Monday, June 24

"Choosing" One's Own Destiny

It was a truly wonderful sight, he said, to watch how each soul selected its life — a sight at once melancholy and ludicrous and strange. The experience of their former life generally guided the choice. Thus he saw the soul which had once been that of Orpheus choosing the life of a swan, because having been put to death by women, he detested the whole race so much that he would not consent to be conceived and born of a woman. And he saw the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a nightingale. He saw also a swan changing its nature, and selecting the life of a man; and its example was followed by other musical animals. The soul that drew the twentieth lot chose a lion's life. It was the soul of Ajax the son of Telamon, who shrunk from becoming a man because he recollected the decision respecting the arms of Achilles. He was followed by the soul of Agamemnon, who had been also taught by his sufferings to hate mankind so bitterly that he adopted in exchange an eagle's life. The soul of Atlanta, which had drawn one of the middle lots, beholding the great honours attached to the life of an athlete, could not resist the temptation to take it up. Then he saw the soul of Epeus the son of Panopeus, assuming the nature of a skilful work-woman. And in the distance, among the last, he saw the soul of the buffoon Thersites putting on the exterior of an ape. It so happened that the soul of Odysseus had drawn the last lot of all. When he came up to choose, the memory of his former sufferings had so abated his ambition that he went about a long time looking for a quiet retired life, which with great trouble he discovered lying about, and thrown contemptuously aside by the others. As soon as he saw it, he chose it gladly, and said that he would have done the same if he had even drawn the first lot. In the like manner some of the other animals passed into men, and into one another — the unjust passing into the wild, and the just into the tame: and every kind of mixture ensued. (Plato. Republic.)

Even at that hour when the grey sky of St. Petersburg is shrouded in total darkness and all its race of officials have dined and sated the...