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Dylan Burns with the Noetic Fire: On Proclus and Christianity

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[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.]

We let the tape run and explore some further aspects of the life and work of the great Proclus with Dylan Burns.

Proclus is silent (or nearly so) about a phenomenon which was changing his life and the lives of his students on a daily basis: the rising tide of Christian hegemony. In fact, Christians may not be mentioned once in Proclus’ (a lot depends on who the ‘atheists’ that he refers to are). In this extended interview, we use Marinus’ Life of Proclus, or On Blessedness, to pursue an extended course of irresponsible speculation as to the possible ways in which Proclus engaged with the Christians and Christianity. We then turn to Marinus’ evocation of one of the most poignant epiphaneiai preserved from antient literature, in which the goddess Athena appears to Proclus as a suppliant, bidding him to prepare a new home for her (the implication being that the great Parthenon has now been rendered unsuitable for its goddess by persons unnamed), and we discuss the famous (in the right circles, at least) discovery of a piglet-sacrifice in one of the houses beneath the Acropolis, known as “The House of Proclus”, and its possible significance.

Interview Bio:

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

Works Cited in this Episode:


The following are references to Marinus’ Life of Proclus by chapter:

  • Proclus’ dream(s) telling him to head to Athens to study philosophy: VP 9 and 10.
  • Proclus has to leave town for a while: VP 15 (cf. 29, where we learn of unspecified people plotting against him).
  • Was active in local politics at Athens: VP 15; cf. 14 and 16 as well.
  • Proclus’ fund-raising activities: VP 16.
  • He is the ‘hierophant of the whole world’: VP 19.
  • Athena appears to Proclus and bids him prepare a place for her: VP 30.

Proccy considers the number seven to be Athena’s number: In Tim. 46e (i, 151 Diehl). Cf. In Tim. 168c (ii, 95 Diehl): the monad is the nous, and the hebdomad is the ‘light of the nous’.


The special SHWEPisode on the possible identities of Origen, or is that Origens, of Alexandria can be found here.

Jonathan Barnes. Proclus and Politics. In Verity Harte and Melissa Lane, editors, Politeia in Greek and Roman Philosophy, pages 168-88. The University Press, Cambridge, 2013.

Saffrey 1975: see below.

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. The University Press, Oxford, 2017.

Recommended Reading:

Marinus’ Life of Proclus

M. J. Edwards. Neoplatonic Saints: the Lives of Plotinus and Proclus by their Students. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2000 [useful English translation with notes].

Henri Dominique Saffrey, Alain-Philipe Segonds, and Concetta Luna, editors. Marinus: Proclus, ou sur le bonheur. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2002 [edition with French translation and extensive commentary].

Proclus and Christianity

Philippe Hoffmann. Un grief anti-chrétien chez Proclus: L’ignorance en théologie. In Chrétiens et l’Hellénisme. Identités religieuses et culture grecque dans l’antiquité tardive, number 20 in Études de Littérature Ancienne, pages 161-97. Éditions Rue d’Ulm, Paris, 2012.

Henri-Dominique Saffrey. Allusions antichrétiennes chez Proclus, le diadoque platonicien. Revue des Sciences philosophiques et théologiques, 59:553-63, 1975.

Piglet contemplates the sacrificial accoutrements, weighing his love for Athena against his querulous nature as a Very Small Animal.