C.S. Lewis and Plato on the Body as Tailor and Carpenter

In reading the Phaedo I was struck by a certain phrasing that Socrates used in discussing the afflictions of the body, in contrast to the sublimity of the soul.  The context is Socrates addressing Cebes and pointing out we can be mistaken into thinking that the perceptions of the body, in pleasure and pain, are the “most distinct and true.”  Socrates says that the soul is put in bonds (καταδέω) by the body, and when Cebes asks how, Socrates replies:

Because each pleasure and pain, is, as it were, in possession of a nail, and they nail the soul to the body, fastening it on (προσπερονάω) and making it bodily, considering the very things to be true which the body says are true (Phaedo 83d4-6) 1.

On the other hand, in C.S. Lewis’s moral masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, written from the perspective of a senior devil giving advice to his apprentice, who is assigned as a malign tempter, there is this piece of insight.

Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it”, while really it is finding its place in him.

What garnered my attention was the thought that the Phaedo reference above was in Lewis’ mind as he wrote this.  Lewis goes on to explain that the “knitting” is all the pleasures and accomplishments one can gain in this world.

His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home in earth which is just what we [demons] want.

Whether or not Lewis got his bearings from Plato in this passage I do not know.  Lewis was certainly influenced by Plato in his works, as is witnessed by an annoyed Diggory in The Last Battle, the last part of the Chronicles of Narnia:

It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: bless me, what do they teach them at these schools!

I should also mention that there is an engagement with the soul of a star in one of the books, an idea that also appears in Aristotle.  Speaking of whom, Aristotle also merits a brief mention in Lewis’ Great Divorce when Lewis is filling out the atmosphere:

However far I went I found only dingy lodging houses, small tobacconists, hoardings from which posters hung in rags, windowless warehouses, goods stations without trains, and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle.


1 Ὅτι ἑκάστη ἡδονὴ καὶ λύπη ὥσπερ ἧλον ἔχουσα προσηλοῖ
αὐτὴν πρὸς τὸ σῶμα καὶ προσπερονᾷ καὶ ποιεῖ σωματοειδῆ,   (5)
δοξάζουσαν ταῦτα ἀληθῆ εἶναι ἅπερ ἂν καὶ τὸ σῶμα φῇ.