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”


Be impartial- meditations on the 32° Delphic Law


32) Be impartial (Κοινος γινου)

“Koinos” has many meanings but the only one that makes sense here is “impartial, righteous”. Impartiality is probably best characterized in a negative rather than positive manner: an impartial choice is simply one in which a certain sort of consideration (i.e. some property of the individuals being chosen between) has no influence. We have to make fairly fine-grained distinctions between various sorts of impartiality, this is necessary, since one and the same agent might manifest various sorts of partiality and impartiality towards various groups of persons. To say, for instance, that an impartial choice is one that is free of bias or prejudice is to presuppose that we are dealing with a certain sort of impartiality, that which is required or recommended by morality, or at least worthy of moral approbation. ‘Bias’ and ‘prejudice’ are terms, suggesting not only that some consideration is being excluded, but also that the exclusion is appropriate and warranted. Similarly, the idea that impartiality requires that we give equal and/or adequate consideration to the interests of all concerned parties goes well beyond the requirements of the merely formal notion. It is really interesting to see what Plato states on this matter, as he was termed as son of Apollo and perfect in declaring ethical truths: as there exist Forms for all things present in life, so it is the same for values and virtues, and all these are integrated into the form of Justice and, as we have already seen, to Plato virtue is simply the knowledge of these Ideals. The nature of value is thus set independently and prior to any particular goals, projects, relationships or interests that a person might have: this is to say that reason itself is impartial and how a person should live, and what he/she should aim at, is set externally to the particular agent. As for example, a person wise enough to know what is just will love philosophy, but is also expected to run the society for the benefit of everyone, and has also to be limited in respect of personal attachments and properties, as such things may be distracting, that is to say: the wise and virtuous are ruled by what is impartially good- that is why the rulers are from Zeus. Only those incapable of something better can be self-interested, and only to the extent that their rulers allow; while those who know the impartial good get to do precisely what they want, i.e. philosophical life and pursue/realize the good- this is highly in accordance with the demands of impartial justice. The best recognition of this state of impartiality is evident in his use of the painting of a statue as an analogy, when he concludes that one’s principle in painting should not be to give ‘the most beautiful pigments to the most beautiful parts, but rather to give each part what is proper to each part’.

“Socrates has, in a becoming manner, epitomized every form of polity, recurring to intellectual impartiality in order that he might imitate the Deity who adorns the celestial order intelligibly and paternally.” We see this clearly in the Iliad for example: while the Gods picked whom They would favor for different reasons, Zeus never acts as such: as the symbol of supreme authority and justice, He makes judgment calls as to the other Gods’ involvement in the war, remains impartial, and doesn’t get caught up in picking favorites. The impartiality of his judgements is represented in the image of Zeus holding golden scales in his hand; as Achilles and Hector fight, the fall of a pan indicates that Hector is doomed. Zeus has the power, if He wishes, to save Hector whom He loves, as He might have saved his own son Sarpedon, but it is men’s moira to die, and Zeus does not overrule the apportionment-

“Kindred to both in blood, Zeus surveys both sides alike in this dispute with an impartial scale, apportioning, as is due, to the wicked their wrongdoing and to the godly their works of righteousness. When these things are thus equally balanced, why do you fear to act justly?”

Again on Friendship- meditations on 37° and 59° Delphic Laws

37) Do a favor for a friend (Φιλω χαριζου)

We have here an another law, showing an another characteristic of thephilia: charizo is a very clear verb which partakes in the area of the charis, a very important concept that includes”grace, gracefulness, charm and amiability, joy, happiness, pleasure and delight, favor, goodwill, kindness, a grateful thing done in favor of someone, respect, honor”. Thus charizo means “do a favor, gratify, bring delight”. Charis is a favor that brings to the recipient delight and pleasure, Aristotle offers a clear explanation of this concept: “repayment is the distinctive feature of charis. For it is necessary to give a return service to the one who has given charis and again oneself to begin giving charis”. One may well feel gratitude upon receipt of such a favor and for this reason charis is often translated simply as ‘gratitude’ or even ‘thanks’, but is oversimplification of the relationship: an individual’s reaction to receiving such a charis is to be kecharismenos, meaning essentially ‘to be put in the charis relationship’. Delightful favors when received by the Gods are kecharismena, and here the offering should be thought not merely as ‘pleasing’, but as ‘pleasing/acceptable in the context of the charis-relationship between Gods and men; as for example, Plato has Chryses praying “to Apollo, calling out the epithets of the God and reminding Him and asking if ever either in the buildings of the temples or in the sacrifices of offerings he had presented Him anything kecharismenon”.

Not only this: Charis is one of three Graces, also known as Aglaia, that kind of Grace that symbolizes Beauty; according to Pindar, They were created by Zeus to fill the world with pleasant moments/things and goodwill, and as such They are companions of Aphrodite, who guards also the bond of philia. In fact we can say that the free bestowal of charis awakens pleasure and gratitude in both the bestower and the recipient, and Plato elevates it to the level of critical or aesthetic response to music or art; the Athenian Stranger in the Laws announces three criteria for judgment: correctness or fidelity of the copy to the original, moral effect or utility, and charm and pleasure, i.e. charis itself. It is Pindar who defines Grace: charis brings all things to fulfillment for the delight of men; the cultivated garden is a secret close of the Graces; the bride’s consent is a form of charis; the way of friends to settle matters is the way of grace; the Graces, who mediate all delight and all that is sweet, can also be associated with Dionysos; Charis is peculiarly associated with Aphrodite and Apollo, and it’s opposite with Ixion and the Centaurs. In a word “even the Gods cannot order Their dances without the Graces”.

Philia is the strongest form of commitment in Hellenic life; in Euripides’ Suppliant Women, the chorus hopes for a philia based on charis between the two cities. So this law ranges from an individual advice to a political one: for a political association to endure, according to Aristotle, there must not only be justice between its members, but a kind of friendship or fraternal goodwill as well. While the formal unity of a city is supplied by the peculiar distributional scheme embodied in its constitution, its actual longevity can be secured only by the growth of fraternal bonds among its citizens.


59) Honor a benefaction (Ευεργεςιας τιμα)

“Euergesia” means properly “benefaction, benefit”, i.e. doing good deeds; it is related with the well known concept of euergetes, the benefactor (usually applied to the Gods or to the rulers).  In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle, treating various types of philia, states in one of the first sentences that the rich and powerful man needs friends, philoi, to exercise hiseuergesia. Here euergetic philia is stressed as representing a bilateral relationship, which develops into a conceptualized hierarchical relationship, also involving the concept of authority: Aristotle’s examples are “a king and the ruled” and “a father and sons“. Plato, talking about good deeds outside the context of friendship, underlines the fact thateuergesiai are fourfold: they can be exercised by means of money, body, knowledge or speech. The euergesiai exercised with body and riches consist in rendering service to the city (as done by the Athenian aristoi who took care of the expenses to pay all the public religious ceremonies of the city, as the annual Great Dionysia, as also to erect public buildings and so on). Including help given in the form of particular abilities- by means of knowledge or speech- enlarges the field of possible benefits to the services of teachers, doctors, lawyers etc. The now called ‘services’ of the liberal arts and professions in the Tradition are reputed to be ‘benefits’ which expect a ‘return’ and not a payment or fee.

The most peaceful and well known benefactor is the inventor of arts and of technical knowledge, the protos euretes, who redeemed humanity from barbarism and roughness: the concept of euergesia surely overlaps that of philanthropia (two of the most important qualities of a ruler also). The much greater, and usually not only material, benefit of the liberator from fear and barbarism cannot be returned or reciprocated: it is the gift/benefit of a God,tà kalà dora of Demeter, as “all things are Demeter’s gift.” Cicero states clearly:for by their means (Mysteries) we have been brought out of our barbarous and savage mode of life and educated and refined to a state of civilization; and as the rites are called initiations, so in very truth we have learned from them the beginnings of life, and have gained the power not only to live happily, but also to die with a better hope”.

The title euergetes, alone or coupled with sotèr, is applied to a number of Gods and rulers. So, the relationship of identity between a God and a man exercising his euergesia towards other men comes to light, illustrated by sentences which says clearly: “For a man, to benefit others is a way to be divine”. Out of benevolence the Gods shed Their gifts, the only return expected being honor and love; a man who shares in Their natural disposition and imitate Them in his behavior toward humanity, is surely loved by the very Gods.

Harmony and Justice- meditations on 43° and 27° Delphic Laws

43) Be accommodating in everything (Παςιν αρμοζου)

“Harmozo” is a very particular verb that has to be analyzed in depth. First of all, we have to said that it comes from the root har-harma, that means “chariot”, also indicating the corresponding constellation; this is the word used by the Pythagoreans to indicate ‘unity’. At the same time it is the root for the word harmonia, which has a plurality of uses: “adaptation, fitting; rule, order; agreement, accordance (of the parts with the whole), symmetry and order” Diòs harmonia, “the order established by Zeus”. It means also “number, musical harmony” and “moral character”; the Pythagoreans called Harmonia the number three, the personification of the musical order of the universe. Thus, the verb harmozo bears in itself these pluralities of meanings; it is used to express “to connect, to unite”, as also “to give in marriage” and even “to rule, to control”. In the intransitive mode, as in this case, it finally means “to be accommodating, to be in harmony”; interestingly enough, lyran armozo means “to tune the lyre”.

Each one of us is a part of the whole; on a cosmic level it is necessary a power and a “fiery bond of love” that may, on one hand, ties into a strong union all the different discordant parts of the whole and, on the other, harmonizes them all to create a perfect melody. This is clearly stated by Orpheus himself: “all the celestial sphere you tune by the melodious lyre”. Pindar beautifully sings: “O golden lyre, rightful possession of Apollo and the violet-wreathed Muses! whom the dancer’s footstep hears as it begins the triumphal festival; whose notes the singers obey, whenever with trembling strings you strike up the prelude of the choir-leading overture!…For even violent Ares, forgetting His harsh and pointed spears, warms His heart in repose. Your shafts enchant the minds of even the Gods through the wisdom of Leto’s son and the deep-bosomed Muses…but all the beings that Zeus not had loved are terrified when they hear the voice of the Pierides.” The significance of the symbolism of the lyre as the instrument whose music casts a peaceful spell even upon the God of war and strikes terror in the hearts of those anarchic monsters not loved by Zeus (whose rule is Harmony, Oneness and Unity) is perfectly manifested here: Zeus and the Gods are proclaimed lovers of the Lyre, his enemies as Their enemies- creatures of disharmony and chaos. At once this brings to the mind Plato and what he meant with mousiké, and more, the spirit of serenity, order, concord throughout the Universe opposing and holding in subjection whatever makes for turbulence, discord, in a word, the disruption of all. All that Plato means by music and more, philosophy, which is described in the Phaedo as the megiste mousiké, “the noblest and the best of music”, capable of inciting men to strive for a inner harmony of the soul and a exterior moral behavior “in accordance with the law of the Delphic Apollo”.

In the Mysteries, the lyre is regarded as the secret symbol of the human constitution, the body of the instrument representing the physical form, the strings the nerves, and the musician the spirit. Playing upon the nerves, the spirit thus created the harmonies of normal functioning, that, however, become discords if the nature of man is defiled.

This law teaches “to be accommodating in everything, to be in harmony in everything”, to rule over the discordant parts in us in order to be ‘harmonious’ beings; once acquired this disposition, we ought to extend that on all aspects of life, from relationships to friendship etc, in order to work for the establishment/preservation of Zeus’ law: “Grant, o Zeus, grant that we may be pleasing to You!”


27) Practice what is just (Πραττε δικαια)

“Ta dikaia” literally are the duties and the rights of each individual; in a more extensive sensetò dikaiosis “just, right”. Referred to a person, it means someone who honor his duties toward the Gods and men as well, one abiding by the law of what is correct and what is righteous, as in the Latin iustus. We have already met the shining figure of Dike, one of the Horai, who sits besides the throne of Zeus son of Kronos; so sings Orpheus: “indeed everything that, difficult to judge, is accomplished with evil intentions by the mortals who with unrighteous plans desire the excess, alone advancing You awaken righteousness against the wrongdoers; enemy of the unrighteous ones, favorable You unite yourself to the righteous ones.” and Terpander echoes him:Dike who walks in the wide streets, that helper in fine deeds.” Dike, the bright-throned sister of Eunomia and Eirene, is the guide to excellent deeds that display that areté about whom we have already discussed. In a fragment of a lost play by Aeschylus we read this wonderful dialogue between the Goddess herself and the chorus:

“Dike: I sit in glory by the throne of Zeus, and He of His own will sends me to those He favors; I mean Zeus, who has sent me to this land with kind intent. And you shall see for yourselves whether my words are empty.

Chorus: how then shall we rightly address you?

Dike: by the name of Dike, She who is greatly revered in Heaven.

Chorus: and of what privilege are You the mistress?

Dike: as for the just, I reward their life of justice.

Chorus: (lacuna) this ordinance among mortals.

Dike: but in the reckless I implant a chastened mind.

Chorus: by Peitho’s (Persuasion) spells, or in virtue of your might?

Dike: I write their offences on the tablet of Zeus.

Chorus: and at what season do you unroll the list of crimes?

Dike: when the proper time brings the fulfillment of what is theirs by right.

Chorus: eagerly, I think, should the host welcome You.

Dike: much would they gain, should they receive me kindly”

A double order is enclosed in this law: first, we are told to accomplish only what is accordance with Dike, that may please Her and Her father also. Secondly, we ought to remember that what is right varies from person to person: if a warrior does the things of an artisan, the result of the work will not be excellent, and vice versa. So, here this principle, that each one must to his/her own things alone, is introduced: there is an universal level, a non-written law common to all, and there is the nature of each one, his/her Daimon, to whom we must obey- the two things are absolutely not in contrast.