The fount of philosophy

23 08 2010

Souls cannot ascend without music.

-Pythagoras

The common intellectual history of the West, especially since the Enlightenment, has stated that philosophical thought grew out of a rejection of the old mythologies that had come before it. The Greeks were the first “Europeans”: those who truly began to question the ungodly superstitions of the Egyptians and Babylonians, as well as their own. The evident skepticism of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle is thought to be at the very least inimical to the interests of classical Greek religion. Philosophy is thus seen as the beginning of the death of myth, and the prelude to the rational world in which we inhabit today.

It is a very reassuring story, but it is not necessarily the real one. Recent scholars have begun to dig into the roots of ancient philosophy, and are finding more continuity than rupture; more sympathy with “ancient superstition” than an inveterate form of rationalist positivism. There was of course the hubbub of a couple of months back when a scholar came up with evidence that the Platonic dialogues were embedded with Pythagorean musical scales. There came forth the idea, quite foreign to modern people used to the “data in, discourse out” model of philosophizing, that the text has more in it than words and ideas. It is a sort of divine play in itself: a representation of the eternal cosmogony. On the other hand, many scholars are seeing at the root of the philosophical enterprise an ancient method of inner transformation that is quite distant from our own ideas of philosophy. Philosophy was more tied to ritual and religion than it is in contemporary practice. What philosophy was trying to do initially was not break free from the “mythology” that came before it, but radically return to its source.
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Adore the sound

13 05 2009

The wind blowing, adore the sound.

Pythagoras here reminds his disciples
that the fiat of God is heard in the voice of the elements,
and that all things in Nature manifest
through harmony, rhythm, order,
or procedure the attributes of the Deity.

-Iamblichus, commenting on one of the aphorisms of Pythagoras





Conversion to Ourselves

23 07 2008

For if the essence and perfection of all good are comprehended in the Gods, and the first and ancient power of them is with us priests, and if by those who similarly adhere to more excellent natures, and genuinely obtain a union with them, the beginning and end of all good is earnestly pursued ; if this be the case, here the contemplation of truth, and the whole possession of intellectual science are to be found. And a knowledge of the Gods is accompanied with a conversion to, and the knowledge of, ourselves.

-Iamblichus, De Mysteriis