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Proclus-On The Nature Of The Muses

‘Apollo and the Muses’, by Claude Lorrain.


Excerpt from the MS. Scholia likewise of Proclus on Plato’s ‘Cratylus’,In ‘The Theology of Plato’ by Proclus,Thomas Taylor’s translation, Prometheus Trust 2009 edition.Book VII-Chapter XVIII-From page 521 to 523.

As the Muses derive their subsistence from Apollo, and are perpetually united to him, it is necessary to consider the nature of these divinities in the next place, and the good which they confer on the universe in conjunction with their leader Apollo. Plato therefore in the ‘Cratylus’ says ‘That the name of the Muses, and universally that of music, was derived, as it seems, from μωσθαι (mosthai), to inquire, and from investigation and philosophy’. On which Proclus in his Ms.Scholia on that dialogue observes as follow:

‘From discoursing about king Apollo, Plato proceeds to the Muses and the name of music; for Apollo is celebrated as Musagetes, or the leader of the Muses. And he indeed is a monad with respect to the harmony of the world; but the choir of the Muses is the monad of all the number of the ennead (i.e. nine): From both likewise the whole world is bound in indissoluble bonds, and is one and all-perfect, through the communications of these divinities; possessing the former through the Apolloniacal monad, but its all-perfect subsistence through the number of the Muses. For the number nine which is generated from this first perfect number (that is 3) is, through similitude and sameness, accommodated to the multiform causes of the mundane order and harmony; all these causes at the same time being collected into one summit for the purpose of producing one consummate perfection.

For the Muses generate the variety of reasons with which the world is replete; but Apollo comprehends in union all the multitude of these. And the Muses give subsistence to the harmony of the soul; but Apollo is the leader of intellectual and impartible harmony. The Muses distribute the phaenomena according to harmonical reasons; but Apollo comprehends unapparent and separate harmony. And though both give subsistence to the same things, yet the Muses effect this according to number, but Apollo according to union. And the Muses indeed distribute the unity of Apollo; but Apollo unites harmonic multitude, which he also converts and comprehend. For the multitude of the Muses proceeds from the essence of Musagetes, which is both separate, and subsists according to the nature of The One; and their number evolves the one and primary cause of the harmony of the universe.

That such being the etymology of the name of the Muses, since Plato calls philosophy the greatest music, as causing our psychical powers to be moved harmoniously, in symphony with real beings, and in conformity to the orderly motions of the celestial orbs; and since the investigation of our own essence and that of the universe leads us to this harmony, through a conversion to ourselves and more excellent natures,- hence also we denominate the Muses from investigation. For Musagetes himself unfolds truth to souls, according to one intellectual simplicity; but the Muses perfect our various energies elevating them to an intellectual unity. For investigations have the relation of matter, with reference to the end from invention; just as multitude with respect to The One, and variety with respect to simplicity. We know therefore, that the Muses impart to souls the investigation of truth, to bodies the multitude of powers, and that they are every where the sources of the variety of harmonies.

In the fable likewise in the ‘Phaedrus’ about the cicadas Plato speaks of the four Muses, Terpsichore, Erato, Calliope, and Urania, as follows: ‘It is said the race of the cicadas received this gift from the Muses, that they would never want nutriment, but should continue singing without food or drink till they died; and that after death they should depart to the Muses, and inform them what Muse was honored by some particular person among us. Hence that by acquainting Terpsichore with those who reverence her in the dance, they render her propitious to such. By informing Erato of her votaries, they render her favorable in amatory concerns; and the rest in a similar manner, according to the species of veneration belonging to each. But that they announce to the most ancient Calliope, and after her to Urania, those who have lived in the exercise of philosophy, and have cultivated the music over which they preside; these Muses more than all the rest being conversant with the heavens, and with both divine and human discourse; and sending forth the most beautiful voice.’

On what Plato here says of these Muses, Hermeas in his MS. ‘Commentary on the Phaedrus’, makes the following beautiful remark: ‘Dancing here must not being understood literally, as if Terpsichore was propitious to those who engage in that kind of dancing which is the object of sense; for this would be ridiculous. We must say therefore, that there are divine dances; in the first place, the dance of the Gods; and in the second place, that of divine souls. In the third place, the revolution of celestial divinities, viz. of the seven planets, and the inerratic sphere, is called a dance. In the fourth place, those who are initiated in the mysteries perform a certain dance. Who then are those that honor the Goddess in the Dance? Not those who dance well, but those who live well through the whole of the present existence, elegantly arranging their life, and dancing in symphony with the universe. Again, Erato is denominated from Love, and from making the works of Love, lovely; for she co-operates with Love. But Calliope is denominated from the eye; and Urania presides over astronomy. Through these two Goddesses we preserve our rational part from being in subjection to the irrational nature. For through sight surveying the order of the celestial Gods, we promptly arrange our irrational part. And father still, through rhythms, philosophy, and hearing, we elegantly dispose that which we contain of the disorderly and void of rhythm.’

Proclus-On The Nature Of The Muses

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