The path given by Plato in the Republic is as follows:

-Mathematics for 10 years

-Dialectic for 5 years

-Ordinary life for 15 years

-Spiritual ascent through a "khalwa"-like initiation, which the student would be ready for at that stage given the intense selection process of the previous stages.

Now notice in particular the 10 years which Plato assigns to mathematics. This is not ordinary by any means - not even in Neoplatonic circles! In fact, the norm in later Platonic curricula was to teach philosophy in general through Aristotle's works followed by mathematics, rather than mathematics alone. So what is Plato's motivation for assigning ten whole years to purely mathematical studies (the Quadrivium)?

In my opinion, the reason is to be found in the Egyptian curriculum he would have been introduced to earlier in his life. It is known that the Hermetic path starts off with Alchemy, and we can assume that a reasonable timeframe for pursuing the art in a temple-like setting guided by priest-adepts was around 10 years at most. (In fact, a famous Arab alchemist - Tughra'i, said it took him 15 years to learn the art by studying Jabir ibn al-Hayyan's texts on his own, lending at least some credence to the 10 years timeframe for a student studying the art formally under guidance). After all, the aim was not Alchemy itself but magic. But 10 years would have been important for purifying the student, allowing him to intellectually mature, and so on.

If we compare Plato's 10 years of mathematics with the Hermetic path's 10 years or so of Alchemy, the idea doesn't sound as absurd. In fact, I would go further and say that Plato's Divine mind must have found it hard to stoop down to the level of flasks and chemicals in Alchemy. He probably stopped before he reached the end of the path, having acquired all that he needed. Or maybe he completed the path and didn't agree with the later rituals and theurgy which were used in the Magic stage of the Hermetic path? We will never know. But at least to my mind, Plato's emphasis on mathematics for ten whole years is a clue that he may have had an aversion to the Hermetic path and might have even been trying to directly replace/substitute mathematics for Alchemy as the first step of initiation. We must keep in mind that the Neoplatonic path originated with Plato in that very book the Republic, and Socrates was probably a figure he just invented for the purposes of teaching his more abstract Dialectically-focused path (it would have been far less romantic and convincing to openly state that he was modelling his path on the Hermetic path and simply replacing alchemy with maths and astrology + magic with cosmology and spiritual Dialectic!).

So to my mind at least, the Neoplatonic path can be seen as a kind of abstraction and generalization of the Hermetic path. Alchemy becomes mathematics, astrology becomes spiritual astronomy, and magic becomes spiritual Dialectic. This becomes somewhat clearer when we consider how later Neoplatonic teachers modelled there curriculum around these three sciences, culminating in the Timaeus as the perfection of the natural science/cosmology and the Parmenides as the perfection of spiritual Dialectic (for further elaboration on this, see for example the following article:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/3so6qxlkd7...e_REV.pdf?dl=0 )

In an age where everything is becoming more abstract and medicine and natural science are reaching their perfection, I feel that the Neoplatonic path is a more suitable way for rationally inclined seekers of the Divine then the Hermetic path. Unfortunately, it seems to me that most people who pursue Alchemy do so blindly simply based on an "attraction" they have to the art, without considering where it may be taking them. Maybe it is high time for these peope to reconsider their intentions for pursuing the art and whether they really want to go down the same path as Khunrath. (See Peter Foreshaw's articles, especially "Behold, the dreamer cometh".)

To Plato, thrice-great! ]]>