Some Quotations from Damascius

I finished reading Damascius’ Lectures on the Philebus.

Why does the Cause associate itself with the mixture? Because the mixture is all-embracing, while the Cause itself is all things. For what is simple cannot comprehend its power, which, transcending unity, comprises all things in an ineffable way. For this reason the divine Iamblichus says that it is impossible to participate individually in the universal orders of existence, but only in communion with the venerable choir of those who are lifted up together, one in mind. And the Athenians prayed to Athena Polias only on behalf of the city, as patroness of the community, not on behalf of individual citizens. (§227)

§227 is interesting due to its metion of Athênê and the discussion of the way people prayed to her as Polias. The note on this is short; however, given the state of traditional polytheistic cultus during Damascius’ lifetime (458-550 CE), one thing I do wonder is how cleanly transmitted the knowledge of specific Gods’ worship was. We do have many anecdotes, but I wonder how many are yet missing.

The fountain of honey is that of pleasure, because of its sweetness and the ecstasy it brings; hence the Pythagorean saying that souls fall down into genesis through honey; the fountain of water is that of intelligence because of its sobering quality. (§229)

This occurs after a discussion of the blending of physical elements by Hêphaistos and the blending of the soul by Dionysos via three different actions.

The passage it is commenting on is 61c in the Philebus; this is from the translation in the copy of Plato: Complete Works that I own, ed. J. M. Cooper:

SOCRATES: So let us pray to the gods for assistance when we perform our mixture, Protarchus, whether it be Dionysus or Hephaestus or any [c] other deity who is in charge of presiding over such mixtures.

PROTARCHUS: By all means.

SOCRATES: We stand like cup-bearers before the fountains—the fountain of pleasure, comparable to honey, and the sobering fountain of intelligence, free of wine, like sober, healthy water—and we have to see how to make a perfect mixture of the two.

I am surprised to see this going there since most of the flowing water analogies I have seen thus far among the Late Platonists involve nymphai and rivers of generation, as in Hermias’ notes on Syrianus’ Phaedrus lectures. Sober up, am I right?

§§233-246 contained many important things about Truth, Beauty, and Pleasure. While I won’t quote anything substantive: at §236, “Truth, then, preserves the full reality of each thing, Beauty fuses even things incomplete in themselves to form one perfect whole, and Proportion remedies the separateness that prevents fusion”; at §239, “[t]he One Principle is not the total of the three monads, for it is the cause of all things”; at §240, “[t]the three monads are in a mystic way in the First Cause”; at §243, “[Iamblichus] says that in Orphic literautre the three monads manifest themselves in the mythical Egg.” I had to read §244 four or five times because the concepts weren’t congealing together properly in my head.

There were a few moments when Orphism was referred to — especially near the end — when I made a mental note that Westerink, the translator, was writing the footnotes many decades before the hot-off-the-presses Orphic Tradition and the Birth of the Gods (Meisner) because I was like, “oh, this is discussed, oh, wait, not then, ah, time.” In §§250-257, there is a lot going on, but a reference to the six generations of rulers in Orphism is made, followed by a discussion of how philosophers like Syrianus and Proclus addressed the Good’s six phases — three rungs, each with two pieces. It’s interesting, and I have a feeling I will come back to it or see it again.

And then came the conclusion.

📕 😁

So … what do I read next, right?

Early this morning (December 2), I had a dream that I was in a philosophy class, and we were reading Damascius and the other Late Platonists, AKA what I am reading in the waking world. It was a larger room, with perhaps 60-70 people, with those light-colored institutional classroom chairs.

In the dream, it’s possible that one of those “move your desks and have small group discussions” things was happening for much of the class, but convening and some lecturing (or logistical announcements) happened at the end. I didn’t know much about the professor, but when thinking about response essays and papers, I was worried that I would have to lowercase God(s), which stressed me out a lot, and I was wondering if footnoting it would be OK or if it would cause an awkward situation with the professor because it would out me as a polytheist, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I just didn’t want to be marked down. Weird I’ve-been-out-of-college-for-years anxiety dream, definitely.

In the syllabus, though, we were next slated to read Aristotle, which I thought was odd sequencing, and specifically pages 1-163 of his Nicomachean Ethics. (The actual book is longer than that, so LOL my brain’s numbering.) I will follow what I remember from the subconscious philosophy course of my dream and read that. Will I stop at page 163? Who knows! Apparently page 163 in the translation I have is the exact beginning of Book 8. 🤷‍♀️

⭕️

4 thoughts on “Some Quotations from Damascius

  1. Why does the Cause associate itself with the mixture? Because the mixture is all-embracing, while the Cause itself is all things. For what is simple cannot comprehend its power, which, transcending unity, comprises all things in an ineffable way. For this reason the divine Iamblichus says that it is impossible to participate individually in the universal orders of existence, but only in communion with the venerable choir of those who are lifted up together, one in mind. And the Athenians prayed to Athena Polias only on behalf of the city, as patroness of the community, not on behalf of individual citizens. (§227)

    The distinction between being “all things”, panta, plural, and being one all-encompassing thing, pantelei is the issue here. The idea is that Being (the Mixture) has to be of a universal character, it can’t be “simple”. Causality in a sense is simple, because the ultimate cause is just each henad’s ineffable agency, hence it is the radical multiplicity of all the henads in their autarchic plurality. But Being, as Proclus says, “receives a multitude of henads and powers which are mingled into one essence” (PT III 9. 40), that is, it receives the henads all together, in a universal fashion—hence it is Being people are thinking of when they speak of that in which “all things are one”. And in a universal we must participate universally; Damascius illustrates this nicely by speaking of a civic cult in which we must participate, not as individuals, but communally. Being is a commons (koinon), a synthetic unity.

    I had to read §244 four or five times because the concepts weren’t congealing together properly in my head.

    §244 is simple enough if one has the structure of the system in one’s head. Truth, Beauty, and Proportion, from the text, are to be identified with the hypostases of Being, Life, and Intellect respectively. Damascius, echoing Syrianus, simply explicates briefly how each of these is appropriate to the corresponding hypostasis.

    I made a mental note that Westerink, the translator, was writing the footnotes many decades before the hot-off-the-presses Orphic Tradition and the Birth of the Gods (Meisner)

    Meisner’s book is good, but there’s not much of it that would have been news to Westerink. It’s basically there already in Kern’s 1922 collection of the Orphic fragments. Meisner is just the best synthesis so far of that material in English and accessible to the non-specialist reader.

    In §§250-257, there is a lot going on, but a reference to the six generations of rulers in Orphism is made, followed by a discussion of how philosophers like Syrianus and Proclus addressed the Good’s six phases — three rungs, each with two pieces. It’s interesting, and I have a feeling I will come back to it or see it again.

    It is rather interesting, and difficult, too, but it seems like it would be worth sorting out, as an alternative way of characterizing the whole procession of Being within the scope of the Philebus. This is where one really feels the loss of complete commentaries on the dialogue by Syrianus and/or Proclus, because the account here is very condensed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for the clarifications!

      The part that confused me about §244 was the last sentence. The first paragraph and a half of the section were easy to collate, but I got confused about how seamlessly the concepts in the last sentence mapped onto Truth, Beauty, and Proportion. It’s possibly because the order is different.

      Like

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