Going Naked into the Shrine: Herbert, Plotinus and the Constructive Metaphor

  • Stephen R. L. Clark
Part of the International Archives of the History Of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 196)

This paper forms part of a current project in which my friend Panayiota Vassilopoulou and I are studying Plotinus’ use of myth and metaphor. Our thesis is that this is not primarily descriptive, but rather constructive—or, as Gregory Shaw has put it, theurgic. John Dillon had made a similar suggestion, commenting on Plotinus, Enneads V.8.9 1: Here we are being called upon to use our imagination creatively, to attain to a purely intellectual conception. It is worthwhile, perhaps, to try to perform the exercise as Plotinus prescribes. I have attempted it repeatedly, and the sticking point is always the instruction, once one has conjured up the universe (as a luminous, diaphanous globe, with all its parts distinct and functioning), then to think away the spatiality [‘aphelon ton onkon labe’]—-and not just by shrinking it! It is in fact an excellent spiritual exercise. Calling upon God here is no empty formality. If it is done effectively, it has a quasi-theurgic result: ‘He may come, bringing his own cosmos, with all the gods that dwell in it—He who is the one God, and all the gods, where each is all, blending into a unity, distinct in powers, but all one god, in virtue of that divine power of many facets.’ In other words, if you perform the exercise correctly, you will achieve a mystical vision of the whole noetic cosmos. And Plotinus knew what he was talking about.


Common Notion Late Antiquity Divine Power Hindu Tradition Empty Formality 
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© Springer 2008

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  • Stephen R. L. Clark

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