But I think about the hebdomads for myself, and I keep these speculations in my memory rather than sharing them with any of those people whose impertinence and insolence permits nothing to be analyzed without joking and laughter. Accordingly, don’t be opposed to obscurities stemming from brevity; since they are the faithful guardian of the secret they have this advantage: they speak only to those
who are worthy. Therefore, as is the customary practice in mathematics and also in other disciplines, I have first put forward terms and rules, in accordance with which I shall work out all that follows.
Boethius likely had a connection to esoteric doctrine via the Pythagoreans (his mundane connection to neo-Pythagoreanism is considered by scholars to be settled). He was a “classically educated” man, but as Miranda Lundy points out in Quadrivium, the four sciences of Number, Music, Cosmology & Geometry were actually formerly sacred sciences, and most definitively not a preparatory or prerequisite curriculum for anything else except sacral or transformative theology or philosophy. Sarah Lassin argues that Boethius’ reference to the Egyptian “hebdomads” (which plays an important role within the Neopythagorean literature of Hierocles and Nicomachus of Gerasa) is highly significant for the discussion of God & creation. In fact, it is not necessary even to mention the Egyptian origins of these terms, since Proclus discusses them extensively on Plato, and Plato (and also Herodotus) thought that the Greeks derived much of their mysteries from Egypt. The Egyptian context makes the connections between philosophy and religion even more apparent:
Hermes tells Tat (XIII), that “the tent” or “tabernacle” of the Earthly body was formed by the circle of the Zodiac (XIII.12 & Ascl.35) and dominated by fate, who’s decrees, according to the astrologers, were unbreakable. The seven planets represented the “perfect movements” of the Deities, the unalterable “will of the Gods” as expressed in predictable astral phenomena. Magicians tried to compel this will, while Hermetism did not try to resist fate, but irreversibly moved beyond it. The existence of the Deities was acknowledged (they belonged to the order of creation and were the object of sacrifices and processions and the celestial Powers ruling the astrological septet). Indeed, the Deities, Hermes and God were situated in the eighth, ninth and tenth sphere (Ogdoad, Ennead and Decad). The “eighth” involved purification, Self-knowledge and the direct “gnostic” experience of the “Nous” as “logos”, whereas in the “ninth” man was deified by assuming God’s attributes, as did the Godman Hermes, in particular His Universal Mind, the Divine Nous, Intellect or “soul of God” (XII.9). The “tenth” or Decad was God Himself for Himself.
And the Egyptians mysteries are linked to Hermes Trismegestus, which context resurfaces during the Renaissance when Greek translators made the Emerald Tablet available in Italy. This Egyptian link might also explain the persistence at Alexandria of a Christian esoteric tradition- Alexandria is also the home of the tragic conflict concerning Hypatia and the library, a conflict that did not occur until the Greek influence had waned in the Church.
Given that Boethius was the schoolmaster of medieval and early modern Europe, one might almost say that these doctrines “sub-created” Europe.
Aquinas discusses Boethius and the hebdomads in a treatise, & it is instructive to compare the two discussions; by Aquinas’ time, the debate is far more abstract and limited to logical distinctions, as opposed to being “transformative”.
As perennialist studies on Boethius make clear, his theories of music and number (as found in minor tractates) gives a better background for the dialectic that occurs within the Consolation of Philosophy. Boethius was not simply a well-informed “liberal” who opposed barbarian elements at Court – he was a lover of wisdom who was in an intimate and self-converting dialogue with Sophia herself, one who was willing to pay the final price for that which he had found and was finding.
During the Dark Ages in Europe, acquaintance with the works of Plato was at second or even third hand, through the writings of authors such as Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Augustine, Boethius, Calcidius’ translation of the Timaeus, and John Scotus Erigena. The most important contribution in the vernacular was provided by the late ninth century reworking of Boethius’ De consolatione Philosophiae.
The Emboldenment of Philosophy became one of the most popular books throughout the Middle Ages. It was translated into Old English by Alfred the Great, into Middle English by Chaucer, and into Elizabethan English by Queen Elizabeth.
As we see from Proclus’ statement, the Neo-Platonists emphasized dialectical interchange in their transmutational teaching procedures within the Perennial Tradition–one of the important components of the Wisdom Teachings. However, the first Perennialist teacher who initiated and developed all facets of the Wisdom Teachings was Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-524 C.E.), including in his teachings and life experience each theme and emphasis we’ve outlined above.
While in prison awaiting a ghastly death, Boethius had experienced a definite inner dialectical interchange between his soul and Lady Philosophy (the spirit of the love of Wisdom). The narrative account in his Emboldenment of Philosophy discloses how Boethius achieved transformation and self-understanding while communing with Lady Sophia in an inner spiritual domain. Boethius’ book combined verse and alternating dialogue between himself and Lady Philosophy, organizing his narrative into different stages of his spiritual healing and transmutation. Lady Philosophy communes with Boethius in his inner being, bringing into the dialectical interchange others who were true devotees of philosophy: those who love and seek Wisdom.
The wisdom school of the Pythagoreans was influential enough that Augustine made an appeal to those who “knew” to the effect that the Hebdomads symbolized the perfection which was to become the Church, which was to rely in almost exclusive fashion upon the mystery religions, perhaps even more than on Judaism, for the new doctrines. Christianity began as a conversion of existing elements, rather than a superimposition. Augustine’s appeal is a sincere one.
Given that Boethius’ interests in music and number coincide with Platonist streams of thought in Proclus and Plotinus in the Pythagorean mysteries, it is necessary to think that the esoteric link which created the Middle Ages through Boethius could be located in the harmonics and sacred geometry of the celestial “music of the spheres”. In order to understand the Middle Ages, we should “close thy scholastics, and open thy Timaeus”. Boethius’ background and writings, embodied in the Consolation, are an excellent place to re-start.