A Miscellany of Quotations — Olympiodorus, Aristotle, Bryant, Proclus

In late December, I found out that we have Olympiodorus’ writings about Plato and the Alcibiades in ebook format while I was juggling tasks at work. Because I compulsively do full text searches for Apollôn every time I encounter a Platonic philosopher (or, like, just happen to open up to the part of a text that is actually about Apollôn because even chance bends to how extra I am when the index isn’t helpful), I wound up at this beautiful section:

But we should ask which of the aforementioned six types of essential daimons they say is allotted to each person. Well then, they say that those who live according to their own essence (kat’ousian) – that is, as they were born to live (pephukasi) – have the divine daimon allotted to them, and for this reason we can see that these people are held in high esteem in whatever walk of life they pursue (epitêdeuein). Now [to live] ‘according to essence’ is to choose the life that befits the chain from which one is suspended: for example, [to live] the military life, if [one is suspended] from the [chain] of Ares; or the life of words and ideas (logikos), if from that of Hermes; or the healing or prophetic life, if from that of Apollo; or quite simply,as was said earlier, to live just as one was born to live.
But if someone sets before himself a life that is not according to his essence, but some other life that differs from this, and focuses in his undertakings on someone else’s work – they say that the intellective (noêros) [daimon] is allotted to this person, and for this reason, because he is doing someone else’s work, he fails to hit the mark in some [instances]

Olympiodorus, writing on our allotted daimon, at (20?)

It got me thinking about leader-Gods, spheres of efficacy and activity, and what a focus on words looks like through Apollôn rather than Hermês. It led to a good discussion on Twitter with Edward Butler, which you can find here (but be warned — Twitter cuts it up across multiple reply threads), about Gods’ areas of activity, overlap, and the G’-in-G” properties of the Gods.

In Bryant’s Yoga Sūtras commentary on II.39, “When refrainment from covetousness becomes firmly established, knowledge of the whys and wherefores of births manifests,” this is said:

On perfecting the yama of refrainment from covetousness, aparigraha, the knowledge of the circumstances of the yogī’s present birth as well as of previous and future births, janmakathantā, is automatically revealed if the yogī desires it, according to Vyāsa and the commentators. The yogī knows exactly who he or she [or le] was in a previous birth, specifies Bhoja Rāja, what sort of a person in what sort of circumstance.

Bryant, Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 425/905 of the ebook

I’ve been thinking about this off and on. Reading Bryant’s commentary on the Yoga Sūtras leads to interesting crossover in my mind. At some point, drinking shallowly or deeply from lethe came up, and in the crosswise latticing of ideas together, I started to wonder if remembering is truly correct. If one has drunk from forgetfulness, wouldn’t it be an uncovering? What is the difference between memory itself and having one’s consciousness grounded in the whys and wherefores of the entire cycle due to attaining a specific level of insight? It is plunging into Mnêmosynê’s waters at her blessing to have a new experience of something that has left no impression on the soul, not vomiting up the forgetful waters one has already drunk. An illumination into the cycle would surely look and feel like memory without being the same from an information provenance perspective. On the other hand, the idea of saṁskāra-like impressions — karma and the choices of the soul for the next/current life based on what has already passed — are sophisticated and interesting.

One might suppose that this process of [studying scriptures] in some cases involves the reactivation of saṁskāras from past lives, when one might have already developed devotional relationship with a particular form of divinity, which becomes spontaneously reactivated in a subsequent life upon encountering this form in some scriptural source.

Bryant, Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 437/905 of the ebook

Bryant, while very problematic in his inability to grasp basic aspects of polytheism in his commentary on II.44 and II.45, says some thought-provoking things. In what follows, obviously, I’m mashing things up with Platonism, but there would by necessity be an intrinsic difference between the reactivation of erôs of a person for a God from whom le’s suspended in a series and a reactivation of a benevolent saṁskāra related to any God with whom one has had a devotional relationship in a past life. It’s like the difference between languages that have alienable and inalienable possessives. (Two words for possessive pronouns like my that signal different types of relationships. Let’s say we had the word my to indicate things like my robe, my egg, and another possessive first person pronoun mos used in mos mother, mos mind. Your mother always gave birth to you; your mind is your mind. Some languages do this.) A soul’s relationship to the top of its series is inalienable, but its relationship to other Gods is alienable, especially given the discord when a soul chooses a life that is not after its own nature. Here, I mean alienable in the sense of mutable and not intrinsic; all things are full of the Gods.

Of all the boons noted in the sūtras as accruing from the observance of the yamas and niyamas, it is only from Īśvara-praṇidhāna that samādhi, the actual and absolute goal of yoga, is attained.

Bryant, Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 442/905 of the ebook

At one point later on, Bryant will suggest that Patañjali makes theism optional. This contradicts (a) things Bryant says in other commentary paragraphs and (b) what Patañjali’s sūtras legit say themselves. Scriptural study and devotion to a God are part of the package deal.

Rāmānanda Sarasvatī reiterates that, although one has an option, devotion to Īśvara hastens the attainment of samādhi: If one lacks faith in Īśvara, samādhi remains remote, but if one’s yoga is permeated with the nectar of devotion, it is very near.

Bryant, Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 445/905 of the ebook

The phrase nectar of devotion reminds me of the flower of the mind in the Chaldean Oracles.

Finally, I’ve been reading Proclus: On Plato Cratylus to close out 2019. While I started reading it during the last week of December, I spent about 5 hours last night and 2 hours today finishing it. (The endnotes were so helpful.) I haven’t figured out how fast my reading speed is at philosophy, but it’s far less than fiction.

I’m still digesting what I read. Overall, one shouldn’t attempt to compare what Plato is showing in the dialogue to modern linguistic etymological work. When I was reading the original dialogue, it seemed to me that Plato was being a bit tongue-in-cheek about the etymologies — look at this, after so little time 😉 😉 😉 , we can say whatever we want to say about the Gods because the etymological work we’re doing is just looking at the dancing impressions of syllable and grammar on cavern walls — although Plato then goes on to have Socrates lay down important aspects of the Gods via this playfulness.

In On Plato Cratylus, what struck me the most was the idea of language as a symbolic system that self-structures in tandem with pantheon, theogony, cosmogony, and mythos. I got to thinking about conlanging — it was #lexember, after all, and I finished editing my Tveshi dictionary — and the linguistic decisions I’ve been making about how the Tveshi language refers to Gods, philosophers, and theological concepts. All of these decisions are real decisions, but they only make sense within the conlang. The symbols that people see in dancing syllables are just as important as the ones that are part of the words’ and names’ historical foundations, like the etymology of the word theos. Anyway.

The intellect in us is Dionysian and truly an image of Dionysus. Therefore, anyone that transgresses against it and, like the Titans, scatters its undivided nature by fragmented falsehood, this person clearly sins against Dionysus himself, even more than those who transgress against external images of the God, to the extent that the intellect more than other things is akin to the God.

Proclus: On Plato Cratylus, 77,25 – 78,4, trans. Duvick

I was tweeting a bit about this. Platonists are always saying this about Dionysos. It matches some of my devotional experience, depending on whether this passage is talking about quotidian fragmentation or something egregious. The former is perhaps best explained in a poem I wrote about Dionysos on — I kid you not — 1 January 2019.

Many people online are very vocal about Dionysos or another God knocking them down before building them up. Some of us were honestly mishandled by human beings and need to be put back together like a cracked vessel via kintsugi. That’s the kind of thing that the Mysteries provide — a purification of the soul, a coming together, and a loosening of bonds because the bonds themselves are no longer necessary to keep going, like gold lacquer running through ceramic.

[Circe] weaves all of life in the four classes and at the same time makes the region under the moon harmonious with songs. Thus, to these weaving deities, Circe too — indeed, ‘golden’ Circe, as they say — is assigned by the theologians, who thereby indicate her intellectual and immaculate essence, both immaterial and unmingled with generation. Her function is to discriminate the things that are at rest from those that are in motion, and to separate them according to divine difference.

Proclus: On Plato Cratylus, 22,1-15, trans. Duvick

While writing a blog post months ago, I realized that I truly dislike the book Circe despite its beautiful words and compelling plot. For a while now, I’ve wished that people who critique myth would read emic critics and exegetical writers more often — and I assume that the reason they don’t is because people have decided that outsiders are “objective” when we know from critiques of colonialism that outsiders often ignore their biases and try to enshrine such biases as correctness.

Duvick expands on what Proclus says saying:

While Circe thus distinguishes the various levels at which life appears but also connects the immortal Forms with the mortal and what has been moved with what is stable, she also harmonizes the sublunar sphere by the harmonic ratios which Plato associates with the planetary revolutions in the Timaeus. This is the same power which Apollo uses in a universal way to harmonize the entire cosmos.

Proclus: On Plato Cratylus, p. 127, trans. Duvick

There were a lot of Apollonian things in this commentary that I was not expecting. There’s another bit about Kore and triple-winged Apollôn that was really interesting; I didn’t realize Kore and Apollôn were treated that closely.

Ocean is said to ‘marry Tethys’; and Zeus, to ‘marry’ Hera, and the like, because the God entered into communion with the Goddess for the generation of subordinate entities. For the gods’ common intelligible coordination and their conatural cooperation for the purpose of creation is called ‘marriage’ by the theologians.

Proclus: On Plato Cratylus, 83,1-5, trans. Duvick

It’s interesting that Duvick has decided to (or the text necessitated?) capitalize instances of God(dess(e)(s)) when the word is referring to a specific deity. Otherwise, I pulled this quotation out because it is an interesting take on divine marriage.

That’s all for now. I’ve pulled the Republic up on my Kobo and will be reading that next.


3 thoughts on “A Miscellany of Quotations — Olympiodorus, Aristotle, Bryant, Proclus

  1. So much great stuff here, but for now, I’ll just focus on one piece.

    The notion of “not being the same from an information provenance perspective” hits the nail exactly on the head. In India, across traditions, “information provenance” is the central question of epistemology; indeed, the subject is called pramāṇavāda, literally “the science of the instruments/sources of knowledge,” and it is precisely the (causal) provenance of any occurent cognition which determines its epistemic status. For most schools, memory/recollection is never knowledge properly so-called, precisely because the provenance is wrong; in technical terms, such awarenesses are not produced by an appropriate instrument (causal process).

    Of course, being caused by saṃskāras is not sufficient to make the resulting awareness a “memory/recollection.” Nearly every awareness we have (whether through perception, inference, testimony, hallucination, dream, etc.) is conditioned by various saṃskāras. About the only cases which might not be are what non-conceptual (nirvikalpaka) perceptions—the awareness of a bare particular, without classifying it into under any categories or concepts at all—and, perhaps, certain kinds of yogic awarenesses. Of these two types of cases, I’m fairly confident of the former, and not at all sure about the latter. But regardless of these possible exceptions, whenever we’re dealing with ordinary, conceptual/concept-laden (savikalpaka) awarenesses, we’re also dealing with saṃskāras.

    To borrow (or perhaps misappropriate) some Platonic terminology, the two different exceptions seem to be a case of what Proclus calls “the likeness of dissimilars.” The two exceptions are alike in being concept-free, and perhaps saṃskāra-free as well; they are dissimilar in that one gets that status by being completely below the level of concepts, while the other gets it by totally and completely transcending the level of concepts.

    I could probably go on quite a bit more on this, but perhaps that would be better suited to a blog post of my own, rather than a comment. In any case, thank you for this wonderful fodder for reflection… and thank you for sharing it as a long-form blog post, which invites careful and repeated consideration!

    Liked by 1 person

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