Podcast episode

Episode 187: The Esoteric Proclus, Part II: Esoteric Exegesis and the Occult Ontology of Language

[Thanks to the Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, for the use of the above image; the full MS can be browsed online here. We apologise for a few glitches in the recording; the computer apparently couldn’t handle Proclus’ semiotics. But then, who can? ]

In this episode we attempt to forge boldly into he universal language-web of Proclus’ world. In the first part we warm up with some discussion of Proclus’ esoteric exegetical methods. We then discuss his theory of meaning, his ideas about semiotics and language, and the fact of divine ‘languages’ existing at all levels of reality. These higher ‘languages’ are ‘spoken’ by higher entities like daimones and gods, but they also leak down to our own level of being, whence the unintelligible voces magicæ used by the theurgists, and even the charaktēres of the type found in the magical papyri and in western magical texts more broadly come to us: these are the garbled letters of an alphabet used by the gods.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Abbreviations: PT = Platonic Theology (following Saffrey and Westerink). ET = Elements of Theology (following Dodds). In Crat. is Proclus’ Cratylus Commentary (following Pasquali), In Tim. is the Timæus commentary (following Diehl) and In R. is his Republic commentary (following, for Essay 6, Lamberton, with references to Kroll’s editio princeps).

Plato: theomachiai in Homer censured by Socrates at R. II, 378d.

Plotinus: there are no words in the nous: IV.3[27]18.13-15: Οὐδὲ δὴ φωναῖς, οἶμαι, χρῆσθαι νομιστέον ἐν μὲν τῷ νοητῷ οὔσας, καὶ πάμπαν σώματα δ ́ ἐχούσας ἐν οὐρανῷ. Ibid. 20: Ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐνταῦθα πολλὰ σιωπώντων γινώσκοιμεν δι ́ ὀμμάτων·


  • the necessity of deciding which voices speak for Plato and which do not: In R. 6.1a = p. 110 8-21 Kroll.
  • Plato has four ways of speaking about the gods: PT I 4 17,18-24.
  • The occultation and subsequent re-emergence of the true exegesis of Plato: PT 1, passim.
  • The older and newer exegetes in the Timæus commentary: ‘the more ancient interpreters’ (οἱ παλαιότεροι or πρεσβύτεροι τῶν ἐξηγητῶν, 1.218.2–3; 3.234.15 Diehl); the ‘second wave’ or ‘more recent’ interpreters’ (οἱ δεύτεροι sc., ἐξηγηταί, 2.212.13 Diehl, or νεώτεροι, sc., ἐξηγηταί, 3.245.19–20 Diehl). The ‘literalists’: Proclus (in Tim. III.234.15 ; cf. III.247.13, I.284.13 Diehl) refers to ‘such authors as Alcinoüs and Atticus’ as ‘following Plato to the letter’ (ἕπεσθαι τῇ λέξει κρίναντες).
  • Homer an inspired, esoteric writer using myth as a ‘screen’: In R. I.74.12-30. Homer expresses the doctrine of monad and dyad esoterically, and also the doctrine of progressive fragmentation through ‘emanation’, in his theomachies: In R. I.89.3-24.
  • Proclus’ Republic commentary (or at least Essay 6) an esoteric work not to be given to those outside the teacher-student transmission: In R. I.205.12-14.= Kroll
  • It is unlawful to disbelieve Julian the Theurge: In Tim. III.63.24.
  • Wrongful reading of Homer kata to phainomenon versus the correct reading kata tēn aporrēton theōrian: In R. I.140.11-13.
  • Syrianus an inspired exegete: PT 83, 10-18.
  • Homer confirmed through theurgy: In R. 6.1, = p. 110 22-111 2 Kroll.
  • Names have an essential connection with their referents: In Crat. 17, pp. 7-8.
  • Multiple levels of god-language: In Crat. 30,19-31,27.
  • Symbola that help with divinisation: In R. II I08.23-4.
  • The unparticipated One totally ineffable: PT II 9, 58.19-59-4.
  • Attaining to the One by via negativa as stripping/becoming like it: In Parm. 1094.22-1095.2.
  • Faith bridges the gap between the soul (of those who are blessed) and the Good: PT I 25, 110.6-12.

The Suda on Proclus: s.v. Πρόκλου. Suda Online entry on Proclus


Our special episode Plato’s Cratylus: esoteric Etymology and the Language of the Gods can be found here.

John Finamore, Proclus on Plato’s Images of the Good and the Sun, the Divided Line, and the Cave in Books VI and VII of the Republic, forthcoming.

Dmitri Kurdybaylo. On Symbolon and Synthēma in the Platonic Theology of Proclus. ΣΧΟΛΗ, 13(2):46385, 2019.

Robert Lamberton. Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition. University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1989.; we quote p. 164, cite p. 173, w. note 36 on the ‘secret doctrine’, and quote pp. 167-68.

Robert Lamberton, editor and translator. Proclus the Successor on Poetics and the Homeric Poems: Essays 5 and 6 of His Commentary on the Republic of Plato. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2012. We quote the translation, on p. 137, of In R. p. 110 22-111 2 Kroll.

Sara Rappe. Reading Neoplatonism: Non-Discursive Thinking in the Texts of Plotinus, Proclus and Damascius. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 2000; we quote p. 193.

Carlos Steel. Theology as First Philosophy. The Neoplatonic Concept of Metaphysics. Quaestio, 5:2-21, 2005; we quote p. 20.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 130:

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.

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