Remember, Proclus’ Birthday Is On 8 February

Proclus was born in 412 CE on 8 February. We have his birth chart (amazingly), so he’s one of the few ancient Platonists whom we can honor on a birthday. I am posting this a few days early so that anyone who might want to honor him has the heads up and can think about what, if anything, they want to do on Wednesday.

Proclus truly deserves the name “Diadochus” (the Successor) because he has touched generations of people — on almost(?) every continent, depending on whether or not someone on the Antarctic research station has ever brought heavy polar night reading. Despite having no children of his own, Proclus continues to produce intellectual children over a millennium and a half after his death. From his surviving hymns, we know that he prayed for inspiration from the holy words of the wise, looking back on the writings of those who were his own predecessors; today, when people recite the prayers he wrote, many of us are hoping to gain the divine inspiration to understand the writings that he himself left behind. It is that divine spark in them that matters, and even when reading them in translation, one can tell how much love and care he had for the tradition and the Gods and how much he wanted to make it comprehensible to those who came after him. His writings are a pulsing presence, a beautiful unfolding in ink that points to what cannot be touched, that which has no color or shape.

In the Anglosphere, we trace our reception of Proclus to Thomas Taylor (b. May 15, 1758), and many Platonisms and Platonizing polytheisms of the United Kingdom and its former colonies trace their origins ultimately back to Taylor’s love of the Gods that were awakened by his encounter with these powerful texts and the Gods. The story of our reception of Platonism is a long and winding one over the past few centuries. While we may not always like everything about those who followed on Taylor because they tended to “move what should not be moved” and monotheize, they are also still our predecessors, and the best way to be Platonizing in America or the UK or elsewhere is to be conscious that this spiritual reception is not new and to place ourselves as part of that conversation, to know who we are and where we come from (at least in this lifetime). The intro to this book is very illuminating, for example. Despite ultimately growing from that milieu, we still owe a lot of who we are to Proclus, in addition to Damascius, Simplicius, and the others who worked tirelessly under significant psychological, social, and physical pressure in a hostile environment.

One thing someone could do on Wednesday is to give an ancestor libation to Proclus before or after reading about his life. This could be accompanied by a compassion-style meditation in which one thinks of the good qualities he had, of viewing his prolific activity and care in terms of the care that Hermes (his leader-God) has for all of us, and of imagining ourselves as capable of climbing that summit after him. We can view the distribution of Proclus’ writings around the world in light of what Proclus himself wrote about how Hermes distributes philosophy and teachings.

By “climbing the summit,” of course, not all of us are philosophers, and we don’t need to be precisely that — I’m a Platonizing theurgist and definitely not trained in philosophy, and I’m more interested in gaining a direct experience of truth through the Gods; I know Plato is the best route to that because of what happened when I experienced the Phaedrus for the first time, and I am committed to Platonism. Ergo, I venerate Proclus and other Platonists as intellectual/spiritual “ancestors” (predecessors is probably the best word, though). That’s totally licit for those of us who view Platonism from a spiritual lifestyle/path standpoint.

Now, here are some writings about Proclus to start from:

Marinus’ “Life of Proclus”:

John Dillon’s reflections on Proclus’ life as viewed through Marinus:

Edward Butler’s reflections on Proclus 1600 years after his birth:

barefootwisdom’s “On the Nativity of Proclus”:

Proclus’ page on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Proclus and His Legacy, eds. John Dillon, David D. Butorac, and Danielle A. Layne (open access!!! — you probably just want the intro unless another topic moves you)

Even ChatGPT says, “Proclus was an inspiring and influential teacher, and his legacy continues to this day. He was beloved by his students, who saw him as a wise and compassionate teacher who was dedicated to helping them understand the truth. His works continue to be studied and revered by scholars and philosophers around the world, and his ideas continue to inspire new generations of thinkers.”

Happy early birthday, Proclus Diadochus.

This is from a book written by Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie. It’s here, if you’re curious.

18 thoughts on “Remember, Proclus’ Birthday Is On 8 February

  1. Just a further general observation: this is probably the most active, productive, and pleasant comment exchange I’ve seen on any blog in years, and (thankfully!) no needless drama or anything attached to it! May that be a testament to how well curated and maintained your virtual space is, Kaye, and what a tremendous resource and true agora for exchange it is! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Speaking of venerating philosophers, I might as well take the opportunity to ask you about something I have noticed. I’ve seen people refer to Plato as the “Divine Plato”. Did Plato undergo apotheosis? I know Plato is essentially venerated as a hero and I even know that a ring was inscribed with an invocation of Dionysos-Plato but but what have you heard? Thank you.

    Hail Proclus!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s called the Divine Plato in part because his insights reach up to the highest levels of divine understanding that a human being is capable of. Olympiodorus in the Alcibiades I commentary and someone in the Anonymous Prolegomena to Platonic Philosophy both offer a brief Life of Plato that integrates divine signs into a discussion of his life, such as bees filling his mouth with honey as a baby (that’s also discussed in this separate text) and Socrates having a dream that a swan was about to come to him (again, here’s another, earlier discussion of that).

      Traditionally, his birthday had been marked by lectures and symposia in antiquity. There are a few anecdotes in the writings themselves about this. Proclus, in the Life by Marinus, extends veneration to many different philosophers (in a way that is appropriate for dead people), and I think that’s a good model for this. In the Renaissance, a few people moved his birthday to mid-November (from 7 Thargelion) and I really have no idea why. It breaks the association Plato has with purifying/healing our souls’ outlooks due to it being Thargelia, not to mention how it de-emphasizes Plato’s relationship with Apollon.

      Interestingly, here’s a passage from Aelius Aristides (winter 170/171 CE), where he is recounting a dream he had:

      When I was at the entrance, I saw that it was a temple of Plato the philosopher, and that a great and fair image of him was erected there, and a statue of someone was erected on his right. A very beautiful woman sat upon the threshold and discoursed about Plato and the statue. Some others also took part in the discussion, and at the same time discoursed as if it were ancient. And I said, “It is not possible to say that it is ancient. For the form of the work­manship shows that it is rather recent, and there was not much regard of Plato in Plato’s own life time, but,” I said, “his reputation grew later.” But when someone said that there ought to be three temples of Plato, “Why not,” I said extravagantly, “eighty of Demos­thenes, and of Homer at any rate, I think.” And still speaking, I said, “But perhaps it is proper to consecrate temples to the Gods, but to honor famous men with the offering of books, since,” I said, “our most valuable possessions are what we say, for statues and images are the monuments of bodies, but books of rhetoric.”

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      1. The November 7th thing started, to the best of my knowledge, with Marcilio Ficino and the Florentine Academy, during the Italian Renaissance. Plato’s traditional birthday is the 7th of Thargelion, the 11th month of the Athenian calendar, which begins after the summer solstice. Ficino and his associates celebrated on the 7th day of the 11th month of the Julian calendar. So, still 7th day of the 11th month, just counting the months from a different place.

        For myself, I have my main celebration according to the lunar calendar in spring (7th Thargelion, which usually falls in May) and a smaller commemoration—the “Lesser Platoneia”, if you will—in the autumn (7th November, roughly Plato’s “half-birthday”).

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  3. I am very much for this, and have had Proclus on the list of Sancta/e/i for many years now!

    Do you know any good references for English translations of his various hymns? I’ve only seen one at this point, that was in an anthology (his one to Hekate and Ianus, if I am not mistaken in my memory), but there must be others, I would have thought…?

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    1. There are seven hymns that are readily acknowleged to be by Proclus, including the one to Janus-Zeus, Hekate, and the Mother of the Gods that you’re referring to. Some scholars (a minority) and some devotees (including myself and, I think, Kaye) will add as an 8th the “Homeric Hymn to Ares,” which is certainly post-Homeric.

      The standard scholarly edition and translation of the seven hymns is R.M. van den Berg, Proclus’ Hymns (Brill, 2001). Given who the publisher is, it’s both very high quality, and absurdly expensive… but well worth your time, if you can get a copy from an academic library, or interlibrary loan, etc. Van den Berg’s extensive commentary (included in the volume) is very helpful, and well worth close reading.

      Thomas Taylor translated 6 of the 7 currently-accepted hymns, so those are in the public domain (and in volume V of the works of Taylor published by the Prometheus Trust). Given the customs of his time, those versions are in good metered and rhyming verse, at the expense of precision and literalness.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ooof, that’s unfortunate about the library access!

        You can find Proclus’ hymn to King Helios if you scroll WAY down on this page. I can attest from personal experience that this hymn makes an excellent prayer either for sunrise or for noon; I’ve used it extensively especially for the latter.

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      2. These are also in Powell’s Greek Poems to the Gods, which is priced at mass-market distribution. Here’s a review I did of that book because Powell’s understanding of Proclus is shaky. They’re still decent translations (plus, fwiw, the Callimachus in this is the most readable translation I’ve ever encountered).

        100% in agreement on the Hymn to Ares.

        Here’s the common hymn to wisdom-bringing Gods —

        Liked by 1 person

      1. This is on the same site Kaye links to for the image in the post; I just realized what an awkward place it is to have hosting these hymns, in its larger context. Sigh. They’re beautiful hymns nonetheless.

        Liked by 1 person

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