Chasing butterflies: The Conception of the Soul in Plutarch’s Works
Muñoz Gallarte, Israel
Editor/esLeuven University Press
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When first approaching a topic such as the concept of material or natural soul in Greek literature, the researcher might be puzzled. While in diverse contemporary cultures, numerous theriomorphic figures (bears, ravens, mice, wasps, bees, dragonflies, and dung-beetles) serve to represent the human soul in its transmigration from life to death, this is not the case in Greek culture. At least, this is what one may conclude from the monograph written by the Dutch scholar J. Bremmer, The early Greek Concept of the Soul: "importunely, there are no other indications of a possible connection between the butterfly and the soul of the living and the dead" (1987: 64). Given Plutarch’s great interest in the soul, which can be seen in a variety of texts referring to its generation, form, internal dichotomy, material substance, origin and destination, etc., the question arises as to whether Plutarch also includes such a representation of the soul when departing from the dead body. Does the corpus plutarcheum preserve and transmit such conception of the human soul? And if it does, are we dealing with survival of ancestral beliefs or motifs or is it a simple metaphor by means of which ancients intended to express the departing of the life-breath? In the following pages I will focus on three texts that allegedly include the butterfly-motif to represent the human soul, to wit, Table Talks 636C, Consolation to his Wife 611F, and the fragment 177 Sandbach.