I have been considering doing a blog series on Plotinus for a while. Now seems like a good time to do so. I had previously read some of his work, but never the complete Enneads, which was something I had endeavored to do. I was first introduced to Plotinus in college when I was fortunate enough to study W.B. Yeats under the guidance of the late Prof. Phillip Marcus, who was considered to be “one of the world’s leading Yeats scholars.” Prof. Marcus assigned passages from Plotinus to the class to help us better understand the complex occult symbolism in Yeats’ work.
Here is a little background information for those who are unfamiliar with Plotinus.
Plotinus was a major Hellenistic philosopher who lived in Roman Egypt. In his philosophy, described in the Enneads, there are three principles: the One, the Intellect, and the Soul. His teacher was Ammonius Saccas, who was of the Platonic tradition. Historians of the 19th century invented the term neoplatonism and applied it to Plotinus and his philosophy, which was influential during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Much of the biographical information about Plotinus comes from Porphyry’s preface to his edition of Plotinus’ Enneads. His metaphysical writings have inspired centuries of Pagan, Jewish, Christian, Gnostic, and Islamic metaphysicians and mystics, including developing precepts that influence mainstream theological concepts within religions, such as his work on duality of the One in two metaphysical states.
Prophyry was a disciple of Plotinus. Prophyry stated that Plotinus’ goal was “’…intimate union with the God who is above all things’ and testified that during the time he knew him Plotinus ‘attained this end four times.’” Union with God once in a lifetime is amazing; four times is almost unfathomable for me.
At this point, it is worth considering the structure of this work. I think this is important because I suspect there is a mystical symbolism in the structure of the text itself.
The word “enneads” comes from the Greek word “ennea,” which means nine. So essentially, an ennead is a group of nine. Each of the six enneads contains nine tractates, which, as we have seen already deal with the three metaphysical principles (the One, the Intellect, and the Soul ) that comprise Plotinus’ philosophy. This gives us a 3-6-9 structure. Now, I am not going to go into detail about the mystical significance of this number combination, but suffice to say that Nikola Tesla asserted that “If you only knew the magnificence of the 3, 6 and 9, then you would have the key to the universe.”
I think this is enough of an introduction for now. Going forward, I will be publishing a blog post for each of the tractates, which should be a total of 54. If you have any interest in following along, I will be using the translation by Stephen MacKenna and B. S. Page. Hopefully, some of you will read along and join in a discussion.