porphyry: (Mithras)
 If I had become a tenured Classics professor, I would have specialized in Neoplatonism. Right up to the moment Madeline was born I was working on three substantial articles on Porphyry, which even now could be put into publishable form if only I had time to work without pay. Naturally I haven;t keep up with the forefront of research to the degree I did when i was in graduate school, though I did read the new Porphyry article collection last year which at least kept me in view of what is going on.

I also subscribe to the Yahoo Neoplatonism List, where, incredibly scholars of the statue of John Dillon and Gregory Shaw post. Last year the list got a new member, who, one could generously say, believes that Neoplatonism provides a superior description of physical reality than science does. I immediately clashed with him and he argued back, exactly like a creationist internet troll, crowing his victory after each of his points had been thoroughly discredited. It turned out that his views reflected the general tenor of the thought of most list members, but up until the new arrival they had been ashamed to admit this in front of the giants towering above them. I determined I could never post there again, since there is nothing to be gained from arguing with such people.

The other day, he posted a long screed on astrology, a perfectly germane topic that grew out of a discussion of Porphyry's De antro Nympharum. One of his respondents made it clear that she works at least part time as an astrologer, but his post! He conflated horoscopic astrology with the kind of astral divination that existed in Greek and Roman popular culture,invoking Pliny's strong belief in astrology ! (Pliny believes in the astral divination practiced by farmers which amounts to little more than following the stars as a calendar to guide planting, but violently denounced astrology as a foreign superstition). He pretended that astrology was a rural phenomenon, even though in fact it grew out of the courtly, urban culture of 7th century Babylon. He knows how to imply, without quite saying, that he believes in astrology, so if one did refute this belief he would claim innocence. It was simply what biologists know as a 'Gish Gallop" in which the quack produces a passage or so of false statements, each line of which would require about 2 pages of closely argued text to refute. And whatever you do to refute it, it results in a second gallop and a declaration of victory because the troll can ask questions you haven't already answered to his satisfaction. I certainly couldn't do that in this case.

Today, in the subsequent discussion, he made a brief post in which he said how sad he was because his parents could dowse, and his wife and father-in-law could dowse, but the gift had been denied him. Dowsing!
porphyry: (Praetorius)

Some years ago I had occasion to closely study Thomas Taylor the Platonist. He was active in the first two decades of the nineteenth century. The bulk of his work consists of translations of Plato and the Neoplatonist; for the later Neoplatonists his was the only translation available of these works into the 1990s. He worked at a time when interest in these authors was at its nadir because the Enlightenment rejected them as so much superstition (Gibbon has a damming chapter on them). But the Romantics were interested in them for precisely that reason. They had a mixed opinion of Taylor. Blake promoted him, but Wordsowrth and Shelley criticized him for his bad Greek (although Dillon and Hershbell et al. had good things to say about Taylor’s Greek, my own comparison of his translations with many passages of Porphyry and Iamblichus indicated that he often had no idea what was going on in the text; the fact that the quality of his translation was better for texts where it would have been possible to work from Ficino’s older Latin translations I considered particularly damning of his Graecism). What little opinion he had in contemporary culture at large painted him as a buffoon, preferring ancient superstition to modern science and rationality—the rumor was widely circulated that he performed animal sacrifice.

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