Plato’s Birthday (sort of)

The traditional birthday of Plato was said to have occurred on the 7th day of the ancient Athenian lunar month of Thargelion (which next occurs on May 17th, 2013), while modern (solar) calendars give Plato’s approximate birthdate as May 21st. However, there is also a modern tradition, stemming from the Florentine Renaissance, of celebrating Plato’s birthday on November 7th, as the following two extracts show. And while I’m not sure if anyone else will understand why, I found the second article especially amusing. It was published in a Victorian-era Neoplatonist magazine (ah, the good old days when there were Neoplatonist magazines!), though it sounds like it was originally written for a local society column. It relates in great detail (so detailed that I only included a few excerpts) the November 7th, 1889 philosophical festivities of the “Plato Club” in Bloomington, Illinois! The whole thing is so damn charming that I totally want to start a Plato Club now.

The Celebration of the Natal Day of Platon
[from Roscoe’s Life of Lorenzo de Medici]

The Florentine Academy was still more influential for good, during the lifetime of Lorenzo de Medici, who was enthusiastically devoted to its interests, and who spared neither wealth nor influence to extend its usefulness and fame. He established the Platonic festival, which had been celebrated from Platon’s death to the days of his disciples, Plotinos and Porphyrios, but which had been discontinued for the long space of twelve hundred years. The day fixed for this purpose was the 7th of November, which was supposed to be the anniversary not only of the birth of Platon, but of his death, which happened among his friends, at a convivial banquet, precisely at the close of his eighty-first year. The person appointed by Lorenzo to preside over the ceremony at Florence was Francisco Bandini, whose rank and learning rendered him extremely proper for the office. On the same day another party met at Lorenzo’s villa in Careggi, where he presided in person. At these meetings, to which the most learned men in Italy resorted, it was the custom for one of the party, after dinner, to select certain passages from the works of Platon, which were submitted to the elucidation of the company, each of the guests undertaking the illustration or discussion of some important or doubtful point. By this institution, which was continued for several years, the philosophy of Platon was supported not only in credit, but in splendor, and its professors were considered as the most respectable and enlightened men of the age.

Platonic Celebration
[From Bibliotheca Platonica: An Exponent of the Platonic Philosophy. Vol. 1. November-December, 1889. No. 2]

We note with great pleasure that the holding of an annual Symposion or festival in celebration of the “birthday” (mundane descent) of the Divine Plato, revived by the Editor of this journal in 1888, will probably become a permanent custom. We hope to see the time when the birthday of Plato will not only be made a national holiday, but will also be celebrated throughout the civilized world by Platonists and all others who love Wisdom, and worship in the temple of truth. We are indebted to Mrs. Julia P. Stevens for the following report of the Symposion held at Bloomington, Ills., under the auspices of the Plato Club of that city. In justice to Mrs. Stevens it should be said that much of the success of this celebration is due to her indefatigable work and enthusiasm.

In imitation of the nine Muses, nine persons are accustomed to assemble at stated times for the purpose of making a study of the works of Plato. Their names are:
Miss Sarah E. Raymond, Miss Effie Henderson, Dr. E.W. Gray, Mrs. Mary A. Marmon, Miss Nellie Fitzgerald, Miss Clara Ewing, Prof. A.S. McCoy, Mrs. Emelie S. Maddox, Mrs. Julia P. Stevens.

This Club gave a Festival on November the 7th in commemoration of the Terrestrial Descent of Plato.

They met in a Symposion, with about fifty guests, among whom were the most cultivated people in the city. Three daily newspapers kindly lent their aid in presenting to the public the object of the meeting, viz. to attempt to awaken an interest in the Platonic Philosophy.

Music of a very high order was rendered by resident musicians, Prof. Benter, Miss Carrie Crane, Mrs. Eva Mayers Shirley, Mrs. Lydia Sherman.

Miss Raymond welcomed with cordial greeting, not only the Philosophers who appeared in response to the invitation, but those from suburban towns, distant cities, and our own home friends.

She gave likewise a short sketch of the Life of Plato. Mrs. Stevens stated briefly the reasons for fixing the Celebration on the 7th of November, rather than in May, November corresponding to Thargelion the eleventh month of the Attic year, and the time observed by the Florentine Platonists.

Several letters expressive of sympathy and an appreciation of the movement were read from friends deprived of the pleasure of attendance. One says:
“Your invitation is both beautiful and original. I like the idea of celebrating Plato’s birthday in Illinois.” [ . . .]

Rev. George Stevens read a paper by Alexander Wilder M.D., of New York City, entitled, “Philosophic Morality.” Then an anonymous essay was presented on “Euthyphron or Holiness.”

Both these papers provoked discussion. Many insisted upon concisely formulated definitions of the two qualities, morality and holiness; and some murmured at not having them shaped into jewels, to be borne away as keepsakes.

Mrs. South, of Jacksonville, Ills., recited a little poem, “Looking Backward,” contrasting the socialistic scheme of Edward Bellamy, with Plato’s Republic.

At the evening session, although the rain fell in torrents, there were about sixty souls present. The session opened with the following poetical tribute to Plato, which was read by Mrs. Julia P. Stevens:

I.
“Immortal Plato ! Justly named divine !
What depth of thought, what energy is thine !
Whose God-like soul, an ample mirror seems,
Strongly reflecting mind’s celestial beams,
Whose periods too redundant roll along,
Grand as the ocean ! as the torrent strong.”

A few are always found in every age,
“To unfold the wisdom of thy mystic page.”

II.
And now, though hoary centuries have fled,
We wish to honor still, the illustrious dead,
Dead ! Did I say ? Ah no ! He yet inspires
All lofty souls, with heavenly desires
To mount on Reason’s wing, beyond the sky,
Where truly beauteous forms can never die,
Where prophet, saint, and sage in bright array,
Behold the splendors of eternal day. [. . .]

Mr. Johnson, Editor of the Bibliotheca Platonica, read a paper entitled, “Plato and His Writings.” Much interest was manifested by various questions, at the conclusion of the reading.

Dr. Hiram K. Jones, of Jacksonville, Illinois, who declared that his “lucid interval” was in the morning, rather than in the evening, delivered a most eloquent extemporaneous discourse on the “Symposion of Plato.” [ . . .]

The audience after joining in the song, “Auld Lang Syne,” dispersed.

The next day, November 8th, was almost entirely occupied in conversations and discussions on Platonic topics; and I hold in grateful remembrance all the good things uttered both by Mr. Johnson and Dr. Jones.

The success of the Symposion was mainly due to the energy of Miss Raymond, who, gifted with appreciation, is the embodiment of generosity, and ever seeks to bring the best of everything to the citizens of Bloomington.

The next Celebration will be held on the 7th day of November, 1890, at Jacksonville, Ills.

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Then through my dream the choir of gods was borne . . .

Gustave Moreau – Phaethon

The Fall of a Soul
 by John Addington Symonds (October 5, 1840 – April 19, 1893)

I sat unsphering Plato ere I slept:
Then through my dream the choir of gods was borne,
Swift as the wind and lustrous as the morn,
Fronting the night of stars; behind them swept
Tempestuous darkness o’er a drear descent,
Wherethrough I saw a crowd of charioteers
Urging their giddy steeds with cries and cheers
To join the choir that aye before them went:
But one there was who fell, with broken car
And horses swooning down the gulf of gloom;
Heavenward his eyes, though prescient of their doom,
Reflected glory like a falling star;
While with wild hair blown back and listless hands
Ruining he sank toward undiscovered lands.

 

Socrates, Buddha, and Joseph Campbell on Bliss

“That soul, I say, herself invisible, departs to the invisible world to the divine and immortal and rational: thither arriving, she lives in bliss and is released from the error and folly of men, their fears and wild passions and all other human ills, and forever dwells, as they say of the initiated, in company with the gods.”
― Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo (translated by Benjamin Jowett)

“That land is sublime, blissful, serene and pure. Why do you not diligently practice good, reflect on the naturalness of the Way and realize that it is above all discriminations and is boundlessly pervasive? You should each make a great effort to attain it. . . . The Pure Land is easy to reach, but very few actually go there. It rejects nobody, but naturally and unfailingly attracts beings. Why do you not abandon worldly matters and strive to enter the Way? If you do, you will obtain an infinitely long life and one of limitless bliss.”
― Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha in the Infinite Life Sutra aka the Larger Pure Land Sutra (translated by Hisao Inagaki)

“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
― Joseph Campbell

Hestia, The Queen of Fire – Part Three

“Young men, praise Hestia, the most ancient of goddesses.”

[verse preserved in Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Cratylus, quoted in Greek and Egyptian Mythologies by Yves Bonnefoy, translated under the direction of Wendy Doniger]

This will be my last installment (for now) on Hestia, before I move on to the many other members of My Personal Pantheon. This post will focus on Hestia in relation to philosophy, with a focus on the Pythagoreans and Neoplatonists.  [Edited to add:  Please keep in mind that this is not my only view of Hestia.  Part One and Part Two contain pictures, personal anecdotes, mythological lore, a link to a Mary J. Blige song, and far fewer references to ontology.] If you are completely new to Neoplatonism, I highly recommend starting with my post on Proclus, which links to a number of resources to help the newcomer navigate through this type of material.  Also, a number of these quotes were found on the *fantastic* Hestia page at HellenicGods.org, which is an incredible resource for Hellenic pagans/polytheists and one of my favorite websites in general.  Many of these quotations will require further commentary and elaboration, which I honestly don’t have time to provide at this moment (though I will probably return to later), so if you have any questions on this admittedly difficult material, please let me know in the comments!

Hestia and the Pythagoreans:  The Fire in the Middle

“The Pythagoreans offered significant cosmological observations . . . It is also noteworthy that the early Pythagoreans denied the geocentric and geostatic model of the universe. According to the testimony of Aristotle (De caelo 293.18), they placed *fire* and not earth at the centre of the universe. The earth became a celestial body, which creates day and night by its circular motion around Hestia (hestia meaning ‘hearth’). Ten divine celestial bodies – ten being the perfect number, which encompasses the whole nature of numbers – rotate rhythmically around Hestia in the following order: the dark counter-earth (antichthon), the earth, the moon, the sun, the five planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury) and the sphere of the fixed stars (aristotle, Metaphysics 986). This new cosmological model is usually attributed to Philolaus (B7 and A16) and explained through the importance of the Monad in Pythagorean metaphysics. Since the Monad is the divine source of all numbers and is identified with, or represented by, the purity of the fire, the source of the celestial bodies should be a divine fire in the centre of the cosmos (Aristotle, Metaphysics 986).”

[p. 38-39, Introduction to Presocratics: A Thematic Approach to Early Greek Philosophy with Key Readings by Giannis Stamatellos]

Pythagorean Fragments of Philolaus
[full text here]

“10. (Stob. Eclogl.1:5:7:p.360) The world is single; it began to form from the centre outwards. Starting from this centre, the top is entirely identical to the base; still you might say that what is above the centre is opposed to what is below it; for, for the base, lowest point would be the centre, as for the top, the highest point would still be the centre; and likewise for the other parts; in fact, in respect to the centre, each one of the opposite points is identical, unless the whole be moved. b.(Stob.Ecl.l:2l:3:p.468) The prime composite, the One placed in the centre of the sphere is called Hestia.”

“11. a. (Stob.Ecl.l:22:l:p.488) Philolaus has located the fire in the middle, the centre; he calls it Hestia, of the All, the house [policeipest] of Jupiter, and the mother of the Gods, the altar, the link, the measure of nature. Besides, he locates a second fire, quite at the top, surrounding the world. The centre, says he, is by its nature the first; around it, the ten different bodies carry out their choric dance; these are, the heaven, the planets, lower the sun, and below it the moon ; lower the earth, and beneath this, the anti-earth (a body invented by the Pythagoreans, says Aristotle, Met i: 5) then beneath these bodies the fire of Hestia, in the centre, where it maintains order. The highest part of the Covering, in which he asserts that the elements exist in a perfectly pure condition, is called Olympus, the space beneath the revolutionary circle of Olympus, and where in order are disposed the five planets, the sun and moon, forms the Cosmos world; finally, beneath the latter is the sublunar region, which surrounds the earth, where are the generative things susceptible to change; that is the heaven. The order which manifests in the celestial phenomena is the object of science; the disorder which manifests in the things of becoming, is the object of virtue; the former is perfect, the latter is imperfect. b. (Plut. Plac.Phil.3:ll). The Pythagorean Philolaus located the fire in the centre, it is the Hestia of the All, then the Anti-earth, then the earth we inhabit, placed opposite the other, and moving circularly; which is the cause that its inhabitants are not visible to ours. (Stob.Ecl.l:21:6:p.452). The directing fire, [of] Philolaus, is in the entirely central fire; which the demiurge has placed as a sort of keel [to] serve as foundation to the sphere of the All.”

Hestia and Plato, Part I:  The Essence of Things

“Socrates: “What may we suppose him to have meant who gave the name Hestia?…….that which we term οὐσἰα (ed. ousia) is by some called ἐσἰα (ed. esia), and by others again ὠσἰα (ed. osia).  Now that the essence of things should be called ἑστἰα (ed. estia), which is akin to the first of these (ἐσἰα=ἑστἰα), is rational enough.  And there is reason in the Athenians calling that ἑστἰα which participates in οὐσἰα.  For in ancient times we too seem to have said ἐσἰα for οὐσἰα, and this you may note to have been the idea of those who appointed that sacrifices should be first offered to Ἑστἰα (ed. Hestia), which was natural enough if they meant that ἑστἰα was the essence of things.  Those again who read ὠσἰα seem to have inclined to the opinion of Heracleitus, that all things flow and nothing stands; with them the pushing principle (ὠθουν; ed. othoun) is the cause and ruling power of all things, and is therefore rightly called ὠσἰα.” 

[Plato’s Cratylus, 401, translated by Benjamin Jowett –  quote with editor’s notes appears on the Hestia page at HellenicGods.org]

Socrates’ convoluted etymology of Hestia = Ousia, (aka Hestia = Essence, Being Itself, the Essence of All Things) is an important idea that the later Neoplatonists will pick up and run forward with into intricate realms of cosmological speculation, with Hestia as one of the principle or essential components of the cosmos itself.

Hestia and Plato, Part II:  She Who Abides

“Zeus, the mighty lord, holding the reins of a winged chariot, leads the way in heaven, ordering all and taking care of all; and there follows him the array of gods and demigods, marshalled in eleven bands; Hestia alone abides at home in the house of heaven; of the rest they who are reckoned among the princely twelve march in their appointed order.”  [Plato, Phaedrus 246 (trans. Jowett)]

This description of Hestia as the goddess who abides at home on Olympus (while Zeus leads a procession of the other Olympians in their chariots) will later become the key image and the cornerstone for later Neoplatonist interpretations of Hestia. If there’s one image from Plato most relevant to Hestia, it is this one:  Hestia, She Who Abides.

Hestia and Plotinus:  The Intellect of the Earth

“Plotinus, who denominates the intellect of the Earth, Hestia” [Ennead IV, 4, 27]

Hestia and Porphyry:  Essence, the Source of All Being

“Hestia, existing within the Father as a source and cause of all being, equals ontotes [Being itself]”

[Lydus, Mens. 4.94, referencing a treastise attributed to Porphyry, quoted in Porphyry and the Gnostics: Reassessing Pierre Hadot’s Thesis in Light of the Second- and Third-Century Sethian Treatises by Tuomas Rasimus, in Plato’s Parmenides and Its Heritage: Its reception in Neoplatonic, Jewish, and Christian texts p.89]

Hestia and Sallust:  The Guardian Power

Farther still, of the mundane Gods, some are the causes of the existence of the world; others animate it; others again harmonize it thus composed of different natures; and others, lastly, guard and preserve it when harmonically arranged. And since these orders are four, and each consists of things first, middle and last, it is necessary that the disposers of these should be twelve. Hence Jupiter, Neptune, and Vulcan, fabricate the world; Ceres, Juno and Diana animate it; Mercury, Venus, and Apollo harmonize it; and lastly, Vesta, Minerva, and Mars, preside over it with a guardian power. But the truth of this may be seen in statues as in enigmas. For Apollo harmonizes the lyre; Pallas is invested with arms; and Venus is naked; since harmony generates beauty, and beauty is not concealed in objects of sensible inspection. Since, however, these Gods primarily possess the world, it is necessary to consider the other mundane Gods as subsisting in these; as Bacchus in Jupiter, Esculapius in Apollo, and the Graces in Venus. We may likewise, behold the spheres with which they are connected ; viz. Vesta with earth, Neptune with water, Juno with air, and Vulcan with fire. But the six superior Gods we denominate from general custom. For Apollo and Diana are assumed for the sun and moon ; but the orb of Saturn is attributed to Ceres; aether to Pallas; and heaven is common to them all. And thus much concerning the mundane Gods in general, the sources of their progression, their orders, powers, and spheres.

[Sallust, On the Gods and the World, VI, quoted in The Platonic Theology of Proclus (Book VII, Chapter 1) translated by Thomas Taylor]

 Hestia and Proclus, Part I:  The Fountain of Virtue

Hestia is described as “the cause of the virtues”  [Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, Book III p.539, trans. Thomas Taylor]

Hestia as “the fountain of virtue” [ibid, note on p.675, cf. Chaldaean Oracle fr. 51 & 52]

Hestia and Proclus, Part II:  The Fixed Hearth – Permanency and Stability

“But if as some say, the assertion that “Hestia alone abides in the dwellings of the Gods” (p. 848, quoting Plato’s Phaedrus 274a), is spoken of this earth, Plato will be very far from giving motion to the Earth.  If however we do not admit that the Hestia there mentioned is the Earth, yet it must be granted, that there is a guardian power in the Earth of the nature of Hestia.  For as we say, that in the Heavens, the poles are connectedly contained by Hestia, thus also among the elements, the Earth.  And as the supermundane Hestia, is to the great leader of the twelve Gods, so in mundane natures is the Earth to the Heavens.” [ibid, p. 848-849]

fixing the earth indeed, as a firm seat or Vesta” – [Proclus, Platonic Theology of Plato: Book V, Chapter 20, translated by Thomas Taylor]

“Plato however, apprehended that the number of the dodecad is adapted to the liberated Gods, as being allperfect, composed from the first numbers, and completed from things perfect; and he comprehends in this measure all the progressions of these Gods. For he refers all the genera and peculiarities of them to this dodecad, and defines them according to it. But again dividing the dodecad into two monads and one decad; he suspends all [mundane natures] from the two monads, but delivers to us each of these energizing on the monad posterior to itself, according to its own hyparxis. And one of these monads indeed, he calls Jovian, but he denominates the other Vesta.” [ibid, Book VI, Chapter 18]

“Since therefore, as we have before observed, there are twelve leaders of all the mundane Gods, of all daemons, and farther still, of such partial souls as are able to be extended to the intelligible, again in this dodecad, the mighty Jupiter and Vesta are allotted the more ruling order. But the principality of the rest is coarranged with these, and has a secondary dignity. And Jupiter indeed, being neither the intellect of the universe, as some say he is, nor the intellect in the sun, nor in short, any one of mundane intellects or souls, but being expanded above all these, and preexisting among the liberated Gods, elevates the choir of Gods, and of the genera superior to us that follow him, and imparts paternal goodness to the multitude converted to him. But he is the leader of all the other numbers that terminate under the twelve Gods. Again however, Vesta indeed governs an appropriate multitude, but she neither has the order of the first soul, nor is that which is called the earth in the universe. But prior to these, she is allotted a ruling power among the supercelestial Gods. She imparts however, her own peculiarity to the numbers of the other leaders, in the same manner as Jupiter. For the leaders that are suspended from the decad, participate also of these two monads. Jupiter however, being indeed the cause of motion is the leader to all things of a progression to the intelligible. But Vesta illuminates all things with stable and inflexible power; though Jupiter also abiding in himself, is thus elevated to the intelligible place of survey ; and Vesta on account of an inflexible and undefiled permanency in herself, is conjoined to the first causes. The emission however of a different peculiarity, affords the difference of dominion. For since there are twofold conversions in the Gods (for all things are converted to themselves and to their principles) each form of conversion indeed, was impartibly in king Saturn. For according to Parmenides he is demonstrated to be in himself, and in another. And the latter indeed, pertains to a conversion to a more excellent nature, but the former implies a conversion to himself. In the secondary however, and more partial Gods, both these forms shine forth in a divided manner. And Vesta indeed, imparts to the mundane Gods an undefiled establishment in themselves; but Jupiter imparts to them an elevating motion to first natures. For Vesta belongs to the undefiled, but Jupiter to the paternal series; but they are divided by a subsistence in self, and a subsistence in another, as we have before observed. It must be said therefore, that every thing stable and immutable, and which possesses an invariable sameness of subsistence, arrives to all mundane natures from the supercelestial Vesta, and that on this account all the poles are immoveable, and the axes about which the circulations of the spheres convolve themselves. It must also be said, that the wholenesses of the circulations are firmly established, that the earth abides immoveably in the middle, and that the centres have an unshaken permanency [from this supercelestial Vesta.]” [ibid Book VI, Chapter 21]

Hestia and Proclus, Part III:  She Who Imparts Permanency, Stability, and Essence

“Hence it is necessary that in all things there should be each of these [essence, motion and permanency], and that essence should subsist as the first of them, this being as it were the Vesta and monad of the genera, and having an arrangement analogous to The One.” [Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, p.560]

Essence, as we have said, has the first order in the genera, because it is as it were, the Vesta of being. [ibid, p. 581 – cf. Philolaus fr. 7d]

For essence itself is the summit of all beings, and is as it were the monad of the whole of things. In all things therefore, essence is the first. And in each thing that which is essential is the most ancient, as deriving its subsistence from the Hestia of beings. – [Proclus, Platonic Theology, Book III, Chapter 9]

“And thus much from Proclus, concerning that great mundane divinity, the earth, who in the language of Theophrastus is the common Hestia of Gods and men; and on whose fertile surface reclining, says he, as on the soft bosom of a mother or a nurse, we ought to celebrate her divinity with hymns, and incline to her with filial affection, as to the source of our existence.” – [ibid, Book VII, Chapter 23 reconstructed/written by Thomas Taylor and quoted on HellenicGods.org]

“That Saturn (ed. Kronos) in conjunction with Rhea produced Vesta (ed. Æstia) and Juno (ed. Ira or Hera) who are co-ordinate to the demiurgic causes.  For Vesta imparts from herself to the Gods an uninclining permanency, and seat in themselves, and an indissoluble essence.  But Juno imparts progression, and a multiplication into things secondary.  She is also the vivifying fountain of wholes, and the mother of prolific powers; and on this account she is said to have proceeded together with Jupiter the demiurgus; and through this communion she generates maternally, such things as Jupiter generates paternally.  But Vesta abides in herself, possessing an undefiled virginity, and being the cause of sameness to all things.  Each of these divinities however together with her own proper perfection, possesses according to participation the power of the other.  Hence some say that Vesta is denominated from essence (απο της εστιας; ed.ahpo tis æstiahs) looking to her proper hyparxis (ed. approx. essential being).  But others looking to her vivific (ed. life-giving) and motive power which she derives from Juno say that she is thus denominated ως ωσεως ουσαν αιτιαν (ed. os osæos oosahn ætiahn) as being the cause of impulsion.  For all divine natures are in all, and particularly such as are co-ordinate with each other, participate of, and subsist in each other.  Each therefore of the demiurgic and vivific orders, participates the form by which it is characterised, from Vesta. The orbs of the planets likewise possess the sameness of their revolutions from her; and the poles and centres are always allotted from her their rest.

That Vesta does not manifest essence, but the abiding and firm establishment of essence in itself; and hence this Goddess proceeds into light after the mighty Saturn.  For the divinities prior to Saturn have not a subsistence in themselves and in another, but this originates from Saturn.  And a subsistence in self is the peculiarity of Vesta, but in another of Juno.”

[An extract from the Manuscript Scolia of Proclus On the Cratylus of Plato, found in The Theology of Plato: Proclus, trans. Thomas Taylor, Prometheus Trust (Somerset, UK), Vol. VIII of The Thomas Taylor Series (TTS), pp. 680-682 and quoted on HellenicGods.org]

Hestia and Theosophy:  Gravity, The God of Modern Science

These last quotes are essentially a summation from all the above, found in G.R.S. Mead’s book, Orpheus, which draws heavily from Taylor’s translations of Proclus, but with some late-19th-century theosophical speculation and comparative spirituality thrown in for good measure.

“Therefore Vesta and Juno are distinguished as follows by Proclus (Crat., p. 83): ‘Vesta imparts from herself to the Gods an uninclining permanency and seat in themselves, and an indissoluble essence. . . .

Now ‘in her mundane allotment’, that is on this physical plane, Vesta is the Goddess of the Earth. Thus it is that Philolaus (apud Stobæum, Eclog. Phys., p. 51) says: ‘That there is a fire in the middle at the centre, which is the Vesta [Hearth] of the Universe, the House of Jupiter, the Mother of the Gods, and the basis, coherence, and measure of nature.’ All of which puts us in mind of gravity, the god of modern science. . . .

Microcosmically, again, Vesta is the ‘ether in the heart’ of the Upanishads, the ‘flame’ of life; and he who knows the mysteries of Tapas, that practice which calls to its aid the creative, preservative, and regenerative powers of the universe, as Shankarâchârya explains in his Bhâshya on the Mundakopanishad (i), will easily comprehend the importance of Vesta both macrocosmically and microcosmically. . . .”

***
In lieu of a detailed commentary, here is my own extrapolation of these ideas in the form of a philosophical hymn/adoration/collage to Hestia:

A Philosophical Hymn to Hestia

I sing of Hestia,
the most ancient of Goddesses,
the Fire in the Middle,
the Centre of the Cosmos,
the Centre of the Sphere,
the Prime Composite,
the All, the Source, the Good,
she who maintains order,
she who is the Essence of All Things,
The Goddess of Being,
She Who Abides,
she who alone stays at home in the dwellings of the immortals,
tending the central fire in the heaven of Olympus,
the intellect of the Earth,
the Source and Cause of All Being,
she who presides over the universe with a guardian power,
the fountain of Virtue,
she who fixes the firm seat of the Earth,
who stabilizes the poles,
a ruling power among the supercelestial Gods,
imparting permanence to All,
illuminating all things with stable and inflexible power,
she who contains an inflexible and undefiled permanency in herself,
she who is conjoined to the first causes,
she who is responsible for everything stable and immutable,
she who imparts order to the cosmos,
she who fixes the circulations of the heavenly spheres,
bringing an unshaken permanency to the centre of the Cosmos,
she who is the summit of all beings,
the monad of the whole,
she who imparts from herself to the Gods
an uninclining permanency,
a seat in themselves,
an indissoluble essence,
she who abides in herself,
possessing an undefiled purity,
the Essence of All,
the Cause of Impulsion,
she who subsists in the self,
she who embodies all gravitational forces,
the Ether in the Heart,
the Flame of Life,
She Who Creates, Preserves, and Regenerates the Universe,
she who is honored both first and last in all things,
All hail Hestia, the most ancient of Goddesses!
[And now I will remember you, and another song too . . .]

Thomas Taylor – “The English Pagan”

“It is curious that Thomas Taylor, the Platonist, is really a better man of imagination, a better poet, than any other writer between Milton and Wordsworth. He is a poet with a poet’s life and aims.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tomorrow marks the birthday of Thomas Taylor (May 15, 1758 – November 1, 1835), one of my personal poet-heroes.  Taylor, the first to translate into English the whole of Plato and Aristotle (and many other classical texts, including most of the Neoplatonists), was also a self-identified pagan/polytheist (a rare thing in eighteenth-century England!).  As a poet, philosopher and translator who dedicated his entire life to connecting modern English readers to the beauty and wisdom of the classical pagan past, Taylor is a significant precursor who should be revered by contemporary pagans everywhere.  His work influenced many other writers, including William Blake, Madame Blavatsky, William Butler Yeats, and Kathleen Raine.  Percy Bysshe Shelley was reputedly part of an Orphic circle of Romantic writers who were inspired by Taylor to honor the Greek gods with hymns and ritual.  And Taylor has left a significant impact on American literature via Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who were profoundly influenced by Taylor’s work and frequently quote from his writings and translations.

Most of Thomas Taylor’s books can be found on the web via Google Books or Archive.org, but the best way to read his translations and original writings (while supporting a good cause!) are to buy the beautiful editions published by The Prometheus Trust, and available for purchase in the U.S. via Opening Mind Associates.

Some Articles and Tributes to Thomas Taylor:

Thomas Taylor: A Great English Platonist

Thomas Taylor the English Platonist (.pdf file)

Thomas Taylor – Wisdom’s Champion (.pdf file)

[The following anecdotes are excerpted from an anonymous essay entitled “The Survival of Paganism,” published in Fraser’s Magazine in November 1875. The essay, though at times somewhat hostile and condescending towards Taylor’s life and ideas, contains some great anecdotes, as well as what amounts to a “fan letter” to Taylor from a fellow pagan.  This letter is a fascinating glimpse into the past, which in many ways reminds me of an 18th-century version of the type of correspondence one might see amongst modern pagans on the email lists and blogs of today.]

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Excerpts from The Survival of Paganism [Fraser’s Magazine, November 1875]

About the end of 1789 a mysterious looking pamphlet entitled A New System of Religion, was to be found upon the counters of the London booksellers who dared to deal in unorthodox literature. The name of neither publisher nor printer appeared upon the title-page, and, following the precedent of the earlier English works on freethinking, it bore the manifestly false imprint of ‘Amsterdam.’ This singular production advocated in very plain language the doctrine of a plurality of gods who are intermediate between the great Demiurgus of nature, and man. Our planet forming such a small and insignificant portion of the great universe—’a mere toad or viper, perhaps, in the scale of worlds’—it is in the highest degree presumptuous to suppose it the work or even the care of the Zeus who represents LAW, passionless, immutable, and supreme. It is the lesser gods who influence human affairs and ‘produce those singular events which by some are imputed to fortune and by others to a special Providence;’ and these gods were to be approached by prayer and sacrifice after the manner of the ancients. The doctrines here taught were, in fact, little more than a restatement of the opinions of Proclus and the later Platonists. The evident earnestness of the writer forbade the idea of a joke, and the few Reviews that condescended to notice the pamphlet were almost unanimous in setting it down as the work of a madman. The discerning few, however, who had met with a translation of the Hymns of Orpheus, published two years before, must have recognised it at once as the work of Thomas Taylor, well known to a small circle of friends as an enthusiast in Greek literature . . .

. . . From a very early age Taylor appears to have set before him as the great ambition of his life to leave behind him a complete English version of all the hitherto untranslated writings of the Greek philosophers, and this work he nearly accomplished. His works, which consist mainly of translations of these writers, extend to sixty-four volumes . . .

. . . [W]hile studying Plato [Taylor] accidentally met with Plotinus, whose writings he accepted as a kind of revelation, reading them, as he informs us, ‘with the most rapturous delight.’ From Plotinus he went to Proclus, and read him through three times, a feat probably performed by no other mortal since the Renaissance. The luminous pages of Proclus completed the work which Plato had begun, and Taylor became a Pagan, and a Pagan, too, with a zeal and hatred against Christianity and its professors which has more in it of the spirit of loathing and abhorrence, which one may suppose to have animated some disestablished sacerdos of Constantine, than a mild and cultured scholar of the nineteenth century. Nothing but the small and limited circulation of his books can explain the fact that he escaped a prosecution, for in the Pitt and Eldou days many far less plain-spoken denunciations of the national religion were visited with fine and imprisonment. According to Taylor, the Christian religion, or, as he prefers to call it, ‘the jargon of innumerable sects,’ established a tyranny over the human mind utterly unknown to the ancient world—the tyranny of religious despotism—and has extirpated from the earth the ‘dominion of wisdom and virtue, substituting in its place the modern spirit of barter and trade.’ . . . Penetrating and smooth, it has crept like oil through the various communities of mankind, ‘suppressing the effervescence of desire, restraining the restless spirit of inquiry, and calming the impetuosity of genius,’ reducing all human affairs to one universal and uniform mediocrity. . . .

. . . It was one of the dreams of his life to establish in London a Pantheon, in which the worship of the deities should be performed in an appropriate and decorous manner. Failing this . . . he turned one of his rooms at Walworth into a sacrarium, in which at times he offered up sacrifices to his favorite gods. There is even a tradition that one night, when the fury of the French Revolution was at its height, the sleepy old Charlies who guarded the City were astonished by the appearance of a procession of priests, with Taylor at their head as Arch-flamen, who performed the sacred rites of lustration in front of the Old Exchange, formally receiving once more the sleeping city into the dominion of the king of the gods. . . .

. . . We cannot find that Taylor made many disciples. The most distinguished was the Marquis de Valadi, a young Frenchman of good family, whose short but eccentric career reminds one in many ways of Shelley’s earlier life. This enthusiast ran away from his friends in Paris to sit at the feet of Taylor in London, sending before him the following letter, which the master afterwards printed, and which we are tempted to give as a curious specimen of the sort of stuff which men could be found to write during this feverish time:

To Thomas Taylor, better named Lysis,
G. Izarn Valadi, of late a French Marquis, and Tannisaire,
Sendeth Joy and Honour.
12 Xbre. 1788, vulg. aera.

O Thomas Taylor! mayst thou welcome a brother Pythagorean, led by a Saviour God to thy divine school! I have loved wisdom ever since a child, and have found the greatest impediments and been forced to great struggles before I could clear my way to the source of it; for I was born in a more barbarous country than ever was Illyria of old. My family never favoured my inclination to study; and I have been involved in so many cares and troubles, that it cannot be without the intervention of some friendly Deity that I have escaped the vile rust of barbarism, and its attendant meanness of soul. My good fortune was that I met eighteen months ago an English gentleman of the name of Piggott, who is a Pythagorean philosopher, who easily converted me to the diet and manner agreeable to that most rich and beneficent deity, Mother Earth; to that heaven-inspired change I owe perfect health and tranquility of mind, both of which I had long been deprived of. Also my own oath has acceded to the eternal oath (which mentions the golden commentator on G.V.) and I would more cheerfully depart from my present habitation on this Themis-forsaken earth, than defile myself evermore with animal food, stolen either on earth, in air, or water.

I met with thy works but two days past. O divine man! a prodigy in this iron age! who would ever thought thou couldst exist among us in our shape! I would have gone to China for a man endowed with the tenth part of thy light! Oh, grant me to see thee, to be lustrated and initiated by thee! What joy, if, like to Proclus’ Leonas, to thee I could be a domestic! who feel living in myself the soul of Leonidas.

My determination was to go and live in North America, from love of liberty, and there to keep a school of temperance and love, in order to preserve so many men from the prevailing disgraceful vices of brutal intemperance and selfish cupidity. – There, in progress of time, if those vices natural to a commercial country are found to thwart most of the blessings of liberty, the happy select ones, taught better discipline, may form a society by themselves, such a one as the gods would favour and visit lovingly; which would preserve true knowledge, and be a seminary and an asylum for the lovers of it.

There I would devoutly erect altars to my favourite Gods: Dioscuri, Hector, Aristomenes, Messen, Pan, Orpheus, Epaminondas, Pythagoras, Plato, Timoleon, Marcus Brutus and his Portia, and above all, Phoebus, the God of my hero Julian, and the father of that holy, gentle Commonwealth of the Peruvians, to which nullus ultor has, as yet been suscited!

Music and gymnastic are sciences necessary for a teacher to possess — (what deep and various sense these two words contain!) and I am a stranger to both! O Gods! who gave me the thought and the spirit, give me the means! for all things are from you.

Thomas Taylor, be thou their instrument to convoy into my mind knowledge, truth, and prudence! Do thou love and help me. I will go to thee to-morrow morning.

P.S. May I look to thee, endowed with an ancient and no modern enthusiasm!

[signed] “Gracchus Crotoneios.”

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The enthusiastic Marquis de Valadi did end up living with and studying with Taylor for a time, but he eventually returned to France and was guillotined during the Reign of Terror at the age of twenty-seven.

“Impetuous ignorance is thundering at the bulwarks of philosophy and her sacred retreats are in danger of being demolished, through our feeble resistance. Rise then, my friends, and the victory will be ours. The foe is indeed numerous, but at the same time feeble; and the weapons of truth in the hands of vigorous union, descend with irresistible force, and are fatal wherever they fall.” – Thomas Taylor

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I’d like to end this little tribute with the final lines to Thomas Taylor’s beautiful “Poetical Paraphrase on the Speech of Diotima in the Banquet of Plato” (full text here in a .pdf file):

When re-ascending by a vig’rous flight,
A man begins to gain this beauty’s sight:
If Love’s right path he steadily pursue,
His end propos’d will nearly rise to view.
With love to some fair body first inclin’d,
To many next, he then should soar to mind.
From mind to art, from art to science rise,
Till beauty’s science he at length descries:
Nor e’er in this ascent remit his flight,
Till boundless beauty burst upon his sight.
Here, dearest Socrates, alone resides
The happy life, for ever here abides.
Here is the only source of true delight,
To live eternal in this beauty’s sight;
A glimpse of which, if ever you attain,
Will prove the vulgar thoughts of beauty vain:
The beautiful itself will not appear
In costly robes, in youths or damsels fair;
In burnish’d gold, or in the di’monds blaze,
Or in the echoes of immortal praise:
Tho’ to the many phantoms such as these,
Alone are beautiful, alone can please;
Whose very presence such delight can give,
With these they wish eternally to live;
And such unreal beauties to secure,
With patient mind the wants of life endure.
If transport then arises from the view
Of beauty such as vulgar souls pursue;
Think of that boundless joy the mind conceives,
Whose eye the beautiful itself perceives:
In simple essence beaming on the sight,
Not fair with figure, nor with colour bright.
To souls refin’d, can such a life be seen
Of little worth, contemptible or mean;
Perceive you not, that he whose piercing eye
Is able perfect beauty to descry,
Thus, and thus only, fill’d with wisdom’s seed,
Virtue substantial can attain to breed?
Till now become the fav’rite of the skies,
Mature in virtue, and completely wise;
His soul indignant leaves this frail abode,
And reigns exalted ‘midst the Gods a God.

“Everything is Overflowing with Gods” – Proclus

Start here:

On the Occasion of the 1,600th Anniversary of the Birth of Proclus (2/08/12) by Edward P. Butler

Henadology: Philosophy

Proclus Page at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Proclus Page at the Shrine of the Goddess Athena

Proclus Page at Kheper.net


Now go buy this right now:

Essays on a Polytheistic Philosophy of Religion by Edward P. Butler, available here.

Some Books for Your Home Library

I recommended reading these in the following order:

1. The Unfolding Wings: The Way of Perfection in the Platonic Tradition by Tim Addey

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

2. Beyond the Shadows: The Metaphysics of the Platonic Tradition by Tim Addey & Guy Wyndham-Jones

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

3. Proclus’ Elements of Theology translated by Thomas Taylor

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

4. The Philosophy of Proclus, the Final Phase of Ancient Thought by Laurence J Rosan

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

5. Proclus’ Theology of Plato translated by Thomas Taylor

(available for purchase in the U.S. here)

6. Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato translated by Thomas Taylor

(available for purchase in the U.S. here and here)


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