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Twitter Archive, Nov.-Dec. 2011

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For some reason, I was spending a lot of time on Twitter in November and December. This is a selection of the most interesting exchanges I had during that time, and a repository of my monologues. My presentation here does not do justice to my interlocutors, because I only include the point in their discourse at which I jump in, or where we engage directly. I beg their pardon for this practice. In the following, I have italicized others' words, preceded by their Twitter identity; my own Twitter ID, @EPButler, precedes my own words, except where I initiate a discourse; these are the rest of the unitalicized texts. I have run tweets together that constitute a single utterance. Text in parentheses or brackets is explanatory.


Oct. 29

@khaoid: 'Monism and pluralism: it's the same thing...' Deleuze

@EPButler: A monist can have, as their single principle, the principle of individuation.

Nov. 3

@nathiaas: Descartes was a man who stared into the flames and saw no need for a god.

@EPButler: Indeed, I would argue that the proof of a supremely perfect or necessary being need not be considered a proof of "God".

Nov. 10

(To @ajnabee): For Proclus, space *is* light, radicalizing the ambivalent status of the chora in the Timaeus. Light in Proclus is essentially truth, the "shining" of existents in states-of-affairs; space, as the body of light, is the event.

@t3dy: A spiritual alchemy reading should get alchemical matter theory right. It does no good to interpolate anachronistic modern spiritualities.

@EPButler: Indeed, perhaps alchemy not grounded in a theory of matter is a contradiction in terms.

@t3dy: But Jung's theory (which is based on a similar attitude in Atwood) argues that alchemical matter theory was nonsense+thus no theory

@EPButler: If alchemical matter theory is nonsense, find a way to read it so it makes sense again: hermeneutical charity. (Same goes, e.g., for ancient physics)

@t3dy: Of course, I do like to explore hermeneutic models that balance charity with *alchemical* violence (properly understood).

@EPButler: Charitable readings are frequently perceived as "violent", where the violence is being done to the conventional interpretation.

(To @ajnabee): Deleuze occasionally guilty of a "non-Deleuzean" reading of Platonism. Sometimes he reads Platonism flat-footedly, without the incisive originality he brings to other philosophies. Not always.

@ajnabee: In the context of Proclus & Byzantine Art he opposes the pure optical of Plotinus to the "peras" or outline of Platonism: the form-outline.

@EPButler: Perfect example. Peras not a form-outline: peras/apeiron in the Philebus demolishes the forms. Just read the Philebus; you will see that peras cannot be construed as an outline. The favored example is a pitch. In Phaedo, Sophist, Plato states that he inherits theory of forms from Pythagoreans; so he is already critical. With the late "theory of principles", Plato has conceived each "form" as the nonexistent point of intersecting continua. This late relativism or holism is explicit in Plato's successor Speusippus, harshly criticized by Aristotle for this.

Nov. 11

(To @t3dy): I suspect that the way to get the spiritual aspects of alchemy right is to forget about them, focus on the matter theory.

Nov. 13

@t3dy: Aquinas was able to reconcile the diversity of ideas with God's simplicity. The solution involves viewing ideas as nonbeings relative to God

@EPButler: Cf. Plato Timaeus, in which one God (the Demiurge) discerns in the beauty of another (the Intelligible Animal) a complex paradigm. Both deities are simple natures (persons), but their encounter generates a complex cosmic "thought".

Nov 16

(@t3dy to @MryMac: I say the Hermetic texts are worth a lot more as religious and theurgic texts than as philosophical ones. We shouldn't project on them.)

@EPButler: I would agree. Hard to see what philosophy in Hermetica other than Platonism.

@MryMac: I think there is more of an emphasis in Hermetic writing of the ability of the human mind to manifest thought than in Plato

@EPButler: Seems like a good answer.

Nov. 17

@t3dy: in terms of the alchemy issue, I don't think there's an alt."Hermetic metaphysics" behind alchemy in the way some suggest

@EPButler: I find that "Hermetic metaphysics" takes up things that dropped out of ancient metaphysics in Xtian appropriation. But alchemy draws more deeply on Presocratics, Stoics, privileges the living over reified forms.

(To @t3dy, @MryMac): Influence of Egypt on the Hermetica a complex subject. New work in Demotic literature suggest structural influence, substantive links remain vague. Often wonder if differences in Greek and Egyptian languages make it hard to translate concepts, easier to think in parallel.

Nov. 18

(An exchange on atomism with @ajnabee and @sdv_duras:)

@ajnabee: "the body without organs can be anything: it can be a living body, it can be a place, it can be a land, whatever you want."

@EPButler: Compare this to Democritus, who reportedly said an atom could be as large as the cosmos? (Aetius 1, 12, 6, DK 68A47 states that Democritus held it "possible for there to be an atom the size of the universe.") Needless to say, scholars find this vexing, try to explain away. But I wonder: what if atomism is an epistemology of things posited as "atomic" (indivisible) that can be taken as composite from another viewpoint? I think that this understanding of atomism also underlies Bruno's monadology. If we go back to Plato's Philebus, I argue for similar approach to Limit/Unlimited/Mixture. These are not simples, but principles; the same entity can be in one respect mixture, in another limit, or unlimited. Viz., human as natural product (mixed), agent (limit), conscious flux/relational node (unlimited). The last example not the best; as agent, best understood in category of "cause", as limit, more like Aristotelian soul. (Aristotelian soul is "primary activity of a natural body with organs"; contrast w/Platonic soul, which is self-mover.) Also, there seem to be a number of ways of cashing out "unlimitedness"; not sure which is best.

@ajnabee: "so an atom is so small as to be like a point, but it itself contains parts: inextensive limits."

@EPButler: Exactly; so we may consider any manifold as "atomic" if conceive its members as "inextensive", i.e. dependent moments.

@ajnabee: epicurean atom: physically indivisible yet containing "inextensive parts" (limits) - when combined one obtains extension

@EPButler: Also note, "when combined, obtain extension": fruitful ambiguity between spatial and logical sense of "extension". Combine "atomic" individuals to produce logical "extension": the sets of identical and different traits.

(More on Hermeticism)

(To @t3dy, @davidbmetcalfe): I am writing an article on the Demotic "Book of Thoth" (so-called) for a forthcoming Festschrift. This is the most promising Egyptian text so far as a structural antecedent for the Hermetica.

@t3dy: so how does Egyptian material in the Hermetica differ from its Greek/Platonic milieu? I don't understand what people mean by this.

@EPButler: This is precisely the problem. I have yet to isolate a single substantive doctrine in the Hermetica that *has to* come from Egypt, but it is clear there is on the other hand a kind of overwhelming influence. I think one can no longer say, with Festugière that the Hermetica is simply an organic development of trends internal to Greek philosophy and religion. It is from this dilemma that I posit the language problem: even an Egyptian priest fluent in Greek might not be able, or wish to try, to directly translate Egyptian concepts into Greek; might prefer to assimilate and transmute the Greek thought s/he'd read entirely in Greek terms.

@t3dy: What about Iamblichus? Is he a greek organic development or does he bring oriental/egyptian material and change Platonism?

@EPButler: Maybe he brings a body of (Syrian, Egyptian) empirical data to Platonic theoretical framework, expands Platonic frame of reference.

(To @t3dy): The value of claims for Egyptian influence, low for a long time, rose sharply with Demotic "Book of Thoth". General evidence of bilingual literary activity has grown for decades; now we see text that is dialogue on far reaching topics between Thoth and an aspirant ("the one who desires knowledge"). At one point, notoriously, Thoth is even "wr wr wr", "thrice-great", à la "Hermes Trismegistos". But even so, caution important!!!

(To @t3dy): If there's a core Hermetic doctrine, it's "salvation through knowledge, theoretical and technical"; so it all [i.e., alchemy, ars memoria, et al.] comes in.

@t3dy: How is this salvation through knowledge different from gnosis. Gnosis isn't the same thing as technical/practical knowledge?

@EPButler: Gnosis in the special sense used of the "Gnostic" sects refers specifically to the knowledge necessary to dissolve cosmic bondage. Usually the Hermetica are more "optimistic", like Platonism: the cosmos is a good creation of good Gods, needs to be understood. So where a "Gnostic" seeks key to escape, Hermetic's technical knowledge is for doing good in the world (or on the way out).

@t3dy: How does the Hermetic attitude compare to Iamblichus' stuff on syncing with the "intellections of the demiurge?"

@EPButler: So close that I need to reread the CH [Corpus Hermeticum] to see if I can find a solid difference.

@t3dy: So because Iamblichus had this experience, he needed to account for it in ways that required flexing of NP philosophical muscles?

@EPButler: Yes, and Platonism was also becoming a very subtle instrument in its own right from polemics with Aristotle, Stoics, et al. Also, wouldn't want "experience" to automatically mean something exotic. Iamblichus just lives in a wider world than Plato did.

(To @t3dy): What has changed in recent decades is that we no longer think of foreigners coming to Egypt and learning Egyptian wisdom, but rather of Egyptian priests learning Greek, playing with Greek concepts, not concerned with "transmission" of their "lore" so much as in participating as equals in the Hellenistic intellectual conversation. How could they not? They lived in a world of Greek government, commerce, philosophy, literature; similar to other colonial contexts.

@t3dy: So this is why we see them speaking in Greek terms, staking positions in the Greek idiom rather than translating in detail.

@EPButler: It was much easier for an Egyptian to become highly literate in Greek than for a Greek to become minimally literate in Egyptian. (Good example of translation problem: no unequivocal translation for Greek psyche in Egyptian, nor Egy. ba or ka in Gk.)

Nov. 19

(An exchange with @aureliomadrid on Eriugena's determination of God as huperousios)

@aureliomadrid ...god cannot be nothing?

@EPButler: Sure; Xtian dogma is creatio ex nihilo, no? I think that the negative moment of henology has divergent values for the monotheist and the polytheist. For the monotheist, the aporia of negative divinity, corresponding to the affirmation of exclusivity; for the polytheist, the positivity of existence over form, possibility of novelty.

(An exchange with @vajramita, @t3dy and @sdv_duras on Plato's Republic)

@vajramita: as an aside, wasn't Plato's 'The Republic' an original & powerful source of obscurantism?

@EPButler: The Republic is a philosophical epic, full of dead ends for superficial readers, like Odysseus' unfortunate crewmates

@vajramita: was it a 'noble lie' or 'magnificent myth'? Either way smacks of restricting knowledge to public for 'greater good'.

@EPButler: Remember that everything you are speaking of pertains to the "fevered city". This is part of Plato's point. Plato's concrete political recommendations, if he had such, are to be found in the Laws, not Republic. The Republic is about justice in the soul; Plato says, we can imagine the soul as a state.

@vajramita: Ok, thank you; in that case are you suggesting that the "fevered city" was a form of satire?

@EPButler: Not satire; plays out the contradictions inherent in the city catering to the outsized desires of some of its citizens. This was due to lack of luxury goods that the city could not produce for itself.

@vajramita: of course, no super-rich elite, no luxury goods :)

@EPButler: And no cadre of autochthonous brazen men and women to acquire/defend them. Now, this political reading I'm giving is not the Neoplatonic reading, for which the city is an intellective structure.

@vajramita: on this view we have the 'noble lie' as the machinations of the subconscious.

@EPButler: The noble lie (of autochthony) is the necessary mindset of the guardian caste (they are "anti-Oedipal"). Compare Teiresias' oracle that a "sown man" must die for the city's sake to end the sickness.

@sdv_duras ...laughs, anti-oedipal looks a little too far there...

@EPButler: Not so much. This is what D/G's "nomad" looks like to Plato. Here, the autochthonous guardians must be willing to die to maintain the fevered city.

@vajramita: then on this view we'd have the Republic as a reductio ad absurdum of city organization and interests.

@EPButler: As I said, though, for NP reading, passage from "pig" to "fever" city about differentiation of intellective plane.

@vajramita: anti-Oedipal in the figurative sense of knowing it's their mother but dissembling the fact to the public (?)

@EPButler: I'm playing on Deleuze and Guattari's "Anti-Oedipus". The assertion of autochthony dissolves the family, also renders male and female guardians equal.

Nov. 20

There is a move Plato makes in the Republic that is rather modern: says you cannot have your highly-labor-differentiated, surplus-wealth-generating state AND your traditional family/gender structures. Want your luxury goods? Must be okay with autochthons, amazons.

(More on atomism, with @ajnabee and @sdv_duras:)

@ajnabee: "soul" has a different context, meaning with Democritus, as does number, Nietzsche was fascinated with this… soul-atoms, body atoms…Nietzsche saw a radical materialism in Democritus which still implied an epistemology or ethics…a chaotic vortex of atoms forming bodies, organs… sense as a "rain" of atoms on sense organs

… also according to Nietzsche between the atomism of Democritus and Phiolaus number has different meaning

@EPButler: Theophrastus says (Met. 11b17-23) that for Democritus atomic shapes ontologically prior to number.

Nov. 21

(Atomism, continued, with same): Would like to add the clinamen to the recognition of atomism's Eleatic roots. If each atom is Eleatic Being Itself, what is the clinamen? Seems like the negative One of Plato's Parmenides.

@ajnabee: In the Logic of Sense the clinamen is associated with event (eventa, sumptomata - literally "things that fall with")

@EPButler: The "swerve" as scope of the event.

(@AriCostello expresses skepticism about my remarks on the clinamen:)

@EPButler: My suggestion w/respect to the clinamen was that as it has become a commonplace in the literature to speak of the Eleatic roots of atomism, for which reading each atom has the value of Parmenidean Being as described in the poem, that an analogous relationship could be posited between another aspect of atomism, the clinamen, and the negative One of *Plato's* Parmenides.

@AriCostello objects to metaphysical reading of Plato's Parmenides: NOT a treatise on metaphysics (as ppl like Allen think), but a study of dialectical logic (135CD, etc.)...

@EPButler: RE Parm. 135cd, heuristic necessity of forms for dialectic does not cancel the preceding aporiae; establishes necessity for a concept of unity (and by extension, form) that can ground inquiry. Hence the point is not a transcendent One Itself, but a transcendental henology (transcendental in the Kantian sense, as working backward from capacities conceded that we possess). This "henology", however, is ontologically innocent, positing dialectical principles, but no entities.

@ajnabee: "for a brief and vertiginous moment, the Eleatic Stranger raises the thought that lies at the heart of Anti-Platonism."

@EPButler: Or rather, anti-"Platonism", because it is through the ES that Plato transcends the doctrine of the "friends of forms".

Nov. 26-28

(A discussion with @vajramita and @t3dy on Bruno's monadology and geometry)

@vajramita: presumably these atoms were indivisible for Bruno? How did he see them coming into being?

@EPButler: Minima are really indivisible per se, but may be notionally divisible or divisible in a different respect. Similarly, regarding genesis, minima per se do not come into being, but may in a different respect ("accidentally").

@vajramita: So if monads ("atoms") shared between mental & physical, this means monads have no spacial extension?

@EPButler: My sense is that monads of a metaphysical character can express a certain disposition of atoms or even be regarded as having caused such a disposition, as in the way that "I" am responsible for my atomic organization, while in another sense, that atomic organization is responsible for me.

@vajramita: so it sounds as though there is no ultimate, but rather imputations of an ultimate which change with conditions (or perspectives).

@EPButler: I like that characterization. Or perhaps the nature of the ultimate just *is* to be such imputations, perspectival "ultimates".

@vajramita: then Bruno seems far from modern physicalist idea of mental supervening on material. Here there is no "I"-independent "atom".

@EPButler: Bruno could be said to be a non-reductive materialist. Bruno's geometry esp. fascinating: each figure has a discrete gnomon, an irreducible number of minima by which it must grow. No figure can grow by adding one minimum; circle needs six, triangle three. Figures are collectives with no uniform measure.

(To @t3dy): I think figure has an utterly new meaning for Bruno, the strictly geometrical no more privileged over "metaphorical" usages. A triangle, e.g., is the communion of three minima; could be three monads of any kind whatsoever. Strangest to me is circle: how to distinguish from hexagon? Hexagon obviously just assemblage of triangles for Bruno.

Dec. 3-4

@ajnabee: "The assertion of the univocity of being, of which the constant formula is 'ontologically one, formally diverse'."

@EPButler: Ambivalent about univocity of being: totalizing. One must try to understand reasons for Aristotle's "Being is said in many ways".

@ajnabee: "only if the Same consists of difference instead of identity can it be viewed as the univocity of Being." -Deleuze

@EPButler: I like this; it inverts the Hegelian procedure of "the identity of identity and difference"; but I don't like the de-structuring moment of univocity rhetoric. In this respect, I prefer Leibniz to Spinoza. All the structure is there, but polycentric (assuming that one cancels his theoretically otiose "monad of monads").

[Re: Aristotle] What I mean is that the Aristotelian phenomenology of substance expresses a genuine moment of being, needs to be grasped. In particular, pertains to an organism's appropriation of the species: not as reified form, but formal moment immanent to genesis.

@ajnabee: what is interesting in Spinoza is his rejection of Aristotelian final cause

@EPButler: Final cause is merely the object of desire as such, that is, as ontically formative.

@ajnabee: Leibniz does indeed pick up Aristotle's final cause (the much attacked pre-established harmony which Deleuze finds so interesting)

@EPButler: Pre-established harmony is to me simply the monadology itself, the thought of the identity of the universe.

@ajnabee: yes, but this is what Deleuze (and Spinoza) are opposing: desire as lack, as being subtractive as compared to its "object"

@EPButler: But desire is formative for Deleuze just as for Aristotle. I resist notion that desire is "lack" in Aristotle. The prime unmoved mover is thought thinking itself, self-identity of desire.

@ajnabee: Leibniz's monad contains both primary and secondary substances, so even here we are "de-structured" with respect to Aristotle (and yes, we do have God as "Supermonad" trying to patch things up :p)

@EPButler: Leibniz's God is not patching things up; it is each substance perfectly understood, i.e., its total context.

@ajnabee: my understanding is that the unmoved mover in Aristotle is considered as a final, and not efficient cause

@EPButler: Final cause is simply the object of some desire. Unmoved movers=objects of desire resulting in circular, rather than linear motion.

@ajnabee: yes, the "patching up" was a bit of a joke: God must create pre-established harmony between (non-communicating) monads and ensure that the best of all possible worlds is actualized between infinite compositions of monads so that out of an infinity of possible worlds the actualized one has the most good and least evil

@EPButler: This is simply a picture of the possibility of an absolute understanding in which the perfection of every action would be apparent.

(With @t3dy, on a certain "occultist" reading of ancient texts)

@t3dy: The kind of methodological caution I'm advocating is not intended to limit speculation, but rather a better assessment of hermeneutical risk

@EPButler: Yes, and less comparativism. Let's concentrate for a while on interpreting texts within traditions narrowly defined.

@t3dy: Yes! A healthy respect for the irreducible otherness and distance of this material is all I'm asking for. Is that so much?

@EPButler: This is why I think it is important to downgrade comparison ontologically: a fuzzy image instead of the identity prior to difference.

Dec. 5

On rereading Hermetica, struck by the extent to which they are primarily philosophical, rather than theological texts, at least to my mind. But this is a difficult distinction to draw. They are certainly concerned with piety, and with the emergence of the cosmos from the divine. But theology in what is for me the primary sense lies in the background. In this respect, the Hermetica offer ways of reading theology. Hence, regarding Egyptian influence, one can imagine authors having texts like the Memphite theology or Heliopolitan cosmogony in mind; but they work explicitly with Greek philosophical concepts, just perhaps bending them in a direction responsive to their concerns, which are overwhelmingly about how to live authentically in the world. Important to stress the innovation of these authors. The purpose of the Hermetica is not to present tradition, but to transform it. In this respect, there are ways in which I think the Hermetica are utterly inferior to primary Egyptian theology. The texts are not consistent in this respect, but runs through many of them an anti-cosmism only slightly less severe than the Gnostics. Egyptian texts, even those formally resembling Hermetica, such as the "Book of Thoth", emphasize continuity between human and animal, whereas the Hermetica seem unable to maintain this, as though human subjectivity has become too problematic, must be separated out. My hunch is that the initial impulse of this is not to aggrandize the human, but a sort of quarantine. These authors are writing out of a social, political, cultural crisis. This is what is so daft about "perennial" reading. Most useful background material in Egyptian theology for approaching Hermetica seems to me to be the Heliopolitan cosmogony…

Dec. 6

The Hermetica dwell on cosmogonies which seem at least from their terminology to be variations on themes from the Timaeus.They don't have the quality of discussions within a Platonic philosophical academy, however; rather, as though they are using the Timaeus as a tool to open up a formal or schematic discourse about cosmogony that abstracts from particular accounts. Thus one could imagine the author of the Hermetic Asclepius having the Heliopolitan cosmogony in the back of his mind. This may not be something new; the Timaeus perhaps not meant to propose a new cosmogony, so much as a formalization of existing ones. We can superimpose such philosophical cosmogonies onto mythic ones, not as though the myths were allegorizations of philosophical "truth" but taking the philosophical reading as a particular way of unpacking an essentially plurivocal mythical text.

Things in the Hermetica not reducible straightaway to Platonism, IMO: a dynamism of matter, and an interest in pure consciousness.

(To @davidbmetcalfe): So we need to ask, why use Greek concepts? Not to communicate "perennial" philosophy or tradition, but because "modern" without tradition's baggage; possibility of radical thought within a tradition, not replacing it, but making it malleable. The significance, I believe, of the formalizing nature of Platonic thought, lost if we think Platonism as ontology. Platonism is not really offering an account of "what there is", but a doctrine of principles, a toolkit for operating with/upon such an account.

Dec. 7

Asclepius 17 is an interesting passage (Mead's translation available here). Mead and Copenhaver both translate mundus here as cosmos, quite natural, only in the Asclepius mundus is systematically ambiguous. Mundus in the Asclepius frequently used to mean "matter" (hylê). Festugière suggests reading it this way throughout Asclepius 17. We get thus a discussion of "the hollow of matter"; now, in CH 2.11, concerning the refutation of void—a concern in the Hermetica—we are told that we ought to refer to the "hollow" rather than the "empty", i.e., void. CH 2 is concerned with place, like Asc. 17; void and place recur at Asc. 33 & 34; obviously important technical concepts in the Hermetica. These philosophical concepts, like others, can seem in the Hermetica to be animated by special concerns. Sometimes, it is instead a question of mundane concepts becoming quasi-philosophical: e.g. a bizarre, seemingly irrelevant condemnation of childlessness ends Corpus Hermeticum 2, out of the spirit of the rest of the essay, but Asclepius 14 speaks of fertility and procreation in a manner in no way literal; seems likely we ought to read this sense into CH 2.17. To return to Asclepius 17: The hollow (seeming-voidness) of matter is like a sphere that cannot be wholly visible because from one's place, one cannot see its bottom, i.e., circumference, periphery. (Compare to the image from Liber 24 Philosophorum about the circle whose center is everywhere, circumference nowhere.) The limits of any formal regime are its "Haides", its unseen; and this is the nature of matter in the privative, relative sense.

BTW, here is a link to Mead's translation of CH 2, since I referred to it.

(Note, in regard to CH 2.17, how androgyny, everywhere else a positive in the CH, is a punishment; further indication of esoteric import.)

(To @t3dy, re: the immanence of ratio in De sex rerum principiis, a 12th century pseudo-Hermetic text)

@EPButler: One can see the process beginning here whereby paganism comes to stand for immanence. A difficult legacy for modern pagans; leads them to reject as "un-pagan" aspects of ancient thought, cede them to monotheists.

(With @t3dy, on the Hermetic application of cosmogony)

@t3dy: Is it cosmological information that a Hermetic initiate wants to know?

@EPButler: Religious cosmology, and for the Hermetic, schemata of subjectivation (hence particular deities not important). Egyptian theology distinctive for its cosmogonic focus; cosmogony seems primary focus of mythic narrative there, proliferates.

Dec. 8

Egyptian origin thesis [i.e. thesis of Egyptian origin of the Corpus Hermeticum] has never been stronger in academia; but what about a doctrine like metempsychosis, pervasive in Hermetica? Either (1) foreign; (2) esoteric; (3) we've been misreading Egyptian afterlife literature. Open to any; but there are implications.

(@t3dy asks clarification on "schemata of subjectivation")

@EPButler: Seems like Egyptian cosmogony gets unpacked as account of formation of human subjectivity in Hermetica.

@t3dy: so the human comes to subjectivity in a way analogous to the Egyptian cosmology? As opposed to the greek cosmology/theogony?

@EPButler: Hellenic theology focuses less on cosmogony, more on issues within the demiurgic organization (Olympian order).

@t3dy: What about Hermetic religiosity couldn't have come from middle/neoplatonism?

@EPButler: Still trying to answer this question to my satisfaction. Just wondering if the question is too absolute. It may be that almost everything in Hermetica can be traced to some Platonic source, but that Egyptian (and other non-Greek) influence affecting emphasis, selection, within Greek conceptual toolkit, aside from really obvious things like defense of statues. Maybe I'm too close to Egyptian worldview to see it properly in Hermetica

Dec. 9

Kore Kosmou (Stobaeus Hermetica) aka "Virgin of the World", trans. Mead, pt. 1, pt. 2:

Kore Kosmou is one of the strongest texts in the Hermetica in terms of explicit Egyptian influence. Not only do we have Isis, Osiris, Horus, and Amun Kamutef ("Kamêphis"), but structure is quite reminiscent of the Book of the Celestial Cow. Here, similarly, to simplify greatly, we have a process of mortals being distanced from the Gods, and the institution of certain mediations. The role of Hermes in KK closely parallels Thoth's in BOCC, as well as in the important chap. 175 in the Book of the Dead. Isis refers at KK 19 to "Black [Rite] that gives perfection"; this evokes references to initiatory "Chamber of Darkness" in Book of Thoth. But given this, striking that in the Egyptian text no account of a transformation in the ontic status of the human or mortal in general, no fall/speciation, as features in Kore Kosmou. We have terse Egyptian pun of 'humans' arising from divine 'tears', Atum's lament at the strife-torn condition of the generation of the "Children of Nut". But the gap that arises between mortals and the divine is unproblematically bridged in the BOCC with texts and practices, while in Hermetic texts like KK, a whole "anthropology" is felt to be necessary, and this seems to draw in a lot of non-Egyptian material. But deeply Egyptian in Kore Kosmou is Isis's statement (4) that knowledge of the elements of the cosmos is intertwined with Osirian mystery. And if we can reinterpret all the "anthropology" in the Hermetica in this fashion, then this becomes a deep Egyptian foundation tying together "technical" elements with an account of the origin and destiny of the mortal as such; though I don't find what the Hermetica uses to fill in the space is as good as what was there to begin with in Egyptian theology.

(To @ArtVolumeOne)

BOD [Book of the Dead] 175 a good example of the complexity of Egyptian theology. Gods such as Isis and Osiris are good for mortals, but Atum laments the evolution of the cosmos through strife; Thoth sympathizes, but also involves himself directly in that strife. Atum says this will be rolled back, but this is not apocalypticism; a promise of security for that which the cosmos deserts. All the levels are affirmed, function in parallel, no simplistic "fall" or uni-directional hierarchy; polycentric complexity. Thoth's role is crucial: he can reduce the complex to the simple, *and* adjudicate value conflicts immanent to a single plane.

(Egyptian influence on the Hellenistic novel, compared with Egyptian influence on the Hermetica)

Another area of Egyptian influence on Hellenistic civilization that perhaps parallels the case of the Hermetica is the novel. The Greek romance novels that emerge in the Hellenistic/Imperial period all have Egyptian trappings to one degree or another, and it may be that some of the intense conjugal eros of Isis and Osiris, normative for Egyptian marriage, is manifest in them. Note that according to Rutherford (J Hellenic Studies 2000), thesis of global Egyptian influence on Hellenic novel has waned, even as evidence of specific motifs has grown; scholars more comfortable with formal detail than with content. Note that scholars comfortable positing Egyptian influence on Hermetica, at least in part because it makes Egypt seem retroactively more compatible with Judaeo-Christian ideology; less comfortable with Egyptian influence on romances, because suggests Egyptian "feminizing" of virile Hellenic culture.

(More on Hermetica)

For a fair statement of the maximalist position (or something near it) on the question of Egyptian influence on Hermetica, see Kingsley, Poimandres: The Etymology of the Name and the Origins of the Hermetica, J. of the Warburg & Courtauld Inst. 56 (1993). I don't agree with Kingsley on everything (in fact, I'm usually skeptical of his work, this article less than most), but the derivation of "Poimandres" from P-eime-nte-Re, "The intelligence of Re" is rather irresistible.

J. Dillon, in Middle Platonists, regards Hermetic concept of nous (intellect), as irreducible to Platonic concept. It seems to be a matter of the Hermetic nous being fundamentally an intelligence belonging more to the persons of the Gods, an hypostatized faculty of divine persons, rather than an initially human and psychical capacity. This *could* be Egyptian.

A stray idea: Hermes as patron of Hermetica not just as syncretized with Thoth, but also as patron of Graeco-Egyptian "translation circle". (Hermes as hermeneus, "translator")

Dec. 10

@aureliomadrid: "according to john scottus, dialectic is outgoing & a follow-up." ―remigius of auxerre

@EPButler: Some translate "flight and pursuit". An idiosyncratic form of Neoplatonic procession and reversion? "Flight and pursuit" a rather original reformulation, reminds me of Bruno's reading of the Actaeon myth in De Gli Eroici Furori. See fourth dialogue for Actaeon: an important reading, signals evolution of Platonic thought, not static. Bruno's Actaeon is prescient, I feel, of a major strain in 20th century philosophy, the person become sign.

Dec. 11

@tdy: "Shepherds in the Bible were symbols of might, ferocity and royalty, whereas now they generally represent peaceful guidance and oversight."

@EPButler: Tension between pastoralism and agriculturalism very important for understanding ancient civilization.

@t3dy: "if you feed them they become your friends." (-ancient shamanic lore) (to @deja_raconte and @_shrine_, re: demons)

EPButler: Also the secret to pastoralism: the mystery of domestication, greatly underestimated, prehistoric spirituality.

(More on the Corpus Hermeticum)

Kore Kosmou 283 Meineke: Isis: "When the dawn came for me, and with all-seeing eyes I gazed upon the hidden things of that dawn and reflected upon them, there came slowly but with precision the discernment that the sacred symbols of the cosmic elements are tucked away near the secrets of Osiris."

(On the Euthyphro)

@hw1: I buy Plato's idea that the gods love virtue because it's virtuous (not the other direction); God's role: to be a partner (maybe senior)=>

@EPButler: The Euthyphro also anticipates future inquiries arriving at a common understanding of virtue and divinity through idea of integrity.

(On the Ouroboros)

@TempleAlchemy: The Ouroboros is a powerful Alchemical symbol of the integration & assimilation of the opposite.

@EPButler: Would rather say Ouroboros a symbol of appropriation of the origin (archê).

(Cowboy hermeneutics)

@Hal_Duncan: Since The Quick and the Dead, I can no longer watch a Western without seeing Gnostic allegory. Seriously, all cattle barons are Yaldabaoth.

@EPButler: Ever read Aurobindo's Secret of the Veda? Sanskrit 'go' means both 'cow' and 'light'.

Dec. 13

The Demotic "Book of Thoth" truly a unique composition: concerns writing as a mystical path.

Dec. 20

@cole_tucker: "The jing comes from the sinews, the li from the bones."

@EPButler: "The Egyptians in a myth say enigmatically that when Horus was judged, his breath and blood were allotted to his father, his flesh and fat to his mother." (Plutarch, Generation of the Soul 1026c)

Dec. 26

@vajramita: "The yogin is an alchemist who must transmute the base metal of a confused mind into the gold of pure awareness."

@EPButler: Wonder if the metaphor should go this way instead: *with* pure awareness, transmute "lead" content into "gold" content of mind.

@vajramita: I like that too. In Mahamudra it is the realization of the pure awareness inherent in the "lead" which transmutes it into "gold".


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On January 8th, 2012 02:07 am (UTC), t3dy commented:
thanks for putting this archive up. lots of interesting stuff.
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