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The Myth in Plutarch's De Genio (589F–592E)

  • W. Hamilton (a1)

In a former paper I endeavoured to show that the myth in Plutarch's de facie is a conscious imitation on a small scale of the Timaeus of Plato, and that therefore we might conclude that Plutarch, who regarded the Timaeus as serious philosophy, intended the main point of his own myth, the derivation of mind, soul and body from the sun, moon and earth respectively, to be taken literally. This conclusion will be equally true of the myth of the de genio, if it can be shown, first, that the two myths present what is essentially the same psychological theory, and, secondly, that there is no internal inconsistency in the myth of the de genio, such as to justify von Arnim in concluding that it consists merely of two incompatible doctrines from different sources arbitrarily placed by Plutarch in juxtaposition. The present paper is an attempt to establish these two points.

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page 175 note 1 C.Q. 1934, pp. 24–30.

page 175 note 2 As I have already said (p. 28, n. 2), one of von Arnim's arguments against the originality of the de facie myth depends on the conclusion that both parts of the de genio myth are unoriginal, so that the substance of the de facie myth, which agrees with one of the parts of the de genio, cannot be original either. This argument falls to the ground if the de genio myth is shown to be internally consistent.

page 177 note 1 Plutarch ῡber Dἂmonen und Mantik, p. 29. As before, all references to von Arnim are to this work.

page 177 note 2 Timaeus 42E (⋯θάναтον ⋯ρχ⋯ν θνηтο⋯ ζᾡου). That Plato does not use the word ⋯θάναтος loosely is shown by the distinction made at 41 AB in the address to the created gods: тб μ⋯νοûν δ⋯ δεθ⋯ν π⋯ν λυтòν … δι' ἂ και ⋯πειπερ γεγένησθε, ⋯θάναтοι μ⋯ν οὐκ ⋯σт⋯ ούδ⋯ ᾰδυтοι т⋯ πάμπαν, οῠтι μ⋯ν δ⋯ λυθήσεσθέ γε ούδ⋯ тεύξεσθε θανάгου μοɩρας κ.т.λ.The words тò … δεθ⋯ν πȃν λυοтòν presumably refer to combinations without anything resembling fusion, such as that of soul and body, however celestial, not to a compound like that of the indivisible, the divisible, and the mixture of them.

page 180 note 1 Of course, the description of each man's mind as his daemon is not incompatible with the existence of other daemons, disembodied or never embodied. Yet another objection to Plutarch's originality, however, has been based on a supposed discrepancy between the speeches of Simmias and Theanor which precede and follow the myth and the myth itself, in that the speeches make Socrates' sign a communication from some higher power or daemon, while the myth makes each man's mind his daemon. (Cf. e.g. Kahle , De Plut. rat. dialog, componend. Diss. Gött. 1912, p. 86, who comes to the in evitable conclusion that the myth cannot be the product of Plutarch's own brain.) This is entirely to misunderstand what it is that the myth has to contribute to the problem of the divine sign. If we identify the mind-daemon of the myth and the author of the divine sign there are flagrant inconsistencies, but a closer inspection of Simmias' words shows that the mind is not itself the author of warnings and revelations, but that if a man keeps it pure from the body, or, as the myth puts it, outside the body, it will be in a fit state to receive them from higher powers of a nature similar to itself, but stronger, because disembodied. (Cf. 588E, 589A, and especially 589B: ούκ ᾰν, οίμσπεισтως Ӗ τως ĕχοιμϵᴠ ὑσò νοû κρε⋯σσονο ςνοûν καἱ ψХ⋯ν ψυХ⋯ς θειοτ⋯ραζ ᾰγεσθαι· The myth would probably never have received any other interpretation, and have been supposed to be inconsistent with the remarks of Simmias which precede it, had it not been for the name Sat/uar given to the mind of the wise man. But all that this need imply is that the embodied mind, or, rather, the mind attached to an embodied soul, is the same i n kind as the mind of the daemons who are disembodied or never embodied. def.orac. 䌞εἰ γ⋯ρ ρἱ δι ακριθεϺσ αιαώ ματ⋯ σε κα⋯ τ⋯ν θεîου ‘Ησ⋯οδου ‘⋯γνο⋯ ⋯πɩοɩ ϕύλακες θνητ⋯ν ⋯νητώπων’ (Works and Days 123). δɩδɩ τίτ⋯ς ⋯ν τοῖς σώμασɩ ψυΧ⋯ς ⋯κε⋯νης τ⋯ς δυν⋯μεως ⋯ποστερο⋯μεν, ᾗ τ⋯ μμ⋯λ⋯λονες; This implies that the mind of the incarnate soul is as deserving of the name of daemon as the beings for whom it i s usually reserved.The confusion has probably been heightened by the description of mind as remaining outside the body in some cases.

Apart from this, the speech of Simmias itself does not appear to be entirely consistent, if it is judged by the standards applied by the German critics. The main point made in it is that the sign was a communication from a higher power made without a material vehicle, of which Socrates was conscious even when he was awake because he had⋯θ⋯ρυβον τ⋯ ἦθοσ κα⋯ ν⋯νεμον τ⋯ν ψυξ⋯ν (589D). This view is consistently maintained up to 589B, where Plutarch, apparently without being conscious of the transition to a new thought, says, or rather makes Simmias say, that Socrates' parents had received an oracle bidding them let the child do as he would ὡδ κρε⋯ττονα δ⋯πουθεν ἔξοντοσ ⋯ν αὑτῷ μυρ⋯ων διδασκ⋯λων και παιδαγωγ⋯ν ⋯γεμ⋯να πρ⋯σ τ⋯ν βιον. This is not inconsistent with the view of the sign expressed just before; Socrates' mind may be his ⋯γεμὼν even if it is itself directed by a higher being, but it is a new point much nearer to the doctrine of the myth, and introduces into the speech of Simmias itself the very discrepancy which von Arnim finds between the myth and the speeches.

There is also a slight inconsistency between 588D and 589D, both passages within Simmias' speech. In the first Simmias appears to mean that only exceptional men like Socrates can. receive divine communications awake; for the majority of men they are only possible in sleep. In the second he seems to think that it is more natural for a revelation to come to a man when he is awake then when he is asleep, and those who think otherwise behave ⋯σπερ ἅν εῐ τισ οῐοιτο τ⋯ν μουσικ⋯ν ⋯νειμ⋯νῃ τῇ λ⋯ρᾳ ξρὼμενον, ὃταν συστῇ τοῖσ τ⋯νοισ ⋯ καθαρμοσθῇ μ⋯ ἄπτεσθαι μηδ⋯ ξρ⋯σθαι.

page 181 note 1 Commentary on Timaeus, p. 632, ad init.

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