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Proclus on Analogy

Matteo Milesi

University of Michigan


In the first part of the Sixth Essay of the Commentary on the Republic Proclus distinguishes between myths that are fitting for the education of young students and myths that are inspired and potentially dangerous for untrained minds. The rationale on which the distinction is based is explicitly stated at I.84.3-12, where Proclus differentiates between myths whose literary meaning is morally acceptable insofar that they are able to connect to the divine through similarity (διὰ ὁμοιότετος), and myths that bring lowest beings in contact with the highest beings by means of analogy (διὰ ἀναλογίας μόνης). Unfortunately, Proclus does not expand on what analogia is, and the meaning of this concept has been widely debated by modern scholars. Sheppard 1980, 1995, followed by Lamberton 2012, claims that analogia is the relationship between a model and an image; Cardullo 1985 and Chlup 2012, on the contrary, define analogia as a looser relationship that operates only at a symbolic level between contrasting figures. In this paper, I will challenge both these views through a more careful survey of the usage that Proclus makes of this term in different works. I will show that, on the one hand, Proclus explicitly argues against the identification of analogia with the relationship between paradeigma and eikôn (cf. in Crat. 24.28-29); on the other hand, he employs the term analogia not only in connection with symbola expressing superior realities through opposites, but also with eikonic representations operating through more patent similarities (cf. in Tim. I.33.7-10). Hence, a wider and more inclusive definition of analogy is needed in order to account for such a diversified use of the term.

I therefore argue that analogia must be interpreted as a mathematical proportion. This proportion operates both at a horizontal level, connecting elements belonging to the same level of reality (cf. in Euc. 43.24) and at a vertical level, connecting elements that belong to the same metaphysical series (cf. in Tim. I.373.7-20). Thus, far from being an arbitrary semantic relationship between a signifier and a signified, the term analogia refers to the immanent mathematical order of the kosmos. If my interpretation is correct, the image of the inspired poetry that emerges from Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic is not that of a “Romantic” genius that composes under the influence of some kind of divine frenzy; on the contrary, an inspired poet is someone who, with the help of the gods, manage to understand and contemplate the harmony of reality, a harmony that is based on bonds created by mathematical proportion.  

Coming back to the above mentioned distinction between “educational” and “inspired” myths, we can now see that Homer’s poetry is unfitting for the young not only because is morally harmful, but also because a young student has not yet undergone the mathematical training that will enable him to properly understand the deep meaning of the myths.

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Allegory Poetics and Symbol in Neoplatonic Texts

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