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Danielle Layne on Synthemata, Late-Platonist Ritual Praxis, and Weird Platonism

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We are delighted to interview Dr Danielle Layne, Platonist scholar extraordinaire, on a number of subjects. Taking the doctrine of divine ‘signatures’ found in nature – an important mainstay of western esoteric traditions that may find its first strong formulation in the work of Iamblichus – we embark on a wide-ranging discussion of Platonism as lived tradition, then and now. Topics discussed include:

  • The Late Platonist doctrine of synthēmata – divine signatures or traces in kosmic reality – and how it functions,
  • The relationship of the Iamblichean philosopher to matter and embodiment as one calling for transformation and right comportment rather than escape,
  • The necessity for doctrinal disagreement within the ‘broad church’ of Platonism (and philosophical disputation conceived of as spiritual practice),
  • Platonic texts and ideas as living organisms whose mutations over time constitute Platonism,
  • The problems inherent in scholarship when we try to get inside the heads of our historical writers, and of how we are to draw the line between the historical imagination in its constructive sense and anachronistic echo-chamberism,
  • Dyadic Platonism and the Platonic oral teachings,
  • The various traditions of reading Plato as an esoteric author – including the Tübingenschule – and their limitations,
  • The loss of Socratic/Platonic playfulness in Late Platonism, and
  • The immortal excellence of Apuleius, how Plotinus was just a great guy, and the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion in weird Platonism.

Interview Bio:

Danielle A. Layne is Professor of Philosophy at Gonzaga University. She has published widely on Plato and the Platonic tradition. Layne, otherwise, is the alter ego of the superhero named “Hooker-boots priestess”, combining her love of the erotic and Platonic spirituality. Hooker-boots loves to spend the day reading, writing and coyly smiling at adversity and ignorance while she prays to the gods that the erotic power of what it means to be human comes to radiate and embrace each present moment we find ourselves blessed to experience.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Apuleius’ defense-speech: usually given the title Apology or Apologia: see Episode 74.

Aristotle on the Platonic oral teaching about the dyad: he discusses the ‘Great and Small’ at Metaph. 987a 29 ff. (and see Episode 25).


  • Philosophy as a serious game: Parm. 137a-b
  • Diotima on ‘giving birth’: Symp. 204d-209a (and see Episodes 33 and 34).
  • Tending to the garden of the generations that came before us: Phædr. 276d.
  • In the serious is the playful, and in the playful is the serious, or On the Importance of the Mixed Life: Phileb. 276b.
  • The silly figure of Dionysius refers to the tyrant of Syracuse, Dionysius, mentioned in the Seventh Platonic Epistle.
  • Doing comedy and tragedy at the same time: Symp. 223d.


  • Crystal Addey. Divination and Theurgy in Neoplatonism: Oracles of the Gods. Ashgate, Dorchester, 2014.
  • Edward Butler, e.g. the papers included in the collection Essays on the Metaphysics of Polytheism in Proclus. Phaidra Editions, New York, NY, 2014.
  • Danielle Layne. Philosophical Prayer in Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus. Review of Metaphysics, 67(2):345–68, 2013.
    Idem. Cosmic Etiology and Demiurgic Mimesis in Proclus’ Account of Prayer. In John Dillon and Andrei Timotin, editors, Platonic Theories of Prayer, pages 134–63. Brill, Leiden, 2016.