Monday, 29 September 2014

Links of interest

5 timeless philosophies for a happy, successful life
The ancient Stoic philosophers are often dismissed as joyless and boring intellectuals. But the Stoics were actually very interested in the pursuit of things like happiness and success; they merely pursued them in different ways than most. With a few simple changes in perspective and behavior, the Stoics knew that it was possible to achieve a lasting form of personal happiness.

With a few simple changes in perspective and behavior, the Stoics knew that it was possible to achieve a lasting form of personal happiness." More ancient Stoic wisdom, confirmed by modern researchers of today:

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Porphyry: On the Cave of the Nymphs 4

The Olive Tree is related to Athena and symbolises Divine wisdom. Because she was born from the Head of Zeus, she is related to the intelligible nature. The olive has a white part that is raised upward in the Summer and downwards in the Winter and is therefore similar to the movement of the soul through the two entrances, and symbolises the alternation between light and dark. It symbolises peace  and victory as the  fruits of labour in the Olympiad of the soul: "Thus, too, the world is governed by an intellectual nature, and is conducted by a wisdom eternal and ever-flourishing; by which the rewards of victory are conferred on the conquerors in the athletic race of life, as the reward of severe toil and patient perseverance" (17)

"For in summer the white leaves of the olive tend upwards, but in winter the whiter leaves are bent downward. On this account also in prayers and supplications, men extend the branches of an olive, nominating from this that they shall exchange the sorrowful darkness of danger for the fair light of security and peace. The olive, therefore being naturally ever-flourishing, bears fruit which is the auxiliary of labour (by being its reward , it is sacred to Minerva; supplies the victors in athletic labours with crowns and affords a friendly branch to the suppliant petitioner".(15)

 In this cave all things must be deposited in a process to purify the passions.  According to Plato in the Timaeus, Phorcys represents material nature. It is related that Numenius gives a general interpretation of the Odyssey: "On this account, too, a seat under the olive is proper to Ulysses, as to one who implores divinity and would appease his natal daemon with a suppliant branch. For it will not be simply, and in a concise way, possible for anyone to be liberated from this sensible life, who blinds this daemon, and renders his energies inefficacious; but he who dares to do this, will be pursued by the anger (note 25) of the marine and material Gods, whom it is first requisite to appease by sacrifices, labours, and patient endurance; at one time, indeed, contending with the passions, and at another employing enchantments and deceptions, and by these, transforming himself in an all-various manner; in order that, being at length divested of the torn garments (by which his true person was concealed) he may recover the ruined empire of his soul. Nor will he even then be liberated from labours; but this will be effected when he has entirely passed over the raging sea, and, though still living, becomes so ignorant of marine and material works (through deep attention to intelligible concern) as to mistake an oar for a corn-van" (17)

A cavern at the top of a cliff :
The universe, matter

A stream of water flowing through:
Elements formed by matter

Marble beams where Naiads weave purple garments :
Souls descending into generation and acquiring body.

Naiads : Related to human nature of incarnated souls

Marble Beams Bones Purple Garments Flesh Bowls and urns filled with honey provided by bees :
Earth symbols - Nutritive, generative and preservative powers of nature.

A North gate for mankind :
Tropic of Cancer -Summer, Moon, North gate where the souls descend.

South gate for immortals :
Tropic of Capricorn - Winter, Saturn, South gate of ascent.

An olive tree :
Related to Athena, Divine wisdom. Peace, Victory. The Intellectual Principle that governs nature.

Basically, theses images represent the process of the soul's descending incarnation from it's cosmic origin and it's experience in relation to natural process up to the point of disembodiment and return to it's cosmic origin.

In general, Porphyry explains these symbols in relation to traditional Greek religious symbols and other mystical traditions such as Mithraism and Orphism. The symbols are all implicitely related to the lesser mysteries in ancient traditions such the mysteries of Eleusis and Attis, related to processes of generation and fertility.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Porphyry - On the Cave of the Nymphs 3

The Double entrance symbolises the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. The tropic of Cancer  is related to Summer and the  Moon and is the North gate where the souls descend ; The tropic of Capricorn is related to Winter and Saturn, and is South gate of ascent. Ascent is related to liberation, for example, the Roman Saturnalia festival is therefore related to the Southern Tropic and features elements of divesting of garments symbolising the return to pristine felicity, the fountain of life. The entrances are said be aligned with the North-South tropic rather than the East-West/Aries-Libra equinoctial axis because Sothis, the Dog-Star is near Cancer and related to the new moon, thus a symbol of generation.

Then he gives some rather specific astrological data related to Mithras: "Hence, a place near to the equinoctial circle was assigned to Mithra as an appropriate seat. And on this account he bears the sword of Aries, which is a martial sign. He is likewise carried in the Bull, which is the sign of Venus. For Mithra. as well as the Bull, is the Demiurgus and lord of generation (note 13). But he is placed near the equinoctial circle, having the northern parts on his right hand, and the southern on his left. They likewise arranged towards the south the southern hemisphere because it is hot; but the northern hemisphere towards the north, through the coldness of the north wind." (11)

Porphyry then goes on to examine various uses of cave entrance symbolism from various traditions. Caves were consecrated to gods. For example in Crete, the Curetes dedicated a cavern to Zeus. The month Januarius is said to derive from the word janua meaning gate, related therefore to Aquarius. There is a temple cave in Arcadia dedicated to the moon and one in Lyceum dedicated to Pan, as well as one in Naxos dedicated to Dionysos. Parmenides makes mention of the two celestial gates.

The north entrance is related to Boreas, the North wind, therefore the myth of the rape of Orythyia by Boreas who beget Zetis and Calais is related to this symbolic nexus of the descent and return of souls. He relates the ancient belief that disembodied souls reside in the milky way,( a passage that is linked to chapter twelve of the Commentary on "Scipio's Dream" by Macrobius, which further explains the descent of the soul through the seven planets):

"According to Pythagoras, also, the people of dreams (note 19). are the souls which are said to be collected in the galaxy, this circle being so called from the milk with which souls are nourished when they fall into generation. Hence, those who evocate departed souls, sacrifice to them by a libation of milk mingled with honey; because, through the allurements of sweetness they will proceed into generation: with the birth of man, milk being naturally produced"(13)

Part 4 

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Porphyry - On the Cave of the Nymphs 2

In Chapters 4-8 Porphyry explores the contents of the caves proper, which he considers to be a complex of interelated symbols, all related to generation and natural growth. Water is considered to symbolize primal matter that goes into generating things and is closely related to the Naids. Naids are related to the humid nature of incarnated souls. He relates this to Heraclitus' concept of humid souls

He makes a distinction between Nymphs and Naiads. Naiads are a particular kind of Nymph. Apparently Nymphs in general symbolize natural matter in general whereas Naiads are related to the matter of human bodies.

"For in consequence of containing perpetually flowing streams of water, it will not be a symbol of an intelligible hypostasis, but of a material essence. On this account also it is sacred to Nymphs, not the mountain or rural Nymphs, or others of the like kind, but to the Naiades, who are thus denominated from streams of water. For we peculiarly call the Naiades, and the powers that preside over waters, Nymphs; and this term also, is commonly applied to all souls descending into generation." (4)

The purple garments symbolize human flesh and the marble columns symbolizes human bones. Therefore the image of the Naids weaving purple garments over stone columns symbolizes souls descending into generation and acquiring body.

"For the formation of the flesh is on and about the bones, which in the bodies of animals resemble stones. Hence these instruments of weaving consist of stone, and not of any other matter. But the purple webs will evidently be the flesh which is woven from the blood". (6) According to Orphic accounts, Persephone presides over generation and is shown weaving a web peplos.

The stone bowls and urns with honey are earth symbols, related to the nymphs and Dionysios, symoblizing the generative, nutritive, and preservative powers of nature.
"Let the stony bowls, then, and the amphorae be symbols of the aquatic nymphs". He illustrates this with a rich, complex series of examples, all related to fountains, nymphs, water, and generation:

In the mysteries of Leontika, there is a ritual involving pouring honey on one's hands.

Honey preserves, honey intoxicates. It is related to divine nectar, citing the Myth of Porus in Plato's Symposium. It symbolizes desire, delight in generation. In another Orphic account, Zeus tricks Kronos with honey. Honey Platonically symbolizes Death because embodiment is the death of the soul, in contradistinction with gall which symbolizes life, because physical death signifies the liberation of the soul to eternal life.

A priestess of Demeter  was called a Bee. Persephone was titled "meltitode" - meaning  delicious like honey. Bee symbolism is linked to the moon and bull symbolism. Bees symbolizes just human souls, who have risen above their humid nature.

"For water co-operates in the work of generation. On this account the bees are said, by the poet, to deposit their honey in bowls and amphorae; the bowls being a symbol of fountains, and therefore a bowl is placed near to Mithra, instead of a fountain; but the amphorae are symbols of the vessels with which we draw water from fountains." (8)

English translation:
Latin translation:
Part 3

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Porphyry - On the Cave of the Nymphs 1

High at the head a branching olive grows
And crowns the pointed cliffs with shady boughs.
A cavern pleasant, though involved in night,
Beneath it lies, the Naiades delight:
Where bowls and urns of workmanship divine
And massy beams in native marble shine;
On which the Nymphs amazing webs display,
Of purple hue and exquisite array,
The busy bees within the urns secure
Honey delicious, and like nectar pure.
Perpetual waters through the grotto glide, 
A lofty gate unfolds on either side;
That to the north is pervious to mankind:
The sacred south t'immortals is consign'd.
Homer, Odyssey, Pope tranls. (Book XIII, 122-135)

In Porphyry's short treatise De Antro Nympharum, he gives a symbolic interpretation of a brief, curious passage from Homer's Odyssey. The scene contains the following elements:
A cavern at the top of a cliff
An olive tree in front of it
Marble beams where Naiads weave purple garments
Bowls and urns filled with honey provided by bees
A stream of water flowing through
A North gate for mankind and a South gate for immortals

In chapters 1-3, Porphyry explains that, at a basic level the cave represents the universe. More specifically, the cave is related to earth elements such as stone and rock and therefore represent matter. The water is a related symbol representing the elements that are formed by matter.

At another level, the cave represents both the beauty of the visible world and the obscurity of the invisible world, therfore it can also symbolize every invisible power in general. (''Again, since a cave has a twofold similitude, it must agree in some particulars with sensible substance, but in others with an intelligible essence''.)

Porphyry gives examples such as the use of the cave in Persian initiation rituals of Zoroastrian/Mithraic tradition; Chronos locks up his offspring in a cave; Demeter teaches Persephone in a cave with her nymphs; and Plato's cave allegory, naturally. Because of the water imagery, the cave here is more related to generation and matter. He relates that, in ancient Greece, caves are considered sacred to Naiads.

The Greek text is online:
Here's the Homeric passage from
There is in the land of Ithaca a certain harbor of Phorcys, the old man of the sea, and at its mouth two projecting headlands sheer to seaward, but sloping down on the side toward the harbor. These keep back the great waves raised by heavy winds [100] without, but within the benched ships lie unmoored when they have reached the point of anchorage. At the head of the harbor is a long-leafed olive tree, and near it a pleasant, shadowy cave sacred to the nymphs that are called Naiads. [105] Therein are mixing bowls and jars of stone, and there too the bees store honey. And in the cave are long looms of stone, at which the nymphs weave webs of purple dye, a wonder to behold; and therein are also ever-flowing springs. Two doors there are to the cave, [110] one toward the North Wind, by which men go down, but that toward the South Wind is sacred, nor do men enter thereby; it is the way of the immortals.

Φόρκυνος δέ τίς ἐστι λιμήν, ἁλίοιο γέροντος,
ἐν δήμῳ Ἰθάκης: δύο δὲ προβλῆτες ἐν αὐτῷ
ἀκταὶ ἀπορρῶγες, λιμένος ποτιπεπτηυῖαι,
αἵ τ᾽ ἀνέμων σκεπόωσι δυσαήων μέγα κῦμα
100ἔκτοθεν: ἔντοσθεν δέ τ᾽ ἄνευ δεσμοῖο μένουσι
νῆες ἐΰσσελμοι, ὅτ᾽ ἂν ὅρμου μέτρον ἵκωνται.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὶ κρατὸς λιμένος τανύφυλλος ἐλαίη,
ἀγχόθι δ᾽ αὐτῆς ἄντρον ἐπήρατον ἠεροειδές,
ἱρὸν νυμφάων αἱ νηϊάδες καλέονται.
105ἐν δὲ κρητῆρές τε καὶ ἀμφιφορῆες ἔασιν
λάϊνοι: ἔνθα δ᾽ ἔπειτα τιθαιβώσσουσι μέλισσαι.
ἐν δ᾽ ἱστοὶ λίθεοι περιμήκεες, ἔνθα τε νύμφαι
φάρε᾽ ὑφαίνουσιν ἁλιπόρφυρα, θαῦμα ἰδέσθαι:
ἐν δ᾽ ὕδατ᾽ ἀενάοντα. δύω δέ τέ οἱ θύραι εἰσίν,
110αἱ μὲν πρὸς Βορέαο καταιβαταὶ ἀνθρώποισιν,
αἱ δ᾽ αὖ πρὸς Νότου εἰσὶ θεώτεραι: οὐδέ τι κείνῃ
ἄνδρες ἐσέρχονται, ἀλλ᾽ ἀθανάτων ὁδός ἐστιν.

Part 2