Plutarch’s essay On God’s Slowness to Punish (563C et seq.) relates a vivid fable on the punishments meted out to those to commit evil acts in their lives. It also relates to us the requirements and possibilities for moral redemption.
The fable takes the form of an out-of-body experience that has much to say about ethics and human responsibility. But it is parable rich in metaphor and meaning. Readers can interpret it in a variety of ways.
This is the story.
There was a native of the town of Soli named Aridaeus. He indulged himself in every type of sensual and mortal passion that he could, and was undeterred by the effects that these pursuits caused to others. He quickly exhausted his money, and turned to a life of crime. His sole motivation was profit and gain.
Aridaeus even asked the oracle of Amphilochus if he would live a better life in the future. The oracle’s somewhat ambiguous answer was only to say that he would be better off when he died.
One day, Aridaeus seemed to die. He injured his head in a fall, and did not awaken. He was believed to be dead. On the day he was about to be buried, he suddenly came out of his coma. Onlookers, of course, were shocked.
And at this point, a startling transformation in his personality and actions took place.
He began to devote himself to good works and charitable causes. An incredibly wicked man suddenly had become an incredibly good one.
People were shocked at this change, and began to ask him how this had happened. It happened, Aridaeus explained, because of an out-of-body experience he had had when appearing to be dead. He told them an incredible story.
While he had been “dead” he felt his soul rise out of his body and ascend rapidly among the celestial bodies. It was an experience of astral projection.
He felt himself guided by a powerful invisible force that pulled him ever higher. The stars were emitting amazing cascades and varieties of light, and he rode on these abundant waves of energy. All about him were shimmering visions of color and phosphorescence.
It was an ecstatic experience, impossible to relate fully in words.
But there was more. From his vantage point, he was able to see the souls of other deceased people rise from the Earth. The were like small, fiery bubbles that, when they burst, emerged as souls in human form. Some souls emerge from the bubbles with quickness, some whirled around in circles, and some shot off in other directions, vectoring in various inclinations and declinations.
He tried to communicate with some of these souls. He approached someone who he thought was an old relative. This soul seemed to recognize Aridaeus, but called him instead by the name of Thespesius.
When Aridaeus told him that this was not his name, the soul said,
“You may have been Aridaeus before, but now you are Thespesius, which means godlike. You have not actually died, you intelligence is here, but the rest of your soul remains in your body. If you wish to see proof of this, remember that dead souls do not cast a shadow, and they do not blink their eyes.”
Thespesius’s relative tells him more. He tells him that the main punisher of wrongdoing is Inevitability. No one, as hard as he may try, can escape Inevitability. Furthermore, there are three kinds of punishment:
1. Swift Reprisal. This type of punishment happens without delay and is entirely physical.
2. Retribution. This is punishment that happens after death by the deity of the offender. It is used for people who commit serious iniquities. Anyone who has not been punished or purified in life falls into the hands of Retribution.
3. Revenge. This is the most savage form of Inevitability. It deals with the cases that Retribution cannot handle. It is pitiless and unrelenting punishment.
Thespesius’s relative further explains that the colored lights he sees among the stars are the visual evidence of the punishment and purification of souls. The relative finally tells him that: “The complete obliteration of these colors, and the soul’s gaining of a single, lucid hue, are the culmination of purification and punishment.”
Some of these souls are cured, he explains, and return to Earth to inhabit other bodies.
Suddenly, Thespesius was carried a great distance to another unknown place, which appeared to be the mouth of an enormous tunnel that led downwards. There were many souls congregating here, appearing apprehensive and wary.
Thespesius was then carried another great distance to a place described as the “oracle shared by Night and Moon.” It is an oracle that reaches man in dreams and fantasies. It is the source of our nocturnal dreams.
Thespesius then was transported to a place where he saw souls being punished for the evil they did on Earth. He sees his own father there: and he learns that his father had poisoned some guests for their money.
He had escaped undetected on Earth, but not here. Those other souls who were getting the most horrible punishments were those who had gotten away with their crimes while alive.
Finally, he saw souls being modified for rebirth. Godlike artisans were shaping and molding these wayward souls in new and unusual ways. He sees the Roman Emperor Nero’s soul being violently reshaped into something new and different by way of red-hot nails.
All this Thespesius watched with a mixture of awe and fear.
Suddenly, an extremely beautiful woman approached Thespesius, and was carrying a red-hot staff. She spoke to him and said, “Come here, you. This will help you remember everything better.” She raised the staff up before him.
And then suddenly another woman stopped her. She seized him by the arm, and pulled him away, “as if he had been fired from a bowstring.”
He lost consciousness, felt himself fly through the ether, and then awakened, where he found himself at his original burial. And at that point he awakened, lying in his grave which had been prepared for his burial. He saw his mourners gathered around him, in profound shock at seeing him apparently arise from the dead.
His celestial journey was over. He had rejoined the world of the living.
This, then, is the story of Aridaeus of Soli.
Read More: The Apple Of Empress Eudocia