Plotinus on the Eidolon

“Plotinus holds that all souls must be separable from bodies, with the sole exception of the universal soul from the universal body;for all bodies are in flux and perish able, except the one body of all, in its totality, which is eternal. What then in respect of souls, he asks (vi. 4, 16), is the meaning of the popular phrase going to Hades or being in Hades ? Let Hades be taken to mean the Invisible. It is not the soul that goes any where; for it itself is not moved, but is rather the cause or principle of movement. But just as we say the soul is there, in that place where the body is, so when it is separated from the physical body, but has still attached to it the subtle image, it may be said to go to, or be in, what he calls the inferior place, where the impure spirit is. Even in the case of a soul set free by philosophy from a separate body or embodiment of any kind, and so abiding in purity in the intelligible state, or spiritual world proper in the highest sense of the term, the image still persists for a certain time in Hades. This is an ancient notion concerning the heroes, or daimonic souls, Plotinus thinks Homer appears to admit this doctrine in the case of Hercules, speaking of his image as being in Hades, while he himself is among the Gods. The image, or eidolon, is intimately connected with the irrational soul, which is poetically said to be the shadow cast by the shining of the rational soul on the body (i. 1. 2). The irrational soul is also said to be the image of the rational plunged into the obscurity of sensible life (iv. 3. 27). Elsewhere (ii. 2. 2), speaking of a certain sphere-like or spherical psychical element, Plotinus avers that, whereas the proper movement of life is circular, as is most clearly seen in the heavenly bodies, the movement of our physical bodies is rectilinear. But there is also a circular or sphere-like body in us. It has, however, become terrestrial or obscure, and is no longer light as in the case of heavenly bodies. The nature of the movement of the spirit is probably of this kind. The spirit is the element that moves circle-wise in us. It is originally as it were an aery or igneous body, the inner clothing or attachment of the soul before it descends into a terrestrial body (iv. 3. 9, 15). This view of the meaning of going to Hades, or being in Hades, Porphyry also expounds in his summary of Plotinian doctrine Thus he tells us that in the same way as being on earth is for the soul, not its moving about on earth, as physical bodies do, but having control of a body that moves about on earth, so also being in Hades for the soul is when it has attached to it the management of an image or spirit which has its existence in space, or whose nature it is to be in a place. This image, in the case of the unpurified, is of a dark or cloudy nature. Accordingly, if Hades is the underworld, and therefore an obscure state of existence compared with the celestial spheres, the soul may be said to go there so long as it has such a darkened image attached to it. By being in Hades is then meant that the soul is in the state of its invisible and darkened nature (physis). It is owing to the propensity of the partial reason of the soul towards such and such a body, owing to its habit, or its habitual relationship to a certain body on earth, that a certain form or type of phantasy or imaging is impressed upon the spirit after death, the spirit itself having no special form.1 But what is the meaning of going beneath the earth, to the subterrene or under-world? Porphyry assumes that the impure spirit may be so heavy, or watery, as he calls it, that it can be said to go to the under-world. But he reiterates that the essence or life or consciousness of the soul itself cannot be said to change place or be in a place, but only that it contracts the habits of bodies whose nature is to change place and occupy space. For as is the disposition of the soul, so does it obtain a body conditioned in rank and properties. Just as the soul can be kept earth only by means of the earthy shell, so can it be kept in Hades only by its attachment to the image or moist spirit. According to ancient physics the down ward elements are the earthy and moist (the moist being supposed originally to extend below the earth) and the upward the airy and fiery. The soul has thus the humid or moist element attached to it as long as it wills to associate with, or has its attention fixed on, things in generation. The idea that the moist principle was that which conditioned all genesis, generation, or birth-and-death, that it, so to say, constituted the ocean of animal and plantal life, the state of perpetual flux, or everbecoming, was a general dogma of the school. Indeed, it seems to have been a leading notion of ancient mystic lore in general. Thus we find Porphyry elsewhere explaining the Egyptian symbolism of the boats or barques of the daimones as being intended to represent not solid bodies, but the vehicles in which they ” sail on the moist.” This applied to all grades, from the soul of the sun-god to all souls that descend into genesis. And with regard to the latter Porphyry cites the logoi of Heraclitus : ” For souls to become moist is delight or death,” delight consisting in their falling into generation ; and : ” We live their [the souls ] death, and they live our death.” Elsewhere in the same treatise Porphyry tells us that, according to the Stoics, souls who love the body attract a moist spirit to them, and condense it like a cloud (for the moist being condensed in air constitutes a cloud). That when the spirit in souls is condensed by a superabundance of the moist element, they become visible. Of such are the apparitions of images of the deceased that are occasionally met with ; the spirit being furthermore coloured and shaped by phantasy, that is the imagination”.
G. R. S. MEAD ‘THE DOCTRINE OF THE SUBTLE BODY IN WESTERN TRADITION. AN OUTLINE OF WHAT THE PHILOSOPHERS THOUGHT AND CHRISTIANS TAUGHT ON THE SUBJECT’.
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