 BCE) was found in a wooden chamber where she had been interred with six sacrificed horses. She was enclosed in an enormous wooden coffin, fastened with large copper nails, the contents frozen solid in a block of ice. The coffin was oversized in order to have room for a three-foot-high headdress, an indication that she was a very important person. On her left arm, left shoulder and right hand were amazing tattoos: animals in ‘action poses’, but twisted oddly at 180-degree angles. Her brain and other vital organs had been removed; her body had been packed with fur, wool, peat and bark. Fifteen wooden bird figures were sewn on her huge headdress and she wore a necklace of linked wooden camels. A small dish in the tomb contained seeds, but instead of the more common cannabis found at other sites, they were coriander, possibly used to mask unpleasant odors. Inside a red pouch was an ornate hand mirror, though Polosmak did not think that it was used for checking out the way one’s face looked. She thought that the mirror was ‘linked to some sacred concept’: all the Pazyryk people had mirrors, carried at their side in a bag hung from the belt, and when they died the mirror was placed in the grave with them. Polosmak speculated that this woman may have been a shaman, that the animal motifs of her tattoos echoed their rock-art pictures of deer, and that her tattoos may have been designed to symbolically transform her into an animal.67 Another important discovery was made by Russian archaeologists working on the Kobiakov burial mounds, north-east of the city of Rostov on the Don River. In one of the kurgans they found the skeleton of a young woman from the Sarmatian culture who had died some time in the second century CE. Her head had been crowned with a diadem of gold-foil stags, birds and trees. As well as bracelets and a ring, she had a huge rigid collar around her neck, made of chiseled and pierced gold, decorated with a series of unknown magical creatures, such as dragons fighting with monkeys in armor. In the center of the collar was a superb small 66 67

Mallory & Mair 2000 pp. 204–5. Polosmak 1994 pp. 80–103; and 1998 NOVA documentary.

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carving of a serene, golden, cross-legged man, with a sword laid across his lap and a cup nursed in his two hands. It seems likely that the dead woman was a princess or queen, a woman from some great family with some of the attributes of a princess, since almost everything in the tomb had magical significance. The archaeologists noticed that not all of her bones were still there; some of the smallest phalanges, the most delicate finger-tips, were missing. Although it was possible that mice had gnawed off these small bones, the Russian who had discovered the tomb had another theory: ‘He preferred to think that the finger-tips had been ritually severed just after death, perhaps in some ceremony to exorcise the living from the touch of the dead. He could not bear the idea of mice.’68 The Scythian cultures mentioned by Herodotus in the fifth century BCE, ones in which Hercules’ stories may have originated, had already migrated westward from the Mongolian heartland to the steppe lands north of the Caspian Sea. These steppe cultures show strong Scythian influences, especially in their funerary practices and grave goods. In his recent examination of the archaeological evidence, David Christian concludes that ‘Herodotus was right in claiming that Scythic cultures spread westward from Central Asia’, c. 1000 BCE.69 Davis-Kimball has gathered much of the recently discovered data which points to a previously unknown pattern of migration from east to west during the Early Bronze Age (mid- third millennium). With continued pressure from the east, nomadic pastoralists moved from the BMAC region northwest around the Caspian Sea and settled in the Transcaucasus regions, as well as the area north of the Black Sea. Hence the Scythians Herodotus knew about in the fifth century were descendants of nomadic tribes from Central Asia and the western Mongolian steppes. These are precisely the same areas which Eliade and others have focused on in their investigations of shamanism. The Scythian ‘priests’ of Herodotus’ accounts are shamans with the same set of beliefs and practices which ethnographers record amongst the Buryat, the Evenki and the Tungus tribes. The third section is devoted to an examination of the principal features of Central Asian shamanism derived from ethnographic research carried out (mainly) by Russian scholars since the late seventeenth century. Ethnographic records are generally dated back three hundred years to the report by the exiled Russian priest Avvakum in which the word ‘shaman’ first entered the Russian language. Avvakum described how a Russian military officer compelled a Tunguz wizard to tell their fortune: In the evening that wizard … brought a live sheep and began to work magic over it; he rolled it to and fro for a long space, and then he twisted its head and flung it away. Then he began to jump and dance, and invoke devils, and giving great screams the while, he flung himself upon the earth, and foamed at the mouth; the devils were pressing him, and he asked them, ‘will the expedition prosper?’And the devils said, ‘it will return with much booty, having gained a great victory.’70

It is worth noting that it is the observer Avvakum who nominates those invoked as ‘devils’, and that because of the shaman’s supposed alliance with the devil himself, Ascherson 1995 pp. 123–4. Christian 1999 p. 130; Ginzburg also endorses this thesis, 1991 p. 208. 70 Quoted in Christian 1999 p. 59. 68 69

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the priest prayed that the expedition would be destroyed (in fact, all but one member were killed). However, he does mention some salient points: the frenetic dancing, spirit-invocation, a trance-like state and hidden knowledge of future events. It may seem like an enormous historical leap, from classical Greek sources such as Herodotus and Strabo, to the late seventeenth century in the Russian steppes. It might appear to be an untenable hypothesis that studies of Eurasian shamanism in the last three centuries could be legitimately compared with such scanty evidence almost two thousand years earlier. But between these extreme dates there are some rare glimpses of shamanistic practices, recorded by travelers and traders, sensitive to some unusual cultural nuances. Our review of historical testimony to shamanic activities highlights several important but little known texts: Zosimus the alchemist, Menander the Byzantine chronicler, Franciscan monks at the Mongol court and Christina of St. Trond (Belgium). Zosimus of Panopolis (Akhmin in Egypt) is generally credited with an important role in the earliest stages of the development of alchemy. His dates are disputed, but he appears to have been active in the late third or early fourth century CE; he was an eclectic thinker, with some knowledge of Platonism, Gnosticism, Judaism, the Hermetic Corpus and Zoroaster. He was preoccupied, as many others were at that time, with techniques for the soul’s release from the body and ascent to heaven. Some fragments of his personal quest have been preserved, including an account of a dream vision in which he encounters a god-like being who reveals hidden knowledge.71 Since this passage has not been brought into discussions of shamanism before it is quoted at some length. There are many specific parallels in this text with Eurasian shamanism, parallels which will be elucidated in the conclusion. In his dream Zosimus saw a set of steps leading up to a bowl-shaped altar where a priest stood, who spoke these words to Zosimus. The dream-imagery of dismemberment, being skinned alive, reduced to a skeleton, eventual rebirth, and so forth, are all taken from a distinctively shamanistic setting: I have accomplished the descent of these fifteen steps of darkness and the ascent of the steps of light, and he who sacrifices is himself the sacrificial victim. Casting away the coarse body, and consecrated as a priest by necessity, I am made perfect as a spirit … I have submitted myself to an unendurable torment. There came one in haste at early morning who overpowered me and pierced me through with a sword, and dismembered me in accordance with the rule of harmony. And he drew off the skin of my head with the sword which he was holding, and mingled the bones with the pieces of flesh, and caused them to be burned with the fire that he held in his hand [?], till I perceived by the transformation of the body that I had become spirit.72

In the fourth year of the reign of the Emperor Justin (568 CE) the Turkish king decided to cultivate good relations with the Roman Empire and requested that envoys be sent to his seat in Sogdia to discuss the silk trade. The nomadic Turks had recently conquered various Central Asian tribes between the Oxus and Jaxartes rivers; Menander Protector (who probably accompanied the expedition) prefers to 71 A full translation of and commentary on Zosimus’ vision is offered by Carl Jung who interprets the dream entirely in psycho-alchemical terms, Jung 1967 pp. 57–108. 72 Quoted in Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986 p. 121.

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call the Turks, Sacae, Sogdians and others with the collective name ‘Scythians’. When they arrived at the Turkish court in Sogdia they were treated to a special ceremony, according to Menander: Exorcisers of ill-omened things … took all the baggage that they were carrying and placed it on the ground. Then they set fire to branches of the frankincense tree, chanted some barbarous words in their Scythian tongue, making noise with bells and drum, waved above the baggage the boughs as they crackled with flames, and, falling into frenzy and acting like madmen (gignomenoi manio¯deis kai embrimoumenoi), supposed that they were driving away evil spirits. For in this way some men were thought to be averters of and guardians against evil. When they had chased away the evil beings, as they supposed, and had led Zemarchus [the envoy] through the fire, they thought that by this means they had purified themselves also.73

Perhaps from the same sixth century-Central Asian milieu is a unique ‘rain-maker’s handbook’74 which describes some of the materials and techniques from a shaman’s trance experiences: [He acts as if] he is shaking with ague … It quickly heals and gets better … With this stone he knocks his opponent on the back without his noticing … Early in the morning before eating and talking … His words are fluent … his eyes burst and come out … poured down water … Paint the big space full of water and, on the back, down to the duck-weed, paint various kinds of na¯gas … The houses of the 12 constellations are to be painted over Mount Sumeru and also the 28 lunar mansions, and the 12 great and terrible hours, and all other zodiacal stars.75 [Take these ingredients] safflower … musk … pound drugs … sandalwood … pierce (or break up) the embers … [Call or use] the south wind, swift as thought … the living beings of the whole world … Great oath by the na¯gas, whenever all the preparations are complete, they will feel obliged to come there, together with the wind, in order to make … [Take or use] a sheep’s shoulder-blade76 … after boiling it … a drug [probably hellebore] … it is a poison.

There is enough of the text left to figure out that the shaman enters a frenzied state, that he is able to heal something quickly, that he engages in some sort of spiritual (?) combat, and emerges the victor. He paints a picture or map of the spirit world where he encounters supernatural beings, the na¯gas, and summons the force of the winds, so that the waters pour down. He has to observe various preparatory rules, as the result of which the na¯gas are compelled to come to his aid (or do his bidding). Various herbs and drugs are added to a wood-fire, either as part of the summons or as part of his ecstatic trance; he is then able to foretell or foresee something using a sheep’s shoulder-blade as a mantic tool.

73 Fr. 10.3 in R. C. Blockley (ed.), The History of Menander the Guardsman, Liverpool, 1985 p. 119; ‘the exorcists are clearly shamans’, p. 264 note 128. 74 The text is from Emile Benveniste, Mission Pelliot en Asie Centrale, Paris, 1940 vol. III; detailed comments, corrections and annotations by W. B. Henning, 1977 vol. II pp. 244–8. 75 Henning says that ‘our shamanist had to paint the circle of 12 animal figures that typify the double hours of the Chaldean nukhthe¯meron’. 76 Henning notes that this is ‘an object indispensable to the Central Asian magician’.

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The twelfth-century Islamic geographer Al-Marwazi offered this description of the Kirghiz shaman: Among them is a commoner, called faghinum, who is summoned on a fixed day every year; about him there gather singers and players, and so forth, who begin drinking and feasting. When the company is well away [intoxicated], this man faints and falls as if in a fit; he is asked about all the events that are going to happen in the coming year, and he gives information whether [the crops] will be plentiful or scarce, whether there will be rain or drought, and so forth, and they believe that what he says is true.77

Two Franciscan emissaries in the mid-thirteenth century provided the European world with the first accounts of Mongolian culture. Pope Innocent IV charged Giovanni da Piano Carpini (or John of Plano Carpini) with an embassy to contact the Great Khan to protest against the Mongols’ invasion of eastern Europe and to gain information about the ‘golden hordes’ and their plans. In 1245, Carpini and an associate began their two-year round-trip journey through the frozen wastes of the Ukraine, across the Urals north of the Caspian Sea and the Aral Sea, to the Mongol capital in Karakorum. Although Carpini was unsuccessful in enlisting the Great Khan’s aid, he made a detailed, accurate record of everything he observed, the Historia Mongolorum (or Tartarorum), much of which was incorporated into Vincent of Beauvais’ popular encyclopaedia, the Speculum Historiale. The second great mission to the East was given to the Franciscan monk William of Rubruck by King Louis IX of France. Rubruck made a similar journey under equally hazardous conditions in 1253–55; he and his companion spent seven months in the Great Khan’s camp, although Rubruck had to return to Europe on his own. His narrative, A Journey to the Eastern Parts of the World, is one of the masterpieces of medieval travel literature, replete with a great deal of information about the Mongols’ history, customs and religion, including several anecdotes about shamans and their ceremonies. Roger Bacon had access to both these reports when he composed his Opus Majus (1265–67); he says of the ‘Tartars’ that although they worship one all-powerful god, they venerate fire and house thresholds: ‘They cause all things to pass through fire; for this reason they cause all the effects of the dead and gifts and messengers to pass through flames and other things, that they may be purified. Their law declares that all things are purified by fire. Moreover, he who treads on the threshold of the house is condemned to death. In these two matters and in certain others they are quite barbarous.’78 Brother William witnessed a shamanic ceremony at the Mongolian court: Some of them appeal to devils and gather together by night those seeking an oracular answer from an evil spirit at their homes, where they place boiled meat in the middle of the house. The oracle (sham) intending to invoke the spirits begins his sorcery and frenziedly beats the ground with a drum. At last he begins to get wild and lets himself be bound. When the evil spirit comes in the dark, he gives it meat to eat, and utters the oracular answer.79 Boyle 1977 p. 180, quoted in Christian 1999 pp. 59–61. Opus Majus trans by R. B. Burke 1928 vol. 2 p. 790. 79 Quoted by Hoppal in Siikala & Hoppal 1998 p. 15. 77 78

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The mysterious figure of Christina of St. Trond (1150–1224), a Belgian ecstaticmystic, offers some tantalizing clues to the presence of a shaman-like tradition in northern Europe. The principal source for her life is the biography by Thomas de Cantimpré written within eight years of her death. Christina was born in a peasant family and assigned the task of herding the animals. In her solitude she devoted much time to prayer and inward contemplation, to such an excessive degree that at the age of thirty-two she died. According to her biographer’s witnesses, she came back to life during her own funeral mass, and gave an account of her post-mortem experience. She said that she had been instructed by the Lord to return to earth to gain the release of dead souls suffering in purgatory. She also said that she would perform some amazing feats. She began to behave in such an aberrant manner that her sisters had her bound in chains; when not restrained she fled into the wilderness, where she would perch on high buildings or in trees. She never appeared to eat anything and had the ability to walk through fire unharmed. In order to share in the torments of those in purgatory, she climbed into ovens and fires, stood under freezing waterfalls, submitted to the rack-torture, and ran into thorn-bushes. Her family appears to have believed her story when they saw oil flowing from her breasts, which healed the sores caused by the chains and thorns. She lived as a beggar on others’ charity, attended the dying to whom she told their ultimate fate, and exhibited prophetic knowledge about future events. She spent more and more time in a monastery where witnesses described her dancing and non-verbal singing, ‘like those of Muslim dervishes’. She retreated again into the wilderness, eating and sleeping very little, mourning constantly, until at the age of seventy-four she died again (or died for the last time).80 Margot King, in her introduction to the text of de Cantimpré’s biography, admits that many elements in Catherine’s life-story are perfectly congruent with then current medieval exempla of the saintly life extolled as an imitation of Christ.81 Her mortification of the flesh, poverty, asceticism, tending the sick and dying, constant prayer, and so forth are all standard features of the medieval Christian mystic. However, there are very odd elements in her career that cannot be explained in these terms, ones that are not part of the mystic’s common image. The Christian mystical properties form another layer over a more primitive, non-Christian background of pagan images and practices. First, she claimed to have been dead for several days – this alone is a very strange characteristic. Second, in her death-like state she went through (or at least witnessed) the physical torments of purgatory. Third, she was given a new body, one which permitted her to endure fire, ice and lacerations. Fourth, she was known to perch like a bird on trees and rooftops. Fifth, she danced like a dervish and sang without words. As we shall see below, all these powers and actions are ones reported by Eurasian shamans, according to Russian ethnographers. Margot King says that the strange story of Christina’s life ‘bears remarkable

Summary of the main text in de Cantimpré 1986 pp. 10–52. On Christian mystical imagery in Christina’s Life, see Brenda Bolton, Vitae Matrum, in Medieval Women, Derek Baker, ed. Oxford: Blackwell, 1978, pp. 253–73; Amy Hollywood, The Soul as Virgin Wife, Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1995 pp. 45–50. 80 81

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similarities to the experiences and behaviors of those shamans about whom Joseph Campbell has written so eloquently’.82 On the other side of the world at about the same date, the Indian historian Juzjani offers this description of the powers of Genghis Khan in the early thirteenth century: [He was] adept in magic and deception, and some of the devils were his friends. Every now and again he used to fall into a trance, and in that state of insensibility all sorts of things came from his tongue, and that state of trance used to be similar to that which had happened to him at the outset of his rise [to power], and the devils who had power over him foretold his victories. The tunic and clothes which he wore on the first occasion were placed in a trunk and he was wont to take them about with him. Whenever this inspiration came over him, every circumstance … anything that he might desire would be uttered by his tongue. A person used to take the whole down in writing and enclose it in a bag and place a seal on it, and when Genghis Khan came to his senses again, they used to read his utterances over to him one by one; and according to these he would act and, more or less, indeed, the whole used to come true.83

Although the Russian Avvakum’s report (from the 1690s) is usually credited with the first mention of the word ‘shamanism’, his report is predated by fifty years by another less well-known first-hand account. In 1648, the Italian bishop Marco Bandini visited Moldavia, east of the Carpathian mountains. He was highly contemptuous of their outrageous beliefs and rituals but offered this striking account of a shamanic trance: Sorcerers are highly esteemed by them as discerning and pious scholarly men are in Italy … Whenever a sorcerer wishes to learn about his future, he will mark out a certain place where he stands for a while muttering, with his head twisted, his eyes rolling, his mouth awry, his forehead and cheeks puckered, his countenance distorted, his arms and legs flailing around, and his entire body shaking. Then he throws himself down and remains there seemingly lifeless for three or four hours. When he finally regains consciousness, he is a horrible sight for onlookers: first, he slowly revives with trembling limbs, then as if possessed by infernal spirits, he stretches out all his limbs … Eventually, as though emerging from a dream, he relates this as the future. When somebody falls sick, or loses something, he will turn to a magician. If somebody sees his friend’s or benefactor’s spirit turning away from him, he will try to win it back by magic. And if they have some enemy, magic is regarded as the best way of taking revenge.84

The great folklore collector Jacob Grimm recognized shamanic elements in some stories associated with the wild hunt. Carlo Ginzburg says that, at the end of the section in his German Mythology (1835) devoted to cannibalistic witches, ‘this hypothesis was formulated in an especially dense, almost cryptic fashion’. With an abrupt leap of insight, Grimm connected this imagery with the idea that the soul can abandon a sleeping person’s body in the form of a butterfly or small insect. Paul the King in de Cantimpré 1986, p. 9. Boyle 1977 p. 181, quoted in Christian 1999 pp. 59–61. 84 Hoppal in Siikala & Hoppal 1998 p. 169; summary by Ginzburg 1991 p. 188, who also points out that this rarely cited text was written by an Italian bishop whose seat was Durostorum on the North Sea. 82 83

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Deacon (eighth century) recounts the story of King Guntram of Burgundy: while he was sleeping under a tree, watched over by his squire, a small animal, like a tiny serpent, suddenly came out of the king’s mouth. It moved toward a nearby brook which it tried in vain to cross; when the squire placed his sword across the banks the serpent-insect crossed over and disappeared behind a small hill. After a little while it retraced its route and crept back into the mouth of the sleeping king. When he awoke he said he had dreamed that he had crossed an iron bridge and then gone into a mountain where treasure was hidden – later the treasure was found. ‘In the flash of a fading bolt of lightning’, Ginzburg says, Grimm identified this motif with an unusual comment made two hundred years earlier by the prosecutor of witches Pierre de Lancre. He had noticed some striking resemblances between witches’ claims to fall into diabolical ecstasies and reports about Lapland ‘sorcerers’ (from Olaus Magnus’ History of the Northern Peoples) who were able to separate their souls from their bodies through a trance-like state. Grimm discerned that selfinduced ecstasy was the unifying element in these two sequences; the sorcerer’s soul exists in the guise of an insect or chicken or small serpent which emerges from and then returns to the body.85 Westward migration of nomadic tribes from the Eurasian steppes into the Hungarian region86 brought rituals and beliefs in their train; one of the most distinctive sets of beliefs pertains to the taltos. This name, possibly of Turkish origin, designated sorcerers tried for witchcraft at the end of the sixteenth century. According to the detailed records that remain, the taltos are chiefly men, marked since birth by some physical deformity, such as being born with teeth or six fingers on one hand. When very young they are silent, melancholy, very strong, and greedy for milk. At the age of seven (or sometimes thirteen), they have an intense vision: an older taltos in the shape of an animal appears to them and a struggle ensues. If the youth succumbs, he becomes half-taltos, but if he triumphs he becomes a full taltos. The initiation is usually preceded by a long sleep that lasts three days; during this time the future taltos hides himself. Sometimes he dreams that he is being chopped into pieces or must strenuous tests. At periodic times he must assume an animal shape and fight with enemies, also in animal form. Before he changes into an animal, he is overcome by feelings of heat and babbles words, entering into contact with the spirit world. Often the combat between forces takes place in the clouds, in the midst of storms; whoever wins ensures a good harvest for his tribe. The taltos are also known to be able to discover hidden treasure, to heal those struck with evil spells and to identify other witches by banging a drum.87 Ginzburg has dissected similar accounts from the Friuli region of Italy and Ossetia in the Caucasus region; he asserts that the single element which all these series have in common is the shaman’s capacity to enter into periodic ecstasies. All of the main figures from these different regions and times enter through an ecstatic transport into magical combat for fertility of the fields. They are all marked out for their role by some physical sign or by some anomalous circumstance connected with Ginzburg 1991 pp. 138–9, notes pp. 150–52. There is an immense (and heated) debate about the date and scope of these migrations, a debate that cannot be entered into here. 87 Ginzburg 1991 pp. 161–2. 85 86

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their birth. The announcement of their special vocation is given by another, elder member of the elite, either in spirit or animal form. The ecstatic transport is accompanied by egress from the soul in the shape of a small animal, sometimes by being transformed into a larger animal. They travel through the air astride an animal or even an object, like a bench or scythe or broom. The ecstatic sleep coincides with calendar dates, such as the Ember weeks or the twelve days after Christmas, although their battles can be waged at less precise times. The supernatural strength possessed by these shamanic figures could obviously serve benign ends, such as ensuring the harvest, but communities also feared that their powers could be turned against their own people. Ginzburg concludes that the series … might be compared to an accumulation of energy distributed in an uneven manner, rather than to an object with well-defined contours. It is indeed true that every component of the series is characterized by the simultaneous presence of several distinctive elements or traits: (a) the periodic battles, (b) fought in ecstasy, (c) for the sake of fertility, (d) against male and female witches (or their stand-ins, the dead). Around this solid nucleus rotate other elements, whose presence is fluctuating [and] contingent: they are sometimes absent, sometimes present in an attenuated form. Their super-imposition and intersection impart to the figures constitutive of the series … a family likeness88

– the Eurasian shaman. The term ‘shamanism’ has undergone many interpretations in the past fifty years. It has been used to denominate certain kinds of healers, magicians and soul-guides in North America, South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and South-east Asia. But there is a much more restricted meaning for ‘shaman’, one whose original is found in Central Asia, Siberia, and the Transcaucasus regions. Most reputable scholars who write about shamanism make a conceptual distinction between a general loose sense and a strict sense. Mircea Eliade in his ground-breaking 1951 work (first translated into English in 1964) went to great lengths to identify the specific features of shamanism in this strict sense – our discussion is confined to this domain. Åke Hultkranz nicely summarizes the main points of shamanism; he says that the central idea is to establish means of contact with the supernatural world by the ecstatic experience of a professional intermediary – the shaman: ‘There are thus four important constituents of shamanism: the ideological premise, or the super-natural world and the contacts with it; the shaman as the actor on behalf of a human group; the inspiration granted him by his helping spirits; and the extraordinary, ecstatic experiences of the shaman.’89 The role of the shaman in these cultures is bestowed either through hereditary transmission or through hearing a personal call (vocation). This vocation is almost invariably revealed to an individual through a serious illness, an epileptic seizure, a psychotic (or schizoid) episode, or a similar severe psycho-physical disorder.90 Eliade says that these ‘sicknesses, dreams, and ecstasies in themselves constitute an initiation, that is, they transform the profane, pre-choice individual into a technician of the sacred’. These sorts of experiences follow the traditional scheme of an Ginzburg 1991 pp. 165–6. Hultkranz in Dioszegi & Hoppal 1978 p. 30. 90 Eliade 1964 pp. 23–32. 88 89

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initiation ceremony: suffering, death and then resurrection. The content of the shaman’s ecstatic experiences reveals a cluster of determinate elements: ‘dismemberment of the body, followed by a renewal of the internal organs and viscera; ascent to the sky and dialogue with the gods or spirits; descent to the underworld and conversations with spirits and the souls of dead shamans; various revelations, both religious and shamanic (secrets of the profession)’.91 Eliade argues forcefully that one of the essential characteristics of Siberian-Central Asian shamanism is the shaman’s ability, during his ecstatic initiation into the dreamworld, to visualize himself as a skeleton.92 Principal characteristics of Central Asian and Siberian shamanism, according to Eliade’s sources: (1) Amongst the Eskimos, the master extracts the disciple’s soul from his body, after which the disciple is able to do so for himself. The initiate becomes filled with an ‘inner light’ or ‘luminous fire’ which enables him to see in the dark; thus he is able to look into the future, to perceive events hidden from others. (2) Amongst the Buryat, the shaman’s career begins with a message from an ancestral shaman who takes his soul into the sky to teach him; they visit deities that are peculiar to shamans, to whom only shamans make offerings. (3) In all tribes, in the initial shamanic trance, the shaman’s body is reduced to bones, sometimes the body is dismembered, and then a new body is rebuilt; the soft tissues are a garment that can be shed. (4) The future shaman’s vocation can be signaled by a chance encounter with a semi-divine being, an ancestral soul or an animal figure, or as the result of an extraordinary event, for example, being struck by lightning. (5) The souls of other dead shamans put the new shaman in contact with various kinds of spirits. ‘Seeing spirits’, Eliade says, ‘in dream or awake is the determining sign of the shamanic vocation, whether spontaneous or voluntary. For, in a manner, having contact with the souls of the dead signifies being dead oneself.’93 (6) The souls of the dead play a crucial role in the shaman’s access to hidden knowledge; ‘even when it is the spirit of a dead man that directly grants the revelation, the latter implies either the initiatory rite of the killing of the candidate followed by his rebirth, or ecstatic journeys to the sky, a peculiarly shamanic theme in which the ancestral spirit plays the role of psychopomp … helping him to become a “spirit” too’.94 (7) There are familiar, helping spirits and another kind, the tutelary (or master) spirits; these are distinct from the divine beings whom the shaman summons during his trances.95 Familiar spirits often take the form of animals; the shaman takes control of some of them by becoming an animal himself.96 (8) The shaman has a special gift to speak animal language (especially that of birds) and hence to converse with the familiar spirits, conveying his instructions to them.97 Our present study benefits from Laurence Delaby’s meticulous comparison and analyses of Siberian soul-words, from which we can extract the following Eliade 1964 pp. 33–4. Eliade 1964 pp. 62–4, 158–65. 93 Eliade 1964 p. 84. 94 Eliade 1964 p. 85. 95 Details of the names and powers of the master spirits in Delaby 1993 pp. 346–50. 96 Eliade 1964 pp. 88–93. 97 Eliade 1964 pp. 96–9. 91 92

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summary.98 According to the western Tungus, humans have two souls: the been is a corporeal soul which descends to the world of the dead, and the omi is the permanent collective life-force which can assume another body in another life. After death, while the been retires along the river to the underworld, the omi flies into the upper world and perches on the mythical tree with other omi-souls. In a few years, it descends back to earth, enters a tent through a smoke-hole, and penetrates the womb of a pregnant woman. According to one variant, the xanjan is not a real soulcomponent but only the shadow or reflection of an individual. According to another variant, there is a third soul, the maïn conceived of as a thread that stretches from an individual’s head to the upper world’s master spirit. When an evil spirit cuts the thread the human dies. But the maïn then leads an existence of its own as a hunter in the fields of the upper-world. The been-soul, having descended to the underworld, does not satisfy the master spirit there, who desires the individual’s whole soul. In this version the xanjan is the name of the soul while the human lives and becomes omi after his death. The master spirit pursues the xanjan and when he catches it the xanjan transforms into a bird and becomes an omi-soul again. According to the Tungus of the Amur Basin, the omi-soul becomes embodied in a newborn child and when the child is one year old it takes the name ergeni (probably from their word for breath, erga). When the individual dies the ergeni becomes fanja (cognate with xanjan). The fanja then descends to the world of the dead and later becomes an omi-soul again, reincarnated in another body. The Oroch tribe posits a unique kind of human soul which traverses the underworld before ascending to the upper-world from which it then later can be reincarnated. This interim period takes many years during which this unnamed soul takes on many various forms, some inanimate. The Manchurian Tungus believe that when it is still in the mother’s womb, the infant is given its omi-soul, and when it is born it receives the breath (erga), the life-force. To protect the infant’s soul, which is always ready to take flight from its body, it is placed in a human-shaped wooden cradle called anjan. When the infant has grown and its life assured, they say that its omi-soul is stabilized and now possesses the susi-soul. This soul is composed of three parts, ‘unified like the nail, the skin, and the bone of a finger’, as an informant put it. The first part is fanjanga, linked to (or the same as) consciousness, which causes death by its departure. The second part, after death, descends into the world of the dead and its final destiny is somewhat confused. The third part returns after death to the upper-world and waits to descend again into another fetal body. Delaby stresses that in all these versions what is important is not the number or names of the various souls, but the very idea of the soul voyage, where some soul-element continues to be reincarnated from the upper-world to the earth in the middle and then passes through the lower-world.99 The cosmic, anthropic and social schemes of the Buryats of western Mongolia have been studied in great detail by L. Krader.100 In his succinct summary Krader says that, according to the Buryats’ triple division, human nature is composed of Summary of Delaby 1993 pp. 342–3. Delaby 1993 pp. 342–3; see the similar list of soul–names among the Nanai tribe by A. V. Smoljak in Dioszegi & Hoppal 1978 p. 446. 100 Summary by L. Krader in Dioszegi & Hoppal 1978 pp. 192–3. 98 99

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three parts: beje (body), the physical organism; amin, the principle of breath and life; and hünchen, the human soul, which is also divided into three – an upper, middle, and lower soul. The lowest soul is housed in the human body, especially in the skeleton; it is the ‘invisible copy’ of the skeleton; if the bones are injured then that soul is harmed. Animals have just such a boney-soul, and after animal sacrifice the bones are protected from further damage; if the bones are injured the sacrifice might be rejected by the god to whom it was offered. The second soul in humans can leave the body, transformed into a living thing, like a wasp or a bee, and can carry out actions unknown to its owner. When it is resident within a human it is human-shaped and resides in one of the main organs, for example, the heart, liver, or lungs. This soul is the most labile (as one would say today); easily alarmed, it must be tempted back into its owner. This is the soul which is invoked, projected and manipulated during shamanic rituals. The third, highest soul leaves the host’s body only at death to journey to the other-world. The chief soul has the personal and moral character of its owner; if the human was a good person its chief soul may intercede on behalf of its living relatives; if the human was evil then the chief soul may cause sickness and strife amongst the living, and must be propitiated. We are now in a position to draw some parallels between concepts associated with psychical powers in various cultures influenced by Central Asian shamanism; some of these parallels exhibit cognate words across a well-defined semantic field. Concept life-force mind body shadow

Greek anemos (wind) menos101 so¯ma phan-

Latin anima mens corpus [phan-]102

‘double’

psuche¯



orgas103 (or orge¯) whole person – breath



Iranian anma¯ manas kerpem ja¯n (or fanjan) axw (or aksu¯) ? erga

Tungus omi main ? xanjan

ergeni

Nanai omia – ? fanja (or panja) uksuki (or oksai) erga



tanu

tyn

tin

uksuki

Aside from the tribe-specific details of names and customs, one can summarize the essential properties of the Central Asian-Siberian shaman: 1 2 3 4

Novice shamans suffer mental and/or physical trauma. They transit to their vocation in solitude, outside their community. The initiatory ecstasy is guided by an ancestral shaman. During their first ecstatic trance the novice’s body is devoured by a monster and reduced to bones.

101 Greek menos: after fifth century BCE, menos-properties are assimilated with either psyche ¯ or nous. 102 Greek phan-: root used in phantasma, etc., adopted in Latin loan-words. 103 Greek orgas: ‘to swell with lust, to be excited’, glossed with epithume ¯ tikos, LSJ p. 1246; Greek orge¯ : anger, wrath, etc. manifest in heavy breathing; Homer used thumos, LSJ p. 1246.

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After which he regains a new body in order to perceive hidden things. Familiar or helping spirits assume animal shapes. Tutelary or master spirits preside over ‘natural’ domains. The shaman communicates with dead humans by becoming dead himself. He guides dead humans to the underworld. He can ascend into the heavens to communicate with the master spirit(s). Through extra-somatic projection he can ‘travel’ over great distances. He can assume an animal shape in order to control familiar spirits.

All of the above accords very well with Daniel Ogden’s assertion about the shamanistic character of powers ascribed to certain archaic Greek soul-voyagers: ‘The earliest variety of indigenous male sorcerer attested for the Greek world is the ‘shaman’. This term is commonly applied to a linked series of figures in the Pythagorean and Orphic traditions. They flourished, supposedly, in the archaic period. The notices of Herodotus and the fragments of Empedocles demonstrate that the notion of the shamantype had at any rate already become established by the early classical period.

Ogden admits that the very word ‘shaman’ is taken from the Central Asian name for these ‘magicians’, as they have been studied in the modern period. He briefly mentions characteristic powers of the Central Asian shaman: he detaches his soul from his body in an ecstatic trance, the detached soul then speaks with the gods in their own language. He cures sick persons by retrieving their souls from the land of the dead or by defeating evil demons in battle, attracts animals to the hunt with his music, and defeats the gods that preside over animals with his soul. Ogden says that, ‘the Greek shamans are similarly characterized by their ability to manipulate their own souls, be it detaching them temporarily from their bodies and sending them on voyages of discovery, suspending them from life, reincarnating them, or “bilocating” between two places’. Other shamanic themes that recur in stories about these Greek figures are extended retreats into underground chambers, where they undergo symbolic death and descent to the underworld, divination whereby they see further in space and time, control of the elements, association with the cult of Hyperborean Apollo, and dismissal of pollution and pestilence.104

104

Ogden 2002 p. 9.

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Chapter 3

Secret Teachings about the Soul in the Post-Classical World (1) Secret teachings about the soul in the Hermetica The Hermetic Corpus is a collection of teaching discourses, probably composed and sorted together in the late second or early third century CE, though some scholars have conjectured an earlier date in the first century for the discourses’ archetype. These discourses (logoi) are alleged to have been delivered by Hermes the ThriceGreat, a god-like being (or deified human) to his disciples, Asclepius, Tat (=Thoth) and Ammon. They transmit secret doctrines about several principal concerns of that epoch: the creation of the world, the making of humankind, and the role of forces and demons in human affairs. The special concern of some central texts is to instruct the disciple about the proper moral and spiritual attitude whereby the reverent soul can save itself from the bonds of fate and the body’s vices. In these Roman-period Greek texts, Hermes Trismegistos was accorded a venerable antiquity, an original epiphany that made him contemporary with Moses, Orpheus and Zoroaster, amongst other well-known sages. In their discussion and criticism of the prevalent Gnostic and pagan sects the Church Fathers, such as Origen and Clement, were well aware of Hermetic influences and provide some important quotations and commentaries on Hermetic texts known at that time; the Hermetica flowed underground far into the Middle Ages. Hermes’ remote ancestry was reinforced and promulgated by Marsilio Ficino in his edition of the Hermetica in the late fifteeth century.1 The renowned classical scholar Isaac Casaubon exploded this ancient legend in an ingenious textual critique in 1614. In the Greek text of the ‘Poimandres’ (CH I), Casaubon detected Biblical, Jewish and Christian imagery, Greek diction too abstract for such an early date, and fanciful puns impossible to translate from Egyptian. But the learned scholar’s exposé was not enough to prevent many otherwise sound thinkers from clinging to the Egyptian sage’s pristine wisdom: ‘the Hermetic engine sputtered on through the 17th century, slowly losing momentum’.2 Modern scholarly study of the Hermetica properly begins with the wide-ranging investigations by the polymath Richard Reitzenstein between 1904 and 1926. Against the then-prevalent view that the conceptual milieu behind the Hermetic was mainly (or entirely Greek), Reitzenstein argued for an Egyptian setting; in later works he factored in some Iranian variables. In the 1920s, the British scholar Walter Scott attempted to establish the Greek and Latin texts for the Corpus, as well as a 1 On 2

Ficino’s and the Hermetica, see Copenhaver 1992 pp. xlvii–xlix; see HCM pp. 217–18. Copenhaver 1992 p. l; on the scholarly background, see Fowden 1986 pp. 11–25. 93

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complete translation and exhaustive commentary. Three volumes of Scott’s work had appeared by 1926, but his death left the enormous project incomplete; the fourth volume by Scott’s colleague A. S. Ferguson did not appear until 1936. Scott’s peers were harsh in their verdict of Scott’s work: the Greek texts were a hodge-podge of adjustments, deletions and insertions, and the translation was sometimes garbled. However, the Stobaeus Excerpts, the Testimonies, and the massive collection of notes remain today an invaluable source of information if used with caution. About the same time as Scott’s edition, the Oxford scholar A. D. Nock and the French scholar A.-J. Festugiere began their ground-breaking collaboration to produce an exact set of original texts and better translation; the four volumes appeared between 1945 and 1954. Almost completely overwhelming the GreekLatin-French edition itself, Festugiere published his own four-volume monumental study of the sources and parallels for the Hermetic Corpus, La Révélation d’Hermes Trismégiste (1950–54). Under the weight of his enormous erudition these works established the fundamental notion that Greek philosophical ideas are the core of the Hermetica, and that Egyptian names and motifs appear only as embellishments, ‘touches of local color’. Festugiere also mounted a strong campaign to exclude the so-called ‘technical’ works – the spells, charms and hymns of the Greek Magical Papyri – in favor of the ‘theoretical’ works which he considered better fitted the serious, speculative character of Greek thought. Hermetic studies might well have been suppressed and discussion stifled due to Festugiere’s magisterial and autocratic tutelage, as Garth Fowden says,3 if not for some unexpected discoveries and the novel approaches they inspired. The Coptic text of part of the Asclepius (from the Nag Hammadi Library), the Hor Archive from Saqqara, and the Russian (and then French) edition of the Armenian Definitions began to change the historical picture. J.-P. Mahé’s work on the Armenian and Coptic texts, in two large volumes, appeared in 1978–82; his edition of the Armenian Definitions, dated to the sixth century CE, comprises the second volume. Mahé’s basic thesis is that the kernel of the Hermetic Corpus are sentences derived from Egyptian Instruction Literature and are the basis for the gnomic form of many key Hermetic doctrines. As the treatises evolved over time, each text accreted smaller or larger amounts of commentary, thus becoming more or less fluent as the original gnomic statements faded into the background.4 About the same time as Mahé’s Hermès en Haute-Egypte, J. D. Ray published his edition, translation and commentary on the Hor Archive from Saqqara which contains several references to Hermes Trismegistos and can be precisely dated to 174–166 BCE.5 In a landmark work in 1986, Garth Fowden drew on every conceivable source to reconstruct an authentic picture of the original Hermetic milieu in Upper Egypt in the second and third century CE. Fowden points out that the overall atmosphere of the divine revelations is distinctly Egyptian, not Greek, though the texts were obviously written by Hellenized Egyptians who wanted to express their most significant ideas in the Ptolemaic koin¯e. He also underlines the Fowden 1986 p. xiv. See Mahé’s summary in EER 1987 vol. 6 pp. 287–93; and Copenhaver 1992 pp. lvi–lvii. 5 Ray 1979 pp. 62, 65, 70–71, 77–88, 80–81, 89, 95, 159–60; summary in Copenhaver 1992 pp. xiii–xvi. 3 4

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fact that the aretalogy of Imouthes-Asclepius emanated from an Egyptian religious milieu very similar to the Hermetica, that Chaeremon’s description (in Porphyry) of Egyptian temple life at that period matches the (meager) evidence in the Hermetica, and that the catalogue of sacred books in the temple of Horus at Edfu (140–124 BCE) could quite well describe the traditional arrangement of Hermetic discourses.6 Fowden criticizes Mahé for the latter’s insistence that Egyptian Wisdom Literature forms the original stratum of Hermetic doctrine, and instead attempts to build a third way between the totally Egyptian and the totally Greek extremes. He says that ‘we are dealing with a syncretistic culture whose elements, especially by the Roman period, were not easily separable’. The Hellenized Egyptians ‘held captive’ the very Greek culture that had captured them, utilizing Jewish theology, Babylonian astrology and Egyptian mythical and symbolic expressions. Fowden also argues convincingly that the putative categories ‘technical’, ‘philosophical’ and ‘spiritual’ would have been alien to these people, even if they were familiar to those educated in Greek philosophy. He also addresses a long-standing problem internal to the Hermetic discourses, one which caused earlier scholars to fabricate various ‘schools’, that some key ideas in some texts are incompatible with other ideas in other texts. Fowden proposes instead that some doctrines appear in discourses suitable to (or even written for) beginners in the Hermetic discipline, and other more advanced doctrines were suitable for initiates who had gained a higher level of knowledge.7 The recent discovery of the Demotic Book of Thoth, dating from the second, or even the first century CE, gives the attribution of an Egyptian source to the Hermetica an even firmer purchase. The text’s editors highlight some ‘striking similarities’ between the two: (1) they are both dialogues between a god and a human who wants to know. (2) Both works ‘portray an agreeable familiarity’ between god and human, a loving relation. (3) The Egyptian disciple has shgyg (longing) to know equivalent to the Hermetic disciple’s epithumia and pothos. (4) Imhotep is an important figure in the Book of Thoth as is his counterpart Asclepius in the Hermetica. (5) The most striking parallel is the epithet of Thoth, ‘great, great, great’ (as in the Hor Archive) which in Greek appears as Hermes megistou megistou kai megalou.8 In his commentary on the preliminary report Mahé endorses these five parallels and adds two further instances: (6) the Egyptian disciple’s exclamation that Thoth has caused him to become young again ‘reminds one’ of the Hermetic doctrine of rebirth (in CH XIII and The ‘Eighth Reveals the Ninth’). (7) The Book of Thoth was designed to be staged at the festival of Imhotep which would have made it ‘easily accessible’ to Hellenized Egyptians; they could be ‘tempted to translate it into Greek or to write an imitation’.9 Jasnow and Zauzich issue a caution in their preliminary report, however, about trying to draw too close a connection between the Book of Thoth and the Hermetica. In view of the ‘strong admixture’ of Platonic and Stoic elements in the Hermetica, they would ‘be much surprised to find any extensive verbal parallel’. It is precisely 6 7 8 9

Fowden 1986 pp. 32, 50–52, 54–5, 57–9. Fowden 1986 pp. 72–4, 89–90, 97–9, 116–18. These five points according to Jasnow & Zauzich 1995 p. 617. Mahé 1996 pp. 359, 361.

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this admixture which characterizes the Hermetic texts; hence, ‘even if the Book of Thoth is not the father of any of our known Hermetic works, it may be one of the grandfathers’.10 Mahé underscores an important dissimilarity between the two: the Hermetic path to immortality leads upwards ‘and this ascensional orientation of Greek Hermetism sounds quite different from the Book of Thoth, which describes the arrival of the deceased in the underworld, the voyage of the Bark of Re, a goddess who is possibly a guardian of one of the underworld gates, infernal darkness, the Fields of Thoth, etc.’ Mahé reprises his long-running argument that the Hermetica are the descendants of Egyptian Wisdom Literature, but admits that the Book of Thoth is ‘thus far the closest Egyptian document to the Greek philosophical Hermetica’, and hence it is pre-Hermetic, not one of the immediate ancestors.11 Erik Hornung is definitely unequivocal when he states that ‘there was certainly no Hermetism per se in ancient Egypt, but from at least the New Kingdom on, there prevailed an intellectual climate that was favorable to the rise of Hermetic lore’ – and this is very similar to the tone of Fowden’s thesis. Jan Assmann has pursued this ‘climatic theme’ even further and claims to have discerned precursors to Hermetic doctrines in hymns to the hidden, distant god in the Ramesses period (1279–1153 BCE), where the foundations were laid for Hellenistic ideas about the nature of soul and its release from the bonds of fate.12 Whatever the merits of the competing theories about the origins of the Hermetica the texts with which one has to work can be usefully broken down under the following headings: ● ● ● ● ● ● ●

The Corpus Hermeticum tractates I – XVIII [CH] The Latin Asclepius, usually appended to CH [Asc.] Excerpts from Stobaeus’ Anthology [SH] The ‘Eighth Reveals the Ninth’, ‘Prayer of Thanks’, ‘Scribal Note’, and parts of the Coptic ‘Asclepius’ from the Nag Hammadi Library [NHC VI.6–9] The Armenian Definitions [AD] The Demotic Book of Thoth [DBT]13 Various spells from the Greek Magical Papyri [PGM]

One of the most important questions to consider in broaching the topic of the nature and function of the human soul in the Hermetica is what kind of two-ness humans have in terms of the overall framework in which humans have their place. The Latin Asclepius makes an unequivocal statement clearly separating two worlds, that is, the intelligible and the sensible. Hermes declares to Asclepius, ‘know that the intelligible world, discernible only by the mind, is incorporeal and that nothing corporeal can be combined with its nature, nothing discernible by quality, quantity and number, for there is no such thing in it’ (Asc. 34). The speaker talks about an intelligible world (mundus) which can be known by the mind alone (mentis solo), excludes the corporeal, and hence all those properties associated with or predicable 10 11 12 13

For details, see Jasnow & Zauzich 2005 pp. 65–71. Mahé 1996 pp. 355, 361. Hornung 2002 p. 17; Assmann 1997 pp. 265–7. Now available in a consecutive translation, Jasnow & Zauzich 2005 pp. 441–71.

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of bodies.14 Hermes continues: ‘the world called sensible is the receptacle of all the sensible forms or qualities of bodies, none of which can be invigorated without god (sine deo vegetari) … If you consider the whole, you will learn that the sensible world itself and all it contains are in truth covered over (contecta) by that higher world as if by a garment (vestimento)’ (Asc. 34; see also SH IX). The Armenian Definitions offers an abbreviated digest of this thought: ‘Dieu: monde intelligible: monde. Dieu sensible: homme: monde destructible. Dieu: monde immobile; ciel; monde mobile; homme: monde raisonnable’ (AD I.1), and then asserts that these are the three worlds, which the editor Mahé connects with CH X.14. But in that Greek text the relation between the three terms is one of dependence: ‘god the father and the good; the cosmos; and the human. God holds the cosmos, but the cosmos holds the human.’ The next Armenian Definition reiterates the same cosmic triadism: ‘Il y a donc trois mondes en tout. Deux unités (constituent) le sensible, et une (est) l’intelligible; une (est) à l’image, tandis que las troisième (est) selon la plenitude’ (AD I.2, I.4). This cosmic three-ness, in fact, is characteristic of the period’s tendency to posit an intermediate domain, bridging or linking the entirely intelligible with the entirely sensible.15 The Hermetic reference to the receptacle, of course, reminds one of the famous image in the Timaeus cosmogony where the receptacle (or receiver) is the nurse or mother of all sensible things (49a, 50b, 53a). The Hermetic author(s) also rely on this model for the generation and mixing of the four elements. God is the father, the receiver the mother; god is the source and the receiver is the shaper. Scott proposed two readings of the second sentence: either ‘the hul¯e [matter] which is the substratum of the aisth¯etos kosmos is “clothed” with visible forms which are copies of the no¯eta eid¯e’; or ‘the aisth¯etos kosmos is “woven out of” the visible forms which are copies of the no¯eta eid¯e, i.e., it is wholly made up of those forms’.16 As we shall see below, the idea that the intelligible world is a garment or wrapping for the sensible world is replicated on the smallest scale by the idea that the human body is a garment for the soul. There is another reference to cosmic dualism in very similar terms in Asclepius’ definitions to King Ammon: ‘Just as the intelligible cosmos that encompasses the sensible cosmos fills it by making it solid with changing and omniform appearances, so also the sun that encompasses all things in the cosmos strengthens and makes solid things that come-to-be and pass-away’ (CH XVI.12).17 This grand analogy hinges on two pivots: that the intelligible cosmos surrounds or encompasses the sensible cosmos, and that the sun makes visible or illuminates material things. The latter doctrine is clearly derived from Plato’s potent image in the Republic 14 Scott asserts that the intelligible world is identical with the no¯ etos kosmos and draws Platonic parallels to this text, Scott III pp. 105–7. 15 On ‘rampant triadism’ in the first centuries, see Johnston 1991 pp. 15–16; J. M. Dillon, The Middle Platonists, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1977 pp. 130–32; and R. T. Wallis, Neoplatonism, London: Duckworth, 1972 pp. 35–7. 16 Scott III p. 124, where he also cites Philo twice on the notion of the sensible world as a garment; and Ferguson cites Hippolytus’ comment on Nature (Isis) wrapping the world in a heavenly garment, in Scott IV p. 409; see also CH VIII.3, ‘god surrounds matter with immortality’. 17 Scott relates this statement to an unspecified ‘Platonic dogma’, Scott II p. 449.

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(507d–8d), also taken up and extended by Aristotle in De Anima (407–13).18 The sun’s light activates the human capacity for vision, as well as making what is potentially visible actually visible. Hence the analogy with the two worlds is that, through god’s light, the intelligible cosmos ‘casts a shadow’ on matter and the shadow reveals or discloses the sensible properties of things. Another expression common to both Plato and the Hermetica for this inter-cosmic relation is that of an image (appearance) to its original (reality). Hermes says to Asclepius (CH VI.4) that ‘all things that are subject to eye-sight are as phantoms and shadowy illusions (hupopitonta eid¯ola … kai skiagraphiai)’.19 Hermes says to Tat concerning the perfect (god) and the imperfect (the world): ‘The one ever is, the other passes; the one is real, the other is shadowed by phantasies (hupo phantasias skiazetai)’ (SH I.1). And in the next discourse, ‘all things on earth are unreal, but some of them … are copies of reality. The rest are illusion and deceit (pseudos kai planos), for they consist of mere appearance (phantasias). When the illusion flows in from above, it becomes an imitation of reality’ (SH IIA.3–4)20 Scott asserts that this doctrine is Platonic ‘not only in the leading thought … but in the details of the argument by which this thesis is supported’ and quotes a lengthy speech from Plutarch’s On the Ei at Delphi (16.17) in support of this contention.21 The ‘Poimandres’ (CH I) explains the origination of the four elements from the mind of god by way of the creation of a second god, and the origination of the primal human from an imitation. According to Poimandres, by god’s counsel (boul¯e) he brought into being an elemental cosmos, and by speech (logos) he gave birth to a second god, the demiurge.22 In union with the divine word23 (as its template, so to speak), the demiurge whirled the cosmic elements around in circles – perhaps like a centrifuge. The heavier elements (earth and water) which weigh downward lost their union with the divine word and brought forth living things without reason (CH I.8–11). Mind, the father, ‘who is light and life, gave birth to a human (anthr¯opos) like himself, whom he loved as his own child’. The primal human24 was made in god’s image and endowed with some of his creative powers; he also wanted to make things. The primal human entered the demiurge’s domain (the material world), thus displaying to Nature his beautiful form, his shape upon the waters and his shadow upon the earth. When he saw his form reflected in Nature he loved it and wanted to inhabit it; Nature (as the matrix) embraced him as her lover and they merged. This double account, both cosmogony and anthropogony, has more detailed recensions, in the Bitys Tablet synopsized by Zosimus,25 and in the Phos-Aug¯e For analyses of both their arguments on the visible, see HCM pp. 66–8. On uses of skiaz¯o, ‘to shade or darken’, but also ‘to cover’, see LSJ 1968 p. 1610. 20 See the trans. & notes by Nock & Festugiere III p. 5. 21 Scott III pp. 306–8. 22 On the Platonic model of the demiurge, see Copenhaver, 1992 pp. 104–5; Ferguson in Scott IV p. 354. 23 See Copenhaver’s notes on the divine word in the Hermetica, 1992 pp. 100, 102, 104. 24 On which, see Copenhaver 1992 pp. 106–7; Fowden 1986 pp. 120–26; Scott I pp. 36–7; Ferguson discusses seven different sources for this anthropic myth, in Scott IV pp. 354–6. 25 For which see Fowden’s synopsis, 1986 pp. 120–26; and H. M. Jackson’s edition of Zosimus’ text, On the Letter Omega, Scholars Press, 1978. 18 19

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creation account.26 Poimandres implies that individual humans are the works produced by the union of primal human and ‘mother’-nature; ‘because of this, unlike any other living thing on earth, human kind is twofold: in the body mortal, but immortal in the essential human (ousi¯odes). Even though he is immortal and has authority over all things, human kind is affected by mortality because he is subject to fate (heimarmen¯e); thus, although human is above the cosmic framework, he became a slave within it’ (CH I.15). The specific term ousi¯odes is an unusual word, but is used by the Hermetica several times in similar contexts.27 The author (or translator) of the Asclepius considers the term important enough to leave it in Greek. The essential-form follows immediately from the assertion of humans’ twofold nature: ‘Human kind is the only living thing that is twofold (duplex): one part of him is simple, what the Greeks call ousi¯odes, what we call a form of divine likeness (divinae similitudines formam). What the Greeks call hulikos and we call earthly is fourfold (quadruplex). From it is made the body that covers over what we have already termed divine in human kind’ (Asc. 7; also AD II.1). These two crucial references to humans’ twofold nature can be construed in various ways, not all of which are compatible. First, in both cases, it is in terms of a basic life that humans are different from other things, that is, one part does not ‘take part’ in the death-bound life of other (living) things, not that it is in having life that humans differ from other non-living things. Second, it is in his essential, not his accidental or contingent, nature that humans have (or are) this part, and this part consists in an image of the divine nature.28 Since the divine nature is bodiless and eternal, this inner image is incorporeal and immortal. Third, the primal human merged with the material world and through the four elements brought into being ordinary humans as ensouled bodies. Insofar as humans’ material bodies are subject to forces of decay and dissolution their lives are like that of animals, and hence under the sway of fate. Reitzenstein connected these two Hermetic passages with Zosimus’ texts and with Iamblichus (de Myst, 8.5.267) and argued for a doctrine of two souls.29 Through one soul humans were subject to inexorable fate, through the other soul humans were able to escape from fate; this notion seems to be echoed in Asclepius section 22. Scott is ambivalent about the meaning of ousi¯odes, since on his interpretation of Platonic dualism, ousia means ‘true being’ and hence is incorporeal, whereas on his construal of Stoic materialism, ousia means ‘corporeal substance’, and hence is substantial. He also quotes Plutarch’s account of the Stoic notion to monimon kai ousi¯odes, earth and water, compared to two lighter elements.30 The Asclepius continues its account of the demiurge’s making of humans – not the first god’s creation of humans – stressing the role of the human body as an instrument or means for dealing with material things. It employs the standard ‘scientific’ notion that a material nature (phusis) is defined as the proper ratio of an elemental mixture: ‘After GMPT 1986 pp. 177–8, 185–6. CH II.5, IX.1, IX.5, XIII.14, Asc. 7, Asc. 19; see the notes by Copenhaver 1992 pp. 109, 221. 28 As Scott argues, III p. 45. 29 According to Copenhaver 1992 pp. 110, 236. 30 Scott III p. 44. 26 27

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god had made human ousi¯odes, and noticed that he could not take care of everything unless he was covered over with a material wrapping (mundano integimento), god covered him with a bodily dwelling (corporea domo) and commanded that all humans be like this, mingling and combining two natures into one in their just proportion’ (Asc. 8). The Asclepius, as well as the Kor¯e Kosmou, stipulate an important formative role for nature (phusis), the hypostasis of the cosmic womb or matrix: ‘God prepared matter as a receptacle for omniform forms, but nature imaging matter with forms by means of the four elements causes all things to reach as far as heaven so that they will be pleasing in god’s sight’ (Asc.3). This passage clearly indicates that the elements are instruments for Nature to produce forms (=kinds), according to god’s will. The cosmos itself is sometimes said to be an intelligent being, the world-soul (anima mundi)31 with sensation and understanding, which makes and unmakes things. It is ‘an instrument of god’s will. In truth, god made the instrument to make all things actively in itself, taking under its protection the seeds (sperma) it has received from god’ (CH IX.6). The claim that the cosmos has accepted the divine gift of seeds for natural generation is reiterated in other texts (SH IX.1, XV.2). The key germinal factor of sperma can be found in the Timaeus (86c, 91b) where seeds enter an account of the generation of specific bodily organs. It is also central to the Stoic concept of ‘seminal reason’32 (spermatikos logos), Epicurus and Lucretius’ materialist scheme,33 and Plotinus’ complex synthesis in his account of soulformation.34 The Hermetic authors seem to share with these thinkers the idea that seeds are the smallest bodies or material particles that contain the correct elemental ratio for the production of the individual according to its kind (genos). In the words of one rather puzzling statement (Asc. 4), the kind is a totality or entirety (soliditas) of which the form (species) is a smaller ‘part’. Scott argued at length that the Latin species corresponds with the Greek eid¯os (translated either as ‘form’ or ‘kind’), but that it can also mean ‘individual’ in contrast with ‘class’ or ‘species’ in the modern sense.35 Copenhaver notes that ‘any consistent translation of species and genus in the Asclepius is impossible, but “form” and “kind” at least have the virtue of not implying a species-genus relation as in modern usage’.36 In any case, there are several ‘natural kinds’: gods, demons, humans and animals, each of which realizes its nature by ‘following after’ its original form. Each kind, in virtue of its form, has its own place in the grand scheme, though those that are ‘joined with’ the demiurge’s divine nature, that is, gods, demons and humans, can recognize and understand other kinds and hence change their form. (Asc. 5) In the ultimate transformation, as Hermes declares to Asclepius, ‘a human being is a great wonder … for he changes his nature into a god’s [nature], as if he were a god’ (Asc. 6).

31 32 33 34 35 36

On other comparable uses of ‘world-soul’ at this time, see Johnston 1991 Appendix. SVF 1.28, 2.102, 2.205, 2.314. Fr.250; Demos. 18.159; 25.48; Lucretius 3.124–9; Vergil Aen. 6.724–6. Enn. 3.1.7; 4.4.39; in general, see my previous discussion, HCM pp. 82–3. Scott III pp. 15–18. Copenhaver 1992 p. 217.

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The various authors of the Hermetic texts, often with different purposes and/or different audiences, offer a puzzling array of accounts of human nature, especially with regard to the soul and mind. There appear to be several different templates: (1) humans have two natures, or two main ‘parts’, or are the union of two substances; (2) the human body qua living thing is composed of four elements; (3) the human soul is composed of four ‘ingredients’, connected by means of pneuma or aether to the four elements; (4) the human soul has three forms (forma or eid¯e), conceived of as ‘drives’; (5) the human mind has four powers or faculties, and (6) it is in virtue of having a mind that a human is immortal. Across the wide range of Hermetic sources – the Greek-Egyptian treatises, the Latin Asclepius, the Armenian Definitions, Stobaeus’ Excerpts – there does not appear to be complete agreement on all these templates, nor does it seem feasible that all these templates could be accommodated into one overall account. There are numerous references to humans’ dual nature (CH I.15; Asc. 7, 8, 22; and so on). An Armenian Definition says that a human has (or is) two natures at one time, mortal and immortal, but then immediately declares that a human is three substances at once: the intellect, the breath, and material37 (AD VI.1). According to Hermes, there are only two kinds of entities (duo ont¯on t¯on ont¯on), corporeal and incorporeal, corresponding to mortal and divine (CH IV.6). This same assertion seems to be expanded in Stobaeus, where Hermes refers to three kinds of incorporeals (tria eid¯e as¯omat¯on) that are ‘in’ humans.38 The first is intellect (no¯eton), which is without color, without figure, without body, and issues from the primary intellectual substance. The second receives the intellect and is partly moved by that substance with a certain degree of reason, and passes into an image of the demiurge’s thought. The third is the body’s set of properties: place, time, motion, figure, surface, power and form. But these properties are of two sorts: one pertains to the attributes of the self (idi¯os), the other to the body. The former are named as property ‘types’, for example, ‘the figure’, whereas the latter are named as instances of the type, for example, ‘the figured figure’. The use of the word eid¯os in this text, here translated as ‘kind’ is also the word translated elsewhere as ‘form’; this equivocation should alert the attentive reader to the triform psychic scheme outlined below. The human body in its animal condition is a compound (a type of mixture or krasis) of the four material elements. After his account of the union of the primal human and mother nature, Poimandres describes the birth of the seven ‘governors’: ‘ was the female, water did the fertilizing, fire was the maturing force. Nature took spirit from the aether and brought forth bodies in the shape of humans. From life and light the human became soul and mind; from life came soul, from light came mind’39 (CH I.17). Aside from the first three standard elements, nature is 37 This definition does not mean the same thing as the text Mahé cites (1982 p. 375, note 4) in support of his interpretation, that the soul carries three ‘things’: mind in the reason, reason in the soul, and soul in the spirit (CH X.13). 38 Scott’s translation of this excerpt is a real mess, vol. I pp. 421–3; but see N+F III pp. 47–8; note also that s¯omatos is translated ‘bodily’ and as¯omatos is translated ‘incorporeal’, instead of ‘bodiless’. 39 For alternate versions, see CH III.1–3; SH XV.1–3; AD XI.1–6; the pair ‘light and life’ is

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said to employ pneuma extracted from the aether40 (hence a specific kind of pneuma) for the generation of bodies. Life (zo¯es) is equated with soul (psych¯e) along the lines of the standard Greek notion of ‘life-force’, and light (ph¯otos) is equated with mind (nous). Hence the ensouled life of animate beings results from earth, fire, water and spirit; whereas the distinctly human (and demonic) nature results from the inclusion of an immaterial, non-elemental light. The four elements that nourish human bodies, according to Stobaeus’ sources, are earth, fire, water and air (aeros), which holds together the frame (sunekhei to sk¯enos)41 (SH V.4). According to another text, fire dried some of the water and earth came into being; when earth and water were being dried vapor (atmos) arose, and hence air (aer) came into being.42 These four elements combined according to a harmonious reason (sun¯elthe kata ton t¯es harmonias logon); from their combination arose spirit and seed analogous to the surrounding spirits (periekhonto pneumati) (SH XV.3). This is an exceptionally important statement43 for three reasons: (a) pneuma (sing.) and pneumati (pl.) are distinguished, the former is similar to the latter, but not the same thing; (b) pneuma is not one of the four elements, but is taken from the celestial aether, and hence is connected with the eternal stars; and (c) the fourth element (air) is the result of a previous mixture that produced atmos or vapor which envelopes the earth. Several Hermetic texts isolate the idea that pneuma is intimately connected with both the air outside and the ensouled life inside. Isis tells her son Horus that humans have specific properties that result from the ratio of things combined in the living body. When Horus asks wherein this combination consists, she says it is a mixture of the four elements and from this is emitted or exhaled a vapor (atmos) which envelopes the soul (perieleitai men t¯e psuch¯e), diffused through the body and imparting some of its properties (SH XXVI.13). Isis then proceeds to describe the development of the four basic temperaments (ethoi). She had said that the spirit (pneuma) is drawn from the air (aeros) and is a sign placed in living things by nature which indicates a source in their origin above44 (SH XXVI.12). The Asclepius speculates that this ‘ingredient’, joined to the other four elements and from which specifically human properties emerge, is a fifth part and comes from the aether45 (Asc. 6). In conclusion, the breath (pneuma) is inhaled from the air, the air is connate with god’s breath and derived from the surrounding immortal atmos. This air pervades the human body and ‘inspires’ the properties of an organic living discussed by Dodd, 1935 pp. 133–6; Iversen suggests a parallel with the Egyptian concepts of ba and ankh, 1984 p. 31. 40 N+F render aether ‘le souffle vita’, N+F I p. 12; on god’s life-giving breath, see also GMPT p. 70. 41 N+F translate ‘maintient l’enveloppe’, N+F III p. 31; see also SH XXIV.9; CH IX.7; Asc. 10. 42 For this meaning of atmos, atmiz¯ o, see LSJ 1968 p. 271; Lucretius also distinguishes between vapor and air, 3.220–30; and in general, Kingsley 1995 pp. 24–35; HCM pp. 83–4. 43 Unfortunately badly mangled in Scott’s translation, Scott I p. 439; where N+F render pneuma (sing.) and pneumati (pl.) in both cases by ‘souffle’ (sing.), N+F III p. 66. 44 See esp. the trans by N+F IV p. 84; parallel statements in SH XXIX; CH IX.8; see the comments by Copenhaver 1992 pp. 100–1; N+F I p. 104; and Scott II p. 220. 45 AD XI.6 mentions Aristotle’s hypothesis of a fifth element (aether).

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thing, that is, it makes those properties into the actual characteristics of a living being. The four basic elements are the nourishment for the human soul-body composite. This key idea is subtended by the etymology of Latin elementum, a slightly altered spelling of alimentum, and hence ‘root’ in the sense of basic component, and ‘root’ in the sense of source of life.46 According to Stobaeus’ sources, through feeding, material is distributed to suitable bodily organs: water to blood, earth to bones and marrow,47 air to the nerves, and fire to the eyes (SH V.7). Hermes asserts that the human soul is carried in this manner: mind is in the reason, reason is in the soul, the soul is in the spirit, and it is spirit (pneuma) which, in passing through the bloodstream, moves the living thing, and bears it up, so to speak (tropon tina bastazei). Again, this clearly indicates the function of spirit as the hinge between the immaterial, divine ‘part’ and the material, mundane ‘part’ (see CH X.13). But Hermes disabuses his pupil of thinking that the soul (and hence the life-force) is in the blood. Rather, it is spirit which must be drawn into the soul, and here one understands that he means drawn from the outer air, changed by god’s act into vivifying breath. Hermes devotes several sections to an intricate, multi-layered explanation of the fourfold composition of human being (Asc. 11–18). Ferguson worked through these sections with great precision and summarized the main features of Hermes’ account.48 It is indeed a theory of the complex interrelations between the human microcosm and the universal macrocosm ‘in a peculiar Hermetic setting’, as he says. There are four sets of four terms: (a) lower elements: earth, fire, water and air; (b) higher elements: soul (anima), conscious (sensus), spirit (spiritus) and reason (ratio); (c) bodily parts: hands and feet and other bodily members and (d) mental parts: mind (animus49), conscious (sensus), memory (memoria) and foresight (providentia). Copenhaver’s editorial decision to translate sensus as ‘consciousness’ makes sense (sic). As something distinctive to humans alone, sensus means more than a being who senses, a thing with sense organs. It indicates that humans are sensemaking and sense-giving beings; insofar as a person can ‘make sense’ of things he is said to understand those things. Through the use of speech – which the Hermetica says is a power of mind, not reason – a person can give sense to his thoughts by means of words. In group (b), Ferguson says that sensus must be identified with nous, and anima with psych¯e; but in group (d), sensus is aisth¯esis and anima is 46 The Latin elementum, which renders the Greek stoicheia, is closely related to the Latin alimen-, meaning ‘nourishment’; it is similar to IE *al-am, Skt. al-akm, ‘nourish’; in Cicero and Quintillian, elementa was used to translate Aristotle’s ‘categories’; it also means ‘alphabet’, and hence parallels the secondary Greek meaning ‘letters’, see OLD s.v. elementum. 47 In connection with this, see the magical spell about breath, bones and marrow, GMPT p. 67. 48 Ferguson in Scott IV pp. 402–3. 49 Animus here is surely equivalent to mens (and hence nous) and not, as Copenhaver says (1992 pp. 217, 224), to ‘thought’, which is the exercise of the mind, that is, the results of its operations. The Latin author presumably used animus (m.) to distinguish it from anima (f.); see my discussion in HCM pp. 80–82.

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thumos. The contrast, he argues, is the result of (b) referring to the ousia of humans’ two parts, which are opposed in nature and function, whereas (d) refers to the functions of the human mind in relation to the cosmos. Ferguson’s fourth group of mental parts, therefore, directs our attention to the triform scheme, as well as to Hermes’ exhortations to the pupil to be reverent. In addition to the quaternary of higher elements and the quaternary of lower elements, the Hermetic author(s) also make occasional (less obvious) reference to 50a triform psychical scheme of drives. Like Plato in the Phaedrus and the Republic, Hermes alternates between biform terms (reason and unreason) and triform terms (reason, desire and ‘spirit’), where desire (thumos) and ‘spirit’ (epithumia) are aspects of unreason (alogon). When asked about the soul’s ascent (anodos), Poimandres says that when the human’s material body is released in death the form (eidos) one used to have vanishes. One gives over to the demon one’s ethos, the bodily senses rise up and flow back to their source, becoming separate parts (mer¯e).51 Where the mind in reason ascends, desire (thumos) and ‘spirit’ (epithumia)52 merge with irrational nature (alogon phusin), that is, they perish along with all other animal properties. In one of Stobaeus’ sources (SH IVA.7), Hermes is unequivocal in his tripartite vocabulary: there are three universal forms of soul: divine, human and irrational. The human soul ‘takes part in’ the divine soul in one part (reason), but joined to reason are two irrational parts, desire and ‘spirit’, forces connected with the mortal body. When the divine part enters into the mortal body, desire and ‘spirit’ become contra-rational tendencies, and it is through their presence that the whole soul becomes evil.53 In another source (SH IIB.6), Hermes discusses the internal struggle amongst the soul parts (mer¯e), when death permits one part to travel the road back to god. Although he does not name the other two parts, they clearly fill the roles assigned to them in the Platonic scheme. According to yet another excerpt (SH XVII), desire and ‘spirit’ come to resemble the material constituents in the body which houses them. Desire is a disposition according to the soul’s thought (psych¯es no¯ema) and becomes courage when not distracted by cowardice. ‘Spirit’ is a disposition according to the soul’s reason (psych¯es logismon) and becomes temperance (sophrosun¯e) when not moved by pleasure. When desire and ‘spirit’ agree together they give rise to a well-balanced disposition, in accord with the soul’s reason. The function of reason then is to redress the excess in desire and compensate for the lack in ‘spirit’.54 This Hermetic author follows the Phaedrus archetype of For summary of this scheme, see HCM pp. 46–50. In those passages which discuss this triple division, the author(s) commonly use the word ‘part’ (meros) a term which Plato usually avoided in this context, see HCM pp. 47–8. 52 Copenhaver translated thumos ‘feeling’ and epithumia ‘longing’, 1992 p. 6; he quotes an old article by Zielinski (1905) who ‘identifies the sequence … as a reflection of the tripartite psychology of faculties in Plato’, 1992 p. 115; Scott does not draw this parallel, Scott II pp. 57–60. 53 See Scott’s notes on this text, III pp. 350–52; N+F translate the two terms ‘irascible’ and ‘concupiscible’ III pp. 18, 76; Scott, rather misleadingly, translates them as ‘repugnance’ and ‘desire’, I p. 393 note 1. 54 This interpretation relies on the N+F translation, III p. 76. 50 51

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reason ruling over the other two ‘drives’ and canalizing their forces toward virtuous ends. In addition to the human soul’s analysis in terms of four higher and four lower elements, the human mind is also further analyzed in terms of the powers (dunameis) which result from the relative dispositions of the four higher elements. It is with respect to the distinction between mind and reason that the Hermetica stand out from many other contemporary theories. Through the making of the primal human, Hermes says to his pupil, god shared reason among all people, but not mind, though he begrudged it to no one. To begrudge this does not come from on high (god himself) but forms below in the souls of those who do not have mind (CH IV.3). Scott remarks that in this text logos can mean speech or reason55 and then distinguishes between higher nous, which only the few possess, and lower nous, which accompanies speech.56 Although Scott’s bifurcation of nous is both unnecessary and confusing, he is surely correct in saying that nous is something for humans to strive for; in attaining it they become perfect. Nock and Festugiere also remark that logos has the double sense of reason and speech, but further that logos is opposed to nous as discursive reason is to intellectual intuition.57 Mind then is a freely bestowed gift from god which, when used rightly, permits gnosis, genuine knowledge of god as source and symbol. Hermes continues with an important lesson from his grand myth about the cosmic mixing-bowl,58 describing this important psychic separation. All humans, he says, immerse themselves in the bowl but only those who recognize god as its source receive mind; those who do not have reason without understanding. The mindless rational beings ‘do not know the purpose or the agents of their coming-to-be’. They have sensations like unreasoning animals, are driven by desire and anger (thum¯e kai org¯e), do not admire what should be, and believe that humans were made to pursue bodily pleasures (CH IV.5). This is an important Hermetic thesis: only through an understanding of the true ‘reasons’ for their being, that is, the purpose for which they were made, can humans transform mere reason into mind (see also CH IV.1; V.6). One could say that humans’ power of reason is the essence (ousia) of their kind and that it demarcates humans from animals. But it is only through the exercise of this capacity that (some) humans can attain gnosis; all other humans live their life as if they were unreasoning animals. When Hermes enjoins Asclepius to ‘use his mind’, the very discourse he has just uttered will seem true, but if he does not use his mind then he will not know the truth.59 ‘To understand is to believe’, Hermes says, ‘and not to believe is not to understand. Reason does get to the truth, but mind is powerful and when it has been guided by reason up to a point, it has the means to reach truth.’ When the mind carefully considers these words, it discovers that they are in accord with reason, and through this accord it reaches rest (CH IX.10). Copenhaver comments Scott II p. 139; but in contrast, Ferguson in Scott IV p. 367. AD VIII.4 seems to say that there are two intellects. 57 N+F I p. 53, note 6; as well, Copenhaver 1992 p. 133. 58 On the cosmic krater see Scott III pp. 140–42, citing much background material. 59 This statement supports Fowden’s claim that some discourses are geared to higher levels of initiation in the Hermetic mysteries, 1986 pp. 72–4. 55 56

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that in this passage to ‘understand’ (no¯esai) stands in opposition to ‘reason’ (or ‘discourse’) in that it is equated with belief.60 E. R. Dodds argued that the equation of understanding with belief (or faith) was a profound departure from the pagan attitude, since for a person with a philosophical education pistis was a lower state of mind, insofar as it is assent without rational conviction.61 An individual’s knowledge of this special revelation is appropriate to gnosis, and since gnosis is in communication with the unseen it is precisely faith (see Asc. 29). The mind’s intellectual power was often conceived on the model of human vision, a powerful and long-lasting analogy. An individual understands when he ‘sees’ the truth, the soul is illuminated by god’s light, and in the light it comes to the truth. In keeping with this ensemble of visual-intellectual images, the Hermetica often speak of mental insight as ‘piercing’ or ‘penetrating’ the layers of illusion (the sensible world) to the depth of the real (the intelligible world). Also, in keeping with the late Judaic and Egyptian view62 (but less so the Hellenistic view), the Hermetica locate the mental powers in the heart, not the head. Hence one comes across the unusual locution ‘the heart’s eyes’ with reference to mental insight. Thus, for example, when Hermes adjures Tat to contemplate god’s image, he says that ‘if your vision is sharp and you think it (no¯eseis) with your heart’s eyes (kardias opthalmois) … you shall discover the road that leads above, or rather the image shows the way (eik¯en hod¯eg¯esei)’ (CH IV.11). Of course, the more common locution, ‘to see with the mind’s eye’, is merely metonymical for genuine rational insight. Later, when Tat has been so dazzled by Hermes’ revelations that he cannot keep track of the many new teachings, Tat says that his guide has deranged his phren¯es63 that Hermes’ speech has made him speech-less (aphasion), and hence bereft of what was in his phren¯es (CH XIII.4, 5). An anonymous injunction exhorts the auditors to look up with the heart’s eyes (opthalmois t¯es kardias) and the next section connects the pursuit of knowledge with the divine light above. Only those who are sober can gaze with the heart’s eyes toward the one who is not seen nor heard64 (CH VII.1, 2). The Kor¯e Kosmou is even more exact in situating the vision of truth in the heart: when the first-made souls contemplated their appointed places in the material world they lamented being condemned to darkness, away from god’s light. Their eyes will be dimmed when confined in the human body and the souls’ home (oikos) will be in the heart65 (SH XXIII.36). Isis likens the world to the human body: just as the ancestral homeland is in the middle of the earth, so also the middle of the human body is the heart, and the heart is the control center (horm¯et¯erion) of the soul66 (SH XXIV.13). Copenhaver 1992 p. 154. E. R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, New York: Norton, 1977 pp. 120–23; contra Fowden’s claim 1986 p. 101; see also N+F I p. 105 note 35. 62 For Hebrew ideas, see TDNT vol. III pp. 606–13; for the Egyptian, see Mahé 1982 pp. 297–8. 63 The thoracic cage, or perhaps the lungs; Copenhaver translates this word, as well as kardia, by ‘heart’. 64 N+F cite several NT and Patristic parallels, N+ F I p. 82 note 5. 65 Scott likens this situation to the Stoic h¯ egemonikon, Scott III p. 531. 66 N+F remark, at IV p. 63 note 42, that this text might be the source of Tertullian’s image of the heart as psychic controller in De An. 15.5, as well as Horapollo Aegyptii I. 36. 60 61

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The most exact Hermetic epitome for mind-reason-soul-spirit is the text of CH X.13, already quoted: mind is in reason, reason is in soul, soul is in spirit, and the spirit moves the living thing. Each form is nested within the next form, where the enclosing form is a garment for the enclosed. After bodily death, ‘the soul rises up to itself (?), the spirit is drawn into the blood, the soul into the spirit, but the mind, since it is divine by nature, becomes purified by its garments (endumai) and takes on a fiery body’67 (CH X.16). More than one envelope is required because the naked mind cannot reside alone in a material body. The mind takes the soul as a shroud (a funerary garment) and the soul uses the spirit as its servant. One should note well that separate garment images attach to the body as a tomb, in contrast with the body as a prison. In any case, when the soul separates from the body and the mind from the soul, the mind puts on a fiery tunic (chiton), an envelope it could not have worn when it was in the soul (and hence in the body). This fiery tunic is the posthumous human’s demonic body (CHX. 21–3).68 Copenhaver, in agreement with Nock and Festugiere on this issue,69 discerns two currents in the Hermetic treatment of post-mortem soul separation, currents that are not entirely compatible. In sections 13–19 the human being is a hierarchy of enveloping substances – body, spirit, soul, reason, mind – of which mind, ontologically the highest, is the inmost. At death when this composite dissolves, mind is liberated to take on the fiery, demonic body that it had to abandon before entering a human body. The reward of the reverent soul is to become pure mind, but the irreverent soul is punished with the burden of vices that it must carry when it enters another human body.

In contrast, in the next part, sections 21–25, ‘mind itself is a daim¯on, either a helping spirit sent by divine justice to guide the reverent soul to gnosis, or an avenging spirit that leads the irreverent soul to greater sin’.70 In this astute interpretation, three crucial factors in the Hermetic concept of human immortality are presented: the dissolution of the soul-body composite, the role of demons and the reward for the reverent. When the first god changed bodiless matter into bounded material bodies, he imposed an order on what was disordered; he surrounded the body of the world with the world-soul so that the now-ordered matter would not dissolve. Where the stars never lose their order, and hence never dissolve, earthly things become disordered through bodily changes. But their dissolution affects only the bodily nature of the composite whole, and not the nonbodily, ensouled nature.71 When Mind speaks to Hermes he says that death is not the destruction of the elements combined but the dissolution of their union. The apparent destruction of an individual is no more than its basic constituents becoming invisible and hence concealed; but every ‘swirling’ of released elements is a return to their original state, and every concealment is a renewal (CH XI.15). In the loose See N+F I p. 131 notes 56–8. On this demonic body, see SH XXIV.10; Ch. Oracles fr.129; and for analyses, Copenhaver 1992 pp. 162–3; Scott II pp. 275–7; N+F I pp. 138–40. 69 See N+F I pp. 133–4, 138–40; and also Scott II pp. 275–7. 70 Copenhaver 1992 p. 163, emphasis added. 71 According to CH VIII.3–4; XIII.13–14; XVI.9. 67 68

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sense of ‘life’, since none of the primordial mixture is ever destroyed, everything that exists lives, everything is an actual part of the world-body (CH XII.15; Asc. 29). Only the composition of composite bodies dissolves, hence dissolution is not real (or true) death, but the break-up of an alloy (CH XII.16). In the strict sense of ‘life’, only those composite things that exhibit self-willed motion are living, and in losing life they lose the motion internal to their organized (and organic) body. Given the fact that the Hermetica does not offer a quasi-scientific account of the technical aspects of mixture, their thesis about dissolution at this level is little different than other then-current accounts; it is an amalgam of Stoic, Middle Platonic and late antique medical theories. What does distinguish the Hermeticists’ view of worldly death and other-worldly ‘life’ are the claims about the ante-natal and post-mortem conjunction of the human mind with a demon and the emphasis on reverence (or piety) as a condition for humans achieving an immortal status. The key to understanding the role that demons play in this scheme is the Hermetic notion of energy; it is energy that binds together the soul-body composite and it is energy that dissolves the composite. ‘Death has nothing to do with this’, says the divine guide (CH VIII.1); the word ‘death’ (thanatos) comes from the word ‘immortal’ (athanatos), and hence what is not immortal is taken to be death-bound (that is, mortal, from Latin mortus).72 All real (or true) things are without death, that is, annihilation or destruction, but that does not make worldly beings composed of those deathless things immortal. If all material worldly things are mere illusions, pale copies of bright originals, then their loss of ‘life’ is an illusion; the ordered arrangement of their parts loses its apparent order.73 However, in virtue of the perfect immaterial simplicity of minds they are not real constituents in the elemental mixture, and the dissolution of the soul-body composite which houses them allows them to return to their ‘proper place’ (SH XXV.4–5). According to the most comprehensive version of the Hermetic cosmogony, the basic forces (energeia) are the tools that god used in blending the elements into their basic kinds (CH XII.21–2). These forces are at work in soulless as well as ensouled things. In living things they are forces which hold together the soul-body composite; when the soul separates from the body at death, these forces continue working. But without the soul’s ruling action, the forces decompose the body’s parts (SH III.7); hence the composite loses the flesh and exposes the bones. Although the basic forces work in bodies, they are themselves unbodied and hence immortal. Despite their simplicity and perfection they are dependent in their workings (erga) on the bodies they use as tools or media (SH III.6). Although they work through souls on bodies, they cannot connect with a bodiless soul; it is through some body that a force becomes manifest. In addition, it seems that there are different kinds of forces: universal, natural, specific, and so forth. Hermes informs Tat that the Decans (the thirty-six gods of the zodiac) sowed the earth with seeds of certain forces, the evil variety of which are called demons. These demons do not possess bodies made of special material, nor are they moved within by soul (SH VI.10). Like all basic forces

72 73

An important point developed in one of the main conclusions in HCM p. 359. SH XX.1; Scott III pp. 456–7; for a different text and translation, see N+F III p. 86.

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they must employ bodies in order to bring about their works, and in the case of humans after death, this is a fire-like body which accretes around the soul. The Hermetic discussion of demons is in accord with the then-current notion that demons are intermediate entities, partaking of the divine intelligible realm in being deathless and bodiless, and partaking of the human sensible realm in having bodies and passions. After death, Poimandres declares, your body decays, your form disappears, and your ethos is transferred to a demon. Your immortal ‘nature’ ascends through the cosmic frame, and at each of seven levels it surrenders specific energies, that is, those basic human impulses that drove an individual’s worldly existence. Once stripped of all these features, the individual enters the eighth region (the ogdoad) where he gains his own proper power (idian dunamin)74 (CH I.25–26). Along with other blessed beings, the soul then sings hymns to the father and hears certain powers that exist in the next, highest region (the ennead).75 The seven cosmic regions are without doubt equivalent to the seven governors made by the second god, that is, the seven planets.76 Another tract explicitly situates troops of demons under the regimen of the stars, good and evil according to their energies, where these energies comprise a demon’s essence (CH XVI.10–15). One is compelled to infer from the previous passages about post-mortem ascent, the dissolution of ensouled living bodies, and the life-force present in soul that it is the human mind alone that transcends the death-bound sensible world. As Hermes repeatedly insists, reason is the special power of humans alone as a natural kind, but mind is given only to some humans. Hence, only those who use their mind in the proper manner, that is, according to the Hermetic discipline, are able to attain immortality: ‘Among all living things god recognized humankind by the unique reason and learning through which humans could banish and spurn the body’s vices, and he made them reach for immortality as their hope and ambition’ (Asc. 22). When the human mind conceives good things it receives seeds from god, and when it conceives evil things the seeds come from a demon. No part of the cosmos is without a demon that steals into the mind to sow the seeds of its own energy; these lead to shameful and irreverent actions. The seeds from god are potent, beautiful and good; these thoughts lead to virtuous and reverent actions (CH IX.3; see also CH X.21). God saves those who in their essence (their inner being) are surrounded by good,77 but the good words and deeds these humans make are the result of their own use of available forces (CH IX.5), under the guidance of wisdom and providence. The Hermetic author(s) repeatedly commend piety (eusebia, sometimes translated ‘reverence’) as the right attitude for an aspiring initiate to attain immortality. Copenhaver astutely observes that ‘reverence’ better renders eusebia as an attitude toward the gods, while ‘piety’ more strongly implies a virtue possessed by an individual.78 Garth Fowden calls attention to the many Hermetic exhortations 74 Reitzenstein claimed to discern clear evidence for Iranian ideas here, especially for the idea of the soul-voyage by way of Mithraism, according to Copenhaver 1992 p. 115. 75 The secret teaching about this is contained in the treatise ‘The Eighth Reveals the Ninth’, NHC VI.6. 76 For numerous references supporting this equation, see Copenhaver 1992 p. 116. 77 On the Hermetic doctrine of salvation, see esp. Georg Luck 2001 pp. 191–202. 78 Copenhaver 1992 p. 114; see also Burkert 1985 pp. 273–5.

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to eusebia; it is ‘the natural function of man, and especially of the philosopher who aspires to gnosis’.79 For Hermes, scorning the body’s needs, turning away from the material world, is the consequence of seeing the good and turning towards it: ‘those who take part in the gift from god [mind] are immortal rather than mortal if one compares their deeds’ (CH IV.5). The divine seeds which engender virtue bring eusebia: ‘knowledge of god, and one who has come to know god, filled with all good things, has thoughts that are divine and not like those of the multitude’ (CH IX.4). Hence, it is not just by his words or speech that a pious human distinguishes himself from others, but also by his actions or deeds. This dual emphasis on good words and good deeds as the genuine expression of the right attitude is exactly what one finds in the Zoroastrian segregation of those who will be saved from those who will be damned. This is in contrast to those who express evil words and evil deeds: ‘for those whose seeds engender vices, their souls are shaken by bodily passions, souls that are slaves to vile and monstrous bodies. For them the body is a burden; the soul is ruled by the body instead of ruling it.’ They have failed to realize (and hence make true) that ‘the virtue of soul is knowledge, for one who knows is good and reverent and already divine’ (CH X.9). When Tat asks Hermes how to live his life rightly, Hermes replies that he must be pious, and in seeking to be pious he must study philosophy. Through philosophy one learns what things are, how they are ordered, by whom and to what end. He will give thanks to the demiurge as a good father, a kind nourisher, and a faithful guardian80 (SH IIB.2). Even the demons have their intermediary (and apparently neutral) function in the contrary impulses within humans between doing good and doing evil. However, in this scheme there is nothing like fundamental ethical dualism: there is no struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The gods work through cosmic forces and bring about the good (or goods); only in turning away from the gods, by denying their freely bestowed gift, do humans incline toward evil, that is, evils they bring about solely through their words and deeds. As indeed Asclepius declares to King Ammon: ‘Irreverence is mankind’s greatest wrong against the gods; to do good is the gods’ affair; to be reverent is mankind’s; and the demons’ is to assist. Whatever else humans dare to do – out of error or daring or compulsion or ignorance – all these the gods hold guiltless. Irreverence alone is subject to judgment’ (CH XVI.11). The demons presumably assist the gods in their good business and assist humans either in their reverent or irreverent actions. All of the exculpatory factors mentioned by Asclepius are ‘passions’ in the sense of passive undergoings, whereas irreverence is an active assertion against the gods. Whether irreverence is expressed in their words or their deeds, after death an irreverent individual is subject to the gods’ judgment. The Asclepius is quite explicit about this post-mortem verdict when it states that the chief demon weighs and judges the soul’s merits and demerits. If the chief demon finds the soul pious and just (piam iustamque) he lets it stay in places suitable to it. But if he sees the soul stained with wrongs and dirtied with vice, he sends it tumbling down into the depths below. The wicked soul’s eternal punishment is to be swept back and forth in the 79 80

Fowden 1986 p. 107. For comment on this apothegm see N+F III p. 13 & p. 15 note 3.

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streams of matter (mundanis fluctibus). According to NHC VI.8, the evil soul is handed over for torment by strangler demons who scourge it and then cast it into the celestial sea where fire and ice are massed together. The proposition that human souls are subject to post-mortem judgment by a god or demon would seem to match quite well with contemporary Egyptian beliefs. But the further detail about casting bad souls into the abyss is not Egyptian (let alone Greek); it is not comparable to good souls elevated to akhu and bad souls relegated to being ghostly vagrants. For the Hermeticist, the dead soul is never said to eat and drink or enjoy any other pleasures associated with an embodied existence, a central feature of Egyptian belief. According to one (and only one81) tractate (CH XIII), rebirth or birth-again is attendant on the good soul’s passing-beyond, into god’s domain. Tat asks Hermes several times to reveal the secret teaching about rebirth: Hermes responds with oblique words and riddles. He reprises the stages of the soul’s ascent through the seven spheres; at each stage a divine power expels one of the bodily appetites; there are twelve in total, driven out by ten powers. Hermes says that through these means the soul is ‘divinized by this birth’ and that through mercy a godly birth has been attained (CH XIII.10). Despite Hermes averring that Poimandres has not transmitted to him (Hermes) more than has been written in these discourses, he does not here declare the content of this new vision – but Tat seems to understand anyway. What it is that the pupil so readily understood, without hearing the actual teaching, has been the subject of much scholarly debate. No longer privileged to such an intuitive insight, modern readers must exercise great ingenuity. With regard to the doctrine of rebirth, C. H. Dodd discerned striking parallels with the New Testament and listed twenty-two correspondent passages.82 J.-P. Mahé proposed more Egyptian than Christian parallels to rebirth, especially similarities between CH XIII and ‘The Eighth Reveals the Ninth’.83 E. R. Dodds called the notion of Hermetic rebirth ‘an actual change of identity, the substitution of a divine for a human personality … either by a magical ritual or by an act of divine grace or by some combination’.84 Festugiere devoted two chapters in his monumental Révélation d’ Hermes Trismégiste to themes of regeneration in this treatise and noted the significance of initiatory magic in the Greek Magical Papyri in the so-called ‘Mithras Liturgy’.85 Filoramo says that regeneration is ‘a reformation of the divine logos in the interiority of the initiate or, more precisely, the acquisition of a body of immortality, which is invisible to physical sight’.86 81 The word palingenesia occurs eleven times in CH XIII and only once in the other Greek treatises (CH III.3), as Copenhaver points out, 1992 p. 181. 82 C. H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953 pp. 44–53. 83 Mahé 1978 Tome I pp. 41–4, 53–4. 84 E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety, New York: W. W. Norton and Co. 1970 p. 76. 85 PGM IV.475–732. 86 Filoramo in J. Assmann & G. Stroumsa, eds, Transformation of the Inner Self in Ancient Religions, Leiden: Brill 1999 p. 143; and in the same vein, see Georg Luck on regeneration in the Poimandres text, Luck 2001 p. 198.

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No matter what specific parallels are drawn with other esoteric texts, Copenhaver calls attention to an internal inconsistency in the Hermetic texts. Treatise XIII and other passages (CH IV.5; Asc. 41; NHC VI.6.1–32) ‘assume that rebirth can happen to a living mortal, but other passages (CH I.24–6; IX.6; SH VI.18) describe an experience accessible only after the death of the body’.87 It is possible that the former group of texts can be more properly associated with some sort of shamanistic ecstasy (otherwise rarely mentioned)88 and the latter group with being born again in the strict sense. The central role in the ecstatic experience is played by a purely intellectual vision, and this vision, according to Filoramo, ‘coincides with an interior journey through the chain of being, arriving at the root which is his root. In this sense, the vision enables the disciple to be assimilated by what he has seen, that is, the eternal generation of the superior world.’89 In any case, by the very terms of the Hermetic path, when a human ascends into heaven he has not attained only an immortal condition, but rather has become a god. ‘The human on earth is a mortal god [and] god in heaven is an immortal human’ (CH X.25) – a distinctive and powerful declaration. In conclusion, one can hardly postpone dealing with the problem posed by recent Hermetic scholars about the intellectual orientation and cultural milieu of the Hermetic author(s). Several scholars in the past few decades have forcefully argued that the cultural milieu, doctrinal background, and overall purport of the Hermetic texts are distinctively Egyptian, albeit late period Hellenized Egyptian. This position, taking account of recent discoveries of Hieratic and Coptic texts (amongst other things), was quite consciously mounted against a very strong set of arguments in the mid-twentieth century, that the Hermetica were basically inspired by and articulated in terms of an amalgam of Greek philosophical ideas, with Egyptian details added for polemical effect, ‘touches of local color’, to give these teachings an aura of great antiquity. Our detailed analyses of the key features of the Hermetic account of the human mind and soul has shown that there is very little of distinctly Egyptian thought behind it.90 In brief summary, the aspects of human nature according to the ancient Egyptian ‘complex’ comprise: (1) an animate body which contains the heart and four main organs, (2) the person’s name, (3) the person’s shadow, (4) the ka as an anonymous life-force and (5) the ba whose seat is the whole person and whose functions are manifest in the person’s bodily states. After death the person can be transformed into a divine being (6) the akh, a shining light-like entity, equal in stature to the gods and demons. Insofar as the person’s ka receives sufficient nourishment by means of prayers and images, the person’s ba is able to maintain unity or integrate all of the person’s basic mental functions, especially memory. If the person’s life has been of good merit his ‘nature’ is transformed into an akh which Copenhaver 1992 p. 183. But see the extraordinary statement by Zosimus quoted by Fowden 1986 p. 121. 89 Filoramo, in Assmann & Stroumsa 1999 p. 145. 90 This conclusion about the basic sources of the Hermetic account of soul is reached despite the fact that, with regard to the most general themes and settings, the arguments of Mahé, Fowden, Copenhaver and others is more convincing than those of Nock and Festugiere, as well as those of Walter Scott. 87 88

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lives eternally in a changeless state in the underworld. Every akh in its eternal changeless state is netjer (divine), like the gods and demons who have always existed in the underworld. With regard to this model, there are no Hermetic equivalents of the ka, the name, and the shadow,91 and especially nothing like the akh. Even the most central and well-attested Egyptian ‘ingredient’, the ba, although closest to Greek psych¯e, plays an unusual role in the overall scheme.92 On the Egyptian view, each human’s body is an intrinsic part of the whole individual; hence, the elaborate preparations to preserve the body after death. This is in stark contrast to the Hermetic view, which accords with Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas, that the human body is a contingent (and even unfortunate) shell (or prison) for the individual only during their earthly life. There is no Egyptian counterpart to the Hermeticists’ repeated attempts, like the Stoics and NeoPlatonists, to explain the elemental composition of all living beings, and hence by extension, the supra-elemental ‘nature’ of the human soul. Erik Hornung has reviewed some of the attempts to extrapolate an elemental theory in Egyptian texts and concludes that, ‘there is in fact no clear indication’ of this: ‘For example, in the hymn to the creator god in the Instruction for Merikar¯e, sky, earth, water, and breath are mentioned in succession, but the element of fire is conspicuously absent. Other supposed attestations are similarly incomplete.’93 The Egyptian and the Hermetic accounts of post-mortem judgment do indeed have similarities: humans are not immortal in their nature, but rather some humans earn an immortal status by reason of good merit in their earthly life. However, the Hermeticists emphasize that this good merit is attendant on having gained mind, that is, by way of knowledge (gnosis) of the true way; there is nothing like such an epistemic credential in the Egyptian scheme. The Hermetic citation of post-mortem judgment by the chief demon would seem to match quite well with contemporary Egyptian beliefs, but casting bad souls into the abyss is not Egyptian (let alone Greek). This expulsion is not comparable to good souls elevated to akhu and bad souls relegated to being ghostly vagrants. The chief demon’s otherworldly status and his principal function are not Egyptian either, but more like the Zoroastrian demon on the judgment bridge, passing his verdicts on the daenas who attempt to cross over. The most important idea underlying the Egyptian ‘complex’ of human nature is that there is only one life for all created, finite beings: this life is manifest (kheperu) in the earthly realm in the form of an animate, bodily entity, and is manifest in the unearthly life, after the first death, by way of the mummy and associated simulacra, in the person’s akh. Again, in the Hermetic account there is nothing like this core idea of one life before and after bodily death for each individual; rather, the only life for humans resides in the soul as life-force, extinguished through elemental dissolution. For the Hermeticist, the dead soul is never ascribed any of the bodily, life-like characteristics associated with its earthly existence. Aside from the one unique spell to control one’s own shadow, GMPT p. 34. Although Iversen does try to identify Hermetic ‘light and life’ with ba and ankh (not akh), 1984 p. 31; Mahé says of NHC VI.8 that Hermes’ refusal to call statues the truly living gods fashioned by humans calls to mind the Egyptian belief in bau as the souls of idols, Mahé in EER 1987 vol. 6 p. 290. 93 Hornung 2002 p. 40. 91 92

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Finally, as Mahé observed,94 the Hermetic path to immortality leads upward, it is an ascent of the soul to its original ‘home’ with god above, whereas the setting of all Egyptian post-mortem stories is the underworld, in which the dead person witnesses the journey of the solar barque and takes his place in the field of reeds where his new ‘life’ unfolds. Although the Demotic Book of Thoth may indeed invite comparison with the more conceptually remote Hermetic discourses, it too places the deceased soul in the underworld. Erik Hornung has summarized some of the key texts for the Egyptian mysteries, texts which reflect a common attitude (at least after the Amarna Period c. 1350) that every individual could share in the hope of another ‘life’ in the other-world. But there is an important distinction between the Greek and Roman view about what this other life amounted to: in ancient Egypt, this was a matter of a constantly renewed regeneration; in Hellenism, however, it was a release from the forces of fate and mortality, freedom from imprisonment in this world … In the Hellenistic mysteries, initiates entered into the solar course and gazed upon the ‘sun at midnight’, the deepest of mysteries. In ancient Egypt, this glimpse was available to everyone, immediately upon crossing the threshold of death, for participation in the course of the sun meant ongoing regeneration for themselves as well as for the heavenly body.95

Unlike the Hermetic model of the mentor imparting his secret teaching to the pupil, the Egyptian scheme is much more democratic, even egalitarian. Nowhere does one find circles of initiates, for the priests are public officials who perform their duties in temples (even though their other magical activities might have been conducted in private). The secret knowledge attached to the cult of the dead and to their postmortem existence was the result of the simple fact that no living individual was privy to the details of the other life. In the final analysis, initiation into the mysteries was indeed a rite of passage, the ultimate passage into the other-world, and for every initiate, in his own death, it was an encounter with a great mystery, one known only to the gods. (2) Gnostic secret teachings about the soul The available collections of Gnostic texts offer a bewildering variety of points of view on many central theological and philosophical questions. There are various ways of picturing these heterogeneous collections of texts, depending on how one construes the very concept of ‘gnosticism’.96 The four principal ways are as follows: (1) There is a core set of Gnostic doctrines, distinct from other schools or sects in the Early Christian Era; incongruities amongst texts are relatively minor and stem from particular socio-cultural settings and/or the agendas of particular teachers or 94 Mahé 1996 p. 355; an opinion also formed regarding the end of NHC VI.8 which is essentially ‘an adaptation of Platonic myths giving Hades an aerial location. This has some similarities to Jewish apocalyptic, while the Egyptian element is practically non-existent’, Mahé in EER 1987 vol. 6 p. 291. 95 Hornung 2002 pp. 14–15. 96 In general, Rudolph 1987 pp. 53–9; Filoramo 1990 pp. 1–19; Logan 1996 pp. 1–23.

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proponents. (2) Gnostic doctrine is eclectic ‘all the way down’, that is, in its very ‘essence’; a collection of texts is a patchwork product which resulted from individual pieces being selected and trimmed to fit into an overall pattern, where the ‘fitters’ are the Gnostic teachers themselves. Patches from Christian, Neo-platonic, Hermetic and Judaic teachings are stitched together in such a way that only the total pattern can be designated as Gnostic. (3) The label ‘Gnosticism’ is a post-hoc product of critics of heresy who were most concerned to denounce a broad swathe of false ways of knowing God. Aside from being incompatible with canonical Christian doctrine – which itself was only being shaped at this time – individual Gnostic authors, sects and schools had nothing in common. (4) It designates something like a cluster of symptoms which are subject to a form of diagnosis; each specific ‘symptom’, that is, doctrine or thesis, is thus under-determined. Let us imagine that there are seven central doctrines: if five out of these seven are present in text or school then one can correctly infer that some specific Gnostic condition is the cause. It is not the case that any given symptom must be present, nor that all seven symptoms are a necessary indicator. Michael Williams, for example, argues very forcibly for the third option, but this does not exclude the fourth option, one which we will adopt in our discussion. One can identify a handful of key ideas which, when given a characteristic slant in terms of the main concerns in the Early Christian Era, are present in so-called Gnostic texts, but which occur according to this algorithmic distinction. Moreover, each ‘symptom’ is deeply bivalent, or labile in psychoanalytic jargon, that is, not one extreme over the other, but one of either extreme.97 For example, the Gnostics do not embrace asceticism to the exclusion of libertinism, but rather they overvalue the body’s good or evil ethos, either of which can lead to an extreme view of the body again. They do not endorse inverse exegesis of Sacred Scripture as against canonical exegesis, but rather seek the restoration of an original order, an interpretive pursuit which can lead to either extreme. Michael Williams begins his demolition of the concept of Gnosticism by examining four emblematic sets of texts: the Apocryphon of John, Ptolemy the Valentinian, Justin the Gnostic and Marcion of Sinope. He elicits three features which might be labeled Gnostic. (a) There is a distinction between a transcendent deity and the world-creator(s), only the latter is identified with the Biblical God. (b) The texts include a message sent from the higher realm intended to make humans aware that there is more than just this world, a place that offers the hope of eventual salvation. (c) Their account of human nature teaches that all humans have a divine spark which has come from the higher realm and which permits their return.98 But Williams points out that if these key diagnostic factors are applied to these four sets of texts they do not match very well. The sources do not in fact share some of the important features that are usually treated as indicating Gnosticism. It would be better, he argues, to examine the origins, not of Gnostic religious phenomena, but of the category or label ‘Gnosticism’. First, there is no word for ‘gnostic’ or ‘gnosticism’ at the time when the texts were composed. Second, not one so-called 97 Williams argues persuasively that Gnostic texts do not merely assign negative values to elements in the Genesis narrative which canonical authors assigned positive values, but that they reverse the standard values, whether positive or negative, 1996 pp. 60-63. 98 Williams 1996 pp. 26–7; in similar terms, Rudolph 1987 pp. 88–91.

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Gnostic writer ever refers to himself as gnostikos. Third, the designation ‘Gnostic’ as a false way of knowing God originates with Irenaeus of Lyons in the late second century in his massive Exposure and Refutation of Heresies. In the first volume Irenaeus catalogs all the contemporary heresies and in the next four volumes he organizes their arguments around theological topics, rather than ‘schools’. Not long after Irenaeus, Hippolytus composed his Refutation of all Heresies (c.230); there is very little correlation between Hippolytus’ taxonomy and the modern scholarly category of ‘Gnosticism’. Williams comments that Hippolytus asserts that gnostikos is a self-designating word in only one or two groups, that he applies the word to only a few groups, and to some who are certainly not Gnostic. The third major catalog is Epiphanius’ Panarion or Medicine Chest (c.370) Epiphanius goes beyond his predecessors in portraying widespread use of Gnostic as a self-designation, but without attempting to justify their alleged use of this term in comparison with other groups, who are clearly Gnostic, who do not. In sum, Epiphanius provides much valuable information but ‘his testimony is ambiguous and contradictory, and of questionable reliability’.99 Williams summarizes his examination of ‘Gnosticism’ as a category based on self-definition: (1) The self-designation ‘gnostic’ is so far not attested in any of the surviving original writings ordinarily classified as ‘gnostic’. (2) Though there is reason to believe heresiological reports that some persons did indeed employ this self-designation, this does not seem to have been the case for all groups in the modern ‘gnosticism’ category, and it may well have been true of only a few. (3) To the extent that ‘gnostic’ was employed as self-designation, it ordinarily or perhaps always denoted a quality rather than a sectarian or social-traditional identity. (4) Therefore, ‘gnostic’ as it is attested as a self-designation in the ancient sources does not provide a good justification for the modern category ‘gnosticism’.100 The majority of modern scholars of Gnosticism perpetuate the early heresiologists’ over-inclusive and misleading categorization. The eminent scholar and translator of The Gnostic Scriptures, Bentley Layton, makes a rough distinction between the wide and the narrow sense of Gnostic: the former would denote a loose group of difficult-to-define religious phenomena in this epoch; the latter is the ‘self-given name of an ancient Christian sect’ and provides the basis for the texts Layton translates. Williams is quite blunt in his criticisms of this wide vs. narrow distinction: none of the nine Coptic documents given as sources name themselves as gnostics; at least one text (Thunder NHL 295–303; GS 77–85) is not considered gnostic even in the loose sense; the one group whom Irenaeus gave as self-named gnostics, the followers of Marcellina, is not included: ‘Thus Layton’s “classic gnostics” constitute a grouping for which the criterion is not in actuality the self-designation “gnostic” but rather the hypothesis of socio-historical continuity Williams 1996 pp. 39–40; see also Rudolph 1987 pp. 10–20. Williams 1996 pp. 41–2.

99 100

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based primarily on supposed theological similarity.’101 Not even the heresiologists made the kind of mistake that modern scholars are prone to commit: Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Epiphanius and company did not construct a single category. Rather – and this is one of Williams’ prime insights – the most one could say about this motley collection is what Irenaeus declared in his compendium’s title: they are all false ways of knowing God, and that is not an essential attribute of any class. Williams then turns to a meticulous and cautious analysis of all the essential traits which have been predicated of the Gnostic category. He does admit that specific heretical schools, such as Valentinus, Sethian, Ophite, and so on, do exhibit family resemblances within their own teachings. These family traits can be useful in tracing the continuity of tradition-historical motifs, as well as for formulating a more simple and less ambiguous typology of Gnostic doctrines. His principal suggestion is to focus on the notion of Biblical demiurgical themes: the cosmological axiom that the world was created by a second subordinate deity or power, a theme which adapts ideas from avowedly Judaic and Christian contexts. Further, this hypothesis allows the modern scholar to jettison a whole array of clichés which have become ‘deeply rooted generalizations’ about what one expects to find in Gnostic sources. These clichés obscure the underlying ambivalence in genuine Gnostic thought. For instance, they were not anti-cosmic pessimists, completely isolated from society, but rather those who attempted to reduce the cultural distance or tension between themselves and the dominant culture.102 Gnostic writers have been referred to as parasites or even a virus, riding piggy-back on host religions which they raided for good ideas.103 But some Gnostic teachers were innovators whose new myths and rituals can only be seen as successful over time, not from the vantage of their initial borrowing.104 Their much-remarked hatred of their bodies is better seen as efforts to perfect the human form through ‘somatic house-cleaning’, and thus come to more closely resemble the divine likeness in which they were made.105 The isolation of the Biblical demiurgical theme is certainly a proposal which should be seriously considered. One should not too readily equate the Gnostic demiurge with the Platonic demiurge from the Timaeus. Over five centuries and more a profound change had taken place in the concept of the demiurge; though he retained the same name, the divine crafter exercised a new craft and those who emulated him worked on a new model. Where for Plato a human artist replicated the work of the divine crafter in adorning the sensible world with his own ‘creations’, the god-like worker or theurgist practiced the hieratic arts by perfecting the hidden god within. Anton says that ‘the place of the artist as demiurge, as performer and revealer of cosmic beauty, was gradually taken over by the theurgist, as performer of divine works’. Where Plato had seen a cultural challenge between art and 101 Williams 1996 pp. 42–3; on the other hand, Pearson argues that Gnostic self-definition should be seen in terms of the words ‘elect’, ‘perfect’, ‘children’, and so forth, and hence they are best self-described as ‘no longer Jews’, 1990 pp. 130–35. 102 Williams 1996 pp. 107–15. 103 As ‘parasite’, Rudolph 1987 pp. 54–5; Pearson 1990 pp. 7–8; as ‘virus’, Stroumsa 1992 pp. 171–6. 104 Williams 1996 pp. 80–95. 105 Williams 1996 pp. 116–38.

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philosophy, Plotinus discerned a new quarrel between theurgy and philosophy. The creative demiurge as prototype assumed the status of an ontological principle in the quest for personal salvation and was assigned a new value in the pursuit of a spiritual life. Hand-in-hand with this revaluation of the demiurge came a reassessment of the function of human reason; it was no longer the essential condition for attaining gnosis: ‘It was the Gnostics who had openly given primacy to magic, evocation, purifications, accepted the study of the Chaldean Oracles, and believed in the efficacy of the hieratic arts.’106 Where Plato’s demiurge in the Timaeus created a world of superb harmony and order, the Gnostic demiurge, for the most part, made a world totally unfit for the spiritual nature of human beings: ‘it served only as the stage for the drama of salvation, but was otherwise dispensable and condemnable’.107 The Gospel of Philip is quite blunt on this point: ‘the world came about through a mistake. For he who created it wanted to create it imperishable and immortal; he fell short of attaining his desire’ (NHC II.3.75). In his examination of the milieu of the Hermetic corpus, Fowden sounds a warning about overuse of the categories of monism and dualism: ‘It is a fatal mistake to imagine, with most scholars this century, that treatises of monist and dualist tendency should be consigned to independent parallel categories. Such doctrinal variations … in fact reflect an intention that different successive levels (or steps) of spiritual enlightenment should provide access to different successive levels of truth about Man, the World and God.’ As we have seen in the section on the Hermetica, Fowden argues that the seeming incompatibility of various Hermetic texts disguises the fact that some texts were designed for novices at the start of their spiritual discipline and others were for initiates at higher levels of gnosis. Hence, ‘we find monist treatises that convey epist¯em¯e and say little or nothing about the spiritual life; and dualist texts that impart gnosis and describe the actual experience of contemplation’. Fowden ponders the question about the relations between what he calls the ‘pagan’, that is non-Christian, version of Gnosticism ‘with its strongly intellectualist, philosophical tinge’, and the much more radical dualist, mythologized doctrines of Christian Gnostic writers, such as Basilides and Valentinus: ‘Thanks to its esotericism and consequent lack of formal restraints, all gnosticism tended to be anarchically speculative; and Christian gnosticism was worst of all, a many-headed hydra … likely to devour and regurgitate, often in virtually unrecognizable form, any idea that came into view.’108 There are passages in the Hermetica which suggest ‘a real intellectual kinship’ with some varieties of Gnostic doctrine, but such ideas were not exclusive to any one sect or school at that time anyway: In the restraint and (relative) philosophicality of its approach Hermetism is more Hellenic and earlier, at least in its origins, than Christian gnosticism, in which much smaller elements of Greek philosophical thought than are to be found in the books of Hermes have become heavily overlaid by exotic oriental, especially Jewish imagery. It would be a Anton in Wallis & Bregman 1992 pp. 12–14. Anton in Wallis & Bregman 1992 p. 15. 108 Fowden 1986 p. 113; he cites Rudolph 1987 pp. 59–63 at this point, but Rudolph is not quite so derisive, and does not use vomit-like terms. 106 107

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mistake, then, to imagine that Christian gnosticism either substantially influenced Hermetism, or can be used to illuminate it, except by way of general analogy. What can be asserted is that Hermetism represents the sort of pagan intellectual milieu with which Christian gnostics could feel that they had something in common.’109

In Irenaeus’ sketch of Saturninus’ Gnostic system three main motifs appear: (1) the appearance of the luminous heavenly image, (2) the reaction of the angels and (3) their creation of a deficient human in the form of a golem. Hans Jonas claims to have detected a reflection of the Gnostic-Saturnine replication of the divine image in the window of the Hermetic Poimandres. This replication unfolds in three ways: (1) darkness falls in love with the light and gets possession of it; (2) light falls in love with darkness and sinks into it, and (3) an image or reflection of the light is projected onto the darkness below and held fast there. Jonas finds the first motif in Manichean doctrines, the second is from Macrobius’ commentary on Scipio’s dream, and the third is from certain Gnostic sects, for example, the Sethians, the Peratae, Plotinus’ Gnostics, and Basilides’ barbarians.110 The third version alone allows for the presence of light in some form in the midst of darkness without having to concede a genuine fall. The divine light can be projected like a ray or it can issue as an image in a dark medium. Logan argues that Saturninus has not resolved the dilemma and paradox at the heart of the Gnostic picture of human nature: all human beings need the divine spark to be fully human, but only the elect acquire it through faith, and it is for them a lifelong possession. This reconstruction of Gnostic human nature exhibits three important themes: (1) The divine spark descends to animate Adam, created by angels in the image of a heavenly being reflected in the waters of chaos. (2) At the beginning it was the angels, perhaps divided into good and bad cohorts, who created two human types or races, one evil (the Cainites), the other good (the Sethians). (3) Instead of two original primeval principles, there are three, corresponding to three substances and three races of humans.111 In our discussion of the principal elements of human nature in Gnostic texts we will follow a sequence of explanatory stages in the presentation of the relevant ideas; not all texts exhibit all of the major stages. They are cosmogony, cosmology, anthropogony, anthropology and soteriology. In terms of cosmogony, the entire body of Gnostic texts present an immensely complex, baroque and sometimes inconsistent picture of successive epochs in the birth of the cosmos. It employs godlike figures with strange names for which there are little or no parallels; the dramatis personae varies from school to school. In their cosmology, the Gnostics account for the main features and structures of the cosmos; such an account is always twotiered, an intelligible world over a sensible world.112 In their anthropogony, they attempt to explain the generation of the earthly human species by way of the 109 Fowden 1986 p. 114; he cites C. H. Dodds The Bible and the Greeks, London, 1935, pp. 204–9 for the overlay of Jewish imagery. 110 Hans Jonas cited by Logan 1996 p. 168. 111 Logan 1996 p. 169. 112 On the impacted issue of Gnostic dualism see amongst others Culianu 1992 pp. 45–56; Rudolph 1987 pp. 60–66; Filoramo 1990 pp. 54–6; Armstrong in Wallis & Bregman 1992 pp. 43–52.

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institution of Primal Human as an archetype, whose image and likeness are replicated in material forms. In those rare sections of texts not concerned with Primal Human and the dispersal of its progeny there is some attempt to account for the basic elements and structures of ordinary humans. And in closing we, like the Gnostic elect themselves, will turn our attention to the consequent ideas about the soul’s immortal status, techniques for the soul’s post-mortem ascent, and humans’ eventual salvation and resurrection. In tracing this sequence of stages it is not feasible to examine more than a few emblematic Gnostic texts: our attention will be focused on the Apocryphon of John, the Origin of the World, the Hypostasis of the Archons, Pistis Sophia and the Tripartite Tractate. The notion of light-like projection emerges prominently in the Apocryphon of John where the earthly human is made externally in the likeness of god, but internally in the image of the archons. In this myth, Adamas113 is associated with light as the archetype and the archons’ motive in creating him is to gain control of the light. In the Origin of the World the archons hope that the heavenly archetype will fall in love with the earthly copy and thereby be captured or neutralized. This picture paints the demiurge and his archons as negative demonic figures, but it does imply that the divine element in human is not yet present in the earthly copy. The text stresses the overall divine initiative and separates the later descent and inbreathing of the spirit from the active contribution of the second god. In contrast, the Apocryphon of John gives a much more positive ‘spin’ to the image-reflection motif, interpreted not in terms of capture but of illumination. The demiurge in this secret book is the vehicle of the divine power which he withholds from his offspring. The Hypostasis of the Archons presents yet another variation on this theme, a divagation whose turning-point is the inverse weight assigned to the second god. Here the seven archons hold a council and declare that they will make a human of dust (chous) from the earth. Human is then formed (plassein) from dust according to the body (s¯oma) of the archons and according to the likeness of god which appeared to them in the waters. ‘Their motive’, as Logan says, ‘is then made explicit: to trap the heavenly image in their molded form (plasma), the co-image, which is thus to act as a visual lure.’114 The demiurge then breathes into earthly human’s face so that he becomes ensouled (psychikos), but he is still a golem115 whom the archons cannot raise upright because of their weakness (astheneia). It is only after the Spirit sees the psychic human and comes forth from earth and descends upon him that human is formed as Adam. The three-stage progress of Adam’s creation, according to Logan again, is a conflation of pieces from the two Genesis stories (1:26; 2:7), and the imagereflection motif. First, human is molded as earthly (or choic) by the archons in their image and in likeness of the divine being; second, he is ensouled by the demiurge’s 113 Adam, Adamas, and Geradamas are probably names for the same character, but there is some evidence that the different names indicate a distinction between the earthly and the heavenly Adam; see Logan’s precis of the evidence, 1996 pp. 101–3; and H. M. Jackson, ‘Geradamas, the Celestial Stranger’, NTS vol. 27 (1980) pp. 385–94. 114 Logan 1996 pp. 186–7; see also Pearson 1990 pp. 29–33. 115 For Pearson this clearly indicates these texts as Rabbinic midrash, 1990 p. 36; see also, G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism, New York: Schocken, 1965 pp. 161–5.

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breath, and third, he is erected as pneumatic by the Holy Spirit. The Apocryphon of John presents a much more complex account which attempts to reconcile the two Genesis texts, but also commingles them with the Poimandres, Zosimus’ theurgy, and certain Christian apocrypha.116 In his systematic efforts to account for the divergence in the two Genesis texts Philo offers an ingenious hypothesis: The first text states that ‘God said “Let us make human in our image and likeness”… and God created human in his own image’ (Gen. 1:26). This statement expresses the creation of the ideal archetype of human, one who is both male and female, perfect in every way. The second text states that ‘The Lord God then formed human from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils a life-giving breath, and human became a living creature’ (Gen 2:7). This statement, according to Philo, refers to the production, not creation, of the ordinary human species from material constituents. Philo also interpreted the plural pronoun, ‘let us make … in our image’, to refer to the angels as heavenly co-workers with God in his creative activities.117 In the Apocryphon of John (NHL 104–23; GS 23–51), the account of human creation focuses attention on the correspondence between parts of the soul or body and the various stars or other astral entities. The goddess Sophia acknowledges that evil things have ensued from the defection of Ialdabaoth, the Demiurgic Second God, from the First God’s scheme. In her shame she hides in the darkness of ignorance and is subject to chaotic movement. She weeps when she sees the impious works of her son the world-maker, who notices her distress but ignores all that exists beyond her. Sophia’s consort (syzygos) hears her complaint and, with the compliance of the invisible (aoraton) spirit, he descends in order to clear up the confusion. A celestial voice announces to Sophia the descent of the aeons First Human and his Son, whose image (eik¯on) is reflected in the waters below. The seven archons descry this image and declare that they will make a human in the image of god and in his (or our) resemblance. They fashion a shape (plasma) in imitation (mim¯esis) of the watery image which is thus an imperfect imitation of the Perfect Human. This thing is called Adam and each of the seven powers (exousiai) builds a soul (psych¯e) for him, leaving room for the angels to fashion a spiritual body. Kindness (or the Perfect Parent) builds the bony soul, Forethought the connective tissue (nerves), Divinity the soul of flesh (sarx), Lordship the soul of marrow, Kingship the soul of blood, Zeal the skin soul, and Intelligence the hairy soul. The arrangement of anatomical delegation corresponds very closely in both content and sequence to the list of bodily parts in the Timaeus (73b–76e). In Plato’s myth the construction of primal human moves from the most inward part to the extremities: marrow, bones, sinew, flesh, skin, hair and nails.118 116 Logan 1996 pp. 190–92; he says that the parallels with Zosimus’ Omega section 11 are striking. 117 Philo Op. Mundi 72–5, Conf. Ling. 168–75; De Fuga 68–70; discussed in detail by Pearson 1990 pp. 34–8; Elaine Pagels examines the Genesis stories in five NHC texts in Hedrick & Hodgson 1986 pp. 257–78. 118 Williams sorts out the various lists in the several recensions, in Wallis & Bregman 1992, pp. 490–92; these correspond with anatomical parts in Zoroastrian texts, according to R. C. Zaehner, Zurvan: A Zoroastrian Dilemma, Oxford, 1955 p. 162; to the Manichaean Kephalaia section 42; and to Macrobius, On Scipio’s Dream I.6.79; see Logan 1996 pp. 139–42.

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From the original archontic plan the angels (each named with great exactitude) fashion the limbs of heavenly Adam, from the crown of his head to the tip of his toes according to astral-anatomic correspondences. Thirty other named powers are responsible for the activation of anatomic sectors of the human body, and five more with the inner senses (on a basic Stoic scheme): perception, reception, imagination, the communal sense and impulse. The source of bodily demons is divided into four zones – heat, cold, wetness and dryness – and the mother of them all is matter (hul¯e). The four chief demons are charged with pleasure, desire, grief and fear; from these four emerge the manifold variety of passions. Filoramo stresses the importance of this passage: The demonization of the body could not be more radical or total. In the particular microcosm that man represents, the error and the horror of the formation of the macrocosm are repeated. A hierarchy of demons, servile and ready, is continually at work in everyone’s body, transformed into a remorseless inferno in miniature. Far from being a passive, secondary element vis-à-vis the spiritual, the demonic represents an active power, charged with negative energy. Over and above the cosmos, humanity has become the true place where the battle is fought, decisive for every individual, between the forces of good and evil.119

Despite the enormous amount of cooperative effort the creature remains inert and unable to stand until Sophia intercedes with the Supreme Father to send a messenger to the Demiurge to teach him the secret of animation (life-giving). The archon must blow in Adam’s face some of the spirit (pneuma) inherited from his mother. When Adam is now able to stand he is superior to the powers that fashioned him and even to Ialdabaoth himself. The archons are aware of this new threat and hence they exile Adam to the material realm opposite the celestial home from which he originated. From pity for Adam’s fallen state, the Father sends an aid (bo¯ethos), his own breath, the thought of light, called Zo¯e-Life. When this spark begins to glow in Adam, the archons recognize his superior power and decide to make him a permanent prisoner of matter by building him a physical body made from the four material elements (fire, earth, water and wind), mixed with darkness, longing and the counterfeit spirit (antimimon pneuma). This last ingredient is unique to Gnostic anthropogonic imagery and is defined as the essence of the evil astral powers. Culianu describes it as ‘the astral genetic information that accompanies every soul coming into the world. The relation of a person to his or her antimimon pneuma determines the result of the soul’s trial after physical death.’120 This particular treatise rejects the notion of reincarnation in new bodies; according to John, all souls will take part in salvation, including those which have been led astray by the counterfeit spirit. Only sacrilegious blasphemy by living individuals against the Holy Spirit will bring about eternal punishment. In other texts, the counterfeit spirit is identified with the tree of evil, the essence of the bonds of astral fate, that is, the single most important factor in determining 119 Filoramo 1990 p. 92; the phrase ‘the true place where the battle is fought’ is, of course, an echo of our reference to Crouzel’s motto, that the soul is ‘the scene and the stake’, HCM pp. 353–4. 120 Culianu 1992 p. 103.

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personal destiny. Culianu says that these astral bonds are similar to the appendages (prosart¯emata) in Basilides, that is, planetary accretions that lure and push the soul toward evil. Clement of Alexandria quotes the title of a lost work by Isidorus the Basilidean, called peri prosphyous psych¯es, ‘on the appended soul’, in which the author opposes the idea that astral fate may hinder the free will of human reason. One can state that the gnostic doctrine of the counterfeit spirit reflects a constant anti-astrological polemic, which is at the core of both the Gnostic and Manichaean message. In the Pistis Sophia the counterfeit spirit derives from the archons’ vices and pushes the human soul toward the fulfillment of the same vicious impulses. It is this fake spirit which is responsible for humans seeking out evil things and committing evil deeds. After earthly death, the soul whose fake spirit is strong will be sent back into the cycle of bodily rebirth, and thus perpetuate its sins. The vagabond soul will not be able to escape this cycle until it has reached the last stage. The soul whose fake spirit is weak, on the other hand, will lose its counterfeit on its upward passage through the spheres. For its reunion with the treasure of light, the Pistis Sophia proposes two principal techniques: the purifying fire of baptism which loosens the seals of sin and living humans’ prayers for dead souls.121 The passages in the Pistis Sophia concerned with the counterfeit spirit are ‘an impressive parody’ of Plato’s Timaeus (from 41d). The five archons of astral fate send into the world pre-existent souls whom they have given drink from the seed of evil and from longing in the cup of oblivion, which seems to be the same as the constellation of the krater or chalice.122 This lethal drink becomes a sort of body in which the soul is wrapped; it is said to be a vesture of the soul. In other cases, the archons make new souls from the sweat, tears and bad breath of their celestial colleagues. This stuff contains planetary and demonic fragments; it is combined, squeezed, rolled out like dough, and then cut like bread into little pieces, each of which is an individual soul. This version of fake spirit fabrication may derive some of its imagery from Ancient Near Eastern anthropogonic accounts, such as the Enuma Elish analyzed in detail in Chapter 1, Section 2. In any case, the new souls do not have the strength to stand and hence they cannot animate their bodies, so the seven planetary archons blow their breath over the souls, from which sparks of spirit penetrate the earthly souls, enabling them to search for the eternal light. The counterfeit spirit is attached to the soul with the rulers’ seals123 (sphragides); the spirit compels the soul to immerse itself in all the passions (path¯e) and iniquities (anomiai) and holds the soul under its power during transference into new bodies. When the souls have been prepared in this fashion they are transmitted by the rulers to the 365 ministers (leitourgoi) of their aeons. These functionaries build a countermold (antitypos) capable of receiving each individual ‘package’, as Culianu phrases it. The individual package is then dispatched to the archons of the middle region (Earth) who install its destiny (moira), an internal plan which maps out its own life and death. Every individual human is thus composed of destiny, mixture, soul, spirit and counterfeit spirit. This complete package is divided into two portions; one half Culianu 1992 p. 104. On the perennial significance of the Orphic krater, see Peter Kingsley, Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995 pp. 133–41. 123 For examples of archontic seals, see Rudolph 1987 pp. 172–5. 121 122

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is placed in a man, the other half in a woman. Each one, of course, must always be in search of its complement; this Gnostic concept of a perfectly paired entity owes much to one of the main myths in the Symposium. The individual human’s ontogeny is also described in Pistis Sophia, according to a simple Stoic embryonic account. At the moment of conception, the ministers penetrate the woman’s womb, reunite the two halves, feed them on the mother’s blood, and begin to shape the limbs. They distribute the counterfeit spirit, the soul, the mixture and its destiny, and in the culmination of their work mark the new body with their seals. Each date during fetal development when a specific limb or organ was formed is marked by the ministers; the last mark is stamped on the forehead to indicate the years that soul will be embodied. The ministers then entrust their seals to the archons who distribute punishments (kolaseis) and tribulations (kriseis). The archontic afflictors pass the poor infant onto the collectors (paral¯emptai) whose function is to separate the soul from the body when the individual dies according to its preset destiny.124 One finds much of the same imagery again, with slight variations, in the Origin of the World where the dark powers under the leadership of the first begetter (archigenetor) begin the creation of human being. When the other powers see the Adam of Light they mock the demiurge since he has made a being that will undo their own actions. The first begetter then announces that together they will form a human out of the earth (not out of light), ‘after the image of our body and after the likeness of the Adam-of-Light’. Their hope is that the primal human will serve the powers when, through desire for the light-like being, they will bring forth servants: ‘Now all this came to pass according to the forethought (pronoia) of Faith in order that human should appear after his likeness and should condemn them (the powers) because of their modeled form; and their form became an enclosure of light’ (NHC II.5.113). However, despite the dark powers’ nefarious plan, Sophia, the second god’s daughter, knew that they were blind; they were ignorant of the fact that their creature would in the end destroy them: ‘The reason that she anticipated them and made her own human was in order that he might instruct their modeled form how to despise them and thus to escape from them.’ Sophia has the intention to plant a seed of revolt in those humans who will see through the evil powers’ dark designs and resist the archons’ efforts to lead them away from the light. The production of the instructor proceeded from a drop of light (a spark) from Sophia which flowed onto the water and a human appeared, a human both male and female. The first begetter issues a decree about the human creature and ‘each of the powers casts its seed upon the midst of the earth’s navel. From then the seven archons formed human, his body like their body, but his appearance like the light-human who had shown himself to them.’ The human prototype came into being by way of the parts of each of the archons, but the chief archon formed the marrow and the brain.125 Adam was created as an ensouled human, after which the chief archon placed a vessel in him because he was shaped like an abortion, that is, with no spirit (pneuma). When he thought of the word of faith he was afraid lest the true human might come into his creature and 124 125

Culianu 1992 p. 105. For references to the brain in other texts see ‘New Gnostic Texts’, in Marcovitch 1989.

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become master of it. He left his creature forty days without a soul but Sophia sent her breath into Adam and he began to move upon the earth. When the seven archons saw him wriggling on the ground unable to stand upright they rejoiced, took him away, established him in paradise, and returned to the heavens. There then follows an intricate account in three stages of the awakening of Adam from his supine condition. In the first act, Eve the life-aspect of Sophia, transforms herself into the tree of knowledge and becomes mother of Adam’s offspring who each have a dual nature. In the second act, the serpent, in a positive role, gives instruction to Adam about his role and duties in the new order.126 The wisest of all creatures, called Beast, says to Eve, ‘do not be afraid. In death you shall not die. For he (god) knows that when you eat from it, your intellect (nous) will become sober and you will come to be like gods, recognizing the difference between evil humans and good ones.’ Eve ate the fruit of the tree and gave some to Adam who also ate it: ‘then their intellect became open. For when they had eaten the light of knowledge had shone upon them. When they clothed themselves with shame they knew they were naked of knowledge. When they became sober they saw that they were naked and loved each other.’ (Again desire for the other enters the picture.) ‘But when they saw that the ones who had modeled them (the archons) had the form of beasts, they loathed them; they were very aware’ (NHC II.5 119). Seven archons were cast down onto earth, made angels, who were numerous and demonic. The latter instructed humans in many kinds of error and magic, potions and idolworship, spilling of blood and altars and temples and sacrifices and libations to the spirits (NHC II.5.123). An ingenious reconstruction has been proposed for the archetype of the Biblical demiurge myth which consists of ten stages:127 (1) The appearance of the Demiurge, (2) his description, (3) his boast about his power, (4) commentary on this boast, (5) rebuttal from the voice on high, (6) explanation of the rebuttal, (7) the Demiurge’s provocation to his mother to reveal what is above him, (8) the appearance of the divine image or light, (9) the proposal to create humankind and (10) the fabrication of humans. Since the order of these episodes does not correspond with the order in the Biblical Genesis it has been conjectured that (some) Gnostics were attempting to reconstruct the true, hidden Genesis, one which was falsified in the Biblical creation account. Culianu remarks that this reconstruction shows that ‘the sequences of gnostic myth are transformations of another myth, that is, the myth of creation according to the Book of Genesis’. However, Culianu also wants to temper the categorical claim by some scholars that the Gnostics employed an ‘inverse exegesis’ in their interpretation of the Biblical texts. He says that from our point of view this sort of narrative appears to be reversed, but from the gnostics’ point of view it is a restored narrative: ‘They proceed towards this operation of restoration from a single rule that produces an illimitable number of solutions: the god of Genesis is not the supreme God of the Platonic tradition.128

126 Pearson points out the word-play in the various Hebrew words for ‘serpent’, ‘live’, and ‘instruct’, 1990 pp. 45–6, showing the Jewish source of this sequence. 127 N. A. Dahl, in Layton 1980 pp. 689–712. 128 Culianu 1992 p. 121.

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There has been some debate about the originator of the soul-vehicle doctrine. Culianu has argued back and forth for one or another neo-Platonic source, each of whom has something in his favor. But, on balance, this leaves us with the gnostics as authors of the doctrine of the passage of the soul through the spheres. However, this seems improbable for the reason that gnostics would commonly react through semantic inversion to some Platonic theory originally presented in a positive key. In other words, it is easier to understand why such a theory would first be produced in Middle Platonic circles steeped in Hermetic astrology, out of desire to understand how the planets communicate their qualities to human souls. It could then have been reinterpreted by gnostics in a negative key rather than the opposite. We know for sure that gnostics dealt with the passage of the soul through the spheres before Numenius, which means that an early second century or even a late first century origin of the theory is more probable.129

In Gnostic thought human being is at the center of cosmic history; human is ‘the scene and the stake’, as Henri Crouzel said, in a vast drama played out by opposing forces.130 The entire cosmos is polarized between good and evil, higher and lower, material and spiritual, and these polarities are exhibited in human nature in a special degree.131 The material (or earthly) realm is the product of the demiurge, the second god, and through his material endowment human is subject to negative influences. But through his taking part in the spiritual realm, human has another constituent, variously called the spirit (pneuma), mind (nous) or spark (spinth¯er); through the spirit he can attain to the good by means of which he can be reunited with his creative source. Human also has life-force or soul (psych¯e) which makes him an intermediate entity, in a middle state between the higher and the lower forms. Irenaeus informs us that the Valentinians systematized this tripartite scheme for three kinds of human being; on this view, an individual’s membership in a kind was determined by whichever constituent predominated in his general makeup: They suggest that there are three types (of human), the pneumatic, the psychical, and the earthly just as there came to be Cain, Abel, and Seth, and from these (the three natures), no longer in one individual, but divided by type. Now the earthly type goes to corruption. The psychical type, if it chooses the better things, rests in the place of the middle; if it chooses the inferior things, it will go to the things like the inferior. But they teach that the pneumatic elements, which down to the present time Achamoth sows into righteous souls, having undergone here education and nourishment … are given as brides to the angels of the savior, since their souls by necessity must rest in the middle with the demiurge until the end. And they say that the psychicals again are subdivided into those that are good by nature, and those that are evil by nature. The good, they say, are those who become capable of receiving the seed (spermatos), while those who are evil by nature never receive the seed. (Adv. Haer. 1.7.5)

What is striking about this passage is the notion that not all humans in their nature are good or open to rebirth; those who achieve the highest state are worthy of this 129 130 131

Culianu 1992 p. 139 note 81. Again, see HCM pp. 353–4. Rudolph 1987 p. 88.

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reward due to their growth, education and receptivity. Valentinus holds out the opportunity of development, from the good psychical type worthy of receiving the seed to the pneumatic type who have received the seed and hence can attain perfection.132 According to the Gnostic elect, ordinary Christians were the psychical type, poised between forces which would lead them to earthly corruption and forces which would lead them toward heavenly salvation. The author of the Tripartite Tractate also describes the division of earthly humans into three essential types: the spiritual, the psychic and the material. These types ‘conform to the triple disposition of the Logos’. Each of the three essential types is known by its ‘fruit’, that is, in the literal sense by the offspring of its genus, and in the metaphorical sense by the issue of its words and deeds. The spiritual type is ‘like light from light and like spirit from spirit’ (NHC I.5.118); when the head of its prototype appeared it ran toward the Savior and became ‘a body of its head’ and received knowledge of the revelation. The verb ‘ran toward’ signifies the strong desire133 (sometimes eros) that characterizes every image for its original; the whole body assumes the virtue of its chief part. Second, the psychic type is ‘like light from fire’ since it hesitated to run toward the Savior and to accept knowledge of him. Unlike the spiritual human’s intimate union the psychic must be instructed by means of the Savior’s voice. Third, the material type is ‘alien in every way’, it does not share in the same nature as the divine; ‘since it is dark it shuns the shining light because its appearance destroys it’ (NHC I.5.119). The three types have their own distinctive routes to salvation: the spiritual will receive salvation in every way. The material will receive destruction in every way, but the psychic has a double destiny, ‘according to its determination for both good and evil’, that is, one destiny if good, another if evil. This thesis, of course, recalls St. Paul’s claim that those who have received the Holy Spirit’s gift will live forever after bodily death and those who have not will die a second death ‘in the spirit’, that is, both their body and soul will be condemned. Our final theme is the eventual salvation of good souls through their return to the original source of their being in heaven. The human soul’s ascent after earthly death is an imitation (like so much else in Gnosticism) of the Redeemer’s ascent after his death on the cross; though for Christ his death, like his earthly life, occurred ‘in appearance only’.134 Sometimes the soul’s ascent is accomplished by means of the correct preparatory techniques of prayer; according to other texts, magical spells, signs and symbols may be needed in order to placate the archons who guard the stations on the high road to the last heaven.135 Origen’s tract against the pagan Celsus reproduces some of these spells, as do the two Books of Jeu in the Berlin Gnostic Papyrus: ‘when you come forth from the body and reach the first aeon and the archons of that aeon appear before you, seal your self with these seals …’ (2 Jeu ch.52). Irenaeus also describes the soul’s ascent using secret agencies in an actual Williams 1996 p. 200. Filoramo underlines the ‘lustful desire and greed’ of image for original, 1990 pp. 90–92. 134 On the Gnostic Christ’s docetism, see Rudolph 1987 pp. 167–8; Filoramo 1990 pp. 125–6. 135 See the editors’ comments in ACM 1995 pp. 59–62, and Gnostic spells nos. 38–42, 70–71. 132 133

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ceremony for the dead specifically organized for that purpose (Adv. Haer. I.21.5). The Apocalypse of James contains a passage with echoes of this secret ceremony; the initiate is instructed about what to say to each of the archons on its heavenly journey. The initiate knows the correct names and words of power, he appeals to the ‘imperishable knowledge of Sophia’, but this is midway between prayer and spell (NHC V.3.33-35). The fate of good and bad souls depends on their having taken part in gnosis. The Book of Thomas the Contender states that the unbeliever will be ‘handed over to the archon above who rules over all the powers … and he will seize the human and cast him down from heaven into the abyss and he will be confined in a cramped dark place’. The dreadful text goes on to describe with some relish the great depth of this abyss, the soul’s grievous torments, stung with whips of fire. But for those who have maintained the strength of spirit, they will come forth from their body’s suffering and travail and find rest with the good and reign with the king (NHC II.7.143). This Gnostic idea follows a pattern established by the scheme that there are two types of human, the good and the bad. But other Gnostic ideas about the soul’s fate follow the scheme of three races or types, as in Irenaeus’ account of the Valentinians. On this view the earthly or hylic human will perish along with all material things; the psychic human will enter the demiurge’s realm where the good will find rest in the middle and the bad will share the fate of the earthly type; the spiritual human takes his place in the middle, from where at the world’s end he will be drawn into ‘the bridal chamber’ of the totality (Adv. Haer. I.6.1–7.1). The soul’s ascension through the various heavenly spheres is made possible by its possession of an invisible spiritual body, as the Authoritative Teaching informs us (NHC VI.3.32). The same text offers a graphic picture of the soul’s activities when it has reached the bridal chamber, that is, in its marriage or union with god: ‘She (the soul) came to rest in the one who is rest … she ate the meal for which she had hungered; she partook of immortal food. She found what she had looked for. She received rest from her labors, while the light that shines over her does not sink’ (NHC VI.3.35). There is a congeries of images in these texts which hang together with some key ideas from Egyptian post-mortem beliefs: the dead soul armed with spells to placate the otherworld deities, the abysmal depths of the place for the wicked, the dead soul finding rest and consuming food under the never-setting sun. The Gnostics’ view of the resurrection of all things at the world’s end draws on these beliefs about the post-mortem state of good and bad souls. Rudolph says that the soul’s eventual resurrection is … understood by Gnosis in a twofold manner: for one thing as a resuscitation of the spark of light from forgetfulness and ignorance … through the call of the redeemer and through self-knowledge; and secondly as an ascent of the spark of light to the pleroma … Both aspects often merge with one another because the liberating knowledge can already signify an anticipation of the end and its realization is already achieved in time.136

This idea is clearly expressed in the Exegesis of the Soul: ‘the soul received the divine nature from the father for her rejuvenation, so that she might be restored to 136

Rudolph 1987 p. 190.

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the place where she originally had been. This is the resurrection from the dead, this is the ransom from captivity; this is the rising up to heaven; this is the way of ascent to the father’ (NHC II.6.134). The famous Naassene Hymn echoes this idea when it refers to the spiritual human before resurrection as a corpse ‘since he is buried in the body as if in a tomb or sepulchre’. One of the Nag Hammadi texts is specifically devoted to the Gnostic conception of the resurrection: the firm belief in the soul’s release and eventual rebirth is based on the thesis that the savior ‘swallowed death’ through his transformation into an incorruptible aeon: ‘If we are manifest in this world as people who bear him (the redeemer) in themselves; we are his beams and we are embraced by him until our setting, that is, our death in this life. We are drawn to heaven by him, like beams by the sun, not being restrained by anything. This is the spiritual resurrection which swallows up the psychic in the same way as the fleshly’ (NHC I.4.45). In his recent book Hidden Wisdom, Stroumsa offers us a way to understand the baffling profusion of characters, speeches and ideas in at least one dimension of Gnostic scriptures. He points out that the esoteric character of Gnostic mythology has so far elicited little scholarly attention, but reveals something quite distinct about the Gnostics’ approach to knowledge and truth. The Gnostics carried forward pagan ideas about hidden, secret teachings, but transformed them into mythic stories – concepts dressed up as narratives. Where myths about the gods and mortals were exoteric and accessible to all, the core rituals of mystery cults were esoteric and accessible only to initiates. But there were only a rare few secret myths, for example, Dionysus Zagreus; the scholarly consensus now is that there was no esoteric theology behind such secret rituals. With the emergence and establishment of the Christian religion, however, myths and riddles disappeared, replaced by the Christian mystery. The practice of interpretation of myths was replaced by Biblical exegesis of texts; Holy Scriptures were revealed teachings, perfect expressions of the whole truth. Stroumsa says that ‘It was a matter of pride that the deepest truths of the Gospels had been redacted in a simple, popular language, thus being available, like redemption itself, to all, and not only to a thin layer of the educated class.’137 What is striking about Gnostic texts is their presentation of a complex battery of new myths whose character often appears artificial or contrived. Stroumsa says that one can see ‘mythology in the making’ in Gnostic literature, myth-making which oddly enough seems belated: ‘The fact that it was created as a remythologization process, in a religious and intellectual world dominated by the two great reactions to archaic mythologies, Hebrew prophecy and Greek philosophy. Hence the selfconscious hybrid character of Gnostic mythology.’ The Gnostic myths were not invented from nothing, however, but were ‘built from stones reassembled from the debris of previous monuments’.138 In addition, Gnostic myths are not mere revisions of monotheistic doctrines in the OT and Judaism, they are mutations or transformations into a type of dualist mythology where the cosmos is demonized and the forces of evil take center stage. Stroumsa poses the question of what Stroumsa 1996 p. 52. Stroumsa 1996 p. 53; Culianu also talks about Gnostic transformation of myths by reassembly of ‘logical bricks’, 1992 p. 129. 137 138

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happens to a culture (or sub-culture) where the mythic mode becomes selfconscious: ‘All signs point to gnostic origins as a hermeneutical revolt against Jewish and Christian [worldviews] and the creation of an alternative mythology, offering a provocative reinterpretation of cosmology and of salvation history.’ The success of the Christian message in the late second century helped to terminate both pagan mythology and esoteric traditions, but it also witnessed the development of an esoteric mythology in Gnostic scriptures. One can distinguish between esoteric teachings – such as one finds in Basilides’ texts, the Apocalypse of Adam, the Gospel of Mary, and the Acts of Thomas – and esoteric myths, such as Ptolemy’s Letter to Flora, the Book of Baruch and Thunder Perfect Mind. It seems that both sorts of esoteric texts express the revelation of divine secrets, addressed to the initiated alone, those who are thought suited to receive ideas which cannot be committed to writing. The latter texts of esoteric myths exhibit a level of abstract complexity which make them difficult to understand, let alone communicate to others. Stroumsa conjectures that this secretive dimension is a symptom of their inability to survive in new, alien settings. ‘An esoteric myth cannot be interpreted’, whereas esoteric teachings are the subject of intense exegetical efforts. ‘Gnosticism offered a new kind of doctrine, in which myth was the highest level of truth. The secrets were revealed in myths; the nature of truth itself was mythical.’ The Platonic concept of truth (aletheia) is one of taking-the-veil-away or uncovering that which is hidden, say, by the sensible, derivative properties of things. And for Plato, when argumentative techniques do not avail in leading one directly to the truth, then hearing a myth may serve as a guide. But what is uncovered cannot itself turn out to be yet another, deeper station on the way to the truth.139 ‘The fact that there was no possibility of an interpretation of myth entailed the need to find new ways of representing myth, of telling it without revealing it completely, even within the Gnostic community. It is this “esoteric urge”, this need to protect the myth, as it were, to present it as the highest level of truth, that brought to hiding it under the cloak of enigmas.’ But the teaching format of enigmas or riddles had been devised for an earlier stratum of hiding the truth from the masses: ‘This esoteric character of gnostic myth again, reflects its innate weakness, and its inability to be transformed [or] reinterpreted, a constant and imperative need for religious messages if they want to survive cognitive dissonances … Gnosticism lost in the grand spiritual battle of the first Christian centuries because it tried to revive old patterns of thought in a changing world.’140 This crucial insight about Gnostic myths’ lack of amenability to conceptual unpacking is a strong indicator of the reason why their account of human nature is over-determined, what makes it a metastable compound. It embraces an archaic set of terms from an HomericHesiodic mentality of god-like powers welded onto a formal-abstract scheme, mainly derived from Middle and Neo-Platonic vocabulary. This comment is similar to Fowden’s reference to Gnostic books ‘heavily overlaid by exotic oriental, especially Jewish imagery’.141 The result of such a marriage is a philosophicalStroumsa 1996 pp. 55–60. Stroumsa 1996 pp. 61–2. 141 Fowden 1986 pp. 113–15; Pearson argues for Jewish Rabbinic and Haggadic origins for some of the Gnostic tracts, 1990 pp. 19–28, 39–51, and that many Gnostics were Jewish 139 140

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theological monster, much like Abrasax himself, a solar god pictured as an armored snake-footed beast with the head of a cock.142 In conclusion, our investigations of various Gnostic ideas about the origin, composition and destination of human beings, drawn from some of the most important, emblematic Gnostic texts does not support Williams’ main thesis that the so-called Gnostics did not share some core doctrines. Despite the bewildering plethora of Gnostic schemes they share a set of common ideas about human nature. Human being is a composite of heterogeneous elements, light and dark, good and evil, spirit and matter – and salvation is the goal achieved by unscrambling this mixture. The variety of Gnostic schemes is like the variety of anthropic constituents; various devices are employed to explain an underlying dilemma: ‘to allow for the fact that humanity is the creation of – and under the sway of – cosmic forces hostile to the unknown father, the ultimate origin of man’s divine spark, yet to try to delimit as far as possible the extent of that sway and preserve the divine [element] uncontaminated’.143 The Gnostics’ view of the human-divine relation as image-tooriginal is orthogonal (turned at 90 degrees) to both Platonic and Christian ideas. The human form as an image of God is not divine in itself, but an inferior copy made by lower powers ignorant of or hostile to God, as Logan puts it; the soul is no more divine than that derivative status allows. The only genuinely divine element is the spirit, seed or spark, a constituent that is not natural to human ‘nature’, but an alien endowment present in, or attainable by, the elect alone. Having argued back and forth about the various schemes involved in the humanto-divine orientation, Logan concludes in a manner that effectively rebuts the view that the ‘Gnostic’ category lacks conceptual coherence: ‘Both the heavenly true man Adamas of the original Barbelo-gnostic myth, and Man and Son of Man of the “Ophite” version originate in Christian Gnostic systems; appeal to pagan Anthropos figures or myths or to Philo’s celestial Man and double creation account and Jewish Adam legends do not really account for them, whatever contribution such sources may have made to their subsequent development and coloring.’ It is crucial then to understand that Gnostic anthropology is schizophrenic because it ‘descends’ from a stemma that is itself twofold: for every central pre-creation figure there is a created counterpart: Adamas represents the characteristic Gnostic back projection of the Adam figure as heavenly archetype for the earthly version, the protological counterpart of Christ, the Pauline second or eschatological Adam, the true perfect man, while Man and Son of Man derive from Gnostic speculations based on the figure of Christ and his title in the Gospels and on the sources used by early Christians (the Psalms in particular) to construct their distinctive theology and Christology.’144

Although it is not possible to enter fully into this complex issue here, let us sketch out this superordinate conception. In most Gnostic myths that devote attention to the generation and structure of the cosmos the headline actors are duplicated: intellectuals in revolt against their own traditions, pp. 124–35. 142 For Abrasax or Abraxas definition and various citations, see GMPT 1986 p. 331. 143 Logan 1996 p. 168. 144 Logan 1996 pp. 182–3; Stroumsa also agrees 1996 p. 52–5.

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Adam-of-light and Adam-of-earth, spiritual Eve and carnal Eve, Primal Human and Son-of-Human, Sophia-as-wisdom and Sophia-as-life, and so forth. When Gnostic myths devote attention to the production and function of humans, some of these original cosmogonic figures reappear as the ‘seeds’ of divine creative activity, on the microcosmic scale, within each human as a member of the human species, itself the replication of Primal Human as an archetype. The material matrix of the human body is itself sometimes referred to as an antitype into which the demiurgic power places counterfeit spirit. From the first god to the second god, from the archons to the demons and angels, from Primal Human to earthly humans, the process of generation is one of twofold imitation: in the image of its power and in the likeness of its nature. In the human world the developments and chain of events in the pleromatic world are replicated. The role of the savior figure is to move from the divine realm into the human realm, bringing the means for each human who possesses gnosis to recapitulate the process in reverse, after death, through the soul’s ascent: ‘A single entity of light, variously named, enters upon the scene of history, with a single task: to recover the spiritual substance dispersed in matter. For this it is ready to run risks and undertake adventures, from time to time assuming the guise of different characters, but never quite managing to conceal her own features successfully.’145 Since human beings have such a central role in the Gnostic scheme, this idea has been dubbed the doctrine of the god-human or the anthropos myth. There is an intimate relation between the higher god and the inner human, a relation of copy and original. Rudolph says that this very complicated doctrine can be reduced to two basic versions.146 In one, the highest being himself is the first or primal human, who through his appearance to the creator powers, gives them a pattern for the creation of the earthly, second human. In the second version, the highest god first produces a heavenly human in his likeness, who is then the direct prototype of the earthly, and hence third human. This second version includes the idea that the second primal human allows himself to be seduced into taking up residence in the earthly human; he is then regarded as an inner human, at the same time as he represents the divine substance (pneuma) in human nature: ‘The rich language of gnostic imagery does not always clearly distinguish which human is in view; the divine attributes can be applied both to the heavenly and also to the earthly human who is by nature united with him … The idea of the fall of a heavenly being and his dispersal in the earthly world is one of the basic conceptions of Gnosis and received its most sublime and clearest formulation in Manicheism.’ Rudolph argues that behind this distinctive idea about the birth of the god-human, there is ‘an entirely new conception of anthropology’. As the consequence of the particular endowment of the god-human, and his replication in the form of ordinary humans, there is a higher estimate of human being in comparison with the demiurge. This is true because the earthly human, although the product of the demiurge’s actions, comprises a substance and a relation to the first transcendent god. Hans Jonas said that

145 146

Filoramo 1990 p. 95; in concord with Logan’s conclusion, 1996 pp. 195–6. Rudolph 1987 pp. 92–3; see Petrement 1990 pp. 105–7.

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… this exaltation of ‘man’ into a supra-mundane god who – if not the first – is at any rate earlier and more exalted than the Demiurge, is one of the most important aspects of gnostic mythology in the general history of religions. It unites speculations so widely separated as those of the Poimandres and Mani; it indicates a new metaphysical status of man in the order of existence, and it is instruction on this theme which assigns the creator and ruler of nature to his proper place.147

In addition to the primal human as prototype and the superior status of the godhuman, Rudolph also mentions a third distinctive feature of Gnostic human nature: the interdependence of god and human. The Gospel of Philip expresses this belief in a limpid statement: ‘God created humans and humans created God. So it is also in the world, since humans created gods and worship them as their creations. It would be fitting that the gods should worship humans’ (NHC II.3.71-72). Rudolph comments that the earliest known gnostics, like Simon Magus, Menander and Epiphanes, allowed themselves to be worshipped as gods. The idea of divine-human interdependence showed up in our examination of Zoroastrian doctrines in the G¯ath¯as. There is a two-way dependence between Ahura Mazda and his creatures: wholeness and immortality accrue to Ahura Mazda from humans through their piety and good thinking. In the other direction, wholeness and immortality accrue to humans from Ahura Mazda through their obedience to him and their alliance with truth. Ahura Mazda’s existence is maintained through humans’ good thoughts, words and actions, that is, he does not exist independently of these forms of reverence. This two-way dependence may be thought of as a movement in two directions, as Rudolph says: ‘The Greek conception of the sea as the place of origin of gods and men is interpreted in the Naassene homily in the sense that the flow from the heavenly to the earthly ocean signifies the coming into being of men, while the route in the opposite direction is that of the gods.’148 The concept of divine spark plays a central role in Gnostic accounts of human nature; this point was emphasized in the ground-setting proposal of the Messina Congress: The Gnosticism of the second-century sects involves a coherent series of characteristics that can be summarized in the idea of a divine spark in man, deriving from the divine realm, fallen into this world of fate, birth and death, and needing to be awakened by the divine counterpart of the self in order to be fully reintegrated … This idea is based ontologically on the conception of a downward movement of the divine whose periphery (often called Sophia or Ennoia) had to submit to the fate of entering into a crisis and producing, even if only directly, this world, upon which it cannot turn its back, since it is necessary for it to recover the pneuma, a dualistic conception on a monistic background, expressed in a double movement of devolution and reintegration.149

Only humans have a divine spark (spinth¯er)150 a spark is emitted by a fire, thrown Rudolph 1987 p. 93, citing Jonas 1964 p. 383. Rudolph 1987 p. 93. 149 Ugo Bianchi, quoted in Filoramo 1990 p. 143. 150 For contemporary usage, see the entry in Lampe PGL p. 1249; Michel Tardieu traces the evolution of this idea from Plato to Eckhart, Tardieu 1975 pp. 225–55. 147 148

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out onto the soil, where it may cause another fire. To contain one spark of life is enough, since it can ignite anything which can burn; an inner fire can spread through the entire body. But there is nothing explicitly fire-like about the Gnostic creatorgod; perhaps it is not a spark of divine fire in the human vessel, but a spark of divine light. Even a tiny point of light can be seen in the darkness; perhaps the droplet of light with which Sophia molds the human form is a spark. In the Gnostic division of humans into three classes one can trace its presence: the divine spark is extinguished in the material race or type, its capture by dark matter is enough to quench its light, though not its heat, which provides the creature’s life-force. In the psychic type the spark’s light is present but has not spread; it can be amplified by the proper discipline, or diminished by lustful pursuits. In the pneumatic type the spark’s light illuminates the whole human being; by its means the Gnostic can perceive the true path, follow it, and reunite with the divine source of light and heat. The divine lightspark seems to play a role in the Gnostics’ puzzling account of the individual resurrection body. According to the Gospel of Philip, although fleshly things, that is, living bodies, will not inherit the kingdom of god, there is something in the flesh (spirit and light) which can assume an immaterial body-like form and be awakened from the deep sleep of death. The remote event of the world’s end was held close in the heart of all Gnostics through an intimate knowledge of the salvific event that transformed their own lives. (3) Manichean ideas about the soul in light and darkness The prophet and teacher Mani was born near Ctesiphon, on the eastern bank of the Tigris River in Mesopotamia, in 216 CE. Although he was later given the epithet ‘the Babylonian’ his parents were of Iranian origin; his father was a native of the Hamadan region and his mother was a member of a noble family related to the ruling house of Persia, the Arsacids. His name may be of Semitic origin and his followers are called Manichaeans, from the Greek version of an Aramaic phrase, Mani Khayy¯a, ‘Mani the Living’ (Parthian M¯ani’¯a-Xaios). His father was a convert to a Judaic-Christian sect, the Elchasaites, named after their mysterious founder, Elchasai, who had been active in the mid and late second century. Mani’s radical teachings as an adult were articulated against the background of this strange sect.151 According to Hippolytus,152 Elchasai had been reputed to possess a book of secret teachings revealed to him by a gigantic angel, the Son of God, and his female consort, the Holy Spirit (Ref. Haer. 9.13.1-4). In contrast with the Zurvanite interpretation of Zoroastrism, Elchasai apparently claimed that the principle of fire, identified with light, led to error and the principle of water, identified with darkness, lead to the truth. Hence, the Elchasaites avoided fire in their rituals and instead emphasized water as the source of purity and goodness. The sect was said to have invoked seven elements during their baptismal ritual: heaven, water, the holy spirit, the angels of prayer, oil, salt and the earth; altogether these constituted ‘the 151 See ‘Elkesaites’, in EEC 1992 vol. I, p. 269; A. F. Klijn & G. J. Reinink, ‘Elchasai and Mani’, in Vigliae Christianae 28 (1974) pp. 277–89; and Lieu 1992 pp. 35–50. 152 Extract in Welburn 1998 pp. 249–55.

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astonishing, ineffable and great mysteries’ (Ref. Haer. 9.15.2). Very little is known of their other beliefs, aside from an interest in astrology, some magical practices, and the view that the true prophet appeared in many bodies (persons) over the ages. According to Epiphanius, the Elchasaites were neither Jews, nor Christians, nor pagans, but kept to the middle way between competing sects (Panarion 53.1.1). According to Eusebius the church historian, Origen wrote a vigorous polemic in the 240s against Elchesai and his teachings, showing that the sect was still alive.153 At the age of twelve (April 228), Mani received his first divine revelation through the appearance of his angel ‘twin’ (Greek syzygos) who ordered him to forsake the baptist community, but to delay doing so until he was older. At the age of twentyfour (April 240), Mani received an angelic command to appear in public and preach the true doctrine. According to his own account the angel instructed him in secret knowledge: these mysteries included the meaning of the deep and the high, light and darkness, the great war stirred up by darkness, the merging of light and dark, and the creation of the world from their mixture. Mani had little success with this message in his own circle and left with his father and two others to fulfill his mission to provide salvation and hope for the whole of suffering humanity. The only purity that counted, on his view, was not achieved by baptisms or ablutions but by the separation of light from darkness, life from death, both within the self and in the world at large: Mani conceived the grand plan of creating a church founded on a universalistic and prophetic doctrine, in conscious and irreducible contrast to the particularistic traditions … [which] were the result of aberrant interpretations of the original messages of the great prophets of the past – the Buddha, Zoroaster, Jesus – all of whom proclaimed the truth, each in a single part of the world and in one language, while he, Mani, the Seal of the Prophets, had proclaimed it for the whole world, and the voice of his preaching would be understood in all languages.154

In his universalist aspirations Mani became one of the great linguistic and cultural innovators. He reformed the difficult writing systems of several languages by replacing ideographic systems with the Syriac alphabet, and his disciples made intense efforts to translate and adapt the prophet’s message in whatever foreign land their missions brought them to. His first efforts to spread the word took him to the Indo-Iranian borderlands, into north-west India and the Kushan realm at that time under Sassanian suzerainty. In his two-year mission Mani managed to convert the Buddhist King T¯ur¯an and other significant dignitaries. On his return to Persia in 250, Mani was presented to the new King Shapur I as the ‘physician from Babylon’; his audience was crowned with success when Shapur granted permission for Mani to preach his gospel throughout the empire. During the next ten years Mani accompanied the king on various campaigns and converted large numbers of people. In about 260 Mani settled down in a town on the Tigris River and devoted himself to the organization of his now rapidly expanding church (though he still made personal forays into far-flung regions). The death of Shapur in 272 and the one-year reign of his successor 153 154

Fox 1986 p. 564. Gnoli 1987 p. 159.

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Hormizd marked a serious turn in fortune for the ‘official’ religion of light. The next king, Bahram I, was persuaded by high-ranking Zoroastrian priests under the guidance of the conniving mastermind Kerd¯er, to arrest and imprison Mani. According to Manichean tradition, the prophet was interrogated for twenty-six days (his suffering was likened to Christ’s passion) and was then executed. In the wake of his martyrdom, Manicheans were violently persecuted and driven from their homes; many of them fled east and settled in Sogdiana. Ten years later, Mani’s successor, Sisinus, was crucified on orders from the high priest Kerd¯er. On the famous rock-face inscription at Naqshi Rustam, Kerd¯er declared the Iranian religion of Ohrmazd to be supreme, and that Jews, Buddhists, Christians, and Manicheans had been smitten by the Persians and driven from their lands.155 Robin Fox says that ‘Mani’s death gave his world religion the added appeal of a theology of martyrdom. It did not die with him: rather, his death helped it to grow. Unlike any of the great heretics of the second century Mani founded a church which was to survive as long as the Roman Empire and in the East would last for very much longer.’156 Mani and his disciples made outstanding use of the freedom of movement across the East Roman and Persian Empires, spreading his gospel beyond the Iranian plateau into Central Asia, Northwest India and far-flung reaches of China:157 ‘Of all the sub-Christian religious systems, “Manichaeism” has proved to be the most persistent and the most widely persecuted.’ Its main principles were espoused by the Bogomils in the Balkan region in the tenth to twelfth centuries, during the Byzantine Comnenan epoch, and by the much-maligned Cathars in France in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The most famous convert to Manichaeism – albeit short-lived – is, of course, Augustine himself. After reading Cicero’s (now lost) Hortensius, the young Augustine (c. 373) was excited by the vision of philosophy’s privileged access to wisdom (sophia) and mind (nous). He turned to various resident Manicheans, whose lectures and seminars he followed for many years, but left their company deeply dissatisfied with internal doctrinal problems and their inability to answer his questions.158 He returned to his home town to teach rhetoric, but within two years he was back in Carthage looking for a better-informed Manichean teacher, whom he thought he had found in Faustus of Milevis. At that time, Manichaeism was considered an eccentric and repugnant heresy; Augustine’s devoutly religious mother Monica was horrified by his choice, but allowed her son to work through its challenges on his own. He was disillusioned by the static religious character of Manichean teachings and its overly optimistic view of human nature; the complexities of doubt, ignorance and deep-rooted tensions within the concept of the will were, in his opinion, deliberately avoided by the Manicheans. Amongst his voluminous works were several tracts devoted to detailed criticisms of Manichean doctrines. These include Contra Epistulam Fundamenti, Contra Festus, Contra 155 On Mani’s life and times: Widengren 1983 pp. 965–72; Gnoli 1987 pp. 158–60; Stoyanov 1994 pp. 87–92; texts in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 201–21; and Welburn 1998 pp. 71–5, 88–103. 156 Fox 1986 pp. 562–3. 157 On Christians and Manicheans in Central Asia, see esp. Gillman & Klimkeit 1999 pp. 205–62. 158 See Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967 pp. 40–45.

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Faustus, De moribus ecclesiae catholicae, and others.159 Augustine preserves some important passages from Manichean texts and lectures, though often subjected to scathing sarcasm. Other contemporary sources, outside the Manichean community, also provide valuable testimony to their doctrines and rituals as well as the sect’s flourishing in some areas and their persecution in others. The Acts of Archelaus composed before 377 by an otherwise unknown writer named Hegemonius contains a fictitious account of two meetings between Mani himself and Bishop Archelaus of Kashkar.160 Another important Syrian writer and heresy-hunter is Ephrem the Syrian, who 161 composed Prose Refutations against Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan in the 370s. Theodore bar-Konai is another valuable source for his testimony to contemporary interpretations of Biblical texts.162 The most important Muslim source is Ibn alNad¯ım who devoted one long chapter in his Fihrist (c.990) to the Manichean sect.163 Another later Arabic doxographer who provides important information is alShahrast¯ani in the Kit¯ab al-milal.164 However, like the discovery of original Gnostic documents only sixty years ago, our current knowledge of Manichaeism has been vastly increased due to several outstanding discoveries. In the early 1900s, an exploratory expedition from the University of Berlin announced a large group of finds in Central Asia, around the Turfan region. The so-called Turfan texts are written in three different scripts (Estrangelo, Sogdian and Runic) in seven languages (Parthian, Middle Persian, New Persian, Sogdian, Tokharian, Bactrian and Uighur).165 These Manichean documents comprise hymns, prayers, poetry, treatises, sermons, parables, liturgies, calendars, letters, glossaries and painted miniatures. One of the greatest challenges the earliest editors faced was the decipherment, transcription and translation of some previously unknown languages; F. W. K. Müller deciphered and published texts from Sogdian and Tokharian; W. B. Henning and F. C. Andreas texts in Iranian languages; Mary Boyce and Jes Asmussen the Middle Persian and Parthian texts; Werner Sundermann and Peter Zieme have continued the publication of major texts up till the present. Shortly after the German expedition’s finds were announced, British and French expeditions found Chinese and Turkish texts in East Central Asia, at Tun-huang. The French scholars Edouard Chavannes and Paul Pelliot pioneered the efforts to examine Chinese documents that recorded Manichean passages. The third major 159 Six short tracts are collected and translated by R. Jolivet & M. Jourjon (Paris: de Brouwer, 1961) and in The Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers vol. 7, 1887, reprint Eerdmans, 1979. 160 In Latin translation, Acta Archelai, ed. by C. H. Beeson, Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1906, and in The Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 6, Eerdmans, 1987; extracts in Welburn 1998 pp. 82–7. 161 Prose Refutations against Mani, Marcion, and Bardaisan, Trans. by C. W. Mitchell, London, 1912. 162 Selections in A. V. W. Jackson, Researches in Manichaeism, New York: Columbia University Press, 1932. 163 The Fihrist of al-Nad¯ım, ed. & trans. by Bayard Dodge, New York: Columbia University Press, 1970, vol. 2, pp. 773–806. 164 Kit¯ ab al-milal: Les dissedence de l’Islam, trans. by J.-C. Vadet, Paris: Geuthner, 1984. 165 For illustrations and descriptions of these scripts, see J. P. Mallory & Victor Mair, The Tarim Mummies. London: Thames and Hudson, 2000 pp. 102–17.

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discovery in the Manicheans ‘emerging from darkness’ was made in 1929 in the Fayyum district of Egypt, the Medinet Madi Library, written in Coptic, which contained seven major works: the Psalm Book, the Homilies, the Chapters (Kephalaia), the Readings (Synaxeis), the Letters, and the History (the last two vanished after 1945). Substantial progress was made on editing these texts, but almost all work ceased at the outbreak of war and was not resumed until the 1980s. Perhaps the most startling discovery was not publicized until the 1960s: a tiny little book in Greek, acquired by the University of Cologne, and hence known as the Cologne Mani Codex, appears to be an account of Mani’s own life and mission, perhaps written by Mani himself.166 In the late 1990s, an Australian-Canadian expedition uncovered a new cache of Manichean texts at the Dakleh Oasis (ancient Kellis) in Egypt; there appears to have been an active Manichean community in the oasis, one of whose main texts is the Tebessa Codex.167 The most fundamental structural feature of the Manichean community was its division into two classes of adherent: the elect and the auditor. In all of the major languages in which Manichean texts were written there are two sets of terms for the two classes.168 Mani himself declared that he had ‘chosen the elect and shown a path to the height to those who ascend according to this truth’. He saw a vision of the church which he was destined to establish, a church ‘prepared and perfected with its teachers and bishops, the elect and the catechumens’. The Latin Tebessa Codex describes the two orders: ‘these two grades, established upon one faith in the same church, support each other, and whoever has an abundance of anything shares it with the other: the elect with the auditors from their heavenly store … and the auditors with the elect [from their earthly wealth]’. In one of the Turkish texts the two groups respond in different ways to Mani’s original summons: ‘You [Mani] deigned to command them to recite praises and hymns, to repent evil deeds, and to assemble and bring about “collection”. Mortals with confused minds, hearing this command of yours caused seas and rivers of virtue to flow, and were born again in the land of the Buddhas. Other simple minds walked on pure roads and brought about “collection”. They were born again in the palace of immortality.’ BeDuhn comments that ‘collection’ refers to their ritual alms-service and special meal complex, two rituals devoted to the collection of scattered light particles. This twofold injunction seems to indicate that those who have not achieved complete clarity of thought are stirred to good deeds and are reborn into a more fruitful existence. Those who have acquired a clear mind enter upon a life of purity and attain an immortal status.169 The separate codes of practice for the two groups follow their observance of two kinds of rituals. The behavior of both the Elect and auditors must be appropriate to their functions as agents in operations geared toward salvation: ‘The elect were required to meet more stringent criteria so that their bodies could be not only agents in salvational rituals, but also the instruments and arenas of such rituals. In the same way that modern western discourse sometimes refers to the ideal products of 166 The Cologne Mani Codex: German trans. by L. Koenen & C. Römer, Opladen: ARWAW, 1988; English trans. by R. Cameron & A. J. Dewey, Missoula, MT: SBL, 1979. 167 In summary, Klimkeit 1993 pp. xvii–xix; BeDuhn 2000 pp. 2–4. 168 The sets of terms in all major languages are discussed by BeDuhn 2000 pp. 26–8. 169 BeDuhn 2000 p. 29.

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military training as “fighting machines”, Manichean disciplinary practices were designed to construct “ritual machines”.’170 The elect were expected to observe the three seals (mouth, hand and heart) and the five commandments; they are severe vegetarians, ascetics and encratics, and live a life of abstinence and overachievement.171 The auditors fast once a week, offer prayers and give alms; their rituals, actions and daily grind make possible the elect’s attention to personal salvation. Where the elect can expect to attain an immortal existence after their earthly sojourn, the auditors can expect to be reborn in another body and have another chance at becoming elect. The three seals are described by Augustine in his critical exposition of their customs and are attested in all Manichean languages in virtually all their communities. Augustine had first-hand knowledge of the beliefs and practices within a North African ‘church’ and his testimony is the most detailed information about these super-ordinate principles.172 He says that these seals (signacula) are the mouth (os), the hand (manus) and the breast (sinus); they signify that a human should be pure and innocent in mouth, hand and breast. The mouth refers to all the senses in the head, especially eating and drinking, the hand to all human actions, and the breast to human lust. The Muslim writer al-Nad¯ım refers to the three seals in these oblique words: ‘If he finds that he can subdue lust and envy [=breast-seal], refrain from eating meats, drinking wine [=mouth-seal], as well as from marriage [=breast-seal], and if he can also avoid injury to water, fire, trees, and living things [=hand-seal], then let him enter the religion [become an elect].’173 The Coptic Psalm Book associates the three seals with the Christian trinity: the seal of the mouth for the father, the rest of the hands for the son, the purity of virginity for the Holy Spirit. In the Coptic Kephalaia (sec. 80), Mani himself instructs his disciples: ‘Know and understand that … the truly righteous [entails three things] that he embraces chastity and purity; that he also acquires for himself the rest [of the] hands, so that he will restrain his hands from the Cross of Light; and the third is the purity of the mouth, so that he will purify his mouth from all flesh and blood, and he does not taste wine or liquor at all.’ The three seals are also well attested in Parthian, Sogdian and Turkish texts. Julien Ries has argued that the three seals constitute the essentials of Manichean morality; the large portion of the Kephalaia devoted to the three seals is a virtual compendium of Gnostic ethics.174 For the elect, the type of perpetual fasting enjoined by the seal of the mouth ‘reduces alimentation to strict necessity and orients it toward cosmic salvation’. According to H. C. Puech, the purpose of the fasting rule was to ‘reduce the existence of the “perfect” to an absolute and permanent fast’. Julien Ries insists that fasting, prayers and alms-giving benefited the auditors as well: fasting overpowers the body’s archons, hence the breast-seal; prayers to the luminaries entails the mouth-seal, and alms-giving justifies their actions, and hence entails the hand-seal.175 BeDuhn 2000 p. 31. In Robin Fox’s nicely chosen words, 1986 p. 568. 172 Augustine on the three seals, in De moribus manichaeorum, sec. 19–39. 173 Ries and Puech quoted in BeDuhn 2000 p. 34. 174 On the character and content of the Kephalaia, see Funk in Mirecki & BeDuhn 1997 pp. 143–59. 175 Quoted in BeDuhn 2000 pp. 38–9; texts in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 139–42. 170 171

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The five commandments are high-level ethical precepts that pertain to the elect alone. They have been attested in similar wording and similar order in Coptic, Middle Persian, Sogdian and Turkish; there are oblique references to them in alNad¯ım’s Arabic and the Chinese Hymn-Scroll. Unlike the ten commandments for the auditors, which are expressed as prohibitions against wrong actions, the five commandments are expressed as positive injunctions for right actions (non-lying can be expressed as truth-telling, but non-injury does not seem to have an entirely positive format). The essential elements of these five rules can be listed as follows: (1) not to lie, that is, to be truthful; (2) not to injure, that is, not commit evil deeds; (3) to be pure in body, especially no sex; (4) to be pure in mouth, especially not to eat meat or drink wine; and (5) to be poor, that is, to not covet. The ‘Hymn to Mani’ in the Turkish Pothi Book states this in clear words: They guarded with minds free from neglect the commands that you issued … Their compassionate minds increased and guarded (1) the commandment to be without sin. They escaped from the hell which is ever aflame … They guarded (2) the true commandment to not commit dirty evil deeds. They thought about the transitoriness of the body and left house and home … They carried out (3) the commandment to be pure in body. They exerted themselves in the pure doctrines by which one escapes from dangerous places and, in order to be born again in the palace of immortality, they guarded (4) the commandment to be pure in mouth. They all asked for divine blessing. In order to walk along the blessed road, through escape from the terrible samsara, they carried out (5) the commandment to be the blessed poor. They recognized the transitory doctrines and, in fear of the three evil ways, in order to be born again in the highest place, they carried out the three seals.176

In the Sogdian Bema Handbook177 the confessional exposition of the five commandments is followed by the five gifts, positive dispositions the elect receive as a sacred trust. The Elect are expected to regulate, not only external actions, but also inner attitudes that pertain to right thoughts: I am also sinful [against] the five gifts which are bound for the main body of the religion if I have not accepted them in my five divisions (ptywdn), namely, glory (frn), thought (sy’), sense (m’n), consideration (sm’r’), and reason (ptbydyh) … If I have not had love, if hate treads in its place; if in the place of faith, unfaith; (if in the place) of striving for perfection, imperfection; (if in the place) of patience, violence; (if in the place) of wisdom, folly; and if I have not rejected from myself the fivefold internal passion, so that it intrudes upon me decrease in many respects; if through me the holy spirit should have been irritated; therein am I a death-deserving sinner!178

Another fivefold regulation concerns control of the senses, the gateways of harmful stimuli: In the closing of the five gates I was not perfect … Thus, if I (have left open) my eyes to sight, my ears to sound, my nose to smell, my mouth to improper food and ugly speech, and my hands to improper contact and touch; and the demonic Az (Lust), who has built 176 177 178

Quoted in BeDuhn 2000 p. 42; texts in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 139–42. The Bema Ritual celebrated Mani’s death and ascension, Klimkeit 1993 pp. 133–4. Quoted in BeDuhn 2000 p. 49.

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this body and enclosed herself within it, produces indeed through these five gates constant strife; she brings the inner demons together with the outer ones, between which a portion is destroyed daily; if I thus have kept my gates open and Az (Lust) should have provoked all of the desire-affected spiritual demons, so that the soul-treasure (rw’nyh gr’myy), the living self (gryw jywndg), goes astray from me: for all these things, forgiveness!179

Hans Schaeder sums up the Manichean ethos in these words: ‘This ascetic demand, if carried out with full severity, means the renunciation of life altogether. Mani for that reason finds a way out, which is consistent with the thought of his system and yet brings an irreparable break in his ethic. Only the restricted number of the “Perfect” undertake the ascetic demand in its whole severity.’ Jason BeDuhn hastens to point out that this redemptive-oriented asceticism and renunciation is different from that extolled by many (if not all) Gnostic regimens. The Manichean Elect, in undertaking such rigorous self-control and denial, do not attempt to liberate their inner nature by means of such constraint. Rather, Manichean discipline imposes constraints, reins in behavior, and molds the body to an imposed model that will make it truly functional for the first time. This constantly regulated life is the Manichean road to ‘liberation’, although the modern reader may find it perverse to see in such a life any kind of freedom. But the discipline of the Manichean Elect is not intended as an end in itself; it is, rather, the prerequisite for a liberation yet to be attained.180

In whatever language they are written, Manichean accounts explain and justify their disciplinary regimens by appeal to their distinctive understanding of the worldwhole. The explicit rationales for their disciplines are predicated on an axiomatic principle, which Jes Asmussen called their most fundamental concept, that all worldly things have a share in the Living Soul.181 In Middle Persian this is gr¯ıv zindag, in Coptic t.psych¯e etanh, in Greek psych¯e zo¯es, in Augustine’s Latin anima vivans; it also appears in various texts as the Cross of Light, the Five Elements, the Youth and the Suffering Jesus. Jason BeDuhn argues that little is to be gained by attempting to harmonize the many versions of Manichean cosmogony, across many different cultures and epochs, aside from recognizing that this world, the earth humans inhabit, exists in an interim stage, between the First and the Third Epoch, and in an interim condition, a mixture of light and dark. The goal of Manichean education toward gnosis is to learn the true relations humans have to these forces, their role in the ongoing conflict, and how to interact with their environment in order to achieve redemption.182 The elemental forces are unleashed by the Prince of Darkness, the Evil Demiurge, as al-Nad¯ım makes clear: The Primordial Devil repaired to his five principles, which are the smoke (samm), flame (hariq), obscurity (duhan), pestilential wind (samum), and clouds (dabab), arming himself 179 180 181 182

Quoted in BeDuhn 2000 p. 50. BeDuhn 2000 p. 53; and quotes Schaeder’s summary. ‘Hymns to the Living Soul’, Klimkeit 1993 pp. 43–54. BeDuhn 2000 pp. 72–3.

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with them and making them a protection for him. Upon his coming into contact with the Primordial Human, they joined in battle for a long time. The Primordial Devil mastered the Primordial Human and took a swallow from his light, which he surrounded with his principles and ingredients.

Ephrem of Syria underscores the material character of the dark principles, when he says, quoting Mani’s words, that ‘the primitive darkness not only seized that primitive light, but also “felt, touched, ate, sucked, tasted and swallowed it” … The primal darkness … on account of its hunger, harmed the light which it “passionately desired and ate, and sucked in, and swallowed, and imprisoned in its midst, and mixed in its limbs”.’183 BeDuhn notes that consumption of good by evil is depicted as a stratagem on the part of good, since Ephrem quotes Mani as saying that ‘the primordial human cast his five bright ones (ziwane) into the mouth of the sons of darkness, in order that as a hunter he might catch them in his net’. In concord with this view, Theodore bar Konai says that ‘the primordial human with his five sons gave himself to the five sons of darkness as food, just as a man who has an enemy mixes a deadly poison in a kitchen and gives it to him’.184 In any case, the result of this extra-terrestrial contact at the world’s dawn is a mixture of two opposite substances from which everything that exists derives. The five luminous entities become entangled in matter such that everything that lives contains some portion of their divine light. This cosmological postulate is the basis for the Manichean Elect’s repudiation of most foods, especially meat, but also many vegetables. Theodore bar Konai says that ‘when they had consumed them, the light gods lost their reason. Through the poison of the sons of darkness they became like unto a man who has been bitten by a mad dog or snake.’ Al-Nad¯ım quotes Mani to the effect that the five dark ingredients mixed with the five light ingredients and generated five benefits and five detriments to living things. Hence, smoke mixed with wind, from which both delight and disease were produced; flame mixed with fire, from whence both perdition-corruption and illumination; light mixed with dark, from whence dense bodies such as the metals and purity-beauty; the ill wind mixed with the good wind from whence usefulness and grief-injury, and clouds mixed with water, from whence there comes pure, sweet water, and suffocation-strangling.185 In a justly famous image, Hans-Charles Puech described the entire Manichean world as ‘a machine for producing and safeguarding redemption. Every cog in the cosmic mechanism, every episode in the history of the world has a bearing on redemption.’ When the Father of Greatness sends the third envoy, the Suffering Jesus, to redeem humans from their fallen condition, the envoy ‘redeems the world by organizing it into a machine … for gathering, refining, and sublimating the buried light’. Mani apparently conceived this vast cosmic mechanism as a network of buckets, pulleys and chains, stretched across the heavens, where three wheels move the seven spheres. As the heavens turn through the zodiacal stations, twelve buckets descend to earth and ‘draw forth the luminous souls of the dead and form them into a pillar of light, whose mystical cargo is borne on the ships of the sun and 183 184 185

BeDuhn 2000 p. 74. BeDuhn 2000 p. 293 note 12. Quoted in BeDuhn 2000 p. 75.

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moon to the glittering paradise of its origin’.186 Despite their soul-retrieval role in the cosmic machine, the five planets (aside from the sun and moon) and the twelve signs of the zodiac are associated with the powers of darkness, as Culianu argues.187 He points out that the Kephalaia (sec. 69) places the twelve zodiacal signs and the five archons under the supervision of an apait¯et¯es, an overseer or tax-collector, whose function is pretty much the same as the paral¯empt¯es in the Pistis Sophia. The five planetary archons rule over the five dark elements. The text is quite unambiguous on this issue: ‘All that occurs in the world, above and below, wars, confusion, deportation, famine, avarice, and property, all this increases and decreases according to the action of the leaders (archons). They set in motion all creation.’ The Manichean generation of the cosmos (cosmogony) is mirrored on a smaller scale by the generation of the human species (anthropogony); the structure and functions of the cosmos (cosmology) is mirrored on a smaller scale by the structure and functions of human nature (anthropology). The Father of Greatness, in order to defend the realm of light against darkness sends forth an emanation, the Great or Holy Spirit, who in turn projects the First Human. The First Human ascends to the border with his five sons (the elements), where he is defeated by the dark force, and his sons are devoured by demons. The First Human decides to sacrifice his soul to the darkness and matter’s lust is satisfied; but the life-force in soul is a food not suitable to matter and the divine soul poisons the demons. The Father must redeem his prototype and so he calls forth the second creation, the friends of light, who themselves call forth the Demiurge, and the Demiurge calls forth the Living Spirit. With his (its) five sons the Living Spirit rescues the First Human from darkness, but he leaves behind the five luminous elements of his armament. Puech says that ‘the First Human is not only a hero who annuls death, defeats his enemies and reveals the paradise of light, he is primarily the prototype of the redeemed creature, of the redeemer who redeems himself.’ This primal redemption consists in the awakening of consciousness, forgetful and ignorant while trapped in matter, to its true nature and, in the end, it culminates in his being made god again: ‘This spiritual resurrection is the work of the Nous … which becomes flesh and blood in the First Human, while his “armament”, which remains imprisoned in darkness, represents the element that must be saved: the psyche.’ One is meant to understand by this that it is the presence of mind in humans which makes possible the salvation of their soul, that is, in another, second life after death: ‘The awakening of the Nous is brought about or symbolized by the intervention of the Living Spirit which … brings to the soul “the Power of Life”, the pneuma with its five gifts (life, force, luminosity, beauty, fragrance), and these in turn enable the divine substance to recognize itself and to be reborn.’188 With the support of his five sons (or limbs) the Demiurge passed judgment on the demonic archons; they are flayed and the heavens are made from their skins, the earth from their flesh; they are crucified on the starry constellations. That portion of matter which has been sullied by darkness is the subject of the third creation; the Puech 1968 pp. 248, 276, 281. Culianu 1992 pp. 174–6; texts on the zodiac in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 230–32. 188 Puech 1968 p. 273; cosmogonic texts in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 226–28; Welburn 1998 pp. 176–80. 186 187

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third envoy189 organizes the material world into a machine to recover the lost particles of light. He appears to the male demons as a pure virgin of light and to the female demons as a naked youth. The demons copulate with the male-female envoy and their seed falls to earth where it becomes vegetation; the female demons give birth to abortions who consume the filthy flora. Overcome with lust these monsters interbreed and give birth to a swarm of lesser demons who in their turn become animals. The appearance of the third envoy has caused matter to fear that its prisoner, the living soul, might escape, so it generates its own anti-creation. Matter produces two super-demons, male and female, who devour as much as they can in order to ingest a maximum of light, then they copulate and produce the first two earthly humans, Adam and Eve:190 ‘Thus the human race owes its origins to a series of revolting acts of cannibalism and sexuality. And it has retained the stigma in its body which preserves the bestial form of the archons and in the libido, which drives man himself to copulate and procreate, that is, to further the plan of matter to hold the luminous substance in captivity forever.’191 Culianu echoes the dreadful sentiment at the denouement of the story: horrendous episodes of unheard-of debauchery are multiplied according to the overall logic of Manichaeism, which consists of rejecting sexuality as the archontic activity par excellence … The repetition of tremendous obscenities is made to display the extent to which humankind is fallen and the sin accumulated upon it mighty … To the extent that humankind originates from a series of incredible abominations and multiplies in lamentable ignorance of the most elementary taboos of incest, its situation must be truly desperate.192

Franz Cumont drew what he thought was an inescapable inference: ‘Thus all parts of the nature surrounding us originate from the unclean corpses of the powers of evil. Pessimism has only seldom found a more appropriate image.’ Hans Jonas echoes this view: ‘Manichean pessimism has here devised the extreme imaginative expression of a negative view of the world; all the parts of nature that surround us come from the impure cadavers of the powers of evil.’193 We now turn to the derivation, composition and structure of the human soul according to Manichean doctrine. In an important hymn, first written in Aramaic but preserved only in Sogdian and Parthian, Mani praises Jesus the Savior.194 The savior brings salvation through many forms: redeemer of our souls in the midst of the dead, through our upper (or upturned) eyes and ears, through our right hand and breath of life. Salvation is received by (or in) our unified nous (b¯am) and our true mind (manohm¯ed), our whole intellect (ush), our ardent thought (and¯eshishn), and our understanding (parm¯anag). In another fragmentary Parthian hymn195 (also from an Texts on the third envoy in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 228–30; Welburn 1998 pp. 194–8. Texts on the creation of Adam and Eve in Klimkeit 1993 pp. 232–3; Welburn 1998 pp. 199–202. 191 Puech 1968 pp. 275–77. 192 Culianu 1992 p. 171. 193 Jonas 1963 p. 224, citing Franz Cumont. 194 Klimkeit 1993 pp. 63–4. 195 Klimkeit 1993 p. 31. 189 190

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Aramaic original), Mani declaims to the Father: ‘we lift up our eyes to you, our souls (gy¯an¯an) sing before you’. In some missing verses he probably addressed the first three ‘limbs’ of the soul (reason, mind and intellect) and then the preserved lines speak of ‘your great thought’ and ‘your great understanding’, from which all beneficial thoughts have arisen. The Sogdian text on the Old Man and the New Man196 reprises the same faculties: the substance and self of the soul are life, power, light, beauty and fragrance. The five gifts (or virtues) of religion are love, faith, perfection, patience and wisdom. When the texts speak of the Living Soul tout court the words gr¯ıv zindag are usually used, and when the texts speak of Az (the demon of greed) and other deities, it is usually just gr¯ıv. But when the Primal Human is formed its soul, both in its good and bad versions, is called gy¯an. The Sixth Huyadagm¯an Hymn Cycle seems to distinguish between humans’ spirit (gy¯an) and soul (gr¯ıv). The Parthian texts which provides the largest context for description of the psychic faculties is the first cycle 197 of the Angad R¯oshn¯an, preserved in fragments, with the first verses missing. Here thought (and¯eshishn) is located in the heart; it sees all the […], it is shaken by this sight, and hides inside the soul (gr¯ıv). The speaker is so disturbed that his intellect (ush) can no longer make plans; the strong emotion disables his understanding (parm¯anag) and his mind (manohm¯ed). He complains that when he saw the dark, the strength of his ‘limbs’ was broken, his soul moaned in all its forms (or kinds), and his spirit (gy¯an) was tortured. But when the speaker turns his eyes upward to the savior, light fills his mind, raising his soul from deep affliction. The savior addresses the speaker’s spirit, telling him to fear not: ‘I am your mind’, he says, ‘and you are my body, the garment that had been oppressed by the powers of darkness.’198 More than that, ‘I am your light, radiant and primeval, your great mind and consummate hope.’ The savior promises the poor human to release him from every prison and torment in his earthly life, to cleanse him of filth and corrosion through which he has passed. ‘You are buried treasure’, he continues, ‘the pearl which is the beauty of all the gods.’ By these words the divine figure means that the human spirit is enclosed within the deepest layer of human nature; like a pearl which forms by accretions through slow metabolic processes around a seed. The savior is the mind’s gladness within the soul’s frame: ‘the light of your whole form, the soul above and the base of life’. It is surely the human spirit which is said to be deficient when it does not have (or see) the knowledge it has acquired through many previous births. If the spirit does not see the advantage from recognizing timeless, eternal and unmixed goodness, then it needs a guide to show it the way to redemption from evil and to the soul’s blessed state.199 Mani’s comment on this dictum is that knowledge gained by means of the senses alone would make (or show) all humans to be equal and similar. But this is surely not the case since the amount of knowledge the spirit has determines its degree of mixture in mortality, that is, its share of death-bound nature. Klimkeit 196 197 198

Klimkeit 1993 p. 78. Klimkeit 1993 p. 112. Boyce’s translation is ‘which brought dismay to the powers’, Klimkeit 1993 p. 120 note

82. 199

Klimkeit 1993 p. 251.

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observes that this text seems to reflect the Pauline trichotomy of body (Gr. s¯oma, MP tan), soul (Gr. psych¯e, MP m¯en¯og), and spirit (Gr. pneuma, MP gy¯an). The soul as life-force is bound up with the human body and can neither be redeemed nor reborn, whereas the spirit is the divine portion, one which can be redeemed and reborn. The relevant Sogdian text states that the soul is of the same nature as the body. The bodily or corporal thing (tan¯ıgird¯ıh) and the soulful thing (m¯en¯og¯ıh) are both dark, ignorant and harmful.200 The nature of the divine soul or spirit (gy¯an) is one of a different substance (jud¯eg¯ohr), but mixed with the bodily nature. Klimkeit quotes Mary Boyce’s comment that the term ‘of the same nature (h¯amchihrag) refers to that part of the Living Self which was not liable to “corruption”, and will therefore be redeemed’.201 The Old Turkish (Uighur) texts from Central Asia are fewer and sketchier than the Sogdian and Parthian texts. Nevertheless, the same list of five faculties and five benefits appears several times. In the gods and virtues of the first days, the five limbs of the new man are correlated with the five benefits and five elements.202 From reason (qut) love arises and clothes the aether; from intellect (köngül) faith arises and clothes wind; from mind (ög) zeal arises and clothes light; from thought (saqinch) patience arises and clothes the water; and from understanding (tuymaq) wisdom arises and clothes fire. In contrast with the light-like powers within the new man, the dark powers of the old man are inverse properties. From the dark mind demons arise and fight with the new man; he becomes impatient and contentious when he loses his mind and intellect. From the dark understanding demons arise and fight with the new man; his wisdom vanishes and he acts foolishly. But if the new man wins the struggle then – amongst other things not named – the power of the fivefold god ascends; thought becomes alert and careful. The Turkish writers differentiate soul or self (öz) by specifying ‘first self’ (ilki öz) from ‘this self’ (bo öz) or ‘second self’ (ikinti öz). J. P. Asmussen says that ilki öz is ‘an expression of the unprepared viva anima given to all people from birth, which by the acceptance and the understanding of gnosis brought to maturity becomes bo öz, the condition of final salvation.’203 The Coptic Kephalaia (sec. 38) proffers the same list of limbs and virtues in the new man: that is, mind-love, thought-faith, insight-perfection, intellect-patience and reasoning-wisdom. These five powers are further correlated with five sites in the body, in an order from inner to outer: bone, nerve, artery, tissue and skin.204 Theodore bar Konai’s Syriac list is perhaps the closest to Mani’s original linguistic classification; there are five dwellings (sh’kinas): mind (haun¯a), thinking (mad’¯a), thought (re’yan¯a), imagination (that is, understanding) (mahshabth¯a), and counsel (tar’itha). Welburn comments that haun¯a means reason as opposed to unreason, sense as opposed to nonsense; mad’¯a is the highest faculty in humans, the main activity of the spirit; re’yan¯a is the ordinary 200 Pahlavi texts on the human soul, according to Shaked, frequently employ bodily terms to refer to the various ‘souls’ bound with parts of the human body; see texts from the D¯enkard in his 1994 pp. 153–60. 201 Klimkeit 1993 p. 256 note 18. 202 Klimkeit 1993 p. 332. 203 Asmussen Khuastv¯ an¯ıft 1965 p. 218, quoted in Klimkeit 1993 p. 336 note 46. 204 BeDuhn 2000 pp. 92–4, 100–1.

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faculty of thinking; mahshabth¯a is the shaping, active power of the mind, and tar’itha means internal counsel.205 Five-fold scheme of psychic powers in original Manichean language texts Faculty reason intellect mind thought understanding

Greek logismos enthum¯esis nous ennoia phron¯esis

Parthian b¯am ush manohm¯ed and¯eshisn parm¯anag

Turkish qut köngül ög saqinch tuymaq

Syriac haun¯a tar’ith¯a mad’¯a re’yan¯a mahshabth¯a

limb mind thought insight intellect reasoning

site bone nerve artery tissue207 skin

element aether wind light water fire

virtue love faith zeal patience wisdom

‘vice’206 – – impudence bitterness wrath

With regard to Manichean teachings about human salvation, Jason BeDuhn has presented a strong case that there are three phases or dimensions of the elect soul’s liberation from the body: separation, self-formation and ascent. The follower of the true religion comes to perfection by attaining conformity with his or her original nature. According to the Kephalaia the true self emerges in the same form as light; the Chinese Compendium says that this nature will be separated from the light-less and its name will be ‘one form’. The Chinese Hymnscroll says that, in its ultimate state, every one of them looks the same and that all natures and forms are equal: ‘This unification and homogenization of the self corrects the condition of “mixture” in which ordinary humans find themselves … Contrary to interpretations [for which see below] that see in Manichaeism a form of spirit-matter dualism, the sources actually show a sweeping materialism in Manichean discourse.’ Four light-like elements and four dark elements have been imbued in the making of the human body; good and evil drives in human nature operate by means of additional fifth elements. These good and evil drives are routinely portrayed as internal agencies, spirits and demons, which activate and control various organic functions and desires.208 However, despite humans’ basically homogenous nature, individuals do not have self-contained identities: ‘the contingency and impermanence of the body shows

Welburn 1998 p. 121. ‘vice’, an impure accretion, acc. to the fragment of Kephalaia sec. 94. 207 This key term is often rendered ‘flesh’, but to keep it distinct from ‘skin’, it is rendered ‘soft tissue’, since it is clearly set off against hard bone. 208 BeDuhn 2000 pp. 222–3. 205 206

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that it is not “a real existence”, but a temporary conglomeration of incongruous substances’, as BeDuhn says. Their status as temporary aggregates does not imply that, after bodily death, individual souls transmigrate to other bodies and are then born again as the same individuals. Rather, the original separate divine elements, dispersed at the body’s demise, are reprocessed into new forms through transfusion (metagismos). BeDuhn argues that all of the available evidence shows that the Manicheans adhered to the traducian theory of the soul, in other words, each soul is constituted by the transmission of soul-like constituents from its parents’ souls. This is the essential meaning of the pivotal Manichean idea of collection; after death, each individual must collect its soul’s limbs in order to assemble it into a complete self: ‘The Manichean “soul” or self does not possess an eternal or immutable identity; it is made by the processes of the faith, crafted in the metabolic fires, and forged as a unity from dispersed fragments of life … The soul is a byproduct – or rather the essential product – of metabolic processes.’209 With regard to the internal dimension of self-formation, BeDuhn says that the human soul has the potential to hold itself together and continue along a process of ever-increasing reunification. If it fails to maintain that continuity or to find the ‘open gate’ through which it can manage its ascent, the soul will fly apart at death: ‘It needs to find a form, a permanent cohesiveness that survives mortality, a “body” divested of the pollutants that undermine its unity and clarity … Salvation comes by means of establishing an integrity for the self, an identity beyond contingency.’ The difficulty that all earthly humans face is that their bodies are subject to demonic forces; the ‘damaged vessel’ scatters the mind, since the body is filled with spirits which draw it ‘hither and thither’. In order for the whole person to be saved the individual must train his body until it becomes a fully functioning instrument in the salvific mechanism:210 ‘The soul or self is formed by the gnosis of separation, the practical knowledge of discerning and marking apart a self amid the flood of passions and drives of the human body. The Manichean ethos is a technique for investing the body with a self, a self whose Manichean identity puts it in effective relation with the salvational processes of the universe.’ The true self emerges in an embodied form from both internal disciplines of thought and external disciplines of right action.211 In its third dimension Mani himself clearly expressed the view that the elect’s soul would ascend to heaven after its death on earth. Manichean texts are filled with references to gates, doors and paths; there are paths which one must follow through ascetic and encratic discipline, and then there is the path that the soul takes when released from its labors. In the Kephalaia Mani identifies the five mentalities of the internal realm with the five points of transmission for the liberated light in the outer cosmos: ‘Just as the rebellion of evil rises through these five mentalities if unchecked, so the successful processing of the Living Self in the protected bodies of the Elect passes through these mentalities, and emerges to pass through the corresponding stages of the macrocosm. These stages mark out the path “for the

209 210 211

BeDuhn 2000 pp. 223–4. BeDuhn 2000 p. 224. BeDuhn 2000 p. 227.

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souls that ascend”.’ BeDuhn, in his meticulous analysis of the ritual meal, stresses that eventual liberation from the body’s fetters is not entirely the result of meditative discipline on right knowledge, but also embodied discipline through right action: ‘Recognizing one’s true identity as a spark of the divine light does not in itself accomplish liberation … The salutary effects of Manichean disciplines not only perfect the individual Elect body and keep it from harming the Living Self, but also set the stage for the obligatory work of the religion to redeem the Living Self from the entire world.’212 In summary, there are five bivalent elements arrayed on two axes, light and dark. In the divine creation of Primal Human the five light elements comprise his five limbs or segments; through the dark principle’s counter-action the five dark elements imprison Primal Human in material fetters. In the demiurgic generation of the human species the five light elements constitute the five gifts or benefits, which, if used rightly in thought, word and action, give rise to the five virtues. In ordinary human nature the five dark elements comprise demonic agencies which cause organic disorders and provoke an array of counter-virtues (vices). It seems to me that Andrew Welburn has captured the basic character of the five-fold types and antitypes. According to al-Shahrastani, there are five species of light: four of them are bodies (or body-like) and the fifth is their spirit. The kinds of bodies are fire, light, wind and water, and their spirit is ether; it is the fifth element which moves them and causes them to live. But as al-Nad¯ım has informed us, the five dark elements are the polar opposites of the five light ones: hence there are smoke, gloom, bad-water, bad-wind and bad-fire. Welburn says that ‘all the light-bodies are various embodiments of the ethereal energy [the fifth element] which moves in them; all the physical features of the elements are greater or lesser elaborations of the smoke, or darkening, densifying component … Mani’s scheme reveals a view of the elements as living ethereal essences, but existing in various states of darkening or opacity.’213 The key idea behind this hypothesis is some sort of scalar dualism, that is, the two ‘realms’ of light and dark represent two extremes on a scale of intensity, not two worlds of intelligible and sensible forms. They are organized from dense, heavy matter, full of darkness, to light, airy non-matter, full of light. This interpretation of the Manichean scheme shows that ‘the darkest of the forms, i.e. gloom, although it is the most fallen and “smoky”, is a reflection of the highest element, the essential nature of the light itself. Fire, in which, as we might say, matter passes over into energy, is for Mani the point where matter passes over into its “ethereal state”.’ The archetypes of the various elements are divine, living beings of light, and the earthly elements are reflections – as opposed to pale copies – of those archetypes. But, in addition, the five elements are also the external dimension of the spiritual qualities that underline them, as set out in the table below.214

212 213 214

BeDuhn 2000 pp. 232–3. Welburn 1998 p. 119, emphasis added. Welburn 1998 p. 120.

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Ether

Mind Light Water Wind Fire Fire Wind Water Gloom

Smoke

thought intellect insight reasoning skin tissue arteries nerves Bone

Hence, the five-fold archetypes are inverted from light to dark by means of an intensification of the material admixture, and comprise a light-like domain within human nature itself. In numerous Manichean texts devoted to the production of the human soul-body type, the elemental battery is assigned specific functions at various anatomical sites; these, of course, correspond with the five psychical faculties. The body is constructed in its five limbs by the dark principle, and the soul is bound to the body by the five sons of god, at five points: mind to bone, thought to nerves, insight to veins, intellect to flesh (or rather, soft tissue), and reasoning to skin.215 Welburn comments on this: ‘The dark counters each God-substance of mind with its own alien counter-part, just as the smoke darkened the substances which would otherwise express the living essence of the ether.’ Again, as with the fundamental cosmic arrangement, the scheme delineates a scalar continuum from one extreme in one dimension to the opposite extreme in the other (anti-type) dimension: The highest faculty is bound in the most dense and most deeply hidden element in the body, the bone. With bone we reach the transition to solid mineral substance, just as, at the other end of the scale, we pass from the manifestations of mind to its abstract essence. The lower faculties of mind, on the other hand, are reflected in the more outwardly visible form of man, the skin, for instance. The analogy with the pattern of underlying polarity in the scheme of the elements is therefore complete.216

Of course, the mind is not located in the bone … no more than reasoning is located in the skin! The five ‘spiritual’ strata are inversely reflected or encapsulated in the five bodily strata. When the cognitive power is increased through gnosis the adherent reaches deeper within. It is also true that bones ‘survive’ bodily death, that is, the release of life-force within, where, at the other extreme, the skin is the first to decompose. But the more appropriate analogy for the multiple ‘souls’ within the body is the naos-shrine, where an image of the deity is located in the innermost part of an inner chamber of a temple. The development of Manichean ideas about the human soul in light and darkness in these Central Asian documents is not the end of the story. Beyond the western frontiers of the Byzantine Empire, Manichean teachings undergo a mutation into 215 See the texts in BeDuhn 2000 pp. 92–103; the list of sites differs slightly from Welburn’s source. 216 Welburn 1998 p. 122.

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strange and wonderful forms. One of the greatest crises to face the Byzantine Empire began with the emergence of the Bulgarian Empire in the early 800s, under their masterful Khan Krum. The ‘new Sennacherib’, as he was called, attacked Byzantine forces for more than a decade and nearly overthrew the Byzantine capital itself. Through the concerted efforts of Bulgarian military and political forces, Byzantium lost large parts of its Balkan territories to the pagan Khans: ‘The original religious policy of the Bulgar Khans was certainly tolerant, allowing for coexistence between paganism and Christianity, whether orthodox or heretical … In the pagan Bulgarian Empire the meeting and syncretism of diverse religious traditions was still alive, maintaining a religious climate of complexity and eclecticism.’217 The early history of the Bulgarian nation and its culture is still rather shadowy; one can only have glimpses of its religion, rituals and customs from some rare documents and its now almost vanished monuments.218 What can be discerned is that the Bulgarian arena offered perfect conditions for the revival of pagan cults which had been suppressed under Byzantine control. The Bulgars introduced religious ideas from Central Asia and the Eurasian steppes; their mythical and magical beliefs mingled freely with various pagan remnants from antiquity, for example, in Thracian, Orphic and Dionysian mystery cults. The Byzantines made a policy of transplanting colonists from the Empire’s eastern provinces to the Thracian-Bulgarian region and thus ‘further entangled the volatile religious climate of the Balkans’. The papal administration in Rome and the Orthodox Patriarch in Constantinople sent successive missions to the Bulgarian throne, turning the Khan’s court into a theological battleground. Pressure from the western and eastern Christian fronts, coupled with various pagan rebellions, made the Balkan region sway from one allegiance to another. This constant religious tugof-war fermented the heretical material within Bulgarian culture and allowed the emergence of one of the most distinct and long-lasting Christian heresies – Bogomilism.219 It is not feasible, within the scope of this book, to trace all of the many tendrils of semi-pagan, heretical ideas which filtered into the Balkan region on the wagon-homes of Armenian, Syrian and Anatolian nomads. The first definite reference to the Bogomils is in a letter (c.940–50) from the Patriarch Theophylact to Tsar Peter of Bulgaria, who had written to the Orthodox leader to complain about a new and growing heresy. Theophylact did not live long enough to seriously address this problem, but he did characterize it as ‘a serpent-like and many headed hydra of impiety’. It is to the credit of one Bulgarian presbyter, Cosmas, that the identity of the heresy’s founder and some of his teachings were recorded. In his Sermon against the Heretics220 (c.967–72) Cosmas tells his hearers about the Bogomil preachers whose appearance and demeanor were those of Christian holy persons, but which concealed ‘voracious wolves’ beneath. The Byzantine sources are richer in detail than these tenth-century documents and provide some important details about their beliefs regarding the creation and Stoyanov 1994 pp. 115–17. On Iranian style fire-temples in Bulgaria, see Stoyanov pp. 112–13. 219 Stoyanov 1994 pp. 120–23; summary in Barber 2000 pp. 6–21; Fichtenau 1998 pp. 70–78. 220 Hamilton(s) 1998 p. 27, text no. 15, pp. 114–34. 217 218

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structure of the cosmos, and the creation and structure of human beings. In a long letter (c.1045) the monk Euthymius of the Periblepton monastery described some of their main tenets.221 The Emperor Alexius Comnenus became quite concerned at the appearance of this insidious heresy and managed to trap one of its main proponents into giving a long recital of Bogomil principles. The emperor’s daughter, Anna Comnena, was a witness to Basil the Bogomil’s lecture and describes its reception in her history of the Comnenan period.222 The emperor had Basil arrested and interrogated by one of his adjutants, Euthymius Zigabenus, whose treatise on Bogomil theology is the most extensive and accurate account of their beliefs.223 One can detect in Bogomil accounts something similar to what Michael Williams, in his analysis of Gnostic principles, described as the Biblical demiurgic model. Cosmas the presbyter ascribes to the Devil the creation, not the mere production, of the sky, the sun, the stars, the earth and human beings; Euthymius Periblepton states that the Devil is the creator of the visible world except for the sun and humans. In Psellus’ On the Operation of Demons, the Father governs the zone above the cosmos, the younger son (Christ) the zone of heaven, and the older son (Satan) the world itself.224 Euthymius Zigabenus identifies the Devil with the Old Testament God, who makes for himself a second heaven and a second earth, and hence parallel to, or other than, the visible world. There is some disagreement in the sources about the relative status of Satan and Christ; some texts claim Christ as the elder son and Satan as the younger, other texts reverse their positions.225 In the Bogomil account of the generation of the human species, according to the Interrogation of John, Satan fabricates human in his own image from mud and orders some of the angels to enter the new body. Satan made paradise and placed the original human couple there; in the tree of knowledge he secreted the fluid snake extruded from his own spit. The Evil One entered the snake and seduced Eve who gave birth to an entire race of satanic creatures; new souls are generated from their parents’ copulation. Euthymius Periblepton offers an alternate version of this myth: the archon of our world made Adam’s body in which he installed one of the souls stolen from God’s realm. But as soon as the soul entered the mouth it left through the other end, leaving Adam’s body soulless for three centuries. The world-ruler has the brilliant idea of infusing Adam’s body with life-force: he eats unclean animals, such as the snake and scorpion, and spews this awful mixture into Adam. After plugging up Adam’s bottom the ruler blows into his mouth; ‘due to its disgusting wrapping the soul stays in the body’. Culianu remarks that this part of the myth is rather puzzling until one recognizes a garbled version of the doctrine of antimimon pneuma. It is ‘a popular and negative version of the clean, intellectual, Neoplatonic ochem¯a, or vehicle of the soul, and ultimately of the Aristotelian pr¯oton organon, the astral body that wraps the soul before it can be introduced into the Hamilton(s) 1998 p. 32, text no. 19, pp. 142–64. Hamilton(s) 1998 pp. 37–8, text no. 24, pp. 175–80. 223 Hamilton(s) 1998 pp. 38–40, text no. 25, pp. 180–206. 224 On the connection of Psellus (or pseudo-Psellus) text with the Bogomils and Euchites, see Stoyanov 1994 pp. 140–42; Greenfield 1988 pp. 171–3. 225 Culianu 1992 p. 201; on the astral bodies of stoikheia (demons) Greenfield 1988 pp. 190–95. 221 222

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body’.226 Euthymius Zigabenus’ version is simpler: Satan attempts to animate Adam’s body with his own spirit but it escapes from the right big toe, leaving a moist trail which becomes the snake. Satan has to implore God to send him some of his divine spirit in order to make Adam stand upright. On the latter view, the human soul is angelic in its nature since God promised Samael (Satan) that the purpose of ensouling the human race was to fill the places left vacant by the fall of some angels. But Samael is jealous of God’s creative power and spoils the divine plan for an angelic human species by copulating with Eve and mixing her progeny with his evil properties, that is, lust, greed and anger. This world will last as long as the number of good souls admitted to heaven remains lower than the number of seats left vacant by the fallen angels. The Bogomils’ perverse (let alone inverse) reading of the Genesis story of world creation and human generation plays out in many of their doctrinal beliefs as well. They repudiated baptism, the cult of the cross, the cult of virgin birth, saints, icons and relics, as well as the Church hierarchy, liturgy and form of prayers. They held that Christ never had a material, fleshy body, but only an immaterial body during his earthly ‘life’ which he abandoned on his ascension. They thought that even church buildings were Satan’s resorts and that money, property and authority were contemptible. There are many anecdotes about their willingness to pretend to believe in Orthodox dogma and rituals, something that, for the heresy-hunters of the period, made them even more despicable. Culianu offers this summary assessment of Bogomil dualism in comparison with other heretical and/or Gnostic belief systems: Bogomilism appears to be original and not dualistic [in the cosmic sense]. Yet when it comes to the human body, Satan displays effective creative powers. Although the clay is not created by the Devil, the body is entirely fabricated by him and in his image, from moist matter containing much water (the most inferior element) and related to the fluid shape of the Snake – quite an original expression of antisomatism. This notwithstanding, the Bogomils show less horror for matter than many early Church Fathers. Culianu also measures Bogomil doctrine against the standard of human fittedness to the created world: ‘Since the essence of the human being is an angelic soul that is divine although fallen, Bogomilism denies the anthropic principle that requires the world to be for humans and humans for the world. Only the body is of this world, the soul is not. Yet the Bogomil denial is not the same as the Gnostic or Manichean denial: humanity is not superior to the Demiurge, the Devil, for the Devil is likewise an angel.’ Also contrary to Gnostic and Manichean optimism about human nature and ‘last things’ – though this optimism is often occluded behind rather bleak words – Bogomil beliefs are pessimistic: ‘The innocent angel has been the dupe of the cunning one and cannot evade the accursed condition of his race other than by renouncing concupiscence and the other works of the Archon, that is, the beliefs and practices of the evil Romans.’227 Until recently some scholars have thought that Culianu 1992 pp. 202–3; Greenfield 1988 pp. 171–3. Culianu 1992 p. 211; Greenfield says that ‘there is here a basic disagreement with Gnostic ideas, for the soul is no longer seen as a part of God and thus there is no question of 226 227

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Bogomilism was little more than a bizarre and curious offshoot of Balkanized Manichaeism, an infection spread by displaced persons, forced to leave their homes in the Byzantine eastern regions. But important recent studies by Ioan Culianu, Bernard Hamilton and Yuri Stoyanov, amongst others, have given us a better picture of their distinctive worldview. After examining the archaeological and documentary evidence for the beginnings of the Bogomil church in the Balkan-Thracian region, Stoyanov declares that ‘Bogomilism emerged in the tenth century as a distinct and indigenous dualist movement, with its independent teachings and purposes’.228 Sometime in the mid-twelfth century, Bogomilism mutated into new forms and split into two branches or ‘churches’. Heretical teachers like Henry the Monk and Peter Bruis spread their radical ideas in France, inflaming towns and cities to outright revolt against the established church. An outraged prior wrote to the eminent cleric Bernard of Clairvaux about a strange group of heretics in Cologne who abstained from eating meat and from sexual intercourse, as well as rejecting certain church doctrines. Although their origins are shrouded in obscurity, these are the first clues to the appearance of the Cathars. In its earliest attested documents the Cathars seem to have held to moderate or monarchian dualism, according to which there was only one primal principle of goodness (God), the evil principle (Satan) was created by and subordinate to God. During the grand Cathar Council in 1166 (or 1176) an influential Cathar bishop, Papa Nicetas, introduced absolute or duarchian dualism, according to which there were two cosmic principles, of good and evil, of equal power and sovereignty. Papa Nicetas also instituted an order of twelve churches, five in the Balkan-Byzantine region and seven in the Near East.229 The Cathar heresy put down strong roots in Northern Italy, Lombardy and Languedoc, where it would survive, against terrible oppression and persecution, until the early fourteenth century. Bogomil agitation, associated with Gregory Palamas in the Hesychast controversy, continued to cause unrest in the Mount Athos monasteries during the same period.230 In the moderately dualist form the Cathars believed that the Devil was the maker of the human body in which he imprisoned by force an angel of light. The Devil is identified with the OT God, though he is not the equal of the true God, the Father of the cosmos. The true God is the creator of primordial matter, whereas the Devil is an organizer, the factor of the visible world. One testator said that, on this view, the devil is not the creator but the crafter, since he modeled pre-existent matter (the elements) as a potter models clay. The Devil is not a rootless principle, for he was created by God and sinned out of free will. Some of the moderate Cathars thought that the human soul was transmitted from the parents to the child, while others thought that each soul was drawn from a reservoir of pre-existent souls. However, the heresy-hunters discerned some innovations in moderate Cathar beliefs with regard to what they knew of Bogomil doctrines. These innovations include the myth God’s self-liberation, instead the aim of the cosmic drama is to fill the places left by the angels’, 1988 p. 172 note 529. 228 Stoynaov 1994 p. 131. 229 Stoyanov 1994 pp. 163–9; Barber 2000 pp. 21–33; text in Hamilton(s) 1998 no. 37 pp. 250–53; Fichtenau 1998 pp. 78–87. 230 Greenfield 1988 pp. 169–70 note 522; Hamilton(s) 1998 nos. 48–50 pp. 278–88.

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of the Evil Spirit at the bottom of the universe; the myth of the sun and moon’s fornication; the dogma that Christ’s body was flesh and blood, and the idea of preexistent human souls. Ioan Culianu concludes that ‘moderate Catharism is Bogomilism in a pure state, drawn into a process of blending with the radical doctrine, whose origin is completely different’.231 In contrast with this rather derivative transformation of Bogomil cosmic dualism the other churches which embraced Nicetas’ reforms evince an absolute or radical dualism. They believe in two gods, one entirely good, the other entirely evil, each of them creators of angels. Lucifer is the son of the Lord of Darkness, who transfigures himself into an angel of light in order to ascend into the good god’s heaven. The good god, Lord of Light, adopts the stranger and makes him the steward of his kingdom. Lucifer seduces the good god’s angels and provokes civil war in heaven. God is compelled to evict the Devil, along with a third of his angels, those who sided with the Devil in his rebellion. All angels are made of body, soul and spirit; the fallen angels’ bodies and spirits remain in heaven, but their souls are imprisoned in human bodies. Thus, humans have angelic souls but devilish spirits; after many rebirths human souls which have sincerely repented may recover their heavenly spirits and bodies. In another version, angelic spirits come down to earth in search of their lost souls, entreating them to return home.232 According to the late Cathar author Pierre Authié (or Autier), the fallen spirits are clothed with garments of skin and forget what they had been in heaven.233 The Cathars divided their followers into three classes: the elect (or perfecti), the listeners and the believers. Like the Manichean elect the Cathar elect carry out the important prayers and devotions needed to ensure that all pure ones eventually are reunited with their angelic sponsors in heaven. The Cathar listener attains the status of election through the ceremony of consolamentum234 in which each human soul receives its own protective (guardian) spirit. There is no resurrection after the second coming of Christ, for this world has no end, the final judgment has already taken place, and hellfire is found in this world already. According to the Book of Two Principles, there are two coexistent worlds, one created by the good god, the other by the Father of the Devil. The good god runs ‘a parallel universe, invisible and incorruptible’; all of the evil things in that world are the creation of the Devil and occurs without God’s will or permission. The good god created heaven and earth out of matter different from the changing and irrational elements in our world; he is thus not the creator of this world, which is weak and barren. John of Lugio, the most likely author of the Book of Two Principles, was ‘the most original Cathar thinker’, in Culianu’s words.235 God is not omnipotent, for he has neither the power of doing evil nor the power of self-destruction nor the power of duplicating himself. The good god actually performed all that the Old Testament attributes to him; yet all those events took place not in our world but in another world. On John’s view the whole Bible is a reliable historical document, but it is one 231 232 233 234 235

Culianu 1992 pp. 217–21; Barber 2000 pp. 81–8; see Fichtenau 1998 pp. 163–8. Culianu 1992 pp. 221–2. On the Authié (or Autier) revival of Catharism, see esp. Barber 2000 pp. 176–90. On the details of the consolamentum ritual, see Barber 2000 pp. 76–81. Culianu 1992 p. 224; on John of Lugio, see Barber 2000 pp. 86–9.

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which refers to the history of a parallel universe. It was in the other universe that Christ was born, suffered, died and was resurrected; human souls migrate from one animate body to another until they are saved. John of Lugio ‘activated one of the least probable options of reversed exegesis, namely, the reversal of the reversal. The Bible is absolutely false for this world … but is absolutely and literally true in another world … to which the perfectly historical narratives of the Old and New Testaments apply. From a systemic viewpoint, this is the most original contribution of Catharism to the working out of the system,’236 that is, of dualist oppositions. Catharism was violently stamped out in a series of crusades and pogroms; it was no longer a living force in the Latin West after the mid-fourteenth century. Nevertheless, as Malcolm Barber argues, it was not a minor deviation from orthodoxy, since it presented itself as the only genuine Christian community in a corrupt world dominated by a mendacious Catholic Church. Catharism had a continuous and wide-ranging impact on the Latin West for more than two centuries and, ever since the Middle Ages, has been attractive to various people for various reasons: Among these have been Protestants seeking a provenance with which to counter the Catholic charge of innovation; southern patriots railing against north French domination; romantics lamenting the loss of a cultured civilization; and commercial interests from local maires to exploitative publishers and authors who see the opportunity to profit from the religion of anti-materialism. Even more than more historical subjects, the Cathars are viewed today through the many-layered filters of the more recent past.237

(4) Oracles, ritual and theurgy in the soul’s ascent In order to follow the track of another line of secret teachings about the soul we have to return to the second and third centuries, the same time-frame, and roughly the same cultural milieu, that saw the emergence of the Hermetic and Gnostic scriptures. Searchers for wisdom and religious sectarians, all those attracted to an ‘inside track’ to special knowledge, were especially delighted with the appearance of a new anthology of god-like sayings. The Chaldean Oracles were a collection of hexameter verses allegedly uttered by a god in response to questions about the nature of the cosmos, the human soul and salvation. The Oracles’ putative ‘authors’ were a father and son team, both named Julian, who appeared in the retinue of Marcus Aurelius when he was on a military campaign. The two Julians were said to have brought about a rain miracle that saved the Roman legions in a battle with the Marcomani (173 CE). However, the earliest account of this rain miracle does not mention the Julians, and even by the late fourth century only unnamed Chaldeans are mentioned. Julian the theurgist is referred to by name in Sozomen’s history and the Emperor Julian’s letter to Priscus (350 CE). Rowland Smith says that ‘even if the historicity of [these sources] is granted, there is nothing to disprove the idea that they were at best obscure magicians and that the attribution of the Oracles to 236 237

Cuilanu 1992 p. 235. Barber 2000 p. 5.

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the Theurgist is as fanciful as the retrospective attribution to him of the rainmiracle’.238 In his recent book, Julian’s Gods, Smith nicely summarizes four proposals about the double authorship of the Oracles. (1) The ingenious idea first put forth by E. R. Dodds239 that the oracles were the product of an entranced medium, uttered by one Julian and recorded by the other. This construes the composition of the Chaldean Oracles in the same way as the composition of the Oracles of Apollo at Claros, verses spoken by the prophet and recorded by the thespode.240 (2) The Neo-Platonic tradition of two authors signals ‘an attempt to account for the presence of two distinct elements in the Oracles: on one hand, instructions treating of theurgic rituals; on the other, a revelation of cosmological and soteriological doctrine’. (3) On the assumption that the author(s) wanted the oracles to be taken as utterances of an ancient Chaldean, anonymity had the benefit of imbuing the text with a patina of venerable antiquity (as for example, with the Hermetica). (4) Since an alternate tradition assigned their origin to the reign of the Emperor Trajan, one hundred years earlier, a retrojected father figure (Julian Senior) made sense of both versions of the Oracles’ history.241 Concrete evidence in favor of the first proposal has been advanced based on recent archaeological discoveries in the region of Roman Apamea, the home of the Middle Platonist philosopher Numenius. Some of the oracular texts appear in Numenius’ works and, more than that, it appears that there might have been some sort of ‘two-way’ traffic between Numenius and the Julians, that is, mutual influence.242 In any case, a second-century tablet inscribed ‘KLDY’ has been found in nearby Palmyra; it is assumed to refer to a local priestly caste, the Chaldeans, associated with the cult of Bel (‘Lord’), an epithet of the Babylonian storm god Adad, himself a figure in the Oracles. The Chaldeans were ‘a caste of hereditary priests [who] continued the Palaeo-Babylonian tradition of enthusiastic divination, through which the oracles of the Apamean Bel enjoyed such high credence in the Roman Empire, until one priest by the name of Julian seems to have produced a revelation in the theological idiom of the region and of the times and yet firmly rooted in the millennial Babylonian tradition’. There is a crucial piece of evidence that links the Apamean cult with the Chaldean Oracles: an inscription on an altar in Vaison-la-Romaine, made by someone named Sextus, dedicated to Belus, the ruler of good fortune in memory of the Apamean oracles. On this view, as Athanassiadi points out, the word ‘Chaldean’ does not appear anywhere in the Oracles because it was a name given only by outsiders to what insiders called the Apamean oracles.243 In the contention between various schools and sects, early Christians had an invaluable advantage in their possession of a sacred text. It seems that some NeoPlatonists considered the Chaldean Oracles a comparable divinely inspired sacred writing. E. R. Dodds did not spare the sarcasm in his view of the Oracles: ‘their 238 239 240 241 242 243

R. Smith 1995 p. 93. Dodds 1951 p. 284. In detail, see Fox 1986 pp. 172–80. R. Smith 1995 pp. 93–6. See Dillon 1977 pp. 361–6, 393–6; Frede in ANRW 36.2 pp. 1034–40. Athanassiadi 1999 pp. 154–5.

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diction is so bizarre and bombastic, their thought so obscure and incoherent, as to suggest the trance utterances of modern “spirit guides” than the deliberate efforts of a forger’.244 This opinion is echoed by R. T. Wallis when he calls them ‘a collection of turgid and obscure hexameter oracles … originating in the revelations of an ecstatic prophet or prophetess’.245 Robin Lane Fox has little patience with what he calls this ‘influential fraud’; they were supposed to be a record of some anonymous wisdom teachings and, as time passed, ‘these obscure, high-flown texts gained a growing authority. Nobody knew their precise origin; nobody could fully understand them, and Platonist philosophers struggled to write an explanatory commentary.’ An aspiring philosopher could make his reputation by tackling these deliberately obfuscated pronouncements. The arena of commentary on the Oracles became ‘a jousting ground for the hyper-intelligent’. At least one factor in their runaway success was that ‘like the best type of fake, they closely resembled their genuine relations’.246 The Chaldean Oracles were regarded by the Neo-Platonists as the equivalent of Sacred Scripture, that is, the words of god recorded by a human scribe. The Oracles have an obvious Middle Platonic milieu which has affinities with the Gnostics, the Hermetica, and the works of Numenius of Apamea. John Dillon labeled this confluence of thought patterns in late antiquity the ‘underworld of Platonism’ (not the ‘Platonic underworld’). The denizens of this underworld exhibited some rather murky qualities, such as (a) elaborate and often exasperating metaphysical constructions, (b) an extreme derogation of material existence, (c) a dualist picture of human nature where the rational soul (or mind) is a divine spark, (d) a method of salvation or enlightenment that generally involves a spiritual and/or ritual ascent of the soul, and (e) a mythologizing tendency that hypostasizes various abstractions into quasi-mythical beings.247 In underworld Platonism, ‘abstract philosophical speculation gives way at this point to mythic formulations and a complex proliferation of cosmic entities is introduced, with a dominant female principle, in each case, operating at all levels and directly responsible for material creation as we know it’. In some of the Gnostic systems this female principle is called Ennoia or Sophia, in the Chaldean system she is Dynamis or Hecate, and in the Hermetica she is Life or Nature.248 Speculation about this wisdom figure becomes part of the myth revealed to initiates, and hence knowledge of the myth’s secrets becomes an important condition for individual salvation. The individual soul’s status in the Chaldean system is a consequence of its place in the overall cosmic scheme. The First or Highest God ‘exists outside’ his productions; he is the Paternal Intellect, the Monad, or even the One. The Second God or Demiurge has the task of fashioning the intelligible world on the model of the First God’s ideas (frs. 33, 37). As Second Intellect, the Demiurge is dyadic in nature, turned both toward the intelligible and toward the sensible worlds. The Demiurge projects the divine ideas into the womb of the world-soul (or primal 244 245 246 247 248

Dodds 1951 p. 284. Wallis 1972 p. 105. Fox 1986 p. 197. Dillon 1977 p. 384–96; Majercik 1989 p. 4. Majercik 1989 p. 4.

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matter) like Zeus hurling thunder-bolts from the heavens (frs. 35, 37). The process of cosmic division entails the existence of a Third God, a female generative entity, sometimes described as Dynamis (Power), sometimes conflated with the goddess Hecate as the Platonic world-soul (frs. 51, 52, 53, 56). She is located on the border between the intelligible and the sensible worlds. As the goddess Hecate she is ‘a girdling membrane’ (fr. 6) through whom divine influences travel from one level to another; particular souls issue from her right hip (fr. 51). The Paternal Intellect is the Father’s hypostasis and represents his creative powers; from him spring the basic seeds of the material world in the form of noetic thunder-bolts. The divine ideas enter the hollows (kolpoi) of the worlds, where they become less distinct, more muddied by contact with the lower, hylic strata of the universe. From the cosmic womb the ‘all’ (panta) stretches forth toward the place beneath the wondrous rays of the creator. Hecate receives the noetic forms or ideas and brings them forth again for the production of the physical world:249 Realization that the complete materialization of the Ideas in the Hylic World requires three entities in Chaldean doctrine – an emitter, a transmitter, and a final receptive ‘molder’ – is important for understanding a series of other fragments which discuss triads … At the time of the Oracles’ composition, overuse of the principle [of triadization] was not yet rampant; indeed, the presence of triads in the Chaldean system, so greatly reverenced by the Neoplatonists, probably encouraged later uncontrolled triadization.250

The triad that measures or divides also holds together or retains (fr. 23): like the Platonic Cosmic Soul, the Chaldean World Soul divides and links the intelligible world and the sensible world. The Latin epithet bifrons and the Greek epithet amphipha¯es (or amphistomos) express Hecate’s ability to interact with two different realms. Although the goddess herself is described with triple adjectives (trigl¯enos and trioditis) in terms of her own powers, the dual adjectives characterize her having ‘two faces’ since she views two realms between which she acts as world-soul.251 In conclusion, Johnston claims: The triad’s middle entity, Hekate/Soul, stands between the two other members – the Paternal Intellect or emitter of the Ideas and the Demiurgical Second Intellect who uses those Ideas to create the physical world. She is in fact the ‘bond’ (d¯ema) of the triad mentioned in fr. 31, joining together its other members. Hekate, within her womb, performs the important role of ‘nurturing’ the basic Ideas and then sending them forth altered to the Demiurge for his creative use. One of the ways in which she nurtures and alters the Ideas is to measure or divide them. In doing this, she helps to provide the delineation, boundaries and structures from which the physical world is built.

Johnston points out that the epithet of Hekate as ‘girdling membrane’ is very apt since ‘a membrane, although it separates, is usually thin, pliable and diaphanous; it Johnston 1990 p. 51; Lewy 1978 pp. 120–23. Johnston 1991 p. 54; Wallis synopsizes a variety of triadic schemes, 1972 pp. 130–34; in connection with Gnostic texts, see Turner in Wallis 1992 pp. 439–45. 251 Johnston 1991 p. 60; on the triple-powered figure in Gnostic texts and the Hermetica, see Majercik 1989 pp. 7–8 for numerous examples. 249 250

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divides, yet it allows some contact between the two substances it divides’.252 Hans Lewy noted that statues of Hecate often show her with a girdle (z¯ost¯er) wrapped around the hips.253 In addition to the principal triad of hypostatic beings, there is a complex chain of lesser beings that fill the space extending all the way to the material realm. The most important of these intermediary beings are the Iynxes (iung¯es), the Connectors (sunokheis) and the Teletarchs (teletarkhai), though angels and demons also appear in various anonymous roles: ‘A similar “filling up” of divine space is also an important feature of Gnosticism and Hermeticism as well, where numerous quasimythic, quasi-abstract entities serve to separate the Highest God from the contamination of material existence. In the Chaldean system, these various entities, for the most part, apparently function as diverse aspects of the world of ideas.’254 The Greek word iynx originally meant a certain bird, the wryneck, which was bound to a wheel by a sorcerer (go¯es) and spun round to attract an unfaithful lover. This idea is generalized in the Oracles and other Hellenistic magical texts to signify ‘binding force’; so the Iynxes are identified as the Father’s thoughts (fr. 77), the couriers between the Father and matter (fr. 78), and equated with the magic wheels used in theurgic rites (fr. 206). Majercik and Johnston assimilate the Iynxes with some voces magicae, as found, for example, in the Greek Magical Papyri.255 The so-called ‘Mithras Liturgy’ in the Greek Magical Papyri also helps makes sense of some oblique references to breathing techniques that may be involved in the induction of a trance state. Fr. 124 informs us that ‘driving out the soul, those who inhale (anapnooi) are free (eulutoi)’, that is, the theurgist does not just take in the breath of life or spirit (as in fr. 123), but can free the soul from the body through breathing.256 Fr. 123 says that the soul ‘grows light with warm spirits’ which causes ‘a rising upward in an anagogic life’. Hence, one may think that through this action (or technique) the rational soul (‘the mind’s flower’) disengages from the sensible realm. This seems to be paralleled with part of the spell in the ‘Mithras Liturgy’ which states: ‘Draw in breath from the rays, drawing up three times as much as you can, and you will see yourself being lifted up and ascending to the height, so that you seem to be in midair.’257 Fr. 118 may also hint at a trance state when it says that ‘the seed within may be increased’ either through instruction (didakton) or by augmenting their strength (alk¯es) while they are sleeping (hupn¯oontas)’, although this could also signify special knowledge gained in a dream. In further support of the medium-trance thesis one might construe ‘receiver’ (dokh¯eos) in fr. 211 and ‘receiver’ and ‘caller’ (kl¯et¯or) in Proclus (Comm. in Crat. 100.21) to refer to two operators usually involved in Babylonian animation of statues and prophetic inquiries.258 Johnston 1991 pp. 57–8; Lewy 1978 pp. 109–12. Lewy 1978 p. 93. 254 Majercik 1989 p. 9. 255 Majercik 1989 pp. 9–10; Johnston 1991 pp. 90–95. 256 As Majercik notes, 1989 p. 188 ad loc. 257 PGM IV.540–42, in GMPT p. 63; see also Ch. Or. Fr. 130 which enjoins the operator to draw in the sun’s rays; Lewy thought that elevation on the sun’s rays was the ‘central sacrament’ of the ascension ritual, 1978 pp. 204–7. 258 Majercik suggests this, 1989 p. 28; caller and receiver are roles found in the Greek 252 253

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The Connectors are said to issue from the Father, like the Iynxes, but their chief purpose is to harmonize and protect the various parts of the cosmos. According to Hans Lewy, this Middle Platonic interpretation of one function of the divine ideas first occurs in Philo, where the Ideas are referred to as ‘invisible powers’ which hold together the universe.259 The Connectors not only establish the harmonious bonds in the cosmos, ‘they also preserve this concord by felicitously watching over it as guardians’.260 They also have a theurgic function, since the human soul makes its initial ascent on the sun’s connective rays. Beneath the Iynxes and the Connectors are the Teletarchs, ‘masters of initiation’, divine beings who are assimilated to the cosmic rulers of the three worlds. The Teletarchs are associated with the virtues of Faith, Truth and Love: Faith is the principal faculty of the Material Teletarch, Truth the Ethereal Teletarch, and Love the Empyrean Teletarch.261 They are also associated with the various levels of the sun: the Material with the moon and the sublunar zone, the Ethereal with Helios, the mundane sun, and the Empyrean with Aion the transmundane sun.262 All things take part in the divine realm, according to Iamblichus’ commentary on the oracles, and certain earthly things are especially suited to receiving the gods. These sorts of things serve as receptacles because they preserve an intimate relation with the gods and bear their ‘signatures’ or tokens (sunth¯emeta).263 For human souls suffering ‘a specific imbalance within the administration of a divine being’, Shaw explains, ‘these objects become homeopathic antidotes if handled in a ritually appropriate manner.’ Through the proper theurgic manipulation of the divine ‘signatures’ the soul could awaken in itself the power of their corresponding symbols: ‘This realigned the soul with the manifesting energies of a deity and freed it from servitude to the daimons who watched over its physical expression.’264 The theurgist’s ritual practice consisted in working upon the gods by means of divinely instituted connections between the occult properties of certain stones, herbs and animals, the sympathetic harmony in the magic–wheel, and the cultivation of an ecstatic, trance-like state. The contemporary sources mention three kinds of theurgical operations: (1) telestika concerned with the consecration and animation of magical statues of the gods, (2) ecstatica concerned with the induction of a trance in the receiver; and (3) the invocation by ritual words and actions of the god’s epiphany. The primary purpose of all these operations, as Johnston argues, was to obtain secret information Magical Papyri; Chris Walker’s meticulous reconstruction of the Babylonian cult statue ritual gives prominent roles to these two officiants, C. Walker, ‘The Induction of the Cult Image in Ancient Mesopotamia’, in M. B. Dick (ed.) Born in Heaven, Made on Earth: The Making of the Cult Image in the Ancient Near East, Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1999, pp. 55–121. 259 Lewy 1978 pp. 345–6; compare with Dillon on Philo’s ideas and powers, 1977 pp. 158–63. 260 On the Connectors’ powers, Majercik 1989 p. 10. 261 Lewy advances numerous parallels with these three virtues, 1978 pp. 144–8, 291–95. 262 Lewy devotes much attention to sorting out the three realms, 1978 pp. 137–57. 263 These tokens are very similar to the set of seals (sphragides) indicated in Sethian Gnostic texts, esp. Marsanes (NHC X.2), Majercik 1989 pp. 44–5; Finamore in Turner & Majercik 2000 pp. 244–9. 264 Shaw 1995 p. 48.

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from the god, specifically about yet more refined words and actions that would lead to the purification and release of the soul. Every form of contact between the theurgist and the god could be called sustasis, the specific form of connection maintained by sympathetic means.265 The central element (or pivot) in the whole system was the iynx, both magical wheel and semi-divine entity, ‘The daemones of the Symposium still traveled in and out of man’s world, but now, as iynges, their passage could be set in motion by knowledgeable men [theurgists] whirling the proper tool, the iynx-top, and thus making the proper sounds. Philosophical theory was given mystical justification and practical application; sympathetic magic was validated by Platonic cosmology.’266 The system of the Chaldean Oracles placed the iynxes under the control of Hecate as world soul, herself a hybrid of principle and goddess: the iynx-demons spring forth from her revolutions (like a cosmic wheel) in the heavens, and the iynx-wheel whirls with a sound and a motion that symbolizes and strengthens the underlying sympathy: Establishment or utilization of cosmic sympathy depends on replicating appropriate elements of the larger divine world within the smaller human one. Such replication involves crossing the cosmic boundary represented by Soul in two ways: (1) the ideas/symbola or iynges first must be sent by the Paternal Intellect from the noetic sphere into man’s world via Soul who disperses them; (2) once received, the symbola must be manipulated correctly to erect a bridge joining the theurgist to the divine. As mistress of the iynges, Hekate can help men utilize cosmic sympathy and thus take their first steps toward the theurgical ascent of the soul.’267

Sarah Johnston offers this definition of theurgy as it appears in the Chaldean Oracles: Chaldean theurgy shared certain methodologies with go¯eteia – e.g. the use of symbola, the invocation of gods and daemones, the animation of tetestic statues – but warned against others, such as artificial means of divination. Its primary goal – the ascent of the soul and its unification with the divine – definitely differed from the carnal and greedy goals usually associated with the go¯etes … as did Chaldean theurgy’s insistence on a spiritual or mental, as well as a ritual, component. Actions alone were insufficient for theurgical success: the soul or mind had to be ‘turned upwards’. Finally, the gods or daemones cooperated with men. At least in the context of Iamblichus and the Chaldean Oracles, ‘theurgy’ is not to be translated as ‘working upon the gods’ but rather ‘being worked upon by the gods’.268

In conclusion, we can now state that theurgy is god-work carried out by an operator in order to transform his soul’s relation with god. There appears to be two modes of theurgical work described as either higher and lower, contemplative and practical, or better still vertical and horizontal.269 It is work in that the operator’s mental 265 On sustasis as ‘conjunction’ by magical means, Majercik 1989 p. 25; animation of statues, pp. 26–7; binding and loosing through spells, pp. 27–9. 266 Johnston 1991 p. 110. 267 Johnston 1991 p. 110. 268 Johnston 1991 p. 87; compare Lewy’s definition 1978 pp. 461–6; and Wallis 1972 p. 107. 269 Higher and lower theurgy, A. Smith 1974 pp. 90–95; Majercik agrees with this

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activities (energeia) activate forces both within and without. It is work on the godlike part of the human soul; it is work through operations on symbols and tokens installed by the gods, and it is work for the human soul’s reunion with its divine source. It is not work exercised directly on the gods, but indirectly on god-given signs of the gods. Although Plotinus himself ignored the Chaldean Oracles and ridiculed magical operations, many of his followers thought the oracles and theurgy had philosophical significance. Plotinus’ biographer and the editor of the Enneads, Porphyry (232–305?) was born in Tyre in Phoenicia, a Greek thinker from Asia Minor who lived much of his life in or near Rome. For some years he studied philosophy in Athens under Longinus, a teacher to whom he owed his wide-ranging erudition and critical acumen. He arrived in Rome about 262 to pursue his studies with Plotinus; for the next six years or more Porphyry stayed close to his master, acting something like a personal assistant. Porphyry later remarked that his master had the uncanny ability to ‘read’ a person’s soul, and Porphyry himself must have been stunned when Plotinus told him that he (Porphyry) must not think of suicide, but instead go on a long holiday. Porphyry’s holiday brought him for a long rest cure to Sicily, and it was there two years later that he learned of Plotinus’ death. As Plotinus’ foremost expositor Porphyry was entrusted with the task of sorting out his master’s various treatises and bringing them to publication. He rearranged all of Plotinus’ texts under six main headings, each containing nine tracts (hence the name given to the whole work, the Enneads). After this it seems that Porphyry visited Tyre again, as well as Carthage, though he spent much of his later life in Sicily. In his old age, he married a widow named Marcella, to whom he addressed a long letter, still extant.270 Porphyry’s various works are usually allotted to one of the three main periods in his life: before his stay with Plotinus, his six years with Plotinus, and the thirty or more years after Plotinus’ death. In an approximate order his main works include the following: the ‘Sentences’, a collection of aphorisms derived from the Enneads; ‘On Abstinence’ a tract renouncing meat as food; ‘Miscellaneous Inquiries’ (Symmikta Z¯et¯emata), preserved only in extracts from the works of Nemesius and Priscianus; ‘On the Cave of the Nymphs’, an interpretation of the Homeric myth. From an uncertain but later date are two texts, ‘The Philosophy from Oracles’ and ‘On the Soul’s Return’,271 both preserved in extracts from Augustine’s City of God. Other tracts include, ‘Against the Christians’ (fragments only); an ‘Introduction’ to Aristotle’s works; the ‘Life of Plotinus’, prefixed to his edition of the Enneads, and (perhaps) the ‘Commentary on the Parmenides’, though the consensus today is that it is not by Porphyry.272 In sum, ‘Porphyry’s immense learning and indefatigable distinction, 1989 pp. 40–42; vertical and horizontal, Johnston 1991 pp. 15–20. 270 A. Smith 1987 pp. 719–22; Wallis 1972 pp. 95–100; A. C. Lloyd in CHLGEMP pp. 283–7. 271 J. O’Meara once argued that these were two names for the same work by Porphyry, but that argument is no longer accepted, A. Smith 1987 pp. 732–5. 272 On the scholarly argument about the authorship of the ‘Commentary on the Parmenides’, see esp. Kevin Corrigan in J. D. Turner & R. Majercik 2000 pp. 141–77, and Turner’s response, pp. 198–205.

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curiosity have ensured that his lifework was deeply influenced in many different ways by other thinkers and traditions.’273 In the ‘Sentences’, Porphyry says that soul is not present in a body by way of hypostasis nor by way of ousia, but by the projection of a certain dunamis that can be related to a body. He needs to account for the presence of soul in body while preserving the essential nature (ousia) of soul as an incorporeal (as¯omatos) entity. The soul’s presence in body does not destroy the unity (h¯en¯osis) which exists between all individual souls and the hypostasis Soul. The soul itself is not split into parts when embodied in an individual. Hence, the soul is not present in (or by) its nature, but in (or by) its activities (energeiai). This view leads Porphyry to conceive of a duality within the soul (though not a double soul): soul in itself and soul’s power in relation to body. He also refers to this dual dimension when he speaks of two lives (or two sense of ‘life’, zo¯e): The life-giving activities, by accepting the arrangement of the different activities into parts which is imposed upon them by their acceptance of the enharmonising power of soul, have added the possession of parts even to the soul. And perhaps soul is to be thought of and to have life in two ways, its own life and life in relation: the parts exist in the related life … Thus in the sowing the parts exist, along with soul which remains indivisible.274

With regard to the material, sensible world, only a body can have a place, an incorporeal entity cannot have a place. Hence, according to ‘a piece of Neoplatonic juggling’ (in Andrew Smith’s words), one might say that the body is in the soul. The soul’s presence is shown in the body by way of its activities; the soul moulds, forms and directs the body. When Porphyry speaks of a twofold life one thinks of Plotinus’ notion of twofold activity: the lower external activity is derived from a higher internal activity. For Porphyry, the lower external activity of soul is connected with the enforming of matter into a given body. Porphyry seems to agree with Plotinus that the One produces an unlimited and formless entity which then turns back on the One to contemplate it and thus becomes enformed by the vision of the One (Enn. II.4.5). The unlimited, formless entity Plotinus calls spiritual matter, which then serves as the substrate for the next stage. Each level of reality acts as matter or substrate to the level above it. According to this scheme, the product of soul will not be the lower soul, but rather the matter in which the lower soul is present, and which molds and forms particular bodies. Hence, earthly matter is totally lifeless and inert, whereas spiritual matter is full of life and power: ‘This means that the chief external activity of soul will be enforming, rather than production, as in the case of the One, of a substrate which helps to enform itself. This will help to show the connection between the double energeia theory and the use of the concept of form and matter in Plotinus’ system.’275 Porphyry’s thesis is that pneuma is a semi-corporeal substrate which permits the inherence and combination of irrational soul and material body. The soul exists midway between nous and body, A. Smith 1987 p. 747 Trans. by A. Smith 1974 p. 3, note 7; on the union of soul and body, Wallis 1972 pp. 111–12. 275 A. Smith 1974 pp. 9–10; and Wallis 1972 pp. 112–13. 273 274

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and it partakes of both extremes; Porphyry sometimes expresses this view by stating that soul exists on two levels. Where Numenius claimed that there are two separate souls, both Plotinus and Porphyry resisted this desperate maneuver. Although the two lives (or powers) of the soul do not establish an ontological separation, the higher soul can function independently of the body to whose lower soul it is intimately joined. Without the Plotinian notion of spiritual matter it would seem that there is an intractable opposition between spirit and matter. But the sort of conceptual separation Porphyry is concerned with signifies a distinct stage on the road toward the soul’s eventual union with the intelligible realm. The common, traditional notion that the individual soul separates from its host’s body only through death is one that Plotinus and Porphyry sought to overcome. On the new view, the properly trained soul can separate itself from its host’s body before the body has separated itself from soul. Moreover, since the soul’s substrate is semi-incorporeal pneuma, even normal, ‘natural’ death does not entail that the soul is completely or permanently released from its body. For those less than virtuous persons who are sentenced to a series of further rebirths, their souls remain appended or attached to a gloomy cloud of pneuma.276 When the soul contemplates intelligible things its tight relation with the body is relaxed; bodily functions, except breathing and heartbeat, obviously diminish during sleep. Smith argues277 that Porphyry considered contemplation to be something more than a trance-like state, that an adept could live a noetic life (in pure thought) while living a sensible life (in practice). Plotinus had claimed that it was not relevant to this bifurcation of function that the lower self could be unaware of the noetic activities of the higher self (Enn. I.4.10). In one form or another, there is a paradox at the heart of the Neo-platonic dual-soul account: on one hand, the soul must have two natures, one which dwells in the intelligible realm, the other in the sensible realm. But on the other, the soul has one nature and two activities, the first in the intelligible realm and the second through the presence of the first in the sensible realm. And this leads Plotinus and Porphyry to the thesis of a twofold fall: the first fall from the intelligible realm is the soul’s descent to this world and its embodied state; the second fall occurs when the individual chooses wicked actions and hence, after its natural death, it is re-embodied in successive rebirths (Enn. IV.8.5). Porphyry seems to hold that genuine enslavement for humans is not due merely to being bound to one’s body but to apathy (perhaps more precisely, akrasia), the lack of will to raise oneself from moral turpitude. According to Augustine, Porphyry also said that god had put the soul into the world in order that it might realize the evils of the material world and hasten back to the Father. Augustine commends Porphyry for refuting the Platonic idea that human souls would return to the sensible world in animal bodies and, even further, that purified souls, once they attained a blessed state through forgetting their earthly lives, would not desire to return to their previous condition: It follows that the supreme felicity will be the cause of misery, the perfection of wisdom the cause of folly, and perfect cleansing the cause of uncleanness. And the happiness of 276 277

A. Smith 1974 pp. 22–3. A. Smith 1974 pp. 24–30.

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the soul will not be based on truth, however long it is to continue, in a state where it must be deceived, if it is to be happy. For it will not be happy without a sense of security; and to have a sense of security it must believe that its happiness will be everlasting, which is false belief, since in time it will come to misery. How can it then rejoice in truth, when its joy depends on a false belief? [Civ. Dei. X.30]

This Porphyrean idea reappears in Synesius’ On Dreams, where Synesius states that, in its first life the soul descends to earth as a servant obeying the laws of necessity and performs a service (leitourgia) to nature, but by an act of will can make itself into a slave to a body. Smith says that, in countering Plotinus’ thesis that the first fall was partly willed by the soul, Porphyry clarifies ‘the human adventure by giving it a fixed starting point and goal. Since the first descent into body is not self-willed the ultimate withdrawal from genesis cannot be revoked by an act of self-assertion leading to a new descent.’ The two realms ‘are brought together again in two ways: (1) by the identification of each successive spiritual level with a corresponding ontological entity or level; (2) by the visible and historic world change which, in its ultimate form, results in the withdrawal of the lower soul from the cycle of individual embodiment as a consequence of perfection in the inner life’.278 Porphyry also appears to agree with Plotinus in his bifurcation of the two modes of ‘turning’: first, the turning-toward a hypostasis takes with regard to its prior stage, and second, the turning-toward an individual soul takes in its union with nous. In other words, the place of soul in the metaphysical structure is not the same as its orientation in the spiritual ascent to its purified state. For both thinkers the scheme of spiritual ascent works with the idea of a ‘floating ego’, a vague subject that chooses to make its own any of the levels which together form its soul.279 First, the perceptive faculty must be turned inwards in order to receive the ph¯on¯e (‘call’ or ‘summons’) from above. Second, the soul is illuminated by nous which lies above it (the intellectual faculty). Third, Porphyry holds that it is the intellectual soul that unites with, that is, is consubstantial with, Nous itself. Fourth, where Plotinus identifies the individual’s nous with the higher self, Porphyry seems to assert the union (henot¯es) of soul with the One, that is, the essential human in the rational soul through the sundromos with the One:280 ‘Salvation is achieved not only through the unity of soul and nous but by the reflection in the logical soul of no¯esis in the form of ennoiai.’ Both Plotinus and Porphyry are compelled to distinguish between an ontological and a spiritual sphere: when they examine the highest level of spiritual ascent they abandon the directional concept and instead bring into play an independent sphere where the ‘floating ego’ determines the stage reached: In the transition to the level of nous, however, where Plotinus’ expression depends on personal experience, Porphyry finds himself confined within the limits of the Neoplatonic metaphysical structure. This marks the beginning of a process in which that structure begins to dominate and stifle the reality of experience, a tendency which finds its A. Smith 1974 pp. 69–70; cf. Wallis 1972 pp. 110–15 A. Smith 1974 p. 43, in reference to Plotinus, Enn. V.3.9. 280 Although Smith admits this idea is not entirely clear, 1974 pp. 51–3; on this concept of One-Being, see esp. Wallis 1972 pp. 114–18. 278 279

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culminating point in Proclus’ dry and lifeless exposition of probably genuine religious and mystical experience.281

Porphyry held the unusual view that the philosopher’s soul will permanently escape the cycle of birth and rebirth dictated by cosmic law. All lesser mortals are sentenced to periodic incarnations in other human bodies, though it is unclear whether he thought that human souls could be reborn in animals.282 Porphyry also endorsed a three-tiered scheme for the habitation of post-mortem souls; in this he concurred with both Plotinus and the Chaldean Oracles. Plotinus mentioned the noetic realm, the heavens and the sensible realm; the Chaldeans divided them into the empyrean, the aetherial and the material.283 Porphyry allocated the region below the moon (earth) to embodied souls, the region beyond the moon (the stars) to post-mortem souls, and the intelligible realm (beyond the stars) to the higher part of the soul, a realm attained in theurgic contemplation. There may also be an additional layer below the earth (Hades) for less perfect souls; in contrast, the heavens are the highest reaches of the super-lunary sphere, not the same as the noetic realm. Porphyry argued that after death the soul vehicle (okh¯ema) and the irrational soul remain, and yet are dissolved, that is, they subsist as substrates, but not as individuals. After death the individual soul recapitulates in reverse the two ways in which it has fallen – thus in two ways the soul ascends: ‘If a human “returns” or becomes “whole” internally or spiritually he will attain, after death, an equal wholeness in the ontological order when his lower powers no longer are directed towards an individual body but towards the cosmos as a whole.’284 A. C. Lloyd concludes his brief encyclopedia entry on Porphyry with these words: Porphyry was a man of wide learning and wide interests. He studied many of the religious beliefs and practices with which he came into contact, and though generally sympathetic to them as various if inferior ways to salvation, he was renowned for centuries as the author of a detailed work against the Christians. But this and ventures of a more or less occultist nature … have mostly survived only in statements from controversial sources; and while respectable as philosophy in their day, they are of small philosophical interest in the modern sense.285

In sharp contrast, Andrew Smith declares that Porphyry ‘stands at the end of the final creative phase of Greek thought which culminates in Plotinus and at the beginning of that, at times brilliant but relatively unoriginal, period of later Neoplatonism whose main distinction seems to many to have been the sacrifice of genuine Greek rationalism to occult magico-religious practices which were meant to secure the salvation of the soul.’286 It seems to be more than ‘small philosophical interest’ that the thinker who abandons the high road of Greek rationalism did so in A. Smith 1974 pp. 54–5. Wallis 1972 p. 113; A. Smith 1987 pp. 725–6; and his article in Rheinisches Museum vol. 127 (1984) pp. 276–84. 283 In summary, Majercik 1989 pp. 17–19. 284 A. Smith 1974 p. 67. 285 A. C. Lloyd in EEP 1967 vol. 6 p. 412. 286 A. Smith 1974 p. xi. 281 282

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order to better assist those who were unable to save themselves without the benefit of irrational accoutrements. In the years leading up to Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, Iamblichus (c.240–325) changed the course of Platonic philosophy. Iamblichus offered a new synthesis of religious cult and philosophical speculation. He was the first leader of 287 a Platonic school to function at the same time as a hierophant of a sacred cult. What little is known about his life is derived from ambiguous references in contemporary documents and scraps of information mixed with wondrous anecdotes from Eunapius’ Lives of the Sophists. He was born in Chalcis, a town in northern Syria, near the Orontes River valley, whose cities also included Emesa, Apamea and Antioch. Iamblichus then was from the same milieu as Porphyry, the Chaldean Oracles, and Numenius. Unlike Porphyry, whose original Semitic name was Malchos, Iamblichus did not Hellenize his name (ya-mliku, ‘El the King’), preferring instead to retain his name’s connection with a Syrian noble family. Dillon argues that by the 270s, he was a student of Anatolius (later Bishop of Laodicea) in Caesarea; others have argued that he was a student in Alexandria. It also seems likely that by the 280s he had moved on to study with Porphyry in Rome, where he stayed until his master’s death in 305. Eunapius reports a number of hardly credible anecdotes about his life after returning to Syria, though it is likely that he set up his school in Daphne (near Antioch), and not in his native Chalcis. By the 320s he was a revered figure in the Platonic tradition, one who had attracted a number of enthusiastic disciples and defenders.288 Iamblichus’ extant works include ‘On the Mysteries of Egypt’ , which is a reply to Porphyry’s ‘Letter to Anebo’; ‘On the Soul’, large fragments preserved in Stobaeus’ Anthology; a commentary on the Chaldean Oracles; ‘On the Gods’, a treatise which inspired Sallustius’ ‘On the Gods and the World’, as well as Julian’s Fourth and Fifth Orations; a commentary on Plato’s mystical works; a commentary on Aristotle’s ‘Categories’, and nineteen letters, which are also preserved by Stobaeus.289 Like Porphyry and others, Iamblichus did not attempt to imitate Plotinus’ remarkable method of presenting philosophical ideas, but instead returned to the standard business of exegesis on exemplary texts, which remained the interpreters’ guiding light. In contrast with Middle Platonism, according to Dillon, in later Neo-Platonism ‘a far greater freedom of symbolic interpretation is immediately apparent, together with a concern to make Plato agree, not just with Aristotle or Pythagoras, but with Homer, Hesiod, Orpheus, and the “Chaldean Oracles”. It becomes absolutely necessary that Plato be consistent both with all these inspired authorities, and also with himself.’ This last task had always been of great importance to Platonist teachers, ‘but it becomes a much more strenuous problem now, when the whole of each dialogue becomes infused with a higher significance, and especially when, on the authority of Iamblichus, a single consistent skopos [theme] is established for each dialogue, to which even the introductory and apparently casual portions must conform’.290 As a teacher and as an exegete, 287 288 289 290

Shaw 1995 p. 6. Dillon 1987 pp. 863–70; Finamore & Dillon in Iamblichus 2002 pp. 1–6. Dillon 1987 pp. 875–6; Finamore & Dillon in Iamblichus 2002 pp. 6–10. Dillon 1987 p. 879.

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Iamblichus’ interests were focused on texts composed by ‘inspired’ thinkers, those who had been infused by manteia, a divine gift of insight.291 He thought that he had found a philosophical theory and a practical technique to bring about such mantic insight through the god-working operations of theurgy. In the introduction to ‘On the Mysteries of Egypt’, Iamblichus sounds the theurgic theme in ringing tones: ‘The Egyptians, imitating the nature of the universe and the creative energy of the gods, produced images of mystical insights – hidden and invisible – by means of symbols, just as nature symbolically reveals invisible measures through visible shapes and the creative energy of the gods outlines the truth of the forms through visible images’ (DM pp. 249-50). Iamblichus wrote under the pseudonym Abbamon (Abba-Amon, theopater, or ‘father-god’) in response to Porphyry’s ‘Letter to Anebo’, the name of another allegedly Egyptian priest. For Iamblichus, the Egyptians mysteries ‘represented the highest possible appropriation of the divine in mortal life, and he looked to their rites as a model for the religious rituals he introduced to the Platonic tradition under the name of theurgia’.292 Iamblichus was distressed at what he perceived to be Greek philosophy’s obsession with discursive arguments and empty abstractions. Like the Egyptian cults he admired, theurgy imitated god-like activity, and the fact that ‘every theurgic observance was a ritualized cosmology that endowed souls – regardless of their station in life – with the divine responsibility of creating and preserving the cosmos. From a theurgic perspective, embodiment itself became a divine service, a way of manifesting the will and beauty of the gods.’293 In the second century Numenius had introduced the idea of three divine principles and correlated the second and third with two distinct levels of mental activity.294 Although Numenius had not placed his first god beyond Intelligence (as would Plotinus), Porphyry said that Plotinus’ pupils had been obliged to write a defense of their master against the charge of plagiarizing Numenius’ doctrine. Numenius had also laid claim to a universal metaphysical principle that ‘all was in all, but each according to its nature’. On this view, accepted by Plotinus, the whole intelligible world was present within each individual soul. In De Anima, Iamblichus rejected the idea that there was no basic difference between various classes of soul, and no ultimate distinction between universal soul and intelligence. On the other hand, he was reluctant to allow absolute distinctions between the hypostases and hence to ‘telescope’ them into one another.295 Wallis argues that the root of Iamblichus’ problem was the inherent dilemma in Plato’s equivocal attitude toward the sensible world: ‘On one hand the Timaeus had treated the soul as an intermediary between intelligible and sensible worlds and as responsible for the organization of the latter; on the other, the more dualistically inclined Phaedo had exhorted her [the soul] to shun the body and virtually admitted her to full membership of the intelligible order.’296 291 292 293 294 295 296

On Iamblichus’ views of manteia see A. Smith 1974 pp. 89–92. Shaw 1995 p. 23; see A. Smith 1974 pp. 125–7, 139–41. Shaw 1995 p. 23. Dillon 1977 pp. 366–72. Lloyd 1970 p. 295; see the notes by Finamore & Dillon 2002 pp. 218–20. Wallis 1972 p. 111.

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Iamblichus also struggled with Plato’s twofold and threefold division of the individual soul, as Gregory Shaw explains: Iamblichus was reluctant to separate the rational from the irrational parts of the soul, the logismos from the thumos and epithumia … [He] says that the soul is a simple essence (ousia) with several powers (dunameis), and when it incarnates it does so as an integral whole. According to Iamblichus, Plato spoke of the soul ambivalently, sometimes defining it as ‘essentially tripartite’ and sometimes as an ‘undivided essence of life having many powers and properties in one identity’. Although Plato’s terms varied from one dialogue to another, Iamblichus believed Plato understood the soul to be a simple unity with three powers, and the discrepancy with Aristotle on this issue was merely semantic. Iamblichus says: ‘in short, part differs from power in that part (meros) presents to our mind an otherness of essence (ousia heterot¯es) while power (dunamis) suggests a creative or productive distinction in the same subject.’ For Iamblichus, the soul’s thumos, epithumia, and logismos belonged to one immortal subject, but in embodiment they all verged to the mortal body and were rejoined with the gods only by theurgy.297

Against his predecessors, Iamblichus insisted that Soul is a separate, self-subsistent hypostasis, dependent on and inferior to Intelligence. The soul is neither a defective version of the latter nor a full member of the intelligible order.298 Not only does the universal soul reflect the whole intelligible cosmos, but each individual soul contains all the logoi operative in universal soul. Iamblichus and Proclus rejected Plotinus’ description of human being as an intelligible micro-cosmos for two reasons. First, since soul is distinct from Intelligence, the principles the soul contemplates are only logoi, not the transcendent forms themselves. Second, there are important distinctions between different orders of soul such that the human soul is not of the same nature (sumphut¯es) with divine soul. The divine souls are each dependent on a transcendent Intelligence that enjoys eternal contemplation of the Forms; human souls are not of this sort since their powers function only intermittently.299 It became Neo-Platonic dogma that the human soul is completely ‘fallen’ into the material world; hence, they rejected Plotinus’ doctrine of an unfallen part of the soul. They also rejected Plotinus’ acceptance of the notion that human souls after death migrated into animals, and interpreted Plato’s references to metempsychosis in a metaphorical way, that is, that an evil human could acquire a beast-like character.300 Against Plotinus’ pessimistic denigration of the human soul’s embodiment, the Chaldean Oracles had posed a dramatic alternative. In his Fifth Oration, Julian said that ‘through the holy rites [theurgy] not only the soul, but even the body is thought worthy of much help and salvation’; as the oracle declared, ‘save also the mortal covering of bitter matter’ (s¯ozete kai to pikras hul¯es peribl¯ema 297 Shaw 1995 p. 106; see the comments by Finamore & Dillon 2002 pp. 159–63. The crucial distinction in Plato’s scheme between part (meros) and form (eidos) was emphasized in HCM pp. 46–9. 298 In late Neo-Platonism, it became standard to distinguish between ‘intelligible’ (no¯ eton) and ‘intellectual’ (no¯eris), ‘intellection’ (no¯esis) and ‘cognition’ (gnosis), and so forth, Gersh 1978 pp. 106–10. 299 Dillon 1987 pp. 893–5. 300 Wallis 1972 pp. 119–20; Dillon 1987 pp. 896–7; Blumenthal 1993 VIII pp. 80–81.

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broteion).301 Iamblichus subscribed to a soul-vehicle doctrine that posited a pure, subtle body intermediate between the bodiless soul and the material body. He seems to have believed that the soul’s ethereal vehicle was created whole by the gods, but also that, in the soul’s descent to earth, it acquired additional pneumatic accretions. The soul vehicle is not composed of mixtures from heavenly bodies but is created from aether as a whole. The vehicle is an ethereal body created by the gods to house the human soul: ‘The vehicle, then, is a single, non-compounded ethereal body that exists eternally. The rational soul is housed in it in its descent and can detach itself from it after its re-ascent to the vehicle of the soul’s own leader-god. The ethereal vehicle remains with the god’s ethereal vehicle; the rational soul can ascend even higher into the Intelligible realm and beyond.’302 In his discussion of the divine-human interrelation, Iamblichus virtually reversed the common symbolic language of his age. Becoming god-like through theurgic practice was not possible through an intellectual ascent of the soul alone, but required some sort of ritual use of matter. Shaw speculates that Plato’s doctrine of recollection (Phaedo 75e, Meno 81d) which describes the soul’s reawakening by means of sensible prods (that is, perceptual stimuli), may have been the model for Iamblichus’ strange opinion: ‘Theurgy should be seen as the development and translation of this epistemological theory into a ritual praxis where the prods of sensate experience were carefully controlled in rites designed to awaken the soul to the Forms.’303 By positing a series of middle terms between one extreme (the Intellect) and the other (the human soul) Iamblichus allowed mediation by means of emanation and participation:304 ‘In the existential situation of embodied souls [his] introduction of theurgic rituals provided a mediation between man’s experience of matter as an oppressive weight, separating him from the divine, and his innate awareness of matter as the vehicle that joined him with the gods.’305 It is true that the goal of theurgy is to release the soul from the bonds of matter (DM p. 215), but those bonds were not the mere connection of soul with material stuff – for this, Iamblichus blamed daimons (DM p. 67). Theurgic practice was designed to overcome the daimonic powers of nature which fettered the soul in its prison. In his work On the Mysteries of Egypt, demons were portrayed both as agents of the Demiurge and as powers that defiled the soul by tieing it to matter. Their ambivalent status was due to ‘their centrifugal activity: in being agents of the Demiurge in the “procession” of the gods, it was their task to exteriorize specific aspects of the divine, and in disseminating the divine presence into matter daimons also led the attention of particular souls into a centrifugal and extroverted attitude. This was what bound them to their bodies and caused them to suffer.’306 Despite Iamblichus’ and later Neo-Platonists’ often pejorative descriptions of the material world, human embodiment had a positive connotation when considered in 301 Ch. Or. Fr. 129; Majercik notes that although for Julian, s¯ omata may refer to the fleshly body, peribl¯ema must surely refer to the soul’s vehicle (okh¯ema), Majercik 1989 p. 190 ad loc. 302 Finamore & Dillon 2002 pp. 183–6; and in more detail, Finamore 1985 pp. 11–27. 303 Shaw 1995 p. 24. 304 Lloyd 1970 pp. 298–301. 305 Shaw 1995 p. 25; see Dillon 1987 pp. 898–9. 306 Shaw 1995 p. 40.

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terms of the larger process of which it was an integral part. In Trouillard’s lucid words, ‘the body that the soul animates and through which it is placed in the cosmos is not an extrinsic addition but the circuit that it travels in order to be united with itself’.307 By way of continuous mediation through the cosmic levels the body was of the same nature as the soul, the soul with the intellect, and the intellect with god. The physical body was simply the point of condensation in a long process that followed the material function of creative dispersion. Iamblichus believed that ‘the soul’s fall into a body followed a divine impulse, a cosmogonic law, and that this same impulse, leading souls into bodies through daimonic urges, could be rerouted and transformed by theurgic rites. Theurgy limited and redirected the soul’s daimonic attractions, transforming these intermediary beings into the soul’s receptacle of salvation.’308 Stanislas Breton’s analysis of the role of matter in the Chaldean Oracles could just as well be applied here to Iamblichus’ ideas: ‘Matter and body are subject to a twofold interpretation according to whether one descends or ascends the degrees of an ontological and divine hierarchy.’ The daimons’ negative gravity ‘is equilibrated and compensated by an inverse pressure which makes matter, in its “very fury”, a homeopathic remedy for the degradation that it provokes. This is the profound meaning of theurgy which, relying on the continuity and connaturality of which we have spoken, discovers and exploits the quasi-sacramental virtues of little things as useless as stones.’309 Shaw comments that even the densest aspects of matter were potential medicines for a soul that was diseased with its body, and that the cure for this somatic fixation was a dose of daimonic energy. On Iamblichus’ bipolar view of Plato’s teachings on the soul, the problem of embodiment for individual souls was resolved when the soul imitated the activities of the Demiurge in the Timaeus by means of theurgic practices. Shaw declares that ‘the meaning of theurgy in the history of Platonism becomes clear if it is seen as the praxis that allowed souls to move from the experience of embodiment as an isolated prison to a participation in the World Soul, where its particularity was re-established in the unity of the whole’.310 In his mortal aspect the theurgist became the recipient of god-like beauty, while in his mediation with the gods the theurgist became his own demiurge. The theurgist’s lifelong labor was to build a divine body for himself; matter was the mirror that reflected the condition of his soul. Iamblichus said that matter is the index of divine presence, and ‘the intensity of the soul’s contact with the gods was in direct proportion to its receptive capacity’. In his imitation of divine beings the theurgist’s body became a vehicle through which the gods appeared in the sensible world and hence received their communion. ‘If I had it in my power, out of all ancient books I would allow to be current only the Chaldean Oracles and Plato’s Timaeus; the rest I would cause to vanish from today’s world, because certain persons suffer actual injury from their undirected and 307 J. Trouillard, La Mystagoie de Proclus, Paris: Belles Lettres, 1982 p. 251; quoted in Shaw 1995 p. 46. 308 Shaw 1995 p. 46. 309 S. Breton, ‘L’homme et l’âme humaine dans les Oracles Chaldaïques’, in Diotima vol. 8 (1980) p. 22; quoted in Shaw 1995 p. 46–7. 310 Shaw 1995 p. 55.

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uncritical reading.’ This severely censorious pronouncement is the opinion of Proclus (412–85), often considered the last of the significant Neo-Platonists. Proclus has been described as ‘a philosophaster sleep-walking in a utopian world’ and as ‘an apologist who nowhere seeks to promote the knowledge of truth, a compiler without spiritual independence’. In sharp contrast, other scholars have said that he was ‘not only a great systematizer but also a deep-going original thinker’ and that his historical significance is second only to that of Plotinus.311 E. R. Dodds himself, one of Proclus’ foremost expositors, admits that he is not a creative thinker in his own right, but ‘a great systematizer who carried to its utmost limits the ideal of the one comprehensive philosophy that should embrace all the garnered wisdom of the ancient world’.312 Dodds detects in much of Proclus’ work ‘a critical acumen and a systematic grasp’ equaled only by Plotinus. Critics of Proclus’ superstition and verbosity are ‘inclined to forget that Proclus’ qualities were all but unique in an age when his defects were all but universal’. He stood on the desert frontier between two worlds – the best of Greek rationalism and the emerging magical irrationalism – he is a pathetic, rather than a heroic figure.313 Born into a prosperous family in Constantinople, Proclus’ father wanted his son to pursue a legal profession and sent him to study with a prominent sophist in Alexandria. At some time around 430, the governor of Egypt sent Proclus back to Constantinople where he began to study philosophy, but he promptly returned to Alexandria and enrolled in lectures with the Aristotelian Olympiodorus. Dissatisfied with this teacher, the next year Proclus moved to Athens where he attached himself to the Platonic School of Syrianus and the elderly Plutarch; although Plutarch had retired from public teaching he read through Plato’s Phaedo and Aristotle’s De Anima with the young student.314 Two years later, after the death of Plutarch, Proclus moved into Syrianus’ household where over the next few years he patiently studied nearly the entire corpus of both Plato and Aristotle. By the age of twenty-five Proclus had assumed the leadership of the Platonic School in Athens, a position he held for the next fifty years. Although he was often active in public affairs he found time to give a prodigious number of lectures, as well as writing every single day. His devout religious life compelled him to stay up half the night composing hymns and prayers. Proclus’ voluminous works comprise the early texts of Elements of Physics, Elements of Theology and a series of massive commentaries on Plato’s dialogues, for example, on the Alcibiades, Timaeus, Republic and Parmenides. He also wrote several monographs on specific topics; those that survive include Problems Concerning Providence, On Providence and Fate, On the Existence of Evil and a fragment of a lost work, On the Hieratic Art. His last great work, The Platonic Theology, synopsizes and extends many of the key ideas in his Platonic commentaries.315 311 Scholarly opinions 1880–1920, quoted by E. R. Dodds in his Preface to Proclus 1963 pp. xx–xxi. 312 Dodds 1963 p. xxv. 313 Dodds 1963 p. xxvi. 314 On the influence of Plutarch’s reading of the De Anima on Proclus’ psychology, see esp. Blumenthal 1993 XII pp. 123–47. 315 On his life and work, Dillon, in his notes to Prochus 1987 pp. xi–xiv; Wallis 1972 pp. 138–46.

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The Elements of Theology may be thought of as an attempt to establish the comprehensive scheme of reality envisaged by Plato in the Republic Book Seven; to exhibit all forms of true being as necessary consequences derived in conformity with certain general laws from a single arkh¯e (in Dodds’ words). However, this work is not a complete epitome of Neo-Platonist metaphysics, for the constitution of the changing world of earth belongs to physiology ‘account of nature’, and not theology ‘account of gods’. The first half of the book introduces general metaphysical antitheses, such as unity and plurality, cause and effect, procession and reversion, eternity and time, substance and reflection, and so forth. The second half employs these basic antitheses in order to explain the relations that obtain within each of the three great orders of spiritual substances: gods (or henads), intelligences and souls. The style and method of the Elements of Theology are in strict conformity with its systematic purpose and hence differ from Proclus’ other works. Dodds remarks that ‘the vast prolixities of exposition that uncoil their opulence in the bulky and shapeless sentences that fill most of the 1100 pages of the Timaeus commentary, and riot unchecked in the jungle of the Platonic Theology, are here pruned to a brevity which leaves no room for parenthetic digression or rhetorical ornament’.316 Proclus here does not make the constant appeal to authorities that characterize his other main works, but instead presents the argument according to the geometric method of axiom, definition and postulate. Dodds says that, although no authorities are directly quoted, ‘its pages are haunted by the ghosts of authorities. Genuinely “free” thought was no more possible to a pagan writer in the fifth century after Christ than it was to his Christian contemporaries.’ Much like the early Church Fathers, Proclus too had his sacred scriptures; these were primarily the works of Plato, the supreme master, whom Proclus considered to be divinely inspired, and the Chaldean Oracles, uttered by Julian the theurgist, ‘whom it is not lawful to disbelieve’ (in Proclus’ own words). There are some salient differences between the succinct Elements of Theology and the much more compendious Platonic Theology, according to Dodds’ summary. First, some ‘secondary elaborations’ in the Platonic Theology are not present in the Elements of Theology: (a) the interposition of an intermediate class of gods between the intelligible gods and the intellectual gods, (b) the subdivision of the supramundane order of gods into arkhikoi and apolutoi theoi, and (c) the subdivision into subordinate triads of the basic triad Being-Life-Intelligence. Second, some of the late Neo-Platonic doctrines have ‘an insecure place’ or are carelessly combined with Plotinian ideas, such as the twofold usage of nous, once for the Plotinian hypostasis, and again for the lowest member of the triad. Third, all direct reference either to personal mysticism or to ritual theurgy is absent from the Elements of Theology. One might speculate that any appeal to extra-logical experience would have been out of keeping with the text’s synthetic format.317 E. R. Dodds thinks that the style and terms of the two manuals are so close that they should be considered complementary texts. They reflect the most mature point of a speculative movement of thought that began five centuries earlier, a movement whose direction was shaped by two impulses, one theoretical and the other practical. 316 317

Dodds 1963 p. xi. Dodds 1963 pp. xvi–xvii.

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The theoretical dimension reflects the desire to create a single Greek philosophy that would supersede and leave behind the strife between various philosophical sects; its ideal would build in the best of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras and the Stoics. The practical dimension reflects the continuous efforts by thinkers, in one tradition or another, ‘to meet the supreme religious need of the later Hellenistic period’, that is, to bridge the gulf between god and the human soul. The challenge was to construct ‘within the framework of traditional Greek rationalism a scheme of salvation capable of comparison and rivalry with those offered by the mystery religions’.318 Dillon says that, ‘despite its appearance of Byzantine stratification and complexity, Proclus’ philosophy is a dynamic system, a system postulating continuous intellectual motion’.319 The basic problem that he and other NeoPlatonists had to contend with was how multiple levels of being could derive from a transcendent and simple One. Plotinus had posited the One as an inexhaustible spring, a supreme principle that creates without being effected by its creation. For Iamblichus and Proclus, this led to a progressive multiplication of entities as moments within each Plotinian hypostasis. Proclus said that ‘the processions of real beings, far more than the positions of physical bodies in space, leave no vacuum, but everywhere there are mean terms between extremities, which provide for them a mutual linkage’ (De Prov. 4.20). Proclus reworked the Plotinian model of hypostatic emanation into a model of henadic320 illumination, where the lower levels are illuminated by the higher levels. Proclus said that ‘every cause both operates prior to its consequent and gives rise to a greater number of posterior terms’. Dillon says that the idea here is that ‘the efficacy of the higher causes is not limited to their immediate products … but extends down through the products of those products, and actually beyond, to entities not caused by its own immediate products’. This novel doctrine entails that matter is dependent on the One alone, while Nous is the cause of being for inanimate entities, to which Soul does not extend.321 Without an over-arching principle of unity nothing could exist and it is through the henads present within the human soul that union with the One can be attained. This unity within the human soul had been called the flower of intellect (anthos nou) by the Chaldean Oracles, as well as the flower of the whole soul (anthos pas¯es psych¯es). It is through this principle, properly located within the ‘inner human’, that an ordinary mortal can unify his mind with the divine mind.322 From the theurgists’ point of view, this interior illumination and unification could be achieved by ritual actions and magical symbols.323 But for other Neo-Platonists contemplation was the proper form of inner conduct, one that drew upon the virtues of faith, truth and love. However, Proclus’ account of love was in conflict with those who distinguished Dodds 1963 p. xviii. Dillon in his notes to Proclus 1987 p. xvi. 320 The word ‘henad’ can be used in two different senses, as Wallis puts it; either it means the self-subsistent gods or it means their irradiations, that is, the unities present in lower beings, Wallis 1972 p. 153; Dillon attributes a henadic doctrine to Iamblichus, prior to Proclus’ overt usage, 1997 XVIII pp. 48–54. 321 Dillon in his notes to Proclus 1987 p. xvii. 322 Smith argues that the anthos nou is the token of the One within the soul, 1974 p. 120; Majercik agrees with this, 1989 pp. 41–2. 323 On Proclus’ view of theurgy, see A. Smith 1974 pp. 111–21. 318 319

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between Platonic eros and Christian agap¯e. The Platonic form was one of ascent, motivating lower principles to aspire toward the superior principles, whereas the other form was one of descent, prompting superior principles to care for their products. Plato had not described the Demiurge’s motives as love for his creation and Plotinus had rejected any idea that the One has a need to create and that this deficiency should be matched with care. Hence, the Neo-Platonists placed an increased stress on divine grace and advanced the un-Platonic doctrine of faith as superior to rational cognition; faith alone leads to union with god. For Proclus, ‘faith seems to have the function of emboldening the mystic to leave the solidity of conceptual thought and launch himself into divine darkness’.324 The Athenian School of Neo-Platonism made several innovations, according to Wallis. The first is that, since a being’s power derives from the same source as does its existence, the higher principles must be responsible not merely for their own immediate products, but for all the latter’s effects. The second, more radical innovation is that the causal efficacy of higher principles extends further down the scale of being than that of lower ones. It was basic to their scheme that the higher members of the cosmic hierarchy have greater power and must be the causes of more effects than their products. It is then clear that the power of Being extends further than Life and Nous, since all material objects must possess form and being, whereas plants have life and a crude nous. A human being exists as a body before it exhibits life and it exhibits life before it acquires intellect; close to death the three principles disappear in reverse order: ‘It is clear why complication increases toward the centre of the metaphysical hierarchy, reaching its maximum in the rational soul, since principles at the centre of that hierarchy are the product of more causes than those toward either extreme.’325 Another innovation in Proclus’ scheme is his thesis that the soul has two vehicles, one immortal and the other perishable.326 This view compromises the standard idea that the irrational soul is death-bound, since on Proclus’ account the immortal vehicle is the seat of the roots of irrational life. The human soul always retains these roots and they provide the initial stimulus for the soul’s descent into this world. By this means he resolved the awkward problem about how irrational movements can arise in a soul out of its body. On the whole Proclus has a positive view of the soul’s descent from the intelligible realm and at least once claims that this descent imitates divine providential love. Yet another significant element in Proclus’ scheme (if not exactly an innovation) is connected with his thesis about causal procession and reversion; that is, the divine power is present in equal measure on all levels of reality. In contrast with Plotinus’ view of divine immanence, Proclus advanced an argument that was congenial to Christian thinkers and paved the way for the great early Christian mysticism of Pseudo-Dionysius. The contemplative dimension of Christian Neo-Platonism will be taken up and pursued in a later chapter on the

Wallis 1972 pp. 154–5. Wallis 1972 pp. 156–8. 326 Blumenthal argues that in Proclus’ commentary on the Timaeus there are three vehicles, but the third vehicle has no function distinct from an ordinary body, and hence merely completes another triad of bodies, 1993 XVII pp. 174–6. 324 325

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emergence of Christian mystical ideas. The practical-theurgic dimension will be taken up and pursued in a later chapter on the rehabilitation of occult and magical ideas in the Early Middle Ages.

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Chapter 4

Byzantine Doctrines of Mind, Soul and Spirit On first glance there might not seem to be any domain which could be named ‘Byzantine philosophy’, let alone something like Byzantine accounts of human nature (anthropology). The scholarly domain of Byzantine philosophy was first marked out by Basil Tatakis (1949) in a supplement1 to the first volume of Emile Bréhier’s Histoire de la Philosophie; twenty years later Tatakis turned his attention to the earlier Byzantine period of the Greek Fathers in an entry (1969) for the Encyclopédie de la Pléiade. On Tatakis’ view, Byzantium is the only place where students of ancient and medieval philosophy can follow step by step, without abrupt interruptions, the transformation of paganism into Christianity, especially of Greek philosophy in its own language. Eight years later, G. Podskalsky, in his Theologie und Philosophie in Byzanz (1977), focused mainly on the conflict over theological method during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries; he claimed that, because eastern theology never became a science with its own epistemology and methods, the borders between theology and philosophy were never clearly defined, and philosophy always preserved its autonomy. K. Oehler recently argued that philosophical thinking in Byzantium arrived at original solutions to real problems, even though it was always developed in close association with theology. He said, ‘today we know that only through a precise analysis of the development of thought in its procession from Plato to Aristotle, and thence to mid- and neo-Platonism and later Byzantine philosophy, shall we obtain a full picture of the course of Greek philosophy in antiquity and the Middle Ages’.2 Linos Benakis offers this summary of his own researches over the past ten years (2002): the complexity of Byzantine philosophy can be better appreciated if one keeps in mind that philosophical theorizing in Byzantium was the medieval phase of Greek philosophy, distinct from the final phase of ancient Greek thought by the theology of the Greek Fathers: ‘In contrast with the West where philosophy is the ancilla theologiae, and despite the influence of the Patristic tradition on Byzantine thinkers, there is no instance in which we sense that philosophy in Byzantium was the handmaiden of theology.’ Since the ground-breaking work of Basil Tatakis fifty years ago, it is now more clear that

1 The recent English translation (2003) has the advantage of including some small amendments to the text from the Modern Greek translation (1969), as well as a massive bibliography of primary and secondary sources up to the year 1998. 2 Prècis by Benakis in Ierodiakonou 2002 pp. 285–6.

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Byzantine philosophy refers to the autonomous philosophical activity of the Byzantines in the teaching of philosophy and the writing of commentaries on ancient philosophical texts (chiefly concerning logic and physics), as much as in their treatises on more general subjects, for instance on Nature and on Human, which aimed at rebutting ancient doctrines and at advancing new arguments in the light of the new [worldview].

Benakis’ considered view is that history of Byzantine philosophy extends from the ninth century, with Arethas and Photios, to the fall of the Empire in the fifteenth century, with Plethon and Scholarios.3 Our present investigation concurs with this view of the inception of a fully fledged Byzantine philosophy in that epoch and hence will not concern itself with the Greek Fathers of the Church, that is, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom.4 In her introduction to a recent collection of essays, Katerina Ierodiakonou arrives at a conclusion fully in keeping with that of Benakis. She says that the general tendency among modern scholars is to believe that philosophy in Byzantium did manage to preserve its autonomy, that the borders between philosophy and theology were reasonably clearly defined, and that the view expressed by some Church Fathers (e.g. Clement, Origen) that philosophy is the handmaiden of theology … was not the dominant position in Byzantium, as it was in the medieval West.

She enumerates some of the main concerns of Byzantine philosophers, ones which were very much the same as those found in the western tradition: ‘the creation or origin of the world, the existence of God, the character of the perceptible world, the problem of evil and human free will, the relation between soul and body, the ontological status of universals, the connection between faith and reason, the sceptical challenge to knowledge, logical fallacies, the necessary requirements for a good life, [and] the possibility of a just state’.5 In broad outline, Byzantine intellectual culture was shaped by several major factors: (1) Its use of the Greek language and hence its ready familiarity with major texts of Greek philosophy, especially Plato, Plotinus and the Neo-Platonists. (2) Its allegiance to the Eastern Orthodox interpretation of controversial Christian doctrines, especially on the nature, person and will of Christ. (3) The fact that it had direct contact on its eastern borders with several heretical and non-Christian systems of belief, for example, Zoroastrianism, Manicheaism and the Nestorian Church, which only reached the Latin West much later and often in a mangled guise. (4) ‘Habituated to directives and funding from above, [Byzantine theologians] developed a mindset that precluded the establishment of autonomous institutions for the creation and dissemination of ideas independent of imperial policy.’6 (5) ‘In defining themselves in terms of the Attic Greek canon, elite writers also privileged the least innovative aspect of the classical tradition: the veneration of past models Benakis ibid 2002 p. 287; see also his short article in REP 1998 vol. 2 pp. 160–65. The worldview of the Cappadocian Fathers, the first three figures, is covered quite well by Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP 1970 pp. 432–56; see also our previous analysis of Gregory of Nyssa on human nature in HCM pp. 140–43. 5 Ierodiakonou 2002 p. 2. 6 Colish 1997 pp. 113–16. 3 4

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and the belief that they could not be improved on or criticized.’7 (6) However, there was a lack of interplay among the vernacular languages within the empire; the small minority who could read and write Attic Greek had no interest in making it a living language, as Latin had in the West; a literary gulf opened between undiluted and demotic Greek. (7) The eastern monastic tradition accented austerity and social withdrawal; they praised monks who scorned book-learning as irrelevant: ‘the charismatic, the ascetic, the mystic, and the holy fool were seen as better exemplars of the monastic ideal than the scholar monk of the west.’ The Orthodox Church first became limited on its eastern fringe as the consequence of the Monophysite and Nestorian schisms during the fifth and sixth centuries. The Monophysite doctrine holds that there was only one (monos) nature (phusis) in the person of the Incarnate Christ. On their view, this nature was entirely divine, as against the canonical view that there were two natures, divine and human, in one person after the incarnation. In contrast to both versions, Bishop Nestorius held that there were two separate persons in the Incarnate Christ: the human person and the divine person. Nestorius agreed with Athanasius that the use of the epithet theotokos (‘god-bearer’) for the Virgin Mother was heretical since it impugned the idea that Christ in his person was fully human. This brought about a long and often violent controversy which eventually ended with the condemnation of Nestorius and his allies through sentence of anathema.8 The Council of Chalcedon (451) declared that Nestorian and Eutychite heresies were formally repudiated, specifically with regard to the Monophysite error, that is, that Christ was one person with one nature; instead it formally accepted the doctrine that Christ is one person with two natures, which are united without confusion, unchangeable, indivisible, and inseparable.9 From the ninth century onwards the estrangement between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople increased, due mainly to the agitation caused by Patriarch Photius.10 The final breach between the two churches is usually assigned to serious theological problems in the mid-eleventh century under the direction of Michael Cerularius. As the Chief Patriarch, Cerularius was an efficient, if not outright brutal administrator, who was resolved to exercise his authority against the Roman Pope whom he condemned for sinful, heretical and even Judaic practices. When the Roman Pope attempted to blackmail the Emperor into removing the Patriarch, Cerularius was enraged and lashed out at the papal legates; they responded by issuing a formal declaration of excommunication against him, whereupon Cerularius excommunicated them.11 The chief doctrinal points at issue between the two churches were the papal claims to ecclesiastical supremacy and the so-called ‘filioque’ clause in the liturgy. According to the western interpretation, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the son, support for which (it is argued) can be found in several NT passages; it was endorsed by the First Council of Nicaea, and hence is a key part of the Nicene Creed. According to the eastern interpretation, this clause is a later interpolation, enforced by various councils, and should be rejected; Colish 1997 pp. 113–16; Wilson 1996 pp. 4–7. For details, see ODCC 1990 pp. 962–3. 9 ODCC 1990 pp. 262–3. 10 ODCC 1990 pp. 1087–8. 11 Norwich vol. 2, 1993, pp. 314–22. 7 8

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the Holy Spirit proceeded from the Father alone. Photius made this one of the main points of contention with the Roman Church12; in fact, acceptance of the clause was made a condition for church union at the Councils of Lyons (1274) and Florence (1439).13 The deep schism between the two churches was gradual over many centuries; it produced an uneven rift whose jagged edges were formed by these very issues. But some of these issues were generated as much by conflicting political agendas as by theological controversies. Over many centuries the Orthodox Church’s dominion became bounded, first on the eastern side and then on the western side; hence, it began to expand northward into the nearest barbarian domains. In the mid-ninth century, a concerted missionary advance was made by St. Cyril and St. Methodius, who brought their understanding of Christianity to Bulgaria, Serbia and eventually Russia. In due course each of these Slavic countries acquired national churches of their own, independent of the oversight of Constantinople. After the fall of Constantinople to the Turks (1453) the Church of Russia has become the largest and most influential member of the Orthodox communion. It is, however, a decisive characteristic of the Orthodox Church that there is complete equality between all Episcopal offices. In the Greek East most bishops became administrative heads of several eucharistic communities, and bishops of major cities acquired privileges of leadership over their fellow bishops. The Orthodox Church does not recognize that any person or institution can be infallible ex sese (from itself).14 The Orthodox faith is based on the dogmatic principles of the Seven Ecumenical Councils; hence, the Orthodox Church does not recognize as ecumenical any council held after the Second Council of Nicaea in 787. The highest authority is the Ecumenical Council which recognizes the Roman Pope but only as the first among equals in the Episcopal College. The Orthodox Church acknowledges the seven sacraments or mysteries, although no rigid distinction is made between these mysteries and other sacramental actions, such as the monastic profession, the great blessing of the waters, burial of the dead, anointing the monarch, and so forth. With regard to ritual the Orthodox have their own ceremonies: baptism is performed by immersion instead of by laving; chrismation (or confirmation) is given by the priest immediately after baptism, instead of after years of education in the catechism; children are taken to communion from infancy. The bread and wine in the Eucharist are considered to become the true and real body and blood of Christ, that is, the divine nature of Christ the son of god; the sacramental bread is leavened rather than unleavened. The veneration of holy icons plays an important part in worship, both private and public. In response to the depredations of the Iconoclasts in the early ninth century, the Orthodox established the importance of images in the worship of God. Through the incarnation Christ became human and the visible image of Christ, as seen by the Apostles, testifies to the reality of his human nature. The same transfigured humanity can also be contemplated through the images of saints, who in their lives have restored the fallen image to its former beauty, and hence becomes an 12 13 14

Norwich vol. 2 1993 pp. 68–71, 85–6. ODCC 1990 pp. 512–13; Norwich vol. 3 1996 pp. 232–5, 411–12. Meyendorff 2003 vol. 3 p. 862.

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affirmation of the potential for human deification. The Orthodox believe in the bodily assumption of Mary the mother of god and usually deny the Roman Catholic doctrine about her Immaculate Conception. The Orthodox Church denies the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, an intermediate domain where dead souls are tormented but still have a chance to enter heaven, but they do emphasize the effect of prayer for intercession on behalf of dead souls. The eastern monastic tradition has played an important role in the Church, since bishops have been usually drawn from the ranks of the monastic clergy. Since the Church has never insisted on celibacy for the clergy, parish priests are usually married.15 In his major work on Byzantine Humanism, Paul Lemerle locates the origin of the Byzantine paradigm of a perfect image as a perfect likeness in the iconoclast controversy in the ninth century The brief period of official Byzantine hostility toward images was born in the interior provinces of Asia Minor; it represented a concession to the religious mentality of those regions, a concession imposed by political and military circumstances: It was doubtless a concession necessary for the time being, but it had its risks. For these were the issues: the Asiatic East makes the divinity transcendent and condemns matter; the Greco-Latin West is determined neither to conceive of a divinity which is totally unknowable, incomprehensible, and impossible to circumscribe and represent, nor to proceed to a final condemnation of matter. Christianity believes in a God who was at the same time a Human. The fundamental … unique dogma of this religion of salvation and redemption is the dogma of the incarnation [of Christ]. The whole theology of the image turns on the fullness of human nature united to, but not confused with, the fullness of the divine nature in Christ. The iconodules were aligned with ‘humanist’ Christianity, influenced by the Greco-Roman tradition; the iconoclasts … were aligned with Semitic and Asiatic Christianity.16

The decline and disappearance of iconoclasm coincided with the emergence of a humanist type of renaissance, one whose champions begin to speak in clear voices by the tenth and eleventh centuries, in the figures of Leo the Philosopher, the Patriarch Photius, Arethas of Patras and of course the polymath Michael Psellus. According to John Meyendorff’s recent summary, for the eastern Patristic tradition the human being is not an autonomous entity; its very existence implies communion with its creator, since it was created in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). Since God alone has immortality in his nature, humans live their life, on earth and in heaven, only by sharing in God’s life. In contrast with the western Patristic view, the Orthodox view is that there is no definite opposition between nature and grace, since human nature implies participation in God, and hence in grace. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve’s sin did not consist in an evil that required retribution, rather their rebellion resulted in fallen human nature becoming mortal, bound to death. There is ‘a new cosmic situation in which the serpent has usurped God’s power and human beings no longer enjoy full freedom, but have become dependent upon the requirements of a constant struggle for survival … Fallen humanity is an enslaved, rather than a guilty humanity; in conditions of fallenness, however, sin 15 16

ODCC 1990 pp. 1012–14. Lemerle 1986 p. 120; see also Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP 1970 pp. 506–17.

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becomes inevitable.’17 The Orthodox interpretation of Christ’s nature informs their view of human nature: in being assumed by the Logos the humanity of Jesus becomes more human, not less. Indeed, it is the separation from God that constitutes fallenness and dehumanization, whereas Jesus, being the Son of God, is also the ‘new Adam’, the true human. The Chalcedonian formula affirms that ‘the characteristic properties’ of humanity were preserved in Jesus, and later Orthodox theology is specific in affirming that those properties include the condition of fallenness, particularly corruptibility and mortality.

The union of divine and human nature in Jesus’ person is played out in his death on the cross: Christ died on the cross in the fallen, corruptible nature that he had assumed as human. But because this death was the freely chosen action of the son of God, it was followed by resurrection in a renewed and glorified human nature, comparable to that of Adam before his fall. In the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, the renewed humanity of Christ is made accessible to those who believe. The Eucharistic Canon of John Chrysostom commemorates the death and resurrection of Christ, as well as his second coming, as if these events were already accomplished: ‘all that is to come for us: the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension into heaven, and the second and glorious coming’. This dimension of realized eschatology, says Meyendorff, is very much the foundation of what one might call the Orthodox spiritual experience.18 The Hesychast controversy in the fourteenth century illuminated another dimension of Orthodox spiritual ideas; the notion of deification (the¯osis) served to designate the participation of human beings in the divine life of Christ. According to the Hesychasts, the possibility of knowing or seeing God was understood as the goal of the true Christian life.19 The vision of God within the heart in the form of an inner light was identified with the light seen by the Apostles on the Mount after Christ’s death (Matt. 17:1–8). This was defined as a genuine experience of God and not as a symbol or image. Gregory Palamas affirmed the distinction in God between the invisible and unattainable divine essence and the divine energies which make possible the deification of creatures and their communion with God. Such an understanding of humans’ potential for becoming god through communion is best appreciated through an understanding of the Orthodox view of the Holy Trinity. According to Athanasius, although human salvation occurs through the death of Christ, the appropriation of this experience occurs when each human person receives in his or her heart the Holy Spirit. It is through the action of the Holy Spirit that Christ’s body ceases to be limited to one historical individual and is united with every one of those who believe. In the eastern Patristic tradition, the restoration of communion between God and human implies cooperation (synergeia) between divine grace and human freedom, and the most specific functions of the Holy Spirit consist in meeting the personal human response to grace. To describe the three divine persons in one God, the Greek Fathers used the term hypostasis; there is thus 17 18 19

Meyendorff 2003 vol. 3 p. 862. Meyendorff 2003 vol. 3 p. 863. On Gregory of Palamas and the Hesychasts, see Tatakis 2003 pp. 217–34.

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a common essence (ousia) amongst the three persons, affirming the divine unity, by way of co-inherence (perich¯or¯esis) of the three persons in one being; hence, a perfect unity of action without mixture. It is because God is perfect love that the three hypostases are indeed one God, whereas multiple created hypostases, for example, individual humans, are multiply distinct beings, although they too can become one in God.20 The Orthodox also make use of a specific understanding of the concept of divine creation in their expression of what Genesis says about the creation of human being. Creation is an act of god’s free will, an act proper to god as a person, and hence a determination of his thought. When Genesis has God reflect ‘let us make human in our image, after our likeness’, God’s thought immediately becomes his work. John of Damascus says ‘God contemplated all things before their existence, forming them in his mind, and each being received its existence at a particular moment according to his eternal thought and will, which is a predestination (proörismos), an image (eik¯on), and a model (paradeigma).’21 In the eastern conception, divine ideas are not the eternal reasons for created things contained in god’s being, they are not determinations of the divine essence to which created things refer as their exemplar, as in the thought of St. Augustine. Rather, according to the Greek Patristic conception, divine ideas are more dynamic, they have an intentional scope. God’s ideas have their place in the divine scheme by way of God’s energies and hence are identified with God’s plural wills (thel¯emata). They are termed ‘willed thoughts’ (thel¯e¯ tik¯e ennoia) and determine the different modes according to which created beings participate in the creative energies. As Vladimir Lossky says, ‘the created universe is thus not seen, as in Platonic or Platonizing thought, under the pale and attenuated aspect of a poor replica of the Godhead; rather it appears as an entirely new being, as creation fresh from the hands of the God of Genesis “who saw that it was good”, a created universe willed by God and the joy of his wisdom, “a harmonious ordinance”’.22 Lossky contrasts this view with the received view of Neo-Platonic cosmology which posited two realms: the sensible cosmos and the intelligible cosmos.23 The attempt to bring the timeless ideas into the inner being of God necessarily gives an ideal content to the divine essence and places the Platonic kosmos no¯etos in it. The consequence of this view of divine economy leaves two alternatives: either the created world will be disparaged and deprived of its original character as the work of creative wisdom, or the created world will be introduced into the inner life of the Godhead with its roots in the Holy Trinity itself. St. Augustine’s view expresses the first alternative whereby the divine ideas remain static, the unmoving perfections of God; the Greek Patristic view expresses the second whereby the divine essence becomes dynamic. The rare exception to this East–West divide is John Scotus Eriugena, who considers the divine ideas as creatures, the first created principles, by means of which God creates the universe. In harmony with the eastern conception of the divine nature as dynamic, their theory of matter is also dynamic, such that 20 21 22 23

Meyendorff 2003 vol. 3 p. 864. PG vol. 90 col. 837A. Lossky 1975 p. 95. Lossky 1975 pp. 97–102; see also Tatakis 2003 pp. 111–25.

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they can conceive of different degrees of materiality. According to Gregory of Nyssa, the nature of matter is the result of the union of simple qualities, intelligible in themselves, but whose concrete aggregation produces the substratum of sensible things. ‘No one thing in the body’, Gregory said, ‘neither its shape nor its size not its bulk not its weight nor its color … are the body; they are in themselves simply intelligibles; never the less, their concourse (syndrom¯e) does make the body.’24 Hence, bodies are material to a greater or lesser degree; the basic material elements can pass from one body to another. According to Gregory, all things exist in each other, and all things mutually support each other. At the primordial cosmic level, there is a power of transmutation which, by a rotational movement, causes the earthly elements to pass from one thing to another and gathers them again at the point from which they started: ‘And thus in this process nothing becomes greater or less but everything remains within its primordial limits.’25 Each element of the body is guarded as if by a sentinel, that is, by the intellectual faculty of the soul upon whose character it is imprinted, for the soul knows its own body even when its constituents are dispersed in the world: Thus in the condition of mortality which is the consequence of the coming of sin, the spiritual nature of the soul maintains a certain link with the disunited elements of the body, a link which it will find again at the moment of resurrection in order that the parts may be transformed in ‘a spiritual body’ [as St. Paul said], which is indeed our true body, different from the grossness of those we now have, the ‘garments of skin’ which God made for Adam and Eve after their sin.26

Isaac the Syrian stated that there is a mysterious scale of difference in creation, that is, a scale of different modes of the divine activity. With regard to living creatures their creation was by divine ordinance to earthly elements; but with regard to humans their creation was by divine counsel, through the word. For God said, let us make human in our image, after our likeness, and this was not said of other living things. Hence, God has arranged the divine economy such that all things, except angels and humans, are parts of the whole; but humans and angels since they are persons cannot be parts of a greater whole. Since humans are also bodily beings, they are richer and more complex than angels. Humans are situated at the intersection of the intelligible and the sensible realms; human being unites these two worlds in their inner nature. Maximus Confessor said that ‘all things which have been created by God, in their diverse natures, are brought together in human as in a melting-pot and form in him one unique perfection, a harmony composed of many different notes’.27 It was the divinely appointed function of the first human to unite in himself the whole of created being and at the same time to reach perfect union28 with God and bring about the condition of deification for all future human beings. Aineias of Gaza (c.450–534), teacher of rhetoric, magistrate and an ardent Platonist, was the chief figure in philosophy in the school of Gaza. His most 24 25 26 27 28

PG vol. 46 col. 124C. PG vol. 46 col. 104C. Lossky 1975 p. 104; see also HCM pp. 140–42. Quoted in Lossky 1975 p. 108. Lossky 1975 pp. 108–10.

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important work, Theophrastus, or On the Immortality of the Soul, has the format and structure of a Platonic dialogue; Aineias was ‘a felicitous imitator of the mystique and character of Platonism’, in Tatakis’ words. He adheres to the Platonic format in assigning to one personage, Euxitheos, all of the main ideas; Theophrastus asks the questions and agrees with the answers, the Egyptian serves only to listen to them. Euxitheos comes from Syria, the source of the new light of knowledge, and is on his way to Athens to study philosophy. When he meets Theophrastus the Athenian, Euxitheos pretends he wants to be instructed, but, in fact, he ‘does not seek to discover truth – he has found it, he has kept it securely, and he delights in disseminating and dictating it to others’. For the lover of truth to claim in advance to be in possession of the truth is not in keeping with Socrates, who made his ignorance the first step on the road to truth. Where Plato might have ended the dialogue with reference to a mythical account, Aineias informs his readers about some recent miracles which attest to the views expressed by his speaker. Both Plato and the Stoics are brought in to help explain the Christian view about the soul’s immortality and its eventual resurrection. Plato’s doctrine about the soul’s pre-existence leads to the doctrine of re-embodiment and implies the descent of the soul from a higher to a lower plane. Aineias poses some difficult questions: how is it that the embodied soul recalls only the good and not the bad; how can even the most intelligent person not remember their previous bodily existence, and so forth. The total number of finite souls must diminish since, when the good souls are sent to the Elysian Fields and the bad souls to Hades, there will be a time when there are no more unembodied souls to be embodied. In contrast, Aineias argues that the soul is born at the same time as its body and its immortal status is due to the fact that it is a rational substance. God the creator confers immortality on all rational beings whose number is infinite; their immaterial nature means that they will never limit or determine other things in any way. The first and greatest gift that God bestows on human souls is free will; it is the pre-eminent sign of humans’ immortality and that which can make human god-like. Christians must strive to achieve goodness as their goal or end-state; if they were good to begin with (in their nature) their virtue would have no merit. Basil Tatakis says that with this dialogue, ‘a new anthropology emerges; the soul is not divine, it is not preexistent, but it is immortal. Man creates his own history using his free will, which should be preoccupied only with the good. And in addition, something that would be scandalous to the pagans: the body itself will be resurrected on a day preordained by God.’ It is through God’s grace that each human soul will find its own proper body, and hence enter the path to immortality: ‘In this way, matter itself will become immortal. Moreover, since the physical world strives toward perfection on its own, the soul for its part implants within the body a portion of its own immortality much in the manner of a seed, that is, with the aid of Divine Providence, strong enough to engender the reassembling of the separated elements of the body’, after the second coming.29 Further, in conflict with the pagan idea of an eternal realm of preexistent immortal souls, Christian thought introduces an earthly realm and a kind of soul which has a beginning in time by God’s creative

29

Tatakis 2003 pp. 20–21.

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edict. In sum, Aineias’ philosophy, like other early Christian efforts, is Greek thought in its form and method, but Christian in its aspirations and principles.30 Leontios of Byzantium (c.475–543), first allied himself with the Nestorian heresy, but became a staunch supporter of the Chalcedon formulae, a monk who joined the New Lavra in Jerusalem and joined forces with St. Sabas, against the Origenists, but who later left their company. Leontios brought exceptional logical rigor and argumentative precision to the contemporary discussion of the nature and destiny of the human soul. He refined and stabilized the definitions of person, nature and substance, and clarified the logical relations between universal, particular and individual.31 His analysis of the person and nature of human being follows from his analysis of the person(s) and nature(s) within the Holy Trinity. The three persons (hypostases) of the Holy Trinity are one in nature (phusis) and the two natures of Jesus Christ are one person, per the Duophysite thesis. In order to make the whole picture more coherent, Leontios introduces a new term, enhypostasis, which he defines as a nature that is not a hypostasis itself, but exists within a hypostasis. In his metaphysical scheme the enhypostatic finds itself between the anhypostatic (the accidental) and the hypostatic (the essential). The difference between the two extremes is the same as the difference between substance and the substantive, where hypostasis denotes the individual and enhypostasis denotes substance.32 The substances united in this way into an hypostasis are complete substances and, when they are considered apart from their union, they constitute separate hypostases, like the soul and the body. There are entities that are united by species (or nature) and divisible by hypostasis, for example, the Holy Trinity, and there are other entities which are divisible in species (or nature) and united in hypostasis, such as, a human’s soul and body. There is no natural bond between soul and body, but rather a union imposed by God’s power; the soul and body each have their own nature and reason. The soul and body considered in themselves are perfect beings, but imperfect with respect to human since they are proper parts of him. The union of soul and body occurs without confusion, for the soul does not lose its invisible and immortal character. The soul can be affected and can suffer in its own nature; as a passive substance its affections are determined either by the body’s internal states or by the circumstances of its place. In Leontios’ Platonic scheme, the affections of the soul’s own nature include the epithum¯etikon, ‘the appetitive’, full of the love of God; these work with the thumoeides, ‘the will’ or ‘the desiderative’, and the logistikon, ‘the deliberative’, illuminated by the unity of thought. When the soul sullies its capabilities it sinks into evil and ignorance and hence it alone, and not the material body, is the cause of a human’s degradation.33 In sum, Tatakis says that

Tatakis 2003 pp. 22–3. Cross says in this context, ‘an individual nature is a universal nature considered along with a (unique) collection of universal accidents’; and notes that ‘a universal nature and a particular nature that is an instance of it are not exactly the same thing. The particular nature is distinct from the universal by at least one property: the particular nature is the universal nature + the property of particularity or unrepeatability’, Cross 2002 p. 252 note 17. 32 See esp. Cross 2002 pp. 261–2. 33 Prècis from Tatakis 2003 p. 51. 30 31

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Leontios’ thorough, concise, and bold style, and his subtle arguments – often very difficult to follow – demonstrate his synthesizing and profound spirit. With considerable profundity, finesse, and clarity he analyzes the concepts he has received from the [Greek] Fathers and masterfully refutes the arguments of his adversaries. His is an astute dialectic, which he manipulates with rigor and flexibility … And above all, he creates, from borrowed as well as his own materials, a unified treatise, coherent, systematic, and free from contradictions.34

Eustratius, presbyter of Constantinople (fl.583–602), wrote a lengthy and learned apology, On the State of Souls after Death, which has been studied in some detail by Nicholas Constas. Eustratius’ apology was endorsed in the ninth century by the Patriarch Photius, who praised its arguments’ clarity, although he criticized what he considered to be its vulgar literary style. The nature of the soul, its relation to the body, and its fate after death were all subjects which were hotly contested during the late antique–early medieval period, but which had not been authoritatively defined or systematically organized. One can find any number of different accounts about the soul’s status after death, ‘strewn about somewhat carelessly across the late antique religious landscape’. Christian thinkers turned to the rites and traditions of their communities as a source of ideas; there was a critical intervention of religious practice into theological theory. The ritual care of the dead, along with the cult of saints and relics, demanded a specific set of theological commitments about human nature and the soul’s fate after death. As Constas says, ‘from these devotional first principles, several corollaries were deduced: the soul’s survival after its separation from the body at death; its susceptibility to the influence of the church’s prayers; the ability of the souls of dead saints to involve themselves in the affairs of the living; and the intimate and abiding unity of such souls with the scattered fragments of their bodies.’35 Other Christian groups with alternate traditions about the care of the dead and alternate cults of the saints produced schools of thought in opposition to these views, as Constas explains: Based on a more unitive, materialist notion of the human person as irreducibly embodied, critical voices denied that the souls of the dead could involve themselves in the affairs of the living, or intercede on their behalf in heaven, or be affected by the intentions and activities of the church on earth. On the contrary, with the death and dissolution of their corporeal frames, the souls of the dead (sainted or otherwise) were said to be largely inert, having lapsed into a state of lethargy and oblivion. Still others argued more radically for the outright death of the soul which was said to perish with the body, although not without the hope of being called back into existence together with the body on the day of resurrection.

These rival views about human nature and post-mortem existence eliminated the need for intercessionary prayers and memorials, but at the same time nullified the orthodox cult of saints and relics, ‘effectively debasing the church’s agency in the earthly economy of the afterlife’.36 34 35 36

Tatakis 2003 pp. 52–3. Constas 2002 p. 270, in summary of an earlier paper, Constas 2001. Constas 2002 p. 271.

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Alternate views on these crucial issues continued to be expressed alongside the official church view until Eustratius’ thorough refutation. According to Eustratius himself, his opponents37 held that human souls, after their departure from their bodies, are inactive and can in no way appear to the living in their own substance or existence. Instead, there is a divine power (dunamis) which simulates these individuals’ form and appears as the souls of various saints in states of activity (energousas). The souls themselves are secreted away in a certain place (topos) and are not able to appear on earth since they are deprived of their material bodies. Even the souls of living saints are circumscribed in space and thus do not actually appear in dreams to distant sleepers; rather, dreamers behold a certain divine grace appearing in the form of the saint (something like the ancient Greek idea of the psych¯e-double, not an autonomous entity like a ghost, but a simulacrum (eidolon)). But of course it differs from a double or a demon in having its principle (arch¯e) for being in a divine act of will. In response, Eustratius attempts to confute the central claim that the souls of the dead are incapable of activity. He asserts that human souls are at all times simple, intelligible, noetic, incorporeal and ever-moving; these intrinsic qualities enable the soul to exist independent of the host body, and to remain active after death. He also holds that the souls of saints are even more active after death than they were in life, since they have transcended the spatial and temporal restrictions on their bodies. Nevertheless, the apparent activities of saintly souls are not natural phenomena, but instead occur only within and through the greater reality and activity of God. As events these apparitions are always exceptional;38 their subjects were only exceptional persons, who appeared for exceptional reasons, according to God’s purposes. Eustratius thus affirms a distinct position on post-mortem existence which one might call ‘psychic epiplasis’:39 the souls of saints are active after death only in virtue of divine synergy which co-opts their forms and maintains their appearance by specific acts of will. The bilateral synergy at work here is one which makes use of the saint’s specially active human soul in union with god’s divine energy, focused within the sensible realm, and held in being by god’s power. It seems that Eustratius was specially concerned to counter and stamp out a set of heretical views associated with the idea that dead souls were incapable of activity. One extreme version of this belief was identified in Arabia (and/or Asia Minor) by Origen, Eusebius and John of Damascus40 as the mortal soul, that is, that the human soul was bound by death along with its host’s body. However, of greater interest for our project in recording the vast array of beliefs in post-mortem existence is the mention of the peculiar, even bizarre, belief in the soul’s dormition. (This might 37 It has proved to be very difficult to reconstruct these proto-empirical, rationalist theories due to the paucity of original texts. 38 William Dalrymple records with some amazement how, during his travels through eastern Turkey, Syria and the West Bank in the 1990s, Christian monks in the desert report that, even today, saints appear in their vicinity, ordinary unremarkable events in their solitary lives, From the Holy Mountain, London: Harper-Collins, 1998 pp. 170–75, 290–94. 39 An extrapolated form of the word plasma, LSJ 1968 p. 1412 s.v. plass¯ o, ‘to form or mould an image’; metaphorical for ‘counterfeit’, p. 651 s.v. epiplasis. 40 Origen, Dialogue with Heracleides 76–110; Origen, De Princ. 3.4.2; Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. 6.37; John of Damascus, Heresies 90; cited in Constas 2002 p. 278 note 27.

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better be called psychic catalepsy41 in keeping with the Greek tenor of the belief.) Writers in the Syriac Christian tradition, such as Aphrahat (died c.345), Ephrem (died 373), and Narsai (died 502), held that the soul of the dead person was confined to the grave along with the body.42 The souls of the dead are largely inert, having lapsed into sleep, in which they can only dream of their future reward in heaven or punishment in hell.43 The Syriac doctrine here accorded with the Nestorian Church’s position and provided a counter-weight against what the Syriac Christians thought was an over-Hellenized view of the afterlife.44 St. Ephrem expresses a remarkable analogy of the human soul and body to the sense of a written text, the power of speech is an image of the divine, which is made manifest through our words: The written document is the image of the composite body, just as also the free tongue is the likeness of the free mind. For the body cannot add or subtract anything from the measure of its stature, nor can a document add to or subtract from the measure of its writing. But a word-of-mouth discourse can be within the measure or without the measure. For the Deity gave us Speech that is free like Itself, in order that free Speech might serve our independent Freewill. And by Speech, too, we are the likeness of the Giver of it, inasmuch as by means of it we have impulse and thought for good things; and not only for good things, but we learn also of God, the fountain of good things, by means of Speech (which is) a gift from Him. For by means of this (faculty) which is like God we are clothed with the likeness of God. For divine teaching is the seal of minds, by means of which men who learn are sealed that they may be an image for Him who knows all.45

In other words, the written text is an image the way the human body is an image, whereas speech is a likeness the way the human mind is a likeness. The written text stands in a one-to-one relation to what has been said; as a copy it is a specific actualization of an intention. In contrast, the faculty of speech resembles the divine mind – by way of its product, the human mind – in being able to freely generate new intentions, in word and deed. It is the power (or potential) to produce these things; through good words and good actions the human mind comes to resemble more closely God’s goodness. St. Ephrem continues: For if by Freewill Adam was the image of God, it is a most praiseworthy thing when, by true knowledge, and by true conduct, a man becomes the image of God. For that independence exists in these also. For animals cannot form in themselves pure thoughts about God, because they have, not Speech, that which forms in us the image of the Truth. We have received the gift of Speech that we may not be as speechless animals in our conduct, but that we may in our actions resemble God, the giver of Speech. How great is Speech, a gift which came to make those who receive it like its Giver. And because 41 Catalepsy in its original sense, LSJ 1968 p. 898 s.v. katal¯ epsis, ‘seizure, possession’; later, a trance-like state, for example, Galen 8.485; it is more than an ordinary sleep, rather more like katokhos, ‘holding down, binding’, as used in magical spells (defixiones) LSJ 1968 p. 930 s.v. katokhos. 42 See Frank Gavin 1920 pp. 103–20; Paul Kruger 1959 pp. 193–210. 43 Also preserved in one of Photius’ book summaries, Bibliotheca no. 74. 44 Prècis by Constas 2002 pp. 278–9. 45 St. Ephraim, in Mitchell 1912, vol. I, section 1.

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animals have not Speech they cannot be the likeness of our minds. But because the mind has Speech, it is a great disgrace to it when it is not clothed with the likeness of God; it is a still more grievous shame when animals resemble men, and men do not resemble God. But threefold is the torture doubled when this intermediate (party between God and animals) forsakes the Good above him and degrades himself from his natural rank to put on the likeness of animals in his conduct.

Maximus the Confessor (580–662) had an extensive humanist education in the capital, his family belonged to the inner circle of confidants and civil servants who made up the intellectual elite in Byzantium. He served as proto-secretary to the Emperor but resigned over theological disagreements, an instance of an oppositional stance which he maintained throughout his life. He played a pivotal role in making the works of Dionysius the Areopagite acceptable to Orthodox spirituality, as well as endorsing their Apostolic provenance. Jaroslav Pelikan says that ‘what Maximus achieved was nothing less than the restoration of the balance between NeoPlatonism and Christian orthodoxy in a Christocentric piety whose roots lie deep in the Cappadocian tradition of Basil and the two Gregories’.46 Maximus opposed the various monotypic interpretations – one nature, one will, one energy – and carried forward the polemical argument that these ideas contradicted the authority of both the Greek Fathers and Holy Scripture. Maximus also championed Dionysius’ apophatic theology which stressed the transcendence and otherness of God, a divine nature that surpassed the reach of all human concepts, and which could only be described in terms of what it is not. Maximus said that ‘the perfect mind is the one that through genuine faith knows in supreme ignorance the supremely unknowable, and in gazing on the universe of his handiwork has received from God comprehensive knowledge of his providence and judgment in it, as far as is allowed to humans’.47 Maximus offered the hope of deification for all worthy human beings; the future contours of humanity could be discerned in the incarnate Logos and his resurrection. Through Christ’s resurrection the divine life triumphed over human fleshly corruption, at the same time that it was an image of future deification by grace. This was both a gift of divine grace and an act of human free will: ‘there is no power inherent in human nature which is able to deify human, and yet God becomes human insofar as human has deified himself’.48 In his brief treatise On the Soul, Maximus argues that the soul can only be understood by its acts, and this occurs not by means of the senses but by the intellect. Since the body is neither moved from without, like inanimate things, nor moved from within by its own nature, like fire, it must be moved by means of the soul which is its life-force.49 The soul is a substance identical with itself and it can receive contraries without losing its self-identity. The soul in its own nature is incorporeal, non-spatial, nurtured by reason, and without perceptible qualities. Since it is simple the soul is immortal, and in no way can any exterior thing cause its demise. Since the soul is self-moved, it cannot at any moment cease to be, for to 46 47 48 49

Pelikan, Introduction to Maximus Confessor 1985 p. 6. Maximus Confessor 1985 p. 75. Quoted by Pelikan in Maximus Confessor 1985 p. 11. PG vol. 91 col. 356BC.

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be self-moved is to be in eternal motion.50 He borrows the Stoic thesis that sensation is a proper organ of the soul whose function is to receive external impressions; ‘sensation is the irrational part that stamps us with the image of the beast’. Intelligence comprises the rational aspect of the soul, its purest part, created to contemplate being and that which is prior to 51being, whereas spirit is still an unformed substance that precedes all movement. Maximus divides the soul along standard Neo-Platonic lines:52logistik¯e, ‘the rational’, epithum¯etik¯e, ‘the optative’, and thumik¯e, ‘the reflective’. These three are faculties or activities of one substantive principle, the rational human soul. Each of these faculties can turn to multiple activities: one is rational when thinking employs logical arguments to achieve understanding; one is intuitive (no¯etikos) when one approaches truth through the primary movement of the intellect, and so forth. Maximus contrasts mind (nous) with the soul (psych¯e): the mind designates the summit at which the soul is said to touch God and hence unite with him; the soul designates both reason and sensation. Tatakis comments that this contrast is analogous to the Platonic opposition of body and soul, where reason designates the intellectual and rational aspect of human, and sensation the irrational and sensory aspect. With regard to the soul’s origin, Maximus rejects the doctrine of pre-existence before embodiment, as well as the doctrine of postnatal animation. He affirms a version of elemental creation, according to which all elemental constituents of human nature come into being at the same time and are united in essence from the first moment of conception. In this manner, Maximus follows the views of the Greek Fathers on human nature, supplemented with some recent sixthcentury medical advances.53 Maximus also discusses the core Biblical idea of image and likeness in the creation of human being. The phrase ‘made in our image’ (eikon) denotes human’s intellect and free will, as well as the primordial gifts God bestowed on humans, immortality and quietude. The phrase ‘in our likeness’ (homoios54) means the moral order, the practice of virtue which humans pursue in following the right path. If all humans are, in their nature, an image of God via intellect and free will, it follows that only those who become good and wise will be in God’s likeness. Maximus takes this to mean that every human is enjoined to return to his original condition, that is, to realize within him or herself his or her own proper nature. This teaching is directly connected to the Orthodox notion of deification, as Tatakis points out: If God assimilates human nature, humans must assimilate divine nature. Thus human, created in the perfect image of God and in God’s partial resemblance, can elevate the

PG vol. 91 col. 357AD. PG vol. 91 cols. 360CD–361AB. 52 The English translator (Moutafakis) of Tatakis’ text decided to translate epithum¯ etik¯e ‘the optative’, as in hope, rather than ‘noble desire’, and thumik¯e ‘the reflective’, instead of ‘appetite’; this is rather unusual, even aberrant, but it is preserved here. 53 Prècis of Tatakis 2003 pp. 56–7; note that in his discussion of the Platonic threefold scheme, Tatakis does not distinguish between part-like and aspectual terms. 54 For various uses of homoios, see LSJ 1968 pp. 1224–5; and compare Lampe PGL s.v. homoios. 50 51

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partial resemblance to a perfect resemblance. It follows then that human will never discover God within himself; there he will only find his own nature in its original integrity and the spiritual instincts for the acquisition of godliness. This godliness, the effect of a prolonged asceticism, comes to be in an ineffable and mystical manner.55

This crucial distinction between image and likeness is very important for Byzantine thought, as we will see later in our exposition of isotypic parallels in Psellus’ picture of human nature. In the Four Hundred Chapters, Maximus recites a fairly standard picture of the three powers within human being;56 they are predicated on three forms of soul: Of all creatures, some are rational and intelligent and admit of opposites such as virtue and vice, knowledge and ignorance. Others are various bodies composed of opposites such as earth, air, fire, and water. And there are some completely without body or matter, though some of these are united to bodies, and others have their makeup only from matter and form. All bodies are by nature without movement. They are moved by a soul, whether rational, irrational, or sensitive. The soul’s powers are for nourishment and growth, for imagination and appetite, for reason and understanding. Impurity of mind means first to have false knowledge; next to be ignorant of any of the universals … third in having passionate thoughts, and fourth in consenting to sin. Impurity of soul means not acting according to nature, for from this are begotten passionate thoughts in the mind. Now it acts in accord with nature when its sensitive drives, i.e. anger and concupiscence, remain free of passion under the assault of material things and the ideas they bring.57

But in The Church’s Mystagogy, Maximus presents more remarkable imagery about the human being as a church and the soul’s figure in the word. The holy church is like a human because for the soul it has the sanctuary, for the mind it has the divine altar, and for the body it has the nave. It is thus the image and likeness of human who is created in the image and likeness of God. By means of the nave (for the body) it proposes moral wisdom, while by means of the sanctuary (for the soul) it spiritually interprets natural contemplation, and by means of the mind (for the divine altar) it manifests mystical theology. Conversely, human is a mystical church, because through the nave of his body he brightens by virtue the ascetic force of the soul by observance of the commandments in moral wisdom. Through the sanctuary of his soul he conveys to God in natural contemplation through reason the principles of sense purely in spirit cut off from matter. Finally, through the altar of the mind he summons the silence abounding in song in the innermost recesses of the unseen and unknown utterance of divinity by another silence, rich in speech and tone. And as far as human is capable, he dwells familiarly within mystical theology and becomes one such as is fitting for one made worthy of his indwelling, and he is marked with his dazzling splendor.58 These significant church-soul analogies, as well as the stepwise scheme toward deification by union, will be explored in a later section on early Christian mysticism. Tatakis 2003 pp. 59, 61. Cavarnos 1979 traces the Platonic threefold schema in Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius, Maximus, John of Damascus, Symeon and Gregory Palamas, amongst others. 57 Maximus Confessor 1985 pp. 65–6. 58 Maximus Confessor 1985 pp. 189–91. 55 56

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The mystical works of Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus Confessor were of decisive importance in the formation of the European tradition of Christian mysticism through their translation into Latin by John Scotus Eriugena (c.810–870?). As we shall see in detail in a later section, Eriugena was very significant in having at this time an unusual (if not unique) knowledge of Greek and a deep understanding of the mystical theology of these major Byzantine figures, bringing their arguments into play centuries before the arrival in the Latin West of Greek philosophical texts.59 As well as the texts of Pseudo-Dionysius, Eriugena translated Maximus’ Ambigua and Gregory of Nyssa’s De hominis opificio; ‘thus he became fortuitously acquainted with three of the most characteristic and important documents of the Greek Christian Platonism. [T]he effect of their influence upon him was to bring him as wholly into the Greek tradition as if he had been a Byzantine writing in Greek, and to make of him the agent through whom the western world came into this valuable inheritance.’60 Michael Psellus (1018–96) was born into a family with a modest station, but he received an outstanding education, and made his career in civil administration. He was one of a group of energetic intellectuals who had hopes of exercising genuine power under Emperor Constantine IX. Psellus was forced to resign in 1054 and took the monastic tonsure, but soon returned to the capital where he lived as court philosopher under a succession of Emperors. As counsel to the basileus he was in a very privileged position, both to observe significant persons and events, as well as to influence some policy decisions. Anna Comnena archly informs her readers that Psellus owed his success to his mother’s constant prayers to the Virgin Mother to intercede for her son (Alexiad 5.8 p. 175). His career went through many swings and roundabouts, though it looks likely that he fell out of favor after 1078 and may have died impoverished and forgotten twenty years later. He was a polymath whose enormous oeuvre encompasses philosophical, historical, rhetorical, theological and legal texts, as well as a collection of letters. In his philosophical works Psellus emphasized the role of nature (phusis) which functions according to its own immanent laws, leaving a limited place for the actions of god. This view even shows up in his wonderfully evocative Chronography, where he presents events as ‘the result of strong personal conflicts, emotions and intrigues, leaving no room for divine Providence … Consistently individualistic in his approach, he viewed the61 world from his own vantage point, sometimes seriously, sometimes ironically.’ John Duffy describes him as ‘without question one of the most intellectually flamboyant and intriguing figures of the Middle Ages’, and ‘a complex and almost protean scholar who is hard to pin down’.62 Aside from the Chronography, which is readily available in English and French translation, some of Psellus’ most important texts have only been established and published in the past ten to fifteen years: two volumes of his philosophical works and two volumes of his theological works have recently appeared.63 EEP 1967 vol. 3 pp. 44–5. Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP 1970 p. 520. 61 ODB 1991 vol. 3 pp. 1754–5. 62 Duffy in Ierodiakonou 2002 p. 145; N. G. Wilson has a less commendable opinion, 1996 pp. 156–66. 63 Philosophica Minora vol. I, J. M. Duffy, ed. Leipzig: Teubner, 1992; vol. II, D. J. 59 60

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In an autobiographical passage in his Chronography, Psellus recalls his initial engagement with philosophical studies. At the age of twenty-five, he says, his efforts were concentrated on two tasks: to train his tongue in rhetoric and to refine his mind by the study of philosophy. The study of rhetoric permitted him to distinguish the central theme of an argument and logically connect its main points; the study of philosophy itself leads to knowledge of the fundamental principles of natural science. Psellus is not hesitant in giving himself a lot of credit for reviving philosophy from its sorry state when he found it; it was ‘moribund as far as its professors were concerned’ and despite all his efforts he found ‘not a germ of philosophy in either Greece or the barbarian world’. In looking for a proper tutor he was passed from one expert to another, the lesser to the greater, until he was recommended to Plato and Aristotle. From them he ‘passed downward’ to Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus, and then, in continuing his voyage of discovery, he put in at the ‘mighty harbor’ of Proclus,64 ‘eagerly picking up there his doctrine of perception, both in its broad principles and in its exact interpretation’ (Chron. VI.36–38). From Proclus’ wonderfully complex Neo-Platonic system Psellus says that he planned to move onto more advanced studies in metaphysics, especially with regard to ‘abstract concepts in the so-called mathematics, which hold a position midway between the science of corporeal nature, with the external apprehension of these bodies, and the ideas themselves, the objects of pure thought’. By this route he hoped to be able ‘to apprehend something that was beyond the reach of mind, something that was not subject to the limitations of substance’. With these puzzling words Psellus seems to be hinting at some sort of prisca sapientia, an esoteric or at least recondite form of privileged access to eternal truths. He admits that he has heard rumors about a form of knowledge that is ‘beyond all demonstration, graspable only by the intellect of a wise man in moments of inspiration’. He then claims that he read some of the ‘mystic books’ and succeeded in grasping their meaning, at least as far as his finite intellect would allow. In contrast with literary exercises, which only seek to ‘embellish words’, genuine philosophy seeks to ‘explore the nature of the universe, to unravel its secrets. Its lofty dictums are not even confined to the visible world, for with great subtlety it praises the glory of that realm, whatever it is, that lies beyond the heavens’ (Chron. VI.41). It seems quite likely that in these passages Psellus is making oblique reference to his highly unorthodox study of magical and theurgical texts. He is often thought to be the author of an important treatise On the Operation of Demons, though Paul Gautier has argued strongly that this is a false attribution.65 J. M. Duffy spells out the O’Meara, ed. Leipzig: Teubner, 1989; Theologica vol. I, P. Gautier, ed. Leipzig: Teubner, 1989; vol. II, L. G. Westerink & J. M. Duffy, eds. Leipzig: Teubner, 2003; these four volumes replace the previous edition Scripta Minora, ed. E. Kurtz & F. Drexl, Milan, 1936. 64 Duffy says that Proclus was ‘a suspect resident alien in a Greek Christian world whom Psellos, in the interest of keeping him as a friend, was obliged to beat over the head from time to time with the big stick of orthodoxy’, Duffy in Ierodiakonou 2002 p. 154. 65 Gautier’s French translation & commentary 1980; Greenfield provides long extracts and interpretation, 1988 pp. 153–217, and summarizes the pros and cons about Psellus as author, p. 156 note 456. See also Karel Svoboda, La demonologie de Michael Psellos. Brno, 1927

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details behind Psellus’ assertions about his more arcane studies: in response to a letter from an old friend about his (Psellus) being named ‘consul of philosophers’ to the Emperor, Psellus lays out his achievements. He has won ‘a hard-earned and unsurpassed knowledge in all branches of learning extending from rhetoric, through the arts and sciences, all the way to hieratics (hieratik¯e) and theology’. He also wrote for his students a short treatise on the subject of the ventriloquist (engastrimuthos) in the Biblical story of the witch of Endor.66 Here Psellus plunges into an excursus on demons, the Chaldean oracles and Hermetic texts,67 sources of information for the unfettered pursuit of wisdom which he staunchly defends. With regard to Psellus’ character as teacher of philosophy, Duffy says that he was ‘no weakling either as an intellectual or as a defender of philosophy … What cannot be doubted is the zeal of his efforts to promote philosophy in all its ramifications; and it was probably a lonely mission to judge by [his words] … “I am a lone philosopher in an age without philosophy” … He was a rare bird and Byzantium did not see the likes of him either before or after his time.’68 Tatakis has very high praise for his vast learning: ‘he contributed more than anyone else to the literary renaissance of the Comnenoi epoch. His numerous writings attest to the richness of his temperament, his extraordinarily active mind, and his phenomenal erudition.’69 When scholars review the available documents about Psellus’ view of occult and magical ideas they are presented with a paradox: on one hand, he overtly declared his distaste for doctrines which he thought were inimical to a healthy mind and were antagonistic to Christian principles; on the other hand, he never flinched at looking for the sources of wisdom in even the most sordid of places. In his exposition of the Chaldean Oracles he remarks that even the great Plato follows ‘Egyptian’ soulimagery when he talks about horses, chariots and wings; when Plato thinks in the most Greek spirit he offers formal proofs. On some occasions, Psellus rejects popular superstitions about unusual phenomena and tenders more rational explanations. In his review of some ceremonies associated with the Chaldeans, Tatakis says, ‘every species of aberration, every form of magical practice and divination disgusts him. He dislikes those views which subjugate and denigrate the human intellect; he sees human perfection in the natural flowering of all intellectual faculties – hence his scathing criticism of Chaldaism. In spite of this, however, he is also an enthusiastic expert in Chaldaism.’70 John Duffy has diagnosed the same ambivalence in Psellus’ entertainment of occult ideas. Psellus displays two seemingly contradictory reactions: ‘one is the expected, typical repudiation of pagan (unexamined); and extracts of alchemical tracts in Joseph Bidez (ed.) Catalogue de manuscrits alchimiques grecs, 8 vols, Brussels: Maurice Lamertin, 1924–32, vol. 6 pp. 55–64. 66 Ventriloquism also appears in the treatise On the Operation of Demons, Greenfield 1988 pp. 128–30. 67 Psellus’ scholia on the Hermetic corpus include a long argument about Hermes’ familiarity with the Genesis account, but condemns him as a wizard (go¯es) misled by Poimandres into a perverse reading of Holy Scripture, N+F I pp. xlix–li; Scott IV pp. 244–6. 68 Duffy in Ierodiakonou 2002 pp. 151–2; see also Duffy in Maguire 1995 pp. 83–90. 69 Tatakis 2003 p. 155. 70 Tatakis 2003 p. 137.

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nonsense which, in the normal course of events, need be seen as little more than a device to forestall charges of impiety … Less expected … is evidence from several quarters of a genuine interest in and openness on his part to the content of the collection’ of Chaldean oracles. Duffy speculates that one motive for Psellus’ high regard for this is his immense respect for the philosophers who embraced these works.71 By the Palaeologan period it was often hard to segregate orthodox and unorthodox use of prayers, rituals and spells. As well as the ever-popular amulets, ‘relics and other holy objects could fulfill exactly the same functions as the concoctions found in non-Christian amulets, and holy inscriptions could replace magical symbols and names. Practices like exorcism, blessing, or even the major sacraments could be viewed and used on the popular level in precisely the same way as the magical operations designed to manipulate the material conditions of human life.’ Further, a wide range of techniques for divination (manteia) were ethically labile; they were thought to work their effects either through the intervention of angelic, spiritual powers or through demonic, unchristian powers.72 Byzantine magicians also carried forward practices more exactly associated with late antique theurgy; ‘the practitioner of the more complicated arts laid out in The Magic Treatise actually visualizes himself as working in the name of God through angelic, spiritual powers, which he uses to control and command the evil ones’.73 Greenfield says that in most cases, no distinction was made between mageia and go¯eteia, though pseudoPsellus and one other writer use go¯eteia to mean practices using material, unclean demons, whereas mageia means practices using immaterial spirits and/or natural occult powers.74 In contrast with these thinly disguised allusions to pagan esoteric teachings, Psellus is quite explicit in his commendation of the mysteries of Christian religion as a new kind of philosophy. ‘This mystery too has a dual aspect, in nature (human and divine) and in time (finite and infinite)’, as well as a dualism in the ways in which these ideas come to be known: by way of rational proof and by way of divinely inspired faith. Although he considers his capacity for understanding such things to be quite small, his efforts to reveal them were great – he is the first to admit that. Since the sources of this wisdom were all choked up, and the waters could not flow freely, he had to be satisfied with studying their images, that is, their reproductions in manuscripts which preserved the ‘outward form’, so to speak, of the original insight (much in keeping with St. Ephrem’s view above). At this point, the author describes the course of his own outward development of these inner springs. He does so by making a general statement about the isotypic parallelism of inner and outer virtue; this idea is distinctive in the Byzantine account of human nature with regard to the relation of mind and body:

Duffy in Maguire 1995 p. 86. When Coleridge refers to the dreadful spirit which plagues the Ancient Mariner, he says that this spirit is ‘one of the invisible inhabitants of this planet, neither departed souls nor angels’, about whom Michael Psellus should be consulted. 73 Greenfield in Maguire 1995 p. 149. 74 Greenfield in Maguire 1995 p. 120 note 4. 71 72

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At the time of our birth, we are endowed with certain natural virtues or their opposites … Just as some bodies, from the moment of birth, are endowed with beauty, while on others Nature from their very beginning bestows blemishes and wrinkles, so too with souls some are distinguished at once with extreme grace and attractiveness, while others leave a trail of somber and deep gloom. As time goes on, the innate graces of the first sort become more and more apparent, but in the second sort everything goes wrong and even reason functions poorly (Chron. VI.44).

Psellus’ detailed, emotion-charged account of events offers many good examples of this thesis: the natural nobility of Basil II (I.36), Romanus III’s basic piety (III.15), Michael IV’s harmonious nature (IV.7), the Empress Zoe and her sister (VI.64–65), the Emperor Constantine (VI.74), General Maniaces (VI.77), the Emperor Constantine again (VI.125–26), and others. Anna Comnena frequently resorts to exactly these sorts of descriptive epithets, all couched in terms of isotypic characteristics: in her description of Robert Guiscard (1.10 p. 54), Alexius and Irene (3.3 pp. 109–10); her grandmother (3.8 pp. 120–22), Basil the Bogomil heretic (15.8 pp. 496–98), and others. W. B. Yeats was fascinated with Byzantine artifice; in his strange testament A Vision (1925) he wistfully yearns for a chance to live in Byzantium in the early 500s, before Julian closed the Academy. There, he says, he might find ‘in some little wine-shop a philosophical worker in mosaic who could answer all my questions, the supernatural descending nearer to him than to Plotinus even, for the pride of his delicate skill would make what was an instrument of power to princes and clerics a murderous madness in the mob, show as a lovely flexible presence like that of a perfect human body’. Here we encounter, in Michael Psellus and Anna Comnena’s first-hand assessments, the Byzantine idea that a perfect soul is housed in a perfect body; the perfection they commend is one of good (kalos) as a non-moral value. This seems to depend on the Orthodox view of the difference between human in the image and human in the likeness of God, in contrast with an alternate view of the difference in the Latin West. Where beauty is equated with good, beauty can be thought of as just proportion or harmony in its parts, that is, the degree of fittedness of the parts to their function. To become godlike (theosis) means to achieve the same standards as the archetype of innate divine qualities. This idea is borne out by a striking, even gruesome, characteristic of Byzantine imperial history: in order for the strongest claimant to the imperial throne to ensure that other contenders were ineligible he would sometimes have their faces mutilated. The long history of struggles for the throne is replete with instances of lesser candidates having their noses cut off, their tongues slit or their eyes blinded (ritual blinding came to be the preferred method after centuries of nose-slitting). Norwich comments in passing75 that the simple rationale behind this appalling practice was that only a perfect human being could be emperor; ‘its purpose was to invalidate the victim’s claim to the throne since an Emperor … must be free of all obvious physical imperfections’. Mutilation of the nose and eyes both show on the face; it is not possible to hide them; but, as well, blinding means that it shows that he cannot see, and hence cannot know. The emperor’s perfect inner nature had to be matched with a perfect outer appearance.76 75 76

Norwich 1988 vol. I p. 313 note; see also pp. 308, 322. John Duffy said to me that this was a striking, yet plausible parallel.

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The study of philosophy, Psellus declared, is ‘the perfection of the soul, its reduction and its ascension, its return to the supreme good’. His funeral oration for John Xiphilinos gave him the opportunity to outline his view about the post-mortem ascent of the good soul. He says that ‘as an entity, the soul begins by contemplating intelligible life, which allows it to know the good without the exercise of reason; from here, leaving behind property and operation, it moves on to the perfection of its life, the unity of its nature, which will in turn allow it to unite with the One and to become spirit, intelligence and God’.77 Here and elsewhere Psellus reaffirms the distinction between reason and intellect that we highlighted earlier in the discourses of Maximus Confessor. Understanding through reason is limited due either to the inaccessibility of its object or to the incapacity of the faculty of reason. The task of reason, in seeking for explanations for phenomena, will achieve its goal if its operations are based on readily accepted principles. But above the reach of reason, human intellect can yet aspire; its task is to embrace its ‘objects’ in an immediate manner, without need of inference or proof. Intellect operates only in those persons who have achieved the highest degree of purity and gnosis, in other words, intellect is the perfection of the human soul.78 In this passage, Psellus draws our attention to the importance of moral purity in attaining the highest degree of individual development. The dual conditions of moral purity and superior knowledge are necessary for the individual’s deification. One can come to resemble God in four ways, Psellus tells us: first, by means of political virtues, in human society, which produce an obscure resemblance; second, by means of purifying virtues which produce a clearer resemblance; third, by means of contemplative virtues which make the resemblance more brilliant, and fourth, by theurgic virtues which allow one to act like god. Psellus himself admits that he is content to achieve a position mid-way in this scheme; it is for others, with a greater measure of purity and gnosis, to attain to the highest level.79 Psellus himself clearly thought that the study of philosophy, without being made subservient to Orthodox theology, produced its own intellectual virtue. The career of John Italus (1025?–82?) provides an obvious bridge between the ambivalent pseudo-paganism of Psellus and the outright paganism of Plethon three centuries later. Anna Comnena found ‘the Italian’ a fascinating character, though she was distressed at the ‘disturbing influence’ he had on others. She tells us that as a young boy he and his father fled from Sicily to Lombardy from whence he made his way to the capital. There he became a student of the celebrated Psellus, though Italus was unable ‘with his barbaric, stupid temperament to grasp the profound truths of philosophy’. Italus struck out on his own, holding disputations in public, and causing ‘daily commotions’. He was, however, protected by the patronage of Emperor Michael Dukas who held him in high regard. When Psellus withdrew to a monastery in 1055, Italus was appointed his successor as consul of the philosophers and professor of philosophy in the university (Alexiad 5.8-9 pp. 174-80). Anna Comnena admits his great proficiency in philosophical studies, but says that his language was ‘devoid of harmony and polish; his style was austere … his 77 78 79

Tatakis 2003 pp. 134, 141. Tatakis 2003 p. 142. Tatakis 2003 p. 145.

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writings wore a frown and reeked of bitterness’. He was considered an unbeatable arguer: ‘he dug a pit on both sides of a question and cast the speakers into a well of difficulties’. He gave lectures at the university on Plato, Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Aristotle’s technical treatises. Some clues to his own philosophical opinions are gleaned when Anna says that she heard some of his pupils propounding theories on soul-migration and other ‘monstrous ideas’. Italus seems to have had little sense of moderation and by 1076 his heretical, even anti-Christian doctrines brought him before a tribunal headed by the emperor’s brother, Isaac Dukas. It seems that Italus persisted in his ‘ridiculous and boorish’ opinions, even after he was ordered to desist. He managed to keep out of serious trouble until 1082 when he was again arraigned before the court. This time his teachings were subject to anathema, he was excommunicated from the church, and disappeared from the historical record (Alexiad 5.8–9 pp. 174–80). John Italus’ surviving writings include ninety-three quodlibetal questions posed by various persons, commentaries on some of Aristotle’s shorter texts, a short treatise on dialectic, another on rhetoric, various chapters on logic, and others on genus and species. When Tatakis wrote his fine history fifty years ago he said that most of Italus’ writings were unpublished; only one edition of his other works by a Georgian scholar had appeared in 1924–26. That edition includes manuscripts which would be important for our current project: On the Passage in the Odyssey Concerning Dreams, the Resurrection of the Corporeal Body, and On the Immortality of the Soul,80 as well as four other shorter works on analogous subjects. Tatakis points out that the sentence of anathema in 1082 preserves enough information for us to get some notion of his heretical beliefs: (1) he attempted to explain the incarnation and the hypostatic union on purely rational grounds; (2) he resurrected the errors of the pagan philosophers concerning the human soul, the sky, the earth and all creatures; (4) he professed the eternity of matter and the ideas; (5) he valued Greek philosophers and other heretics more highly than the Church Fathers and the saints; (6) he denied the miracles of Christ, the Virgin Mary and the saints; (7) he considered literary works as not merely educational but a genuine repository of the truth; (8) he admitted Neo-Platonic ideas, advocated that matter was self-subsistent, and that matter took on forms which reflected the eternal ideas, and (9) he taught that humans will be resurrected with bodies other than those they had in their earthly life.81 Tatakis concludes his brief overview of Italus’ achievements with these words: Until the time of Italos, we sought philosophical thought within theology. Italos is the first to give philosophy its autonomy within a purely rationalistic movement of thought, one which seeks clear solutions to questions concerning human destiny and the higher mysteries of Christianity such as the Incarnation and the Holy Trinity. Italos attempts to establish philosophical problems upon a philosophical basis, for the time had come for theology to become dependent upon philosophy, which had not become the depository of truth. He seems to lack any sense of the mystical.82 On John Italus’ views on this topic, see Stephanou 1933 pp. 413–28. Summary of the Synodikon of Orthodoxy, section on John Italus’ anathema, in Tatakis 2003 p. 172. 82 Tatakis 2003 p. 173; also in brief review, Wilson 1996 pp. 153–6. 80 81

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George Gemistos Plethon (1360–1452) was one of the greatest Byzantine thinkers, an outstanding teacher and counselor; he was exiled to Mistra in the Peloponnese about 1410 under suspicion of heresy and paganism. His writings are vast and eclectic: he compiled a Greek grammar, corrected Strabo’s Geography and Ptolemy’s Cosmography, wrote lecture notes on Homer, musical theory and the liberal arts; he devised a new calendar system, a textbook on logic for schools, a disputation on the differences between Aristotle and Plato, various public addresses to leaders, and his final massive summation the Book of Laws.83 After Plethon’s death, his arch-rival Scholarios sought to identify the pernicious and heretical influences on Plethon’s thinking. It seems that Plethon had spent some time as a youth with a Jewish teacher, Elissaeus, who was cognizant of Persian and Arabic interpretations of Aristotle. Scholarios also correctly indicted Proclus as one of the main influences on Plethon’s thought about the triune nature of god, but overrated Zoroaster’s role in this cosmic scheme. Plethon knew little about Zoroaster beyond late antique digests of his doctrines.84 However, Plethon would have agreed with Zoroaster in his abhorrence of asceticism; he endorsed ‘a theological repudiation which ran counter to the veneration of ascetics and other “holy men” in the Orthodox Church’. Woodhouse says that Plethon’s philosophy could be described in Zaehner’s words for Zoroastrianism: ‘it is neither this-worldly nor other-worldly (but) both-worldly … Any withdrawal from the world is a betrayal of god; for man was created for the work he has to do, not vice versa.’85 It was one of Plethon’s habits to present some of his exotic doctrines under the nominal aegis of great sages from remote antiquity. At one time or another he attributed certain ideas to Orpheus, Zoroaster or Moses, amongst others. Plethon was the first person in the western tradition to associate the second-century Chaldean Oracles with Zoroaster, thus retrojecting these oracular dicta into a pristine wisdom; in this he was followed by Marsilio Ficino in Florence less than one hundred years later.86 In the eleventh century the Chaldean Oracles had been studied by that omnivorous doxographer, Michael Psellus, as well as the Patriarch Michael Cerularius, attracted by the Neo-Platonist trappings of the Oracles. Although Proclus and Psellus had both written commentaries on the Oracles, and Plethon knew and read their work, Plethon’s studies stand as an independent work. Plethon’s reputation as an unchristian pagan was not groundless slander by his enemies; George of Trebizond heard him declare in Florence that in the near future people everywhere would embrace a new universalist religion, neither Christian nor Moslem. In contrast with Psellus, who found in pagan theistic philosophy some support for Christian doctrine, Plethon considered Christian doctrine ‘a decadence of thought’ and called upon Platonic philosophy to assist in the return to the original sources of wisdom, and hence to bring his new religion closer to the truth.87 ODB 1991 vol. 3 p. 1685; Tatakis 2003 pp. 234–43. Woodhouse 1986 pp. 22–4. 85 Woodhouse 1986 p. 64, citing R. C. Zaehner, The Dawn and Twilight of Zoroastrianism. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1961 pp. 279, 283. 86 On Plethon’s study of the Chaldean Oracles, see esp. Athanassiadi in Ierodiakonou 2002 pp. 237–52. 87 Tatakis 2003 pp. 236–7; on his influence in fifteenth-century theological debates in Italy, 83 84

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Plethon’s commentary on the Oracles begins with a general account of the Pythagorean doctrine of reincarnation of souls through the cycles of death and rebirth; he incorrectly ascribes this doctrine to Zoroaster. There are places in the other world, some light, some dark and some intermediate, for the soul to visit between descents into its proper human form. If the soul has been good on earth it returns to a light place, if not it returns to a dark place. The Greek idea of fate is introduced by the words ‘the sevenfold steps’ which refers to the seven planets’ influence on human destiny. The moral then follows in the text: ‘do not try to achieve what is beyond your fate’. Nothing imperfect comes from the paternal sovereignty of god, who is referred to throughout as the father, though he is not the only god. The oracles’ mention of the father’s power and the paternal intellect signify the second god, the demiurge. The second god is the creator of the human soul, but ‘he does not allow the will of the soul to enter until it has shaken off the forgetfulness which it has suffered through connection with the human body’.88 The ‘light and rays of the father’ mean the place from which the soul descends to earth; this is also called paradise. It is the soul’s duty to hasten back to the light, those who do not will suffer for their sins, as will their children. It is the task of reason to divert the soul from iniquity and so release it from oblivion. Where the oracle speaks of ‘the source of virtue in the left flanks of the couch’ Plethon says that this means that virtue resides in the soul’s left side, which is passive and virgin, not the right side which is active and corruptible. Since the human soul is immortal it clings to god and is intoxicated with divinity. Although it is united with a material body it rejoices in this union and is not ashamed of its embodied nature. The human soul has been endowed by the second god with intellect, and it is this which makes the soul divine and immortal. We are masters of what cannot be taken away from us, and that includes our immortality. The soul has many places in the universe, places that correspond with its just desserts.89 The oracles adjure each person ‘do not pollute the spirit, do not depress the surface’, which Plethon suggests refers to the connection between the immaterial spirit and the material body. He agrees with the Platonists that the soul is neither wholly separate from the body nor wholly inseparable; it is potentially separable but actually inseparable. He also asserts that they postulate three kinds of forms (eid¯e): one entirely separate from matter, which consists of the supra-celestial minds; one dependent on matter and not self-subsistent, which is dissolved in its proximate matter and is thus wholly irrational; and another form between these two, which is the rational form of the soul. The rational soul differs from pure mind in that it is always linked with matter, and differs from the irrational form in that it is independent of matter as such, but has some matter which is dependent on it.90 The human soul has its own essence: it is indivisible and indestructible, produces effects like pure minds, and is capable of knowledge about reality, including cognition of the supreme god. This soul uses a heavenly ‘body’ as its vehicle and see Edgar Wind, Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1967 pp. 244–8. 88 Woodhouse 1986 pp. 54–5. 89 Woodhouse 1986 p. 55. 90 Woodhouse 1986 pp. 55–6.

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that vehicle itself possesses an irrational form of soul, called the ‘image’ of the rational soul, which is equipped with imagination, as well as perception. Through the power of imagination the rational soul is permanently united with its heavenly ‘body’, and through this latter ‘body’ the human soul is united with its earthly, mortal body. In contrast, the souls of daemons have superior, immortal vehicles, and the souls of stars even more superior vehicles. By the phrase ‘image of the soul’ the oracles mean the irrational part of the whole human soul which is joined to the rational part and depends on it as its vehicle. The oracles’ ‘dung of matter’ is the earthly body which must be cared for and not neglected while humans live so that it remains healthy, pure and in harmony with the immortal soul. It follows that one must not ‘make away with the soul from the body’, for this would mean the soul making away with itself, contrary to the laws of nature. The divine intellect should be extended through the exercise of piety by means of religious worship, since this will preserve the mortal body and make it more healthy. The oracles state that nature is ‘most daring’, but Plethon interprets this as saying that human being is ‘a contrivance of all-prevailing nature because of humans’ capacity for daring ventures’.91 Plethon continued to promulgate Neo-Platonic, especially Proclean ideas in his public addresses, lectures and writings. Scholarios said that Plethon took ‘almost everything’ from Proclus’ works, whose sole theme is ‘the multiplicity of gods, [that is], generation, order, difference, and activity in the universe and human souls’. To Proclus he also owed the idea of the great chain of being, humans’ intermediate status, the emanation of the universe from the One, the soul’s partition into rational and irrational, the soul’s return to the place of light, the identification of matter with evil (or non-being), and the transformation of the perfect forms first into divine ideas and then into created minds.92 Woodhouse concludes that Plethon was ‘not a Christian Neoplatonist, as Pseudo-Dionysius had been, but a reactionary antiChristian Neoplatonist, as much a pagan at heart as Proclus. He did not wish to reconcile Christianity with Neoplatonism in Olympian draperies … His real significance was that he gave [Neoplatonic ideas] a new and powerful impetus in Western Europe.’93 In the extant portions of the Book of Laws,94 Plethon returns to his favorite theme of revived Greek paganism in the service of Byzantine philosophy. There are three orders of gods: the first order consists of Zeus alone, uncreated, eternal, and the absolute good; the second-order gods are born from Zeus, some legit who live on Olympus, others illegit, like the Giants who live in Tartarus and can produce only mortal beings; the third-order gods are the offspring of Poseidon and his brothers, the Olympians. This last order is divided into the legit who are the celestial bodies, and the illegit who are the chthonian demons. In Zeus, essence and action are identical, whereas in the mind, essence and action are distinct, though action is continuous. In the soul, essence and action are again distinct, but action is not Woodhouse 1986 pp. 56–8. Woodhouse 1986 pp. 73–4. 93 Woodhouse 1986 p. 78. 94 French translation, Traité des Lois, Charles Alexandre (ed.) Paris, 1858; Reprinted, Amsterdam, 1966. 91 92

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continuous; in the body, essence is divided into form and matter, where matter is subject to movement, change, division and dissolution. The remainder of Book Two was supposed to be full of heretical ideas; it included chapters on souls, stars and demons, as well as the immortality of the soul. According to Scholarios, in one chapter Plethon argued in favor of the Pythagorean doctrine of soul-migration and claimed that human souls never ascend to the heavenly place.95 In Plethon’s cosmic scheme he adumbrates an intricate chain of models and images. First Zeus made a single creature in his own image, the noblest and best of all created beings, then he makes an image of that image, then an image of the image of the image, and so forth. Species are the images of genera, as well as of other species in the same genera; the less perfect species are images of the more perfect. The temporal is an image of the eternal, mortal nature of immortal, irrational of rational, and so forth. Zeus is both the creative cause of all things in their being, and the generative cause of each stage of created being, as father to child to grandchild. Human souls receive their attributes from the intermediate divine beings, but are not created by them. They are produced from the same source as divine souls since they are also immortal. Poseidon, the first offspring of Zeus, is an archetypal form, not a specific form, that is, he is the genus that contains all species. Hera is the image of Poseidon and hence less powerful; where Poseidon is the producer of the forms of all things, Hera is the producer of primary matter. Through progressive generations these two produce lesser gods as well as all living mortal things, including humans. The human mind receives ideas of perfect forms but only in a tenuous shape, as shadows and phantoms of the divine forms; still, these ideas are sufficient for the work of humans in their own ‘creations’.96 In one of the surviving chapters on daily prayers, Plethon gives a summary of an earlier missing discussion of the place of human mind and soul in the cosmic scheme. Zeus divided the form of the rational soul into three; the stars, demons and humans; Poseidon divided the material universe into the four elements from which bodies are shaped as vehicles for souls. Fire is the vehicle for the souls of stars and the planets assisted Poseidon in the creation of mortal beings by attaching the specific souls to their bodies. Here Plethon carried forward the Gnostic and theurgical model of the seven planets as governors and archons. In the three-tiered frame of the cosmos, humans are partly mortal and partly immortal; our intermediate nature serves as a bridge between the celestial and the earthly. Humans behave in some respects like gods and in other respects like animals; like a god when he contemplates the harmonious good of Zeus’ creation, like an animal when he pursues bodily pleasures. Plethon argues that the union of mortal and immortal natures in human cannot be permanent since in that case an individual would not let go its deathless part and hence would never die. If the union were only momentary then at each individual’s death the universal harmony would be dissolved. Therefore, the union of mortal and immortal must be partial only, but constantly renewed; every time the body is destroyed the two parts go their separate ways, and the process is repeated through all eternity.97 95 96 97

Woodhouse 1986 pp. 328, 332; Tatakis 2003 pp. 251–2. Woodhouse 1986 pp. 339–41. Woodhouse 1986 pp. 349, 355; Tatakis 2003 pp. 252–3.

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Although Scholarios had nothing but contempt for Plethon’s conviction about soul-migration, his famous pupil Cardinal Bessarion used exactly this image in praise of his great teacher’s ideas. In a letter of consolation to Plethon’s sons after their father’s death, Bessarion said that he would not hesitate to state that the soul of Plato himself had chosen to dwell in Plethon’s body. Marsilio Ficino described him as ‘a second Plato’ and Platina also called him ‘the second after Plato’. In the closing paragraph of C. M. Woodhouse’s superb biography he says that Plethon remains difficult to place in the cultural history of Europe. He has been called the last of the Byzantines and first of the Neo-Hellenes … A more accurate description of Plethon might be the last of the ancient Hellenes and first of the modern Greeks. He remains, however, strangely unknown in the western world, which he helped indirectly to shape, by teaching the humanists not to be content with reading and translating Plato’s poetic and perennially fascinating dialogues as exercises in literature, but also to study and understand Platonism.98

98

Woodhouse 1986 pp. 364, 379.

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Chapter 5

Christian Mystical Ideas About the Soul’s Ascent (1) The emergence of mystical ideas from Neo-Platonism and Esotericism Our investigation of the emergence of Christian mystical ideas will focus on the introduction of various ‘new’ ideas, or (at least) the transformation of various ‘old’ ideas, ones taken from the Greek philosophical tradition and the Christian and Judaic milieu. For our purposes in describing the development of Christian mystical ideas about human nature and the soul’s ascent we will emphasize and follow several important themes: the direct rapport of human with God, the integration of the Holy Trinity in the psychic scheme, the interiority of human being, the unspeakable mystery of God, and God’s love as over-abundance. Christian thought in the fifth century witnessed the transformation of the Neo-Platonic worldview in which God relates to humans through intermediate causes into one in which there is a more direct rapport. Instead of a hierarchy of internally multiple principles there is a theophany of a single God who is multiplied through his own act of creation. The Neo-Platonic scheme situated intellect as the third stage of triadic emanation; this is superseded by a scheme where intellect is the basis of the process as a whole. The main reason for this change was the need, expressed most forcefully by Augustine, to integrate the Holy Trinity into the system. Augustine also articulated an entirely new concept of the human person: rather than the secrecy of a special revelation given to a privileged seer, Augustine recognized the secrets hidden in the depth of the human heart. On his view the real secrets are no longer those of God, but those of each individual, hidden in the ‘interior human’. This idea is echoed in a crucial thesis of Pseudo-Dionysius’ thought: what is inside is also what is hidden from the eyes, what cannot be seen or expressed in words. The mystery in Christian mysticism is no longer, as in the Greek ‘mystery religions’, something that should not be spoken about, it is something that cannot be entirely described in words, precisely because of its newness. The unspeakable, unsayable nature of God is the focus of the first great works of Christian mysticism, the texts ascribed to Pseudo-Dionysius. In inventing the idea of negative or apophatic theology, he laid out the terms according to which one could describe all that which God is not; however, the mystical way to God was not one that was hidden, at least not to those who sought it. The Christian Neo-Platonist Origen, in claiming that the Biblical ‘Song of Songs’ reveals God’s message about Christ’s love for the fallen soul, sounds another crucial theme in the emergence of Christian mystical imagery. He is perhaps the first to argue that erotic language is the most appropriate way of using speech to describe the positive experience of intimate rapport with God. According to Pseudo-Dionysius, God’s love for his creation is 207

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ecstatic love; eros signifies divine love whereby God is drawn out of himself and centers his being on the objects of his love. Dionysius adapted the Hellenistic idea of eros to the Christian demand that God love all things: from the Greek notion of eros as needy for the other, wanting in the other what it lacks in itself, the Christian mystics express the notion of love as an overflow of goodness, giving what one has to the other out of abundance.1 Stephen Gersh outlines some of the principal connections between Neo-Platonist thought and early Christian ideas in terms of the triadic scheme of remaining, procession and reversion: The later pagan Neoplatonists understand the structure of reality as a continuous series of causes and effects in which each term is related dynamically to the previous one: it ‘remains’ in its prior (manifests an element of identity with it), it ‘proceeds’ (manifests an element of difference), and it ‘reverts’ (strives to reestablish the identity). This relatively simple scheme is, however, not adequate to account for the Neoplatonists’ total view of reality, and it is therefore essential to consider a group of doctrines which derive from it. These derivative doctrines state that an effect may revert not only upon its cause but also upon itself, that causes can exhibit both an internal and an external activity, and that those principles which revert upon themselves have a semi-independence from their priors.

Although these theories are obscure, they are important for understanding the absorption of the pagan Neo-Platonic traditions by Christianity, for the gradual abandonment or modification of these characteristic doctrines of Syrianus and Proclus, in particular by Pseudo-Dionysius and Maximus the Confessor, reflects more clearly than anything else the transformation of the world-view in which God relates to man through a hierarchy of intermediate causes into one in which there is a more direct rapport. This evolution reaches its climax in the philosophy of Eriugena.2

The conception of reality as a whole in Pseudo-Dionysius’ system, according to Gersh again, is one where Christian Neoplatonists preserve the derivation of plurality from unity as a fundamental structural principle within their revised conception of the spiritual world, and in PseudoDionysius at least the two related notions of plurality ‘by remission’ and plurality ‘by procession’ continue to figure prominently. In Christian Neoplatonism, however, it is necessary to take account of a more complex overall picture in which plurality evolves through two interdependent spheres: that of divine attributes and that of the angelic world. In the former case, a monadic Being (the attribute of the Thearchy) is placed at the head of a co-ordinate plurality of beings within Life, Wisdom, and so on, and this constitutes a state of remission.3

The most important modification to the traditional Neo-Platonic structure of reality made by adherents of the school who also embraced Christianity is undoubtedly the 1 On these themes see McGinn 1991 pp. 119–27; Crouzel 1989 pp. 121–30; Nygren 1953 pp. 368–92. 2 Gersh 1978 p. 125; McGinn 1991 pp. 44–61; Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP pp. 457–72. 3 Gersh 1978 p. 175.

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reinterpretation of that scheme in terms of the distinct relational contexts: God as transcendent, God as immanent, and God as transcendent and immanent. The emphasis upon the second of these contexts in particular allows reality to be understood not as a hierarchy of self-determining and therefore internally multiplicative principles but as the theophany of a single self-determining God who is multiplied through his own act of creation. Of course, since the second context cannot be understood completely in isolation from the others, there is no question of replacing the original polytheism with a simple pantheism – but a crucial step has been taken away from the viewpoint where the First Principle remains immutably transcending all lower orders of being towards a position where it enters constructively into the creative process.4 The metaphor of emanation widely employed by pagan Neo-Platonists as an expression of causality is gradually replaced by images of blending or mixture. The main reason for the increased interest in the mixture imagery is the need to rationalize the central theological problem of divine-human incarnation. Further, the emanation picture of the causal process in terms of remaining, procession and reversion is superseded in Christian Neo-Platonism: it is no longer necessary to counter-balance the transcendence of a cause over an effect by diffusion or irradiation since transcendence is now viewed as only one aspect of a complex relation with immanence. Further, the interplay between these contexts means that the alternation of potency and act, and associated terms, can no longer be divorced from space and time. On the subjective side, the pagan scheme which located intellect as the third stage of triadic emanation is superseded by a scheme where intellect is the basis of the process as a whole. The main reason for this change is the need to integrate orthodox Trinitarian speculation into the system for, when the Christ-Logos is identified with the totality of forms pre-embraced in intellect, the latter can no longer be placed in a subordinate position. The interplay between the transcendent and immanent contexts with regard to concepts of mind leads to further innovations, for it is now possible to admit that intellect is dependent upon space and time for its cognitive activities. Among the Christian Neo-Platonic writers this difficult issue is lessened by their acceptance of the interplay between the three contexts in which a continuum from transcendence through space-time is established. This whole scheme is worked out by Eriugena who furnishes an interesting anticipation of the profoundest insights of Kant.5 Early Christian thinkers reworked the triadic scheme in order to accommodate the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the triune nature of God, but in addition these same thinkers had to overcome an inherent esoteric dimension. G. G. Stroumsa describes this absorption and overcoming as follows: ‘After the disappearance of the early esoteric traditions, their vocabulary served as building blocks for the emerging mystical doctrines within Eastern and then Western Christianity … The birth of Christian mysticism is directly related to the contemporary development of a new conception of the person, a new approach to subjectivity and the inner man, in other words, to the birth of a Christian anthropology.’ This occurred at the same time as

4 5

Gersh 1978 p. 283. Gersh 1978 pp. 284–7.

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the disappearance of Christian esotericism and the defeat of dualist and mythologizing trends in early Christianity: Esotericism has a language of its own, which cultivates paradox, allusions, images, metaphors. This language is meant to reveal without revealing, to hide while at the same time hinting at or insinuating. Esotericism itself is paradoxical: the best way to keep a secret is to avoid making any allusions to it, or at least not to multiply them. With the disappearance of esoteric doctrines, we witness the transformation of Christian religious language and of its reference. The new imaginaire born in late antiquity was to dominate ways of expression and patterns of thought at least until the end of the Middle Ages. From the hidden nature of God alluded to in esoteric traditions, early Christian mysticism moved to emphasize mystical darkness. Darkness and shadow not only protect the hidden nature of God … they also emphasize and broaden the radical dichotomy between God and the world.6

Early Christian thinkers showed an attitude that did not accord with the view that the secrets to be learned were secrets of nature; rather, they were secrets of God, written in the Holy Scriptures. The decoding of the written word of God was, therefore, a task for interpretation and literary exegesis. Although this is similar to the view of contemporary Judaic ideas, the specific religious structure of Christianity provided some new elements. One of these was the notion that divine revelation had come in stages, not all at once: Jesus Christ had completed the OT revelation given to the prophets, and thus explained what until then had been an enigma. Irenaeus of Lyon said: ‘Every prophecy, before its accomplishment, is an enigma and contradiction. But when the moment came that the prediction was accomplished, it found its correct interpretation. That is why the law, when read by the Jews in our times, is similar to a myth since they do not possess what is the explanation of it all, namely, the coming of the son of a god as a human.’7 Stroumsa comments: in this striking text, Biblical prophecy is seemingly identified to Greek mantis and called an enigma, an ambiguous expression of divine will. By referring to the Jewish reading of the Bible as similar to that of pagan mythology, Irenaeus does not mean, of course, that it is false, but that it does not possess within itself the criterion of its own truth … Irenaeus conceives of the coming of Christ – and hence of the text of the NT – as the key to the proper understanding of the Hebrew Bible. This key is the very opposite of esotericism, since it is offered to all. But those who refuse it are unable to open the treasures of divine revelation, which remain sealed for them even when they read the OT.8

Two important things follow from this attitude: first, the very idea of sacred history results from the view that divine revelation has its own chronological unfolding. The sometimes baffling and/or obscure statements in the OT have their clear expression in the NT; as St. Paul said, ‘For we now see through a glass darkly, but then face to face’ (1Cor. 13:12). Second, the language of this revelation has a simple, even mean Stroumsa 1996 pp. 6–7. Irenaeus. Adv. Haer. IV.26.1; McGinn 1991 pp. 100–1; Louis Bouyer in Leclercq 1968 pp. 224–36. 8 Stroumsa 1996 pp. 94–5. 6 7

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style (euteleia), accessible to all hearers, in contrast to the elite style of Greek philosophy. In his Commentary on the Psalms, Origen states that the ‘darkness’ of the Holy Scriptures resembles many locked rooms in a single house. Each door has its own key but they are scattered about; it is hard work to find each door’s key. The keys, Origen says, are like seeds of truth, from which human knowledge grows.9 Bernard McGinn stresses Origen’s role in the emergence of genuine mystical thinking;10 all of his metaphors about the soul’s return to God are ‘subservient to the unifying symbol of the pascha, the passage achieved by and in Christ … There can be no doubt that his emphasis on itinerary had great influence on many later mystics.’ The Greek Fathers used the word mystikos not to describe their own experience or language, but rather to characterize the language of Scripture, as well as those Christian rituals in which the divine word is objectively present. The difficult journey by which the soul returns to God begins with the clear ‘bread’ of scriptural language, but can only advance through imbibing the ‘wine’ of its obscure and poetic speech, which intoxicates and draws upwards. When Origen interprets the Biblical reference to ecstasy (Num. 33:27) he describes it as ‘contemplation of amazement … when the mind is struck with amazement by the knowledge of great and marvelous things’.11 Origen claims that the Song of Songs is the central text where Scripture reveals the message about the love of the descending Christ for the fallen soul in words and images that are distinctly erotic. Origen stands ‘at the head of those Christian mystics who have argued that of all the positive or cataphatic modes of speaking available to the mystic, erotic language is the most appropriate way of using speech to surpass itself’.12 One of Stroumsa’s main arguments is that early Christian thought inherited various esoteric traditions from Judaism, and not from Hellenistic mystery religions. These Judaic traditions are reflected in three different ways: esoteric texts, secret oral traditions and esoteric Biblical exegesis. In the first Christian centuries, the boundaries within the communities were redefined in terms of supererogation rather than as special knowledge of an elite group. Rather than the recipients of a private revelation, theologians and monks defined themselves and were perceived as virtuosi able to reach even deeper levels of faith. Rather than the secrecy of a special revelation, one came to recognize the secrets hidden in the depth of the heart. Humility became the new virtue necessary in order to enhance such hidden dimensions. The change of attitude toward esoteric traditions reflects the process of interiorization typical of late antiquity.13

It is possible to trace the intellectual and practical transition from esoteric doctrines, as outlined, for example in our discussion of Gnostic teachings, to the emergence of mystical patterns of thought. In this process, Stroumsa argues, the very meaning of Stroumsa 1996 p. 108; Crouzel 1989 pp. 69–78. McGinn 1991 pp. 116–18; see also Louis Bouyer in Leclercq 1968 pp. 283–302. Three of the four sections in this long chapter could not have been put together without reference to the monumental achievement of Bernard McGinn in his multi-volume The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism, New York: Crossroads, 1991–2005. 11 Origen, Homilies on Numbers 27:12. 12 McGinn 1991 p. 118; Crouzel 1989 pp. 121–30. 13 Stroumsa 1996 p. 108. 9

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‘inner beliefs’, an individual’s private thoughts and desires, was transformed: ‘The secret traditions were thoroughly interiorized, and the two-tiered teaching, directed to two levels of understanding among two distinct classes of believers, became spiritualized in a gradual way, according to the ability and powers of each individual, but in which the highest levels were, at least in principle, open to all.’14 Scholars have long recognized that there is an esoteric element in Christ’s teachings; according to one view, this esoteric tradition can be traced to the influence of Greek mystery cults; according to another, it developed under the influence of Jewish mystical thought, especially the hekhalot literature.15 Stroumsa argues that it is also important to distinguish between esoteric cultic practices and esoteric teachings: ‘The conjunction of these two trends, i.e. the occultation of the Jewish dimension of early Christian esotericism together with the focus on cultic attitudes rather than on the intellectual content of doctrines, had serious consequences.’ Most recent scholarly studies have paid attention to the cultic area at the expense of ignoring, or at least minimizing, the effects of esoteric teachings. In his catechism, Cyril of Jerusalem expresses the importance of esoteric teachings quite clearly: ‘To hear the Gospel is not permitted to all; but the glory of the Gospel is reserved for Christ’s true children only. Therefore, the Lord spoke in parables to those who could not hear; but to the disciples he explained the parables in private.’ Cyril unequivocally segregates those who are true believers, to whom the mysteries will be explained, and those who are not believers, to whom things are said in a veiled way. Basil the Great also makes the same segregation, along a divide between oral and written teachings: ‘Among the doctrines and messages kept in the church, some were received from written teachings, and some were transmitted secretly from the apostolic tradition.’ In his Miscellanies, Clement of Alexandria repeatedly stresses the importance of Christian secret teachings: in order to protect the truth from those who are unable to grasp it the message must be hidden. Stroumsa declares that ‘esoteric trends did exist in early Christianity, and that their direct roots are to be found more in the Jewish heritage of Christianity than in the broader pagan and Hellenic religious milieu’.16 The inherent paradox in this point of view is that Christian salvation is meant to be available to everyone, a democratic universal redemption in sharp contrast to the elitism of Greek mystery cults. Stroumsa says that what is involved in the early centuries of the Christian Church is nothing less than a complete remodeling of the human person: Man had been created in God’s image, the Son of God had been incarnated, and [he] had been resurrected from the dead. These three central tenets of Christian theology entailed the attribution of a new nobility to the human body. In some ways, this transformation encouraged the perception of body and soul as a single unit, more clearly than had been 14 Stroumsa 1996 p. 109; ‘two levels of teaching’ is similar to Hermetic and Gnostic pedagogy. 15 Brief summary in McGinn 1991 pp. 20–22, citing the primary works of Gershom Scholem, Joseph Dan and Louis Jacobs, and now Moshe Idel. 16 Stroumsa 1996 pp. 151–6; on Clement’s significant contribution to the emergence of Christian mystical ideas, esp. the use of ‘divine spark’, ‘vision of god’ and ‘apathy’, see McGinn 1991 pp. 101–8.

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the case in Greek thought. The new stature of the human person fostered the development of a refined sensitivity to the individual subject, capable at once of damning sin and of saving faith. The ‘interior man’ mentioned in Paul’s letters had achieved a new religious importance in the writings of Church Fathers. Thus did early Christian thought foster the interiorization of religious attitudes. Feelings became more concrete than ever before.17

The single most important figure in this process is Augustine: for him, the real secrets are no longer those of God, but those of each individual, hidden in the depths of the heart: ‘Hence, a new vocabulary is developed, one of the “interior senses”, through which one can experience the divinity, in particular through spiritual visions. The significance of such metaphors of “interiorization” … lies in the fact that they are parallel to those of esotericism: what is inside is also what is hidden from the eyes, what cannot be seen, or expressed in words, be it invisible or unspeakable.’18 The NT itself abounds in references to ‘mysterious’ teachings, though much scholarly debate centers around the extent to which these texts should be read in the context of Jewish esotericism. To the twelve apostles Christ said, ‘to you the mystery of the kingdom of God has been given; but to those who are outside, everything comes by way of parables, so that they may look and look, but see nothing; they may hear and hear, but understand nothing; otherwise they might turn to God and be forgiven’ (Mark 4:10–12). And St. Paul famously said that ‘we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God’ (1Cor. 2:7). It seems quite clear in these and other passages that there is one set of doctrines given to an inner, secret group, and another set given to everyone else.19 One of the most interesting documents about the earliest post-NT uses of ‘mystery’ occurs in the context of Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Ephesians (early second century) when he mentions Mary’s virginity: ‘her giving birth was hidden from the Prince of this world [Satan], as was also the death of the Lord. Three mysteries of a cry (tria musteria krauges) were wrought in the stillness of God.’20 Stroumsa comments on this that ‘‘‘mystery” is here used in a highly idiosyncratic way since the term refers to events which are not kept secret. On the contrary, they represent the apex of God’s new revelation to mankind. Hence, these events are highly visible although, through cunning of sorts, they remain hidden from Satan. The latter hopes to prolong his reign upon earth by preventing the salvation.’

17 Stroumsa 1996 p. 159; on the Pauline concept of the ‘inner human’, see esp. Hans Dieter Betz, ‘The Concept of the “Inner Human Being” in the Anthropology of Paul’, in New Test Studies, 46 (2000), pp. 315–41; Walter Burkert, ‘Towards Plato and Paul: The “Inner” Human Being’, in A. Y. Collins (ed.) Ancient and Modern Perspectives on the Bible and Culture. Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1998. 18 Stroumsa 1996 pp. 159–60; and Stroumsa 1993 pp. 168–82; on the immense influence of Augustine’s ideas on mystical theology and the soul’s ascent see McGinn 1991 pp. 228–62; Louis Bouyer in Leclercq 1968 pp. 467–94. 19 On the word mysterion in the NT see esp. G. Bornkamm in TDNT vol. 4 pp. 802–28; D. H. Wiens in ANRW 23.2 (1980) pp. 1248–83. 20 On Ignatius of Antioch, McGinn 1991 pp. 80–82; Louis Bouyer in Leclercq 1968 pp. 194–204.

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This strange interpretation of the events surrounding Christ’s descent to earth and ascent to heaven also appears in some Gnostic cosmogonic myths. In the ‘Apocalypse of Adam’, for example, in his eventual descent to our earth, the Savior must hide himself in order to escape the evil intentions of archons who guard the gates of the many-leveled heavens.21 For Ignatius, the mystery of the savior’s appearance is the consequence of the way he was manifest in our world: ‘A star shone in heaven beyond all the stars, and its light was unspeakable (aneklal¯eton) and its newness caused astonishment … And there was perplexity about whence came this new thing, so unlike them.’ In limpid words Stroumsa states what marks out the radical change in the concept of mystery between the Judaic (and Hellenic) context and the early Christian context: ‘The “mystery” is not any more something that should not be spoken about, it is something that cannot be entirely described in words, precisely because of its newness.’22 The unspeakable, unsayable nature of God is the focus of the first great works of Christian mysticism, the texts ascribed to Dionysius the Areopagite. When he invented the idea of negative or apophatic theology, this ‘mysterious’ author laid out the terms according to which one could describe all that which God is not, but the mystical way to God was one that was not hidden, at least not to those who sought it. In the early fifth century there appeared one of the first and most influential of all Christian mystical thinkers, one who has never had anything but a false name – Pseudo-Dionysius.23 The author purported to be the first-century convert of St. Paul on the Areopagus in Athens, according to the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 17:34). Although he had never been mentioned by any writer during the previous four centuries, when his works were first referred to in the Church Colloquy in 532, and by Maximus the Confessor not long after, his self-attribution of first-century apostolic authority was accepted. Not only has his identity remained unknown for 1500 years – despite repeated scholarly efforts to resolve the mystery – his writings are also baffling and mysterious. The extant (and complete) Dionysian texts include the Celestial Hierarchy, the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, the Divine Names, the very brief Mystical Theology and ten Letters. McGinn says that they are ‘written in an idiosyncratic, almost incantatory style filled with neologisms [that are] difficult to grasp and controversial’.24 In the Renaissance, humanists such as Valla and Erasmus had begun to doubt these texts’ quasi-apostolic status and first-century setting. Martin Luther attacked the ‘false’ Dionysius when he declared that ‘Dionysius is most pernicious; he Platonizes more than he Christianizes’. In contrast Vladimir Lossky states that he is ‘a Christian thinker disguised as a Neo-Platonist, a theologian very much aware of his task, which was to conquer the ground held by Neo-Platonism by becoming master of its philosophical method’.25 Hans Urs von Balthasar, one of the greatest modern interpreters of Dionysius, says that ‘his NHL VI.5, 1970 pp. 277–86; see Stroumsa 1984 pp. 82–88. Stroumsa 1996 p. 162; see also Karl Prümm in NCE vol. X pp. 153–64. 23 For the background and setting of Pseudo-Dionysius’ work see Gersh in Marenbon 1998 pp. 120–32; Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP 1970 pp. 457–72; Louth 1989 pp. 1–17; McGinn 1991 pp. 157–65. 24 McGinn 1991 p. 158. 25 Lossky 1963 p. 100. 21 22

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Christianizing of the Neo-Platonic milieu [is] a side-effect of his own properly theological endeavor [which is] the clear, realized synthesis of truth and beauty, of theology and aesthetics’.26 Bernard McGinn and Andrew Louth stress that an adequate understanding of Dionysius’ mystical teachings must be based in the liturgical setting of these texts. The soul’s ascent that returns each human to union with God is not a solo flight, but part of a process involving three essential aspects of the Christian church: ‘(1) the proper understanding of the “holy oracles” (the Bible), (2) in and through the action of the sacred rituals, (3) performed or received according to one’s place in the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Evagrius had insisted, “if you are a theologian then you pray”, understanding prayer primarily as an individual contemplative exercise. Dionysius would claim that to be a true theologian is to pray liturgically: “the whole theology of the Areopagite is for him a single, sacred liturgical act”.’27 Dionysius’ triadic scheme assigns a new meaning to anag¯og¯e (uplifting), making it more than just a metaphor for a spiritual process. ‘Given [his] conception of the whole created hierarchy as an ordered manifestation of thearchy, one does not really ascend to God by passing through various levels of reality as much as one appropriates the significance of the levels as a means of attaining inner union with their source, the hidden God.’28 Augustine had insisted that for the soul to go above or beyond was in truth for the soul to go deep within. Dionysius would claim that the soul’s uplifting was more like what G. M. Hopkins called ‘instressing’: this connotes the soul’s spiritual energy caused by and in cooperation with God’s creative activity: ‘To instress the mind is to spiritualize a sensory image, turning a simple apprehension into a judgment.’29 There is more to Dionysius’ advocacy of mystical union than the liturgical setting of prayers and rituals; one dimension of the soul’s progress to the dark cloud of unknowing is indeed experiential. In this respect, Dionysius agrees with Philo Judaeus and Gregory of Nyssa in considering Moses’ experience on Mt. Sinai to be an exemplum of mystical encounter. Moses first undergoes purification (katharsis), then attains contemplation (the¯oria), and finally union (hen¯osis) with God. Dionysius states that ‘here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and invisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united by a completely unknowing inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing’ (MT I.3). However, McGinn cautions that his use of ‘this triple pattern of purification, illumination, and perfection or union, must be viewed according to his understanding of the operation of the diverse modes of theology in the life of the believer’. Letter IX to Titus the Bishop clearly states this opinion: ‘Theological tradition has a dual aspect, the ineffable and mysterious on the one hand, the open and more evident on the other. The one resorts to symbolism and Von Balthasar 1984 vol. II pp. 148–9. McGinn 1991 p. 170; Louth 1989 pp. 25–30. 28 McGinn 1991 p. 171. 29 McGinn’s happy choice of Hopkins’ poetic idea, 1991 p. 171, p. 392 note 201; quote from Chris Devlin, The Sermons and Devotional Writings of G. M. Hopkins, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 283–4. 26 27

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involves initiation; the other is philosophical and employs the method of demonstration … The one uses persuasion and imposes the truth of what is asserted; the other acts and by means of a mystery which cannot be taught, it puts the soul firmly in the presence of God.’30 The same letter expresses important ideas about the relation of images of soul and images of body in terms of an elaborate scheme the author calls ‘symbolic theology’. He says that the OT supplies a great variety of sacred symbols used to reveal God, but ‘if one looks at them from the outside they seem filled with an incredible and contrived fantasy’ (1104c). These symbols are used, Dionysius argues, so that ‘multiple shapes and forms [may] be given to what has neither shape nor form … To enable the one capable of seeing the beauty hidden within these images to find that they are truly mysterious, appropriate to God, and filled with great theological light’ (1105b). The scheme of divine symbols prevents outsiders from usurping privileged knowledge, but once the correct interpretive methods are known, the initiates will be able to grasp these symbols and then discern the hidden truth. God has used these symbols, Dionysius says, so that ‘the most sacred things are not easily handled by the profane but are revealed instead to the real lovers of holiness’ (1105c). All things in God’s plan have their own purpose, especially the Bible’s use of dissimilar similarities (137d). The author explains the meaning of this paradoxical notion thus: there are two reasons for creating types for the typeless, for giving shape to what is actually without shape. First, we lack the ability to be directly raised up to conceptual contemplations. We need our own upliftings that come naturally to us and which can raise before us the permitted forms of the marvelous and unformed sights. Second, it is most fitting to the mysterious passages of scripture that the sacred and hidden truth about the celestial intelligences be concealed through the inexpressible and the sacred, and hence be inaccessible to the masses (140a).

The divine symbols have a double rationale, according to Paul Rorem: to reveal and to conceal, to accommodate revelation to the capacities of the receivers and to keep it secret from the outsiders. In using perceptible symbols, revelation is accommodated to the cognitive abilities of the faithful, who are restricted to the perceptible dimensions of space and time as the starting points for spiritual knowledge. To the initiated, the symbols serve as the very guide or way in, or up, to their interpretation. But to the uninitiated, the absurd exterior of the symbolic blocks their entrance to the inner meanings. They may find the absurd symbols laughable, which means that the perceptible exterior has accomplished its task of concealment. Thus the need for ‘scriptural imagery’ and ‘humble forms to represent the divine and holy ranks’ is not only for accommodation to the faithful but also for concealment from the profane.31

Hence, one must learn how to interpret the dissimilar similarities, that is, how to transfer attributes such as anger or desire from the lower sensible realm to the higher intelligible realm. Without this transfer, attributes such as ignorance would be completely inappropriate to heavenly beings and would be nonsense from the 30 31

Quoted in Rorem 1993 p. 25. Rorem 1993 p. 54.

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reader’s point of view. Once the adjustment has been made then ignorance can be properly understood and show something about angels. Dionysius says that in animals lack of intelligence and perception is in fact a deficiency of reason. But in regard to immaterial, intelligent beings one can say that they are ignorant, since they far surpass our discursive and bodily reason (144b). It is true of both the heavenly and the human hierarchies that God bestows the light of truth passed down the serried ranks in order to uplift them all to the imitation of God, and hence to union with God: ‘The goal of hierarchy then is to enable beings to be as like as possible to God and to be at one with him … Hierarchy causes its members to be images of God’ (165a). For every rank and member, ‘perfection consists in this, that it is uplifted to imitate God as far as possible’ (165b). This concept of hierarchy, which Dionysius invented, assumes that God’s attributes and activities are imitated by all members of the hierarchy, each in its own manner of being. The author presents this doctrine in terms of three powers: ‘Therefore, when the hierarchic order lays it on some to be purified and on others to do the purifying, on some to receive illumination and on others to cause illumination, on some to be perfected and on others to bring about perfection, each will actually imitate God in the way suitable to whatever role it has’ (165c). In contrast with the Neo-Platonic hierarchies, Sheldon-Williams says, Dionysian hierarchies are not potent in their own right but are the agents of the potency of God, who is not only the sole Efficient, but also the sole Final Cause, conditioning a return which is the same for all levels of beings, the sensible world, men, and angels. They are part of the material of the Symbolic Theology, the last and most similar of the symbols to be rejected before the soul goes out of herself and enters the Divine Dark in ecstasy.32

At this point the author introduces one of the most long-lasting schemes of mystical ascent in the Christian tradition: the three stages of purification (or purgation), illumination (or contemplation), and perfection (or union). Unlike the mystery cults and Neo-Platonic discipline, these three stages are not a matriculation in moral cleansing; rather, all three powers concern spiritual knowledge or understanding. ‘The three activities of purifying, illuminating and perfecting are primarily God’s activities’, Rorem informs us. ‘The divinity first purifies, then illuminates, then perfects … God does these things by means of the hierarchies, and they correspondingly perform their purification, illumination, and perfection in imitation of the divine, indeed as an extension of the divine activity … A hierarchy is both similar to and dissimilar to God, similar in that it shares this trio of powers, dissimilar to God in that as an effect it falls incomparably short of its cause.’33 It is the triadic structure of the hierarchies that administer the threefold movement that purifies, illumines and leads to union. In each triadic rank, the lowest order is purificatory or stands in need of purification; the middle order illumines or stands in need of illumination; the highest order leads to perfection or is led to perfection: The point of this structure seems threefold. First of all, the movement to union with God has three moments: purification is the foundation; this leads to illumination, which itself 32 33

Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP 1970 pp. 471–2. Rorem 1993 p. 58.

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culminates in union or perfection. Secondly, purification, illumination and union are operations that happen to us: we are purified, we are illuminated, we are perfected. Third, we do not achieve this movement toward God ourselves, by our own efforts; we depend on God’s gracious movement towards us. [His] understanding of hierarchy is an expression of his deep sense of God’s active search for mankind and gentle persuasion of fallen men.34

God creates the world out of his goodness and hence God’s love is essentially ecstatic, that is, the one who loves is drawn out of himself and centers his being on the object of love. ‘Love’, he says, ‘is a power that unites and binds and effects an indissoluble fusion in the beautiful and good’ (709c). The notion of divine providential love is found in Proclus, but not the idea of God’s ecstatic love. John Rist says that ‘the first person to combine the Neoplatonic idea about God as Eros with the notion of God’s ecstasy is Pseudo-Dionysius, and it would seem merely perverse to deny that Dionysius’ Christianity is the direct cause of this adaptation. Dionysius has in fact adapted Eros to the Christian demand that God love all things, and he is the first person to do so’.35 Louth sums up the change of meaning nicely: from the Greek notion of eros as needy for the other, lacking what the other has and wanting it, it changes to the notion of love as an overflow of goodness, giving what one has to the other out of abundance.36 The last chapter of the Divine Names leads the reader back to the One, the source and goal of all things, whose love overflows in creative activity; it also leads the reader to the synoptic statement of the Mystical Theology. In the Divine Names, Dionysius’ principal concern is to show the many ways in which properties ascribed to God, such as ‘good’, ‘wise’, ‘life’, and so forth, are manifest in the levels of the hierarchy of beings. The three-stage Neo-Platonic process of procession, remaining and return is applied to the cosmic triad of being, life and mind and elicits characteristic features of both intelligible beings (angels) and ensouled beings (humans). He compares the surpassing of beings by the infinity beyond beings, and the surpassing of intelligences by the oneness that is beyond intelligence with the soul’s cognitive capacities. He says that the senses can neither grasp nor perceive the things of the mind, just as idea and shape cannot take in the simple and shapeless, just as corporeal form cannot lay hold of the intangible and incorporeal. The inscrutable one is beyond the reach of every rational process, nor can any words reach that which cannot be expressed (588b). However, the divine goodness does reach down, granting enlightenment proportionate to each being, and thereby draws ‘sacred minds’ (that is, the righteous souls) upward to contemplation, participation and becoming like god (588d). The divine enlightenment the author extols is in accord with ‘initiation in the hidden tradition of our inspired teachers’. Our best efforts to understand these truths must contend with them ‘wrapped in sacred veils’ (that is, theological symbols) with which scripture and liturgy ‘cover the truths of the mind with things derived from the realm of the senses’ (592a). These theological symbols are analogies by means of which we are raised upward toward the truth of the mind’s vision – analogia leads to anagog¯e and then to 34 35 36

Louth 1989 pp. 40–41; Spearritt 1975 pp. 51–60. Rist 1966 p. 238. Louth 1989 pp. 94– 5.

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theoria. In doing so we abandon all our human-shaped ideas about the divine, and suspend our mental activity. Through this movement we approach the divine nature wherein pre-exist the goals of all knowledge; these goals can be grasped neither by intellect nor by speech nor by contemplation. It contains within itself the bounds of every natural knowledge and energy; it is beyond even the celestial minds (angels). If all knowledge is about that which is, that is, limited to the realm of the existent, then whatever transcends being must also transcend knowledge (592d). The unity beyond being surpasses not only the union of corporeal things, but also the union of souls and even minds. In a pure manner, minds possess god-like lights, but they come to achieve enlightenment through proportional participation in the divine, that is, proportionate to their kind in the divine hierarchy (641c). Everything revealed to human souls is known only by way of whatever share in those truths is granted to humans. When humans call God by the names ‘life’, ‘being’, ‘light’, and ‘word’, our minds grasp nothing other than certain activities apparent to us, activities which make-like-god, cause being, bear life and give wisdom. When we reflect on God’s hidden nature and struggle to break free of our minds’ workings, we witness no deifying, no life, no being, which bears any real likeness to the absolute transcendent cause of all things (654a–b). Dionysius seems to admit an exception to his otherwise rigorous delimitation of the stepwise ascent through the various level of not-knowing. He says that his teacher Hierotheus (who may or may not be a disguise for Proclus), in addition to what he learned through laborious study of the Scriptures, came to know things through ‘a more mysterious inspiration, not only learning but also experiencing the divine things’. His teacher had a ‘sympathy’ with such things (very much a term in Proclus’ account of theurgy), and was ‘perfected in a mysterious union with them and in a faith in them which was independent of any education’ (648b). Later, he ranks his teacher with the apostles James and Peter; ‘he was so caught up, so taken out of himself, experiencing communion with the things praised’37 (684a). The very phrase ‘caught up’ indicates the rapture or transport of ecstatic ascent initiated by God, not the mystic-seeker. Under the name ‘good’, God is like the sun, since the sun exercises no rational process, no act of choice, yet its existence gives light to all things. The good exists far above the sun, an archetype superior to its dull image, sending rays to all things with the capacity to receive them (693b). The divine rays are responsible for all intelligible and intelligent beings, for every power and activity.38 Further down the hierarchy, human souls also derive their being from the transcendent good. Souls have intelligence, immortality and existence; as such they can strive toward angelic life. With angels as their leaders, souls can be uplifted to the source of all good things, each according to his measure (696c). God as good is the light of the mind because it illumines the mind of every super-celestial being, and because it drives ignorance and error from human souls. It clears away the fog of ignorance from the 37 The editor identifies ‘communion experience’ with the Eucharistic ceremony and hence suggests that this statement indicates a liturgical setting, Complete Works 1987 p. 70 note 131. 38 The idea of divine ‘rays’ is vigorously taken up in the Middle Ages by Roger Bacon and Grosseteste.

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mind’s eye and stirs and unwraps those covered over by the burden of darkness. God as good deals out light in ever-increasing amounts as the soul’s longing for enlightenment increases: ‘It gathers together and supremely anticipates in itself the authority of all illuminative power, being indeed the source of light’ (701a). The movement of divine intelligent beings traces three paths: first, they move in a circle while they are one with the illuminations which emerge from the good. Second, they move in a straight line when they come to offer guidance to all those below them. And finally, they move in a spiral insofar as they continue to remain as they are while turning around the good. The human soul has its own type of movement as well: first, in a circle when it turns within itself and away from what is outside, and thus there occurs an inner concentration of its intellectual powers. Its fixed revolution causes it to return from the multiplicity of external things to gather in upon itself and then to join those who are in a more powerful union with higher things. The centrifugal movement coupled with the centripetal movement brings the soul to the good and beautiful, which itself is beyond all things. But when the soul receives knowledge by way of discursive reasoning, in mixed and changeable activities, it moves in a spiral fashion. When the soul proceeds to the things around it and is uplifted from them to a simple and united vision it moves in a straight line (705a–b). Letters, symbols and words are used in coming to understand divine things because at that stage the soul makes use of sensory images. When our souls are moved by intelligent energies in the direction of intellectual things, then the senses are no longer needed. The intelligent powers in turn are abandoned when the soul becomes divinized; these powers ‘concentrate sightlessly and through an unknowing union on the rays of unapproachable light’39 (708d). Although angels are entirely mind, they are not the only beings with mind: the human mind, in its capacity to think, looks upon conceptual things, and in its unity it is joined to things beyond itself (865c). Through their possession of reason human souls circle in discourse around the truth of things. But their cognitive activities are fragmented and varied since their ‘objects’ are not multiple instances of unified things; angels’ cognitive activities are more unified because their ‘objects’ are unities. However, through the use of reason human minds are able to concentrate the many into one, and hence in their own fashion they are worthy of ideas like those of the angels (868b–c). Human sense perception, Dionysius suggests, can be described as ‘echoes of wisdom’; earlier he had said that from God as Life, every living thing has life ‘down to the last echo’ (856b). This is a curious choice of words, quite distinct from the ‘light’ imagery; an echo endures even when the sound-source is no longer present; an echo might proceed from the word of God, or God as ‘word’. In addition, an echo might be thought of as a response to a ‘call’ or ‘summons’: when he speaks of humans’ composite nature, he says that God as Life has granted to humans whatever angelic life they are able to absorb: ‘Overflowing with love for human kind, it returns to us and calls us back to itself after we have strayed and …

39 This passage appears to support the interpretation that the three types of soul-movement are analogous to three forms of theology: symbolical, mystical and discursive, Complete Works 1987 p. 78 note 146; my thanks to Father Placid Spearritt for his guidance in coming to understand these difficult ideas.

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has promised us that it will transform what we are … and will bring us to perfect life and immortality’40 (856d). Dionysius’ views about the human soul and its place in the hierarchical scheme are inextricably intertwined with his negative theology, as the references to the human soul’s reaching through ignorance and darkness indicate. Jan Vanneste has shown the crucial importance of three terms for understanding Dionysius’ apophatic approach – aphairesis, agn¯osia and hen¯osis.41 The first two terms pertain to apophatic theology in the proper sense, whereas the third term belongs to mystical theology as its goal, that is, what lies beyond both affirmation and negation. The first term aphairesis is best defined as ‘clearing aside’ or ‘negative abstraction’, that is, the conceptual analogue to the employment of dissimilar symbols found through consciously stripping away all definite predicates from God, since none of them does justice to his transcendent perfection. This ‘stripping away’ leads to the second term agn¯osia, ‘unknowing’, but this is not something that has a definite content. Rather, it is more like a state of mind (or an attunement), it is the subjective correlate of the objective state of affairs in which God cannot be known. It can only be spoken about through paradoxical assertions of contraries; unknowing is the only true knowledge one can have of God. As Dionysius himself says, ‘and this quite positively complete unknowing is knowledge of him who is above everything that is known’ (Letter I). Bernard McGinn succinctly states the relation between darkness and unknowing: From the world of symbolic discourse Dionysius takes the language of darkness (skotos, gnophos), cloud (nephel¯e), and silence (sig¯e) drawn from the account of Moses’ ascent to meet God on Sinai (Ex 19:16-20) to provide metaphorical descriptions of attaining the hidden God. Moses is the model of one who, breaking free of all seeing, ‘plunges into the truly mystical darkness of unknowing’ … We should note that the mysticism of darkness is not found among pagan Neoplatonists. Indeed, we may even surmise that this distinctively Biblical apophaticism serves as critique of late antique pagan theology with its heavy use of light imagery. Although the Areopagite did not invent the theme of divine darkness, and although he uses it in a primarily objective sense to signify God’s utter unknowability, the fact that this unknowability indicates that we attain him only through unknowing (agn¯osia) means that later, more subjective uses of the Dionysian language … are not necessarily illegitimate.42

Mystical union with God should not be construed as something separate from the liturgical context within which Dionysius insists that the believer achieves his goal. He says that ‘every sacredly initiating operation draws our fragmented lives together in a one-like divinization. It forges a divine unity out of the divisions among us. It grants us communion and union with the one’ (EH 3.1). When he applies this sort of language to Moses’ encounter with Jehovah, Dionysius speaks of being ‘supremely united by a completely unknowable inactivity of all knowledge’ (MT 40 Dionysius discusses various views of post-mortem existence in EH Chapter VII, 553c–d, 565b. 41 Jan Vanneste, Le mystère de Dieu. Brussels: Desclée de Brouwer, 1959 pp. 218–24. 42 McGinn 1991 p. 175, following the suggestion of H.-C. Puech, ‘La ténèbre mystique chez le Pseudo-Denys l’Areopagite’, En quete de la Gnose, Paris: Gallimard, 1978 p. 140.

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1.3). Although he does not offer any details on the character of this mystical union he does hold that union should be thought of in terms of theosis: ‘this consists of being as much as possible like and in union with God’ (EH 1.3). Hence, divinization is the gift that God bestows on beings endowed with reason and intelligence through their participation in the hierarchies: ‘we see our human hierarchy … pluralized in a great variety of perceptible symbols lifting us upward in a hierarchical way until we are brought as far as can be into the unity of divinization’ (EH 1.2).43 Dionysius’ vocabulary is quite unusual when he describes God as ‘the thearchy of those being divinized’ (DN 1.3), but his doctrine agrees with his Christian predecessors on a crucial issue separating Christian mystical theory from its pagan contemporaries: whether the soul is naturally divine. Even in Origen and Evagrius … there is a crucial, if not always well-articulated, distinction between real divinity and loaned divinization. Dionysius … has no place for a prior creation. Thus, his view of the relation of thearchy and the soul as a part of hierarchy is both greater and less than the predialectical Christian mystics; the soul is divine only as a manifestation and is unified and divinized only by God’s uplifting eros. Divinization is a gift, not a birthright.44

The most significant achievement of this mysterious author is that for the first time Christian theology became explicitly mystical; he created the vocabulary that enabled later Christian mystics to describe their experience of God’s presence. Despite the overwhelming influence of Dionysian ideas on writers such as Eriugena, Meister Eckhart, The Cloud of Unknowing and many others, there has never been anything like Dionysian theology. McGinn says that this is because from the start his writings were treated much like the Bible itself – as a divine message filled with inner life and mysterious meaning which could never be exhausted, but which needed to be reread in each generation and reinterpreted in the light of new issues. He himself, however, would probably have not been unhappy with this hermeneutical flexibility, since no one knew better the limits of words in the face of the true mystery: ‘what is to be said of it remains unsayable; what is to be understood of it remains unknowable’.45

In the mid-sixth century, Maximus the Confessor was one of the most important figures to establish the sub-apostolic legitimacy of the Areopagite’s works. According to Maximus,46 the Holy Church is also an image and figure of the soul considered in itself. The soul in general consists of an intellectual and a vital faculty, the former moved freely by the will, the latter without choice according to its nature. The contemplative power belongs to the intellect and is called the mind, the active power belongs to the vital faculty and is called the reason; where the mind moves the former, reason moves the latter. The mind is properly called wisdom when it directs its movements toward God, the reason is called prudence when it unites to McGinn 1991 p. 178. And again McGinn 1991 p. 178. 45 McGinn 1991 p. 182. 46 This section continues the discussion in the first section of the chapter on Byzantine ideas; in general, see I. H. Dalmais in DSA vol. 10 cols. 836–42. 43 44

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the mind the activities of the vital faculty; in doing so ‘it shows that it [reason] is not different from it [mind] but bears the same divine image by virtue as does the mind’. This reminds one of the distinctive way in which both Zurvanite and Hermetic doctrine separate the powers of mind and reason, assigning them different properties in the divine scheme, something not characteristic of late Greek thought which denominates reason as the proper power of soul. ‘This image’, he continues, is naturally shared by both mind and reason as the soul was previously proven to consist of mind and reason, because it is intellectual and rational, and the vital faculty is equally evident in both mind and reason … and thus shared by both. By means of it [the divine image?] the mind … increasing in the habit of contemplation in the ineffable silence and knowledge, is led to the truth by enduring and incomprehensible knowledge. [SW pp. 188–89]

The editor here notes that this paradoxical expression signifies that mystical gnosis is beyond the conceptual realm: ‘For its part, the reason … ends up at the good by means of faith in the active engagement of its body in virtue. In both these things consist the true science of divine and human natures, the truly secure knowledge and term of all divine wisdom according to Christians.’ Maximus apportions the most characteristic properties of mind and reason as follows: ‘to the soul belongs, through its intellectual aspect (mind), wisdom, contemplation, knowledge, and enduring knowledge, all directed at the truth; through its rational reason belongs reasoning, prudence, action, virtue, and faith, all directed toward the good’. In conclusion he asserts that these five pairs are understood in the single pair (truth and goodness) that signifies God; when the soul is moved by them to make progress it becomes united to God by imitating what is immutable and beneficent in his essence and activity. The five pairs are like ten strings on the spiritual lyre of the soul when reason resounds in harmony with the spirit (SW pp. 190–91). Each of these five pairs is also a step on the path toward union with the divine and the achieved science of divine things is manifest in the Holy Church: ‘Whoever has been fortunate enough to have been spiritually and wisely initiated into what is accomplished in church has rendered his soul divine and a veritable church of God.’ Maximus also employs the standard Greek analogy that the whole world is a human in large scale and a human body-soul composite is a world in small scale. The soul displays the place of intelligible things, and the body displays the place of sensible things. Intelligible things are the soul of sensible things, and sensible things are the body of intelligible things. The soul is in the body as the intelligible realm is in the sensible realm, the sensible is sustained by the intelligible as the body is sustained by the soul. At the second coming of Christ, humans will have attained the condition of non-corruption; the body will become like the soul, sensible things like intelligible things in their dignity and glory, ‘for the unique divine power will manifest itself in all things in a vivid and active presence proper to each one, and will by itself preserve unbroken for endless ages the bond of unity’ (SW pp. 195–97). The radical model of divine hierarchies, the soul’s centrifugal motion, and the darkness of God in unknowing reaches its greatest expression three centuries later in the work of John Scotus Eriugena (c.810–70). Eriugena developed an

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extraordinary speculative system which made constructive use of the Church Fathers, Christian Neo-Platonism, and the negative theology of Pseudo-Dionysius, extended into what one could call negative anthropology. Dermot Moran says that Eriugena’s astonishing philosophical work is ‘a daring and innovative synthesis of Latin logical procedure with the mystical outlook of the Greek Christian Platonists’.47 Eriugena played a significant role in the ninth-century renaissance of Charles the Bald, grandson of Charles the Great; Charles the Bald was ‘a young and shrewd monarch who was an enthusiastic promoter of learning in his kingdom, under whose direction the Carolingian renaissance reached its zenith’. Eriugena often attended Charles’ court where he mingled with influential writers, musicians and teachers. Along with his contemporary Gottschalk, he was the first to use Boethius’ Sacred Works to develop theological argument based on grammatical analyses, made important advances in the pedagogy of the liberal arts, promoted musical theory and argued for a model of planetary motion which might have anticipated that of Tycho Brahe 700 years later. Amongst his many specific tracts and translations, by far his most ambitious and complex work is the Periphyseon; it is the central panel of a triptych, one wing of which is his commentary on Dionysius’ Celestial Hierarchy, the other wing his Homily and Commentary on John’s Gospel. The most important of Eriugena’s contributions to western philosophy was his introduction to the Latin West of late Greek Platonism and Dionysius the Areopagite. In doing so he made adroit use of the works of Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor, two original thinkers in their own right, whose distinctive arguments might not have been recovered in such full form without Eriugena’s efforts. Moran says that Maximus’ account of human nature was used by Eriugena as ‘a basis for a new articulation of the place of human nature in the cosmos, in a manner which celebrated the centrality of human being in the revelation of all being, and expressed a view of the absoluteness of human freedom and intellectual insight, so as to make man the equal of God himself’. Moran claims that, with respect to the degree of glory accorded to human in his own being, Eriugena’s views are close to those of Pico della Mirandola and Marsilio Ficino in the fifteenth century.48 Through his Latin translation of these Greek Patristic texts, Eriugena ‘became fortuitously acquainted with three of the most characteristic and important documents of Greek Christian Platonism; the effect of their influence upon him was to bring him as wholly into the Greek tradition as if he had been a Byzantine writing in Greek, and to make of him the agent through whom the western world came into this valuable inheritance’.49 Eriugena appreciated Augustine’s insistence on the place of the ‘inner human’ in an adequate account of human being’s relation to God, but wanted to go even further. Eriugena conceived of the inner human as a world unto itself and the mind exercised god-like creative power within it. Moran advances a complex argument to demonstrate that Eriugena conceived of the mind as the creative agent of an ideal world. For this ninth-century innovator 47 48 49

Moran 1989 pp. x–xi. Moran 1989 pp. xi–xii; see McGinn 1994 pp. 105–7. Sheldon-Williams in CHLGEMP 1970 p. 250.

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everything is a product of mind – material reality, spatio-temporal existence, the body itself … Matter is a commingling of incorporeal qualities which the mind mistakenly takes to be corporeal; spatio-temporal reality is a consequence of the seduction of the mind by the senses, which is the true Fall of Adam; the body itself is an externalization of the secret desires of the mind. But more than that, the true being of all things is their being in the mind. Eriugena takes this to be a consequence of the scriptural revelation that the human mind is an image of the divine mind, and that the divine mind contains in itself the ideal exemplars of all things.50

The Periphyseon itself is ‘a single massive experiment in expressing the inexpressible, that is, in using language as a form of self-consuming artefact, whose limitations are more important than its advantages in the task of attaining’.51 The standard distinction between substance dualism and monism about the human soul and body is inappropriate when discussing Eriugena’s view about the composition of human being. He does devote much attention to describing two states of humans, before and after the fall, but these two are not distinct entities or types, rather they comprise two points of view on human being. Perfect human nature, as described in the Genesis story about paradise, is nothing but possibility; it lies in the future as something humans can realize. Fallen human nature, as it is understood in its earthly condition, is nothing more than an illusion. These two points of view are states of mind and result from multiple theories or perspectives on the one ideal world. In fact, as Moran argues, one cannot even speak of an ideal reality, since the unique character of Eriugena’s system resides in his concept of an ideal non-reality or nothingness, which is the ground of all being. In his later Homilies he declares that there are three worlds: the material, the spiritual, and the conjoint material-spiritual world. Insofar as he represents the median between matter and spirit, human belongs to the conjoint world: In gathering all things together, human nature participates in the unfolding and enfolding of the cosmos. Its wholeness, universality, and integrity are absolutely real in the timeless, cosmic sense, but from the point of view of time, this human nature appears as dispersed, scattered, and purely immanent in the material world. Eriugena sets out to show that this temporal view is not a full understanding of the essence of human nature.52

When he discusses perfect human nature he says that ‘the limits of human nature are the limits of paradise’ (IV.825c). If humans had not left paradise they would have had the same kind of being as Christ himself. But more than that, he says that, in the literal sense, humans have never been in a place called paradise, rather it is a name for a future state – it is a human possibility. Paradise is a state actually enjoyed by Christ and a state desired by humans as the perfection of their nature. In claiming that perfect human nature has no place because it lies ahead, he argues that human nature consists of god-like fullness: it is immaterial, eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and transcendent to all created being, while remaining immanent in all being. He 50 51 52

Moran 1989 p. xiii; see McGinn 1994 pp. 107–10. McGinn 1994 p. 98. Moran 1989 p. 154.

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also holds to an extension of the Dionysian thesis about hyper-real properties; that is, that in its future possibility, human nature moves to a state beyond being and nonbeing. One of his initial premises is that human nature is contained neither by space nor by time, nor by any other categories that would limit human existence. Just as God transcends all categorical predicates, so also does human being: ‘thus, just as divine essence is infinite, so human substituent (subsitutio) made in its image is bounded by no definite limit’ (IV.772a). Eriugena’s neologism poses some problems of interpretation: some scholars take this strange word to be an error for substantia; Sheldon-Williams accepts the word subsitutio and translates it as ‘replica’. Eriugena had used the word on other occasions as the Latin term for the Greek hyparchis, which Jeauneau claims, means ‘the act by which God leads creatures into being’. And Moran offers the view that the author wanted a more active term than substantia (‘standing-under’) and devised a word that would mean ‘placing-under’. By doing so he tries to convey the metaphysical idea of a being which is given to things, that is, created being, and hence to indicate a being whose nature is created after (later than) and according to God.53 Human being is divine in an entirely new sense for Eriugena: God is himself in his essence, and human is God by participation in that essence. His formulation is quite radical, as Moran explains: not only is human a paradigm of God, but God is made into a paradigm of human. Human and God are mutually self-defining … Thus Eriugena states that just as God is incorporeal and spiritual, so also human nature is incorporeal and spiritual. Like God, human nature is an incorporeal essence (ousia), which can be identified with pure intellect (nous); and the human body is interpreted by Eriugena to be, in its essence, an incorporeal spirit. As such the human self is essentially neither male nor female but is, in fact, sexless. Eriugena sees this as the true meaning of Saint Paul’s teaching that in Christ ‘there is neither male nor female’ (Gal. 3:28).54

This amounts to an inversion of a common Gnostic image whereby primal human was thought to be both male and female. Eriugena then sets out to demonstrate that human being is omnipotent, omniscient and absolutely free. He says that ‘if human nature had not sinned and had clung without change to him who created it, it would certainly be omnipotent. Whatever in the universe it wished would necessarily be done, since it would not wish anything to be done except what its creator wished’ (IV.778b). The same idea is presented when the author ascribes omniscience to human: ‘there was then [in paradise] in human nature the potency of possessing the fullest knowledge of itself if it had not sinned … The fullest knowledge both of herself and her creator was planted in her as part of her nature before the fall’ (IV.777c). Since self-knowledge comprises understanding of the reasons and principles of all things, and since such seminal reasons are the explanation for the way things are, human knowledge extends to an understanding of all that there is. He also says that human being is omnipresent: he is present as whole in the whole of his being and whole in every part (IV.752a), and he is whole through all the parts of nature. Human being is also 53 54

Moran 1989 p. 161 note 16. Moran 1989 p. 162

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absolutely free in that he has no limits: ‘for if God is the plenitude of good things and human is an image of God, the image must resemble the primal exemplar in this respect also, that it is the plenitude of good … It is free from all necessity and is subject to no natural or material authority but possesses in itself a will that is capable of obtaining its desires’ (IV.796a). On this view, since human desires are naturally good, human being can be given the power to achieve everything he desires. ‘Eriugena’s claims are most radical’, Moran declares, ‘human nature is free of all necessity. It is not even limited by nature itself … This is the meaning of the anarchic nature of man. Just as God and the causes are without origin and obey no fixed law or order, so also human nature, when it contemplates God and the causes, need obey no fixed order or progression.’55 The causes and true principles of all things are ordered by the human mind which can contemplate them according to multiple perspectives (multiplex theoria). He says that ‘a devout and pure-minded philosopher may start from any one of them at will and let his mind’s eye, which is true reason, embrace the others in any order’ (III.624c). Moran says that ‘man can enjoy a free play of infinite contemplation, which in fact produces human selftranscendence in the¯osis. Its nature then is a kind of non-nature, a formlessness which transcends all form … Man is boundless, anarchic, self-transcending contemplation or subjectivity.’56 Eriugena maintains that perfect human nature resembles the divine in that it can be said to be uncreated. He came to this position as the result of applying negative theology to human nature. Human is better described as non-being rather than being; as such, human nature is part of the divine nothingness, which Meister Eckhart would later call the ‘desert’ or ‘wasteland’. God creates things by manifesting himself from nothing, and so humans can also be said to create by manifesting themselves. The human mind does so when its thoughts become manifest in words and signs, and also when it moves from intellect through reason to create an image of itself – the body is an image of the rational soul (II.585d). To be accurate, Eriugena also says that there is an uncreated part of the human soul, that is, it is possible to view the human soul under the aspect of its uncreated eternity in God:57 ‘Eriugena views the human mind as able to float freely through all of these divisions and to be placed in the category of that which is neither created nor creates, as well as in the category of that which is uncreated and creates.’58 Insofar as human nature shares in the divine nature, and divine nature comprises all things, so human nature itself takes part in all things. Eriugena found this idea in Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus Confessor, for whom human is the officina omnium, the workshop of all things. Eriugena says, ‘for there is no creature, from the highest to the lowest, which is not found in human, and that is why he is rightly called the Moran 1989 p. 164. Moran 1989 pp. 165–6, where he cites Karl Rahner, Theological Investigations, London: Burns and Oates, 1966 vol. 5 pp. 157–92. 57 Both the claim that the body is the idea the mind has of itself and the view that the mind (or soul) can be conceived under the aspect of an infinite divine attribute are, of course, views expressed by Spinoza; see HCM pp. 295–8. 58 Moran 1989 pp. 168; Meister Eckhart calls the uncreated essence in human the interior castle, the spark of the soul, and Nicholas of Cusa also said that human nature is self-created and creates its own world. 55 56

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workshop of all things’ (II.530d). Even though he fully subscribed to the view that human as image of the divine contains the reasons (or principles) of all things he never referred to human as microcosm, ‘little world’. In this he also follows Gregory of Nyssa who thought that the epithet ‘microcosm’ expressed human nature in inferior, diminished terms: ‘The concept of microcosm yields a horrendous monster, a human who is an unregulated mixture of all things.’ It also suggests that human is made of the four elements whose corporeal composition it shares with all material things.59 The second story that can be told about human nature follows the second Genesis account; it concerns fallen human nature. Perfect human nature is pure mind or spirit: Eriugena uses various terms to describe this sublime condition: mens, spiritus, animus and nous (IV.753c). Imperfect human nature is the consequence of the fall from paradise; this occurs through human free will, when it is distracted from spiritual goods to carnal goods, and from an excess of self-love (philautia) and pride. Hence, ‘the fall is a symbol of the descent of intellect into reason and sense, the descent of the soul into the body, the shift from a timeless world to a world governed by space and time and corporeality’. When human being resided with God it was a formless non-being, but when it appears in the world it becomes clothed in the ‘garments of skin’ (Gen. 3:21), the sensible and sensuous body. Further, in this world there is no instant unity of thought with its object; rather, thinking takes place through the medium of reason, calculation and deliberation. Here one finds another peculiar Neo-Platonic and Gnostic theme, that reason is relegated to a lesser status in the operations of sensible cognition, below the higher functions of mind.60 One of Eriugena’s most unusual and radical arguments concerns the status of body in relation to fallen human nature. Pure intellects in their timeless state possess spiritual bodies, whereas fallen humans possess bodies that appeared real and extended but which are in fact illusions generated by our sense faculties. When the perfect human mind descended to its earthly state it externalized itself in bodily form in order to accommodate the fact that perception and cognition could only take place over time. Insofar as the human body is an illusion produced by the mind it creates an image of an image, ‘But Eriugena can also speak of the human mind creating its external physical body in the sense that this body is its own selfmanifestation … and he defines creation in terms of self-manifestation. The mind expresses itself through the motions of the body, and thus the body is something the mind makes.’61 Eriugena describes this process by relating it to the divine creative activity of God: We do not doubt but that the trinity of our nature, which is not the image of God but is made in the image of God … is not only created out of nothing but also creates the senses which are subjoined to it, and the instruments of the senses, and whole of its body, this mortal body. For [the created trinity] is made from God in the image of God out of Moran 1989 p. 173. J. Pepin says, ‘Although it is difficult to find three English nouns to translate mens, animus, intellectus, their common distinction from ratio proves sufficiently that we are dealing here with the difference between intellectual intuition and discursive reason’, Pepin in McGinn & Otten 1994 p. 198 note 3. 61 Moran 1989 p. 176; this agrees with McGinn’s view 1994 pp. 106–7. 59 60

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nothing, but the body it creates [itself], though not out of nothing, but out of something. For, by the action of the soul … it creates for itself a body in which it may openly display its hidden actions (which) in themselves (are) invisible, and bring them forth into sensible knowledge. [II.580]

The soul creates the body by collecting immaterial qualities and adhering them to quantities, which act as a kind of substrate for the qualities (II.580b). Moran says that ‘this is a remarkable doctrine, developed from the account given by Gregory of Nyssa of the soul’s creation of the body, and unlike anything found in Latin authors. Eriugena blends Gregory’s account with the account of matter he found in Dionysius’ Divine Names IV.28.’ Eriugena invokes Dionysius’ theory that the categories are in fact incorporeal, and blends this with his view that the four elements (earth, air, fire and water) are also incorporeal and are really a combination of elemental qualities (hot, cold, dry and moist) which are also incorporeal and invisible. The human mind produces the sensible impressions of matter in bodily forms by mingling together the incorporeal qualities into which the four elements resolve.62 That humans have a material body is an illusion, but the fact that they will have a spiritual body when they return to their perfect nature is not an illusion, but reality. Human nature is a unified whole: ‘the human soul is simple and free from all linking of parts … All of it is everywhere present in it through the whole. As whole, it is life, intellect, reason, sense, and memory; as whole, it endows the body with life, nourishes it, holds it together, and causes it to grow; as whole, with all the senses it perceives the appearances of sensible things’ (IV.754b). In a surprising extension of this line of thought, he also claims that this wholeness includes the body. In his original condition, human had a spiritual body that was totally united with his soul, such that a whole person was simple and whole. ‘Human nature’, Eriugena declares, is whole in itself in its world, in its universe, in its visible and invisible parts, whole in its whole, and whole in its parts … Even in its lowest and meanest part, the body, according to its reasons, is whole in the whole human, since body insofar as it truly is body, subsists in its reasons, which were made at the first creation; and although human nature is such in itself, it exceeds its whole. It could not cling to its creator without exceeding both everything under it and itself. [IV.759b]

Eriugena offers the hopeful promise that fallen human nature will be reunited with perfect human nature on the return (reditus). Gersh says that the return of all things to God can be described as both a cancellation and a development of the procession out of the hidden ground. Gersh also distinguishes between two forms of horizontal approach, mainly dependent on Maximus Confessor, with a quasi-temporal character, and two kinds of vertical approach that are more quasi-spatial63 (though it is not feasible to go into their details here). The resolution of human nature into its most whole state takes place through several stages. (1) The body is resolved into the four elements of which it is composed upon earthly death. (2) The body is Moran 1989 p. 177. Gersh in Beierwaltes 1990 pp. 108–25; Otten 1991 pp. 399–421; McGinn 1994 pp. 112–18. 62 63

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restored at the general resurrection with its original elementary constitution. (3) The body is changed into a spiritual state in imitation of the model of the risen body of Christ. (4) The entire human nature returns to the primordial causes. And (5) ‘The universal creature will be unified with its creator and will be in him and with him as one’ (II.530–543). But at the end of Book Five he introduces a more complex version of the return according to three levels on a vertical path: the return of bodies to their causes, the general return of whole human nature into its original condition, and the special return of the elect persons by means of grace into oneness with God (V.1020a). Those who achieve the special return traverse a seven-step path: The first will be the transformation of the earthly body into vital motion; the second of vital motion into sensation; the third of sensation into reason; then of reason into mind (animus) … then this fivefold unification of the parts of our nature … in each case the lower nature becoming absorbed into the higher not so as to lose its existence but to become with that higher nature one, will be followed by three more stages of ascent: first, the transformation of the mind into knowledge of all things which come after God; second, of that knowledge into wisdom, i.e. into the innermost contemplation of the truth, insofar as that is possible to a creature; and third, the highest grade is the supernatural sunset of the most purified souls into God. [V.1020]

In his conclusion McGinn says that these variations on the theme of the soul’s return ‘are typical of the winding sinuousities of Eriugena’s voyage on the ocean of scripture. [But] the basic message remains clear: death, first Christ’s death and then our own, begins the process of restoration that will proceed throughout the course of salvation history by means of a spiritualizing unification which will, never the less, preserve all that was good in material diversity.’64 Moran teases out some of the extraordinary ideas in this argument: there are as many states of mind as there are human beings; each person will ascend on clouds of theories, and will attain the level of intellection that befits his moral stature. Each person will occupy a rung on the endless ladder of intellectual contemplation and will become one with the things they contemplate. Each person will have his or her own vision (phantasia), but the visions of the damned will be cruel and terrifying nightmares, while the visions of the blessed will be theophanies or divine revelations. Eriugena says that true hell is not a place of bodily torment but a state of mind, where the damned have phantasies of the things they most desire before their eyes, but know that they are empty and nothing. Human nature is equal with angelic nature in that both are the site of being itself, that is, being as unhidden and manifest. Eriugena ultimately resolves angelic and human nature into one nature: since it was as a human being that Christ appeared to both angels and humans, God has clearly given human nature an ontological privilege.65 Pseudo-Dionysius’ radical ideas about human nature and the unknowable reality of God reappear four centuries after Eriugena in the works of Robert Grosseteste.66 Grosseteste (1168–1253) came to the study of Greek rather late in his life (around McGinn 1994 p. 113 Moran 1989 pp. 182–4. 66 Grosseteste’s near contemporaries, William of Auvergne and Roger Bacon, will be dealt with in the later chapter on the development of the magical view of the soul. 64 65

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1230) and worked on his commentaries on the Corpus Areopagiticus between 1239 and 1243. He soon discovered a significant tension between the Neo-Platonism of Augustine (his own preference) and the more radical Neo-Platonism (via Proclus) behind Pseudo-Dionysius. According to a fairly standard view of Eastern Orthodox writers, usually and correctly attributed to Dionysius, human being cannot, under any circumstances, see God face to face. In contrast, according to the Western Latin tradition from Augustine onwards, human can attain to a direct knowledge of God, and this is often said to be an intellectual vision. Grosseteste decided that an entirely new edition of Dionysius’ works was needed and he produced a meticulous word-forword translation which is still considered an excellent example of literal transposition into another language. His Latin rendition of central mystical terms provides very good insights into his adroit efforts to resolve the difficulty between these two eminent authorities. Grosseteste exerted great influence on many fronts: he was one of the first chancellors of Oxford University, a famous teacher of the newly discovered works of Aristotle, translator and commentator of Greek texts into Latin, friend of the mendicant orders, and instigator of the English scientific revolution.67 Grosseteste often refers to mystical theology as a secret speech with God; here he makes the most of the fact that Dionysius does not himself offer anything like a definition of ‘mystical theology’. When Grosseteste gives an etymology of the Greek mustos (Latin misticum), he says that it is closed (claudo or constringo) to the quasi-universality of humans living in their present earthly condition. It is hidden (obscuro) from those not actually in the cloud of unknowing; it is learning hiddenly (disco occulta) and it is teaching hiddenly (doceo occulta). Carabine remarks that ‘In brief, mystical theology is for Grosseteste secret speech with God, which is the teaching of hidden things on the part of God and the learning of hidden things on the part of man. Nowhere in Dionysius is this idea to be found, for in the mystical ascent of the soul to God all categories relating to subject and object – including the faculties of speech and sight – have been abandoned, in the unknowing union with God.’68 Grosseteste also asserts that this secret speech with God does not take place through a mirror, that is, by any sort of mediation, through the images of creatures. He was able to find in Augustine’s works a clear statement to the effect that if the beatific nature of God cannot be known by angels still less can it be known by humans (Civ. Dei XX.29). He also teased out a peculiar statement by Dionysius, which appears to contradict his own view in other works, that the mystical summit of God is manifested without a veil (MT I.3). Carabine says that the crucial point to understand in his ingenious reconciliation of two opposed positions hinges on his interpretation of whether humans can be admitted to the direct vision of God in this life: The teaching which became generally accepted in the West was that man cannot see the essence of God while living as a man … However, the very framing in words of the 67 See A. C. Crombie, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science, Oxford 1953; D. A. Callus (ed.) Robert Grosseteste, Scholar and Bishop, Oxford 1955; and Sharp 1930 pp. 101–24. 68 Carabine in McEvoy 1995 p. 173.

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general Western ‘solution’ to the problem of the vision of God did leave the way open for the notion of a direct vision of God attained through the mystical experience. This is precisely the position that Grosseteste adopts in his commentary … His one concession to the original teaching of Dionysius is the assertion that even though the light of God is perceptible by pure intelligence, this does not mean that human intelligence is capable of penetrating ipsam totalitatem quidditatis divine essentie, hoc enim est impossibile … For Grosseteste, mystical theology involves not only speech but also intellectual sight, for there, at the mystical summit, man ‘sees’ God without a veil, as he is and no longer through a mirror.69

Grosseteste goes on to state that the human mind transcends both itself and all things, and rests from the acts of all the powers that apprehend created things (mens transcendit omnes creaturas et se ipsam, et otiatur ab actibus omnium virium apprehensivarum cuiuscumque creati). For Dionysius, the practical aspect of the ascent to the mystical summits meant leaving behind both sensible perceptions and intellectual efforts, along with all the objects of those powers, since only by an absolute katharsis (that is, ecstasy) can one attain to the summit. The Biblical prototype for this mystical ascent was Moses’ climbing Mt. Sinai and his encounter with Jehovah. In the Mystical Theology three distinct stages can be traced in the ascent, the first of which occurs when Moses is purified of all sensible things. The second is concerned with the entry into intellectual things and their subsequent total abandonment. These include all divine things and anything which can be said or thought about God, anything, therefore, which can be regarded as being at the level of theophany. Dionysius says that divine things are contemplated through ‘a suggestive expression’ which shows forth God’s inconceivable presence.

In contrast with this view Grosseteste thinks that this stage of the ascent represents the level of anagogy: ad summitatem anagogicorum intellectuum; he agrees with Dionysius that at this level God is not yet seen without symbols, but through theophany: in vestigiis ipsius – this is the most divine vision and highest intellection. In Carabine’s admirable summary: The notion that the mind must transcend all things and even itself was not a problem for Grosseteste, in fact the ekstasis involved in the ascent had become an integral condition for receiving the vision of God. Where [he] differs from the Areopagite is in his understanding of what exactly it is that must be unknown, and this consists primarily, if not indeed totally in the unknowing of created being, a necessary condition for entry into the darkness.

The question that must be asked is whether he would extend this state of unknowing beyond the very essence (ousia) of God. Carabine suggests that there is one passage in his commentary where Grosseteste might be said to answer just this question. In discussing the mind’s rest from all cognitive acts of apprehension, he completes the train of thought with the words: ‘and moreover in ignorance of all divine things’. It seems clear that this ignorance (not-knowing) through the entry into a true mystical 69

Carabine in McEvoy 1995 pp. 175–6.

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state surpasses the anagogical uplifting, and still does not know God’s being. Carabine concludes this portion of her analysis by stating that Grosseteste did not understand fully the radical nature of Dionysian negation: it would have been unthinkable for Grosseteste to extend the meaning of agn¯osia to the ousia of God. In Augustinian terms, the whole focus of man’s life is directed towards knowledge of God, and Grosseteste’s theological training would have made anything less than that appear as a privation of knowledge and a denial of man’s ultimate purpose on earth.70

Dionysius refers to the ‘place’ where the true unknowable nature of God is encountered by the mind in its ascent as a cloud or darkness; Grosseteste interprets the Dionysian darkness in various ways. He takes it to mean the place where God is; God as the darkness that is brighter than light; the ignorance or unknowing of all things; and a preparation for the reception of divine light. He says that darkness can signify either the inaccessibility of the divine nature or the unknowing of all things, or both. In terms of darkness as a preparation, [he] may well have failed to grasp fully the truth that, for Dionysius, the moment of entry into the darkness is, at its highest level of understanding, an entry into the hiding place of God. [His] emphasis on darkness as a preparation recalls the rather Victorine dictum, that to know God one must unknow creatures.71

When Grosseteste defines intellectus as the spiritual eye (spiritualis oculus), this alone determines his basic idea of the mystical ascent as receiving the vision of God: According to Dionysius, all intellectual efforts whatsoever must be relinquished if the soul is to attain to unity with God … even the faculty of spiritual sight is inoperative at the height of the mystical summit. When Dionysius refers to the ‘eyeless minds’ who have ascended the summit, he uses ‘eyeless’ in order to emphasize the fact that the union is not attained so long as any duality remains. Grosseteste, however, interprets inoculatos in more Augustinian fashion, for he says that the intellects do not have eyes, simply because they have rested from every act of knowledge or vision of creatures; it is not because they lack the power to see spiritually.72

Carabine continues: Having established that man can attain to the vision of God through the operation of his spiritual eyes, Grosseteste explains how this takes place: how the activity of the celestial sphere is transferred to the realm of the mystical ascent. In the ascent beyond all ascents, that is, the ascent beyond the level of anagogy, the mind enters the vere misticam caliginem, where the ‘inner man’ sees the divine ray in truth. This ‘seeing’ is achieved through the operation of the intellect, which is stretched out as far as possible to its utmost limits, acting according to its highest possibility. The mind then ascends above the highest acts of the powers of knowledge, quantum possibile est intense.

70 71 72

Carabine in McEvoy 1995 pp. 178–9. On this central Victorine idea, see esp. McGinn 1994 pp. 400–10. Carabine in McEvoy 1995 pp. 183–4.

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But the intellect remains operative at the height of the mystical summit. The soul is not left waiting in darkness in order to be raised unknowingly to union with the unknowable God, rather, the soul is granted a vision of the glorious light of the divine nature. God himself dispels the cloud of ignorance and opens the spiritual eye, et implente intellectus inoculatos superpulcris claritatibus … In this state of mentis excessus, the reaching out of the mind beyond its highest powers in which it no longer knows anything of creatures, the mind is filled with the vision of God’s own light, and although the intellect waits unknowingly, it is still the vehicle for the manifestation of God, albeit on a superlative level.73

(2) The soul’s ecstatic accounts of the other world Christian mystical theories of the human soul’s ascent to its divine source have a distinct metaphysical frame, usually that of the Christian-Platonist type, coupled or overlaid with Dionysian apophatic vocabulary. These theories are related to, but not the same as, the conceptual scheme behind first-hand reports of an individual soul’s temporary release from and return to its body in medieval stories of soul-voyages. Mystical accounts of the soul’s ascent describe an interior process of coming to know God through successive stages of purgation, illumination and perfection. In contrast, voyage accounts of the soul’s escape describe an (allegedly) exterior traverse of other-worldly regions, where some of God’s secrets are revealed to the traveler. One of the earliest and best-known soul-voyages appears in the Ecclesiastical History (III.19), where St. Bede gives an account74 of the ecstatic revelation of the Irish saint Fursa (or Fursey) in the year 656. Noble in mind though not noble by birth, Fursa devoted all his energy to the study of sacred books and monastic discipline. On one occasion when he was very ill he was snatched from the body75 (raptus est ex corpore) and left it from evening to cock-crow; during that time he was privileged to gaze upon the angelic hosts and to listen to their blessed songs. He returned to his body and two days after was taken out of it again; this time he saw not only the joys of the blessed but also the fierce attacks of the evil spirits who, by their many accusations, sought to prevent his journey to heaven; they failed in this because he was protected by angels. With subtle deceit the demons were able to report on Fursa’s deeds, his idle words and his very thoughts, just as if they had written them down in a book. Fursa also learned joyful and sad things from the angels and from the just men who appeared to him in the company of angels. When Fursa had been taken to a great height the conducting angels told him to look back on the world. He saw a dark valley beneath him and four fires in the air, celestial arsons made to kindle and consume the world. He was told that one fire is mendacity, for when we do not fulfill our promise to renounce Carabine in McEvoy 1995 pp. 184–5. Collated Latin text established by Claude Carozzi 1994 ‘Annexe’ pp. 677–92; synopsis pp. 102–20; analysis pp. 120–38. Synopses of the following other-worldly journeys reproduce the same prosaic, flat–toned style in which they were written or published. 75 The word raptus here indicates the passive, involuntary character of his transport, much like that of St. Paul himself when he was ‘snatched up’ to the third heaven (2Cor. 12:2). 73 74

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Satan and all his works; another fire is for cupidity when we put the love of riches above that of heavenly things; the third for dissension when we do not fear to offend our neighbors, and the fourth for impiety when we think it nothing to despoil and defraud the weak (EH III.19 pp. 270–74).76 When these fires grew together and merged into one immense conflagration, Fursa was afraid and cried out to the angel near him. But the angel comforted him by saying ‘that which you did not kindle will not burn you’ (quod non incendisti non ardebit in te). Although the fire seems great and terrible it tests each one according to his merits; the evil desires of everyone will be burned away. Just as one burns with illicit pleasures when in the body, so also when one is free from the body one makes due penance by burning. One of the three angels then went forward and divided the flames, while the other two flew on each side to protect him. Fursa also saw demons flying through the flames and stirring up hostile fires against the just. There follows an account of the evil spirits’ accusations against Fursa, the good spirits’ defense, and a more detailed vision of the heavenly hosts, the saints of his own nation. When these spirits had finished speaking and returned to heaven with the angelic spirits, the three conducting angels remained to restore Fursa to his body. But when he came to the passage through the flames, the evil spirits seized a burning figure and hurled him at Fursa, hitting him and scorching his shoulder and jaw. Fursa recognized the dead man as someone whose clothing he had received after his death. The angel took the dead man and cast him back into the fire, at which an evil spirit said, ‘Do not reject him whom you once accepted, since you got the property of a sinner you ought to share his punishment.’ The angel stood against the enemy but advised Fursa that, since he had accepted a sinner’s property he had in fact been burned by the fire he had kindled. When Fursa was finally restored to his body he bore for the rest of his life the burn marks he suffered while a soul out of body. It is marvelous, Bede remarks, to think that what he suffered secretly as a soul out of body showed openly on his flesh (quid anima in occulto passa sit, caro palam praemonstrabat). Bede says that he heard this from an elderly monk who had heard this story from Fursa himself; he thinks it worth noting that when Fursa recounted his vision, although it was a harsh winter he was wearing only a thin garment and sweated as though it were mid-summer, ‘either because of the terror or else the joy that his memories aroused’.77 In Book Five, chapter 12, Bede recounts an even more famous case of an otherworldly journey (EH V.12 pp. 489–99). In order to arouse the living from spiritual death, a certain man already dead came back to life, and related many memorable things that he had seen. In Northumbria, a family man named Drythelm78 was stricken with a serious illness and died in the night. At dawn he came to life again and those who were sitting around the corpse were terrified and fled, except his wife who loved him very much. He said that he had indeed risen from death and vowed 76 Translation modified: ‘mendacity’ instead of ‘falsehood’ for mendacia; ‘cupidity’ instead of ‘covetousness’ for cupiditas; ‘dissension’ instead of ‘discord’ for dissensio; and ‘impiety’ instead of ‘injustice’ for impietas (iii. 19, p. 272). 77 Translation modified: ‘demons’ instead of ‘devils’ for daemones, and ‘soul’ instead of ‘spirit’ for anima; the translators use ‘spirit’ for anima and spiritus without distinction. 78 In order to increase the dramatic suspense St. Bede states Drythelm’s name only at the very end of his narrative.

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that he would now live his life in a new way. He gave away his possessions and retired to the monastery at Melrose where he lived in great penance of mind and body. In his desire to chastise his body he often immersed himself in the freezing river waters: ‘He would remain thus motionless, reciting prayers and psalms as long as he could endure it, while the water came up to his loins and sometimes to his neck. When he came out of the water he would never trouble to take off his cold, wet garments until his body warmth had dried them.’ When he was asked how he could stand such bitter cold and such a hard life, he replied that he had seen it colder and harder. When he was asked by an eminent monk about his post-mortem experience he offered this story. He said that, after he appeared to die, he was guided by a being with a shining countenance, wearing bright robes. They went in silence toward the place where the sun rises at the summer solstice. They came to a deep, broad valley: on one side was a terrible raging fire, while on the other side hail and snow were blowing everywhere. Both sides were full of the souls tossed from one side to the other as if by the tempest’s fury. An innumerable multitude of deformed spirits was being tortured by this miserable see-saw without any respite. Although he thought that he might now be in hell his guide answered his thoughts by saying that he should not believe that this was hell.79 Further into the valley it began to grow dimmer until darkness covered everything. As they went forward ‘through the shades of the lonely night’ there suddenly appeared globes of noisome flame, constantly rising and falling as if from a great pit. Just as suddenly his guide disappeared and left him in the midst of the darkness and the horrible scene. He saw that, as the fiery globes rose and fell, the tips of the flames ascended filled with human spirits which, like sparks flying upward with the smoke (qui instar favillarum cum fumo), were tossed on high and then, as the vaporous flames fell, were now sucked into the depths (nunc retractis ignium vaporibus relaberentur in profunda). An incomparable stench which rose up with these vapors filled all the abodes of darkness. After standing for some time in terror looking at this, he heard the sound of wild and miserable lamentation, at the same time as harsh laughter, as though a vulgar gang were insulting their captured enemies. As the noise became clearer he saw a crowd of evil spirits dragging five human souls (animas hominum), wailing and shrieking into the midst of the darkness. The evil spirits dragged them into the burning pit; as they descended even deeper the horrified onlooker was unable to distinguish human lamentation from demonic laughter. Meanwhile, some of the gloomy spirits rose from the flaming abyss and rushed at him, surrounding him with their flaming eyes and tormenting him with putrid fires from their mouths and noses. They also threatened to seize him with fiery forceps and though they terrified him they dared not touch him. He looked all round to see if there was any help and then there appeared on the road behind him something like a bright star in the shadows (quasi fulgor stellae micantis inter tenebras) which grew larger and came rapidly toward him. (He later says that he left the traveler in order to find out his future.) As it approached all the hostile spirits who were trying to seize him scattered and fled.80

79 80

Carozzi reconstructs the geography of Drythelm’s underworld, 1994 pp. 238–43. See Carozzi’s comments on the whole narrative, 1994 pp. 228–35.

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This was in fact his original guide who then, turning to the right, began to lead him in the direction of the rising of the winter sun. The guide brought them out of the darkness into a serene, light place. He saw a great wall in front of them which seemed to be endlessly long and high everywhere. Although there were no windows or gates, as they reached the wall suddenly by unknown means they were on top. He saw a broad and pleasant plain, full of sweet-smelling flowers which dispelled the fetid stink of the gloomy furnace. ‘So great was the light that flooded all this place that it seemed to be clearer than the brightness of daylight or the rays of the noon sun.’ In the meadow there were innumerable humans in white robes and companies of happy people sat around. When the visitor said that he thought this must be heaven the guide replied that this was not the kingdom of heaven as you imagine. When they had passed thought the abodes of the blessed spirits he saw in front of them an even more gracious light than before, and amidst it he heard the sweetest sound of people singing and smelled the most wonderful fragrance. When he expressed the hope that he might enter this place his guide stopped, turned around, and led him back the way they had come – instead of entering the pleasant place he gains knowledge. The guide explains that (1) the valley of fire and ice is the place where those souls will be sent, those who in life delayed in confessing and repenting their sins. But because they did confess and repent they will eventually come to the kingdom of heaven upon Judgment Day; those souls for whom the living offer prayers, alms and fasts may gain their freedom before Judgment Day. (2) The fiery, putrid pit is the mouth of hell (os gehennae) into which whoever once falls will never be released through all eternity. (3) The flowery place is where the souls are received of those who depart from the body practicing good works (animae eorum qui in bonis quidem operibus de corpore exeunt). Although they are not in such a state of perfection that they deserve to be received immediately into heaven, still on Judgment Day all of them will enter into Christ’s presence. In contrast, anyone who is perfect in every word and deed and thought (nam quicumque in omni verbo et opere et cogitatione perfecti sunt), as soon as they leave the body come to the kingdom of heaven. (4) This kingdom is near the place of sweet singing, wonderful fragrance and glorious light. The guide concludes his speech by saying that the traveler must now return to his body and live among humans again: ‘If you guard your actions with great care and keep your words with righteous, simplicitous study, then you too will receive a place after death among the joyous band of blessed spirits.’81 It is possible to hear in this recit distant echoes of shamanistic and/or Zoroastrian beliefs: that hell is filled with both fire and ice; heaven is filled with sweet singing, lovely scents, and so forth; souls like sparks fly upward with the smoke. The injunction to keep ‘good words, good deeds and good thoughts’ in one’s life reminds one of the Zoroastrian threefold precept; after the voyager’s initiation and rebirth he is immune to heat and cold, as well as the fact that he is taken through stages of knowledge by a mentor. In March of 678 or 679 the monk Barontus, of the monastery of St. Peter in Lonrey (later known as Saint Cyran) had a near-death experience, which he later

81

On penitence, punishment and purgation in this account, Carozzi 1994 pp. 243–53.

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reported to his fellow monks.82 The anonymous author produced an account of Barontus’ experience which would become a medieval ‘best-seller’ in the visionary genre: As the first free-standing account of a vision of the hereafter, the Visio Baronti has provided grist for many mills. Barontus and others concerned about the fate of their souls are said to represent clear expressions of individualism centuries before individualism is supposed to have emerged in European consciousness.’83 Their narratives provide sufficient detail to establish a geography of the hereafter and to plot how travelers navigate between that world and this one and what effects the journey has on their souls.84 John Contreni argues that the tale of Barontus is an elaborately and elegantly constructed narrative: ‘there may well have been an historical monk named Barontus who had a terrifying vision, but the complex, graphic, highly coherent, and literate text that we read today is the creation of the anonymous author and not a mere report of Barontus’ vision’.85 After matins had been sung, Barontus returned to his cell where he fell ill with a fever. The deacon tried to help him, but to no avail; the monk closed his eyes and lay there half-dead, unable to see anyone at all. Through the night teams of monks sang psalms, and at daybreak Barontus suddenly awoke and exclaimed ‘Glory to you, God.’ He then told the monks around his bedside that after he fell asleep the previous night two hideous demons attacked him; they tried to strangle and swallow him, intending to carry him off to hell. At the time when the monks began to sing psalms the angel Raphael appeared and ordered the demons away. When they refused, the demons and the angel argued at length until they finally agreed to let God decide his fate. Raphael touched the monk’s throat and drew Barontus’ soul from his body, ‘a soul as small as a hen’s chick when it comes from the egg’. Even though it was quite small and puny, the monk said that it had the aerial form of his body, complete with head, eyes and senses (sic mihi videbatur, similitudinem de parvitatem haberet ut pullus aviculae, quando de ovo egreditur). At this event, the demons and the angel engaged in a tug-of-war over his soul, with the demons trying to drag him down and Raphael trying to pull him upwards. In their struggle all four flew over the nearby monastery of Millebeccus where they could see the monks performing vespers and the abbot lying on his deathbed. The author here reports that the abbot claimed that Raphael had visited him and cured him. The two demons, the monk and the angel eventually came to the first gate of paradise; there Barontus saw several members of his own community, awaiting Judgment Day and the fullness of eternal joy. Although Barontus recognized these dead monks, they did not recognize him and were shocked to find him in the company of demons, for the devil had never been able to capture the soul of anyone in their monastery. Raphael assuaged their fear by telling them that he would restore Barontus’ soul to his body, so that the monk could mend his ways and avoid the devil’s clutches. As the monks prayed for his soul, Barontus and the angel passed through the second gate of paradise where they saw countless children clothed in white. As they made their way to the third gate they passed through an immense 82 83 84 85

English translation in Hillgarth 1986 pp. 195–204; not in Gardiner 1989. See Gurevich 1982 pp. 255–75. Contreni 2003 p. 674. Contreni 2003 p. 675; summary in Carrozi 1994 pp. 140–50.

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crowd of virgins, who began to cry out ‘there goes a soul to judgment’. When they arrived at the third gate, they saw even more saints, these wearing crowns, with shining faces, sitting on thrones in houses made of gold bricks. There were many more mansions under construction for future inhabitants still on earth; ‘for he builds mansions in heaven who does not cease to give bread to the hungry’. When they advanced to the fourth gate Barontus saw another member of his community, one whose job was to light all the churches of the world. Barontus was not permitted to enter further into paradise, so Raphael sent an angel to summon St. Peter who quickly appeared. When he asked the demons why they had seized the monk they replied with a list of Barontus’ sins, including the fact that he had had three wives and many adulterous affairs. When asked if these charges were true, Barontus replied that they were. St. Peter then said that ‘even if he has done some evil deeds, he has given alms, and alms free humans from death’. Further, he has confessed and done his penance, as well as donating to the monastery and giving up his possessions: ‘These good deeds far outweigh all the evil actions you recount.’ With this utterance St. Peter claimed the monk as one of the saved and chased the demons away. St. Peter then informed the monk that he must ransom (that is, redeem) himself. When Barontus replied that he had no money, St. Peter revealed a sin that the monk himself had forgotten; twelve gold coins that he had hidden when he entered the monastery. St. Peter gave Barontus elaborate instructions about how to get rid of the money. On the first of every month he must place one gold coin in a poor man’s hands; each coin was to be weighed and marked by a priest (presumably to prevent cheating). Peter warned Barontus that, if he failed in this injunction, then his fate after he died would be even worse than his experience so far. Peter asked two boys to escort Barontus back to the first gate where his brother monks would give him a tour of hell. When they reached hell, Barontus could not see through the dense fog and steam, but God permitted him to look inside. There he saw thousands of bound humans led around by demons, moaning and lamenting in a constant wail that sounded like a swarm of bees. Those confined to hell were arranged in groups according to the category of their sins: the proud with the proud, the lustful with their kind, perjurers with theirs, homicides with other murderers, deceivers with deceivers, and so forth. They groaned in pain, as St. Gregory said in his Dialogues: ‘they bound them in bundles to burn them (Matt. 13:30) and the rest which follows’. Moreover, ‘all those who were in the demons’ power and had done something good were offered manna from paradise … each day about the sixth hour. It was placed before their mouth and nose and they received refreshment (refrigerium). The rest who had not done anything good in this world, were not offered this but, closed their eyes and struck their breasts, crying out, “woe to us wretches, who did nothing good when we could have”.’ Among these miserable wretches Barontus saw some bishops and foolish virgins, as well as some of his own relatives. After the monks left hell they met some travelers walking to Poitiers to visit the shrine of St. Hilary and soon came to a pleasant place. Barontus’ companions left him with one young monk and the two returned to the monastery where they found the church doors open. While the young guide said his prayers, Barontus dragged himself along the ground until a gust of wind picked him up and blew him to his cell, where from the ceiling he could view his prostrate body on the

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bed, surrounded by his fellow monks. At that point, Barontus entered his own body through the mouth and woke up, crying ‘Glory to you, God’ – he had been restored in order to deliver an important lesson. John Contreni comments on the fact that Barontus’ soul left and returned to his body through his mouth and that his soul was like a young chick. This image may have been inspired by the experience of Abbot Spes, whose soul left his body through the mouth and flew up to heaven in the form of a dove. The aerial tug-ofwar between the demons and the archangel over Barontus’ soul recalls Gregory’s account of Stephen, who tripped on the bridge over the foul river spanning heaven and hell: ‘Evil spirits grabbed onto Stephen’s legs and tried to pull him down, while good spirits dressed in white tugged to hoist the priest back up. Once arrived in the afterlife, Barontus’ capacity to recognize people who did not know him and whom the historical Barontus probably did not know was established a century earlier in the Dialogues. Gregory assured Peter that the good see both the good and the evil in the afterlife by relating the story of Lazarus from the Gospel of Luke in which a rich man in hell recognizes Abraham from afar and calls out to him for relief from his torments.’86 Closer to their own times, ‘Gregory reminded Peter of “a certain religious man” who four years earlier called out to Jonas, Ezechiel, and Daniel as he lay dying to tell them that he was about to join them.’87 Carozzi says that ‘pour etre sauvé, il faut fair le monde et la cupidité du siecle qui endurcit les coeurs et les detourne de la voie droite’. The practice of good works permits them, after the soul exits the body, to be guided by the saints and angels towards the heavenly kingdom.88 The vision’s author and Gregory the Great offered the lesson that death in this world is not final and that the boundary between the present life and the afterlife is permeable and can be traversed, as Contreni states. The best proof that the boundary is porous came from those who had traveled to the other side and returned. In Gregory’s Dialogues the question arises whether it is by a mistake that some souls are taken from their bodies and then returned, since clearly they were not meant to be permanently taken away.89 The proper response is that such occurrences are meant as instructions for the living about the connection between good works in this life and the afterlife. Barontus’ description is much longer and more vivid than anything in Gregory’s Dialogues and offers sufficient information to construct an actual geography of the otherworld: ‘These vivid descriptions were not intended to make a literary impact but to impress upon medieval audiences the realization that Barontus’ heaven did not appear very different from their own earthly experiences. His heaven was a parallel monastic community complete with sights, sounds, candles, churches, liturgical hours, and waiting brethren.’ Medieval audiences were not much concerned about inconsistent, even contradictory details regarding the afterlife afforded by narratives of different visions, unlike modern scholars who are greatly exercised in sorting out just such problems. ‘Tales of visions are parabolic’, as Contreni phrases it; ‘whether they look out into the afterlife with Barontus or 86 87 88 89

On ideas of human nature in Gregory the Great, see McGinn 1994 pp. 40–47. Contreni 2003 p. 683. On sources and models, Carozzi 1996 pp. 150–55. On contemplation and the afterlife in Gregory, see McGinn 1994 pp. 55–74.

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across the ocean with Brendan, they curve back to audiences concerned about what visions reveal for the conduct of their earthly lives.’90 In another influential other-worldly journey, the Irish knight Tundale traveled to Regensburg in Bavaria, and had an ecstatic vision which was written in 1150.91 Tundale came from a noble family, well brought up and trained in the military arts. He was a friendly, agreeable fellow who loved a good time, and didn’t hesitate to admit that he had sinned long and often. While having a meal with one of his friends, Tundale had a sudden stroke and fell to the ground, exclaiming that he was dying. The narrative relates that ‘as far as the word has any meaning, his body sank to the ground, separated from his soul, and his spirit was no longer of any account there’. The author wants to give this incident some plausibility by invoking witnesses: ‘residents of the city of Cork, who were present there, may testify [to this], he lay dead for three days and three nights, and later he spoke bitterly of all that he had suffered during this period’ (p. 150). ‘The signs of death were present: his hair fell out, his forehead became hard, his eyes wandered, his nose became pointed, his lips grew pale, his mind failed, and his whole body grew rigid’ (p. 151). Despite these overt bodily changes indicating death, ‘those who tried diligently to coax his body back to life felt a little heat on his left side’. When they did decide to bury him ‘he regained his soul, and with a feeble breath, in almost a single hour he began to revive’. Those present marveled at this event and exclaimed, ‘Is this not the spirit going and returning?’ Perhaps here it is significant that the signs of death were taken to indicate that the soul had left his body, but having revived, it was thought that his spirit had temporarily vacated his body.92 It is equally ambiguous what ‘word’ the phrase ‘as far as the word has any meaning’ refers to: is it his body or his soul or death? In any case, Tundale said that ‘when his soul left his body, and he knew that he was dead, knowing that he was guilty he grew terrified, and he didn’t know what he might do. He feared something, but he did not know what he feared. He wished to return to his body, but he was unable to enter it. He even wished to proceed onward, but he was afraid on every side.’93 The dead sinner, fully aware of his guilt, was miserable, and stood there trembling and weeping. But then a crowd of unworldly spirits came forward and surrounded him, not consoling him at all, but saddening him with their words: ‘We sing this song of death, fitting for this miserable soul, since he is the child of death and food for fire, the friend of shadows, the enemy of light’ (p. 153). The woeful spirits gnashed their teeth at him and tore their own cheeks with their claws, wailing about the sins he had committed and his likely place in hell. The text says that he expected death without delay from these threatening spirits, which must signify, since he is already dead in the body, something like the ‘second death’ in the spirit for the damned. But merciful God had Contreni 2003 pp. 684–85; see also Carozzi’s comments 1996 pp. 155–60. Trans. in Gardiner 1989 chapter 10; text in Mearns (ed.) 1985; and Palmer (ed.) 1982; unprefixed citations are to Gardiner’s translation. 92 See Carrozi’s comments 1994 pp. 497–500, 597–604. 93 The knight Tundale knows that he is dead, knows that he is guilty of sinning, but does not know what he fears; so what are the criteria of knowledge for a dead person? What counts as justified true belief in the other world? 90 91

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not wished this sinner’s death and decided to offer him healing after death, thus tempering the misery of even this sinner. Just then an angel appeared, coming into view like a very bright star, causing Tundale to feel both fear and joy, thinking that God himself had come to take him. The angel said that he had followed Tundale since birth, and although he had never listened to his guardian’s counsel, he was here to help him now. ‘You ought to follow me’, the angel said, ‘and commit the route to memory because you will have to return to your body along this path.’ At this point, Tundale went toward the angel, ‘beyond the limit, leaving behind his own body, which he formerly stood over’. Hearing and seeing this, the evil spirits and demons became angry, complaining that God had not kept his promise: that the sinners’ souls will be damned and the just ones will be rewarded. Totally enraged, they started fighting with each other and then withdrew into ‘the rest of the great stench’. At the passing of the foul horde, Tundale agreed to follow the angel in his tour of the various levels of the underworld. From this point onward, the text no longer refers to the main character as ‘Tundale’ (the whole person) or ‘the miserable soul’, but always to ‘Tundale’s soul’, as though a being distinct from the transitional post-mortem soul is thereby marked off. An important question arises about what ‘limit’ has been crossed when the soul alone leaves behind the body it has stood over. Is this a spatial or quasispatial limit in the other world, or is it a temporal limit between the time of bodily death on earth and the just (or damned) soul’s movement towards its proper place? Does the interim state when the other-worldly soul transits from hovering over the body to moving away on its own have a parallel on earth (so to speak) in the curious heat in the body’s side, or does the body’s heat continue during the whole journey? As with the now-common itinerary of the human soul’s journey to the underworld, Tundale’s soul and his angelic guide come to a terrible, shadowy valley, covered by the fog of death. The text describes with great relish the dreadful punishments of various classes of sinners, such as murderers, traitors, the proud, the greedy, robbers and thieves, fornicators (an especially juicy section) before the two travelers descend into the deepest depth. At the lowest level, Tundale’s soul feels great cold; a stench and shadow appears around him, and he is seized by fear and anxiety. The very foundations of the earth seemed to tremble and then … the angelic guide disappears. Alone now amidst new dangers, he hears the cries and howls of a vast multitude, horrible thunder mixed with the cacophony. He sees a four-sided ditch like a cistern emitting a putrid column of smoke and flame. This column extends to the heavens and ‘in its fire he could see a large multitude of spirits and demons who ascended like ashes with the flames. When they were reduced to nothing in the smoke they fell with the demons into the furnace, down into the depths’ (p. 175). Stricken with grief and terror, Tundale’s soul asks aloud why he did not die before (in the spirit). Hearing these words of despair the demons surround him with instruments like forceps; ‘they encircled him just like bees, and they were inflamed just like fire in thorns, taunting him with images of what he has missed by not being saved. Just as the coal-black, scorpion-tailed, vulture-winged demons are about to carry him off to Lucifer, the spirit of light (his angelic guide) reappears, saying that he should be glad and rejoice, since he will obtain mercy and not justice.’ However, Tundale’s soul has not escaped seeing the very devil himself, an awesome raven-shaped monster, stooped over an iron wicker-work device. Here he

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tortures and dismembers the souls of the damned, each of whom is attached to parts of his grotesque body. The devil inhales and exhales their parts into the various regions of hell, chewing them up and spitting them out94 (pp. 177–80). Having seen the very worst at the very last level of the underworld the angel leads him upward and out into a beautiful, fragrant place, filled with happy people, where the sun never sets and where the fountain of everlasting life is found. The angel surprises the traveler by saying that this is not heaven or the kingdom of God, but the resting place of those who are not very good. These souls did not merit the company of the blessed saints and hence this cannot be heaven itself, although it might be called paradise (pp. 181–2). This description corresponds quite well with the Byzantine idea of an intermediate zone, parallel with heaven, where ordinary good souls wait to be reborn in the spiritual body after Judgment Day. The two travelers move from place to place, each enclosed by yet higher walls, each containing classes of just souls: the virtuously married, martyrs, virgins and saintly monks. In the last enclosure, having met the most revered and saintly bishops, the angel tells him that he must now return to his body. The angel instructs him to keep all that he has seen in his memory and to use his knowledge for the benefit of his friends and relatives. As soon as the angel has said this, the soul is changed (?): ‘he tried to move himself [how had the soul moved itself before?] and quickly he sensed his body weighing greatly on him. He did not feel any interval elapse, or moment of time intervene, but in the same instant he spoke to the angel, he felt himself clothed in the body. Then weak in the body he opened his eyes and sighed’ (pp. 194-5). And so concludes the ever-popular tale of the Irish sinner’s other-worldly voyage. The early thirteenth-century vision of Thurkill, an Essex peasant, survives in several redactions.95 The most detailed version divides the text into three sections: the anonymous editor’s preface, the external circumstances of the vision, and the narrative of the vision itself. The preface states the theological framework of the vision: it is a testimony and a warning, comparable to the words of the prophets and evangelists. The editor is convinced of the edifying character of Thurkill’s vision, at the same time as he admits that it has been received with skepticism in some places. According to his report, other visions of the afterlife were also treated with some doubt, such as the vision of the knight Tundale, St. Patrick’s vision, and the monk of Eynsham, which took place only ten years before Thurkill. The London Prior Peter of Cornwall, who collected hundreds of visions and miracles between 1200 and 1206, devoted forty-three pages of his Book of Revelations to the vision of the monk of Evesham (or Eynsham96), but began to doubt the credibility of the story: first he crossed it all out, and then later stated that the deletion should be ignored and the text restored. The principal redactor of Thurkill’s vision does not want his narrative to be treated in this ambivalent manner, and hence states at the outset that Thurkill’s purity and simplicity guarantees the truth of his story.97 On the evening of 27 October 1206, the peasant Thurkill was in the fields digging ditches to drain the water from the flooded field which he had just sown. A strange 94 95 96 97

Compare infernal images of consumption and digestion in Bynum 1995 pp. 192–9. Trans. in Gardiner 1989 chapter 12. Trans. in Gardiner 1989 chapter 11. Schmidt 1978 pp. 51–2.

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figure approached Thurkill and revealed himself to be St. Julian who then told him that he would take Thurkill on a journey the next night. Thurkill returned to his village where, on the Friday evening, he made preparations by washing himself from head to foot – a form of hygiene uncommon for a peasant. That night St. Julian arrived and took Thurkill’s soul away with him, leaving his body behind, rigid and motionless, scarcely even breathing. During the next two days his relatives tried to wake him but to no avail. On Sunday evening, as they were trying to force some water down his throat, he suddenly revived and spoke the word ‘Benedicite’, and complained about his journey being interrupted. He tried to tell his relatives and the village priest about his experiences but they came out garbled and disjointed. On the next night St. Julian appeared to him again and, with threats of severe punishment, instructed Thurkill to deliver a coherent and complete account of what he had seen. On the Feast of All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day, he did just that in the presence of the whole community and the lord of the manor. He confessed that he did not pay the full tenth of his harvest as tithes, and described the punishments which he suffered for this in the other world. He proffered information to all those assembled about the fate of their dead relatives and stated the number of prayers and masses still needed before they could be granted eternal peace. He spoke with uncharacteristic eloquence and fluency, giving such a moving and disquieting account that he was invited to tell his story to other churches and villages.98 The first stage of his journey took place at the basilica of St. Mary in the middle of the earth. There Thurkill gained another companion, St. Domninus, who together with St. Julian set out on the journey through purgatory and paradise. He watched the souls of the dead being weighed and learned the nature of their sins; he witnessed the damnation of a nobleman who had died without confession and the last rites during the first night of his vision. The nobleman had treated his subjects with cruelty and demanded dues from them to which he was not entitled. For this he has been tormented by the devil before being cast into the pit of hell. In another instance, when the soul of an unworthy priest is weighed, the scales sink down on the devil’s side because St. Peter does not have enough weights on his side. So St. Peter dipped an aspergillum in holy water and threw it on the scale with such force that the devil’s weights fell out. The devil cried out in pain when one of the falling weights injured his foot; he showed the list of the priest’s sins and claimed the soul for himself, but all in vain. Thurkill’s own failures were not spared either; he collapsed out of breath by a spring, where he coughed and spluttered to get his breath back. According to witnesses at his bedside, at that very moment his body coughed and heaved. From the spring a nasty stench emerged, a stink which only affected those who had withheld their tithes from the church. Every Saturday the devils went to the theatre99 and Thurkill sneaked in with the two saints’ help. One by one sinners were dragged onto the stage, forced to repeat their sins: the proud person, the adulterous couple, the slanderer, the dishonest Schmidt 1978 p. 53; on the soul during the voyage, Carozzi 1994 pp. 561–3. On the theatre in the underworld, Carozzi 1994 pp. 623–8; M. H. Marshall, ‘Theatre in the Middle Ages’, in Symposium vol. 4 (1950) pp. 1–39; M. Henshaw, ‘The Attitude of the Church toward the Stage at the End of Middle Ages’, in Med & Hum vol. 7 (1952) pp. 3–17; B. Roy, ‘Arnulf of Orelans and the Latin Comedy’, in Speculum vol. 49 (1974) pp. 258–66. 98 99

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miller, and the assistant who mistreated his master’s animals. As they acted out their sins again the devils pounced on them and tore them to shreds. Thurkill also met his former lord who was not allowed to enter the basilica because he withheld some money owed to laborers who worked on his estate. He also withheld from the canons of St. Ositha the annual dues to which they were entitled. He gave his son instructions through Thurkill about how to make good these obligations as quickly as possible so that he might enter heaven. Thurkill also encountered a monk from another nearby monastery whose sudden death had generated a lot of rumors. Thurkill’s father did penance in purgatory by crawling over sharp stones which cut his face. The angel declared that thirty masses must be said for him before he could be saved, but reduced this to ten masses in light of Thurkill’s poverty. The angel named other sinners including one who had to lie in a deep vessel full of cold salt water until three hundred masses had been said for him. In the final stages Thurkill arrived at paradise where he saw three saints: St. Catherine, St. Margaret and St. Ositha. As he stood in veneration of them, his relatives in this world tried to wake him by pouring water down his throat; in order to prevent him from choking St. Julian brought him back to life. At that moment Thurkill regained consciousness and exclaimed ‘Benedicite’. Schmidt says that between Thurkill’s vision and the moment when it is written down by the redactor there elapses a period of time, the extent of which is not known to us. During these weeks, months or even years, Thurkill’s account was open to all kinds of influences: he spoke with his relatives, the priest, the inhabitants of Stisted and their lord … and he traveled a good deal in order to tell of his revelations in churches and monasteries. Before he communicated his account to the redactor he had already discussed it with a large number of people. These will have come to him with quite definite expectations, and will have been interested – from various motives – in the fate of individual deceased persons.100

Schmidt infers that it is thus scarcely possible to distinguish with certainty between the original content of Thurkill’s vision and its final written form. Thurkill was not able to check the text himself … thereby discovering that whole chapters had been interpolated into his vision, parts of which incidentally seem to have been drawn from an apocalypse of Peter. Do the redactors then fall back on literary models and augment their texts with material from other visions?

Schmidt claims that one cannot argue in such a way as to dismiss as suspect all those passages where literary models can be demonstrated. He argues convincingly that Thurkill himself must have gone on a pilgrimage either to northern Italy or to southern Spain. Thurkill’s vision was also unusual (though not unique) in ascribing such an important story to an illiterate peasant. However, in later versions the depiction of his individual life is no longer preserved, and the local features disappear; the very fact that he was a peasant is obscured; such was their fate in much medieval literature.101 100 101

Schmidt 1978 pp. 55–6. Schmidt 1978 pp. 58–60, 64; Carozzi 1994 pp. 512–15.

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In her much-discussed recent book, C. W. Bynum advanced an ingenious series of arguments about changes in basic attitudes toward the ideas of heaven and hell as shown in the development of other-worldly journeys. In visions recounted by St. Bede and Gregory the Great, as well as some other later soul-voyages, heaven begins to harden – in the literal sense – and the visionary’s attention turns more and more toward hell. Although some early medieval visions retain a picture of heaven as a fertile and luxurious place, ‘the emphasis is increasingly on golden walls and jeweled barricades, on protection and stasis. Images of growth and fertility, of odors and tastes, are relegated to the outskirts of paradise.’ The visions of Tundale and Thurkhill situate golden chapels or fortresses at heaven’s center, surrounded by high thick walls. In contrast to the hardness and immutability of these buildings, the body-shaped soul in hell or purgatory becomes the victim of generation and corruption: ‘It is punished not only by dismemberment but also by perverted nutrition and fertility – horrid consumptions, digestions, impregnations, excretions, vomitings, and birthings.’ Bynum cites several vivid examples from her discussion in an earlier book: Guibert of Nogent recounts his mother’s vision of the dead ‘with the appearance of ghosts’, their hair ‘seemingly eaten by worms’. Thurchill sees several types of sinners … whose limbs are cut off and fried before they are reassembled for further torture … Mechtild of Magdeburg sees Satan as one who ‘makes himself of great size’ and swallows devils, Jews and heathens into his ‘paunch’ ‘body and soul’, eating Sodomites and ‘gnawing’ the greedy.

In the vision of Tundale, ‘the carefully organized tortures of hell or purgation seem to reflect the dreaded putrefaction of the grave, whose contents are devoured by the very worms to which they spontaneously (or so people thought) give birth’.102 In a few of these visions, a living person descends through an opening in the earth; but in the most common soul-voyage, the soul travels to the other world while its body is asleep or very sick. When the psychic traveler is described as a separated soul, some authors call attention to their decision to give it a body, though this is not often a human body. In early medieval visions, the body-shaped soul is sometimes depicted as a bird, a bubble, or a spark. But by the thirteenth century this had changed: ‘now souls almost invariably appear with highly individualized bodies in highly individualized raiment. Caesarius, for example, portrays a ghostly visitor from the afterlife with the prayers he had offered written on his boots.’103 In an important recent study, Peter Dinzelbacher has remarked on a basic change in the nature and structure of visionary literature about 1200. In the early Middle Ages, visions are more likely to involve travel outside the body and personal transformation; after the mid-thirteenth century, the visionaries (now usually women) seem more passive and their visions are more frequent and less transformative.104 ‘More is at stake in such cases’, Bynum argues, 102 103 104

Bynum 1995 pp. 292–3; on the popularity of Tundale’s vision see Wieck 1990. Bynum 1995 p. 294. See esp. Dinzelbacher 1981.

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than merely the visionary’s (and the author’s) need to express his insight in visible form. Caesarius suggests that we have to experience souls as bodies when we are in the body; once we are free of flesh, we will see them as spheres. Others suggest that souls need bodies not only to return to earth and warn the living … but also in order to experience torture or reward and to be fully particularized as selves. Guibert of Nogent recounts his mother’s vision of a spirit (her dead husband) who will not give his name; the suggestion is that without a body he lacks in some way his identity.105

Something similar happens to Dante when he fails to recognize a friar, whose body is still in the world, but whose soul freezes in hell (Inf. 33.130–32): ‘Although the passage certainly suggests that, without somatomorphic soul at the least, the person is unrecognizable. The poet also indicates through the incident that those in the world who trust in appearances may be misled; there are in fact persons so evil that their souls have already gone before them into hell leaving behind bodies occupied by demons.’106 And further: although authors sometimes called attention to somatomorphic souls as metaphors or images, they were far more apt to use ‘as if’ when representing souls as spheres or sparks. The soul’s body was increasingly treated as the conventional and obvious way of presenting its experience and individuality, its exact moral state and social status. Indeed, the soul’s body was sometimes seen as more real (in a moral and ontological sense) than the body of earth. In the early 13th century vision of Thurchill, for example, souls appeared to the voyager black, white or spotted, depending on their degree of guilt; their color in the afterlife thus reflected their true nature far more accurately than their color on earth.107

Hence, one must resist the idea that the author (or redactor) of the soul-voyage ascribed the character a body as a literary vehicle to make more vivid the traveler’s experiences. Rather, its other-worldly body was a psychical vehicle to give weight to the idea that after death the delights of heaven and the torments of hell were experienced as physical sensations, and not some spiritual analogue. Bynum further argues that by the early thirteenth century, ‘the Byzantine theme of resurrection as the vomiting up of parts in a context of cosmological renovation had faded from Western art to be replaced by the tradition … of resurrection as return from the grave under the watchful eye of Christ the judge. The tympana of the great cathedrals … subordinate resurrection to judgment by focusing attention not on disentombment but on the division into saved and damned.’108 These images invariably depict the resuscitated dead emerging whole from their tombs. Only a few vestiges of the earlier fear of post-mortem chewing and digestion survive into high medieval iconography: the continued prominence of Jonah swallowed by the whale, the standard treatment of hell as an immense mouth that swallows the damned, and the prominence of tortures allied with cooking and eating. With some exceptions, images and ideas about resurrection are no longer the regurgitation, reconstitution, or reclothing of dead bones. Yet, as Bynum astutely points out, the dead who rise whole 105 106 107 108

See Le Goff 1984 pp. 182–5; Zaleski 1987 pp. 45–55. Bynum 1995 p. 295. Zaleski 1987 pp. 51–3; Le Goff 1984 pp. 296–7. Bynum 1995 p. 307.

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from either coffin or earth are increasingly particularized by hair color, sex, age, and clothes that express details of worldly rank and power. The development of iconography thus parallels that of literature. It is another question whether the ghosts of the dead display their worldly status through their clothing or accessories.109 In the thirteenth century, images of resurrection as the reassemblage of bodyparts disappear from artworks, scholastic discourse and poetry. Fragmentation continues as an image of evil and pain, and wholeness as an image of paradise. But wholeness is no longer so much a victory over partition, a patching-together of dispersed bits, as a reflection of what human nature is. In Dante’s journey through the other world, he does not encounter anonymous martyrs, monks and virgins, but clearly recognizable friends, family and famous persons. What is important for Dante and other writers in this period is not some abstract argument about the continuity of material particles over time, but the psychical continuity of the whole person before and after death.110 Despite the enormous changes in ideas about what constituted ‘life’ in the afterlife, ‘deep anxieties about decay continued to lurk under the surface of theological discussion, miracle story and preaching. Decay was sometimes redeemed (and denied) in metaphors of fertility … more often it was redeemed (and denied) in images of reunion or incorruption of parts. Such images, in keeping with the intensely graphic and somatic quality of late medieval piety, came increasingly to be enacted in matter.’ The accounts of soul-voyages reflect this new emphasis, ascribing to the separated soul desires, anxieties, regrets and other normally embodied characteristics: ‘Although philosophical theory could account for identity of person without material continuity, body – as the locus of decay, of experience, and of encounter with the divine – was more important than ever before. It was divided and distributed in order to disperse its power; but in order to revere and protect that same power, it was declared whole even when mutilated and partitioned.’111 In an important paper published three years later, Bynum revised some of her earlier views. She says that she had connected the extreme literalism and materialism of twelfth-century notions of resurrection at the end of time with a prevalent fear of metempsychosis, that is, loss of self through loss of body. In other words, it is allied with ‘a pervasive conviction, underlying many genres and divergent discourses of the period, that the human person is a psycho-somatic unit whose survival necessitates bodily continuity’.112 Christian theologians who maintained an orthodox view attacked various heretics for what they perceived as some version of ‘body hopping, body exchange or body erasure’, which contradicted the NT doctrine that, at the Last Judgment, the souls of the dead would be resurrected in their original flesh. Scholastic and monastic discussion in this period thought of the embodied self as the locus of personal identity and associated this identity with triumph over change, that is, over the physical process of decay. Resurrection in the original flesh was conceived as both natural and supernatural: ‘it On this question see Schmitt 1998 pp. 201–5. Bynum 1995 pp. 307–9; and see our discussion of Dante’s soul-voyage, HCM pp. 197–202. 111 Bynum 1995 p. 317, continued on pp. 319, 322, 326. 112 Bynum 1998 p. 987, referring to her 1995 pp. 213–20. 109 110

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is natural for the human person to have a body, and survival of the soul alone is hence an aberration that cannot be perpetual.’ But it is also supernatural, ‘for in the natural order biological entities give birth only to like, but numerically separate, individuals.’113 On the other hand, this picture of orthodox resistance to the notion of psychical transmutation seems to run counter to one of the most remarked characteristics of this period: the sense of nature as labile, percolating and fertile, pregnant with new forms of things. The twelfth century also witnessed the revival of Ovid’s works, the collection of marvels, speculation about shape-shifting and body-borrowing, and the study of substantial change through alchemical means. It was ‘the era of green men and werewolves, stigmata and Eucharistic miracles, and dreams of turning copper into gold’.114 These sorts of discourses ‘contradict [her] earlier intuition that much of the religious and intellectual concern of the period was devoted to containing and countering a mutability seen as a dark threat to survival and identity’. The twelfthcentury fascination with Ovid’s Metamorphosis focused on the passages where he spoke vividly about bodies changed into new forms as the cosmos emerged, where he said that ‘all things change and nothing dies’, and especially in his dictum that ‘what we call birth is but a beginning to be other than what one was before’ (Meta. XV.164, 256). Bynum chooses as one of the pre-eminent expressions of this Ovidian sense of nature as deeply fertile with new forms the twelfth-century literary masterpiece, the Cosmography of Bernard Silvestris. In this strange work, the author describes ‘a universe that contains the seeds of its own continuity; ever-flowing silva (matter) lurks beneath … Although the whole person (totus homo) inhabits a body doomed to die, reabsorption of semen by the brain is, he writes, parallel to the return of the soul to heaven. The throbbing rhythm of the cosmos becomes, albeit somewhat ambiguously and inconsistently, a kind of immortality.’115 It is to Bernard Silvestris’ wonderful Cosmography that we now turn. (3) New ideas about the soul’s place in nature in the twelfth century One of the most distinctive philosophical-literary texts of the twelfth century is Bernard Silvestris’ Cosmography, an allegorical story of the creation of the universe (in Book I, ‘Megacosmos’) and the production of human being (in Book II, ‘Microcosmos’). The dramatic action of Bernard’s Cosmography begins when Natura complains to Nous about the chaotic state of the world, and Nous promises to do what she can to make it into a more harmonious order. Nature had never taken a prominent role in a medieval epic and it was an innovation to introduce her figure into Latin literature as an allegorical goddess presiding over the world’s creation.116 Bynum 1998 p. 988. Bynum 1998 p. 991, referring to M. D. Chenu’s classic study, La théologie au douzième siècle, Paris: Vrin, 1957. 115 Bynum 1998 p. 994–5, referring to Wetherbee (ed.) 1973 pp. 109–10. 116 See esp. Tullio Gregory, La filosofia della natura nel medioevo. Milan, 1966, pp. 27–65; for a brief but astute summary see E. R. Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1953, pp. 108–13. 113 114

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Nature’s role is difficult to define but she transforms the Hermetic notion of nature as a mysterious goddess who disdains to reveal her secrets but clothes them in allegory. Instead of watching Nature’s actions unfold in the cosmic drama, the reader can follow Nature’s point of view, and thus become educated at the same time as Nature does. The third main figure is Silva, the mother (matrix) of material things; she embraces the primal elements of the universe (confusa primordia rerum). Nature asks Nous whether or not she has ‘the capacity to hammer out matter more softly and when what is old and worn out is put aside, to draw forth the image of a better form’ (I.1.8–9). The unruly elements plead to be allowed to proceed towards their better form: ‘the most ancient of things desires to be born again; matter desires to be circumscribed with figures from a new beginning’ (I.1.35). God is not jealous of this but ‘remakes (refert) everything in a better way as far as the substance of things allows’. By saying that God remakes the world, Bernard suggests the astrological idea that cosmic reform occurs at a definite time when, according to the stars and planets’ position, the order of the universe dissolves and is remade again from the elementary chaos.117 Nature pleads with Nous to inaugurate a new stage in the history of the world, a history which is cyclical and progressive, in which the elements of the former age will be used to build the new. In the following description, ‘Nature juxtaposes the Platonic mother-figure, holding the atomistic particles of matter in her lap, with the image of matter in the ordinary, unabstract sense of the term, as stuff which is malleable and can be beaten into a new shape.’ Nature says that ‘Silva [is] a stiff, formless chaos, a bellicose compound, the discolored face of being, a mass dissonant to itself. Being turbid, she desires tempering, being ugly beauty, being uncultivated refinement.’ In his thesis about the world’s progress through cycles, Bernard most likely drew on Macrobius’ model, as Stock explains: first, it attempted to reconcile the notion of the world’s eternity … with the idea of creation, as civilization, beginning at a single point in time and gradually progressing. Second, it proposed that civilization itself, or rather [their] rise and fall, were the consequences of natural events. Third, it suggested an optimistic view of human history as a whole. If technical progress was a recent phenomenon, then, by transferring the notion, his own age occupied an important place in history.118

But Bernard also draws on Firmicus Maternus’ efforts to integrate astrological prediction with a scientific theory of cosmic reform. Bernard drew heavily on two ideas in Firmicus’ work: ‘one, the relatively large role assigned to Natura in the cosmic process; and two, the view that a science of the heavens is not incompatible with free will’. And perhaps third, Firmicus had made a greater effort than Macrobius to treat human as a microcosm of the whole process.119 After Natura, the second main actor in the cosmographic drama is Nous,120 who provides the reason or plan of action by which theory is translated into practice. In Stock 1972 pp. 63–8; for making and remaking into elements, see Plato’s Timaeus 29e. Stock 1972 p. 80. 119 Stock 1972 p. 81. 120 The name in the text is spelled ‘Noys’, but just as the Greek psuch¯ e can be transcribed psyche, so also Greek nous, which functions much like the Neo-Platonic hypostasis Nous, can 117 118

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the second book, Nous brings order to the warring elements and unites the worldbody with the world-soul, and in the later part she provides a similar plan for the human microcosm. Nous has three major functions: first, she is God’s providence; second, she is God’s messenger, and third, she is God’s crafter, the world-maker. In her own monologue, Nous repeats some of Nature’s complaints about the longing of matter for form, that is, of disorder for order, and the idea that the world has arrived at the threshold of a new stage of cultural history. Here it seems likely that Bernard drew on an anonymous commentary on Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy.121 In both texts the real world reflects the divine exemplar and Nous mediates by way of ideas this beneficent form from God. In Bernard’s view, worldly creation is a cooperative effort where the duties are divided among several goddess figures. For Bernard as well, the recreation of the cosmic order had to await the right moment in history, when according to Nous, the cultus and the facies (the face) of the world, could be reformed along rational lines, the causae ad ordinem concurrentes. For Bernard, the traditional figure of God’s providence is a rather complex literary allegory. Like his Natura, she is a composite idea, formed of many, not easily reconcilable, classical sources, and transformed in the poet’s highly original imagination.122

The third main player is Silva or Hyl¯e, whose appearance is ‘one of the most elusive parts of the work, making heavy demands on even the erudite reader who is fully acquainted with [his] sources’. One problem, as Stock explains, is that Bernard’s view of prime matter does not appear wholly consistent throughout the poem. Despite these ambiguities Silva-Hyl¯e carries three main themes: that matter is a selfreproducing substance; that matter is an allegorical mystery, relating God and the world, and that matter is really the stuff of both the world and human, directly related to what is visible and tangible. Despite the fact that Bernard seems to use these names as synonyms, Stock claims that there is a subtle distinction: Silva is the concrete chaos of the primitive elements, while hyl¯e is more abstract, an indefinable substratum. This distinction corresponds roughly to two views of matter held in the twelfth century. One, derived from Galen and other medical writers, asserted that matter was virtually identical to the four elements of which it was composed; the other held that matter was a substratum into which the elements inhered but remained separate from them: The difference between silva and hyl¯e, however, is more profound than this. Silva is much more involved than hyl¯e in the moral allegory through which a new and better universe is to be formed. In his descriptions, Bernard points out that silva is to be refined into a more cultivated visage for the world, while hyl¯e represents the eternal source of matter which reproduces itself … hyl¯e and silva are resonating, inter-dependent forms of the same reality. Just as the vetus globus, despite the continual warfare of the elements, remains

be rendered noys; however, the spelling ‘Noys’ may distract the reader and make him or her think that some other thing is meant. 121 See Stock 1972 pp. 91–2; Dronke 1978 pp. 18–20. 122 Stock 1972 p. 97.

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battered but intact, so hyl¯e is prevented from descending into complete chaos by the four elements that cling to her, as to silva, like roots.123

In the next sections of the Megacosmos, Bernard describes the resolution of chaos into an ordered whole and the descent of the world-soul. After the world-soul and world-body are united in marriage, the world’s contents unfold in elegiac verses. First, matter is organized according to physical principles, where fire, earth, air and water occupy positions relative to their densities. Fire rises to the top and forms a ring around the cosmos which is contiguous with the aplanos, the outermost circle. When the elements have been arranged in a harmonious order, the other components are laid out: the heavens and ranks of angels, the stars and planets, the four winds and divisions of the earth, mountains and rivers, and the many species of animals, birds and fishes – this will lead eventually to the creation of human being. Bernard then turns to the world-soul, which is to be reunited with the world-body: then the world-soul, from the origin of life or light, flowed down as if in a kind of emanation as the life-force and glory of the cosmos. In its descent, it appeared as an extended, contentful globe, but one which could not be seen with the eyes, only with the mind. Its quite clear substance presented the appearance of a liquid, flowing fountain … From its place this living fire seems to endure in such a manner that it cannot perish, since whole and unified it is being poured out separately in individual currents. [I.2.167–80]

The figure of Destiny (Heimarmen¯e) comes directly from the Hermetic milieu; it is the principle of temporal continuity, ‘a serial law’ in Etienne Gilson’s phrase, ensuring the orderly succession of growth and renewal in the universe. The figure of Endelechia issues from Nous by some sort of emanation, like the Biblical Wisdom, and is wedded to the world born of Silva, which she imbues in all its parts with her vitality. Her power resides in her ‘vivifying sparks’ (fomes vivificus), derived from the heavens, and it is through the sparks’ permixture with material that Nature becomes the mother of generation.124 The closing images of this theatrical scene are adapted from the Hermetic Asclepius. Nous, the consort of God, is made pregnant by the divine will; she gives birth to the exemplary images, showing World-Soul, Nature and Destiny, what most befits the world. The World-Soul supplies the substance for particular souls, Nature shapes bodies for those souls to dwell in, and Destiny orders everything that she embraces in the world below, weaving and unweaving it again. As Book II of the ‘Microcosmos’ opens, Nous presents the completed artifact to Natura to behold; Nous instructs Natura to look up at the heavens, now like an open book, in which many things are written in secret script. After declaiming about the wonderful design of the earth, Nous informs Natura that the creation of human being is needed to bring this design to its consummation. Natura then seeks out two collaborators for this project, Urania and Physis; she searches many areas of the Stock 1972 pp. 100–1. Wetherbee 1973 pp. 39–40; he notes that Bernard uses the term fomes for the world-soul, for the vivifying influence of the firmament, and the same influence in the sun; as such it participates in the same complex of associations that surround the vitalis calor of universal life and the igniculus which this kindles in the human soul, 1973 p. 139 note 151. 123 124

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heavens in vain, until she passes the tropic of Cancer.125 Here she sees a large crowd of souls, sad and mournful, about to descend from splendor into darkness, from heaven to the realm of Pluto, from eternity to the temporal. Nature then travels to the Aplanos, the outermost sphere, composed of the fifth essence, timeless and unchanging, the source of motion for all the spheres below. It is the all-forming place and its governor is the Oyarses called Pantomorphos; here the borrowing from the Hermetica is right on the surface: Oyarses is ousia-arches, and pantomorphos is the name for the regent in the Asclepius.126 Here Natura meets Urania, who states that the creation of human being is in keeping with God’s will. The human rational soul (the mind) will know the laws of fate, the turns of fortune and the powers of the stars and planets; when its body is cast aside it will be able to rejoin the stars as a new god. Urania and Natura then enter the region of pure light where the supreme and super-essential God resides. Celestial spirits surround the sanctuary on all sides, differing in nearness, rank and visionary power, but the true good (Tugaton127) flashes out as an inaccessible brightness. From this infinite and eternal splendor a second radiance extends or emanates, and from the second a third radiance. From this supernal splendor, the two goddesses descend through successive planetary zones, encountering their respective Oyarses (=usiarchs): Saturn, Jupiter, Mars and then the Sun: ‘Among the usiarchs and genii of the heavens, whom eternal wisdom has appointed to adorn and govern the universe, the sun is pre-eminent in brilliance, foremost in power, supreme in majesty. It is the mind of the universe, the spark of perception in creatures, source of the stars’ power, eye of the universe; it penetrates all creation with an immensity of both radiance and warmth.’ A harmonious proportion unites souls to bodily members, so that a single bond of love links unlike natures, though the flesh is earthly and the mind ethereal; though the one is gross, the other volatile, one dull, the other keen: ‘It is thus that the simplicity of the soul enters the condition of otherness, and its single substance is divided among diverse kinds of life. But what is thus held by fetters, locked in the prison of the body and lies all but buried beneath its burden, will return to the glory of its birth, the kingdom of its father, if it is wise and does not submit to the tyranny of the flesh.’ Moreover, the divine voice continues See what is permitted to death, what is the cause of death, and who is its author, by what authority it draws down, in what whirlpool it engulfs everything that air, earth and water sustains. Yet if a mind which consorts with truth may inspire true understanding, death deprives a thing of its form, but does not steal away the essence of that thing. For the subject matter stays the same, though its form passes away, and a new form only gives this matter a new name. Form flows away, the essence of the thing remains; the power of death destroys nothing, but only disunites united parts.128 [II.8.end] 125 In Macrobius, the Tropic of Cancer is the gateway from heaven to earth, the Tropic of Capricorn, from earth to heaven. The new creature, human being, must be made in such a way that he can ascend to a place among the gods – at least after death. 126 Asclepius sec. 19; Brian Copenhaver (ed.) Hermetica, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992 pp. 77–8 notes pp. 231–2. 127 Tugaton or Tugathon, from Plato’s ta agathon, as in Macrobius, Somn Scipio I.2.14. 128 On parallels with this important passage, see Alain de Lille’s Anticlaudianus I.365–71, and Macrobius, Somn Scipio 2.12.13.

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In the next chapters, Urania and Natura descend through the lunar sphere and enter a region where the fluid elemental substance changes constantly. The two goddesses are horrified at this congenital inconstancy and attempt to reach an island of peace and calm. This pleasant place is called Gramision,129 named after the grasses of Elysium (graminum-elision). Of the self-fertilizing force of this place Bernard says ‘the hidden womb supplies for the various conveniences of humans whatever restores health, whatever arouses pleasant senses with desires … This place, in my opinion, is unique; although it has limited the particles, and while it takes nothing unto itself from the elements’ tension, it is fit to proclaim a full and consummate temperateness’ (II.9.19–25). Gramision is thus something like a healthy organism through whose senses a perfect harmony is maintained with the world: ‘Through his uses of both Neo-Platonic and Stoic metaphors’, as Stock says, ‘Bernard implies that this place is both the One at its stage of descent from the many and, at the same time, the union of the elements free from tension.’130 As Urania begins to pass out of her realm Natura resumes her role as guide. As they approach Gramision in search of Physis, the pleasant place appears to swell in anticipation, like an expectant mother and a blooming garden. This place is a kind of Neo-Platonic paradise, exhibiting true unity in diversity, and in a place of intense fertility, it unites the powers of sun, moon and elements, providing an appropriate cradle for the creation of human.131 It is in Gramision that Physis makes her first appearance, she is described as ‘clinging to her daughters, theory and practice’. In contrast to Natura who mediates life-forces from above, Physis’ powers are directly related to the human sciences. It is Physis who ‘had brought about the origin of all essential qualities, their properties, potencies, effects, and the entire list of Aristotle’s categories, the material for serious contemplation. For, taking her principles from the supreme divinity, she followed Natura and whatever comes under her name through genera, species, and individuals’ (II.9.55–60). ‘Physis may be seen as the completion of Bernard’s idea of mechanical, physical forces operating in the cosmos.’ As Stock says: ‘Bernard has not just employed the idea of natura artifex at the earthly level, he has adapted it to all levels including the resonance of life-forces with God. The way in which the upper levels of the cosmos redeploy life-forces is drawn on the analogy of Physis’ work lower down. At the earthly level, Bernard has merely made the notion more explicit by placing it in the context of the human sciences.’132 However, Physis does not merely reflect the powers she controls in a passive way, since, in attempting to relate theory to practice, she conducts what could only be called experiments. When the three goddesses have assembled, Nous appears and delivers a speech that outlines the design for human being, a design which she has brought down from God the creator. In his view, human is both a faithful image of the megacosmos, containing all the components of the universe, an officina or 129 ‘Gramision’ is the correct name, as Dronke demonstrates, 1978 pp. 171–7, and not ‘Granusion’, as Stock, Wetherbee and others have read it; Stock 1972 pp. 188–94, Wetherbee 1973 pp. 111–12: C. S. Lewis perpetuated this error, The Discarded Image, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1964 pp. 59–60. 130 Stock 1972 p. 189. 131 Stock 1972 p. 192. 132 Stock 1972 p. 195.

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workshop (in Eriugena’s terms) in which the laws of the greater world are continually being reproduced.133 Nous’s speech is both the climax of the whole poem and a summary of his cosmological model: In order that the sensible universe, the image of an ideal model, may be full of full parts, human must be made, his form akin to the divine, a happy and blessed conclusion of my work … He will derive his mind from heaven, his body from the elements, so that his body inhabits the earth, his mind far above. Mind and body, though different, will be joined into one, that a sacred nexus produces a pleasing work. He will be godly and earthly, he will show his devotion to the world with his counsel, for the gods with his religion. Thus, he will be able to conform to his two natures and be fitted to the principles of his existence. He may cherish divine things and have charge of earthly life, and satisfy the demands of nature drawn to both, he will possess the gift of reason in common with higher powers; only a thin line will separate him from these powers. Brute beasts plainly reveal slow senses and bear their heads cast downward, their gaze fixed on earth. But human alone, his stature showing the majesty of his mind, lifts up his noble head to the stars, so that he may use the laws of stars and their unalterable courses as a pattern for his own life.134

In the next section the three goddesses begin the work of making human; his soul is formed by connecting the world-soul to the edifice of virtue and his body to the remnants of pre-existent matter. The concretion of both by Natura takes place according to an order already present in the heavens. Nous then assigns to each goddess a specific area of control over their product: to Urania the mirror of providence, to Natura the table of fate, and to Physis the book of memory. Bernard devotes a great deal of attention to explaining how the structure of the megacosmos is captured in the structure of the human microcosmos. The mirror of providence reflects the eternal ideas, ancient and future forms, the divine fire, the planets and stars, and even ‘friendship of the elements, the mediator entwined in itself’. The features which this mirror reveals are comparable to those attributed to Nous in Book I, chapter 4; their extension into human being is thus an aspect of the chain of continuity binding all forces in a great hierarchy.135 The table of fate represents destiny, the genius which carries out Natura’s wishes in time. Bernard sees in this not only the miraculum opificis in bringing order from chaos but also the history of the world from the first human. Physis (who did not appear in the first book) is given the book of memory (or records) which is like an object that takes events into itself. In judging the sense impressions recorded on this blank tablet, ‘the intellect often compels the memory by verifiable reason, more often than by probable guesses’ (II.11.86–89). This book is written not in ordinary letters but in signs and symbols, its contents brief and condensed. Here there appears much comprehensive and careful information regarding the creatures which are beheld in bodily form: ‘In the midst of a multitude of earthly natures, Physis discovered only by great effort the image of human, faintly inscribed at the very end of the last page.’ In this context Stock 1972 p. 197. Cosm. II.10; the translations by Wetherbee (1978 pp. 113–14) and Stock (1972 pp. 199–200) differ wildly in this section; the modified translation above tries to follow the text in a literal manner. 135 According to Stock 1972 p. 203 note 79. 133 134

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Wetherbee refers to Bernard’s underlying pessimism: in the three perspectives granted by providence, destiny and memory, human being is ‘a tentative almost shadowy presence; and the goddesses must search anxiously to determine his place in the scheme of things. Together the Mirror, Table and Book imply a deeply enigmatic questioning of the relations of physics, metaphysics, and human history.’136 In the final two sections, Physis completes the drama of human creation when she perceives a certain latent fault (macula) in the crowded mass of matter, the plastic stuff out of which the human body is to be shaped: ‘For these are evils which may normally be born with the body and Physis fears them.’ Human should be reformed to the extent of the physical limitations of matter and the conditions laid out by the stars; one will provide the constitution, and the other the makeup of the soul: Physis was mistrustful of the coarse substance of the elements and doubted that they would prove wholly adaptable, for she saw in them the stains from an ineradicable evil deed of Silva. The violent and teeming state of matter in its primordial confusion terrified the prospective artisan … It was her task to recall to order whatever through too much force had transgressed its bounds. The malignity of bodily nature might well make her fearful lest their instability should scorn all form and mock her discipline … The universe contains in its being the seeds of continuance, but mortal human is not so made, and hence its maker would have to construct it in a different fashion … This was a task for a keen intellect, for the fire of a keen mind, and a hand capable of edifying human so that he, who is not preserved by relations with external life, might survive through a power within himself.

Constrained by physical limits, ‘Physis undertook this great task, though two things made her blush: expelling the evil taint from Silva and containing the fluid matter within fixed bounds.’ Bernard then says in Physis’ voice: ‘The human race, since it is mortal is inhibited by its condition, must yet be so reformed that it may rise to dwell among the heavenly powers, and to subject to its laws whatever the starbearing sphere impels by its circling, and by all these means redeem the taint of its earthly beginnings and innate evil’ (II.13). God the creator had established places (or dwellings) for the individual elements and unbreakable bonds between forces in order to ensure peace and order. Despite this, ‘the rough necessity of ever-flowing Silva lurked close beneath the surface. The fluctuating mass harbored an evil tendency to injure or destroy the glory of the divine work. Physis was dismayed at the inconstant type of material she had to work with and then also realized that she did not have even the elements themselves but fragments, ‘scraps and leavings which she had found discarded after the universe’s completion’. In these she saw only the images of the elements, not their true nature. These were not the kind of things that could achieve perfection, but ‘the dregs of the elementary essences, gross remnants of their original simplicity’. Physis applied the elementary complexions to the human constitution in such a way that human’s basic nature would conform to their underlying principles, that is, the elemental ratios which comprise the four humors. Physis divided the bodily material into three portions: the head, the breast and the loins, which received the three principal 136

Wetherbee in Dronke 1988 p. 47; Wetherbee 1973 pp. 114–17; Dronke 1978 pp. 122–6.

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organs, the brain, the heart and the liver. In order that the soul should govern the whole it is placed in the head, the vital force in the breast, and the appetite in the lower parts. She raised the head to the position of temple or capitol of the whole body, making it stand out toward the heavens. She employed a soft, clear material in making the brain, so that sensible images might impress themselves thereon. In the front chamber of the skull she set the imagination, in the rear she set memory, and reason between these two in order to impose firm judgments. The work’s concluding section describes how ‘human was formed with masterly and prudent skill, the masterwork of powerful Nature’. There follows an elaborate and beautiful comparison of the various bodily organs and members as architectural symbols (capsules) of the world-whole. An unexpected and striking encomium on the superb function and marvelous character of the sexual organs is stated: The nature of the universe outlives itself, for it flows back into itself, and so survives and is nourished but by its very flowing away. For whatever is lost only merges again with the sum of things, and that it may die perpetually, never does wholly. But human, ever liable to affliction by forces far less harmonious, passes wholly out of existence with the failure of his body. Unable to sustain himself within himself, wanting nourishment from without, he exhausts his life, and one day reduces him to nothing. [II.14. 125–27]

The theme of the Cosmography, according to Wetherbee, illustrates perfectly the ambitions and resources of the Platonism of its day, and its literary form and character reflect one of the earliest significant confrontations between a modern European author and the classical tradition. Implicit in its allegory is a subtle critique of the sacramental, as well as the psychological and moral implications of the Platonist cosmology, and of the new sense of the autonomy and value of universal life which the twelfth century saw reflected in this cosmology.137

At the same time it is in a special sense an epic poetic work, a definitive and heroic characterization of human experience: ‘The Cosmography expresses that concern to expand the limits of rational speculation, to affirm both the dignity of man and the dignity of that natural order with which man’s nature, even in its fallen state, exhibits profound affinities, which is the essence of medieval humanism.’ The introduction of Christian Neo-Platonist texts in the twelfth century entailed, contact with an emanationist view of life for which the facts of formal order and continuity in nature are at best accidental phases in, and at worst obstacles to the participation of human life in the great movement of procession and return in which the true relationship of creation with God consists. Bernard’s late antique sources also exposed him to nonChristian Neoplatonism, for which life is an endless struggle between spirit and flesh, one seeking always to return to its divine source, the other tainted by the malignitas of materiality and posing the threat of dissolution.138

William of Conches said that ‘in the creation of things, divine power, wisdom and goodness are beheld’, and these three attributes, under various names, seemed 137 138

Wetherbee 1973 pp. 2–3. Wetherbee 1973 p. 5.

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to thinkers of widely diverse orientations manifest expression of the Holy Trinity: Equally important are the anthropological implications of these ideas … man himself is a universe, composed of the elements and subject to the physical laws of the cosmos at large, and endowed with a soul that reflects the divine wisdom and is by nature subject to a providential influence. To know nature is to know man, and hence an appreciation of the organicity and inner coherence of the universe could lead to a view of nature and natural law as a standard for the regulation of human society.139

But revived Platonism was not the only influence: ‘The continuity of human and cosmic life was also emphasized in the Stoic physics with which the cosmologists augmented their Platonism, drawing from Cicero and Seneca the idea of an ignis artifex, a vital force which sustains and renews universal life at all levels, from mere vegetable existence to the level of cognition and intelligence.140 In his treatise On the Same and the Diverse, Adelard of Bath states this last idea in lucid words: The creator of all things, supremely good, drawing all creatures into his own likeness, so far as nature allows, has endowed the soul with that mental power which the Greeks call nous. This power she freely enjoys while in her pure condition, untroubled by disturbance from without. She examines not only things in themselves but their causes as well, and the principles of these causes, and from things present has knowledge of the distant future. She understands what she is in herself, what the mind is by which she knows, and what the power of reason by which she seeks to know. Once bound by the earthly and vile fetters of the body she loses no small portion of her understanding, but that elemental dross cannot wholly obliterate this splendor.141

The so-called ‘scientific Platonism’ of this period coexists with a more or less mystical, hierarchical Neo-Platonism which reflects the attempt to come to terms with Greek Patristic thought, and whose two great sources were Dionysius the Areopagite and Eriugena’s summation: There were innumerable points of contact between these Platonisms, and in themselves they were not irrevocably opposed. Both were concerned with the higher significance of naturalia, with the ascent of the mind to the vision of truth, per creaturas ad creatorem, and with the relation of created multiplicity to the uncreated One, the idem, whether conceived as ‘Father of Lights’ (pater luminum) or as that ‘form of forms’ (forma formarum) … But the two kinds of Platonism differed significantly in their attitudes toward the actual works, as opposed to the methods, of the ancient auctores, and in their sense of the value of such wisdom as philosophy alone is capable of attaining.142

The tremendous authority assigned to Plato’s Timaeus was extended to those texts considered to be the work of his most faithful interpreters and adapters. In addition 139 Wetherbee, in Dronke 1988 p. 24–5; citing William of Conches, Glossae super Platonem (Paris, 1965) p. 60 and Tullio Gregory, Anima Mundi (Florence, 1955) pp. 123–74. 140 Stock 1972 pp. 138–62; Verbeke 1983 pp. 35–44; Michael Lapidge in Dronke 1988 p. 81–112. 141 On the Same and the Diverse IV.1 pp. 9–10. 142 Wetherbee in Dronke 1988 p. 29.

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to Boethius’ Consolation, these included the Hermetic Asclepius, ‘with its powerful and highly mythological view of the universe pervaded by the love of a bisexual cosmic deity’; Macrobius’ On The Dream of Scipio, which provides an explicit rationale for the use of myth in philosophical speculation, and the elaborate allegory On the Marriage of Mercury and Philology by Martianus Capella, ‘in which education and spiritual experience are intricately worked together and set off by Latinity charged with hints of the philosophical and religious implications of mythology’, in Wetherbee’s words.143 These works promised philosophical understanding through largely literary means; great works of literature were in themselves expressions of philosophical truths as Dante’s Divine Comedy would show. In Dante’s Paradise, the poet’s supreme guide is an elder clad in glory, one who will lead him to the Mother of God and the highest of created beings. This elder figure is St. Bernard of Clairvaux, the pre-eminent champion of the twelfth-century vision of the perfect contemplative life, one in whom the pilgrim can see the image of Christ himself. McGinn says that ‘Dante was not alone among medieval writers in considering Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153) the supreme guide to the heights of heavenly contemplation. This twelfth-century mystic, a many-talented man whom one can well imagine to have been capable of such alternate careers as crusader, courtly poet, or politician, was a figure larger than life, both to his contemporaries and to subsequent generations.’ Despite the enormous duties imposed by being abbot, counselor, preacher and so on, Bernard found the time to write some of the most elevated and elevating of all Christian mystical works: Among the Latin authors of the Middle Ages, Bernard may possibly have equals, but surely no superiors. The sumptuous elegance of his Latinity, his genius at alternating soaring passages of complex periodic sentences with terse epigrammatic formulations summarizing key points and, above all, the unmistakable personal tone he achieved throughout his work, mark him as the greatest stylist of an age of many distinguished Latinists. Though Bernard has always been seen as a superb writer and major spiritual authority, modern research … has increasingly vindicated his position as an important theologian, though one decidedly not in the scholastic mold.144

Bernard had an excellent literary education, though nothing like the formal theological training of some of his peers. In 1113, after some careful planning, he entered the fairly recent monastery of Citeaux, whose new model of monasticism had been developed not long before by Alberic and Stephen Harding. Within two years Bernard had been made abbot and the Cistercian movement grew with exceptional vigour. Bernard began writing in the 1120s with the treatise the Steps of Humility and Pride and his Apology, written to defend the Cistercians against the Cluniacs. During the next decade he acquired a solid knowledge of the Church Fathers, and composed his most important doctrinal work, On Grace and Free Choice, and his principal mystical treatise, On Loving God. About 1135, Bernard began his mystical masterpiece, the Sermons on the Song of Songs, some parts of which he preached to his fellow monks: ‘The eighty-six sermons that he left at his 143 144

Wetherbee in Dronke 1988 p. 34. McGinn 1994, pp. 162–3; in general, Leclercq et al. 1968 pp. 187–200.

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death are polished literary works, a highly developed and richly rhetorical treatment of the mystical life on the basis of a scriptural exegesis of the most profound (for Bernard) book of the OT, Solomon’s song of love.’145 Here the author displayed his familiarity with commentaries on the Song of Songs by Origen, Ambrose and Gregory; although his sermons are sometimes digressive and repetitious, they are very much Bernard’s own ideas. In his later years he chose to cast his most important thoughts in the sermon genre, including the lengthy series Sermons for the year and Sermons on diverse topics. He also wrote many letters and short treatises on specific topics, such as dispensation and consideration. He did not write anything like a systematic treatise on the soul or human nature, and hence any attempt to elicit one must involve a selective reconstruction.146 Bernard’s extraordinary powers were also sometimes turned to explicitly political ends; the passion which he brought to an exposition of the mystical aspects of Biblical texts he also brought to the promotion of a grand crusade against the Muslim occupiers of the Biblical lands. In 1145, when King Louis of France could not get enough nobles and prelates to motivate the populace for his cause he turned to St. Bernard, then at the height of his reputation. Steven Runciman captures this decisive moment in his brief sketch of Bernard: It is difficult now to look back across the centuries and appreciate the tremendous impact of his personality on all who knew him. The fire of his eloquence has been quenched in the written words that survive … From the day in 1115 when, at the age of twenty-five, he was appointed Abbot of Clairvaux, till his death nearly forty years later, he was the dominant influence in the religious and political life of Western Europe. It was he who gave the Cistercian Order its impetus; it was he who, almost single-handed, had rescued the papacy from the slough of the schism of Anacletus. The fervour and sincerity of his preaching combined with his courage, his vigour and the blamelessness of his life to bring victory to any cause that he supported, save only against the embittered Cathar Heretics of Languedoc. He had long been interested in the fate of eastern Christendom and had himself in 1128 helped in drawing up the Rule for the Order of the Temple. When the Pope and the King begged for his help in preaching the crusade, he eagerly complied.147

John Norwich gives a less than salutary portrait of Bernard at this time: St. Bernard, now fifty-five, was the most powerful spiritual force in Europe. To the 20th century observer, safely out of range of that astonishing personal magnetism with which he effortlessly dominated all those with whom he came into contact, he is not an attractive figure. Tall and haggard, his features clouded by the constant pain that resulted from a lifetime of exaggerated physical austerities, he was consumed by a blazing religious zeal that left no room for tolerance or moderation.

145 McGinn 1994 p. 164; an English translation in four volumes, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1971–80. 146 On his life and works, see Evans 1983 pp. 25–49. 147 Steven Runciman, History of the Crusades, vol. II, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1952 pp. 252–3.

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And again, after his resounding success in mobilizing the nobles and prelates, and the eventual failure of the totalizing crusader force, Norwich says of him: All his life Bernard had exemplified that fortunately rare phenomenon, the genuine ascetic who feels himself compelled to intervene in the political field; and since he saw the world with the eye of a fanatic, his interventions were almost invariably disastrous. His launching of the Second Crusade had certainly led to the most shameful Christian humiliation of the Middle Ages. Many might have believed him to be a great man; few would have called him a lovable one.148

His theological treatment of human in the abstract seems light-years away from his practical dealings in human affairs. His analysis of humans’ place in the scale of being situates the species on a hierarchy of four grades: animals, humans, angels and God. Only God is absolute spirit and thus has no need of any kind of body, whereas even angels require a tenuous body. He said that ‘the spirit of the human being which occupies the middle place between the highest and the lowest clearly has to have a body for two reasons: without it the soul is not able to advance on its own, nor can it be of any help to another’ (SCC 5.5). McGinn comments that, the law of our creation is that we can only have access to what can lead us to truth and happiness through the body and its senses, but this God-given condition, by which we were created to use our fleshly nature in order to reach the spiritual domain, has been perverted through the fall. Rather than using knowledge acquired through the senses to reach beyond them, humans became enslaved to materiality so that they can conceive of nothing beyond the flesh.149

In the form of the word (logos), God takes on human bondage to the fallen condition in order to free us from the earthly prison and restore the original human possibility of attaining spirit through our bodily nature: Christ’s activities while in the flesh are central to the economy of salvation, and thus all the physical descriptions of the body and the bodily activities of the [divine] groom in the Song of Songs are to be read in reference to these saving works and their appropriation by the soul. God, for example, can be now said to have feet that can be kissed not so much because the earth is his footstool (Isa. 66:1), as because the humanity of Jesus has revealed both his present mercy and his coming judgment, which we must embrace at the beginning of our conversion. Anthropomorphic language about God is now not only metaphorically but also literally true!

The essential basis of Bernard’s account of human nature150 is derived from Genesis’ double account of human creation in the image and likeness of God. In his work On 148 John Julius Norwich, Byzantium: The Decline and Fall, London: Penguin Books, 1995, pp. 93, 107. 149 McGinn 1994 p. 167; next quote ibid. 150 On this subject, see Maur Standaert, ‘La doctrine de l’image chez Saint Bernard’, in Ephemerides Theologiae Lovanienses, 23 (1947) pp. 70–129; Endre von Ivanka, ‘La structure de l’ame selon S. Bernard’ in Saint Bernard Theologien pp. 202–8; Wilhelm Hiss, Die

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Grace and Free Choice, he claims that the image of God consists in humans’ inalienable freedom from necessity which itself is found in the faculty of free choice. It is due to liberum arbitrium that a human can assent to a course of action based on reasoned judgment. In contrast to the image of God, their likeness to God, lost through sin, is based on two factors: freedom from sin (free counsel) and freedom from misery (compliance). It is the latter that establishes the human will as oriented toward the good and makes it impossible for the will to be disturbed or unhappy. The freedom to sin, as opposed to the freedom from sin, is the result of the deformation of the divine image in humans. It is still called ‘freedom’ since it still represents what the subject wants to achieve, namely, to conform the world to its own deformed image, rather than to the rightness of the divine will. The way back from this miserable freedom Bernard describes in these words: ‘here below, we must learn from our freedom of counsel not to abuse free choice in order that one day we may be able fully to enjoy freedom of pleasure. Thus we are repairing God’s image in us, and the way is being paved by grace for retrieving that former glory which we forfeited by sin.’ However, another picture of the relation of humans to God through image and likeness appears in his Sermons on the Song of Songs (verses 80–82). Here Bernard’s emphasis is on St. Paul’s understanding of the soul’s formation according to the image and likeness to the word of God. In McGinn’s summary: the word is the Father’s image as veritas, sapientia and justitia; the human soul is capable of participating in these insofar as it possesses something of the greatness or dignity and uprightness of the word. Through sinning the soul loses uprightness, though it keeps something of its greatness. Only part, not the whole, of the original divine image remains in the human soul. The soul’s likeness to the word consists in three things: simplicity, that quality by which the soul’s nature is identical with the act of living; immortality, which follows from this, and freedom of choice. Although the soul’s simplicity and immortality can never be lost, its freedom of choice has been entrapped through sinning into voluntary servitude. Hence, in these sermons the soul’s likeness to God is not totally lost but it is partly concealed, just as the image is partly present in its greatness and partly lost in the vanished uprightness.151 Standaert has argued for an underlying consistency in Bernard’s treatments of the image and likeness theme. On his view, Bernard’s intent was not to advance any single definitive thesis but to present variations on a basic triple pattern: first, formation, that is, humans’ inalienable similarity to God; second, deformation, that is, the injury done to that likeness through sinning, and third, reformation, the possibility of progressive restoration of the original similarity through the soul’s bond with the human incarnation of God’s word in Jesus Christ.152 Anthropologie Bernards von Clairvaux, Berlin: de Gruyter, 1964; Bernard McGinn, ‘Introduction’ to On Grace and Free Choice, pp. 3–50; and Michael Casey, Athirst for God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1988, Chapter 4. 151 McGinn 1994 p. 171. 152 Standaert 1947 pp. 118–21; discussion of humans’ image and likeness was very popular during the High Middle Ages; in general, see Charles Trinkhaus, In Our Image and Likeness, London: Constable, 1970, vol. I Introduction; and David Bell, The Image and Likeness, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984.

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One of Bernard’s favorite passages was from the Book of Wisdom (9:15) where it says that ‘the body that decays weighs down the soul’ (corpus enim quod corrumpitur aggravat animam). Although this might seem to intimate a pejorative view of the flesh and a dualist view of mind and body, Bernard takes a different tack. Though the body does weigh down the soul (‘aggravate’ seems a good translation), this is not through its nature but through its false love, the concupiscence that has affected the whole human as a result of its fall: ‘Indeed, the body is central to Bernard’s mysticism, since he insists that our journey toward God must begin on the carnal level and that our enjoyment of bliss will not be complete until our physical bodies are reunited with our souls at the general resurrection.’ Bernard uses the word ‘flesh’ or ‘fleshly’ (caro, carnalis) in two ways that are not always distinct: ‘first, to indicate the good material component of human nature as created by God; and second, to describe our fallen nature, in which the perversion of the proper relation between body and soul is most evident in the unruly bodily passions’.153 But the two senses of ‘flesh’ are quite clear in a passage from his sermon-treatise on conversion: ‘As long as we are in the body, we are in exile from God, not indeed that this is the body’s fault, but it is the fault of the fact that it is still a body of death, or rather, that the flesh is the body of sin in which good does not exist, but instead the law of sin’ (Conv. 17.30). Insofar as humans strive for self-knowledge they gain greater insight into their basic sinfulness, a condition that unfortunately predominates in our carnal lives. One result of this insight is the necessity for humility as the essential starting-place for our spiritual life. Despite our wretched condition, born into the flesh, every person can come to know that God creates our minds to participate in him and that therefore self-knowledge also brings hope for an eventual change in our condition. The humility and hope that humans experience through recognition are the workings of the divine word within each one; it comprises the first step in a lifelong process of conversion.154 The abbot had a dynamic view of the soul’s progress through stages of mystical knowledge. Although he certainly believed that salvation was afforded to all Christians, he thought it difficult if not impossible for those outside the monastic setting to attain the higher stages of mystical union. He also thought of the Christian way of life as a single continuum of love, from earthly carnal love to the heights of nuptial love with Christ. He often employed a ladder-like scheme of stages (or grades): in one text, there are twelve degrees of humility in the ascetical preparation for progress to mystical union. In the Sermons on the Song of Songs (18), he describes seven stages of grace that culminate in the fullness of love. The most common scheme, however, is rooted in Origen and Dionysius’ threefold division: ascetical purification, virtuous illumination and loving union. In another sermon he transposes this scheme into a new register: ‘the soul finds in God reverent confession by which it lowers itself in humility, ready devotion by which it renews and restores itself, and delightful contemplation where it rests in ecstasy’. Bernard also speaks of three groups (or types) of soul who will ascend to heaven: those who are pulled there, those who are led there, and those who are snatched away. He also suggests that all three types of soul coexist within every human soul: 153 154

McGinn 1994 p. 173. McGinn 1994 p. 173.

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they are psychical aspects which can be activated by observation of Christian virtues.155 William of St. Thierry (c.1085–1148) was a devoted friend and admirer of Bernard of Clairvaux and in his main works considered many of the same themes as his mentor, though William developed them in new directions. William showed a deep and broad knowledge of the Greek Fathers (although in Latin translation), especially Gregory of Nyssa and Origen, as well as the most important Latin writers such as Augustine and Gregory the Great. He also engaged in heated debate with contemporaries such as Abelard and William of Conches; here one can sense ‘a mind paradoxically both at odds with much of the speculative efforts of the schoolmen and yet also willing to engage in profound speculation within limits of his own choosing’.156 In the 1120s, William and his brother entered the monastery of St. Thierry, not far from the city of Reims. Here William composed his earliest works, On Contemplating God and On the Nature and Dignity of Love, both of which showed Augustine’s profound influence. Deeply impressed by the Cistercian achievement, William implored Bernard to permit him to enter their order; when at last he did so in 1135 he became a simple monk at Signy, also near Reims. The hard life there initially caused the elderly ex-abbot some trouble, but eventually he came to enjoy what he called their pingue otium (‘rich leisure’), something that enabled him to produce his most important works. Here he completed his Exposition on the Song of Songs (the favorite Cistercian Biblical text), the Golden Letter (often considered the best short work on the mystical life), and the Nature of the Body and Soul (also called the Physics of the Human Body and Soul). In McGinn’s pithy words, ‘while William lacks the rhetorical ingenuity and epigrammatic conciseness of Bernard, the Exposition and the three major mystical treatises … are written in a distinctive style – complex, often knotty, capable of passion and precision, though at times bordering on opacity’.157 In the opening of his Exposition on the Song of Songs William begins to ring the changes on the central Genesis theme that human was created in the image and likeness of God. He says that humans were created in this way in order to contemplate and enjoy God, ‘free from the slavery of corruption’ and hence through the power of love to serve God alone. It is love of God which makes humans like God ‘to the extent that we are drawn to him by that living perception by means of which whoever lives from the spirit of life has knowledge of you’. This combination of mystical ideas, image and likeness, contemplation and enjoyment, love and the Holy Spirit, is unique to the abbot of St. Thierry. On the Greek Patristic view, to be an image of anything means to participate in it, that is, to derive its reality from that original, but also to be distinct from it in some way. According to David Bell, William’s theology of the divine image and likeness involves two related but different types of participation: the image emphasizes the essential or original share in the divine nature that makes each human open to God, while the likeness concerns the perfective or participative activity by which humans resemble God in how they act. William teaches that both the image and the likeness have been damaged by sin 155 156 157

McGinn 1994 pp. 181–5. McGinn 1994 p. 226; Leclercq et al. 1968 pp. 200–5. McGinn 1994 p. 227.

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through the fall from grace, but the effect is far more injurious in the likeness.158 In the Mirror of Faith, William says that ‘by a kind of natural affinity, eternal and divine things seem to be joined to one mind created for eternity so that it might be open to it through understanding and participate in it through enjoyment. This happens to such an extent that even if the mind has become quite dull through vice, it never loses its appetite for these things.’ In the twelfth meditation he says that ‘the holy soul is reformed in the image of the trinity, to that image of him who created her [the soul] in the very manner of his beatitude. For a will that has been enlightened and “affected”, that means intellect, love, and the disposition for enjoyment, is in a certain way three personal “affections”, as is believed of God the Trinity.’ This is just one way that William expresses the idea that the threefold character of the divine image in humans is an originating participation.159 More often William employs the Augustinian triad of memory, intellect and love, and in an unusual manner he also uses the three virtues of faith, hope and charity as a template for the soul’s image status. Odo Brooke said that ‘whether we approach his thought from the angle of “image” or from the angle of theological stages with their spiritual and psychological roots, we always find that these themes converge in the central one of the impetus towards resemblance through experimental knowledge given by the Holy Ghost’.160 In this way, William insists on calling each individual soul to the task of knowing itself as an image and likeness of God: ‘But since the soul’s innermost nature is to be an imago trinitatis, the deepest form of self-knowledge, beyond the necessary initial recognition of our sinfulness and need for reform, is the gradual awareness of the mystery of our relation to the Trinity.’161 In the Golden Letter, the author analyzes the levels or stages of human resemblance to the divine, that is, the three activities through which the soul attains to perfecting participation. The first is the soul’s ubiquitous presence in giving life to every part of the body, the second consists in the virtuous life, and the third is a unity of spirit, when a person becomes one with God. In his Exposition, William refers to three kinds of souls, to three spiritual stages, and to three kinds of prayer. ‘It is clear’, he says, ‘that there are three states of those who pray or kinds of prayer: animal, rational and spiritual. Each person forms for himself or proposes his own Lord God according to his mode, because the God who is prayed to appears to each according to the quality of the one who prays.’ The Golden Letter expresses similar sentiments: ‘Just as star differs from star in brightness, so does cell from cell in the way of life of beginners, of the advanced and the perfect. The state of beginners is called animal, the state of advanced rational, and the state of perfect spiritual … Every religious way of life is made up of these three kinds of persons.’162 In the Golden Letter, William integrates the three stages of spiritual progress with his overall account of the human soul in a more detailed and systematic fashion. The animals correspond with external Christians (that is, in their outward show), ‘those 158 159 160 161 162

Bell 1984 pp. 96–8. In McGinn’s terms, 1994 pp. 230–32. Brooke 1980 p. 24. McGinn 1994 p. 231; Brooke 1980 pp. 14–17. The three stages and three types are from Origen, De Prin. 4.11.

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who are not guided by reason or drawn by affect, but are moved by authority, reminded by doctrine, and inspired by example to approve what is good where they find it’. The rationals have begun the movement toward an interior religion, where the soul as life-giving power is already on its way to becoming mind, that is, the rational soul that dwells within. In this type of soul the liberty to choose has begun to be transformed into the will to serve God, although it is still bound in some degree to sin. Bernard says that, although these persons have knowledge and appetite for the good, they do not yet have affect; when reason passes over into mental affect, they have begun the spiritual life. The spirituals are those who are fully enlightened by the Holy Spirit; because they have tasted (sapius) the good whose ‘affect’ draws them, they are called wise (sapientes). In McGinn’s summary, ‘the transition from anima through animus to the divinely bestowed spiritus that has its fruition in our unity of spirit with God (unitas spiritus) governs the whole structure and exposition of [his] most noted work … The transition from anima to animus is primarily (though not solely) understood as the work of the Incarnate Word, while the soul’s lifting up from animus to spiritus is ascribed to the indwelling Holy Spirit.’163 It is possible to discern an intimate relation between these three stages of spiritual progress and the triple formulae he uses to present the soul’s journey to God. The three virtues of faith, hope and charity have been invoked to express the way by which divine grace restores human’s lost likeness to God: ‘The Holy Trinity established this trinity in the faithful mind according to its image and likeness. By it we are renewed to the image of him who created us in our inner human. This is the “machine” of human salvation for whose construction and education in the hearts of the faithful every divinely revealed scripture has a concern.’ Hence, the three virtues are necessary in order that reason may be made just and perfect so that it can contemplate the vision of God. Anyone who seeks God the trinity must have this psychical trinity within his soul; the interdependence of all three virtues re-establishes the soul’s likeness to God.164 In the treatise explicitly devoted to an analysis of human nature, the Nature of Body and Soul, William begins by describing the four humors that comprise the operations of our body.165 There are three principal powers that share in directing the body’s operations; he defines power as ‘an operative habit residing in an organ which enables it to carry out its proper function’. There is a natural power in the liver, a spiritual power in the heart, and an animal power in the brain.166 What is ruled by the soul and nature together is called animate, and what is ruled by nature alone is called inanimate. The ‘nature’ (that is, essential attribute) of a power is known by its activities: (a) the natural power is exercised through desire, retention, digestion and elimination; (b) the animal power through feeling and motion, and (c) the spiritual power through inhaling and exhaling. The natural power is common to McGinn 1994 p. 235. McGinn 1994 pp. 236–7; and T. Tomasic, ‘Theological Virtues’, in RTAM vol. 38 (1971) pp. 89–120. 165 Unprefixed citations are to McGinn’s edition 1977. 166 Here William follows the standard tripartition found in Constantine Africanus’ Pantegni IV.1; Constabulinus’ Difference of Soul and Spirit; William of Conches’ ideas are similar, Phil. Mundi IV.22. 163 164

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plants, animals and humans; the spiritual power to animals and humans, and the animal power to some animals and not others. By the last he means such bodily (that is, brain) activities as imagination and memory (3TM p. 111). There are also three spirits, that is, three powers that rule and enliven.167 Where the natural power has its seat in the liver, the ‘spiritual spirit’ has its seat in the heart. Spirit is defined as ‘the power of the powers for performing their actions’. He states that ‘the spirit is a kind of force of the soul through which its powers perform their acts: the natural power in the liver, the spiritual power in the heart, and the animal in the brain’ (3TM p. 112). On this view the brain does some things by itself and some things by its functions.168 The rational function (reason) resides in the middle of the brain, imagination in the front and memory in the rear. These act through their own power, whereas sensation acts through the animal power by means of the five senses. Although animals obviously have the power of sensation and motion, they do not have imagination and memory; what one mistakes for these functions are rather more acute sensory powers. William says that ‘some philosophers called the spiritual spirit the spiritual soul, for they wanted the soul to be corporeal. But this is wrong. For the spiritual soul is a substance made in the image of God. It is like God, and so exists in its body in some way as God exists in the world; it exists everywhere in the body and is entire in each point.’ In this fashion William clearly implicates the notion of spirit in the broadest sense as ‘spirits’ (pneumata, spiriti), neural fluids that transmit messages through the body. He concludes by saying that no kind of power – natural or animal or spiritual – is the soul, but rather the instruments of the soul acting through the body (3TM pp. 114–15). In contrast with the various bodily powers, the human soul is a simple substance, a natural species, distinct from the body’s matter, and yet having the power of life.169 The soul is spiritual – though a kind of spirit in the sense above – created by God, life-giving, rational and immortal. In what follows, William’s use of ‘soul’ (anima), unless otherwise qualified, should be taken to mean rational soul (animus, ‘mind’). The way the soul gives life to the body is wonderful and ineffable. ‘The power of life’, he observes, ‘is not drawn uniformly from some one thing in us, but with the God-given soul as its source, nature breathes into many parts its life-giving influences and causes, making the whole necessary and almost inscrutable collection into one living being’ (3TM pp. 125–26). Through the efficient and orderly arrangement of the three bodily powers the rational soul shows its power to 167

McGinn says that his ‘sliding terminology’ of spirit can be confusing, 1977 p. 33 note

139. 168 In his tripartite description of the brain William employs ideas from Nemesius’ Premnon physicon XIII.6–7; Constabulinus’ Difference of Spirit and Soul II; and Constantine’s Pantegni IV.9; this division was popular with Chartrian authors as well: William of Conches Phil. Mundi IV.24; John of Salisbury’s Metalogicon IV.17; Adelard of Bath’s Quaes. Nat. 18; McGinn 1977 p. 32 note 136. 169 The major influences on William’s thought in these sections are Gregory of Nyssa’s De Hominis Opificio often in verbatim quotation; as well as Augustine’s De Quan. Animae; and Claudianus Mamertus; ‘Despite his willingness to make use of non-Christian medical and philosophical material in the creation of theological anthropology, the sense of theology as sapientia rather than as scientia, which led to his attacks on Abelard, is clearly present in this treatise’, McGinn 1977 p. 35.

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sustain life and promote natural growth: ‘The human soul alone is true and perfect, capable of every action.’ Unlike the sense-driven actions of animals, the reasondriven actions of humans show that reason rules and judges the ‘flowing stream’ of sense. Reason sits as a queen in the central castle of a city, surveying all that enters her demesne, admitting those things beneficial and barring those detrimental.170 However, lest the citadel image convey the wrong idea, it is not the case that the rational soul has its seat in any one organ. Here William expresses an idea about the unknowable nature of the rational soul (or mind) in a way that strongly echoes his idea about the unknowable nature of God. Indeed, because the rational soul does not ever attain perfect knowledge of itself, it is that much more an image of the divine incomprehensibility: The author of nature wishes the association and bond between the intellectual substance and the corporeal to be ineffable and beyond our comprehension, so that by the law of nature the incorporeal might neither exist within nor be held within the body, nor be encompassed by the body, nor be found outside it. For in some way beyond the understanding or reason the intellectual soul approaches nature and, fitted into it and about it, is considered insofar as possible to be placed neither within nor enclosed by nature, nor outside and enclosing nature. Rather, in a manner which cannot be expressed or understood, it is able to be completely permeated by nature and still effect its own operations. [3TM p. 130, see also p. 138]

The rational human soul was created in the image of the one who made it, such that there is one power that runs through all the bodily powers. The fact that humans stand erect indicates something more about their relation to God. Since his posture permits him to reach toward heaven and gaze upward this shows his ‘imperial and regal dignity’; it shows that he has ‘received from the Creator dominion over all the beings that look down, and that he has much in common with what is above if he maintains the dignity of his inborn likeness’ (3TM p. 133). The rational soul when it understands and preserves its special dignity and honor amongst creatures is thus something noble and lofty: ‘It is far removed by nature from rustic lowliness and degeneracy, since it is free and able to command all things and make them serve his wishes, governing them by its authority.’ The rational soul’s authority is also exercised over its own powers: just as the body consists in four life-giving elements, so too the rational soul has four quasi-elements or virtues: prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice. The soul’s rational character is formed from these four virtues. In addition, just as the soul uses four powers in administering organic life to the body’s parts, so also it administers a human’s life lived according to reason through four passions: hope, joy, fear and sadness. The life lived according to reason acts through three powers, which William calls rationality, positive appetite and negative appetite, along the lines of the Platonic threefold schema (3TM pp. 135–37). How is it possible, William asks, to study the soul since, by his own admission, it is invisible and incorporeal? Further, it is equally wonderful and marvelous how the 170 These regnal images are from Gregory of Nyssa’s De Hom. X; erect stature De Hom. VIII; rule of reason over desires, De Hom. XIV; variety of vices De Hom. XVIII; dominion over creatures, De Hom. II, VII.

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soul works its actions on the visible body.171 Is the soul, like God himself, absolutely outside those categories that are used to talk about bodies? It cannot be said what kind the soul is for it is incomparable, nor how great it is, for its greatness is not quantitative, nor what it may possess, for there is nothing that it cannot possess. Therefore, ‘the soul is in its body somewhat like God is in the world: everywhere and entire. It is entire in each sense, such that the entire soul senses in each [and] entire in each part.’ As little as the category of place applies to the soul so also the other categories are not applicable to it. Nevertheless, even while it administers the body and gives it sensation, if at any time it raises itself through the internal gaze of the mind to high and eternal truths, in a certain way it leaves the bodily senses and ceases to be localized by them … By a marvelous and in a way Godlike power, it is at the same time completely present in contemplating heavenly things by intellect, completely present in the sense or act by which it is acting … and completely present in the body which it is vivifying. [3TM pp. 141–42]

In the final sections of this treatise, William turns his attention to the steps or grades by which the soul in striving for perfection ascends to the author of its being.172 The first step is to give life to the earthly, mortal body; it gathers the body’s parts into one and holds it together. The second step shows that the soul acts according to its sensibility; in all its actions the soul approves and desires those things that accord with its body’s nature and rejects and flees from those contrary to it. The third step is proper to humans alone; the soul exercises its greater powers here through memory and imagination, especially well seen in the skillful production of buildings, music, language and other remarkable ‘signs’. At the fourth step moral goodness appears; the soul dares to put itself above its own body and worldly things; it withdraws from sordid pleasures and comes to delight more in following authority. ‘When the soul is free from corruption and washed from its stains’, William says, ‘then finally it most joyfully possesses itself in itself and fears absolutely nothing for itself, nor is anxious about anything for any reason of its own.’ This is the fifth step, where the soul attains and preserves its purity; with an incredible confidence it goes out to God, ‘to that highest and most secret reward for which it has worked so hard’. It might seem that, at this point, there are no further steps that one could ascend – but William’s scheme is more demanding than that. The sixth step is achieved in ‘the supreme gaze of the soul’ whereby the understanding grasps those things that are true and ultimate: ‘For it is one thing to cleanse the soul’s eye, lest it look in vain or look in an unworthy way, another to fasten a calm and direct gaze on that which is to be seen.’ The seventh and final step is the vision and contemplation of the truth; as such it is not a step but a permanent state: ‘He who enjoys it alone understands what are its joys, what is the fruition of the true and supreme good, what is the breath of peace’ (3TM pp. 147–50). Isaac of Stella (1100–c.1175), born in England, like many students of his age crossed to France to study at one of the cathedral schools where the new theology was beginning to flourish. He heard what St. Bernard said in his sermons on conversion and, sometime around 1140, he entered the Cistercian Order, probably at 171 172

In this section William is dependent on Claudius Mamertus’ De statu I.2.19–24. In this section William follows Augustine’s De Quan. Animae 33.70–76.

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the Abbey of Pontigny; within seven years he had been elected abbot of the small monastery of Stella near Poitiers. In later life he appears to have been exiled to a remote monastery on an Atlantic island where he composed some of his last sermons, but returned to the Stella Abbey where he lived his last years in repose and peace. Although his main ideas about human nature appear in the short Letter on the Soul they also weave in and out of his fifty-five surviving sermons. He shared many of the central ideas with his fellow Cistercian brothers, but he departs from them in (at least) four or five significant respects.173 First, he explicitly endorses the nowcommon way of treating human as the image and likeness of God, but at the same time underlines that the human body is the image of the world: ‘On the outside, you are an animal in the image of the world, so that a human is called a little world; within you are a human according to the image of God, so that you can be deified’ (Serm. 2.13). The image within the human soul takes part in the divine nature in virtue of the intellect, which comprises both the power to know and the power to love. Isaac says that ‘through the power of sensibility (sensus) to the image, through life to the likeness … knowing the true God is eternal life, but loving with whole heart is the true way; charity is the way, truth is the life, charity the likeness, truth the image’ (Serm. 16.16). Second, he pursued the investigation of the powers and functions of the soul in a systematic manner, that is, by an analysis of the virtues or attributes by means of which the soul may reach God: ‘The powers are able to receive the gifts which by habit become virtues.’ Third, unlike other Cistercian writers, Isaac was more interested in how the power of rationality takes part in the return to God than in analyzing the power of ‘affect’ and charity (See Serm. 17.10–13). Four, although the other white monks knew about Pseudo-Dionysius, Isaac alone makes extensive use of the Areopagite’s apophatic approach; he speaks of the ‘unapproachable light’, that ‘itself produces darkness’. He employs eminent properties formed from the prefix ‘super’, and the need for silence when one wishes to speak about the unspeakable. In addition, closely allied with the images of darkness, cloud and smoke, is the identification of the divine nature with the desert, as well as the desert as a spiritual place in which one enters ecstasy through meditation.174 Isaac’s Letter on the Soul ‘remains one of the most important witnesses to what might be called the symbolic understanding of the mystery of human in the twelfth century’.175 In this work Isaac brings real systematic insight to the problems of psychical classification: ‘[His] main interest is to show how human’s ability to know demonstrates both his distance from the divine nature and his ability to attain it. He does this by means of an adoption, extension, and integration of two divergent systems of classification of the power of knowledge.’ The first system, which McGinn prefers to call the temporal schema, consists of ingenium, the power that looks into the future, reason (ratio) the power that regards the present, and memory as that which contains the past. The arrangement and disposition of these cognitive McGinn 1994 pp. 287–90; see also G. Raciti in DSA vol. 7 cols. 2011–38. McGinn 1994 pp. 292–3; and in McGinn’s earlier work, ‘Pseudo-Dionysus and the Early Christians’, in B. Pennington (ed.), One Yet Two, Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1976 pp. 200–41. 175 McGinn 1977 p. 50. 173 174

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powers show that humans’ intellectual ability, which must proceed in time, is radically different than God’s ability to grasp all things at one time in one intuitive act.176 The second scheme consists of five steps: sensibility (sensus), imagination, reason, intellect and understanding (intelligentia):177 The Abbot of Stella enriches this classification, making it capable of carrying a variety of meanings in a manner that suggests its symbolic power as a manifestation of the golden chain of being. Thus, the five steps are here compared to the five hierarchically ordered material components of the universe … The anagogic significance of the whole is stressed by linking the five powers of knowledge to the four powers of desire … to produce a ninefold schema of ascent that betrays its Dionysian significance by being compared with the nine choirs of the angels.178

Isaac begins by asserting that there are three realities – the body, the soul and God – body cannot be very well known, the soul can be known better than body, and God can be known better than soul. This statement seems astonishing: ‘in this body which corrupts the soul and weighs upon it, where the earthly dwelling also presses the power of knowledge down into the depths … the body, which is by necessity darksome, is the first of these three realities that the soul encounters in its activities’. The soul is darkened by the body like smoke and cannot see clearly; but since intellect can rise above this, through the rational soul it can see God himself (3TM p. 156). In its nature the soul has rationality, positive appetite and negative appetite; in this sense, it comprises a trinity of attributes and yet remains a simple thing. The power of knowledge that arises from rationality has various names: it can be called insight (ratio), memory and ingenium, according to the temporal scheme: Ingenium brings what it has uncovered to reason, memory brings back what it has hidden, but reason is placed so to speak over present matters, and as if it were the mouth of the mind always either chews what the teeth of ingenium gather or ruminates on what the stomach of memory presents … The hidden word which is expressed exteriorly by the mouth is only gradually and piece by piece drawn out of memory and formed in the mouth of the mind. [3TM p. 161]

Isaac then turns his attention to the five powers, their functions, their association with branches of scientia, and their connection with the four material elements. Each of the stages of knowing can be specified in terms of the object to which it is directed, its degree of corporeality, and the branch of science it produces. Thus, sense knowledge is purely corporeal in having bodies as its objects, and founds the realm of natural science. The objects of imagination are phantasms, that is, the likeness of bodies, and it too grounds natural science. Reason perceives the incorporeal forms of corporeal things through abstraction and founds the discipline of mathematics. Intellect is an anomalous cognitive power whose objects are the incorporeal forms of incorporeal things such as angels. Understanding or intelligence (intelligentia, not to McGinn 1977 p. 54. Isaac’s five-step scheme is very similar to Boethius’ Cons. Phil. 5.4; Isaac’s fifth- power intelligentia may have been derived from Boethius as well, Isagoge Porph. Comm. I.1.3. 178 McGinn 1977 p. 55. 176 177

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be confused with intellectus179) founds the supreme science of theology and has as its object the pure and true being of God. Isaac makes an awkward attempt to correlate the five cognitive powers with the elemental structure of the world. The soul, he says, is like the diurnal motion of the sun, rising from the animation of the flesh into sensory awareness, and then stained by bodily phantasms into imaginary perceptions, until it shines forth in the purity of reason. Intellect surpasses reason both in rank and power, just as the heavens, completely free from the dullness of earth and water, surpass the lower atmosphere. Sensibility is dull and heavy, lying under reason and intellect, while imagination surrounds it like water. Reason can be compared to the thinness of air, encompassing and penetrating everything below it, through ‘the pendulum of abstraction’. Intellect has the solidity of the heavens and itself discerns the real state of spiritual natures, while understanding can be compared to the very fine, thin and fiery last heaven (3TM p. 170). The lower powers of the soul, Isaac insists, cannot ascend to the higher realms of knowing by themselves, but they are as it we