Iamblichus (242?-325?)

Nicholas Weeks

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From his Exhortation to Philosophy translated by Thomas M. Johnson an American Platonist of 19th century.

Of Pythagoras and the life in accordance with his doctrines, and of the Pythagoreans, we treated sufficiently in our first book* we will now explain the remaining part of his system, beginning with the common preparatory training prescribed by his school in reference to all education and learning and virtue; a training which is not partial, only perfecting one in some particular good of all these but which, to speak simply, incites his cognitive powers to the acquirement of all disciplines, all sciences, all beautiful and noble actions in life, all species of culture – and, in a phrase, every thing which participates of the Beautiful. For neither without an awakening, caused by exhortation, from the natural lethargy, is it possible for one to apply himself suddenly to beautiful and noble studies; nor immediately to proceed to the apprehension of the highest and most perfect good, before his soul has been duly prepared by exhortation [which arouses his impulses to higher things, purifies his thoughts, and directs his actions].

* Iamblichus is referring to his Life of Pythagoras, to be found in the Prometheus Trust's Iamblichus on the Mysteries and Life of Pythagoras, TTS vol. XVII.

From The Collected Works of Thomas Moore Johnson, Prometheus Trust 2015.
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Exhortation continues:

But just as the soul gradually advances to the greater from the less, passing through all beautiful things, and finally reaches the most perfect goods, so it is necessary that exhortation should proceed regularly, beginning from those things which are common. For exhortation will incite to philosophy itself and to philosophizing in general, according to every system of thought, no particular school being expressly preferred, but all being approved according to their respective merits, and ranked higher than mere human studies, by a certain common and popular mode of exhorting. After this we must use a certain mediate method which, though neither entirely popular nor Pythagorean, is not wholly distinct from each of these modes. In this mediate course we will arrange the exhortations common to all philosophy, which are not deduced from the Pythagorean teaching and are therefore different from it; but we will add the most suitable and peculiar opinions of the Pythagoreans, in order that there may be a Pythagorean exhortation according to this mediate mode of discoursing. From which we will gradually, as is reasonable, departing from the exoteric conceptions, pass to and become familiar with the special and technical demonstrations of the Pythagorean school, ascending by means of these as by a certain bridge or ladder as it were from a depth to a great height. And, lastly, we will interpret the exhortations peculiar to the Pythagorean school, which are strange and mystical in a certain respect, if they are considered in relation to other systems of philosophic culture.
Part of the Epistle to Macedonios Concerning Fate
[Stobaeus Eclog Phys Lib I, cap 6, Lib II, cap 8.]

"The essence of the soul is immaterial, independent, incorporeal, totally ungenerated and indestructible, having from itself existence and life, wholly self-motive, and the principle of nature and all motions. Being of such a character, therefore, it comprehends in itself a life free from and independent of the body. So far, therefore, as it gives itself to the things of generation, and subjects itself to the revolution of the universe, so far it is controlled by fate, and becomes subservient to the physical necessities; but so far as it exercises its intellectual energy independently, so far it voluntarily acts as to its own affairs, and apprehends the divine and good and intelligible."

From 1909 translation by T.M. Johnson
From the Epistle Concerning Temperance
[Stobaeus Flor Lib IV, 61 etc, Lib V, 136. ]

"I. Every virtue despises everything of a mortal form or nature, but chiefly honours the immortal. But this is especially the serious purpose of
temperance, holding in contempt the pleasures which nail the soul to the body, and firmly established on holy pedestals, as Plato says. [Plato, Phaedrus, 254b.]
II. For how does temperance not make us perfect, banishing wholly from us the imperfect and passionate? In brief, the excessive domination of the passions does not permit men to be men, but draws them down to the irrational nature, and the brutal and the lawless."

From 1909 translation by T.M. Johnson
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Thomas Taylor begins his 1821 Introduction to On The Mysteries:

"It appears to me that there are two descriptions of persons by whom the present work must be considered to be of inestimable worth, the lovers of antiquity and the lovers of ancient philosophy and religion. To the former of these it must be invaluable, because it is replete with information derived from the wise men of the Chaldeans, the prophets of the Egyptians, the dogmas of the Assyrians, and the ancient pillars of Hermes; and to the latter, because of the doctrines contained in it, some of which originated from the Hermaic pillars, were known by Pythagoras and Plato, and were the sources of their philosophy; and others are profoundly theological, and unfold the mysteries of ancient religion with an admirable conciseness of diction, and an inimitable vigour and elegance of conception. To which also may be added, as the colophon of excellence, that it is the most copious, the clearest, and the most satisfactory defence extant of genuine ancient theology.

In the first place, this theology celebrates the immense principle of things as something superior even to being itself; as exempt from the whole of things, of which it is nevertheless ineffably the source; and does not, therefore, think fit to enumerate it with any triad or order of beings. Indeed it even apologizes for giving the appellation of the most simple of our conceptions to that which is beyond all knowledge and all conception. It denominates this principle however, the one and the good; by the former of these names indicating its transcendent simplicity, and by the latter its subsistence as the object of desire to all beings. For all things desire good. At the same time, however, it asserts that these appellations are in reality nothing more than the parturitions of the soul, which, standing as it were in the vestibules of the adytum of deity, announce nothing pertaining to the ineffable, but only indicate her spontaneous tendencies towards it, and belong rather to the immediate offspring of the first God than to the first itself."
On the Mysteries (De mysteriis) - English translations:
Thomas Taylor, 1821
Alexander Wilder, 1911
Clarke, Dillon, and Hershbell, 2003.

The Clarke one has Greek on facing pages and more accurate version than Wilder. Taylor is very good; also better than Wilder.