The Delian Diver

The Delian Diver

Die Insel Delos, by Carl Anton Rottman (1797-1850)

We are already aware that the realities of Soul are unfathomable. Heraclitus taught us, “You could not discover the
limits of Soul even if you traveled by every path in order to do so; such is
the depth of its meaning” (qtd. in The Presocratics, by Philip Wheelwright, p. 72). Heraclitus may have been the first depth psychologist in Western history.

Diogenes  Laertius wrote,

they say that Euripides gave him [Socrates] a small work of Heraclitus to read, and asked him afterwards what he thought of it, and he replied: ‘The part I understand is excellent, and so too is, I dare say, the part I do not understand; but it needs a Delian diver to get to the bottom of it (Diogenes Laertius, 2.22).

What quality was inherent in a Delian diver that would make this metaphor more meaningful than, say, that of a diver from the island of Samos or Lesbos? What was it about Delian divers that made them better at uncovering hidden things in the deep places?

Another Laertian reference to Heraclitus’ perplexing statement reads thusly,

The story told by Ariston of Socrates, and his remarks when he came upon the book of Heraclitus, which Euripides brought him, I have mentioned in my Life of Socrates. However, Seleucus the grammarian says that a certain Croton relates in his book called The Diver that he said work of Heraclitus was first brought into Greece by one Crates, who further said it required a Delian diver not to be drowned on it (Diogenes Laertius, 9.12).

Here we have an allusion to the Delian diver being seemingly immune to drowning in the depths. Crates, apparently, had the same opinion as Socrates concerning the obscurity of Heraclitus’ philosophy. What are these qualities that makes a Delian diver the model for the investigator of Soul, the Soul spelunker (to use my own metaphor)? Is there something more to this metaphor than simply someone from Delos who is highly skilled at swimming and diving for objects of treasure at great depths?

The island of Delos, located within the islands known as the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea, was a holy place for the Greeks. It was the Ionians, who first arrived on Delos in the 10th century B.C., who made the island a religious sanctuary around the 7th century B.C.

When the goddess, Leto was searching for a birthplace for Artemis and Apollo, it is said she spoke these words to the island of Delos:

Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly. But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savour of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich (Homeric Hymn to Delian Apollo 51–60).

Delos was not rich in natural resources, but became the birthplace of two of the most important gods in the Greek pantheon.

Interestingly, according to Diogenes Laertius, Pythagoras’ prior reincarnation was purportedly a “Delian fisherman.” Not the same as a diver, but interesting, nevertheless.

The meaning of the name, Delos, is also intriguing. It alludes to the ideas of brilliance, visibility, and transparency. With this in mind, and in agreement with scholar, Francesc Casadesús Bordoy, the phrase “Delian diver” is a sort of oxymoron, i.e a Delian diver would be someone who could dive into the murky depths of Soul with a brilliant clarity of vision.

According to Wikipedia, “Apollo was an oracular god—the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle.” So, a Delian diver could also be connected to the powers of the Oracle, giving us the trait of the wisdom of foresight.

Delos was also the birthplace of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and the wilderness. She is the patron goddess of hunters. There is no greater hunt than tracking the mysterious and elusive reality we call Soul.

In summary, a Delian diver, being from Delos, is by definition connected to clarity and vision; Apollo, the god of oracular vision; and Heraclitus, because the metaphor is an oxymoron (a diver is at home in the murky depths of the sea, but able to find treasure because of their clarity of vision).  Heraclitus loved the paradoxical and this metaphor is an intriguing paradox connected to the hunt for Soul.

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3 thoughts on “The Delian Diver

  1. Hi Mark,

    This is pretty synchronous for me. The night before, I dreamt I watched Forest Gump treading water literally for years, in the midst of a giant lake. I awoke knowing at once that Forest was the ego-oriented part of myself that tries to stay “above water” to function in the world, to do what it expects. I also understood that my work now is to stop “treading” and let myself go under. Thanks for yet another inspiring post.

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