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By Rick Frederick

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Mortals are immortals and immortals are mortals,
the one. Living the others' death and dying the others' life.

The Life & Times of Marcus Aurelius


Attention seeking introduction for a fairly long essay which few people will read unless
zinged at the top.

The number PI equals 3.1415926535…, ad infinitum. It is the number you get when you
divide the circumference of a circle by its diameter. It can’t be expressed as a fraction, and
it goes on forever. It also shows up almost everywhere. Newtonian physics would be
awash without it. Here’s the good part, the sum of its first 144 digits equals 666. As you
may know, both 144 and 666 are pretty important numbers. 666 is some how or the other
associated with the anti Christ, while 144 is 12 times 12, 12 is the number of lunar cycles
per year, number of disciples, eggs in a carton, etc.

This is not trivial coincidence. It is a manifestation of the historical lineage of many

concepts around today, including the technically oriented pi. However, outside of its
historical roots, it has no more importance than that of a trivial coincidence.

Religious oriented numerology was not born out of thin air. Its birth ground was human
kind’s early technological efforts. Our first efforts to accurately observe and
advantageously alter our physical environment led us to notice that there are seven visible
planetary bodies, twelve lunar cycles, 360 or so days per solar cycle, etc. Likely in
accordance with the foregoing, early students of geometry chose to specify that there are
360 degrees in a circle, and the Babylonians chose to use a base six number system, which
turned out to be a very efficient choice for a society keeping track of things with scratches
on clay tablets.

The remnants of numerology are strewn about religious traditions still with us, tending to
leave the false impression that their significance is disconnected from the secular world.
That may be true today, but the original purpose of religion was technological. Overtly
religious thought and thought generally considered secular, circa 0 BCE, overlapped
extensively, holding in common much crucial ground, arrived at by the methods of
apprehending physical phenomena then prevalent. Those methods can best be summed up
as limited to the observations possible to the unassisted eye. The un assisted eye does not
see molecular level biological phenomena. It cannot see the physical components of
planets and stars, which from their great distance in their movements look to be volitional
beings. It did imagine to see volitional characteristics suggesting the presence of a

personality in every type of physical system, the wind, the rain, the sometimes good, the
sometimes killing, rivers.

This essay is a survey of secular and religious writings extant circa 0 BCE, give or take a
century or so, which seeks to illustrate this common epistemological thread, which,
though not unique to that time only, is far, far different from that of our own.

What are today considered as no more than the organizing tools of thought, and thought
alone, words and numbers, were inferred by the unassisted eye to embody forces and
beings as real, although invisible, as the physical things to which they were applied.
Magical names, magical numbers, sacred words, scripture, we today either disregard or
label “spiritual”, and carefully keep it separate from, less it interfere with, practical,
physical things like finding oil and keeping the lights turned on. Back then, the proper
invocation of such things, in reversal of today, was thought to be crucial to keeping the
lights turned on.

Closer to the earth, for want of empirically grounded technology, their “spiritual” was
their technology, leaving them to consider not forces and objects, the concrete and the
abstract, but the conflicting interests of the body and spirit, and the heavens of the night
sky versus this often very unpleasant earth.

Our dichotomy is the objective and the subjective, the concrete and the abstract. Theirs
had not yet transformed into that. Theirs was the earthly and the heavenly, body / spirit.
If we indulge a label of our era, the nearest parallel to the belief systems of even the most
advanced secular thinkers circa 0 BCE, is aboriginal animism. This should not be
interpreted as harshly as it may sound. There is something primal in the inner motives of
animism which is yet to be explained or satisfied. And the body of literature left to us,
may be a superstition riddled artifice, but it is also, even that of the religious writers, a
often perspicacious and eloquent treatment of the questions which we cannot resist asking,
have never been able, and with the help of God’s benevolently opaque hand, never will be
able, to answer.

The study of historical schools of thought is mostly a study of the pervasive assumptions
and in turn, questions, of the time, which were, in large part, based on the then available
methods of perceiving physical phenomena. Accordingly, I have chosen the Meditations
of Marcus Aurelius as the organizing focal point of this essay. I think of his stuff as being
an example of what we might call the cutting edge of the educated mainstream of the time.
He wasn’t the brightest candle to ever burn, but was definitely far from the dullest. Of
mild interest, is the fact that during his own lifetime he was the politically most powerful
man in the world. So privileged, he no doubt had access to the most learned men of his
time, the best of libraries and so forth. He was perhaps like Eugene McCarthy’s
description of the ideal presidential candidate, who, “like a football coach”, is “smart
enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think it’s important”. Reading his
stuff in the context of what was around at the time, we find him as we might expect too,
certainly able, occasionally eloquent, even approaching originality here and there, but
never too far from the avant-garde mainstream of his day. In similar ways, Lyndon
Johnson’s “Vantage Point” isn’t a bad read either. …

Using the Meditations as a sort of baseline, I wander over to selected excerpts from
Gnostic writings, Epictetus, canonical and non canonical early Christian writings,
Lucretius, Plutarch, Virgil, Tactius, Justin, and some of the other “church fathers”. I have
also allowed myself the indulgence of including some of the writings ascribed to Socrates,
Plato and Aristotle, although their life spans occurred circa 3rd - 4th centuries BCE, by way
of the justification that their work was, along with the Greek language itself, a sort of
Lingua Franca for many circa 0 BCE. Needless to say, the excerpts selected are those
which I consider to be supportive of the points I seek to illustrate. Accordingly, the reader
may find the following circular and that the passages not cited, to be as telling as the ones
that are. To this, all I can really say is that I have done the best I could. Although starting
with many pre conceptions, I did not start with what became my final conceptions.

Part I
Setting the Stage

At least with regards to Marcus Aurelius and his “Mediations”, the enveloping context of
our discussion is the comings and goings, and the culture reflected by it, of the Roman

The accounts left to us are written from the perspective of those at the top of the heap,
having been written by court toadies such as Josephus, Tactius, Plutarch, and Lucan.
Accordingly, they are soaked with the self conscious histrionics of a ruling elite believing
in a Roman version of “Manifest Destiny”. Their version was even more arrogant than
ours. Rather than being based on secular Darwinian theory, as was the 19th century
version, the “Fortune of Rome” was thought to be guided by, often dictated by, the Gods.
An “expert” in such matters would be likely to find all sorts of omens and signs strewn
about by the Gods indicating the nature of what was to come. Of course these things
would usually be discovered by us frail humans only after the fact. To what extent these
things were actually believed in by the ruling elite, and to what extent they were merely
useful tales to tell a credulous public is hard to know:

“. I should think it unbecoming the dignity of the task which I have undertaken, to
collect fabulous marvels, and to amuse with fiction the tastes of my readers; at the
same time I would not venture to impugn the credit of common report and tradition.
The natives of these parts relate that on the day when the battle was being fought at
Bedriacum, a bird of unfamiliar appearance settled in a much frequented grove near
Regium Lepidum, and was not frightened or driven away by the concourse of people,
or by the multitude of birds that flocked round it, until Otho killed himself; then it
vanished. When they came to compute the time, it was found that the commencement
and the end of this strange occurrence tallied with the last scenes of Otho's life.
(Tactius, Histories, Book II)

These view points did not just exist at the top, but seem to have been energetically
embraced by those closer to the bottom of the heap as well. Circa 0 BCE was not a very
nice time to be alive. The civil wars pitting Pompeii against Julius Caesar, circa 40 BCE,
re erupted circa 65 CE, and coincided with the equally horrific Jewish - Roman war:

“Italy, however, was prostrated under sufferings heavier and more terrible than the
evils of war. The soldiers of Vitellius, dispersed through the municipal towns and
colonies, were robbing and plundering and polluting every place with violence and
lust. Everything, lawful or unlawful, they were ready to seize or to sell, sparing
nothing, sacred or profane. Some persons under the soldiers' garb murdered their
private enemies. The soldiers themselves, who knew the country well, marked out rich
estates and wealthy owners for plunder, or for death in case of resistance; their
commanders were in their power and dared not check them. Caecina indeed was not
so rapacious as he was fond of popularity; Valens was so notorious for his dishonest
gains and peculations that he was disposed to conceal the crimes of others. The
resources of Italy had long been impaired, and the presence of so vast a force of
infantry and cavalry, with the outrages, the losses, and the wrongs they inflicted, was
more than it could well endure.” (Tactius, Histories, Book II)

During this period, with lives short and brutal, living conditions sparse, the gratification’s
of war, not just for those calling the shots at the top, but for the common rank and file
living the experience, was often a gratifying distraction. The Romans slaughtered each
other in a series of insurrections and counter insurrections throughout much of the 1st
Century. Far from all of this can be written off as being a result of this or that general or
emperor getting his feathers ruffled or some other such rivalry within the oligarchy. Had
that been true, somebody would have risen to the top of popular affections by being an
advocate of peace. It may be that a few tried and were shouted down, their careers left
unrecorded by the histories left to us by court toadies such as Tactius and Josephus.
Still, the carnage is not likely to have happened upon some sea of long suffering, peace
loving simple folk, wiser than their pompous, bloodthirsty leaders, but powerless to thwart
the powers of the day. Rather, the urge to war was no small part of the culture of the day,
both high and low. Revisionist idealizations not withstanding, people, common and ruling,
go to war because they enjoy it, or at least think at the start that they are going to enjoy it.
Or in the case of the soldiers, sometimes simply out of greed.

This was the motive alleged, and it sounded well, but what every
one said to himself was this: "The colony, situated as it is on level ground,
may be taken by assault. If we attack under cover of darkness, we shall
be at least as bold, and shall enjoy more license in plunder. If we wait
for the light, we shall be met with entreaties for peace, and in return
for our toil and our wounds shall receive only the empty satisfaction of
clemency and praise, but the wealth of Cremona will go into the purses
of the legates and the prefects. The soldiers have the plunder of a city
that is stormed, the generals of one which capitulates." The centurions
and tribunes were spurned away; that no man's voice might be heard, the
troops clashed their weapons together, ready to break through all discipline,
unless they were led as they wished.

The intoxicating appeal of war was much more than economic. It involved much more
than the usual notions of “glory”, adventure, and all that. For the common soldier
“Booty” was more than the seizure of wine and precious metals, or even the seizure of
human beings as slaves. Punctuating the boredom of a subsistence lifestyle, it was the

experience of pillage. It was the intoxicating, near orgiastic experience of exercising total
power over other human beings. Theirs was the power to kill, rape, torture, tease, taunt,
humiliate, burn, and in general sadistically toy with other people. Like a frenzied, curious
little boy mashing toads with a rock, in order to experience first hand what it feels like to
make something dead.

Then and today, we all linger between seeking acceptance from others, demanding it,
seeking to force it, begging for it, or rejecting it. It’s what we human beings do. All the
necessary and normally enriching, but often painful, halting, nuances of human interaction
seem to fall away when one party enjoys uncontested power over the other. This is the
position sought by the rapist. Imagine then, the orgiastic gratification of the rampaging
killer, shielded by the anonymity of a large group and intoxicated by its force. Acting like
a member of a sort of God class, doing literally anything he wishes to the bodies and
minds of an entire population.

Tactius’s account of the sack of Cremona by the armies of Vespasian, is like a literary
fossil, bleached and dried of a reality it manifests, but doesn’t really depict. It doesn’t
mention flies alighting on split, bloated bodies, or how their plenitude numbed both
pillagers and victims to a surrealistic disregard of them. It does not explain that who was
butchered or not butchered had nothing to do with “virtue”, “destiny”, or any such thing,
but only luck, good or bad. Its stilted, formal tone implies, that as distasteful as the whole
thing was, it was simply the “fortune” of the people of Cremona. But when it tell us that
the pillaging lasted FOUR DAYS, it tells us a lot. With the wine flowing freely, it was a
four day drinking bender involving forty thousand killers, and a good size city full of
victims. To understand it, close your eyes, visualize narrow alley ways teeming with some
still living, some now dead; slashed, impaled, burnt, and raped bodies Hear an
intermingled tumult of drunken and tormented voices. Imagine that you and your family
are there, powerlessly trying to stay alive. And imagine living it for four days:

Forty thousand armed men burst into Cremona, and with them a body
of sutlers and camp-followers, yet more numerous and yet more abandoned
to lust and cruelty. Neither age nor rank were any protection from indiscriminate
slaughter and violation. Aged men and women past their prime, worthless
as booty, were dragged about in wanton insult. Did a grown up maiden or
youth of marked beauty fall in their way, they were torn in pieces by the
violent hands of ravishers; and in the end the destroyers themselves were
provoked into mutual slaughter. Men, as they carried off for themselves
coin or temple-offerings of massive gold, were cut down by others of superior
strength. Some, scorning what met the eye, searched for hidden wealth,
and dug up buried treasures, applying the scourge and the torture to the
owners. In their hands were flaming torches, which, as soon as they had
carried out the spoil, they wantonly hurled into the gutted houses and
plundered temples. In an army which included such varieties of language
and character, an army comprising Roman citizens, allies, and foreigners,
there was every kind of had a law of his own, and nothing was forbidden.
For four days Cremona satisfied the plunderers. When all things else, sacred
and profane, were settling down into the flames, the temple of Mephitis

outside the walls alone remained standing, saved by its situation or by
divine interposition.
Such was the end of Cremona, 286 years after its foundation. It
was built in the consulship of Tiberius Sempronius and Cornelius Scipio,
when Hannibal was threatening Italy, as a protection against the Gauls
from beyond the Padus, or against any other sudden invader from the Alps.
From the number of settlers, the conveniences afforded by the rivers, the
fertility of the soil, and the many connexions and intermarriages formed
with neighbouring nations, it grew and flourished, unharmed by foreign
enemies, though most unfortunate in civil wars. Ashamed of the atrocious
deed, and aware of the detestation which it was inspiring, Antonius issued
a proclamation, that no one should detain in captivity a citizen of Cremona.
The spoil indeed had been rendered valueless to the soldiers by a general
agreement throughout Italy, which rejected with loathing the purchase of
such slaves. A massacre then began; when this was known, the prisoners
were secretly ransomed by their friends and relatives. The remaining inhabitants
soon returned to Cremona; the temples and squares were restored by the
munificence of the burghers, and Vespasian gave his exhortations. (Tactius)

The memory and anticipation of such a sexually violent four day long euphoria, along with
the momentums of custom, went a long ways to offsetting the dangers and deprivations of
the campaign. A primary enabling rationalization of such license, the moral indifference of
“fortune”, thought to be a nearly independent, volitional deity in its own right, was both
convenient to and demanded by the citizens of Rome, high and low, wanting to indulge
their most basic lusts and feel good about it, indeed wanting to institutionalize them.

This notion of the deity of “fortune” was basic to and deeply characteristic of Roman civil
orthodoxy as a whole. It was a partial explanation and personification of unexplained
occurrences. With all other events tied to this God or that, these things couldn’t simply be
left out to dry. An appropriately ambiguous, yet specific entity was needed, giving us the
fickle mistress, “fortune”. This went well with the urge to rationalize Roman “Manifest
Destiny”. Ruling the known world was the “Fortune” of Rome, as the battlefield miseries
of its victims was theirs.

The histories left to us by the academic pets of the oligarchy include massive doses of the
idea that history is led by great men embodying national, even racial destinies (“Destiny”
being a close cousin of “Fortune”). Of course, the Gods took interest in the doings of the
mighty Caesar’s, perhaps even choosing to effect things and reveal future events. This all
must have seemed high sounding to the Roman ear, but also fulfilled a much more basic
need. It seems the Romans, like most people, simply enjoyed violence, even at times
openly disparaging the “miseries of peace”.

This was not the whole of the Roman community. It had a good side. A profound side.

The idea that the “fate” of a nation is caught up in the destiny of some “great man” is not
far from the notion that the fate of a nation is an extension of that ethnic group’s patron
deity. In both cases, such notions certainly served the interests of the powers that were
and so had a powerful momentum. The self edifying musings of these “great men”, as

reported by Plutarch, not only produced a body politic sustaining myth for their own time,
but a somewhat new one some 1500 years later in the work of Shakespeare. When the
“great men” speak of “virtue”, they speak primarily of what they believed to be the
justification of their privileges. Much of their “virtue” seems to have been theatrical skill;
the ability to impress and manipulate “the many”, whose souls Socrates imagined would
enter into swine’s after their sojourn on this earth.

The victors of historical conflicts are said to write “the history”. In this case, those a top
the hierarchy have written the history, and the history they left behind is their tale of how
they ran things. Oratory, rhetoric, was a technology of how to persuade, and to a lesser
degree one of how to reason. In a theocracy, how one might persuade a subject of the
rightness of “God’s Word”, and hence of the right of the rulers to rule, is hopefully not too
divorced from how one might discover the truth through reason. In the civic orthodoxy of
Rome, an orthodoxy which demanded that the emperor be worshipped and frequently
deified previous emperors, it was also logically consistent to consider the art of persuasion
and the art of reasoning to be nearly congruent. Though we point out the self interest in
all of this, at least we can say that the art of persuading “the many” was not taken any
further a field from rationality as it is than by say a Nike commercial.

The objective of these efforts was not to persuade an individual, that’s a whole different
type of interaction and therefore requires a different type of argument. The objective was
to persuade groups. The art of persuasion is not a logical one, it is an effort to influence,
by whatever means.. The appearance of logic is more often than not a mere trapping.
More to the point, the purpose of group belief has to do with the maintenance of the
bonds of that group. Whatever logical strength the belief may have, being but just another
part of its means to influence, that logic may just as well be contrived as actual. Social
beliefs have to do with social allegiances. The stuff of this is trust, faith, reciprocated
altruism, in short the stuff of childhood. For Roman civil society, so self important, the
inventor of the rule of the letter of law, the result is a beatific infantilism. Many of its
themes were martial, and we are reminded of the boastful bravery of the playground. Yet,
we are also reminded of the most fundamental realities of human interactions, and hence
some of the most important truths.

One’s political effectiveness, and thereby one’s claim to a divinely granted, cosmologically
necessary destiny, was largely dependent on one’s ability to persuade. So we find left
behind reports of resplendent demagoguery such as Mark Antony’s incitement of a riot
following the assassination of Julius Caesar. The reputedly greatest demagogue of all,
Cicero, is presented to us by Plutarch as a dispenser of the secular “Word”, perhaps almost
as impressive as the “12 year old” Jesus figure impressing his elders outside the temple:

“But after he had received the news of Sylla's death, and his body, strengthened again
by exercise, was come to a vigorous habit, his voice managed and rendered sweet and
full to the ear and pretty well brought into keeping with his general constitution, his
friends at Rome earnestly soliciting him by letters, and Antiochus also urging him to
return to public affairs, he again prepared for use his orator's instrument of rhetoric,
and summoned into action his political faculties, diligently exercising himself in
declamations and attending the most celebrated rhetoricians of the time. He sailed
from Athens for Asia and Rhodes. Amongst the Asian masters, he conversed with

Xenocles of Adramyttium, Dionysius of Magnesia, and Menippus of Caria; at Rhodes,
he studied oratory with Apollonius, the son of Molon, and philosophy with Posidonius.
Apollonius, we are told, not understanding Latin, requested Cicero to declaim in
Greek. He complied willingly, thinking that his faults would thus be better pointed out
to him. And after he finished, all his other hearers were astonished, and contended
who should praise him most, but Apollonius, who had shown no signs of excitement
whilst he was hearing him, so also now, when it was over, sate musing for some
considerable time, without any remark. And when Cicero was discomposed at this, he
said, "You have my praise and admiration, Cicero, and Greece my pity and
commiseration, since those arts and that eloquence which are the only glories that
remain to her, will now be transferred by you to Rome." Plutarch Cicero, 106 -43
BCE, pg 2, Translated by John Dryden

Such was the stuff of greatness. In a world where the “Word” was a subset of the very
being of the creator, the ability to wield about words and to declaim with accuracy and
expression, like Horowitz on the piano, the arguments of hallowed ancients, or even just
the ability to make presentations of one’s own ideas artfully transcendent of an unnoticed
pedestrian content, could obtain for one a personal legend. The belief that “rationality” is
a divine gift, was held to be much more than mere parlor talk.

It could also be the stuff of physical survival. Below, according to Plutarch, the legendary
Cato is attacked and nearly killed in an event apparently orchestrated by his competitors in
the oligarchy. Granting the very big if, that there is any truth to this report to begin with,
it appears that Cato upset the financial transactions of a number of his peers by
highlighting the bribery pervading officialdom. In retaliation, his enemies spread rumors
asserting that he dispensed his senatorial duties while wearing no underwear, and often
while drunk. Even Plutarch accepts this image of a bare bottomed old drunk at face value.
At the height of this BCE “Meet the press Moment”, Cato is attacked by a stone throwing
little mob, whom he subdues with a batch of well chosen words. Perhaps sounding
something like a state of the union address from a bare bottomed drunk of our own time,
Cato’s “voice was full and sounding, and sufficient to be heard by so great a multitude,
and its vigour and capacity of endurance quite indefatigable, for he often would speak
a whole day and never stop.”. The ability to crank out self important histrionics were
often a matter of life and death. Today’s politicians meet political death or are able to
survive on the basis of how ably they react on their feet to critical, televised, rhetorical
moments. Apparently, in the life and death competitions of the Roman oligarchy, political
death was usually accompanied by physical death.

Cato was made praetor the following year; but, it seems, he did not do more honour
and credit to the office by his signal integrity than he disgraced and diminished it by
his strange behaviour. For he would often come to the court without his shoes, and sit
upon the bench without any undergarment, and in this attire would give judgment in
capital causes, and upon persons of the highest rank. It is said, also, he used to drink
wine after his morning meal, and then transact the business of his office; but this was
wrongfully reported of him. The people were at that time extremely corrupted by the
gifts of those who sought offices, and most made a constant trade of selling their
voices. Cato was eager utterly to root this corruption out of the commonwealth; he
therefore persuaded the senate to make an order, that those who were chosen into any

office, though nobody should accuse them, should be obliged to come into the court,
and give account upon oath of their proceedings in their election. This was extremely
obnoxious to those who stood for the offices, and yet more to those vast numbers who
took the bribes. Insomuch that one morning, as Cato was going to the tribunal, a great
multitude of people flocked together, and with loud cries and maledictions reviled him,
and threw stones at him. Those that were about the tribunal presently fled, and Cato
himself being forced thence, and jostled about in the throng, very narrowly escaped
the stones that were thrown at him, and with much difficulty got hold of the rostra;
where, standing up with a bold and undaunted countenance, he at once mastered the
tumult, and silenced the clamour; and addressing them in fit terms for the occasion,
was heard with great attention, and perfectly quelled the sedition. Afterwards, on the
senate commending him for this, "But I," said he, "do not commend you for
abandoning your praetor in danger, and bringing him no assistance."Plutarch, Cato
the Younger, pg 17

Exalted oratory was certainly one of the ways to become a great man of affairs. Another
way was to be skillful at war. Much more than the X’s and the O’s of military strategy,
success was a product of the ability to lead, to inspire the participants of what were close
to a sort of armed rugby match. Below, Plutarch offers a no doubt embellished example of
how Caesar was able to pull his military and hence political chestnuts out of the fire:

“They soon routed his cavalry, and having surrounded the twelfth and seventh legions,
killed all the officers, and had not Caesar himself snatched up a buckler and forced
his way through his own men to come up to the barbarians, or had not the tenth
legion, when they saw him in danger, run in from the tops of the hills, where they lay,
and broken through the enemy's ranks to rescue him, in all probability not a Roman
would have been saved. But now, under the influence of Caesar's bold example, they
fought a battle, as the phrase is, of more than human courage, and yet with their
utmost efforts they were not able to drive the enemy out of the field, but cut them down
fighting in their defence. For out of sixty thousand men, it is stated that not above five
hundred survived the battle, and of four hundred of their senators not above three.”
Plutarch, Caesar, pg 9

Jewish armies marching to battle had their horn blowing priests, the Roman armies had
their Caesar’s.

Like religious figures, the great things that these great men would do was frequently said
to be presaged by omens, as Plutarch relates the mixed results that Julius Caesar’s career
would bring:

“At last, in a sort of passion, casting aside calculation, and abandoning himself to
what might come, and using the proverb frequently in their mouths who enter upon
dangerous and bold attempts, "The die is cast," with these words he took the river.
Once over, he used all expedition possible, and before it was day reached Ariminum
and took it. It is said that the night before he passed the river he had an impious
dream, that he was unnaturally familiar with his own mother.” Plutarch, Caesar, pg

Marcus’s resistance to the doctrine of great men makes him somewhat unique, and
justifies us in granting him some sympathy. Most of them took it all too seriously. Even
the seditious Spartacus was said to have been marked, albeit in the perception of the slave
owners to be “with no happy event”, for future greatness:

When he first came to be sold at Rome, they say a snake coiled itself upon his face as
he lay asleep, and his wife, who at this latter time also accompanied him in his flight,
his countrywoman, a kind of prophetess, and one of those possessed with the
bacchanal frenzy, declared that it was a sign portending great and formidable power to
him with no happy event.” Plutarch, Crassus, pg 4

Being associated with some distinguished forbearer or god was a very valuable asset for
any practicing politician. Mark Antony was said to resemble the paintings and sculptures
of Hercules, which was not surprising as it was rumored that the Antonys were descended
from the half human half divine Hercules through Anton. Not unlike say Hollywood
graduate President Reagan dying his hair, whenever he (Antony) had to appear before
large numbers, “he wore his tunic girt low about the hips, a broadsword on his side,
and over a large coarse mantle”. In a culture where Cleopatra achieved notice upon her
grand entrance by having herself fanned by “beautiful boys”, it may also have come
across as pretty sexy. Perhaps realizing that a little roguishness would add to the appeal of
his image, Antony is said to have gone rambling about with Cleopatra “to disturb and
torment people at their doors and windows, dressed like a servant-woman, for Antony
also went in servant's disguise, and from these expeditions he often came home very
scurvily answered, and sometimes even beaten severely, though most people guessed
who it was.” Plutarch, Antony, pg 10

One of Plutarch’s favorite people seems to have been the tragic figure, Marcus Brutus,
“who was descended from that Junius Brutus to whom the ancient Romans erected a
statue of brass in the capitol among the images of their kings with a drawn sword in
his hand, in remembrance of his courage and resolution in expelling the Tarquins and
destroying the monarchy.” Plutarch, Brutus, pg 1

The literary mentor of our secular authors, Socrates, considered himself to be on a mission
assigned to him by the Oracle of Delphi, if the writings attributed to Plato are to be
believed. Indeed the accounts of his career left to us by Plato, being in lieu of anything
actually left by Socrates himself, are somewhat reminiscent of the New Testament texts,
the Socratic synoptics as it were. The details of the Jesus figure’s death, as reported by
canonical texts are apparently calculated to meet the allegorical needs of the religious
debates of the day while Socrates’ last reported act is to satisfy a debt, a detail one could
reasonably suppose to have been a calculated fiction designed to respond to
Aristophanes’s famous parody of arguments typical of the “thinkery”. We find other
details in Socrates “Apology”, including his express denunciations of sophistry and
atheism, which also seem pointedly addressed to the criticisms of Aristophanes. The
fiction producing hand of a protective admirer is perhaps especially detectable when
Socrates is made to speak the words of the ever modest, yet potent martyr:

“and now of men who have condemned me I would fain prophesy to you for I am
about to die and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power and I

prophesy to you who are my murderers that immediately after my death punishment
far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you me you have killed
because you have wanted to escape the accuser and not to give an account of your
lives but that will not be as you suppose far otherwise for I say that there will be
more accusers of you than there are now accusers whom hitherto I have restrained
and as they are younger they will be more severe with you and you will be more
offended at them for if you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser
censuring your lives you are mistaken that is not a way of escape which is either
possible or honorable the easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others but to be
improving yourselves this is the prophecy which I utter before my departure to the
judges who have condemned me” Socrates - Apology, pg 18

There seems to be little more reason to believe in the hiristocity of the purported
biographical details of these writings than there is for those of the New Testament texts.
Both bodies of literature, though they embody worthwhile philosophy, here and there, are
largely works of fiction designed to elevate beyond questioning the founders of their
respective movements, who plausibly, although not probably, were fictitious themselves.

Religious myths, civic traditions, mass persuasive techniques, such as those used by the
Roman oligarchs, even philosophical traditions with a social agenda, are all allies with
similar, overlapping causes. The identity and form which they take has usually much more
to do with the time and place of their origin, than with some internal tautological
necessity. And those native, formative perspectives have more to do with, than any other
single factor, the manner of the day of apprehending physical realities. Religious writers
have their “scriptures”, portions of the “Word” passed down from the divine bodies
residing in the sky above, while the Greek philosophers trace their heritage back to the
astrology based numerology of the Pythagorean schools, and the self conscious histrionics
of the Roman politicians allude to the pillars of the son of man, son of God, Hercules.

Like the religious writer, who is awed by the might of God as displayed in nature, our
down to earth Romans also find their physical surroundings a source of wonderment.
Interestingly, Virgil associates and simultaneously extols the effects of wine and its origins
within the bounties of nature:

“In torrents of the wine-god; this shall be

Fruitful of grapes and flowing juice like that
We pour to heaven from bowls of gold, what time
The sleek Etruscan at the altar blows
His ivory pipe, and on the curved dish
We lay the reeking entrails. If to rear
Cattle delight thee rather, steers, or lambs,
Or goats that kill the tender plants, then seek
Full-fed Tarentum's glades and distant fields,
Or such a plain as luckless Mantua lost
Whose weedy water feeds the snow-white swan:
There nor clear springs nor grass the flocks will fail,
And all the day-long browsing of thy herds
Shall the cool dews of one brief night repair.

Land which the burrowing share shows dark and rich,
With crumbling soil- for this we counterfeit
In ploughing- for corn is goodliest; from no field
More wains thou'lt see wend home with plodding steers;
Or that from which the husbandman in spleen” Virgil, The Georgics, Georgic II

Wine provides emotional facilitation and hence inspiration. Physical deprivations, such as
fasting followed by dehydration, induce hallucinations, and in the minds of some or our
authors, inspiration. Our authors had no reason to regard drunken exuberance and
hallucination, the dreams of daytime, as being so different from the dreams of night time.
In turn, they saw no reason to regard the occasionally innovative thoughts of drunkenness,
hallucinations, or the dreams of sleep as intrinsically inferior to the sober consciousness of
day. Indeed, the very unreality of such things would often make them seem superior.
Obviously not merely of the senses, they might often seem to be superior to mere
extrapolations of the pedestrian, sensory data of waking life. It seemed an intuitive truth
that the extraordinary is superior to the ordinary.

Rather than “the land of milk and honey”, wouldn’t Moses’s wandering nomads have
preferred “the land of milk and other animal based proteins”? Perhaps yes, in the realities
lived by the authors of the Mosaic texts, but not in the literature itself, because the
naturally occurring glucose of nature provides the images for the metaphors of the
contrived glucose of the mind. The instant physiological gratification of sweet glucose is
equally irresistible to thought as well. Something as good as honey is aptly thought of as a
gift of the “birds of heaven”:

“He is the lord

Of all their labour; him with awful eye
They reverence, and with murmuring throngs surround,
In crowds attend, oft shoulder him on high,
Or with their bodies shield him in the fight,
And seek through showering wounds a glorious death.
Led by these tokens, and with such traits to guide,
Some say that unto bees a share is given
Of the Divine Intelligence, and to drink
Pure draughts of ether; for God permeates all-
Earth, and wide ocean, and the vault of heaven-
From whom flocks, herds, men, beasts of every kind,
Draw each at birth the fine essential flame;
Yea, and that all things hence to Him return,
Brought back by dissolution, nor can death
Find place: but, each into his starry rank,” Virgil, The Georgics, Georgic, Georgic

“When heaven brings round the season, thou shalt strain

Sweet honey, nor yet so sweet as passing clear,
And mellowing on the tongue the wine-god's fire.” Virgil, The Georgics, Georgic IV

That which pleasures the body also pleasures the mind, and gives it its vocabulary of
exultation. The bees are given “Pure draughts of ether for God permeates all”,
including the dark rich soil of the earth, which in a miracle of yearly renewal gives us the
euphoria inducing wine grape. Our authors, and many of us still now, strongly associate
euphoria with divinity. There are of course many definitions of God, but the most
common boil down to that of ultimate happiness. Indeed, it is difficult to conceive of a
definition of God which does not include some ultimate fulfillment. which brings with it
euphoria. To reach for God through thought is to strive for the philosophical brass ring,
the total triumph over all difficulties and questions, everlasting euphoria. Some of our
authors like to use words like “peace” and “tranquility”, which are but restful forms of
euphoria. Sweet honey, sweet, intoxicating wine, the exuberant release of a “vision”
which follows the pains of self deprivation, are all found on the same explorative wave
length. These thoughts freely intermingle with, as they should, our emotions. The
worship of nature, both the one on this planet and that of “the heavens above”,
reverentially sees a benign authority, God, bringing flawless order to everything. This is
the emotion love and trust. The beatific infantilism of civic orthodoxy, and the faith of
“God’s children”.


The literature which we study is an attempt to delineate the fundamental whys and
wherefores of life by writers who cannot help but feel that the physical phenomena of
nature is ascribable to unseen divine personalities, or alternatively some other sort of
unseen symmetry, whose origin is to be found in the divinely distant celestial orbs which
they saw in the night sky. The elements, literally the blood and guts, of organic matter,
was of course observed, but the micro mechanics, the chemistry of it, invisible to the
unassisted eye, was not even imagined. The resultant mis conceptions were profoundly
integrated into the writings of both the religious and non religious writers of the time and
hence there are commonalties in Gnostic, Judaic, early Christian, Socratic, and Stoic
traditions, to name but some, which are alien to more recent traditions.

Today, most of us prefer to imagine a connection between ourselves and whichever

historical tradition we feel ourselves to be continuing. Religions believe themselves
derived from some original “scriptures”. Non religious traditions, often anti religious
traditions, might feel connected to their favorite Greek philosophers, etc. The truth is that
we share more with even those who are seemingly adamantly opposed to us in our own
time in how we perceive and describe things than we do with writers of the past, however
much we might admire them. Our common awareness of the molecular mechanics of
chemistry and our habit of regarding natural phenomena as impersonal physical systems,
unites us as inhabitants of our own time, while it greatly distances us from even those circa
0 BCE, whose metaphors we admire and imagine ourselves to be continuing.

And that, by and large is what mostly remains from then, the metaphors. Most of us no
longer believe that divine volitional personas inhabit and animate physical phenomena, yet
we still enjoy and find the resultant images of those personifications heuristically
instructive. We find ourselves better equipped to understand the nuances of personalities

than the dynamics of impersonal physical systems. We know that these things are things,
but find explanative metaphors using individual, familiarly human, personalities easier and
more fun to think about. To make these metaphors more believable and hence more
enjoyable, we don’t disown, but instead no longer allow ourselves to remember the
animistic convictions of circa 0 BCE, as we seek to rationalize our cultural attachments to
whichever movement of back then with which our personally favored system of thought is
facilely attached to.

Anti religious thinkers prefer to think of Epictetus, Lucretius, the Socratic school etc. as
being vastly superior to the religious thinking of the day. They weren’t. Religious
thinkers who want to believe that their “scriptures”, being a product of divine revelation,
are above all this, make the, literally, literal minded proposition that God writes books,
which we ought to reference like some sort of of moral recipe book. Hopefully, not too
many mind the suggestion that there is a progression occurring in human thought and that
therefore the word “primitive” ought to have a positive connotation.

However malleable our perception of the past may be, the truth of it is not. There is
indeed a non relative truth of what did and didn’t happen, what theories of life were and
were not pervasive, although, not having been there, we cannot know it exactly. Indeed,
even if we had been there, we would not be able to remember it exactly, or even know it
exactly at the moment of occurrence. As we more honestly try to appreciate what we can
know, on the basis of the merit of the writings left behind, we should feel enriched, rather
than disillusioned. The abandonment of illusion is always enriching, but in the case of the
better writers circa 0 BCE, the writings themselves are often cognitively rich and lyrically
eloquent, as they seek to paint the realities of our condition which we still consider the
most important, and so fire the passion of our imagination.

During any given epoch, there are commonalties of the intellectual vernacular, from which
the disparate, often antagonistic belief systems of the period initiate their inquests. Every
question presupposes its answer, even if that answer only be that the question can or
should be answered. These commonalties may be more the questions of the time rather
than the beliefs of the time. These questions may be as fundamental as individual words
themselves, each word assuming the existence of some corresponding reality, and then
wondering through its usage what that reality indeed is.


The physical circumstances of our authors, as with people in all times and circumstances,
was at the background of their thinking. That circumstance was a physical subsistence
consequential to a technology which, even for the very rich, was incapable of fending off
the tribulations of physical life on this earth. Staying hydrated, fed, sheltered, and simply
clean was ceaselessly difficult, and in the case of cleanliness, we may presume, rare. For
us and for them being clean after being physically unclean for a time is exhilarating and
refreshing, and is so in a fundamental, psychological sense. We notice dirt and grime in
much more than a cosmetic way, we are depressed by it. This never ending acquaintance

with and never ending desire to escape, dirt, one may reasonably speculate, is reflected in
the cleansing, cross cultural ritual of baptism by water. The continual input of the
sensations of physical living experienced by the body is the material out of which the sub
conscious is formed, and the intuitions of the subconscious is the material out of which the
explanative metaphors of consciousness are groped together. Not far behind is the
emotional apparatus identifying what feels good and what doesn’t. Then follows the order
imposing lexicon of rationality with its transcendental attempts to elevate those initial
preferences to the comfortingly non relative conceptual level of “true’ and “untrue”.
Reaching back for sustenance to what our bodies tells us feels good and bad, among the
words first associated with true and untrue, vitreous and sinful, appears to have been
“clean” and “unclean”. “Cleanliness is next to godliness”, when stated during the times of
our authors, was often meant literally.

Ultimately a disregard for the needful passions of the body is prescribed as the best
approach to the ideal, which, understandably, is thought to be an escape from the trials of
our physical existence.

“Only by the submission of his soul to all the ordinances of god can his flesh be made
clean only thus can it really be sprinkled with waters of ablution only thus can it
really be sanctified by waters of purification and only thus can he really direct his
steps to walk blamelessly thru all the vicissitudes of his destiny in all the ways of god in
the manner which he has commanded without turning either to the right or left and
without overstepping any of gods words then indeed he will be acceptable before god
like an atonement offering which meets with his pleasure and then indeed will he
admitted to the covenant of the community forever” The Manual of Discipline pg 3

Thoughts cannot help but draw reference from the sensory experience provided by the
physical existence of the body whose neuro chemical reactions are the events by which
they exist, and are the only way by which we may know them. Thought which attempts to
arrive at some sort of conclusion, must have a beginning and an end, however intermediate
or provisional it might be. It must dare the assertions of its founding assumptions and
thereby declare that which it considers to be of value. It appears that humans began those
efforts by looking upward. Regally oblivious to the storms and petty strife’s of this world,
the majestically orbiting orbs and points of light in the “heavens” above emblazoned in the
minds of our authors and their predecessors the ultimate example of cyclical regularity.
The seemingly unvarying order of their movements suggest causality, and the notion of
time. Marcus Aurelius, regal in his own earthly right, is led to a sort of cosmic pantheism:

“I Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one
soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of
this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things
are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous
spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.” Marcus - Meditations, Book IV

In turn, he arrives at perhaps not a euphoric but at least a serviceable notion of


“I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of them will perish into
non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part
of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again
will change into another part of the universe, and so on for ever. And by consequence
of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on for ever in the other
direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered
according to definite periods of revolution.” Marcus - Meditations, Book V

He even seems quite prepared to accept a notion of physical things, the components of
nature, as being without divine breath, merely the inanimate pawns of physics,

“THE substance of the universe is obedient and compliant; and the reason which
governs it has in itself no cause for doing evil, for it has no malice, nor does it do evil
to anything, nor is anything harmed by it. But all things are made and perfected
according to this reason.” Marcus - Meditations, Book VI

Like those beautifully regular planets and stars, their daughter, physics, is consummately

“Frequently consider the connexion of all things in the universe and their relation to
one another. For in a manner all things are implicated with one another, and all in
this way are friendly to one another; for one thing comes in order after another, and
this is by virtue of the active movement and mutual conspiration and the unity of the
Adapt thyself to the things with which thy lot has been cast: and the men among
whom thou hast received thy portion, love them, but do it truly, sincerely.” Marcus -
Meditations, Book VI

Above, Marcus, along with others of his time, regards “Love” as a type of affinity, the
binding attraction of the jig saw pieces of a rational construct, being brought together by a
benevolent divine design.. Being the leader of the political community of the day, not
surprisingly his notion of love as a component of rationality is part and parcel of the
human community as well.

Reading Epictetus (c.55-c.135 CE.), one of Marcus’s self reported intellectual mentors,
we see where much of this comes from:

CHAPTER 11 (The Discourses, Book IV)

About Purity

“Some persons raise a question whether the social feeling is

contained in the nature of man; and yet I think that these same
persons would have no doubt that love of purity is certainly contained
in it, and that, if man is distinguished from other animals by
anything, he is distinguished by this. When, then, we see any other
animal cleaning itself, we are accustomed to speak of the act with
surprise, and to add that the animal is acting like a man: and, on the
other hand, if a man blames an animal for being dirty, straightway

as if we were making an excuse for it, we say that of course the
animal is not a human creature. So we suppose that there is
something superior in man, and that we first receive it from the Gods.
For since the Gods by their nature are pure and free from
corruption, so far as men approach them by reason, so far do they
cling to purity and to a love of purity. But since it is impossible
that man's nature can be altogether pure being mixed of such
materials, reason is applied, as far as it is possible, and reason
endeavours to make human nature love”

Was this notion only peculiar to emperors and Greek Stoics with an intense need to at
least stay on the better side of the Roman intelligentsia? That last bit above that “since it
is impossible that man's nature can be altogether pure being mixed of such
materials,” said “materials” including presumably earthly ones, while “the Gods by their
nature are pure and free from corruption”, and the source of the “reason” that
“endeavours to make human nature love”, goes nicely with, arguably is an extrapolation
of Socrates injunction that the body is a “mass of evils”. Socrates preceded our other
two by 300 years plus, but he was a hallowed figure in the minds of our secular authors,
sort of their pedagogic answer to Moses. And we will find some of the Christian / Judaic
apologists of the time (i.e. Josephus, Justin) going to some pains to argue that their
scriptures were the real inspiration of Socrates, Plato, and a bunch of other folks whose
intellectual lineage they thought was worth arguing about.:

“CE dispatches, He would not have said, shall devour. And so, too, Plato, when he
says, "The blame is his who chooses, and God is blameless,"(5) took this from the
prophet Moses and uttered it. For Moses is more ancient than all the Greek writers.
And whatever both philosophers and poets have said concerning the immortality of the
soul, or punishments after death, or contemplation of things heavenly, or doctrines of
the like kind, they have received such suggestions from the prophets as have enabled
them to understand and interpret these things. And hence there seem to be seeds of
truth among all men; but they are charged with not accurately understanding [the
truth] when they assert contradictories..” The First Apology of Justin, Chapter LXIV

Socrates himself may not have been contemporaneous to Marcus and Epictetus, but
memories and myths regarding him certainly were, were to the point of being part of the
conceptual lingua franca of the time. And his point that having to take a poop can be quite
the distraction from the contemplation of “airy ether” and such things, is well taken by
both secular and religious writers circa 0 BCE.

The inherent inferiority of earthly material is also the germane seed of much of religious
thought. The earthly body, according to Judaic tradition, among others, derived from clay,
is corruptible, it rots. The heavenly bodies are indestructible and seemingly unchanging in
their cycles. In contrast, the human body, indeed all things earthly, never stop changing.
How could such malleable and perishable material such as is found on this earth ever
constitute or produce a universal constant, non relative truth? Not only that, these earthly
things do not just change, they rot, or, in the words of our authors, are subject to
“corruption”, bringing up, the scary and exhilarating question of mortality:

“…you are now incredulous because you have never seen a dead man rise again. But
as at first you would not have believed it possible that such persons could be produced
from the small drop, and yet now you see them thus produced, so also judge ye that it
is not impossible that the bodies of men, after they have been dissolved, and like seeds
resolved into earth, should in God's appointed time rise again and put on incorruption.
For what power worthy of God those imagine who say, that each thing returns to that
from which it was produced, a” The First Apology of Justin, Chapter XIX

It is only natural that Justin and many another religious thinker considers it self evident
that any discovery of absolute truth will include the resolution of this question. The
resolution they suggest is the doctrine of salvation and eternal life, which can only occur,
of course, by means outside and higher than this corruptible earthly realm.

Although he seems to reject the notion that the heavens are of divine design, even
fervently anti religious Lucretius, writing circa 50 BCE, ascribes immortality to its most
fundamental components, almost pre saging the modern physicist’s belief in the
imperishability of matter/energy:

“And out of what does Ether feed the stars?

For lapsed years and infinite age must else
Have eat all shapes of mortal stock away:
But be it the Long Ago contained those germs,
By which this sum of things recruited lives,
Those same infallibly can never die,
Nor nothing to nothing evermore return.
And, too, the selfsame power might end alike
All things, were they not still together held
By matter eternal, shackled through its parts,
Now more, now less. A touch might be enough
To cause destruction. For the slightest force
Would loose the weft of things wherein no part
Were of imperishable stock. But now
Because the fastenings of primordial parts
Are put together diversely and stuff
Is everlasting, things abide the same
Unhurt and sure, until some power comes on
Strong to destroy the warp and woof of each:
Nothing returns to naught; but all return
At their collapse to primal forms of stuff.
Lo, the rains perish which Ether-father throws
Down to the bosom of Earth-mother; but then
Upsprings the shining grain, and boughs are green
Amid the trees, and trees themselves wax big
And lade themselves with fruits; and hence in turn
The race of man and all the wild are fed;
Hence joyful cities thrive with boys and girls;
And leafy woodlands echo with new birds;
Hence cattle, fat and drowsy, lay their bulk

Along the joyous pastures whilst the drops
Of white ooze trickle from distended bags;
Hence the young scamper on their weakling joints
Along the tender herbs, fresh hearts afrisk
With warm new milk. Thus naught of what so seems
Perishes utterly, since Nature ever
Upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught
To come to birth but through some other's death.

Back on the religious side, Barnabas, tells us that we escape the lot of mortal beings only
because “the Lord endured to deliver His flesh unto corruption, that by the remission
of sins we might be cleansed,…” Barnabas 5:1 In “Thomas the Contender” we find that
“all bodies […] the beasts are begotten”, which, though it is not explicitly pointed out, is
a no no for anything aspiring to be the “first cause”, the “unbegotten one”, God. Tellingly,
these living but perishable earthly bodies may only sustain themselves for even just their
brief duration by consuming other perishable bodies. The synergistic wholeness of it all
seemed compelling to the point of being self evident:

“The savior said, "All bodies [...] the beasts are begotten [...] it is evident like [...] [...]
this, too, those that are
above [...] things that are visible, but they are visible in their own root, and it is their
fruit that nourishes them.
But these visible bodies survive by devouring creatures similar to them with the result
that the bodies change.
Now that which changes will decay and perish, and has no hope of life from then on,
since the body is bestial.
So just as the body of the beasts perishes, so also will these formations perish. Do they
not derive from
intercourse like that of the beasts? If it, too derives from intercourse, how will it beget
anything different from beasts?
So, therefore, you are babes until you become perfect." THOMAS THE

On the face of it, for our authors, the proposition that that all the unpleasant dirt and
maggot producing blood and guts of this world must be abandoned in favor of the
seemingly flawless order of the majestically distant planetary bodies they saw each night in
the sky above, if genuine, lasting truth is to be known, is not at all an unreasonable one.
Does it not stand to reason that a source of tautological certitude should itself not include
any variables or change? The obvious fallibility of mortality has reared its ugly head, and
although our authors have moved beyond the epistemological viewpoint (or least have
made a good start of it) where the physical forces of nature are animated by capricious,
human like, divine personalities, the grip maintained by their observations of physical
realities, all limited to those available to the unassisted eye, is as nearly complete.

The most modern like writer in our survey, Lucretius, writing circa 50 BCE, addresses the
same issues as his religious minded counterparts, though devoutly following the lead of
Epicurius, he is adamantly atheist, arriving at what I would call, although he wouldn’t, a
sort of functional Deism. Though he argues against the reality of God, he finds no escape

from the humbling need to explain infinity, with finite terms. The heavens and hence the
origin of our world is comprised of a dynamic, ever changing, yet imperishable universe.
“…the fastenings of primordial parts, Are put together diversely and stuff Is
everlasting, things abide the same Unhurt and sure, until some power comes on Strong
to destroy the warp and woof of each:” (see below). This explains why and how changes
occur, without resort to a deity, yet fails to provide an original cause. So everything is
endlessly recycled with nothing “returning to naught” (see below). We are not all that
far removed from the doctrine of the imperishability of matter and energy proudly
proclaimed by 20th century micro physicists. Pretty heady stuff for a guy writing 2050
years ago, when most of those around him considered it self evident that epileptic seizures
were the product of demonic possession and resorted to God to explain the origins of
dreams as readily as they did to explain the wind.

“And out of what does Ether feed the stars?

For lapsed years and infinite age must else
Have eat all shapes of mortal stock away:
But be it the Long Ago contained those germs,
By which this sum of things recruited lives,
Those same infallibly can never die,
Nor nothing to nothing evermore return.
And, too, the selfsame power might end alike
All things, were they not still together held
By matter eternal, shackled through its parts,
Now more, now less. A touch might be enough
To cause destruction. For the slightest force
Would loose the weft of things wherein no part
Were of imperishable stock. But now
Because the fastenings of primordial parts
Are put together diversely and stuff
Is everlasting, things abide the same
Unhurt and sure, until some power comes on
Strong to destroy the warp and woof of each:
Nothing returns to naught; but all return
At their collapse to primal forms of stuff.
Lo, the rains perish which Ether-father throws
Down to the bosom of Earth-mother; but then
Lucretius, On The Nature of Things, pg 6

The end result, our sustenance and the continuation of our green earth, provokes,
commendably, a celebratory chord in Lucretius. Perhaps a rebirth which, like the
disillusioned followers of the Jesus figure following the crucifixion, he felt compelled to
postulate following the plague of Athens.

Upsprings the shining grain, and boughs are green

Amid the trees, and trees themselves wax big
And lade themselves with fruits; and hence in turn
The race of man and all the wild are fed;
Hence joyful cities thrive with boys and girls;

And leafy woodlands echo with new birds;
Hence cattle, fat and drowsy, lay their bulk
Along the joyous pastures whilst the drops
Of white ooze trickle from distended bags;
Hence the young scamper on their weakling joints
Along the tender herbs, fresh hearts afrisk
With warm new milk. Thus naught of what so seems
Perishes utterly, since Nature ever
Upbuilds one thing from other, suffering naught
To come to birth but through some other's death.” Lucretius, On the nature of
things, pg 6

His most heartfelt objection to religion seems not to be so much one of argument, but an
objection to the oppressive tyranny of a gloriously terrifying deity:

They set the seats and vaults of gods, because

Across the sky night and the moon are seen
To roll along- moon, day, and night, and night's
Old awesome constellations evermore,
And the night-wandering fireballs of the sky,
And flying flames, clouds, and the sun, the rains,
Snow and the winds, the lightning’s, and the hail,
And the swift rumblings, and the hollow roar
Of mighty menacings forevermore.
O humankind unhappy!- when it ascribed
Unto divinities such awesome deeds,
And coupled thereto rigours of fierce wrath!” Lucretius, On The Nature of Things,
pg 145

An interesting thought. That the bloody waste and political absolutism of Theocracy is an
expression of the terror of the elements. Differences in social temperament aside, the end
of the analysis of our religious and secular authors is the same. This earth is conjoined
with and a product of an infinite, imperishable universe. And that in contrast to its source
of origination, everything on this earth, is ever changing perishable, and mortal, the exact
opposite of the immortal divine.


According to reconstructive descriptions of the spoken language of the pre literate

Sumerians, attempts to represent something with a symbol, using the sounds made by the
human voice, included in its earliest forms, mimicry. Facial expressions, one might
suppose, were the first communicative symbols used by people. It appears plausible that
the first words used by people were, sensibly, selected in conjunction with an appropriate
facial expression. The equivalent in modern language would be uttering the word “yeech”
with a contorted facial expression to indicate that something tastes bad. One would also

expect that pointing and gesturing might also have been used to add clarity. A very
gradual refinement and expansion of these coordinated audio and visual communicative
symbols, following this theory, would have taken place. Combinations of sounds,
expressions, and gestures would be selected which appropriately reflected the pleasurable,
un pleasant, edible, inedible, etc., qualities of the things to be represented. Such was the
developmental groundwork for the evolution of written symbols of communication, as
described by John A. Halloran below:

The Proto-Sumerian Language Invention Process

“Written Sumerian contains many examples of homonymy, differently written signs

that at least in the Akkadian transcription appear to have been pronounced the same,
such as ka, 'mouth' and ká, 'gate'. Also, individual signs show many instances of
polysemy, using the same sign or word to mean many things, such as 'flower',
'remote', 'ancient' and 'joy' for the ul sign. This raises the question, "What is a
word?" Before the invention of writing, when language was only spoken, a word was
something other than a dictionary entry. More primary than words are objects and
actions. Early humans faced the task of agreeing on vowel-consonant combinations
that would point at all the real objects that existed in their world. The speech sounds
upon which they agreed were of a more limited number than the objects at which they
had to point. Early humans used words as deictic pointers. Context made it clear at
what object or action they were pointing. Prior to speech invention, humans had to be
expert at deducing from context the significance of another human's actions,
expressions, or gestures. Polysemy could run rampant in early language because
listeners would understand from the context at what speakers were using their words to
point. By inventing multiple homonymous written signs to represent the more diverse
concepts shared by particular consonant-vowel combinations, the Sumerian scribes
sought to order, organize, and separate into separate word-signs some of the less
related deictic objects of polysemic speech words.”

People apparently actively acted out their intended meanings. Given this context, it is not
surprising to find that people believed words, written and spoken, to not just represent,
but in some mystical way to be the things they represented. It may not be logical, but it
certainly makes sense. We have so far been making much of the “unassisted eye”, in this
case we should perhaps risk saying something about the pre literate mind. Let us limit
ourselves to observing that the ability to distinguish between mere similarity and sameness,
the ability to reason by analogy without drawing unjustified “causal” (whatever precisely
that problematic word might mean) inferences is greatly facilitated by, perhaps requires,
the assistance of thoughts which have been written down, and, presumably, analyzed
more than once. If that sounds unreasonable, it may be because we take the opportunity
to routinely do that for granted, and anything that is taken for granted, is most always

Such is the backdrop for our review of the concept of “the Word”, as intended by our
authors. Old habits, especially intellectual ones, die hard. We will find that words, first
fulfilling their role as symbols by way of their imitative properties, flow easily into a role
where they are imagined to not just carry a communicative import, but a causative one.

Not unexpectedly, the belief that perfection may only be found somewhere other than this
mortal earthly realm extends to the cosmological - creation doctrines as in the following
excerpt from a Gnostic creation epic from just prior to or just after 0 BCE:

“the living spirit and his entourage of gods separated the mixture from the main mass
of darkness then the king of light ordered him to create the present world and to build
it out of these mixed parts in order to liberate those light parts from the dark parts to
this end the archons who had incorporated the light and thereby became weakened are
overcome and out of their skins and carcasses heaven and earth are made though it is
said that the archons are fettered to the firmament still fastened to their outstretched
skins which form the heavens and though on the other hand earth and mountains are
said to have been formed from their flesh and bones the sequence makes it clear that
all this neither have they lost their demonic life nor has the darkness in general lost its
power to act” PRIMAL MYTHS ED BARBAR SPROUL, The Creation According to

Gnostic doctrines such as the one above are generally thought of as “mystical”, with the
inference being that their ambiguity belies intuitive insight. However, except for perhaps
ambiguous syntax, the subject matter itself is quite specific, one might even say “earthly”.
Light enables one to see and darkness precludes it, so light is a truth revealing
epistemological facility while darkness is an inability to know. The association is more
than metaphorical. What the light illuminates and the darkness hides are the “mixed parts”
of gods, earth, “firmaments”, “flesh and bones”, being moved about from here to there, in
a way reminiscent of Tiamek’s dismemberment by Marduk (Babylonian creation epic),
giving us the final arrangement, reality as we know it.

Following shortly in the Gnostic cosmology comes the “Holy Word” or “Logos”, and we
are not conceptually or etymologically far from the concept “logic”:

5 “from out of the light a holy word (logos) came over the nature and unmixed fire
leapt out of the humid nature upward to the height it was light and keen and active at
the same time and the air being light followed the fiery breath rising up as far as the
fire from earth and water so that it seemed suspended from it but earth and water
remained in their place intermingled so that the earth was not discernible apart from
the water and they were kept in inaudible motion through the breath of the word
which was borne over them” FROM THE POIMANDRES OF HERMES

With the realm of logic and illogic, the dark “bestial” realm and divine realm of the “light”,
thus established, the Gnostic account is able to provide an account of the origins of
original sin, which is really just another way of putting the whole thing. Marcus and
Epipectus tell us that rationality is our gift from, connection to, the divine realm, while
similarly, Adam experiences the same connection via “Jesus” and concludes by denouncing
his body in a dramatic, yet Socratic fashion:

“and Adam examined himself and discovered who he was Jesus showed him the
fathers on high and his own self cast onto all things to the teeth of the panther and

elephants devoured by them that devour consumed by them that consume eaten by
dogs mingled and bound in all that is imprisoned in the stench of darkness he raised
him up and made him eat of the tree of life then Adam cried and lamented terribly he
raised his voice like a roaring lion tore his dress smote his breast and spoke woe woe
unto the shaper of my body unto those who fettered my soul and unto the rebels that
enslaved me” The Creation According to Mani

Canonical Christianity puts the matter even more directly while adding its notion of
salvation through the offices of a mediator between the earthly realm and the heavenly
one, the “son of man”:

“if you do not eat the flesh of the son of man, and drink his blood, you will not have
life in you” John, 6:53

This mediator is necessary for:

“god is spirit, and those who worship, must worship in spirit and truth” John, 4:24

The “flesh of the son of man” is available for earthly consumption, being that it belongs to
a “son of man”, yet bridges the gap between a god who is “spirit” since “but of god
himself, the word was made flesh, he lived among us” John, 1:14

“it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer, the words I have spoken to
you are spirit, and they are life: John, 6:63

The religious asceticism of the Gnostics, John, Barnabas, and Justin, was not just based on
a desire to avoid the impure passions of the flesh. It was premised on the belief that the
divine, unchanging realm of the firmament above was the only possible source of
philosophical correctness. In their vernacular, this was the area illuminated by the light of
the holy spirit etc., but not to be seen on this earth. There will therefore have to be a
“advocate” which will act as a bridge between this world and the one in the sky:

“I shall ask the father, and he will give you another advocate, to be with you forever,
that spirit of truth, whom the world can never receive, since it neither sees nor knows
him, but you know him because he is with you and in you I will not leave you orphans
I will come back to you” John, 14:16

The philosophical mentor of their contemporaneous secular counterparts, Socrates,

though perhaps reasoning more systematically than his religious counterparts, is of a
similar mind. The seeable world, this world, is obviously continuously changing, leaving
only the unseen world as that which might be unchanging and therefore eternal:

“well then he said let us suppose that there are two types of existence one seen one

let us suppose them

the seen is the changing the unseen the unchanging

that may also be supposed

and further is not one part of us body and the rest of us soul” SOCRATES - PHAEDO

Both our religious and secular authors maintain that immortality is only possible in the
“unseen”, “unchanging”, heavens. The concept time is derived from observations of the
chronological, season related, cycles of the heavens. Truth is set of rules given down to
this piece of rock on which we stand, from the beings and planetary essences observable
above. Words, especially the “Word”, is not the subjective means of “I think…”, for it is a
tangible thing that comes from the above, the physically above, and as such is an
independent entity with properties and powers in its own right. For our author’s, a belief
in holy words, magical words, was a self evident part of the natural sciences. “I think,
therefore I am”, is instead “God thinks, therefore I am”.

The religious “Word” overlaps in function with other divine agents and is therefore linked
to the “son” by the “advocate”. In fact, according to John, “in the beginning was the
Word: the word was with God and the word was God”. The Word is next described by
John as “the light”, which (who) “was made flesh” and is “the only son of the father”
that is to become the only path leading from the earthly realm to the domain of
immortality in the sky above us.

Consistent with the above, Marcus thought the most desired objects of philosophy to the
domain of the gods only:

“I did not fall into the hands of any sophist, and that I did not waste my time on
writers of histories, or in the resolution of syllogisms, or occupy myself about the
investigation of appearances in the heavens; for all these things require the help of the
gods and fortune.” Marcus - Meditations, Book I

Epipectus also acknowledges the gifts of the gods and chastises those who would lose the
true meaning of ancient mysteries by becoming over concerned with the conveying
symbols, words.

“The words are the same: how do the things done

here differ from those done there?" Most impious man, is there no
difference? these things are done both in due place and in due time;
and when accompanied with sacrifice and prayers, when a man is first
purified, and when he is disposed in his mind to the thought that he
is going to approach sacred rites and ancient rites. In this way the
mysteries are useful, in this way we come to the notion that all these
things were established by the ancients for the instruction and
correction of life. But you publish and divulge them out of time,
out of place, without sacrifices, without purity; you have not the
garments which the hierophant ought to have, nor the hair, nor the
head-dress, nor the voice, nor the age; nor have you purified yourself

as he has: but you have committed to memory the words only, and you
say: "Sacred are the words by themselves." Epipectus, The Discourses, Book III,
Chapter 21

The validity of the Word is tied into the idea of God as an original cause. However, no
less sweeping is our secular author’s concept of original cause:

“The universal cause is like a winter torrent: it carries everything along with it.”
Marcus - Meditations, Book IX

All our authors find the Word no less a real and compelling presence than the budding
community of natural scientists would find the “laws of nature” to be. That is because
they too, like the natural scientist, are basing their thoughts on what they consider to be
the realities of nature. Our Gnostic writers bring it all together, taking us back to not just
the nature of physical reality, but also its origin, and along with it the origin of rationality,
god, the Word, nous and all other corollary concepts:

10 “forthwith the word of god leapt out of the down ward borne elements upward into
the pure physical creation (the demiurgical sphere) and became united with the
nouws demiurge for he was of the same substance and thus the lower elements of
nature were left without reason so that they were now mere matter 11 and together
with the word the nous demiurge encompassing the circles and whirling them with
thunderous speed set his creations circling in endless revolution for it begins where it
ends and this rotation of the spheres according to the will of the nous produced out of
the lower elements irrational animals for these elements had not retained the word
(air water earth the last two now separated each producing its own animals
androgynous ones as appears later)” Gnostic nous ex3

One’s understanding of reality may only be derived from the source of that reality, God’s
Word. The nature of human language, not surprisingly, is subordinate to the nature of
God’s language. The names of things are not mere labels. They derive from their divine
origin and therefore do not just relate, but embody their essential qualities. In the words
of Epictetus:

“Logic also produces no fruit." As to this indeed we shall

see: but then even if a man should rant this, it is enough that
logic has the power of distinguishing and examining other things, and,
as we may say, of measuring and weighing them. Who says this? Is it
only Chrysippus, and Zeno, and Cleanthes? And does not Antisthenes say
so? And who is it that has written that the examination of names is” Epictetus, The
Discourses, Book I, Chapter 17

Words are not to be taken lightly, especially names. They are the means by which the
earthly may gain the divine, immortality. In john, “the son of man”, the mediator, the
earthly yet divine bridge from this world to the celestial one, prays to the original cause:

“keep those you have given me true to your name so that they may be one like us…I
am not asking you to remove them from the world but to protect them from the evil

one…consecrate them in the truth your word is truth…I pray not only for these but for
those also who through their words will believe in me may they all be one father may
they be one in us as you are in me and I am in you…I have made your name known to
them and it will continue to make it known so that the love with which you loved me
may be in them and so that I may be in them” name 2 john

The persuasive metaphor being used is not just a social one but an ontological one. A
name is regarded as an inextricable part of the causative origin of what it labels. “God”, in
Hebrew, though John as we have it today was written in Greek, is “Yahweh”, “I am that I
am”, the closest thing to an expression of original causality that man’s tail chasing syntax
can provide. It follows for our religious authors (Justin) that this original cause, “he is
that he is”, need only will that things are to be and they are:

“How great is the power of God! His bare volition was the creation of the universe.
For God alone made it, because He alone is truly God. By the bare exercise of volition
He creates; His mere willing was fob lowed by the springing into being of what He
willed.” The Second Apology of Justin, Chapter III

This is how it must be. “His bare volition”, was the cause of all because any type of
volition which requires assistance is not truly independent and therefore purely volitional.
A name is a word, which does not just express the essence of its possessor, but embodies
it. Other words, also, though to perhaps a lesser extent, do more than just express,
especially the “Word”:


Apology of Justin)

"And that Christ being Lord, and God the Son of God, and appearing formerly in
power as Man, and Angel, and in the glory of fire as at the bush, so also was
manifested at the judgment executed on Sodom, has been demonstrated fully by what
has been said." Then I repeated once more all that I had previously quoted from
Exodus, about the vision in the bush, and the naming of Joshua (Jesus), and
continued: "And do not suppose, sirs, that I am speaking superfluously when I repeat
these words frequently: but it is because I know that some wish to anticipate these
remarks, and to say that the power sent from the Father of all which appeared to
Moses, or to Abraham, or to Jacob, is called an Angel because He came to men (for by
Him the commands of the Father have been proclaimed to men); is called Glory,
because He appears in a vision sometimes that cannot be borne; is called a Man, and a
human being, because He appears strayed in such forms as the Father pleases; and
they call Him the Word, because He carries tidings from the Father to men: but
maintain that this power is indivisible and inseparable from the Father, just as they
say that the light of the sun on earth is indivisible and inseparable from the sun in the
heavens; as when it sinks, the light sinks along with it; so the Father, when He
chooses, say they, causes His power to spring forth, and when He chooses, He makes it
return to Himself. In this way, they teach, He made the angels. But it is proved that
there are angels who always exist, and are never reduced to that form out of which
they sprang. And that this power which the prophetic word calls God, as has been also

amply demonstrated, and Angel, is not numbered [as different] in name only like the
light of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct, I have discussed briefly
in what has gone before; when I asserted that this power was begotten from the
Father, by His power and will, but not by abscission, as if the essence of the Father
were divided; as all other things partitioned and divided are not the same after as
before they were divided: and, for the sake of example, I took the case of fires kindled
from a fire, which we see to be distinct from it, and yet that from which many can be
kindled is by no means made less, but remains the same.”

During the first two centuries BCE, in both the Hebrew and Roman alphabets, all letters
were assigned numerical values. And why not? The purpose of words is to name and
classify, and so is that of numbers. The notion of reason and order, as it took on
syntactical order, was derived from the observation of the orderly, predictable paths of the
heavens, which suggested not only the drama of anthropomorphic myth, but also its
somewhat more abstract order providing cousin, numbers. Thinkers of the day, as
exemplified by the Pythagoreans, scoured words, particularly those dispensed by the
powers of the heavens, “scriptures”, for messages of numerological symmetry perhaps
almost as much as they looked for simple grammatical meanings. For them, etymology
and numerology were branches of the same science, and a word’s numerological valuation,
along with its associative connotations, was as valid a definition, as was the one formed
from other words. .

Being a forceful entity in its own right, the Word is not to be merely distributed through
some neutral, inanimate medium, it is carried downwards by an appropriate messenger,
first by an angel called “glory” than by the “son of man” himself.. Nor is the symmetry
involved limited to syntax, it “is not numbered (as different) in name oily like the light
of the sun but is indeed something numerically distinct…”. Our authors of the first two
centuries BCE did not believe that names, words, and numbers possessed special powers
and significance as a consequence of some sort of primitive imprecision of thought, but on
the contrary, as an extension of a first cause to grave theory of existence, which, though
its imagery to us seems the opposite, did not find that much space between the physical
and the divine, but instead found them to be connected realities. Simply put, they did not
distinguish between the real and the unreal, the abstract and the concrete, the subjective
and the objective. They often failed to realize that thought, and in consequence, words,
are only tools.


We have been discussing, as best as we can, the birth of ordered thought. It is

appropriate, that then, and, hopefully, still now, that that discussion is at least concurrent
to if not one with an exploration of the birth of life. Down here we are mortal. Up above
a divine they is immortal. We are earthly they are divine. We are “flesh” they are “spirit”.
We might call the consequential poetical, intellectual wanderlust, the restlessness born of
mortality, the human spirit.

One of the first orders of business, short of explaining once and for all in an
unchallengeable manner the passing breeze of mortality versus the always has been and
always will be immortal divine realm, which our authors do in good time get around to, is
to explain why some things move, are apparently alive, animate, while others are not.
Limited to observations available to the unassisted eye, and so seeing no universally
present differentiating factor, all our authors make the very reasonable and correct
supposition that there must be present some un seeable intrinsic quality present in the
living which is not present in inanimate objects. The names they gave to this unseen
quality we translate as “soul”.

Those among our authors who found it difficult to impossible to distinguish between the
moving, yet non organic, phenomena of nature, such as the wind or rivers, from biological
things, must be forgiven. With chemistry and biology but future sciences, how were they
to know? And with a need to explain the always ubiquitous, often oppressive, forces of
nature perhaps even greater than the need to explore the origin of biological beings, the
attribution of “soul” or divine sponsorship to the forces of nature is not at all surprising or
unintelligent. When they were talking about divine sponsorship in the context of
cosmological origins they were talking about the grand plan for all things. The grand plan,
in its course, must include how and why things and events coalesce, or not. In sum, the
reason of things. In accordance, Marcus presents the spirit or soul as the repository
within the flesh for divinity’s supreme gift to the earthly, rationality:

“THESE are the properties of the rational soul: it sees itself, analyses itself, and
makes itself such as it chooses; the fruit which it bears itself enjoys- for the fruits of
plants and that in animals which corresponds to fruits others enjoy- it obtains its own
end, wherever the limit of life may be fixed. Not as in a dance and in a play and in
such like things, where the whole action is incomplete, if anything cuts it short; but in
every part and wherever it may be stopped, it makes what has been set before it full
and complete, so that it can say, I have what is my own. And further it traverses the
whole universe, and the surrounding vacuum, and surveys its form, and it extends
itself into the infinity of time, and embraces and comprehends the periodical
renovation of all things, and it comprehends that those who come after us will see
nothing new, nor have those before us seen anything more, but in a manner he who is
forty years old, if he has any understanding at all, has seen by virtue of the uniformity
that prevails all things which have been and all that will be. This too is a property of
the rational soul, love of one's neighbour, and truth and modesty, and to value nothing
more more than itself, which is also the property of Law. Thus then right reason
differs not at all from the reason of justice.” Marcus - Meditations, Book XI

Using two concepts rather than one, (positing the reason of things in the “Word” or
“logos”), others regarded it as simply that within the body which animates the body, the
thing (“beresheim”) which the Yahweh of Genesis breathed into the clay nostrils of Adam
to bring him to life. Aristotle called it “De Anima”. He attempted to explain apparent
varying degrees of sentience among living things as being attributable to the varying
qualities of “De Animia” having been granted to various life forms, with, of course, human
kind being the only life form to enjoy all the possible cognitive and volitional aspects that
the divine powers that be might grant. This source of movement for animate beings is in

the body, but not part of the body. It is “relative to the body”. Its study properly falls
within the field of “science”, leading Aristotle to base his investigation on biological

“we are puzzled what to say just as in the case of plants which when divided are
observed to continue to live though removed to a distance from one another thus
showing that in their case the soul of each individual plant before division was
actually one potentially many so we notice a similar result in other varieties of soul
i e in insects which have been cut in two each of the segments possess both sensation
and local movement and if sensation necessarily also imagination and appetition for
where there is sensation there is also pleasure and pain and where these necessarily
also desire” Aristotle De Anima, Book I

In addition to his partiality for observations which might be made on this earth, being a
systematic fellow, Aristotle begins his inquires with a survey of the thoughts of his
predecessors. Presaging modern predilections he apparently wishes to “stand on the
shoulders” of earlier efforts. As we have been attempting to explain, those shoulders
involved the perspectives of those finding the origins and model of rational abstractions in
the sky above:

“it is in the same fashion that Timaeus also tries to give a physical account of how the
soul moves its body the soul it is here said is in movement and so owing to their
mutual implication moves the body also after compounding the soul substance out of
the elements and dividing it in accordance with the harmonic numbers in order that it
may possess a connate sensibility for harmony and that the whole may move in
movements well attuned the demiurge bent the straight line into a circle this single
circle be divided into two circles united at two common points one of these be
subdivided into seven circles all this implies that movements of the soul are identical
with the local movements of the heavens” Aristotle, De Anima, Book I

Physics is the study of motion, which, in turn, is pretty much the study of everything.
Among other things, motion is a prerequisite of life. When an attempt is made to
understand the rules of motion through an understanding of the resultant shapes, and this
effort is enjoined to mathematics, the result is geometry. When key numbers are searched
for, what was often selected related to the numbers of the heavens, in this case the number
of visible planetary bodies. Derived from it are the number of days required by the God
of Genesis to create the world, and, even from the keen minded Timaeus, the “harmonic
numbers” of the perfect circle and hence the movements of the soul. Aristotle moves on
from all of this, but the result is colored by his presupposition that the questions of
Timaeus can and should be answered.

Our religious thinkers, still operating within the relatively more primitive perspective
where significant numbers are more associated with the constituents of the firmament than
with the symmetries of geometry, ironically, tended to handle it all in a more earthly, or
literal minded way.

“it is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer, the words I have spoken to
you are spirit, and they are life” john source of life ex3

To be sure, the above also refers to the eternal life which is to be achieved following this
time limited earthly one and can be so argued to be metaphorical. Yet, that belief itself
was derived from a way of viewing reality which had long ago concluded that the
perishable, observably decaying things of this world could not possibly be regarded as the
source of, and therefore containing the real essence of, life. Does not the presence of
mortality make this self evident? Given this as an epistemological starting point, a
readiness to accept miraculous healing stories, such as the one below, or even the story of
the resurrection is very understandable:

“now at the sheep pool in Jerusalem there is a building called Bethzatha in Hebrew
consisting of five porticoes and under these were crowds of sick people blind lame
paralyzed waiting for the water to move for at intervals the angel of the lord came
down into the pool and the water was disturbed and the first person to enter it the
water after this disturbance was cured of any aliment he suffered from” john living
water ex3…

However, the intellectual currents of the time, even including the religious ones, were
starting to move beyond the astrology based physics of religion, and the earnest biological
theories of Aristotle, to an abstracted state of mind which puzzles on the questions of
existence, not for gain, put only for the sake of truth, even as it is unable to just
hypothetically define it. Accordingly, for Marcus the soul is not merely a source of
animation, but the source of ethical animation, or the lack thereof.

“About what am I now employing my own soul? On every occasion I must ask myself
this question, and inquire, what have I now in this part of me which they call the
ruling principle? And whose soul have I now? That of a child, or of a young man, or
of a feeble woman, or of a tyrant, or of a domestic animal, or of a wild beast?” Marcus
- Meditations, Book V

Of course, right behavior must be a rational thing so the soul is to have a role though it
and thought are not one and the same:

“Such as are thy habitual thoughts, such also will be the character of thy mind; for
the soul is dyed by the thoughts. Dye it then with a continuous series of such thoughts
as these: for instance, that where a man can live, there he can also live well. B”
Marcus - Meditations, Book V

Aristotle had written 3 centuries earlier that the soul was not of the body but relative to it.
Now Marcus seems to be arguing that the soul is not of thought but relative to it, as a
motivating guide. The initial spark, the desire, to do and be in the right, the animating
opposite of moral apathy, which provides the motivating essence and goal of rationality,
one might say of life, is “soul”. Or as Marcus puts it, the “appetites”:

“Body, soul, intelligence: to the body belong sensations, to the soul appetites, to the
intelligence principles.” Marcus - Meditations, Book III

The thought does not offer an explanation of the origins of being, but it does offer an
explanation, quite literally, of the reason of being. A universal source and defining hand is
duly postulated:

“Constantly regard the universe as one living being, having one substance and one
soul; and observe how all things have reference to one perception, the perception of
this one living being; and how all things act with one movement; and how all things
are the cooperating causes of all things which exist; observe too the continuous
spinning of the thread and the contexture of the web.” Marcus - Meditations, Book IV

The problems and dictates of universal causality are the same whether one is authoring an
epic which metaphorically details the origins of existence or is positing the nature of
reason, likewise, in the heavens. For the religious minded, the solution is the “unbegotten
one”, “I am that I am”. Marcus and Lucretius share a belief in the imperishability of

“ I am composed of the formal and the material; and neither of them will perish into
non-existence, as neither of them came into existence out of non-existence. Every part
of me then will be reduced by change into some part of the universe, and that again
will change into another part of the universe, and so on for ever. And by consequence
of such a change I too exist, and those who begot me, and so on for ever in the other
direction. For nothing hinders us from saying so, even if the universe is administered
according to definite periods of revolution.” Marcus - Meditations, Book V

What is piety without humility? The purpose of our authors was not simply to explain
how things have come to be, like taking apart your father’s watch. The desire behind
Marcus’s and his contemporaries puzzling over such things as “soul” is to find a purpose
consistent with the lot of transitory mortals. The irresistible urge is to bow down, to
something. The result is that which belongs to man’s most important possession, his
priceless gift from the divine, “the soul is a dream and a vapour”:

According to the account in Phaedo, Socrates immediately before his death, describes to
his followers the journey the departed soul is likely to make after the death of the body.
Depending on it success and purity in its previous life, it will descend or ascend to
different levels of existence. These levels of existence, as Socrates relates them, having
been revealed to him in what he considers to be an information ally reliable dream, are not
some sort of metaphorical and abstract states, but specific locations within a realm of
existence, which , in one of her lower “hollows”, includes this earthly realm. During the
course of his account, he goes to the trouble of providing no small degree of geographical

“also I believe that the earth is very vast and that we who dwell in the region extending
from the river phasis to the pillars of Hercules along the borders of the sea are just like
ants or frogs about a marsh and inhabit only a small portion only and that many
others dwell in many like places for I should say that in all parts of the earth there are
hollows of various forms and sizes into which the water and mist and the air collect
and that the true earth is pure and in the pure heaven in which also are the stars that

is the heaven which is commonly spoken of as the ether of which this is but the
sediment collecting in the hollows of the earth but we who live in the hollows are
deceived into the notion that we are dwelling above the surface of the earth which is
just as if a creature who is at the bottom of the sea were to fancy that he was at the
surface of the water and that the sea was the heaven through which he saw the sun
and the other stars he having never come to the surface by reason of his feebleness
and sluggishness and having never lifted his head and seen nor ever heard from one
who has seen this other region which is so much purer and fairer than his own now
this is exactly our case for we are dwelling in a hollow of the earth and fancy that we
are on the surface and the air we call the heaven and in this we imagine that the stars
move but this is also owing to our feeblisheness and sluggishness which prevent our
reaching the surface of the air for if any man could arrive at the exterior limit or take
the wings of a bird and fly upward like a fish he puts his head out and sees this world
he would see a world beyond and if the nature of man could sustain the sight he would
acknowledge that this was the place of the true heaven and the true light and the true
stars for this earth and the stones and the entire region which surrounds us are
spoiled and corroded like the things in the sea which are corroded by the brine for in
the sea too there is hardly and noble or perfect growth but clefts only and sand and
an endless slough of mud and even the shore is not to be compared to the fairer sights
of the world and greater far is the superiority of the other now of that upper earth
which is under heaven I can tell you a charming tale simmasi which is well worth
hearing” Socrates according to phaedo heaven earth ex2

Socrates’ prize student and biographer, in a way his “Paul”, Plato will elegantly expand
this with his doctrine of “forms” and “essences”. Socrates, according to Plato, seems to
set him on his way by arguing that “beauty” is a non relative essence, which, though it
might be used as a descriptive tool for earthly objects, is not to be truly found in any
relative earthly thing. An earthly thing might only be sort of beautiful, or less beautiful
than some other thing, while the unseen essence, “Beauty”, cannot possibly be thought of
as relative. The plot thickens as we hence find ourselves at the edge of Aristotelian like
notions of the “subjective” and “objective”.

Politician that he is, Marcus takes it to the Barry Manilow stage, “where everything is
beautiful in its own way”:

“Asia, Europe are corners of the universe: all the sea a drop in the universe; Athos a
little clod of the universe: all the present time is a point in eternity. All things are little,
changeable, perishable. All things come from thence, from that universal ruling power
either directly proceeding or by way of sequence. And accordingly the lion's gaping
jaws, and that which is poisonous, and every harmful thing, as a thorn, as mud, are
after-products of the grand and beautiful. Do not then imagine that they are of
another kind from that which thou dost venerate, but form a just opinion of the source
of all.” Marcus - Meditations, Book VI


Asceticism is one of the necessary prerequisites of altruism. It requires that that “mass of
evils” (in the words of Socrates), the body, be kept subordinate to the mind’s search for
real value. It implies that value exists exclusively in the realm of the physically intangible
heavens. Indulging the body’s lowly, earthly needs is at best distracting, at worst sinful
and perverse. It also usually includes the sentiment that physical deprivations may lead to
“visions” (hallucinations), which pull open the curtains on heavenly truths.

Though not logically connected, but for even more powerful emotionally connected
reasons, both altruism and asceticism include, self denial in the service of a higher purpose.
The higher purpose pursued by asceticism is the attainment of a higher truth. The self
denial of altruism is meant to serve those higher truths through service to others. Arrival
at this destination required the crossing of a common psychological threshold which
consists of a commitment to serve something outside of and higher than one’s self by
means of self denial. Someone inclined to the ethical metaphors of the Anthropologists
would characterize this as the birth of a social consciousness where the lot of the
transitory, mortal individual, is immortalized through subordination to the immortal social
course. This event is then, in their description, the very birth, simultaneously, of ethics and
cooperative human community. Aside from this eloquent, yet questionable delineation of
social development, it certainly is one of the epochal crossroads in the mystery of an
individual’s thought’s coexistence with collaborative belief.

Asceticism includes self denial, physical self denial, for the sake of producing
hallucinations which are thought to contain divine revelations. Altruism is a form of self
denial the purpose of which is the benefit of others. The seed present in both is self denial
for the purpose of serving a moral objective above that of the immediate physical
environment involved in the self denial. The larger purpose to be served is for Marcus, the
titular ruler of his community, of course, social:

“ The prime principle then in man's constitution is the social. And the second is not to
yield to the persuasions of the body, for it is the peculiar office of the rational and
intelligent motion to circumscribe itself, and never to be overpowered either by the
motion of the senses or of the appetites, for both are animal; but the intelligent motion
claims superiority and does not permit itself to be overpowered by the others. And with
good reason, for it is formed by nature to use all of them. The third thing in the
rational constitution is freedom from error and from deception. Let then the ruling
principle holding fast to these things go straight on, and it has what is its own.”
Marcus - Meditations, Book VII

Yet this larger, social purpose is predicated on an all enveloping cosmic rationality. To
know it one must detach oneself from the immediate yet petty circumstance of one’s body:

“Acquire the contemplative way of seeing how all things change into one another, and
constantly attend to it, and exercise thyself about this part of philosophy. For nothing
is so much adapted to produce magnanimity. Such a man has put off the body, and as
he sees that he must, no one knows how soon, go away from among men and leave
everything here, he gives himself up entirely to just doing in all his actions, and in
everything else that happens he resigns himself to the universal nature.” Marcus -
Meditations, Book X

Not to forget, this is all grounded in an earnest attempt to understand the mechanics of
physics. We owe our ability, our honored privilege, to serve a higher purpose, and
transcend the limitations of earthly flesh, to a presence within us of a part of the governing
reality of the heavens above, “thy aerial part. Our part, as volitional participants, is to give
preeminence to the “universal” within us, while subjugating the “elemental parts” of our
body to that service. The denial of one’s immediate physical self interest in service of “the
universal”, the ultimate truth, al-truism, will be the means by which “In this manner then
the elemental parts obey the universal”:

“Thy aerial part and all the fiery parts which are mingled in thee, though by nature
they have an upward tendency, still in obedience to the disposition of the universe they
are overpowered here in the compound mass (the body). And also the whole of the
earthy part in thee and the watery, though their tendency is downward, still are raised
up and occupy a position which is not their natural one. In this manner then the
elemental parts obey the universal, for when they have been fixed in any place
perforce they remain there until again the universal shall sound the signal for
dissolution. Is it not then strange that thy intelligent part only should be disobedient
and discontented with its own place? And yet no force is imposed on it, but only those
things which are conformable to its nature: still it does not submit, but is carried in the
opposite direction. For the movement towards injustice and intemperance and to anger
and grief and fear is nothing else than the act of one who deviates from nature. And
also when the ruling faculty is discontented with anything that happens, then too it
deserts its post: for it is constituted for piety and reverence towards the gods no less
than for justice. For these qualities also are comprehended under the generic term of
contentment with the constitution of things, and indeed they are prior to acts of
justice.” Marcus - Meditations, Book XI

Then and now we attempt to understand the underlying principles of natural phenomena in
order to ameliorate their impact upon our physical bodies and to neutralize our fear of
them. Born of the attempt to manipulate our physical surroundings, and to transcend the
physically vulnerable flesh, we hypothesize a “universal”. Immediate physical self interest
was the seed. The empirical observations of the unassisted eye was the soil. Asceticism’s
demand that the flesh be subjugated to heavenly purposes was the seedling And altruistic
service, the ethic of love, is what “grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out
big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade”. (Mark 4:32)


The point of this whole thing is that thinking circa 0 BCE and that of other eras can be
distinguished by then pervasive, but no longer pervasive perceptions of how physical
things work. The resultant metaphors remain in use, but their originating
misapprehensions of physical realities are long forgotten while today’s practitioners of the
metaphors often deny their originating role.

The entertainment of a thought is itself, an event in the life of an individual. Both being
born of the preferences of the body, emotion and logic are not separate or conflicting.
They begin and justify each other, and where one begins and the other ends, is but only an

arbitrarily defined spot on a circular developmental continuum. Thinking is not just
relatable to human behavior, it is a human behavior. Thoughts do not exist apart from or
above other human actions. They are simply but one, very important, area of the whole of
a life. And this area has no segregating borders. Thoughts are as much a diary of a life as
they may be described as having been a guide. As one moves through a physical existence,
those thoughts which are the perceptions of and methods of dealing with the pains and
pleasures of physical things, are both the progenies and the fathers of all other thoughts;
constituting the organic wholeness of the consciousness of life. Experience and reaction
are not really different. They are just different labels and ways of describing aspects of the
same thing, being.

The being of collective thought, that is those thoughts which reference to the previous
thought of others, which is to say, I believe, all thought, is also an inseparable part of the
organic wholeness of the community, which includes its apprehensions of physical realities,
its technologies. We often choose, primarily to satisfy our vanities, to call some thoughts
“ethical”, “moral”, “spiritual” and the like and imagine them as separate from in function
and nature, thoughts which address how best to deal with the immediate obvious
exigencies of physical things. To deny that the vast differences from one era to another in
how physical realities are observed and dealt with will not be correspondingly found in
those areas of thought which we vainly call “spiritual”, should immediately strike us as
absurd. Nonetheless, we often do, because to not do so would undermine our traditional
means of bringing about the wide spread acceptance of our community’s governing ideas.
We handle bodies of doctrine, left to us from times long past, which are still the
components of our unifying myths, with kid gloves. If we too openly acknowledge their
underlying fallible, usually obsolescent, perceptions of physical realities, we fear ourselves
losing the basis by which these things are presented as the unquestionable justification of
current social arrangements. The whole force of society therefore leans against it, and,
much more tellingly, this notion that “scripture” should be accepted as “scripture”, the
religious institution creating claim that God writes books, is wrongly thought to be an
indispensable component of reverence for human community’s past and continuation.

Truth, though not necessarily the perception of it, is by definition, absolute. If it were
sometimes so and sometimes not so, or only true with the presence of certain qualifying
prerequisites, then it would be, at the very best, but a only sometimes present consequence
of a higher truth. When that truth is the founding truth of all other truths, it can only be
so, because it is so. It cannot be “begotten”. If it is absolute, it cannot change, and it
certainly cannot decay. Ordered thought, where all this begins, knows that if nothing else
one thought is to be bequeathed by another thought. When people began to wonder how
and why life came to be, the readily observable, seemingly unchanging, cycles of the stars
and planets seems to have been a dominant starting point, and apparently provided them
with, if not the very notion itself, at the very least their only means of measuring, the most
important ordering, sequencing tool of all, time.

Lifting their eyes skyward for explanations of the things at our feet was for our authors as
much justified by logic as it was by emotion, and the place within our nature where this act
occurs could be said to be the well spring of both. If emotions are driven by need, then
there is no desire greater than that one understand and therefore be able to rearrange the
order of things for the better, the very definition of rational behavior. And even if we may

flatter ourselves by supposing that our attempts to understand things are driven not just by
self centered need, but by the love of truth, where better to begin than with the struggles
of life and death, immortality and mortality, divine perfection and “sin”. Reaching for the
most powerful tool possible, we reach for the furthermost embracing abstraction, the
largest possible organizing category. So we lift our eyes skyward, literally, as far as we
can see. What we believe ourselves to be seeing when we do, we call God.

As we do so, confined to the narcissistic circularity of symbols, we define things by their

opposites. Earthly things are not merely inferior to heavenly things, being the opposite of
heavenly things, they are, in their essence, “sinful”. The flesh is not merely vulnerable to
decay, it is Socrates’ “mass of evils” imprisoning the divine soul. This was not mere
poetry or metaphor to thinkers of the 1st century CE. To enter the realm of the perfect and
immortal, they felt compelled to disavow completely the earthly, by drinking the symbolic
blood of the “son of man”, or, following the lead of Socrates and Epictetus, and denying
sovereignty to bodily needs.

Based on primitive misapprehensions of physical realities, the morality and ethics they
produced in adherence to these precepts was a superstition riddled ritual artifice, and
much more than that. At its best, it was anything but preoccupied with the mechanics of
ritual artifice, but was an articulate and perspicacious treatment of what all peoples have
always felt to be those things which are most important, in the process leaving us a
heritage which is both a dragging weight of cultural bigotry’s, and a portal to the emergent
visions of a now seen, but invigoratingly un reached, freshly visible horizon.

. ". . . No, it is impossible; it is impossible to con-vey the life-sensation of any given

epoch of one's ex-istence -- that which makes its truth, its meaning its subtle and
penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream alone...." Heart of
Darkness” Joseph Conrad