Presenting key writings of the most important sources of Pythagorean, Platonic and Neoplatonic thought, The Golden Chain defines this philosophy as a spiritual and contemplative way of life that ultimately leads to the vision of God. These writings point to underlying influences from Chaldean, Egyptian, Phoenician and Indian sages, suggesting that the Hellenic wisdom from which all subsequent Western philosophy arose was established upon a perennial philosophy of unchanging metaphysical and divine truths.
The goal of the ancient philosophers was to understand how to live in harmony with nature and to transcend the limitations imposed by sense experience and discursive reasoning.
Plato compares philosophy with preparing for death (Phaedo 67cd) and its goal with becoming like god (Theaetetus 176b). This view of philosophy implies two doctrines central to the Platonic tradition: the immortality of the soul and the community (koinonia) of the human and divine. These ideas were not new with Plato nor did they die with him. It is the nature of the philosophical endeavor to borrow and transform the ideas of others and to pass these ideas on for others to use and adapt.
Plato is arguably the single most important ancient Greek thinker, although his strength lies not merely in his innovation but also, and perhaps especially, in his critical understanding of the philosophical tradition. The Golden Chain provides important texts in the history of Platonism. It begins, perhaps startlingly but certainly correctly, with excerpts about Pythagoras, moves through the Pythagorean tradition, then comes to Plato himself, and continues with excerpts from the major Neoplatonist writers. What unfolds is an evolution of a philosophy, a Platonic philosophy, one that starts before Plato is born and continues to grow after his death—and indeed well beyond the times and writings of the pagan Neoplatonists presented here.
We do not know much about Pythagoras. Given his fame and large numbers of followers, that may seem strange. We know of multiple biographies of him but they are all late and suspect. As is the case with all famous individuals, the history of Pythagoras took on a life of its own.
Stories of miracles, of divine genealogy, and of superhuman wisdom became associated with the philosopher. Making the matter murkier, others began writing treatises under his name. It is therefore very difficult to separate truth from fiction, Pythagoras' doctrine from later additions.
This wealth of information, however, is not so troubling. All philosophy evolves over time, but there are kernels of original doctrines present. We may not know precisely what Pythagoras taught his students, but we can be sure that his teachings included the soul's immortality, the cycle of birth, and the existence and beneficence of the gods.
About the Author
Dr. Algis Uzdavinys is a research fellow at the Institute of Art and Culture, and the Institutes of Philosophy and Sociology at the Lithuanian Academy of Science in Vilnius, Lithuania. He is a published scholar in English, French and his native Lithuanian. He has translated the works of Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Plotinus into Russian and Lithuanian. Dr. Uzdavinys' work regularly featured in journals such as Sophia and Sacred Web.
"This Anthology will be very precious for the serious scholars and students of philosophy, because it comprises in one volume rare Platonic, Neo-Platonic, Pythagorean and Neo-Pythagorean texts, which constitute a truly golden chain of philosophic wisdom. There was a time when Plato and Platonism were considered as synonymous with Hellenic philosophia, understood as the love of wisdom, which was expressed in theoria and, especially, in praxis, as a way of perfecting the human soul and its noetic life. Pythagoras and Socrates were acknowledged as predecessors of Plato, while succeeding generations of philosophers, including Aristotle, were seen as precious links in this continuous golden chain of wisdom.
This concatenation lasted for more than a millennium, until fanaticism broke it in 529 B.C., when Justinian closed down the philosophical schools in Athens. Since that time Hellenic philosophy was forced to lead an atrophic existence and to serve successively such alien masters as dogmatic theology, scientific technology and political ideology. As a result of this long enslavement, the "philosophy" of our times, especially in the West, has become a false homonym, that is an amorphous, confused, disoriented and petty sophistry. Of course, it is not what it used to be, a path to lead the philosopher's soul and mind to their divine perfection.
There is hope, then, that the present Anthology will help some serious and curious students of philosophy to rediscover, reconnect with, and revive the lost spirit of Platonic philosophy as a way of taking care of and perfecting the human soul in the Socratic manner. With the re-emergence of religious fanaticism and its concomitant terrorism, this Hellenic wisdom of reason and tolerance will be needed more than ever before." - Christos Evangeliou