The Chariot Allegory: Plato's Tripartite Theory of the Soul


from the Golden Dawn Tarot
I replied as follows: The same thing clearly cannot act or be acted upon in the same part or in relation to the same thing at the same time, in contrary ways; and therefore whenever this contradiction occurs in things apparently the same, [436c] we know that they are really not the same, but different.  ...  And if you suppose something which pulls a thirsty soul away from drink, that must be different from the thirsty principle which draws him like a beast to drink; for, as we were saying, the same thing cannot at the same time with the same part of itself act in contrary ways about the same. ...  And are there not many other cases in which we observe that when a man's desires violently prevail over his reason, [440b] he reviles himself, and is angry at the violence within him, and that in this struggle, which is like the struggle of factions in a State, his spirit is on the side of his reason; -- but for the passionate or spirited element to take part with the desires when reason decides that she should not be opposed, is a sort of thing which, I believe, you never observed occurring in yourself, nor, as I should imagine, in any one else? (Plato, Republic, trans. Jowett: http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/republic17.htm). 

Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in a figure. And let the figure be composite -- a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the gods are all of them noble and [246b] of noble descent, but those of other races are mixed; the human charioteer drives his in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal of trouble to him. I will endeavour to explain to you in what way the mortal differs from the immortal creature. The soul in her totality has the care of inanimate being everywhere, and traverses the whole heaven in divers forms appearing; -- when perfect [246c] and fully winged she soars upward, and orders the whole world; whereas the imperfect soul, losing her wings and drooping in her flight at last settles on the solid ground -- there, finding a home, she receives an earthly frame which appears to be self-moved, but is really moved by her power; and this composition of soul and body is called a living and mortal creature.  (Plato, Phaedrus, trans. Jowett: http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/phaedrus7.htm)

As I said at the beginning of this tale, I divided each soul into three -- two horses and a charioteer; [253d] and one of the horses was good and the other bad: the division may remain, but I have not yet explained in what the goodness or badness of either consists, and to that I will proceed. The right-hand horse is upright and cleanly made; he has a lofty neck and an aquiline nose; his colour is white, and his eyes dark; he is a lover of honour and modesty and temperance, and the follower of true glory; he needs no touch of the whip, but is guided by word and admonition only. [253e] The other is a crooked lumbering animal, put together anyhow; he has a         short thick neck; he is flat-faced and of a dark colour, with grey eyes and blood-red complexion; the mate of insolence and pride, shag-eared and deaf, hardly yielding to whip and spur.  (Plato, Phaedrus, trans. Jowett: http://plato.evansville.edu/texts/jowett/phaedrus9.htm)