A meditation on Sophia and the Sophoi (48° and 53° Delphic Laws)

 

48) Be a seeker of wisdom (Φιλοσοφος γινου)

Philosophos, i.e. a seeker, a lover of wisdom: the “wisdom” which philosophia search for is not some vague conceptual understanding, as now implies the use of this term. It is  the actual achievement of a higher state of consciousness, obtained by self-discipline and mystical contemplation. According to Socrates, we know that Wisdom is generative of truth and intellect; and in the Theaetetus, Wisdom is defined to be that which gives perfection to things imperfect, and calls forth the latent Intellections of the soul; and again, by Diotima in the Banquet, that the mind which is become wise needs not to investigate any further (since it possesses the true Intelligible); that is to say, the proper object of intellectual inquiry in itself. Plato plainly declares that to know oneself is Wisdom and the highest virtue of the soul; for the soul rightly entering into herself will behold all other things, and the Deity itself, as verging to her own union and to the centre of all life. This acquisition of mystical knowledge does not come from doing research in a library, it involves a special method of meditative contemplation and an entire way of life, the ascetic way of life (the modus vivendi of the Pythagoreans, as example): in the final myth of Er, only those who have practiced philosophy will be able to make the correct choice in the lottery of souls. Those who have lived good lives but without the askesis risk heedlessly making a poor choice. Ancient sages such as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Socrates, and Plato were genuine adepts in philosophia, so today they would be given the modern titles of shaman, mystic or magician. They were savants, not scholastics; their goal was to enable their students to experience a higher reality, not just comprehend some idea or concept. It is the other way of initiations into the Mysteries, as Plato clearly explains in the Phaedo: “I hold that the true votary of philosophy [the search for wisdom] is likely to be misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that his whole practice is of death and dying.  . . .  When the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul- death, surely, is nothing else than this.  . . .  In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from its communion with the body.  . .When does the soul attain truth?  . . .  Must not true existence be revealed to her in contemplation, if at all?  . . .  And contemplation is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her-neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure- when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being.  . . If we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body- the soul in herself must behold things in themselves; and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers.  . . True philosophers. . . are always occupied in the practice of dying.” Moreover, if we carefully study those who practiced philosophia, we would understand it to be a vocation within an active life, a self-transformation in which we become progressively able to see through delusions and face realities, a reawakening of dormant organs of perception which allow us to see and relate to the essence of things.

In the Apology, Plato reveals how a genuine initiate in philosophia, such as Socrates, practices this vocation:”While I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any one whom I meet and saying to him, after my manner: You, my friend–a citizen of this great and mighty and wise city of Athens–are you not ashamed of devoting yourself to acquiring the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all?  . . .I proceed to interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no ‘virtue’ in him, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater, and overvaluing the less. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul.”

Wisdom for Plato is not just highly-compressed human erudition or potted profundity, as it is currently viewed. Wisdom is the soul’s experience of “returning into herself” and reflecting, passing “into the realm of purity, and eternity, and immortality, and unchangeableness, which are her kindred, and with them she ever lives, when she is by herself and is not let or hindered; then she ceases from her erring ways, and being in communion with the unchanging is unchanging. And this state of the soul is called wisdom.”

This law is very clear: we must love that kind of Sophia that will lead us to the mystic experience of the return of the soul to its true origin- as says Heraclitus: “Fools are those who are not in constant intercourse with their own divine nature.”

 

53) Consult the wise (Σοφοις χρω)

“Chrao” here is very meaningful, as it is a verb used mostly to refer to the Oracles, that of Delphi in particular: “chromenos en Delphoîs”. We have already met the Idea of Sophia, now we can apply the idea to those who participate into the Idea herself. Sophoi are those who have knowledge of the divine and human, and of their causes and effects, those who possess non-hypothetical knowledge but true wisdom  which contemplates the causes of being: they understand the reason related to the universal truths.

The Pre-Socratic philosophers  assert the existence of absolute eternal truth that can be grasped intuitively and expressed verbally by a few wise men (sophoi). Even though they disagree and dispute each other on the content of truth, they all share in the esoteric view of truth. Just as Being is separated from the realm of appearance by Parmenides, so the wise man who alone can discern Being is clearly distinguished from the common crowd who cannot move beyond the realm of appearance. Or according to Heraclitus only the wise man can give ears to the eternal Logos amid the ever-changing flow of the world; whereas fools are compared with swine that are content with mud. This view gives the wise the authority to teach Truth ex cathedra.

The Laws on which we are meditating were written by the seven excellent Sages of Hellas, about whom Plato says: “That to frame such utterances is a mark of the highest culture…among these were Thales, Pittacus, Bias, our own Solon, Kleoboulos, and Myson, and a Spartan, Chilon…their wisdom consisted of pity and memorable dicta…they met together and dedicated the first-fruits of their wisdom to Apollo..inscribing these words which are on everyone’s lips “know thyself” and “nothing to excess”…in particular this saying of Pittacus “hard is to be noble”, got into circulation privately and earned the approval of the wise.”

People consult the Oracles to know what is the proper course of conduct in a specific matter, in order to get an advice from the God, to know “the will of Zeus”. The Lord of Delphi also sends among mortal beings some enlightened persons, the sophoi, who know the universal Truth: they are God-like. Not only this, because the sophoi are celebrated for their having applied their metaphysical knowledge to the ethical field, to politics, etc. Hesiod says that Linus is “versed in all kinds of sophia”; in this way was also used of the sophoi in general and of the Seven in particular, whose wisdom consisted of ideal Sophia and practical statesmanship. Not the man who knows many things is sophos, says Aeschylus, but he whose knowledge is useful. Because the knowledge of the truly wise man is highly useful, we have to consul him as if we would approach an oracle, in order to get a response…

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