Being Held Submerged

I don’t know how I started reciting Proclus’ prayer to the unnamed wisdom-bringing Gods on a daily basis, but it happened during the winter break while I was railroading my way through the Platonic Theology. At several points while reading, I thought, “Oh, this is the same take that Proclus integrates into that hymn.”

The hymn in question is as follows, translated by R. M. van den Berg.

Hearken, you gods holding the helm of holy wisdom, who, having kindled an upward-leading fire, draw to the immortals
human souls, who leave the dark hole behind,
purified by the secret initiations of hymns.
Hearken, great saviours, and grant me from very divine books pure light, scattering the mist,
so that I know well an immortal god from a man;
that a daemon, doing cruel things, may not hold me forever submerged
in the streams of forgetfulness, while I am far away from the blessed ones,
that a chilling Penalty may not bind my soul with the fetters of life,
which, fallen into the waves of cold becoming,
does not want to wander all too long.
But, gods, leaders towards bright-shining wisdom,
hearken and reveal to me, while hurrying to the upward leading track,
the secret rites and initiations of the holy words.

Proclus’ Hymns, R. M. van den Berg, p. 228

My reasons for reciting this hymn were, and are, perhaps, obvious. For people interested in the other hymns, the original monograph has a lot of analysis of the original Greek words and each hymn’s composition in addition to the translations, but it’s expensive; in late April of this year (2021), B. B. Powell’s Greek Poems to the Gods: Hymns from Homer to Proclus will presumably contain a more affordable translation.

In the margins about halfway through the Platonic Theology, I wrote THEURGY in all caps above the scribbled phrase, reminds me of his prayer to the Gods of wisdom, when I reached this passage:

Such are the conceptions which may be assumed from Plato concerning the third triad of the intelligible, and at the same time intellectual orders, which at one time he denominates the subcelestial arch, possessing a summit, middle, and extremity, but at another a blessed mystery, and of all mysteries the most ancient and august, through which he elevates souls and conjoins them to the mystic plenitude of intelligibles. For this triad opens the celestial paths, being established under the celestial circulation, and exhibits the self-splendid appearances of the Gods, which are both entire and firm, and expand to the mystic inspection of intelligible spectacles, as Socrates says in the Phædrus. For telete precedes muesis, and muesis, epopteia. Hence we are initiated [teleioumetha] in ascending, by the perfective Gods. But we view with closed eyes [i. e. with the pure soul itself, muoumetha] entire and stable appearances, through the connective Gods, with whom there is the intellectual wholeness, and the firm establishment of souls. And we become fixed in, and spectators of [epopteuomen] the intelligible watch tower, through the Gods who are the collectors of wholes. We speak indeed of all these things as with reference to the intelligible, but we obtain a different thing according to a different order. For the perfective Gods initiate us in the intelligible through themselves. And the collective monads are through themselves the leaders of the inspection of intelligibles. And there are indeed many steps of ascent, but all of them extend to the paternal port, and the paternal initiation, in which may the teletarchs, who are the leaders of all good, likewise establish us, illuminating us not by words, but by deeds. May they also think us worthy of being filled with intelligible beauty under the mighty Jupiter, and perfectly free us from those evils about generation with which we are now surrounded as with a wall. May they likewise impart to us by illumination this most beautiful fruit of the present theory, which, following the divine Plato, we have sufficiently delivered to those who love the contemplation of truth.

Proclus, trans. Taylor, Book IV, Chapter 26, 76.21-78.1, p. 279

I bolded the specific passage that got me thinking about the hymn — the idea of barriers that are sectioning embodied souls off from achieving these feats of contemplation.

This passage a few books later, commenting on a myth in Plato where time goes backwards, also made me think of the hymn. The focus of the passage-at-large is Kronos and his benevolence.

Moreover, he says, that our souls, and all the natures that have a life separate from bodies, at one time live according to that elevating progression, and at another according to the mundane; and now indeed we proceed from youth to old age, since we have departed from a flourishing and undefiled life, and are borne to earth, and generation; but then on the contrary, we proceeded from old age to youth. On which account, we were led round to a flourishing, intellectual, and liberated form of energy. Hence also, the corporeal-formed nature [with which we are connected,] was gradually obliterated, and whatever causes us to tend downward, and renders us inseparable from the universe. But an incorporeal, and immaterial nature shone forth, and was filled with the Gods who are the leaders of a life of this kind.

Proclus, Book VI, Chapter XVI, p. 441 of the Platonic Theology trans. Taylor

And, finally, a section from Taylor’s excerpt of Proclus’ commentary on the Cratylus. This captures the “danger” daimones, which I put in quotation marks because daimones just do their thing and it’s not like it’s anything personal. (I was going to write “daimones gonna daim” but that would probably date me.)

These triple genera [of daimones] posterior to, are indeed, always suspended from the Gods, but they are divided from each other. And some of them are essentially intellectual; others are essentialized in rational souls; and others subsist in irrational and phantastic lives, i. e. in lives characterised by imagination. It is also evident that such of them as are intellectual; are allotted a prudence or wisdom transcending that of human nature, and which is eternally conjoined with the objects of their intellection. But such of them as are rational, energize discursively according to prudence. And the irrational kind are destitute of prudence. For they dwell in matter, and the darkest parts of the universe. They also bind souls to image-producing bosoms, (και συνδει τας ψυχας τοις ειδωλοποιοις κολποις) and strangle such as are brought into that region, until they have suffered the punishment which is their due. These three genera therefore, which are more excellent than us, Socrates now calls dæmons.

Proclus, PSC 128, On Plato’s Cratylus, as quoted in Book VII of the Platonic Theology trans. Thomas Taylor

So, yes, I recite that hymn now, it would appear — even if, considering my hieropoeic goals, my concrete aim is in the “signify things of this kind obscurely and mystically” (Platonic Theology, Book V, Chapter 36) and to-become-highly-competent-at-theurgic-arts camps, which are actually just the same camp with different expressive qualities. I trust the sentiments within the hymn still stand.


2 thoughts on “Being Held Submerged

  1. I love this hymn!

    For me, it started when I was reading the Republic Commentary in 2019, and I would sing this hymn before I opened the text each day. Thank the Gods that some of these treasures have come down to us!

    Liked by 1 person

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