Proclus, On the Timaeus of Plato, Book 5, 324.5-24

This very topic should be investigated from the very beginning, asking why it is that the soul comes down into bodies. It is because it wants to imitate the providential care of the Gods, and it enters into generation on this account, abandoning contemplation. For, given that divine perfection is of two kinds, the one intellective, and the other providential, the former involving rest and the latter motion, their static, intellective, and undeviating nature is reflected through the soul’s contemplation, while their providential and motive power is reflected in its generation-working life. And just as this intellection is particular, so too their providential care is particular, and as an individual soul it occupies itself with an individual body. Furthermore it is contributing to the perfection of the cosmos. For there must not only be immortal and intellective animals, as there are among the Gods, nor only mortal and non-rational ones of the same kind as the last animals in the creation process, but also all the animals between these, ones that are not at all immortal but are able to partake of reason and intellection. There are many such animals spread across many sectors of the cosmos, because it is not only the human being that is a mortal rational animal, but there are also many other such kinds, some more daimonic and some closer in substance to ourselves. Hence the descents of the individual souls contribute to the composition of all the animals that are both mortal and rational.

This quotation is from the translation by Harold Tarrant. I was looking for a section several weeks ago, and this passage (not the one I was hunting for) jumped out at me. I read it in Spaces earlier this month when discussing with others what we were all reading.

A reason it jumped out at me is that we often see disparaging things about embodiment, especially when one is just jumping into texts filled with lovely passages about developing the virtues, relaxing/releasing ties to the body’s appetites, and so on. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the lifestyle-encompassing matters at hand there. On the flip side, there is the fact that we are each literally here to “imitate the providential care of the Gods.” It is a passage reminiscent of Iamblichus’ discussion of human happiness and how we are at our happiest when we, in embodiment, are moving in tandem with the Gods — as if we are properly dancing to a divine melody.

The other interesting thing here is perhaps not something that Proclus intended because opinions about physical cosmology were so different back in the ancient world — parallax (the apparent motion of stars), the Earth’s wobble, and so on were not easy to observe (and, in the case of parallax, you can’t do that with the naked eye) — and because I am sure that Proclus was actually thinking about the angels, daimones, and heroes, not about actual other physical species. However, the idea of “many such animals spread across many sectors of the cosmos” brings to mind an image of the entire universe filled with life.

It is also interesting to think of closer to home. My partner and I were watching short documentaries about orcas on YouTube recently, and it suddenly occurred to me that the senseless-to-us killings of animals (moose, seals, and so on) that the orcas engage in could be ritual activity for some purpose — a God, a spirit, an ancestor — that we don’t recognize because we are a different species and don’t think like orcas. I then considered an orca placed in a human-developed virtual reality environment and how shocking and random so much of what we do might seem. We take many things for granted is based on our embodied context, and sometimes, in encounters with things that seem alien and random to us, we can use reflection to question whether we only think that way due to lack of experiential knowledge. At the core, though, the same Providence of the Gods is available to all of us, and we each pray in our own way, either modeling the God we are rooted in or wandering in the train of another.


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