The Origins of Fish, Birds, Beasts, and Women

In an effort to gain a better grasp of basic philosophy, I have been listening to lectures titled The History of Philosophy Without Any Gaps by Dr. Peter Adamson, reading both Thales to Dewey and Ancient Philosophy by Gordon Clark, and also reading as much of the primary source material as I can.  Luckily, lots of it has been recorded on audio and is free on  This allows me to listen in the car and while I do my chores.  For the last few months, I have been reading the Platonic dialogues.  The material is quite interesting and is sometimes hilarious.  I laughed out loud when I read the last few paragraphs of Timaeus so I have provided it here for your enjoyment.

Plato’s dialog, Timaeus, includes a very long monologue where Timaeus explains his thoughts to Socrates and others on many important topics such as time, origin of the universe, a type of cosmological argument, and the origins of specific species.  To help in his explanation, Timaeus tells many stories that act as illustrations.  In this one, God created the universe as a reflection of His image.  He then created the gods and the gods created men.  After a very interesting discussion of why men have arms, legs, etc, and a bunch of other types of discussions, the dialogue concludes with this:

Thus our original design of discoursing about the universe down to the creation of man is nearly completed. A brief mention may be made of the generation of other animals, so far as the subject admits of brevity; in this manner our argument will best attain a due proportion. On the subject of animals, then, the following remarks may be offered. Of the men who came into the world, those who were cowards or led unrighteous lives may with reason be supposed to have changed into the nature of women in the second generation. And this was the reason why at that time the gods created in us the desire of sexual intercourse, contriving in man one animated substance, and in woman another, which they formed respectively in the following manner…[censored]…Thus were created women and the female sex in general.

Flock of Empiricists
A Flock of Empiricists

But the race of birds was created out of innocent light-minded men, who, although their minds were directed toward heaven, imagined, in their simplicity, that the clearest demonstration of the things above was to be obtained by sight; these were remodelled and transformed into birds, and they grew feathers instead of hair. The race of wild pedestrian animals, again, came from those who had no philosophy in any of their thoughts, and never considered at all about the nature of the heavens, because they had ceased to use the courses of the head, but followed the guidance of those parts of the soul which are in the breast. In consequence of these habits of theirs they had their front-legs and their heads resting upon the earth to which they were drawn by natural affinity ; and the crowns of their heads were elongated and of all sorts of shapes, into which the courses of the soul were crushed by reason of disuse. And this was the reason why they were created quadrupeds and polypods: God gave the more senseless of them the more support that they might be more attracted to the earth. And the most foolish of them, who trail their bodies entirely upon the ground and have no longer any need of feet, he made without feet to crawl upon the earth. The fourth class were the inhabitants of the water : these were made out of the most entirely senseless and ignorant of all, whom the transformers did not think any longer worthy of pure respiration, because they possessed a soul which was made impure by all sorts of transgression ; and instead of the subtle and pure medium of air, they gave them the deep and muddy sea to be their element of respiration; and hence arose the race of fishes and oysters, and other aquatic animals, which have received the most remote habitations as a punishment of their outlandish ignorance. These are the laws by which animals pass into one another, now, as ever, changing as they lose or gain wisdom and folly. 

We may now say that our discourse about the nature of the universe has an end. The world has received animals, mortal and immortal, and is fulfilled with them, and has become a visible animal containing the visible – the sensible God who is the image of the intellectual, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect –  the one only begotten heaven.


There you have it.  The gods turn cowardly men into women, empiricists into birds, non-philosophers into beasts, and sinners into fish.  What a compelling world!

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  • Max

    If you like listening to MP3 audiobooks, but can’t find them on Librivox, I can show you how to create a bunch of MP3 content using a free program called eSpeak.