Gateway to the Classics: Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by Mary E. Burt
Stories from Plato and Other Classic Writers by  Mary E. Burt

What Plato Said about the Sphere

A little boy was told that he might do anything he pleased, and this is what he did. He helped himself to a large handful of clay and sat down and made it into a beautiful sphere, which was admired very much. But after awhile we looked again, and the little boy had put a big nose onto his sphere and some eyes and lips, and he had attached long arms with hands of amazing size, and legs and feet. He told us that it was a man, but we thought it was a wild fellow. One would suppose that a sphere with legs and feet would run away, but the little boy said that his sphere kept rolling around until he gave it feet so that it could stand still.

The Sphere Family is a strange company. It is said that everything in the universe would like to be a sphere. Apples and oranges try to be round. Cherries, and blueberries, and snowballs, and sleighbells, and marbles, try their best to look like spheres. Ages ago, when everything used to be a gas, even that went whirling round and round until it came together in shape of a ball, which rolled over and over until it had thrown off a countless number of smaller balls, which turned out to be suns, and moons, and stars, and the earth on which we live. It seems to be the nature of everything that has nothing on which to stand, to go whirling around and turn into balls just like the universe.

When rain falls from the clouds, the drops turn round and round and become little spheres. When they freeze we call them hail-stones. Molten lead, dropped from the top of a shot tower, falls at the base in balls which we call shot. But Plato told a story about a sphere which is more marvelous than any of these stories.

Long before man lived on the earth or had a body, he had a Mind or Spirit. The Mind or Spirit was good and holy. It could see the truth, and understand the truth, and love the truth. It came from the Creator of the universe. He created the seed which should produce it, and gave it to the gods, and made it immortal. And he told them to weave this immortal part into a mortal body, because the mind would need contact with objects to become wise.

Now, when the gods saw the universe, that it was full of spheres, and that these spheres moved around each other, and around the sun, all in the greatest harmony, they thought it would be quite proper to create a body for Man on the same plan, and so they made a head, in which he might carry his Mind. They made it in the form of a ball, and said that since it was the part of him which recognized justice and truth, it should be the lord over all that was in Man.

But the head could not get on very well all alone. It could do nothing but go rolling every which way, unless something helped it to stand still. So the gods gave all the rest of the body to it, to be its servant, in order that it might not tumble about among the deep and high places of the earth, but might be able to get across ditches without falling in, and over mountains without tumbling down. They placed the head at the top of the body, so that each man might carry his Mind high up above everything base. And so it became the temple of the holy Spirit, the dwelling-place of the most sacred and divine part of us. The arms were attached merely to take care of the head, and the trunk to support it, and the legs to carry it.

Each side of a sphere seems to be exactly like every other side, but the gods easily told one side from another, for they considered the front more honorable than the back. So they put a nose on the front of it, and a mouth also, with lips and teeth. They put ears on the right side and left and hair on the back, and gave the whole body a forward motion. And they contrived the eyes, to give light to the head, so that it could have all the fire it needed, but not enough to burn it up.

The gift of the eyes was very important, for it enabled the head to see the sun, moon, and stars. If it had not been for that, the head could never have told night from day, nor summer from winter, nor one month from another, because the sun makes the day and the night, and measures off the year, while the moon measures off the month.

God gave us eyes for this reason, that we might behold the intelligence in the heaven, how great it is, how serene and undisturbed, and that we might apply it to our own intelligence, and become serene and happy.

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