Two Quotations — van den Berg on Proclus not being Athenian and what that means for sympatheia and Proclus’ prose prayer to the Gods in the Parmenides commentary

This week, after over a month of waiting, my Brill MyBooks came in. One of the books was Iamblichus’ De Anima — or, after the front cover, shall I say <html>Iamblichus’ De Anima (yes, literally, I guess he was in fact Very Online) — and the other was a MyBook print-on-demand of Proclus’ Hymns by van den Berg. I open new books to random pages when I receive them, and in a lovely way, I opened the van den Berg to a page about Rhea and Hekate that really helped me when I was editing the prayer to the Gods that I posted yesterday late at night. It’s great for poets trying to untangle drafts of complicated Platonic prayers when scholars lay things out exhaustively. I also really benefitted from reading and rereading passages in Chlup’s Proclus that discussed the Platonic Theology and the tables in several of the monographs that describe where specific Gods are at different points in the flowering forth of all things. My social science self loves tables and bulleted/numbered lists.

But that aside, the quotations!

There is a special bond of sympatheia between the Athenians and Athena, exactly because she is, in a way, partially responsible for the creation of the Athenians. To mention this fact [in the hymn] would activate this bond (see the discussion of mythical symbola in chapter V § 3.3). It is precisely with this intention that Proclus recalls that the acropolis is a symbol of Athena (vs. 22), and that Attica is thus under the influence of Athena. The reason for this omission is, I surmise, the fact that, although Proclus belongs to the series of Athena by birth (see vs. 42 with my commentary), he is not a native Athenian. Therefore he lacks the symbols that characterize someone born in Attica. As a result, Proclus cannot establish any bond of sympatheia on this particular basis.

Proclus’ Hymns: Essays, Translations, Commentary, R. M. van den Berg

I find this comment from van den Berg interesting, especially as a poet and someone who is also (a) not Athenian and (b) worshipping Hellenic Gods. The material conditions of a person do, in some senses, seem similar here to the discussion Proclus does in the Timaeus commentary about not all places being able to participate in certain ways in the God naturally presiding over them just due to temporality things. A bond of sympatheia not being available to all devotees, but only to some with specific material conditions, seems like an important thing to keep in mind as I compose my own prayers and think about the proper way to do what I call Hellenistic Syncretic Polytheism — there are types of invocations that may not be appropriate for establishing the correct bond with a deity. What is equally important here is that not being Athenian does in no way make Proclus not Athene’s; it’s just that there’s a different sort of relationship, and he takes the positive approach of focusing on what he has with her.

And then that brings us to Proclus’ prose prayer at the opening of the Parmenides commentary. When I was editing my prayer to all of the Gods last night, I looked at this and was struck by how Proclus discussed the benefits that he wanted to receive from the Gods, and I was happy that the poems I’m writing are coming into alignment with that kind of structure, too — this is in keeping with concepts in more philosophically-influenced practices that we pray for what is best for ourselves and others. The Gods are wholly good here, as are the one who proceed from them.

I pray to all the gods and goddesses to guide my mind in this study that I have undertaken — to kindle in me a shining light of truth and enlarge my understanding for the genuine science of being; to open the gates of my soul to receive the inspired guidance of Plato; and in anchoring my thought in the full splendour of reality to hold me back from too much conceit of wisdom and from the paths of error by keeping me in intellectual converse with those realities from which alone the eye of the soul is refreshed and nourished, as Plato says in the Phaedrus (246c-251b). I ask from the intelligible gods fullness of wisdom, from the intellectual gods the power to rise aloft, from the supercelestial gods guiding the universe an activity free and unconcerned with material inquiries, from the gods to whom the cosmos is assigned a winged life, from the angelic choruses a true revelation of the divine, from the good daemons an abundant filling of divine inspiration, and from the heroes a generous, solemn, and lofty disposition. So may all the orders of divine beings help to prepare me fully to share in this most illuminating and mystical vision that Plato reveals to us in the Parmenides with a profundity appropriate to its subject; and which has been unfolded to us, with his own very lucid applications, by one who was in very truth a fellow Bacchant with Plato and filled entirely with divine truth and who, by leading us to the understanding of this vision has become a true hierophant of these divine doctrines. Of him I would say that he came to men as the exact image of philosophy for the benefit of souls here below, in recompense for the statues, the temples, and the whole ritual of worship, and as the chief author of salvation for men who now live and for those to come hereafter. So may all the higher powers be propitious to us and be ready with their gifts to illuminate us also with the light that comes from them and leads us up wards.

Proclus, Parmenides Commentary, Book I, 617ff, trans. Morrow & Dillon

This is also a really beautiful way to talk about one’s teacher.

What I opened up in the Iamblichus at random wasn’t useful for the poem, but for thinking about philosophical understandings among Platonists and Platonizing intellectuals in antiquity. Finamore and Dillon, the translators, were describing in detail the various ways that Platonists thought about when the soul enters the body after conception — often, the important soul comes in at birth, the embryo and fetus is not considered to be alive separately from the mother, and sperm is not carrying souls. I think this is going to be a great read when I get to it because the questions about ensoulment of soon-to-be independently living beings is still highly topical.

Right now, I’m partway through Olympiodorus’ Gorgias commentary. He’s way less lush about discussing the Gods than Proclus, which is a shame; then again, he was living in a very different situation. I may have some things to say about it, but probably when I’m done reading.


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