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Iamblichus of Chalcis

Iamblichus of Chalcis

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Iamblichus, also known as Iamblichus Chalcidensis, (Ancient Greek: , probably from Syriac or Aramaic ya-mlku, "He is king", c. 245–c. 325) was an Assyria
Assyria
Assyria was a Semitic Akkadian kingdom, extant as a nation state from the mid–23rd century BC to 608 BC centred on the Upper Tigris river, in northern Mesopotamia , that came to rule regional empires a number of times through history. It was named for its original capital, the ancient city of Assur...

n Neoplatonist
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

 philosopher who determined the direction taken by later Neoplatonic philosophy. He is perhaps best known for his compendium on Pythagorean philosophy
Pythagoreanism
Pythagoreanism was the system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, who were considerably influenced by mathematics. Pythagoreanism originated in the 5th century BCE and greatly influenced Platonism...

.

Iamblichus' life


Iamblichus was the chief representative of Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

n Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism
Neoplatonism , is the modern term for a school of religious and mystical philosophy that took shape in the 3rd century AD, based on the teachings of Plato and earlier Platonists, with its earliest contributor believed to be Plotinus, and his teacher Ammonius Saccas...

, though his influence spread over much of the ancient world. The events of his life and his religious beliefs are not entirely known, but the main tenets of his beliefs can be worked out from his extant writings. According to the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

, and his biographer Eunapius
Eunapius
Eunapius was a Greek sophist and historian of the 4th century. His principal surviving work is the Lives of the Sophists, a collection of the biographies of twenty-three philosophers and sophists.-Life:He was born at Sardis, AD 347...

, he was born at Chalcis (modern Qinnasrin
Qinnasrin
Qinnasrin , was a historical town in northern Syria. It gained fame as an important religious and cultural centre of Syriac Christians before the coming of Islamic conquests....

) in Syria
Syria
Syria , officially the Syrian Arab Republic , is a country in Western Asia, bordering Lebanon and the Mediterranean Sea to the West, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest....

. He was the son of a rich and illustrious family, and he is said to have been the descendant of several priest-kings of Royal family of Emesa
Royal family of Emesa
The royal family of Emesa, also known as the Emesani Dynasty or the Sempsigerami of Emesa , sometimes known as The Sampsiceramids were a ruling Roman client dynasty of priest-kings in Emesa, Syria Province...

. He initially studied under Anatolius of Laodicea, and later went on to study under Porphyry
Porphyry (philosopher)
Porphyry of Tyre , Porphyrios, AD 234–c. 305) was a Neoplatonic philosopher who was born in Tyre. He edited and published the Enneads, the only collection of the work of his teacher Plotinus. He also wrote many works himself on a wide variety of topics...

, a pupil of Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

, the founder of Neoplatonism. It was with Porphyry that he is known to have had a disagreement over the practice of theurgy
Theurgy
Theurgy describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more gods, especially with the goal of uniting with the divine, achieving henosis, and perfecting oneself.- Definitions :*Proclus...

, the criticisms of which Iamblichus responds to in his attributed De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum
De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum
The Theurgia, or De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum , was attributed to Iamblichus Chalcidensis, a Neoplatonic philosopher who studied under Porphyry....

(On the Egyptian Mysteries).

Around 304, he returned to Syria to found his own school at Apameia
Apamea (Syria)
Apamea was a treasure city and stud-depot of the Seleucid kings, was capital of Apamene, on the right bank of the Orontes River. . Its site is found about to the northwest of Hama, Syria, overlooking the Ghab valley...

 (near Antioch
Antioch
Antioch on the Orontes was an ancient city on the eastern side of the Orontes River. It is near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey.Founded near the end of the 4th century BC by Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander the Great's generals, Antioch eventually rivaled Alexandria as the chief city of the...

), a city famous for its Neoplatonic philosophers. Here he designed a curriculum for studying Plato and Aristotle, and he wrote grand commentaries on the two that survive only in fragments. Still, for Iamblichus, Pythagoras was the supreme authority. He is known to have written the Collection of Pythagorean Doctrines, which, in ten books, comprised extracts from several ancient philosophers. Only the first four books, and fragments of the fifth, survive.

Iamblichus was said to have been a man of great culture and learning. He was also renowned for his charity and self-denial. Many students gathered around him, and he lived with them in genial friendship. According to Fabricius
Johann Albert Fabricius
Johann Albert Fabricius was a German classical scholar and bibliographer.-Biography:Fabricius was born at Leipzig, son of Werner Fabricius, director of music in the church of St. Paul at Leipzig, who was the author of several works, the most important being Deliciae Harmonicae...

, he died during the reign of Constantine, sometime before 333.

Only a fraction of Iamblichus' books have survived. For our knowledge of his system, we are indebted partly to the fragments of writings preserved by Stobaeus
Stobaeus
Joannes Stobaeus , from Stobi in Macedonia, was the compiler of a valuable series of extracts from Greek authors. The work was originally divided into two volumes containing two books each...

 and others. The notes of his successors, especially Proclus
Proclus
Proclus Lycaeus , called "The Successor" or "Diadochos" , was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major Classical philosophers . He set forth one of the most elaborate and fully developed systems of Neoplatonism...

, as well as his five extant books and the sections of his great work on Pythagorean philosophy also reveal much of Iamblichus' system. Besides these, Proclus seems to have ascribed to him the authorship of the celebrated treatise Theurgia, or On the Egyptian Mysteries. However, the differences between this book and Iamblichus' other works in style and in some points of doctrine have led some to question whether Iamblichus was the actual author. Still, the treatise certainly originated from his school, and in its systematic attempt to give a speculative justification of the polytheistic
Polytheism
Polytheism is the belief of multiple deities also usually assembled into a pantheon of gods and goddesses, along with their own mythologies and rituals....

 cult practices of the day, it marks a turning-point in the history of thought where Iamblichus stood.

As a speculative theory, Neoplatonism had received its highest development from Plotinus
Plotinus
Plotinus was a major philosopher of the ancient world. In his system of theory there are the three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas and he is of the Platonic tradition...

. The modifications introduced by lamblichus were the detailed elaboration of its formal divisions, the more systematic application of the Pythagorean number-symbolism, and, under the influence of Oriental systems, a thoroughly mythical interpretation of what Neoplatonism had formerly regarded as notional. Iamblichus introduced the idea of the soul's embodiment in matter, believing matter to be as divine as the rest of the cosmos. This was the most fundamental point of departure between his own ideas and those of his Neoplatonic predecessors, who believed that matter was a deficient concept

It is most likely on this account that lamblichus was looked upon with such extravagant veneration.

Iamblichus was highly praised by those who followed his thought. By his contemporaries, Iamblichus was accredited with miraculous
Miracle
A miracle often denotes an event attributed to divine intervention. Alternatively, it may be an event attributed to a miracle worker, saint, or religious leader. A miracle is sometimes thought of as a perceptible interruption of the laws of nature. Others suggest that a god may work with the laws...

 powers. The Roman emperor Julian
Julian the Apostate
Julian "the Apostate" , commonly known as Julian, or also Julian the Philosopher, was Roman Emperor from 361 to 363 and a noted philosopher and Greek writer....

, not content with Eunapius' more modest eulogy that he was inferior to Porphyry only in style, regarded Iamblichus as more than second to Plato, and claimed he would give all the gold of Lydia
Lydia
Lydia was an Iron Age kingdom of western Asia Minor located generally east of ancient Ionia in the modern Turkish provinces of Manisa and inland İzmir. Its population spoke an Anatolian language known as Lydian....

 for one epistle of Iamblichus. During the revival of interest in his philosophy in the 15th and 16th centuries, the name of Iamblichus was scarcely mentioned without the epithet "divine" or "most divine".

Iamblichus' cosmology


At the head of his system, Iamblichus placed the transcendent incommunicable "One", the monad, whose first principle is intellect, nous
Nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

. Immediately after the absolute One, lamblichus introduced a second superexistent "One" to stand between it and 'the many' as the producer of intellect, or soul, psyche. This is the initial dyad. The first and highest One (nous), which Plotinus represented under the three stages of (objective) being, (subjective) life, and (realized) intellect, is distinguished by Iamblichus into spheres of intelligible and intellective, the latter sphere being the domain of thought, the former of the objects of thought. These three entities, the psyche, and the nous split into the intelligible and the intellective, form a triad.

Between the two worlds, at once separating and uniting them, some scholars think there was inserted by lamblichus, as was afterwards by Proclus
Proclus
Proclus Lycaeus , called "The Successor" or "Diadochos" , was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major Classical philosophers . He set forth one of the most elaborate and fully developed systems of Neoplatonism...

, a third sphere partaking of the nature of both. But this supposition depends on a merely conjectural emendation of the text. We read, however, that in the intellectual triad he assigned the third rank to the Demiurge
Demiurge
The demiurge is a concept from the Platonic, Neopythagorean, Middle Platonic, and Neoplatonic schools of philosophy for an artisan-like figure responsible for the fashioning and maintenance of the physical universe. The term was subsequently adopted by the Gnostics...

. The Demiurge, the Platonic creator-god, is thus identified with the perfected nous
Nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

, the intellectual triad being increased to a hebdomad
Hebdomad
Hebdomad may refer to:* On Hebdomads, a work of the Hippocratic Corpus* hebdomad, a term used by Neoplatonist philosophers such as Iamblichus and Proclus in reference to the intellect...

. The identification of nous with the Demiurge is a significant moment in the Neoplatonic tradition and its adoption into and development within the Christian tradition. St. Augustine
St. Augustine
-People:* Augustine of Hippo or Augustine of Hippo , father of the Latin church* Augustine of Canterbury , first Archbishop of Canterbury* Augustine Webster, an English Catholic martyr.-Places:*St. Augustine, Florida, United States...

 follows Plotinus by identifying nous, which bears the logos, with the creative principle. Whereas the Hellenes call that principle the Demiurge, Augustine identifies the activity and content of that principle as belonging to one of the three aspects of the Divine Trinity -- the Son, who is the Word (logos). Iamblichus and Plotinus commonly assert that nous produced nature by mediation of the intellect, so here the intelligible gods are followed by a triad of psychic gods.
The first of these "psychic gods" is incommunicable and supramundane, while the other two seem to be mundane, though rational. In the third class, or mundane gods, there is a still greater wealth of divinities, of various local position, function, and rank. Iamblichus wrote of gods, angels, demons and heroes, of twelve heavenly gods whose number is increased to thirty-six or three hundred and sixty, and of seventy-two other gods proceeding from them, of twenty-one chiefs and forty-two nature-gods, besides guardian divinities, of particular individuals and nations. The realm of divinities stretched from the original One down to material nature itself, where soul in fact descended into matter and became "embodied" as human beings. Basically, Iamblichus greatly multiplied the ranks of being and divine entities in the universe, the number at each level relating to various mathematical proportions. The world is thus peopled by a crowd of superhuman beings influencing natural events and possessing and communicating knowledge of the future, and who are all accessible to prayers and offerings.

The whole of Iamblichus's complex theory is ruled by a mathematical
Mathematics
Mathematics is the study of quantity, space, structure, and change. Mathematicians seek out patterns and formulate new conjectures. Mathematicians resolve the truth or falsity of conjectures by mathematical proofs, which are arguments sufficient to convince other mathematicians of their validity...

 formalism of triad, hebdomad, etc., while the first principle is identified with the monad, dyad and triad; symbolic meanings being also assigned to the other numbers. The theorems of mathematics, he says, apply absolutely to all things, from things divine to original matter. But though he subjects all things to number, he holds elsewhere that numbers are independent existences, and occupy a middle place between the limited and unlimited.

Another difficulty of the system is the account given of nature. It is said to be bound by the indissoluble chains of necessity called fate
Destiny
Destiny or fate refers to a predetermined course of events. It may be conceived as a predetermined future, whether in general or of an individual...

, and is distinguished from divine things that are not subject to fate. Yet, being itself the result of higher powers becoming corporeal, a continual stream of elevating influence flows from them to it, interfering with its necessary laws and turning to good ends the imperfect and evil
Evil
Evil is the violation of, or intent to violate, some moral code. Evil is usually seen as the dualistic opposite of good. Definitions of evil vary along with analysis of its root motive causes, however general actions commonly considered evil include: conscious and deliberate wrongdoing,...

. Of evil no satisfactory account is given; it is said to have been generated accidentally in the conflict between the finite and the infinite.

Theurgy


Despite the complexities of the make-up of the divine cosmos, Iamblichus still had salvation as his final goal. The embodied soul was to return to divinity by performing certain rites, or theurgy, literally, 'divine-working'. Some translate this as "magic", but the modern connotations of the term do not exactly match what Iamblichus had in mind, which is more along the lines of a sacramental religious ritual. Still, these acts did involve some of what would today be perceived as attempts at 'magic'.

Though the embodied souls are dominated by physical necessities, they are still divine and rational. This contains a conflict, being part of an immortal, divine nature, as well as genuinely part of a material, imperfect mortal domain. The personal soul, a kind of 'lost' embodied soul, has lost touch with its deeper, divine nature and has become self-alienated. In this conflict can perhaps be glimpsed Iamblichus' ideas about the origin of evil, though Iamblichus does not comment on this himself.

This was also the area where Iamblichus differed from his former master, Porphyry, who believed mental contemplation alone could bring salvation. Porphyry wrote a letter criticizing Iamblicus' ideas of theurgy, and it is to this letter that On the Egyptian Mysteries was written in response.

Iamblichus' analysis was that the transcendent cannot be grasped with mental contemplation because the transcendent is supra-rational. Theurgy is a series of rituals and operations aimed at recovering the transcendent essence by retracing the divine 'signatures' through the layers of being. Education is important for comprehending the scheme of things as presented by Aristotle, Plato and Pythagoras but also by the Chaldaean Oracles. The theurgist works 'like with like': at the material level, with physical symbols and 'magic'; at the higher level, with mental and purely spiritual practices. Starting with correspondences of the divine in matter, the theurgist eventually reaches the level where the soul's inner divinity unites with God.

Clearly, Iamblichus meant for the masses of people to perform rituals that were more physical in nature, while the higher types, who were closest to the divine (and whose numbers were few), could reach the divine realm through contemplation.

List of editions and translations

  • On the mysteries (De mysteriis), ed. Gustav Parthey, Teubner, 1857 online; ed. Edouard des Places, Collection Budé
    Collection Budé
    The Collection Budé, or the Collection des Universités de France, is a series of books comprising the Greek and Latin classics up to the middle of the 6th century...

    , 1989
    • English translations: Thomas Taylor, 1821 online (Google books), online (HTML); Alexander Wilder, 1911 online (Google books), online (HTML); Emma C. Clarke, John M. Dillon
      John M. Dillon
      John Myles Dillon is an Irish classicist and philosopher who was Regius Professor of Greek in Trinity College, Dublin between 1980 and 2006. Prior to that he taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens on 15 June 2010...

      , and Jackson P. Hershbell, 2003, ISBN 158983058X
  • On the Pythagorean Way of Life (De vita pythagorica), ed. Theophil Kießling, Leipzig, 1816 online; ed. August Nauck, St. Petersburg, 1884; ed. Ludwig Deubner, Teubner, 1937 (rev. Ulrich Klein, 1975)
    • English translations: Taylor, 1818 online (PDF); Kenneth Sylvan Guthrie, 1919 online (HTML); Gillian Clark, 1989, ISBN 0853233268; John M. Dillon
      John M. Dillon
      John Myles Dillon is an Irish classicist and philosopher who was Regius Professor of Greek in Trinity College, Dublin between 1980 and 2006. Prior to that he taught at the University of California, Berkeley. He was elected a corresponding member of the Academy of Athens on 15 June 2010...

       and Jackson Hershbell, 1991, ISBN 1555405231
  • On general mathematical science (Περὶ τῆς κοινῆς μαθηματικῆς ἐπιστήμης, De communi mathematica scientia), ed. Nicola Festa, Teubner, 1891 online
  • Protrepticus, ed. Ermenegildo Pistelli
    Ermenegildo Pistelli
    Ermenegildo Pistelli, , born in Florence, Italian papyrologist and palaeographer.Pistelli finished his philological studies in Florence.He examined numerous manuscripts found in Oxyrhynchus, e.g. Papyrus 2, 35, 36, Uncial 0171.- Works :...

    , Teubner, 1888 (repr. 1975) online; ed. des Places, Budé, 1989
    • English translation: Thomas Moore Johnson, Iamblichus' exhortation to the study of philosophy, Osceola, Mo., 1907 (repr. 1988, ISBN 0933999631)
  • In Nicomachi arithmeticam introductionem, Teubner, ed. Pistelli, Teubner, 1894 online (rev. Klein, 1975)
  • Letters: John M. Dillon and Wolfgang Polleichtner, Iamblichus of Chalcis: The Letters, 2009, ISBN 1589831616
  • Fragmentary commentaries on Plato and Aristotle
    • Bent Dalsgaard Larsen, Jamblique de Chalcis: exégète et philosophe (vol. 2, appendix: Testimonia et fragmenta exegetica), Universitetsforlaget i Aarhus, 1972 (Greek texts only)
    • Dillon (ed. and trans.), Iamblichi Chalcidensis in Platonis dialogos commentariorum fragmenta, Leiden: Brill, 1973
    • John F. Finamore and John M. Dillon, Iamblichus De Anima: Text, Translation, and Commentary, Leiden: Brill, 2002, ISBN 1589834682
  • Theological principles of arithmetic (Theologumena arithmeticae, an anonymous work sometimes ascribed to Iamblichus), ed. Friedrich Ast, Leipzig, 1817 online; ed. Vittorio de Falco, Teubner, 1922
    • English translation: Robin Waterfield
      Robin Waterfield
      Robin Anthony Herschel Waterfield is a British classical scholar, translator, editor, and writer of children's fiction.-Career:Waterfield was born in 1952, and studied Classics at Manchester University, where he achieved a first class degree in 1974...

      , 1988, ISBN 0933999720

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