The Cave of a Soulful Universe

Porphyry asks What does Homer obscurely signify by the cave in Ithaca?. He then quotes the Odyssey’s eleven lines but before interpreting each, he describes their purpose …

this narration is full of such obscurities it can neither be a fiction casually devised for the purpose of procuring delight, nor an exposition of a topical history; but something allegorical must be indicated in it by the poet … nor does Homer rashly narrate the particulars pertaining to things of this kind

Let’s learn the secret meaning, line by Homeric line …

A cavern

theologists … considered caverns as symbols of the world. Which Theologists? Zoroaster … Empedocles … Plato. Oh them. The big ones. So it must be.

pleasant, though involved in night

a cave is a symbol of the sensible world, pleasant to souls who have now proceeded into nature but essentially dark, like the world. They have fallen into generation.

Beneath it lies, the Naiades delight

Naiades? Nymphs that preside over streams and fountains. Why these Nymphs? Among others, Porphyry quotes Numenius who quoted the Septuagint, the Spirit of God moved on the waters. Souls in generation … are profoundly steeped in moisture. The gods are steeping them. As Heraclitus says, a dry soul is the wisest.

Where stony bowls and urns of workmanship divine

Stony as adapted to the nymphs who preside over the water that flows from rocks.

And massy beams in native marble shine, On which the Nymphs amazing webs display, Of purple hue and exquisite array

the purple webs will evidently be the flesh which is woven from the blood … the generation of flesh … the body is a garment. Fallen soul, first washed, then clothed. Evocative.

The busy bees within the urns secure Honey delicious, and like nectar pure

honey … is indicative of the pleasure which draws souls downward to generation. Think how Saturn was entrapped - with honey by the bees produc’d, Sunk in ebriety. Oh the poor soul, now intoxicated with sweetness.

Perpetual waters through the grotto glide

The cavern (is) adapted … for the Nymphs … who preside over waters.

A lofty gate unfolds on either side; That to the north is pervious to mankind: The sacred south t’immortals is consign’d.

as Numenius and his familiar Cronius assert, there are two extremities in the heavens, viz., the winter tropic, than which nothing is more southern, and the summer tropic, than which nothing is more northern. But the summer tropic is in Cancer, and the winter tropic in Capricorn … theologists say, that Cancer is the gate through which souls descend; but Capricorn that through which they ascend.

But the Poet says immortals go south? The southern gates are not the avenues of the Gods, but of souls ascending to the Gods. On this account, the poet does not say that they are the avenues of the Gods, but of immortals; this appellation being also common to our souls, which are per se, or essentially, immortal.

So here it is. The descent of soul into this oh so humid, tempting cave world. But it will ascend again, drying off as it ascends south. And there’s more. Porphyry had skipped the first line. He gets back to it …

High at the head a branching olive grows, Beneath, a gloomy grotto’s cool recess.

the world was not produced rashly and casually, but is the work of divine wisdom … hence an olive, the symbol of this wisdom flourishes near (this) … image of the world, as divine wisdom is separated from but near its offspring.

Praise Homer! The theologist has discovered an appropriate place for the olive … signifying by this that the universe is not the effect of a casual event and the work of irrational fortune. It is governed by … a wisdom eternal and ever-flourishing. There is order and the orderer is always near.

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