A Miscellany of Quotations — Majercik, Bryant, Damascius

First, for several days, I have had a brainworm from the Chaldean Oracles fragments. (This isn’t getting a header because it’s a single quotation at the beginning.) It’s the phrase sober up from Fragment 15, trans. Ruth Majercik:

And you do not know that every god is good. O, drudges, sober up …

However, my brainworm was more in the context of the notes Majercik makes on this passage, where there is this idea that people are intoxicated by the world and need some ice cold water to the face (very loose paraphrase 😉). So — a bit more related to cultivating detachment, perhaps. Majercik’s notes contrast sober up with being drunk on a God after the soul takes wings and “press[es] God into itself,” which is a good thing (Fr. 97). What about the phrase is making my brain orbit around it now?

From The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

This is a translation and commentary by Edwin F. Bryant.

At the end of a comment on II.18, Bryant refers to the Sāṅkhya Kārikā:

When purified and the natural illumination of sattva is able to manifest, the knowledge of the distinction between [puruṣa and buddhi, soul and ~intelligence] becomes clear. This is what vidyā, knowledge, is. However, ultimately, even this knowledge is taking place in buddhi and, as will be discussed below, is transcended in the higher stages of samādhi. Buddhi has to deconstruct itself. Therefore the Sāṅkhya Kārikā states: “No one is actually bound, nor is anyone liberated from saṁsāra. Only prakṛti in its myriad forms transmigrates, is bound and then freed.” (p. 218)

I loved this because it reminds me of the line from the Orphic Hymn to Perikionios (trans. Athanassakis, 2nd ed): “with his might he harnessed, / he calmed the heaving earth, / when the blazing thunderbolt, / when the raging gale / stirred all the land, / as everyone’s bonds sprang loose” (ln. 3-5). Then again, Dionysos is the liberator, and the second stage of purification is his. 🍇

[B]uddhi, too, is ultimately a transformation of the guṇas, specifically that of sattva. It is pure beingness, says Vyāsa, neither existence nor nonexistence, neither real nor unreal. The world of manifest reality has yet to emerge from it. […. T]he unmanifest mentioned in this sūtra (II.19) is a yet more subtle manifestation of these guṇas, the primordial matrix from which even buddhi itself, along with all its evolutes, originates. At this level, we have arrived at prakṛti herself, and it is this that Patañjali refers to here as aliṅga, that without signs, the undistinctive. There are no signs by which one can discern prakṛti prior to the movement of the guṇas […]. This stage is eternal; the other three stages — buddhi, ahaṅkāra [ego/individuality], and all subsequent evolutes — are temporary manifestations, or permutations of prakṛti. (p. 220)

I was reading this in the early morning, before I prayed and left home to run errands and meet my GF and her mom for lunch. It may have some relevance to some of what I read later in Damascius even if the systems of philosophy are a bit different.

It is not that the seed of a nyagrodha tree will spontaneously and immediately produce a fully grown, stocky tree with its leaves and branches, [Vācaspati Miśra] says. The tree comes about gradually, the seed becoming a shoot and slowly evolving in contact with light and water. At the same time, says Vijñānabhikṣu, seed, sprout, and tree are nondifferent from each other, and so, in the same way, are buddhi and its effects nondifferent. Puruṣa, on the other hand, is a totally different entity. When puruṣa and prakṛti combine, living beings come into existence, just as when air and water combine, bubbles are formed. (p. 222)

The final line of this passage is such a beautiful mental image that I had to share it.

From Damascius’ Lecture Notes on the Philebus

Memory is threefold, irrational, rational, and intellective. Each has two subdivisions, corresponding respectively to imagination and sense-perception, discursive thought and opinion, reality and the divine principle. (§71)

Is there a pattern to this pairing?

imagination | sense-perception
discursive thought | opinion
reality | the divine principle

Or not?

Maybe not? Why would the divine principle be paired with the righthand side? Is this due to a difference between reality and the specific pantheon systems we use to describe interactions among Gods or something to that effect? There is the thing that happens (the activity of the deity) and then the way it is interpreted according to the context that deity is perceived in? I’m probably reading way too far into this.

Not all goodness, but the first and unqualified good for each individual, which he calls the ‘mixture,’ falls under this preliminary assumption, that it has three elements: perfection, adequacy, desirability. (§76)

Beyond what the passage says, I marked it because it was linguistically interesting. Adequate is not a positive word in quotidian English usage. Damascius clarifies at §77 that it denotes sufficiency for itself and interactions with others.

Not only existents, but even the Gods originate in Limit and Infinitude: thus we have male and female, emanative and integrative deities. This does not mean that male deities should not also participate of infinitude, but that limit is the dominating factor, and so on. For being first principles they pervade all things, not some things to the exclusion of others, which would be impossible. (§100)

I starred a note on §100 because it lists passages in a variety of philosophers’ work about male and female deities. “Male” and “female” are used as shorthand — often, I think, analogizing primary sex characteristics, reproductive processes, and gendered behavioral expectations to say things about the Gods. (Once upon a time on Twitter, I said it would be interesting to think about Octavia Butler’s fictional Oankali given their very different reproductive and social systems. It would upend some of the binary contrasts and probably place more emphasis on metaphors related to the mediative role of ooloi.) Emanative and integrative are an interesting in this passage.

The Egg and the Paternal Intelligence and the Mystic Number and in short that which ranks third after Limit is called a God by the theologians; so that the Mixture, i.e. existence, should also be regarded as a God and a One, not as something merely unified nor as reality. Only thus can we justly speak of the mystic order of the Gods, otherwise it would be an order, not of Gods, but of existents. (§106)

Frankly, I am noting down what was said at §106 because I’ve been having a lot of thoughts about the Egg in the Orphic fragments. 🥚

Damascius is discussing memory and the soul a bit later on. I am going off the rails a bit, starting with what he says about the definition of memory itself:

Memory is preservation of perception in the soul, apart from the body. On this definition of memory all philosophers are unanimous. (§158)

I wrote in the margins, There is a conflation here of what happens in the soul itself with what parts of memory are in the body. A page or so later, at §163, I wrote “instinct” in the margins beside the bit about feeling appetites for something one has never experienced (because humans are animals, and we do come with some basic instincts). There is just so much going on with bodies.

Maybe it’s important to refer back to §71? Irrational – rational – intellective seems like it could capture some of this.

Memory exists in the following stages: (1) in sense-perception, for sense-perception, too, has a certain retentive power; (2) in imagination; (3) in opinion; then (4) in discursive thought; then (5) in intelligence, on the intellective level and (6) on the divine; then (7) there is the Goddess herself, with whom the whole character originates, whether she be the Mnemo mentioned by Orpheus or another deity. (§159)

Whenever something is translated as sense-perception in Platonism, I have an associative connection to the same term in the Yoga Sūtras (regardless of whether or not this association is meaningful) just because pratyakṣa and αἴσθησῐς are both translated in that way. I went back to I.2 of The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: “These five vṛttis are right knowledge, error, imagination, sleep, and memory” (I.2, core text, trans. Bryant). A vṛtti is a fluctuation (in this context, the fluctuations of the mind that the soul mistakenly identifies with), and smṛti (memory) is one of them. It is useful insofar as it helps people on the path to remember what is necessary; it is harmful in that sometimes, memory fragments us, which can lead to poor judgments, anxious thoughts, and the like. My earlier thoughts on §158 can be seen in light of this.

What I wrote in the left margin can be clarified by what I wrote in the right margin:

Mnêmosynê keeps a record of memory in the totality before there is division. And perhaps in her Titanic aspect memory is divided into increments and identified with bodies and lives. Memory is still partly physical, though — the soul experiences the body and comes to know it. Here, I was thinking about the poem for Mnêmosynê that I have written and about the things I hold in my head when contemplating the image I have of her (which I do through prayer, offerings, and eye contact with the image) — after closing one’s eyes, the sense of a limitless field of stars, each layer of them reflected in a pool of water, Nyx herself recorded, and in the water there is everything, like an abyss.

To be honest, I zoned out quite a bit on the train thinking about Mnêmosynê. (I read a lot today because I was traveling.) This evening, I re-read the passage Damascius is referring to (the one that discusses memory in the Philebus itself) and started writing up some thoughts.

I’ve read up to §168.

Note: I am very stoked because I identified αἴσθησῐς in the Greek as the likely candidate of sense-perception without even knowing what the word meant. It’s trivial to get a feel for word patterns and to start to sift them apart, but I still feel very happy and satisfied all the same.

9 thoughts on “A Miscellany of Quotations — Majercik, Bryant, Damascius

  1. Memory is threefold, irrational, rational, and intellective. Each has two subdivisions, corresponding respectively to imagination and sense-perception, discursive thought and opinion, reality and the divine principle. (§71)

    That is an unusual taxonomy, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it in just this form. As we can see from the passage Westerink cites from Damascius’ Phaedo commentary, the tripartite division is basic: “How many kinds of recollection are there? As many as of knowledge [gnôsis], that is, generally speaking, three: intellective [noera], dianoetic, and opinative [doxastikê],” (II §23]; “There are as many kinds of recollection as of knowledge: intellective, as in the Phaedrus [249b6-c6]; discursive [dianoêtikê], as in the Meno [81c5-d5]; and on the level of opinion [doxastikê], as in the case of those who recollect former lives,” (I §273). Note, however, that these are divisions of anamnêsis, not of mnêmê, as in the passage from the Philebus commentary. I am not certain of the systematic relationship between mnêmê and anamnêsis. It could be that anamnêsis is the higher function, or that it is instead the highest form of mnêmê, which would be the broader, generic term.

    The first thing to note here is that inasmuch as memory and recollection in general are intellective functions, the “ceiling”, so to speak, on these divisions is the intellect (noös), we’re not going all the way up to the level of “real being” (ontôs on), and so these divisions don’t reflect the full procession of being.

    That being said, the subdivisions Damascius posits here are puzzling, inasmuch as there isn’t usually much of a hierarchy established between aisthêsis and phantasia—sometimes phantasia is inferior, as mere illusion, but sometimes superior, as in mathematical imagination—and only a slight one between doxa and dianoia. While dianoia would probably be superior to doxa, it’s by no means certain—e.g., there is a doxa of sacred traditions that would be regarded as superior to dianoia. But then we come to ousiôdês and theia, and these ought to be clearly ranked with “divine recollection” being superior to “substantial” or “essential recollection”.

    I am sufficiently confident in the salience of the latter point that I would order the rest of the subdivisions accordingly, with the second term in each being the superior faculty; but the primacy of the doxastic over the dianoetic troubles me. As I indicated, I believe that a higher order doxa is affirmed here and there, but in the two passages from the Phaedo commentary we clearly have the dianoetic superior to the doxastic.

    Perhaps instead we could say that the “divine” here refers to a lower order of divine participation than ousiôdês, which could refer to “real being” as the primary participation in the Gods. But this would be a strange usage without further comment.

    A very real possibility is that, these being most likely lecture notes, the student has jotted things down in the wrong order, or some copyist has turned around one or more of the terms here, messing things up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Cool, thank you for this!

      Since I referred to the Yoga Sūtras in this context, what you said about phantasia reminds me of how the five vṛttis are not necessarily taken to be bad or good, either — imagination can lead to delusions or to people imagining things that are helpful, and error can sometimes lead people to good things, as an example. I bet similar things are going on in both Damascius and Patañjali.

      I was wondering how good the notes were, but this bothered me enough to comment on it.

      Without really citing anything, I do wonder if persistent memory would have to be different from lifetime-constrained memory because lifetime-constrained memory is subject to things like health conditions (dementia, injury).


      1. There are scholars who have done a good deal of work on how the Platonists discussed different cognitive faculties. It’s really not my area, as I’ve specialized in things at the higher reaches of the procession. There’s quite a bit to be found on these topics, though, particularly in the Aristotelian commentaries.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks. I think I have questions pretty much across the board (yikes, right? 😂), and I definitely need to read up more.

        (Also, I accidentally deleted your comment by discovering a new keyboard shortcut and had to click undo, so sorry if that gave you any weird notifications.)


      3. What I want to know is how I managed to make the second half of my second reply (which for some reason appears above my previous reply) go into blue font.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Fascinating! I think I see how that happened. I put angle brackets around the indefinite articles in the quote from Westerink’s translation there, because they didn’t correspond to anything in the Greek text.

        Liked by 1 person

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