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The Astrology Podcast

Ep. 435 Transcript: Proclus and Astrology in Platonism

The Astrology Podcast

Transcript of Episode 435, titled:

Proclus and Astrology in Platonism

With Chris Brennan and guest José Manuel Redondo

Episode originally released on February 8, 2024


Note: This is a transcript of a spoken word podcast. If possible, we encourage you to listen to the audio or video version, since they include inflections that may not translate well when written out. Our transcripts are created by human transcribers, and the text may contain errors and differences from the spoken audio. If you find any errors then please send them to us by email: theastrologypodcast@gmail.com

Transcribed by Andrea Johnson

Transcription released February 15th, 2024

Copyright © 2024 TheAstrologyPodcast.com

CHRIS BRENNAN: Hey, my name is Chris Brennan, and you’re listening to The Astrology Podcast. In this episode, I’m talking with Dr. José Manuel Redondo, and we’re gonna be talking about the 5th century philosopher Proclus, who was also an astrologer or somebody that integrated astrology into Platonic philosophy, as well as his work in theurgy. So, hey, welcome to the show.

JOSÉ MANUEL REDONDO: Chris, thank you.

CB: Yeah, thank you so much for joining me today. Yeah, we’ve been talking about doing this episode for a number of years. We actually met at an astrology conference years ago, I think. An NCGR conference, wasn’t it?

JMR: Yeah, that’s right, in Baltimore.

CB: Yeah, the Baltimore conference, so this has been a long time in coming. In the meantime, you have been doing work in this field, and you specifically did a PhD dissertation in 2015 on Proclus and his work in theurgy, which touched on some of its connections with astrology, right?

JMR: Yes, I’ve been working on late antiquity Platonism. That’s been my main focus of research—academic research, that is.

CB: Okay. And prior to that, did you say at one point that you had studied with Robert Zoller? What was your background in astrology?

JMR: Yeah, I started studying astrology pretty much at the same time I started studying philosophy. A couple of years later, at a UAC conference, I met Robert Zoller who was friends with my teacher Luis Lesur. So after that conference, I went to live in a place—Upstate New York—which happened to be the place where Robert was living. So we developed a close relationship for a while and I became his student; so, yeah, I studied his full diploma course. And he also had a group here in Mexico City. So he came several times to give different lectures and courses, and readings of course.

CB: Nice. That’s amazing. But a lot of that work in astrology—and maybe going back and studying ancient astrology or Medieval astrology—also ignited your interest in philosophy, and you decided to go to school for that or to go back to school for that.

JMR: Yeah, at some point I was sort of disappointed with the academy. ‘Cause I started to study philosophy first and I was immediately interested in Greek philosophy, and particularly so-called Neoplatonism. And then I was invited to these astrology classes. So already in my mind was this concept of logos, and this interest in cosmology on the part of the philosophers made me very curious to hear about astrology, and I became enamored immediately and kept studying both of them; but I got progressively more disappointed with the academy, so I left the academy. However, a few years later, there started to be these programs of academic research, post-grad programs—like the Sophia Group, Nick Campion’s group, and another that could integrate astrology into the academy—so that got me very interested in going back to the academy to finish my degrees. Then I did my MA partly with the Sophia Group, and then I did my PhD, and more or less at the same time, I started teaching. I teach at the university—it’s been 15 years now—Medieval and Renaissance philosophy, and I also have a seminar on Neoplatonism.

CB: Awesome. Yeah, I mean, things have really changed in the academic community over the past 10 to 20 years in terms of lots more scholars are getting involved in the study of ancient astrology as part of not just the history of science, but the history of religion and philosophy and a number of other areas, that it’s become a more acceptable discipline to study.

JMR: Yeah, exactly. And you could also see this in the last decades regarding Neoplatonism itself. There’s been interesting paradigm shifts in the way the theme has been approached, and it’s been a growing field of interest for researchers. This has led to a different appreciation of the theme of theurgy, which refers to the interest these philosophers showed in the practice of ritual and divination and in the mystical states seen as fountains of knowledge. So there’s been interesting changes in that regard; a far more positive view about this appreciation they had towards these practices.

CB: That makes sense. All right, well, let’s situate things first with our main character or main person that we’re gonna be talking about—which is the 5th century astrologer Proclus—and then maybe we’ll talk about and help contextualize the philosophical tradition that he’s part of and everything else. So first things first, who was Proclus, and what do we know about him? Why is he important?

JMR: Well, he was the head of the Platonic Academy of Athens for over 50 years and one of the last major Greek philosophers of antiquity who had a very profound impact on later traditions: in the Medieval times, both in Islamic philosophy, Jewish and Christian philosophies. Then in the Renaissance there was also a rediscovery of other aspects of Proclus’ thought as well as texts, and this impact lasted all the way up to the German idealists: people like Hegel, who—after Proclus—followed these triadic schemes in his metaphysics and other philosophical discourses. So in terms of historical significance, he’s a huge figure from late antiquity.

CB: So he was the head of the Platonic Academy, and he was one of the last heads of the Platonic Academy that had started many centuries earlier, almost a thousand years earlier. But he was one of the last heads of the Academy, ‘cause this was at a time—towards the later parts of the Roman Empire—when Christianity had become the dominant religion. Not long after Proclus, it became not permissible to have the different ancient Greek pagan schools of philosophy, and they were actually closed not long after Proclus’ lifetime, right?

JMR: Yeah, exactly. It was during his lifetime—that spans pretty much the 5th century—that the western part of the empire collapsed, so it was a very critical time. Christianity was imposed culturally, so the pagan practices in the school had to be done very discreetly. He could not be so openly critical but more indirectly critical of the Christians; and Proclus actually is a figure of reference for Christian debates on certain matters, like about the eternity of the cosmos. And not long after his death there are these edicts that meant the closure of the Athens schools of philosophy. The Alexandrian schools survived for a little longer because they could negotiate with authorities that they would no longer teach Plato, only Aristotle, and in a manner not contrary to Christianity. However, a century before, in Alexandria, Hypatia was brutally murdered, so there was already a lot of tension by the time Proclus came to the Academy.

CB: Right. So Hypatia—she was killed by a Christian mob in the year 415 CE in Alexandria, and then Proclus himself was born around that time. He was born in 412 CE—

JMR: Exactly.

CB: —and then he died in the year 485 CE. And then Justinian closed the pagan schools in Athens in the year 529 CE. So that’s just a few decades after Proclus died that the school that he was part of—that had been around for centuries—was completely closed down, at least in Greece itself, in Athens itself, which was the original home of Greek philosophy, of classical Greek philosophy, of Plato and Aristotle.

JMR: Yeah, that’s right. I mean, there was not a complete or perfect continuity of the Academy from Plato to Proclus, among other things, because of the Roman invasion and destruction of Athens. But there was pretty much a functional continuity and the cultural context was still pretty much the same in terms of the religious festivities still done in Athens at the time of Proclus. However, his biographer Marinus tells us that Proclus had a dream of Athena who asked him to take his statue from from his temple to his house to be protected from the vandalism of the Christians, one understands; and apparently Proclus had to leave Athens for one year because of some polemics he went into with the Christian authorities.

CB: Okay. Yeah, so things were sort of tumultuous. It was kind of a tumultuous time by that point, and he’s the end of a very long line of philosophers in some ways; but then, as you said, because he was one of the last. He was also a prolific author and a prolific philosopher, and he wrote a lot of different philosophical texts in the Platonic tradition, as well as a lot of commentaries on the works of earlier philosophers, like Plato, and a lot of these works then ended up being passed on and became very influential in the Medieval period and during the Renaissance.

JMR: Exactly. Yeah, Proclus presents an impressive Hellenic summa of knowledge. He’s sort of integrating from Homer and Aesop to the Pythagoreans and the Orphics and all the Platonic philosophers, which from the Platonic view would include Aristotle. And by the time of Plotinus there’s also an integration of the Stoics into the philosophical discourse of Platonism—after Marcus Aurelius’ reign—progressively, and it will be the only remaining Platonic school because the peripatetics, the Stoics, would be reduced as a school, as a philosophical school, but the Platonic schools would be then the remaining center of Hellenic discourse or culture. So it’s a huge integration that he makes of the whole history of Greek philosophy by that time. He refers to the pre-Socratics—the philosophers we call the pre-Socratics—all the way up to his teacher Syrianus. So, yeah, it’s a very long succession that’s viewed by him as the Hermaike seira—Hermetic or “chain of Hermes”—to which belongs all of these souls.

CB: Brilliant. Yeah, so that situates him pretty well as an important philosopher at the end of this tradition and then at the beginning of what will eventually become the Medieval tradition. But for the purpose of our audience, one of the things that’s interesting is while there’s allusions in a lot of earlier philosophers to astrology—like tantalizing hints towards something like astrology in Plato through ‘The Myth of Er’ or through the Timaeus—what we know of as astrology wasn’t fully developed, at least in terms of Hellenistic astrology, until a century or two after Plato died. And what’s interesting about Proclus is he’s an example of a first-rate philosopher and the head of a philosophical academy who is also clearly very conversant in astrology, who’s familiar with and cites some of the major astrological texts—including the texts of Ptolemy and Petosiris—but also seems to have interests in it to the extent that he integrates it to some extent in his philosophy as well, right?

JMR: Yes, I think Proclus is the better example of the case of a philosopher where you fully find astrology integrated in his theory and practice. We know that he wrote some works on astrology, not only on the works of Ptolemy, which there’s polemics about the authenticity of the so-called Paraphrase and another commentary.

CB: Right.

JMR: Some important scholars believe that it is positively from Proclus, others deny it, but we do know that he wrote some works on astrology, on the effects of eclipses, on the decans, and other works, besides his works on astronomy. Because he’s a very knowledgeable philosopher on astronomy, he’s a working astronomer. He practices celestial observations and measurements of the heavens, besides discussing different theoretical models to understand the heavens and its cycles.

CB: Right. And you mentioned the Proclus Paraphrase of Ptolemy, which typically, up until recently, is the only context in which Proclus is usually talked about in the astrological community. Ptolemy wrote his four-book-long astrological text in the 2nd century, which became hugely influential, but it’s an extremely dense, complex, and often very difficult-worded Greek text. At some point, sometime after Ptolemy, somebody tried to write a sort of simplified version of Ptolemy’s text, and at one point in the manuscript tradition it was attributed to Proclus, so it’s usually referred to as the ‘Proclus Paraphrase’; and up until the 20th century, most of the translations—at least in English—of Ptolemy were done from the simplified Proclus Paraphrase instead of from the Tetrabiblos or the exact Tetrabiblos itself. But in modern times, most contemporary scholars usually don’t think that Proclus was the author of that Paraphrase; although I haven’t really revisited that to see if that’s still the current consensus or what that’s founded on, but at least up until now that’s what he’s mainly been associated with in the astrological community.

JMR: Yeah, exactly. However, there are two works of Proclus on Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos, and there’s also a work of his on the hypothesis he presents on the Almagest, on his astronomical work.

CB: So he was clearly familiar with Ptolemy and had an interest in commenting on Ptolemy’s works already.

JMR: Exactly, exactly. I believe it is this second work on Ptolemy’s Tetrabiblos that is by some scholars attributed to Proclus. You have Lucas Siorvanes.

CB: You’re talking about the commentary?

JMR: Sorry?

CB: Are you talking about the commentary as the second work?

JMR: Yeah, the commentary, not the Paraphrase, but it’s sort of a commentary on the Tetrabiblos.

CB: So you’re saying there’s some scholars that think that that was written by Proclus?

JMR: Yes.

CB: Okay. Yeah, ‘cause that’s a whole separate interesting text that’s never been fully translated before, at least not into English—I think there’s a Spanish translation in progress right now in critical edition—but that would be really interesting if that was by Proclus. And certainly, I feel like with the work that’s been done on Proclus lately over the past decade or two that there does need to be a reappraisal of his interest in astrology, and perhaps that reappraisal could lead us to then reassess the possibility or not of some of these other works actually genuinely being attributed to him.

JMR: Yeah, I think so. I think so. There’s a current change in the appreciation of these aspects of Proclus’ work which belonged under the heading of theurgy, which is a term that ‘englobes’ different practices, divinatory and ritual practices. It’s one of the terms Proclus uses most but not the only one. He uses as a synonym for theurgy, also, hieratikê technê, the ‘hieratic arts’, which is a more traditional term that you find also in Plato; telestikê is also a very traditional term. So theurgy sort of embraces many different notions, terms and notions that refer to different practices—ritual divinatory practices.

CB: And the basic word theurgy itself means ‘god-working’ or ‘working with the gods’, right?

JMR: Exactly, exactly, god-working, which Iamblichus interprets in two senses. In its primary sense, it refers to the activities of the gods themselves, and in a secondary sense, to the activity of humans directed to the gods, which imitates the first sense, the activities of the gods themselves which has as a result the cosmos. To say it another way, the cosmos is seen as the liturgical result of the gods’ theurgies.

CB: Okay. All right, so we’re getting deep into theurgy. And this is one of Proclus’ primary interests, and this is something that sets him apart and makes late Platonism—at this stage in the 5th century CE—distinct from some of the earlier stages in Platonism. Theurgy, in this context, is partially being conceptualized as a ritualized practice in order to commune with or achieve some sort of union with the gods.

JMR: Exactly. The final goal of theurgy is henôsis or ‘unification’ of the soul with its ‘little god’—with the gods—and ultimately with the One, which is the way Neoplatonists refer to the First Principle of their theology and metaphysics. Proclus works in this way in the line set up by Iamblichus who was criticizing the over-rationalist approaches to philosophy and even ritual by Porphyry, Plotinus’ student. Iamblichus proposes to place theurgy above philosophy. Given our own reason’s limitations—natural limitations—and in the end, the limitations of language and rational discursivity, there’s a need by philosophers to recur to symbolic thought, which is a way that Iamblichus characterizes the dynamic of theurgy, as operated by way of symbols. So there’s a deep metaphysics of symbolism, of analogy, of metaphor—all of these conceived as elements of the language and practice of theurgy; so it is seen sort of as a necessary complement to philosophy after rigorous reflections on the limits of rational thought and of language itself.

So there’s complex philosophical arguments on the need of theurgy and how in a sense it is superior to philosophy—something that is already in Plato in a way. If we think of the Dialogue of Phaedrus, where theia mania, this ‘divine madness’ is distinguished as a source of wisdom. Since it is beyond our reason’s capacity, it is described as madness but distinguished from human madness. It is divine madness, and it responds to innate mechanisms of knowledge in the human being articulated in terms of metaphors, of symbols, of poetic thought, basically, but put into practice. So theurgy, in a way, can be defined as practical metaphysics, as applied theology, because for these philosophers there is no separation between the theoretical and the practical; they form a unity.

CB: Yeah, I was reading an article on Proclus by Carlos Steel, and one line that I got that I thought was interesting is he said that: “Proclus was a deeply religious man and was convinced that the theoretical philosophy was not sufficient to connect us with the gods, but that theurgy was necessary as well in order to achieve salvation of the soul.” Do you think that’s a good summary, to some extent?

JMR: Yeah. Reason is necessary but not sufficient, so there’s a need to develop. For Proclus, it is as important for the philosopher to develop his capacity in formal demonstrations as it is in terms of mythical thought—of getting acquainted with myth and ritual as a form of metaphysical thought. So ritual and astrology—it’s understood as an ethical practice, as an ethical tool that has a metaphysical foundation.

CB: Okay. So theurgy brings in a component that’s hard to characterize because it involves things that we would characterize maybe as religious, but also as a sort of magical practice to some extent as well, right?

JMR: Yes, exactly. However, we must be careful not to approach these ideas from a modern perspective that labels all magical thought as related to the irrational. For these philosophers, divination and ritual practices belong to a realm that we could label as ‘meta-rational’. Since it is beyond our comprehension then it’s viewed as madness, but as I said, divine madness distinguished from human madness; positively regarding divine madness as a source of meaning, of wisdom for the human being.

CB: Right. ‘Cause Plato made room for divination, and especially inspired divination from oracles that were receiving some sort of revealed information from the gods or from some divine entities.

JMR: Yeah, exactly. It is usually not acknowledged but divination is present, in practical terms, in the thought of Plato, in the thought of Aristotle, in their political thought. In the case of the Dialogue of the Lost—which is his last work—there are clear regulations regarding divinatory and ritual practices, but these are not excluded or less thought of as superstitious in the sense that we usually acknowledge this term. They are clearly valued as necessary both for the individual and for the collective, which has to order itself—the community—according to the astral cycles in Plato’s work. In other words, we can see in Plato’s work an adaptation of far older traditions of knowledge which politically value the community adapting to the different astral cycles.

CB: Okay. Yeah, I mean, I want to get into Plato, and I want to try to situate things in terms of maybe explaining the difference between Plato and Platonism versus Middle Platonism versus the era of Neoplatonism that Proclus is kind of the last major representative of. Is there anything else we should touch base on in terms of theurgy and explaining what that means, and perhaps how it ties into astrology before we sort of go through a broader overview of things and then circle back to that later?

JMR: Yeah, maybe to point out that it is Iamblichus—which is a very important reference for Proclus—who criticizes what he regards as ‘technical astrology’ versus ‘theurgical astrology’, which would be this philosophical interpretation/integration of astrology. Astrology being central to theurgical practices in the sense that it is the astrological correspondences that are used in the ritual practices; that is, the correspondences between planets and plants, stones, different elements in the natural world. But it’s also astrological in the sense that it is important to practice ritual at the appropriate astrological time. So it pretty much structures the whole of theurgical activity, which it’s understood as applying the same laws of creation; that is, theurgy follows what Platonists called ‘demiurgy’, the activity of the god dedicated to the eternal fabrication of the world. And theurgy is applied by a philosopher that has to be, yes, a rational scientist, but a pious scientist; a scientist that works piously and at the same time has to be a virtuous philosopher. So it’s an inseparable ethics/science ritual practice in this view.

CB: Okay, so the access point that astrologers would be most familiar with is this is where we have some crossover with the concept of electional astrology and choosing opportune or auspicious moments to act or to not act, in some instances, if things are inauspicious. This perhaps would have been something that would have been relevant and used from a technical standpoint in theurgy in terms of having or knowing the appropriate moments to do certain rituals or invoke or attempt to commune with certain gods.

JMR: Exactly, exactly. That’s an important point in ritual practices, that they are done at the appropriate time. And for that you have the rules of astrology besides the application, as I said, of all the enormous range of astrological correspondences in ritual by way of the stones, herbs, music tones, colors. I mean, the whole natural world in all its order and hierarchies is seen astrologically.

CB: Let’s expand on that point, ‘cause I think that’s really crucial. And I was surprised to see this in Proclus, that the earlier concept of ‘cosmic sympathy’ plays a major role in Proclus—and not just a theoretical one but a very practical role.

JMR: Exactly, yeah. There’s some surviving fragments of a text of Proclus on the principles of theurgy—which is called On the Hieratic Arts of the Greeks—and there he gives practical examples of the stones that correspond to the luminaries and the different herbs to be used at different times to expel ‘solar demons’ that might be out of place and things like that. He gives very precise, specific examples of the use of concrete substances regarding what’s described as celestial/terrestrial correspondences.

CB: So terrestrial and celestial correspondences. I think that’s really important that he thought there were correspondences or that there was some sort of sympathy between things that were happening in the heavens and things happening on Earth, but that sometimes through identifying those things on on Earth that matched certain things in heaven, you could then, maybe not exploit—I’m trying to think of the right word—that connection; but that was a way to establish the connection by identifying the correct connections between celestial and terrestrial things.

JMR: Yeah, exactly. However, they are not seen as two separate realms but as fundamentally one or united. So things on the Earth—sorry, ‘you find terrestrial things in heaven in a celestial manner, and celestial things on the Earth in an earthly manner,’ says the text, so they are fundamentally connected. And both things on Earth and in heaven belong to different chains which are headed by the gods themselves.

CB: Okay. Yeah, that’s very familiar to us from astrology, and we can see how then in Proclus we have a very high level philosophy of Platonism and some of the other philosophical schools being integrated into the magical tradition, being integrated into the astrological tradition, and all of this coming together into a very interesting blend, which then kind of gets handed off. And we see the results of some of that in some of the later magical traditions, like in Harran, for example, which is the place that eventually produced the Picatrix and other magical works like that, which are very much more applied magical and electional astrology in practice.

JMR: Yeah, they pretty much inherit these kinds of practices where the singing of hymns to the gods at the appropriate time and using all the different correspondences are integrated; it’s one of the main exercises you find there. There are some polemics regarding the last Platonists that apparently may have gone to Harran and were established there, because after Proclus, you have Damascius and Simplicius who are also important figures; they belong to the 6th century, and they would be the very last important Greek philosophers. And both of them apparently may have gone to Harran. So from there that would explain the transmission of Hellenic astral ritual practices to this area, as we see in the Picatrix, where there’s references to Neoplatonic metaphysics and cosmology pretty much as the frame of these practices.

CB: Right. ‘Cause once the pagan philosophical schools were closed and were banned some of the philosophers were supposed to have packed up their bags and all of their books and moved to Harran and to other cities that were associated with the Persian Empire at that point. And then in the centuries subsequent to that we see the production of books like the Picatrix, which obviously, like you said, are very influenced by things like Neoplatonism.

JMR: Exactly. I mean, you find of course, also, important traces of Hermeticism in the Picatrix, but one has to keep in mind that in the case of Iamblichus’ theurgy, this is inseparable from what we call ‘Hermetism’; they superimposed Iamblichus’ theurgy and Hermetism as a phenomenon. So in a sense it’s natural that you find these strands of Platonism and Hermetism together in a book like the Picatrix.

CB: Right. You mentioned that part of the importance for the philosopher was there were things involved in theurgy like purification, virtue, and ethics, and one of the things I thought interesting in the biography of Proclus—that was written by his student and successor Marinus—is that he said that Proclus performed ‘conspicuous and holy rituals at the New Moons’, and also that he observed the rising midday and setting Sun. So he was very much tied into and used some astronomical or astrological cycles in order to time his religious rituals and observances.

JMR: Exactly. Yeah, yeah, that’s part of what Marinus tells us. And in the case of Proclus—regarding this Late Platonist—he seems to be the most interested in the Chaldean traditions, which includes the so-called Chaldean Oracles, which is a collection of oracles from the gods who were evidently very knowledgeable about Platonic metaphysics and theology. Which, by the way, the stories regarding the origin of these oracles involve a father and a son, the Juliani—Julian, the theurgist, and Julian, the Chaldean—who received these metaphysical oracles from the gods through the soul of Plato, which is labeled as belonging to Apollo and Hermes. So this is like sacred literature for the Late Platonists—which has a value analogue to that of Plato and to that of Homer and Aesop—read as cryptic metaphysicians; that is, as prophets whose mythology hides and reveals at the same time a metaphysics akin to Plato, akin to Orpheus and Pythagoras and so on.

CB: Right. So the Chaldean Oracles were a set of revealed wisdom that was developed or that came about at least somewhere around the 3rd century and then became integrated into subsequent strands of Platonism from that point forward. And that’s part of the era of Platonism that’s referred to as ‘Neoplatonism’, right?

JMR: Yeah, the Chaldean Oracles date from the late 2nd century to the beginning of the 3rd. And it is Porphyry, Plotinus’ pupil, who really interests himself in this literature, and then after him Iamblichus, Syrianus, and Proclus among others make this literature central for the development of their Platonism. Now usually Neoplatonism is regarded from Plotinus onwards. You still read in conventional histories of philosophy that Plotinus was the founder of Neoplatonism. However, it might be appropriate here to recognize that this label belongs to the historiographers of philosophy of the 18th century German Protestant theologians who initially used this term, this label, to separate the Platonists from Plato—a ‘christianized’ Plato seen as an anticipation of the Christian message or Christian philosophy. So now it has become common to question or to even not use anymore the label ‘Neoplatonism’ because with Plotinus, for example, it’s very clear that he does not pretend to innovate, and he’s not telling us anything that is not already in Plato. He remains faithful, maybe more to his spirit than to his writing, but he would negate being called a Neoplatonist, Plotinus—and so would the rest of the Platonists. They do not talk about Platonism—that term is also modern—but they speak about Platonikoi; they recognized themselves as Platonists, we would say, even though they might sometimes strongly disagree or oppose in terms of metaphysical or psychological views. For example, after Iamblichus, Platonists are very critical of Plotinus’ notion of the soul and some of his metaphysical arguments.

However, we have to consider that for these schools of philosophy, arguments and philosophical discourse were subordinate or secondary to philosophy understood as a way of life. The French Hellenist Pierre Hadot talks about philosophy as a spiritual practice and a form of life; so that has to do with practice, not with theory, which is what we usually call ‘ethics’. So there might be disagreement in different theoretical issues, but still all of them embrace a way of life. Because in antiquity when one had to choose a philosophical school, you would not choose in terms of the theories they offered but on the way of life they offered, which demanded certain dogmas—in the original sense—which are just starting points, not principles that cannot be questioned; they are just starting points you have to assume regarding a theory, but mainly regarding a way of conducting life. And this practical side included very different kinds of techniques and exercises from the mystery traditions—the use of divination and exercises of the breath and very different kinds of techniques—with an ethical goal or understood as ethical tools.

CB: Got it, okay. Yeah, and I think that’s an interesting point that Proclus himself—especially as the head of the Academy in Athens—would have conceptualized himself as a Platonist and as continuing primarily the Platonic tradition. And so, on the one hand, I can understand why there would be objections to labeling his type of Platonism as different from others rather than just seeing it as part of a continuous tradition of people who were following and imitating the works of Plato. But then on the other hand, Marinus saying that Proclus named his two favorite books as the Chaldean Oracles and then the Timaeus—certainly there’s something distinctive about that in terms of it not just being the Timaeus, but also being this later book that was written in the 2nd or the 3rd century that’s also deeply influencing his philosophy and his personal views. To me, there does become something distinctive about that that might be different from a philosopher whose writing prior to the composition of the Chaldean Oracles in the 2nd or 3rd century.

JMR: Yeah, that illustrates very well the importance the Chaldean Oracles had for Proclus and for Late Platonists in general, putting it at the same level, so to speak, with Plato’s Timaeus; which is one of the most—together with the Parmenides—appreciated of Plato’s dialogues, or considered the most important.

CB: Yeah, I want to get into the Timaeus here in just a second.

JMR: If I may add something briefly regarding Platonism that may help us to conceptualize or contextualize better—for these philosophers, the figure of Socrates is something akin to that of the Buddha. Socrates is seen as an incarnation of Apollo, and the successors of the school are seen as divine men and women, because there are also important women philosophers in this school; Plato himself is seen as a mystagogue and as a prophet, basically. So it is a notion about philosophy that is different from our common modern conception or misconception about it, and this has to be considered regarding Greek philosophy in general. There’s this Greek scholar, Christos Evangelious—who recently passed away—who basically says that we have to consider Greek philosophy as closer to the philosophy of India and China than to that of European modern philosophy. So that’s an important part of the context to consider when we approach these philosophers for whom mysticism and science can be seen as complementary and can be taken necessarily together.

CB: Sure. That’s a good point, that there’s more of a mystical component to some Greek philosophy, especially the Platonic school, than maybe we’re used to conceptualizing in modern times. There’s a difference between the continental philosophy versus—

JMR: The analytical.

CB: —analytical. Usually the more scientific strands of philosophy in modern times, the analytical strands get sort of projected backwards into the ancient Greek philosophers who then are said to be supremely rational, and they’re coming to deductions about things using logic and mathematics and things like that purely. But in reality, I mean, part of your point is that there was also this much more mystical sort of metaphysical tradition starting in Plato that isn’t often recognized, but it’s one of the strands that the ‘Neoplatonists’—the Platonists from the very later end of the Platonic tradition in Greece, like Proclus—really emphasized, this more mystical side of Plato; and especially some of his more mystical dialogues such as the Timaeus, as well as ‘The Myth of Er’, which are thought to convey deeply metaphysical or mythic or almost religious concepts or insights about the nature of the cosmos.

JMR: Yeah. What is fascinating about Proclus is that he emphasizes this aspect but does not diminish the analytical, rigorous, logical aspect. You have works of Proclus like The Elements of Theology, which are very hardcore analytical argumentations; he has a very systematic mind and has very complex works on science and on astronomy, for example. But then at the other side of the spectrum you have his theurgical hymns—the hymns he composes to the gods and used in his own rituals.

CB: Okay.

JMR: And perhaps we should also keep in mind that the conception of thought itself for the Greeks—talking in general—is very different to the modern conception. The ancients used to differentiate between intellect and reason, a distinction still made in the Medieval tradition. So there’s nous, this principle of psychē—usually translated as ‘intelligence’ or ‘intellect’—which belongs an activity of knowledge that is superior to rational discursivity, which is noesis, and it is usually translated as ‘intuition’, but it’s a form of super-rational intuition; it’s a dynamic of of knowledge. So their own conception of reason and thought is far more complex than our modern reductive conception of thought, limited in its highest expression to formal demonstration, formal reasoning.

CB: Got it. That’s a great point. Before we move on from Proclus and give more background with the Platonic tradition, which I want to do, I did want to mention that we already mentioned in passing that Proclus is unique because his student left us a biography of of Proclus, where he writes about his life and he gives us quite a bit of biographical information about the person. And one of the things that’s most interesting from an astrological standpoint about this biography is that at the very end of it, Marinus, Proclus’ student, actually gives the birth chart of Proclus, which is unique and interesting, ‘cause it’s like we have the birth charts of other astrologers; for example, Hephaistio of Thebes gives his birth chart, so does Manetho, and Valens seems to secretly use his birth chart throughout his text as well. But this is one of the first times I think that we have actually the birth chart of a very famous philosopher, where it’s an actual chart that they used during their lifetime, which is pretty cool.

JMR: Yeah, and it’s pretty unique, as you say. You know, Firmicus Maternus, in his Mathesis, he gives Plato’s chart, for example, but apparently it’s not an actual chart; it’s more of a poetic, symbolic chart of sorts.

CB: Right.


JMR: Sorry—and that might also be the case with Proclus’, by the way. However, the astronomical points expressed in the chart might be more or less correct in an actual sense. So, yeah, it’s a pretty unique example. It’s interesting that he ends up in this way referring to ‘those lovers of virtue’, he says, who might want to see this sort of celestial confirmation of all he has been showing us.

CB: Yeah, I’ll just share the translation. And this is from—I believe the scholar’s name is Michael Edwards who wrote a book called Neoplatonic Saints where he translates the biography.


CB: What was that?

JMR: I said, yes, it’s Michael Edwards.

CB: Okay, good. And he translates the biography of Proclus, as well as the biography of Plotinus that was written by Porphyry. So here it is. For those listening to the audio version, I’ll just read it. And this is towards the end of the biography, it says: “But so the more erudite may be able to conjecture, from the configuration of stars under which he was born, that the choice dispensed to him did not fall among the last, nor even among any in the middle, but among the first.” And that’s an absolutely amazing phrase that we’re gonna come back to, and I’ll continue on. “I [will] have set out their positions as they were at [the] birth.” Okay, so this is in the manuscripts, it says, the Sun was in Aries, the Moon was in Gemini, Saturn in Taurus, Jupiter in Taurus, Mars in Sagittarius, Venus in Pisces, Mercury in Aquarius, and the horoscope or the hour-marker, the ascendant, in Aries. And it gives degrees and minutes for all of these, which I won’t—

JMR: You have more positions on the next page.

CB: Oh, yeah, right, sorry. It says the midheaven is in Capricorn at 4°, the ascending node in Scorpio at 24, and the preceding conjunction, the prenatal lunation, basically, in Aquarius at 8°. So it gives a bunch of positions for these planets, and here I just made a very quick diagram that gives you the sign positions of that, for those watching the video version. Okay, so this is what that chart would look like if we went with what the manuscript says. And this doesn’t match the degrees perfectly; I just put the planets in the signs. And so, there’s a little bit to talk about here because there’s been a lot of debates about this chart and a lot of attempts to date the chart to figure out what the exact date is. Because just the chart positions themselves are given in the texts and not Proclus’ actual birth date there’s been attempts to reconstruct this chart to figure out what the actual birth date of Proclus would have been, but it’s led to some debates and some problems. For example, one of the issues that you notice—or any astrologer astronomer notices—right away is that the Sun is in Aries but Mercury is in Aquarius, which is astronomically impossible, because usually Mercury cannot get more than one sign away from the Sun. So a lot of the scholars that have tried to date this chart have pointed out that that means that either the position given of Mercury is wrong and it’s in the wrong sign in the text or perhaps that the position of the Sun given is wrong and it’s in the wrong sign of the text, and we can talk about that. But I know you have an opinion about this chart, right?

JMR: Well, yes, it has been pointed out that some positions could not be astronomically correct. Maybe if Mercury were much further into Aquarius then maybe, because I think it can be 48° apart from the Sun.

CB: Venus can.

JMR: Venus.

CB: Right.

JMR: So, yeah, there is debate regarding what could be the correct date of his birth. And there’s also the acknowledgment that the horoscope—that is, the ascendant and the midheaven—is calculated for Rhodes. I mean, not for his place of birth, but apparently for the place of birth of his family, to which he felt very connected. But Proclus was born in Constantinople, so it is not for that location. So it has problems—it has astronomical problems—and there are different speculations about it. However, just taken, as Marinus transmits to us this horoscope, I find it interesting regarding the very little certainly that we know about Proclus; for example, regarding his hot, sometimes bad temper which Marinus recalls, which would make sense with his Aries Sun ascendant, but also that would make sense regarding this sort of solar characterization of him that Marinus transmits. Marinus is not the only source we have about Proclus’ character and life. Damascius, who knew him, also writes in his philosophical history—where he writes about many of the characters, both of the Athenian and Alexandrian schools—and recounts some anecdotes about Proclus. So I believe it more or less makes sense, this ascendant, and it would place Venus on the 12th house.

And we are told by Marinus—well, we’re not told by Marinus, this is Damascius. We know that Proclus was about to get married to the daughter of a colleague from the school in Alexandria, but in the end that did not happen. This woman married another philosopher apparently, among other things, because Athena in a dream told Proclus that he belonged to her, so to speak—which is also interesting regarding the connection between Athena and Aries, by the way—and asked the philosopher to remain chaste for the rest of his life and to dedicate only to philosophy. I mean, it’s just mere speculation. There are interesting and well-argued propositions of an amended date that would give, instead of a Sun in Aries, a Sun in Aquarius, and that might be the case. As I commented to you, it is not a matter I’ve been able to delve deeply, but I think it’s interesting, the chart, as Marinus presents it.


CB: All right, so we’re back. I had a little noise interruption. So back to the birth chart. One of the things I wanted to mention is just, like I said, there’s been a long line of scholars over the past two centuries who have tried to reconstruct this birth chart. One of the most recent articles—actually it’s not that recent, it’s like 20-years-old at this point. But a famous scholar of astrology and ancient astronomy, Alexander Jones, wrote an article titled, “The Horoscope of Proclus,” and I do like his reconstruction from a textual standpoint. I wanted to mention it because one of the things that’s pointed out by Jones and other scholars is just that part of the issue with the chart could just be manuscript issues where you have to resolve this difference, this astronomical discrepancy—if it’s a real chart—between the Sun and Mercury, and it could just mean that either Mercury shouldn’t be in Aquarius and should be in Aries so that it’s closer to the Sun; or the main reconstruction that people have shown that creates a correct astronomical chart—if the text is wrong and the Sun should actually be an Aquarius rather than in Aries—would create a chart that looks more like this. And what’s interesting, in fact, is if you make that change from a textual standpoint, it does create a chart that’s very, very close to an actual astronomical alignment that occurred on February 7, in the year 412 AD, at about 9:00 in the morning in Constantinople—basically, where he would have been born—although the chart, as you said, was cast for Rhodes.

But if we look at this chart that we have in front of us, it actually matches most of the basic considerations; it would have a chart where Aries is rising, the Sun and Mercury are in Aquarius, Venus is at 24° of Aquarius as well but it’s retrograde, and that’s probably part of what was tricky. Even though the chart puts the Sun at 0° of Pisces, when planets go retrograde sometimes there can be some issues with the calculations in ancient texts where they can be more liable to be off. So the Moon would be in Gemini, Saturn and Jupiter were in Taurus, and the North Node was indeed in Scorpio, and Mars is at the very beginning of Capricorn, but not too far from Sagittarius where it was said to be calculated in the chart; and Mars is a planet that they often had the most problems getting the calculation correct. So this, theoretically, could hypothetically be—at least according to Alexander Jones—the actual recalculated date of what his chart would have looked like in the tropical zodiac. I do think it’s interesting—going along with what you were saying—if he was born with Aries rising, then he would have had at least tropically Aries rising with Mars in Capricorn in a day chart in the 10th house. And what Marinus says in the text is that Proclus could be very direct, and if there was something good in a text, he would take it and expand on it, but if there was something that he didn’t like, he would reject it sort of out of hand very strongly, is what he says, right?

JMR: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

CB: Okay.

JMR: And I would correspond.

CB: Yeah, it reminds me of my friend. I had a friend named Alan White who had a similar position in his birth chart with Aries rising and Capricorn placements, and he could be very gruff in his manner of presenting something, which could be charming or could sometimes be a little off-putting depending on the context. Anyway, there’s different debates around that, but that’s one reconstruction about what the chart may have been. I think the most important point that’s interesting is just that his birth chart was included at all, and that Proclus knew his birth chart and may have drawn some things from it. It’s also interesting that Marinus mentions a couple of things. One, he actually mentions elsewhere that there were eclipses that occurred in the year that Proclus died, and he actually connects that with the death of the philosopher; which I thought was really notable and really striking, especially since I did a recent study of eclipses in history. We sort of demonstrated how—both in the past, as well as still in the present—occasionally they do have that association of the death of major figures or the end of one era and the beginning of another; so it’s interesting to see his biographer specifically linking that in Proclus’ life as well.

JMR: Yeah, it’s a very moving passage where he connects these couple of eclipses to the eclipse of this light, this figure, not only individually but in collective terms, as you said, as sort of the end of a period or epoch.

CB: Yeah. So in the text, in Edward’s translation, he says: “Before the year of his death there were portents such as an eclipse of the sun, so conspicuous that it became night by day. For a deep darkness descended and the stars appeared. This took place in Capricorn on its eastern centre [that means the ascendant, by the eastern horizon]. The observers of days have also noted another to occur after the completion of the first year.” And that’s really interesting ‘cause he’s talking about an eclipse that was still coming up after his writing of the biography. And then it goes on to say: “When commotions such as this are seen to occur in heaven, they are said to be significant of occurrences on earth, and we take them as portents of the deprivation and as it were the eclipse of the light of philosophy.” That’s really beautiful and really moving, and it’s interesting to hear his conceptualization of eclipses right there.

JMR: Exactly. Yeah, it’s a beautiful passage.

CB: Yeah.

JMR: And a passage that also highlights what is sort of conceived as the solar nature of this figure, of Proclus.

CB: Right. For sure.

JMR: As an iconic man of sorts.

CB: Well, in a way, it’s interesting ‘cause he was even more right than he could have thought. I thought it was interesting in the biography or in Proclus’ life that in terms of the succession of his school in Athens, he initially had selected another student to take over, but that student declined or didn’t take over. So then Marinus was selected to be Proclus’ successor, but Proclus had hesitation selecting him because of the student having health problems; and unfortunately, indeed, Marinus did die only a few years after Proclus. So his statement about the eclipses taking place at this time and this being the end of an era was perhaps even more true than even he knew at the time.

JMR: Yeah, yeah, I think that’s a good observation.

CB: Yeah. All right, so going back to a statement that was made, that’s incredibly interesting—right before he introduced his birth—this will take us back to Plato and to transitioning into another part of this discussion where we want to get more into the Platonic texts and how Proclus represents a uniting of Platonism and astrology that’s very unique and very striking. At the beginning of introducing this horoscope, Marinus says, just to read it again: “[S]o that the more erudite may be able to conjecture, from the configuration of stars under which he was born, that the choice dispensed to him did not fall among the last, nor even among any in the middle, but [was] among the first. I have set out their positions as they were at his birth.” So this is an allusion to ‘The Myth of Er’, which listeners of the podcast should be familiar with ‘cause I talked about it pretty extensively in an episode—I think two episodes ago—titled “The Lot of Fortune and the Lot of Spirit in Astrology,” where we talked about ‘The Myth of Er’ from Plato.

It was said that the souls, before reincarnation, are on the outskirts of the universe and that they cast lots; and then once they’ve cast a lot and chosen a number, they then have to pick a life, and the choice of the life is the souls and then they are sort of incarnated after that point. And what’s interesting is that in the Platonic dialogue itself there’s this ambiguity in Plato about whether it’s meant to have any astrological implications or whether Plato’s aware of astrology or whether Mesopotamian astrology at the time is influencing Plato to an extent; there’s this ambiguity to that and whether ‘The Myth of Er’ was supposed to have any astrological implications or not. But here, centuries later, by the time of Proclus and Marinus, this is an example that some of the Platonists were very explicitly connecting ‘The Myth of Er’—and choosing your life prior to incarnation to some extent—with the birth chart, which then says something about the life that you’re about to live, which I think is just really amazing.

JMR: Yeah, it is. And actually the dialogue refers that once the lot has been chosen then the soul descends into incarnation when the appropriate revolutions of the stars are set, and the soul descends to incarnation accompanied by a daimon, which becomes the administrator of that fate. But there’s a connection to the revolution of the stars, of the planets in heaven, and not only in the Republic, but famously also in the Timaeus, which has been also one of the main philosophical references for the development of astrological metaphysics or philosophy.

CB: Yeah, let’s talk about that. So let’s situate things. We’re going back here to the very beginning of this entire philosophical tradition that Proclus was a part of, which is starting with the philosopher Plato who lived in the 4th century BC and set up a school for philosophy in Athens, right?

JMR: Exactly, yes.

CB: Okay.

JMR: However, the whole of the Greek philosophers do not see their work as beginning completely with them. The Greeks, like Aristotle, talk about the philosophy of the Persians or the philosophy of the Egyptians. That is, Greeks see themselves as transmitting or receiving knowledge or traditions of wisdom—which they pride themselves on giving a better shape, so to speak—but they acknowledge that the wisdom they’re expressing has a far older lineage. In the case of Plato, if we take the dialogue of Epinomis—which might be from Plato or from a very close, immediate student of his—there’s a direct reference to the Assyrians, for example, and this pairing after the Assyrian manner of the gods with the planets. So there are different points of reference where you can see this transmission from ancient Mesopotamian cultures to the Greeks: their mathematics, their astronomy, which of course also includes their astrology.

CB: Right. Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, the earliest surviving birth chart that we know of from Mesopotamia dates to 410 BCE and that’s roughly contemporaneous with Plato and the earlier part of Plato’s life. Plato’s timeframe was he was born around 428 BC and he died in 348 BC. So if the first birth chart—or at least the earliest surviving birth charts date to 410—then that concept of natal astrology, at least some basic form, already existed then essentially in Plato’s lifetime, so he very well could have been familiar with or could have had some exposure to it. And because the full emergence of Hellenistic astrology—which uses the ascendant and houses and aspects and everything else—doesn’t really emerge until 100 BCE, which is a few centuries later, I had often sided with the scholars who tended to downplay Plato’s possible familiarity with Mesopotamian astrology and things like that.

But recently, in looking through some of this and re-analyzing some things—or reading an article that Robin Waterfield wrote in Culture and Cosmos years ago about early Greek exposure to an awareness of astrology—I’m starting to realize that the Greeks may have had exposure to and familiarity with Mesopotamian astrology much earlier than I realized, and that it was already starting to come into their consciousness by the time of Plato and Aristotle and their successors. In fact, there’s a really interesting reference to astrology in the Timaeus itself potentially. While it has historically been rejected or negated as a reference to astrology, Proclus himself is one of the people who retains this reference to astrology and mentions it quite explicitly, so I want to get to that. But maybe, first, before we do that, I’ve talked about the ‘The Myth of Er’ in the previous episode and we can go more into that; but something I haven’t talked about that’s extremely important is the Timaeus, which Proclus said was one of his favorite books. So I think maybe we should talk about the Timaeus right now: talk about what it does and what it contains and then how that ended up influencing potentially the later astrological tradition. So what is the Timaeus?

JMR: The Timaeus is a dialogue about the creation of the cosmos, basically, where Plato exposes what we would call his cosmology—a cosmology that cannot be separated from metaphysics since the cosmos itself is regarded as a sort of metaphysical image of its spiritual principles. It is a dialogue that was to become very influential also in the development of theological conceptions about God as the creator of the world since Plato presents there a figure called the ‘demiurge’, which is the god that fabricates the cosmos—which is not the ‘first god’, it must be said. It is only a creator god, which with the help of what are called ‘younger gods’—a reference to the planets—conceives, ordains, arranges the whole of cosmic creation. To this end, first, he creates the soul: the soul of the cosmos and then the particular souls. And in their very creation, they share particular souls a structural identity with the ‘soul of the World’ of the cosmos which is composed of the planetary spheres and the sphere of the constellations.

So from there, there’s a very fundamental analogy between the revolution of the stars and the life of souls, of particular souls, of the souls that incarnate. Plotinus would later say the soul of the cosmos is like the older sister of the particular soul; so they are kindred; they are related, essentially. And it is in this dialogue actually that Plato relates philosophy to the practice of assimilating the revolutions of the particular soul, the cycles of our experience, with the cycles of the planets. So it is a dialogue where it is narrated how the demiurge or this creator god fabricates the World soul and after this the cosmos is created, including human beings, which is regarded as a microcosm. This famous notion originates here in this dialogue of Plato, this notion that the human being is a small cosmos—like a small compendium of the whole cosmos—and the cosmos in a way is like a big human. They mirror each other; they are structurally analogous.

CB: Right.

JMR: It’s a very big dialogue of Plato’s in the sense that it narrates the origin of our world and the place the human being has in this world and how the human being is intimately connected with the order of the whole cosmos, especially with the stars.

CB: Right. One of the core, most important things about the dialogue for me and the things that may have been influential is that Plato outlines the idea that the cosmos, the entire cosmos itself, is a living entity that has a body—which is the physical universe that we can see—but also has a soul that inhabits the entire body and is established through the entirety of the cosmos that makes it alive and sentient in some way.

JMR: It is a unified totality imbued with soul. So it is alive, it is an intelligent being, and not only that, it is divine in some sense. It’s an extraordinary conception of the cosmos as a living organism.

CB: Right. And here’s a quote from Robin Waterfield’s translation of the Timaeus. It says: “This world of ours was made in truth by god as a living being, endowed thanks to his providence with soul and intelligence.” So it’s like just that conceptualization in and of itself is different and is unique and is from a modern perspective a much different conceptualization of what the universe; especially from the established scientism standpoint, the universe is just seen as this dead inert thing that we just find ourselves in and that we’re the only intelligence in it; the universe itself is this passive, sort of not-alive thing. But in this ancient conceptualization from Plato—that ran through and influenced a number of subsequent philosophies and religious traditions—just as we are individual beings that have a body and a soul and intelligence and consciousness, we are just mirroring the universe itself which we’re inside of or are a part of, which also is an entity that is alive and conscious and has intelligence and soul and intellect as well.

JMR: Exactly. It’s a radically different conception of the relationship between human beings, the cosmos, and divinity than that of the standard modern view. And it also teaches regarding a notion of providence or caring on the part of divinity and the cosmos regarding the human being. So it’s a caring cosmos in a way and a living, intelligent, beautiful divine creature of which we are created as an image in a way.

CB: Right, so that’s really important. And what’s interesting—one of the points that you were bringing up—is that it creates a different situation as well, because if the universe is alive and was constructed intentionally then it opens up these broader ideas of providence and providential care on the part of the gods and things like that. But something that I found that’s interesting is I found a quote at one point from a later I think Christian author who refers to the views of astrologers at one point, but he does so negatively, but here’s the quote, he says: “They [essentially the Chaldeans or the astrologers] glorified the visible existence and had no conception of what was invisible and intelligible, but in exploring the order in numbers…and the sympathy between heaven and earth, they supposed that the cosmos itself was god, thereby unlawfully likening what has come into existence to the one who had made it.”

So I thought this was really interesting because this is an ancient author saying that at least some astrologers were conceptualizing the cosmos itself as God and as a living entity, just in the same way that the Timaeus is outlying this conceptualization of the cosmos itself as being a god and being a living entity; so that in some way the Timaeus may have influenced later philosophical traditions, including the conceptualization of astrology that took that idea seriously, and I think that’s really important and interesting. As a matter of fact, we see other traces of that, for example, in the summary of the text of Antiochus of Athens—the astrologer from maybe the 1st or 2nd century. At one point, when he starts talking about the Thema Mundi—or the mythical birth chart for the cosmos—he actually refers to it as the ‘chart of God’; so astrologers may have explicitly also conceptualized the Thema Mundi itself as the birth chart of God and as this idealized birth chart in the same way that each individual human also has a birth chart.

JMR: Yeah, that was Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish philosopher, who on the other side integrates many of Plato’s arguments and expositions; however, he’s evidently not very sympathetic to astrology. I was thinking also about Firmicus Maternus who clearly knows about Plotinus and Porphyry and has read them, and in part at least it’s present in his thoughts about astrology as he writes in the Mathesis. So, yes, there seems to be this constant dialogue between the traditions.

CB: Yeah. And some of Firmicus—he’s being informed by Hermeticism in the Corpus Hermeticum, which was deeply influenced by Plato and the Timaeus in terms of especially some of those views about the cosmos being a living entity.

JMR: Right. Yeah, he explicitly refers to Plotinus and Porphyry and to Plato, but also to Nechepso and Petosiris and Hermes. He talks a little about philosophy because he’s writing a manual, a technical manual on astrology, but the few conceptions presented here and there are very much in line with Platonism and Hermeticism.

CB: Yeah, and I think this is really important because astrology oftentimes in history is treated as this weird thing that is occult or is separate from science and philosophy and everything else, but, in fact, I think the astrologers—especially in the early Hellenistic tradition—were very much actively involved in a dialogue with ancient philosophy. And while ancient philosophers did not always necessarily believe in astrology or endorse it or integrate it into their philosophy, many of the astrologers themselves I think were influenced by some of the philosophical in undercurrents that were going on during those timeframes and some of the things that were popular, which in some earlier eras are gonna be things like the Timaeus and the huge impact that it had on many different philosophies and religions; in other areas you see reflections, like in the popularity of Stoicism with the astrologers of the 1st and 2nd century. Yeah, but astrology I think oftentimes isn’t treated in the history of philosophy but it should be, because it’s sometimes representing an applied version of some of the metaphysics that we see in philosophers like Plato.

JMR: Yeah, and I think it has to do with the reductive conception of astrology as something regarding only a technique to interpret charts. In a wider sense, it is a vision about the relationship between divinity, the cosmos, and the human being—that is shared by philosophers, scientists, mystics, doctors or medics—where it is conceived that there’s a dynamic, intimate relationship between the heavens and the Earth. So in this wider sense, for the Hellenists—Hellenism being a universalist project—there’s a universalism that motivates or presents or that articulates Hellenism. In this wider sense, astrology, so to speak, answers to the needs of this universalism in the sense that the heavens are seen as a temple shared by all human beings. Well, the cosmos is a temple, the heavens are the altar of this temple, and in this altar are found the statues of the gods—that is, the planets. And different cultures can relate their different gods to the different planets. If the goddess you call ‘Aphrodite’, we call ‘Venus’, and over there you call her ‘Ishtar’ and over there ‘Anahita’, and so on, we more or less agree that it functions as an analogue. It serves as an analogical function, this principle, that is related to the same planet; there’s no need for us to argue which representation is the true one or the correct one. So this can be used towards what was considered as a symphony of traditions, a harmony or concordance between the different cultures. So maybe this is the wider sense in which we can culturally understand the presence and importance of astrology, a paradigm, I repeat, shared by philosophers, scientists, magicians, mystics, doctors, and so on.

CB: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So going back to the Timaeus, other points that are important from it, as you mentioned, the planets themselves were conceptualized as being living beings with souls and being gods, essentially, and being referred to at one point as the ‘younger gods’. He also mentions in the Timaeus the concept of all the planets returning to their original positions, and he calls it the ‘perfect year’, and this started a long tradition of discussions about that concept. Elsewhere he says that the fixed stars are gods which rotate in the same place and think the same thoughts about the same things eternally, that each soul is assigned to a star, and that in the dialogue in the Timaeus, God tells the souls the ‘laws of their destinies’ and that the first incarnation will be the same for all. So it goes into this concept of reincarnation and what happens when a person lives justly versus when a person lives unjustly, and that eventually any soul that lives life well will then return to the star that they’ve been paired with where they’ll live a blessed life. So there’s all sorts of stellar conceptualizations of things throughout this dialogue, and that’s one of the reasons why it would have had a major impact on later conceptualizations of astrology.

JMR: Yes, there is a link in this text between the lives we live—our souls—and the laws of the cosmos; the cosmos, as an intelligent order being, functions according to a divine law. So being an eternal cosmos that has no temporal beginning or end, this is important also to underline because it means that time is conceived as cyclical. And so, our lives are a cycle of incarnations where—depending on the decisions we make in subsequent incarnations—these will have results according to cosmic law. So certainly for these philosophers it is important, the notion of reincarnation, but all these cycles of incarnation are related to the stars, to the planets. All of our experiences and the consequences of the decisions we make are all related to the cycles of the stars.

CB: Right. So at one point in the Timaeus, God hands over the task of forming the mortal bodies of man to the younger gods, which are implied to be the planets, and it says: “He left it up to them to govern and steer every mortal creature as best they could, so that each one would be as noble and good as it might be apart from any self-caused evils.” This, when taken together with ‘The Myth of Er’ in the Republic and Plato’s other important dialogue—where the souls prior to incarnation choose lives and then are incarnated and that the 3 Fates—are specifically associated with the different spheres of the cosmos, including the spheres of the planets. This later became, in subsequent centuries, more concretely a doctrine where the planets were explicitly associated with fate. Especially by the time of the Corpus Hermeticum and the very first book of the Corpus Hermeticum—which is called the Poimandres—the planets were explicitly said to be in charge of fate and to be the governors or—I forget the term that it used. The planets are the ‘instruments of fate’; I think at one point a phrase is used like that. This led to what was eventually a common doctrine that was like a reconciliation between astrology and free will at some point and the notion that the planets rule over our fate and our bodies, but that there may be some element of choice that’s still left that’s up to us in terms of free will. But then it was debated I think whether this choice was something that happened within our lives and in terms of our individual choices or if the choice was something that was made prior to birth in terms of—prior to reincarnation—the notion of which life you chose to live.

JMR: Yeah, it’s a complex view. But the point you made I think is important—the planets rule over our bodies—so there’s some room left for the soul to freely operate. Essentially, given its nature, it is somehow above the working of the planets. However, if the soul lives subordinated to the body then the soul is subordinated to the ordination of fate, even when her origin goes beyond that. Clearly for this tradition there’s no conflict between astrology and a notion of liberty, of freedom for the soul, which is a moral freedom, an ethical freedom; that is what is referred, and as I understand, related to the choices we make in our lives in in in our incarnation, that is.

CB: Right. Yeah, so that’s really important, ‘cause in this tradition it’s like you have the possibility of going either way. It’s like you could see how some people could take the Timaeus and ‘The Myth of Er’ and it could lead to a more fate-oriented perspective, where you you could think that the real choice happens prior to birth and then you choose your life; you get your birth chart assigned to you and then you live that out and that’s pretty much your fate and that’s all-encompassing in terms of even your choices within your life are partially dictated by that in addition to your circumstances. And there were certainly some astrologers, like Valens, that did take that more Stoic conceptualization where everything is predetermined once you’re born.

But then in the Platonic tradition and some of the other ones connected with that or influenced with that—like Hermeticism and some of the other related traditions—there was really this notion that it’s the body and the physical incarnation that’s under the control of of fate and of the planets in the birth chart, but that there may be a way through different means—like philosophy and living virtuously, as well as through theurgy or other things like that—that somehow your soul could rise above it and exercise a greater level of choice. In other instances, like with Plotinus and Iamblichus’ famous debate—sorry with Porphyry and Iamblichus’ famous debate, Porphyry seems to say that the goal of using astrological techniques is to determine the master of the nativity and to identify a person’s guardian daimon, which is the spirit that was assigned to you prior to birth to help ensure that you fulfill your destiny. If you could use the astrological techniques to identify that, that would somehow allow you to free yourself from your fate in some way, and Iamblichus and Porphyry have a famous debate over whether that makes sense or not.

JMR: Yeah, they debate about this. However, they both coincide, we might say, that we are not totally determined by fate; that developing through philosophy and ritual—more importantly for Iamblichus, ‘cause for Porphyry it’s not that important the place of ritual. But by living virtuously, as you mentioned, and also ‘recurring’ to theurgy, it may be possible to negotiate fate, we might say. The notion about fate is that fate is conditional, that it is not completely fixed or determined. If this, then this, but if that, then this other the thing, so it is not something completely predetermined. I mean, they are not naive. They understand the power of emotions and the body and our relationship with existence and how we naturally sort of subordinate ourselves to the body. As a matter of fact, in the Timaeus, Plato relates that incarnation for the soul is traumatic. Given all the care and attention that the body demands, it loses consciousness of itself, forgets itself, and identifies only as body. Philosophy is a method for the soul to not only theoretically remember, but to actually recover its true nature; and in that sense, it may be able to transcend fate or not be totally determined by it. So it can ‘recur’ to ritual but that has to necessarily be accompanied by a virtuous way of living. Because there’s no point of doing ritual if there’s not some sort of internal ethical alignment, so to speak; but the point is that fate is negotiable. And I think that puts Platonism in line even with the Mesopotamian traditions.

CB: Right.

JMR: It is possible to negotiate with the gods of fate.

CB: Right. ‘Cause in the Mesopotamian tradition—which predates Greek astrology by hundreds of years they would find out what the astrological indications were, but then they would try to use propitiation rituals in order to avert them, including sometimes going so far as to do things like the ‘substitute king’ ritual. If there was a really bad-looking eclipse that indicated the death of the king, they would swap out the king with a prisoner or somebody for a period of time until the negative indication had passed and then they would reinstate the old king and continue on as normal, so there was more of an idea of things being negotiable in the Mesopotamian tradition. I’m really glad you brought that up because that becomes a very strong trend in Platonism, especially in Middle Platonism forward, where they took some statements in the Timaeus to interpret it to mean that fate has the position of a law in the cosmos.

So if you take this action then this outcome will necessarily result, but the choice is still up to you in terms of making the decision initially and then dealing with the consequences. But it’s not something that’s seen as totally encompassing in that it’s necessitating you or forcing you to make certain choices as well; there’s still some element left up to choice. I actually wanted to read a common or a famous definition of that interpretation of fate from the text of Alcinous, translated by John Dillon, where it gives a definition. He says: “But fate consists rather in the fact that if a soul chooses a type of life and performs such-and-such actions, [then] such-and-such consequences will follow for it. The soul, therefore, owns no master, and it is in its power to act or not, and it is not compelled to do this, but the consequences of the action will be fulfilled in accordance with fate.” So it’s like fate is the fulfillment or the consequences of the action in the sense that fate is like a law, just like there’s other laws in societies. Like if you steal from somebody then you’ll go to jail, or what have you.

JMR: Yeah, there’s a law, it’s not a mechanical, blind law, but a law that somehow seems to integrate or take into account our actions and our decisions and options. Plotinus uses a very interesting image regarding this cosmic law as similar to a script that the actors in the theater have to go by. So there’s a script written and you are given a character, and that you cannot change—you cannot change the script—but our liberty lies, like the actor, in our capacity to interpret well or poorly our character. So there’s a coincidence between law and necessity and an ordainment and at the same time our freedom of choice. So we would have a freedom analogous to that of the actors; they cannot change the character they’re playing or the script, but there’s some room for improvisation, for creativity. There’s room for freedom in how well one interprets its own character.

CB: See, that’s really interesting to me, ‘cause Valens uses the same analogy of ‘we’re all actors in a play’. We have our fate, we have our birth charts, and so we have to play out the script of our lives. For Valens—as somebody that’s more influenced by Stoicism—fate is total; both your external circumstances are fated or predetermined, but also even the choices that arise from within you are predetermined as well in that Stoic conceptualization. But I feel like in using that analogy, Plotinus and some of the other Neoplatonists had a little bit more of a malleable view of fate than that, where they probably didn’t think everything was was predetermined to this same extent that somebody like Valens would, right?

JMR: Yeah, yeah, I think so. And even post-Plotinian philosophers would emphasize more that capacity of freedom or creativity, which would lie pretty much in the soul’s capacity of identification with the divine—in adopting a divine way of living of sorts for the soul—and then there’s more of a possibility to to express that freedom or creativity as incarnated souls.

CB: So to the—

JMR: The theurgist’s—sorry, the theurgist’s goal is to become like an extension of the gods or an incarnation in a way. Many of these leading philosophers were regarded as divine human beings. They have been compared to the notion of the bodhisattvas in Buddhism, as incarnated Buddhas who incarnate in order to guide other souls to freedom.

CB: Right. I think Marinus says at one point that Proclus himself believed he was the reincarnation of an earlier Pythagorean philosopher.

JMR: Yeah, of Nicomachus. Yeah, Nicomachus of Gerasa. Proclus expresses that he’s the reincarnation of this Pythagorean.

CB: So that’s really interesting to me and important, because it’s like we’re used to thinking that it’s the Eastern philosophical and religious traditions—maybe I shouldn’t say Eastern—but just in India that ideas of karma and reincarnation originate.

JMR: Right.

CB: And while that’s true and that obviously does originate indigenously there, it’s interesting to see that there was also a tradition of reincarnation in the West, in Western philosophy, that runs through Plato and runs through subsequent philosophers in the Platonic tradition. But here we would also see that to the extent that Proclus integrated astrology into his philosophy or believed in astrology or even practiced it to some extent, we’re seeing a very early example, from the 5th century, of an astrologer who also believed in reincarnation.

JMR: Yeah, it’s an idea that is present in Greek thought since its beginnings. In Greek culture, it’s associated with Orphism, and there’s a link between Orphism and Pythagoras or Pythagoreanism, and from there it is present in Plato and many other Greek philosophers. not in all, but in many of them, so certainly it is there also. I’m not sure if the Greeks would see themselves as Westerners because they don’t talk this way; it’s more ourselves who categorize them like that. But as you say, it’s certainly interesting that it’s there in what’s usually called the ‘cradle of Western civilization’.

CB: Yeah, there’s good historical reasons for that because. I think with notions of reincarnation in the Hellenistic tradition you run into an issue because most of the texts that survive are technical manuals on how to do astrology, and unfortunately we don’t have a lot of manuals or discussions from those astrologers about what their philosophy is; so we have to infer and we have to pick up bits and pieces from little remarks made in passing about what their philosophy was when it comes to astrologers like Valens or Ptolemy or Manilius or others. And then certainly in the Medieval astrological tradition and subsequent traditions ideas of reincarnation were not really that prominent or not really that common partially due to the influence of Christianity from that point forward, especially from the 5th century onward, where a lot of the earlier pagan ideas really dropped out of the tradition in some ways. So when reincarnation did become popular in the context of astrology in the 20th century, it was largely due to the influence of Theosophy which was picking up some of those ideas from Indian philosophy and religion of karma and reincarnation really consciously and really deliberately. But here we see earlier instances of that sort of surfacing that were independent I think of the Indian tradition.

JMR: Yes, in the Greek world, philosophy and astrology developed together. I mean, the very term ‘astrology’ is a philosophical Greek term.

CB: Astrologos?

JMR: Astrologos.

CB: Which means what?

JMR: Well, logos is a very complex Greek term—

CB: Right.

JMR: —which can refer to ‘reason’, to ‘language’, to ‘measure’, to ‘a foundation’, to ‘knowledge’; I mean, it has many ‘registers’. And of course astro refers to ‘the stars’ in Greek. But the first Greek philosophers talk about a logos—which can also be translated as ‘law’—that structures the whole of reality, that gives it order, shape, meaning, and this logos, from the very beginning, is usually related to the stars in some way or another. So maybe up to a point, I believe, if we don’t have that much evidence of the philosophy of the astrologers, as you mentioned, it’s because it was already there. There was Plato and the Stoics and Aristotelian philosophy, and it was already there. ‘Cause in a way astrology—at least from the philosophical point of view—is philosophy applied; it’s practical philosophy. Metaphysical concepts put into action, so so to speak, as well as an applied theology. And then things started to change after the advent of Christianity in the West.

CB: Right. So this conceptualization of the cosmos as a god itself became sort of antithetical to Christian theology, where God is like a separate entity that’s kind of like out there versus something that we’re a part of or living inside of.

JMR: Yeah, maybe one of the main differences between the Christian view and what we may call the ‘pagan view’—we may recall that ‘pagan’ was the name given to the Hellenists by the Christians, firstly, as a pejorative term, a way to denigrate them. But the main difference, we might say, is how the relationship between the divine and nature and the cosmos and the human being is contemplated. For the Greeks, the gods are the roots of nature. There is no definite divide between cosmos and the divine as you find later in the religious models. I’m generalizing a lot of course, but we might say that’s pretty much the main difference. And the planets, the world are viewed as somehow divine, and the divine is also viewed as somehow residing in the human being as part of our essential nature.

CB: Right. And that’s why Proclus then becomes the last last major representative in some ways of that philosophical and religious tradition that’s associated with the earlier ‘pagan culture’. And astrology by the time of Proclus is already in decline because it’s starting to be outlawed in the Roman Empire by the different Christian emperors, starting essentially with Constantine in the early-to-mid-4th century but really ramping up after that point. So you can actually see it even in individual astrologer’s lives, like Firmicus Maternus, writing this major treatise on astrology, where he’s drawing on all these early astrological texts, but he’s also influenced by Neoplatonism, as well as Hermeticism. But then at some point later in his life, he seems to have converted to Christianity, and then he wrote a very harsh Christian polemical text attacking the earlier pagan mystery religions, including attacking Neoplatonists like Porphyry who he had spoken of so fondly years earlier in his his astrological texts. So we can see this shift starting to take place, and that’s one of the reasons by the time you get to Proclus—who is a century after Firmicus Maternus—things are really starting to get more difficult for astrology.

But it’s also interesting because it’s at that point that astrology starts to make the shift that allows it to survive, which is that Ptolemy’s works both on astronomy as well as astrology become very popular by the time of Proclus. And one of the good things about Ptolemy’s works is it reframed astrology in a more Aristotelian context as a natural science that works as a result of the planets emitting change from the sublunary world to the Earth, and that astrology works basically as a result of the influence of the planets rather than through a result of other concepts, like the universe being alive and sentient or reincarnation happening and people choosing lives prior to birth or things like that. The ascendancy of Ptolemy’s more naturalistic and causal model of astrology is part of what allowed it to survive in the Middle Ages because then astrologers were able to make compromises and say that astrology works because of the influence of the planets on our environment and on the body, but that it doesn’t influence the soul; and to the extent that that was argued then astrology was still seen as somewhat permissible even in a Christian context, whereas if it intruded on the soul or on free will that was always the point where astrology became very contentious with Christian theology.

JMR: Yes, there’s a change of discourse towards a naturalistic explanation instead of referring to the daimons as intermediaries of the gods, as the agencies of the planets; the ones that transmit or carry, according to Hermetism, the influence of the stars. However, this naturalistic discourse is also presented in Plato and in Aristotle. By the way, the term ‘astrology’ is already used by some of the pre-Socratics, and then you also find it in Aristotle or in Plato as referring to ‘the science of the effects of the heavens on the Earth’ in a more neutral presentation. And by the way, Hermetism—also regarding what we mentioned before—is the correlation between astrology and philosophy. In the case of Hermetism, there are preserved both technical texts and philosophical texts; and the philosophical texts, they are all composed of classical Greek argumentations: metaphysical and cosmological argumentations. So, yes, it’s a notable change in discourse in the case of Ptolemy, and Proclus would embrace both the naturalistic discourse and the mythical discourse as complementary, which I I think is also interesting.

CB: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And you mentioned another point that would have been contentious as well, which is that in the astrological tradition they were drawing on an earlier idea that the universe is filled with daimons or spirits that act as intermediary entities between humans on Earth and the gods sort of out there in the sky or in the cosmos or in the celestial realm. In that tradition, there were good daimons or good spirits that were helpful or benevolent entities, and there were also bad daimons that were negative or sometimes malevolent entities; and in the Corpus Hermeticum, we hear a lot about daimons and how they’re sort of acting as the intermediaries sometimes for the planets themselves or from the decans or other celestial things like that. And by the time of Proclus and throughout the Platonic tradition, we have this very prominent notion that goes all the way back to Plato in ‘The Myth of Er’ of each individual being assigned a personal guardian daimon right before birth, once you’ve chosen your life, and that that daimon is supposed to follow you and help ensure that you carry out the plan which is your destiny. And I thought it was really interesting in Marinus’ biography of Proclus, at one point, he says that Proclus’ guardian daimon contrived a pretext in order to get him to go somewhere very early in his life, so that there was this notion of Proclus being guarded by this guardian spirit who’s leading him in a certain direction in order to help him fulfill his destiny.

JMR: Yes, and that daimon appears to be Athena. It is not explicitly stated, but in his hymn to Athena, Proclus expresses that he belongs to her; and there are some other hints that may signify this, but certainly the relationship with the daimon is fundamental in Platonic philosophy. The daimon is presented in the Republic, but also in the Timaeus; there are important passages about the daimon and in the Phaedo. We could even characterize Platonic philosophy as a practice that facilitates the natural daimon’s pedagogy to the soul; the daimon is the natural pedagogue or teacher of the soul. There is an intimate relationship conceived between daimon and soul, and the function of the daimon is to guide us so that we can complete our destiny, to have a good life; that is, to be happy, ‘cause that’s how the end of philosophy is characterized. Philosophy is not understood as a professional activity but as the vocation to become a full human being, happiness being the end or the goal of philosophy. For example, Aristotle, how does he define happiness? As self-realization, as having a good daimon.

You know, the term for happiness, eudaimonia, refers to having a good destiny or a good daimon, because daimon can be translated as ‘destiny’. So in that sense, astrology is used as a helpful tool to relate with the daimon. Because even while there are several daimons to which the human soul is related there is one which is the custodian daimon, the individual or particular daimon of the soul. These metaphysical conceptions are grounded in unity; so even though there can be talk about ‘good’ and ‘bad’ daimons, it is not in terms of a classical dualism. And that is also something we can gather from the Corpus Hermeticum. It is as if the daimon is is good with the good ones and bad with the bad ones; so there can be certainly daimons which are bad, but that means there are daimons who are working for fate, inflicting some kind of penalty to to the soul, which is a a process of purification for that soul; so they are not working against the good, but they are working for the law or for that plan. So it’s not the good and bad daimons as in the classical Hollywood movie, right? It is a monistic view of reality, of the world. And certainly for Platonists, to learn to cultivate the relationship with the daimon is fundamental. That’s the aim of philosophy because it is the daimon which is a creature or being that cares for the soul, for its self-realization and its completion of that destiny, which it chose before incarnation.

CB: Right. There’s this tension in Plato already that you see a lot in the later tradition, on the one hand, in the Timaeus at one point, the daimon is conceptualized as something that’s part of the soul, where he says that the daimon is like the rational part of the soul that’s residing in the head and that it’s the most authoritative aspect within us, and that this rational soul guides us towards good and helps us to achieve happiness, like you said; and that’s like right in the Timaeus, but it’s more of like an internalized entity. Whereas elsewhere—in other dialogues, like the Republic—the daimon is depicted almost more like a distinct external entity, as like a guardian angel or a spiritual guide that’s accompanying each soul, and the daimon from that standpoint influences our choices and leads us on our journey. So in Plato, it’s like we get this tension already between whether the daimon is this external thing that’s external to us or whether it is simply a part of us; this is something I talked about in the last episode with lots that becomes a real issue in terms of the astrology.

Because looking at Marcus Aurelius, for example, in the 2nd century—where his Stoicism is very similar to Valens—Marcus seems to conceptualize the daimon as the internal controlling center that is just a part of us, and therefore is reflecting our personality and our choices in some ways. And in some ways the astrology—I sometimes think—kind of mirrors that as well when the astrologers talk about the Lot of Spirit and then they say that it it signifies in the chart the soul and the mind and the intellect and the choices or actions that the native takes; that sounds like more of an internalized conceptualization of the daimon. But then there’s other ways in which daimon is conceptualized in astrology as well when they talk about the 11th house being ‘the place of good daimon’ that’s associated with friends and good things that happen in the native’s life—like hopes for the future—whereas the 12th house is associated with ‘the bad daimon’ and with negative things that happen to the native, like having enemies or loss or other things like that.

JMR: Yeah, I forgot to mention the Symposium also has a very important dialogue regarding the nature of the daimon for Plato, for Platonic philosophy. However, I think that in the Timaeus there is room also for an understanding of the daimon as external to the soul because it is specifically related to nous there, the daimon. And nous is a principle of soul, but it goes beyond soul; it is on an ontologically-different level, so to speak.

CB: Sometimes nous is translated as ‘mind’ in some of the later Hermetic texts; although I know that’s controversial and some translators just leave it untranslated in order to acknowledge the ambiguity.

JMR: Yeah, right. It is presented by Plato as this sort of ‘eye of the soul’ also. But while nous and soul seem to be inseparable, they are different. Nous, as a principle of soul, transcends soul. So it can be conceived—nous—like a self, sort of like in the Jungian sense; something that is extra or meta-psychic. So it would not be the ordinary mind as such but what we before called the intellect, which is not the same as reason according to these philosophical models. Another way it is regarded, it’s like an ever-watchful, woke eye, an open eye, I mean, which by its nature is being pure observation. So it’s sort of an observer; a witness of sorts according to Plotinus. It is transpersonal in a way, we could say. So it would not be identified with soul in a personal sense or with my ordinary consciousness. Anyway, Platonists have debated for centuries about the nature of the soul—of the daimon, sorry; and in the first place, the daimon of Socrates, paradigmatically.

There’s a continuous debate among the Platonists about what is the daimon of Socrates and how are we to understand the daimon, and usually you have these two views: a view that looks at it as more of an internal reality, but also a view that it has more of an external reality. And in the case of someone like Proclus both can be correct—there’s two ways you can look at this—but it has an existence independent, in the end, of the soul, metaphysically-speaking. Its function is to direct the soul to its tutelary deity, to reconnect or to direct the soul to the star from which it descended into incarnation, so that it can return to this star, or to the deity from which it left.

CB: It was interesting when you were using those terms and saying that nous is like an eye or like something that sees. It reminded me immediately that Valens—like in the very first line in The Anthology—associates the Sun with nous, and he calls the Sun ‘the all-seeing Sun’ and also associates the Sun with vision and with sight and perception.

JMR: Yeah, yeah, sure.

CB: He actually says it’s ‘the organ of perception of the soul’, so maybe that’s part of the reason why he says that right at the beginning of The Anthology.

JMR: Yes, yes, I think so. And this relationship of the Sun with an eye, it’s very old; it’s older than Valens and Plotinus.

CB: Right. And that actually brings up another point that’s important, which is the Egyptians had that association. But I think a point that’s important when we talk about daimons and we’re trying to distinguish between these internal and external conceptualizations and how that’s tied in with Plato—a point that complicates things is that the astrologers, especially of the early Hellenistic tradition, are not just being influenced purely by Greek philosophy, even though that’s a major element; but there’s also some elements of the indigenous Egyptian religious and philosophical and metaphysical traditions that are also influencing things, especially through Hermeticism. Hermeticism—while it exhibits elements of Greek philosophy and a familiarity with Plato’s Timaeus or with even the Jewish tradition, there’s also some influences from Egyptian thinking in the Hermetic texts as well, which then is influencing the astrology. The Egyptians also had their own conceptualizations of daimons or spirits that were issuing from the decans and that may complicate things when it comes to our attempts to point to specific things and clarify things involving daimons; there may have been many different traditions of these intermediary spirits that were influencing the astrological tradition.

JMR: Yes, there’s a confluence of several traditions around this conception. Iamblichus argues with Porphyry about a Hermetic astrological understanding of the daimon, and he insists that even though there are many, in the end, for the soul, there is one which is the main daimon. And certainly in the case of Hermetism there’s a native Egyptian element present in that tradition. So, yeah, it is a very complex idea that has an astrological application in the techniques of determining the daimon related to the ruler of the chart astrologically. The Platonists seemed to have been applying these techniques while recognizing its limitations. Because Iamblichus sort of seems to imply that it is not that easy just to mechanically determine with exactitude which planet belongs to the daimon; it’s an approximation. Yeah, like an approximation that might be right or might be wrong, but in the end it is through ritual and direct contact with the daimon that you can confirm the astrological calculations; that’s what Iamblichus seems to be referring to to Porphyry in regard to this specific technique.

CB: Right. Like one of his most fundamental objection seems to be if the daimon is something that was assigned in order to make us fulfill our fate and in order to ensure that we do, then, he says, that it doesn’t make sense to invoke the daimon in order to free you from your fate because that’s not its job, basically. And I don’t know where he ended up going with that—‘cause obviously through theurgy and other things he thought that there was some ability to negotiate things or to become more free—but at least that part of that exchange between Iamblichus and Porphyry always stuck with me.

JMR: Iamblichus affirms that it is the same gods that binds us to fate which can liberate us from fate. But liberation from fate is not understood literally as to change fate, but to change our relationship with fate; the way the soul experiences fate with a detachment and a sort of spiritual liberty. And physically it seems like within some limits there can be also the negotiation of some change, but fundamentally it is a change of relationship that may bring theurgy to the soul through the same gods that bind it to generation; that is, to sensible reality, which are the planets.

CB: Got it. And to bring all this full-circle back to where we started at the beginning of the discussion about daimons—situating Proclus then in the 5th century in the context of Christianity becoming more dominant and hostile towards astrology as well as pagan philosophy—one of the things that Christianity became very hostile towards was the notion of daimons and the notion of these spirits, and that these ‘pagan philosophers’ or or even astrologers were somehow working with these things, because the Christians started conceptualizing daimons as evil entities, as demons, as negative spirits. In fact, I’ve read some arguments that Firmicus Maternus—when he writes his Christian polemical texts—that one of the things that may have attracted him to Christianity was the notion that through Christianity one could be rid of daimons, which in and of itself would free you from the influence of fate or influence of the planets as a result of of that. And while some level or notion of daimon still survived in the Christian tradition where they were transformed into angels, for the most part daimons started having a negative conceptualization in the Christian tradition from that point forward in the Western tradition; and that becomes another reason for why astrology and Platonism to some extent start being suppressed by the time of Proclus and especially after after him.

JMR: Yes, there’s demonization of the daimon, as well as of theurgy by figures like Augustine who equates theurgy with black magic basically or very low magic. And the daimons are rejected, I understand, since they imply the capacity for incarnated souls to have a direct experience with divine being intermediaries with which the soul may communicate and relate to as messengers or representatives of the gods. So Christianity did not want any competence, so they characterized, sadly, these notions that have originally nothing to do with these terrible evil creatures we usually associate with daimons—as demons, that is.


CB: Right. So we’re back from a little break here. I wanted to transition to talking about just a few more points, one of them, though, is a major one, which is going back to this ambiguity about was Plato aware of astrology. There’s a lot of elements in the Timaeus and in ‘The Myth of Er’ which clearly influenced astrology and influenced conceptualizations. You know that several centuries later—once astrology had been developed—many astrologers and philosophers would have looked back at some of these statements by Plato and would have understood them much differently in an astrological context: notions about choosing your life before birth, about the cosmos being alive and other things like that. But one of the questions is, is Plato aware of astrology? Does Plato endorse astrology at all, or is he even cognizant of it as a concept? And there’s this one line in in the Timaeus that comes up over and over again—but it’s been a point of dispute—but I think it’s really interesting and important both in terms of what Plato originally wrote, and then, secondarily, the question of what Proclus thought that Plato said in this passage.

So I’m gonna read it really quickly. It’s in a passage where Plato’s talking about the planets. Here it is. So this is Robin Waterfield’s translation of it, where it says: “As for the earth, our nurse, winding around the axis that had been run straight through the universe, he designed it to be the preserver and creator of night and day, and the first and eldest of the gods that were created within the universe. But what about the dancing of [these] gods and the ways they pass by one another [referring to the planets]? What about the ways their revolutions turn back on themselves and go forward again? What about which of them come into conjunction and opposition with one another, and in what order they pass in front of one another, and at what times any of them are veiled from our sight and then reappear.” And then here’s the important point of the passage, it says: “[T]hen reappear, to frighten those who are capable of calculation and to send them signs of the future. To describe [of] all this without visible models would be labour spent in vain. This will do as an account of the nature of the not visible, created gods, so let’s end it here.”

So this passage is super important because of this point here where it says that the planets, when they reappear, that they can “frighten those who are capable of calculation” and that they “send them signs of the future.” If you just read it at face value, Plato is saying that there’s some value in the planets as sending signs or signifying things about the future, if you take that passage at face value; which if true is kind of an acknowledgment and a recognition, at the very least, of something akin to astrology potentially, one could read or interpret in that way. But what’s interesting about the passage is that in some manuscripts—like in Cicero’s translation of the Timaeus where he translated it into Latin in the 1st century BC—Cicero adds a ‘not’ to the actual sentence. So it says, “To frighten those who are ‘not’ capable of calculation and to send them signs of the future.” The phrase—when you add the ‘not’—flips it from being a sort of endorsement in some way or at least a recognition of astrology and the planets being capable of sending signs to a negation or kind of a mockery of it; that people who are not capable of calculating the planets are frightened of these things, or that they view them as signs of the future sort of incredulously or what have you; and what’s interesting is that most translations of the Timaeus would follow the inclusion of the ‘not’, and they viewed this and translated this passage with the ‘not’ as a negation essentially of astrology.

I had always followed those translations and assumed that that was true. However, there’s a very interesting paper by Robin Waterfield, and more recently in his translation translation of the Timaeus, he removes the ‘not’, and he says that in fact there’s much greater textual evidence that the ‘not’ was was not included in most of the manuscript tradition; most of the Platonists from the 1st century through the 4th century did not have that clause, but instead saw it as as a sort of endorsement or recognition of astrology and of the planets being able to send signs of the future. And I had always thought that that was an unlikely interpretation, but then more and more I’ve realized that actually, no, Robin Waterfield’s probably right because it’s Cicero who should be suspect, because Cicero famously wrote an anti-astrology polemic. So if anybody was going to alter the texts for ideological reasons, Cicero actually potentially would, because this is otherwise a very glaring contradiction of something that he wouldn’t have wanted to have endorsed himself, even though he was otherwise interested in and translated the Timaeus.

So what’s interesting about that is usually other scholars, like Harold Tarrant, have argued that it was Thrasyllus, the 1st century astrologer, who also arranged the dialogues of Plato into sets of four, and that it was Thrasyllus who was the one that removed the ‘not’; because he was an astrologer, he changed the text of Plato for ideological reasons to make it look like Plato believed in astrology, and that’s usually what most people say. But I think at this point it’s actually very plausible that it could have been the opposite—that it could have been Cicero that was the one who was motivated by these ideological concerns to reject astrology and that the rest of the astrological tradition—or philosophical tradition—including Proclus traditionally did not have the ‘not’ in there because it genuinely was a reference to astrology that goes all the way back to Plato.

JMR: Yes, I I know the article of Robin Waterfield that you referred to. A very interesting and important work.

CB: “The Evidence for Astrology in Classical Greece” I think is the title of the article.

JMR: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I think that’s the title. And every time there’s a new translation of the Timaeus, I like to check this passage, because I think he’s not alone in this supposition. Even more regular scholars not interested in the theme of astrology have translated that as meaning that, in effect, the planets can be signs; because I think semainei, if I recall, is the term there in the Greek. And certainly for Proclus that’s the case. Proclus knew quite well the texts of Plato; his commentary on the Timaeus, which is a huge text, is a very meticulous analysis, line-by-line, of the text. And in this instance, he directly refers to the Chaldeans and to astrology as if Plato is referring to what is called ‘the celestial divination’ of of the Mesopotamian cultures; although he seems to be criticizing that tradition for a lack of a mathematical/metaphysical model to to work with. But the important point is that the planets can be signs that may be interpreted, and in that sense, it could be sort of a positive reference regarding astrology. Now I would also point again to the Epinomis, which even if it’s not by Plato’s hand, is a Platonic dialogue very important for the Platonists. And there is a more explicit and developed philosophical model that can work for astrology besides correlations between planets and the gods, which is something that apparently Plato or maybe the Pythagoreans before introduced to Greek culture.

CB: That there’s a connection, did you say, between the planets and the gods?

JMR: Exactly, yeah.

CB: Yeah, and that’s the most important thing that the Epinomis does, whether it was written by Plato—I think most people argue that it was probably a student of Plato’s; but still somebody in his close circle, like pretty close to his time period—that’s the first text in Greek that the traditional Greek gods are associated and assigned to each of the planets; and I think many scholars at least argue or think that it’s inspired by which gods were assigned to the planets in the earlier Mesopotamian tradition. It’s like those connections were made in the Mesopotamian tradition already, but then we’re seeing influence coming in from Mesopotamia and Mesopotamian astronomy and astrology into the Greek tradition in the Epinomis there; not just through that reference but to another reference that occurs where it calls Saturn ‘the Sun of the night’ or something like that, which is a thing that happens in Mesopotamian astrology as well.

JMR: It is.

CB: So I think the point is just that in a lot of my work I focused more Hellenistic astrology as a technical construct, with some of the Hermetic texts associated with Hermes and Asclepius and Nechepso and Petosiris, because those have been located to probably being composed sometime around the 2nd century BCE, which is a century or two after Plato. I had put so much of the focus on that time period—that everything developed a long time after Plato—but in reality we actually quite a bit of evidence that Mesopotamian astrology and some exposure to it was happening around the timeframe of of Plato and Aristotle and their successors, so that they they themselves may have been aware of some of that and it may have influenced some of their discussions in ways that haven’t been recognized as well as it could have been previously.

JMR: Yes, I think it’s a more gradual progressive influence or transmission from Mesopotamian cultures to the Greeks from the very early early beginnings, not something that happens out of nowhere in the Hellenistic era, but there’s a gradual development. You have the figure also of Meton, related to the so-called ‘metonic cycle’ of eclipses. He’s referred to by Aristophanes; that is, he is a figure from the classical epoch. So even if we put Berossus later, Meton is a figure that is contemporary to—I don’t recall exactly the dates—but it’s contemporary to the classical philosophers, and he would have been transmitting astronomical knowledge from the Mesopotamian cultures to to Greece; so even before Berossus. And Proclus—regarding this passage you you selected from the Timaeus, which is certainly an important passage—he gives us a side note about a text of Theophrastus, the student of Aristotle, where the Chaldean magicians and astrologers are mentioned to be present at the time of of Plato.

CB: Right.

JMR: Which is admittedly a late reference from Diogenes Laertius about also a Chaldean magician that predicts Socrates’ death with his chart. So that might be spurious, however, there seems to be evidence of a presence or knowledge of these traditions by Plato’s time in Athens.

CB: Right. Proclus cites Theophrastus—who lived around 330—as saying that the Mesopotamian or Chaldean astrologers were capable of predicting the course of a person’s life, as well as their manner of death from the planets or from the heavens. So clearly this is around, and I think it’s gonna have to lead to more of a reappraisal, ‘cause there’s other bits of Plato as well of references to a division of 12 and certain gods being associated with it and other things like that. Previously, I was I was much more skeptical of just following most of the academic scholarship that Plato would have had a lot of exposure to astrology, but I think there needs to be a reappraisal of this, especially given how Hellenistic astrology shows up seemingly fully-formed at some point after the 2nd century BCE; clearly, there would have been a much longer period of development. Even if some parts of that system were deliberately invented or devised as a technical construct, there were a lot of intermediate phases before that, as you said, where things were developing more gradually; and perhaps a reanalysis of Plato’s role, as well as his contemporaries’ roles in the early foundations of some of that maybe is necessary.

JMR: Yes, I think so. It is a work that has been growing. I think that it’s time to leave out those prejudices that hasn’t allowed the academy to approach astrology in the case of Plato or in the case of Aristotle, but I think it’s mainly because of of the prejudices you find in the academy regarding astrology more than anything else.

CB: Right. ‘Cause philosophy is viewed as one of the greatest creations of Western culture whereas astrology is viewed as a pseudoscience that is one of the greatest embarrassments of that timeframe, and so some academic philosophers actively want to distance philosophy from astrology and to downplay it. At the same time, on the same token, as astrologers and as historians, we want to be careful not to just project astrology back as far as we can or to misattribute it to people who didn’t believe in it or didn’t practice it. That can sometimes be a shadow side or a dark tendency where sometimes astrologers at different points in history have tried to attribute belief in astrology to earlier historical figures in order to improve their own standing or something like that—improve the standing of astrology—so we don’t want to fall into that trap either. But it would be interesting to reappraise the timeline and the sequence in the history of astrology to look at things like this where, in some instances, Cicero is treated as being a less ideologically-driven source than Thrasyllus, the astrologer, would have been or than Proclus would have been as the head of the Academy in the 5th century; and yet Cicero was anti-astrology. So was he really as independent or not ideologically-driven as Thrasyllus or Proclus would have been? You could argue it either way.

JMR: Yeah.

CB: All right, so we’re getting into the weeds about academic discussions here that are probably kind of beyond the scope of what we started out to do, but I think it’s fun and it’s getting to some interesting and important things. Let me check my notes—I think there were just one or two other discussion points I wanted to touch upon.

JMR: Just to briefly add, if I may.

CB: Please.

JMR: One has to consider that the term ‘astrology’ itself—I think I just more or less mentioned—is present in the pre-Socratics, in Thales, but it’s also present in Plato in the Symposium, for example. Even the term itself is used as a synonym with astronomy. It is there both in Plato, in Aristotle, and even in the so-called pre-Socratics.

CB: Right. Although it’s hard to distinguish sometimes because there was a confusion and there was an ambiguity and a lack of standardization in the terms for astrology versus astronomy.

JMR: Mm-hmm.

CB: There’s a trickiness where you’re not fully clear which one they’re referring to. Sometimes a text will say ‘astrology’ but it means ‘astronomy’—

JMR: Exactly.

CB: —or it’ll say ‘astronomy’ but it actually means ‘astrology’, and that ambiguity goes through most of the classical tradition. And some people take an extreme argument and say that’s because there was no distinction between astronomy and astrology in the ancient world, which I think is taking it too far, because I think there certainly were sometimes cases of astronomers who didn’t believe in astrology, and vice versa, that there were sometimes astrologers that weren’t super-proficient at advanced mathematical astronomy. So we have to be careful about drawing too much of a conclusion from the interchange between those words because it may just be a result of a lack of standardization. But it is interesting that sometimes you do have that ambiguity in earlier texts, and there may be texts where we assume it’s talking about astronomy but in fact it could be referring to astrology.

JMR: Yeah. And as as you underlined, even though the term is present in in Plato, that doesn’t mean that Plato approved of reading charts or that he he used to interpret natal charts or that he was an astrologer himself, but it’s interesting that it was already there, all all these notions.

CB: Yeah, for sure, for sure. Okay, I’m just looking through our notes. Are there any other major discussion points that you wanted to make sure we mention? We’ve gone through Plato. We’ve talked a lot about Plato and the Timaeus. So the Platonic tradition is carried on by some teachers, but I think some issues happen in terms of it’s not like a continuous tradition. Eventually, I think a version of Platonism emerges at some point in the 1st century BCE that’s usually referred to as Middle Platonism, that is influenced by earlier philosophers like Antiochus of Ascalon, and that form of Platonism has a sort of distinctive quality to it, right?

JMR: Well, we have to consider that like Neoplatonism, Middle Platonism is an etiquette used by academics. This period is characterized by a distancing of Platonism with skepticism.

CB: Oh, right. I forgot that. That’s a whole era that’s actually really important. The Platonic Academy went through a skeptical—

JMR: Phase.

CB: —phase for a while after Plato, sometime around 200 BCE, especially with Carneades—if that’s how you pronounce his name—who was one of the heads of the Platonic Academy. He was actively what we would term today ‘a skeptic’, and he may have been actually one of the earliest people who wrote criticisms of astrology.

JMR: I’m not sure as a critic of astrology.

CB: Yeah. And actually I should correct that, some scholars argue that. But actually I think there was another philosopher named Panaetius who was a Stoic philosopher, who probably penned the critique, and some people think that Carneades influenced that but it’s kind of arguable; but anyway, Platonism went through a skeptical phase.

JMR: Exactly. There’s a phase where Platonism turns to logical matters and it limits itself regarding metaphysical assertions, and then figures like Antiochus of Ascalon turn back Platonism to metaphysics. So there are several developments which are more for the harmony of Plato and Aristotle and those who oppose it, and this is one of the characteristics of Middle Platonism. However, there is more of a continuity of metaphysics, of Platonic metaphysics, between Middle Platonism and so-called Neoplatonism than a stark difference. So again, there’s a continuity of a broad conception of of Platonism in in terms of metaphysics from Plato all the way to the last philosophers, to the last Platonists; there’s not that many severe ‘cuts’ or differences, but there is not a historical continuity, per se. There are times when the Academy has been closed and when there has been no teaching—in Athens at least. Because from very early on, Greek philosophy extended to the Middle East and there were places that for centuries housed schools of Greek philosophy; so some schools would still be alive, others declined. And so, it’s not a straight line but there is a sort of continuity of the tradition.

CB: Sure. And certainly, in this sense of the Timaeus and some of the different dialogues being popular and being passed on and being read and interpreted in different ways, there’s different eras in which parts of Plato’s philosophy may have been emphasized more or less, like during that skeptical phase versus during Middle Platonism and Neoplatonism. And so, you have this Middle Platonism phase and then you have eventually Neoplatonism, which is usually said to have started with Plotinus in the 3rd century, I guess it would be.

JMR: Yeah.

CB: And then and then you get the era of Platonism that we’ve been talking about where you have this succession of Plotinus, his student Porphyry, his student Iamblichus, and then eventually Proclus, where there’s some intermediary teacher-student relationships in between those two. But then it eventually sort of culminates with Proclus as the last really major figure, although there are a few other minor commentators after Proclus.

JMR: Well, it’s been argued. I’m not that knowledgeable about Damascius, but it’s been argued that he’s also a very relevant figure.

CB: Okay.

JMR: Not only as a continuator but because of works of his own. There are still extant a couple of commentaries of Damascius on the Phaedo, on the Philebus, but also on the Parmenides. There’s also a full work of his preserved, almost completely preserved and it presents a philosopher of high stature. So both Damascius and Simplicius would be the very last big figures of Platonist philosophy after Proclus.

CB: Got it, right. And Damascius was the last head of the Athenian school when it was closed by the Emperor Justinian I.

JMR: Yeah.

CB: So that gets us right to the end of that point, okay. So the last couple of things with Proclus I wanted to mention really quickly is one of the things that’s interesting is he goes so far as to follow Plato’s astronomy and ordering of the planets. His dedication to Plato is so much that when there’s a discrepancy in the later traditions—even the later scientific or astronomical traditions—he’ll tend to side with Plato. His dedication to the almost religious or mystical figure of Plato is so intense that it leads him to do that; which then is interesting ‘cause it leads him to clash sometimes with Ptolemy who represents a later scientific standard and development of astronomy centuries after Plato. So one of the most interesting things from a contemporary astrological standpoint that leads Proclus to do is that he actually argues against precession; he thought that precession didn’t exist. He argues Ptolemy’s discovery of precession, which Ptolemy had confirmed after Hipparchus—the earlier astronomer Hipparchus—and Proclus partially argues against this for philosophical reasons; but he also argues against precession due to the discontinuity that it would create with earlier practices of casting astrological chart sidereally. So it’s actually interesting. What an intersection in history he was, where precession wasn’t fully confirmed and established or wasn’t very well-known. And Proclus, unfortunately, ends up sort of falling on the wrong side of history there—‘cause it turns out that precession was an actual legitimate phenomenon—but it’s an interesting case study to see some of the reasons why he argues against it in his timeframe.

JMR: Yes. As you mentioned, it’s mainly because he does not want to contradict Plato, but also because he sees Plato aligned with what the Egyptians and the Chaldeans had taught about astronomy. He speaks about the Greeks as being instructed by the Egyptians, who were instructed by the Chaldeans, who were instructed by the gods; that’s pretty much what he says. So, yeah, it has to do with a sort of a reverence for tradition apparently, his rejection of the precession as found in Ptolemy, against whom he directly argues.

CB: Right. I know Robin Waterfield cites one text from Pompeii or Herculaneum that was discovered that claimed that Plato went to Egypt to study astrology, which is probably not true or probably a later legend, but it is interesting. At one point, I was rereading some parts of Plato recently, and he starts talking about the Egyptian god Thoth and how Thoth was like the god of writing and astronomy and arithmetic and things like that. And it’s actually kind of interesting that Plato has some awareness of Egyptian mythology and things like that, that he integrates into his philosophy, so I would be curious to see more of a comparison of what Plato did know and how he knew it from the Egyptian tradition.

JMR: Yeah, this idea of spiritual tourism is ideal for Platonists, and it refers—before Plato—to Orpheus and Pythagoras traveling to Egypt, traveling to Babylonia and bringing their knowledge to Greece. Also, another enigma in the history of philosophy is the relationship of Plato with the Persian tradition, which evidently, up to today, is not a very popular subject in Western culture. But Aristotle himself gives us a notice that in the Platonic Academy, there was an ever-burning fire dedicated to Zoroaster, and there are glimpses in Aristotle’s fragments about the relationship between Persian thought and the metaphysical principles in in Plato, especially the so-called ‘unwritten doctrines’ according to which, in Plato, you would find not only a theory of forms but also a theory of principles, and this theory would be transmitted only orally. And very faintly you have traces of this in the dialogues, but the dialogues would be preparatory to what would be a metaphysical theory that would be the heart core of Platonism, which might even be the source for Aristotelian notions of form and matter by the way: the ‘principle of unity’ and the ‘limited principle’, or the ‘dual principle’.

CB: Of the same and the other?

JMR: Yeah, like the same and the other. And this would be of Pythagorean province, these notions that would be present in Plato; however, there is no direct evidence or place in Plato’s dialogues where he calls his first principal ‘The One’, so for some people then this is conspicuous. But right after Plato, it’s Speusippus and Xenocrates who are his successors; there is direct evidence that they used these metaphysical notions as the the main constructs of their ontological models, and these notions are present all the way to the very last Platonic philosophers, like Proclus and Damascius. This is a gigantic problem in the interpretation of Plato and Platonism that probably has no no definitive solution, but at the same time it cannot be just ignored.

CB: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. ‘Cause it’s like the Persian Empire had already invaded Greece once or twice before, prior to Plato, and so the Persian Empire was in control of all of Mesopotamia. So the entire Mesopotamian astrological tradition—where everything had been going on astrologically there for centuries—those two cultures of Greece and Persia are butting up right against each other and are overlapping and interacting in some ways; so it’s kind of obvious that there would have been some cultural interactions there and some exchange of of ideas. They weren’t operating completely independently, and so it shouldn’t be surprising then that there might be things from Mesopotamia—from the Persian astrological and astronomical traditions—that are showing up culturally around the same time as Plato and Aristotle.

And then of course towards the end of Aristotle’s life, his student Alexander the Great invades Persia and takes over all of Mesopotamia and all of Egypt, and that therefore creates the Hellenistic kingdoms that unites all of those cultures together. And then we just get this huge blending and mixtures of all of those cultures, which is what then creates Hellenistic astrology which shows elements of all of them, but that’s already happening, like I said, towards the end of Aristotle’s lifetime. So, yeah, there’s a lot more there to look at, and there’s always a lot more cultural interaction than people realize sometimes. Anytime you put two astrologers in a room together, they start talking and comparing techniques and their approaches start to rub off on each other. Even if they don’t agree or even if they disagree with things, those interactions always end up creating something, sort of like a chemical mixture between two compounds.

JMR: Yes, yes, I think it’s something like that.

CB: All right, so very last things and then we’ll wrap up. So you wrote this amazing paper that was published in 2023, and the title is “Astrology is to Theurgy What Astronomy is to Theology in Late Antique Platonism: Remarks on Proclus’s Theurgy.” One of the things you say in this that I just wanted to make sure we touch on is, one, you said that astrology was conceptualized by Proclus partially as ‘heavenly writing’ or logos or speech; and two, that astrology is diagnostic, while theurgy is preventative. What did you mean by that?

JMR: Well, Proclus is following Plotinus who regards the stars as letters, which seems to be an echo of the Babylonian traditions. And Proclus expands on this metaphor, which is a metaphor at the base of the very notion of astrology, if logos, as we said, means ‘language’, among other things; an astral language regarding the celestial writing—sorry, the second part.

CB: Well, that’s an interesting point. So if we put those together—if astrology is a language and the cosmos is a living entity, a god, and if the planets themselves are younger gods, and the stars and the planets are thinking and are animate—then it’s astrology becomes the language of the cosmos and the language of God in some sense; especially Platonists would have conceptualized astrology in that way.

JMR: Exactly. It’s the language of reality or nature of reality itself: the sensible aspects of reality; the corporeal realm. It’s the effect of the astral dynamics, but astral dynamics are the nature of what we call reality. And then astrological techniques mimic or imitate this dynamic, applies it. But in a stronger metaphysical sense, astrology would refer to the dynamic nature of our world.

CB: Right. And it becomes—especially following Plato—the language of fate, and all the astrologers talk about it as what you use in order to discover your fate, so that astrology becomes the study of fate. But that either directly or indirectly goes back to Plato associating the planetary spheres with the fates and with the choice that’s made at the moment prior to birth to incarnate into a certain life, at a specific point in time, in accordance with the alignment of the cosmos.

JMR: Exactly. He associates it with the ‘soul of the cosmos’, the stellar realm, which is an intermediary realm between the spiritual and the corporal; it is that which gives unity to this relationship. So it is a logos, a law that ordains and structures all changes, which is the nature of sensible corporal reality.

CB: Okay. And then along with that, you said astrology is diagnostic for Proclus, while the theurgy is preventative.

JMR: Yeah. If the charts or astrology gives a diagnosis then theurgy would be the remedial aspect. For a given diagnosis then you could look for the different remedies to balance, so to speak, in the case of a negative forecast, given the conditional nature, as we mentioned, of fate.

CB: That makes sense. Okay, final question and then we’ll wrap this up. Do you think we can call Proclus an astrologer? Obviously, he was a philosopher; he was the head of the Platonic Academy. Depending on how you define ‘astrologer’, would we also define Proclus as an astrologer? Because, for me and everything I’m hearing and everything I’m reading in his texts, it sounds to me that he was somebody that was competent in astrology, that he was trained in astrology, that he was aware of his own birth chart, and that he regularly incorporated astrology into his life in some way. Especially to whatever extent he incorporated it through theurgy or used it to select auspicious times for theurgic rituals, it means that he’s incorporating astrological practice and techniques in some sort of concrete way; and, to me, I think that then makes it so that we could classify him as an astrologer, in addition to a philosopher. What do you think? Or where do you fall when it comes to that?

JMR: Yeah, I would agree. I think we should not be afraid to call Proclus an astrologer. He was maybe not a professional astrologer like Vettius Valens or Hephaistio of Thebes who’s roughly a contemporary, but he seems to be certainly knowledgeable about astrology so much that he published also texts specifically about astrology. However, those have not remained—they are lost—but we know their names from some catalogs. And there’s references to astrologers here and there in his works.

CB: Right. Who does he mention? He mentions Petosiris. He mentions Ptolemy. I’m trying to think of other astrologers he mentions.

JMR: Yeah, Nechepso and Petosiris and Ptolemy. I think that by name, that’s it, but then he refers to the astrologers in general in different works.

CB: Right. He refers to the Chaldeans and to other early astrologers or Egyptian astrologers. I found a reference last night. I found somebody’s rough draft translation of Book 3 of his commentary on the Republic, and at one point he’s talking about the Sun and the Moon and how the Sun is associated. And then eventually he’s making analogy about how astrologers used the Lot of Spirit (the Lot of Daimon), as well as the Lot of Fortune, and he connects them with the Sun and the Moon; which again reemphasizes his technical familiarity, not not just in passing, but with very specific technical concepts that are used by the practicing astrologers.

JMR: Yes, exactly. There are very specific references even to the Lot of Fortune and Lot of the Daimon in the commentary on the Republic. And if one looks at the commentary of the Timaeus, that’s a treasure of astrological references. There are very specific, clear mentions of the correlation between the planets and the faculties of our souls, and he names them and specifies them very clearly. So, yeah, I would argue for Proclus as an astrologer.

CB: Okay, awesome. Let me show this quote really quickly just to demonstrate that. I found this online. It must be an unpublished translation by a scholar named Brian Duvick who posted on his Academia.edu account. This translation of Proclus’ commentary on the Republic is from Book 3, and he’s talking about the daimon or the personal daimon. He says: “This daemon, which we call personal and fortune control human ways of life (well endowed [and] even opposite ones) and forms of life (better or worse), and these govern all the matters that are proper to them by the choice of the life. But because he is [an] administrator of a life of which he is guardian, the daemon directs [that] person that chooses that life–for example, that of a tyrant or of a king; but the fortune, since it is in charge of the matters distributed from the totality, because it belongs to the order that determines these matters for [their] lives, is different for each person. Both the multitude of them and the division has been defined not by the forms of…life but by the risings of the totality. While the Sun defines the daemon as one cause, the Moon defines fortune as another. This is why the lots too of the daemon and fortune are discovered from these gods in our births [in our nativities], as it is clear to those who have been trained in astrology.”

So he’s doing a commentary on the Republic. He’s talking about the daimon being assigned to the soul, in the Republic, to help the native carry forward their destiny, and then he starts very explicitly talking about the Lot of Spirit and Lot of Fortune and how that’s connected in astrology. This is probably, to me, the highest level discussion and uniting of Hellenistic astrology with Platonism by a philosopher that you can find, as demonstrated by Proclus; so for that reason I think we can definitely call him an astrologer. Let’s say an amateur as an astrologer, in addition to being a professional philosopher.

JMR: Yes, a knowledgeable astrologer, we might say.

CB: Yeah, maybe I shouldn’t say ‘amateur’. I don’t mean that in a negative sense. For me—

JMR: Not professional.

CB: Yeah. He’s not making his income or his living from casting charts.

JMR: Right.

CB: But one of my points that I’ve always made is in the astrological community today, there’s a lot of people that I classify as astrologers that don’t make their income primarily through astrology; just because they don’t make their primary income or vocation through astrology doesn’t mean that they’re not astrologers. To me, an astrologer is somebody that believes astrology is a legitimate phenomenon, is trained in it and has studied it somewhat extensively, and then, three, integrates it into their life on a regular basis or uses it in some way. And there’s lots of people that are contemporary astrologers under that definition of astrology and reading charts for clients is not their primary vocation.

JMR: Right.

CB: And that’s true today and I think that was also true in ancient times, and Proclus is a great example of that.

JMR: Yes, I agree. Yes, exactly.

CB: Cool.

JMR: And maybe it’s similar to the evaluation of Ptolemy who sometimes has been seen as just a theoretical astrologer. It seems that it is so because he was not a professional astrologer, but as you said, one thing does not necessarily come with the other. You can be a very competent, knowledgeable astrologer even if your income does not come from astrology.

CB: Yeah, I think there was this strong reactionary movement against Ptolemy in the astrological community in the 1990s, where especially James Holden and Geoffrey Cornelius rejected that Ptolemy was an astrologer because he doesn’t use any example charts, and because obviously he had many different interests in other areas and astrology was just one of the things he talked about. But I think you’re right that that really bears a reappraisal as well. Just because he didn’t have example charts—or even if he wasn’t a practicing astrologer in terms of sitting down and reading charts for people—I think he was still an astrologer, and he was clearly still somebody that thought very deeply about the subject. And even though he doesn’t cite many astrological authors, when I was doing the episode on the lots last month, I came across a reference where he actually mentions Nechepso; he just doesn’t use his name directly; he calls him ‘the compiler’. But he cites this passage from Nechepso when he’s talking about the calculation for the Lot of Fortune, and he’s actually reading the same passage that Valens mentions when he brings up the discussion about the Lot of Fortune and how it’s so ambiguous in the source text that he’s drawing on. So Ptolemy was just as engaged in the earlier textual tradition as Valens and Dorotheus and other astrologers like Proclus were, so I think he was also an astrologer; and we can’t classify him as not being one just because he also did other things or didn’t see clients.

JMR: Right. Yeah, yeah, I agree.

CB: All right, this has been amazing. We’ve swept through so many hundreds of years of philosophy and history and astrology and a lot of stuff. Thanks a lot for joining me for this today. This has been really amazing. So you wrote that paper, and people can check that paper out for more; it was published in a book. It’s not available online, right?

JMR: It is. It’s in an Italian editorial, Mimesis.

CB: Okay, cool.

JMR: And I think on Amazon it can be bought also.

CB: Okay. Well, I’ll put the title of that paper, as well as the book that it’s in, in the description below the episode if people want to check it out. What other things are you working on related to this topic or Proclus? Or what’s coming up for you in terms of the future with your work?

JMR: Well, the paper is also on my Academia.edu profile.

CB: Oh, it is? Okay.

JMR: It is there, also available.

CB: I’ll link to it there then.

JMR: Well, I’ve been trying to finish a partial work, a book, after my PhD work—a book on Platonism and astrology precisely—so hopefully one day I might be able to put it out. And I give consultations and teach astrology, too, besides teaching at the university ancient philosophy. And I’m about to start a project, a webinar series, on the relationship between philosophy and astrology, so that’s what I’m up to now.

CB: Awesome. That’s exciting. So you’re gonna be starting that webinar series soon. I think you’re doing the first webinar and it’s gonna be a private Zoom webinar starting on February 24. Is that right?

JMR: Yes, February 24, which is on Saturday.

CB: Okay, awesome. And that webinar series will be in Spanish, right?

JMR: Yes, it would be in Spanish.

CB: Okay, great. So people can find out more information about that on your website, which is capulus.com.mx, as well as your Facebook page, which is facebook.com/Capulus7. I’ll put a link to that in the description below this episode on The Astrology Podcast or below this video on YouTube. And that’s great to know that you also do astrological consultations and that you’re available for that. So we can call you definitely an astrologer. You’re a practicing astrologer then.

JMR: I am. I’m about to complete 30 years since I started studying and practicing astrology.

CB: Awesome. As well as teaching. And you said you do private teaching and tutoring?

JMR: Yes, I do. That’s right.

CB: Okay. Amazing, cool. Well, thank you so much for joining me for this today. This was a really amazing discussion. We’ve been planning on doing it for years, and we’ve been almost about to do it for years, but it finally came together, and I think it happened at the perfect time when it was supposed to happen. I’m glad we did it.

JMR: I think so. I enjoyed it very much, and I thank you. I very much appreciate the opportunity to talk about Proclus and astrology.

CB: Awesome. Well, thanks everyone for watching or listening to this episode of The Astrology Podcast, and we’ll see you again next time.


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