Chapter Nine

The Mind of Plotinus*

John Dillon

John Dillon

Abstract

An issue which plainly exercised the thoughts of many intellectuals in the late antique world was that of man's relation to the gods, and specifically the problems of the mode of interaction between the human and divine planes of existence. Once one accepted, as anyone with any philosophical training did, that God, or the gods, were not subject to passions, and that, as not only Stoics but also Platonists, at least after the time of Plotinus, believed, the world-order was (either entirely or very largely) determined as a product of God's providence, it became a serious problem as to how precisely one could influence the gods, or the course of events, by one's prayers or sacrifices. And yet efforts to do this, on both the popular and the official level, continued unabated. What was the proper attitude for a Platonist philosopher to take up? This is very much the subject of the well-known controversy between Plotinus' pupil Porphyry and his own pupil Iamblichus which manifests itself in the exchange of public letters known as The Letter to Anebo and The Reply of the Master Abammon to the Letter of Porphyry to Anebo (popularly known, since Marsilio Ficino conferred this title upon it, as De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum). The present article involves a close and sympathetic study of Iamblichus' position in defence of theurgy, reflecting on the validity of the distinction between religion and magic.

John Dillon

Abstract

In two passages in particular of his Commentary on the Timaeus, Proclus attributes to his master Syrianus a series of arguments in favour of not confining gods or daemons to any particular level of the universe, either hypercosmic or encosmic, as had been the more or less universal practice of earlier Platonists, but asserting the ubiquity of all classes of ‘higher being’ at every level, and criticising earlier doctrine as in effect cutting the gods off from contact with man, thus undermining the power of theurgy. This interesting development was in fact initiated (as in so many other details of Syrianus’ doctrine) by his Syrian forerunner Iamblichus of Chalkis, and it is this doctrine that this essay seeks to explore.