Platonic Taxonomies

Plato’s Taxonomy

1 Introduction

In the Laws, his unfinished final work, Plato outlines a kind of hierarchy of worship or reverence, in the following order: (1) Olympian and city-keeping gods, (2) chthonic (=earthly/underworld) gods, (3) daemons, (4) heroes, (5) ancestral gods, and (6) living parents. As one can see, this list is neither based purely on spatial order, or the chthonic gods should come after the living; nor purely on the rank of the beings in questions, since in that case, chthonic and ancestral gods should be included among the first group. Rather, Plato combines spatial and hierarchical considerations with an order based on the social fabric of a city, in which the city-keeping gods are naturally more important than the ancestral gods of certain groups within the city or the parents of a given person.

This order does not seem to have made much of an impact on later thought, precisely because of its complexity. In a Latin summary of the Laws, for example, we can see it being drastically simplified to a tripartite schema of (1) celestial gods, (2) underworld gods, and (3) aethereal daemons. In this case, aether is understood as the elemental space between the fiery stars and the lower air around the Earth.

With the inclusion of living parents in the Laws after the gods, Plato’s order has some relations to what I call the Principal Maxims of ethical literature. Also see the Golden Verses and Pythagoras’ Advice to his Students.

2 Plato, Laws 717a

After the Olympian gods and the gods who keep the state, we will hit straight upon the mark of piety by assigning the even, secondary and left-hand things as honors to the chthonic gods, but the opposite of these to the former. After these gods, the rational person will make celebrations for the daemons, and after them to the heroes. Next follow the private shrines of ancestral gods, celebrated according to law, and after these, the honors for living parents.

3 Pseudo-Apuleius, On Plato and his Doctrines 3, summary of the Laws

“Plato arranged the order of worship such that we should first honor the celestial gods, then the gods below [inferni = in the underworld], and after these, the ethereal Manes [=daemons].

Philip of Opus‘ Taxonomy

1 Introduction

put Proclus earlier; compare Timaeus!

2 Philip of Opus, Epinomis

And I must explain who it is that I believe to be God [who gave us knowledge], though he be a strange one, and somehow not strange either : for why should we not believe [977a] the cause of all the good things that are ours to have been the cause also of what is far the greatest, understanding ? And who is it that I magnify with the name of God, Megillus and Cleinias ? Merely Heaven, which it is most our duty to honor and pray to especially, as do all other spirits and gods. That it has been the cause of all the other good things we have, we shall all admit ; that it likewise gave us number we do really say, and that it will give us this hereafter, if we will but follow its lead. [977b] For if one enters on the right theory about it, whether one be pleased to call it World-order or Olympus or Heaven — let one call it this or that, but follow where, in bespangling itself and turning the stars that it contains, it produces all their courses and the seasons and food for all. And thence, accordingly, we have understanding in general, we may say, and therewith all number, and all other good things : but the greatest of these is when, after receiving its gift of numbers, one has covered the whole circuit.

On the most likely account there are to be reckoned five solid bodies, from which one might fashion things fairest and best ; but all the rest of creation has a single shape, for there is nothing that could come to be without a body and never possessing any color at all, except only that really most divine creature, the soul. And this alone, one may say, has the business of fashioning and manufacturing, [981c] whereas the body, as we call it, has that of being fashioned and produced and seen. But the other — let us repeat it, for not once only be it said — has to be invisible even to the inquiring, and merely thought, if he has got a share of memory and reckoning by both odd and even variations.

The bodies, then, being five, we must name them as fire, water, and thirdly air, earth fourth, and ether fifth ; and by predominance of these are each of the many varieties of creatures perfected. We should learn this by single instances in the following way. [981d] Let us take as earthy our first single element — all men, all things that have many feet or none, and those that move along and that stay still, held in place by roots ; but we must conceive its unity thus, though all these things are the outcome of all kinds, yet for the most part it is of earth and of solid nature. And another kind of creature we must regard as second in birth as well as one that can be seen : for its greatest part is of fire, though it has some earth and [981e] air, and has slight portions of all the others also, wherefore we must say that all sorts of creatures are born of them, and things seen, and here again we must conceive the heavenly kinds of creatures, which altogether, we must agree, have been born as the divine race of stars, endowed with the fairest body as also with the happiest and best soul. One or other of two lots we may very well, in our judgement, assign to them : for each of them is either imperishable [982a] and immortal, and by all necessity wholly divine, or has a certain longevity sufficient for the life of each, such that nothing could ever require a longer one.

Let us therefore first observe that, as we state it, such creatures are of two sorts — for let us state it again — both visible, the one of fire, as would appear, entirely, and the other of earth ; and the earthy is in disorder, whereas that of fire has its motion in perfect order. Now that which has motion in disorder we should regard as unintelligent, acting [982b] like the animal creatures about us for the most part ; but that which has an orderly and heavenly progress must be taken as strongly evincing its intelligence. For in passing on and acting and being acted upon always in the same respects and manner it must provide sufficient evidence of its intelligent life. The necessity of a soul that has acquired mind will prove itself by far the greatest of all necessities ; for it makes laws as ruler, not as ruled : but this inalterable thing, when [982c] the soul has taken the best counsel in accord with the best mind, comes out as the perfect thing in truth and in accord with mind, and not even adamant could ever prove stronger than it or more inalterable ; but in fact the three Fates have it in hold, and keep watch that what has been decided by each of the gods with the best counsel shall be perfect. And men ought to have found proof of the stars and the whole of that travelling system being possessed of mind in the fact that they always do the same things because they do what has been decided long ago for an incalculable time, [982d] not deciding differently this way and that, and doing sometimes one thing, sometimes another, in wanderings and changes of circuit. Most of us have thought just the opposite — that because they do the same things in the same way they have no soul : the multitude followed the lead of the unintelligent so far as to suppose that, whereas humanity was intelligent and living because it moved about, divinity was unintelligent because it abode in the same courses. But if man had sided with the fairer and better and [982e] friendly part, he might have concluded that he ought to regard as intelligent — and for this very reason — that which acts always in the same respects, in the same way, and for the same reasons ; and that this is the nature of the stars, fairest to see, and passing along, dancing the fairest and most magnificent of all dances in the world, they make good the needs of all living creatures.

And now, to see how justly we speak of their living spirit, [983a] let us first consider their great size. For they are not actually those small things that they appear to be, but each of them is immense in its bulk ; we should do well to believe this, because there are ample proofs of such a conclusion. For we can rightly consider the whole of the sun as larger than the whole of the earth, and all the travelling stars are of amazing size. Let us conclude then whether it can possibly be that any natural force revolves this great mass that is now being revolved, continually and at the same time. [983b] God, then, I say, will be the cause, and never in any other way is it possible. For never can a thing get living spirit by any other means than by the act of God, as we have explained ; and when God is able to do this, he has found it a perfectly easy matter, firstly that all body and all mass should be made a living creature, and secondly to move it in the course he considers best.

So now I trust we may make one true statement about all these things : it cannot be that earth and heaven and all the [983c] stars and all the masses they comprise, without soul attached to each or resident in each, should pass along as they do, so exactly to every year and month and day, and that all the things that happen should happen for the good of us all.And according as man is a meaner creature, he should show himself, not a babbler, but a speaker of clear sense. If, then, anyone shall speak of onrushes or natural forces or the like as in a sort the causes of bodies, he will say nothing clear : but we must firmly recall what we have said, and see whether [983d] our statement is reasonable or is utterly at fault — namely, in the first place, that existence is of two kinds, the one soul, and the other body, and that many things are in either, though all are different from each other and those of the one kind from those of the other, and that there is no other third thing common to any of them ; but soul differs from body. Intelligent, of course, we shall hold it to be, and the other unintelligent ; the one governs, the other is governed ; and the one is cause of all things, while the other is incapable of causing any of its experiences : so that to assert that the heavenly bodies [983e] have come into existence through anything else, and are not the offspring, as we have said, of soul and body, is great folly and unreason. However, if our statements on all such existences are to prevail, and the whole order of them is to be convincingly shown to be divine by their origin, we must certainly class them as one or the other of two things : either we must in all correctness glorify them as actual gods, [984a] or suppose them to be images produced as likenesses of the gods, creations of the gods themselves. For they are the work of no mindless or inconsiderable beings but, as we have said, we must class them as one or other of these things ; and, if classed as the latter, we must honor them far above all images : for never will fairer or more generally-known images be found among all mankind, none established in more various places, more pre-eminent in purity, majesty, and [984b] life altogether, than in the way in which their existence is altogether fashioned.

Well then, for the present let us attempt so much in treating of the gods, as to try — after observing the two living creatures visible to us, of which we call one immortal, and the other, all earthy, a mortal creation — to tell of the three middle things of the five, which come most evidently, according to the probable opinion, between those two. For let us consider ether as coming next after fire, and let us hold that soul fashions from it live creatures with their faculties, as it does creatures from the other kinds of element, [984c] each being for the most part of that one nature, but in its lesser parts derived from the other elements for the sake of connection. After ether, there is fashioned by soul another kind of creature from air, and the third kind from water ; and by having produced all these it is likely that soul filled the whole heaven with creatures, having made use of all the elements so far as it could, and all the creatures having been made participators in life ; but the second, third, fourth, and fifth kinds, which took their first origin from what are manifest gods, [984d] end finally in us men.

Now the gods — Zeus and Hera and all the rest — each man must regard in what light he pleases, though according to the same law, and must take this account as reliable. But as our visible gods, greatest and most honorable and having keenest vision every way, we must count first the order of the stars and all else that we perceive existing with them ; and after these, and [984e] next below these, the divine spirits, and air-born race, holding the third and middle situation, cause of interpretation, which we must surely honor with prayers for the sake of an auspicious journey across. We must say of either of these two creatures — that which is of ether and, next to it, of air — that it is not entirely plain to sight : when it is near by, it is not made manifest to us ; [985a] but partaking of extraordinary intelligence, as belonging to an order which is quick to learn and strong in memory, we may say that they understand the whole of our thoughts, and show extraordinary kindness to anyone of us who is a good man and true, and hate him who is utterly evil, as one who already partakes of suffering. For we know that God, who has the privilege of the divine portion, is remote from these affections of pain and pleasure, but has a share of intelligence and knowledge in every sphere ; and the heaven being filled full of live creatures, [985b] they interpret all men and all things both to one another and to the most exalted gods, because the middle creatures move both to earth and to the whole of heaven with a lightly rushing motion. The kind which is of water, the fifth, we shall be right in representing as a semi-divine product of that element, and it is at one time seen, but at another is concealed through becoming obscure, presenting a marvel in the dimness of vision.

So these [985c] five being really existent creatures, wherever any of us came upon them, either happening upon them in the dream-world of sleep, or by something spoken to persons listening in health, or equally in sickness, through ominous utterances and prophecies, or again when they have arrived at the end of life opinions that occur to us both in private and in public, whence many sanctities of many beings have arisen, and others shall arise — in regard to all these the lawgiver who possesses even the slightest degree of mind will never dare by innovations to turn his city to a divine worship which is [985d] lacking in certainty. Nor indeed will he put a stop to sacrifices on which the ancestral custom has pronounced, when he knows nothing at all of the matter, just as it is not possible for mortal nature to know about such things. And of the gods who are really manifest to us the same statement must surely hold — that those men are most evil who have not courage to tell and make manifest to us that these are likewise gods, but without any frenzied rites, or any tribute of the honors that are their due. But as things are, we have a strange conjunction [985e] of proceedings : for it is as though one of us should see the sun or moon being born and all of us looking on, and should utter no word through some impotence of speech, and should not also at the same time be zealous, so far as in him lay, when they lacked their share of honor, to bring them in all evidence to an honored place, and cause festivals and sacrifices to be offered to them, and apportion to each a reserved space of time for the greater or lesser length of its year, as may happen : [986a] would it not be agreed both by himself and by another who observed it that he would justly be described as an evil man ?

Athenian : You know that there are eight powers of those contained in the whole heaven which are cognate to each other : these I have observed, and it is no great achievement ; for it is easy enough [986b] for anybody. Three of them are that of the sun, for one, that of the moon for another, and a third that of the stars which we mentioned a little while ago ; and there are five others besides. Now in regard to all these and those beings who either have their own motion in these, or are borne in vehicles so as to make their progress thus, let none of us all ever idly suppose that some of them are gods, while others are not, or that some are genuine, while others are of a certain kind which it is not permissible to any of us even to express ; but let us all declare and say that they are all cognate [986c] and have cognate lots, and let us render them due honor, not by giving to one a year, to another a month ; but to none of them let us appoint either a certain lot or a certain time in which it travels through its particular orbit, completing the system which the divinest reason of all appointed to be visible. This first the man who is blest admires, and then he feels a passion for understanding so much as is possible for mortal nature, believing that thus he will best and most happily pass through life, [986d] and at the end of his days will arrive at regions meet for virtue ; and having been truly and really initiated, and won his individual intelligence, and become for the rest of time a spectator of what is fairest, so far as sight can go, in this state he continues.

And now after this it remains for us to say how many and who these beings are : [986e] for we shall never be found to have spoken falsely. Thus far, at least, I asseverate with certainty : I say, once more, that there are eight of them, and that while three of the eight have been told, five yet remain. The fourth in motion and transit together, and the fifth, are almost equal to the sun in speed, and on the whole are neither slower nor swifter. These being three, must be so regarded by him who has sufficient mind. So let us speak of them as powers of the sun and of Lucifer, and of a third, such that we cannot express it in a name because it is not known ; and he is to blame for this who first beheld these things, since he was a foreigner : for it was an ancient custom that nurtured those who first [987a] remarked these things owing to the fairness of the summer season which Egypt and Syria amply possess, so that they constantly beheld the whole mass, one may say, of stars revealed to their sight, since they had got then, continually without obstruction of clouds and rains in the sky ; whence they have emerged in every direction and in ours likewise, after having been examined for thousands of years, nay, for an infinite time. And therefore we should not hesitate to include them in the scope of our laws ; for to have divine things lacking honor, while other things are honored, [987b] is clearly a sign of witlessness ; and as to their having got no names, the cause of it should be stated as we have done. For indeed they have received titles of gods : thus, that Lucifer, or Hesperus(which is the same), should almost belong to Aphrodite, is reasonable, and quite befitting a Syrian lawgiver ; and that that which follows the same course as the sun and this together should almost belong to Hermes. Let us also note three motions of bodies travelling to the right with the moon and the sun. One must be mentioned, the eighth, which we may especially address as the world-order, and which travels in opposition to the whole company of the others, not impelling them, as might appear to mankind in the scant knowledge that they have of these matters. But we are bound to state, [987c] and do state, so much as adequate knowledge tells us. For real wisdom shows herself in some such way as this to him who has got even a little share of right and divine meditation. And now there remain three stars, of which one is distinguished from the others by its slowness, and some speak of it under the title of Saturn ; the next after it in slowness is to be cited as Jupiter ; and the next after this, as Mars, which has the ruddiest hue of all. Nothing in all this is hard to understand [987d] when someone expresses it ; but it is through learning, as we declare, that one must believe it.

But there is one point which every Greek should bear in mind — that of all Greeks we have a situation which is about the most favorable to human excellence. The praiseworthy thing in it that we have to mention is that it may be taken as midway between a wintry and a summery climate ; and our climate, being inferior in its summer to that in the region over there, as we said, has been so much later in imparting the cognizance of these cosmic deities. And let us note that [987e] whatever Greeks acquire from foreigners is finally turned by them into something nobler ; and moreover the same thing must be borne in mind regarding our present statements — that although it is hard to discover everything of this kind beyond dispute, there is hope, [988a] both strong and noble, that a really nobler and juster respect than is in the combined repute and worship which came from foreigners will be paid to all these gods by the Greeks, who have the benefit of their various education, their prophecies from Delphi, and the whole system of worship under their laws. And let none of the Greeks ever be apprehensive that being mortals we should never have dealings with divine affairs ; they should rather be of the quite opposite opinion, that the divine is never either unintelligent or in any ignorance of [988b] human nature, but knows that if it teaches us we shall follow its guidance and learn what is taught us. That it so teaches us, and that we learn number and numeration, it knows of course : for it would be most utterly unintelligent if it were ignorant of this ; since it would truly, as the saying is, be ignorant of itself, vexed with that which was able to learn, instead of whole-heartedly rejoicing with one who became good by God’s help.

And indeed there is much good reason to suppose that formerly, [988c] when men had their first conceptions of how the gods came to exist and with what qualities, and whence, and to what kind of actions they proceeded, they were spoken of in a manner not approved or welcomed by the wise, nor were even the views of those who came later, among whom the greatest dignity was given to fire and water and the other elements, while the wonderful soul was accounted inferior ; and higher and more honored with them was a motion assigned to the body for moving itself by heat and chills and everything of that kind, [988d] instead of that which the soul had for moving both the body and itself. But now that we account it no marvel that the soul, once it is in the body, should stir and move about this and itself, neither does our soul on any reckoning mistrust her power of moving about any weight. And therefore, since we now claim that, as the soul is cause of the whole, and all good things are causes of like things, while on the other hand evil things are causes of other things like them, it is no marvel [988e] that soul should be cause of all motion and stirring — that the motion and stirring towards the good are the function of the best soul, and those to the opposite are the opposite — it must be that good things have conquered and conquer things that are not their like.

3 Proclus, On the Timaeus vol. 3, p. 108

Some follow what is written in the Epinomis, and say that gods are placed in heaven, the daemons in the air, the demigods (hêmitheoi) in the water, and humans and the other animals in the Earth.

Middle Platonist Taxonomies

1 Introduction

[Work in progress: Alcinous 14.6-15, Apuleius De Deo Socratis & De Platone I.]

2 Plato’s Taxonomy according to the doxographer Aëtius

Plato calls the One, the unitary (monophyes), the monadic, true Being (to ontōs on), the Good (tagathon) “The God”.¹ But all such names he refers to Intellect. So, The God is Intellect, a separate form (khōriston eidos), where “separate” is to be understood as “unmixed with all matter and not entwined with any corporeal being, nor subject (sympathes) to the affectable (pathēton) part of nature.”

Of the other divine beings, which are the offspring of this Father and Creator, some are intelligible, namely the so-called intelligible cosmos, (and the) the paradigms of the visible cosmos (contained in it).

In addition to them, there are certain aethereal powers (enaitherioi dynameis)—but as logoi they are incorporeal²—, as well as aerial (enaerioi) and aquatic (enydroi) ones.

And the Sun (is a) perceptible (god), (as are) the Moon, the stars, the Earth and the all-encompassing cosmos.

1: So, according to Aëtius, when Plato refers to an unnamed god in the Timaeus and the Statesman by simply writing “the god”, he always means the same entity, which is the One, the Good, Being and Intellect. For Neoplatonists, by contrast, “the god” may refer to either the One/the Good or to Intellect/Being, but in different senses.
2: I take this to mean that these powers are incorporeal (and invisible) in nature but embedded in the respective elements. Hence the use of en(=within)-aitherios, en-aerios, en-hydros, rather than the simple adjective.

Apollonius’ and Porphyry’s Taxonomies

On Abstinence 2

32. But the benefit derived from fruits is the first and the greatest of all others, and which, as soon as they are matured, should alone be offered to the Gods, and to Earth, by whom they are produced. For she is the common Vesta of Gods and men; and it is requisite that all of us, reclining on her surface, as on the bosom of our mother and nurse, should celebrate her divinity, and love her with a parental affection, as the source of our existence. For thus, when we exchange this life for another, we shall again be thought worthy of a residence in the heavens, and of associating with all the celestial Gods, whom, now beholding 13, we ought to venerate with those fruits of which they are the causes, sacrificing indeed to them from all these, when they have arrived at maturity, but not conceiving all of us to be sufficiently worthy to sacrifice to the Gods. For as all things are not to be sacrificed to the Gods, so neither perhaps are the Gods gratified by the sacrifice of everyone. This, therefore, is the substance of the arguments adduced by Theophrastus, to show that animals ought not to be sacrificed; exclusive |64 of the interspersed fabulous narrations, and a few things which we have added to what he has said.

33. I, however, shall not attempt to dissolve the legal institutes which the several nations have established. For it is not my design at present to speak about a polity. But as the laws by which we are governed permit us to venerate divinity by things of the most simple, and of an inanimate nature, hence, selecting that which is the least costly, let us sacrifice according to the law of the city, and endeavour to offer an appropriate sacrifice, approaching with consummate purity to the Gods. In short, if the oblation of first-fruits is of any value, and is an acknowledgment of thanks for the benefits which we receive, it will be most irrational to abstain ourselves from animals, and yet offer the first-fruits of these to the Gods. For neither are the Gods worse than we are, so as to be in want of those things of which we are not indigent, nor is it holy to offer the first-fruits of that nutriment from which we ourselves abstain. For we find it is usual with men, that, when they refrain from animal food, they do not make oblations of animals; but that they offer to the Gods the first-fruits of what they themselves eat. Hence also it is now fit, that he who abstains from animals should offer the first-fruits of things which he touches [for the purpose of food].

34. Let us therefore also sacrifice, but let us sacrifice in such a manner as is fit, offering different sacrifices to different powers;14 to the God indeed who is above all things, as a certain wise man said, neither sacrificing with incense, nor consecrating any thing sensible. For there is nothing material, which is not immediately impure to an immaterial nature. Hence, neither is vocal language, nor internal speech, adapted to the highest God, when it is defiled by any passion of the soul; but we should venerate him in profound silence with a pure soul, and with pure conceptions about him. It is necessary, therefore, that being conjoined with and assimilated to him, we should offer to him, as a sacred sacrifice, the elevation of our intellect, which offering will be both a hymn and our salvation. In an impassive contemplation, therefore, of this divinity by the soul, the sacrifice to him is effected in perfection; |65 but to his progeny, the intelligible Gods, hymns, orally enunciated, are to be offered. For to each of the divinities, a sacrifice is to be made of the first-fruits of the things which he bestows, and through which he nourishes and preserves us. As therefore, the husbandman offers handfuls of the fruits and berries which the season first produces; thus also we should offer to the divinities the first-fruits of our conceptions of their transcendent excellence, giving them thanks for the contemplation which they impart to us, and for truly nourishing us through the vision of themselves, which they afford us, associating with, appearing to, and shining upon us, for our salvation.

35. Now, however, many of those who apply themselves to philosophy are unwilling to do this; and, pursuing renown rather than honouring divinity, they are busily employed about statues, neither considering whether they are to be reverenced or not, nor endeavouring to learn from those who are divinely wise, to what extent, and to what degree, it is requisite to proceed in this affair. We, however, shall by no means contend with these, nor are we very desirous of being well instructed in a thing of this kind; but imitating holy and ancient men, we offer to the Gods, more than anything else, the first-fruits of contemplation, which they have imparted to us, and by the use of which we become partakers of true salvation.

36. The Pythagoreans, therefore, diligently applying themselves to the study of numbers and lines, sacrificed for the most part from these to the Gods, denominating, indeed, a certain number Minerva, but another Diana, and another Apollo: and again, they called one number justice, but another temperance 15. In diagrams also they adopted a similar mode. And thus, by offerings of this kind, they rendered the Gods propitious to them, so as to obtain of them the object of their wishes, by the things which they dedicated to, and the names by which they invoked them. They likewise frequently employed their aid in divination, and if they were in want of a certain thing for the purpose of some investigation. In order, therefore to affect this, they made use of the Gods within the heavens, both the erratic and non-erratic, of all of whom it is requisite to consider the sun as the leader; but to rank the moon in the second place; and we should conjoin with these fire, in the third place, from its |66 alliance to them, as the theologist 16 says. He also says that no animal is to be sacrificed; but that first-fruits are to be offered from meal and honey, and the vegetable productions of the earth. He adds, that fire is not to be enkindled on a hearth defiled with gore; and asserts other things of the like kind. For what occasion is there to transcribe all he says? For he who is studious of piety knows, indeed, that to the Gods no animal is to be sacrificed, but that a sacrifice of this kind pertains to daemons, and other powers, whether they are beneficent, or depraved1. He likewise knows who those are that ought to sacrifice to these, and to what extent they ought to proceed in the sacrifices which they make. Other things, however, will be passed over by me in silence. But what some Platonists have divulged, I shall lay before the reader, in order that the things proposed to be discussed, may become manifest to the intelligent. What they have unfolded, therefore, is as follows:

37. The first God being incorporeal, immoveable, and impartible, and neither subsisting in any thing, nor restrained in his energies, is not, as has been before observed, in want of any thing external to himself, as neither is the soul of the world; but this latter, containing in itself the principle of that which is triply divisible, and being naturally self-motive, is adapted to be moved in a beautiful and orderly manner, and also to move the body of the world, according to the most excellent reasons [i.e. productive principles or powers]. It is, however, connected with and comprehends body, though it is itself incorporeal, and liberated from the participation of any passion. To the remaining Gods, therefore, to the world, to the inerratic and erratic stars, who are visible Gods, consisting of soul and body, thanks are to be returned after the above-mentioned manner, through sacrifices from inanimate natures. The multitude, therefore, of those invisible beings remains for us, whom Plato indiscriminately calls daemons 17; but of these, some being denominated by men, obtain from them honours, and other religious observances, similar to those which are paid to the Gods; but others, who for the most part are not explicitly denominated, receive an occult religious reverence and appellation from certain persons in villages and certain cities; and the remaining multitude is called in common by the |67 name of daemons. The general persuasion, however, respecting all these invisible beings, is this, that if they become angry through being neglected, and deprived of the religious reverence which is due to them, they are noxious to those by whom they are thus neglected, and that they again become beneficent, if they are appeased by prayers, supplications, and sacrifices, and other similar rites.

38. But the confused notion which is formed of these beings, and which has proceeded to great crimination, necessarily requires that the nature of them should be distinguished according to reason. For perhaps it will be said, that it is requisite to show whence the error concerning them originated among men. The distinction, therefore, must be made after the following manner. Such souls as are the progeny of the whole soul of the universe, and who govern the great parts of the region under the moon, these, being incumbent on a pneumatic substance or spirit, and ruling over it conformably to reason, are to be considered as good daemons, who are diligently employed in causing every thing to be beneficial to the subjects of their government, whether they preside over certain animals, or fruits, which are arranged under their inspective care, or over things which subsist for the sake of these, such as showers of rain, moderate winds, serene weather, and other things which co-operate with these, such as the good temperament of the seasons of the year. They are also our leaders in the attainment of music, and the whole of erudition, and likewise of medicine and gymnastic, and of every thing else similar to these. For it is impossible that these daemons should impart utility, and yet become, in the very same things, the causes of what is detrimental. Among these two, those transporters, as Plato calls them, [in his Banquet] are to be enumerated, who announce the affairs of men to the Gods, and the will of the Gods to men; carrying our prayers, indeed, to the Gods as judges, but oracularly unfolding to us the exhortations and admonitions of the Gods. But such souls as do not rule over the pneumatic substance with which they are connected, but for the most part are vanquished by it; these are vehemently agitated and borne along [in a disorderly manner,] when the irascible motions and the desires of the pneumatic substance, received an impetus. These souls, therefore, are indeed daemons, but are deservedly called malefic daemons.

39. All these being, likewise, and those who possess a contrary power, are invisible, and perfectly imperceptible by human senses; for they are not surrounded with a solid body, nor are all of them of one form, but they are fashioned in numerous figures. The forms, however, which |68 characterize their pneumatic substance, at one time become apparent, but at another are invisible. Sometimes also those that are malefic, change their forms; but the pneumatic substance, so far as it is corporeal, is passive and corruptible: and though, because it is thus bound by the souls [that are incumbent on it,] the form of it remains for a long time, yet it is not eternal. For it is probable that something continually flows from it, and also that it is nourished. The pneumatic substance, therefore, of good daemons, possesses symmetry, in the same manner as the bodies of the visible Gods; but the spirit of malefic dsemons is deprived of symmetry, and in consequence of its abounding in passivity, they are distributed about the terrestrial region. Hence, there is no evil which they do not attempt to effect; for, in short, being violent and fraudulent in their manners, and being also deprived of the guardian care of more excellent dsemons, they make, for the most part, vehement and sudden attacks; sometimes endeavouring to conceal their incursions, but at other times assaulting openly. Hence the molestations which are produced by them are rapid; but the remedies and corrections which proceed from more excellent dsemons, appear to be more slowly effected: for every thing which is good being tractable and equable, proceeds in an orderly manner, and does not pass beyond what is fit. By forming this opinion, therefore, you will never fall into that most absurd notion, that evil may be expected from the good, or good from the evil. For this notion is not truly attended with absurdity, but the multitude, receiving through it the most erroneous conceptions of the Gods, disseminate them among the rest of mankind.

40. It must be admitted, therefore, that one of the greatest injuries occasioned by malefic dsemons is this, that though they are the causes of the calamities which take place upon the earth, such as pestilence, sterility, earthquakes, excessive dryness, and the like, yet they endeavour to persuade us, that they are the causes of things the most contrary to these, viz. of fertility, [salubrity, and elementary peace.] Hence, they exonerate themselves from blame, and, in the first place, endeavour to avoid being detected as the sources of injury; and, in the next place, they convert us to supplications and sacrifices to the beneficent Gods, as if they were angry. But they effect these, and things of a similar nature, in consequence of wishing to turn us from right conceptions of the Gods, and convert us to themselves; for they are delighted with all such as act thus incongruously and discordantly, and, as it were, assuming the persons of other Gods, they enjoy the effects of our imprudence and folly; conciliating to themselves the good opinion of the vulgar, by inflaming the minds of men with the love of riches, power, and pleasure, |69 and fulling them with the desire of vain glory, from which sedition, and war, and other things allied to these, are produced. But that which is the most dire of all things, they proceed still farther, and persuade men that similar things are effected by the greatest Gods, and do not stop till they even subject the most excellent of the divinities to these calumnies, through whom they say every thing is in perfect confusion. And not only the vulgar are affected in this manner, but not a few also of those who are conversant with philosophy. The cause of this, however, extends equally to philosophers, and the vulgar; for of philosophers, those who do not depart from the prevailing notions, fall into the same error with the multitude; and again, the multitude, on hearing assertions from celebrated men conformable to their own opinions, are in a greater degree corroborated in conceiving things of this kind of the Gods.

Eusebius Praeparatio evangelica book 4

But now after these previous explanations it is time for us to proceed to the proofs of our assertions. And first of all it is reasonable to go through the arguments by which the aforesaid author, in his book entitled On Abstinence from Animal Food, says that neither to the God who is over all, nor to the divine powers next to Him, ought we to bring anything of earth either as burnt-offering or sacrifice; because such things are alien to seemly worship.


[PORPHYRY] ‚To the God who is over all, as a certain wise man said, we must neither offer by fire nor dedicate any of the things of sense; for there is no material thing which is not at once impure to the immaterial. Wherefore neither is speech by the outward voice proper to Him, nor even the inward speech, whenever it is defiled by passion of the soul. But we worship Him in pure silence, and with pure thoughts concerning Him. United therefore and made like to Him, we must offer our own self-discipline as a holy sacrifice to God, the same being both a hymn of praise to Him and salvation to us. Therefore this sacrifice is perfected in passionless serenity of soul and in contemplation of God.‘


‚But to the gods who are his offspring, and known only by the mind, we must now add also that hymnody which is produced by speech: for the proper sacrifice for each deity is the first-fruit of the gifts which he has bestowed, and by which he sustains our being and keeps it in existence. As therefore a husbandman brings first-fruits of sheaves and of tree-fruits, so let us offer them first-fruits of noble thoughts concerning them, giving thanks for the things of which they have granted us the contemplation, and because they feed us with true food by the vision of themselves, dwelling with us, and showing themselves to us, and shining upon the path of our salvation.‘ 

So speaks this author; and statements closely related and akin to his concerning the First and Great God are said to be written by the famous Apollonius of Tyana, so celebrated among the multitude, in his work Concerning Sacrifices, as follows:


‚In this way, then, I think, one would best show the proper regard for the deity, and thereby beyond all other men secure His favour and good will, if to Him whom we called the First God, and who is One and separate from all others, and to whom the rest must be acknowledged inferior, he should sacrifice nothing at all, neither kindle fire, nor dedicate anything whatever that is an object of sense—-for He needs nothing even from beings who are greater than we are: nor is there any plant at all which the earth sends up, nor any animal which it, or the air, sustains, to which there is not some defilement attached—-but should ever employ towards Him only that better speech, I mean the speech which passes not through the lips, and should ask good things from the noblest of beings by what is noblest in ourselves, and this is the mind, which needs no instrument. According to this therefore we ought by no means to offer sacrifice to the great God who is over all.‘ 

1. Iamblichus, Reply to Porphyry 1.9

You1 ask why, if the gods dwell only in heaven,2 there are invocations of terrestrials and subterrestrials among the ritual experts (theourgikoi)?3 But it is not true to begin with that the gods only move across heaven, for all things are full of them; rather, certain gods are somehow said to be aquatic or aerial, and different ones are allotted different places.


1. Porphyry of Tyre, Iamblichus’ teacher in Platonic philosophy. Porphyry wrote a work entitled Letter to Anebo, addressed to an apparently fictional Egyptian priest, in which he raised a long series of questions about inconsistencies in the theories and practices of ritual experts, among which the Egyptians were the most famous. While the Letter is now only partially extant, we still have the Reply to Porphyry written by Iamblichus. Adopting the persona of Anebo’s teacher, Abammon, he expounds an elaborate theory of how ritual functions, which became foundational for subsequent Platonists like Proclus. The Reply is also known by the misleading title On the Mysteries or De Mysteriis, which it was given by the Catholic Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino.

2. A common idea among Platonists before Iamblichus.

3. It is often said that the Reply is a treatise about ‘theurgy’, but although terms like theourgiaand theourgikos are often used in the text, Iamblichus is not giving a defense of some kind of novel ‘theurgical’ ritual (nor was Porphyry attacking this), but a defense of pagan ritual in general – which is what Iamblichus means by theourgia. Marsilio Ficino’s Latin version, although in many other respects defective, wisely does without this Greek word.