Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.06.29

M. Perkams, R.M. Piccione, Proklos: Methode, Seelenlehre, Metaphysik. Philosophia Antiqua, Vol. 98.   Leiden:  Brill, 2006.  Pp. xi, 431.  ISBN 90-04-15084-6.  $180.00.  



Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (dillonj@tcd.ie)
Word count: 1195 words

This collection of 17 essays, 5 in English, the rest in German, is the outcome of a conference held in Jena in Sept. 2003 on the same topic (or set of topics) as the title of the volume. There are some big names here (Horn, Opsomer, Steel, Schäfer, Halfwassen), but the majority of the contributors are younger scholars. None the worse for that, though; the volume contains much of interest. Method, Psychology and Metaphysics, between them, cover most of what Proclus is about, so that what we have is a fairly comprehensive study of the philosopher.

The volume is divided into three parts, in accord with the three topics listed in the title. There are five essays in the first part, dealing with Method. We begin with a general survey by Christoph Horn of current scholarship on Proclus, followed in turn by a listing, first, of basic Neoplatonic theses held by Proclus, and then of doctrines peculiar to Proclus -- in either case twelve items are listed, and I have no quarrel with them.

Next, there is a study by Robert van den Berg of 'Platons Kratylos und die Theologia Platonica des Proklos', showing how the contents of the Cratylus, particularly the treatment of divine names, not only draws forth from Proclus a commentary on the dialogue, but is a considerable influence on his Platonic Theology, particularly Book IV. This is followed by a most acute examination by Marije Martijn ('Theology, naturally. Proclus on Science of Nature as Theology and the Aristotelian Principle of μετάβασις') of the sense in which Proclus can take the study of nature in the Timaeus to be a form of theology -- namely, that it treats of nature 'geometrically'. Following this, Irmgard Männlein-Robert, who in 2001 produced a study of the philosopher Longinus, shows how Proclus uses Longinus as a sort of exemplum of benighted Middle Platonic 'philological' exegesis, particularly in the form of aporiai ('Die Aporien des Kritikers Longin. Zur Inszenierung der Platonexegese bei Proklos'). Lastly, Benedikt Strobel ('Einige Vorschläge zur Wiederherstellung des griechischen Texts des Schlussteils von Proklos' Parmenides-Kommentar') produces a most useful, if rather rebarbative, series of suggested corrections to the recent back-translation of William of Moerbeke's text of the last part of the Parmenides-Commentary by Steel and Rumbach, on the basis of discerning misreadings by William of his Greek original.

The second section, on the Doctrine of the Soul, comprises six papers. The first, by Peter Lautner ('Some Clarifications on Proclus' Fourfold Division of Sense-Perception in the Timaeus Commentary') starts from the intriguing passage In Tim. II 83, 16-84, 5, where four levels of aisthesis are distinguished, in order to elucidate the complexities of Proclus' theory of sense-perception. Next, Jan Opsomer ('Was sind irrationale Seele') performs the same service for Proclus' theory of the various types and levels of irrational soul, exploring admirably the complexities of his position. One issue I found particularly interesting was Proclus' theory of 'peaks' (akrotetes) of the irrational parts of the soul at the intellectual level (pp. 156-8).

This is followed by Matthias Perkams ('An Innovation by Proclus.The Theory of the Substantial Diversity of the Human Soul'), who presents a fine account of the rationale behind Proclus' deviation from his predecessors, including Iamblichus, in the matter of the essential unity of the soul, showing Proclus' reasons (basing himself on the tripartition in Republic IV) for postulating three levels of soul, each with its own 'vehicle'. Next, Michele Abbate ('Metaphysics and Theology as Methodological and Conceptual Paradigms in Proclus' Ethico-Political Theory') turns a consideration of Proclus' political theory, such as it is. He sees Proclus as identifying the One-Good, particularly in the 17th and final dissertation of his Republic Commentary, as the key unifying principle of the Platonic ideal city.

Christian Tornau ('Der Eros und das Gute bei Plotin und bei Proklos') focuses on Proclus' greater degree of formalization of Plotinus' use of eros as an anagogic force, particularly in VI 7, and in this connection provides a stimulating exegesis of, among other passages, Theol. Plat I 22-25, where the Chaldaean triad of pistis, aletheia, eros is aligned with agathon, sophon, kalon as aspects of the One; while Carlos Steel ('Proklos über Selbstreflexion und Selbstbegründung') provides an extended and incisive analysis of the concepts of self-consciousness and auto-constitution (to authupostaton) in connection with the triad of monê -- proodos -- epistrophê, with special reference to ET props. 29-39.

We turn now to the third topic of this volume, Metaphysics. First we have a fine discussion by Christoph Helmig ('Die atmende Form in der Materie -- Eingie Überlegungen zum ἔνυλον εἶδος in der 'Philosophie des Proklos') of the role of forms-in-matter and their relation to qualities, first in various Middle Platonic thinkers, then in Plotinus, and finally in Proclus. He is good on the role of pneuma in Proclus' theory of the enmattered form -- hence 'atmende Form'. Then, Pieter d'Hoine ('Proclus and Syrianus on Ideas of Artefacts. A Test Case for Neoplatonic Hermeneutics') shows how, in trying to solve the problem of the ontological status of artefacts, Proclus and Syrianus turn for aid, rather paradoxically, to the Aristotelian theory of the enhulon eidos in the soul of the craftsman.

Following this, Veronika Roth ('Der Anfang des Immerwährenden. Zur Entstehung des Kosmos in der Philosophie des Proklos') gives us a comprehensive study of Proclus' various arguments for the 'etenal createdness' of the world, drawing on both his Timaeus Commentary and his treatise On the Eternity of the World, preserved in Philoponus; while from Gerald Bechtle ('Die Pythagoreisierende Konzeption der Mathematik bei Iamblichos, Syrianos und Proklos in Spannungsfeld zwischen pythagoreischer Transposition und Platonischer Mittelstellung'), we have a most enlightening evaluation of the treatment of mathematical knowledge by these three thinkers. There was something of a tension between the 'Pythagorean' doctrine that all things were number and the more 'Platonic' view of mathematical knowledge as 'median' between metaphysical knowledge and sense-perception, and Bechtle shows how they (and especially Proclus) resolved it, focusing ultimately on an important passage from the Euclid Commentary, p. 53, 5- 55, 18.

Christian Schäfer ('μονή, πρόοδος und ἐπιστροφή') in der Philosophie des Proklos und des Areopagiten Dionysius'), who has recently produced a fine study of the philosophy of the Areopagite, presents a most enlightening view of the doctrine of emanation and return in Proclus in the light of the adaptation of it by Pseudo-Dionysius, particularly in his Divine Names. I approve of his defence of Dionysius against those who condemn him as a witless forger and plagiarist.

Lastly, Jens Halfwassen ('Proklos über die Tranzendenz des Einen bei Platon') gives us a most useful account of Proclus' exposition of key texts of Plato on the transcendence of the One, specifically in PT II 4, rounded off by a spirited defence of the reliability of Proclus' reference to Speusippus in Book VII of the Parmenides Commentary. Halfwassen's assertion of the ontological interpretation of the first two hypotheses of the Parmenides will not please everybody, but he has my vote, at least.

All in all, a fine collection of essays, and an important contribution to Proclus studies. It is rounded off with a bibliography of works quoted, and indices rerum, nominum antiquorum and locorum.

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