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D.A. Vasilakis

Abstract

This article deals with the complex relation between providence and descent in Neoplatonism, with particular reference to Proclus and especially his Commentary on the First Alcibiades. At least according to this work, descent is only a species of providence, because there can be providence without any descent. Whereas the gods (for instance the Henads) provide for our cosmos without descending to it, a large group of souls provide for our cosmos by descending to it. The former kind of providence is better than the latter, even if it is necessary that souls descend in order to give existence to the beautiful cosmos. The following study deals with providence as descent, looking at it from two angles. In the first section I show that Proclus designates this form of providence in two rather surprising ways. One term he uses for it, which will be well known to readers of Plotinus, is τόλµα (audacity)—this despite the word’s negative connotations due to its Neopythagorean and Gnostic origin. A second name for descended providence is ἐπιστροφή (‘reversion’ or better ‘turning one’s attention’). Again, this may be surprising, since we usually expect this term to express the ‘turning back’ of a lower effect to its cause. In Proclus, the word ἐπιστροφή too can have negative connotations, but he also uses it in a positive way when applying it to providence. In the second part of the paper, I explain how Socrates’ providence for Alcibiades (as seen in the Alcibiades I) can be undefiled (i.e. unmixed), even if Socrates necessarily descends as he offers providential guidance. Proclus’ comparison of Socrates with Hercules, who went to the Underworld in order to save Theseus, serves as a positive illustration of Socrates’ divinelike providence, and marks the deficiency of Socrates (or Hercules as a ‘semi-god’) compared to the transcendent and undefiled providence of Neoplatonic divinities.

Olga Petri

Abstract

This article explores a stylized version of “natural” birdsong as an element of the soundscape of a historical city, late-nineteenth-century St. Petersburg. From 1880 to 1900, canaries were brought to the city in great numbers from hatcheries located in the Russian countryside. Their song was the ovsîanka, a mix of melodies acquired from wild Russian birds. This song reflects “enhanced nature,” linking human intentionality to the agency of a nonhuman animal, the canary, and both to the city. Breeders, merchants, keepers, and birds formed a super-urban assemblage spanning the city and the countryside. Canaries, like human migrants flooding to the city during this time, retained their strong village roots, and their urban role depended on them. In this super-urban assemblage, the canaries’ urban performance was an expression of their modified and contextual agency, though their agency was assembled and authorized by human-nonhuman networks engendered by the city.