The Myth of Er


I re-read the myth of er this morning- it is how Plato ends his opus – The Republic.. 100 years ago when I was a student at university I studied Plato. One of the things that surprised me was how every platonic dialogue would end with a myth. I interpreted this to mean that all reason has to be taken on faith, resides in a story, in a dogma – its turtles all the way down – or perhaps the real source of truth/knowledge/meaning is the realm of myth, the unconscious.

The story of Er… Er dies experiences the afterlife and comes back to tell everyone about it. He is in the bardo (that is what we would say in Tibet). This has happened over and over in myth and literature. It is called katabasis – a descent – there are a bunch through out world literature.

So let tell you my experience about reading this story. I was able to focus easily on the how there are judges and how individuals suffer or are rewarded in proportion to their deeds in heaven or hell… and then once they leave heaven or hell they are reunited with old friends and share experiences. They do this in a beautiful meadow – this sounds lovely. I followed all that easily.

What came after I had difficulty following. I don’t know if the translation was clunky, or if the metaphors just made no sense to me, but it was hard to keep focused. There was sort of a description of the architecture of the universe. It involved spindles and whorls and Iwas sort of hoping that someone had made an animation of the myth of er. If someone has can you please let me know. Anyway here are spindles and whorls from the bronze age.

Weaving – looms were the first computer – so I imagine that if we were to write an updated myth of Er it would be a computer not a bunch of whorls and things.

Anyway first we learn about the structure of the universe. There is some sort of rope of light that holds the whole damn thing together. There are 8 spheres – corresponding to the plants and the stars and they spin controlled by these spindles and whorls. They have different speeds and colors and they have an associate siren the sings.

Ok so lets just notice the foundational attributes of the universe … speed, color, and music. It is interesting to note that it is not the speed that generates the color or the music that these are all independent. And that the speed is controlled by the spindles with occasional manual intervention (we will get to that). The color comes from ?? and the music is from the sirens – how they end up there what they do etc also big question…. ok so then we have 3 fates – past present future – they manually manipulate different spindles/whorls in different directions. It is interesting how on earth we have four directions, but in the metaverse we have 3.

Then there is a long and involved discussion of how we select our next lives. This is a story of metempsychosis (mispelled). lots are cast to decide who goes first, and then people pick the life they want. There are so many lives, more lives than people who need to choose lives, that I sort of feel even if you are last you may be able to get the kind of life you want. People appear very reactive, picking their next life based on their last life and their reward or punishment. They are not picking according to which life will allow them to be the most just. I mean even if they thought this way this would be a hard question to answer.

It is interesting what this story focuses on versus say the divine comedy, which is about what happens in the afterlife, not what happens after after the afterlife. And I wonder what a katabasis for our contemporary society would look like.

Leave a Reply