Institut für klassische Philologie

The Cave Before Plato


This study is an investigation into the Cave as a cosmic image. Much like Plato’s myths, I contend, the Cave was not his invention, but his repurposing of an established cosmic-eschatological scheme. After situating the Cave within the Republic, I will suggest that we can, following later ancient Platonist authors such as Plotinus and Proclus, see that the Cave is in agreement with other Platonic myths in positing different cosmic habitats for souls. To say that is not to deny the allegorical value of the image: Plato’s depiction of a prisoner’s ascent from a life in a dark underground dwelling to a bright surface level is clearly meant to be coordinated somehow with intellectual progress in this life. But the kata to dunaton formula provides a distinguo that shows how the Cave does not only have an allegorical application. In particular, the precedent of the New Empedocles establishes that there was a Cave before Plato. Plato plays on –but also correlates– two different scopes for the image: current, embodied life and the soul’s cosmic career over several incarnations.