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Revelation Dialogue in Plutarch and Hermetism: A "Divine Encounter" with the Truth

Elsa Simonetti

Through the comparison between selected Hermetic texts and Plutarch's De E apud Delphos, I intend to analyze the use of “revelation dialogue” that – as a literary and dramatic device – discloses the specific relation between man and divine.

The self-referential circularity of Hermetic αὔτοπτος λόγος (which both describes a παράδοσις of γνῶσις and is a revelation itself) is based on the dynamics of a “self speaking to itself” (THOMASSEN 2004), divided into Νοῦς (or divine Λόγος) and Ψυχή (an interlocutor “who wishes to know”, CH 1, 3): the consubstantiality of men with gods (cf. Ascl. 23-24) enables reciprocal communication (BOULOGNE 2008), defining dialogue as an instrument to know the “self”, the “deity” and their specific relation (BETZ 1998). Ethical models derived from Greek philosophy outline a process of self-consciousness, which represents a prerequisite for accessing cosmological, eschatological and anthropological questions (cf. CH 1, 18-21). The spiritual προκοπή, articulated in progressive βαθμοί (from μαθεῖν to νοῆσαι), ends with the god's gift of mystical θεωρία, i.e. direct ἐποπτεία of the transcendent realm and perfect knowledge of the All. The final μύσις (SFAMENI GASPARRO 1965), which excludes any kind of logical approach (cf. CH 1, 26; 5, 1-2), heals the initial division realizing the θεωθῆναι (CAROZZI 1982).

While in the Hermetica a strong inequality between the “auditor” and the “magister” (founded on the faith in the latter's supernatural status) prevents an authentic debate, on the contrary Plutarch's dialogues attempt to reproduce a dramatic πάθος, by means of identifying every character with a specific ἦθος (RUSSELL 1992). Provided that in De E apud Delphos the discussion serves the shared and gradual approach to the truth, the special case of the conclusive exposition held by Ammonius (cf. De E 391e-394c, parallel to Theon's monologue in De Pythiae oraculis) represents a sort of “revelation discourse”, which indeed pertains even to the Platonic tradition (FESTUGIÈRE 1949). According to his theological explanation (subsequent and superior to logical, dialectical and physical accounts offered by other characters, BONAZZI 2008), a transcendent god is opposed to humans, who belong instead to the transient world of appearance. Therefore, direct dialogue between men and deities is ontologically prevented; the only possible communication consists in the human activity of interpreting the enigmas proposed by the διαλεκτικώτατος Apollo, μάντις not less than φιλόσοφος (cf. De E 384d). In the frame of a special “temple symbolism”, on the one hand men honor god's perfection and real existence by inscribing on the sanctuary the mysterious “Ε” (pronounced εἶ, “thou art”), on the other hand god “replies” reminding humans their fragile condition, condensed in the Delphic maxim “γνῶθι σεαυτόν”.

Ammonius – the “ideal teacher”, aware of the disproportion between earthly and heavenly dimensions – advocates a devotional and defective truth, based on the acknowledgment of human ἀσθένεια (De E 394c). In this sense, considering the fortune of the angelus interpres figure in Gnostic esoteric wisdom and Judeo- Christian tradition, some light can be shed on the role played by truth-revelation discourse in respect to the decline of dialogue in Late Antiquity (GOLDHILL 2008).

The comparison here suggested – justified by the proven influence of Hermetic “mysteriosophy” on Plutarch's work (HANI 1976) – intends to highlight the philosophical and anthropological importance of the teaching relationship (VALANTASIS 1991), intensified by the teacher's power to embody the alter-ego of the ineffable god and to provide an indirect connection to the divine λόγος. Dialogue hence appears both in Plutarch's and Hermetic texts as a means for representing individuals searching for knowledge (cf. ἐποπτική, PLAT. Symp. 210a), striving in both cases to the same goal: the apperception of pure being, which shines through the soul like a flash of lightning (cf. PLAT. Epist. VII 344b), exceeding any rational quest for truth.

Session/Panel Title

Representation and Self-Representation in Imperial Greek and Latin Dialogues

Session/Paper Number

55.4

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