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Prometheus and the Neoplatonists

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  • vaeringjar
    For a while now I have been trying to get a grasp on the history of the terms monad and henad as used in a Platonic and Pythagorean context. Without
    Message 1 of 5 , Mar 6, 2005
      For a while now I have been trying to get a grasp on the history of
      the terms "monad" and "henad" as used in a Platonic and
      Pythagorean context. Without rehearsing all the various authors,
      primary and secondary, I have been digging about in, I would
      say, also without any elaboration, that the first attested uses are
      in Plato in the Philebus 15b and, perhaps, Philolaus,
      before him, especially frag B8 from Iamblichus in Nic. 77, 9: "The
      Monad as being the principle [arche] of all things,
      according to Philolaus (for does he not say that One is the
      principle [archa] of all things?)" (my translation) - contra, I
      fully realize, Burkert and Huffman. As to the nuances of meaning
      of "monad", whether it means "one", or "one of one, two,
      three...", "One", "the second one below the One", that is another
      matter and not always so clear, in many later authors. I found
      rather by accident the very helpful history of the terms in Saffrey
      and Westerink's introduction to their edition of Proclus' Plat.
      Theol. III, as well as Prof. Dillon's two articles on whether
      Iamblichus originated the doctrine of henads, and of course
      Dodd's edition of the Elements of Theology.

      But what I wanted to draw attention to in this posting is the
      subject of Prometheus and how the Platonists saw him in this
      context. In the course of this research, I came across what I
      thought was an intriguing passage in Hippolytus Ref.I.3.1,
      discussed by Jaap Mansfeld in <Heresiography in Context>, p.190 and
      230-31: "The God is in the intelligent fire of the Monad, and all
      things come together from fire and will be resolved into fire"
      (Mansfeld's translation). Mansfeld identifies the
      expression "intelligent fire" as a Stoic one, going back originally
      to Heraclitus' "pyr noeron ton theon", also in Hipp. at I.4.2. While
      it certainly sounds Stoic/Heraclitean, I wondered about the
      association with the One, which I didn't think was Stoic. Also I was
      curious about exactly which Stoics might have made use of this
      expression, and all I could find in my own books was a fragment of
      Posidonius (101 Kidd from Aetius) where he describes pneuma
      as "noeron kai pyrowdes". At any rate, it's a striking image, I
      think, and somehow the fire part brought me back to Prometheus and
      the Philebus.

      In a very convincing article in the collection "Before Plato" Carl
      Huffman argues that in that same passage 15b of the Philebus
      that Plato is influenced specifically by Philolaus, not just
      Pythagoreans in general ("The Philoaic Method: The Pythagorean
      Behind the Philebus", pp.67-85). Here is his rendering of the
      passage: "As a gift, so it appears to me, it was hurled down
      from the gods to man along with a dazzling fire on account of some
      Prometheus. And the men before our time, since they were
      better than we are and lived closer to the gods, handed down this
      report about the things that are in each case said to be,
      that they are from one and many and that they have limit and
      unlimited in themselves by nature."

      Huffman elsewhere in his book on Philolaus asserts that the concept
      of the Monad or One attributed to Philolaus specifically by
      Iamblichus (to say nothing of Proclus, Damascius, and Syrianus, who
      give us similar very direct statements, which Huffman also includes
      in his book but likewise discounts) is not echt Philolauan, seeing
      it along with Burkert as instead strictly Platonic, but given all
      the other evidence in Aristotle and elsewhere that Plato took these
      very idea from the Pythagoreans, I don't agree with this position.
      Huffman adduces fragment 7 of Philolaus, "The first thing fitted
      together, the one in the center of the the sphere, is called the
      hearth," since it includes the term "fitted together" (harmosthen),
      as major evidence that Philolaus could not have seen the One as
      primary, since here it is described as "harmosthen". I think this
      the wrong interpretation of this passage. The central fire or hearth
      is a physical thing, and as such in the Pythagorean view, it would
      thus be fitted together, as are all physical things. The relevance
      to the Monad or One here rather is allusive, drawn from nature - the
      universe is modeled on mathematics and held together by harmony, and
      the central object is seen as a physical analogy to the Monad, being
      as it is in the center of the universe, but is not to be taken
      literally as the Monad itself. A passage in Plutarch in the Life of
      Numa 11, which Huffman actually quotes in another context but does
      not address in this regard, is perhaps relevant, describing why the
      Temple of Vesta built supposedly by Numa is circular and contains
      the perpetual fire: "not in imitation of the shape of the
      earth...but of the entire universe, at the centre of which the
      Pythagoreans place the element of fire, and call it Vesta
      and Unit [hestian kalousi kai monada]" (Perrin's translation in the
      Loeb vol.1 of the Lives). Again I would say Monad here is
      figurative. And again, here we have fire at the center of things, as
      it were. Huffman does pursue the notion of the limited and unlimited
      in the Philebus as influenced by Philolaus, and this is in fact the
      important and persuasive gist of his article. He also does not see
      Plato's use of Prometheus as an allusion to Pythagoras himself, as
      some do, but definitely identifies the "men before our time" as the
      Pythagoreans.

      But as I read this passage, it appears clear to me that Plato
      intends the "report" about the the one and many and limit and
      unlimited as an explanation of the "gift" of the gods; that report
      includes both concepts, not just the limit and unlimited. Again
      regardless of the specific provenance of these ideas, I think anyone
      would have to concede they are clearly early Pythagorean, whether
      specifically or not from Philolaus' writings or teachings.

      In part because of the striking relevance of this passage in the
      context of the Unwritten Doctrines (how can you ignore it?), it
      seemed the next natural step would be to examine what the
      Neoplatonists had to say, if anything, about it. As mentioned in my
      previous posting, Porphyry as reported by Simplicius apparently had
      a lot to say, even to go so far as to use it as an opportunity to
      expound on it in such a way to connect it directly to the Unwritten
      Doctrines as detailed by Aristotle in On the Good. As I have said
      before, what a pity we are missing the rest of this work. Moving on,
      I looked at Iamblichus, but unfortunately the fragments of his
      commentary on the Philebus do not address this passage, and that
      left as far as I know just Damascius' commentary as the most likely
      place to look. (Proclus does refer of course to the Philebus in a
      number of passages, but I will spare you all any ramblings in that
      direction.) And it was there that I found what I thought was the
      most interesting view of Prometheus in this regard.

      Here, a rather remarkable passage, sections 57-61, pp.28-29, that I
      was unaware of before (Westerink's translation from his
      edition of the lectures): "Prometheus reveals the ways in which the
      Gods proceed down into nature, Epimetheus, the modes of their
      reversion to the intelligible plane. Iamblichus is stated to have
      said so on the authority of Pythagoras." ("Hoti ho men Prometheus
      tas heis ten physin ton theon ekphainei prohodous, ho de Epimetheus
      tas heis to noeton epaniousas epistrophas..."). We have then
      Prometheus associated with Procession and Epimetheus with Return,
      prohodos and epistrophe. I would like to give a little more of this
      passage, intriguing as it is:

      "We must add to this, says Proclus, that there are many aspects of
      Prometheus: on the intellective, the supra-mundane and the intra-
      mundane level, each transmitting the divine gifts to the world
      accordingly. We must also add, he says, that the distinctive
      character of this deity is to reveal the good that is hidden with
      the Gods; therefore he is said to have stolen the fire, that is to
      say, to have disclosed the mystic treasure. Plato in the Protagoras
      makes Prometheus superior to Epimetheus in imitation of Hesiod; the
      Pythagoreans however seem to rank Epimetheus higher. This, I think,
      can be inferred from the fact that they associate Prometheus with
      procession, Epimetheus with reversion; hence the higher valuation,
      for it is better for souls to revert from genesis than to go forth
      into it...the fire that Prometheus stole and gave to man is all
      elevatory existence and elevatory perfection, not viewed in its
      upward motion, but in the process of being distributed through him
      to the lowest stratum of the universe..."

      A number of points here - clearly the notion of "noeron pyr" is much
      in evidence, hundreds of years after Posidonius. One also thinks of
      Plotinus' use of light metaphors to describe the emanation of the
      One. The obvious connection of "pro-" and "epi-" in the names of the
      twin deities with prohodos and epistrophe cannot be missed, and that
      may be enough, along with Plato's mention of Prometheus and the gift
      of fire, to supply the origin of this Neoplatonic interpretation of
      the myth of Prometheus and his brother. But what caused Plato to
      associate Prometheus with this gift? What can be made if anything of
      the fact that Damascius reports that Iamblichus attributes this
      interpretation to the Pythagoreans? If actually true, that would
      move the concept of procession and return much, much earlier than
      Plotinus, even though I hardly think we can take Iamblichus at face
      value here without more evidence from him or others. Normally one
      wouldn't associate Plato himself either with this idea, obviously,
      but all this certainly is intriguing. What Damascius does not
      include here is any reference to the several Chaldean Oracles, some
      of which he quotes himself elsewhere as our only source of them,
      which also speak of the "noeric fire" flowing down from the Father,
      etc., such as Oracles 1, 33, and 34 in Majercik's collection. And
      also earlier than Damascius, Julian had this to say in his Oration
      to the Cynics:

      "The gift of the gods sent down to mankind with the glowing flame of
      fire from the sun through the agency of Prometheus along with the
      blessings of Hermes is not other than the bestowal of reason and
      mind. For Prometheus, the Forethought that guides all things mortal
      by infusing into nature a fiery breath to serve as an operative
      cause, gave to all things a share in incorporeal reason [he panta
      epitropeuousa ta thneta pronoia, pneuma enthermon hosper organon
      hypoballousa tei physei]" (translation of Wright from the Loeb of
      Julian, vol.II p.9). Note Julian not surprisingly includes the
      participation of the Sun in his version of the Neoplatonic
      interpretation of Prometheus. Unless he is drawing solely from
      Plato, I think it's fair to ask if there might have been some trace
      of Iamblichus' influence here, given Julian's adherence to his
      teachings, who might have passed on to Julian through his students
      or writings his view of Prometheus described by Damascius.

      To return to the Monad in this context, I should add I don't think
      the Neoplatonists would associate it directly with any notion
      of "noeric pyr", since the One is above the level of Nous. Such a
      connection seems more Middle Platonic I would think, more likely to
      be acceptable to Numenius and fitting into the schema of the
      Chaldaean Oracles. Perhaps it is for that reason that Damascius does
      not refer to them in the above mentioned sections of his lectures on
      the Philebus - ? It would still be useful to examine the full
      context of those passages including these fragments of the Oracles
      to determine his purpose in citing them.

      I will finally (!) close by making my own addition to all this: it
      may also be significant, though nowhere stated in any of these
      sources, that Xenocrates associated Zeus with the Monad - the same
      Zeus whom Prometheus greatly angered, was punished by, and was later
      reconciled to, for stealing the heavenly fire and giving it to
      humanity. As Damascius concludes this section on the Philebus, "This
      is why it is said to be stolen, because, though elevatory, it is
      brought down; and through him, because only its descent is effected
      by Titanic powers, while its existence as form is due to other Gods."

      Dennis Clark
      Issaquah
    • vaeringjar
      ... snip ... I was thinking about this question today, and it really doesn t make sense to ask it here, since Damascius in the Philebus lectures is not
      Message 2 of 5 , Mar 7, 2005
        --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "vaeringjar" <vaeringjar@y...>
        wrote:
        >
        > What Damascius does not
        > include here is any reference to the several Chaldean Oracles, some
        > of which he quotes himself elsewhere as our only source of them,
        > which also speak of the "noeric fire" flowing down from the Father,
        > etc., such as Oracles 1, 33, and 34 in Majercik's collection. And
        > also earlier than Damascius, Julian had this to say in his Oration
        > to the Cynics:
        >

        snip

        > To return to the Monad in this context, I should add I don't think
        > the Neoplatonists would associate it directly with any notion
        > of "noeric pyr", since the One is above the level of Nous. Such a
        > connection seems more Middle Platonic I would think, more likely to
        > be acceptable to Numenius and fitting into the schema of the
        > Chaldaean Oracles. Perhaps it is for that reason that Damascius
        > does not refer to them in the above mentioned sections of his
        > lectures on the Philebus - ?

        I was thinking about this question today, and it really doesn't make
        sense to ask it here, since Damascius in the Philebus lectures is not
        discussing the One, at least not at all directly. So any association
        with noetic fire has nothing to do with the One, and so does not
        offer a reason that he doesn't refer to the Chaldean Oracles here.
        Not sure what I was thinking of there. Oracle 34 is by the way
        actually from Proclus in Tim, not Damascius.

        Also a typo: Posidonius's description in Greek should read "pyrodes".

        Dennis Clark
        Issaquah
      • Malcolm Schosha
        ... same ... later ... Philebus, This ... Gods. ... ............... Zeus, to the Stoics, seems to have been viewed as intelligent fire permeating all
        Message 3 of 5 , Mar 13, 2005
          --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "vaeringjar" <vaeringjar@y...>
          wrote:
          >
          > I will finally (!) close by making my own addition to all this: it
          > may also be significant, though nowhere stated in any of these
          > sources, that Xenocrates associated Zeus with the Monad - the
          same
          > Zeus whom Prometheus greatly angered, was punished by, and was
          later
          > reconciled to, for stealing the heavenly fire and giving it to
          > humanity. As Damascius concludes this section on the
          Philebus, "This
          > is why it is said to be stolen, because, though elevatory, it is
          > brought down; and through him, because only its descent is effected
          > by Titanic powers, while its existence as form is due to other
          Gods."
          >
          > Dennis Clark
          > Issaquah

          ...............

          Zeus, to the Stoics, seems to have been viewed as intelligent fire
          permeating all existence. The quote below was written by Cleanthes,
          and included at the end of The Handbook of Epictetus. Because Zeus
          permeates all of nature, and humans are part of nature, the path of
          our life, as fate, is to be followed willingly as our recognition of
          our unity with the whole, which is guided by Zeus for the good of the
          whole.

          Malcolm Schosha


          "We must always have these thoughts at hand:
          `Lead me, Zeus, and you too, Destiny,
          Wherever you have assigned me to go,
          and I'll follow without hesitating;
          but if am not willing,because I am bad,
          I'll follow all the same.'"


          The Handbook of Epictetuc 53.1, Trans. Seddon
        • Malcolm Schosha
          ... While ... was ... ............... I found these two references in Diogenes Laërtius. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/diogeneslaertius-book7-
          Message 4 of 5 , Mar 14, 2005
            --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "vaeringjar" <vaeringjar@y...>
            wrote:
            >
            > But what I wanted to draw attention to in this posting is the
            > subject of Prometheus and how the Platonists saw him in this
            > context. In the course of this research, I came across what I
            > thought was an intriguing passage in Hippolytus Ref.I.3.1,
            > discussed by Jaap Mansfeld in <Heresiography in Context>, p.190 and
            > 230-31: "The God is in the intelligent fire of the Monad, and all
            > things come together from fire and will be resolved into fire"
            > (Mansfeld's translation). Mansfeld identifies the
            > expression "intelligent fire" as a Stoic one, going back originally
            > to Heraclitus' "pyr noeron ton theon", also in Hipp. at I.4.2.
            While
            > it certainly sounds Stoic/Heraclitean, I wondered about the
            > association with the One, which I didn't think was Stoic. Also I
            was
            > curious about exactly which Stoics might have made use of this
            > expression, and all I could find in my own books was a fragment of
            > Posidonius (101 Kidd from Aetius) where he describes pneuma
            > as "noeron kai pyrowdes". At any rate, it's a striking image, I
            > think, and somehow the fire part brought me back to Prometheus and
            > the Philebus.
            >
            > > Dennis Clark
            > Issaquah

            ...............

            I found these two references in Diogenes Laërtius.
            http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/diogeneslaertius-book7-
            stoics.html

            Malcolm Schosha


            LXXII. They also say that God is an animal immortal, rational,
            perfect, and intellectual in his happiness, unsusceptible of any kind
            of evil, having a foreknowledge of the world [313>] and of all that
            is in the world; however, that he has not the figure of a man; and
            that he is the creator of the universe, and as it were, the Father of
            all things in common, and that a portion of him pervades everything,
            which is called by different names, according to its powers; for they
            call him Dia as being the person (di hon) everything is, and Zêna,
            inasmuch as he is the cause of life, (tou Zêin), or because he
            pervades life. And Athêna, with reference to the extension of his
            dominant power over the aether (eis aithera). And Hêra, on account of
            his extension through the air (eis aera). And Hêphaistos, on account
            of his pervading fire, which is the chief instrument of art; and
            Poseidôn, as pervading moisture, and Dêmêtêr, as pervading the earth
            (Gê). And in the same way, regarding some other of his peculiar
            attributes, they have given him other names.

            LXXXIV. Another of their doctrines is that nature is an artificial
            fire tending by a regular road to production, which is a fiery kind
            of breath proceeding according to art. Also, that the soul is
            sensible, and that it is a spirit which is born with us; consequently
            it is a body and continues to exist after death; that nevertheless it
            is perishable. But that the soul of the universe is imperishable, and
            that the souls which exist in animals are only parts of that of the
            universe. But Zeno, the Cittiaean, and Antipater, in their treatise
            concerning the [317>] Soul, and Posidonius also, all say that the
            soul is a spirit; for that by it we have our breath, and by it we are
            moved. Cleanthes, accordingly, asserts that all souls continue to
            exist till they are burnt up; but Chrysippus says that it is only the
            souls of the wise that endure. And they further teach that there are
            eight parts of the soul; the five senses, and the generative
            faculties, and voice, and reason. And we see because of a body of
            luminous air which extends from the organ of sight to the object in a
            conical form, as it is asserted by Chrysippus, in the second book of
            his Natural Philosophy, and also by Apollodorus. And the apex of this
            cone is close to the eye, and its base is formed by the object which
            is seen; so that that which is seen is as it were reported to the eye
            by this continuous cone of air extended towards it like a staff. In
            the same way, we hear because the air between the speaker and the
            hearer is struck in a spherical manner; and is then agitated in
            waves, resembling the circular eddies which one sees in a cistern
            when a stone is dropped into it.
          • vaeringjar
            ... it ... effected ... of ... the ... The source of Hippolytus quotation which started my posting must have had this in mind, but went further than the
            Message 5 of 5 , Mar 17, 2005
              --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "Malcolm Schosha"
              <malcolmschosha@y...> wrote:
              >
              > --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, "vaeringjar" <vaeringjar@y...>
              > wrote:
              > >
              > > I will finally (!) close by making my own addition to all this:
              it
              > > may also be significant, though nowhere stated in any of these
              > > sources, that Xenocrates associated Zeus with the Monad - the
              > same
              > > Zeus whom Prometheus greatly angered, was punished by, and was
              > later
              > > reconciled to, for stealing the heavenly fire and giving it to
              > > humanity. As Damascius concludes this section on the
              > Philebus, "This
              > > is why it is said to be stolen, because, though elevatory, it is
              > > brought down; and through him, because only its descent is
              effected
              > > by Titanic powers, while its existence as form is due to other
              > Gods."
              > >
              > > Dennis Clark
              > > Issaquah
              >
              > ...............
              >
              > Zeus, to the Stoics, seems to have been viewed as intelligent fire
              > permeating all existence. The quote below was written by Cleanthes,
              > and included at the end of The Handbook of Epictetus. Because Zeus
              > permeates all of nature, and humans are part of nature, the path of
              > our life, as fate, is to be followed willingly as our recognition
              of
              > our unity with the whole, which is guided by Zeus for the good of
              the
              > whole.
              >
              > Malcolm Schosha
              >
              >

              The source of Hippolytus' quotation which started my posting must
              have had this in mind, but went further than the normal Stoic view to
              add the direct association with the Monad instead of the usual naming
              of Zeus. I still am not clear as to who would be the original author
              of this quotation - I assume it's not Philo - ?

              Thanks for the additional references - I really need to study the
              Stoics more.

              Dennis Clark
              Issaquah
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