Aesara of Lucania on the Soul

Introduction

This lesson focuses on a fragment of text from the Pythagorean philosopher Aesara of Lucania (c. 4 th -3 rd century BCE) on the parts and powers of the soul. This text can be fruitfully compared with other texts on the same topic.

Courses and Texts

Courses

This lesson would easily fit into any of the following: a) ancient survey course at any level, b) a Plato course that covers the Phaedo, Phaedrus, or Republic on the soul, c) an Aristotle course that covers the Nicomachean Ethics, Eudemian Ethics, or De anima on the parts of the soul, d) a historically-centered ‘Human Nature’ course or course on the history of mind.

Secondary Texts for Instructor

The excerpt from Aesara’s work is translated with commentary in Mary Ellen Waithe’s (1987) A History of Women Philosophers, Vol. 1: 600BC-500AD, pp. 19-26. The Greek text, from Stobaeus I.49.27, is collected with notes (under the variant name ‘Aresas) in Holger Thesleff (1965) The Pythagorean Texts of the Hellenistic Period, pp. 48-50.

Overview

Aesara lays out a tripartite view of the soul, constituted by intellect (nous), spirt (thumosis) and desire (epithumia). Of particular note are (i) the functions Aesara attributes to each part, especially love and kindliness with the desiderative part of the soul, (ii) the governing relations held by intellect and spirit, (iii) the contrast between human and animals, (iv) the extended argument for the unity of a heterogeneous, partitioned soul, (v) the emphasis on the relationship between unanimity, agreement, order, proportion, and justice, (vi) the view of pleasure and its role in the good life.

Aesara’s view is, in some respects, very similar to the tripartite soul of Plato’s Republic. Also like the Republic, Aesara connects the nature of the human soul to the principles of both political and individual justice. However, the precise details of Aesara’s view are quite different than Plato’s, which makes for a useful comparison. In particular, Aesara focuses on showing the unity of the soul in a way that Plato only alludes to in Resp. X. Aesara also treats the desiderative part of the soul more positively than Plato does.

Aesara’s view can also be fruitfully compared with Aristotle’s view of the soul in NE I.13 or EE I.1. Aesara’s view of how each part of the soul governs or is governed is similar to Aristotle’s. But again, Aesara’s view of desire is more positive than Aristotle’s, and her view of happiness is broader and not (or not as) intellectualist. 

Discussion Questions

1. What are the three parts of the soul on Aesara’s view? What features and functions does each part have?
2. How do the three parts of the soul relate to each other in a just person? What about in an unjust person?
3. What are the properties of a happy life on Aesara’s view? How is her view of happiness related to her view about the parts and powers of the soul?
4. What are Aesara’s arguments for the unity of the soul? Why does she see the need to give these arguments?
5. What is the difference between humans and other animals on Aesara’s view?
6. What is the relationship between Aesara’s view of the soul and justice in the city?
7. Aesara mentions justice in the home in addition to justice in the soul and in the city: what would justice in the home look like on her view?

Activities

1. Create a chart comparing the parts and powers of the soul in Aesara with other thinkers.
2. The last line of the Aesara fragment mentions that one becomes “lovely” (epēratos) through education (paideusios) and virtue. In groups, discuss the kind of education Aesara might have had in mind, and compare your group’s answers with others’.
3. Write a short description of a happy city and/or soul based on Aesara’a view, modelled on Plato’s discussion of the five constitutions in Resp. VIII-IX. Do the same for an unhappy city and/or soul.

Authorship

Jerry Green (The University of Oklahoma)
jgreen@ou.edu)