prayers, texts, and modes of transmission is no longer in question.
Pre-Hellenic Egyptianmaterials are evident in the
; the question is to what degree.
The fact thatPythagoreanizing Platonists such as Iamblichus and Proclus turned to Egypt and Chaldea tocommunicate their mystagogy was precisely because these traditions employed a symbolic modeof expression and ritual practices they considered superior to discursive thinking, the kind of thinking that Iamblichus condescendingly describes as “syllogistic reasoning.”
The later Platonists were after more than a rational understanding of divinity. They wanted to recover an“innate
of gods … superior to all judgment, choice, reasoning, and proof.”
To recover this
was to recover our divinity and Iamblichus maintained that the Greeks had lost touchwith this sacred mystagogy.The theurgy of Iamblichus has gone through a rehabilitation not unlike that of the
. His treatise,
On the Mysteries
, was initially dismissed as an alarming signal of thedecline of Greek rationality. It was, as Dodds put it, “ill-written, philosophically worthless … amanifesto of irrationalism.”
A more careful and nuanced study of theurgy by Jean Trouillardrevealed that far from expressing a deficiency of rationality, the theurgy of the later Platonistsfollowed Plotinian lines of reflection to the very roots of thought. Trouillard argued that theurgyritually
a way to enter mysteries that discursive thinking, necessarily divided, cannot penetrate.
Theurgy is not opposed to philosophical thinking but is, according to Trouillard, itsculmination.
My work on theurgy is indebted to Trouillard as well as to the scholarship of John Dillon, Polymnia Athanassiadi, and, more recently, Algis Uzdavinys.
They have shownIamblichus to be a critically important philosopher who unified the teachings of Plato andAristotle within a Pythagorean framework and integrated this philosophic synthesis with theoldest forms of traditional worship. The status he held among Platonists is reflected inDamascius’ praise of Iamblichus as “the best interpreter of divine realities.”
The dialogue form seen in the
is found in the
Book of Thoth;
see J.-P. Mahé, “Preliminary Remarks onthe Demotic
Book of Thoth
and the Greek
50, 1996, 353-363.
Poimandres, for example, is now understood to be the “mind of Ra” rather than the Hellenized “shepherd of men;”see Kingsley, op. cit., 46-51; see also Brian Copenhaver,
with notes and introduction (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1992) 95. Copenhaver agrees with Kingsley that F.L. Griffith initially proposed theCoptic
= “the knowledge of Re,” which agrees with the content of
On the symbolic mode of Egyptian theology, see
249.10 – 250.5; 37.6-11; on the inability of syllogisticreasoning to penetrate theurgic mysteries, see
E.R. Dodds, “Iamblichus,”
Oxford Classical Dictionary
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1970) 538; _______,
TheGreeks and the Irrational
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973) 287.
8.2-4: "Knowledge, after all, is separated (from its object) by some degree of otherness."
L’Un et L’âme selon Proclos
(Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1972) 174.
John Dillon has been the pre-eminent scholar of Iamblichean Platonism since his publication in 1978:
In Platonis Dialogos Commentariorum Fragmenta
; translated and edited by John Dillon (Leiden:Brill 1978); Polymnia Athanassiadi has published numerous articles that address Iamblichus’ influence on histradition. Most recently, see her study,
La lutte pour l’orthodoxie dans le platonisme tardif: de Numénius à Damascius
(L’âne d’or, Collection dirigée par Alain Segonds), Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2006. Before his untimelydeath in 2011, Algis Uzdavinys was a Lithuanian meteorite who fired through a number of studies on Iamblicheantheurgy and its comparison to ancient Egyptian religion. His most notable:
Philosophy as a Rite of Rebirth
(Wiltshire, UK: The Prometheus Trust, 2008), and
Philosophy & Theurgy in Late Antiquity
(San Rafael, CA:Sophia Perennis, 2010).
Traité des premieres principes
, 3 volumes, text and translation, J.
, vol. 3.119.6-8 (Paris: Les Belles Lettres 1986-1991).