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Ancient Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences


Late Antique Thought

The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity 2 Volume Set by Lloyd P. Gerson (Cambridge University Press) The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity comprises over forty specially commissioned essays by experts on the philosophy of the period 200–800 CE. Designed as a successor to The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (ed. A. H. Armstrong), it takes into account some forty years of scholarship since the publication of that volume. The contributors examine philosophy as it entered literature, science and religion, and offer new and extensive assessments of philosophers who until recently have been mostly ignored. The volume also includes a complete digest of all philosophical works known to have been written during this period. It will be an invaluable resource for all those interested in this rich and still emerging field.

Excerpt: The present work is a successor to The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy (CHLGEMP) which appeared in 1967 under the editorship of A. H. Armstrong. Since the publication of that work, an enormous amount of fundamental philological and historical scholarship pertaining to the philosophical works of late antiquity has appeared. New critical editions, commentaries and translations of important philosophical texts have made this vast complex of material more accessible to historians, who in turn have made considerable advances in the understanding of the last phase of ancient philosophy. Although this more than forty years of labour seems justification enough for a new survey of the period, it should not be supposed that all or even most of the assessments made in the earlier work have been summarily invalidated. Hence, the sense in which the present work is a 'successor' to the earlier work does not indicate that it is a replacement. Students of this period will no doubt continue to profit from consulting the earlier work, which deserves to be recognized as groundbreaking.

It will be useful to point out how The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity (CHPLA) differs in some obvious ways from its worthy predecessor. First, the reader will notice that the subtle change in title presumes that much of what was once labelled — no doubt with a certain amount of diffidence —'early medieval' is now more properly brought within the ambit of ancient philosophy. The reasons for this will be discussed below in this introduction and in various places throughout the volume. Here, it may simply be noted that the new title indicates a vigorous recognition of the extension of the canon of ancient philosophy far beyond the all-too-narrow confines of the fourth century BCE. Whatever assessment one wishes to make of the value of ancient philosophy, there is today less justification than ever for the truncated view that ignores philosophical writing between Aristotle and Descartes or even between Aristotle and Aquinas. This extension was just beginning for Hellenistic philosophy — especially Stoicism, Epicureanism and forms of Scepticism — at the time of the publication of CHLGEMP. The present volume aims to dispel the notion that the philosophy of late antiquity is little more than an appendix to the singularly enduring works of Plato and Aristotle.

Second, whereas the previous work devoted a substantial amount of space to tracing the sources of late Greek philosophy back to its beginnings in Plato's Academy and in Aristotle's Lyceum, the present volume does not focus on that material, which is in any case extensively treated in other histories. Rather, its treatment of the 'background' to the principal subject of the book is limited to what we might call 'the state-of-the-art' in philosophy around 200 CE. What, we may ask, would a student coming to philosophy at that time be presented with in a survey of the field? The date zoo CE is neither arbitrary nor precise. Since the dominant philosophical movement in late antiquity is Platonism, and since the leading figure of this movement is generally recognized to be Plotinus (204/5-270 CE), it seemed appropriate to make roughly zoo CE our terminus a quo. As for our terminus ad quern, it has actually been divided into three strands: (a) in the West, it is the Carolingian Renaissance and the philosopher John Scotus Eriugena; (b) in the Christian East, it is philosophy in Byzantium; and (c) in the Muslim East, it is the initial wave of the Islamic philosophical appropriation of Greek philosophy. A concluding chapter takes (a) into the treatment of ancient philosophical themes by philosophers of the Latin West who used to be known as Scholastics. In addition, we have, in comparison with the CHLGEMP, provided relatively concise treatments of the giants of our period — Plotinus and Augustine — mainly because there are many excellent full treatments available.

The earlier volume divided up its work among eight scholars; the present volume contains the work of some fifty. The dramatic shift signals only an acknowledgement of the complexities of our period and the varied specialized skills that its comprehension requires. It may be noted, however, that in the study of late antiquity, as indeed in the study of all early periods, philosophy follows philology and history. Whereas in Armstrong's volume only one of the authors was identified as a professor of philosophy, in the present volume many more trained philosophers with the requisite technical skills have been involved. This is I think an indication that ongoing groundwork studies have opened up our period more and more to the possibility of philosophical analysis. For example, an abundance of technical labour in the intervening years has allowed the scanty treatment of the major philosophical figure Damascius in the earlier volume to be superseded by a fuller philosophical discussion in the present volume. What is true for Damascius is to a lesser extent true for many others treated here including, for example, Hierocles of Alexandria, one of the leading philosophers of the first half of the fifth century CE. Hierocles is hardly mentioned in the previous work, perhaps a function of the fact that the seminal editorial and historical work on Hierocles dates from the 1970s and 1980s.

The reader will also note that hitherto the standard way of referring to the philosophy of our period is to use the term Neoplatonism'. This is in fact an artefact of eighteenth-century German scholarship; no follower of Plato in our period would have embraced a label suggesting innovation. Unfortunately, in the eighteenth century the label was intended mostly as a pejorative and that situation has not changed much even today. It was assumed that Neoplatonism' represented a muddying of the purest Hellenic stream. This assumption probably tells us more about the romanticism in early Germanic classical scholarship and its political milieu than it does about early and late elements in ancient philosophy. On behalf of a more neutral or at least less tendentious stance, I have by editorial fiat abolished the pejorative label from this volume. We refer throughout to 'Platonism' or 'late Platonism' or 'Christian Platonism' when discussing Plotinus, his successors and those Christian thinkers who were in one way or another shaped by the dominant tradition in ancient philosophy. In doing so, however, we make no presumptions about fidelity or lack thereof to Plato's own philosophy. It is enough, at`least initially, to recognize that there were varieties of Platonism, just as there were varieties of Christianity in our period and varieties of various philosophical movements in earlier centuries. Those eager to grade these according to their proximity to the intentions of their founders will no doubt suppose that they have discovered a means of ascertaining exactly what those original intentions were, independent of the traditions of thought they inspired. The decision regarding the term Neoplatonism' does not quite mandate a similar decision for the mostly empty term 'Middle' Platonism, which routinely indicates a wide variety of Platonist philosophy between the late first century BCE and the time of Plotinus. We use this term in a completely anodyne sense, indicating the varieties of Platonism between the early or old Academy of Plato and his immediate successors and the late Platonism found in Plotinus and afterward.

The parallelisms between Platonic and Christian thought alluded to here bring us to one of the most difficult aspects of a project such as this one. The rise and eventual dominance of Christianity in our period resulted in the intertwining ofphilosophy and the theology of a religion rooted in revelation and in a non-Hellenic tradition. 'Pagan' Greek thinkers encountered Christianity as the ideology of an increasingly hostile opponent; Christian thinkers encountered ancient Greek philosophy as the ideological core of those resistant to the Gospel. In fact, a good deal of the philosophy in our period was generated by those who either subordinated philosophical reflection to religious faith or by those who found themselves cast in the role of apologists, not for the value of philosophy itself, like Socrates, but solely for the doctrinal content of Platonism. The resulting complexities are substantial and they set our period apart from an earlier period that was innocent of or indifferent to the claims of the Biblical religions and from a later period in which Christian assumptions were ubiquitous and so largely unquestioned. Thus, our work, like the previous one, treats a number of thinkers such as Origen, Augustine and Boethius, who might be regarded as equally philosophers and theologians, as well as a number of others such as Justin, Nemesius, Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa in whom the proportion might well be thought to favour theology over philosophy. If I have erred in my selection, I hope it has been on the side of inclusiveness rather than exclusiveness. The Christian theologians who have been excluded from consideration, such as Irenaeus, Tertullian and Hippolytus, are those whose writings contain little or no philosophy; and even in those included, concentration has been on the philosophical side of their thought, leaving more strictly confessional issues aside. Perhaps some readers remain sceptical that the writings of someone like the unknown author whom we call Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite deserve to be considered in a history of philosophy. The increasingly lucid picture of our period that has emerged over the last two generations, owing in part to original philological and historical analysis, has in my view made this scepticism less and less justified. So, too, the 'religious side' of Platonism — the side that provoked the pejorative label `Neoplatonism' — can now be seen not of course as unrelated to the philosophy, but as distinguishable from it.

The encounter between philosophy and religion — specifically, Platonism and Christianity — was, we know, situated amidst the political and social currents flowing back and forth between Rome and Constantinople, and to a lesser extent Athens and Alexandria. It seemed useful for the reader to have at hand at least the basic historical facts in order to provide some context for the philosophical discussions. To this end, each main section of this work is introduced with a short account of the world in late antiquity in which our philosophers were living and working. This is a self-conscious attempt to add to this history of philosophy something like a sketch of the continuous narrative that the intellectual history of the period aims to provide.

It is not uncommon in philosophy departments to hear it proclaimed that the history of philosophy is to philosophy approximately what the history of medicine is to medicine; indiscriminate reading in the history of medicine is hardly necessary for medical practice and might at times even impede it. Yet even among those who accept this analogy, there are probably few who would go on to argue that a philosopher ought actually to avoid reading at least certain works in the history of philosophy. To acknowledge the value of reading enduring works in the history of philosophy is, I would suggest, to allow the pertinence of asking about the purpose and value of reading a history of philosophy. And this question of course leads us to another: what is the purpose and value of writing a history of philosophy?

Since this work aims in a way to rewrite the history of philosophy in late antiquity, I have in my editorial capacity tried to rethink the very idea of what a history of philosophy is supposed to be. Aristotle argued, rightly in my view, that history was not a science because a science aims at knowledge of universal and necessary truth whereas history is by definition composed of particular, contingent events. The non-scientific nature of history does not, however, prevent Aristotle from applying his scientific explanatory framework to historical events. Thus, he can inquire into (and he thinks it worthwhile to inquire into) the explanation for a revolution or constitutional change or into the reason for a particular historical figure engaging in a particular action. He is ready to explore the material conditions for happiness or political stability or the nature of social artefacts. We might suppose that the applicability of Aristotle's fourfold schema of explanation — formal, material, moving and final cause —could be similarly deployed in writing a history of philosophy. Unfortunately, however, although the history of philosophy is full of 'events', it is not these which attract the primary attention of scholars. That attention is rather focused on arguments, claims, doctrines and so on. How events are related to these is an extremely difficult question to answer, whether these events occur so to speak internally in a philosopher's life or whether they are external. Two hoary quasi-Aristotelian explanatory concepts are 'influence' and 'development'. To speak about the 'development' of, say, Plato's thought as if it were something like the development of a organism in the direction of its natural mature state is a kind of travesty of the category of final causal explanation. To speak about Plotinus' influence on Augustine as if the thought of the former were a real moving cause of the thought of the latter is not only patently false on Aristotle's account of the nature of moving causes but also of minimal explanatory value for a historian of philosophy, even if it were true. In ancient philosophy especially, where we are often lacking more of a philosopher's works than we possess, it is not surprising that we sometimes grasp at straws; if, say, we cannot reconstruct Porphyry's thought from Porphyry's extant writings, perhaps we can do so with the help of Plotinus' writings which, so the story goes, surely influenced Porphyry. Or to take another sort of example, to say something like 'conditions were ripe for the appearance of a particular philosophical view' when one is supposedly referring to an Aristotelian material cause is, on reflection, and unlike real material causes, quite empty of explanatory content. What, then, ought a history of philosophy in late antiquity aim to do?

In my view, such a history ought to be oriented first and foremost towards the positions or doctrines held by the leading philosophers of late antiquity and it ought further to contain elements of an account of ancient Greek philosophy's encounter with Christianity (and to a much lesser extent with Judaism and with Islam). The disparagement of histories oriented towards the positions held by philosophers is unreasonable — indeed, it is sometimes stigmatized as mere `doxography' in some circles. This disparagement seems to me to arise from a failure to distinguish clearly the history of philosophy from philosophy itself. Those immersed in the history of ancient philosophy are I suspect much less inclined to fail to make this distinction than are those who reflect on philosophical matters from a contemporary perspective. I mean that the effort to represent accurately the views of those who wrote a generation or two ago is usually attempted within an explicitly non-historical, philosophical context which emphasizes the reasoning which may have led to the holding of those views and an analysis of why they are wrong (or why they are still correct, in the rare case where the writer still accepts the views of his or her predecessors). Such representations are usually undertaken within the typical dialectical framework for addressing one's contemporaries or intellectual competitors on particular philosophical problems. Although the representation of ancient philosophical views is sometimes undertaken with the same intent, it is in these cases rarely achieved without falling prey to one of the horns of the following dilemma: either the representation is defective because it is not properly contextualized or else the representation is contextualized but it then fails to achieve the sought for commensuration of ancient and contemporary positions. I am far from suggesting that contextualization and commensuration are unattainable goals; I am urging only that they are different activities and that they are not usefully attempted simultaneously when the views represented are far removed from us in time or cultural distance.

Good history of ancient philosophy is harder to accomplish than it might seem. But despite its formidable problems of contextualization — the difficulty of the ancient languages used, missing or defective texts, and distorting or plainly inaccurate reports given by our ancient sources — it is an advantage for the historian of ancient philosophy that he or she is not obliged to strive unduly for commensuration with contemporary thought (though many scholars do so, to the detriment of their strictly historical work). The first requirement, in my opinion, is to achieve successful contextualization for one's account of the views held by the ancients. On this basis, the reader of works in the history of philosophy then has a better chance at genuine commensuration.

To claim that the central mission of a history of philosophy is to establish, descriptively in an appropriate context, the views held is at the same time to take a negative view of the Hegelian identification of philosophy with its history But this negative view hardly precludes the relevance of the history of philosophy to philosophy itself; nor does it free the historian from the obligation to employ careful philosophical analysis. Indeed, one who rigidly separates philosophy and its history will either have to accept the mantle of the antiquarian or else acknowledge the fact that in time she, too, will only be antiquarian fodder.

A useful history of the kind aimed at in this volume, then, aims to see historical filiation as the philosophers themselves saw them. Proclus, for instance, thought that Plotinus was a great exegete of the 'Platonic revelation', reaffirming what Plotinus himself thought he was doing. The great historian of medieval philosophy, Etienne Gilson, thought that Proclean metaphysics was the self-evidently absurd conclusion reached by consistently adhering to that `revelation'. Thus in a way, and apart from judgements about philosophical truth, Gilson indirectly confirms Proclus' point. Proclus certainly believed that the most authentic systematic expression of the wisdom contained in Plato's dialogues would be found in his own personal writings. Unlike Hegel, however, he was not making a historical claim. The present volume of the history of philosophy in late antiquity aims to provide a contextualized account of philosophers and their 'schools', philosophers who for the most part did not see themselves as being in need of historical contextualization. I would suggest that while we can and should distinguish philosophy itself from its earlier history, thinking through that history becomes a philosophical enterprise when we inquire into, for example, what grounds Proclus has for his belief regarding the connection between Plato, Plotinus and his own work. A similar claim can be made about the inquiry into the opposing arguments made by pagan and Christian philosophers of our period: who was and who was not an authentic inheritor of the ancient philosophical tradition? It seems to me hard to maintain, for example, that reflecting on the debates between Simplicius and John Philoponus on whether or not the universe had a temporal beginning is not a work of philosophy. Such work could not be undertaken effectively without the sort of sober, contextualized account of views held that this volume aims to provide. Thus, the defence of the value of the history of philosophy is substantially the same as the defence of the value of philosophy itself.

The present volume is divided into eight parts. The first part includes chapters providing a broad survey of the philosophical 'scene' around 200 CE. The reader will notice that 'philosophy' is here understood to include the scientific, literary and religious appropriation of the ancient philosophical tradition. Throughout the subsequent sections, it will be evident that the entire intellectual world of late antiquity is constantly engaged with ancient philosophy — above all the philosophy of Plato. One facet of this engagement consists in addressing some of the perennial philosophical problems that arose within Plato's Academy itself and later became the common ground of the ancient philosophical 'schools'. Another consists in the employment and refinement of a philosophical vocabulary appropriate for the treatment of contemporary issues. The refinement is variously evident: in 'pagan' philosophers themselves who aimed to assess the conflicts among the schools and to advance one philosophical position or another; among the early Christian thinkers who searched for a technical philosophical vocabulary to express a systematic representation of Scriptural texts; and among the burgeoning scientific enterprises, especially astronomy, medicine and mathematics, all of which needed an exact philosophically refined vocabulary for expressing the principles of these sciences. In all of these cases, an additional level of complexity is evident in the translation of the Greek philosophical vocabulary into Latin.

In parts II, V and VII will be found an account of the Christian and Jewish philosophical thought in our period. Each part represents an 'encounter' with ancient Greek philosophy. The use of this term is meant to indicate the more or less self-consciously critical engagement with philosophical material that both in its particulars and in the very principles that animate its production provides an implicit challenge to Christianity and to Judaism. Much later, a similar encounter will be found in the earliest phase of Islamic theology. The growing confidence of Christian theologians, owing in part to the gradual dominance of Christianity in the political realm, can be seen in a sort of evolution of theology from a direct encounter with ancient Greek philosophical thought to a rather more internal debate regarding specific issues.

In parts III, IV and VI are treated the philosophers of late antiquity who all explicitly or implicitly rejected the Christian message. For the earliest among these, Christianity was indistinguishable from other 'mystery' religions of the Greek and non-Greek world. Gradually, it became clear that Christianity was the threat to the preservation of the ancient tradition. Some of the more creative work among these philosophers is no doubt inspired by an ardent desire to respond critically to the Christian message, to demonstrate that the legacy of Plato's philosophy, itself nourished by even older philosophers, was in no way inferior to that singular alternative increasingly dominant in every centre of learning. Part VIII offers a map of the main intellectual roads leading from our period into what is chronologically the medieval period, but which is in the Greek East and in the world of Islam something quite different from what it became in the Latin West. This last part might serve as an introduction to the history of philosophy subsequent to that found here.

One of the most difficult problems faced by scholars of our period is that a significant portion of the material or 'data' necessary for accurate analysis is missing. It is all the more frustrating that we sometimes know of the existence of works with titles that at least make them sound extremely important, though the works themselves are completely lost. This, of course, leads us to consider that there may be works completely unknown to us, even by title or fragmentary content. In an Appendix, we have tried to provide a compendium of all the works of the philosophers and of the philosophically engaged theologians of our period whether these are fully extant, or extant only in part or in fragmentary form, or known only by their titles or by references to their content. At least, this should convince the reader that the historian of the philosophy of this period is at times doing something analogous to the archaeologist who is engaged in a theoretical reconstruction of remains based on shards or ruins or the outlines of foundations.


In this section, we aim to provide a survey of philosophy as it was generally understood and practised around 200 CE. One may imagine the array of material confronting an advanced student of philosophy in, say, Rome or Alexandria at this time. We assume that the student would already be acquainted with what were then thought to be the major works of the founders of the great philosophical schools of antiquity — Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus and Zeno. In any case, he or she would have available various doxographical accounts of the ancient practitioners of philosophy. With this acquaintance must have come a considerable degree of perplexity, not the least owing to the apparent conflicts among the conclusions of these giants and the obscurity of many of their writings. Our student, however, would soon discover that these conflicts and obscurities had in fact been the subject of intense philosophical reflection and commentary for the intervening 500 years since the early days of the philosophical schools. Depending on the master whom the student chose to follow, he or she would encounter a complex tradition of defensive explication of one school's positions against those of opponents. The student would also encounter various philosophical strategies employed to demonstrate that philosophical positions that seemed to be at odds were in fact in harmony. This approach, which certainly antedates our starting point by at least 30o years, will eventually take on an increasing urgency in the minds of Greek philosophers when faced with the growing dominance of Christianity. As we shall see, one of the arguments that Christian polemicists used against their pagan opponents that was thought to be especially effective was based on their evident internal discord. Whereas Christians had or appeared to have a consistent message, Greek philosophers disagreed extensively among themselves, undermining their credibility. So, facing an external enemy, philosophers wedded to traditional Hellenic views about religion tried to discover an underlying common and venerable wisdom, one that manifested itself within non-Greek traditions. Egyptians, Indians and Jews, for example, could be seen to know what the ancient Greeks knew. There was no need to adopt an alien 'mystery' religion to access this wisdom.

In the period treated in this section, however, Christianity is only on the periphery of the consciousness of those engaged in elaborating and defending the ancient Greek philosophical tradition. Nevertheless, religion as a source of wisdom apart from or even in opposition to philosophy was an integral part of the intellectual milieu into which our student would have entered. The practice of philosophy had long since moved far beyond its original home in Asia Minor and in Athens. That India and Egypt had long traditions of wisdom literature was already well known. The rise of philosophy in Alexandria and the coastal towns of Palestine opened up new opportunities for encounters with non-Greek religion. We should also recall that especially in Alexandria natural and mathematical sciences were flourishing. Just as ancient Greek philosophy going back to its origin had to consider the meaning of a religious approach to wisdom, so it had to consider the deliverances of science. Ancient Greek philosophy never stood apart from religion and science; it moved, sometimes uneasily or even incoherently, between them. This was increasingly the case at the beginning of the third century of our era.

Finally, for our imagined student, especially if he or she is living in Rome, was the presence of ancient Greek philosophy within the Latin literary and rhetorical traditions. A clear picture of philosophy in our period`will need to include an account of those ideas that infuse the various genres of Latin arts. The later episodes of conflict between philosophy and religion are enacted before an educated public accustomed to the literary representation of philosophical ideas.


In this section, we begin the treatment of Jewish and Christian thinkers who were among the first to encounter ancient Greek philosophy in a systematic way. The relationship between Judaism and Christianity (and later, Islam) as religions, on the one hand, and their theological formulations, on the other, is an ongoing theme through this book. The Hellenized Jew Philo of Alexandria is perhaps the first to see in Greek philosophy the vocabulary and the conceptual framework for articulating Biblical revelation. The principal challenge Philo faced was how to express in the language of Greek philosophy the personal nature of the first principle of all and the relation that existed between that principle and the Jewish people. The history of ancient Greek philosophy is often characterized as having separated itself from the personalized Homeric gods in favour of more rational and so more impersonal causes. But it was not so much the personal as it was the non-rational aspects of the personal that Greek philosophical theology wished to abandon. Philo's efforts to provide a systematic allegorizing of Scripture was to be enormously influential in both Jewish and Christian attempts to commensurate the philosophical and the theological.

In Justin, Clement and Origen we have three of the earliest major thinkers to argue that Christianity was a philosophy, indeed, that it was the culmination of Greek philosophical thinking. It is already evident from the Pauline Epistles that Christianity and Greek philosophy were apt either for conflict or harmonization. This option for the latter will be reprised and also repeatedly rejected up through the Reformation and beyond. Tertullian's (c. 160—c. 220) famous query, 'What has Athens to do with Jerusalem or the Academy with the Church?' is an emblematic reaction to the more eirenic or perhaps strategic efforts of the above three. It was their approach, however, that mainly prevailed. In them, we see much of the common currency of Greek philosophical language employed in a way intended to preserve the distinctiveness of the Christian message. We also see the employment of distinctions and arguments that do not so easily or obviously serve the new religion. The very idea of heretical thought, for example, only makes sense within a philosophical argumentative framework. It is not an exaggeration to say that these early Christian thinkers relied on Greek philosophy to discover what they actually thought about the revelation that they embraced.

Mysticism of Philo compared with M. Ibn 'Arabi by David Winston

A brief phenomenological comparison of some of the mystical motifs in Philo and the great Sufi theosophist Ibn 'Arabi (1165-124o) will allow us more fully to appreciate the dimensions of Philo's strong mystical tendencies. We are driven to this much later period and a non-Jewish tradition by the simple fact that Philo is the earliest known forerunner of theosophical Jewish mysticism. That it is by no means far fetched, however, to turn to a Sufi master for comparison can readily be inferred from the fact that 'there existed in Egypt a remarkable school of Jewish Sufis led by members of the family of Maimonides, whose central figures were Maimonides' son Abraham, grandson Obadiah, and David Maimonides'. As noted by P. Alexander, 'Abraham regarded the Muslim Sufis as the spiritual heirs of the Hebrew prophets, and in his Comprehensive Guide for the Servants of God (Kfayat al- Abidin) he advocated the adoption of their practices as a way of attaining perfection and union with God."7 Much of the content of the respective writings of Philo and Ibn 'Arabi is concerned with the exegesis of a holy scripture and often betrays the efforts of their authors to disguise some of their bolder views in order to deflect possible attacks by more conventional religious masters. Ibn 'Arabi refers at times to spiritual insights and knowledge that must be hidden from the majority of men because of the great dangers they 4 involve, and Philo similarly notes that the sacred story that unveils the truth of the Uncreated and his powers must be buried, since such knowledge 'is a trust that not every corner can guard aright' (Sacr. 6o; cf. Cher. 48). With many other Sufi writers, Ibn 'Arabi deals with the text of the Qur'an on the premiss that every verse has many more meanings than the one that might be obvious to the ordinary believer, but is accessible only to those whose inner eye is open. Philo similarly tells us that his allegorical interpretation of Scripture employs a method that was already used by inspired men who 'take most of the content of the Law to be visible signs of things invisible' (Spec. leg. 3.178).

The very title of one of Ibn 'Arabi's more expansive works, The Meccan Openings (or Revelations), described by Knysh as 'a colossal book that combines the characteristics of a spiritual diary and an encyclopaedia of the traditional Islamic sciences from an esoteric perspective', reveals an approach to divine revelation quite reminiscent of Philo. 'In Ibn `Arabi's technical vocabulary', as Chittick has noted, "'opening" is a near synonym for unveiling, divine effusion, or self-disclosure . . . Each of these words designates a mode of gaining direct knowledge of God without the intermediacy of study or teacher . . . God "opens up" the heart to the infusion of knowledge.' Similarly, for Philo, it is God alone `who has the power to open the wombs of souls and to sow virtues in them, and to make them pregnant with noble things, and to give birth to them' (Leg. alleg. 3.18o). Moreover, although Philo insists that we must not disown any learning made venerable through time, 'when unforeseen and unhoped for, a sudden beam of self-taught wisdom has shone on us, when it has opened the closed eye of the soul and made us seers rather than hearers of knowledge ... then it is to no purpose further to exercise the ear with words . . . God's pupil can no longer suffer the guidance of men' (Sacr. 78-9).

Tor Ibn 'Arabi', writes Chittick, 'there is only one Being, and all existence is nothing but the manifestation or outward radiance of that One Being."' Although Philo's position on this matter is not entirely clear, if, as I have argued above, primordial matter is ultimately derived from God, however indirectly, then we inhabit a universe that is in itself a manifestation of Deity, however veiled, and Philo's thought emerges as a form of mystical monism. It is in this light that we must understand his statement that it is 'God alone who has veritable Being. This is why Moses will say of Him as best he may, "I am He that is" (Exod. 3.14), implying that things posterior to Him have no real being, but are believed to exist in semblance only (Det. 159-6o).' We find precisely the same notion in the anonymous commentator on Plato's Parmenides, fr. 2: 'It is we who are nothing in relationship to Him, whereas He alone is the only true Existent in relationship to all things that are posterior to Him.'

We shall now indicate some of the mystical motifs that Philo shares with many mystics. Like them, Philo is convinced that our goal and ultimate bliss lie in the knowledge of God (Decal. 8 Indeed, the mere quest is sufficient of itself to give a foretaste of gladness (Post. C. 21). The first step leading to God is the recognition of one's own nothingness and departure from self (Som. 1.6o). Having gone out of oneself, the devotee must become completely attached to God. Moses asks us `to cleave to God, thereby indicating the continuity, closeness and uninterruptedness of the harmony and union founded on affinity with the Divine' (Post. C. 12). This is the only passage that speaks explicitly of union, yet even here it is by no means certain that the reference is to the soul's union with God rather than to its own inner state of harmony and union when cleaving to Deity. Moreover, it is very striking that in all the passages in which Philo speaks of the vision of God, all references to his experiential mystical language, such as sober intoxication, Bacchic frenzy, the body flushed and fiery, agitation by heavenly passion, being mastered by divine love, forgetting of self, and the mind that is no longer in itself, are entirely absent. Thus, the vision of God referred to in those passages must simply be a clear, self-evident intellectual grasp of God's existence that culminates in a state of tranquillity.

B. McGinn, however, has suggested, that the vision of God that Philo sometimes refers to as a vision of God's incorporeal or intelligible light (Praem. 37-9; Qu. Gen. 4.4; Qu. Ex. 2.51) may simply serve as a metaphor for an ineffable experience of God's presence. It would be difficult, however, to square this with Philo's assertion that Jacob's vision of God is a permanent one (Praem. 27). Mystic experience is usually not conceived as an ongoing state, but rather as one of brief duration. There are, of course, exceptions, such as the Sufi mystic Ibn al-Farid (twelfth to thirteenth century), who wrote from the level of one who had attained a permanent oneness with God, but there is no indication in Philo's writings of the possibility of reaching such a permanent unitive state. Indeed, Philo insisted strongly that such a powerful mystical focus cannot be maintained continuously, but is subject to an inevitable law of ebb and flow (Qu. Gen. 4.29). Consequently, Israel's permanent vision of God must be viewed as a self-evident intellectual grasp of God's existence. Hence, the highest divine level with which mystical experience is associated by Philo appears to be that of the Intelligible World, or God qua Logos, in contrast to what Philo at times calls ho pro tou logou theos, the pre-Logos God (Som. 1.66; Qu. Gen. 2.62, Greek ft.) whose essence is beyond the scope of the human mind (Post. C. 169).

The question that must now finally be confronted is that concerning the source of Philo's overpowering conviction of God's existence, which recalls the unshakeable confidence that is reflected in an assertion such as that of the great ninth-century Sufi master of Baghdad, Junayd, that mysticism consists in 'sitting in the presence of God without care'. Maimonides, the great twelfth-century Jewish luminary, will later similarly assert that intellectual worship 'consists in nearness to God and being in his presence' (Guide 3.51). Although Philo sometimes employs teleological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God, he makes it unmistakably clear that the demonstration of God's existence from his actions is only for those who have not been initiated into the highest mysteries and are thus constrained to advance from down to up by a sort of heavenly ladder and 'conjecture' the Deity's existence through plausible inference. The genuine worshippers and true friends of God are those who apprehend him through himself without the co-operation of reasoned inference, as light is seen by light (Leg. alleg. 3.97-103; Praem. 4o). This formula is precisely that used later by Plotinus, when he speaks of 'touching that light and seeing it by itself, not by another light, but by the light that is also its means of seeing' (, trans. Armstrong). It appears again in the heavily Platonized Epistles of the tenth-century Brethren of Purity (Ikhwân al-Safâ'), in which it is said that 'the seeing of God is the seeing of a light through light, to light, in light, from light'." More significantly, it is also used by Spinoza in the Short Treatise, in the earliest formulation of his ontological argument for God's existence: `God, however, the First Cause of all things, manifests himself through himself (I.I.I0).

Philo does not further explicate his 'light by light' formula, doubtlessly relying on the fact that his readers would immediately recognize it as part of a well-known Greek philosophical tradition. The Stoics, in fact, appear to have produced a version of the ontological argument that anticipated St Anselm's famous formulation 'that than which nothing greater can be conceived' (Proslogion, chs. 2 and 3). They pointed out that not only does nothing exist that is superior to the world, but nothing superior can even be conceived (Cic. ND 2.18; Sen. NQ I. Praef. 13). The human mind thus possesses the notion of a being of the highest power or perfection, or, to use the later Plotinian formulation (; 15.21), a being causa sui, and can therefore be said to have the existence of god engraved within. It would thus seem that in speaking of a direct approach to God, Philo is probably thinking of some 'sort of ontological argument, which, in contrast to the more traditional deductive cosmological argument, constitutes an analytical truth, whose function is only to clarify the concept of God's existence already contained within certain definitions of human reason, and so enable it to have a direct vision of God.


Plotinus is generally acknowledged to be, after Plato and Aristotle, the dominant figure in the entire history of ancient Greek philosophy. Beginning in the eighteenth century, German historians of philosophy gave Plotinus and his successors the pejorative label Neoplatonists'. With this label `Neo' they explicitly intended to indicate a decline in the rational purity of Platonic thought. Plotinus, however, in no way regarded himself as an innovator. He consistently maintained that he was explicating and defending the philosophical view that we know as `Platonism' and that he believed was found primarily, though not exclusively, in the dialogues of Plato. Typical of all Plato's disciples, Plotinus welcomed insight into the nature of Platonism from the testimony of Plato's immediate disciples —especially Aristotle — and from what we can only suppose was the continuous oral tradition beginning within the Old Academy and leading up to Plotinus himself. At least part of the appearance of innovation arises from Plotinus identifying as authentically part of Platonism what he took to be necessary implications of claims made explicitly in the dialogues. In addition, Plotinus as well as his successors, taking Aristotle to be an Academic — albeit at times a dissident one — were content to articulate Platonic claims in Aristotelian language. We shall find throughout this book that Aristotelian terminology and arguments are regularly used by self-declared disciples of Plato to express the Platonic world view.

Plotinus' writings evince a serious encounter with non-Greek religion, though it is unclear to what extent he was more than merely aware of the existence of the nascent Christian sect. By the end of the third century CE, however, when his disciple Porphyry was writing, it was understood that Christianity was becoming a formidable opponent to promoters of Hellenic wisdom. Porphyry, we know, was inspired to write a book attacking Christian pretensions. That the threat of Christianity to traditional religion was not merely theoretical we know from the persecutions of Christians under the Emperor Diocletian.

The battle, at least at the political level, was to be decided in favour of the Christians after the Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity in 312. In Porphyry's successor and perhaps pupil, Iamblichus, there is a clear emphasis on the religious dimension of Platonism. It is natural to surmise that at least to some extent this was a consequence of concerted efforts by Platonists to present Platonism as an alternative 'Gospel'. Making this all the more plausible is the fact that each of the Greek philosophical schools thought of themselves not primarily as constructing theories but as offering a superior way of life to anyone who would embrace its message. The ancient idea of philosophy as a way of life (bios) adds a particular urgent dimension to the disputes between the increasingly sophisticated proponents of Christianity and those who continued to embrace traditional Hellenic values.


In the fourth century CE we can begin to see the tide shifting in favour of Christianity over paganism. The murder of Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon of Alexandria, in 415, is emblematic of the ominous turn from mere intellectual controversy to political power struggles begun a century earlier. Prior to the tipping point that was Constantine's conversion around 312, Alexandria flourished as a polyglot and multicultural intellectual centre of the Mediterranean world. We have considerable evidence of Christians and non-Christians studying together under some of the famous philosophers of the time. Probably in early Alexandria even more than in Rome, there were genuine encounters of philosophy and religion. The writings of Philo and Clement are only two early examples of these. Lamentably, there is a dearth of extant philosophical material from Alexandria in our period, though we have accounts of an extremely active academic community. With regard to the natural and mathematical sciences, however, there is a substantial amount of material, focused principally on development of the scientific heritage of Ptolemy. Here we see, for example, in the practice of astrology a focal point for the confluence of philosophy, religion and science. The enduring theme of providence and fate, too, will be a battleground for opposing world views. It is natural to see in the Christian responses to the Hellenic views on these matters the lineaments of Biblical theology.


From the second half of the fourth century CE until the death of Augustine in 43o Christian theology fully matured. The fact that Marius Victorinus and Augustine wrote in Latin hardly suffices to justify our setting them outside of the dialogue of Christians and pagans within the ancient Greek philosophical world. Even when Latin speakers learned their philosophy from the books of Latin authors like Cicero, what they learned was ancient Greek philosophy. The refined vocabulary of ancient Greek philosophy was the starting point for the expression of theological doctrine. The well-known example of the controversy over how to express the relation between the persons of the Trinity turns upon the understanding of one of the central terms of Greek philosophy — ousia. As theologically motivated students of philosophy learned almost immediately, the Greek philosophers differed in their understanding of ousia. Plato in his Republic has Socrates state that the Good is 'above' ousia, primarily owing to the absolute simplicity of the first principle of all. Aristotle in his Metaphysics states that the question 'what is being?' is just the question 'what is ousia?' He goes on to argue that the primary referent of ousia is the thinking of a divine mind `beyond' which there is nothing. This fundamental disagreement is reflected in the philosophical schools throughout period. So, the question of whether the first person of the Trinity was in any way 'beyond' the second and the third is inseparable from the question of whether the first principle must be absolutely simple. If it must be so, how can the other persons of the Trinity be identical with the first without compromising its simplicity? If it is not simple, how can it be first? Making a decision or, from a position of authority, a determination on this matter, is necessarily to embrace a philosophical position. And just as the philosophers differed, so, too, did the theologians. As these disputes grew in sophistication, so grew the tendency to separate the ancient Greek philosophers according to whether or not they were thought to be in harmony with the correct theological position. Augustine himself moved from a tentative embrace of Plotinus' language for the elucidation of the relation between the first principle and everything else to a rejection of that language when arriving at his final expression of Trinitarian theology. In countless other matters, more or less controversial, the starting-points for theological speculation, apart from Scripture, were the well-honed arguments of ancient Greek philosophers.

It is well to keep in mind the last spasm of political opposition to Christian rule in the Emperor Julian (331/2-363). His efforts to restore pagan religion and to diminish the influence of Christianity during his very brief rule at the end of his life were remarkably short lived in their effects. There would be no more pagan Roman emperors after Julian. Henceforth, the inheritors of the ancient Greek religions realized that they had to accommodate their Christian rulers in one way or another. Particularly in the transmission of philosophy through teaching, a certain amount of discretion was to be practised. In some, like the Bishop Synesius of Cyrene, various strategic attempts were made to harmonize Christian and pagan doctrine.


In this section, we turn to the last phase of pagan ancient philosophy. The date 529 CE when the Emperor Justinian officially closed the Academy in Athens is conventionally taken to be the terminus of non-Christian philosophy. Of course, this is something of an overstatement. The philosophers Olympiodorus, Damascius and Simplicius all lived up to a generation beyond this date. They were apparently, however, not allowed to teach in public. We have no record of any openly non-Christian philosopher in the ancient world after the last quarter of the sixth century CE. Nevertheless, ancient Greek philosophy itself did live on within the Church and in the seventh century, within the early schools of Islamic philosophy. The history of ancient philosophy as intellectual infrastructure for religion as opposed to autonomous enterprise will be canvassed in the last two sections.

Here we are concerned with those philosophers, mainly in Athens and Alexandria, who sought to articulate and defend the Platonic inheritance. Scholars in the early part of the twentieth century sometimes maintained that the Alexandrian and Athenian 'branches' of Platonism differed in their focus on either religion or metaphysics. This view is generally regarded today as mistaken or greatly oversimplified. Modern research has led to the view that the interchanges between Athens and Alexandria were frequent and fruitful during this period. The supposed emphasis on religion among the Alexandrian Platonists is probably to be accounted for by the strong Christian political domination. The contemporary pressing issues faced by philosophers there were principally those raised by Christian opponents. By contrast, in Athens, the Academy, beginning with Plutarch and ending with Damascius, seemed to be focused on the more or less traditional philosophical issues that we can trace back to the Old Academy itself. Such work in metaphysics, for example, did not exclude Proclus' efforts to systematize a theological version of Platonism.

In this period, we also see the great flowering of commentaries by Platonists both on the dialogues of Plato and on the works of Aristotle. Unfortunately, most of the former are lost. There still exists, fortunately, a mass of detailed philosophical commentaries on those central works of Aristotle that were suitable as preparation for the study of Plato. Since it was universally believed that Aristotle's philosophy was in harmony with Platonism despite his occasional lapses, it was held that the study of Aristotle was the correct preparation for appreciating the Platonic higher 'mysteries'. Not only do these commentaries represent a serious philosophical dialogue between Platonists and Plato's greatest disciple, but they contain an invaluable record of debate among the Platonists regarding the correct understanding of Plato.

John Philoponus is in a way the key transitional figure in our period. Whether he was once a pagan who converted to Christianity or always a Christian of some sort, it is clear especially in his philosophical and scientific as opposed to strictly theological works that Platonism as it had been understood for more than 800 years provided the armature for all his intellectual work. His later disputes with orthodox Platonism concerning the eternity of the world on behalf of Christian creationism represents one enormously influential episode in the gradual self-understanding of Christianity among its theologians. It is also no doubt in part owing to Philoponus' Platonism and his suspicion that an authentic Peripatetic philosophy was actually inimical to Christianity that the assumption of the harmony between these two central figures would be abandoned.


In the sixth century CE, Christian theology matured both in the eastern and western parts of the Empire. In the East, the works of the unknown and pseudonymously named Dionysius the Areopagite aimed to transpose into a Christian theological context the systematic version of Platonism found in Proclus. In the West, the three hypostases of Platonism are transformed into the persons of the Trinity, gods become angels, and salvation becomes resurrection rather than permanent separation from a body. Boethius undertook a re-evaluation of the ancient Greek philosophical tradition from a refined Christian theological perspective. Boethius seems to have a clearly articulated vision of what can and cannot be accepted from Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic and Academic sources. His most influential work, The Consolation of Philosophy, acknowledges the feasibility and even perhaps the inevitability of a Christian philosophy. Writing in Latin, Boethius provided a bridge for the renaissance of Christian thought in the West in the ninth century. Maximus the Confessor refined further the Christianized Platonism of Pseudo-Dionysius. He wrote not only on narrowly theological problems, but on the full panoply of ecclesiastical and spiritual issues. The idea of Christian philosophy as a way of life explicitly in opposition to the ways of life recommended within the ancient Greek philosophical tradition comes to the fore in Maximus. The last philosopher treated in this section, John Scotus Eriugena, brings us to the Carolingian Renaissance. His translation of the works of Pseudo-Dionysius into Latin was to become a fundamental source for the early and indirect access to ancient Greek philosophy within the Scholastic tradition. His attempts to integrate the eastern Greek Christianized Platonism with the western Latin theological tradition running through Augustine and Boethius is one of the more remarkable synthetic efforts in our period.


In this concluding section, an overview is provided of the three streams of philosophical thought flowing out from late antiquity. The aim here is to show how ancient Greek philosophy and its Christianized versions were received.

Philosophy in early Byzantium seems to have been completely subordinated to theological and ecclesiastical ends. Nevertheless, that explicit constraint did not prevent the further exploration of the ontological and epistemological issues that constitute the permanent inheritance of the ancient Greek philosophical tradition. When the political and theological controversies between Latin West and Greek East later erupt, it will become evident that philosophical disputes, for example, regarding the interpretation`of Aristotle's account of the activity of divinity, are much to the fore. With the fall of Byzantium in 1453, the exodus of Greek scholars to the West will provide the groundwork for another encounter of Greek philosophy with Christianity, this time with Scholasticism.

It is now increasingly a commonplace that the primary transmitters of ancient Greek philosophy to the West were the Arabic Muslim scholars of Alexandria and Baghdad and elsewhere who translated and thereby preserved a significant number of basic texts. It is not infrequently the case that these Arabic translations can fill in lacunae owing to the disappearance or defective condition of Greek originals. But it is in the construction of an Islamic philosophical theology that a fruitful and challenging encounter of one religious tradition with ancient Greek philosophy can be found. A premiss for this encounter was the reaffirmation of the harmony of Plato and Aristotle, and the essential integrity of Platonism. This is especially evident in the so-called Theology of Aristotle which is in a way for Islamic philosophical theology what the works of Pseudo-Dionysius are for its Byzantine counterpart.

This work concludes with a sketch of the transformation of an array of critical problems in ancient Greek philosophy into a recognizably medieval context. Undoubtedly, an absolute division between ancient and medieval is artificial.

There is, however, a subtle difference between the early encounters between Christianity and ancient Greek philosophy and the later ones. In the former, at least from the Christian perspective, Greek philosophy was explored as a potential contributor to the foundation of theology; in the latter, Greek philosophy (and the subsequent Arabic Islamic interpretation of it) was explored when that foundation had already been laid. This second-order reflection constituted something new, as is evident from the study of Scholastic texts.

Table of Contents
General introduction Lloyd Gerson
Part I. Philosophy in the Later Roman Empire: Introduction to Part I
1. The late Roman empire from the Antonines to Constantine Elizabeth Digeser
2. The transmission of ancient wisdom: texts, doxographies, libraries Gabor Betegh
3. Cicero and the New Academy Carlos Lévy
4. Platonism Harold Tarrant
5. The second Sophistic Ryan Fowler
6. Numenius Mark Edwards
7. Stoicism Brad Inwood
8. Peripatetics Robert Sharples
9. The Chaldean Oracles Sarah Iles Johnston and John F. Finamore
10. Gnosticism Edward Moore and John D. Turner
11. Ptolemy Jacqueline Feke and Alexander Jones
12. Galen R. J. Hankinson
Part II. The First Encounter of Judaism and Christianity with Ancient Greek Philosophy: Introduction to Part II
13. Philo of Alexandria David Winston
14. Justin Martyr Denis Minns
15. Clement of Alexandria Catherine Osborne
16. Origen Emanuela Prinzivalli
Part III. Plotinus and the New Platonism: Introduction to Part III
17. Plotinus Dominic O'Meara
18. Porphyry and his school Andrew Smith
19. Iamblichus and his school John Dillon
Part IV. Philosophy in the Age of Constantine: Introduction to Part IV
20. Introduction: the age of Constantine Elizabeth Digeser
21. Themistius Inna Kupreeva
22. The Alexandrian school. Theon of Alexandria, Hypatia Alain Bernard
23. Hierocles of Alexandria Hermann Schibli
Part V. The Second Encounter of Christianity with Ancient Greek Philosophy: Introduction to Part V
24. Basil of Caesarea Lewis Ayers and Andrew Radde-Gallwitz
25. Gregory of Nyssa Anthony Meredith
26. Gregory Nazianzus John McGucken
27. Calcidius Gretchen Reydams-Schils
28. Nemesius of Emesa Beatrice Motta
29. Synesius of Cyrene Jay Bregman
30. Marius Victorinus Stephen A. Cooper
31. Augustine Giovanni Catapano
Part VI. Late Platonism: Introduction to Part VI
32. From Constantine to Justinian Elizabeth Digeser
33. Plutarch of Athens Angela Longo
34. Syrianus Angela Longo
35. Proclus Carlos Steel
36. Ammonius and his school David Blank
37. Damascius Gerd van Riel
38. Olympiodorus Jan Opsomer
39. Simplicius Han Baltussen
40. John Philoponus Koenraad Verrycken
41. Priscian, Pseudo-Simplicius F. A. J. De Haas
Part VII. The Third Encounter of Christianity with Ancient Greek Philosophy: Introduction to Part VII
42. Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite Eric Perl
43. Boethius John Magee
44. Maximus the Confessor David Bradshaw
45. John Scotus Eriugena Wayne Hankey
Part VIII. Philosophy in Transition: Introduction to Part VIII|br /> 46. Early Byzantine philosophy Katerina Ierodiakonou and George Zografidis
47. The origins of Islamic philosophy Cristina D'Ancona
48. Ancient becomes medieval: the reception of ancient Greek philosophy in the Middle Ages Stephen Gersh
List of works of ancient authors


Late Antique Epistemology: Other Ways to Truth edited by Stephen Clark, Panayiota Vassilopoulou (Palgrave Macmillan)  explores the techniques used by late antique philosophers to discuss truth. Non-rational ways to discover truth, or to  reform the soul, have usually been thought inferior to the philosophically approved techniques of rational argument, suitable for the less philosophically inclined, for children, savages or the uneducated. Religious rituals, oracles, erotic passion, madness may all have served to waken courage or remind us of realities obscured by everyday concerns. What is unusual in the late antique classical philosophers is that these techniques were reckoned as reliable as reasoned argument, or better still. Late twentieth century commentators have offered psychological explanations of this turn, but only recently has it been accepted that there might also have been philosophical explanations, and that the later antique philosophers were not necessarily deluded.

Panayiota Vassilopoulou is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Liverpool, UK and holds a Research Fellowship with the Academy of Finland. She has published articles on Plotinus' psychology, aesthetics and feminism.

Stephen R. L. Clark is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Liverpool, UK. He is author of Biology and Christian Ethics (2000), G. K. Chesterton: Thinking Backward, Looking Forward (2006) and Understanding Faith: Religious Belief and its Place in Society (forthcoming).

In this collection of essays scholars from North America and Europe explore the various ways in which late-antique thinkers sought to gain knowledge about themselves, the divine, and the world.

Scholars of late antiquity concern themselves with the historical, cultural, and philosophical developments that occurred in the mediterranean world from the third to the late sixth century AD. During this time Christianity came to dominate the beliefs and practices of the empire, and different traditions of East and West confronted and influenced each other. `Late antiquity' has been variously described as an in-between period, as the decline of the ancient world, as an age of anxiety, or a time of ambition. As Averil Cameron observes, `terminology does matter: whether we like it or not, it shapes our perceptions, especially of controversial issues'.

It was primarily the work of Peter Brown, in the 1970s, that helped establish late antiquity as a distinct and distinctive historical period worth closer examination, and with it a particular historical narrative. This latter incorporates social and economic debates, religious controversies, and philosophical discussions, and so illustrates the `transformation' that took place between the end of `classical antiquity' and the emergence of Islam. One may`thus refer to this period, characterized by new awakenings and dramatic change, for an explanation of `why Europe became Christian and why the Near East became Muslim'.

Subsequent studies have dealt with several aspects of the chronological, geographical, and thematic parameters that define late antiquity and also with the 'gaps' that any unified narrative of such a diverse period in

human civilization inevitably discloses. Depending on the perspective from which it is approached and the questions that animate each perspective (theological, political, social, philosophical), the chronological boundaries of late antiquity vary. One version sets the beginning of the period in the third century, in 284 AD - the year of Diocletian's accession. According to another, the beginning of the period is in the fourth century, either in the year 312 AD, when Constantine the Great was converted to Christianity, or a little later, in 395 AD, when Theodosius I died. In the attempt to trace particular changes evidenced in the third and fourth centuries back to their historical source, the 'beginning' of late antiquity is occasionally placed much earlier, in the time of Augustus (63 BC-14 AD), since almost all the features deemed 'characteristic' of the period actually had their beginnings at least by then. There is also considerable disagreement about its end. Some see the end of late antiquity in the first half of the sixth century, picking as a cut-off point 529 AD, when a decree of Justinian I (against divination) resulted in the closure of the Neoplatonic Academy in Athens' (a year often also chosen to mark the beginning of the Byzantine period), or in the second half of the sixth century, when the Persian empire ceases to exist. Some think that late antiquity concludes at the end of the seventh century, when Islam had undoubtedly prevailed in the Middle East.

These disagreements may well indicate that any attempt to mark out distinct cultural and philosophical epochs is artificial, and essentially anachronistic. The ancient Greeks did not think of themselves as 'ancients', any more than contemporary inhabitants of the Western world necessarily think of themselves as `post-modern'. Neither would late-antique philosophers have identified themselves as 'late antique'. As Richard Miles remarks, 'there is no unitary "late antique" identity, just as there is no single "late antique" culture in which these identities are created. Identity and culture are both in a constant state of flux and development'.4 Everyone has always thought they lived in 'modern times', whether they have thought those times were just as life had always been, or prided themselves on being 'up to date'. No doubt both views were as common in 'late antiquity' as now - though people per-haps had reason to think that times had changed, whether for better or for worse.

Virginia Burrus, for example, in agreement with Brown, claims that 'what "makes" late antiquity is in large part the collective imaginative construction of a new world, or a new way of imagining the universe'. Philosophers whom we may reckon 'late antique' could reasonably think of themselves as making a new beginning, or rebirth (or at any rate maybe we can conceive that they made a new beginning). Burrus draws particular attention to the new role ascribed to human beings, as agents who would 'negotiate the hard boundary between heaven and earth freshly inscribed on the map of the cosmos'.5 Even though human history is not really divided into distinct periods, with distinctive characters, her approach does have advantages. At any rate, it informs the present volume. In those days, everyone could, in principle, declare with the Orphic initiate 'I am a child of Earth and of starry Heaven, but my race is of Heaven alone - and also that they were children both of classical antiquity and of some new revelation. The chapter authors all make some contribution to understanding, from this perspective, the force and validity of late-antique philosophers' claims to truth. As a whole, the volume attempts a journey into the 'new' philosophical world that seems to be characteristic of late-antique philosophical activity, without claiming to offer a comprehensive reconstruction, or a map, of all its aspects.

But what are the philosophical coordinates that define this 'new world'? In the period between 200 and 600 AD, we may identify three distinct, but also interrelated, lines of philosophical development. Around 200 AD, in Athens, the Aristotelian Alexander of Aphrodisias wrote, along with his own treatises, a number of commentaries on Aristotle's works, taking into account the philosophical debates of his time. In this way, he became the first important contributor to the tradition of composing philosophical commentaries on classical authors (that is, Plato and Aristotle), which forms one of the main strands in the philosophical activity of late antiquity (and beyond).8 A little later, Origen (185-254), working in Alexandria and Palestine, developed for the first time a body of thought that could be identified as a Christian philosophy with the ambition to stand on its own against its pagan rivals. Origen's attempt is clearly based on Platonic foundations and is a significant first act in the strained but productive dialogue between Christianity and Platonism, which is also a dominant strand in the philosophical and spiritual development in the late-antique period.' Around this time, Plotinus, who, like Origen, studied in Alexandria, established his school in Rome (244) and between 253 and 269 wrote a stream of essays, later edited by his disciple Porphyry into the collection we know as The Enneads, that shaped the leading philosophical movement of the period, namely Neoplatonism.

These developments, of course, did not come out of nothing. As far as we know, the Platonist Crantor was the first writer to produce a formal philosophical commentary (on Plato's Timaeus) around 300 BC. Origen's achievement follows the earlier attempts of writers like Justin or Clement to combine Platonism and Christianity, as well as the even earlier attempt by Philo of Alexandria to combine Greek philosophy with Judaism. Moreover, the Plato that is the reference point of both Origen and Plotinus is not only the author of the familiar dialogues, but also the product of a long philosophical tradition that started right after Plato's death and went through a stage (the period of Middle Platonism that extends from 80 BC to 220 AD) in which elements of Platonic philosophy were already combined in a variety of ways with aspects of Aristotelianism and Stoicism." But it is from around 200 AD, that the 'new world' resulting from the dynamic interaction between these strands begins to emerge, and takes shape over the next three centuries.'

A few names and dates may help to make this pattern clear. In the Neoplatonic tradition starting from Plotinus, there is an almost continuous line of philosophers, the majority of whom wrote commentaries as well as other, relatively free-standing, works. Its chief representatives are Plotinus' student Porphyry (232-309), working mostly in Rome, Iamblichus (c.245-325), working mostly in Alexandria and Syria (the disagreement of these two pivotal figures about the relation between philosophy and religion shaped the development of Neoplatonism), Proclus (c.411-485), a prolific writer working mostly in Athens, and Ammonius (c.440-520, Son of Hermeias'), a great teacher working mostly in Alexandria. On the side of Christianity, three important episodes in the history of its interaction with Neoplatonism may be singled out. The first, occurring in the East, was the work of the Cappadocian Fathers (especially of two brothers: Basil of Caesarea, c.330-379 and Gregory of Nyssa, c.335-394). The second, taking place slightly later, in the West, was the work of Augustine of Hippo (354- 430). In both these cases, major developments in Christian doctrine arose from a selective appropriation of the philosophical achievements of the first Neoplatonists, namely, Plotinus and Porphyry. The third episode, happening almost a century later, at the start of the sixth century, was the work of pseudo-Dionysius, an unknown writer who chose to present his books under the name of Dionysius the Areopagite (a convert of Paul of Tarsus, in first-century Athens). He presented his own synthesis of Christianity and Neoplatonism, relying this time on the work of later Neoplatonists, such as Proclus, who, following Iamblichus' lead, were much more interested in religious practices and rituals than were Plotinus or Porphyry. From him descends the long tradition of apophatic, or negative, theology, that is, the tradition of talking about God, who is ineffable, in terms of what God is not.

In the sixth century, we witness the last great intellectual products of this historical period. In 523-4 Boethius (c.480-525), a Christian Neoplatonist commentator writing in Latin, composed his Consolation of Philosophy, in which a female figure identified as Philosophy visits him in his cell to remind him of the truths he had - he supposed - believed, just before his execution. A little later, John Philoponus (c.490-570), the greatest Christian Neoplatonist commentator, wrote a number of commentaries and treatises exploring the possibility of a Christian physical science, and the Neoplatonist Simplicius wrote the last great commentaries, learned and comprehensive surveys of the entire Greek philosophical tradition. Philoponus and Simplicius, who had the same teacher (Ammonius) and bitterly criticized each other in their works, are the last great figures of the period. After the closing of the Neoplatonic School in Athens in 529, some of its leading lights - including Damascius, the last head of the Athenian School - fled temporarily to the court of the Persian king (it is likely that some slipped back to the West)." Although the School of Alexandria continued in business for some decades, by the end of the sixth century a vital strand of the pattern we have been observing, Greek philosophy, would be broken. By the time that philosophy appeared again as a respected discipline distinct from scriptural theology, in Islam (ninth century), in Byzantium (the Byzantine humanism of the ninth and tenth centuries), or the West (twelfth century), not only were the historical conditions entirely different, but also Greek philosophy was recoverable only from the written records, not an ongoing oral tradition. Or so, at any rate, it is now commonly supposed: whether we would have quite the same picture if more documents had survived, or we had better access to Syriac or Aramaic texts, may be disputed.

With these historical markers set, a brief account of the main intellec-tual preoccupations of the period is in order. Within Greek philosophy, the main object was precisely to come to terms with the authoritative legacy of classical philosophers (especially Plato and Aristotle). This could be described as an attempt to reconcile their views, but is best thought of as a process of creative transformation of Plato's and Aristotle's thought under a number of different pressures (one such pressure being, of course, their inherent philosophical disagreements). Christian thinkers had their own problems and pressures during this period. Their main task, the development of Christian dogma (for example, the formulation of the Trinitarian doctrine or an adequate understanding of the nature of Jesus Christ), was a philosophical one, but the activity had to be conducted in the context of concrete and bitter internal and external debates with heretics and pagans. Part of the problem for both 'camps', the Christians and the (pagan) philosophers, had precisely to do with the ambivalent relation between Christianity and Neoplatonism: Christians and Neoplatonists agreed on several important matters, disagreed on many others, were fighting each other using, to some extent, weapons borrowed from the 'enemy' (a tactic used mostly by Christian thinkers), and had also to engage with other religious forces of the period, such as various forms of Gnosticism, Judaism, and the other religions of the East.

Obviously, the relation between philosophy and religion is a central issue of the period, debated not only between Neoplatonists and Chris-tians, but also within each of the two camps. If we understand 'philosophy' as 'abstract' reasoning, relying only on such axioms as seem self-evident or - at least - agreeable to any rational enquirer, then neither camp was exactly philosophical (since both sides relied on authoritative scriptures, and on ritual practices, to keep themselves in line, and both shared an ideal of holiness as a prerequisite for philosophical authority). If we understand `religion' as a complex of symbolic stories, ritual practices and social orders, accepted as a fact of social life, then neither camp was only religious, since both believed that all these merely social factors depended on a transcendental real, and could be criticized by that standard, and that there was a route to understanding by an exercise of the enlightened intellect. In other words, `philosophy' and 'religion' both meant rather more to gate-antique' intellectuals (at any rate) than they do now. Two particularly important aspects of this issue need to be highlighted, which will serve as a context for the present volume. The first, which will be further discussed below, concerns the destabilization, or else the enrichment, of the classical Greek dichotomy between theoria and praxis. Already from the time of Pythagoras,' certainly in Plato and Aristotle, and even in Plotinus' understanding of the activity of Nous, philosophical activity (at least in its highest spheres) had been conceptualized in terms of a contemplation of truth, to be distinguished from any kind of poiesis or praxis. What is introduced and explored in this period is the possibility that forms of (religious) practice may be essential or indispensable components of the pursuit of truth.

The second aspect, already noted above, concerns the significance attributed to the human subject during this period. Although this entire era is operating under the Platonic understanding of the human being as divided between the distinct spheres of sensible and intelligible reality, philosophical analysis of the human condition is enriched by the discovery or invention of a hitherto unidentified inner dimension of the human experience, and a dynamic conception of the distance between the sensible and the intelligible. The human subject was conceived as an active mediator between the two realms. In this respect, (pagan) Neoplatonists and Christians were essentially working together against the various forms of Gnosticism, and their achievements were to prove crucial for the development of modern conceptions of subjectivity. What is unusual, from our perspective, in the late-antique philosophers is that certain `non-rational' practices, such as oracular testimonies, theurgic rituals, erotic passion, poetic inspiration, metaphors, and myths, were reckoned as reliable as reasoned argument, or better still. Thus, what - at first sight, at least - distinguishes epistemology in late antiquity from that in the classical and hellenistic periods, is that these `other ways' to discover truth, which have previously been thought inferior to the philosophically approved techniques of rational argument (though Plato - seriously or not - suggested otherwise, in several of his dialogues), are no longer suitable just for the less philosophically inclined, for children, savages or the uneducated. If, that is, they ever were just that.

Late twentieth-century commentators, such as E. R. Dodds, have offered historical or psychological explanations of this turn, but only recently has it been accepted that there might also have been philosophical explanations, and that the late-antique philosophers were not necessarily deluded.19 Interestingly, although philosophers and classical scholars, until very recently, have tended to despise much late-antique theorizing, speculative physicists have often found some affinities, at least, between their own speculations and late-antique imaginings.' And psychotherapists have made use of imagination in ways that the ancients would have found familiar.' But even they have rarely accepted the more openly theurgical or magic elements. Contemporary scholars have attempted to elucidate several aspects of the sort of philosophical reflection and practice advocated by late-antique philosophers, drawing particular attention to the relationship - or dialectic - between discursive and non-discursive elements,22 rational arguments and coherent theurgic practice, and to the introspective, esoteric, or transformative nature of truth.

The overriding impression is that during late antiquity, the very notions of `reason', 'rationality', and `truth', with which epistemology is primarily concerned, underwent a significant change. This reflected the general spiritual and cultural changes effected by the interaction of Christian and pagan worlds characteristic of this historical period. In late antiquity, more radically than in earlier periods, coming to know the truth involved methods by which the soul might be 'persuaded', awakened, and reformed; an enriched philosophical language able to capture and express realities beyond those of abstract reasoning; and a corresponding way of life, through which the human being may be enlightened, and live accordingly. How do these techniques and practices relate to our more modern understanding of epistemology and philosophical reasoning?

An earlier volume of essays, edited by Michael Frede and Gisella Striker, deals with some aspects of the problem, by debating what con-cepts of 'reason' and 'rationality' the ancients used." The contributors to that volume sharpened our awareness of conceptual changes, with a view to improving our understanding of the ancient philosophers. The contributors to the present volume have a similar remit, but are concerned with aspects of philosophical endeavour that even the ancients placed outside or alongside 'reason', in the attempt to show not only that they are not to be dismissed as useless, but that they should be legitimized as complementary (and in some cases superior) ways of discovering or realizing truth.

A final comment about the significance of late-antique philosophy and its study may be useful. The overall historical importance of the period could, of course, be hardly denied: this is the era in which Greek philosophy is synthesized in the form in which it would be transmitted later to the West (directly or via Arabic philosophy) and in which it was to remain historically effective at least until the beginning of the nineteenth century.' It is also the era in which mainstream Christian doc-trine was shaped. Our reaction to these facts today certainly depends on our perspectives and agendas: one could choose, for instance, to consider this entire period as the first stage in a dark age that divides, say, Plotinus from Aquinas or Descartes, or Ptolemy from Galileo. Or else one could choose to consider it a seminal and significant age, whose influence is still with us. The perspective adopted by the contributors to the present volume is a mixture of the historical and the philosophical. If indeed a refreshed understanding of the past may show us new ways for philosophical reflection, then, looking backward, through the late-antique philosophers, we gain valuable insights into how Plato, Aristotle, and the hellenistic schools have been and could still be interpreted; looking forward, we may be able to identify the paths through which these interpretations and innovations have contributed and could still contribute to the development of philosophical thought and practice.

Structure of the volume

The first part of the present volume, on Rituals, Religion, and Reality, has four chapters, by Busine, Dillon, Kutash, and Mazur. They address the ways in which the Neoplatonists made inventive philosophical use of traditional rituals, whether by allegorizing or spiritualizing them: that is, by treating them merely as metaphors for spiritual or philosophi-cal experience, or by seeking to locate, and encourage others to accept, their effect on philosophical life and thought.

Aude Busine's chapter on 'Porphyry and the Debate over Traditional Religious Practices' discusses Porphyry's attempt, in the De Philosophia ex oraculis, to show how an accurate interpretation of traditional oracles could help a philosopher save his soul. Her study concentrates on the ways in which Porphyry interprets the symbolic meaning of pagan sacred texts in order to defend two central and much-debated rituals, namely, sacrifice and magic. Busine hopes to develop from this basis an account of theurgic practices able to resist the severe attack on traditional ritu-als formulated by other contemporary Neoplatonists as well as Christian polemicists.

John Dillon's chapter on `St John in Amelius' Seminar' addresses the use made of the Prologue of St John's Gospel in the (pagan) Neoplatonic seminar of Plotinus' friend and disciple Amelius, as reported by Eusebius of Caesarea. In dealing with this intriguing reference, Dillon investigates the reasons that motivate Amelius to refer to a Christian writer and the significance of his allusion to John as 'the Barbarian', rather than by name. Dillon argues that, when placed in the context of the discussion of Logos, Amelius' exegesis reveals subtle changes in the sense and terminology of St John's text and provides us with insight into some of Amelius' innovations in Neoplatonic doctrine. Amelius is known to have had an interest in traditional rituals and in the study of texts that include the Orphic poems, the Chaldaean Oracles, and the Gnostic writings. Dillon shows that the reference to St John's Prologue provides evidence of Amelius' — as well as his audience's — familiarity and intellectual engagement also with at least parts of Christian literature.

Emilie F. Kutash's chapter on 'Eternal Time and Temporal Expansion: Proclus' Golden Ratio' is an examination of Proclus' account of time and eternity. She argues persuasively that his hypostatization of Time and Eternity is not, as some have supposed, merely an attempt to accom-modate Orphic or Chaldaean deities, but a serious attempt to resolve familiar difficulties about temporality. She concludes that hypostatized Time, or the panoptic view, includes the whole, rounded history of the cosmos, and that our souls' temporal experience (of past, present and future) is saved from pointless and unending drift by the realization that all times, all periods, are equally contained in Time. Temporality is not therefore an evil: it provides the realm within which individual organisms can gradually achieve perfection, a perfection mirroring both their own panoptic reality, and the structures of Eternity. Intellect is not itself enough either to explain existence or to guide us: something beyond Intellect and the Forms breathes life into the equations, and allows even the formless to have some hope of achieving perfection.

Zeke Mazur's chapter on 'Having Sex with the One: Erotic Mysticism in Plotinus and the Problem of Metaphor' examines Plotinus' surprisingly frank use of sexual metaphors for mystical experience, and contests the view that they rely on and advance a rigid distinction between sexual and spiritual, non-somatic, love. He shows that this imagery, which is central to Plotinus' metaphysics and philosophical practice, extends and enriches the erotic philosophical vocabulary employed by Plato, in ways that point to the long literary tradition of erotic mysticism, a tradition whose tropes are familiar from their Christian, Jewish, and Islamic formulations. Mazur concludes that Plotinian erotic mysticism might be helpfully compared with inner Tantric praxis of the sort described by the Kashmiri Shaivite author Abhinavagupta (c.975-1025 CE).

The second part, Crossing Boundaries, has three chapters, by Kukkonen, Lacrosse, and Uzdavinys. All attempt to trace connections between Neoplatonism and non-Greek traditions, by exploring the role various religious experiences and practices employed in the search for philo-sophical truth and unification with the divine.

Taneli Kukkonen's chapter on 'Ibn Tufayl and the Wisdom of the East' examines three Muslim Neoplatonists' reactions to the ascend-ant Sufi brotherhoods' claims to having experienced unification with the divine as a result of their ascetic practices. Avicenna (Abi1 'Ali Ibn Sind, d. 1037 CE) had first appropriated Sufi language in his Pointers and Reminders, situating the so-called drunken Sufis' ecstatic exclamations in the context of an Aristotelian faculty psychology. Kukkonen shows that al-Ghazdli (1058-1111) and Ibn Tufayl (1116-1185), while each keen to provide an appreciative understanding of Sufi appearances, drew different lessons from Avicenna's presentation. Al-Ghazdli underlined Avi-cenna's point that what is supposed to be a vision of the divine in fact reveals only the created order, while Ibn Tufayl claimed to detect a real 'divine spark' in the mystical experience. The three thus illustrate different ways of applying the ancient principle of 'like knowing like'.

Joachim Lacrosse's chapter on 'Plotinus, Pophyry, and India; a Re-Examination' examines the much-debated issue concerning the influence that the Indian philosophical tradition may have exerted on the Neoplatonists. Lacrosse shows that despite many contextual differences, there are several striking similarities between Neoplatonism and Indian thought which need not be explained by mere chance or by peren-nial philosophy, but also by a kind of distant and partial knowledge of Indian philosophy and philosophical practice in the Roman Empire, in Plotinus' and Porphyry's time. His study of the available evidence is informed by an attempt to combine traditional historical methodology with comparativism, that is, with a selective borrowing and dissemina-tion of ideas and patterns of thought between the Greek and Indian cultures.

Algis Uzdavinys's chapter on 'Animation of Statues in Ancient Civiliza-tions and Neoplatonism' deals with the strange practice of Neoplatonic telestike, that is, the ritual of consecrating and animating statues. Uzdavinys advances the view that divine images and statues were not mere symbols of the gods, but were filled with the divine presence, and that their esoteric dimension suggests ways in which a seer of truth may be immortalized. He argues that these 'telestic' rites, adapted and presumably transformed by the Neoplatonists, are deeply rooted in the ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Tantric cultic traditions. Those traditions themselves incorporate sophisticated metaphysical theories that are at least analogous to Neoplatonic theory. We need to understand and recall this background if we are to understand Platonic thought.

The third part, on Poetry and Art has three chapters, by Heath, Kuisma, and Manolea. They examine the use made of poetry and other literary forms by the late-antique philosophers.

Malcom Heath's chapter on 'Platonists and the Teaching of Rheto-ric in Late Antiquity' deals with rhetoric, which, in antiquity, was considered an integral and important part of the general education cur-riculum. Heath examines the reasons (practical, ideological, and theoretical) for the philosophers' engagement with rhetoric, as well as the relationship between rhetoric as taught by philosophers and by rhetoricians with no known philosophical allegiance. Heath concludes his study by showing how philosophers and rhetoricians of late antiquity responded to the Platonic suspicions concerning rhetoric's contribution to the search for philosophical truth and political justice.

Oiva Kuisma's chapter on 'Proclus' Notion of Poetry' examines Proclus' reasons for giving poetry a higher status than the merely instrumental ones of aesthetic pleasure and, occasionally, profit. Concentrating on inspired poetry, Kuisma argues that Proclus attributes to it an illuminative power of symbolic language that would help transform human consciousness so as to see, that is, to know and experience, reality itself. He concludes that, although Proclus did not intend to formulate an autonomous theory of art, especially one that could fit easily within

the context of modern aesthetics, proper attention to his views on poetry helps to place him within the tradition of thinkers like Plotinus or Augustine who appreciated the significance of beauty of art as a step towards the contemplation of Divine truth.

Christina-Panagiota Manolea's chapter on 'The Homeric Tradition in Ammonius and Asclepius' examines the use made of Homeric material in the commentaries in view of the question of whether allegory was employed as a reliable way to discover truth. Through a careful exami-nation of a variety of contexts in which Homeric references appear in Ammonius and Asclepius, she concludes that although these Alexandrian late- antique writers were familiar with allegory, they nevertheless were reluctant to use it in their exegesis. According to Manolea, this treatment of allegory marks a significant difference between the Neoplatonic schools of Alexandria and Athens.

In the fourth part, on Later Influences, there are five chapters, by Berchman, Bertini, Bregman, Corrigan, and Poster, showing how late-antique philosophy influenced early-modern philosophy — and is avail-able as a resource for the future.

Robert Berchman's chapter on 'Nous and Geist: Self-Identity and Methodological Solipsism in Plotinus and Hegel' offers a parallel discussion of Plotinus' conception of Nous and Hegel's conception of Geist. Berchman argues that these conceptions enable Plotinus and Hegel to construct a notion of self-identity and consciousness in which the individual soul or 'I' can be identified with a supra-natural entity or mind. Moreover, according to Berchman, they also allow Plotinus and Hegel to employ the presupposition of methodological solipsism, not as a strategy that restricts the validity of certain philosophical claims within a first-person perspective, but as one that actually makes possible the expansion of the first-person perspective into a collective perspective that includes other minds. This expansion from a first-person singular metaphysical perspective to a 'We-perspective', offers an alter-native to egoistic notions of self-identity and consciousness, and opens up new horizons for philosophical thinking and knowledge. Plotinus still maintains, however, that there is an altogether Other, the One, beyond our knowledge and conception: Hegel avoids this last problem but at the cost of lapsing into substantive solipsism.

Daniele Bertini's chapter suggests that Leibniz's and Berkeley's arguments against materialism bear a strong resemblance to Plotinus' treatment of the same issue. Bertini proposes that Berkeley, Leibniz, and Plotinus all seek to explain what happens as a system of signs rather than by material mechanisms, and that this ontology is grounded not only in epistemological considerations, but also in a way of appreciating the world. Modern versions of materialism, he suggests, fail to explain experience and also, if believed, make it more difficult for us to realize the world's beauty.

Jay Bregman's chapter, 'Proclus Americanus', is a detailed discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thoreau, and other American Transcendental-ists, showing their creative debt to Proclus. They sought to revive a way of seeing the world that could rival Christian philosophy and practice. T. M. Johnson in particular devoted his life to spreading the Procline gospel, and encouraging other scholars and enthusiasts to examine ancient texts, including the Chaldaean Oracles. Bregman also testifies, sometimes from personal experience, to Proclus' continuing influence on both theory and practice, and his significance for a renewed appreciation of nature.

Kevin Corrigan's chapter on 'Ecology's Future Debt to Plotinus and Neoplatonism' argues that Plotinian doctrine and method may help construct a sound metaphysical and ethical basis for proper environ-mental concern and understanding. Corrigan's starting point is that the past is part of the present and a source for the discovery of, or speculation for, a (possible) future. By correcting the false impression that Platonism is an abstract, other-worldly philosophy, indifferent to the sensible and perceptible world, and by drawing attention to the much broader and richer conception of nature adopted by the Neoplatonists, and especially Plotinus, he invites us to envisage a future of an ethically aware and more inclusive ecology, which would address not only humans, but all beings.

Carol Poster's chapter on 'Heathen Martyrs or Romish Idolaters: Socrates and Plato in Eighteenth-Century England' is an exploration of early-modern theological responses to Socrates, Plato, and the Neoplatonists. She concentrates on two important and controversial theological issues, namely, the nature of the Trinity and the relationship of natural religion to Revelation. Poster seeks to demonstrate that both interpretation of Plato and negative or positive judgments of him in the eighteenth century were strongly influenced by contemporary religious contexts, and that, therefore, twenty-first century scholars studying the reception of Plato should take into account these contexts.

This volume certainly does not cover all that might be considered of most significance. There is little or nothing here, for example, on physical or mathematical theory, nor yet on political and ethical con-siderations. Recent scholars have begun to explore these aspects of Neoplatonism,27 and there is yet more to be done.

All our contributors testify to the enduring significance of the late-antique texts and traditions they consider, whether or not, as individuals,

they endorse the truth of late-antique suggestions. In this, they are not alone. The International Society for Neoplatonic Studies has organized, and continues to organize, annual conferences worldwide, and several recent publications have been gradually and more systematically contributing to making Neoplatonism and the study of late antiquity a recognized field of scholarly interest and philosophical debate. It is not necessary to be an enthusiast to think the texts and traditions well worth examining, though all of us do also owe a debt to those enthusiasts who sustained the tradition even during those years when 'academic' interest was slight or patronizing.28 We may also be grateful to those past scholars who, despite being sceptical about some of the ideas and practices that late-antique philosophers clearly favoured, nonetheless devoted their lives and talents to expounding and clarifying what they actually said.

It is a mark of true philosophy that it encourages rather than silences or puts a stop to thought. All the contributors to this volume may reasonably hope that their arguments and suggestions will excite disagreement or development, and in this way will explore `other ways to truth' pointing towards a new beginning. When the prefect of Rome, Symmachus (c.340-c.402), wrote to the emperor to beg him to restore the Altar of Peace to the Senate (removed by an earlier, Christian, emperor's orders) he urged that:

The divine Mind has distributed different guardians and different cults to different cities. As souls are separately given to infants as they are born, so to peoples the genius of their destiny. We ask, then, for peace for the gods of our fathers and of our country. It is just that all worship should be considered as one. We look on the same stars, the sky is common, the same world surrounds us. What difference does it make by what pains each seeks the truth? We can-not attain to so great a secret by one road (uno itinere non potest perveniri ad tam grande secretum).

The aphorism is greater than its author (who was actually pleading, pompously, for ancestral privilege). Different periods, as well as different cities, have made their own discoveries (or been granted different revelations). It does not follow, of course, that every such `discovery' or `revelation' was entirely right, nor that we should attempt to rationalize or embrace them all. But before we decide that any such `discovery' should really be forgotten it is as well to know what it actually was, and what might be said for it, as well as against it.


Stephen R.L. Clark

What is there to learn from the late-antique philosophers? Each of the preceding chapters has its own answer to that question, but their authors are at least united in supposing that there is something to be learnt. Plotinus, Porphyry, lamblichus, Proclus and the rest were not mere fantasists, as little worth studying — except by psychologists or historians — as Nostradamus or the prophecies of Mother Shipton. Neither were they merely 'academics', dedicated to a life of abstract scholarship or analytic argument. They thought — like almost all philosophers till recently — that philosophy made a difference, and that it demanded more than analytical skills and a good memory (though it did demand those too). Philosophers were expected to live differently, with an eye to other values than the everyday, bourgeois or romantic. They were also — or equivalently — supposed not to take too much for granted, and to remind themselves that ordinary life is but a 'dream and a delirium' (as Marcus Aurelius put it). Our ordinary lives are structured by false values and false opinions, full of pets and pests, merely apparent goods like wealth and reputation, paranoid or schizophrenic delusions. Escape from this delirium was through a wakening of Reason, an attempt to see things straight, supported by argument and a careful testing of hypotheses. But Reason, as we ordinarily conceive it, was not quite enough. Even the most compelling arguments and analyses don't quite convince us, or not for very long. We need to keep reciting them, reminding ourselves that we are not the only nor the most important entities there are, that places far away and distant times are all, from a god's eye view, as real as Here and Now, that there are many differing perspectives on the world, and many ways of erring. Making those insights real to ourselves takes more than 'rational argument'.

And rational arguments themselves must always rest on wholly unproven axioms. Consider a much later philosopher's summary of certain simple truths:

  1. Every sane man believes that the world around him and the people in it are real, and not his own delusion or dream. No man starts burning London in the belief that his servant will soon wake him for breakfast. But that I, at any given moment, am not in a dream, is unproved and unprovable. That anything exists except myself is unproved and unprovable.
  2. All sane men believe that this world not only exists, but matters. Every man believes there is a sort of obligation on us to interest ourselves in this vision or panorama of life. He would think a man wrong who said, 'I did not ask for this farce and it bores me. I am aware that an old lady is being murdered downstairs, but I am going to sleep.' That there is any such duty to improve the things we did not make is a thing unproved and unprovable.
  3. All sane men believe that there is such a thing as a self, or ego, which is continuous. There is no inch of my brain matter the same as it was ten years ago. But if I have saved a man in battle ten years ago, I am proud; if I have run away, I am ashamed. That there is such a para-mount 'I' is unproved and unprovable. But it is more than unproved and unprovable; it is definitely disputed by many metaphysicians.
  4. Lastly, most sane men believe, and all sane men in practice assume, that they have a power of choice and responsibility for action.

These axioms may themselves be challenged — and I have already suggested that in a certain sense most of us are actually in a dream much of the time — but they are at least a plausible collection of axiomatic thoughts, on which not only our ordinary lives depend, but also even the efforts of philosophers. And none of them can be proved.

So our premises are, much of the time, unprovable (except by recourse to yet other premises just as questionable), and any arguments we pro-pose to ourselves will always need additional help if they are to convince all regions of our wandering and inchoate souls. It follows that we need to explore other ways of getting at and keeping to the truth as well as those we think are 'rational'. Just so ordinary dreamers may suddenly, in their dreaming, be convinced that 'this is all a dream', without being able to point to any particular episode or property as proof: the 'proof' lies in their waking. Things that a moment ago seemed obvious will suddenly seem ridiculous — and of course this is how we may think about those such subjects'.4 And again: 'under the name of drunkenness was signified that covetousness and greediness, which has often greatly injured many persons'.

Or consider a related metaphor as used by a modern author:

The moral collapse of Vietnam was scarcely caused by an overdose of objective consciousness about what we were doing. It consisted of the failure to expand consciousness beyond mere instrumental tasks to the practical and banal significance of our national goals and policies. We kept the war going in Vietnam because our consciousness was mystified by symbols of patriotism, dreams of glory, unyielding pride, and visions of empire. In mood we were exactly what the counter-culture people want us to become. We imagined we were menaced by slant-eyed devils and worthless little yellow men; we enthralled ourselves with visions of our own ineffable majesty. In short, we were stoned.'

There is something to be said for a calm reason, and 'drunkenness' will usually stand for self-serving delusions of the sort that we ought to resist, and wake up from. A similar story could be told, and often has been told, about late-antique philosophy, and late-antique society, as a drunken withdrawal from everyday reality, a 'loss of nerve'.

Third-century Rome was full of magicians, occultists and astrolo-gers. Plotinus was cautiously ready to accept that magic might have some effects and even the stars offer counsel: those were, after all, the received opinions of his day, and he was ready to accept that common opinion had some authority/ If magic worked and the stars perhaps could be interpreted it was because the universe was multiply inter-connected: what happens in one place is reflected in another. But he was sure that the stars did not cause disasters, even if they perhaps predicted them, any more than the birds that other diviners claimed to understand. He also thought that there were clearer and more manageable causes of all ordinary effects than the occult. Witness the scorn with which he speaks of exorcists:

When they say they free themselves from diseases, if they meant they did so by temperance and orderly living, they would speak well; but in fact they assume that the diseases are evil spirits, and claim to be able to drive them out by their word; by this claim they might make themselves more impressive in the eyes of the masses, who wonder at the power of magicians, but would not persuade sensible people

that diseases do not have their origin in strain or excess or deficiency or decay, and in general in changes which have their origin outside or inside. The cures of diseases make this clear too. With a vigorous motion of the bowels or the giving of a drug the illness goes through the downward passage and out, and it goes out too with bloodletting; and fasting also heals. Does the evil spirit starve, and does the drug make it waste away? ... If it came into the man without any cause of disease, why is he not always ill? But if there was a cause, what need is there of the spirit to produce the illness? For the cause is sufficient by itself to produce the fever.

According to Porphyry, when he was invited to visit `the temples at the New Moon and the feasts of the gods', he responded that 'they ought to come to me, not I to them', probably because we should not expect the gods to answer us so easily. 'People must not demand to be well-off who have not done anything that deserved well-being'." And again: 'the law says that those who fight bravely, not those who pray, are to come safe out of wars; for, in just the same way, it is not those who pray but those who look after their land who are to get in a harvest, and those who do not look after their health are not to be healthy; and we are not to be vexed if the bad get larger harvests, or if their farming generally goes better'." He did sacrifice and entertain his friends 'on the traditional birthdays of Plato and Socrates', but not with any expectation of reward. According to Porphyry," he shrugged off a supposed magical assault (astrobolesai auton mageusas epexeirêsen) by a rival teacher (and the spell rebounded on its perpetrator), but the only charms and countercharms that Plotinus himself mentions" are arguments, designed to disenchant us, and to 'charm away' our fears. Admittedly, he did once attend a séance intended to reveal his guardian daemon - and startled everyone when this turned out to be a god." And Porphyry found it significant that it was 'as a snake crept under the bed on which he was lying and disappeared into a hole in the wall, [that] he breathed his last'. Some 'uncanny' things happened around him - including his insight into human character (not only Porphyry's): 'he was in the habit of foretelling how each of the children who lived with him would turn out'. But all this is part of Porphyry's hagiography, rather than Plotinus' own text.

In short, Plotinus was - by the standards of many centuries - a very hardheaded and naturalistic philosopher: the world he inhabited was the common world, and he expected it to work by natural law, without regard to any moral or mystical ideals. The natural world, by his account,

is neutral, 'for the wicked draw water from the streams and that which gives does not know itself to what it gives, but only gives'. Even those philosophers who turned to theurgy did not suppose the gods could be compelled, and their worlds were not as bizarre as later scorn suggests. There are at least analogies between the Neoplatonic universe and the one revealed or posited by science, and maybe modern scientists owe more than they will usually admit to the Renaissance of this ancient wisdom. It is true that Plotinus's astronomical problems, for example, are not ours: how is it that the stars and planets circle the earth forever, and are they compounded of all the elements or only fire?' But in his rejection of the fifth Aristotelian element, the ether, he laid down that the heavens are moved according to the same laws as the earth.

He was also hard-headed in the ancient style about the ills of mortal life. It was up to us, 'like great, trained fighters' to stand up to the blows of fortune, and not take our falls too seriously. Bullies will get their karmic reward, and those whom they bully should deal with them:

If some boys, who have kept their bodies in good training, but are inferior in soul to their bodily condition because of lack of education, win a wrestle with others who are trained neither in body or soul and grab their food and their dainty clothes, would the affair be anything but a joke? Or would it not be right for even the law-giver to allow them to suffer this as a penalty for their laziness and luxury? ... Those who do these things are punished, first by being wolves and ill-fated men. ... But the wicked rule by the cowardice of the ruled; for this is just, and the opposite is not.

The ideals that now inspire or afflict us, of a world where all are equally respected and disasters never happen (or else, if they do, someone else must be blamed for them), were certainly not Plotinus' ideals.. Cities, like the world itself, need all sorts and ranks of creatures.' It would be silly if one of lower rank at court should insist that he was the king's equal merely because they were both dependent on the One, for the courtier is also dependent on the king.22 It is silly not to acknowledge that there will be villains, and also victims. Third-century Rome (and most of the world in most other centuries) was full of troubles, and anyone who devoted himself entirely to the hope of worldly or bodily success was bound to be disappointed. Like other philosophers Plotinus preferred to find his happiness in something more clearly in his control: 'All our toil and trouble is for this, not to be left without a share in the best of visions. ... A man has not failed if he fails to win beauty of colours or bodies, or power or office or kingship even, but if he fails to win this and only this'. The vision in question was of beauty, or - to put it differently - a vision purged of merely egoistic or sensual distractions.

By this account Plotinus was a sensible, hard-headed - and possibly hard-hearted - philosopher of the rationalist kind, more sensible than his age, or some of his successors. The universe 'completes its course periodically according to everlastingly fixed rational principles, and everlastingly returns to the same state, period by period',24 and the best that we can do is play the part assigned to us, and appreciate the ordered cosmos. 'We should be spectators of murders, and all deaths, and takings and sacking of cities, as if they were on the stages of thea-tres'. Such things are no more than children's games: 'one must not take weeping and lamenting as evidence of the presence of evils, for children, too, weep and wail over things that are not evils'.  The whole is beautiful, or as beautiful as it could be, despite or even because of its evil-seeming parts, 'just as the public executioner, who is a scoundrel, does not make his well-governed city worse'.

But even on this account there is something somewhat 'uncanny' about the Plotinian world. After all, the little world that each of us inhabits and sustains is not usually much influenced by the thought of astronomical and cosmic cycles. We are all more moved by ordinary desires, fears and enmities of a sort that Plotinus would have us purge away. We are each convinced - at least until philosophy enlightens us - that our world, our opinions, our desires are rationally right, without need of argument. Even those who profess to live by reason are often startlingly obtuse - witness those scientists who bitterly complain of 'political interference' when the goals or methods of their research are challenged, as though it were 'obvious' that their goals are good ones, their techniques to be judged only for their 'efficiency', and their projects to be funded without question at public expense. Plotinus admitted the real possibility of exceptional inspiration. That Minos brought the laws down from his colloquy with Zeus may be a historical claim, but it is expressly also an allegorical one. But few of us have any real claim to be Minos. Plotinus describes how, in the absence of such inspiration, an Assembly can move to a correct or more correct decision,29 by consensus - but this possibility rests on the uncomfortable condition that each of us can bring herself to the thought that she was mistaken!

It is easy to insist that of course we all know that. We know that we make mistakes in petty arithmetic, or grammar, or pub quizzes. We even sometimes acknowledge that we make mistakes of judgement, in our assumptions about other people (though such errors are, of course, their fault). But it is not quite so easy to escape, and perhaps there is a sort of 'sober drunkenness', appropriate to our seeing the divine realities," quite unlike our ordinary convictions. And this too has Philo of Alexandria's blessing:

If then, my soul, a yearning comes upon you to inherit the divine goods, abandon not only your land, that is, the body; your kinsfolk, that is, the senses; your father's house, that is, speech, but escape also your own self and stand aside from yourself, like persons possessed and corybants seized by Bacchic frenzy and carried away by some kind of prophetic inspiration.

Does this seem too distant from our everyday concerns, and even (or especially) from our concerns as 'scholars and philosophers'? Are we advised to look towards something wholly other than mundane realities, enjoying a moment's release from this world here, and seeing - as ordinary drunkards see - another world entirely? Allegorically, it is to be 'drunk with the nectar' that existed before wine was invented: it is intellect, as it were, 'enthused', and making a real assent. The higher condition, Plotinus says elsewhere, is 'as if carried away or possessed by a god, in a quiet solitude and a state of calm, not turning away anywhere in his being and not busy about himself, altogether at rest and having become a kind of rest. He had no thought of beauties but had already run up beyond beauty and gone beyond the choir of virtues, like a man who enters into the sanctuary and leaves behind the statues in the outer shrine. ... They are secondary objects of contemplation. But that other, perhaps, was not a contemplation but another kind of seeing, a being out of oneself (ekstasis) and simplifying and giving oneself over and pressing towards contact and rest and a sustained thought leading to adaptation (perinoesis pros epharmogen), if one is going to contemplate what is in the sanctuary'. Armstrong in his note on this last passage, objected to the term 'ecstasy', as giving a 'very misleading impression of this austere and quiet mysticism'. But perhaps Plotinus was not always so austere. The condition he craves is that of 'the self glorified, full of intelligible light - but rather itself pure light - weightless, floating free, having become - but rather being - a god; set on fire then, but the fire seems to go out, if one is weighed down again' (ei de palin barunoito).'s

This may well seem far beyond our capabilities or interests: philosophers have Plato's word for it, and Aristotle's, that the point of philosophy is to become a god, or as like a god as possible,' but we don't pay much attention to this extravagance, any more than we attend to fantasies about living statues or attempts to manifest a daemon. We may, of course, be mistaken. But before dismissing late antique epistemology and ontology as too bizarre for words, it might be as well to notice that it is closer to common sense and everyday experience than many other philosophies now judged respectable.

Epicureans and Buddhists, for example, hold that we have no single self, that each of us is a bundle or collection of soul-bits that will dissipate as they lose their grip on our bodies. Stoics suppose, contrariwise, that whatever it is we think we think and do is only what the cosmos itself is doing, that there are no separate individuals, that wisdom lies in realizing this. These doctrines do have arguments in their favour, and there are techniques for recalling or briefly convincing ourselves of our own non-existence, but it's easy to see that Chesterton was right, that all ordinarily sane persons consider that they are individuals, responsible for their own acts and thoughts. It is axiomatic for all materialist philosophers that the only causally powerful entities are bodies, endowed by nature merely with 'primary qualities' like size, shape and motion, and that the other 'secondary qualities' with which we paint the world (colour, scent and sound) are only, somehow, causally related to the primary (we have no idea how). More consistent materialists even seek to eliminate those qualia, suggesting that they are illusions, quirks of language, and that there are no conscious selves at all, no qualia and no intentions, any more than planetary angels. Once again, there are arguments, of a sort, even for these wild conclusions, and it may be possible to invent new ways of talking and thinking that will not rely on feeling or thinking that we think or feel. But even those brave materialists admit that this is difficult! It may even be absurd to suggest that we could try to realize, and live by, doctrines of this sort. One other oddity is that many moderns will deny that there are real moral truths, but insist that we ought to admit this truth.

By contrast, the late-antique philosophers, who were mostly Platonists of one degree or another, will seem models of common sense, despite their acceptance of theurgy, astrology or magic. They accepted soul's existence, and the possibility of changed perspectives, and moral discipline. They also realized that our ordinary human worlds, the reality we inhabit, are full of signs and ghostly memories, as well as fascinating beauties. Each of us is a microcosm (that is, the world as it is presented to each of us is a microcosm), and we believe - without final or conclusive proof - that the microcosm mirrors the macrocosm, the cosmos. Less often than we casually suppose, some item in our virtual universe begins to speak as an outsider, embodying some real Other, an envoy from the Real World that underpins our virtual universe.

When we look outside that on which we depend we do not know that we are one, like faces which are many on the outside but have one head inside. But if someone is able to turn around, either by himself or having the good luck to have his hair pulled by Athena herself, he will see God and himself and the all. ... He will stop marking himself off from all being and will come to all the All with-out going out anywhere.

The reference is to an episode in Homer's Iliad (1.1970, in which Athena (the goddess of good sense) recalls Achilles from a murderous rage. Paradoxically, recognizing that there is a real Other is also to awaken in ourselves a recognition of a higher unity, the world on which we depend. Reality is to be conceived 'as a richly varied sphere, or ... as a thing all faces, shining with living faces'. Or rather, as he immediately adds, one must not merely see that `from the outside, but one must become that, and make oneself the contemplation'.

This sudden alteration in our way of seeing involves a turn away from the merely sensory - and some have concluded that Plotinian introspection is a retreat from what is real. I hope it is already clear that this is simply false. The world as we see or hear it is private and delusional in a way that we can only escape by intellectual awakening: `the fool on the hill sees the sun coming up, and the eyes in his head' - that is, the eye of reason - `see the world spinning round'. The real world has many copies, many virtual representations, but there must be, on pain of eternal scepticism, some cognitive state that meets reality directly. Those moments, as they are for us, are ones in which the Real is directly experienced, not merely argued to. An analogy may help: most of us can see at once that there are five or six items in a group. For most larger numbers we need to count the items, or at best to convert them - in our mind's eye - into groups of groups. But there are others who can See at a glance' that there are so and so many. The moment when the Other becomes real, and we are elevated to an intellectual insight, is likely to be only momentary: 'It is as if people who slept through their life thought the things in their dreams were reliable and obvious, but, if someone woke them up, disbelieved in what they saw with their eyes open and went to sleep again'.

We live, as a rule, among phantoms. `The things which one thinks are most real, are least real'.  So what, on his account, is real? What is it to be real? Plotinus' answer is that beauty is reality, or that what is beautiful is what is real. `They exist and appear to us and he who sees them cannot possibly say anything else except that they are what really exists. What does `really exist' mean? That they exist as beauties'. Or rather, beautifulness is reality'. `For this reason being is longed for because it is the same as beauty, and beauty is lovable because it is being'.'

`Often I have woken up out of the body [that is, out of what seems to be] to my self', he says, `and have entered into myself, going out from all other things; I have seen a beauty wonderfully great and felt assurance that then most of all I belonged to the better part'. These moments of truth are not to be dismissed for being rare or idiosyncratic: that is, if they are really true, exactly what we should expect. Is this to dismiss common opinion, to adopt a really bizarre idea? Perhaps, but it is worth recalling what common opinion it was that Plotinus invoked: `all men are naturally and spontaneously moved to speak of the god who is in each one of us one and the same'.'

Plotinus recognized truths which we, whether we will or not, must call revelations, which are entirely strange to the modern consciousness and even excite the highest degree of indignation. And now the main point: when Plotinus had to decide between `revealed' and `natural' truths, he unhesitatingly took the side of the former; ha gar hegeitai tis einai malista, tauta malista ouk esti (V, v, 11) (that which appears most real to common consciousness has the least existence).

Strange to the modern consciousness, perhaps (if by that is meant the modern ideology), but not all that unfamiliar. It isn't that we never have such experiences, but that we don't remember or acknowledge them - and so don't get their benefit.

I have concentrated, in these concluding remarks, on Plotinus and the Neoplatonists. Other philosophers, including some Neoplatonists, made more use of public ritual or even private magic. Others expressed their doctrines in more systematic and abstract ways. Some even hoped, per-haps, to reinvigorate the Old Religion as a mystical path for individuals as well as a social order for cities, tribes and the empire. Their doctrines and their efforts had an influence on Christian, Jewish and Islamic thought, for centuries, and have been repeatedly rediscovered, in the Renaissance, by the Romantics, and in our own time by physicists and self-professed neo-pagans. Reading their texts demands more of us than scholarship (but not less): they are explorers' notes to a reality, and - sometimes at least - they are spiritual exercises intended to change our way of seeing and feeling, ways of bringing `the god in us back to the god in the all'.


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