Rebirth Theme in Phaedo and The Aeneid
Reading these texts: The Aeneid and Phaedo, consecutively, one comes across a surprising amount of similarities; though the texts are vastly different in tone and ideology, both authors have some sense that the concept of “rebirth” is a present force in the universe. The theme of rebirth, or life after death is the single things that brings all humans who have lived together a common plight: “What happens after death?” Though Virgil and Plato would not agree on the majority of the other’s beliefs they can agree on the common ground, which just happens to be the concept of reincarnation. Of life after death.
Even today, there’s a constant argument over what happens when we die. When broken down to basic motives for action and reaction: Humans are more or less obsessed with death. There have been wars for as long as human memory can record over God. Still even today, people are dying over religious warfare. This is ironic, given the fact that Socrates’ belief was it was irrational to be effected by another human’s death, as the soul is the undying part of the human body. Why is it, that though there are modern day philosophy and religions that practice to a similar belief system as Socrates’s, there are, nevertheless, countless wars being fought over religious ideology. Is it that humans feel that just the concept of reincarnation is not enough? Do humans feel as if they deserve more, which prompted the conception of nirvana, heaven, and Valhalla, just to name a few examples. Living as a human is not enough, we must strive for something greater, more divine than ourselves. Finally coming to the end of a treacherous journey, only to wake up at the starting line, is not enough for the majority of human beings. For many that would sound like a nightmare. People believe that if they are good they are owed something.
In the Aeneid, Virgil writes Aeneas as this golden, pious, man. He’s strong and bold. A warrior, and though Aeneas is so perfect, he still requires guidance from the Sibyl. The Sibyl, possessed by Apollo, tells Aeneas what to do and how to do it. Though this man is a god among men, he still needs someone to hold his hand as he passes over the river Styx. What occurred during my reading, is that I began to infer than Plato and the other philosophers saw Socrates as their leader as well, someone with immense knowledge. Socrates was able to give them guidance, tell them what to expect after they died. Though much more gray than Aeneas and the Sibyl, these men still relied on Socrates to speak to them, to initiate a conversation about the afterlife. Both of these great men, though one fictional, needed someone there for guidance. Similarly, enough today to the existence of ministers, preachers, teachers and monks. Someone who the common man views as divine in a way, or intellectually superior for guidance through a conversation about what happens after we die.
The Greek Tartarus and Elysium are eerily similar to modern day renditions of the Christian Hell/Heaven respectively. Western culture is heavily influence by early Greeks and Romans, shown not only in political infrastructure, but in ideology, and even down to the way our cities are built. It only makes sense, logically, that the earliest conceptions of Christianity would be heavily influenced by Greek and roman mythology as well. In the Aeneid, as Aeneas and the Sibyl wander downwards into the underworld they come to a fork in the road. The left leads to Tartarus, or hell. The right leads to the home of the blessed, Elysium. This concept of judgment had never before been seen in myth. Separating the good from the bad, creating laws expecting some sort of moral obligation to do well. Now doing good deeds had an incentive behind it. “…the abyss, Tartarus itself plunges headlong down through the darkness twice as far as our gaze goes up to Olympus rising towards the skies…” The gods are above them, for they are just humans. This is where Virgil and Plato differ, for Plato believes that all people are equal and does not believe in the mythical gods.
Contrasting from western belief that the goal illustrated in the Aeneid was not to stay in paradise. The goal was to become reborn again, drinking from the River Lethe and being born anew into a new body. This concept of rebirth is similar to the Buddhist and Hindu belief of reincarnation. A surprising concept to find in the Aeneid was the concept of a life energy to even inanimate objects. When Aeneas meets his father in the underworld he explains that everything in this world is permeated with spirit, a concept which is similar to the Shinto belief in “Kami”. The concept of an undying life energy is a hopeful one. The chance to revise a life, perhaps, to become new again. In Phaedo, Socrates speaks about the undying spirit as well, he speaks on his death bed: “Then when death comes to man, the mortal part of him dies, it seems, but his deathless part goes away safe and indestructible, yielding the place to death.”
Socrates and Plato did not believe in a physical afterlife. There was no hell or heaven waiting for them, only the prospect of reliving a human life. Socrates did not fear death, he welcomed it like an old friend, embracing it with open arms. Virgil, with his more fantastical version of the afterlife, creates a justice system. One than judges the wicked, and rewards the virtuous. Virgil has an innate fear of death, assuming the justice system he envisioned to be a projection of his own insecurity in death. I found that both of these texts have had influence in modern day ideology and religion all over the world. Creating a conglomerate of ideas in many different manifestations.
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