The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy

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The goal of the ancient philosophers was to understand how to live in harmony with nature and to transcend the limitations imposed by sense experience and discursive reasoning.


Golden ChainAn Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy


Selected and edited by Algis Udavinys Foreword by John F. Finamore

World Wisdom The Library of Perennial PhilosophyThe Library of Perennial Philosophy is dedicated to the exposition of the timeless Truth underlying the diverse religions. This Truth, often referred to as the Sophia Perennisor Perennial Wisdomfinds its expression in the revealed Scriptures as well as the writings of the great sages and the artistic creations of the traditional worlds. The Perennial Philosophy provides the intellectual principles capable of explaining both the formal contradictions and the transcendent unity of the great religions. Ranging from the writings of the great sages of the past, to the perennialist authors of our time, each series of our Library has a different focus. As a whole, they express the inner unanimity, transforming radiance, and irreplaceable values of the great spiritual traditions. The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy appears as one of our selections in the Treasures of the Worlds Religions series.

Treasures of the Worlds Religions seriesThis series of anthologies presents scriptures and the writings of the great spiritual authorities of the past on fundamental themes. Some titles are devoted to a single spiritual tradition, while others have a unifying topic that touches upon tradition from both the East and West, such as prayer and virtue. Some titles have a companion volume within the Perennial Philosophy series.

Cover: The Acropolis, Athens

The Golden ChainAn Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy

Selected and edited byAlgis Uzdavinys

Foreword by John F. Finamore

The Golden Chain: An Anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic Philosophy 2004 World Wisdom, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner without written permission, except in critical articles and reviews.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data The golden chain : an anthology of Pythagorean and Platonic philosophy / selected and edited by Algis Uzdavinys ; foreword by John F. Finamore. p. cm. -- (Treasures of the world's religions) Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-941532-61-5 (pbk. : alk. paper) 1. Philosophy, Ancient. I. Uzdavinys, Algis. II. Series. B171.G65 2004 182.2--dc22 2004018009

Printed on acid-free paper in Canada For information address World Wisdom, Inc. P.O. Box 2682, Bloomington, Indiana 47402-2682

Table of ContentsForeword by John F. Finamore Introduction by Algis Uzdavinys

vii xi

PART ITRADITIONAL ACCOUNTS ON THE LIFE AND TEACHINGS OF PYTHAGORAS 1. Anonymous The Life of Pythagoras 2. Diogenes Laertius The Life of Pythagoras 3. Porphyry The Life of Pythagoras 4. Iamblichus On the Pythagorean Life

1 3 6 8 13

PART IITESTIMONIES OF PYTHAGOREAN AND 33 NEOPYTHAGOREAN TRADITION 1. The Golden Verses of Pythagoras 34 2. Pythagorean Sentences: 37 i. The Sentences of Sextus the Pythagorean 38 ii. Pythagorean Sentences from Iamblichus 42 iii. Pythagorean Sentences from Stobaeus 44 iv. Pythagorean Sentences from Clement of Alexandria 47 3. Fragments of Philolaus 48 4. Pythagorean Pseudepigrapha: 51 i. Fragments of Archytas 53 ii. Timaeus of Locri On the World and the Soul 54 iii. Theages On the Virtues 59 iv. Euryphamus Concerning Human Life 61 v. Crito On Prudence and Prosperity 63

PART IIIPLATO: PHILOSOPHY AS THE REGROWTH OF WINGS 1. Platos Dialogues and Letters: i. Seventh Letter ii. Timaeus iii. Phaedrus iv. Phaedo v. Theaetetus vi. Symposium

65 68 69 72 82 92 96 98


109 114 118 140 148 166 177 188 195 201 209 224 244 249 272 282 289 315 318 319

1. Porphyry On the Life of Plotinus 2. Plotinus Enneads 3. Porphyry Letter to Marcella 4. Iamblichus Exhortation to Philosophy 5. Iamblichus On the Mysteries of the Egyptians 6. Hierocles Commentary on the Golden Verses 7. Hermeias Commentary on Platos Phaedrus 8. Marinus Proclus or About Happiness 9. Proclus Commentary on Platos Alcibiades I 10. Proclus Theology of Plato 11. Proclus Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato 12. Proclus Commentary on the Chaldean Oracles 13. Proclus Commentary on Platos Parmenides 14. Damascius Commentary on Platos Phaedo 15. Damascius On the First Principles Glossary Select Bibliography for Further Reading Biographical Notes Index

FOREWORDPlato compares philosophy with preparing for death (Phaedo 67cd) and its goal with becoming like god (Theaetetus 176b). This view of philosophy implies two doctrines central to the Platonic tradition: the immortality of the soul and the community (koinonia) of the human and divine. These ideas were not new with Plato nor did they die with him. It is the nature of the philosophical endeavor to borrow and transform the ideas of others and to pass these ideas on for others to use and adapt. Plato is arguably the single most important ancient Greek thinker, although his strength lies not merely in his innovation but also, and perhaps especially, in his critical understanding of the philosophical tradition. The Golden Chain provides important texts in the history of Platonism. It begins, perhaps startlingly but certainly correctly, with excerpts about Pythagoras, moves through the Pythagorean tradition, then comes to Plato himself, and continues with excerpts from the major Neoplatonist writers. What unfolds is an evolution of a philosophy, a Platonic philosophy, one that starts before Plato is born and continues to grow after his deathand indeed well beyond the times and writings of the pagan Neoplatonists presented here. We do not know much about Pythagoras. Given his fame and large numbers of followers, that may seem strange. We know of multiple biographies of him (four of which are excerpted in Part I, below), but they are all late and suspect. As is the case with all famous individuals, the history of Pythagoras took on a life of its own. Stories of miracles, of divine genealogy, and of superhuman wisdom became associated with the philosopher. Making the matter murkier, others began writing treatises under his name. (See the works collected in Part II, below.) It is therefore very difficult to separate truth from fiction, Pythagoras doctrine from later additions. This wealth of information, however, is not so troubling. All philosophy evolves over time, but there are kernels of original doctrines present. We may not know precisely what Pythagoras taught his students, but we can be sure that his teachings included the vii

The Golden Chain souls immortality, the cycle of birth, and the existence and beneficence of the gods. Plato traveled to Sicily and southern Italy and studied with Pythagoreans. He had already imbibed philosophy from Socrates and was devoting himself to the major ethical questions to which Socrates had introduced him. We do not know what impelled Plato to study with Pythagoreans, but we can certainly make some educated guesses. Plato was concerned with ethics and politics, to be sure, but also with their relation to the human life, to the soul. His own beliefs in immortality and perhaps already in transmigration would have been piqued by what he had read and heard about Pythagorean philosophy. Philosophers are by nature curious and eager to learn. Plato would have been no different. The later Pythagoreans and the later Platonists (Neopythagoreans, Middle Platonists, and Neoplatonists, we call them) came to believe that Plato was a Pythagorean. We need not be so nave. Plato studied Pythagorean texts and held discussions with Pythagorean philosophers, but he was far too independent a thinker to adopt their philosophy wholesale. He was clearly taken with their ideas of the souls immortality, for example, but his initial beliefs certainly pre-dated his encounter with Pythagoreans. Their doctrines shaped his to some degree, but he also would have reworked theirs to fit his own grand view. Here I am thinking especially of Platos evolving doctrine of the Forms, which is certainly not Pythagorean but was probably fine-tuned in accordance with their doctrines of rebirth. Moreover, I would argue that their doctrine of transmigration is not the same as Platos. The Platonic version stresses philosophical wisdom in a way that I see as foreign to the more religious thinking of the Pythagoreans. For Plato it is the rational soul that serves the individual in the time between its taking on human bodies. In the Myth of Er, it is the souls philosophical aptitude that allows it to make a wise choice of life. In the Phaedrus, it is the rational part of the soul that makes possible a clear vision of the Forms and an eventual escape from the cycle of rebirth. We thus see Plato adopting and adapting the Pythagorean doctrines and fitting them into his own larger philosophical structure. The Middle Platonists and Neoplatonists continued to expand Platos philosophy. (See Part IV, below.) The crucial thinker in this ever-evolving melting pot of Platonism is Iamblichus, who lived durviii

Foreword ing a time of major crisis in ancient philosophy. The world was changing. Christianity was coming to the fore, presenting what to pagan philosophers seemed like new and impious doctrines. (Porphyry, an older contemporary of Iamblichus, wrote a detailed attack of the new religion. Christian religious authorities deemed it so dangerous that it was publicly burned in later years and exists now only in fragments.) Iamblichus presented a unified theory of paganism. He not only saw Plato as a Pythagorean, but he saw both philosophers (and indeed all pagan Greek philosophers, with the exception of the materialists) as part of a continuing source of true knowledge. His unified theory included not only Greek philosophers and poets, but also Egyptians, Chaldeans, and other nonGreek pagans. All were teaching the same Truth, which the upstart Christians had abandoned. The later pagan Neoplatonists (Hierocles, Proclus, Damascius, and others) embraced Iamblichus vision, while of course tinkering with some of his philosophical doctrines. (Philosophers cannot help themselves from making such revisions.) Whether or not Iamblichus ever used the phrase, it is certain that Proclus adapted the Homeric Golden Chain to the Neoplatonic heritage of wisdom. Platonism now stood in the proper relation to thousands of years of human thought. It was part of the Golden Chain of knowledge, ultimately secured from the highest realms of the universe, from the gods and the One itself. Pythagoras, Plato, and the ancients had tapped this source of wisdom, kept it alive, and passed it on to the Neoplatonists, who continued to keep the flame of truth burning. John F. Finamore University of Iowa


INTRODUCTIONThe present anthology of the Pythagorean and Platonic tradition disagrees in certain important respects with the modern understanding of philosophy in general and of Platonism and Pythagoreanism in particular. Following the valuable insights of Pierre Hadot (supported by the witness of countless traditional sages throughout the world) we regard ancient philosophy as essentially a way of life: not only inseparable from spiritual exercises, but also in perfect accord with cosmogonical myths and sacred rites. In the broader traditional sense, philosophy consists not simply of a conceptual edifice (be it of the order of reason or myth), but of a lived concrete existence conducted by initiates, or by the whole theocentric community, treated as a properly organized and wellguided political and theurgical body attended to the principle of maattruth and justice in the ancient Egyptian sense of the word. In Platos definition of philosophy as a training for death (Phaedo 67cd) an implicit distinction was made between philosophy and philosophical discourse. Modern Western philosophy (a rather monstrous and corrupted creature, initially shaped by late Christian theology and post-Descartesian logic) has been systematically reduced to a philosophical discourse of a single dogmatic kind, through the fatal one-sidedness of its professed secular humanistic mentality, and a crucial misunderstanding of traditional wisdom. The task of the ancient philosophers was in fact to contemplate the cosmic order and its beauty; to live in harmony with it and to transcend the limitations imposed by sense experience and discursive reasoning. In a word, it was through philosophy (understood as a kind of askesis) that the cultivation of the natural, ethical, civic, purificatory, theoretic, paradigmatic, and hieratic virtues (aretai) were to be practiced; and it was through this noetic vision (noesis) that the ancient philosophers tried to awaken the divine light within, and to touch the divine Intellect in the cosmos. For them, to reach apotheosis was the ultimate human end (telos). Christos Evangeliou correctly observes that, Neither Aristotle nor any other Platonic, or genuinely Hellenic philosopher, would have approved of xi

The Golden Chain what the modern European man, in his greedy desire for profit, and demonic will to power, has made out of Hellenic philosophia.1 The purpose of our highly selective anthology is to glimpse the Pythagorean and Platonic tradition from the traditional Hellenic and especially Neoplatonic perspective. However, one ought to remember that the term Neoplatonism itself was an artificial invention of the 18th century Protestant scholars and preachers of the Enlightenment era, who rejected the claim that Platos philosophy was propounded in unwritten doctrines and oral teachings, and the Neoplatonic presumption of harmony between Plato and Aristotle. These founders of modern philosophical hermeneutics pretended to understand Plato better than the latter understood himself. Looking down upon Plato, Plotinus, and Proclus from the tower of their so-called Enlightenment, they claimed to have discovered the real Platoone who had to be thoroughly cleansed from the filth of Neoplatonic interpretations. Thus, Neoplatonism was pictured as the root and source of all evils. This highly prejudiced opinion prevailed as unquestioned dogma despite the heroic resistance of such Platonic scholars as Thomas Taylor, and is still prevalent among the contemporary priests of current scientistic ideologies. According to the narrow Protestant mentality of the 19th century, and even that of modern secular scholarship, the ancient Hellenic Neoplatonists were madmen, liars and foolish forgers, who preferred illusions and imaginations to sound reason. They were regarded as men inflated by metaphysical dreams, who always opposed Plato to Christ, trying to find a new way of impeding the progress of Christianity.2 It is little wonder, then, that in reading certain texts of classical scholarship (even those that are quite sympathetic), and thereafter proceeding to the ancient authors themsel...


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