Soul Chariots in Indian and Greek Thought: Polygenesis or Diffusion?

Paolo Magnone

Risultato della ricerca: Contributo in libroChapter


The intriguing similarity between the allegories of the soul chariot in Plato’s Phædrus and in the Kaṭha Upaniṣad has been pointed out — if not thoroughly investigated — by several scholars, accompanied with varying assessments, largely dependent on each individual scholar’s assumptions concerning the bare possibility or the degree of likelihood of contacts and influences between early Greek and Indian thought, the significance (or otherwise) of the intercultural comparative endeavour, or, indeed, the methodological soundness of even positing the question, in the almost complete absence of pertinent historical documentation. Because assessments are to such a great extent influenced by theoretical assumptions, the paper will start with some methodological considerations in order to define the grounds, scope and limits of the attempted comparison, also drawing on the methodological discourses of other related fields, like mythology and folklore. A review of the relevant texts of the Phædrus and the Kaṭhopaniṣad will come next, setting out both the congruencies and the discrepancies in the treatment of the chariot allegory. A detailed survey of kindred passages in both literary traditions (which I have presented elsewhere) lies outside the purview of this paper, but a summary reference to its results will help substantiate the contention that the allegory of the soul chariot is integral to upaniṣadic thought in a way that is unparalleled in Greek thought, thus supporting the conjecture of diffusion in a westward direction. Finally, the paper will briefly discuss what I regard as the paramount difference — i.e. the conspicuous absence of the idle passenger in the Phædrus allegory vs. his centrality to the allegory of the Kaṭha — and its significance as a theoretical watershed between Upaniṣad-based Indian and Plato-influenced Greek philosophy.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteUniverse and Inner Self in Early Indian and Early Greek Thought
Numero di pagine19
Stato di pubblicazionePubblicato - 2016
Pubblicato esternamente


  • Ancient Greek Philosophy
  • Comparative Philosophy
  • Indian Philosophy
  • Plato
  • Upanisad
  • Yoga


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