September 24, 2010 by korshi
So apart from my job, I’ve spend most of this year writing and researching my honours year thesis on the Greek and Demotic Magical Papyri. Along the way I’ve encountered a lot of fascinating religious and philosophical movements, and it occurred to me that one of the best ways to understand their relationships would be to visually map out their cosmologies (this also has the advantage of indulging in my love of 50s style infographics and the font Hypatia.)
This is the first of what will hopefully be a series: it’s from the philosophy of Plotinus, the founder of Neoplatonism and one of the greatest thinkers of late Mediterranean paganism; he deserves to be better known than he is, but his work in reformulating Platonism means that even if you’ve never heard of him, his ideas, mediated through Saint Augustine and incorporated into Christianity, have probably infiltrated your own thinking. Basically, his view of the world was centred on a threefold god: the ineffable Father (or the One), the Divine Intellect and the World Soul; the divine essence flowed outward without diminishing itself, until it somehow reached its limits, and it was in the borderline of the divine and the uncreated that matter, and the perceptible universe, existed (if you’ve read that email forward about evil being the absence of good, that’s lifted from Plotinus). But every human soul had a part of the divine in it, and by contemplation the philosopher could achieve unity with God (Plotinus’ biographer, Porphyry, tells us that Plotinus experienced this himself on four occasions). His is an austere and majestic intellectual mysticism, and it’s easy to see why it was embraced by those most famous late antique monotheists, the Christians, in their quest for intellectual respectability.
Source: Plotinus, The Enneads, translated by Stephen MacKenna, 3rd Edition revised by B S Page, Faber and Faber Ltd, London, 1962