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think, independently—a distinctive feature of that Orphic ritual and mythology to which Plato is largely indebted for his account of the Soul's kábapois as a process of forgetting and remembering—as a series of transmigrations through which the particulars of sense, the evils and sins of the flesh, are forgotten or left behind, and the universal Ideas, long obscured, are, at last, so clearly remembered that they can never be forgotten any more, but become the everlasting possession of the Soul, finally disembodied and returned to its own star.
It is easy to account, from the literary sources open to Dante, for the presence of rivers, and more particularly of Lethe, in his Earthly Paradise. On the one hand, the description of Eden in Genesis would suggest the general idea of rivers girding the Earthly Paradise ;? while, on the other hand, the proximity of Purgatory to the Earthly Paradise makes it natural that Lethe should be one of these riversthat first reached by one coming up from Purgatory. The drinking of Lethe, according to Aen. vi. and the current mythology, is the act with which a period of purgatorial discipline is closed by those Souls which are about to pass again into the flesh.
In placing the Earthly Paradise on the top of a lofty mountain Dante followed a prevalent medieval belief; and, although he seems to have drawn on his own imagination in placing Purgatory on the slopes of this mountain, it was natural, and in accordancc with the current mythology, that he should place it there, close to the Earthly Paradise or Elysium; for the Lethe of Aen. vi. is evidently in the same region as Elysium,
Interea videt Aeneas in valle reducta
The presence, then, of Lethe, the purgatorial stream, in Dante's Earthly Paradise is easily accounted for by reference to the mythological authorities open to him. But for the association of Eunoè, the stream of Memory, with Lethe, the stream of Forgetfulness, it does not seem possible to account
The common mythology gives Lethe alone. See Vernon's Readings on the Purgatorio, ii. 285-293. Lethe girds the Earthly Paradise on the side of Earth, Eunoè on the side of Heaven.
· Virg. Aen. vi. 703.
in this way.
is not likely that Dante had heard of the twin streams-Lethe and Mnemosyne of the Orphic cult; at any rate, in the absence of evidence that he had heard of them, it seems better to suppose that the very natural picture of a stream of Memory beside the stream of Forgetfulness occurred to him spontaneously, as it had occurred to others, who, like himself, were deeply concerned to find expression for their hope of κάθαρσις.
For the twin streams of the Orphic cult which resemble Dante's Lethe and Eunoè so closely, we must turn to the sepulchral inscriptions mentioned at the end of the last section. These are certain directions for the ghostly journey to be made by initiated persons, written in hexameter verse on gold tablets found in graves at Thurii and Petelia in South Italy, and now preserved in the British Museum. These tablets were described by Comparetti in the Journal of Hellenic Studies, iii. p. 111 ff., and are printed by Kaibel in his Insc. Gr. Sic. et It. p. 157. Kaibel assigns them to the third or fourth century B.C. I shall quote the one that was found at Petelia.
It gives directions to an initiated person who hopes to get out of the Cycle of Incarnationsκύκλου τ' αυ λήξει και αναπνεύσαι κακότητος?-having been completely purified. Such a person, the verses say, must avoid the fountain on the left hand with a white cypress growing near it, evidently the water of Lethe, although the tablet does not name it. It is to the right that the purified Soul of the utotys must turn, to the cool water of Mnemosyne. The guardians of the well he must address in set form of words, thus-“I am the child of Earth and Heaven: I am parched with thirst ; I perish; give me cool water to drink from the well of Memory.” And the guardians will give him water to drink from the holy well, and he will be translated to dwell for ever with the Heroes :
ευρήσεις δ' 'Αίδαο δόμων έπ' αρίστερα κρήνην,
For further description of the Petelia Tablet (in the Brit. Museum, Gold Ornament Room, Table-case H) and other Orphic golden tablets (e.g. the Eleuthernae Tablet from Crete, in the National Museum, Athens), the reader may consult Miss Harrison's Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, pp. 573 ff., with Appendix by Mr. G. G. A. Murray, pp. 660 if.
See Lobeck, Aglaoph. p. 800.
ευρήσεις δ' ετέραν της μνημοσύνης από λίμνης
και τότ' έπειτ' άλλοισι μεθ' ηρώεσσιν ανάξει[s]. The Myth of Er indeed differs from the Petelia Tablet in being concerned with those who must still drink of Lethe, and be born again in the flesh, not with those who have been thoroughly purified and drink of Mnemosyne, and so enter into the eternal peace of the disembodied state; yet there is a touch in the Platonic Myth which reminds us that the journey taken is the same as that which the Orphic uúotns had to take with the golden tablet in his hand. The journey to the plain of Lethe, according to the Platonic Myth, is through a dry, torrid region, and the temptation to drink too deeply of the water of Lethe is strong, and wisdom, in the imperfectly purified Soul, is needed in order to resist it. Similarly, the purified uúotns is warned by his tablet not to quench his burning thirst in Lethe, for the cool water of Mnemosyne is at hand. The drinking of Lethe is the act with which each successive period of the purgatorial discipline ends; the drinking of Mnemosyne is the act which completes the whole series of periods in the discipline. Both streams, or fountains, are in the place—above ground, not subterranean—to which Souls journey in order that from it they may be either translated to the True Heaven, or sent back to be born again in this world. Similarly Dante places these two streams side by side on the top of the Mount of Purgatory, Lethe running west and north on the left hand of one standing on the south side of their common source and looking north ; Eunoè running east and north on his right
Dante, not having to set forth his doctrine of kábapors in the form of a myth of metempsychosis, makes the purified Soul, before it passes from the Mount of Purgatory up into Heaven, drink only once of Lethe, at the completion of all its purgatorial stages, in order that it may forget its sins; and then of Eunoè, that it may retain the memory of its meritorious deeds (Purg. xxviii. 130). Sins are wiped out after penance, and so fully pardoned, that the sinner does not even remember that he has sinned; but, on the other hand, he does not begin his heavenly existence as a tabula rasa—the continuity of his conscious life is preserved by the memory he retains of his good actions. Here Dante sets forth the thought on which the Platonic doctrine of ανάμνησις rests. . It is the flesh, with its sins, that the Philosopher in the Phaedrus forgets; but of the things of the mind of truth and virtue—he gains always clearer and clearer memory, working out his purification as a devotee of the true « mysteries” –μόνη πτερoύται η του φιλοσόφου διάνοια: πρός γαρ εκείνους αεί έστι μνήμη κατά δύναμιν, προς οισπερ θεός ών θεϊός έστι: τοις δε δή τοιούτοις ανήρ υπομνήμασιν ορθώς χρώμενος, τελέους αεί τελετάς τελούμενος, Témeos Övtws móvos yiyverai (Phaedrus, 249 c). The parallel between the philosopher who “always, as far as he can, cleaves in memory to those things by cleaving to which the Deity is divine,” and the purified uúotns who finally drinks of the well of uvnuosúvn, is plainly in Plato's mind here, as Dieterich (Nekyia, pp. 113, 122) and others have noticed.? Similarly, in the Phaedo, 114 c, he says oi pilosopią ikavās καθηράμενοι άνευ σωμάτων ζώσι, speaking of those who are translated from the Earthly to the Celestial Paradise, i.e. from the True Surface of the Earth, or the Islands of the Blessed, to oικήσεις έτι τούτων καλλίους.
See Thompson's note on the construction apos ékelvols. ? Dieterich (Nek. p. 122) says: “Platons Mythen stimmen in allem, was die erhaltenen Reste zu kontroliren uns gestatten, zu den Täfelchen von Thurioi und Petelia : in diesen und in jenen der himmlische Ursprung der Seelen, der schmerzen volle Kreislauf, das Abbussen der Schuld wegen alter Sünden, das Eingehen in die Gefilde der Seligkeit (Persephone tritt allerdings bei Platon gänzlich zurück); zur Rechten gehen wie in Platons Republik so nach den Înschriften die zu Belohnenden und zur Linke die Strafenden, links ist die Lethe in beiden Überlieferungen. Sollten wir nun nicht die Anspielungen bei Platon verstehen von der μνήμη der seligen Philosophen-seelen, πρός γαρ εκείνους đei dott urnun (Phaid, 249 c), und unmittelbar daneben die Bezeichnung der Lehre als TÉACOL Teletal? Es ist dasselbe, wenn von Pythagoras gesagt wird, er sei immer in Besitz der urnun gewesen (s. bes. Laert. Diog. viii. 4). Dort ist nur abstrakt gesagt, was der Quell der Mneme konkret, mythisch, und symbolisch sein soll. Die Wiedererinnerung an das, was die Seele einst sab in ihrer göttlichen Heimat, hilft sie erlösen ; wer sie empfängt, ist erlöst. Sollte es noch zu kühn sein, in jener offenbar viel älteren Vorstellung der unteritalischen Mysterien, die nun für uns erst um Platons Zeit oder etwas später durch diese Täfelchen ans Licht treten, eine Quelle der platonischen Lehre von der dvdurnois zu finden? Das kann hier nur angedeutet werden, sonst würde sich herausstellen, dass diese Mysterienlehre überhaupt von viel grösserem Einflusse auf die ganze Psychologie, ja die ganze Ideenlehre gewesen sind, als man hatte annehmen können.
I may perhaps be allowed to notice here, in passing, a curious point of contact between Plato's representation of kábapois as effected through a series of metempsychoses, and Dante's representation of it as an ascent from terrace to terrace of the Mount of Purgatory. In the Myth of Er Plato says that the Souls come to Lethe in the evening, and drink of the water, and fall asleep; and at midnight there is thunder and an earthquake, and they shoot up like meteors to be born again in the flesh. Similarly, Dante tells us (Purg. xx. and xxi.) that when a Soul passes to a higher terrace in the course of its purification, the Mount of Purgatory is shaken, and there is a great shout of the spirits praising God. The Soul of the poet Statius, which had just passed to a higher terrace, thus explains the matter to Dante (Purg. xxi. 58 ff.) :-The Mountain, it says,
Trembles when any spirit feels itself
And I, who in this punishment had lain
The earthquake and sound of shouting which attended the passage of the Soul of Statius to a higher terrace are compared with the shaking of Delos when Latona couched to bring forth the twin-born Eyes of Heaven," and with “the song first heard in Bethlehem's field.”
An earthquake and a great sound—of thunder or shouting—are thus associated both by Plato and by Dante with the new birth. The ascent of Souls from terrace to terrace of the Mount of Purgatory is a series of spiritual new births, and answers in Dante to the series of re-incarnations in Plato's mythological representation of the doctrine of κάθαρσις.
That the Orphic mythology of the two fountains of Lethe and Mnemosyne in the world of the departed—vouched for
1 Purg. xxi. 58 ff., Cary's Translation.