Plutarch's Vision of Aridaeus from On the Delay of Divine Justice

From the translation of Robert Waterfield 1992

[22] I stopped talking at this point, but Olympichus said with a smile, 'We are not congratulating you, because we don't want you to get the impression that we are forgetting about the fictional tale and are assuming that the argument has sufficiently established the point. We'll wait until we've heard the tale as well, before making up our minds.' This, then, is how I came to tell them about a certain relative and friend of Protogenes, whom they knew because he had once visited us here. This man, a native of Soli, had denied himself no sensual indulgence in his youth; then, having swiftly used up all his money, he was compelled for some time to turn to crime. In a complete volte-face, he made wealth his goal — so he behaved just like those depraved people who don't look after their wives while they are married to them, but let them leave, and then, when their wives are married to other people, immorally try once again to seduce them. He never stopped himself doing anything, however despicable, as long as the consequence was profit and gain. What he acquired from this was no great for-tune, but, quite soon, a very extensive reputation for iniquity. The chief source of his notoriety, however, was a response which the oracle of Amphilochus gave him. Apparently, he had sent to ask the god whether he would live a better life in the future: the god replied that he would be better off when he died. Now, in a sense, this is exactly what happened to him a short while later. He fell from a height on to his head, and although there was no wound, only a bruise, he seemed to be dead; and then two days later, when he was actually just about to be buried, he came to. Once he was well and normal again, which didn't take long, he transformed his life beyond recognition: in fact, he is acknowledged by the Cilicians to have been the most honest businessman of his times, and they know of no one who was more religious or who caused his enemies more distress or was a truer friend.' The upshot was that everyone who met him wanted to hear the reason for the change, since they imagined that so thorough a reorganization of character could not be due to any banal circumstances. And they were quite right, as he himself explained to Protogenes and other equally good friends of his.

[23] When his intelligence was expelled from his body, at first (he said) the transformation made him feel like a helmsman might feel if he were thrown overboard from his ship into the depths of the sea. Next, he rose upwards a little way, and seemed then to be breathing as a whole and to be seeing in all directions around himself, as if his soul were a single open eye. What he was seeing, however, was not what he had been seeing before, except for the stars - but they were huge, and at immense distances from one another, and were emitting light which was not only an amazing colour, but also had energy, which allowed his soul to ride the light as evenly as a ship on calm water, and to travel everywhere easily and swiftly. He omitted a great deal of what he saw, and went on to say that when the souls of the dead come up from below, they form a fiery bubble as they cleave the air; then, when the bubble gently bursts, the souls emerge in human form, but in miniature. They do not all move uniformly: some of the souls leap out of the bubble with incredible lightness and shoot upwards in a straight line; others behave like spindles and whirl around in a circle while at the same time tending sometimes in a downward direction and sometimes in an upward direction, and so move in an untidy and chaotic spiral and take a very long time before eventually quietening down. The majority of the souls were strangers, but he saw two or three of his acquaintances, and tried to communicate with them and talk to them. They didn't hear him, however, and were behaving unusually: they were frantically and frenetically trying to avoid being seen or touched. At first they darted about here and there on their own, but later they met plenty of other souls in the same state and clung to them, and the whole mass moved all over the place aimlessly, making meaningless noises mixed up with sounds like exclamations of grief and terror. There was another set of souls, high up in the pure part of the ambient,' who looked radiant, and when they approached one another, which they did often, it was out of affection; however, they kept away from the other, distracted souls. Apparently, they indicated their repugnance by contracting into themselves, and their pleas- i ure and approval by expanding and spreading out.

[24] He said that he recognized one of these souls as that of a relative, but only just recognized him, since he'd died when he was a child. This soul came up close to him and said, 'Hello, Thespesius.' He was astonished, and said that he wasn't Thespe-sius, but Aridaeus. 'You may have been Aridaeus before,' replied his relative, 'but from now on you are Thespesius, "godlike". You see, you haven't actually died: the gods have allowed you to come here with your intelligence, but with the rest of your soul left behind in your body like an anchor. If now or at any time in the future you need evidence of this, here it is: the souls of the dead do not cast a shadow, and they do not blink their eyes.' l These words stimulated Thespesius to use his rational mind to pull himself together to a greater degree, and he looked and saw that whereas he had a vague, shadowy line, which swayed in time with him, they were surrounded by an aura of light and were transparent. They weren't all identical, however. Some emitted light of a single, even, constant, uniform intensity, as the full moon does when it is at its most pure; others had intermittent patches or occasional welts; others were extraordinary to look at, since they were blotchy all over, marked with freckles like vipers; and others had faint scratchmarks.'

[25] Thespesius' relative (there is no reason not to refer to people's souls by name in this way) proceeded to give a detailed account of everything. He said that the role of chief punisher of wrongdoing of every kind has been given to Inevitability, the daughter of Necessity and Zeus, and that no criminal, however grand or insignificant, can use anonymity or dominance to escape her. There are three kinds of punishment, and each has its own custodian and agent. Swift Reprisal takes care of those who are punished without delay and whose punishment is entirely physi-' cal: she acts gently, in a sense, and leaves a lot of residual impuri- ties. People whose iniquity is more difficult to heal are handed over to Retribution after their death by their deity. The third and most savage of the assistants of Inevitability is Revenge, who takes on those who are altogether incurable, once Retribution has rejected them: she hounds them as they wander here and there, trying to hide; she exterminates them all, in a variety of brutal and cruel ways, and imprisons them in the place which has no identity or form. L 'As for the first two types of punishment,' he went on, 'the one administered by Reprisal, which takes place while the crimi- nal is still alive, resembles certain punishments employed by foreigners, m Persia, for instance, one form of punishment entails the depilation and whipping of the clothes and headgear of people who are being punished, who weep and beg for the punishment to end; analogously, punishments which involve people's property or bodies make no telling contact and fail to address the actual iniquity, but are usually aimed at people's reputations and how they are perceived.

[26] 'Anyone who gets from there to here without having been punished and purified falls into the hands of Retribution. His soul is exposed and naked;' there is nowhere for him to slink away to; he is incapable of covering up and concealing his wicked-ness, but everything about him is utterly plain for all to see. If either of his parents or any of his ancestors were good, she shows him first to them, so that they can see how contemptible and despicable he is; if they were bad, he watches them being pun-ished (and they can see him watching), before his own extensive punishment, in which each of his emotions is stripped from him. This ordeal involves agony which is so overwhelming and excruci-ating that it exceeds the pain of corporal punishment to the same extent that actual pain would be more real than dreaming about it. 'The scars and welts which each of the emotions entail are more permanent in some cases than in others. And,' he continued, 'have a look at the variety and diversity of ways in which the souls are coloured. One is drab and dirty, smeared with stinginess and cupidity; another is the red of blood or fire, thanks to his viciousness and cruelty; grey always signifies that hedonistic self-indulgence has proved difficult to eradicate; just as blackness is what squid discharge, the presence of spite and malice produces the venomous, pus-like green you see over there. 'These colours are the result of iniquity down there on earth, when the soul is modified by the emotions and in turn modifies what the body does. Here, on the other hand, the complete obliteration of these colours, and the soul's gaining a single, lucid hue, are the culmination of purification and punishment. But as long as the colours are there, then the emotions recur with all their turbulence and excitation, which is faint and quickly extin-guished in some souls, but in others has a vigorous intensity. After repeated doses of chastisement, some of these souls regain their proper condition and state, but others are returned to the bodies of living creatures by the violence of their incomprehen-sion and indiscriminate hedonism. One soul, because its rational faculty is weak and it has never practised the contemplation of truth, is pulled towards incarnation by its need for action; another needs an instrument for indulgence and longs to weave together its desires with their gratification, and to satisfy them with the help of the body, since here all that is available is an incomplete shadow, a phantom pleasure which can never be fulfilled.''

[27] Here he stopped talking, and Thespesius was guided by him easily and unerringly over what seemed to be a vast region, although he didn't take long to cross it: he was borne aloft, as if he had wings, by the beams of light, until he reached the mouth of an enormous tunnel which stretched on downwards, and the force that had carried him there abandoned him. He noticed that the place had the same effect on every other soul: they tucked themselves up as birds do, landed and walked around the mouth - they didn't dare to go straight in. The inside looked like a Bacchic cave, in that it held a rich variety of plants and greenery and flowers of every colour; and it exuded a mild, gentle, scented breeze which induced exquisite rapture. The effect on the state of mind was like the effect of wine on people who are getting drunk: as the souls revelled in the delightful scents, they began to expand and to become affable with one another; and all around the place was filled with merrymaking, laughter and every kind of song sung by people having fun and enjoying themselves. Thespesius' guide said that this was where Dionysus had ascended from the world, and subsequently brought Semele; and he said that the place was called the place of oblivion. And that is why, although Thespesius wanted to spend some time there, he didn't let him, but forcibly pulled him away, and gave him an explana-tion while he was doing so: he said that pleasure dissolves and saturates intelligence, but irrigates and plumps up one's irrational and physical aspects, and so makes one remember corporality. The consequence of remembering this is a craving and a longing that pulls one towards birth, which is so called because it is the inclination of a soul weighed down by liquidity to be on earth.

[28] He travelled the same distance again, and then he saw something which looked like a huge mixing-bowl with streams flowing into it; one stream was whiter than sea foam or snow, another was the purple of iris blossom, and so on — each coloured differently, with its own unique lustre when viewed from a distance. When they got close, however, the mixing-bowl turned out to be a deep hole in the ambient, the colours faded and only the whiteness remained bright. And he saw three deities sitting close together, facing one another in a triangle, and mixing the streams together in particular proportions. Thespe-sius' guide said that this was as far as Orpheus had come when he was searching for his wife's soul, and that he had incorrectly perpetuated and spread in the world a false notion, that the Delphic oracle was shared by Apollo and Night; this was wrong, he said, because Apollo and Night have nothing in common. 'In fact,' he said, 'what you're seeing now is an oracle shared by Night and Moon. It doesn't reach anywhere on earth at all, and it doesn't have a single location: it travels all over the place and reaches mankind in dreams and fantasies. For this is where dreams come from and, as you can see, they take in and then disseminate straightforward truth blended with complex delusion.

[29] 'I am no longer sure,' he continued, 'whether you will be able to see Apollo's oracle. Your soul's cable is stretched taut down to your body, to which it is anchored, and allows no further upward slack or play.'' While he was saying this, how-ever, he tried to take Thespesius to where he could show him the light which emanated from thetripod, he said, and which passed through the bosom of Themis before settling on Parnassus. But although Thespesius longed to see all this, the brilliance of the light blinded him. As he skirted by, however, he did hear a high female voice announcing in verse, among other things, what seemed to be the time of his death; and the deity told him that this was the Sibyl's voice, and that she sang about the future as she journeyed here and there on the face of the moon. Thespesius wanted to hear more of what the Sibyl was singing, but he was repulsed by the centrifugal force of the moon's motion, as if he were on the edge of a tornado, and he overheard only brief snatches. These included something about Mount Vesuvius and about Dicaearcheia coming under a fiery blast in the future, and a scrap of verse about the emperor contemporary with these events: 'Though good, illness will put an end to his rule.'

[30] Their next stop was to see people being punished. At first, this was simply a distressing and pitiful sight, but then Thespesius started to come across friends, relatives and acquaint-ances being punished; and this was a shock. They were suffering terribly, and being punished in demeaning and agonizing ways; they cried out pitifully and mournfully to him. Finally, he saw his own father emerging out of a pit, marked and scarred all over, and reaching for him with his hands. The overseers of his father's punishments allowed him no secrets: they forced him to admit that he had foully poisoned some visitors for their money. On earth, no one had suspected him, but here he had been found out; he had already suffered, and now was being taken away for more. Thespesius was so scared and terrified that he didn't dare beg or plead for mercy for his father, but just wanted to turn and run away. But he couldn't see the gentle relative who had been his guide; instead, other deities, who were frightening to look at, were pushing him forward, as if to say that he had no choice but to continue exploring everything. He noticed that anyone whose crimes had been immediately detected and punished was not now having to endure severe torment here or be oppressed to the same degree, since all that remained to be dealt with was his irrational, emotional aspect. However, those who had spent their lives without their iniquity being detected, because they covered themselves with a screen and a semblance of goodness, were B hemmed in by guards of a different kind, who harassed and tormented them until they forced them to turn their souls inside out, with ghastly wriggles and convolutions which were reminis-cent of how lugworms turn themselves inside out when they swallow a hook.' The guards flayed and cut open some of them, who were carrying their wickedness in their rational, authoritative part, to reveal them as infected and spotty. And he said that he saw other souls entwined, snake-like, in groups of two or three or more, who were eating one another because they held a grudge or felt vindictive about things which had been done to them, or which they had done, during their lifetimes. There was also a row of c pools, one of boiling gold, another of freezing lead, and a third of rough iron. The deities in charge of these pools used imple- ments, like blacksmiths, alternately to lift souls up and then lower them - these were the souls of people whose criminality stemmed from greed and avarice. When the souls had been heated up in the golden pool until they became transparent from the heat, the deities dropped them into the pool of lead for tempering; they immediately froze as hard as hailstones, and then the deities transferred them to the iron pool; here they became i hideously black, and they were so hard that bits of them were chipped and broken off, and their shapes became distorted; and then they were taken back to the gold pool again. These metamor- phoses caused them excruciating pain, Thespesius said.

[31] The souls whose suffering aroused the most pity, he said, were those whose debt had been inherited by descendants or children, because they were under the impression that they had been absolved from repayment, but were then apprehended at a later date. What happened was that whenever any of their de- scendants or children arrived there and came across the soul of their forebear, they assaulted him furiously, yelling and scream- ing; they showed him the evidence of their suffering, and cursed him and chased him around - and he couldn't escape and hide, however much he wanted to. Before long, the avenging deities were hunting him down and rushing him off for his original punishment, and he would go off wailing, because he already knew what penalty he was facing. And Thespesius said that some of these souls were swarming with descendants, who clung to them exactly like bees or bats, and emitted piercing cries' in anger at the memory of the pain they had endured because of them.

[32] The last thing he saw was the souls being modified for F rebirth. They were being wrenched and reshaped into all kinds of living creatures by specialist artisans, who were using a combi- nation of tools and blows to join and force together some parts, twist others back, and obliterate and eliminate others altogether, so as to make the souls fit different characteristics and ways of life. And he saw among the others Nero's soul, which was in a bad way, not least because it had been run through with red-hot nails.' The artisans had a form already prepared for him — that of the Indian viper, in which he would live once, as a foetus, he had eaten his way out of his mother; but suddenly, he said, an intense light blazed forth, and a voice arose from the light, ordering them to transfer Nero's soul to another, more inoffen-sive species by fashioning the form of a musical animal which could live near marshes and ponds. For, the voice announced, he had already been punished for his crimes, and moreover the gods owed him a favour for freeing the nation which, of all those he ruled, was the best and the most favoured by the gods.

[33] Up to this point, he had been a spectator; but he was poised to turn back when he became paralysed with fear. A woman of incredible beauty and size had grabbed hold of him, and she said, 'Come here, you. This will help you remember everything better.' And she was bringing a red-hot stick, like painters use, up close to him. Another woman stopped her, however, and he was jerked away, as suddenly as if he had been fired from a bowstring, by an extremely tempestuous and strong wind; he landed on his body and looked up almost from his actual grave.


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