- Series: Clarendon Paperbacks
- Paperback: 432 pages
- Publisher: Clarendon Press; 1 edition (February 13, 1997)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0198150814
- ISBN-13: 978-0198150817
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 0.9 x 5.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,095,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Ancient Philosophy, Mystery, and Magic: Empedocles and Pythagorean Tradition (Clarendon Paperbacks) 1st Edition
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"Adventurous....Driven by both passion and careful sifting of evidence, it will waken many from their dogmatic slumbers. Strongly recommended for university and college libraries." --Choice
"A masterpiece, gripping, urgent and important: a unique pioneering work." --European Review of History (Oxford/Paris)
"The thesis is argued with immense learning ... courageous, original." --The Times (London)
"provides a storehouse of new insights ... compelling." --Gnosis (San Francisco)
"Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic is very readable and its snappy, almost breathless pace conveys the excitement of the exploration of a newly opened tomb. I cannot recommend this book too highly; it sets the terms for future investigations of ancient esotericism." --Caduceus (Seattle)
"A remarkable achievement: challenging, learned and at the same time enthralling to read." --Classical Review (Oxford)
"Bold and extremely significant ... Kingsley's book may well be the most important book about Presocratic philosophy in years, and it is certainly one of the most exciting, challenging, and stimulating." --American Historical Review (Washington, D.C.)
"Extremely rich ... deals with topics of the utmost interest for the comparative student of religious phenomena in ancient societies. Dr Kingsley has put us all very much in his debt." --Numen (Leiden)
"Of great interest to students of Islamic thought, while being of an even greater significance for the field of Greek and Western philosophy, since it challenges the commonly held view of the whole foundation of Western philosophical thought." --Journal of Islamic Studies (Oxford)
About the Author
Peter Kingsley, PhD, is internationally recognized for his groundbreaking work on the origins of western spirituality, philosophy and culture. Through his writings as well as lectures he speaks straight to the heart and has helped to transform many people's understanding not only of the past, but of who they are. He is the author of five books which together have exerted the profoundest and most far-reaching influence outside as well as inside academia: Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic (1995); In the Dark Places of Wisdom (1999); Reality (2004); A Story Waiting to Pierce You (2010); and most recently Catafalque (2018). He has worked together not only with Native American elders and western spiritual teachers but also with many of the most prominent figures in the fields of classics and anthropology, philosophy and religious studies, ancient civilizations and the history of both healing and science. His latest book on Carl Jung brings his work full circle, connecting his researches into the distant past with the crisis of the modern world. He is the recipient of numerous academic awards and holds honorary professorships or fellowships at universities in Canada, the United Kingdom and United States. For further information, visit peterkingsley.org
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More importantly, PK brings philosophical inquiry into the domain of phenomenology of religion. if we wish to understand the presocratics we need primarily to understand their state of consciousness and their relationship to the spiritual sphere. While most classical scholars would argue that one can achieve such an understanding through deciphering the language, literature, history, art and economy of a society, the alternative view (championed by PK) is that attempts to explain Empedocles' philosophy in terms of ordinary social, political, etc. circumstance inevitably miss something that is not reducible to facts alone. It misses its essence, a foundation of Beingness where philosophy reflects the nature of human experience and its capacity to interact with the 'transpersonal' or numinous. A capacity that by no means is uniquely Greek.
This is why classical scholarship addressing ancient (Greek, Egyptian, Mesopotamian etc) consciousness should not be entrusted to 'ordinary' scholarly nitpickers alone. The historian W. Brede once said: "When religion is the subject of our work, we grow religiously." Peter Kingsley is that rare scholar (an ex-Warburg fellow, no less) who appears to have been sucked into the ancient Pythagorean texts and magical practices they describe and emerged out of his studies a changed man.
This book is a first step describing PKs beliefs about an inner meaning of Pythagoreanism (elegantly discussed in later books such as Reality) ...
The book starts with a technical reinterpretation of the theory of 4 Elements ("the 4 Roots") for which Empedocles is mainly known; then continues with a critical evaluation of classical views of Empedocles; PK claims that Aristotle purposefully distorted E.s ideas whereas Plato actually appropriated many Pythagorean concepts following his visits to Pyth. communities in Southern Italy and Sicily. Appropriated and then pretended they were his own. To prove this, PK performs a detailed textual analysis of Phaedo.
Egypt and ancient Greece shared a number of intellectual, philosophical and religious practices, from mathematics to the mysteries of death & rebirth (practiced in Eleusinian rituals) and the shamanic descent into the Underworld (seen in Orphic mysteries, Hermetic practices and 'funerary inscriptions' such as the Pyramid texts). Both Plato and Pythagoras spent a long time in Egypt and Empedocles, a direct heir of Pythagoras, would have been intimately aware of Egyptian religious beliefs. The circle was completed when Empedoclean texts returned to the Egyptian desert through Greek (gnostic, hermetic) communities living in the Egyptian desert. PK shows that certain Sufi texts from Egypt and even alchemical texts from the Middle Ages directly follow E.s writings and beliefs.
There is a remarkable discussion of Pythagorean magic, initiatory rites, practice of 'incubation' and Orphic mysteries. The book is worth buying just for that third part.
"...I am a lover of learning, and trees and open country won't teach me anything, whereas men in the town do.", sez Socrates in Phaedrus, one of the most eloquent and lyrical dialogues by Plato. Kingsley's life work seems to be to show that the course our civilization took after Plato was in a sense a deviation, both from the Earth, the archetypal forces inhabiting it, and our own deepest nature. He argues a good case in this courageous work.
By itself, this makes the book worthy of wide attention. But what is more is that Kingsley brings philosophy back to its roots, helping enormously in the unpopular effort to shake us out of our current philosophical stupor and fascination with pointless 'problems.'
The book is written in a formal, academic style, unlike Kinglsey's later work. Those unfamiliar with this kind of writing may be put off (as is evidenced by some of the reviews here) by such 'intrusions' as foot and endnotes, and by the careful effort Kingsley has given to covering all the bases in order to create the most sound argument possible. Nevertheless, the book is not difficult to read by any means, especially when compared to most western philosophy today. Far from being evidence of Kingsley's wish to be pompous, or to impress colleagues, this style of writing is simply demanded by serious scholars, who were certainly among the primary targets of this book. One will not even be read by one's colleagues without writing in this established way. Had he not used this style, Kingsley would not have been taken seriously, and would have disappeared into the ranks of unpublished writers. That he was taken seriously by the elite of academia is seen by some of the reviews ANCIENT PHILOSOPHY received from them:
"A masterpiece, gripping, urgent and important: a unique pioneering work."
EUROPEAN REVIEW OF HISTORY (Oxford/Paris)
"The thesis is argued with immense learning ... courageous, original."
THE TIMES (London)
"A remarkable achievement: challenging, learned and at the same time enthralling to read."
CLASSICAL REVIEW (Oxford)
"Bold and extremely significant ... Kingsley's book may well be the most important book about Presocratic philosophy in years, and it is certainly one of the most exciting, challenging, and stimulating."
AMERICAN HISTORICAL REVIEW (Washington DC)
"Every scholar dreams of writing a truly original book, but in reality hardly anyone ever does. A truly original book, one that can transform a whole discipline, appears at the most once in a generation. In the field of ancient philosophy, Peter Kingsley's Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic is such a book."
PROF. A. A. LONG, University of California at Berkeley
My guess as to why Kinglsey wrote in the standard academic style before switching to an informal one is that he wanted to establish himself as someone who was not a crackpot, before delving into the territory that he has with his second and third books. No respected scholar with a job to keep would dare to say what Kingsley has said in these later works. The sad fact is that if he had held a distinguished position in one of the top ten universities of the world, he would have been out on the street in no time had he published IN THE DARK PLACES OF WISDOM or REALITY, and that just goes to show what a sad state academia - higher `learning' - is in.
Read this book first, then read the others. If you have an open mind, and have the creative ability to try on a new set of mental clothing, you'll be rewarded.