Philosopher, Mathematician, Astronomer, Scholar (410 – 485)
Proclus was the most eminent Neoplatonic philosopher, polymath scientist and theologist of late antiquity, who exerted enormous influence on Platonic philosophy and its preservation throughout the medieval times. He was the last and greatest representative of the Ancient Greek thought before its downfall, in an era where the Hellenic flame was dwindling, and the Western World was welcoming Christianity as the new religion. His works, mainly commentaries on Plato’s treatises, left a lasting impression in the Western thought and contributed significantly to the revival of the human soul.
Proclus was born in Constantinople. He studied Aristotelian philosophy and mathematics in Alexandria and continued his studies in Athens. In the Academy of Athens, Proclus was initiated into the mystery schools of the Platonic philosophy by Syrianus, the headmaster of the Academy, whom Proclus succeeded, earning the name Proclus the Successor. Proclus served as headmaster of the Academy of Athens for 50 years. Isidore of Miletus and Anthemius of Tralles, the architects of Hagia Sophia were both his students.
Proclus’ philosophical work marks the epilogue of the Hellenic spirit. He wrote many treatises, but he is most well known for his commentaries, primarily on Plato’s works. Proclus perfected Neoplatonism by providing invaluable exegeses not only of Plato’s works, but also those of Orpheus, Aristotle and Euclid. As far as concerning philosophy, Proclus did not write anything original, rather, through Greek Meditation (Ελληνικός Διαλογισμός) he compiled analyses of exceptional depth and wisdom. His commentaries on Plato’s Timaeus, which he wrote at the age of 28, Parmenides, Cratylus, Alcibiades, Republic, while even more difficult to understand than Plato’s treatises, are undoubtedly the works of a visionary, whose meaning can only be understood through Greek Meditation.
His works on mathematics, physics and astronomy include insightful commentaries on the systems of Hipparchus, Aristarchus and Ptolemy, commentaries on Aristotle’s physics, Euclid’s and Geminus’ geometry, as well as Hesiod’s theogony. He describes a method of measuring the Sun’s diameter, proves geometric theorems of his times, and preserves the treatises of mathematicians which otherwise would not have survived to this day. In addition, Proclus wrote poems, hymns and theological works, most notably Elements of Theology.
Even though he did not oppose Christianity, Proclus attempted to protect what was left of the Hellenic spirit, refine it and give it the glorious spot it once had in history. His efforts were hindered by Christianity and Proclus was forced to exile in Asia Minor. With the final blow coming in 528 by Emperor Justinian, the Academy of Athens was closed and the philosophers persecuted, thus putting an end to Proclus’ dream.
Proclus’ corpus was studied extensively during the Renaissance, when Neoplatonic philosophy underwent an upsurge and, subsequently, a revival. Philosophers such as Michael Psellos, Pletho, Bessarion, Marsilio Ficino, Thomas Aquinas and Hegel were deeply inspired by Proclus’ works, as were more contemporary philosophers Thomas Taylor and Ralph Waldo Emerson. According to Hegel, the ideas of Neoplatonists and specially the philosophy of Proclus were long maintained and preserved in the Church.
Proclus’ mastery of the Platonic philosophy renders him an eternal interpreter of Greek philosophy, which Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and all their predecessors brought down from the divine plane. Without Proclus, Platonic philosophy would have remained obscure.
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