Chapter 9

The Universe to Socrates


I believe that the earth is a round body in the centre of the heavens.

  • It does not need air or any similar force for support
  • It is kept there and hindered from falling or inclining any way by:
    • the equability of the surrounding heaven and
    • her own equipoise.

A thing in equipoise is in the centre of that which is equably diffused.

  • It will not incline any way in any degree

I also believe that the earth is very vast.

  • We live in the region extending from the river Phasis to the Pillars of Heracles.
  • We inhabit a small portion only about the sea, like ants or frogs about a marsh
  • There are other inhabitants of many other like places
  • Everywhere on the face of the earth there are hollows of various forms and sizes, into which the water and the mist and the lower air collect.

But the true earth is pure and situated in the pure heaven—there are the stars also.

It is the heaven which we commonly call the ether. Our own earth is the sediment gathering in the hollows beneath it.

But we who live in these hollows are deceived into thinking that we are dwelling above on the surface of the earth. This is the same as a creature at the bottom of the sea fancies that:

  • he was on the surface of the water, and
  • the sea was the heaven through which he saw the sun and the stars

He has never come to the surface because of his feebleness and sluggishness. He has never lifted up his head and seen, nor ever heard from one who had seen, how much purer and fairer the world above is than his own.

We are dwelling in a hollow of the earth and imagine that we are on the surface. We call the air as heaven, in which we imagine that the stars move.

Due to our feebleness and sluggishness, we are prevented from reaching the surface of the air. If any man could arrive at the exterior limit, or take the wings of a bird and come to the top, then like a fish who puts his head out of the water and sees this world, he would see a world beyond.

If the nature of man could sustain the sight, he would acknowledge that this other world was the place of the true heaven and the true light and the true earth.

For our earth, the stones, and the entire region which surrounds us, are spoilt and corroded, as in the sea all things are corroded by the brine, neither is there any noble or perfect growth, but caverns only, and sand, and an endless slough of mud= and even the shore is not to be compared to the fairer sights of this world.

And still less is this our world to be compared with the other.

I can tell you a charming tale, Simmias, of that upper earth which is under the heaven.

The earth, when looked at from above, is streaked like one of those balls which have leather coverings in 12 pieces.

  • It is decked with various colours like the ones used by painters on earth.

But there, the whole earth is made up of them. They are brighter far and clearer than ours. There is a purple of wonderful lustre, the radiance of gold, and the white which is in the earth is whiter than any chalk or snow.

The earth is made up of these colors. They are more in number and fairer than the eye of man has ever seen. The very hollows where we are is filled with air and water having a colour of their own. They are seen like light gleaming amid the diversity of the other colours, so that the whole presents a single and continuous appearance of variety in unity.

In this fair region, everything that grows—trees, and flowers, and fruits—are in a like degree fairer than any here. There are hills, having stones in them in a like degree smoother, and more transparent, and fairer in colour than our highly-valued emeralds and sardonyxes and jaspers, and other gems, which are but minute fragments of them.

There all the stones are like our precious stones, and fairer still. The reason is, that they are pure, and not, like our precious stones, infected or corroded by the corrupt briny elements which coagulate among us, and which breed foulness and disease both in earth and stones, as well as in animals and plants.

They are the jewels of the upper earth, which also shines with gold and silver and the like, and they are set in the light of day and are large and abundant and in all places, making the earth a sight to gladden the beholder’s eye. And there are animals and men, some in a middle region, others dwelling about the air as we dwell about the sea. Others in islands which the air flows round, near the continent.

The air is used by them as the water and the sea are by us. The ether is to them what the air is to us. Moreover, the temperament of their seasons is such that they have no disease, and live much longer than we do. They have sight, hearing, smell, and all the other senses in far greater perfection, in the same proportion that air is purer than water or the ether than air.

They have temples and sacred places in which the gods really dwell. They hear their voices and receive their answers, and are conscious of them and hold converse with them. They see the sun, moon, and stars as they truly are, and their other blessedness is of a piece with this.

Such is the nature of the whole earth, and of the things which are around the earth. There are diverse regions in the hollows on the face of the globe everywhere.

  • Some of them deeper and more extended than that which we inhabit.
  • Others deeper but with a narrower opening than ours, and some are shallower and also wider.

All have numerous perforations. There are passages broad and narrow in the interior of the earth, connecting them with one another. There flows out of and into them, as into basins, a vast tide of water, and huge subterranean streams of perennial rivers, and springs hot and cold, and a great fire, and great rivers of fire, and streams of liquid mud, thin or thick (like the rivers of mud in Sicily, and the lava streams which follow them). The regions about which they happen to flow are filled up with them.

There is a swinging or see-saw in the interior of the earth which moves all this up and down, and is due to the following cause:—

There is a chasm which is the vastest of them all, and pierces right through the whole earth; this is that chasm which Homer describes in the words:

‘Far off, where is the inmost depth beneath the earth;’

and which he in other places, and many other poets, have called Tartarus. The see-saw is caused by the streams flowing into and out of this chasm, and they each have the nature of the soil through which they flow. And the reason why the streams are always flowing in and out, is that the watery element has no bed or bottom, but is swinging and surging up and down, and the surrounding wind and air do the same; they follow the water up and down, hither and thither, over the earth—just as in the act of respiration the air is always in process of inhalation and exhalation;

The wind swinging with the water in and out produces fearful and irresistible blasts= when the waters retire with a rush into the lower parts of the earth, as they are called, they flow through the earth in those regions, and fill them up like water raised by a pump, and then when they leave those regions and rush back hither, they again fill the hollows here, and when these are filled, flow through subterranean channels and find their way to their several places, forming seas, and lakes, and rivers, and springs.

Thence they again enter the earth, some of them making a long circuit into many lands, others going to a few places and not so distant; and again fall into Tartarus, some at a point a good deal lower than that at which they rose, and others not much lower, but all in some degree lower than the point from which they came.

Some burst forth again on the opposite side, and some on the same side, and some wind round the earth with one or many folds like the coils of a serpent, and descend as far as they can, but always return and fall into the chasm. The rivers flowing in either direction can descend only to the centre and no further, for opposite to the rivers is a precipice.

Now these rivers are many, and mighty, and diverse. There are 4 principal ones.

  1. Oceanus

This is the greatest and outermost. It flows round the earth in a circle.

  1. Acheron

This flows in the opposite direction of Oceanus. It passes under the earth through desert places into the Acherusian lake. This is the lake to the shores of which the souls of the many go when they are dead, and after waiting an appointed time, which is to some a longer and to some a shorter time, they are sent back to be born again as animals.

  1. Pyriphlegethon

This river passes out between the two. Near the place of outlet, it pours into a vast region of fire and forms a lake larger than the Mediterranean Sea, boiling with water and mud.

Proceeding muddy and turbid, and winding about the earth, comes, among other places, to the extremities of the Acherusian Lake, but mingles not with the waters of the lake, and after making many coils about the earth plunges into Tartarus at a deeper level.

It throws up jets of fire in different parts of the earth.

  1. Cocytus

This goes out on the opposite side.

It falls first of all into a wild and savage region, which is all of a dark-blue colour, like lapis lazuli. This is that river which is called the Stygian river, and falls into and forms the Lake Styx, and after falling into the lake and receiving strange powers in the waters, passes under the earth, winding round in the opposite direction.

It comes near the Acherusian lake from the opposite side to Pyriphlegethon.

The water of this river too mingles with no other, but flows round in a circle and falls into Tartarus over against Pyriphlegethon.

When the dead arrive at the place to which the genius of each severally guides them, first of all, they have sentence passed upon them, as they have lived well and piously or not.

Those who appear to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the river Acheron, and embarking in any vessels which they may find, are carried in them to the lake, and there they dwell and are purified of their evil deeds, and having suffered the penalty of the wrongs which they have done to others, they are absolved, and receive the rewards of their good deeds, each of them according to his deserts.

But those who appear to be incurable by reason of the greatness of their crimes—who have committed many and terrible deeds of sacrilege, murders foul and violent, or the like—such are hurled into Tartarus which is their suitable destiny, and they never come out.

Those again who have committed crimes, which, although great, are not irremediable—who in a moment of anger, for example, have done violence to a father or a mother, and have repented for the remainder of their lives, or, who have taken the life of another under the like extenuating circumstances—these are plunged into Tartarus, the pains of which they are compelled to undergo for a year, but at the end of the year the wave casts them forth—mere homicides by way of Cocytus, parricides and matricides by Pyriphlegethon—and they are borne to the Acherusian lake, and there they lift up their voices and call upon the victims whom they have slain or wronged, to have pity on them, and to be kind to them, and let them come out into the lake.

If they prevail, then they come forth and cease from their troubles; but if not, they are carried back again into Tartarus and from thence into the rivers unceasingly, until they obtain mercy from those whom they have wronged= for that is the sentence inflicted upon them by their judges.

Those too who have been pre-eminent for holiness of life are released from this earthly prison, and go to their pure home which is above, and dwell in the purer earth; and of these, such as have duly purified themselves with philosophy live henceforth altogether without the body, in mansions fairer still which may not be described, and of which the time would fail me to tell.

Wherefore, Simmias, seeing all these things, what ought not we to do that we may obtain virtue and wisdom in this life? Fair is the prize, and the hope great!

A man of sense should not say, nor will I be very confident, that the description which I have given of the soul and her mansions is exactly true. But I do say that, inasmuch as the soul is shown to be immortal, he may venture to think, not improperly or unworthily, that something of the kind is true. The venture is a glorious one, and he ought to comfort himself with words like these, which is the reason why I lengthen out the tale.

Let a man be of good cheer about his soul, who having cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him and working harm rather than good, has sought after the pleasures of knowledge; and has arrayed the soul, not in some foreign attire, but in her own proper jewels, temperance, and justice, and courage, and nobility, and truth—in these adorned she is ready to go on her journey to the world below, when her hour comes.

You, Simmias and Cebes, and all other men, will depart at some time or other. For me, the voice of fate calls.

Soon I must drink the poison. I should take a bath first so that the women may not have the trouble of washing my body after I am dead.


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