Space and Time in the Chaldaica

Category: Neoplatonism > Chaldaica & Procliana

1 Introduction

In the course of his massive commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, Simplicius of Cilicia (one of the very last pagan philosophers) includes two long digressions, the so-called Corollary on Place and Corollary on Time. These follow after his exegesis of Aristotle’s discussions of place/space (topos) and time (khronos), respectively, in which the philosopher had also addressed the opinions of his predecessors. Simplicius continues this doxographic project by treating a variety of views that have been advanced since the time of Arisotle.

In the course of these Corollaries, Simplicius preserves quotations from various lost works, including (in chronological order):

  • Theophrastus, Physics.
  • Strato of Lampsacus, unnamed work.
  • (The Peripatetic Eudemus is referenced, but not quoted.)
  • Pseudo-Archytas, On the Whole.
  • The Chaldaic Oracles.
  • Some Orphic poetry.
  • (Porphyry is referenced, but not quoted.)
  • Iamblichus, On the Timaeus, book 5, chapter 2, and book 8(?), chapters 6 and 10.
    „, On Aristotle’s Categories, book 1.
  • Syrianus, On the Tenth Book of Plato’s Laws (and perhaps other unnamed works?).
  • Proclus, unnamed work (On Place?).
  • (Asclepiodotus, the student of Proclus, is referred to in passing.)
  • Damascius, On Place;
    „, On Number, Space and Time;
    „, On Time (unless this is the same as the previous work).

One may consult all these quotations and Simplicius’ dense commentary in the translation of J.O. Urmson, Simplicius: Corollaries on Place and Time, 1992. The volume constitutes a good antidote to the idea that Neoplatonic philosophy essentially ends with Proclus, or even with Damascius, as Simplicius shows himself to be not only extremely well read, but also an independent, critical thinker.

On this page, I will focus only on one aspect of the Corollaries, namely the role that Chaldaic writings, including the Oracles, play in them. In the Corollary on Place, while Simplicius feels free to differ from Aristotle and Proclus, he uses the Oracles as a proof-text and challenges Proclus’ doctrine on their basis. In the Corollary on Time, Chaldaica play a far smaller role, but I will connect Simplicius’ brief comments with more substantial parallels in other Neoplatonists, who refer both to the Oracles of the gods and to the theurges (i.e., the Chaldaic prose writings).

2 Simplicius against Proclus on Space, or the debate about Oracles fr. 51 des Places

In his own view of place, Simplicius primarily follows the doctrine of his teacher Damascius, and gives criticisms of earlier positions, based on rational argument as well as theological tradition (particularly the Chaldaic Oracles). On the other hand, he argues that all his predecessors have hit on some truth about place, because “it is of many forms” (On Physics, CAG IX, p. 640).

Damascius’ theory of topos is based in the idea that things in genesis (the realm of origination and destruction, rather than eternal being) are separated “from unified and unextended nature” in four ways overall:

  1. In respect to essence (ousia), namely:
    1. “Fragmentation into plurality (plēthos)”, and
    2. “Acquisition of bulk (onkos)” and “size/magnitude (megethos)”.
  2. In respect to activity (energeia) and affect/passivity (pathos), namely:
    1. Activity cognate with essence, “in accordance with which (separation) the essence (of beings in genesis) is in continual flux”, and
    2. Activity proceeding from essence, “in accordance with which (separation) it enacts different things at different times, having its activities in a definite order and not all at once.”

Lest these separations proceed into total indefinite multiplicity, “uniting measurements came to subsist”. While time is the measure of extension in activity (2B), the measure of extension in essence (1B) is place or location, and this again is twofold:

  1. Location cognate with essence, e.g., the head being on the top and the feet at the bottom of the human body. This remains the same as long as something exists.
  2. Location in respect to position, e.g., a person being indoors or outdoors. This can change from moment to moment (ibid., p. 625).

So, “place […] simply named as such is the delimitation of the position of bodies,* […] but natural place […] is the delimitation of the position naturally assigned to the body’s parts in relation to each other and to the whole, and of the whole in relation to its parts.” (*Meaning any three-dimensional, corporeal thing, not just animal bodies.) For instance, Heaven and Earth, as parts of the whole universe, have a natural position relative to each other and the cosmos; so do different parts of the Earth; and so on. So, place (topos) is a kind of divining (topazein), which creates an imaging of the eternal paradigm in bodies instead of sheer indeterminacy. Accordingly, bodies naturally move or stay at rest to reach or remain at their natural place (ibid., p. 626–627).

As such, place cannot be a container, a body (even an immaterial one), or an interval, as other philosophers had held. Rather “it is the measure of the position of things in a position”, “And because

  1. “Position (thesis) is twofold,
    1. “One essential,
    2. “The other external,
  2. “So place is also twofold,
    1. “One being an element (stoikheion) perfecting that which has position,
    2. “The other existing contingently.”

pp. 55-58: „There is a further difference… different parts at different times“; „It seems to me that the majority … of the ordering, but place?“
pp. 58+60 (qu.1): „We should not separate its form from its participation in its place that jointly contributes to its being, and wish to see it well-disposed entirely in itself.“
pp. 61-65 (qu.3): motion of heaven
pp. 67ff: measure of measure?
p. 59+71(qu.9): response to Proclus(?)

Simplicius‘ addenda & criticism of Proclus & Damascius: pp. 76-81

pp. 32-43: Proclus
p. 45: intelligible Chaos (is this Syrianus‘ view or Simplicius‘?)

pp. 50f: firmaments

[Work in Progress.
The fragment is quoted in Plato, In Remp. vol. 2, p. 201;
Simpl. In Phys. vol. 9, p. 613;616;617.
Also the Orphic texts Simplicius quotes!]

3 Time in the Chaldaica

In Simplicius’ view, time (khronos) as discussed by natural philosophers (physikoi) is one thing, but this physical time “here”, in the flux of the perceptible cosmos, is dependent on unchanging Time-Itself (autókhronos), which he identifies with Soul-Itself. It is only in the ontological procession from universal Soul to the perceptible cosmos that soul and time become differentiated; or, if they are already differentiated from the first, they are at any rate closely related. In either case, “it is clear that” Time-Itself – time “there” rather than “here” – “is the Time (Khronos) which has been honored as a god by the Chaldaeans and other sacred worship” (On Physics, CAG IX, pp. 784–785).

(Footnote 35 on this passage in the Urmson translation, which equates the god Time, Khronos, with the god Aiōn, Eternity, misunderstands an analogy that Simplicius is drawing between Time and Eternity for an equation of the two. That the long obsolete monograph of Hans Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles and Theurgy, 1956, is still referred to as a reliable source there is already a bad sign. Lewy was a fundamentally paranoid reader of the Neoplatonists, who constantly opposed their alleged misunderstandings of the Chaldaica to the “original” meaning which he himself had arrived at.)

Later, Simplicius also references Proclus’ view about separate (khōristos), i.e. non-physical time: “Proclus, the philosopher from Lycia, the preceptor of my teachers, […] attempts to show that it is not only an intellect, but even a god, so that it has even been invoked (klē-) for autopsia (‘direct vision’) by the theurges”. Although this appears contrary to Simplicius’ previously stated theory, that time itself is Soul itself (which is subordinate to Intellect), and apparently both Asclepiodotus and Damascius (but see below) had rejected it, Simplicius accepts it, if only on the basis of a general principle: “If those who investigated (what) the cause of time among intellects and gods (is) have set this down and called (time) a god, it is necessary to accept it; for even if one investigates the first causes of motion and origination” – things regarded as typical of the perceptible cosmos – “one will universally find it to be an intellect and a god. And it is nothing to wonder at if someone should call it (=time) by the same names (=intellect and god), because the theologoi” – the mythological poets – “have often been satisfied with this, and so perhaps have the gods themselves.” He then repeats that this is not the time investigated by natural philosophy (On Physics, CAG IX, p. 795).

What I take Simplicius to mean here is that physical time can be rationally traced back to Soul itself (which is Time-Itself), but if one seeks the cause of time, it is some intellect and god, whom it is also fit to call Time, following convention (and perhaps divine inspiration). So much for the philosophy, anyway; but what of the other authorities referred to? That the poets (theologoi) have spoken of Time or Chronos (not to be confused with Kronos) as a god is well enough known and understood. When Simplicius speaks of “other worship”, he is referring to certain marginal but real traditions of worship, perhaps connected to his representation in worship.

However, our interest is more strongly drawn by the more concrete allusions to the “theurges” or “Chaldaeans”, and to their ritual of invocation and direct vision (autoptic theagogy). Notably, Simplicius both mentions this ritual practice in his own right and cites Proclus as discussing it. As it happens, we still have at least some of the passages where Proclus raised the subject, as well as parallel discussions from Damascius.

Proclus presupposes that Time (the “monad” of time) is an ancient and great god, and cites “the theurges” in support, “who say that it is a god, and have handed his agōgē” – ritual/invocation of attraction, i.e., theagogy – “down to us, through which it is possible to move him to direct manifestation (autophaneia), and they hymn this god as ‘older’ and ‘younger’, as ‘revolving in a circle’ and ‘eternal’” – this is followed by Proclus’ exegesis of these epithets – “and beside these, they call him ‘unbounded’ […], and after these, ‘circular’” (On the Timaeus, vol. 3, p. 20–21). These epithets in Greek are presbýteros, neṓteros, kyklohéliktos, aiṓnios, apérantos, helikoeidês; to which Damascius adds misogýnaios, ‘woman-hating’, which he of course interprets allegorically (Damascius, On the Parmenides, p. 235; for the interpretation see below).

(Proclus further expounds the epithets on pp. 26–27;40–41;80. A different exegesis of ‘older’ and ‘younger’ in Damascius, ibid., p. 231. Synesius, Hymns 8.69, describes Aiōn as “young and old at once”. Some similar epithets are also found in a non-Chaldaic oracle about Aiōn, which I intend to translate and discuss on his page.)

As we find out later, Proclus has taken all this from one of “the loftiest among the theurges”, namely, “Julian in the seventh book of The Zones (Proclus, On the Timaeus, vol. 3, p. 27). This is Julian the Theurge, also known as Julian the Chaldaean, whose writings – both the Oracles and prose writings like The Zones – were the source of the Chaldaic tradition as described by the Neoplatonists.

Proclus also says that the theurgists “have hymned not only Time as a god, but also Day (Hemera) herself and Night (Nyx), Month (Mēn) and Year (Eniautos)”, and that they “have handed down encounters (entykhiai), invocations (klēseis) and telestic rules (thesmoi telestikoi) for them” (ibid., p. 40–41), perhaps also in The Zones. These invocations, or at least those of the goddesses Day and Night, are said to have been “given forth by the gods themselves” (ibid., p. 32), whether that means they were part of the Oracles or contained in the prose works. (Proclus also cites parallel Greek and Phrygian traditions, ibid. p. 32;41.)

According to Damascius, the original (“fontal”) Time is a god contained within the third paternal intellect, i.e., the Demiurge. The god “Time who has sometimes appeared to theurges”, is not this original fount, but the “zonic” (zōnaios) god (Damascius, On the Parmenides, p. 235). This reflects a divine hierarchy apparently discussed in the Chaldaic Outlines of Julian, and applied to Time in fuller detail by Proclus.

He tells us that “the theurges […] have hymned Time himself as a god, and a certain one as the zonic (Time) […]; another as zoneless (azōnos), who measures the cycle of the third of the ethereal (cosmoi); another set over the the middle one of those cosmoi, a kind of archangelic Time; and another, principal one, established over the very first of the ethereal (cosmoi); and above all these, another fontal one, who drives the empyrean cosmos, leads it around and defines its cycle, and who has come forth from the fontal goddess who gives birth to all life and all motion. For she brought forth fontal Time and set him up for all things in motion, as measuring out the cycles of them all down to the last” (Proclus, On the Timaeus, vol. 3, p. 43).

This fontal goddess is the second paternal intellect, denominated Hekate in the Chaldaic tradition and Rhea in the Orphic, as understood by the Neoplatonists. Damascius disagrees with this interpretation, however, even if not definitively: “his tokens (synthēmata) rather show a demiurgic association, for example the ‘younger and older’ (shows an association with) the cause of origination to things originated, and ‘woman-hating’, as not being of a life-originating or feminine character (idiotropia); but let it be and be said in whatever way pleases the god” (Damascius, On the Parmenides, p. 235).

The fontal and the subsequent Khronoi/Times are coordinated with the seven cosmoi which the Chaldaica tell us exist:

  • Fontal (pēgaios) Time governs temporality in the first, empyrean cosmos (which is imperceptible to us, as are the three ethereal cosmoi which follow, at least according to Proclus).
  • Principal (arkhikos) Time, in the first and highest ethereal cosmos.
  • Archangelic (arkhangelikos) Time, in the second and middle ethereal cosmos.
  • Zoneless (azōnos) Time, in the third and lowest ethereal cosmos.
  • Zonic (zōnaios) Time rules temporality in the perceptible cosmos and its planetary “girdles” (zōnai), i.e., spheres. He is the encosmic god whose luminous body can actually become manifest to human worshippers when they use an invocation like that handed down by Julian.

In conclusion, while we do not have a full ritual description or a quoted passage directly from Julian the Chaldaean about his understanding of the god Time, we do have a very detailed description of the Chaldaic theology of Time as understood by late Neoplatonists, and at least some of the most important words of his invocation, as well as information about other gods for whom there were such invocations.

Taken together with Proclus’ theory of theagogy as outlined elsewhere, details about Chaldaic ritual found in Psellus and others, and finally parallels in Porphyry, the Greek Magical Papyri, and other sources, we can get a good sense of what sort of ritual this was, even if we cannot reconstruct its specific form.