In The Judgement of Souls, Plato make the case for the "universal" judgement of souls; writing that Zeus decides in favour of stripping individuals of their physical form so that the soul may be judged independent of appearance.

"... plenty of people with corrupt souls are dressed in attractive bodies, noble birth, and wealth ..." [523c]

Zeus appoints three of his sons as the judges of souls : Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus. Rhadamanthys is to judge souls from Asia, Aeacus those from Europe, and Minos will make the final decision should the other two ever be at a loss.

For example, in referring to Persian Kings, Plato writes :

... when Rhadamanthys gets hold of someone like that he doesn't know his name or background; all he knows is that he is a bad man. [526a]

One might say that there is no implied difference in the judgement carried out. But then, why the need for the distinction between Asian and European souls in terms of judge. All judgements occur at the same location - in the meadow , at the junction where two roads branch out towards the Isles of the Blessed and Tartarus respectively.

Plato's choice to have Zeus assign a judge according to ethnicity is perplexing in this context, appearing to undermine a truly "universal" judgement of souls. Q : What is Plato's motivation in choosing to have Zeus act in this way? Is Plato simply falling into the same trap that Zeus is attempting to eliminate by introducing attributes of ethnicity into judgement?

(My apologies if this is a well-noted inconsistency in this myth. This is personal reading.)

  • 1
    I am not enough of a classicist to know the answer, so this seems like a good question to me. My gut sense is that the Hellenes were pretty certain they were the best race and others were inferior, so it's not surprising they'd imagine other gods judged other races.
    – virmaior
    Sep 14, 2015 at 1:23
  • @virmaior Yes, superior attitude is my suspicion. However, they are not "other gods judging other races" as such. The judges are each sons of Zeus.
    – nwr
    Sep 14, 2015 at 1:59
  • Good question, and well-researched. The Chinese character for China shows itself to be the centre of the world, it's middle; thus Middle Kingdom; it suggests it's a common theme to view (the best of) own culture as central. Sep 14, 2015 at 2:08
  • @MoziburUllah Interesting. So that's where that comes from - i.e. Middle Kingdom. And yes, it appears to be a common theme amongst dominant cultures. But where does that leave the Welsh (bad joke! I love Wales, especially Snowdonia.)
    – nwr
    Sep 14, 2015 at 2:13
  • @Nick R: Snowdonia is grand; it leaves the welsh as the original indigenous 'Brits' (but also 'foreign' or 'alien' presumably from the viewpoint of the marauding Anglo-Saxons). The old Ottoman Empire had a 'personal law' which was administered by millets ie confessional communities - such as 'Muslim Sharia, Christian Canon and Jewish Halakha'; which has interesting parallels with your question. Sep 14, 2015 at 4:00

2 Answers 2


According to Plato Zeus establishes his two sons Rhadamanthys and Aiakos as judge. All cases where one of them was uncertain how to decide, should be judged by his third son Minos instead.

Plato does not give any explanation why Rhadamanthys is responsible for the souls from Asia while Aiakos is responsible for those from Europe.

Hence the most simple explanation is to consider it a kind of division of labour to master the crowd of souls.

Aiakos is born at the island of Aegina near Athens, hence he is from Europe. While Rhadamanthys is the son of Europe, a phoenician princess. Hence he is from Asia.

But it is not explicated in the text whether their origin bears any relation to their tasks. Rather one can suppose that taking into account this relation would contradict against the neutrality of their job.


I have not read the dialogue, but I suspect that pronouncements of "universality" by the Greeks were not as "universal" as those emerging out of monotheism and the early modern sciences. Gods and many principles were, in a sense, more "local" than not, no matter what Plato implies here. Nor do I think we are just dealing with superior Greeks versus "Ba-ba-ba-barbarians."

Writing at about this time, Herodotus displays considerable open-mindedness towards the erstwhile enemies of the Persian Wars. And he is, like most Greeks, deeply respectful of the sacred knowledge and antiquity of the Egyptians. Most Greeks were intrigued by "oriental" cults and "cautious," to say the very least, concerning others' gods. Some foreign gods they explicitly judged to be their own with different names, and about others they were not so sure. Added to this were the many imported ideas and "nature-nurture" debates stirred up by the Sophists.

In short, Plato may be exercising a bit of cultural relativism here. He may feel in a vague way that European gods are not fully competent to inspect Asian souls. He was not consistent in his portrayals of the afterlife, and the Greeks were somewhat hazy or judiciously "empirical" on the matter. If I recall correctly, the underworlds of their great authority Homer are not racially "integrated" abodes with millions of Asian souls. Even the afterlife had a certain premodern "localism." This is, I hasten to add, pure surmise not interpretation of the text.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .