The Cantos by Ezra Pound

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He gives much the same impression in the passage of Ur-Canto III already alluded to above:

Let us hear John Heydon!
Omnis intellectus est
’ – thus he begins, by
spouting half of Psellus.
(Then comes a note, my assiduous commentator:
Not Psellus De Daemonibus , but Porphyry’s Chances ,
In the thirteenth chapter, that ‘every intellect
is omniform.’ ( Ur-Canto III , Bush, 68)

But, in fact, none of the Neo-Platonic philosophers Pound mentions - neither Porphyry nor Michael Psellus nor Iamblichus (with whom these lines are associated in Canto V ) nor even John Heydon wrote ‘ Omniformis/Omnis intellectus est .’ It was Ficino, who composed the words himself as the title to a chapter of Porphyry’s De Occasionibus . The text itself can be found in a Renaissance anthology of Ficino’s translations of Neo-Platonic texts, the title page of which reads as follows:

‘IAMBLICHVS/DE MYSTERIIS/ÆGYPTORVM,/ Chaldæorum, Assyriorum . PROCLVS in Platonicum Alcibidem / de Anima, atque Dæmone. / Idem de Sacrificio & Magia. /PORPHRIVS de Diuinis atq; Dæmonib. /PSELLVS de Dæmonibus. /MERCVRII Trismegisti Pimander ./ Eiusdem Asclepius.

de Diuinis atq; Dæmonib. ’ he or she will find instead Ficino’s translation of that author’s De Occasionibus , which appears to explain Pound’s line from Ur-Canto III ‘Not Psellus De Dæmonibus , but Pophyry’s Chances ’ – thus making it virtually certain that this little anthology from 1549 was read by Pound, and that it was most probably the only source text he read in connection with Renaissance Neo-Platonism, since all his references during this period can be sourced from it.

There is much more to this, however, than tracking down what Pound did or did not read. The tag from Ficino – ‘Omnis intellectus est omniformis’ – introduces a sentence from Porphyry that provides a crucial gloss on The Cantos ’ concept of the hero: ‘Thus the intellectual essence consists in similarities among its parts, so that whenever a particular part exists, the universal intellectual essence should also exist ’ (italics added). The Mind – which in Neo-Platonic thought is equivalent to God – is omniform because it partakes of every single human, angelic or divine mind. Those who really think , therefore, become, in some sense, divine .

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Ezra Pound
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