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The soul as a butterfly in Greek and Roman thought

BLANCO, CHIARA (2013) The soul as a butterfly in Greek and Roman thought. Masters thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 07 March 2020.

Abstract

This thesis examines the representation of the soul, in both Greek and Roman culture, through the symbol of the butterfly. The analysis of the terminology referred to the insect is the first step I take, investigating the occurrences of the butterfly both in Greek and Latin literature, with the aim to detect the main characteristics connected to the animal. Aristotle’s Historia Animalium and Pliny’s Naturalis Historia play a crucial role in the identification of the kind of soul connected to this symbolic representation - the generation of the butterfly, described by both the authors, does not follow the traditional patterns, the insect not being generated by an animal similar to itself. The idea of an entity able to fly from a dead shell, as is the cocoon, ready to start a new life, might constitute what is perceived to be the origin of the symbolic association. An entity flying from the corpse at the moment of death, free from the bonds of the body and ready to start a new life after the departure of the individual are the same characteristics of the free soul defined by Bremmer. Furthermore, I detect evidences of this kind of soul both in Greek and in Latin sources, starting from Homeric epic, where the ψυχή is the closest entity to our butterfly-soul, as the name itself testifies – ψυχή, together with φάλαινα, was one of the terms the Greeks employed to refer to the insect. Evidence of free soul is detectable also in Latin literature, of which Hadrian’s animula in his farewell Carmen provides just an example. Finally, the question of the location of this specific soul in the human body is addressed, with particular attention paid to the vital fluid - marrow, semen, tears - it was supposed to be contained in. Overall, I show how rooted this symbolic representation was in classical culture and how it can provide an insight into the ancient conception of the soul.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Keywords:Soul, symbol, butterfly, ψυχή.
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Classics and Ancient History, Department of
Thesis Date:2013
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:10 Dec 2013 11:38

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