Proclus Lycius (; 8 February 412 – 17 April 485), called Proclus the Successor ( grc-gre, Πρόκλος ὁ Διάδοχος, ''Próklos ho Diádokhos''), was a Greek Neoplatonist
philosopher A philosopher is a person who practices or investigates philosophy. The term ''philosopher'' comes from the grc, φιλόσοφος, , translit=philosophos, meaning 'lover of wisdom'. The coining of the term has been attributed to the Greek th ...
, one of the last major classical philosophers of
late antiquity Late antiquity is the time of transition from classical antiquity to the Middle Ages, generally spanning the 3rd–7th century in Europe and adjacent areas bordering the Mediterranean Basin. The popularization of this periodization in English h ...
. He set forth one of the most elaborate and fully developed systems of Neoplatonism and, through later interpreters and translators, exerted an influence on Byzantine philosophy,
Early Islamic philosophy Early Islamic philosophy or classical Islamic philosophy is a period of intense philosophical development beginning in the 2nd century AH of the Islamic calendar (early 9th century CE) and lasting until the 6th century AH (late 12th century C ...
, and Scholastic philosophy.


The primary source for the life of Proclus is the eulogy ''Proclus, or On Happiness'' that was written for him upon his death by his successor, Marinus, Marinus' biography set out to prove that Proclus reached the peak of
virtue Virtue ( la, virtus) is moral excellence. A virtue is a trait or quality that is deemed to be morally good and thus is valued as a foundation of principle and good moral being. In other words, it is a behavior that shows high moral standards ...
and attained eudaimonia. There are also a few details about the time in which he lived in the similarly structured ''Life of Isidore'' written by the philosopher
Damascius Damascius (; grc-gre, Δαμάσκιος, 458 – after 538), known as "the last of the Athenian Neoplatonists," was the last scholarch of the neoplatonic Athenian school. He was one of the neoplatonic philosophers who left Athens after la ...
in the following century. According to Marinus, Proclus was born in 412 AD in
Constantinople la, Constantinopolis ota, قسطنطينيه , alternate_name = Byzantion (earlier Greek name), Nova Roma ("New Rome"), Miklagard/Miklagarth ( Old Norse), Tsargrad ( Slavic), Qustantiniya (Arabic), Basileuousa ("Queen of Cities"), Megalopolis ( ...
to a family of high social status from Lycia, and raised in Xanthus. He studied
rhetoric Rhetoric () is the art of persuasion, which along with grammar and logic (or dialectic), is one of the three ancient arts of discourse. Rhetoric aims to study the techniques writers or speakers utilize to inform, persuade, or motivate par ...
philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language. Such questions are often posed as problems to be studied or resolved. S ...
mathematics Mathematics is an area of knowledge that includes the topics of numbers, formulas and related structures, shapes and the spaces in which they are contained, and quantities and their changes. These topics are represented in modern mathematics ...
Alexandria Alexandria ( or ; ar, ٱلْإِسْكَنْدَرِيَّةُ ; grc-gre, Αλεξάνδρεια, Alexándria) is the second largest city in Egypt, and the largest city on the Mediterranean coast. Founded in by Alexander the Great, Alexandri ...
, with the intent of pursuing a judicial position like his father. Before completing his studies, he returned to Constantinople when his rector, his principal instructor (one Leonas), had business there. Proclus became a successful practicing lawyer. However, the experience of the practice of law made Proclus realize that he truly preferred philosophy. He returned to Alexandria, and began determinedly studying the works of
Aristotle Aristotle (; grc-gre, Ἀριστοτέλης ''Aristotélēs'', ; 384–322 BC) was a Greek philosopher and polymath during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. Taught by Plato, he was the founder of the Peripatetic school of ...
under Olympiodorus the Elder. He also began studying mathematics during this period as well with a teacher named Heron (no relation to
Hero of Alexandria Hero of Alexandria (; grc-gre, Ἥρων ὁ Ἀλεξανδρεύς, ''Heron ho Alexandreus'', also known as Heron of Alexandria ; 60 AD) was a Greek mathematician and engineer who was active in his native city of Alexandria, Roman Egypt. He ...
, who was also known as Heron). As a gifted student, he eventually became dissatisfied with the level of philosophical instruction available in
Alexandria Alexandria ( or ; ar, ٱلْإِسْكَنْدَرِيَّةُ ; grc-gre, Αλεξάνδρεια, Alexándria) is the second largest city in Egypt, and the largest city on the Mediterranean coast. Founded in by Alexander the Great, Alexandri ...
, and went to
Athens Athens ( ; el, Αθήνα, Athína ; grc, Ἀθῆναι, Athênai (pl.) ) is both the capital and largest city of Greece. With a population close to four million, it is also the seventh largest city in the European Union. Athens dominates ...
, philosophical center of the day, in 431 to study at the Neoplatonic successor of the
New Academy The Academy ( Ancient Greek: Ἀκαδημία) was founded by Plato in c. 387 BC in Athens. Aristotle studied there for twenty years (367–347 BC) before founding his own school, the Lyceum. The Academy persisted throughout the Hellenistic ...
, where he was taught by Plutarch of Athens (not to be confused with Plutarch of Chaeronea), Syrianus, and Asclepigenia; he succeeded Syrianus as head of the Academy in 437, and would in turn be succeeded on his death by Marinus of Neapolis. He lived in Athens as a vegetarian bachelor, prosperous and generous to his friends, until the end of his life, except for a one-year exile, to avoid pressure from christian authorities. Marinus reports that he was writing 700 lines each day.


One challenge with determining Proclus' specific doctrines is that the Neoplatonists of his time did not consider themselves innovators; they believed themselves to be the transmitters of the correct interpretations of Plato himself. Although the neoplatonic doctrines are much different from the doctrines in Plato's dialogues, it's often difficult to distinguish between different Neoplatonic thinkers and determine what is original to each one. For Proclus, this is largely only possible with Plotinus, the only other Neoplatonic writer for whom a significant amount of writings survive. Proclus, like Plotinus and many of the other
Neoplatonists Neoplatonism is a strand of Platonic philosophy that emerged in the 3rd century AD against the background of Hellenistic philosophy and religion. The term does not encapsulate a set of ideas as much as a chain of thinkers. But there are some ...
, agreed on the three hypostases of Neoplatonism: The One ( hen), The Intellect (
nous ''Nous'', or Greek νοῦς (, ), sometimes equated to intellect or intelligence, is a concept from classical philosophy for the faculty of the human mind necessary for understanding what is true or real. Alternative English terms used ...
) and The Soul ( psyche), and wrote a commentary on the Enneads, of which unfortunately only fragments survive. At other times he critizes Plotinus' views, such as the prime mover. Unlike Plotinus, Proclus also did not hold that matter was evil, an idea that caused contradictions in the system of Plotinus. It is difficult to determine what, if anything, is different between the doctrines of Proclus and Syrianus: for the latter, only a commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics survives, and Proclus never criticizes his teacher in any of his preserved writings. The particular characteristic of Proclus's system is his elaboration of a level of individual ones, called ''henads,'' between the One which is before being and intelligible divinity. The henads exist "superabundantly", also beyond being, but they stand at the head of chains of causation (''seirai'') and in some manner give to these chains their particular character. He identifies them with the Greek gods, so one henad might be Apollo and be the cause of all things apollonian, while another might be Helios and be the cause of all ''sunny'' things. Each henad participates in every other henad, according to its character. What appears to be multiplicity is not multiplicity at all, because any henad may rightly be considered the center of the polycentric system. According to Proclus, philosophy is the activity which can liberate the soul from a subjection to bodily passions, remind it of its origin in Soul, Intellect, and the One, and prepare it not only to ascend to the higher levels while still in this life, but to avoid falling immediately back into a new body after death. Because the soul's attention, while inhabiting a body, is turned so far away from its origin in the intelligible world, Proclus thinks that we need to make use of bodily reminders of our spiritual origin. In this he agrees with the doctrines of theurgy put forward by
Iamblichus Iamblichus (; grc-gre, Ἰάμβλιχος ; Aramaic: 𐡉𐡌𐡋𐡊𐡅 ''Yamlīḵū''; ) was a Syrian neoplatonic philosopher of Arabic origin. He determined a direction later taken by neoplatonism. Iamblichus was also the biographer ...
. Theurgy is possible because the powers of the gods (the ''henads'') extend through their series of causation even down to the material world. And by certain power-laden words, acts, and objects, the soul can be drawn back up the series, so to speak. Proclus himself was a devotee of many of the religions in Athens, considering that the power of the gods could be present in these various approaches.


Commentaries on Plato

The majority of Proclus's works are commentaries on dialogues of
Plato Plato ( ; grc-gre, Πλάτων ; 428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) was a Greek philosopher born in Athens during the Classical period in Ancient Greece. He founded the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution ...
(''Alcibiades'', '' Cratylus'', '' Parmenides'', '' Republic'', '' Timaeus''). In these commentaries, he presents his own philosophical system as a faithful interpretation of Plato, and in this he did not differ from other Neoplatonists, as he considered that "nothing in Plato’s corpus is unintended or there by chance", that "that Plato’s writings were divinely inspired" (ὁ θεῖος Πλάτων ''ho theios Platon''—the divine Plato, inspired by the gods), that "the formal structure and the content of Platonic texts imitated those of the universe", and therefore that they spoke often of things under a veil, hiding the truth from the philosophically uninitiated. Proclus was however a close reader of Plato, and quite often makes very astute points about his Platonic sources.

Commentary on Timaeus

In his commentary on Plato's '' Timaeus'' Proclus explains the role the Soul as a principle has in mediating the Forms in Intellect to the body of the material world as a whole. The Soul is constructed through certain proportions, described mathematically in the ''Timaeus'', which allow it to make Body as a divided image of its own arithmetical and geometrical ideas.

Systematic works

In addition to his commentaries, Proclus wrote two major systematic works. The '' Elements of Theology'' (Στοιχείωσις θεολογική) consists of 211 propositions, each followed by a proof, beginning from the existence of the One (divine Unity) and ending with the descent of individual souls into the material world. The ''Platonic Theology'' (Περὶ τῆς κατὰ Πλάτωνα θεολογίας) is a systematization of material from Platonic dialogues, showing from them the characteristics of the divine orders, the part of the universe which is closest to the One. We also have three essays, extant only in Latin translation: ''Ten doubts concerning providence'' (''De decem dubitationibus circa providentiam''); ''On providence and fate'' (''De providentia et fato''); ''On the existence of evils'' (''De malorum subsistentia'').

Other Works

Commentary on Euclid's Elements

Proclus, the scholiast to Euclid, knew Eudemus of Rhodes' ''History of Geometry'' well, and gave a short sketch of the early history of geometry, which appeared to be founded on the older, lost book of Eudemus. The passage has been referred to as "the Eudemian summary," and determines some approximate dates, which otherwise might have remained unknown. The influential commentary on the first book of
Euclid Euclid (; grc-gre, Εὐκλείδης; BC) was an ancient Greek mathematician active as a geometer and logician. Considered the "father of geometry", he is chiefly known for the '' Elements'' treatise, which established the foundations of ...
's ''Elements of Geometry'' is one of the most valuable sources we have for the history of ancient mathematics, and its Platonic account of the status of mathematical objects was influential. In this work, Proclus also listed the first mathematicians associated with Plato: a mature set of mathematicians ( Leodamas of Thasos, Archytas of Taras, and Theaetetus), a second set of younger mathematicians ( Neoclides,
Eudoxus of Cnidus Eudoxus of Cnidus (; grc, Εὔδοξος ὁ Κνίδιος, ''Eúdoxos ho Knídios''; ) was an ancient Greek astronomer, mathematician, scholar, and student of Archytas and Plato. All of his original works are lost, though some fragments are ...
), and a third yet younger set ( Amyntas, Menaechmus and his brother Dinostratus, Theudius of Magnesia, Hermotimus of Colophon and Philip of Opus). Some of these mathematicians were influential in arranging the Elements that Euclid later published.

Lost Works

A number of his Platonic commentaries are lost. In addition to the Alcibiades, the Cratylus, the Timaeus, and the Parmenides, he also wrote commentaries on the remainder of the dialogues in the Neoplatonic curriculum. He also wrote a commentary on the
Organon The ''Organon'' ( grc, Ὄργανον, meaning "instrument, tool, organ") is the standard collection of Aristotle's six works on logical analysis and dialectic. The name ''Organon'' was given by Aristotle's followers, the Peripatetics. The six ...
, as well as prolegomena to both Plato and Aristotle.


Proclus exerted a great deal of influence on Medieval philosophy, though largely indirectly, through the works of the commentator Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite. This late-5th- or early-6th-century Christian Greek author wrote under the pseudonym Dionysius the Areopagite, the figure converted by St. Paul in Athens. Because of this fiction, his writings were taken to have almost apostolic authority. He is an original Christian writer, and in his works can be found a great number of Proclus's metaphysical principles. Another important source for the influence of Proclus on the Middle Ages is
Boethius Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, commonly known as Boethius (; Latin: ''Boetius''; 480 – 524 AD), was a Roman senator, consul, '' magister officiorum'', historian, and philosopher of the Early Middle Ages. He was a central figure in the ...
's '' Consolation of Philosophy'', which has a number of Proclus principles and motifs. The central poem of Book III is a summary of Proclus's ''Commentary on the Timaeus'', and Book V contains the important principle of Proclus that things are known not according to their own nature, but according to the character of the knowing subject. A summary of Proclus's ''Elements of Theology'' circulated under the name ''
Liber de Causis The ("Book of Causes") is a philosophical work composed in the 9th century that was once attributed to Aristotle and that became popular in the Middle Ages, first in Arabic and Islamic countries and later in the Latin West. The real authorship ...
'' (the ''Book of Causes''). This book is of uncertain origin, but circulated in the Arabic world as a work of Aristotle, and was translated into Latin as such. It had great authority because of its supposed Aristotelian origin, and it was only when Proclus's ''Elements'' were translated into Latin that Thomas Aquinas realised its true origin. Proclus's works also exercised an influence during the Renaissance through figures such as Nicholas of Cusa and Marsilio Ficino. The most significant early scholar of Proclus in the English-speaking world was Thomas Taylor, who produced English translations of most of his works. The crater Proclus on the
Moon The Moon is Earth's only natural satellite. It is the fifth largest satellite in the Solar System and the largest and most massive relative to its parent planet, with a diameter about one-quarter that of Earth (comparable to the width ...
is named after him.

See also

* Allegorical interpretations of Plato



Proclus's works in Translation

*''Elements of Theology'': ** *''Platonic Theology'': A long (six volumes in the Budé edition) systematic work, using evidence from Plato's dialogues to describe the character of the various divine orders ** *''Commentary on Alcibiades'' ** *''Commentary on Cratylus'' ** *''Commentary on Plato's "Timaeus"'' ** ** *''Commentary on Plato's "Parmenides"'' ** *''Commentary on Plato's "Republic"'' *''A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's "Elements"'' ** *''Elements of Physics'' *Three small works: ''Ten doubts concerning providence''; ''On providence and fate''; ''On the existence of evils'' **Proclus On Providence (in English and Ancient Greek). Translated by Steel, Carlos. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic. 2007. ISBN 9781472501479. **Proclus Ten Problems Concerning Providence (in English and Ancient Greek). Translated by Opsomer, Jan; Steel, Carlos. London; New Delhi; New York; Sydney: Bloomsbury. 2012. ISBN 9781472501783. **Proclus On the Existence of Evils (in English, Ancient Greek, and Latin). Translated by Opsomer, Jan; Steel, Carlos. London; New York: Bloomsbury. 2014 003 ISBN 9781472501035. *On the Eternity of the World, De Aeternitate Mundi, Proclus (in English and Ancient Greek). Translated by Lang, Helen S.; Macro, A. D.; McGinnis, Jon. Berkeley; Los Angeles; London: University of California Press. 2001. ISBN 0520225546. *Various ''Hymns'' **Berg, R.M. van den (2001). Mansfeld, J.; Runia, D.T; Van Winden, J. C. M. (eds.). Proclus' Hymns. Philosophia Antiqua, A Series of Studies on Ancient Philosophy (in English and Ancient Greek). Vol. 90. Translated by Berg, R.M. van den. Leiden, Boston, Köln: Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. ISBN 9004122362. *''Commentary on the Chaldaean Oracles'' (fragments) **Proclus The Successor on Poetics and the Homeric Poems (in English and Ancient Greek). Translated by Lamberton, Robert. Atlanta, Georgia, USA: Society of Biblical Literature. 2012. ISBN 9781589837119. * Fragments of lost works ** The ''Liber de Causis'' (Book of Causes) is not a work by Proclus, but a summary of his work the ''Elements of Theology'', likely written by an Arabic interpreter. *


* * * * *

Further reading

Monographs * * * * * * *''KINESIS AKINETOS: A study of spiritual motion in the philosophy of Proclus'', by Stephen Gersh *''From Iamblichus to Eriugena. An investigation of the prehistory and evolution of the Pseudo-Dionysius tradition'', by Stephen Gersh *''The Philosophy of Proclus – the Final Phase of Ancient Thought'', by L J Rosan *''The Logical Principles of Proclus' Stoicheiôsis Theologikê as Systematic Ground of the Cosmos'', by James Lowry Collections * * * * * * * * *''On Proclus and his Influence in Medieval Philosophy'', ed. by E.P. Bos and P.A. Meijer (Philosophia antiqua 53), Leiden-Köln-New York: Brill, 1992. *''The perennial tradition of neoplatonism'', ed. by J. Cleary (Ancient and medieval philosophy, Series I, 24), Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1997. Bibliographic resources *

External links

Encyclopædia Britannica The ( Latin for "British Encyclopædia") is a general knowledge English-language encyclopaedia. It is published by Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.; the company has existed since the 18th century, although it has changed ownership various t ...
Editions and Translations Proclus – Hoger Instituut voor WijsbegeerteArticle
at "The Encyclopedia of Goddess Athena" *

Thomas Taylor translation.

Thomas Taylor translation.
''Ten Doubts Concerning Providence and On the Existence of Evils''
Thomas Taylor translation.

of the Proclus section for the

project at the University Leuven, Belgium.
''Commentary on Plato's Parmenides''
– (Greek text, scans of Cousin's edition)

of the Prometheus Trust "Thomas Taylor Series" which includes translations of many of the works of Proclus. The site has lengthy extracts of these.
''Proclus's Commentary on Euclid, Book I. PDF scans of Friedlein's Greek edition, now in the public domain''
(Classical Greek)

– (partial translation of Proclus's work)

– (translation and discussion of this surviving extract from a larger work by Proclus)
''On the Sacred Art (French introduction and Greek text) ''
- Greek text and English translation

- Greek text
Proclus in English and Greek, Select Online Resources
Guide to Proclus, Elementa theologica. Manuscript, 1582
at th
University of Chicago Special Collections Research Center
{{Authority control 412 births 487 deaths 5th-century Byzantine people 5th-century philosophers Ancient Greek mathematicians Pagan anti-Gnosticism Commentators on Plato Neoplatonists Neoplatonists in Athens Ontologists People from Constantinople Philosophers of mathematics People from Roman Anatolia Late-Roman-era pagans 5th-century Byzantine writers 5th-century mathematicians 5th-century Byzantine scientists