The Classical Quarterly (New Series)

Research Article

Proclus' Attitude to Theurgy *

Anne Shepparda1

a1 University of Durham

Theurgy, the religious magic practised by the later Neoplatonists, has been commonly regarded as the point at which Neoplatonism degenerates into magic, superstition and irrationalism.1 A superficial glance at the ancient lives of the Neoplatonists, and in particular at Eunapius’ Lives of the Sophists, reveals a group of people interested in animating statues, favoured with visions of gods and demons, and skilled in rain-making. But when we look more closely at the works of the Neoplatonists themselves, rather than the stories biographers tell about them, we find a considerable diversity of attitudes towards theurgy and a number of attempts to fit theurgy into their philosophical system.


* This paper expands and, I hope, corrects the views I sketched in Studies on the 5th and 6th essays of Proclus' Commentary on the Republic (Hypomnemata 61, Göttingen 1980), pp. 150–5. An earlier version of it was read to the Northern Association for Ancient Philosophy in April 1979.1 am grateful for the comments of all those who took part in the discussion on that occasion, particularly Professor A. C. Lloyd and Dr Andrew Smith. I am also very grateful to Professor Lloyd for further discussion in correspondence. [Google Scholar]