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Maurice Nicoll – From ‘Living Time’: Quoting Sinesius Of Cyrene & Plutarch Of Chaeronea

Fragment of an anthropomorphic brasier found at the Tenochtitlan temple site. Aztec, circa 1300. Fired clay and pigments. 18x 22x 9 cm. Museo Universitario de  Ciencias y Arte, UNAM, Mexico-city. Picture by Michel Zabé and Enrique Macias.


With today’s sharing from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, we continue our selections of excerpts from the lesser known works (if not neglected) of Dr. Maurice Nicoll. Here from ‘Living Time and the Integration of Life’, Vincent Stuart Publishers, London, 1954. Reprinted by Eureka Editions in 1998. Chapter five, ‘The Life in Living-Time’. From page 122 to 123.


It has been repeatedly taught in the past that man is in division, in a state of inner confusion. He is not one, but many. True philosophy has been defined as ‘that which knows how to join him together’, i.e., the integration of man was held to be possible. Integration means the binding together of parts into a whole­ and so to become whole or complete. It means to become unified, to become one; and for this unification ideas that are foreign to our disintegrated psychology are necessary.

Let us turn to some descriptions of man’s multiple nature, bearing in mind that we make the greatest mistake if we suppose that we possess any ‘oneness’ or unity naturally.

Our ordinary state has been described by Synesius (fourth century) in these words:

… Man is not some simple object nor is he cast in one pattern, but God has made to dwell in the constitution of a single creature a host of forces mingled together and with full-toned voices. We are, I think, a monstrous animal more extraordinary than the Hydra and still more many-headed. For not with the same part of our nature, of course, do we think and desire or feel pain and suffer anger, nor is our fear from the same source as our pleasure. Again, you will observe how there is a male element in these organs and a female, and that there is courage and also cowardice. There are, in sooth, all kinds of opposites within us and a certain medial force of nature runs through them which we call Mind’

(Source: Augustine Fitzgerald, Synesius: On Kingship, vol. 1, p. 118. The Essays and Hymns of Synesius of Cyrene. Translated into English with Introduction and Notes by Augustine Fitzgerald. Oxford University Press, 1930.)

This multiple nature of man is described thus by Plutarch:

… each one of us is made up of ten thousand different and successive states, a scrap heap of units, a mob of individuals.

(See Concerning the Eat Delphi in A. 0. Prickard’s Selected Essays of Plutarch. Oxford University Press, 1918.)

Having no unity, Plutarch remarks that we never really are. Nor can we feel now:

Now is squeezed into the future, or into the past, as though we should try to see a point which of necessity passes away to right or left.


Sinesius of Cyrene,

excerpt from ‘On Imperial Rule’ paragraph 2

[2]For of this be well assured, that man is not some simple object nor is he cast in one pattern, but God has made to dwell in the constitution of a single creature a host of forces mingled together and with full-toned voices. We are, I think, a monstrous animal more extraordinary than the hydra and still more many-headed.note For not with the same part of our nature, of course, do we think and desire, or feel pain and suffer anger, nor is our fear from the same source as our pleasure. Again you will observe how there is a male element in these organs, and a female, and that there is courage and also cowardice. There are in sooth all kinds of opposites within us and a certain medial force of nature runs through them which we call mind. It is this that I desire to reign in the king’s soul, destroying the mob rule and democracy of the passions.


Plutarch Of Chaeronea,

excerpt from  ‘Of the word EI at Delphi’

§ 17But Ammonius, who had himself also bestowed not the worst part of his time in mathematical philosophy, was delighted with what had been spoken, and said: It is not meet too eagerly to oppose these young men about these things, except by saying that every one of the numbers will afford you, if you desire to praise it, no small subject of commendations. And what need is there to speak of others? For the septener, sacred to Apollo, will take up a day’s time, before one can in words run through all its powers. We shall therefore pronounce, that the Sages do at once contest both against common law and a long series of time, if. throwing the septenary out of its seat, they consecrate the quinary to the God, as being more suitable to him. I am therefore of opinion, that this syllable signifies neither number, order, nor connection, nor any other of the deficient parts, but is a self-perfect appellation and salutation of the God, which brings the speaker to the conception of the power of the God at the very moment of uttering it. For the God in a manner calls upon every one of us who comes hither, with this salutation, Know thyself, which is nothing inferior to All hail. And we again, answering the God, say to him El, thou art; attributing to him the true, unfeigned, and sole appellation of being, as agreeing to him alone.

§ 18 For we indeed do not at all essentially partake of being; but every mortal nature, being in the midst between generation and corruption, exhibits an appearance, and an obscure and weak opinion of itself. And if you fix your thought, desiring to comprehend it, — as the hard grasping of water, by the pressing and squeezing together that which is fluid, loses that which is held, — so when reason pursues too evident a perception of any one of the things subject to passion and change, it is deceived and led away, partly towards its generation and partly towards its corruption, being able to apprehend nothing either remaining or really subsisting. For we cannot, as Heraclitus says, step twice into the same river, or twice find any perishable substance in the same state; but by the suddenness and swiftness of the change, it disperses and again gathers together, comes and goes. Whence what is generated of it reaches not to the perfection of being, because the generation never ceases nor is at an end; but always changing, of seed it makes an embryo, next an infant, then a child, then a stripling, after that a young man, then a full-grown man, an elderly man, and lastly, a decrepit old man, corrupting the former generations and statures by the latter. But we ridiculously fear one death, having already so often died and still dying. For not only, as Heraclitus said, is the death of fire the generation of air, and the death of air the generation of water; but you may see this more plainly in men themselves; for the full-grown man perishes when the old man comes, as the youth terminated in the full-grown man, the child in the youth, the infant in the child. So yesterday died in today, and today dies in tomorrow; so that none remains nor is one, but we are generated many, according as matter glides and turns about one phantasm and common mould. For how do we, if we remain the same, delight now in other things than we delighted in before? How do we love, hate, admire, and contemn things contrary to the former? How do we use other words and other passions, not having the same form, figure, or understanding? For neither is it probable we should be thus differently affected without change, neither is he who changes the same. And if he is not the same, neither is he at all; but changing from the same, he changes also his being, being made one from another. But the sense is deceived through the ignorance of being, supposing that to be which appears.

§ 19 What then is it that has really a being? That which is eternal, unbegotten, and incorruptible, to which no time brings a change. For time is a certain movable thing appearing in connection with fleeting matter, always flowing and unstable, like a leaky vessel full of corruption and generation; of which the sayings “after” and “before,” “it has been” and “it shall be,” are of themselves a confession that it has no being. For to say that what not yet is or what has already ceased to be is in being, how foolish and absurd is it. And as for that on which we chiefly ground the under standing of time, — saying, the instant, present, and now, — this again reason wholly rejects and overthrows; for it is lost between the future and the past, like a flash of light, and is separated into two when we will behold it. Now if the same thing befalls Nature, which is measured by time, as does the time which measures it, there is nothing in it permanent or subsistent, but all things are either breeding or dying, according to their commixture with time. Whence also it is not lawful to say of any thing which is, that it was or shall be; for these are inclinations and departures and changes of that whose nature is not to continue in being.

§ 20 But God, we must say, is, and he is not in any time, but in eternity, which is immovable without time, and free from inclination, in which there is nothing first, or last, or newer; but being one, it has filled its eternal duration with one only “now”; and that only is which is really according to this, of which it cannot be said, that it either was or shall be, or that it begins or shall end. Thus ought those who worship to salute and invocate this Eternal Being, or else indeed, as some of the ancients have done, with this expression Εἶ ἕν, Thou art one. For the Divinity is not many, as every one of us is made of ten thousand differences in affections, being a confused heap, filled with all diversities. But that which is must be one, as one must have a being. But diversity, which is esteemed to be different from being, goes forth to the generation of that which is not. Whence both the first of his names agrees rightly with this God, as do also the second and third. For he is called Apollo, as denying plurality and rejecting multitude; and Ieios, as being only one; and Phoebus was the name given by the ancients to every thing that is pure and chaste; as the Thessalians even to this day, if I am not mistaken, say of their priests, when on vacant days they keep themselves retired, that they purify themselves (φοιβονομεῖσθαι). Now that which is one is sincere and pure. For pollution is by the mixture of one thing with another; as Homer, speaking of a piece of ivory dyed red, said it was “polluted” by the dye, and dyers say of mixed colors that they are corrupted, and call the mixture itself corruption. It is therefore always requisite for that which is incorruptible and pure to be one and unmixed.

§ 21 Now, as for those who think Apollo and the Sun to be the same, they are to be caressed and loved for their ingenuity, as placing the notion of God in that which they most reverence, of all things that they know and desire. And now, as if they were dreaming of God the most glorious dream, let us stir up and exhort them to ascend higher, and to contemplate his reality and his essence; but to honor also this his image (the Sun), and to venerate that generative faculty he has placed in it, since it exhibits in some sort by its brightness — as far as it is possible for a sensible thing to represent an intellectual, and a movable thing that which is permanent — certain manifestations and resemblances of his benignity and blessedness. But as for those his sallyings out and changes, when he casts forth fire, . . . and when he again draws himself in, afterwards extending himself into the earth, sea, winds, animals, and strange accidents both of animals and plants, they cannot so much as be hearkened to without impiety; or else God will be worse than the child in the poet, — who made himself sport with a heap of sand, first raised and then again scattered abroad by himself, — if he shall do the same in respect of the universe, first framing the world when it was not, and then destroying it when made. On the contrary, whatsoever of him is in any sort infused into the world, that binds together its substance, and restrains the corporeal weakness which tends to corruption. And it seems to me that this word is chiefly opposed to that doctrine, and that Εἶ, Thou art, is spoken to this God, as testifying that there is never in him any going forth or change. But to do and suffer this agrees to one of the other Gods, or rather Daemons, ordained to take care about Nature in generation and corruption; as is immediately manifest from their names, being wholly contrary and of different significations. For the one is called Apollo (or not many), the other Pluto (or many); the one Delius (from clearness), the other Aidoneus (from obscurity); the one Phoebus (or shining), the other Scotius (or dark); with the one are the Muses and Mnemosyne (or song and memory) with the other Lethe and Siope (or forgetfulness and silence). The one is (from contemplating and showing) named Theorius and Phanaeus; the other is Prince of dark night and sluggish sleep, whose fate Is that men him most of all Gods do hate. Of Apollo also Pindar not unpleasantly sung, that he The gentlest of all Gods to mortals is declared. And therefore Euripides rightly also said:
These mournful songs suit well with men deceased,
With which gold-haired Apollo’s no way pleased.
And before him Stesichorus:
Apollo joys in sports and pleasant tones;
But Pluto takes delight in griefs and moans.
Sophocles also evidently attributes to either of them his proper instruments, in these words:
Neither the lute nor psaltery is fit
For mournful matters.

For it is but very lately, and in a manner of yesterday, that the pipe has dared to introduce itself into delightful matters; having in former times drawn men to mourning, and possessing about these things no very honorable or splendid employment. But afterwards all was brought into confusion, which was due especially to those who confounded the affairs of the Gods with those of the Genii. But the sentence, Know thyself, seems in one respect to contradict this word EI, and in another to agree with it. For the one is pronounced with admiration and veneration to God, as being eternal; and the other is a remembrance to mortal men of their nature and infirmity.’


Wynne, David; Dr Maurice Nicoll (1884-1953); The Box (Plymouth Museums Galleries Archives);


Sinesius’ full text:🌿More about Sinesius:🌿Plutarch’s full text:🌿More about Plutarch:
Maurice Nicoll – From ‘Living Time’: Quoting Sinesius Of Cyrene & Plutarch Of Chaeronea

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