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  • Proclus on Nature: Philosophy of Nature and Its Methods in Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Timaeus
  • Brian Duvick
Marije Martijn . Proclus on Nature: Philosophy of Nature and Its Methods in Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Timaeus. Philosophia Antiqua, 121. Leiden-Boston: Brill, 2010. Pp. ix + 360. Cloth, $179.00.

Given the sophistication that Proclean studies have achieved in the past 20 years, it is somewhat surprising that so many questions remain unanswered about his philosophy of nature. Yet such is the case. Much of this neglect may be traced to a strong Neoplatonic emphasis on metaphysics as the end of philosophical speculation (since Iamblichus, the Timaeus had been treated as preliminary to study of the Parmenides, the capstone of the Neoplatonic curriculum) and to consequent prejudices among modern scholars against a distinct field of Proclean physics. It was not until the Baltzly, Tarrant, Runia, and Share translations of Proclus's Commentary on the Timaeus began to appear in 2007 that scholars directed concerted and sustained attention to Proclus's physiologia. In addition to generating new interest in Proclus's theory of nature, scholars have begun not only to dispel long-held misunderstandings about the apparent opposition between Being and Becoming, Intelligible and Sensible in Proclus's cosmology, but also to sort out the complex relations of ontological structure and operation that blend the Intelligible with the Sensible in seamless continuity. Marije Martijn's Proclus on Nature makes a number of important contributions to this project.

The key to the transition from Being to Becoming in Proclus's cosmology, according to Martijn, is Soul, which is characterized as "being and becoming." In its descent from the Intelligible, it is inserted in the demiurgic creation Life, which is described as "becoming and being," a complement to Soul and Nature itself. Now this argument is important for several reasons. First, since Proclus himself does not explain the actual relations among Soul, Life, and Nature, Martijn is obliged to construct her argument inductively, which she does through a meticulous reading of the relationship of Soul and Nature in both the Commentary on the Timaeus and the context of the relevant doxography. Still, the analysis raises other critical questions: (1) Is Soul here equivalent to World Soul? (2) Are Soul and Nature treated as transitional hypostases, the highest and lowest, between the Intelligible and Sensible? And most importantly, (3) why, given the importance of the transition from Being to Becoming, from the Eternal to Life and Time, does Proclus not discuss these issues in detail?

Constructing her argument based on evidence from the Elements of Theology and the Commentary on the Parmenides as well as that on the Timaeus, Martijn responds to these questions with what she calls Proclus's "chain of Nature," depending on an imparticipable [End Page 455] monad which is not called a nature at all. Proclus does this, Martijn argues, because he "has to bend the rules of his own metaphysics in order to allow for a lowest transitional hypostasis (after Soul) between the intelligible realm and the realm of the sensible" (43).

After developing her explanation of Proclus's concepts of universal and demiurgic nature in ascending order, Martijn traces the source of nature, according to Proclus, to the life-giving goddess Hera, based on Chaldean Oracle frag. 54 (Edouard des Places, Oracles Chaldaiques [Paris, 1989], 81). It is not this transcendental source of nature, however, that Martijn recognizes as imparticipable nature, but rather the Demiurgic mind, which, though subsequent to it, contains that source. Martijn similarly concludes that, although Proclus does not explicitly state that nature is not soul, he carefully hypostatizes the two in order to account for both unity and motion in entities not animated by soul. While Martijn's careful analysis and interpretation of her sources is impressive, questions still remain, as she herself points out, and will certainly generate subsequent discussions of these central issues in Proclus's ontology of nature.

The continuity in Proclean cosmology is further reflected, Martijn argues, both within and among the relation of reality, knowledge, and discourse. After demonstrating that Proclus's philosophy of nature is divided into four phases—theological, mathematical, empirical, and biological—the first three...


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