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Phaedrus

πολὺ φίλτατος ἑταῖρος

“And there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty.”

“And the soul which has seen most of truth shall come to the birth as a philosopher, or artist, or some musical and loving nature, that which has seen truth in the second degree shall be some righteous king or warrior chief, the soul which is of the third class shall be a trader, the fourth a lover of gymnastic, the fifth lead the life of the prophet, to the sixth the character of poet or some other imitative artist will be assigned, to the seventh the life of an artisan, to the eighth a sophist, the ninth that of a tyrant–all these are states of probation in which he who does righteously improves, and he who does unrighteously, deteriorates his lot.

…only the soul of the philosopher, guileless and true, or the soul of a lover, who is not devoid of philosophy, may acquire wings in the third of the recurring periods of a thousand years, he is distinguished from the ordinary good man who gains wing in three thousand years—

The mind of the philosopher alone has wings, and this is just, for he is always, according to the measure of his abilities, clinging in recollection to those things in which God abides, and in beholding that which He is what He is. And he who employs aright these memories is ever being initiated into perfect mysteries and alone becomes truly perfect. But, as he forgets earthly interests and is rapt in the divine, the vulgar deem him mad, and rebuke him; they do not see that he is inspired.

Thus far I have been thinking of the fourth and last kind of madness, which is imputed to him who, when he sees the beauty of the earth, is transported with the recollection of true beauty, he would like to fly away, but he cannot, he is like a bird fluttering and looking upward and careless of the world below, and he is therefore thought to be mad.

And I have shown this of all inspirations to be the noblest and highest and the offspring of the highest to him who has or shares in it, and that he who loves the beautiful is called a lover because he partakes of it. For, as has been already said, every soul of man has in the way of nature beheld true being, this was the condition of her passing into the form of man. But all souls do not easily recall the things of the outer world, they may have seen them for a short time only, or they may have been unfortunate in their earthly lot, and having had their hearts turned to unrighteousness through one corrupting influence, they may have lost memory of the holy things which once they saw.

Few only retain an adequate remembrance of them, and they, when they behold here any image of that world, are rapt in amazement; but they are ignorant of what this rapture means, because they do not clearly perceive. For there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass dimly,

…and there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty.

There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness, –we philosophers following the train of Zeus, other in company with other gods, and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which we truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining in pure light, pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell. Let me linger over the memory of scenes which have passed away.

But of beauty, I repeat again that we saw her there shining in company with the celestial forms, and coming to earth we find her here too, shining in clearness through the clearest aperture of sense. For sight is the most piercing of our bodily senses; though not by that is wisdom seen; her loveliness would have been transporting if there had been a visible image of her, and the other ideas, if they had visible counterparts, would be equally lovely. But this is the privilege of beauty, that being the loveliest she is also the most palpable to sight. Now he who is not newly initiated or who has become corrupted, does not easily rise out of this world to the sight of true beauty in the other, he looks only at her earthly namesake, and instead of being awed at the sight of her, he is given over to pleasure, and like a brutish beast he rushes on to enjoy and beget, he consorts with wantonness, and is not afraid or ashamed of pursuing pleasure in violation of nature. But he whose initiation is recent, and who has been the spectator of many glories in the other world, is amazed when he sees any one having a godlike face or form, which is the expression of divine beauty, and at first a shudder runs through him, and again the old awe steals over him, then looking upon the face of his beloved as of a god he reverences him, and if he were not afraid of being thought a downright madman, he would sacrifice to his beloved as to the image of a god, then while he gazes on him there is a sort of reaction, and the shudder passes into an unusual heat and perspiration, for, as he receives the effluence of beauty through his eyes, the wing moistens and he warms. And as he warms, the parts out of which the wing grew, and which had hitherto closed and rigid, and had prevented the wing from shooting forth, are melted, and as nourishment streams upon him, the lower end of the wing begins to swell and grow from the root upward, and the growth extends under the whole soul–for once the whole was winged.

During this process the whole soul in a state of ebullition and effervescence–which may be compared to the irritation and uneasiness in the gums at the time of cutting teeth–bubbles up, and has a feeling of uneasiness and tickling, but when in like manner the soul is beginning to grow wings, the beauty of the beloved meets her eye and she receives the sensible warm motion of particles which flow toward her, therefore called emotion (imeros), and is refreshed and warmed by them, and then she ceases from her pain with joy. But when she is parted from her beloved, and her moisture fails, then the orifice of the passage out of which the wing shoots dry up and close, and intercept the germ of the wing, which, being shut up with the emotion, throbbing as with the pulsation of an artery, prick the aperture which is nearest, until the length of the entire soul is pierced and maddened and pained, and at the recollection of beauty is again delighted. And from both of them together the soul is oppressed at the strangeness of her condition, and is in a great strait and excitement, and in her madness can neither sleep by night nor abide in her place by day.

And wherever she thinks that she will behold the beautiful one, thither in her desire she runs. And when she has seen him, and bathed herself in the waters of beauty, her constraint is loosened, and she is refreshed, and has no more pangs and pains, and this is the sweetest of all pleasures at the time, and is the reason why the soul of the lover will never forsake his beautiful one, who he esteems above all, he has forgotten mother and brethren and companions, and he thinks nothing of the neglect and loss of his property, the rules and proprieties of life, on which he formerly prided himself, he now despises, and is ready to sleep like a servant, wherever he is allowed, as near as he can to his desired one, who is the object of his worship, and the physician who can alone assuage the greatness of his pain. And this state, my dear imaginary youth to whom I am talking, is by men called Love, and among the god has a name at which you, in your simplicity, may be inclined to mock;

there are two lines in the apocryphal writings of Homer in which the name in which the name occurs. One of them is rather outrageous, and not altogether metrical.
They are as follows:

‘Mortals call him fluttering love,
But the immortals call him winged one,
Because the growing of wings is
a necessity to him.’

You may believe this, but not unless you like. At any rate the loves of lovers and their causes are such as I have described.

Plato, Phaedrus

Harry Matthews

un poète et peintre

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