Offspring of the Gods — Something from Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s TIMAEUS

The passage below is of great theological interest. Previously on this blog, I have mentioned that being in the train of a God is not particularly unique because it could be said about each and every person, and this is yet another passage that deals with that. It’s also striking to me looking at this passage (commenting on Timaeus 40d7-e2) that the discussion veers from the behavior of the wandering planets to a discussion of the sublunary Gods that suddenly moves into divine inspiration and all of that fun stuff.

Here we go:

Even amid matters that seem difficult to understand or puzzling, the person who simply knows takes the easy path to divine understanding (gnôsis) — retracing [a path that runs via] the divinely inspired cognition (entheos noêsis) through which things become clear and familiar (gnôrimos), for all things are in the gods. The one who has antecedently comprehended all things is able to fill others with his own understanding. This is precisely what Timaeus has done here when he refers us to the authority of the Theologians and the generation of the gods celebrated by them.

Who, then, are these people and what is the understanding (gnôsis) that belongs to them? Well, in the first place, they are ‘offspring of the gods’ and ‘clearly know their own parents.’ They are offspring and children of the gods in as much as they conserve the form of the god who presides over them through their current way of life, for Apollonian souls are called ‘offspring and children of Apollo’ when they choose a life that is prophetic or dedicated to mystic rites (telestikos bios). These souls are called ‘children’ of Apollo to the extent that they belong to this god in particular and are adapted to that series down here. By contrast, they are called offspring of Apollo because their present lifestyle displays them as such. All souls are therefore children of god, but not all of them have recognised the gods whose children they are. Those who recognise [their leading gods] and choose a similar life are called ‘children of gods.’ This is why Plato added the words ‘as they say,’ for these souls [sc. those of the people to whose authority Timaeus proposes to defer] reveal the order from which they come — as in the case of the Sibyl who delivered oracles from the moment of her birth or Heracles who appeared at his birth together with Demiurgic symbols. When souls of this sort revert upon their parents, they are filled by them with divinely inspired cognition (entheos noêsis). Their understanding (gnôsis) is a matter of divine possession since they are connected to the god through the divine light and [this sort of understanding] transcends all other [kinds of] understanding — both that achieved through [reasoning through] what is likely (di’ eikotôn), as well as that which is demonstrative (apodeiktikos). The former deals with nature and the universals that are in the particulars, while the latter deals with incorporeal essence (ousia) and things that are objects of knowledge. But divinely inspired understanding alone is connected to the gods themselves.

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus Book 4 (confusingly, Volume 5), trans. Baltzly, 159.14-160.12

This quotation also reminds me of a Twitter conversation a while back (with Edward Butler and perhaps one or two other people) about a God’s series and what it means to be living a life in accord or out of accord with one’s presiding God, as there are Hermes-like ways to be a doctor (data-driven individualized medicine algorithms, anyone?) and Asklepian ways to be in communication (healing the damage of divisive and destructive communication technologies 🙃). Everything particular is very particular.

Obviously, as a caveat — much like warning labels on hot drinks — discernment is still needed even in the presence of great enthusiasm. (Note/update: I’m specifically thinking about things like toxic leadership, spiritual bypassing, people claiming special divine authority without due justification, the Percy Jackson pop culture stuff, and so on.) Since the theologians were mentioned in the quotation, I will share that one big thing I love about the Orphic stories is the way they are built around praising and revealing the Gods in ways akin to how we view solar eclipses through those thin sheets of special metal or in shadow-boxes. However people react to them — time has preserved the pieces from Christian polemicists just as much as it has preserved the exegesis of the pious — they are all stories that shine as brightly as stars.


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