Monday, March 28, 2011

Proclus and Dee's Monad

18. Since writing the 17 paragraphs above, I have come across a translation of Dee's Monas Hieroglyphica ("A Translation of John Dee's 'Monas Hieroglyphica' (Antwerp, 1564), with an Introduction and Annotations", C. H. Josten, Ambix, vol. XII, nos. 2 & 3, June and October, 1964, p. 84-221). From my reading of the secondary sources I have discussed above, I was under the impression that the former work, the Monas, was not of much interest in connection with the history of astrology, being mainly about of alchemy and a kind of symbolism or language suitable for communicating secrets of nature, as indicated by the title, which can be read as The Hieroglyphic Monad. However, the work contains astrological material as well. The term monas is related to the term monad, which refers to an indivisible unit. We know that Dee was acquainted with works of Proclus (5th century A.D.), such as Proclus's commentary on Euclid (translated into English by Glenn R. Morrow, A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's Elements, 1970, 1990). Here and elsewhere (such as in commentaries on Plato's works), Proclus discusses the One, used in a way still sometimes heard from philosophers, in such phrases as "the problem of the One and the Many", in connection with works of Plato, Plotinus and others. For example, on p. 4 of Morrow's translation of Proclus' commentary by Glenn R. Morrow (1972, 1990), Proclus speaks of "the Limit and the Unlimited" as "the two highest principles after the indescribable and utterly incomprehensible causation of the One". We may conjecture that Dee's monad was a symbol for the One, and moreover that Dee was bent on describing and comprehending this One, regardless of what Proclus said about it. Josten discusses the choice of the term monad (p. 106-108), and says: "Essential oneness, or monas, -- the constituent of numbers, though not itself a number -- is the notion which links the alchemical contents of Dee's message with those many digressions on number symbolism, especially that of the Pythagorean tetraktys, and on the symbolism of geometry and of letters, with which his magical parable is enriched." Presumably with the term hieroglyphica, Dee was referring to a method which he took to underlie such symbolism, and was wide-ranging, to be found in geometrical diagrams in the manner of Euclid, to the traditional symbols used by astrologer/astronomers to denote the planets, to the interpretation of letters and combinations of letters found in the doctrines of the Cabala

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