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Thread: Was Plato against the Hermetic path?

  1. #1
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    Was Plato against the Hermetic path?

    It is known that Plato studied the Hermetic path in Egypt for some 10-15 years. However, the spiritual path he describes in book VII of the Republic is so different from the Hermetic path of alchemy, astrology and magic that I am starting to believe he may have outright rejected the Hermetic path, perhaps not even completing his studies of it.

    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!

  2. #2
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    I recommend to read the Corpus Hermeticum.
    Hermes Trismegistos was the first, then came Orpheus, then quite some others. The last one of the canonical line of antiquity was Plato.

    Oh, and I recommend to read "Socrates' God" by Apuleius. Actually I recommend to read anything by Apuleius because before Ficino he was the only original source of latin versions of parts of the Corpus.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Florius Frammel View Post
    I recommend to read the Corpus Hermeticum.
    Hermes Trismegistos was the first, then came Orpheus, then quite some others. The last one of the canonical line of antiquity was Plato.
    Thanks for the recommendation.

    I don't deny that the Hermetic path also had a philosophical component, also known as the philosophical Hermetica (as opposed to the technical Hermetica of the Hermetic sciences themselves). However the whole point of the Hermetic path is to realize this worldview through the hands on approach of the technical Hermetica, rather than taking the Corpus Hermticum as something like a Holy Book which was to be believed without question. That would undermine the whole point of the Hermetic sciences and path.

    How Neoplatonism differs is in its emphasis on mind/intellect itself as a vehicle for attaining to these realities, rather than Alchemy, Astrology and Magic. As I mention above, it seems likely to me that Plato was initiated in the Hermetic path but then came to reject it later on as he carved out his own abstract mathematical path far away from glassware and magical rituals.

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    As Ficino already noticed: Hermes did not write much neither about magic nor astrology. And he did that with good reason. The hermetic path not only contains a philosophical component, it consists out of the one and only legit philosophical path.

    I don't deny that this path also is more or less plainly obvious or hidden in other paths like the Dao Dejing, Popol Vuh, certain celtic, Hindi, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachings..

    To most european people of medieval times this path was hidden up until the Renaissance when the Corpus Hermeticum eventually got translated and published.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Florius Frammel View Post
    the one and only legit philosophical path.
    Which is?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Andro View Post
    Which is?
    I recommend to read the Corpus Hermeticum. The english translation is probably the best known but imo sufficient despite its translation flaws. I don't consider me to be a good spiritual teacher, so I feel unable to sufficiently explain it verbally or in text form right now.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Florius Frammel View Post
    I recommend to read the Corpus Hermeticum. The english translation is probably the best known but imo sufficient despite its translation flaws. I don't consider me to be a good spiritual teacher, so I feel unable to sufficiently explain it verbally or in text form right now.
    Try your best.

    Give it a go with a simple explanation of what you believe.

    Many times I have read the Hermetic Corpus and would like to hear your personal opinion of what you feel is the only legit philosophical path.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Florius Frammel View Post
    As Ficino already noticed: Hermes did not write much neither about magic nor astrology. And he did that with good reason. The hermetic path not only contains a philosophical component, it consists out of the one and only legit philosophical path.

    I don't deny that this path also is more or less plainly obvious or hidden in other paths like the Dao Dejing, Popol Vuh, certain celtic, Hindi, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish and Islamic teachings..

    To most european people of medieval times this path was hidden up until the Renaissance when the Corpus Hermeticum eventually got translated and published.
    I am not sure whether you are saying that the Hermetic path, including the technical Hermetica (alchemy and all) is the only legit path or whether you are referring only to the philosophical Hermetica?

    If it is the former then I have already given a valid alternative: Neoplatonism. This means your claim is false by counter-example.

    If the latter, then I cannot deny that every single spiritual path out there is based on the same "backbone" principles of purifying the soul and acquiring the virtues. From what I remember from my last reading of the Corpus Hermeticum, this is exactly what it was talking about. So in that sense, I cannot deny that this is the only valid path because every single path out there has to be based on these principles. But the way you put it is slightly misleading; maybe if you said that it is the basis of every spiritual path it would have made more sense to others? Also, even if we agree that it must be included in every spiritual path, Hermes does advocate a particular *way* of going about it, based on hating the body and asceticism, etc. This automatically negates any generality you are claiming for the Corpus Hermeticum and differentiates it into just another path like every other path out there, from Neoplatonism to meditation and so on. So whilst I don't deny that anyone on a spiritual path must eventually purify themselves of the ego and acquire the virtues, I disagree that the Corpus Hermeticum is speaking about this in a general way rather than via a specific path.

    The Qur'an on the other hand is an example I am acquainted with which *does* speak of this in a general way. For example, it uses the symbol of the battle between Pharaoh and Moses to teach one to purify their ego. Moses needs the help of his brother Aaron to confront Pharaoh, meaning that fire, will, determination on their own are not enough in this battle - one also needs compassion and diplomacy when dealing with the ego, which are symbolized by Aaron. Otherwise, the ego can overturn you. Just a small example of how the Qur'an speaks about these things in general terms without specifying a particular way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Schmuldvich View Post
    Try your best.
    "You can't tell your students the best (thing)!" - Johann Wolfgang v. Goethe


    Give it a go with a simple explanation of what you believe.
    That's the point. Literally! It's a smooth transition between knowing (Gnosis) and speculation. That's why I don't want to go too far and claim things that would probably be merely speculation. Maybe just this side note: It's not about to believe.

  10. #10
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    @Tannur:
    The "Bad Body" thing was a misinterpretion. Back in those days they had a different terminology, so the words we use nowadays are not the same like they were used back then.

    On the contrary: Actually the alchemists of all times adviced to "Visit the interior of the earth" instead of denying or torturing it.

    On the other hand I heard about people in India who hurt themselves really hard all day long to reach the state of enlightenment. Allegedly this path works for them too, but I don't know much about this.

    At the core there is the same motive over and over again. Be it in the already mentioned religions (including your so appreciated islamic path), or be it in ordinary fairy tales of the brothers Grimm, Perrault and others. You see it when you see it. As I already said, I feel unable to explain it better or further. I can only recommend to read and compare the similarities and differences.

    But I can tell you what it's not: Just believe something anyone else has told you just for the sake of believing (or the salvation of your soul, or your body, or your spirit, or anything else you think you possess).

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