May 8, 2018
Episode 33: Nowhere to Go But Up: Philosophic Ascent in Plato
In the archaic and classical thought-worlds, a good place to go hunting for wisdom was down below, in the underworld. Plato introduces a new kind of otherworld, the world of forms, which is reached by journeying upward.
In this episode we discuss a few of Plato’s greatest discussions of this philosophic ascent, contextualising them in terms of the works of Plato we have already discussed, and hinting at their vast significance for western esotericism.
Works Discussed in this Episode:
The chief Platonic accounts of philosophic ascent referred to in this episode are:
- purely epistemological: Symp. 201d-212c, R. 488a; 537e ff.; 514a-521b
- cosmic/epistemological: Phaedr. 246e-249d, R. X 614b-621d
In later Platonism these two kinds of account are fused into a single concept of ascent, which is both cosmic and interior, and which is often framed as the ultimate achievement, the goal toward which all philosophic effort tends:
- E.g. Num. apud Procl. In Platonis rem publicam II, p. 128, 26-130, 14; 131, 8-14 Krol.
- Plot. Enn. e.g. I.3 passim; I.67-9; VI.94; VI.733-4; V.39, 17.
- Porph. Plot. 23; De regressu animæ, passim; cf. Sent. 29.
We also discuss:
Homer, Odyssey Book 11.
Paul 2 Cor. 12:2-4
Smith, J. Z., 1993. Map Is Not Territory. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL/London. We cite pp. 61-2.
Tabor, J. D., 1986. Things Unutterable: Paul’s Ascent to Paradise in its Greco-Roman, Judaic, and Early Christian Contexts. University Press of America, Lanham, MD/New York, NY/London. We cite page 58, cf. 67.
Vergil, Æneid Book 6.
Astronomy, Cosmic Ascent, Katabasis, Otherworld Journeys, Philosophy, Plato, Soul
November 25, 2021
September 20, 2022
You say that the surviving Orphic myths do not inform us which path at the fork of the road in the underworld, the right or the left, is best. In that case, on what basis is it thought that Plato chose the (upper) right as decidedly better than the (lower) left in the Myth of Er? Also, is this the source of the later (Renaissance?) esoteric trope of the diabolical nature of the “left-hand path”?
October 3, 2022
As for Plato, who knows why he chose the right? maybe he had Orphic material (or initiatory knowledge) that we don’t have, or maybe he just made it up for reasons he understood but I don’t.
As for the left-hand path, I don’t think the term goes back further than Blavatsky’s adoption of Tantric terminology, but I am very open to correction here! I doubt there’s a historical, filial connection with the Underworld fork-in-the-road, but wouldn’t be at all surprised to find an Occultist book or two making that connection.