Podcast episode

Episode 184: Hierocles of Alexandria and the Pythagorean Golden Verses

We lay out the life and times, surviving works, and a few points about the philosophy of Hierocles of Alexandria. Hierocles was a student of Plutarch of Athens who made good in Egypt (though he didn’t stay out of trouble). His Commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses is a tour-de-force of esoteric interpretation, preserves an immense amount of valuable theory (and practice!) to do with the luminous vehicle of the soul and its purification, and comes in many other ways highly recommended.

Having discussed Hierocles, we turn to the subject of all this exegesis, the Golden Verses themselves. In the end, having spent some time surveying the inconclusive scholarship as to the dating and authorship of this text, we decide to just read the damn thing and soak up some of that Pythagorean wisdom of old.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Chrysippus cites the Verses: ap. Aulus Gellius 7.2.12 = SVF 2.1000, p. 294 25-29.

Damascius on Hierocles: a superb stylist: ap. Photius Bibl. cod. 242, 338b 28–35. His staunchness before the magistrate in Constantinople: P.H. 45B Athanassiadi = Vit. Isid. fr. 106 Zintzen = Suda II 616 7 (s.v. ἱεροκλῆς).


  • Describes himself as a student of Plutarch of Athens: ap. Photius Bibl. cod. 214. 173a 37–9.
  • On the noetic demiurge: e.g. Photius cod. 251. 462a 26; Comm. 1.6; 20.19; 1.10.
  • Seems to indicate a kind of ‘creation from nothing’ (but doesn’t): ap. Photius cod. 214. 172a 22–6; cf. cod. 251. 461b 6–12.
  • On the purification of the ochēma: Comm. 26.46-49 Köhler; see also 25.18; 26.22; 26.25-27.

Iamblichus’ Protreptikos: see Édouard des Places, editor. Jamblique. Protreptique. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2018. Third edition.


Hans Daiber. Neuplatonische Pythagorica in arabischem Gewande. Der Kommentar des Iamblichus zu den Carmina aurea. Ein verlorener griechischer Text in arabischer Überlieferung. Amsterdam, 1995.

Julius Evola. I versi d’oro pitagorei. Atanòr, Rome, 1959.

Neil Linley. Ibn aṭ-Ṭayyib: Proclus’ Commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses. Number 10 in Arethusa Monographs. State University of New York Press, Buffalo, NY, 1984.

Holger Thesleff. An Introduction to the Pythagorean Writings of the Hellenistic Period. Abo Akademi, Abo, 1961.

Schibli 2010 [see below]: we quote p. 444 on creation e nihilo.

Recommended Reading:

On Hierocles

The standard Greek edition of the Commentary on the Golden Verses is Friedrich Wilhelm Köhler, editor. Hieroclis in aureum Pythagoreorum carmen commentarius. Teubner, Stuttgart, 1974. The remnants of On Providence are in Photius’ Bibliotheca cod. 214 (Henry 1962, vol. iii) and cod. 251 (Henry 1974, vol. vii).

lsetraut Hadot. Le problème du néoplatonisme alexandrin: Hiéroclès et Simplicius. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1978.

Karl Præchter. Hierocles 18. Real-Encyclopaedie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, 8:147987, 1913.

Hermann Sadun Schibli. Hierocles of Alexandria. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2002 [or, for readers interested in the distilled version without the in-depth treatment, see Hermann Schibli. Hierocles of Alexandria. In Lloyd P. Gerson, editor, The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity, pages 437-56. The University Press, Cambridge, 2010].

On the Golden Verses

Friedrich Wilhelm Köhler. Textgeschichte von Hierokles’ Kommentar zum Carmen aureum der Pythagoreer. PhD thesis, Mainz, 1965.

Johan C. Thom. The Pythagorean Golden Verses with Introduction and Commentary. Number 123 in Religions in the Græco-Roman World. Brill, Leiden/New York, NY/Köln, 1995.


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