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Plutarch's Morals: Theosophical Essays, tr. by Charles William King, [1908], at

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The works which go by the name of Plutarch's "Morals" (though certainly not all from his hand) are a collection of short treatises upon a great variety of subjects—Ethics, History, Politics, Preservation of Health, Facetiæ, Love-stories, and Philosophy. The last of these comprise dissertations upon the nature of the unseen world and spiritual beings, upon the creation and government of the universe, upon the human soul, upon the hidden sense of religious institutions, and similar speculations, which the ancients classed under the general head of "Theosophy," that is, "knowledge of the things pertaining unto God." In this series is preserved the only complete and circumstantial account of the religion of Egypt that has come down to us; and written at a time when that religion was still in full vigour, when, in fact, it alone (besides the Mithraic), of all the ancient creeds, as yet preserved its. original vitality—written, too, by a person who had been initiated into its deepest mysteries, and who had sought out the hidden sense of its myths and ceremonies with equal intelligence and industry. That the present treatise "upon Isis and

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[paragraph continues] Osiris," became, from the time of its publication, the chief authority upon the subject, is evident from the influence it exerted upon the writings of the Emperor Julian of the same character, such as his "Hymns to the Mother of the Gods, and to the Sun." Three other essays are devoted, more or less, to the subject of Oracles, and to the discussion of the question whether their inspiration proceeded from natural or supernatural causes; in which discussions the parts of the "rationalist" and the "believer" (in modern phrase), are most ably supported by the interlocutors of the dialogue. This is, perhaps, the most curious and most interesting phenomenon in the history of ancient civilization. These three treatises, therefore, are of the highest value, for, in the first place, they preserve the only particular description now extant of the most important of these fountains of prophecy, of the physical facts connected with its working, and the mode in which its powers were employed, and, what is yet more to the purpose, we have here the observations made upon all these circumstances by a clear-headed and highly educated man, far removed from all religious enthusiasm (which had not, at that time, been roused to blind partiality through opposition and vituperation from the other side); and who, residing in the neighbourhood of the mystic cavern, and regularly attending the consultation, had ample opportunity of detecting any deception or jugglery on the part of its ministers. We can, therefore, accept for truth what he relates concerning the visible and sensible effects of the Pythonic vapour; but of the conflicting theories as to its final cause (between which the writer himself is evidently at a loss to choose), we may decide upon the one best adapted to our own modes of thought. And if we substitute modern terms for ancient, and read "Scriptural" for "Delphic" inspiration, we can from the disputes of the present day form a very accurate notion of the state of

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feeling upon this subject that prevailed in Plutarch's times. We find then also, people urging the same objections against the Divine origin of sacred teachings, based upon the imperfections of the vehicle conveying them to. mankind; and parried by the same arguments derived from the consideration of the nature of such vehicles. And in the same connection, how curious it is to discover that the Divine government of "more worlds than one" was even then, too, a problem that puzzled far brighter minds than those which have attempted its solution in these later days!

In order to place the trustworthiness of Plutarch, as our guide in similar researches, in a still clearer light by exhibiting his own view of religion, I have added his short treatise "On Superstition," one of the most eloquent and closely reasoned compositions of the kind to be found in antiquity; and which, from its intrinsic merit (the sterling coin of every period) might be studied with advantage by many a religious disputant of the present day.

It is now almost three centuries since my ancient brother-fellow, the indefatigable Philemon Holland, published his gigantic translation of the whole "Moralia." Although he has done his work admirably, its unwieldy bulk, sufficient to deter most readers, in itself furnishes me with a plausible excuse for presenting a single section of its contents in a new dress. My translation was made some years ago, in the course of collecting materials for an undertaking then in hand, but now through untoward circumstances of necessity abandoned. The text used was principally Wyttenback's; it is in many places hopelessly corrupt, words and even whole sentences are often missing; the source was, apparently, a single manuscript, and that in bad condition. In such cases, conjectural emendations and supplements were unavoidable: but notice of all such attempts has always been given at the foot of the page.

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[paragraph continues] My translation keeps as close to the original as our language will allow—much too closely, indeed, to admit of any elegance of style; the faithful rendering of the sense in this antique report of discussions often very abstruse and curiously involved, being the sole object I kept in view when making it.

C. W King.

Trinity College, Cambridge,
         May 6, 1882.

[Apollo seated before the Delphic Tripod]
[Apollo seated before the Delphic Tripod]

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