The intellect-awakening Rites, the Muses and Philosophy…

“Attract my soul, now madly raving around the earth, after it has been purified through the intellect-awakening rites”

The soul wanders in the material realm like a madman; the verb margaino gives the sense of somewhat insane and awful. It is used in the Iliad by Ares to describe Diomede’s onslaughts on the Gods who sided with the Trojans. According to the scholiasts, it is a synonym of mainesthai/ marainein, two verbs referring to the bad type of madness as opposed to the good one, the divinely inspired form of madness. In the commentary to the Politeia, Proclus says: “Just like we say that prophetic madness exists according to Truth – Hermes – and erotic madness according to Beauty – Aphrodite – we also say that poetical madness is defined by Divine Symmetry – Apollo”. Hermeias says that the Apollonian inspiration leads the soul from plurality towards unity and oneness.

The bad form of madness is the one befalling the descended soul that forgets about the divine world and becomes completely obsessed by the material world, with its needs and enjoyments. The Gods give the remedy to this illness by purifying the soul from its oblivion and insanity; in fact the great Healer of all souls, Lord Apollo, is one of the givers of this remedy, as He is the leader of the Muses, and one among them, Calliope, has revealed the science about the Gods to Her son Orpheus. In the Hymn dedicated to Them, Orpheus wrote: “queens who guide the powerful intelligence, who have made the celebrations of the mysteries known to the mortals “, i.e. the intellect-awakening egersinooisi, indicating the  initiation or teleteisi. Mesomedes from Crete sings: “O wise Calliope who direct the gracious Muses and whose wisdom initiates the Mysteries.”

In ancient times the cult to the Muses (regarding study in general and philosophy in particular) was very popular and respected: “All those who dedicated themselves to the work of intellect participated of the Godhead. They were purified by the high pursuit of spiritual joy and thereby have become free from the oppression of passions.”

As Orpheus perfectly said: “Clio (history) and Euterpe (flute playing) and Thalia (comedy) and Melpomene (tragedy) and Terpsichore (dancing) and Erato (lyric poetry) and Polymnia (hymns) and Urania (astrology) with Calliope (epic poetry), Mother and powerful sacred Goddess”. Apart from the followers of the arts, Pythagoras was the first who adopted the Muses along with Lord Apollo as the patrons of philosophy, therefore the philosopher is in fact the servant of the Muses. One of the main themes in this cult was that of henosis or heroïsation, connecting it with the Mysteries and the initiation. By spending his entire life in the pursuit of the intellect, the philosopher purifies himself from all bodily identifications and passions, and for this reason he obtains, after death, the elevation or return to the divine existence.

It is also for this reason that so often the Muses are represented on sarcophagi, illustrating the idea expressed on the Orphic golden plates. The human soul can escape the cycle of rebirth only when it manages to contemplate the Forms of the Gods during its existence on earth – it is necessary to participate to the Divine Nous in some way. Study in itself is not enough to become elevated: we also need divine illumination (intellect-awakening), an illumination that is always described – also in the study of divinely inspired books – as Bacchic frenzy, bakcheia: “throw me into the ecstasy (bakcheusate) through the noeric words of the wise!”

Proclus, Hymn to the Muses:

“who have rescued from the agony of this world, so hard to bear, the souls who were wandering in the depth of life through immaculate rites from intellect- awakening books”

Proclus, while commenting on the Phaedrus, recognizes that the Muses have two tasks: to awaken the soul and to bring it to the Bhacchic ecstasy. So he explains in the commentary to the Politeia: “the awakening (egersis) is the rising towards the divine, the non-perverted activity of the soul, and its turning away from the fallen condition in the realm of becoming”.

The verb bakcheuo clearly means “to celebrate the feast or the mysteries of Bacchus, to be invaded or possessed by Bacchic frenzy, to be filled with enthusiasm or exaltation, to be initiated into the Mysteries”. Again, speaking of this wondrous Bacchic ecstasy and the gifts of the Muses, we may remember the words of Plato in Phaedrus: “Thirdly, come the possession and the madness of the Muses. This madness that falls on a soft and pure soul (again the purity) awakens it (notice here the concept of awakening) and takes it to ecstasy (ekbakcheousa) under the influence of songs and poetry. It teaches posterity by honoring the innumerable deeds of the Ancients.”

We can now say with Proclus, that the Bacchic frenzy is “a divinely inspired movement and a tireless dance around the Divine, that bestows perfection to those who are possessed” or in other words: “Hagnén, hieràn hosiois mystais choreian – it is the pure sacred dance for the pious initiates”. This is the final phase of the initiation into Philosophy, called by Plato epopteia, the last stage of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the vision and the contemplation of the Ineffable Principle.

It is not an easy task: it is not easy to arrive at the final stage of initiation, epopteia, the contemplation of the Forms, as Plato says in the Phaedrus: “oloklera dè kaì aplâ kaì atremê kaì eydaimona phasmata myoymenoi te kaì epopteyontes en aygei katharâi”, “in our mystic initiation, contemplating perfect, simple, immutable and blessed visions in a pure light”. As a beautiful fragment says: “The thought of the Intelligible, pure and simple, passes through the soul as a lightning bolt… that is why Plato and Aristotle define that part of the philosophy as “epoptic”, because one who has really touched the pure truth of it (i.e. the fundamental and immaterial principle) is sure to posses the final goal of philosophy, as in an initiation”. So, if the Gods help us, the result is an epoptikoteron exegesis of the sacred texts…

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