Episode 139: John Finamore on Iamblichean Theurgy in Theory and Practice
We are delighted to discuss Iamblichean theurgy with Professor John Finamore, whose many high-quality publications on the sage of Chalcis have been making Iamblichus more accessible since the nineteen-eighties. With the central question of, ‘What was theurgy, according to Iamblichus?’ at the heart of the enquiry, the conversation goes off on a number of interesting tangents, covering topics including:
- What a theurgic ceremony will have looked like,
- Cosmic ascent,
- Speculations as to why Iamblichus rejects Plotinus’ theory of the undescended self based on his hermeneutics of Plato,
- The dialogic nature of Porphyry and Iamblichus’ encounter,
- Abammon’s metaphysical objections to Porphyry’s many questions,
- The passages in De mysteriis Books I and II where gods are summoned to visible appearance and you can judge what sort of critter has appeared based on how they look,
- On whether Iamblichus believes in evil daimones,
- His afterlife in Proclus, Damascius, and later Platonism more generally,
- And his attacks on certain ‘black magic’ type practices, such as ‘standing on charactērēs’.
A fine interview is rounded off with some reflections on the development of scholarship on Iamblichus.
John Finamore is a professor of Classics at The University of Iowa. He is the author of many books on the ancient Platonist tradition, notably the essential Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul (1985) and, with John Dillon, the standard edition and English translation of the De anima fragments (2002). He is the editor of The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition and president of the U.S. section of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, the latter of which is, for my money, the finest collegial body devoted to exploration of the Platonist traditions in all their many aspects.
Works Cited in this Episode:
- Finamore’s 1983 dissertation was later published as Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul. Scholars Press, Chico, CA, 1985.
- Idem. ‘Reason and Irrationality: Iamblichus on Divination through Dreams’. In Eleni Pachoumi and Mark Edwards, editors, Praying and Contemplating in Late Antiquity, pages 39–58. Mohr Siebeck, Tübingen, 2018.
- Hans Lewy. Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1978.
- Andrew Smith. Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: a Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. Martinus Nijhoff, den Haag, 1974.