- Ten Gifts of the Demiurge: Proclus’ Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus by Emilie Kutash
Ten Gifts of the Demiurge takes us through Proclus’ commentary (which is a platform for extensive elaboration and metaphysical synthesis) by way of 10 stages of development, “gifts” that are bestowed onto the cosmos by the Demiurge, the Platonic architect of form. The Demiurge’s role is to create and stabilize the intelligible world by managing the endless influx of formlessness (apeiron), in an “undiminished bestowal,” which descends to our earthly domain through four emanative hypostases, organized on a 10-fold triangular frame—the Pythagorean tetractys. He thus applies form (peras) to formlessness. Each stage of this process is a gift bestowed by the Demiurge, and the sum totality of the gifts is an intelligible cosmology that provides the Theurgist an opportunity to experience unification with the source, or One. I will give a brief overview of the system discussed in Kutash’s work, with an eye to whetting the appetites of readers with an interest in these ideas.
The tetractys is the ideal frame upon which to hang the 10 gifts, as it comprises a four-level triangular arrangement of 10 points:
The most obvious element of theology that can be drawn from the tetractys is the equation 1+2+3+4 = 10. This is to say that four main stages act as intervals linking the transcendent unity—the monad—with the manifest unity: the decad. The tetractys is the ordered frame through which the limitless flows. The relation between limitlessness and the limited gives form, structure, ratio and proportion to the universe: “Limit and the Unlimited [End Page 183] must struggle as opposites, until hierarchical principles ultimately triumph and bring about the completion of the universe” (54). The tetractys is at once a principle of organization, a mnemonic peg system, and a metaphysical structure upon which the gifts rest in synthesis. The apex—or One—acts as fountainhead and supplies unity all throughout the system:
In Proclus’ words, the pinnacle of the triad subsumes all that comes second and fully supplies what is lacking in them. The higher levels one, two, and three can supply the fourth. The missing fourth person represents the important principle that the material world is supplied by higher hypostases and the greater multiplicity of the lowest rung is subsumed by a higher infrastructure (the more unified numbers of the tetractys).(49)
Proclus’s commentary seeks to take us from the manifest, back upwards toward the One. As such, we might map them onto the tetractys as follows:
Kutash observes that “[t]he 1st gift that the Demiurge gives to the world converts sheer, unadulterated materiality to the level of perceptibility ‘to the extreme in terms of sense perception’. Even as first perceived the world is amenable to logos” (62).
Here, then, there is a moment of basic contact with the unlimited that follows under the auspices of the goddess Athena whose “[s]hield is the invincible and unswerving character of reason, [and whose] spear is that which cuts through matter and rids souls of demonic or fate associated affections” (62). This primary mode of encounter is the open end of the tetractyl “funnel” that will gradually draw the theurgist upwards upon the tetractys to the source.
The second gift is anologia or geometric proportion, where we begin to articulate primary intellectual perception onto geometry, as we are initiated by Proclus into the methods of Euclid, with whom he shares the “conviction that there is a mediating engineering that allows the noetic world to impose its structure on the Soul and on the physical world” (64). This instills a musicality into the very act of perception, since, following Pythagoras, this engineering is harmonic in nature and based on the scale.
When “he makes it a whole,” as the third gift, the objects of the material world take their place in this schema. Ratio and proportion becomes the logos that enables objects to exist in the world and, furthermore, for the world itself to...