THE following well-known fable is extracted from the Metamorphoses of Apuleius , a work replete with elegance and erudition, in which the marvellous and mystic are happily combined with historical precision, and the whole of which is composed in a style inimitably glowing and diffuse.
Its author was by birth an African, and, by profession, a Platonic philosopher. From the account which he gives of himself, it appears most probable that he lived in the times of Antoninus Pius, and his illustrious brothers. He seems to have been very much addicted to the study of magic, but has very ably cleared himself from the accusation of practising it, which was brought against him, in an Oration, the whole of which is still extant. However, though he was a man of extraordinary abilities, and held a distinguished place among the Platonic philosophers of that period, yet he was inferior to any one of that golden race of philosophers, of which the great Plotinus stands at the head. Of the truth of this observation few indeed of the present age are likely to be convinced, from that base prejudice which has taken such deep root in the minds of men of every description, through the declamations of those literary bullies, the verbal critics, on the one hand, and the fraudulent harangues of sophistical priests on the other. Posterity, however, will warmly patronise my assertion, and vindicate the honours of those venerable heroes, the latter Platonists, when such critics and such priests are covered with the shades of eternal oblivion.
The following beautiful fable, which was designed to represent the lapse of the human soul from the intelligible world to the earth, was certainly not invented by Apuleius ; for, as will appear in the course of the Introduction, it is evidently alluded to by Synesius , in his book On Dreams, and obscurely by Plato and Plotinus . It is clear, therefore, that Plato could not derive his allusion from Apuleius ; and as to Plotinus and Synesius , those who are at all acquainted with the writings of the Greek philosophers, well know that they never borrowed from Latin authors, from a just conviction that they had the sources of perfection among themselves.
I have said that this fable represented the lapse of the human soul; of the truth of this the philosophical reader will be convinced by the following observations : In the first place, the gods, as I have elsewhere shown, are super-essential natures, from their profound union with the first cause, who is super-essential without any addition. But though the gods, through their summits or unities, transcend essence, yet their unities are participated either by intellect alone, or by intellect and soul, or by intellect, soul, and body; from which participation the various orders of the gods are deduced. When, therefore, intellect, soul, and body are in conjunction suspended from this super-essential unity, which is the center flower or blossom of a divine nature, then the god from whom they are suspended is called a mundane god. In the next place, the common parents of the human soul are the intellect and soul of the world; but its proximate parents are the intellect and soul of the particular star about which it was originally distributed, and from which it first descends. In the third place, those powers of every mundane god, which are participated by the body suspended from his nature, are called mundane ; but those which are participated by his intellect, are called super-mundane; and the soul, while subsisting in union with these super-mundane powers, is said to be in the intelligible world; but when the wholly directs her attention to the mundane powers of her god, she is said to descend from the intelligible world, even while subsisting in the Heavens.