2020 Just Reading: March


Completed reads for March:

  • The Cosmic Doctrine, by Dion Fortune
  • Theurgia, or the Egyptian Mysteries, by Iamblichus
  • Dracul, by Dacre Stoker and J.D. Barker
  • The Life of Pythagoras, by Porphyry
  • On the Faculties of the Soul, by Porphyry
  • The Masque of the Red Death, by Edgar Allan Poe
  • The Isle of the Torturers, by Clark Ashton Smith
  • Beowulf: A Translation and Commentary, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde
  • Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • House of Many Ways, by Diana Wynne Jones
  • Gon, by Masashi Tanaka
  • Red Moon, by Sein Ares

Iamblichus’ Theurgia is Wilder’s translation. Porphyry’s Life of Pythagoras and On the Faculties of the Soul are Guthrie’s.

Poe and Smith are re-readings of short stories, but I thought I would list them for completeness.

On an unrelated note, you may be wondering about the yellow-and-black symbol at the start of my recent blog posts. It’s simply a Quarantine flag – a wee reminder for posterity of the lockdown circumstances those posts were written under, and a present reminder for non-essentials like me to Stay At Home.

2 thoughts on “2020 Just Reading: March

  1. Regarding Porphyry and Iamblichus, Gibbon’s verdict on the Neoplatonists was pretty scathing:

    “They flattered themselves that they possessed the secret of disengaging the soul from its corporeal prison; claimed a familiar intercourse with daemons and spirits; and, by a very singular revolution, converted the study of philosophy into that of magic.” — ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, Vol 1, Chapter 13, p.382 in the Everyman edition

    I think one can read into this that they were religious hucksters. The ‘Theurgia’, or ‘Egyptian Mysteries’, reads like a very long-winded manual on how to create the experience for the “epopt”, translated as the Beholder, or (in modern language) the mark.

    Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus is worth a glance. The latter seems to have been a “dirty prophet”:


    “He abstained from the use of the bath, contenting himself with a daily massage at home: when the terrible epidemic carried off his masseurs he renounced all such treatment: in a short while he contracted malign diphtheria.”

    His popularity with women is all the more notable.

    Another remarkable work by Porphyry is ‘The Cave of the Nymphs’, ostensibly a commentary on ‘The Odyssey’. I will refrain from giving an interpretation, although there might be one:


    Liked by 1 person

    • The Theurgia to me read like a dry classification of occult entities (rather like The Lesser Key of Solomon). Since I went in expecting an eccentric merging of Greek Philosophy and Egyptian mysticism, I was pretty disappointed. The only interesting bit was the paragraph at the end, where Iamblichus explains his reasoning –

      Basically, if the world of our senses reflects the “real” world, with the forms being thoughts in the mind of the One, manipulating physical objects should have an effect on the world of forms. Essentially, we can “hack” the world of forms. In this respect, he differs from Plotinus (whom I have yet to read), who saw interaction with the One as a matter of philosophical training.

      I think Gibbon – who had his own motivations for writing his work – is being a tad harsh there. The Neoplatonists owed their mystical tradition to Pythagoras, some eight hundred years earlier. There was a coherent body of thought involved, which developed over the centuries, as it picked up various other bits and pieces (the Stoics, et cetera). I think the Neoplatonists were quite sincere in their belief system, rather than cynical con-artists (Plato himself never went to those extremes, but the Timaeus makes for very… strange… reading at times. Plato was many things, but he wasn’t a con-artist).

      C.S. Lewis once commented that Neoplatonism can be thought of as a great wave, picking up all the driftwood of the Classical Era, which rolled inland, before retreating out to sea. In some places, the intellectual puddles left by that wave took a long time to evaporate, and in some places they never did entirely evaporate. It certainly had a huge influence on early Christianity.

      Anyway, I have currently moved on from reading 1700 year-old Greek weirdos, and am currently delving into what might be termed ‘Plague Literature’. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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