A Neoplatonist Sampler On Divine Names

Dominique Vivant-Denon at the Louvre Museum, 1811, drawing by Benjamin Zix.


🌿From Proclus’ ‘Commentary on the Cratylus’:‘-In what consists the art through which the names are created?’‘-It is because there is in the soul a certain power that has the capacity to make copies, and through the virtue of this power the soul can assimilate itself to superior beings, gods, angels, daemons; this is why it makes statues of the gods and the daemons; and when it wants to bring into existence, in a certain immaterial manner and generated by its own reason, resemblances of Primal Beings, it produces from itself and with the help of verbal representation, the substance of names; in the same manner the art of the mysteries through certain inexpressible symbols make the earthly statues similar to the gods and ready to receive the divine illuminations, likewise, the art of the regular formation of words, through the same power of assimilation, brings into existence the names like statues of realities.’


🌿From Proclus’ ‘Commentary on the Parmenides’, IV- 851_8-10:‘Consequently, if names are images in words of objects to which they apply, they refer primarily to immaterial Forms, and derivatively to sensible things, so that things in this world derive both their being and their designation from that world.’


🌿From Proclus’ ‘Theology of Plato’, Book 1, Chapter 29:Thus much therefore may suffice concerning the unbegotten hyparxis of the Gods. It now remains, I think, to speak of divine names. For Socrates in the Cratylus thinks fit to unfold in a remarkable degree the rectitude of names in divine nature. And Parmenides indeed, in the first hypothesis, as he denies of the one everything else that is known, and all knowledge, so likewise he denies of it name and language. But in the second hypothesis, besides all other things he shows that this one may be spoken of and that it has a name. In short, therefore, it must be admitted that the first, most principal and truly divine names are established in the Gods themselves. But it must be said that the second names, which are the imitations of the firsts, and which subsist intellectually, are of a daemoniacal allotment. And again, we may say that those names which are the third from the truth, which are logically devised, and which receive the ultimate resemblance of divine natures, are unfolded by scientific men, at one time energizing divinely, and at another intellectually, and generating moving images of their inward spectacles.For as the demiurgic intellect establishes resemblances about matter of the first forms contained in himself, and produces temporal images of things eternal, divisible images of things indivisible, and adumbrated images as it were of true beings, -after the same manner I think the science that is with us representing intellectual production, fabricates resemblances of other things, and also of the Gods themselves, representing that which is void of composition in them through composition; that which is simple, through variety; and that which is united, through multitude; and thus fashioning names, ultimately exhibits images of divine natures. For it generates every name as if it were a statue of the Gods. And as the theurgic art through certain symbols call forth the exuberant and unenvying goodness of the Gods into the illumination of artificial statues, thus also the intellectual science of divine concerns, by the composition and divisions of sounds, unfolds the occult essence of the Gods. Very properly therefore, does Socrates in the ‘Philebus’ says, that on account of his reverence of the Gods, he is agitated with the greatest fear respecting their names. For it is necessary to venerate even the ultimate echoes of the Gods, and venerating these to become established in the first paradigms of them. And thus much concerning divine names, which at present may be sufficient for the purpose of understanding the theology of Plato. For we shall accurately discuss them when we speak of partial powers.’


🌿From Damascius’ ‘Commentary on Platos’ Philebus’:§24 “Why this great reverence of Socrates for the names of the Gods? Because from of old apposite names have been consecrated to each, and it would be wrong to interfere with sacred traditions; or because they are naturally appropriate to them, according to the teaching of the Cratylus; or because they are ‘vocal images’ of the Gods, as Democritus says.”(This is Democritus the Platonist, a student of Plotinus’ teacher Ammonius Saccas.)


🌿From Henri Dominique Saffrey, Le neo-Platonisme apres Plotin, volume I, page 241 :‘It is allowed to suspect the reason why the Athenian Platonists did develop this theory of divine names as a spiritual substitute for the statues of the gods, as it is in fact, by the effect of imperial decrees, the statues of the gods started to disappear from their temples. We know that Proclus had been the direct eye-witness of the taking away of the statue of Athena from the Acropolis of Athens, and that during that event, he saw in a dream the very goddess telling him: ‘Lady Athenais is eager to live at your home”. Starting that day, she would have as a temple Proclus’ house and would be honored in his heart and those of his disciples. It is only with the generation of Platonists of Syrianus and Proclus that we can assign this devotion to the divine names as having replaced the devotion to the statues of the gods.’

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