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Proclus' Attitude to Theurgy *

  • Anne Sheppard (a1)

Theurgy, the religious magic practised by the later Neoplatonists, has been commonly regarded as the point at which Neoplatonism degenerates into magic, superstition and irrationalism.1 A superficial glance at the ancient lives of the Neoplatonists, and in particular at Eunapius’ Lives of the Sophists, reveals a group of people interested in animating statues, favoured with visions of gods and demons, and skilled in rain-making. But when we look more closely at the works of the Neoplatonists themselves, rather than the stories biographers tell about them, we find a considerable diversity of attitudes towards theurgy and a number of attempts to fit theurgy into their philosophical system.

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This paper expands and, I hope, corrects the views I sketched in Studies on the 5th and 6th essays of Proclus' Commentary on the Republic (Hypomnemata 61, Göttingen 1980), pp. 150–5. An earlier version of it was read to the Northern Association for Ancient Philosophy in April 1979.1 am grateful for the comments of all those who took part in the discussion on that occasion, particularly Professor A. C. Lloyd and Dr Andrew Smith. I am also very grateful to Professor Lloyd for further discussion in correspondence.

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1 Thus, e.g., Dodds E. R., The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1951) describes Iamblichus' De mysteriis as ‘a manifesto of irrationalism’ (p. 287) and theurgy itself as ‘the refuge of a despairing intelligentsia which already felt la fascination de I’abime’ (p. 288); Wind E., Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance2 (London, 1968) describes ancient theurgy as ‘bewitching hocus-pocus’ and its practitioners as ‘solemn triflers’ (p. 6).

2 In linking theurgy closely with the Chaldaean Oracles I follow Dodds, op. cit. pp. 283 ft”. For a different view see Boyance P., “Theurgie et ielestique neoplatoniciennes’, RHR 147 (1955), 189209.

3 This is essentially Dodds’ view (cf. n. 1 above), still espoused by, e.g., Bowersock G. W., Julian the Apostate (London, 1978), pp. 28–9 and 86. Similarly Browning Robert, The Emperor Julian (London, 1975), p. 55 describes as ‘rather old-fashioned’ the Neoplatonism of Eusebius of Myndus, who did not hold with theurgy: see further below, p. 214. For the rational basis of Plotinian mysticism, see Dodds , Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge, 1965), pp. 86 ff. and Arnou R., Le désir de Dieu dans la philosophie de Plolin2 (Rome, 1967), pp. 260 ff.

4 This commentary was for a long time ascribed to Olympiodorus, but Westerink L. G. has shown that it is the work of Damascius: see his Damascius. Lectures on the Philebus, wrongly attributed to Olympiodorus (Amsterdam, 1959), pp. xv–xx. The passage quoted is from Westerink , The Greek Commentaries on Plato's Phaedo (Amsterdam, Oxford, New York, 1977), ii I. §172. 1–3 = Norvin W., Olympiodori in Platonis Phaedonem commentaria (Leipzig, 1913, reprinted Hildesheim, 1968), p. 123. 3–6.

5 Lewy H., Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy (Cairo, 1956; 2nd edn Paris, 1978), pp. 462–3.

6 Rosán L. J., The Philosophy of Proclus (New York, 1949), pp. 213 ff.

7 On the ἒν τ***ς Ψυχ***ς see Wallis R. T., Neoplatonism (London, 1972), p. 153; Grondijs L. H., L’***me, le nous et les hénades dans la théologie de Proclus (Proceedings of the Royal Netherlands Academy N.S. 23. 2, Amsterdam, 1960); Beierwaltes W., ‘Der Begriffdes “unum in nobis” bei Proklos’, Miscellanea Medievalia 2 (Berlin, 1963), 255–66 and Proklos. Grundzüge seiner Melaphysik (Frankfurt, 1965), pp. 367–82. Cf. also Whittaker J.'s remarks in De Jamblique à Proclus (Entretiens Hardt xxi, Vandoeuvres-Geneva, 1974), p. 189.

8 Smith A., Porphyry's Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition (The Hague, 1974), pp. 111–21. For other discussions see Festugière A. J., ‘Proclus et la religion traditionelle’, Mélanges Piganiol 3(Paris, 1966), pp. 1581–90 and ‘Contemplation philosophique et art théurgique chez Proclus’, Studi di storia religiosa della tarda antichità (Messina, 1968), pp. 718, both reprinted in Festugière 's Etudes de philosophie grecque (Paris, 1971), pp. 575–84 and 585–96 respectively; Trouillard J., ‘Le merveilleux dans la vie et la pensee de Proclos’, RPhilos 163 (1973), 439–52.

9 P. 43. 5 ff. Giangrande.

10 cf. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, p. 288; Smith, op. cit. pp. 143–4; also my Studies on the 5th and 6th essays of Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic, p. 154.

11 86 22ff. All Hermias references are to page and line of the edition by Couvreur P., Hermias Alexandrinus. In Platonis Phaedrum scholia (Paris, 1901; 2nd edn Hildesheim-New York, 1971).

12 For Plotinus’ view see Enn. 4. 4. 40 ff. and Enn. 2. 3. Porphyry's attitude is less clear, but the fragments of the Letter to Anebo and the De regressu animae suggest that fundamentally he agreed with Plotinus; for a recent discussion of Porphyry on theurgy see Smith, op. cit. pp. 122–41. Iamblichus contrasts sympathy within the natural world with the φιλ⋯αwhich links the hypercosmic gods to their creation: see De myst. 5. 7 and 9–10 and Smith, op. cit. p. 93.

13 See K. Praechter's RE article on Hermeias (13) and Bielmeier P. A., Die neuplatonische Phaidrosinterpretation (Paderborn, 1930).

14 I do not mean to suggest that Proclus invariably agrees with Syrianus or that his views will always coincide exactly with those presented by Hermias. On the intellectual relationships between Proclus, Syrianus and Hermias see Dodds E. R., Proclus. The Elements of Theology2 (Oxford, 1963), pp. xxiii–xxv; Zeller E., Die Philosophie der Griechen4 (Leipzig, 1903), iii. 2, pp. 818 ff., esp. p. 833 and pp. 890–92; and my Studies on the 5th and 6th essays of Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic ch. 2, esp. pp. 39–42 and 92–103.

15 It may be doubted whether even Hermias’ ⋯ρωτικ⋯ μαν⋯α brings about an experience which is really ‘of the Plotinian kind’. ‘Joining to the gods and to intelligible beauty’ suggests only participation in the intelligible order and in the divine henads, not a Plotinian union with the One itself. Cf. 86. 5 and 87. 20, where Hermias refers to ‘gods’ in the plural. Hermias accepts the view of Iamblichus that the skopos of the Phaedrus is τ⋯ παντoδαπ⋯ν καλόν and argues against those who say the dialogue is νερ? τ⋯γαθo*** (see 8. 30–9. 10 and 11. 8–12. 5); it would therefore be inconsistent for him to interpret ⋯ρωτικ⋯ μαν⋯α as full union with the One. Proclus himself seems to vacillate between talking only of participation in the First Hypostasis (e.g. In Alc. 247) and saying explicitly that the flower of our soul can be joined to the One (e.g. De phil. chald. fr. 4; In Parm. 1046. 4–13 Cousin). The change from Plotinus’ One to a First Hypostasis which includes the divine henads and can be represented by them may help to explain the apparent lack of consistency here. I use the term ‘mystical union’ in this paper rather loosely to cover any kind of experience of the First Hypostasis, leaving unresolved the question of just how far into the First Hypostasis Syrianus, Hermias or Proclus thought that one could go. I am grateful to Professor A. C. Lloyd for sharpening my awareness of this problem and for drawing my attention to relevant texts.

16 This use of συλλαβo***σα echoes Plato, Grg. 456a. Cf. also Iamblichus, De myst. 4. 2, p. 183. 7 Parthey.

17 cf. 97. 23–5, discussed below, p. 218.

18 Couvreur's comma before κα⋯ cannot be right; for the phrase ⋯νιδρύειν ro***ς θεo***ςcf. Iamblichus, De myst. 5. 26, p. 238. 5 Parthey; Proclus, In Tim. i. 211. 8 Diehl; Hermias, 156. 18; etc. Hermias uses the word τελετα⋯ here because Plato uses it; it is not enough in itself to prove that the third level of theurgy involved ritual.

19 pp. 112. 25–113. 10 Saffrey-Westerink.

20 See, e.g., Wallis, op.cit. p. 154; Rist J. M., Plotinus. The Road to Reality (Cambridge, 1967), pp. 231–46; Lewy, op. cit. pp. 144–8.

21 Saffrey and Westerink's note, PT i, p. 161; Smith, op. cit. pp. 111–21.

22 On the connection of π⋯στις with theurgy in Proclus, see Rist, op. cit. pp. 241 ff.

23 See esp. 244d, where divine madness is contrasted with human σωФρoσύνη

24 cf. above p. 214 and n. 12.

25 Published by Bidez J. in Catalogue des manuscrits alchimiques grecs (Brussels, 1928), vi. 148–51.

26 cf. Zintzen C., ‘Die Wertung von Mystik und Magie in der neuplatonischen Philosophie’, RhMN.F. 108 (1965), 71100, esp. 93 ff.; Rist, op. cit. pp. 237 ff.; Hirschle M., Sprachphilosophie und Namenmagie im Neuplatonismus (Meisenheim am Glan, 1979). pp. 12 ff.

27 Ed. A. Jahn (Halle, 1891); also ed. E. des Places as appendix 5 of his edition of the Chaldaean Oracles (Paris, 1971), pp. 206–12.

28 Reading νoερo⋯ with Jahn, not ἱερo⋯ with des Places.

29 cf. also Proclus, In Tim. i. 209. 13 ff. Diehl.

30 32. 18 ff.; 65. 16 ff. Pasquali. Cf. also 47. 14 ff.

31 This term from the Chaldaean Oracles is one of Proclus’ names for the ‘one in the soul’. The idea also has Plotinian roots, for in Enn. 5. 5. 8. 22–3 and 6. 9. 3. 26–7 Plotinus talks as if there is a special element within vo***ς by which we attain mystical union; cf. also 5. 3. 14. 15 and 6. 7. 35. 19–25, and see further Rist J. M., ‘Mysticism and Transcendence in Later Neoplatonism’, Hermes 92 (1964), 213–25.

38 op. cit. pp. 111–12.

33 I doubt that σημα⋯υoνσι in In Crat. 66. 16 means that some kind of ritual is still admitted at the highest level, as Smith, op. cit. p. 116, n. 9 suggests. Proclus is talking there about mythical accounts of the gods by the θεóλoγoι (his regular term for Homer and Hesiod), not about theurgy; cf. his treatment of Homeric myths in In Remp. i. 69. 23 ff. Kroll.

34 cf. n. 15 above. It is not significant that no mention is made in the In Crat. passages of going beyond the intelligible gods, since mention of either the divine henads or the One would not be relevant to the context there.

35 Pp. 192. 31–194. 12 Portus.

36 Smith, op. cit. p. 116 does not seem to realize this fully. The closing words of the passage, ⋯λλ⋯ τα***τα μ⋯ν ⋯κ τ***ς ⋯μ***ς πρòς τ⋯ τoι⋯δε συμπαθεíας μεμήκυνται, ‘but this has been said at length because of my sympathy for such things’, are not, as Smith thinks, ‘an apology for his extended treatment of ritual and the theological elaborations concerned with it’ but refer to Proclus’ enthusiastic exposition of the glorious vision described in the Phaedrus. On the theurgic rite and its significance, see Lewy, op. cit. pp. 205–6.

37 Edition of Marinus by J. F. Boissonade (Leipzig, 1814; reprinted Amsterdam, 1966; also printed in Prodi opera inedita, ed. V. Cousin (Paris, 1864), pp. 166 and in the Didot edition of Diogenes Laertius, ed. C. G. Cobet (Paris, 1878), pp. 151–70). On Marinus’ use of the Neoplatonic classification of the virtues, see O. Schissel von Fleschenberg, Marinos von Neapolis und die neuplatonischen Tugendgrade (Texte und Forschungen zur byzantinisch-neugriechischen Philologie 8, Athens, 1928).

38 cf. Cameron A., ‘The Last Days of the Academy at Athens’, PCPhS 195, n.s. 15 (1969), 1617 and 19.

39 There is in any case a conventional element in this description of Proclus’ piety: see Wind E., Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance2 (London, 1968), p. 218.

40 Smith, op. cit. pp. 113–14.

41 There is an interesting parallel between the three types of theurgy I am suggesting and Proclus’ explicit division of poetry into three types, itself based on a division of three types of life, at In Remp. i. 177. 7 ff. Kroll, discussed in my Studies on the 5th and 6th essays of Prochri Commentary on the Republic, pp. 162–202. I am grateful to Professor A. C. Lloyd for drawing this parallel to my attention.

42 By ‘“Plotinian” mystical experience’ here I mean an experience of the First Hypostasis achieved by philosophical contemplation. Cf. n. 15 above.

* This paper expands and, I hope, corrects the views I sketched in Studies on the 5th and 6th essays of Proclus' Commentary on the Republic (Hypomnemata 61, Göttingen 1980), pp. 150–5. An earlier version of it was read to the Northern Association for Ancient Philosophy in April 1979.1 am grateful for the comments of all those who took part in the discussion on that occasion, particularly Professor A. C. Lloyd and Dr Andrew Smith. I am also very grateful to Professor Lloyd for further discussion in correspondence.

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