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2059Re: [neoplatonism] Iamblichus 'eye of wisdom' alleged reference

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  • John Uebersax
    May 9, 2008
      Hi Leonard,

      > Could anyone point me toward the specific passage in Iamblichus to which this
      > might be referring?

      Probably the Life of Pythagoras.

      This, found online, agrees with what you read:

      "In his Life of Pythagoras, Iamblichus repeats the statement of Plato that the study of
      the science of Numbers tends to awaken that organ in the brain which the ancients
      described as the "eye of wisdom", the organ now known to physiology as the pineal gland.
      Speaking of the mathematical disciplines, Plato says in the Republic (Book VII), "the
      soul through these disciplines has an organ purified and enlightened, an organ better
      worth saving than ten thousand corporeal eyes, since truth becomes visible through this

      In the Life of Pythagoras:

      "He [Pythagoras] was the cause to his disciples of the most appropriate converse with the
      Gods, both when they were awake and when asleep; a thing which never takes place in a
      soul disturbed by anger, pain, pleasure or any other base desire, or defiled by
      ignorance, which is more unholy and noxious than all these. By all these inventions he
      divinely healed and purified the soul, resuscitated and saved its divine part and
      conducted to the intelligible its divine eye, which, as Plato says, is better worth
      saving than ten thousand corporeal eyes; for by looking through this alone, when it is
      strengthened and clarified by appropriate aids, the truth pertaining to all things is
      perceived. Referring therefore to this, Pythagoras purified the dianoetic power of the
      - Iamblichus, Life of Pythagoras (Thomas Taylor, tr;, p. 56)

      Note that Iamblichus only refers to a "divine eye", and not the "eye of wisdom"; and he
      doesn't call it an "organ in the brain."

      Looking at Plato's Republic:

      I am amused, I said, at your fear of the world, which makes you guard against the
      appearance of insisting upon useless studies; and I quite admit the difficulty of
      believing that in every man there is an eye of the soul which, when by other pursuits
      lost and dimmed, is by these purified and re-illumined; and is more precious far than ten
      thousand bodily eyes, for by it alone is truth seen.
      - Rep. 7.527d-e (Jowett, tr.)

      Compare with:

      "I am amused," said I, "at your apparent fear lest the multitude may suppose you to be
      recommending useless studies. It is indeed no trifling task, but very difficult to
      realize that there is in every soul an organ or instrument of knowledge that is purified
      and kindled afresh by such studies when it has been destroyed and blinded by our ordinary
      pursuits, a faculty whose preservation outweighs ten thousand eyes; for by it only is
      reality beheld.
      - Rep. 7.527d-e (Shorey, tr.)

      Don't ask me about the Greek, but the operative terms here seem to be, organon ti psuchês
      -- suggesting Shorey is more accurate here.

      In any case, this this article describes some interesting views on the pineal gland in
      antiquity and late antiquity:

      Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
      "Descartes and the Pineal Gland"

      Hope this helps.

      John Uebersax

      John Uebersax, PhD
      Brussels, Belgium
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