Panel Soul and Souls in the Platonic Tradition
XIIth Conference of the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies,
17th of June 2014, University of Lisbon
Dimka Gicheva-Gocheva, associated professor in history of philosophy,
Faculty of Philosophy, Sofia University St. Kliment Ohridski
The windings of the souls’ destinies in the Hermetic text Kore Kosmou
(excerpt XXIII in the anthology of Stobaeus )
The title of the text has been translated by some Renaissance philosophers as Minerva Mundi and Pupilla Mundi, and by some modern translators as The Apple of the Eye of the World or The Pupil of the Eye of the Kosmos, (whereas earlier The Virgin of the World and The Daughter of the Kosmos had been preferred).
1. Date, author and place of the writing acc. to Scott: A.D. 150 terminus a quo; A.D. 300 terminus ante quem; by someone, who had lived in Alexandria and had been extremely hostile to the Christians:
… the calamities endured by the Alexandrians in 262-263, and described in the letters of bishop Dionysius (Euseb., H. E. 21 ff.), would be still recent, and would be vividly pictured in the writer’s memory; and that might account for the resemblance between the complaints of the Elements in the KK and the bishop’s descriptions of the state of things in Egypt… a date between A. D. 263 and 268 may perhaps be thought a little more probable than any other (p. 477-475)
2. Terrible composition and incoherence. The messy disorder of the parts and another possible rearrangement of the chunks, plus even exclusion of some of them, which are supposedly interpolated by a much later copyist, who added pieces from a completely different work, just in order to compare one anthropogony with another; the proposal of Scott about the rearregement of the jumbled paragraphs or “chunks’: 50 (the speech of the supreme god to the lower gods), 11, 9, 10, 12, 52, 51.
3. General sketch of the character, genres and possible time of appearance of the two most important texts in the Corpus Hermeticum and the Stobaei Hermetic excerpts; a brief delineation of the similarities between the two major cosmogonies in the Hermetic corpora – the Poimandres in the CH and respectively, the Kore Kosmou in the Stobaei anthology. The differences are much more than the resemblances.
KK as an important text in the Platonic tradition:
a) firstly, with many ideas, especially concerning the ones about the making of the world; the epithets of the supreme God ( the novelties); the hierarchy between the supreme God and the lower gods; the soul and the souls; (15-16)
b) secondly, the dialogue form, the incorporated micro-dialogues within the speeches of the main mouthpiece – the goddess Isis;
c) thirdly, the Egyptian exotism, explained so brilliantly by Plutarchus in the De Iside and Osiride - parallels with the Timaeus (the narration of the grandfather of Solon about the Egyptian knowledge and wisdom) and in the Phaedrus (the inventure of the graphic signs for the unwritten);
4. The main problems: the creation of the individual souls by the supreme and incorporeal God, their pre-existence and their desperate struggle against the forcible incarnation, so vividly and pathetically described in the cosmogony and the psyche-gony of the Kore Kosmou. Paralels with the Phaedo. Three main modi of the existence of the souls (fr. XXIII and XXIV) – incorporeal; embodied in humans as a punishment; embodied in beasts as a double- punishment;
The reasons for the embodiment and the respective punishment of the souls are revealed in the speech of the God-creator – commandments and warnings – ch. 17;
See further ch. 18 – the making of the mixture of the elements and 19 – the deliverance of the residuum to the already coined souls with the order they to produce the four animal genera: birds, quadrupeds, fishes, serpents.
5. Questions important as well: is there further palingenesis after the embodiment of the souls in beasts? Compare with the Timaeus. What is the conceptual ontological difference between palingenesis and embodiment? The ethical vindication or determinism: if the human beings are predetermined to act in a certain way, accordingly to the previous embodiment of the souls, why and how should be they held as responsible for their deeds – fr. XXIV. Comp. the Republic.
6. The voluminous commentaries of: Walter Scott, Zelinski, Gochev, Stefanov ( and more accurately the ones in the third volume of Scott's Hermetica. The Ancient Greek and Latin Writings, which contain religious or philosophical teachings, ascribed to Hermes Trismegistus. Shambhala, Boston, 1985 for the other scholars see the bibliography). The writer of Kore Kosmou, whoever (s)he might be, has been influenced by many Platonic teachings. The influence and even the parallels or the intended allusions to the Timaeus are undeniable. At the same time there are some Aristotelian traces: e.g. in the divisions of the parts of the cosmos and the terrestrial hemispheres, in which we dwell, delineated in fragment 24; the epistemological biases of the author(s) of the SH more to Aristotle than to Plato, contrary to the tendency in the CH. Of course, there are also some signs of the Stoic doctrines and of the eclectic of Posidonius.
This makes the writing, entitled Kore Kosmou, an extremely curious and interesting text, especially for the historians of the ancient philosophy, telling us a lot about the spiritual atmosphere of the centuries, in which the Neoplatonism emerged. The Hermetic texts are not so marvelous and systematic in their philosophical depths, compared to the best works of the great Neo-Platonic tradition, but at the same time they provide us the excellent opportunity to approach the Geist, the spirit and to the complex variety and doctrinal eclectic, in which the Neoplatonist philosophy understandably dominated.
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