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τὰς εὐεργεσίας: ‘the blessings which they received.’ This clearly refers, as Proclus also believed (l.c. p. 185), to the souls ἐν τῇ ὑπὸ γῆς πορείᾳ. See on 615 B, and compare Matthew Arnold's well known poem ‘Saint Brandan.’

616B - 617D After spending seven days in the meadow, the souls that had returned from the journey of a thousand years rose up and departed, accompanied by Er. On the fourth day they reached a place from which they beheld a straight light, like a pillar, stretching through all Heaven and Earth, and after a day's journey they saw at the middle of this light the extremities of the chains of Heaven, and stretching from these extremities the spindle of Necessity with its eight concentric whorls, the circles of whose rims as they revolve carry with them severally the fixed stars and all the planets in their order. On each of the eight whorls is perched a Siren, uttering a single note, the eight notes thus produced result- ing in a single ‘harmony’ or mode. Meanwhile the three Fates, as they assist in the revolutions, keep singing to the Sirens' music, Lachesis hymning the past, Clotho the present, and Atropos the future.

ff. The astronomical difficulties in this part of the Republic have occasioned a great deal of controversy and discussion. Besides the various editions and translations of the Republic in English and German, and the commentaries of Proclus and Theo, the writers whom I have chiefly studied are Grote (Plato on the Earth's Rotation), Boeckh (Kleine Schriften III pp. 266—320), Donaldson (Transactions of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, X pp. 305—316), Susemihl (Gen. Entw. II pp. 273—278), Krohn (Pl. St. pp. 278—289) and Zeller^{5} I pp. 434 f. notes Donaldson's article, to which Dr Jackson first called my attention, although it lacks consistency and clearness, and passes over many difficulties, contains the germ of what I now believe to be the correct theory of the straight light. But nothing that has hitherto been published on the subject supplies at once a full and satisfactory explanation of the difficulties, and it is only through the kind cooperation of Professor Cook Wilson that I have at last been able to form a definite view as to the meaning and solution of this extremely complicated problem. From 616 B to the middle of 617 B my commentary is mainly based on the exhaustive criticisms and investigations which he has sent to me.

The general scope and purpose of the astronomical part of the myth would seem to be to set before the souls a picture of the ‘harmonies and revolutions of the Universe’ in conformity with which it is their highest duty and privilege to live. Cf. Tim. 90 C, D τῷ δ᾽ ἐν ἡμῖν θείῳ ξυγγενεῖς εἰσι κινήσεις αἱ τοῦ παντὸς διανοήσεις καὶ περιφοραί: ταύταις δὴ ξυνεπόμενον ἕκαστον δεῖ τὰς περὶ τὴν γένεσιν ἐν τῇ κεφαλῇ διεφθαρμένας ἡμῶν περιόδους ἐξορθοῦντα διὰ τὸ καταμανθάνειν τὰς τοῦ παντὸς ἁρμονίας τε καὶ περιφορὰς τῷ κατανοουμένῳ τὸ κατανοοῦν ἐξομοιῶσαι κατὰ τὴν ἀρχαίαν φύσιν, ὁμοιώσαντα δὲ τέλος ἔχειν τοῦ προτεθέντος ἀνθρώποις ὑπὸ θεῶν ἀρίστου βίου πρός τε τὸν παρόντα καὶ τὸν ἔπειτα χρόνον. It will facilitate the study of the details if we observe in advance that Plato's description falls into two well-marked divisions or sections, viz. from ἀφικνεῖσθαι τεταρταίους down to τὴν περιφοράν (616 B, C), and from ἐκ δὲ τῶν ἄκρων (616 C) to the end of the myth. In the first section we have a representation of the outermost or sidereal sphere, girdled by a circle of light, which is prolonged through the poles into a column or shaft of light spanning the Universe from pole to pole and symbolizing to all appearances the cosmical axis. See on line 14 below. In the second section the scene is shifted, and we are introduced to a new picture of the celestial system, including the fixed stars, but without the encompassing girdle of light, assimilated to the poetical and suggestive figure of Necessity and her spindle, the shaft of which again represents the axis of the Universe. The details are fully discussed in the notes, where it is shewn that the two parts of the description cannot from their very nature be combined into a coherent and consistent whole, and that in consequence of their essential inconsistency Plato's passing attempt to reconcile them inevitably fails. See on ἐκ δὲ τῶν ἄκρων κτλ. 616 C and App. VI.

If the question is asked, ‘Does Plato's description embody a serious astronomical theory of the visible heaven and its machinery?’ what answer should be returned? The following remarks will indicate the kind of reply which seems to be in harmony both with Plato's general attitude on astronomical questions and with the special peculiarities of the myth before us. (1) The visible heavens, according to the Republic, are not the object of true Astronomy. The true Astronomer is concerned with ἃς τὸ ὂν τάχος καὶ οὖσα βραδυτὴς ἐν τῷ ἀληθινῷ ἀριθμῷ καὶ πᾶσι τοῖς ἀληθέσι σχήμασι φοράς τε πρὸς ἄλληλα φέρεται καὶ τὰ ἐνόντα φέρει (VII 529 D. See note ad loc.). We may therefore expect imagination and idealism to play a large part in Plato's astronomical pictures, more especially when they form part of a myth. (2) The greater portion of this passage is in reality a similitude representing the celestial system under the figure of the spindle of Necessity. Now it is clear that Plato deliberately sacrificed the reality of the sidereal sphere when he found it inconsistent with the figure which he had chosen (see on κύκλους κτλ. 616 D). And if he could concede so much to his comparison, the question arises, ‘Are we justified in regarding any of the machinery as seriously expressing Plato's real conception of the mechanism of the heavens?’ It will be found on reflection that the only satisfactory and safe reply is that all the machinery, including the material whorls and axis of the spindle, is poetical throughout. This does not of course exclude the supposition that some of the details of Plato's imagery are borrowed from earlier astronomical fancies, and it is highly probable that here, as elsewhere in the myth, he takes something from the Pythagoreans: see on 616 C, D, 617 B. (3) The entire description should in all probability be regarded as “essentially a symbolic representation and not an attempt at scientific explanation” (Cook Wilson). But ‘a symbolic representation should stand in some relation to the thing signified,’ and in this case all we can reasonably infer from Plato's symbolism is that, according to his belief, the Earth is in the middle: the Sun, Moon and Planets revolve round the Earth at different distances from the centre and with different velocities, participating in the general movement of the heavens and at the same time having a contrary movement of their own. As for the fixed stars, it would seem from the first part of Plato's description that he supposed them to be fixed in the outermost sphere of the Universe, round which he plainly supposes that the circle of the Milky Way extends. See also on 616 C, 617 A.

καὶ ἀφικνεῖσθαι κτλ. ‘And on the fourth day they arrived at a point from which they descried extending from above through all the heaven and earth a straight light, like a pillar, resembling the rainbow more than anything else, but brighter and purer.’ The souls see the light for the first time on the fourth day after they begin their march, and consequently on the eleventh day from Er's arrival at the meadow. The remaining incidents occupy one day, and it is on the twelfth that Er revives (δωδεκαταῖοςἀνεβίω 614 B). See on ἕωθεν in 621 B. As far as the Greek is concerned, ἄνωθεν may be construed either with καθορᾶν or with τεταμένον. In the former case, we should probably have to suppose (with Boeckh l.c. p. 299) that Er's point of view is outside the Universe; but it will be shewn in Appendix VI that there are serious difficulties in the way of this supposition, and the second alternative is to be preferred. It has already been remarked that Plato in all probability thinks of the λειμών as somewhere on the true surface of the Earth described by him in the myth of the Phaedo (614 C note), and it is apparently along this surface that the souls progress until they come in view of the light. As regards the shape and position of the light, Plato's language is clear and precise. The light is ‘straight, like a pillar,’ and ‘stretched through all the heaven and earth.’ The only natural interpretation of these words is that a column or shaft of light spans the entire Universe, like the diameter of a circle, and passes through the centre of the Earth, which, according to Plato, is situated in the middle of the whole (Phaed. 108 E ff., Tim. 40 B). With διὰ παντὸςτεταμένον we may compare Tim. 40 B τὸν διὰ παντὸς πόλον τεταμένον (of the axis of the Universe). The words μάλιστα τῇ ἴριδι προσφερές refer, not of course to the shape, but to the colour of the light, as appears from λαμπρότερον δὲ καὶ καθαρώτερον. The correction of προσφερῆ to προσφερές in A (see cr. n.) is late, but προσφερές is intrinsically a better reading, and might easily have been altered to προσφερῆ under the influence of κίονα. In defence of προσφερῆ Schneider cites ἀπωχετευμένον in VI 485 D, but the two cases are not exactly parallel: see note ad loc. Other views on this passage are discussed in App. VI.

εἰς ἀφικέσθαι κτλ. ‘At this light they arrived after a day's march forward, and there, at the middle of the light’ etc. Instead of προελθόντας, A and other MSS have προελθόντες (see cr. n.), which Schneider defends by saying that the nominative refers not to all the party, but only to Er and his immediate companions. But even in that case the accusative would be more correct, and in point of fact it is clear from what follows that Er is accompanied throughout by all the souls about to be born again. A few other MSS besides q have the accusative. If the light is ‘straight, like a pillar,’ and stretches ‘through all the heaven and earth,’ it follows that as the Earth is in the middle of the Universe, the ‘middle of the light’ will be at the centre of the earth. See fig. i on p. 443. No other interpretation of κατὰ μέσον τὸ φῶς is either natural or easy: see App. VI. It would seem therefore that at the end of the fourth day after leaving the meadow the souls are at the central point both of the Universe and of the Earth, as is maintained by, among others, Schneider and Donaldson (l.c. p. 307); and this view is also in harmony with some of the most important features in the remaining part of the narrative: see on 617 B, 621 A, B.

καὶ ἰδεῖν αὐτόθι κτλ. ‘and there, at the middle of the light, they saw, extended from heaven, the extremities of its chains; for this light chains the heavens, holding together all the revolving firmament, like the undergirders of men of war.’ The pronoun αὐτοῦ is ambiguous, and as far as concerns the grammar might be referred either to τοῦ οὐρανοῦ or to τὸ φῶς. If we choose the former alternative, αὐτοῦ will be an objective genitive, denoting that which is bound; if the latter, the meaning, as Professor Cook Wilson points out, is ‘its chains,’ ‘its bands,’ i.e. ‘the chains of which the light consists,’ for in the next clause the light is said to be a chain (ξύνδεσμος). The second of these views is on grammatical grounds somewhat more natural than the first; but whichever alternative we adopt, it is clear from the explanatory clause εἶναι γὰρπεριφοράν, not only that the chains are the binding chains of heaven, but also that it is the light itself, and nothing else, which fulfils the function of binding the Universe together (εἶναι γὰρ τοῦτο τὸ φῶς ξύνδεσμον τοῦ οὐρανοῦ). In what way the light performs this office, Plato indicates by the much-disputed words οἷον τὰ ὑποζώματα τῶν τριηρῶν. The evidence on the subject of the ‘undergirders’ of ancient men of war has been collected and discussed by Boeckh Urkundenüber d. Seewesen des Attischen Staates pp. 133—138: see also J. Smith Voyage and Shipwreck of St Paul pp. 210—215 and Breusing Nautik d. Alten pp. 170—184. It may be taken as established that the ὑποζώματα were ropes and not planks, as some of the ancient commentators supposed (e.g. Proclus in remp. II p. 200. 25, a Scholiast quoted by Kroll l.c. II p. 381, and Suidas S.V. ὑποζώματα, who follows a scholium on Ar. Knights 279), and also that they were fastened round the outside of the vessel; but on the question whether the ὑποζώματα ran round the ship in a horizontal direction, or were passed under the hull, there is more room for difference of opinion. The former view is maintained by Boeckh and Breusing, the latter by J. Smith (l.c. pp. 108 f., 115, 210—215), who reminds us that a similar process, known by the name of ‘frapping,’ is still occasionally resorted to in the case of wooden ships during a storm at sea (pp. 108 f.). The evidence bearing on this matter has recently been investigated by Professor Cook Wilson (see Report of the Proceedings of the Oxford Philological Society for Hilary Term 1902 in Cl. Rev. XVI p. 234), who will shortly publish a detailed discussion of the whole subject. In the meantime he writes to me as follows:—“After careful reading of all the passages quoted by the authorities I feel sure (what one might infer a priori from the mechanical conditions) that this method” [i.e. frapping] “was known to the ancients, and was the method used in an emergency at sea, as e.g. in St Paul's ship. I conjecture also that these undergirders first had the name ὑποζώματα, and that if the belts or girdles supposed by Boeckh had this name, it was transferred to them from the true undergirders, which were probably the first and primitive form and remained in use always, even after the trireme belts had been invented.” The evidence in short, points to two kinds of ὑποζώματα (Cl. Rev. l.c.), the first employed occasionally under exceptional circumstances, and passing under the hull of the vessel, the second (see Boeckh l.c. p. 137) forming part of the regular equipment of a warship, attached before she went to sea, and running horizontally round the hull. The second variety is clearly represented on a bronze relief of the forepart of a war vessel, said to date from Roman imperial times, and now in the Berlin Museum. The sketch of the relief on p. 443, fig. ii is from a photograph in the possession of Professor Cook Wilson. There is also a (somewhat inaccurate) drawing of the relief in Beger Thesauri regii et electoralis Brandenburgicii Vol. III p. 406. (Some writers, and among them J. Smith, have maintained that the longitudinal bands in Beger's picture are only ornaments, and not ropes; but it is quite clear from the photograph that they are really ropes and serve as ὑποζώματα of the horizontal kind.) To which of the two varieties does Plato here allude? The words οἷον τὰ ὑποζώματα τῶν τριηρῶν, οὕτω πᾶσαν συνέχον τὴν περιφοράν, seem clearly to regard the ὑποζώματα as permanent σκεύη of warships, holding the hull together in ordinary circumstances, and not merely resources to be employed in times of difficulty and danger; and since the light whose action the ὑποζώματα serve to illustrate is (in Plato's view) an essential part of the Universe, the illustration is better and more pointed if the ὑποζώματα are also of the more permanent sort. It may also be noted that if Plato had meant the undergirders which pass under the keel he would probably have written ὑποζώματα τῶν νεῶν, and not ὑποζώματα τῶν τριηρῶν, for the vertical ὑποζώματα were not confined to triremes. For these reasons it would seem that Plato has in view such ὑποζώματα as are described by Boeckh, viz. girdles running round the hull from stern to stem outside the vessel.

It is clear, therefore, that the light not only passes through the centre of the Universe, but also, since it holds the heavens together, like the undergirders of men of war, round the outer surface of the heavenly sphere.

I have tried to represent the kind of picture in Plato's mind by fig. i on p. 443. The sphere of the heavens—represented by the circle dd', which is a section of the heavenly sphere—is virtually compared to a ship. The North pole, which is at b, corresponds to the stem, and the South pole, which is at c, to the stern of the vessel. The circular light caba'c corresponds to the ὑποζώματα, cab being that part of the light which corresponds to the ὑποζώματα on the port side, and ca'b the portion which corresponds to the ὑποζώματα on the starboard side. As the light in Plato's description passes through the centre of the Universe as well as round its exterior, the comparison of the light to horizontal ὑποζώματα would be all the more apposite if we might suppose that these ὑποζώματα were brought inside from stem to stern lengthwise and parallel to the ship's length, in a manner corresponding to the position of the straight part of the ‘binding light.’ But for this supposition there is no evidence, and it is clear from fig. ii that the lower ὑποζώματα at least could not have been brought inside, for they are below the water line. We must accordingly suppose that the comparison with ὑποζώματα extends only to that part of the light which surrounds the surface of the heavenly sphere. That the ends of the light are brought inside the sphere in Plato's picture is clear from the fact that the light stretches ‘through all the heaven and earth’ as well as round the Universe, and also because the souls see the ‘ends of its chains’ or bands at the middle of the light itself, which is also the centre of the Universe and Earth. We may presume that the ἄκρα τῶν δεσμῶν meet together at the centre, so that bc forms one continuous pillar of light stretching from pole to pole. See fig. i on p. 443.

The light was interpreted by some ancient commentators as the axis of the Universe, or a cylinder of aetherial fire surrounding the axis (Theo p. 143 Hiller, Suidas and Photius S.V. τεταμένον φῶς: cf. also Proclus in remp. II p. 199. 31 ff.), by others as the γαλαξίας κύκλος or Milky Way: see Proclus l.c. pp. 130. 4, 194. 19 ff. and Cicero de rep. VI 16. According to the view given above, the column of light follows the direction of the axis of the Universe, if, as we may reasonably suppose, b is the pole, and although Plato nowhere actually calls it the axis, we may fairly suppose that this is what it symbolises. I have found no parallel in ancient astronomical theories to this conception of a light stretching from pole to pole. The curved part of the light is no doubt suggested by the Milky Way, which was regarded by the Pythagoreans as either identical with, or an emanation from the circle of fire which, according to them, held the Universe together (Zeller^{5} I p. 435 note 2). I have sometimes thought that the soul with which in the Timaeus the Creator wrapped the body of the Universe without has reference also to the Milky Way as girdling the World; for the Pythagoreans called the γαλαξίας κύκλος the τόπος ψυχῶν. Plato's words are (Tim. 34 B) ψυχὴν δὲ εἰς τὸ μέσον αὐτοῦ θεὶς διὰ παντός τε ἔτεινε καὶ ἔτι ἔξωθεν τὸ σῶμα αὐτῇ περιεκάλυψε. The parallel is certainly noteworthy, although περιεκάλυψε in the Timaeus rather points to a complete envelopment of the heavens, and διὰ παντός to the universal diffusion of the world-soul throughout the Universe.

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  • Commentary references from this page (5):
    • Aristophanes, Knights, 279
    • Plato, Phaedo, 108e
    • Plato, Timaeus, 34b
    • Plato, Timaeus, 40b
    • Plato, Timaeus, 90c
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