Proclus Lycius
In primum Euclidis elementorum librum 01.jpg
The beginning of the first Latin edition of Proclus' Commentary on Euclid's Elements
Athens, Achaea, Eastern Roman Empire
Other names"The Successor"
EraAncient philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas
Platonic theology

Proclus Lycius (/ˈprɒkləs lˈsiəs/; 8 February 412 – 17 April 485), called Proclus the Successor (Greek: Πρόκλος ὁ Διάδοχος, Próklos ho Diádokhos), was a Greek Neoplatonist philosopher, one of the last major classical philosophers of late antiquity. 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, and Scholastic philosophy.


The primary source for the life of is the eulogy Proclus, or On Happiness that was written for him upon his death by his successor, Marinus,[1] Marinus' biography set out to prove that Proclus reached the peak of virtue and attained eudaimonia.[1] 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 in the following century.[1]

According to Marinus,[2] Proclus was born in 412 AD in Constantinople to a family of high social status from Lycia, and raised in Xanthus. He studied rhetoric, philosophy and mathematics in Alexandria, 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.[3] 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 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, who was also known as Heron). As a gifted student, he eventually became dissatisfied with the level of philosophical instruction available in Alexandria, and went to Athens, philosophical center of the day, in 431 to study at the Neoplatonic successor of the New Academy, 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.[1] Marinus reports that he was writing 700 lines each day.


See also: Neoplatonism

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.[4] 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.[4] For Proclus, this is largely only possible with Plotinus, the only other Neoplatonic writer for whom a significant amount of writings survive.[4]

Proclus, like Plotinus and many of the other Neoplatonists, agreed on the three hypostases of Neoplatonism: The One (hen), The Intellect (nous) 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.[4] Unlike Plotinus, Proclus also did not hold that matter was evil, an idea that caused contradictions in the system of Plotinus.[4] 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.[4]

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.[4] 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.[4] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] In this he agrees with the doctrines of theurgy put forward by Iamblichus. Theurgy is possible because the powers of the gods (the henads) extend through their series of causation even down to the material world.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]


Commentaries on Plato

The majority of Proclus's works are commentaries on dialogues of Plato (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",[5] 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.[6] 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).[6]

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.[7] The influential commentary on the first book of Euclid's Elements of Geometry is one of the most valuable sources we have for the history of ancient mathematics,[8] 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), 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.[9] He also wrote a commentary on the Organon, as well as prolegomena to both Plato and Aristotle.[9]


Proclus exerted a great deal of influence on Medieval philosophy, though largely indirectly, through the works of the commentator Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite.[10] 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.[11]

Another important source for the influence of Proclus on the Middle Ages is Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy, which has a number of Proclus principles and motifs.[citation needed] The central poem of Book III is a summary of Proclus's Commentary on the Timaeus[citation needed], 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.[10]

A summary of Proclus's Elements of Theology circulated under the name Liber de Causis (the Book of Causes).[10] This book is of uncertain origin, but circulated in the Arabic world as a work of Aristotle, and was translated into Latin as such.[10] 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.[10] 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.[10]

The crater Proclus on the Moon is named after him.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Helmig & Steel 2011, 1. Life and Works.
  2. ^ Guthrie 1925.
  3. ^ Guthrie, Kenneth (1925). Marinus of Samaria, The Life of Proclus or Concerning Happiness (1925) pp.15-55.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Helmig & Steel 2011, 3.
  5. ^ Calian, Florin George (2013), ""Clarifications" of Obscurity: Conditions for Proclus's Allegorical Reading of Plato's Parmenides", Obscurity in medieval texts, pp. 15–31
  6. ^ a b Helmig & Steel 2020, A.
  7. ^ Gow 1884.
  8. ^ Heath 1908.
  9. ^ a b Helmig & Steel 2020, B.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Helmig & Steel 2011, 4. Influence.
  11. ^ Dodds 1992.


Proclus's works in Translation

  • Elements of Theology:
    • Proclus, approximately (1992). The elements of theology = Diadoxos stoixeiōsis theologikē (Second ed.). Oxford. ISBN 9780198140979.
  • 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
    • Proclus (1971). Proclus : Alcibiades I (Second ed.). Dordrecht. ISBN 9789401763271.
  • Commentary on Cratylus
  • Commentary on Plato's "Timaeus"
  • Commentary on Plato's "Parmenides"
    • Proclus (1992). Proclus' Commentary on Plato's Parmenides (1st Princeton pbk. print. with corrections, 1992 ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691020892.
  • Commentary on Plato's "Republic"
  • A Commentary on the First Book of Euclid's "Elements"
    • Proclus (1970). A commentary on the first book of Euclid's Elements. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691020907.
  • 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 [2003]. 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.

  • Reading Proclus and the Book of causes. Volume 2, Translations and acculturations. Leiden. 2021. ISBN 9789004440685.


Further reading


  • Siorvanes, Lucas (1996). Proclus : neo-platonic philosophy and science. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ISBN 0748607684.
  • Waithe, Mary Ellen (1987). A History of Women Philosophers : Ancient Women Philosophers 600 B.C. - 500 A.D. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. ISBN 9789400934979.
  • Rosán, Laurence Jay (2009). The philosophy of Proclus : the final phase of ancient thought (2nd ed.). Westbury: Prometheus Trust. ISBN 1898910448.
  • Post-Herulian Athens : aspects of life and culture in Athens, A.D. 267-529. Helsinki: Suomen Ateenan-instituutin säätiö. 1994. ISBN 9519529527.
  • Spanu, Nicola (2021). Proclus and the Chaldean oracles : a study on Proclean exegesis, with a translation and commentary of Proclus' Treatise on Chaldean philosophy. Abingdon, Oxon. ISBN 9781000166378.
  • Kutash, Emilie (2011). Ten gifts of the demiurge : Proclus' commentary on Plato's Timaeus. London. ISBN 978-1-4725-1981-8.
  • 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


  • Neoplatonism and Indian thought. Norfolk: International Society for Neoplatonic Studies. 1982. ISBN 978-0-87395-546-1.
  • Rosan, Laurence (1981). Harris, R. Baine (ed.). Neoplatonism and Indian Thought. State University of New York Press. pp. 45–49. ISBN 978-0873955461.
  • Interpreting Proclus : from antiquity to the renaissance. New York. 2014. ISBN 9780521198493.
  • Neoplatonic philosophy : introductory readings. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co. 2004. ISBN 0872207072.
  • All from one : a guide to Proclus (First ed.). Oxford, United Kingdom. 2017. ISBN 978-0-19-964033-1.
  • The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon. 2014. ISBN 9781315744186.
  • Brill's companion to the reception of Homer from the Hellenistic age to late antiquity. Leiden. 2022. ISBN 9789004472686.
  • The philosophy of the commentators, 200-600 AD : a sourcebook. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. 2005. ISBN 0-8014-8987-3.
  • 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