Ante-Nicene Fathers/Volume III/Apologetic/A Treatise on the Soul/Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXII.—Empedocles Increased the Absurdity of Pythagoras by Developing the Posthumous Change of Men into Various Animals.
But the fact is, Empedocles, who used to dream that he was a god, and on that account, I suppose, disdained to have it thought that he had ever before been merely some hero, declares in so many words: “I once was Thamnus, and a fish.” Why not rather a melon, seeing that he was such a fool; or a cameleon, for his inflated brag? It was, no doubt, as a fish (and a queer one too!) that he escaped the corruption of some obscure grave, when he preferred being roasted by a plunge into Ætna; after which accomplishment there was an end for ever to his μετενσωμάτωσις or putting himself into another body—(fit only now for) a light dish after the roast-meat. At this point, therefore, we must likewise contend against that still more monstrous presumption, that in the course of the transmigration beasts pass from human beings, and human beings from beasts. Let (Empedocles’) Thamnuses alone. Our slight notice of them in passing will be quite enough: (to dwell on them longer will inconvenience us,) lest we should be obliged to have recourse to raillery and laughter instead of serious instruction. Now our position is this: that the human soul cannot by any means at all be transferred to beasts, even when they are supposed to originate, according to the philosophers, out of the substances of the elements. Now let us suppose that the soul is either fire, or water, or blood, or spirit, or air, or light; we must not forget that all the animals in their several kinds have properties which are opposed to the respective elements. There are the cold animals which are opposed to fire—water-snakes, lizards, salamanders, and what things soever are produced out of the rival element of water. In like manner, those creatures are opposite to water which are in their nature dry and sapless; indeed, locusts, butterflies, and chameleons rejoice in droughts. So, again, such creatures are opposed to blood which have none of its purple hue, such as snails, worms, and most of the fishy tribes. Then opposed to spirit are those creatures which seem to have no respiration, being unfurnished with lungs and windpipes, such as gnats, ants, moths, and minute things of this sort. Opposed, moreover, to air are those creatures which always live under ground and under water, and never imbibe air—things of which you are more acquainted with the existence than with the names. Then opposed to light are those things which are either wholly blind, or possess eyes for the darkness only, such as moles, bats, and owls. These examples (have I adduced), that I might illustrate my subject from clear and palpable natures. But even if I could take in my hand the “atoms” of Epicurus, or if my eye could see the “numbers” of Pythagoras, or if my foot could stumble against the “ideas” of Plato, or if I could lay hold of the “entelechies” of Aristotle, the chances would be, that even in these (impalpable) classes I should find such animals as I must oppose to one another on the ground of their contrariety. For I maintain that, of whichsoever of the before-mentioned natures the human soul is composed, it would not have been possible for it to pass for new forms into animals so contrary to each of the separate natures, and to bestow an origin by its passage on those beings, from which it would have to be excluded and rejected rather than to be admitted and received, by reason of that original contrariety which we have supposed it to possess, and which commits the bodily substance receiving it to an interminable strife; and then again by reason of the subsequent contrariety, which results from the development inseparable from each several nature. Now it is on quite different conditions that the soul of man has had assigned to it (in individual bodies) its abode, and aliment, and order, and sensation, and affection, and sexual intercourse, and procreation of children; also (on different conditions has it, in individual bodies, received especial) dispositions, as well as duties to fulfil, likings, dislikes, vices, desires, pleasures, maladies, remedies—in short, its own modes of living, its own outlets of death. How, then, shall that (human) soul which cleaves to the earth, and is unable without alarm to survey any great height, or any considerable depth, and which is also fatigued if it mounts many steps, and is suffocated if it is submerged in a fish-pond,—(how, I say, shall a soul which is beset with such weaknesses) mount up at some future stage into the air in an eagle, or plunge into the sea in an eel? How, again, shall it, after being nourished with generous and delicate as well as exquisite viands, feed deliberately on, I will not say husks, but even on thorns, and the wild fare of bitter leaves, and beasts of the dung-hill, and poisonous worms, if it has to migrate into a goat or into a quail?—nay, it may be, feed on carrion, even on human corpses in some bear or lion? But how indeed (shall it stoop to this), when it remembers its own (nature and dignity)? In the same way, you may submit all other instances to this criterion of incongruity, and so save us from lingering over the distinct consideration of each of them in turn. Now, whatever may be the measure and whatever the mode of the human soul, (the question is forced upon us,) what it will do in far larger animals, or in very diminutive ones? It must needs be, that every individual body of whatever size is filled up by the soul, and that the soul is entirely covered by the body. How, therefore, shall a man’s soul fill an elephant? How, likewise, shall it be contracted within a gnat? If it be so enormously extended or contracted, it will no doubt be exposed to peril. And this induces me to ask another question: If the soul is by no means capable of this kind of migration into animals, which are not fitted for its reception, either by the habits of their bodies or the other laws of their being, will it then undergo a change according to the properties of various animals, and be adapted to their life, notwithstanding its contrariety to human life—having, in fact, become contrary to its human self by reason of its utter change? Now the truth is, if it undergoes such a transformation, and loses what it once was, the human soul will not be what it was; and if it ceases to be its former self, the metensomatosis, or adaptation of some other body, comes to nought, and is not of course to be ascribed to the soul which will cease to exist, on the supposition of its complete change. For only then can a soul be said to experience this process of the metensomatosis, when it undergoes it by remaining unchanged in its own (primitive) condition. Since, therefore, the soul does not admit of change, lest it should cease to retain its identity; and yet is unable to remain unchanged in its original state, because it fails then to receive contrary (bodies),—I still want to know some credible reason to justify such a transformation as we are discussing. For although some men are compared to the beasts because of their character, disposition, and pursuits (since even God says, “Man is like the beasts that perish”), it does not on this account follow that rapacious persons become kites, lewd persons dogs, ill-tempered ones panthers, good men sheep, talkative ones swallows, and chaste men doves, as if the selfsame substance of the soul everywhere repeated its own nature in the properties of the animals (into which it passed). Besides, a substance is one thing, and the nature of that substance is another thing; inasmuch as the substance is the special property of one given thing, whereas the nature thereof may possibly belong to many things. Take an example or two. A stone or a piece of iron is the substance: the hardness of the stone and the iron is the nature of the substance. Their hardness combines objects by a common quality; their substances keep them separate. Then, again, there is softness in wool, and softness in a feather: their natural qualities are alike, (and put them on a par;) their substantial qualities are not alike, (and keep them distinct.) Thus, if a man likewise be designated a wild beast or a harmless one, there is not for all that an identity of soul. Now the similarity of nature is even then observed, when dissimilarity of substance is most conspicuous: for, by the very fact of your judging that a man resembles a beast, you confess that their soul is not identical; for you say that they resemble each other, not that they are the same. This is also the meaning of the word of God (which we have just quoted): it likens man to the beasts in nature, but not in substance. Besides, God would not have actually made such a comment as this concerning man, if He had known him to be in substance only bestial.
- This is the force of the objective nouns, which are all put in the plural form.
- Ps. xlix. 20.