Further meditations on the soul…


The history of the interpretation of the Delphic Laws can be traced back primarily to Socrates and Plato. Most influential was Socrates’ discussion of the meaning of the maxim in Plato’s Alcibiades Maior. When in the final section Plato has Socrates give his interpretation
of the precept (128E-135E), he raises the question of what the self is that we are advised to know. Since that self must be what the human person as a whole is in essence, it must be different from the body: “So the human being is an entity different from his own body.” The question is, of course, “Then what is the human being?” Socrates answers: “The soul is the human being.” Consequently, knowledge of the self is knowledge of the soul: “Then the God who instructs us to know ourselves orders us to know the soul.”
This definition will furthermore affect the concept of selfcontrol (Sophrosyne): self-control that comes from the knowledge of the soul will cause a person to devote his attention to the
“care for one’s soul” instead of to external matters. Based upon these presuppositions, Socrates goes on to raise the question of how we can obtain that kind of knowledge
of ourselves. In order to explain the way to it, he turns to the example of the vision of the eyes (132D).  “See yourself.” How can this happen? Is there a possible way for the eye to see itself? Socrates refers to the observable fact that “the face of the person who looks into someone else’s eye is shown by vision of the opposite person, as in a mirror. We of course call it the pupil, a kind of image of the person looking.” Hence we can say that “an eye beholding another eye and, looking into what is its most precious part and that by which [the other] sees, may in this way see itself.”‘
Socrates then applies this insight to the problem of the knowledge of the soul: “.. . if a soul is to know itself it must look into a soul, and especially into that area of it in which occurs the virtue of the soul, wisdom….”‘ This part which houses “insight and thought” is its most divine. Since it resembles the deity, “anyone looking into this part and knowing all that is divine, the deity as well as thinking, thus may also, in the best possible way, know himself.”‘ Once the equation of the self with the soul and the deity was made, another equation offered itself almost necessarily.

It is in Cicero’s sources in his De legibus, especially in the Somnium Scipionis,and in the Tusculanae Disputationes  that we find the equation of the divine part of the soul with the “personal Daimon.”

According to traditions handed down in the Academy, the unity and difference between the soul and the deity is explained by the analogy of the mirror picture: the soul as the divine self in the human being reflects, as a mirror reflects the deity, so that whoever looks into the human soul by introspection sees the deity. This concept stands also behind the magician’s confession in PGM VIII.37-38. When one sees such an “image,” one can
look into it as into a mirror and conclude by way of knowledge that what one sees in the mirror is the deity himself: “I know you, Hermes, and you me; I am you, and you are I”

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