Interesting Proclus Passage About Parallels “with the Sacred Tradition”

This passage from Proclus comes at the tail end of where he’s discussing the visible and invisible periods of the planets, and — surprisingly, but possibly only due to my ignorance — seems to say at 88.30 that each of the planets’ years is itself a God. The discussion transitions to a discussion of traditional religious practices.

There is, of course, a parallel with the sacred tradition which worships the former invisible [numbers] that are the causes of these [visible ones] by naming Night and Day as gods, as well as by delivering those things that commend one to the month and the year, the invocations and self-manifestations. These things are considered not as things to be totted up on one’s fingers, but rather as among the things that have divine subsistence — things which the sacred laws of those who serve as priests command us to worship and honour by means of statues and sacrifices. The oracles of Apollo also confirm this, as the stories say, and when these things were honoured, the benefits that result from the periods belonged to human beings, both the benefits of the seasons and those of other [periods] similarly. However, when these things were neglected a condition contrary to nature was the result for everything around the Earth. Not only that, but Plato himself in the Laws (X 899b2) positively shouts out that all these things are gods: seasons, months and years — just like the stars and the Sun. We are introducing no sort of innovation when we say that it is worthwhile to conceive of the invisible powers that are prior to these visible things [as gods]. So much for these matters.

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus, Book 4 (confusingly, volume 5), 89.15-37, trans. Baltzly

Many elements of this passage remind me of the many issues that we have with the prevailing circumstances of our time (and, in fact, a footnote points to this possibility). The sentence “when these things were neglected[,] a condition contrary to nature was the result for everything around the Earth” brings to mind what has happened over the past few hundred years, with the world parched, ablaze, and drowning, and with many parts of the world still in pain after centuries of proselytization and conquest contact. It is, indeed, as if sundering ourselves only harmed ourselves. Earth will be fine. (Maybe I’m overthinking this, though, because this has me thinking about a poem I wrote related to the climate crisis and the breach between us and the natural world with whom we are so, so interconnected. I often hyperconnect things, possibly in a detrimental way. 😅)

Beyond that, this seems like a straightforward appeal to continuing tradition, not just for tradition’s sake or the belief in divine wrath, but because the benefits of performing these rites to these Gods and Goddesses establish a channel between people and the goodness that flows forth from the Gods. With humans being what we are — animals whose rationality can be either a curse or balm — any opportunity to turn towards order and justice and away from many-headed desires is important, and the proper acknowledgment of and participation in sacrificial cycles for time-y deities and divinities is an example. The passage is also a good example of piety and frustration.


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