Podcast episode

Episode 185: Dylan Burns on Proclus the Successor

[We recorded this episode on a very special day in March: we had about four inches of snow the night before, followed by thunder and lightning on the day. That sound you hear from time to time in the background is rain pelting against the SHWEP HQ.

Corrigendum: The ‘Theodore of Methone’ mentioned at around min. 5 is of course Nicholas of Methone.]

We are delighted to welcome Dylan Burns back to the podcast to introduce Proclus the Successor, the greatest of the final flowering of Platonists at Athens in the fifth century. The discussion ranges far and wide, but some of the key points touched-upon are as follows:

  • We begin with a basic sketch of Proclus’ life and times from his birth, through his education, and into the nearly fifty years during which he headed the Athenian Academy with almost supernatural energy,
  • Professor Burns then gives us a catalogue raisonée of Proclus’ surviving works,
  • Followed by a long discussion of Proclus’ extraordinary Elements of Theology, in which the philosopher seeks to prove on grounds of deductive necessity his entire metaphysical system, starting from the proposition ‘Every manifold in some way participates unity’ (Πᾶν πλῆθος μετέχει πῃ τοῦ ἑνός), and building an awe-inspiring edifice of argumentation on that unassuming foundation,
  • Including the particularly-Proclean metaphysical divinities known as ‘henads’, which we discuss,
  • And then move on to certain similarities – one might say striking similarities – between Proclus’ fusion of the mythological and the metaphysical and that found in Gnostic texts extant in late antiquity,
  • Some discussion of the ‘Proclean rule’ that higher principles have greater causal power than lower, such that Being penetrates through the entirety of existence from to to bottom, while a ‘lower’ principle such as nous would not penetrate to the lowest realities; hence a diagram of Proclus’ universe would resemble a diamond-shape tapering to a point at either end,
  • The Proclean ontological dynamic of procession – remaining – return,
  • And the Proclean ‘slogan’ ‘All things in all, but appropriately to each’.

Interview Bio:

Dylan Burns is Associate Professor of the History of Western Esotericism in Late Antiquity at the University of Amsterdam.

Works Cited in this Episode:



  • on the ‘flower of the nous’ and ‘flower of the whole soul’: Fragment IV of Proclus’ lost treatise On Chaldæan Philosophy preserved by Psellos, which can be found in Édouard des Places, editor. Oracles Chaldaïques. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1971, pp. 209-11 or in Nicola Spanu. Proclus and the Chaldaean Oracles: A Study on Proclean Exegesis, with a Translation and Commentary of Proclus’ Treatise on Chaldaean Philosophy. Routledge, London, 2021, p. 150-51 (Greek) and 153-55 (English); Theol. Plat. I.3, 15.1-17.8 Saffrey-Westerink.
  • ‘All in all, but appropriately to each’: El. Theol. 103, p. 92, 13 Dodds.

Olympiodorus on the ‘Proclean rule’: In Alc. 109.18–110.13.


Yuri Arzhanov, editor. Porphyry “On Principles and Matter”: A Syriac Version of a Lost Greek Text with an English Translation, Introduction, and Glossaries. Number 34 in Scientia Graeco-Arabica. De Gruyter, Berlin, 2021.

John Dillon, editor. Iamblichi Chalcidensis in Platonis dialogos commentariorum fragmenta. Prometheus Trust, Westbury, 2nd edition, 2009.

Dodds suggests similarities between Proclus and Gnosticism: this is a reference to E.R. Dodds’ groundbreaking edition/translation of the Elements of Theology, (E.R. Dodds, editor. Proclus. The Elements of Theology. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1963. Edited with an introduction and notes by E.R. Dodds), where Dodds points out curiously Gnostic-sounding ideas in Proclus’ text throughout the commentary. See the index s.v. ‘Gnosticism’ for details.

Proclus’ Works and Where to Find Them:

The Proclus-entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy by Christoph Helmig and Carlos Steel has a list of Proclus’ extant works and where to find them edited, and a truly-sexy list of all his known works, extant, lost, and spurious.

Recommended Reading:

For the philosophical side of things, the article cited just above is a great starting-point, as is Chlup 2012 (cited below). For a well-rounded topic-by topic coverage of Proclus, one could do no better than the collection Pieter d’Hoine and Marije Martijn, editors. All From One: A Guide to Proclus. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017, from which we cite a few particularly-relevant chapters below.

  • Luc Brisson. Proclus’ Theology. In Pieter d’Hoine and Marije Martijn, editors, All From One: A Guide to Proclus, pages 207-22. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017.
  • Radek Chlup. Proclus: An Introduction. The University Press, Cambridge, 2012.
  • E.R. Dodds, editor. Proclus. The Elements of Theology. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1963 [a monumental work, not only in presenting a superb edition of Proclus’ most impactful work, but also a useful English translation, and tons of extra material including important appendices on theurgy and the subtle body still being cited today].
  • Marije Martijn and Lloyd P. Gerson. Proclus’ System. In Pieter d’Hoine and Marije Martijn, editors, All From One: A Guide to Proclus, pages 45-72. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017.
  • Carlos Steel. Proclus. In Lloyd P. Gerson, editor, The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity, Vol II, pages 630-53. The University Press, Cambridge, 2010.
  • Christian Wildberg. Proclus of Athens: A Life. In Pieter d’Hoine and Marije Martijn, editors, All From One: A Guide to Proclus, pages 1-26. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2017.


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