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Of Cosmocrators and Cosmic Gods: The Place of the Archons in De mysteriis

Of Cosmocrators and Cosmic Gods: The Place of the Archons in De mysteriis

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In the second chapter of De Mysteriis, Iamblichus (AD c.245–325) quotes his interlocutor, Porphyry (AD 234–c.305), as having asked: “what is the sign of the presence of a god, an angel, an archangel, daemon, or of some archon or a soul”? With this query, Iamblichus launches into an exhaustive discourse detailing the epiphanies revealed by the aforementioned beings. When discussing the κρείττονα γενή (“superior classes”), Iamblichus had previously restricted his discourse to the four groups known to so many of the Platonists before him—θεοί (“gods”), δαίμονες (“daimones”), ἥρωες (“heroes”), and ψυχαὶ ἄχρατοι (“pure souls”). Yet, his response to Porphyry’s question includes αρχάγγελος (“archangels”), άγγελος (“angels”), and two varieties of ἄρκοντος (“archons”). Although angels were mentioned by Porphyry and several Middle Platonists, the inclusion of archons in Neoplatonic hierology is uniquely Iamblichean. What then is the nature of these archons? Thus far, studies of Iamblichus have neglected to deal with the issue of the archons in a thorough manner. The secondary literature that does mention them relegates them either to footnotes or a paragraph at most. This paper’s purpose is to remedy this gap in scholarship and to explore the origin of the idea and the resulting role of the archons in De Mysteriis. In particular, I will argue that the conventional assignation of both archontic classes as being below the heroes in the hierarchy of the superior classes is incorrect, and that it can be demonstrated that the cosmic archons are not only ontologically prior to the daimones, but are also identical with the visible gods.
In the second chapter of De Mysteriis, Iamblichus (AD c.245–325) quotes his interlocutor, Porphyry (AD 234–c.305), as having asked: “what is the sign of the presence of a god, an angel, an archangel, daemon, or of some archon or a soul”? With this query, Iamblichus launches into an exhaustive discourse detailing the epiphanies revealed by the aforementioned beings. When discussing the κρείττονα γενή (“superior classes”), Iamblichus had previously restricted his discourse to the four groups known to so many of the Platonists before him—θεοί (“gods”), δαίμονες (“daimones”), ἥρωες (“heroes”), and ψυχαὶ ἄχρατοι (“pure souls”). Yet, his response to Porphyry’s question includes αρχάγγελος (“archangels”), άγγελος (“angels”), and two varieties of ἄρκοντος (“archons”). Although angels were mentioned by Porphyry and several Middle Platonists, the inclusion of archons in Neoplatonic hierology is uniquely Iamblichean. What then is the nature of these archons? Thus far, studies of Iamblichus have neglected to deal with the issue of the archons in a thorough manner. The secondary literature that does mention them relegates them either to footnotes or a paragraph at most. This paper’s purpose is to remedy this gap in scholarship and to explore the origin of the idea and the resulting role of the archons in De Mysteriis. In particular, I will argue that the conventional assignation of both archontic classes as being below the heroes in the hierarchy of the superior classes is incorrect, and that it can be demonstrated that the cosmic archons are not only ontologically prior to the daimones, but are also identical with the visible gods.

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Published by: Christopher Plaisance on Sep 20, 2013
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