Brief Thoughts after Reading Book VI of the Platonic Theology

Tonight, I finished reading the part of the Platonic Theology in the six books from Proclus; I’m about to commence with the remainder of the Prometheus Trust volume, which contains a seventh book by Thomas Taylor. (I’ve already read all of the endnotes, so I’m about 3/4 of the way through it.) I’ve been pushing myself over the past week or so to finish. I wasn’t sure I would complete Book VI so quickly, but when I started to get fatigued, I made some hot chocolate, offered a sip of it to Apollon, and put on Michael Levy’s Ancient Greek Lyre (the original composition “Paean” is 😍) as an accompaniment to Proclus untangling the jewelry box of Zeuses and thoroughly treating everything from the rulers to the liberated Gods.

Reading the Platonic Theology has been a lovely marathon, and I’m also pleased that it contains so much review of stuff I’ve already read, like Proclus’ Cratylus, Parmenides, and Timaeus commentaries, with more to come in the excerpts Taylor is apparently including in his Book VII. I feel a lot of gratitude for having so many of Plato’s dialogues read because without that, I wouldn’t have fared so well in reading. Part of me wants to shout from the rooftops that everyone should read the Platonic Theology, especially since it’s been so helpful thus far towards having healthy conceptions of the Gods (especially Zeus, Kronos, and Hades) and for thinking about mythic symbolism (especially Persephone and Rhea). The sections about the Kouretes and Korybantes, I feel, will make my purification rituals better now that I have a better sense of what they do theologically. I wrote three poems for my speculative project after dropping notes and fleeting thoughts in some of the margins.

That out of the way, I have two passages to share — the first about the liberated Gods, the twelve Gods from the Phaedrus whom partial souls (read: us) follow in our best moments and fall away from or struggle back towards when we are less so.

Here therefore, he defines according to the measure of the dodecad (i. e. the number twelve) all this liberated Gods, though the multitude of them is incomprehensible, and not to be numbered by human conceptions; and though none of those theologists that have written any thing concerning them, have been able to define their whole number, in the same manner as they have the ruling multitude (i. e. the multitude of supermundane Gods,) or the multitude of the intellectual, or intelligible Gods. Plato however, apprehended that the number of the dodecad is adapted to the liberated Gods, as being all-perfect, composed from the first numbers, and completed from things perfect; and he comprehends in this measure all the progressions of these Gods. For he refers all the genera and peculiarities of them to this dodecad, and defines them according to it.

Proclus, Platonic Theology, Book VI, Chapter 18, trans. Taylor

What came up for me in reading this passage was a piece in Quanta Magazine about an exciting new mathematical finding about dodecahedrons, and I bolded the section of the passage that was most exciting in this regard. Dodecahedrons, unlike other Platonic solids, have an infinite number of straight paths that can lead back to an origin point without passing through another corner, grouped into 31 families; the researchers also noticed that they could relate their findings to the double-pentagon translation surface (which is actually 5 + 5 + 2 = 12, I guess, due to the two pentagons and the two donut holes?). I’m not that math-y, but while I was drinking my hot chocolate and experiencing the euphoria of a well-ordered lyre composition, the math connection gave me warm fuzzies. Plato’s gifts are like an overflowing fountain.

The second passage is a bit different, coming towards the end of the discussion of the elevating Gods, a triad of (truth), Apollon, and Helios. For context, it is best to say that I’ve been contemplating black holes and light for a while now in connection with Apollon, so much so that I wrote a poem about it without really realizing what the symbolism was about until after I had started doing a deep dive into black hole physics (at least, the parts I can understand without extensive training).

For the demiurgus, when producing the seven bodies of the planets, and placing them in their proper circulations, at the same time constitutes the sun with the other planets arranging the moon the first from the earth, but the sun in the second circulation; and after these, he enkindles a light in the solar sphere, similar to none of the others; nor does he receive this light from the subject matter, but himself produces and generates it from himself, and extends as it were from certain adyta to mundane natures, a symbol of intellectual essences, and unfolds to the universe that which is arcane in the Gods that are above the world.

Proclus, Platonic Theology, Book VI, Chapter 12, trans. Taylor

What strikes me about suns — not just our sun, but any sun — is that the center where nuclear fusion takes place is an ultra-dense depression that is only held in equilibrium by the fusion that is taking place. Without that, it collapses and becomes a stellar remnant like a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole. A living sun is a symbol of that gravitational density while still being visible, unlike black holes that veil themselves with an event horizon, so in a sense both of them are luminous symbols.

While reading the Platonic Theology, I have found it useful to look at several passages in Chlup’s Proclus — namely some of the diagrams about the Henads and the absolutely beautiful ordered lists on pages 125-127 where the hierarchy is made clear. First, Thomas Taylor’s terminology is not the terminology that is often used by other translators; second, Proclus grows exceedingly thorough in Books 4-6. I’ve sometimes felt like he has twirled me about and I occasionally have to make an assessment about whether we’re on the same topic or have progressed to a different level just due to the way he structures the arguments. I was just getting used to it, actually, when Book VI ended.

Finally, just as an observation, I’m not sure why dividing Zeus into multiple Zeuses (and he’s not the only God to whom this happens) based on the level of activity is a problem — it’s often cited as this cumbersome thing that shows that the system is excessive in the modern secondary literature that I’m reading. It doesn’t honestly seem that way, especially when compared to the people in other secondary literature writing on the origins of deities and who slice and dice them up like protoplanets accreting epithets and jettisoning competitors into the sun before an orderly system that we know and love emerges. Proclus makes far more sense theologically.

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