[Türkçe çeviri için yorum bölümüne bkz.]
‘It is a great, precious and quite complete example, that of the caterpillar or the worm that dies apparently, and that transforms into a rigid chrysalid, because nature puts it back as an interior mud by putrefaction and digestion, before transmutating it in a wonderful butterfly, like gold comes out of the mud.’
One must be careful in thinking that philosophia first appeared with Pythagoras (who visited all the Egyptian priests, acquiring the wisdom each possessed, according to Iamblicus in ‘De vita Pythagorica 4’), simply because he invented this term, according to the ancient Hellenic tradition. For Pythagoras, philosophy, associated with the way of Apollo, consists in a purification, in becoming aware of the divine principles, and in assimilation to God.
This Pythagorean way of life (bios puthagorikos: Rep. 600ab) cannot be opposed to sacred rites, because the true and immortal divine nature is achieved not only by means of theorias, or contemplation of the universal principles of harmony, but through praxis which id both askesis and therapia. Pythagoras himself conducted the hieratic ritual behind a veil, but only those who had passed all five years tests, initiations and necessary purifications were privileged to see the face of the Philosopher, their divine hegemon (spiritual guide and leader).
Real knowledge about divine matters cannot stem from discursive human reasoning. It may only be sent ‘ from above’, from the realm of the Ideas, or revealed by the divine Intellect to the human intellect, as long as it is purified (this is the aim of philosophical exercises) and able to receive a glimpse of the supreme light. Therefore for the true philosopher, as Damascius maintains, it is not enough to be skilled in the externals of philosophy, concerned with a multitude of theories and brilliant syllogisms. If a person is ‘inwardly barren of soul and lacking in true knowledge (Isid.33)’, he cannot be regarded as a true philosopher.
Hence, not only Sceptics or Epicurians, but even those Platonists who are characterized merely by external learning (which may be very impressive indeed) are excluded from the circle of true philosophers. They are not ‘divine men’ (theioi andres), since true divine philosophers are the winged souls who have accomplished (or at least started) their ascent and dwell in ‘the plain of truth’.
The philosophers are described as possessing intrinsic sanctity; they live apart, ‘leading the blissful life which is pleasing to the gods, devoted to philosophy and worship of divine beings.’ (Isid.95). Against this lofty ideal merely accurate discursive learning and human culture are not regarded as sufficient: Divine possession (enthousiasmos), separation of the soul from the body (ekstasis) and ascent (anagoge) into the realm of the divine are required.
‘Those who apply themselves to things perishable and human, or who seek too hastily to gain understanding, or who are too eager for knowledge (philomatheis), obtain little of the wisdom that is great and divine. Among the ancients, Aristotle and Chrysippus were immensely gifted, but they were extremely avid for knowledge and hard-working, so they did not complete the whole ascent.’ (Isid. 36)
The knowledge mentioned in the excerpt by Damascius is not something such as the hermetic gnosis or Plato’s episteme, but rather a passion for learning without practicing the spiritual elevation, equally characteristic of contemporary Western philosophers and scientists. The Neoplatonists made a distinction between (1) conventional philosophy concerned with abstract philosophical contemplation and ordinary paideia and (2) priestly, or divine philosophy, practiced ‘by certain true priests (hupo de tinon hiereon alethinon) who had adopted the manner of life appropriate to initiation into the mysteries’ (Proclus, Plat. Theol. 1.1), and this philosophy leads to the union with the gods. The priestly philosophy is partly inherited from the ancient oriental civilisations and related to pious sacramental actions, theurgic initiations and divine names.
Therefore, the emperor Julian praises the ancients as ‘not possessed of a wisdom acquired and fabricated like ours, but philosophizing in natural manner.’ (all’ autophuos philosophountes, Or. III, 82b). In this case, the ‘natural’ means closer to the divine origin, to the Golden Age, ‘naturally’ revealed, not acquired through discursive training and system-building. It is almost certain that these ‘ancients’ are not the first greek philosophers, known to us from the current western histories of philosophy, but more probably, the Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Phoenician and Indian sages.
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