Metaphysical Elements Proclus

Metaphysical Elements Proclus

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"Virtuous, therefore, is the man who relieves ike
corporeal wants of others, who wipes away the tear
of sorrow, and gives agony repose; but more virtu
ous he who, by disseminating wisdom, expels ig
norance from the soul, and thus benefits the im
mortal part of man. For it may indeed be truly
said, that he who bus not even a knowledge of com
mon things is a brute among men; that he who lias
an accurate knowledge of human concerns alone
is a man among brutes; but that he who knows all
that can be known by intellectual energy is a God among men."

Proclus, the famous philosopher, mathematician
and poet, came into the world of time and sense on the
8th. day of February, A. D. 410, at Byzantium, and mi
grated from this physical life on April the i;th. 485 A.
D. 1 His parents, Patricias and Marcella, were Lycians
and of an illustrious family. He was taken immed
iately after his birth to their native country, to the
city of Xanthus, which was consecrated to Apollo. And
this happened to him by a certain divine providence:
for it was necessary that he who was to be the leader
of all sciences should be educated under the presiding
Deity of the Muses. He received his elementary edu
cation in Lycia, and then went to Alexandria, in Egypt,
and became a pupil of Leonas the rhetorician, and
Orion the orammarian. j-] e likewise attended the
schools of the Roman teachers, and acquired an accu
rate knowledge: of the Latin language. But his tutelar
Goddess exhorted him to study philosophy, and to go
to the Athenian schools. In obedience to this exhorta
tion he attended the lectures of Olympiodorus, an emi
nent Peripatetic, in order to learn the doctrine of Aris
totle; and he was instructed in mathematical disciplines
by Hero. On one occasion, after hearing a lecture by
Olympiodorus, a man who was gifted with much elo-
1 The following sketch of Proclus is taken almost verbatim
from Marinus Life of his Master. This biography is an admir
able production, and gives us much curious and interesting in
formation about the philosophic life of the Successors of Plato. It
is unfortunate that Taylor s English version of it is practically in
accessible. (It was printed in 1792.) The original text was edited
by Fabricius, Hamburg, 1700, Lond., 1703; by Boissonade, Leip..
1814, and in the Cobet edition of Diogenes Laertius, Paris, 1850;
and by Cousin, in his Procli Opera Inedita, Paris, 1864,
quence, and who, by the rapidity of his speech and the
depth of his subject was understood by but very few
of his auditors, Proclus repeated to his companions the
lecture nearly word for word, though the discourse was
copious. He comprehended with great facility the
writings of Aristotle pertaining to rational philosophy,
though the bare reading of them is difficult to those
who attempt the task. After learning all that his
Alexandrian masters could teach him, he went to
Athens accompanied by the Gods who preside over
eloquence and philosophy, and by beneficent daemons.
For that he might preserve the genuine and entire suc
cession of Plato, he was brought by the Gods to the
city of the guardian (Athene) of Philosophy. Hence
Proclus was called by way of preeminence the Pla
tonic Successor. At Athens he became the pupil of
the first of philosophers, Syrianusr the son of Philoxenus,
who not only taught him but made him the com
panion of his philosophic life, having found him such an
auditor and successor as he had a long time sought for,
and one who was capable of apprehending a multitude
of disciplines and divine dogmas. In less than two
years, therefore, Proclus read with Syrianus all the
works of Aristotle, viz. his Logic, Ethics, Politics, Phys
ics, and Theological Science. And being sufficiently
instructed in these as in certain proteleia? /. <?., things
2 This truly great man appears to have been the first who
thoroughly penetrated the profundity contained in the writings of
the more ancient philosophers, contemporary with and prior to
Plato, and to have demonstrated the admirable agreement of
their doctrines with each other. Unfortunately but few of his
works are extant. T.
3 Aristotle s philosophy when compared with the discipline of
Plato is, I think, deservedly considered in this place as bearing
the relation of the proteleia to the epopteia in sacred mysteries.
Now the proteleia, / *. . things previous to perfection, belong1 to
preparatory to initiation, and lesser mysteries Syrianus
led him to the sacred discipline of Plato, in an orderly
progression, and not, according to the Chaldean Oracle,
with a transcendent foot. And he likewise enabled
Proclus to survey with him truly divine mysteries, with
the initiated, and the mystics; the former of whom were intro
duced into some lighter ceremonies only, but the mystics were
permitted to be present with certain preliminary and lesser
sacred concerns. On the other hand the epoptas were admitted
into the sanctuary of the greater sacred rites, and became specta
tors of the symbols and more interior ceremonies. Aristotle indeed
appears to be every where an enemy to the doctrine of ideas, as un
derstood by Plato, though they are doubtless the leading stars of
all true philosophy. However the great excellence of his works,
considered as an introduction to the divine theology of Plato, de
serves the most unbounded Commendation. Agreeable to this Damascius
informs us that Isidorus the philosopher, "grasped only
slightly the rhetorical and poetical arts,but devoted himself to the
more divine philosophy of Aristotle. Discovering, however,that this
was based more on necessary reasons than intuitive intellect,
that the procedure by method was deemed sufficient, and that it
did not entirely employ a divine or intellectual insight, he was
but little solicitous about his doctrine. But when he tasted the
conceptions of Plato, he did not think it worth while "to look any
further," as Pindar says,
1 but expecting to gain his desired end
if he could penetrate into the adyta of Plato s thought, he there
fore directed to this purpose the whole course of his application.
Of the most ancient philosophers, he deified Pythagoras and
Plato, believing that they were among those winged souls which
in the supercelestial place, in the plain of Truth, and in the
meadow there, are nourished by divine ideas." (Photii Bibliotheca,
p. 337. Vol. II. ed. Bekker.)-T.
The form of the foregoing note has been changed somewhat,
and the quotation from Damascius extended. This note was
written in 1792: Taylor s mature conclusion was, that the opposi
tion of Aristotle to the Platonic doctrines, even to that of Ideas,
was purely apparent. "He strenuously maintained that Aristotle
was not only the pupil but in the strictest sense the holder of
the Platonic dogmas; contrary to the ignorant and rash deduc
tions of the moderns, who had never fully comprehended either
master or pupil."
the eyes of his soul free from material darkness, and
with an undefiled intellectual vision. But Proclus, em
ploying sleepless exercise and attention, both by night
and by day, and synoptically and judiciously recording
the discourses of Syrianus, made so great a progress in
his studies that by the time he was twenty- eight years
of age he had composed a multitude of works, among
them his Commentary on the Timaeus, which is truly
subtle and full of erudition. But from this course of
training his manners became more adorned; and as he
advanced in science he increased in virtue. The soul
of Proclus, concentrating itself, and retiring into the
depth of its essence, departed in a certain respect from
body, while it yet appeared to be contained in its dark
receptacle. For he possessed a Prudence, not like that
of a civil character, which is conversant with the admin
istration of fluctuating particulars, but Prudence itself,
by itself pure, which is engaged in contemplating, and
converting itself to itself, in nowise agreeing with a cor
c> O <"
poreal nature. He likewise possessed a Temperance
free from the inferior part or body, which is not even
moderately influenced by perturbations, but is abstracted
from all affections. And, lastly, he acquired a Forti
tude, which does not fear a departure from the body.
But reason and intellect dominating in him, and the in
ferior powers of his soul no longer opposing them
selves to purifying Justice, his whole life was adorned
with the divine irradiations of genuine Virtue. Proclus,
having perfected himself in this form of the virtues, ad
vancing as it were by the highest and most mystical
step ascended to the greatest and most consummate
virtues, being conducted by a prosperous nature and
scientific discipline. For being now purified, rising
above generation, and despising the wand or thyrsusbearers
in it/ he was divinely inspired about the
Primal Essences, and became an inspector of the truly
blessed spectacles which are in the Intelligible Sphere.
It was no longer necessary for him to acquire a knowl
edge of them by processes of reasoning and demon
strations, but surveying them as it were by direct vision,
and beholding by simple intuitions of the thinking
power the paradigms in the Divine Intellect, he ob
tained a virtue which no one would rightly call Pru
dence, but rather Wisdom, or something even more
venerable than this." Proclus therefore energizing ac
cording to this virtue easily comprehended all the the
ology of the Greeks and Barbarians, and that which is
adumbrated in mythological fictions, and revealed it to
those who are willing and able to understand it. He
explained likewise every thing more enthusiastically
than others, and brought the different theologies into
harmony with each other. At the same time, investi
gating the writings of the Ancients, whatever he found
in them genuine he judiciously adopted, but every thing
of a vain and fruitless character he entirely rejected as
erroneous. He likewise strenuously refuted by a dili
gent examination those doctrines which were contrary
to truth. In his associations, too, with others he power
fully and clearly discussed the subjects presented for
consideration, and delineated them in his writino-s. For
he was laborious beyond measure: in one day he de
livered five and sometimes more lectures, and wrote as
many as seven hundred verses. . . .In the beginning of
his forty-second year he appeared to himself to pro
nounce with a loud voice these verses:
Lo! on my soul a sacredfire descends,
Whose vivid power the intellect extends;
From whence far beaming thro dull body s night.
It soars to aether deckV with starry light \
And with soft murmurs thro the azure round,
The lucid regions of the Gods resound.
Moreover, he clearly perceived that he belonged to
the Hermetic chain; and was persuaded by a dream
that he possessed the soul of Nicomachus the Pythag orean. 7
Ammonius Hermeise, a genuine Platonist and like-
wise one of the best of the Aristotelian commentators,
says (Com. De Interpret. Aristot.) : "If we are able to add
any thing to the elucidation of this book from recollect
ing the interpretations of our divine teacher, Proclus
the Platonic Successor, who possessed the power of un
folding the opinions of the Ancients, and a scientific
judgment of the nature of things, in the highest perfec
tion possible to humanity, we shall be very grateful to
the God of discourse (Hermes)." Cousin declares
(Procli Opera, Praefatio Generalis): "Proclus was illustri
ous as an astronomer; he was the first among the philol
ogists of his age; he had so comprehended all religions
in his mind, and regarded them with such equal rever
ence, that he was as it were the hierophant of the whole
universe: nor was it wonderful that a man possessing
such a profound knowledge of nature and science
should have this initiation into all sacred mysteries. . . .
As he was the head of the Athenian School and of all
later philosophy, so I may affirm that all the earlier is
found gathered up in him, and that he may be taken as
the one interpreter of the whole philosophy of the
Greeks. . . .1 shall set it down as an established fact
that nothing great was thought out by lamblichus, Por
phyry, and Plotinus, either in Ethics, Metaphysics or
Physics, which is not found expressed more clearly and
methodically in Proclus. . . .The threefold division of
Greek Philosophy may be reduced ultimately to one,
which being the same always, by a natural and certain
progress enlarges and unfolds itself, and moves on
through three stages intimately connected, the first be
ing contained in the second, the second in the third, so
that the man who after the lapse of ages finds himself
at the end of this gradually evolving series, on the high
est apex of that third age, as he embraces all the ac
cumulations of former times in himself, stands as the
representative of each sect of Greece, emphatically the
Greek philosopher such a man I say was Proclus, in
whom it seems to me are combined and from whom
shine forth in no irregular or uncertain rays all the phil
osophical lights which have illuminated Greece in vari
ous times, to wit Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle,
Zeno, Plotinus, Porphyry, and lamblichus."