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Brian Copenhaver – Proclus’ ‘On The Priestly Art’

Eleusis, Portrait of a hierophant, ca. 120 CE–ca. 130 CE.

At the Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis in Brussels.

Picture @


Today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA is an excerpt from professor Brian Copenhaver’s article, ‘Ancient Philosophy in Ficino’s Magic: Hermes and Proclus’, published in-‘Magic in Western Culture’ (From Antiquity to the Enlightenment)-2015, Cambridge University Press. From page 90 to 94. The Greek text is from Joel Bidez’s edition, ‘Catalogues des manuscrits alchimiques Grecs’, vol. 6, 192-as presented by scholar Ɔ. Martiana on her ‘Sartrix‘ website together with her own translation of the same text to compare with. We also invite you to discover professor Henry Corbin’s own commentary.



‘To find the philosophical and scientific roots of Renaissance magical theory – as apart from the genealogy of the magus–the muddled pieties of Hermes Trismegistus are not the place to look. Better to search the Neoplatonists. In the same way that Platonic, Aristotelian, and Stoic teachings on substance, form, quality, matter, and motion provided theoretical frameworks for science in late antiquity, by the time of Bolos Demokritos around 200 bce–people were also constructing physico-philosophical theories of magic. Their remains are scattered: Apuleius in his ‘Apology’, Plotinus in ‘Ennead’ 4.3–4, Iamblichus ‘On the Mysteries’, Synesius ‘On Dreams’, and writings by Pliny, Galen, and others show what they were like.

Much of this material was known to Ficino. In fact, he seems to have been the only Renaissance reader to comment on the Greek original of a very informative statement of ancient magical theory, the work of Proclus that he calls ‘On Sacrifice’. Titled ‘Peri tês kath’ Hellênas hieratikês technês‘ in the modern edition, this little tract of 105 lines is probably a précis made by Michael Psellus of a larger work by Proclus: ‘On the Priestly Art According to the Greeks‘. The art (technê) described there is called priestly (hieratikê) because it is the sacred theurgy of the Chaldean Oracles. The aim of this hieratic art is religious – immortalization and union with the god- but its basis is scientific and philosophical because it provides a coherent picture of cosmology, physics, and metaphysics.

Ficino made his copy of the Greek text sometime after 1461 and completed his Latin translation by 1489, around the time when he wrote ‘De vita 3’. But he did not publish ‘On Sacrifice’ until 1497, along with the commentary on ‘Alcibiades I’ by Proclus, ‘On Mysteries’ by Iamblichus and other mostly Neoplatonic works.  Because the text is short, important and hard to find, I give a full translation of the Greek in the following section.’



1. Just as lovers systematically leave behind what is fair to sensation and attain the one true source of all that is fair and intelligible, in the same way priests – observing how all things are in all from the sympathy that all visible things have for one another and for the invisible powers – have also framed their priestly knowledge. For they were amazed to see the last in the first and the very first in the last; in heaven they saw earthly things acting causally and in a heavenly manner, in the earth heavenly things in an earthly manner.

2. Why do heliotropes move together with the Sun, selenotropes with the Moon, moving around to the extent of their ability with the luminaries of the cosmos? All things pray according to their own order and sing hymns, either intellectually or rationally or naturally or sensibly, to heads of entire chains. And since the heliotrope is also moved toward that to which it readily opens, if anyone hears it striking the air as it moves about, he perceives in the sound that it offers to the King the kind of hymn that a plant can sing. In the earth, then, it is possible to see Suns and Moons terrestrially, but in heaven one can also see celestially all the heavenly plants and stones and animals living intellectually.

3. So by observing such things and connecting them to the appropriate heavenly beings, the ancient wise men brought divine powers into the region of mortals, attracting them through likeness. For likeness is sufficient to join beings to one another. If, for example, one first heats up a wick and then holds it under the light of a lamp not far from the flame, he will see it lighted though it be untouched by the flame, and the lighting comes up from below.

4. By analogy, then, understand the preparatory heating as like the sympathy of lower things for those above; the bringing-near and the proper placement as like the use made of material things in the priestly art, at the right moment and in the appropriate manner; the communication of the fire as like the coming of the divine light to what is capable of sharing it; and the lighting as like the divinization of mortal entities and the illumination of what is implicated in matter, which things then are moved toward the others above insofar as they share in the divine seed, like the light of the wick when it is lit.

5. The lotus also shows that there is sympathy. Before the Sun’s rays appear, it is closed, but as the Sun fi rst rises it slowly unfolds, and the higher the light goes the more it expands, and then it contracts again as the Sun goes down. If men open and close mouths and lips to hymn the Sun, how does this diff er from the drawing-together and loosening of the lotus petals? For the petals of the lotus take the place of a mouth, and its hymn is a natural one.

6. But why talk of plants, which have some trace of generative life? One can also see that stones inhale the influences of the luminaries, as we see the sunstone with its golden rays imitating the rays of the Sun; and the stone called Bel’s eye (which should be called Sun’s eye, they say) resembling the pupil of the eye and emitting a glittering light from the center of its pupil; and the moonstone changing in figure and motion along with the Moon; and the sun-moonstone, a sort of image of the conjunction of these luminaries, imitating their conjunctions and separations in the heavens.

7. All things are full of gods, then: things on earth are full of heavenly gods; things in heaven are full of supercelestials; and each chain continues abounding up to its final members. For what is in the One-before-all makes its appearance in all, in which are also communications between souls set beneath one god or another.

8. In this way, consider the multitude of solar animals, such as lions and cocks, which also share in the divine, following their own order. It is amazing how the lesser in strength and size among these animals are regarded with fear by those greater in both respects. For they say the lion shrinks from the cock. The cause of this is not to be grasped from appearances but from intellectual insight and from differences among the causes. In fact, the presence of heliacal symbols is more effective for the cock: it is clear that he perceives the solar orbits and sings a hymn to the luminary as it rises and moves among the other cardinal points.

9. Accordingly, some solar angels seem to have forms of this same kind, and though they are formless they appear formed to us held fast in form. Now if one of the solar demons becomes manifest in the shape of a lion, as soon as a cock is presented he becomes invisible, so they say, shrinking away from the signs of greater beings, as many refrain from committing abominable acts when they see likenesses of divine men.

10. In brief, then, such things as the plants mentioned above follow the orbits of the luminary; others imitate the appearance of its rays (the palm, for example) or the empyrean substance (the laurel, for example) or something else. So it seems that properties sown together in the Sun are distributed among the angels, demons, souls, animals, plants and stones that share them.

11. From this evidence of the eyes, the authorities on the priestly art have thus discovered how to gain the favor of powers above, mixing some things together and setting others apart in due order. They used mixing because they saw that each unmixed thing possesses some property of the god but is not enough to call that god forth. Therefore, by mixing many things they unified the aforementioned influences and made a unity generated from all of them similar to the whole that is prior to them all. And they often devised composite statues and fumigations, having blended separate signs together into one and, by unifying many powers, having made by artifice something embraced essentially by the divine, the dividing of which makes each one feeble, while mixing raises it up to the idea of the exemplar.

12. But there are times when one plant or one stone suffices for the work. Flax-leaved daphne is enough for a manifestation; laurel, box-thorn, squill, coral, diamond or jasper will do for a guardian spirit; but for foreknowledge one needs the heart of a mole and for purification sulfur and salt water. By means of sympathy, then, they draw them near, but by antipathy they drive them away, using sulfur and bitumen for purification, perhaps, or an aspersion of sea water. For sulfur purifies by the sharpness of its scent, sea water because it shares in the empyrean power.

13. For consecrations and other divine services they search out appropriate animals as well as other things. Starting with these and others like them, they gained knowledge of the demonic powers, how closely connected they are in substance to natural and corporeal energy, and through these very substances they achieved association with the demons, from whom they returned forthwith to actual works of the gods, learning some things from the gods, for other things being moved by themselves toward accurate consideration of the appropriate symbols. And then, leaving nature and natural energies below, they had dealings with the primary and divine powers.


Original Greek

Περὶ τῆς καθ’ Ἕλληνας ἱερατικῆς τέχνης.

1. Ὥσπερ οἱ ἐρωτικοὶ ἀπὸ τῶν ἐν αἰσθήσει καλῶν ὁδῷ προϊόντες ἐπ’ αὐτὴν καταντῶσι τὴν μίαν τῶν καλῶν πάντων καὶ νοητῶν ἀρχήν, οὕτως καὶ οἱ ἱερατικοὶ ἀπὸ τῆς ἐν τοῖς φαινομένοις ἅπασι συμπαθείας πρός τε ἄλληλα καὶ πρὸς τὰς ἀφανεῖς δυνάμεις, πάντα ἐν πᾶσι κατανοήσαντες, τὴν ἐπιστήμην τὴν ἱερατικὴν συνεστήσαντο, θαυμάσαντες τῷ βλέπειν ἔν τε τοῖς πρώτοις τὰ ἔσχατα καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἐσχάτοις τὰ πρώτιστα, ἐν οὐρανῷ μὲν τὰ χθόνια κατ’ αἰτίαν καὶ οὐρανίως, ἔν τε γῇ τὰ οὐράνια γηΐνως.

Ἢ πόθεν ἡλιοτρόπια μὲν ἡλίῳ, σεληνοτρόπια δὲ σελήνῃ συγκινεῖται συμπεριπολοῦντα ἐς δύναμιν τοῖς τοῦ κόσμου φωστῆρσιν; Εὔχεται γὰρ πάντα κατὰ τὴν οἰκείαν τάξιν καὶ ὑμνεῖ τοὺς ἡγεμόνας τῶν σειρῶν ὅλων ἢ νοερῶς ἢ λογικῶς ἢ φυσικῶς ἢ αἰσθητῶς· ἐπεὶ καὶ τὸ ἡλιοτρόπιον ᾧ ἔστιν εὔλυτον, τούτῳ κινεῖται καί, εἰ δή τις αὐτοῦ κατὰ τὴν περιστροφὴν ἀκούειν τὸν ἀέρα πλήσσοντος οἷός τε ἦν, ὕμνον ἄν τινα διὰ τοῦ ἤχου τούτου συνῄσθετο τῷ Βασιλεῖ προσάγοντος, ὃν δύναται φυτὸν ὑμνεῖν.

2. Ἐν μὲν οὖν τῇ γῇ χθονίως ἐστὶν ἡλίους καὶ σελήνας ὁρᾶν, ἐν οὐρανῷ δὲ οὐρανίως τά τε φυτὰ πάντα καὶ λίθους καὶ ζῷα, ζῶντα νοερῶς. Ἃ δὴ κατιδόντες οἱ πάλαι σοφοί, τὰ μὲν ἄλλοις, τὰ δὲ ἄλλοις προσάγοντες τῶν οὐρανίων, ἐπήγοντο θείας δυνάμεις εἰς τὸν θνητὸν τόπον καὶ διὰ τῆς ὁμοιότητος ἐφειλκύσαντο· ἱκανὴ γὰρ ἡ ὁμοιότης συνάπτειν τὰ ὄντα ἀλλήλοις· ἐπεὶ καί, εἴ τις θρυαλλίδα προθερμήνας ὑπόσχοι τῷ λυχναίῳ φωτὶ μὴ πόρρω τοῦ πυρός, ἴδοι ἂν αὐτὴν ἐξαπτομένην μὴ ψαύουσαν τοῦ πυρός, καὶ τὴν ἔξαψιν ἄνωθεν τοῦ κατωτέρω γινομένην. Ἀναλόγως οὖν ἡ μὲν προθέρμανσις νοείσθω σοι τῇ συμπαθείᾳ τῶν τῇδε πρὸς ἐκεῖνα, ἡ δὲ προσαγωγὴ καὶ ἐν καλῷ θέσις τῇ τῆς ἱερατικῆς τέχνης κατά τε καιρὸν τὸν πρέποντα καὶ τρόπον τὸν οἰκεῖον προσχρήσει τῶν ὑλῶν, ἡ δὲ τοῦ πυρὸς διάδοσις τῇ παρουσίᾳ τοῦ θείου φωτὸς εἰς τὸ δυνάμενον μετέχειν, ἡ δὲ ἔξαψις τῇ θειώσει τῶν θνητῶν καὶ τῇ περιλάμψει τῶν ἐνύλων, ἃ δὴ κινεῖται πρὸς τὸ ἄνω λοιπὸν κατὰ τὸ μετασχεθὲν ὑπ’ αὐτῶν σπέρμα θεῖον, ὥσπερ τὸ τῆς ἐξαφθείσης θρυαλλίδος φῶς.

3. Καὶ ὁ λωτὸς δὲ παρίστησι τὴν συμπάθειαν, μεμυκὼς μὲν πρὸ τῶν ἡλιακῶν αὐγῶν, διαπτυσσόμενος δέ πως ἠρέμα τοῦ ἡλίου πρῶτον φανέντος, καὶ ὅσον ὑψοῦται τὸ φῶς, ἐξαπλούμενος, καὶ αὖθις συναγόμενος, ἐπὶ δύσιν ἰόντος. Τί δὴ οὖν διαφέρει τοὺς ἀνθρώπους αἴροντας ἢ τιθέντας <τὰς> γένυς ἢ τὰ χείλη ὑμνεῖν τὸν ἥλιον, ἢ τὸν λωτὸν τὰ φύλλα συμπτύσσοντα καὶ ἀναπλοῦντα; Γίγνεται γὰρ ἀντὶ τῶν γενύων ταῦτα τῷ λωτῷ, καὶ ὁ ὕμνος φυσικός. Καὶ τί δεῖ λέγειν περὶ φυτῶν οἷς ὑπάρχει ζωῆς ἴχνος τι γεννητικῆς; Ἀλλὰ καὶ λίθους ἔστιν ἰδεῖν ταῖς τῶν φωστήρων ἀπορροίαις ἐμπνέοντας, ὡς τὸν μὲν ἡλίτην ταῖς χρυσοειδέσιν ἀκτῖσιν ὁρῶμεν τὰς ἡλιακὰς ἀκτῖνας μιμούμενον, τὸν δὲ Βήλου προσαγορευόμενον ὀφθαλμὸν καὶ σχῆμα παραπλήσιον ἔχοντα κόραις ὀφθαλμῶν καὶ ἐκ μέσης τῆς ἐν αὐτῷ κόρης στιλπνὸν ἀφιέντα φῶς, ὅν φασιν ἡλίου χρῆναι καλεῖν ὀφθαλμόν, τὸν δὲ σεληνίτην τύπῳ τε καὶ κινήσει σὺν τῇ σελήνῃ τρεπόμενον, τὸν δὲ ἡλιοσέληνον τῆς συνόδου τῶν φωστήρων τούτων οἷον ἄγαλμα ταῖς κατ’ οὐρανὸν συνόδοις τε καὶ διαστάσεσιν ἀφομοιωθέν. Οὕτω μεστὰ πάντα θεῶν, τὰ μὲν ἐν γῇ τῶν οὐρανίων, τὰ δὲ ἐν οὐρανῷ τῶν ὑπὲρ τὸν οὐρανόν, καὶ πρόεισιν ἑκάστη πληθυομένη σειρὰ μέχρι τῶν ἐσχάτων· τὰ γὰρ ἐν ἑνὶ πρὸ τῶν πάντων, ταῦτα ἐν πᾶσιν ἐξεφάνη, ἐν οἷς καὶ ψυχῶν συστάσεις ἄλλων ὑπ’ ἄλλοις ταττομένων θεοῖς, ἔπειτα ζῴων ἡλιακῶν εἰ τύχοι πλῆθος, οἷον λέοντες καὶ ἀλεκτρυόνες, μετέχοντες καὶ αὐτοὶ τοῦ θείου κατὰ τὴν ἑαυτῶν τάξιν. Καὶ τὸ θαυμαστὸν ὅπως ἐν τούτοις τὰ ἐλάττονα δυνάμει τε καὶ μεγέθει τοῖς κατ’ ἄμφω κρείττοσίν ἐστι φοβερά· ὑποστέλλεται γὰρ ὁ λέων, φασί, τὸν ἀλεκτρυόνα. Τὸ δὲ αἴτιον ἀπὸ μὲν τῆς αἰσθήσεως οὐκ ἔστι λαβεῖν, ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς νοερᾶς ἐπιβλέψεως καὶ τῆς ἐν τοῖς αἰτίοις διαφορᾶς. Ἐνεργεστέρα γοῦν ἐστιν ἡ τῶν ἡλιακῶν συμβόλων εἰς τὸν ἀλεκτρυόνα παρουσία· δηλοῖ δὲ τῶν ἡλιακῶν περιόδων συναισθανόμενος καὶ ᾄδων ὕμνον τῷ φωστῆρι προσιόντι τε καὶ ἐπὶ τὰ λοιπὰ κέντρα τρεπομένῳ· διὸ καὶ ἄγγελοί τινες ἡλιακοὶ ὤφθησαν τοιαύτας ἔχοντες μορφάς, καὶ ὄντες ἀμόρφωτοι, φαίνονται τοῖς ἐν μορφῇ κατεχομένοις ἡμῖν μεμορφωμένοι. Ἤδη δέ τινα τῶν ἡλιακῶν δαιμόνων λεοντοπρόσωπον φαινόμενον, ἀλεκτρυόνος δειχθέντος, ἀφανῆ γενέσθαι φασὶν ὑποστελλόμενον τὰ τῶν κρειττόνων συνθήματα· ἐπεὶ καὶ θείων ἀνδρῶν εἰκόνας ὁρῶντες πολλοὶ ἀνεστάλησαν ὑπ’ αὐταῖς τι τῶν μιαρῶν ἐνεργεῖν.

4. Ἁπλῶς δὲ τὰ μὲν ταῖς περιόδοις τοῦ φωστῆρος συγκινεῖται, ὡς τὰ εἰρημένα φυτά, τὰ δὲ τὸ σχῆμα μιμεῖται τῶν ἀκτίνων, ὥσπερ ὁ φοῖνιξ, τὰ δὲ τὴν ἐμπύριον οὐσίαν, ὥσπερ ἡ δάφνη, τὰ δὲ ἄλλο τι. Ἴδοις ἂν οὖν τὰς συνεσπειραμένας ἰδιότητας ἐν ἡλίῳ μεριζομένας ἐν τοῖς μετέχουσιν ἀγγέλοις, δαίμοσι, ψυχαῖς, ζῴοις, φυτοῖς, λίθοις. Ὅθεν οἱ τῆς ἱερατικῆς ἡγεμόνες ἀπὸ τῶν ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς κειμένων τὴν τῶν ἀνωτέρω δυνάμεων θεραπείαν εὑρήκασι, τὰ μὲν μίξαντες, τὰ δὲ οἰκείως ἀναιρούμενοι· ἡ δὲ μῖξις διὰ τὸ βλέπειν τῶν ἀμίκτων ἕκαστόν τινα ἔχον ἰδιότητα τοῦ θεοῦ, οὐ μὴν ἐξαρκοῦν πρὸς τὴν ἐκείνου πρόκλησιν· διὸ τῇ μίξει τῶν πολλῶν ἑνίζουσι τὰς προειρημένας ἀπορροίας καὶ ἐξομοιοῦσι τὸ ἐκ πάντων ἓν γενόμενον πρὸς ἐκεῖνο τὸ πρὸ τῶν πάντων ὅλον· καὶ ἀγάλματα πολλάκις κατασκευάζουσι σύμμικτα καὶ θυμιάματα, φυράσαντες εἰς ἓν τὰ μερισθέντα συνθήματα καὶ ποιήσαντες τέχνῃ ὁποῖον κατ’ οὐσίαν τὸ θεῖον περιληπτικὸν καθ’ ἕνωσιν τῶν πλειόνων δυνάμεων, ὧν ὁ μὲν μερισμὸς ἠμύδρωσεν ἑκάστην, ἡ δὲ μῖξις ἐπανήγαγεν εἰς τὴν τοῦ παραδείγματος ἰδέαν. Ἔστι δὲ ὅτε καὶ μία πόα καὶ λίθος εἷς ἀρκεῖ πρὸς τὸ ἔργον· ἀπόχρη γὰρ πρὸς μὲν αὐτοφάνειαν τὸ κνέωρον, πρὸς δὲ φυλακὴν δάφνη, ῥάμνος, σκύλλα, κουράλιον, ἀδάμας καὶ ἴασπις, πρὸς δὲ πρόγνωσιν ἡ τοῦ ἀσπάλακος καρδία, πρὸς δὲ καθάρσεις τὸ θεῖον καὶ τὸ θαλάττιον ὕδωρ.

5. Διὰ μὲν οὖν τῆς συμπαθείας προσήγοντο, διὰ δὲ τῆς ἀντιπαθείας ἀπήλαυνον, καθαίροντες εἰ τύχοι θείῳ καὶ ἀσφάλτῳ καὶ περιρραίνοντες θαλάττῃ· καθαίρει γὰρ τὸ μὲν θεῖον διὰ τὸ δριμὺ τῆς ὀσμῆς, ἡ δὲ θάλαττα διὰ τὸ μετέχειν ἐμπυρίου δυνάμεως.

6. Καὶ ἐν ταῖς τελεταῖς δὲ καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις περὶ τοὺς θεοὺς θεραπείαις ζῷά τε προσήκοντα ἐξελέγοντο καὶ ἕτερ’ ἄττα. Ἀπὸ δὴ τούτων καὶ τῶν τοιούτων ὁρμηθέντες, τὰς δαιμονίους δυνάμεις ἔγνωσαν, ὡς προσεχεῖς εἰσιν οὐσίαι τῆς ἐν τῇ φύσει καὶ τοῖς σώμασιν ἐνεργείας, καὶ ἐπηγάγοντο δι‘ αὐτῶν τούτων εἰς συνουσίαν· ἀπὸ δὲ τούτων ἐπ’ αὐτὰς ἤδη τὰς τῶν θεῶν ἀνέδραμον ποιήσεις, τὰ μὲν ἀπ’ αὐτῶν διδασκόμενοι, τὰ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ κινούμενοι παρ’ ἑαυτῶν εὐστόχως εἰς τὴν τῶν οἰκείων συμβόλων ἐπίνοιαν· καὶ οὕτω λοιπόν, τὴν φύσιν καὶ τὰς φυσικὰς ἐνεργείας κάτω καταλιπόντες, ταῖς πρωτουργοῖς καὶ θείαις ἐχρήσαντο δυνάμεσι.


Eleusis, Portrait of hierophant, ca. 120 CE–ca. 130 CE. At the Koninklijke musea voor kunst en geschiedenis in Brussels. Picture @GeoffreyMarchal.


More about Proclus:🌿SARTRIX is a project by Ɔ. Martiana:🌿About the book and its publisher:
Brian Copenhaver – Proclus’ ‘On The Priestly Art’

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