A Miscellany of Quotations — Hermias, Shaw, Chödrön

When I was on Twitter, I used to share things with short comments while I was reading them. This blog post will function in a similar way.

Hermias: On Plato Phaedrus 227A – 245E

Translated by Dirk Baltzly & Michael Share

I have already read this. It would take a lot to make me forget reading this. However, on Tuesday night, I worked until 8 PM and took a crowded bus back home due to the time. The digital version is on my Kobo, and I read some of it because accidentally making eye contact with people on public transit when I just want to stare into space and gather my thoughts together is embarrassing. (I’ve been reviewing the commentary/lecture notes here and there over the past few days, so I didn’t read this much of it in one go.)

And, dividing [this] madness itself into four parts — mantic, telestic, poetic, and erotic — he assigns presiding (ephoros) gods to each, [namely] Apollo, Dionysus, the Muses, and Love, listing all the benefits that are bestowed [on us] through them, [i.e.] through mantic, telestic, poetic <…> hence, [he says,] the ‘t’ has been added, for after initially being called ‘manic’, it was subsequently termed ‘mantic (244C1-5). Thus much to show that the term ‘madness’ is not [necessarily] pejorative (phaulos).

The above is from (5,15-20? — the ebook numbering is formatted strangely, so it’s page 69/460 of the ebook). It is a prelude to a part of the commentary that goes over this in more detail. Fun. Times.

And since he holds that the soul is winged and that what is naturally winged must at times shed its wings and at times sprout wings (251C4), he talks of the ascent and the descent and the transmigration of the souls, about how both the divine and human ones follow after Zeus the great leader, some always, others only sometimes, his [sc. Zeus’] host being divided into eleven parts (247A1); and [he says] that some [of the souls] run beyond the vault (ta nôta) of heaven, gazing upon justice-itself, moderation-itself (autosôphrosunê) and the rest of the series, that others sometimes rise [and see the sights] and sometimes fall away (248A5), and that [yet] others are carried down into [the sphere of] generation and choose [among] the nine ways of life on the basis of their vision of the forms up there.

This is 6,1-9(?), or p. 70/460. I really love reading these descriptions. When I started reading Hermias originally, I had decided to read the entire monograph because I wanted to know the context for the purification passages that happen later on — I was only interested in that specific section. The reading experience ended up making my brain explode in a good way. 🤯🤯🤯 Looking back is an eerie experience because I had not read The Unfolding Wings or Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis or Proclus or any more than a few passages here and there beyond Plato at that point.

From a more theoretical perspective (theôrêtikôteron), the oracle exhorts ‘know thyself’, awakening humanity, as it were, not in order that it might grasp knowledge of itself that is not [already] present [in human minds], but in order that it might possess [such knowledge] stably and unforgettably. At all events, a person who has not forgotten himself but who knows who he is, is a person who will not be ignorant of external things either; whereas a person who is ignorant about external things and who thinks that fleeting things are stable, is a person who has also forgotten himself, [and] does not know the Homeric tag ‘the earth contains nothing feebler than a human being.’

From 28,15-24. Impermanence. 😁

(I said ‘carrying him down’ and not ‘carrying him up’ because unless a soul were extraordinarily debased it would not admit of being carried up.)

31,25-30. The text is discussing various interpretations of a myth about Orithyia and Boreas. I had not read enough in Platonism when I first read this to understand that I have no idea what this means. It has been bothering me for nearly 24 hours at this point. “You want the things from above to blow down because that’s the correct direction given that that’s the directional metaphor used for divine → matter, and the other one risks inverting that,” seems like an overly simple argument for working through this, but it’s the only thing I have come up with.

Theurgy and the Soul

By Gregory Shaw

For, although the theurgist’s physical body effected his separation from the gods, it was also the sacrificial altar (bōmiskos) by which he returned to them. (p. 230)

This is one of those eerie things that I read that reminds me of the fiction I write because it is more or less ultimately about this. It’s also just a very beautiful mental image.

The theurgical solution to the warning [“do not deepen the plane”] now may be understood: the principal understanding of theurgy is that for the soul to remain a plane and free of volume it must act as a plane. That is to say, it must bestow limit to its volume; it must descend (i.e., flow) into a body and rule it as its limit and archē. (p. 240)

Huh. This makes sense in a very odd way, especially considering the diagrams of point → line → square → cube that came right before it.

As a more general comment, Iamblichus as interpreted by Shaw reminds me of Peter Gabriel’s song “Sky Blue” — specifically the verse in the chorus “I keep moving to be stable” — because of the way Shaw describes Iamblichus’ perspective on embodiment, specifically its necessity. The verses “I sing through the land, the land sings through me / Sky blue / Reaching into the deepest shade of / Sky blue” are reminiscent of the idea of the person working in accord with ler place in the cosmos and as an active participant in the Gods.

The Compassion Book: Teachings for Awakening the Heart

By Pema Chödrön

We can use everything we encounter in our lives — pleasant or painful — to awaken genuine, uncontrived compassion. (p. 6)

This rings true.

At death, aspire to spend all your future lives in the presence of your teachers and to do your best to benefit others forever. (p. 26)

From her commentary on Lojong slogan #18, on what you do when you die. This made me smile a bit because of course it is what one should do; second, maybe this explains why it is just so hard to kill polytheism. 🙃 In all seriousness, though — what could be better than to have future incarnations in the company of a good, supportive network of people who all care about one another’s growth? How much good could be done for others in a context like that?

When contemplating this passage, I started to work out a poem in my head about Platonism, Late Antique schools, and the prevailing circumstances. I haven’t done more than brainstorm a few verses.

Refraining from outrageous conduct or not engaging in what is sometimes called “bodhisattva exhibitionism.”

From her commentary on Lojong slogan #23. It made me smile. She also recommends not using sacred teachings to build up one’s ego because that isn’t the point. From a social standpoint, walking this line is very hard.


3 thoughts on “A Miscellany of Quotations — Hermias, Shaw, Chödrön

  1. “(I said ‘carrying him down’ and not ‘carrying him up’ because unless a soul were extraordinarily debased it would not admit of being carried up.)”

    This is indeed a curious line, especially since Syrianus was just speaking of Oreithuia as “a soul desiring things on high” (tôn anô), so if such a soul gets what it wants, wouldn’t it be “carried up” (anapherôn)? If there hasn’t been some sort of corruption in the manuscripts, I take him to mean that only if a soul were very debased would death be, as it were, a step up. Anagogic language is so commonplace, however, among the Platonists, including, of course, in this very dialogue, that it remains a remark passing strange. I wonder whether it has anything to do with the also somewhat strange, and also regrettably flawed in the manuscript, line above about “the [powers] on Notus’ side” being “more divine” than the ones of Boreas. Is this because “the elevating [anagôgon] power of the Gods by means of Notus” has, so to speak, the harder job, of drawing upward souls that have fallen exceptionally far? I am still unsatisfied.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes; the first time I read it, I wasn’t expecting the anagogic language (or the symbolism, to be honest) to be so lush, and it was one of the things that caught me really off guard.

      To be honest, the Orithyia passage reminds me of the idea that the Gods bestow themselves downward (imprecise language) when a person has made limself into a fit vessel that the already-present God(s) can flow into, and so maybe that’s the natural direction for correct embodiment and (ultimately?) the soul-snatching by Boreas. Maybe going up and being drawn up directly is a bit Bellerophon.


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