Philo, On Husbandry

LCL 247: 106-107

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On Husbandry

spectators of a race catch the fine spirit of the horses; whereas the figurative trainer, who sets an unqualified jockey on the back of vice and passion, is without excuse (67–92).

A glance at the prayer of Moses in Gen. xlix. 17 f. will shew how different the “horseman “is from the “rider.” To understand that prayer we must note that “Dan” means “judgement,” and that the “dragon,” which he is or has, is Moses’ serpent of brass. (Of course neither Moses’ serpent nor Eve’s can be literal. Serpents do not talk, tempt, or heal.) So Moses prays that Dan (or his serpent) may be on the road ready to assail Pleasure, and “bite the horse’s heel,” i.e. attack and overturn the supports which hold up Passion (94–106).

Here we come upon a piece of interpretation very characteristic of Philo. The biting of Passion’s heel brings about the horseman’s fall. So far from being daunted by this, our author positively revels in it. It is a fall which implies victory, not defeat. For, should Mind ever find itself mounted on Passion, the only course is to jump or fall off. Yes, if you cannot escape from fighting in a bad cause, court defeat. Nay, do not stop there. Press forward to crown the victor. The crown at which you are aiming is not won in contests of pitiless savagery, or for fleetness of foot, in which puny animals surpass men, but in the holy contest, the only true “Olympic” games, the entrants for which, though weaker in body, are strongest in soul (108–119).

Having noted the difference between the members of each of these three pairs of opposites, suggested to him by the word γεωργός in his text, Philo turns to the word ἤρξατο, “began”(124).

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On Husbandry

“Beginning is half the whole.” Yes, if we go on to the end. But good beginnings are often marred by failure to make proper distinctions. For instance, one says that “God is the Author of all things,” whereas he should say “of good things only.” Again, we are very scrupulous about rejecting priests or victims on the ground of physical blemish. We ought to be equally scrupulous to separate the profane from the sacred in our thoughts of God. And again Memory, of which the ruminating camel is a figure, is a fine thing, but the camel’s undivided hoof makes him unclean, and that reminds us that Memory must reject the bad and retain the good; for practical purposes, not for sophistical hair-splitting. Sophists are swine; they divide ad nauseam, but for perfection we must con over and take in (125–146).

Sections 147 to 156 shew that the conditions of exemption from military service laid down in Deut. xx. 5 and 7 cannot be literally meant. In 157 ff. the acquired possessions which exempt a man are interpreted as faculties which must be enjoyed and fully realized, before he who has acquired them is trained and fit for the warfare with the sophists.

Right ending must crown good beginning. We miss perfection unless we own that that to which we have attained is due to the loving wisdom of God. And wilful refusal to acknowledge God as the Giver of success is far worse than involuntary failure.

“All this about start and goal has been suggested.” Philo tells us,” by the statement that Noah began to be a husbandman or gardener.”

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.philo_judaeus-husbandry.1930