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Universal Salvation in Late AntiquityPorphyry of Tyre and the Pagan-Christian Debate$

Michael Bland Simmons

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190202392

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190202392.001.0001

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Eschatological Salvation

Eschatological Salvation

(p.159) 9 Eschatological Salvation
Universal Salvation in Late Antiquity

Michael Bland Simmons

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Differences between Porphyry and Iamblichus on how the soul experienced temporal salvation in the present life led to significant differences concerning its ultimate destiny. Whereas Porphyry emphasized purification of the rational soul by philosophy in order to escape corporeal reality and permanent union with the One, Iamblichus stressed the importance of theurgical rituals and understood temporal existence as a positive, integrative part of the composite salvific process. Porphyry’s views can thus be described as an “eschatology of ascent,” and those of Iamblichus, an “eschatology of descent.” The differences can be explained as being due to different interpretations given to Plato’s eschatological myths by Neoplatonic philosophers, which developed into a sharp disagreement between Porphyry and Iamblichus and the latter’s eventual departure from Rome.

Keywords:   eschatological salvation, eschatology of ascent, eschatology of descent, theurgy, rebirth, Plato, Myth of Er, reception history, Plotinus, Iamblichus

Der Türhütter erkennt, daß der Mann schon an seinem Ende ist, und, um sein vergehendes Gehör noch zu erreichen, brült er ihn an: „Hier konnte niemand sonst Einlaß erhalten, denn dieser Eingang war nur für dich bestimmt. Ich gehe jetz und schließe ihn.“

Franz Kafka, Vor dem Gesetz

It is an indisputable principle, according to Platonic teaching about the afterlife, that how the soul lives its present life in this world of Becoming will determine both where and how long it will exist in its post mortem life, and whether it will continue in the rebirth cycle, or in the case of philosophers, eventually live in some kind of blissful place beyond the temporal realm.1 Though as we shall see, Plato himself believed in the eschatological myths about which he commented in a good number of his dialogues and thus took them very seriously, it is regrettable, as Julia Annas has noted, that “philosophers have mostly not thought to include the myths as part of Plato’s thought.”2 And David Sedley is correct to say that it “remains the case that Plato’s myths, for all the interest they have attracted, are far too rarely used in the interpretation of the dialogues to which they belong.”3 This neglect is especially lamentable when we acknowledge that beginning with the early Apology, and continuing with the later dialogues Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic, Timaeus, and Laws,4 the student of Platonism finds many passages concerning the final destiny of the soul and how Plato’s eschatological views evolved during his career. One of the premises of the present study on Porphyry’s understanding of the salvation of the soul, as we have noted, is that epistemology is inseparable from ontology in the Neoplatonist’s thought, and we can say the same about Platonism in a general sense. I should like to add another important principle here on a subject that still represents a great deal of unexplored territory for scholars, namely, soteriology cannot be separated from eschatology if one wishes to obtain a comprehensive understanding of the teachings of Platonism on the nature and destiny of the soul. Indeed, the major aspects of the unexplored territory related to Plato’s eschatological myths concerns their Reception History within the Neoplatonic tradition. Not much has ever been written about exactly how these myths were hermeneutically evaluated by thinkers like Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, and Proclus;5 and often modern scholars completely ignore the importance of eschatology in in their works.6 (p.160) And the universe of Neoplatonic scholarship still eagerly awaits a thorough analysis of this aspect of ancient philosophy.

One is thus justified in asking, Why is our knowledge of the reception history of Plato’s eschatological myths within Neoplatonism still quite deficient? I would suggest two answers to this important question: (1) modern historians, philosophers, and theologians are notorious for not taking the myths as seriously as Plato originally intended; and (2) post-Enlightenment hyper-critical and hyper-rational methodologies have produced a negative assessment of the myths that describes them as silly, absurd, vulgar, superstitious, and poetic, and, thus, not to be understood as important components of Plato’s thought.7 A little light, however, is beginning to illuminate this dark cavern, thanks to recent work by (e.g.) the philosopher John Bussanich.8 In what follows I shall give an overview to the basic elements of Plato’s eschatological myths and analyze important aspects of their reception history primarily in Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus.9 My argument is that these thinkers took the tradition on the final destiny of the soul that they received from Plato very seriously,10 and so should the modern scholar; and the best way to truly discover the content of their doctrines is to let the texts that they wrote speak for themselves.

Plato’s Eschatological Myths

Before analyzing the eschatological teaching found in Plato’s dialogues, it is first necessary to define the meaning of myth, which seems to have been an integral part of philosophical discourse that has increasingly attracted the attention of recent scholarship.11 Betegh suggests that it is used by Plato to designate tale, fable, or story.12 Annas notes that the word originally meant nothing more than speech, but by Plato’s time it came to mean something like story.13 Since both μῦθoς‎ and λóγoς‎ are in some sense often intertwined in the dialogues, it is sometimes difficult to know with certainty what Plato originally intended each to mean, though usually the larger context in which the word is found helps to bring clarity for the exegete.14 Noteworthy also is the fact that a number of earlier traditions provided Plato with various strata that he molded into the myths found in his dialogues.15 These include Pythagorean, Eleusinian, and Orphic teachings on the afterlife, as well as doctrines passed down from writers like Empedocles,16 Pherecydes, and Pindar: “Plato’s myths are thus the product of great imaginative and inventive power which both fuses traditional elements to create new philosophical and mythical statements, and also produces completely new mythical constructs as alone adequate to express the wealth of thought clothed by them.”17 Hence we can define myth in this context as a story perceived to be true, or containing truth, parts of which were supplied by older (p.161) sources that contained poetic and symbolic meaning of deeper spiritual truth upon which Plato philosophically elaborated for his own purposes.18

It is also important to address the general structure and content of this rich tradition before turning to specific issues. Useful here is Bussanich’s general paradigm of the five major elements in the Plato’s Rebirth Eschatology, which, in turn, was accepted by Plotinus:

  1. 1. Embodiment as punishment for previous sins;

  2. 2. Afterlife judgment including rewards for virtue and punishment for wrongdoing;

  3. 3. Souls choose their next incarnations and experience rebirth;

  4. 4. New births are determined by a combination of choices and actions of previous lives;

  5. 5. Exceptionally good and purified philosophers are liberated from the cycles of rebirth and achieve divine status.19

If it is true that the purpose of the eschatological myths in Plato was to induce belief in the principles of morality and religion,20 about which he held strong convictions even at the end of his career,21 it is important to keep in mind how modern scholars should read them. Bussanich suggests the best method is synoptic or proleptic analysis: “The broader perspective afforded by synoptic reading enables us to see how Plato wove together disparate elements to address a host of distinct problems, combining the more popular motifs of judgment, punishment, and reward with the more esoteric doctrines of rebirth and liberation inherited from the Orphic-Pythagoreans and the mystery-religions.”22 This interweaving of disparate elements in the myths is important to keep in mind as we proceed, especially since apparent contradictions in the judgment dialogues (Gorgias, Phaedo, Republic) may often indicate a shift in emphasis rather than inexplicable inconsistencies.23 And though the modern exegete of the myths may find them lacking in harmony and thus often contradictory, the ancient readers came to these texts with a hermeneutical presupposition that there was basic agreement between them: “For any neoplatonist, the arguments of Plato in one dialog must be in harmony with those of another.”24

A major theme that permeates the eschatological myths in Plato’s dialogues is the concept of justice in the afterlife and the concomitant doctrine of divine judgment resulting in rewards for virtue and some kind of punishment for wrongdoing. Plato’s first attempt at an eschatological myth is found in the Gorgias.25 The judges Rhadamanthus, Aeacus, and Minos dispatch the soul of the philosopher to the Isles of the Blessed.26 We shall come back to these judges later when we analyze Porphyrian eschatology.27 All other souls are judged according to the state in which they are in, there are no roads back from either (p.162) Tartarus or the Isles of the Blessed, and Annas is correct to say that the dialogue gives a consequentialist reason for the soul to be just and does not presuppose at this stage in the development of Plato’s thought the doctrine of reincarnation.28 Also, whereas in the Gorgias the reader finds the Socratic separation of politics from philosophy stressing the latter’s superiority, in the later dialogues Republic, Statesman, and Laws “philosophy will not replace politics but will be called to improve it.”29 There are degrees of rewards as well. The soul of the philosopher is granted disembodiment before going to the Isles of the Blessed, but the good, non-philosophical soul attains some kind of embodiment,30 a distinction which Porphyry modified in his system. Finally, as Bussanich has eloquently noted, the close relationship between the celestial existence of purified souls and the noetic vision of the Forms of the Good in a number of ascent passages in Symposium, Phaedrus, and Republic has not been given the attention it merits by scholars.31

In the Phaedo the good souls are divided into two classes: (a) those who have lived well live on the “true earth”; and (b) souls of philosophers live without bodies in indescribably beautiful places.32 This should be compared with Laws 904D–E, which states that the good soul is taken to a holy place. It appears that the philosopher in the Phaedo passage has obtained the eschatological goal of escaping from reincarnation,33 but it is going too far to describe this dialogue as a “confused and confusing myth, and its message is blurred.”34 This too intellectualist interpretation fails to be sensitive to the kind of synoptic reading of Plato’s eschatological myths, alluded to earlier, in order to get a composite understanding of the philosopher’s thought. It also misses the “big picture” of the post mortem experiences of the soul, namely, the journey of the soul from its earthly life to its final cosmic resting-place.35 At the beginning of the myth Socrates makes an interesting observation:

But now, since the soul is seen to be immortal, it cannot escape from evil or be saved in any other way than by becoming as good and wise as possible. For the soul takes with it to the other world nothing but its education and nurture, and these are said to benefit or injure the departed greatly from the very beginning of his journey thither.36

If it is correct to say that education (τῆς παιδείας‎) in this text does not just mean virtue or cultivation, but rather instructions on how to navigate the otherwise unknown and mysterious geography of the underworld, which Socrates later describes (e.g.) as possessing paths with forks and crossroads,37 or a holy road (ἁγίαν ὁδὸν‎) by which the virtuous soul is transported to “a better region” in the hereafter;38 the numerous references to the way, paths, or roads to the gods mentioned in the works of Porphyry plausibly include important eschatological meaning as well.39 These metaphors for the journey to the underworld were (p.163) found in the mysteries as evidenced by Pherecydes, Socrates, and many others.40 Finally, it should be noted that the doctrine that posited that the best fate for a soul is permanent escape from a body41 became a central concept in Porphyry’s thought which, in turn, impacted his notions of the afterlife.42

In the Republic the Island of the Blessed is the final destination for the souls of philosophers.43 Here a synoptic reading of Plato’s eschatological passages is most beneficial because one must compare the information about where the philosopher’s soul goes in the Republic, Phaedo, and Phaedrus with the Myth of Er, which is silent on the subject.44 After their judgment, the good souls ascend to heaven and remain there for a thousand years when they descend to relate “their delights and visions of a beauty beyond words.”45 Permanent disembodiment and a release from the rebirth cycles are prominent motifs in the eschatological myth of the Phaedrus.46 After being judged, Justice takes the good souls to live in a heavenly place.47 The doctrine of reincarnation and the cycle of rebirths are central themes, and the apparent contradiction between the Timaeus and the Phaedrus on the doctrine of the soul’s descent is reconcilable if, as Bussanich suggests, the former is taken as presenting the primordial descent followed by the subsequent descents recounted in Phaedrus.48 Each life-cycle either improves or worsens according to the choices that the soul makes during its earthly existence, and “the height of achievement is that of the philosopher who is finally released from the cycle and disembodied forever.”49 The soul is winged and thus able to ascend to the realm of the gods.50

With great poetic imagination Plato describes how the discarnate souls depicted as chariots with a charioteer and a white and black horse traverse the cosmos in the train of the Olympian deities, intermittently gazing at the Forms existing beyond the heavens.51 Winged souls rule the universe, but some souls lose their wings, take on bodies, and descend to earth.52 The rebirth cycle begins afresh, and souls who live a bad life eventually are sent to some kind of punishment depending upon whether they are curable or incurable.53 Finally, the souls that have chosen the philosophical life for three consecutive periods of a thousand years each will get their wings at the end of three thousand years and “go their way.”54 As we shall see below, this passage is important for an understanding of Porphyrian eschatology, especially as it relates to the post mortem location of Plotinus’ soul according to the Oracle of Apollo.55

The Myth of Er: Republic 614B–21D

For the first time in Plato’s works the Myth of Er, which has not been taken as seriously as Plato had originally intended,56 makes it clear that all souls must experience a prolonged cycle of rebirths.57 As I shall show below, this story is (p.164) very important for an understanding of Porphyrian eschatology.58 A Pamphylian soldier who had died in battle, Er, comes back to life on the funeral pyre and begins to relate what he had seen and heard in the underworld.59 Though not a philosopher, he had lived with a degree of virtue and is rewarded accordingly. Modern scholars are often puzzled about how to interpret the contents of this profoundly symbolic and powerfully poetic eschatological myth: Annas, for example, stresses the need to demythologize it, and McPherran says it is impossible to discover Plato’s original meaning.60 Nor is there a great deal of agreement on the central message or major themes of the story, with scholarly interpretation ranging from positing that the happiest life is one of justice,61 to the relationship between free-will and determinism,62 to an understanding of the cosmic activities of the gods and how they produce good citizens,63 to a consequentialist view of human behavior,64 and even the suggestion that the myth plays a mere therapeutic and argumentative role at the end of the Republic.65 In recent scholarship perhaps the best assessment is that of R. J. Johnson. In an article published in 1999, Johnson showed how Julia Annas’s two studies on the myth “relies too heavily on the emotional reactions of twentieth-century readers of the Republic,” and convincingly demonstrates that the Myth of Er completes the argument of the dialogue “by showing that the just life is worth living in this world and in whatever world may lie beyond it.”66 A hermeneutical methodology stressing contextualization of this nature, combined with a synoptic reading of all eschatological narratives in Plato’s works, can give the modern reader of these texts a clearer understanding of their purpose and meaning.67 If this is how these texts were read by Neoplatonic philosophers—and I believe they were—this method must be kept in mind when we examine Porphyry’s eschatological views later.

Er wanders in the underworld for a period of time where he witnesses the judges of souls who either receive their just rewards for being good or punishments for wrongdoing.68 Some of these were returning after serving their allotted thousand years, and they approach the Spindle of Necessity accompanied by Lady Necessity and the fates.69 A being called the Prophet then addresses the assembled souls to prepare them for their next rebirth and life-cycle.70 A celestial lottery is conducted resulting in each soul receiving its assigned lot, whereupon each soul chooses its next life.71 Then each soul is assigned a guardian spirit and drinks from the River Lethe (forgetfulness).72 At midnight they are lifted up to their various rebirths and become embodied.73 Er wakes up after the souls have completed their journey to find himself on the funeral pyre.74 If there is any clear message at the end of this profoundly imaginative story, it is found in the belief that the soul of the non-philosopher can at least temporarily escape the reincarnation cycle.75 And though a recent study concludes that in the myth (p.165) there is no hint that anyone, even Socrates, will escape the series of reincarnations,76 I suggest that a synoptic reading of this eschatological myth with those found in other dialogues, like the Phaedrus, can fill certain hermeneutical gaps and provide a fairly clear and composite understanding of Plato’s views on the afterlife. We will now turn to the reception history of Plato’s eschatological myths in Plotinus, Porphyry, and Iamblichus.

Plotinian Eschatology

Owing to the lack of specificity in Plato’s views on eschatology and the sometimes apparent or real contradictions found in (e.g.) the Gorgias, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Republic, and Laws concerning exactly what takes place in the afterlife, later Platonists often took it upon themselves to fill the gaps and thus tweaked the tradition that they received, often resulting in sharp debate and disagreement between them.77 Plotinus poses unique challenges in that, on the one hand, he has relatively little to say on the subject of eschatology; and, on the other,78 his entire philosophical system is centered in a highly mystical experience whereby the soul in this life achieves a temporary union with the One in the temporal realm. Especially as it pertains to the afterlife, moreover, the specific meaning of this latter aspect of his thought is often passionately debated by Plotinian scholars (as we shall see), but it should be kept in mind, as Rist has incisively noted, “If reality could be fully expressed, there would be no ‘mysticism’ at all.”79 Yet Henry Blumenthal is correct to say that the main features of Plato’s eschatology were accepted by Plotinus with the belief in reincarnation playing a central role in his thought.80 Though the doctrine on παλιγγενεσία‎ is often inconsistent and this can be attributed to inconsistencies already found on the subject in Plato,81 the general concept is clear enough: The ethical behavior of a soul in its previous reincarnations determines the nature of the incarnate soul in its present life-cycle.82 And we should expect some modifications to the system he inherited, which can be explained not just due to inconsistency in Plato’s myths, but more so to the fact that he was a profoundly original thinker.

The doctrine of the undescended soul is one example of the latter:

And, if one ought to dare to express one’s own view more clearly, contradicting the opinion of others, even our soul does not altogether come down, but there is always something of it in the intelligible; but if the part which is in the world of sense-perception gets control, or rather if it is itself brought under control, and thrown into confusion [by the body], it prevents us from perceiving the things which the upper part of the soul contemplates. For what is grasped by the intellect reaches us when it (p.166) arrives at perception in its descent, for we do not know everything which happens in any part of the soul before it reaches the whole soul; for instance desire which remains in the desiring part is known by us, but [only] when we apprehend it by the power of inner sense or discursive reason, or both. For every soul has something of what is below, in the direction of the body, and of what is above, in the direction of Intellect.83

The soul has fallen, in a true sense, from the goodness and truth of the intelligible realm, but the higher part remains undescended and thus connected with its source.84 This bifurcation of the self makes a distinction between the rational part of the soul, which is immortal, as we find in the dialogues of Plato, but it “does not altogether come down” and “there is always something of it in the intelligible.”85 The lower soul that has descended is called a compound (σύνθετoν‎) that is capable of committing vice or virtue, and it is the self that experiences the cycles of rebirths familiar with traditional Platonic eschatology, but Plotinus has segregated the intelligible soul from the rebirth cycle by means of his doctrine concerning the bifurcation of the self.86 Moreover, his distinguishing between a higher providence that teleologically orders all things in the universe and a lower fate to which souls attached to matter subordinate themselves might have been seminal concepts that were planted in the mind of Porphyry who, in turn, eventually incorporated them into his three-path soteriological system.87

The Unio Mystica

Though it is indisputable that Plotinus believed in this life a permanent union with the One was not possible,88 scholars have perhaps read too much into the statement made by Porphyry that his master attained this mystical experience only four times, simply because, as Bussanich has rightly noted, Plotinus never relaxed his concentration on Intellect, and Porphyry was with Plotinus in Rome only for a period of six years.89 In any event, the descriptions of the Unio mystica represent the most beautiful passages in the Enneads.90 Separating itself from δóξα‎ and αἴσθησις‎ and thus attaining to ὁμoιωθῆναι θεῷ‎, the soul transcends Intellect to see the One itself.91 The two become one during the union, and thus the distinctions of duality and otherness are not ontologically applicable.92 That brings us to the final destiny of the soul and the important questions: (a) is the eschatological (post mortem) Unio mystica permanent? and (b) does this imply a monistic or a theistic union? The former posits that the soul becomes identical with the One itself, and the latter maintains that the soul retains its own individual subsistence.93 As we have seen in Porphyrian soteriology, the early stages (p.167) of ascent involve the soul’s purifications and turning or converting itself to the Forms. The soul ascends through and beyond Intellect to the One because ultimate mystical union transcends being and thought.94 “Likeness to God in the full sense must mean an ascent beyond the realm of the infinite Forms to the realm of the infinite One whose dominant character of simplicity (ἁπλωσις‎) is emphasized throughout the Enneads.95

What exactly happens to the soul in this eschatological, and permanent, union with the One? Wallis insists that for Plotinus, return to the One does not “result in abolition of the soul’s individual existence.”96 I would suggest, however, that it is not an abolition of the soul’s individuality, but an absence of duality, otherness, and the ontological and epistemological separation that are the distinctive identity markers of the soul in the realm of Becoming. Otherwise, how can the two really become one?97 Rist also assumes that an absolute union theory results in the soul’s annihilation or obliteration,98 but such language of obliteration misses the essential meaning of the two becoming one in Plotinus’ view of permanent union which, I suggest, we should understand as a completion or fulfillment of the soul’s achieving the salvific summit of its ontological and epistemological progression. It becomes its true self by identical union with its source. Otherwise the Platonic doctrine of “like is known by like” is non-sensical.99 Exegeting all pertinent texts in the Enneads that concern permanent union with the One, Bussanich notes that often γίνεσθαι‎ is the verb used by Plotinus to describe an ontological transformation in which he “envisions an ultimate state where the soul is completely merged with the One.”100 The union, he suggests, results in an absorption of the soul into the One.101 The final destiny and state of the soul is not, therefore, the annihilation or obliteration of its individuality, but an infinite expansion of its true self:

The very fluid and dynamic Plotinian self expands—both ontologically and psychologically—as it ascends through the intelligible world to the One. Its awareness at the beginning of the ascent is quite restricted and so dramatically different than what it becomes at the end, despite the fact that the true, essential self eternally inhabits the intelligible. But from there it continues to ascend, losing even intelligible boundaries, until, after repeated contacts with the one, it merges completely with it. In the end, both its substance and its awareness are utterly transformed, not only the latter, and not for only a few moments.102

Let us now turn to relevant texts in the Enneads.

First, in VI.9.3.11ff., Plotinus states: “But when the soul wants to see by itself, seeing only by being with it and being one by being one with it, it does not think it yet has what it seeks, because it is not different from what is being thought.”103 (p.168) The phrase καὶ ἓν oὖσα τῷ εἶναι αὑτῷ‎ indicates a union with the One that transcends ontologically and epistemologically the state of being in which thinker and what is being thought are the same (ὅτι τoῦ΄νooυμένoυ μὴ ἕτερóν ἔστιν‎) at the level of Intellect.104 The beginning and end (ἀρχὴ καὶ τέλoς‎) of the soul is to be filled with God (πληρωθεισ̑α θεoῦ‎): its beginning because it comes from there, and its end because its good is there.105 Embracing God, the soul does not allow any part of itself not to touch God (ᾦ μὴ ἐϕαπτóμεθα‎). There it becomes “full of intelligible light” (ϕωτὸς πλήρη νoητoῦ‎).106 When the concentric circles of the soul and the One come together, they are one and there is no duality, the latter occurring only when they are separate (καὶ γὰρ ἐνταῦθα συνελθóντα ἓν ἐστι, τó τε δύo, ὅταν χωρίς‎).107 There are not two, but One, the seer and the seen being now united (ἐπει τoίνυν δύo oὐκ ἦν, ἀλλ’ ἓν ἦν αὐτoς ὁ ἰδ̀ὼν πρὸς τὸ ἑωραμένoν, ὡς ἂν μὴ ἑωραμένoν, ἀλλ’ ἡνωμένoν…‎).108 He then adds that “like is united with like” (τῷ ὁμoίῳ τὸ ὅμoιoν‎), presupposing logically the abandonment of duality and otherness that define the essence of the soul’s individuality.109

When the soul goes down it arrives at evil (εἰς κακὸν‎) and non-existence (εἰς μὴ ὄν‎),

But if it runs the opposite way, it will arrive, not at something else but at itself, (oὐκ εἰς ἄλλo‎, ἀλλ’ εἰς αὑτήν‎) and in this way since it is not in something else it will not be in nothing, but in itself; but when it is in itself alone and not in being, it is in that; for one becomes (γίνεται‎), not substance, but ‘beyond substance’ (oὐκ oὐσία, ἀλλ’ ἐπέκεινα oὐσίας‎) by this converse. If then one sees that oneself has become this (τoῦτo αὑτὸν γενóμενoν‎), one has oneself as a likeness of that, and if one goes on from oneself, as image to original (ὡς εἰκὼν πρὸς ἀρχέτυπoν‎), one has reached ‘the end of the journey.’110

As conveyed by the use of γίνεται‎ and γενóμενoν‎, it is clear that Plotinus is describing an ontological transformation that brings about union with the One, resulting in duality giving way to an absolute and irrevocable identity of the soul with the One. The true self has returned to its source and its infinite completeness and fulfillment is achieved only when it converges with (and thus not in any way remaining separate from) the One. Plotinus approaches this radical transformation from a higher ontological level in another text in which he states that, even if Intellect were to abide in that place and behold the One, it would be one with him, not two (ἀλλ’ ἓν ἐκείνῳ ὢν καὶ oὐ δύo‎).111 Time and again he stresses that the soul loses duality when it unites with the One.112 When the union takes place, the soul is no longer another (ἕτερoν‎);113 it falls away from being one, for example, an individual soul (πάσχει δὲ ἡ ψυχὴ τoῦ ἓν εἶναι τῆν ἀπóστασίν καὶ oὐ‎ (p.169) πάντη ἐστὶν ἓν‎),114 the two become one when the vision comes to the soul (ἔρχεται δὲ ἡ θέα καὶ εἱς αὐτὴν καὶ τὰ δύo ἓν γίνεται‎),115 and there is nothing between it and the One (μεταξὺ γὰρ oὐδὲν oὐδ ’ ἔτι δύo ἀλλ’ ἓν ἄμϕω‎).116 Based on the preceding texts, I thus conclude that according to Plotinian eschatology, the soul of the philosopher will ultimately117 achieve a post mortem, permanent union that ontologically and epistemologically transcends being, Intellect, and thought whereby it experiences an absolute identity with the One.118

Porphyrian and Iamblichean Eschatologies

It is highly regrettable that although there has been an exponential growth in scholarly works on Neoplatonism in the last few decades, there has never been a book-length study in English on the eschatological doctrines of the later Neoplatonic philosophers.119 It is not my purpose here to offer such a meticulous analysis on Porphyry and Iamblichus, but rather to give an overview of each thinker’s basic teaching on the status and final destiny of the soul in the afterlife. We begin with Porphyry, who according to Proclus was the most perfect exegete of the Myth of Er than all the philosophers named in his Commentary on the Republic who had studied it.120 The problem is, however, that many of Porphyry’s works are either lost or have survived in fragmentary form, which often forces the philosopher to piece together from various sources, both pagan and Christian, a plausible composite picture of his thought. This is most applicable to his views on eschatology.

Augustine informs us at the beginning of De civitate dei, Book X, that in searching for philosophers “who might contribute to my disquisition on the blessed life that is to come after death,” the Platonists who are “the most renowned of all philosophers” were selected because “they assert that no man will obtain what all men eagerly desire, namely, a blessed life, who has not clung with the purity of a chaste love to the one supreme good, which is the unchangeable God.”121 This certainly does not imply, however, uniformity of belief among those Platonists who came after Plotinus, especially as we shall see with respect to the final destiny of the soul. For example, should we fast-forward from Porphyry’s time to the end of the Neoplatonic period in the sixth century A.D., we realize that there was still an ongoing debate on the exact meaning of the eschatological realms and the final dwelling places of the various classes of souls, as exemplified in the reinterpretation by the Athenian Damascius of Plato’s double division of good souls in Phd. 114 B–C: “Those without philosophy dwell on the heights of the earth with very subtle pneumatic bodies, those who practiced philosophy at the level of the polis live in heaven with luminous bodies, and those who are completely purified are restored to the hypercosmic place without bodies.”122 (p.170) The second group, “those who practiced philosophy at the level of the polis,” implies a development of Porphyry’s Path II trajectory. Also, there is an explicit tripartite pattern similar to Porphyry’s: Damascius posits (a) the soul of the non-philosopher, (b) the soul of the practitioner of philosophy at the polis level who is not completely purified, and (c) the soul of the completely purified philosopher.123 Important to note here is that, with each class of soul, there is a corresponding eschatological realm in which it dwells.124 Two centuries before the last of the Neoplatonists, Porphyry had already laid a foundation for this paradigm and subsequent debates.

A central feature of Porphyry’s eschatology is his indebtedness to the Chaldean cosmological division of the universe into three realms: the Material (ὑλαῖoν‎), the sublunar region including the earth; the Ethereal (αἰθέριoν‎), the realm of the stars and planets;125 and the Empyrean (ἐμπύριoν‎) or the Intelligible world.126 In conjunction with these cosmological divisions, it must be kept in mind as we proceed with our analysis of Porphyry’s eschatology that the One, whom he often calls the Father,127 is considerably less transcendent than that of Plotinus’ system. Though it is clear that Poprhyry believed that the lower soul continues after death,128 and in some manner this includes both the vehicle (ὄχημα‎) and the irrational part,129 due to the highly fragmentary nature of his works (especially as they relate to his doctrines on the afterlife,) one gets only glimpses of the eschatological function of the material or hylic realm. For example, Augustine, after referring to Porphyry’s locating demons in the aeria and angels in the Ethereal or Empyrean regions,130 informs us: “. . . and although he advises making use of the friendship of some demon, by whose support an individual can rise, though ever so little, above the earth after death, yet he acknowledges that it is another way that leads to fellowship on high with the angels.”131 The key words here are quo subvectante vel paululum a terra possit elevari quisque post mortem, which eschalogically locate the (good) souls of the herd that have not been cleansed by theurgy in the hylic realm beneath the moon.132 And the mention of another way implies a different and higher (superna) eschatological path for the souls who have been so cleansed. The question now is: Where do souls go post mortem whose spirited part is cleansed by theurgy?

Augustine provides the answer in two passages from De civitate dei. The first is found in X.9.133 After saying Porphyry posited theurgical purification for the spiritual soul and that “He asserts, however, that this art cannot provide for any man a path back to God,”134 he then adds:

Next he declares that it is possible for the rational or, as he prefers to call it, the intellectual soul to escape into its own realm, even though the spirited part of it has never been purified by any art of theurgy. Furthermore, (p.171) he says, the purification of the spiritual part by the theurgist does not go so far as by itself to lead all the way to immortality and eternity.135

Note first that the intellectual soul has its own realm (in sua posse dicit evadere): This is the eschatological path, which we will examine later, for the soul of the (mature) philosopher.136 The second text continues the same line of thought for the spiritual soul, but now we are informed as to its eschatological dwelling place:

Evidently you want all who are turned away from the pursuit of philosophic excellence, which is too lofty for all but a few, to seek out theurgists on your recommendation, in order to obtain catharsis at least of their spiritual, though not, to be sure, of their intellectual soul … that those who have been cleansed in their spiritual soul by the theurgic art, though they do not, to be sure, return to the father, yet they will dwell above the realm of air among the aetherial deities.137

Thus, after death, the soul that has been cleansed in its spirited part by theurgy ascends to the second eschatological realm, the ethereal world.138 This corresponds to Path I in Porphyry’s soteriological system. But where do the Path II souls go in the afterlife? Since those souls who have begun their philosophical studies and have learned how to cleanse their spirited parts by means of σωϕρoσύνη‎ have, like Path I souls, not yet cleansed the rational part, their post mortem dwelling place is by a logical inference the same place: The Ethereal realm.139

Turning to the dwelling place of the (fully mature) philosopher’s soul (Path III), the first principle to keep in mind is Porphyry’s doctrine on permanent escape, which, as we shall see, had some important things in common with Plotinian eschatology.140 Since the One/Father is less transcendent in his thought, however, we find Porphyry often relying upon the traditional doctrines found in Plato’s eschatological myths to fill important gaps and explain the relations between each class of soul in the ontological hierarchy and exactly how the soul can break the otherwise incessant cycle of reincarnations. The fact that Plato himself never hermeneutically ironed out this latter problem, thus bequeathing to posterity an eschatology that both contained inconsistencies and also did not provide clear answers to important questions about the afterlife, meant that issues like permanent escape were hotly debated among Neoplatonists: Plotinus and Porphyry accepted it, while (e.g.) Iamblichus, Proclus, and Sallustius rejected it.141 We have already noted that Porphyry’s belief that the rational soul escapes to its own realm.142 Showing the close connection that Platonism placed between ontology and epistemology and, we may add now, their relation with eschatology, later in (p.172) the City of God we are told Porphyry believed that ignorance (ignorantiam) cannot be cleansed by any rites (per nullas teletas purgari), but only by the πατρικὸν νoῦν‎, or the mind or Intellect of the Father.143 The use of purgari does not imply, as we have seen, a state of pollution or sin in the rational soul, but rather the separation of the mind from the temporal to the intelligible realms by means of discursive thought. Only a few souls attain to God by their intelligence.144 Porphyry is clear that in this life the soul cannot ad perfectionem sapientiae pervenire, but “those who live on an intellectual level may find their want fully supplied after this life by God’s providence and grace.”145 The soul of the philosopher thus becomes complete (post hanc vitam posse compleri) when it is with the One, having permanently broken the cycle of reincarnations.146

Ulysses is depicted in the De antro nympharum as a symbol of the philosopher who, after a long process of purifying his soul,147 strongly desires to return to his true home: the Intellect and the One.148 The soul must avoid all union with the body to attain eternal happiness with God.149 Once the soul is purged from all evil and joined to the Father, it will never again suffer the evils in this world.150 Though it is going too far to call this doctrine a “radical innovation,”151 nonetheless the release for Porphyry is permanent and eternal.152 We are perhaps not too far metaphysically from Paul of Tarsus’ teaching that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.153 Yet we must now ask whether the permanent escape entails the same kind of Unio mystica eschatologically that we have seen in Plotinus’ thought. In other words, did Porphyry teach a monistic or theistic union? In this case, the pupil did not accept the teachings of his master. We have already noted that Porphyry’s One is less transcendent than that of Plotinus, and though his works are fragmentary, the available evidence strongly favors the view that the soul, once fully purged and released from the last cycle of reincarnation (see below) is in close union with the Father but does not lose its individuality. For example, the text in Civ. Dei X.30 speaks of the soul’s relation with God in its permanent disembodied state as Patre constitutam, logically implying a spiritual coexistence with, but not an absorption in, the divine.154 Furthermore, in De anima 48, as Dillon and Finamore have observed, Iamblichus says Porphyry did not allow the soul any continued role in the universe after its (final) ascent.155 This appears to cohere perfectly with Bidez 11.1 (Civ. Dei X.30).156 Later in the same work Iamblichus attempts apparently with less clarity to explain what happens to the rational soul once it is permanently separated by saying Porphyry “assimilates the soul to the universe.”157 This statement puzzled the editors of De anima because it seems to oppose the conventional Neoplatonic goal of assimilation to God,158 but it is best interpreted to refer to the less transcendent One in Porphyry’s thought, who is conceived as being in the Empyrean realm, to which Iamblichus’ universe is alluding, with (and thus not beyond) the (p.173) Intelligibles. Another text comes from Stobaeus, who says that Porphyry, opposed to Plotinus, taught that the soul after death retains its own τάξις‎, which Andrew Smith rightly interprets to mean a union with the One, but not resulting in the soul becoming the One.159 Finally, Augustine attributes to Porphyry the doctrine of the soul’s consubstantiality with the mind of the Father, which has already been analyzed in an earlier chapter, to support the view that the soul retains its individuality in its eschatological state.160 Porphyry’s permanent escape can thus be best described as a theistic union of the soul with the One/Father in the Empyrean Realm and as eschatologically indebted to the Phaedrus.161

Cycles of Rebirth

Porphyry’s doctrine of permanent escape does not preclude the incorporation of traditional Platonic concepts of cycles of reincarnation into his views on eschatology. Though Augustine praises Porphyry for correcting Plato’s eschatology, which “conceived of souls as swinging in a circle between alternate joy and misery,”162 this does not mean that he rejected the rebirth cycles, but rather that at some point in the cycles the soul was able to escape from them. We now turn to investigating how and when the escape is made possible, keeping in mind that the soul’s progression to the One, which we have seen is central to Porphyry’s soteriology, is best understood in the structure of reincarnations.163

We begin with Porphyry’s Περὶ τoῦ ἐϕ ’ ἡμῖν‎ (On What Is in Our Power),164 which by most accounts was either a commentary or an interpretative essay on Plato’s Myth of Er165 and originally formed a part of his commentary on the Republic.166 Evidence in favor of this hypothesis is based on the fact that all of the fragments preserved from the commentary deal with the Myth of Er, and the same can be said about On What Is in Our Power.167 The latter survives only in fragments derived from the Anthology of John Stobaeus (fifth century A.D.), totaling fourteen pages in Andrew Smith’s 1993 Porphyrii Philosophi Fragmenta.168 And though Proclus mentions Porphyry rarely in his commentary on the Republic,169 he praises him as “a perfect interpreter in particular of all the hidden material in the myth.”170 We can thus assume that Proclus was significantly influenced by Porphyry’s earlier commentary and incorporated a great deal of material from him into his own commentary on Plato’s myth.171 Be that as it may, we begin our analysis with a remark made by Augustine concerning Porphyry’s teaching on the soul’s descent: “He also says that God’s purpose in giving a soul to the world was that it might recognize the evils inherent in material things and so return to the Father, and never again find itself held fast and polluted by their contagion.”172 The word cognoscens in the Latin text, which the LCL editor gives (p.174) as recognize, is a philosophically pregnant term that is best translated as to become thoroughly familiar with or to learn thoroughly by inquiring and investigating, presupposing the lengthy process of training characterized by Porphyry’s Path II trajectory, the successful completion of which moved the soul to the final stage, which ensured permanent escape.173 After noting that both Plato and Plotinus believed that souls were reincarnated into the bodies of animals, Augustine informs us that Porphyry was correct in rejecting this doctrine and adds: “He held that human souls return to earth and enter human bodies, not indeed those they had discarded, but new and different ones.”174

The Περὶ τoῦ ἐϕ’ ἡμῖν‎ provides invaluable details on the cycle of rebirths and helps to fill important gaps resulting from the rather general remarks of Augustine. For example, Porphyry in a number of passages of this work refers to souls as being outside, and Wilberding is right to conclude that this means outside the body rather than the universe175 and that both Porphyry and Proclus interpreted the Myth of Er primarily as not being about souls descending from the Intelligible Realm.176 As we have seen, according to the myth, souls take a journey in the meadow of the netherworld for seven days then continue until they come to a light brighter than a rainbow extended above throughout heaven, which includes the Spindle of Necessity and eight whorls representing the heavenly spheres.177 This is the place where the Prophet gives the souls their lots and where they make their choice about their next life on earth.178 Exactly where Porphyry locates the choice is important for his views on eschatological rebirths. Although Proclus, following Porphyry, interprets the light here to refer to the vehicle of the World Soul,179 he does not agree with him on the location of the Prophet. Whereas Proclus argues that the location of the aether is the best place from which the souls can see both the heavens and the vehicle of the World Soul,180 Porphyry places the Prophet and the souls’ first choices in the lunar realm181 probably because of the Chaldaean doctrine mentioned in Ad Gaurum and reinforced by Smith 271F,182 which posited that souls choose their lives among a number of possibilities written in the stars and enter the universe through the hôroskopos located at the eastern horizon.183

In Plato’s myth, the Prophet is responsible for the lots and the order in which the souls make their choices.184 Porphyry interjected at this point a novelty into the myth by bringing in “two lives and choices that each soul makes prior to each reincarnation.”185 The first choice, made in the lunar sphere, concerned the species and gender of the soul in the next life;186 the second concerned its career.187 Porphyry then posited that the second choice was made while the soul was “in the planetary sphere en route to the hôroskopos in the sphere of fixed stars”188 due to his theory of the vehicle of the soul, noted above, which required that the soul must first move up to the fixed sphere where it receives its (p.175) vehicle.189 Iamblichus appears to be alluding to the latter when he says Porphyry taught “each irrational faculty is freed into the whole life of the universe from which is was detached …”;190 with which we should compare a statement in the Ad Gaurum concerning the soul receiving its irrational and corporeal substance before its descent:

However, regarding the corporeal and irrational substance, what is lacking in terms of its being joined to [a captain] at birth is provided and afforded by the universe, as an individual soul is immediately present, the very soul which comes to be present to the [body] that has been brought forth at just the right moment, and comes to be in harmony with the instrumental body that is suited to receive it.191

Functioning as a divine matchmaker, the World Soul in Ad Gaurum ensures that the descending souls find their way to bodies perfectly suited to them.192 And as Wilberding judiciously observes, the second life is still to a certain extent in the control of the individual soul making the choice based on the belief that “by ‘choosing’ its second life, a soul is born to a certain family with certain talents and difficulties, all of which predispose the soul towards a certain career trajectory.”193

We may conclude that the lunar sphere served as a cosmological recycling center for the soul’s next reincarnation. Its first life (species and gender) is chosen there, and as it ascends toward the fixed stars to acquire its vehicle and irrational part,194 it makes its second choice (career), only to descend again to the sublunary sphere and then to its new life on earth. Since in the Myth of Er this re-cycling process, however, is depicted as taking place during a short period of time and there is nothing to suggest that it took longer according to Porphyrian eschatology, this would not preclude a much longer period of time in which Path I and Path II souls existed in the Ethereal Realm. How many times the soul goes there post mortem depends upon the choices it makes for the next life-cycle and how it lives while on earth. Some souls would undoubtedly require more rebirths than others to achieve eschatological union with the One. But since Porphyry posited a permanent escape, exactly when does the recycling process end for the soul of the philosopher? Would this not require more than one life? I know of no passage from the surviving works of Porphyry that provides a clear answer to these questions, but Proclus’ exegesis of the Myth of Er, which we have seen is indebted to Porphyry, may shed some important light. Wilberding notes:

Proclus emphasizes several times throughout his commentary that Plato is not describing souls that are coming down into the sensible world from the intelligible world. He points to relevant features of the (p.176) myth as well as to other parts of the Platonic corpus to back up his view. First, the choice in question follows the thousand years of subterranean punishments and celestial rewards (615A2–9), and it is obvious that the souls being punished were not in the intelligible region. Nor may one interpret the celestial rewards to refer to a journey to the intelligible region. After all, the duration of a thousand years wouldn’t make sense in that case, and more importantly Plato says explicitly that at least some of the souls coming down from the heavens had not lived philosophically (Rep. 619C8). But a philosophical life would seem to be a prerequisite for succeeding to the intelligible region after death. Indeed, as Proclus reminds us, according to the Phaedrus (249Bff.), it is only after completing three philosophical lives that one regains one’s intelligible wings (in Remp. 2.161,3–8; 2.300,10–2; 2.330,18–331,1; etc.).195

It would appear that the eschatological myth in the Phaedrus filled some gaps or helped to answer some questions that the Myth of Er either did not address or did not adequately clarify. For Porphyry, the philosophical life was indeed a prerequisite for succeeding to the Intelligible (Empyrean) World, the realm of permanent escape, and I suggest that the oracle of Apollo at the end of his Life of Plotinus may be partially indebted to the Phaedrus, which, in turn, may help us get a better understanding of his doctrine of permanent escape. It is to this oracle that we now turn our attention.

Vita Plotini 22–23, The Oracle of Apollo: Where Is Plotinus’ Soul?

The oracle of Apollo provides an answer to the question posed by Amelius concerning the present post mortem location of Plotinus’ soul.196 After a brief introduction (22.8–30), the oracle covers the two themes of Plotinus’ earthly existence (22.31–44) and then addresses the question about where his soul is now (22.45–63). These are followed by Porphyry’s commentary on the same two themes: Plotinus’ earthly existence (23.1–29) and his post mortem status (23.29–40). Apollo declares that Plotinus has been liberated from the tabernacle (σκῆνoς‎) and tomb (σῆμα‎) that held his heavenly soul (ψυχῆς δαιμoνίης‎)197 and has now come to the company of heaven (μεθ’ ὁμήγυριν ἔρχεαι ἤδη δαιμoνίην‎)198 “full of pure joy, brimming with streams of immortality from the gods which carry the allurements of the Loves, and sweet breeze and the windless brightness of high heaven.”199

(p.177) The last word of this passage, which Armstrong translates as heaven from αἰθήρ‎, is obviously incorrect and should be replaced with aether,200 the second eschatological realm between the Hylic and the Empyrean in Chaldean cosmology; and the place, as we have noted, where according to Augustine, in referring to De regressu animae, the souls cleansed either by theurgy or continence go until they have achieved permanent union.201 The very important question as to why the soul of Plotinus is located here will be addressed later.202 For the time being, we also find in the oracle that Plotinus’ soul has entered the company of the judges Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus, not to be judged by them, but to become a fellow-judge with them, Plato, and Pythagoras,203 all of whom are described as kindred spirits (δαίμoσιν‎) most blessed.204 Depicting the philosophical soul in heaven with the daimones and gods appears to be indebted to the Phaedrus myth.205 Then the god makes an interesting acknowledgement: “O blessed one, you have borne so many contests, and now move among holy spirits, crowned with mighty life.”206 It is puzzling why Armstrong gives life for the plural ζωῇσι‎207 in this text because if we are to think that Plotinus’ life in the Ethereal Realm should be so defined, logic dictates that this would be his permanent dwelling place, which poses a major hermeneutical problem because in these lines, the oracle in toto, and Prophyry’s commentary upon it, there is no hint of the Forms, the Intelligible Realm, or the One. Living eternally separated from the One contradicts the very essence of Plotinian metaphysics!208 I would thus suggest that the better translation is lives, and the text is thus referring not only to his past lives but, more importantly for the present analysis, to future ones as well. For when the latter materialize into the union of the soul with the One in the highest (Empyrean) realm, the result will have been permanent escape according to Porphyry’s system. To sum up: Apollo locates the soul of Plotinus with the heavenly company along with Plato and Pythagoras in the Ethereal Region,209 where upon entering this place he does not need to be judged, but rather gets an ontological promotion as a fellow-judge of souls due to his exemplary philosophical life.210 There is no mention of the Forms, the Intelligible World, or the One. But why is Plotinus’ soul not in the Empyrean Realm with the One, how long will he remain in the Ethereal Realm, and what will he have to do to experience permanent union?

Before attempting to answer these questions, let’s turn to Porphyry’s commentary on the oracle. He follows the same two-theme pattern: Plotinus’ life on earth (23.1–29) and his post mortem existence now (23.29–40). In this section, Porphyry refers with admiration to the Unio mystica that Plotinus experienced during his life in this world: (p.178)

So to this god-like man above all, who often raised himself in thought, according to the ways Plato teaches in the Banquet, to the First and Transcendent God, that God appeared who has neither shape nor any intelligible form, but is throned above intellect and all the intelligible. I, Porphyry, who am now in my sixty-eighth year, declare that once I drew near and was united to him. To Plotinus ‘the goal ever near was shown’: for his end and goal was to be united to, to approach the God who is over all things. Four times while I was with him he attained that goal, in an unspeakable actuality and not in potency only.211

This text has nothing to do with permanent escape: Porphyry first states that Plotinus experienced mystical union with the One four times while he was with him in Rome, and at the end of the passage he acknowledges that this has happened only once in his sixty-eight years. He then turns to the post mortem status of Plotinus, following closely the contents of the oracle: His soul is in the company of heaven; it has entered as a fellow-judge with Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus because he was accounted, along with Plato and Pythagoras, among the noblest (ἄριστoι‎) of humankind.212 He then adds: “There, he says, the most blessed spirits have their birth and live a life filled full of festivity and joy; and this life lasts forever, made blessed by the gods.”213

Armstrong’s translation leads one to the conclusion that Plotinus’ soul is now in its final dwelling place, which de facto must be in the Ethereal Region according to the oracle (22.51: ἀιθήρ‎), but there are some subtle points made in this commentary which militate against this interpretation. First, the spiritual beings who dwell there are called δαίμoνας‎ (23.37).214 We should expect a higher designation for residents of the Empyrean Realm according to Porphyry’s soteriological system, and Festugière was correct to translate ether as the lieu demonique.215 Though Plotinus has been promoted due to his excellent earthly life, he is nonetheless serving as a judge of souls who come to this region. Second, Porphyry says it is there that the spirits have their birth (τὴν γένεσιν‎), which coheres with the statement of Iamblichus in De anima 37 analyzed above and the data provided from the fragments of Porphyry’s Commentary on the Republic and the Περὶ τoῦ ἐϕ’ ἡμῖν‎ related to the cycle of rebirths, the choices made by the souls in the lunar and planetary spheres, and the reconstitution of the soul’s vehicle and irrational part upon its descent into the realm of Becoming.216 It is important to note here that other scholars have noted that lines 46–58 of the oracle are a description of the Champs Élysées which Porphyry situates in the moon.217 Moreover, the presence of εὐκαμπέα‎, well-curved path, is not “an odd way to describe a correct path,” but it rather presupposes the kind of precise knowledge that the soul required into order to successfully journey to (p.179) the underworld.218 Third, according to MacLachlan, a very puzzling feature of the oracle is its frequent allusions to eros.219 Keeping in mind, however, where Plotinus’ soul is in the oracle and that it has not achieved permanent escape, these allusions are best understood vis-à-vis Phaedrus 249C–D, where Plato informs us that souls nourish or regrow their wings by experiencing philosophical eros.220

Fourth, it is clear that in Porphyry’s mind ἐκεῖ‎ refers to a specific place. Precluding Hades,221 that brings us to one of three possibilities: the Hylic, Ethereal, or Empyrean Worlds. Since the oracle locates Plotinus’ soul in the αἰθήρ‎ and Porphyry does not express any disagreement with this in his commentary, nor change in any way the reference to his master’s lives (ζωῇσι‎), which I have suggested relate to past and future reincarnations,222 it is clear that according to both oracle and commentary the present location of Plotinus’ soul is in the Ethereal Realm. Finally, I suggest that the use of the verb διατελεῖν‎ to describe the life of the soul in this realm should not be translated as to last forever, but rather to accomplish, continue, or persevere.223 Otherwise, Plotinus’ soul has entered an eschatological event horizon.224 So we must now ask: Why is his soul not in the Empyrean Realm, where one would expect it to be, enjoying the presence of the One forever? If the prerequisites for permanent escape were attaining moral and spiritual perfection as a fully mature philosopher (Porphyry’s Path III), did Plotinus not make the short list which Augustine mentions in De civitate dei?225 Indeed, if Porphyry really taught that only a few attained to God because of their intelligence, Plotinus will have graduated at the head of his class. Have we not smashed into a hermeneutical brick wall?

The answer is a resounding no, if we recall that Proclus, who I believe was following Porphyry in this context, found a way out of this dilemma by referring to Phaedrus 249B–D, which taught that the soul could regain its intelligible wings after completing three philosophical lives.226 I can imagine that in his Commentary on the Republic or Περὶ τoῦ ἐϕ’ ἡμῖν‎, which we recall dealt exclusively with the Myth of Er, Porphyry let his readers know that the answer as to when the soul achieves permanent escape cannot be found in this myth, but in accordance with the exegetical tradition whose goal was to harmonize the Platonic dialogues, he explained the escape along the lines found in the Phaedrus.227 Hence, attaining permanent escape to the intelligible world and eschatological union with the One required three consecutive philosophical lives. Plotinus’s soul being located by Apollo in the Ethereal Region presupposes that he has not completed the specific cycle of rebirths required of philosophers.228 Laying a foundation for what became characteristic in the Later Neoplatonists’ hermeneutical methodologies and keeping in mind that we should not expect ontological precision from an oracle, Porphyry here combines a “connaissance (p.180) philosophique et révélation oraculaire”229 to shape his views of the afterlife. One can also say the same about the presence of the souls of Plato and Pythagoras who, according to the oracle and commentary, by implication are finishing their own thousand-year cycle in the Ethereal Region. And because Augustine was not familiar with either of the works just noted,230 which address—and to Porphyry’s mind, correctly answer—this important eschatological question, we do not find it mentioned in the pages of De civitate dei. If this is correct, after the present thousand-year cycle, the soul of Plotinus will have to make its choices for the two lives and go through another rebirth cycle, attaining permanent escape after its third successive philosophical life.231 One final point should be made here. Though Porphyry believed in a permanent escape to the One, we have already concluded that he did not believe the union resulted in the soul losing its individuality.

Since many of the salient features of Iamblichus’ eschatology have already been noted above, it is necessary here only to give a summary of his views on the afterlife and the purpose for the soul’s descent. The two testimonii found in Dillon’s edition of Iamblichus’ letters attest to the fact that eschatological themes were at the forefront of philosophical debates among the Neo-platonists.232 The first, Πρὸς ἀγνωςτóν τινα περὶ καθóδoυ ψυχῶν‎ (To an Unknown Recipient, on the Descent of Souls) deals with a similar topic addressed in Iamblichus’ Commentary on the Phaedo (107E), namely, the reasons for the soul’s descent and whether all souls are required to come down at the same intervals.233 Testimonium 2 from Olympiodorus, In Gorg. 46.9.20–28, alludes to a letter of Iamblichus that addressed the fate of the soul in the other world.234 Both fragments reveal that Iamblichus addressed, and thus believed in, the eschatological myths of Plato, though specifically how he interpreted them is not clear. One indisputable fact to consider, however, is that in the Iamblichean system, theurgical rituals were salvifically efficacious for all three classes of souls, and these, in turn, had eschatological applications, for the Syrian philosopher

admitted that both the irrational soul and its vehicle were worthy of salvation (along with the rational or higher soul), and that all three could be purified by theurgy. Since Iamblichus maintained that the soul, in its entirety, was implicated in matter, the corresponding use of theurgy—at every level of the soul—could therefore elevate the soul beyond the material to the intelligible world and ultimately back to the One.235

Though he taught a return to the One, it is clear that Iamblichus did not accept the doctrine of permanent escape.236 Nor did he accept the teaching that at the point of union the soul loses its individuality, for in De anima 50, he addresses (p.181) whether the soul experiences absolute identity with the One or forms a separated unity resulting in the soul’s retaining its own substance. Iamblichus argues for the latter view.237 He then critiques the views of other philosophers (though only Numenius is named) who posit that there is an undifferentiated (ἀδιάκριτoς‎) union of the soul with the One, calling the fusion between the two as somewhat like a dissolving (ἀνάλυσις‎) that results in the soul’s losing its individuation (ἀδιóριστoς‎), or as Dillon and Finamore describe it, “the human soul becomes part of the divine.”238 The absence of a permanent union directly impacted Iamblichus’ fundamental understanding of the recycling process. After death, the purified soul spends a certain amount of time with the gods and angels, but then “must again descend and fulfill its other essential role of being human and living with a body.”239 It would thus appear that there was a significant difference between the Porphyrian and Iamblichean exegesis of the eschatological myth found in the Phaedrus 248E–49A, upon which both philosophers depended in developing their respective views on the destiny of the soul after death: Whereas Porphyry took the liberty to tweak the original Platonic doctrine of the continual cycles of incarnations to conform with his views on permanent escape,240 Iamblichus appears to have adhered to the conventional hermeneutical method that interpreted the myth as teaching that the cycles were incessant.241 Due to his understanding that the cosmos, the world, and matter played a positive role in the salvific process, Iamblichus’ understanding of the soul’s purification in the larger context of this process was both integrative and inclusive. Like individual musicians in a symphonic orchestra, each component contributed to the well-being of the whole. The centerpiece of this soteriological and eschatological system was not in the soul’s escaping from the world, matter, and corporeal existence as in the Porphyrian system, but rather releasing itself by means of theurgical rituals to all of the temporal, cosmological, and eschatological benefits of the drama of salvation both in this world and in the afterlife.

As we saw earlier, Iamblichus gives three reasons for the descent of souls: (1) for the salvation, purification, and perfection of this realm; (2) for the correction of character; and (3) to undergo punishment for sin.242 A similar tripartite distinction is addressed in De myst. V.18, though the median class is further subdivided.243 The third class descends unwillingly, and Finamore is right to say that the concept of the punishment for the past sins of the soul is most likely indebted to Plotinus.244 This lowest class of souls is controlled by nature; they are subject to fate and use practical reasoning but not their intellects.245 Based upon Phdr. 246D–49D,246 they are forced to descend in order to get another chance to better themselves, the gist being that in the next cycle, ideally they would receive an ontological promotion to the median class. (p.182) Iamblichus is clear that very few from the herd will salvifically benefit from theurgy. The members of the second class come down to correct their character through theurgy and exist between nature and intellect,247 or between the states of purity and impurity,248 which again betrays influence from the Phaedrus.249

Iamblichus undoubtedly developed his own tripartite system based upon the exegetical method that aimed at hermeneutical harmony of the inconsistent doctrines on the soul’s descent found in the Phaedrus and the Timaeus.250 And I would suggest that, especially with respect to the purpose of the descent of the second class of souls, Iamblichus is not addressing a small, elite group of philosophers, but rather cultivated local magistrates who might benefit from a basic indoctrination in the virtuous life, similar to the content of Porphyry’s epistle to Marcella.251 The Noetic class descends willingly, and Dillon’s comparison of these with the Buddhist concept of the Bodhisattvas who come to earth to help other souls in the salvific process is judicious.252 They maintain a close contact with the Intelligible Realm253 after making a descent that is unconnected with generation,254 and unlike Porphyry, who taught that the vehicle is released back into the cosmos when the soul reascends, Iamblichus believed “it is ethereal and created whole by the Demiurge, and not subject to destruction or dissolution of any kind.”255

How did Iamblichus derive his three classes of souls from the Phaedrus myth? Dillon and Finamore suggest that he saw the three categories in Phdr. 248A–C, where it is stated of the highest of the two classes of soul, that if a soul can always see the forms, it will consequently always be free.256 The editors observe: “Iamblichus seems to be subdividing Plato’s second class of souls into those that have had a better view of the Forms than others and those who have the ability to choose the philosophical life thrice.”257 If this is correct, Iamblichus, like Porphyry, relied upon the Phaedrus myth to refine his views on eschatology, and the key text appears to have been Phdr. 248E–49C, which concerned the soul that chose the philosophical life for three successive thousand-year periods. For Iamblichus this meant that such a soul escapes the cycle of births for the remainder of the ten-thousand-year cycle, descends to earth in its next embodiment to play a positive role in the world and the cosmos as a Bodhisattva, and thus assists other souls in the continual cycle of rebirths.258 There is no permanent escape. Relying upon the same Platonic text, Porphyry interpreted the three successive philosophical lives as a way that the soul could achieve permanent escape from the rebith cycles and perpetual union with the One.

A Comparison of Porphyrian and Iamblichean Soteriologies

In order to illustrate the differences between the soteriological systems of Porphyry and Iamblichus, we may give the following:



Philosophy is superior to theurgy.

Theurgy is superior to philosophy.

Theurgy is salvifically important only for the herd or Path I soteriological trajectory.

Theurgy is important for all three classes of souls.

Porphyry offered a tripartite soteriological system for (a) the masses, (b) the novice philosopher, and (c) the mature philosopher with an emphasis upon theurgy for stage I and philosophy for stages II and III.

Iamblichus (De myst. V.18) gives three classes of souls: (a) the herd, (b) the median class (with further subdivisions), and (c) Noetic souls with an emphasis upon theurgical rituals.

Universalizing by discursive thought. The epistemological and ontological Summum bonum is achieved by means of philosophy.

Incorporation of sensate particularity within theurgical salvation.259

Alienation of the soul in this world necessitating an escape from bodily plesures, material reality, and matter, which is defined as evil.

Participation of the soul as a homogeneous entity integrated into the whole of the cosmological salvific process; matter comes from God.260

Since a part of the soul is undescended at the intellectual conversion during Path II, it does not need divine assistance.

Since the soul is completely descended and thus cut off from the divine, assistance from the gods is necessary, and brought about by theurgical rituals.261

An emphasis upon intellectual Askesis.

An emphasis upon ritual Askesis.262

An exclusive eschatology of Ascent whose goal is the Perfection of the soul, breaking the rebirth cycle, and permanent, absolute union with the One in the Empyrean Realm.

An inclusive (integrative) eschatology of Descent whose goal is the continual participation of the soul in the salvific amelioration of the world, matter, and the entire cosmos entailing perpetual rebirths in the temporal realm.

(p.183) The comparison above clearly shows the serious differences that existed between the two great Neoplatonic philosophers on the salvation and final destiny of the soul. In ending this chapter I should like to propose the following as a plausible explanation for the departure of Iamblichus from Rome where he had been a student at Porphyry’s school and why Porphyry, possibly followed by Iamblichus, chose a tripartite soteriological system.

  1. 1. I suggest that the serious rift which developed between Porphyry and Iamblichus was initiated while the latter was studying under Porphyry in Rome and before he departed to eventually establish his own Neoplatonic school in Syria and resulted from sharp disagreements concerning how (p.184) the soul achieved perfection and the exact nature of the salvific process that this entailed.

  2. 2. The rift did not concern the number of epistemological and ontological “paths” or trajectories and their concomitant eschatological realms, because we have solid evidence that both philosophers taught a tripartite system.

  3. 3. The rift focused on the role that theurgical ritual and philosophy played in the cleansing, conversion, and perfection of the soul: Iamblichus stressed the central role played by theurgy for all three classes of souls, and Porphyry understood theurgy to cleanse the lower part of the soul and thus to be efficacious only for the uneducated masses. For the novice philosopher (Path II) and the mature Neoplatonic philosopher (Path III) philosophy played a central role in the salvific process, which culminated in the final release of the soul and permanent union with the One.

  4. 4. Because as noted above there were very few differences in the way that the soul was cleansed at the first stage (natural soul for Iamblichus; Path I for Porphyry), I further suggest that the serious disagreement between the two philosophers concerned how the soul was cleansed and converted at the second stage. If the paradigm that I have offered in the preceding chapters is correct, Porphyry at this stage saw no purpose for the philosopher to use theurgical rituals to cleanse his spirited soul and opted for an emphasis upon σωϕρoσύνη‎ as the virtue that enabled the soul to turn toward intelligible reality. There is very strong evidence that the movement of the soul from this stage to that of the mature Neoplatonic philosopher involved a lengthy period of concentrated studies in mathematics and the Platonic dialogues, which might indeed have required more than a decade to complete. Iamblichus, on the other hand, stressed the central role that theurgy played in both stage II and III (or following De myst. V.18, the median and noetic classes of souls) and rejected the salvific value of philosophy and discursive thought at these ontological and epistemological levels. Disagreements about how the soul is purified in the temporal realm led to different positions concerning the afterlife. Both philosophers used the Phaedrus myth to refine their respective eschatologies. Whereas Porphyry interpreted the passage concerning the soul’s choosing three consecutive philosophical lives to mean that this broke the cycle of reincarnations permanently, resulting in the perpetual union of the soul with the One, Iamblichus read the same text as indicating a decreasing of the ten-thousand-year cycle, which resulted in the descent of the noetic soul (De myst. V.18: De an. 29) after choosing three philosophical lives so that it could help other souls in the salvific process.

  5. (p.185) 5. Thus, due to the serious ideological rift between Porphyry and Iamblichus on how the soul is cleansed, converted, and perfected, it is very plausible that Iamblichus departed Rome in order to establish his own school in the East. He continued to develop his own soteriological system focusing on the importance of theurgical rituals and eventually wrote De myst., which was his response to Porphyry’s critique of theurgy.263

  6. 6. A final word needs to be made on the question, not investigated in this book until now, concerning whether we might know why Porphyry arrived at a three-way soteriological system, as opposed to two, four, etc. I would suggest that there are two important answers here, which should be taken together. First, we have seen how mathematics played an important role in the middle path for Porphyry. Due to the influence of Pythagorean doctrine, there developed in the Academy a theological interpretation of numbers, which were thought to convey a deep spiritual and mystical meaning of the order of the cosmos and how the divine related itself to the world. Even though the TA ΘΕΟΛΟΓΟΥΜΕΝΑ ΤΗΣ ΑΡΙΘΜΗΤΙΚΗΣ‎ (The Theology of Arithmetic) was probably not written by Iamblichus, we know that he had intended to write an arithmological treatise.264 In the Academy after Plato, Speusippus and Xenocrates both wrote mathematical works, and mention should be made also of the prominent mathematician Eudoxus of Cnidos.265 These thinkers combined philosophy and mathematics and understood numbers “as authoritative symbols and paradigms of divine principles.”266 The Theology of Arithmetic is dependent upon the works of people like Anatolius and Nicomachus, and it gives a theological analysis of the first ten numbers. The section called On the Triad obviously attracts our attention. Anatolius posits that this number is called perfect by some because it is the first number to signify the totality beginning, middle, and end. Even common people, he says, speak about extraordinary events as “thrice blessed” or “thrice fortunate,” and prayers and libations are normally performed three times.267 He continues by referring to three kinds of triangles (acute, obtuse, and right) and three parts of time, and ends with the importance of the triad among virtues, which are likened to moderation, commensurate between excess and deficiency.268 From the Theology of Nicomachus one gleans similar concepts. “The triad,” he asserts, “is the form of the completion of all things.”269 Note here the use of “form,” and its obvious epistemological meaning in mathematical studies as we have noted above. The triad is the source of all qualities; there are three configurations of the moon (waxing, full, waning); three types of irregular planetary motion; three circles that define the zodiacal plane; and three kinds of (p.186) living creatures in the world (land, winged, and water).270 But the most interesting remark made by Nicomachus is the theological meaning he attaches to the triad with respect to progressive stages leading to a specific summit: “But it is also the very first which admits of end, middle and beginning, which are the causes of all completion and perfection being attained.”271 Sarah Johnston’s recent study has shown the significance of the number three in Neoplatonism, and especially in the thought of Porphyry.272 I would suggest that Porphyry will have been familiar with these kinds of philosophical and theological interpretations concerning the deeper spiritual meaning of the triad, which, in turn, influenced his choice of the three paths for his soteriological system.273

The second, and I believe a better, reason brings us to the mysteries of ancient Greece, including the Orphic tradition.274 We know that in a number of Porphyry’s works, for example the Philosophia ex oraculis, there is an aura of the sacred that betrays an ideological indebtedness to the mysteries. With respect to Porphyry’s three paths, it is interesting that there was a tripartite sequence of stages through which the initiate in the Eleusinian mysteries proceeded.275 The first was purification (καθαρμóς‎),276 the second required instruction (παράδoσις‎),277 and the third and final stage gave the initiate a vision of the divine (ἐπoπτεία‎).278 This influence from the mysteries may also have been reinforced by the Chaldaean oracles, which often reveal the importance of the triad for Chaldaean cosmology and soteriology.279 The same motif occurs in the Orphic tradition. An inscription dating to the fifth century B.C. found on bone-plates from Olbia on the coast of the Black Sea gives the tripartite formula βίoς‎ - θάνατoς‎ - βίoς‎ citing the ὀρϕικoί‎, a reference to the initiation that released the soul from the cycles of metempsychosis.280 I conclude that it is highly probable that the theological interpretations given to the triad in Late Antique mathematical studies combined with the three stages of initiation in the ancient mysteries of Greece, and also Chaldaean influence, inspired Porphyry’s three-path soteriological system.


(1) This is my synoptic reading (to use John Bussanich’s term) of the Platonic eschatological myths. Whether the rebirth cycle is permanently broken in such dialogues as (e.g.) the Phaedrus is debated among scholars, as we shall see later in this chapter. A good background study is Davies (1999).

(2) Annas (1982): 119.

(4) See (e.g.) O’Meara (2003): 107–11; Dillon and Finamore (2002): 191; and Bussanich (2013): 244f.

(5) For example, there is still no corresponding English work to Festugière (1970). For the influence of Porphyry and Iamblichus in Proclus’ Commentary on the Parmenides see Dillon (1988c); cf. also id. (1991).

(6) John Bussanich’s article (2013) would appear to be seminal here, and one can only hope that future scholars will see the importance of eschatology in Platonic and Neoplatonic works. It is lamentable that Chlup (2012), who otherwise gives an excellent analysis of Proclean Neoplatonism, nonetheless does not address the importance of eschatology.

(7) For example, Annas (1981): 349 calls the Myth of Er “a painful shock” and refers to its “vulgarity” and “childishness.”

(8) See his essay (2013) cited above. I am indebted to Bussanich’s work in this section of the present study. Also encouraging is the panel convened by Crystal Addey and Deepa Majumdar, “The Afterlife, Reincarnation and Return to the Divine in Neoplatonism,” at the 11th Annual International Society for Neoplatonic Studies Conference, June 12–15, 2013, at Cardiff University, U.K.

(9) A thorough analysis including the important thinker Proclus would require writing another book, so my goal in this section is simply to give the reader an overview to some of the important aspects of eschatology in the Platonic tradition, primarily focusing upon Porphyry.

(10) As Bussanich’s publications have shown vis-à-vis Plotinus, I hope to show also that Porphyry and Iamblichus accepted the tradition, though each modified it according to his own views about the salvation of the soul. Even to the end of the Neoplatonic Age we find Proclus a strong believer in the Myth of Er, as the long XVI dissertation found in his Commentary on the Republic, which covers almost three hundred pages in Festugière’s 1970 translation, indisputably shows. If these later thinkers did not take seriously Plato’s eschatological myths, why would they have bothered to meticulously study, exegete, and interpret them?

(11) Cf. Albinus (1998): 91f.

(12) Betegh (2009): 77 n.1; cf. Kahn (2009): 148, who believes that Plato’s Statesman and Phaedrus contain genuine myths or stories he received which were thus not fictions created by himself.

(13) Annas (1982): 120f., noting that the Timaeus cosmology is referred to as “likely mythos” (Tim. 29D 2–3, 59C 6, 68D 2; also citing Rep. 501E 2–5).

(14) Halliwell (2007): 445–73, 453, gives examples from the Republic. Cf. Rowe (2009): 134: “. . . Platonic myths cannot usefully be treated in isolation from the contexts in which they appear.”

(15) Cf. Bussanich (2013): 245–8.

(16) E.g., Empedocles, Frag. 115, cited in Bussanich (2013): 255, where he calls himself a fallen δαίμων‎ who had committed a primordial sin and was reborn for thirty thousand seasons (=10,000 years); cf. Burkert (2004): 115ff. A good number of the Orphic Hymns end with an eschatological emphasis, on which see Athanassakis (1977): xi; 18–21, no. 11, To Pan. For possible Orphic influence upon Xenocrates see Boyancé (1948).

(17) Stählin (1967): 774. Pherecydes appears to have been the first person to promulgate the theory of metempsychosis in Greece, on which see West (1983): 19f.; and cf. Dubreucq (1997).

(18) For a full discussion of the meaning of myth in ancient Greek culture see now Edmonds (2004): 1–13.

(20) Saunders (1973): 233. I fully concur.

(21) E.g., Plato, Letter 7 335A (LCL: R. G. Bury): “But we ought always truly to believe the ancient and holy doctrines which declare to us that the soul is immortal and that it has judges and pays the greatest penalties, whensoever a man is released from his body; wherefore also one should account it a lesser evil to suffer than to perform the great iniquities and injustices.”

(22) See Bussanich (2013): 264; Bowden (2010): 145ff.; and Alfeche (1995): 102. Athanassakis (1977): ix suggests the Orphic Hymns were used by a religious association (θίασoς‎) whose members called themselves mystic initiates (μύσται‎) and who invoked various deities through secret ceremonies (ὄργια, τελεταί‎) for certain blessings.

(23) Saunders (1973) explains the eschatological differences between Tim. and Laws as being due to Plato’s breaking away from a mythical to a scientific eschatology where rewards and punishments are for the good of the cosmos, and the contradistinction with the earlier dialogues and these later ones is because Plato developed a “replacement eschatology.” Annas (1982): 119 notes the shift of emphasis in the eschatological myths; and says this is due to the fact that Plato’s eschatology “was not fixed, but complex and shifting” (139).

(25) See Sedley (2009): 51. O’Meara (2003): 107f., commenting upon the penology of Plato’s eschatological myths, rightly argues that Plato sees the primary purpose of punishment as retribution, not reform, both of which are incompatible, but such “incompatibility was not, however, felt by Plato’s Neoplatonist readers, who interpreted eschatological punishment as essentially therapeutic and reformative, consistent therefore with Plato’s general attitude to punishment.”

(26) Gorg. 523B, 524A, & 526C–D, on which see Dillon and Finamore (2002): 203; Bussanich (2013): 264; and Orth (1954): 58.

(27) An excellent analysis of the various agents of judgment in Plato’s eschatological myths and the reception history of this motif in Neoplatonism can be found in Dillon and Finamore (2002): 191f.

(28) Annas (1982): 122.

(30) Annas (1982): 128. The post mortem destiny of the soul of the non-philosopher was an important theme in the eschatological doctrines of the Neoplatonists. For example, Proclus, in Rep. 300.1–301.7, is a significant text, on which see Festugière (1970): 258–66.

(31) Bussanich (2013): 270 n. 84: “Philosophers tend to ignore the analogy between the celestial experiences of purified souls in the afterlife and the noetic vision of the forms of the Good in the ascent passages in Symposium, Phaedrus, and Republic, assigning the former to Plato’s religious and poetic speculation, while reserving the latter for ‘serious’ critical analysis. This is an arbitrary and unfruitful distinction.”

(32) Phd. 114C. Cf. Bussanich (2013): 270; Dillon and Finamore (2002): 203.

(33) Phd. 78B–84B, and Annas (1982): 127f.

(34) Annas (1982): 125.

(35) A good analysis is found in Betegh (2009): 77 and n. 1. See Pépin (1986) and (1964b) for Neoplatonic cosmic piety.

(36) Phd. 107D.

(37) IbidcrossroadsGorgRep.τρίoδoιBussanich (2013)Johnston (1991)

(38) Plato, Laws 904D (LCL: R. G. Bury).

(39) Cf., e.g., Porph., Phil. orac. 323F (Eus., PE IX.10.1–2); 324F (Eus., PE IX.10.3–4); Ad Marc. 6, 7; and the discussion of these texts in earlier chapters.

(40) For Socrates, Phd. 108A, mentioning “many forks and windings” on the way to Hades, see especially Seaford (1986): 13f., on Pherecydes of Syros and offering many examples from ancient Greek religious culture. Cf. also Ogden (2001); Toulouse (2001): 197; Merkelbach (2000); Johnston (1999); and De Ley (1967).

(41) Cf. Phd. 78B–84B and Annas (1982): 126f.

(42) Aug., Civ. Dei X.19, referring to Porphyry’s doctrine omne corpus fugiendum esse. See Trapè (1978): 239ff.

(43) Rep. 519C, 540B. Cf. 532E, a “rest from the road,” and Bussanich (2013): 270ff.

(45) Rep. 615A (LCL: Paul Shorey).

(46) Phdr. 249A–B. This is my reading of the myth in this dialogue, but it is important to note that scholars are not in agreement as to whether the Phaedrus explicitly teaches the final liberation of the philosopher from the cycle of rebirths, on which see Bussanich (2013): 271 n. 85; and Wilberding (2011): 11, citing Phdr. 248D, Rep. 617D–20D, and Laws 967D. For the influence of the Phaedrus on Porphyry’s eschatology see also Chase (2004a): 40ff.

(47) Phdr. 249A–B and the discussion in Dillon and Finamore (2002): 203; cf. also Griswold (1996): 99–111 for the soul’s journey and the divine banquet in the myth.

(48) Bussanich (2013): 259. On the different symbolism of embodiment Bussanich (256) suggests that Tim. offers a positive narrative, while Phdr. offers a negative one. For the problem of the soul’s descent in Plotinus see Schuhl (1974).

(49) Annas (1982): 128. Cf. Bett (1999): 443: “Again, the end-point of the soul’s progress is not changeless and eternal contemplation of the Forms, but an eternal traversing of the heavens, punctuated by contemplation of the Forms at intervals.”

(50) Cf. Morgan (1990): 174, giving insightful analysis of Phdr 246B–E; Annas (1982): 136; Albinus (1998): 95, on Phdr. 248E–249A, reads this myth as I do, viz., as a permanent return to the divine.

(51) Phdr. 247C. Cf. Annas (1982): 135f.; Griswold (1996); Albinus (1998): 95f.; 150ff.; Dillon and Finamore (2002): 201; Bussanich (2013): 256.

(52) Plato gives three reasons why the soul loses its wings and descends to earth: (a) the bad horse drags its charioteer down (247B); (b) incompetent drivers of chariots unable to ascend to the heights of heaven crash into each other (248A–B); and (c) some souls lose their wings due to forgetfulness and sin (248C–D).

(53) Descriptions vary from one dialogue to another: curable souls are imprisoned; incurable ones are sent to Hades and Tartarus (Gorg. 527A); curable souls go to Acheron, incurable souls to Tartarus (Phd. 113D–E); under the earth for curable souls; Tartarus for incurable souls (Rep. 615A); under the earth to places of correction for all bad souls (Phdr. 249A); curable bad souls go to Hades and “are haunted by most fearful imaginings…”

(54) Phdr. 249A: on the philosophical lover: “. . . these, when for three successive periods of a thousand years they have chosen such a life, after the third period of a thousand years become winged in the three thousandth year and go their way…”; cf. Bussanich (2013): 257; and 270, for an excellent discussion of this text. Arnobius, Adv. nat. 2.33, refers to his Neoplatonic adversaries who believe that the souls receive wings after the corporeal bonds are dissolved, and at 2.34 he mentions the Phaedrus as the source of this doctrine.

(55) Porphyry, Vita Plotini 22f.; Igal (1984).

(56) Cf. Johnson (1999): 12, who acknowledges that the myth “deserves serious reappraisal.” I certainly concur.

(57) Assuming, as noted by Bussanich (2013): 265, that Rep. postdates Phd. A good short list of works to consult on this eschatological myth: Festugière (1970); Annas (1981) & (1982): 132; Johnston (1999); Dotter (2003); Lear (2006); McPherran (2006); and (2010); Halliwell (2007); Ferrari (2009); Inwood (2009); Bussanich (2013).

(58) The myth appears to have been the centerpiece of exegetical studies concerning eschatology in the Platonic schools, as Proclus’ lengthy commentary demonstrates. His commentary on the Myth of Er is found in Remp. 2.85,3–359.11 in Festugière’s 1970 French translation.

(59) Rep. 614A-C. Cf. Halliwell (2007): 447–51; Bussanich (2013): 249.

(60) Annas (1982): 132: Demythologizing the myth helps to discover the “conviction that my character and way of life is as it is largely because of the effects of my family and political situation.” McPherran (2006): 97.

(61) McPherran (2006): 97; Inwood (2009) gives five types of justice in the myth.

(62) Dotter (2003): 129.

(64) Cf. the works of Annas cited above and McPherran (2010).

(65) Lear (2006): 39ff.

(66) Johnson (1999): 4f. I agree with the assertion that Annas has not satisfactorily answered the question that the myth raises concerning justice. See, generally, Baltes (1996).

(68) Rep. 614C–E. An excellent overview is Halliwell (2007).

(69) Rep. 615A–17C. Raasted (1979): 8f., noting Porphyry’s philological infelicities.

(70) Rep. 617D–E. Festugière (1970): III.35, believes the Prophet collectively means the intermediate class of angels presiding over the life of the souls.

(71) Rep. 617E–20D. Cf. the analysis of Festugière (1970): III.35f., on the cosmic order which determines the type of existence each soul will have.

(72) Rep. 620D–21A. Dotter (2003) gives a good analysis of the interplay between “free-will” and determinism in the myth, noting (135): “Even if our choices are always determined by an infinite regress of previous choices, at least it seems that this chain of causality is not an empty, meaningless, blind necessity, but a necessity that follows from the rational nature of the universe.” We shall see later how these themes functioned in Porphyry’s eschatology.

(73) Rep. 621A–D. Ferrari (2009): 130 says that in the myth the “philosophic life guarantees happiness in this world and reward in the afterlife, but does not, it seems, guarantee happiness in future lives.” It does appear that the cycle of rebirths is continual.

(74) Rep. 621B.

(75) See Ferrari (2009): 129.

(77) Cf. Dillon and Finamore (2002): 191, who give the example of Proclus, in Rep. 2.128.3–140.25, who gives the place of punishment for bad souls as the ether beneath the moon; and Damascius, in Phd. 2.99, who says the place of judgment is the whole cosmos.

(78) See Blumenthal (1998): 128.

(81) Cf. Rich (1957): 233ff.

(82) Cf. Blumenthal (1971): 95, citing Enn. IV.3.8.5–9 and III.4.2.11ff.; and (1998): 129. This concept had a rich history in Greek culture centuries before Plotinus, as two Gold Plates, A2 and A3 from Thurii, attest (West [1983]: 22 n. 56): The soul of the deceased supplicates Persephone: “I have paid the penalty for deeds not righteous.” Cf. Seaford (1986): 22. The Gold Plates are associated with Orphic teaching and often address salvation in the afterlife: Albinus (2000): 102, 140. They contain brief texts mainly in dactylic hexameters dating from c. 400 B.C. to A.D. 260 and have been found in (e.g.) Calbria, Thurii, Magna Graecia, Thessaly, Crete, Macedonia, and Rome. See Bernabé and San Cristóbal (2008): 1–6; Edmonds (2004): 110 (Sigla); and Bowden (2010): 171: Pl. XVII, Gold Tablet from Hipponion, c. 400 B.C.; Pl. XVIII, Gold Tablet from Thurii in S. Italy, c. 300 B.C.; and Pl. XIX, Gold Tablet from Pharsalos in Thessaly, c. 350–300 B.C. For Palmyrene notions of the afterlife see Droge (1982).

(83) Enn. IV.8.8.1–13.

(84) For a good discussion of this text see Bussanich (2013): 279.

(85) Enn. IV.8.8.3f.

(87) See (e.g.) Enn. III.3.4.10–12, 5.15–17, and the discussion in Bussanich (2013): 284.

(88) See Rist (1989): 187. Scholarship has advanced exponentially since William James’s 1901–2 Gifford Lectures on “The Varieties of Religious Experience,” on which see Jantzen (1989). Cf. Trouillard (1961).

(89) V. Plot. 23.16f. Bussanich (1994): 5323. I suppose the flip side of the argument could very well be that four times in six years is not a very high percentage; and Porphyry, who followed his master’s teaching closely, testifies to attaining mystical union only once.

(90) Cf. Bussanich (2013): 287 and 288 n.112, citing (e.g.) Enn. I.6.9.16–25; IV.7.10.14–20; V.8.4.36ff.; VI.5.7 and 12; VI.7.12.22–30, 31–6.

(91) Cf. Enn. V.5.6.19–21; VI.4–5; Thesleff (1980): 104; and Bussanich (2013): 182. For an analysis of “contact language” with the One see Bussanich (1988): 183, citing the Plotinian terms συνάπτω‎, ἐϕάψασθαι‎, ἀϕή‎, ἐπαϕή‎, and θιγεῖν‎ to describe contact with the One; and Thesleff (1980): 109–13.

(93) See Rist (1989): 183.

(94) E.g., Enn. VI.9.10.2f. Cf. Bussanich (1994): 5301; Rist (1989): 187; and (1967): 215–20; Hadot (1988); and Culianu (1982).

(95) Rist (1967): 217.

(97) IbidEnnUnio mystica

(98) Rist (1967): 219, 227f.; and (1971). In his 1989 article Rist (188) interprets passages like Enn. VI.9.11 as indicating “that the self-realization of the soul in union with the One is the realization of a natural but dependent immortality… ”; thus arguing against a theory of monistic mysticism.

(99) Rist (1967): 227 cites Enn. VI.9, where the soul joins the heavenly chorus at the happy end of the journey, adding: “The members of a chorus are blended together when they sing, but it would be absurd to say that they had no individual differences of any kind.” This is a very narrow and literalist interpretation of what often is described by Plotinus in highly mystical and symbolic terminology, and the opposite argument can be made that the individual voices in the chorus are so perfectly blended together that they are indistinguishable from each other. As I argue below, the composite picture one gets from a synoptic reading of the relevant passages in the Enneads is conducive to a monistic understanding of the permanent union with the One. On the early Christian views of the self see de Vogel (1961).

(102) Bussanich (1994): 5328; and (1988): 185: after analyzing a number of pertinent texts (e.g., Enn. VI.9(9).3.10–13; VI.9(9).9.20–22; VI.9(9).9.50–52; VI.9(9).10.9–11; VI.9(9).10.14–17; VI.9(9).11.4–16; VI.9(9).11.31–32), concluding they “establish that in the unified state there is no otherness and that the soul is not different from what it apprehends… .the removal of otherness from the soul and its experience makes it difficult to distinguish it fom the One.”

(103) I use the LCL edition of the Enneads by Armstrong.

(104) I.e., the One is beyond thought.

(105) Enn. VI.9.9.20–22. An excellent discussion of this and related passages is found in Bussanich (1996): 57f.

(106) Enn. VI.9.9.55–59.

(107) Ibidpost mortem

(114) IbidRist (1967)theistic mysticismEnn.othernessothernessseparation

(115) Enn. VI.7.35.35f. Note here again the use of γίνεται‎.

(117) Exactly when the soul achieves permanent union is, to my knowledge, not explicitly addressed by Plotinus. As I shall argue below concerning Porphyry’s views, we can rightly infer that this took place after at least three philosophical lives as taught in the Phaedrus.

(118) Cf. Bussanich (1996): 57: “Transcending Intellect, being, and thought is the final stage of the mystical ascent: the soul ‘is carried out of it [i.e., the intelligible world] by the surge of the wave of Intellect itself’ VI.7.36.17–180 to vision of the Good as pure light.”

(119) I am most grateful to Dr. Crystal Addey and Dr. Deepa Majumbdar for bringing this to my attention.

(120) Though Proclus does not mention Porphyry often in his commentary, I would think that his own exegesis of the myth is significantly indebted to Plotinus’ disciple. See Festugière (1970) III.40: Proclus, in Rep. Prologue 96.2–97.8, mentioning in his list also Numenius, Albinus, Gaius, Maximus of Nicaea, Harpocration, Eucleides, and Porphyry; cf. Blumenthal (2000); Toulouse (2001): 191f.; and Courcelle (1960): 25–36, esp. 28, n. 4. This does not imply that Proclus always accepted Porphyry’s interpretations, on which see Steel (1999): 354ff. For a good study of the ancient commentaries on Plato and Aristotle see Chase (2000) and (2012a); Sorabji (1990a) and (1990b); and Evangeliou (1988). On the harmony of Plotinus and Aristotle in Porphyry’s thought see Hadot (1990); and Schwyzer (1941). Also useful is Van den Berg (2001); and Rist (1973).

(121) Civ. Dei X.1. See Chadwick (2002); the relevant essays in O’Daly (2001a); and Capitani (1984). For the opposing views of the Epicureans see Tescari (1944–5).

(122) This text is cited in Dillon and Finamore (2002): 204, who refer to Westerink, vol. II, 282, who says the three groups correspond to those who lived according to ethical, social, and purificatory virtues. It this is correct, it implies further debate and development on the correlation of the virtues and the final destiny of the soul.

(123) Cf. Chase (2004a): 52.

(124) Cf. A. Smith (1974): 43.

(125) It is incorrect to say that the Ethereal Realm is the highest place to which a soul can ascend, as does Toulouse (2001): 202, which obviously ignores the eschatological (p.361) significance of the Empyrean Realm. For the cosmic importance of Ether in the Orphic Hymns see (e.g.) Athanassakis (1977): 10f., no. 5. For the astrological background see Barton (1994); Cumont (1960).

(126) See Lewy (1956): 137; A. Smith (1974): 63; Majercik (1989): 203; and Simmons (2001b): 210; Toulouse (2001): 201; cf. Festugière (1970): III.151, for Proclus, in Rep. 201.10–202.2, who gives fire, ether, worlds. See Chase (2004a): 37–58, 39–45, who can be given as an example of a modern philosopher who has perfectly apprehended the analysis of Porphyry’s three-path soteriology and its indebtedness to Chaldaean eschatology found in Simmons (2001b).

(127) For the Supreme Being in Chaldean theology called Father see Lewy (1956): 76f. This is plausibly a source which influenced Porphyry.

(128) See A. Smith (1974): 27f.

(129) According to Proclus, in Tim. III.234, 18–26, cited in Finamore (1985): 17 and interpreted by him to mean that “the vehicle and irrational soul were made up of bits of the heavenly spheres and their ultimate fate was to return to the cosmos. The mixtures are dissolved but still exist separately from the soul.” Smith (1974): 66f., understands the statement that the vehicle and the irrational soul remain yet are dissolved (διαλύεται‎) by exegeting μὴ εἶναι‎ as saying they are denied further existence as individuals. Finamore (1985): 26f., is right to say that “since Porphyry denied any further association with this realm for those philosophers escaping it, the immortality of the vehicle was not an issue.” But this does not address what happens to the vehicle with respect to (1) the cycle of rebirths (reincarnations) that most souls must experience and (2) specifically what happens to Path I and II souls in Porphyry’s system. In De anima 37 (Dillon and Finamore [2002]: 67), Iamblichus says Porphyry taught “each irrational faculty is freed into the whole life of the universe from which is was detached…,” which appears to indicate some kind of continued existence in the afterlife and implying influence from Chaldean eschatology on the salvation of the ὄχημα‎, which not only survives death, but secures a dwelling place in the Ethereal realm (see Majercik [1989]: 32f., on Chaldean Oracle fragments 128f.; 95, Fr. 120 calling it… ψυχῆς λεπτὸν ὄχημα‎; and 125, Fr. 201 [souls become mundane through their vehicles]; cf. Geudtner (1971). It is important to keep in mind, however, that although there is indisputable Chaldean influence in the thought of Porphyry, it is equally clear that he did not find all Chaldean doctrines credible (cf. Ad Gaurum 16.6.1f. [Wilberding (2011): 53]), often modifying them to suit his own purposes. An example of the latter is the location of the irrational soul and its vehicle: Porphyry will never have placed them in the Ethereal realm. A positive influence: the Chaldean belief that the vehicle is formed of the accretions from ether, air, the sun, and the moon, and it joins the soul and the body (Majercik [1989]: 31); which should be compared with Iamblichus, De an. 48 (Dillon and Finamore, [2002]: 213): When the soul descends back to earth for its next reincarnation, its irrational faculties are reconstituted from the various celestial bodies; and then they are “sloughed off and returned to those bodies during its re-ascent.” On the semi-material πνεῦμα‎ remaining attached to the soul of the non-philosopher after death see Porphyry, Sent. xxix and Smith (1974): 23; (2004): 92; and Chase (2005): 233–6. On Porphyry’s views about the vehicle of the World Soul see Proclus, in Rep. 196.22–197.16 on Rep. 616 B 7 in Festugière (1970): III.145; and Porphyry, Comm. in Rep. 185 F (on Rep. 6126B 5–6: Wilberding [2011]: 136f.).

(130) Aug., Civ. Dei X.9 (Bidez, fr. 2, 29*).

(132) Ibidin RepMyth of ErRep.νoῦν σεληνιακóν

(133) Bidez, fr. 2, 28*–29*. Cf. Watson (1983–4): 230.

(134) Civ. Dei X.9, Bidez, fr. 2, 27*: “. . . reversionem vero ad Deum hanc artem praestare cuiquam negat;”; Watson (1983–4): 230.

(136) Cf. Chase (2004a): 40ff.

(137) Civ. Dei X.27, Bidez, fr. 4, 32*: “quod eos qui philosophari non possunt ad ista seducss quae tibi tamquam superiorum capaci esse inutilia confiteris; ut videlicet quicumque a philosophiae virtute remote sunt, quae ardua nimis atque paucorum est, te auctore theurgos homines, a quibus non quidem in anima intellectuali, verum saltem in anima spiritali purgentur, inquirant,… quod in anima spiritali theurgica arte purgati ad Patrem quidem non redeunt, sed super aerias plagas inter deos aetherios habitabunt.” A similar doctrine is found in Civ. Dei X.26, Bidez fr. 34*, on which see A. Smith (1974): 59; cf. Chase (2004a): 55f.; and Cipriani (1997): 122. For procession and return in Damascius see Dillon (1998).

(139) Carlier (1998): 134–8, gives an excellent analysis of the various eschatological paths in Porphyry’s system, viz., (1) evil souls return to mortal bodies; (2) those who purify the anima spiritalis ascend to a “paradis de deuxième ordre, dans l’ether, au milieu des astres” where the angels and gods, but not God, dwell; and (3) the soul of the sage returns to the Father. Yet this does not eschatologically locate the soul in philosophical training whose spiritual part is cleansed by the virtue of continence (Path II) mentioned in Civ. Dei X.28, on which see Simmons (2001b): 196ff. The reference (196) to those “not practicing philosophy” refers to the mature philosopher and does not, as argued in this book, preclude the designation of philosopher in training. Cf. the works by John Michael Chase in the bibliography below.

(140) Cf. Finamore (1985): 26; Carlier (1998): 136. For the general background Dörrie (1957) and (1966c) are useful.

(141) For Iamblichus, see the pertinent works by Finamore and G. Shaw in the bibliography below; for Proclus and Sallustius see A. Smith (1974): 58.

(142) Aug., Civ. Dei X.9, Bidez, fr. 2, 28*–29*.

(144) Civ. Dei. X.29, Bidez, fr. 10, 37*. On this see Wolfskeel (1972b).

(145) Civ. Dei X.29 “secundum intellectum tamen viventibus omne quod deest providential Dei et gratia post hanc vitam posse compleri.” See Cutino (1994): 62–5, for a comparison of divine providence in the thought of Augustine and Porphyry. For Augustine’s Pneumatology see Studer (1995). Cf. Fox (2006). For Aristotelian views see Verbeke (1975).

(146) See A. Smith (1974): 58f.; and Bubloz (2005): 113–37, 126f.

(147) Cf. Barcenilla (1968): 430: “Toda la vida de Ulises ha sido un símbolo de la lucha purificatoria contra las pasiones. Es la culminación alegórica de Porfirio que convierte toda la Odisea en un símbolo del espiritualismo neoplatónico.”

(149) Aug., Civ. Dei X.29, Bidez, fr. 10, 37*–38*: “. . . Porphyrium in his ipsis libris, ex quibus multa posui, quos de regressu animae scripsit, tam crebro praecipere omne corpus esse fugiendum ut anima possit beata permanere cum Deo?” Cf. Trapè (1978): 239ff.

(151) As does Carlier (1998): 136, citing Aug., Civ. Dei XII.21 (Smith [1993a]: 298b), Bidez, fr. 11.4, 41* (cf. A. Smith [1974]: 58f., who makes a similarly erroneous assertion): “Si enim de istis circuitibus et sine cessatione alternantibus itionibus et reditionibus animarum Porphyrius Platonicus suorum opinionem sequi… et, quod in libro decimo… commemoravi, dicere maluit animam propter cognoscenda mala traditam mundo, ut ab eis liberata atque purgata, cum ad Patrem redierit, nihil ulterius tale patiatur…” As we have seen earlier in this chapter, Plotinus also believed in a permanent (eschatological) union with the One. On this see (e.g.) A. Smith (1974): 42, citing Enn. III.4.2–6; and 57. On the relationship between the One and eternity see A. Smith (1998) and (1996a).

(152) Civ. Dei X.30, Bidez, fr. 11.1, 40*: “Vidit hoc Porphyrius purgatamque animam ob hoc reverti dixit ad Patrem, ne aliquando iam malorum polluta contagione teneatur.” Cf. Wildberg (2002): 269: “. . . bei Porphyrius das Erlebnis der Henosis eschatologisert wird: Est ist etwas, auf das der Neuplatoniker nach seinem Tode hoffen darf, aber es ist kein Erlebnis, das zum irdischen Dasein gehört.”

(153) II Cor. 5:8, subtracting the doctrine of the resurrection of the body.

(154) Bidez, fr. 11.1, 39*.

(155) Dillon and Finamore (2002): 223. Cf. Chase (2004a): 50: “Thus the elements that make up the vehicle, pneuma, or irrational soul do continue to exist, but not as such; not, that is, as the vehicle, pneuma, or irrational part of an individual incarnate soul, but as elements of the whole.”

(157) Iamblichus, De an. 51: Dillon and Finamore (2002): 223.

(159) Stobaeus, I.457.11ff, cited in A. Smith (1974): 49.

(160) The text is Civ. Dei X.29, Bidez, fr. 10, 37*: “Vos certe tantum tribuitis animae intellectuali, quae anima utique humana est, ut eam consubstantialem paternae illi menti, quem Dei Filium confitemini, fieri posse dicatis.” For Plotinian and Porphyrian influences upon Augustine’s understanding of the soul see Doucet (1993a) and (1993b); cf. Pépin (2000a); (1999b); and (1964a); and Wolfskeel (1972a) and (1972b).

(161) Cf. Chase (2004a): 40ff.; Toulouse (2001): 200f.; and Alfeche (1995): 96f., who shows that Augustine’s Sermo 240.4, which describes Neoplatonic eschatology, is indebted to the Phaedrus.

(162) Civ. Dei X.30, Bidez, fr. 11.1, 40*: “. . . Porphyrii profecto est praeferenda sententia his qui animarum circulos alternante semper beatitate et miseria suspicati sunt.” For Neoplatonic influence upon Augustine’s conception of the soul’s ascent see Neil (1999).

(163) Cf. A. Smith (1974): 35–9.

(164) An excellent translation and commentary of this is found in Wilberding (2011): 141–7.

(165) Rep. 614B–621D 3.

(166) Cf. Wilberding (2011): 123, who argues that both came from a single work, an argument with which I concur. See also Toulouse (2001): 195.

(168) Smith (1993a): 295–308: 268 F (Stobaeus, II.8.39 [II.163.16–167.7]); 269 F (Stobaeus, II.8.40 [II.167.8–17]); 270 F (Stobaeus, II.8.41 [II.167.18–168.8]); 271 F (Stobaeus, II.8.42 [II.168.9–173.2]).

(169) Wilberding (2011): 123f.: Fragments from Porphyry’s Commentary on the Republic derive from Proclus and Marcrobius’ Commentary on the Dream of Scipio.

(170) Smith (1993a): 181 T (Proclus, in Remp. II.96.10–5, on Plato, Rep. 614B-621D). Cf. also Wilberding (2011): 124. On Pythagorean influence upon the Platonic tradition see (e.g.) Bremmer (2002).

(171) This is the scholarly consensus, on which see Wilberding (2011): 123ff.

(172) Aug., Civ. Dei X.30, Bidez, fr. 11.1, 39*: “Dicit etiam ad hoc Deum animam mundo dedisse, ut materiae cognoscens mala ad Patrem recurreret nec aliquando iam talium polluta contagione teneretur.” Cf. A. Smith (1974): 36, who argues that this implies a necessary fall of the soul; and Foubert (1992), for similar notions in Augustine’s Confessions.

(173) Cf. Cipriani (1997): 117.

(174) See A. Smith (1984); Alfeche (1995): 97, 120ff.; Chadwick (1999): 67; and Wolfskeel (1972). The passage occurs just before the preceding one cited: Aug., Civ. Dei X.30, Bidez, fr. 11.1, 38*: “Nam Platonem animas hominum post mortem revolve usque ad corpora bestiarum scripsisse certissimum est. Hanc sententiam Porphyrii doctor tenuit et Plotinus; Porphyrio tamen iure displicuit. In hominum sane non sua quae dimiserant, sed alia nova corpora redire humanas animas arbitrates est.”

(175) Wilberding (2011): 127: E.g., Smith (1993a) 268F ταῖς ἔξω ψυχαῖς‎ and 271F τῆς‎ [ψυχῆς‎] ἔξω‎, interpreted to mean outside the body because Porphyry refers to souls falling “into their bodies,” εἰς τὰ σώματα‎, in 268F and 270F.

(176) Contra Deuse (1983). Cf. Wilberding (2011): 124, 127f. Proclus’ commentary on the Myth of Er occurs in Remp. 2.85,3–359,11.

(177) Rep. 616B–C.

(179) Cf. in Remp. 2.196, 22ff., Smith (1993a): 185F, and the commentary by Wilberding (2011): 128f.

(180) In Remp. 2.185, 23–188,5; 198, 29–199, 21, and Wilberding (2011): 129.

(181) Proclus, in Remp. 2.2555, 4–9; 256, 9–16 (Smith, [1993a]: 186F). Cf. Wilberding (2011): 130, noting correctly that Deuse’s (1983) reconstruction fails to acknowledge this important fragment. On the function of the lunar area in Plotinian cosmology see now Wilberding (2006): 57f.

(182) Cf. Wilberding (2011): 77 n. 227. For the Chaldaean influence see Chase (2004a): 44ff.; and Simmons (2001b). For the Ad Gaur. generally, see Jurisch (1991); and Brisson (2012b).

(183) Ad Gaur. 16.5.5–11 (Wilberding [2011]: 53): “And the Chaldeans say that from eternity there has been a divine and intelligible stream through the eastern parts of heaven. And this stream both moves and turns the cosmos, and brings to life everything in it by sending them their own souls. And every degree, when it came to be around this eastern region, which is a portal of souls and the spiritual inlet of the universe, is given special powers. [This region] was called ‘centre’ and [more specifically] ‘horoscope’.” See also Wilberding’s (77 n. 227) analysis of Smith (1993a) 271F (=Stobaeus, II.8,42 [II 168,9–173,2]). Cf. Ad Gaur. 16.6.1–2, however, revealing that Porphyry adopted Chaldaean doctrine as he deemed appropriate to suit his philosophical purposes. See also Congourdeau (2002).

(184) Rep. 617D–E.

(185) Carlier (1998): 144; cf. Wilberding (2011): 131, referring to Smith (1993a) 186F and adding a few lines (14–16): “[The prophet is] positioned not in the moon, as one person says but in the aether. For we believe that this place is the starting point of nativity. And the prophet is the guardian of the mortal cycle, and not of the upward journeys into heaven but of the downward journeys into nativity (Proclus in Remp. 2.256,12–16).”

(186) Smith, 271F.

(187) Carlier (1998): 144. See Smith, 271F, and Wilberding (2011): 131, on Porphyry’s view that the lots in the myth are in some way determined by the order in which they move around in the lunar sphere.

(188) Porphyry, On What is in Our Power 271F, 50–1,72–5,90–2, cited in Wilberding (2011): 130, who makes the important observation that after making their choices, the souls are led to both Clotho (Rep. 617C 6f.) and Atropos (Rep. 617C 7f.) who are associated with the fixed stars and the planetary spheres, respectively, and Proclus had difficulty in explaining how these were compatible with his locating the Prophet in the aether. Cf. also Carlier (1998): 144f. For Proclus’ views on Creation see Bréhier (1953).

(189) Porphyry, Sent. 29 and Wilberding (2011): 131: “Thus, a soul that has chosen a radically different life would need first to shed the layers of its current vehicle by ascending to the fixed sphere, and then acquire a new one by descending again along a new trajectory.” Cf. also Chase (2005): 246, citing Porphyry, On the Faculties of the Soul, Frg. 253 (Smith [1993a]).

(190) Iamblichus, De anima 37 (Dillon and Finamore [2002]: 67.

(191) Porphyry, Ad Gaur. 16.5.1–5 (Wilberding [2011]). For the Chaldaean belief that the soul gathers its ὄχημα‎ during its initial descent from the intelligible to the sensible world see Chase (2004a), 43ff.

(192) An important detail of the rebirth process which is lacking in the fragments of Porphyry’s Commentary on the Republic and Περὶ τoῦ ἐϕ’ ἡμῖν‎. For the influence of ancient medicine upon philosophy in the Ad Gaurum see Bertier (1990).

(193) Wilberding (2011): 132, citing Smith (1993a): 268F. Cf. Chase (2004a): 44.

(196) Vit. Plot. 22.8f. I use the LCL translation by Armstrong. Brisson and Flamand (1992): 596, suggest the oracle was written perhaps by Amelius between 270–301; cf. also Brisson (1990). I do not find convincing Goulet (1992b), who argues that the oracle did not come from a Plotinian circle, but “dans les conventicules théurgiques du néoplatonisme syrien.” See also Edwards (1990c); Wolters (1990); and Goulet-Cazé (1982c). Schwyzer (1986) and (1976) argues for a Delphic origin.

(197) Vit. Plot., 22.45f.

(200) The eschatological connection which this word possessed in ancient Greek religious culture goes far back in history, as the fifth-century B.C.E. epigram for the dead at Potidaea attests: αἰθὴρ μὲμ ψυχὰς ὑπεδέξατo σώ‎[ματα‎] δέ χθων‎, on which see Edmonds (2004): 211: “. . . the return of the soul to the aither was not an esoteric doctrine confined to a few avant-garde thinkers, but part of the mainstream tradition.” For Proclus’ locating souls in the aether on top of the sublunary region (in Remp. 2.131,14ff.) see Wilberding (2011): 125f.; and in general Lewy (1956): 137; Majercik (1989): 117 (Chal. Or. fr. 184); 125 (Chal. Or. fr. 203); and fr. 11/115 of the Poem of Empedocles depicting aether as the fire whence the Demiurge shifts souls into the “sea,” referring to metempsychosis, in Inwood (p.366) (1992): 81 (Gk. text: 208); and 52–65 for immortality and reincarnation in Empedocles’ fragments. For Porphyry and Empedocles see Di Pasquale (2000) and Altheim and Stiehl (1954). On Empedocles: Bidez (1894); and for Porphyry’s view of the Demiurge see Deuse (1977); and in the Platonic tradition generally, Dillon (2000); and Frenkian (1961).

(201) Contra: Goulet (1982b): 400, who tries too hard to associate this and other concepts found in the oracle with the belief in what he calls “l’immortalité astrale.” Cf. id. (1992b): 612, correctly acknowledges Chaldaean influence on the oracle.

(202) Carlier (1998): 136, remarks that the paradise of the second order where souls who have been cleansed either by theurgy or by continence go after death and live with the gods and angels, and then makes an astute observation on Vit. Plot. 23: “On remarquera que c’est à peu près ce que l’oracle de la Vie de Plotin par Porphyre (§23) promet à Plotin.” Brisson and Flamand (1992): II.590, see a connection between aether in the oracle (22.51) and Il. 556.

(204) Ibid., 57.in Remp.RepGorg.Festugière (1970)

(205) As noted by Brisson and Flamand (1992): II.577. Proclus, in Remp. 134.24–136.16 (Festugière [1970]: 79), interprets the judges in Plato’s myth (Rep. 614B–16B) as the souls of heroes, demons, and gods.

(206) Porphyry, Vit. Plot. 22.58–60.

(207) On ζωῇσι‎ of Vit. Plot. 22.60, cf. Brisson and Flamand (1992): II.593: “Le pluriel doit être maintenu. On pourrait interpréter ainsi ces vers: au cours de ses vies antérieurs, l’âme de Plotin n’avait cessé de pratiquer la purification.”

(208) I do not find the least convincing Goulet (1982b): 396, who argues that the cosmology implied in the oracle which he calls “une immortalité astrale” is badly adapted to conventional Neoplatonic anthropology, resulting in his eisegeting (403) the contents of the oracle to “correspondre à une expérience initiatique proprement théurgique et non pas mystique au sens plotinien du terme.”

(209) Cf. Alfeche (1995): 103, citing Aug., Sermo 241.6, which mentions Porphyry, Plato, and Pythagoras as examples of philosophers who believe the soul must leave the body behind on earth to obtain a happy life in the hereafter. Centrone (2000) gives a good historical analysis including Neopythagoreanism; cf. also Doria (1994); Dillon (1988b); and Levy (1953).

(210) A common theme in the Neoplatonic exegesis of Plato’s eschatological myths, as seen in Proclus, in Remp. 313.7–15.14 (Festugière [1970]: III.272), who says Plato put these figures as judges in his myths to show that they had led an exemplary life while on earth. Cf. Pindar, O.2.71–5, for the Islands of the Blessed where souls become ἥρωες ἁγυoὶ‎ after a final judgment, and the analysis in Albinus (2000): 131; and the Orphic Gold Leaf L3, line 11 from Petelia (mid fourth century B.C.E.), speaking of the soul’s reigning with heroes in the underworld, in Bernabé and San Cristóbal (2008): 169; cf. Edmonds (2004): 84f., for the Orphic belief depicted on some of the Gold Tablets of the symposium of the blessed in the afterlife including wine-drinking and participation in rituals in the underworld; and Seaford (1986): 22.

(211) Ibid., 23.

(212) Ibid., 30–36.

(214) Though he acknowledges that the designation in the oracle of daimon for Plotinus is incompatible with Neoplatonic ontology, Goulet (1982b): 395, does not get the central eschatological point of the text and appears to be dumbfounded that the Supreme God beyond Intellect is not mentioned in it. Yet according to the interpretation given in this chapter, the reader would be shocked if he were mentioned.

(215) Festugière (1970): III.77f., on Proclus, in Remp. 132.20–34.23, who exegetes several Platonic dialogues (e.g., Symp. 202E; Epinomis 984D) to show that demons were between mortals and gods. On the soul becoming a daimon or god in Plotinus, Enn. III.4.6.1f.; III.2.11–2; & III.3.1, see Goulet (1992b): II.615; Bernabé and San Cristóbal (2008): 170, Gold Tablets L8 & 9, speaking of the soul becoming a god; cf. 177, L8, L9, L11; Inwood (1992): 203, Empedocles, fr. 1/112.4, who says he is a θεὸς ἄμβρoτoς‎, oὐκέτι θνητὸς‎; 53–6: reincarnations; 55, CTXT-1c & A18b: the daimonic man returns to the immortal elements in the universe; 56f., fr. 17/109: the six elements of a daimon. As Inwood (55) notes, the case for the immortality of the daimon in Empedocles is not strong.

(216) Contra: Goulet (1992b): II.607, who gives five apparent contradictions between Plotinus’ and Porphyry’s philosophy and the contents of the oracle, none of which I find persuasive.

(217) Cf. Brisson and Flamand (1992): 587; 595; Brisson (1990); 82–5; Männlein-Robert (2002): 586; and Goulet (1992b): 611, who makes the intriguing observation that σέλας‎ at 22.29 “renvoie à σεληνή…‎ dont il est l’etymologie, ce qui permet de noter que selon Porphyre, les Champs Élysées sont dans la lune.” These lunar associations are connected with the cosmological re-cycling center where the Prophet from the Myth of Er plays an important role in the reincarnation process.

(218) Brisson and Flamand (1992)well-curvedWerner (2012)West (1983)Inwood (1992)hard pathsEdmonds (2004)Phd.τρίoδoιSan Cristóbal (2008)ἱερὰ ὁδóςGorg.crossroadsIsles of the BlessedPhdBernabé and San Cristóbal (2008)Ibid., 95Bowden (2010)Orphic Hymnτριoδῖτιν, ἐραννήνMyth of Er.Phil. orac.Smith (1993a)innumberable pathsὁδóςmany ways (p.368) Dönt (1964)

(219) MacLachlan, Appendice 2, in Brisson and Flamand (1992): 600.

(220) For a good analysis of this text see Werner (2012): 79. I might add the possibility of Chaldaean theological influence as well, especially the concept of eros as the cosmic power interfused with the Ideas (=thoughts of the Supreme Intellect), which maintains the order of the universe, on which see Lewy (1956): 126ff.; and Chal. Or. fr. 39 (Majercik [1989]: 65), which says Eros keeps the cosmic elements on course.

(221) It is as rare as the gold of Ophir to find hardly anything in Porphyry’s works on the subject of Hades. Cf. Chase (2005): 247 = Porph., On the Styx, Frgs. 373, 377 (Smith [1993a]); and id., (2004), 47f.; in Sent. 29 the soul in Hades has a dark, subterranean existence (cf. Chase [2004a]: 45, n. 38); Proclus, in Remp. 106.14–107.14 (Festugière [1970]: III.49; = Smith [1993a]182F), says he believed it was logical for the philosopher to discuss the soul’s journey into Hades in the context of its posthumous destiny. This appears to be based upon a consequentialist understanding of justice: Smith (1993a): 182F, Wilberding (2011): 136: “Plato did not frighten souls by setting up these objects of fear in Hades. Rather, by presenting these [events] to the unjust, Plato makes his listeners hesitant to commit injustice, and he all but draws the conclusion: if being unjust is choice-worthy for you, then the most horrible places of punishment are choice-worthy for you. But you flee these with all your might; therefore, you must also flee injustice.” Cf. also Chadwick (1999): 67. According to Diodorus of Sicily, 1.96.5 and 1.22.6f., Orpheus learned about punishments in Hades from the Egyptians and introduced these doctrines to the Greeks, on which see Albinus (2000): 131; for Pythagorean concepts of Hades see West (1983): 22; and in later Neoplatonism see Dillon and Finamore (2002): 194.

(222) In the ancient Greek world, the sage was often thought to have knowledge of his past lives. Porphyry, Vit. Pythag. 45, informs us that Pythagoras in his past lives had been, first Euphorbus, then Aethalides, Hermotimus, Pyrrhus, and finally himself; cf. Bernabé and San Cristóbal (2008): 9ff., L1–4, all of which mention drinking from the wáter of mnemosyne, and the editors’ comment (16): “. . . remembering one’s previous lives is a fundamental exercise for knowing who one is and getting to know one’s soul. Anamnesis constitutes a purification of the soul.” Cf. Inwood (1992): 254f., Empedocles, fr. 111/117: “For I have already become a boy and a girl and a bush and a bird and a fish [corrupt text] from the sea”; and West (1983): 18f.: Xenophanes, fr. 7ª: Pythagoras, upon seeing someone beating a puppy, said, “Stop! That’s the soul of a friend of mine; I recognize the voice.” Is it possible that Plotinus claimed to have possessed similar knowledge of his past lives, which might have been known to at least some of his followers? If so, this may have influenced both the contents of Apollo’s Oracle and Porphyry’s commentary. For the Sage in Greco-Roman culture see Hadot (1998) and (1991).

(223) Vit. Plot. 23.39.

(224) And this is not due to the oracle’s rapprochements with theurgy, which connects it geographically with Syrian Neoplatonism, according to Goulet (1982b): 393.

(225) Aug., Civ. Dei X.29, Bidez, fr. 10, 37*: “Confiteris tamen gratiam, quando quidem ad Deum per virtue intellegentiae pervenire paucis dicis esse concessum.”

(226) Proclus, in Remp. 2.161,3–8; 2.300,10–2; 2.330,18–331,1. For an analysis of the Phaedrus myth see Werner (2012): 77–85. The concept of the three-thousand-year cycle of the soul came from the Egyptians according to Herodotus, 2.123, on which see Ryan (2012): 199; and Seaford (1986): 11. On Empedocles, fr. 11/115, which gives thirty thousand seasons (ten thousand years) for the banishment of the soul (daimon) from the Region of the (p.369) Blessed Ones, see Inwood (1992): 57. According to the Rhapsodic Theogony (=Hieroi Logoi in Twenty-Four Rhapsodies), fr. 231 (West [1983]: 75), souls spend three hundred years in the underworld before rebirth. On the journey of a thousand years in Rep. 615A 2, see Proclus, in Remp. 168.27–171.6 (Festugière [1970]: III.113). Empedocles, fr. 136/146 (Inwood [1992]: 55), claims he is about to “sprout up” again in his next life as a god. Arnobius, Adv. nat. 2.33–4, refers to souls that receive their wings after they are liberated from bodies and cites the Phaedrus as his source for this concept. See n. 54 above.

(227) Werner (2012): 79 n. 64, notes that Socrates is pessimistic in the Phaedrus about the possibility of the soul’s never having to be subject to reincarnation. I concur and suggest that Porphyry modified the three-thousand-year cycle for the philosophical lives to suit his concept of permanent escape. Goulet’s essays (1982b & 1992b) erroneously downplay the importance of Platonic and Neoplatonic influence in the oracle, but for a better assessment see Männlein-Robert (2002): 585, who I think rightly argues for a Platonic-Neopythagorean influence.

(228) It must be kept in mind also that it required an immense amount of time and even several lives for the soul to escape the rebirth cycle, on which see Bussanich (2013): 270; and in the Myth of Er (e.g., Rep. 620A–B) souls often do not make logical choices for the next life, as the examples of Orpheus (swan), Thamyras (nightingale); Ajax (lion), Agamemnon (eagle), etc., indicate. Hence the importance of choosing three successive philosophical lives to break the rebirth cycle.

(229) Brisson and Flamand (1992): 597, who give a much more convincing explanation for the philosophical background to the oracle than does Goulet: “. . . ce sont les dieux qui dispensent au philosophe une révélation du genre de celle qu’ils dispensent au devin.”

(230) I.e., The Commentary on the Republic and On What Is in Our Power.

(231) Provided, of course, that the soul makes the right choices. This is not always the case according to the Myth of Er.

(234) Ibid., 97RepPhdGorg.

(236) Cf. (e.g.) Smith (1974): 67; Majercik (1989): 32; and Shaw (1995): 114.

(237) Iamblichus, De an. 50: Dillon and Finamore (2002): 219.

(240) It appears that the conventional reading in the Neoplatonic schools (followed by many modern scholars) of the eschatological myth in Phdr. led to the assumption that Plato did not explicitly posit a permanent escape from the cycles of reincarnation, but rather a continual recycling process.

(241) On the Imblichean side of this equation I am greatly indebted to Dillon and Polleichtner (2009): 96.

(242) Iamblichus, De an. 29.

(243) See Iamblichus, De myst. V.18.223.8–224.4: Clarke, Dillon, and Hershbell (2003): 257; cf. also Dillon and Finamore (2002): 159.

(244) Finamore (1985): 105, citing Enn.–20. Cf. also Dillon and Finamore (2002): 159.

(245) De myst. V.18.223.8–224.4; cf. Dillon and Finamore (2002): 161.

(246) Noted by Finamore (1985): 105, citing Festugière. Cf. also Toulouse (2001): 200f.

(248) Cf. Finamore (1985): 105f.

(249) IbidPhdr

(250) Finamore (1985): 91f., the Phdr. attributes the descent due to a fault in the soul resulting in the cycle of rebirths; the Tim. depicts the Demiurge sending the souls down by necessity. See Finamore (1985): 119 n. 48, for the compatibility of the two views. For the history of the hermeneutics of the Timaeus see Baltes (1975) and (1976).

(251) Dillon and Polleichtner (2009): 96 conjecture for example the recipient of Testimonium 1, which concerned the soul’s descent, and suggest either a pupil or perhaps a local grandée who might be considered one of these special souls.

(258) IbidDe an.

(259) Shaw (2012): 104.

(261) Cf. Chlup (2012): 181ff.; and Van den Berg (2001), who argues that Proclus’ Hymns are best understood in the context of theurgical rituals.

(262) I borrow these terms from the works of G. Shaw, e.g. (1995): 110.

(263) See Digeser (2009): 87, who takes the conflict even further, suggesting that “a significant number of Porphyry’s treatises from the Philosophy from Oracles to On Images should be seen as a response to Iamblichus’ position.” Cf. in general Saffrey (2000).

(264) Waterfield (1988): 23, who dates the work to the middle of the fourth century A.D.

(265) Ibid., 27.

(267) Waterfield, 51.

(270) Ibid., 52.

(272) Johnston (2010). Johnston compares the De ant. nymph. with Frgs. 314 & 315 of the Phil. orac., showing how Porphyry was driven to categorize the many gods found in these texts to three general groups, illustrated by the diagram found on p. 122.

(273) For an analysis of triads in Proclean metaphysics see Chlup (2012): 47–111.

(274) The poetic tradition called ὄρϕικά‎ goes back to the sixth century B.C. and passed through a group of Athenian poets commissioned by Pisistratus. They contained a theogony called Hieroi Logoi written by Pherecydes of Syros. According to the tradition, Orpheus introduced esoteric and soteriological rituals of initiation (τελετή‎) into Greece that offered eschatological salvation closely related to Pythagorean practice, though there is no evidence for an organized Orphic cult. For the historical background see (p.371) Albinus (2000): 101–5; and Athanassakis (1977): vii–xiv. For the Derveni Papyrus discovered in 1962 at a cremation burial site near Thessaloniki, now located in the Archaeological Museum in Thessaloniki, see Bowden (2010): 141ff.; and Most, ed. (1997) and Most (1997b). It was placed on a funeral pyre of a rich man c. 350 BC. The text is a commentary on a poem attributed to Orpheus and describes initiation rites. Bowden suggests the author was probably an ‘Ορϕεoτελεστής‎, one who initiates into the mysteries of Orpheus. For the Orphic movement and Greek religion see Guthrie (1952).

(275) For the background see the excellent study by Burkert (1987) and Dietrich (1982); cf. Turcan (1996a). Clement of Alexandria, Protr. 20.1–21.1; and Arnobius, Adv. nat. 5.25f. contain important Christian criticisms of the cult, on which see Marcovich (1986).

(277) Burkert (1987): 69: “In fact, there are quite a few testimonies about the preparatory ‘learning’ and ‘transmission’ (paradosis) that took place in mysteries, as well as about the ‘complete’ or exact ‘knowledge’ that was to be acquired.”

(278) Bussanich (2013): 252, citing Burkert (1987): 153 n. 13: “Apparently Aristotle systematized the steps of Diotima’s speech in Plato’s Symposium and made the highest step of philosophy analogous to epopteia; this still presupposes various forms of ‘teaching’ and ‘learning.’ ” On Porphyry’s sacrifice intellectif described as an “etape mystique et époptique” in the progression of the soul, see Toulouse (2001): 213; and, generally, Ballériaux (1996).

(279) See Majercik (2001); (1992); and (1989): 57 (frs. 22, 23); 59 (frs. 26, 27, 28); 67 (frs. 46 and 48); 125 (fr. 203).