A Common Source

In my last post, I alluded to the critical distinction between simply interpreting the writings of Plato as an endpoint in themselves, and using the writings of Plato as tools to access, understand, and explain the same transcendent realities that Plato himself was also trying to access, understand, and explain. It is only in the latter case that we are thinking like the ancient commentators, that we are approaching Plato with a mindset akin to theirs. Here is one small illustration of the difference, from Morrow and Dillon’s English translation of Proclus’ commentary on Plato’s Parmenides.

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Message in a Bottle

Today, we remember Proclus, who died in Athens on this date, in 485 CE.

It’s quite possible, by mistranslating a few words here, a few key phrases there, for modern readers to ignore the Gods in the works of Plato, Aristotle, and so many of the other philosophers of antiquity. It’s quite possible, with only a little bit of squinting, to look past the deep and genuine piety that informed these great thinkers.

Not so, when it comes to Proclus. The Gods—who are at once the source and summit of all being, and the immortal divine persons we approach in prayer and devotion—cannot be ignored in Proclus’ work, no matter how hard you squint. Proclus thus provides us a vital key, which can open for us the brilliant and inspired words of Plato, and indeed of all the thousand years to Hellenic philosophy and theology, of which Proclus was the inheritor. And this is a vital key, in the most literal sense of “bringing to life” the tradition which has been handed on to us.

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April Snow

Was it only yesterday
I sat for hours
Barefoot in the yard
Sipping iced tea,
Delighting in songbirds,
Basking in warm springtime sun?

Now I sit by the window,
Warm mug held close,
While fresh snow blankets the earth.
The stillness, the softness –
Turn inward, in silence,
As winter returns, one last time.

A Prayer for Aretē

O bright and holy Gods
Who are the source and fountain of all that is good,
Who fill the cosmos with your blessings,
I come to you in my need.

O providential Gods, mighty saviors,
Who know all things throughout the whole world,
Who care for all mortal creatures,
I entrust my cares to you.

Brilliant Apollon of the golden lyre,
Whose gifts bring balance, poise, harmony,
Set each part of my soul, my life, in due order.
In all things, grant perfect, proper measure.

Lord Dionysos, ever-future king,
Captivated by the mirror, torn apart yet reborn entire,
Direct my gaze toward what is good.
Bring me to unity: in my soul, in my life, in my devotion.

Mighty Zeus, father and creator,
Source of all life, ruler of all things,
Uphold and sustain me, in justice, truth, and piety.
Bring me through life’s storms, to your blessed harbor.

All you holy Gods whom I adore,
Who fill every cosmos – large and small – with your gifts,
Perfect my soul. Bring me to aretē.
I come to you in trust, and in supplication.

Wonder and Inquiry

“Son of Klinias, I think that you are wondering…”

Plato’s Alcibiades—the first Platonic dialogue that students in late antiquity, following the Iamblichean curriculum, would read—begins with Socrates speaking these words. From this manifest appearance of wonder comes the invitation to philosophy. Yet for Socrates, and for the Platonist following his example, philosophy never displaces wonder, never undermines the encounter with the cosmos which is philosophy’s own fons et origo, as we see throughout Plato’s portrayal of Socrates, and especially in the Parmenides and the Phaedo.

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Prayer to All of the Gods III

I haven’t the words to describe how powerful and magnificent this prayer is. Please, go check it out!

KALLISTI

This is the last of the three prayers that I wanted to write in 2021 — hopefully, a decent enough go at it. It’s the most Platonic of the three (but, let’s be blunt, that’s all of them), and it was a good exercise in hammering out where I solidly understand Proclus’ Platonic Theology and where confusion lingers. As with the other poems, some edits may be made as I use it.

Now for the accompaniment. I recommend a combination of frankincense and some kind of aromatic herbs — which, given incense blends, is easy to achieve in one type of stick when frankincense and aromatics are pressed together in it. The stanza breaks are good points at which one could offer libations.

Prayer to All of the Gods III

I pray to all of the Gods, welcome —
accept this offering of incense and these libations
given in adoration…

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Divine Poiēsis (an encouragement to virtue)

Early in book III of his Parmenides Commentary, Proclus distinguishes two kinds of creative activity (poiēsis): that which comes about from the very being of the cause, and that which results from some deliberate choice.

Beings in the middle of the metaphysical hierarchy do both. Our soul, for example, gives life to the body by its very being (provided that the material substratum is serviceable), while it does other things by choice. Lower down the hierarchy, though, we find fire heating by its very being, but not doing anything by deliberate choice. And so, in keeping with one of the basic principles of Platonic metaphysics, if creative activity by being alone extends farther down, it must also extend farther up.

Furthermore, creative activity that results from being alone is effortless, and is more suited to the Gods:

The creative activity of those beings that make what they do by their very being is effortless, and we must conclude that effortlessness belongs primarily to the divine, since we also live most easily and with least effort when our life and Godlike and in the path of virtue.

Proclus, in Parm. 787 Cousin; trans. Morrow & Dillon, p. 159.

And this seems to me an excellent, yet gentle, encouragement to virtue.