Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2000.03.21

Jens Holzhausen (ed.), PSYCHE - Seele - anima.Festschrift für Karin Alt zum 7. Mai 1998.   Stuttgart and Leipzig:  B.G. Teubner, 1998.  Pp. ix, 518.  ISBN 3-519-07658-6.  DM 168.  

Reviewed by Peter Lautner (
Word count: 2233 words

The book is a tribute to Karin Alt and contains 29 papers reflecting in one way or another upon her favourite subjects, tragedy and Platonic philosophy. Their scope ranges widely, from the Iliad to the concept of soul in some trends within 20th century German philosophy, but the vast majority have something to say about the soul. Given the disparate nature of the papers I shall not treat all of them in equal length. I can only hope that this will give the reader a feeling for the collection as a whole.

H. Erbse points out (1-7) that Homer named Patroclus after Cleopatre, the heroine in the story on Meleagrus (I 561-564), whose role was similar to that played by the friend of Achilles. H. Schwabl (7-37) detects Homeric elements in Plato's theory of the soul. Special emphasis is placed on the allegorical interpretation by Heraclitus (Homeric Problems 18-20) of Iliad A 188-222, which intends to show that Plato owes to Homer his theory of the soul, especially the notion of tripartite soul. What Schwabl proves, I believe, is that such an interpretation of the Homeric passage was common in that age, but it may not mean that the passage itself prompted Plato to split the soul into three parts. R. Schlesier (37-73) argues against interpretations claiming that the only passage in Euripides where the word ψυχή has a spiritual, not physical, meaning is Bacchae 75. She explains that ψυχή in that line signifies the individual to whom divinity is promised in Dionysus' mysteries only as it is experienced in the θίασος collectively.

P. Riemer hopes to reconcile Plato's view on women in Rep. V with other, less favorable claims in the Platonic corpus (73-89). He concentrates on the community of women and children and thinks it is a farce -- it sounds absurd (and perhaps abhorrent) to the Athenian audience. But to my mind no clear link has been drawn between such a community and the equality of women and men. If there is no compelling argument based on the former and directed to the latter then equality can be considered as an issue independent from such a farce. Thus the problem remains as to how to reconcile the notion of equality of sexes with other accounts in the corpus. In any case, the fictional character of the whole approach is hinted at in Rep. 472c3-4 and 592a10-b5.

M. Hose (89-113) discusses the hermeneutic principles lying behind the explanations of literary texts. Even if there was no elaborated hermeneutic theory, practices of detecting the true meaning of the text were in use. In drawing on Protagoras' interpretation of Simonides in Plato's dialogue Hose first points to a technique of decontextualisation whereby Protagoras tears off the text from its original context. This was a usual procedure. By contrast, Socrates offers a sort of recontextualisation, to be employed in Alexandria and later in the Antiochean exegetic tradition, while deconstruction continued to be employed in the interpretations of dreams.

T. Krischer describes the contact between our capacity of thinking and the hand (113-125). He shows that Anaxagoras' notion of the hand as peculiar to humans is an isolated remark. In Socrates' account (Ap. 22c) χειροτέχναι fare better than orators and politicians. Although Plato dissents from Socrates the hand is in the background of his treatment of geometry. Similar observations can be made on the Pythagoreans as well. But it might be a bit exaggerated to say that (p.116), when it comes to the norms of thinking hand is inevitably involved on the discussion. E.g., in Rep. the discussion of highest science does not contain any reference to hand. J. Wiesner carefully analyses (125-131) Aristotle's De memoria 2, 451a18-b10, criticizing the approaches by W.D. Ross and R.R.K. Sorabji. On his view, the scheme of the much discussed passage is what follows: 1) 451a18-31, negative definition of recollection (τὸ ἀναμιμνήσκεσθαι): it is neither recovery nor acquisition of memory; 2) 451a31-b6, positive definition of recollection as recovery of previous knowledge or of φάντασμα (Vorstellungsbild) proper to it: memory can precede or follow recollection; 3) 451bb6-10, difference between recollection and relearning. Just one query. Further argument may be needed for replacing αἴσθησις with φάντασμα in the definition of recollection. The reference to 451a15-16 may not be decisive. In 453a15-16 we read that recollection is ζήτησις φαντάσματος.

A. Wohlleben traces a motif on Cicero, De oratore 2.22 ff. (132-144), referring to musing on the beach. Associated with the metaphor of the "flying soul", the theme has a special interest. W.-W. Ehlers examines (145-156) Valerius Flaccus' Argonautica and concludes that the poet's attitude towards the role played by man in history is more skeptical than that of Virgil, without committing itself to fatalism. Gods and their intentions are unknowable, though Rome is protected by them. B. Kytzler compares as samples 20 translations in 6 languages of Hadrian's "Animula vagula blandula" (157-169). He also points to the difference between Romance and Germanic languages in handling particular problems and draws special attention to the translations by Casaubon (into ancient Greek) and Ronsard.

G. Thome (170-193) emphasizes the importance of the notion of παιδεία in Plutarch's Lives -- its lack leads to faults in character and behavior. On her view, change in character is explained primarily in terms of a mixed, anomalous φύσις and this, not the ἦθος, is the main determining factor in character development. ἦθος is just a product of φύσις. She contrasts it with Aristotle's notion of φυσικὴ ἀρετή, taken over by also Plutarch in the Moralia (pp. 176, 190). To this, one may object that in Aristotle φυσικὴ ἀρετή means natural suitability, not a genuine virtue (EN 1144b4, 1151a18, 1179b21-26), not even a bodily excellence. When in EN 1104a17 we read that none of the virtues of character arises naturally we have to understand it as saying that virtue of character is not something we can have by birth. Thus we are not dealing with conflicting virtues in Aristotle. In any case, simultaneous emphasis on παιδεία and φύσις may be the source of conflict for Plutarch.

In discussing the immortality of the soul of flies, M. Billerbeck starts from Lucian's Musc. Enc. 7 (194-199) and follows up the motif in other authors, including the hint -- so it was taken by the scholiast -- in Plato's Phaedo 82b. A. Demandt (200-224) stresses that in the imperial age political relevance of dreams was monopolized: only emperors and the main official could have such dreams. Reliability of dreams thus depended on the social status and the moral and psychological features of the dreamer.

A. Dihle depicts the development in treating the soul of the dead from the epic tradition to the cult of the Christian martyrs, placing Platonic philosophy in between (225-242). Arguably, Platonic (or more exactly, Xenocratic) demonology played a decisive role in the process. This is of course not to say that the martyrs were regarded as demons. Another factor was that Greek philosophers emphasized the divine character of the soul. In Aristotle, the author claims (pp. 232-233), the intellect gives motion and consciousness to the rest of the soul in the way that the whole soul gives motion to the body. But the texts referred to (DA 413b24, 430a17; GA 736b27) do not support the claim. On the other hand, the theory distinguishing beneficent and maleficent demons -- which Diogenes Laertius so gladly ascribes to, e.g., Thales and Pythagoras -- comes probably from Xenocrates.1

To my mind, the main thrust of the volume lies on the studies in late antique philosophy, both pagan and Christian. H. G. Thümmel surveys the concept of soul in Platonism and in the Church Fathers (243-254). In the former, soul has a double character: world-soul as the intelligible structure of the world, and individual soul as primarily the subject of moral action. But this is hardly the case in the Timaeus and there is very little emphasis on it in the late Neoplatonists where the ethical dimension of human life was not very much discussed -- not in the extant works at least.2 Through an examination of Enn. V 1 and its influence the author shows (without noticing the split in the individual soul) that 4th century Fathers took over, not whole theories, but those elements only which fitted with the new approaches. B. Aland examines (255-278) the way in which Christian (mostly Pauline) and Platonic notions were blended in Basilides' doctrine of the soul, time and ἔσχατον. Her analysis divides into five parts: on the origin and essence of the soul, man's lot in this world, Christology, eschatology and an excursus on the theory of metempsychosis. As for the last issue, she points out that it is quite hard to decide whether the testimonies supporting that claim in Basilides are reliable. J. Holzhausen discusses another Christian Gnostic doctrine, Heracleon's theory of the soul (279-300), to shed more light on the fusion of Platonic and Christian-Gnostic elements. He thinks that Valentinian gnosis prepared the way for Plotinus' theory of ἕνωσις, although, I assume, we cannot rule out that they had a common root.3 Just one small point. The contrast between φύσις and θέσις may have originated in the Presocratics (see Democritus B 26) and is clearly related to the antinomy of φύσις and νόμος we see in the Sophists (p.291, n.51). D. Wyrwa demonstrates (301-334) that Irenaeus of Lyon thought of the soul in terms of physiology, which is due to his familiarity with medical doctrines. Thus the psychology has a firm empirical ground. Moreover, as psychology is intimately related to theology Irenaeus gets close to a knowledge of God which is based on nature. Just one note. In rejecting the division of the soul into many parts Irenaeus does argue against Platonic assumptions but in agreement with the early Stoic who also maintained the unity of soul in such a way. A. Smith discusses the connection between soul and time in Plotinus (355-344) with particular emphasis on the problem whether real time can be attached to discursive reason. His conclusion is that Plotinus distinguishes different modes of reasoning in both Soul and individual soul and at the level of real time it may be the process of dialectic (as has been described in I 3,4) that is working. Needless to say, Smith also admits that Plotinus is far from being logical in the issue.

W. Raeck analyses the arch of Constantine in Rome (345-354). The monument shows that the city was so to speak liberated by Constantine; though subjugated by the "usurpator" it always remained friendly and faithful to him. After giving a life-and-work style overview of Isidorus of Pelusium, U. Treu picks up certain passages mentioning the soul (355-358). But she fails to search for any single notion lying behind the scattered remarks. Perhaps, it would have been a fruitless attempt anyway. R.D. Reinsch (359-368) examines the way the philosophical notions of the soul are reflected in Byzantine epigrams. They refer to theories such as preexistence and transmigration of the soul. But one of them contains an invocation to Democritus to cheer up Persephone with his laughter. F. Wagner surveys antecedents and aftermath of the notion of measuring the soul (Daniel 5,25-28) as a symbol of divine justice (369-384). The motif ranges from ancient Egypt to medieval Europe. By examining several passages W. Maaz discusses the notion of metempsychosis in its medieval context (385-416). It turns up in heretic movements (e.g. in Cathars and Albigensians) but is notwithstanding treated by some schoolmen in neutral terms.

C. Zintzen focuses on three points concerning Ficino's adherence to Plotinus (417-435): the conditions in the philosophical milieu that facilitated Ficino's turn to Plotinus; the main area in his thought that has been influenced by Plotinus; and the reason why, instead of consulting Plato's works, Ficino looked for support in the works of Plotinus and other Neoplatonists. The main factors were the turn against Aristotelian philosophy, the influence of Byzantine Platonists (Plethon and Bessarion) in the council at Florence and an interpretation of Platonic philosophy that adjusted it to religious principles. Ficino modified Plotinian philosophy at three points: the introduction of qualitas between Soul and Matter, the identification of the One with God the Creator and the assumption that God thinks Himself. Ficino took support from Plotinus partly because of the value he attached to the created world; it fits the perfection of the Creator. But we must keep in mind that the notion is not without Platonic antecedents (Timaeus 29d7-30b2).

P.-A. Alt discusses the psychology of political drama in Schiller's Don Karlos (436-462), J. Wohlleben adds some notes on the figure of countess F. in Kleist's Die Marquise von O. (463-471), U. Wickert describes the main features of Thérèse de Lisieux's notion of the soul (472-498). Finally, H. Kessler asks, in very general terms, "what the soul says to philosophers today" (499-511). His discussion of Sainte-Beuve goes over a portrayal of, e.g., Marxism (Lenin included), Heidegger, Sartre. The conclusion is that soul is still inevitably in. The volume ends up with a laudatio by B. Seidensticker.

Some minor points. In p.6, we should read Polydamas instead of Pulydamas. In p.36, n.68 the reference to note 43 is wrong, no paper by Karin Alt is referred to in that note. The passage in Aristotle mentioning νοῦς θύραθεν, 736b27, is in GA, not in GC (p.233).

The volume contains many important papers and is worthy of wider discussion.


1.   Fr. 211, 225-230 Isnardi-Parente; for a more recent examination, see H. S. Schibli, 'Xenocrates' daemons and the irrational soul,' CQ n.s. 43(1993), 143-167.
2.   Of course, some notion of practical philosophy can be deciphered, as the recent works by D. J. O'Meara witness, e.g., 'Aspects of political philosophy in Iamblichus,' H. J. Blumenthal & E. G. Clark (eds.), The Divine Iamblichus. London 1993, 65-73 and 'Vie politique et divinisation dans la philosophie néoplatonicienne,' SOFIHS MAIHTORES. "Chercheurs de sagesse." Hommage à Jean Pépin. Paris 1992, 501-510.
3.   Although Plotinus' alleged birthplace, Lykopolis, was especially exposed to gnostic influence, as has been evidenced by Alexander of Lykopolis and the proximity of the Nag Hammadi "library," cf. L. S. B. MacCoull, 'Plotinus the Egyptian?' Mnemosyne ser.IV, vol. LII (1999), 330-334.

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