Dialogue on the Threshold

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

De daemonibus (2): physiological processes

[Thracian:] And I asked him whether daemons were endowed with affectivity (ἐμπαθεῖς). “Yes, indeed,” he said, “just as some of them even discharge sperm and breed worms from that sperm.” But it is incredible that daemons should be capable of secretion (περίττωσιν) or possess animal-like genital organs, said I. “They do not possess organs,” he said. “They are, however, capable of secretion, on this point you may believe me.” But surely they must feed the same as we do, said I. “Some are nourished by indrawn breath (δι’ ἐισπνοῆς),” he said, “like breath (πνεῦμα) in the bronchial tubes and the sinews, and some by moisture, feeding not through a mouth, as we do, but in the manner of a sponge or a shellfish, absorbing the external moisture surrounding them and then expelling a spermatic accretion. Not all demons are capable of this, however, but only those species that are conjoined to solid matter, those that shun the light and those that dwell in water or underground.”

Michael Psellus, Dialogus de Daemonum Energeia seu Operatione (PG 122: 840c-841a)

trans. Alistair Ian Blyth

Monday, 17 June 2013

De daemonibus (1): corporeality

Timotheus: How then, if they are not corporeal (μὴ σῶμα ὄντες), are they visible to our external vision (τοῖς ἐκτὸς ὄμασσιν)? 

Thracian: But my dear fellow, the demonic race (τὸ δαιμόνιον φῦλον) is not incorporeal (ἀσώματον); they operate by means of bodies and upon bodies. [...] Basil the Great, explicating the words of Isaiah: Howl ye idols, says, “demons secretly sit before idols, delighting in the pleasure of the polluted sacrifices (τῶν μιασμάτων). The same as greedy dogs come to hang around a butcher's shop, where there is blood and gore, so too the greedy demons eagerly take their pleasure from the blood and steaming fat of the sacrifices, wallowing around the altars and the idols erected to themselves. And indeed their bodies feed thereby, being made of air or fire or a mixture of the two elements.” Again, the divine Basil, an observer of invisible things that are indistinct to us, not only demons, but also the immaculate angels, contends that they are embodied as tenuous, airy, unadulterated spirits (πνεύματα). And he cites as evidence the words of David, the most famous of the prophets: “Who maketh his angels spirits; his messengers a flaming fire” (Ps. 104,4).  [...]

Timotheus: Why then are they lauded as being incorporeal in so many places in the Scriptures?

Thracian: Because with both writers outside the Church and even the earliest writers within the Church it is customary to use the term body for that which is grosser, while that which is more tenuous, that which is elusive (διαφυγγάνον) to the eye and impalpable, is wont to be called incorporeal, not only by our writers, but also by many of the pagans.

Michael Psellus, Dialogus de Daemonum Energeia seu Operatione (PG 122: 836b-837b)

trans. Alistair Ian Blyth

Sunday, 16 June 2013

The soul's katastasis

ᾍδης λέγεται ἡ ἐκ τοῦ ὁρωμένου πρὸς τὸ ἀειδὲς καὶ ἀθέατον κατάστασις τῆς ψχῆς. οὐδὲν γὰρ ἄλλο οἱ παρά τε τῶν ἔξωθεν, καὶ τῆς θέιας γραφῆς σημαίνει τὸ ὄνομα τοῦτο, ἐν ᾧ τὴν ψυχὴν γίνεσθαι λέγουσιν ἀπολυθείσαν τοῦ σώματος.

Theophanes, Homil. viii. pag. 50

Hades signifies the soul's being brought forth (katastasis tês psukhês)* out of the visible and into the formless and invisible (or: the soul's being re-established out of the visible and in the formless and invisible, or: the soul's transference from the visible to the formless and invisible, or: the soul's assumption of the condition of the invisible and formless after that of the visible). For, both writers outside the Church and the holy texts say that the word signifies nothing other than the soul's being loosed from the body.

* animae domicilium (malim ego, animae status, vel potius transitus, ut legatur μετάστασις, quemadmodum in prorsus simili loco Theophylacti).

κατάστασις apud recentiores Graecos non est statio, sed ipsa hominis conditio, ritus, ordo, constitutio, et mores (according to later Greek writers, katastasis is not man's fixed place, but his condition, religious usage, rank, makeup, and customs) - Johann Caspar Suizer, Thesaurus Ecclesiasticus e Patribus Graecis (1728)

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Sleep and death

Καθεύδοντα καὶ νεκρὸν, τὸν ἐν ἁμαρτίαις φησί. Καὶ γὰρ δυσωδίας πνεῖ, ὡς  ὁ νεκρὸς, καὶ ἀνενέργητός ἐστιν, ὡς ὁ καθεύδων, καὶ οὐδὲν ὁρᾷ, ὡς ἐκεῖνος, ἀλλ' ὀνειρώττει καὶ φαντάζεται.

Chrysostomus Homil. xviii in Epist. ad Ephesos, pag. 851.


Dormientem et mortuum eum dicit, qui in peccatis est. Etenim tetrum odorem spirat, ut mortuus, et non potest operari, ut qui dormit, neque quidquam videt, ut ille, sed somniat et varia sibi fingit.

trans. Johann Caspar Suizer

By him that sleeps and the dead he means him that is in sin, for he both gives off a noisome stench, like the dead, and is inactive, like one that is asleep, and like him sees nothing, but is dreaming and hatching illusions.