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Near the end of the dialogue Socrates finally explains why he, alone among the Athenians, is essential to the realization of Alcibiades' political ambitions.

25) Plotinus & Neo-Platonism

Socrates proposes to provide the mirror within which Alcibiades may know himself. Alcibiades' soul is like an eye: it sees, but cannot see itself. It is only by seeing its reflection in another's eye -- and in particular in the pupil of the eye -- that it can see itself. Socrates advises him to look to another soul in order to gain self-knowledge, and in particular to look to the region of another's soul in which wisdom exists. This seat of wisdom in the soul resembles god and so, looking to it, Alcibiades will come to understand all that is divine and so will best know himself Alc.

Since knowledge of the self was previously agreed to be temperance or self-control Alc. Charmides , he will acquire this virtue. Accordingly, he will know what things pertain to what is really him i. The dialogue ends with a reversal of roles cf. Alcibiades will now be the one who pursues Socrates. One response to the abundance of allusions to Platonic themes in the Alcibiades is to regard it with suspicion. Thus Paul Shorey wrote:. If we attribute it to Plato we have to assume the improbability that he thought it worthwhile to elaborate a tedious, if scholastically convenient, summary of a long series of ideas and points that are better and more interestingly expressed in other dialogues.

The other response is to regard it as the perfect introduction to Plato. This was the judgement of antiquity from at least the second century of the common era. In the introduction to volume 1 Griffin notes that the Platonist Albinus of Smyrna was the first person we know of to suggest that the Alcibiades should be the starting point of Platonic education Introductio in Platonem , Teubner. The most important figure in the subsequent history of commentaries on the Alcibiades , however, was Iamblichus c.

Crucially for the commentary tradition, the teaching of Plato's philosophy was not thought to aim simply at making people aware of the contents of his dialogues or even at an understanding Plato's philosophy. Rather, progress through the works of Plato was thought to be correlated with a moral advancement through different gradations of the four cardinal virtues wisdom, courage, self-control and justice. In reading Plato's works with the leader of the school, the student does not merely become well-read in Plato but achieves the telos or goal of living: assimilation to the divine.

The Platonic commentaries written by the Neoplatonists have their origins in this teaching activity. Accordingly they are best seen not as dry scholasticism, but as the last remaining clues about a philosophical way of life centred on spiritual transformation through the engagement with the works of Plato and Aristotle among others. They are our windows into predominantly pagan textual communities that were extinguished in the Christianisation of the late Roman Empire.

Iamblichus' decision to place the Alcibiades at the beginning of the study of Plato, together with the manner in which the Neoplatonists taught, meant that many Platonists produced commentaries on this work. The commentaries of Iamblichus and Damascius we know only by report. But in addition to the commentary of Olympiodorus, we still have first part of a commentary by Proclus CE. While the text of Plato's dialogue occupies aa in the standard Stephanus pagination, Proclus' commentary stops abruptly at b.

Iamblichus’ Response to Aristotle’s and Pseudo-Archytas’ Theories of Time

We know that there was more, since Olympiodorus discusses parts of Proclus' commentary and we can glean some idea of how he continued from the work that Griffin translates in these two volumes. Damacius' Alcibiades commentary we know only indirectly through Olympiodorus. This means that our text derives from notes taken by an auditor of Olympiodorus' lectures. The classroom context is evident from the division of the text into 28 lectures. Within most lectures we are first presented with an overall discussion of a segment of Plato's text followed by more detailed remarks on specific points in the text.

A line of text that is quoted for discussion is called a lemma and the lemmata from the Neoplatonic commentaries often provide evidence of alternative versions of the text that were once in circulation. So much then for background information on the Alcibiades and the commentary tradition on it. Let us now turn to a description and evaluation of Griffin's introduction to, and translation of, Olympiodorus' commentary. Volume 1 opens with an introduction that is longer than usual for the books in this series 66 pages. As is standard for the Ancient Commentators volumes, departures from the Greek text of the edition that is being translated are then noted.

Griffin regards the text produced by Westerink as very good and proposes few departures.

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Volume 1 then translates an account of the life of Plato that is prefaced to Olympiodorus' commentary proper. Following this we have nine lectures that take us up to Alcibiades d. The ratio of notes to translation is about average for the series with 58 pages of endnotes on 90 pages of translation. Neoplatonic texts are replete with technical terminology and, as usual, there is an index to page and line numbers where these terms occur.

For those who do not read Greek, there is the series' standard English to Greek glossary. Griffin's introduction to volume 1 is wide-ranging. It begins with an introduction to Olympiodorus and the teaching context in Alexandria. Griffin enters into the debate about the extent to which Olympiodorus' teaching and philosophical views softened the unapologetically pagan character of his predecessors' Platonism.

The Platonic school in Alexandria continued to exist after the closure of its sister institution in Athens in by Christian authorities. In his lectures he often tells his Christian students how they may interpret, for instance, references to the traditional Hellenic gods symbolically so as to make Plato's text consistent with their religious commitments.

Griffin agrees with Harold Tarrant that Olympiodorus' alleged 'extreme pliability' is not simply a response to being a lone pagan philosopher in an increasingly Christian city. Plotinus was faced with the task of defending the true Platonic philosophy, as he understood it, against the inroads being made, in his time, most of all by Gnostics, but also by orthodox Christianity.

Instead of launching an all-out attack on these new ideas, Plotinus took what was best from them, in his eyes, and brought these ideas into concert with his own brand of Platonism. For this reason, we are sometimes surprised to see Plotinus, in one treatise, speaking of the cosmos as a realm of forgetfulness and error, while in another, speaking of the cosmos as the most perfect expression of the godhead.

Once we realize the extent to which certain Gnostic sects went in order to brand this world as a product of an evil and malignant Demiurge, to whom we owe absolutely no allegiance, it becomes clear that Plotinus was simply trying to temper the extreme form of an idea which he himself shared, though in a less radical sense. The feeling of being thrown into a hostile and alien world is a philosophically valid position from which to begin a critique and investigation of human existence; indeed, modern existentialist philosophers have often started from this same premise.

The Soul, as Plotinus understands it, is an essentially creative being, and one which understands existence on its own terms. One of the beauties of Plotinus' system is that everything he says concerning the nature of the Cosmos spiritual and physical can equally be held of the Soul. Now while it would be false to charge Plotinus with solipsism or even narcissism, as one prominent commentator has done; cf. Julia Kristeva in Hadot , p. The form of Plotinus' system is the very form by which the Soul naturally comes to know itself in relation to its acts; and the expression of the Soul will always, therefore, be a philosophical expression.

When we speak of the Plotinian synthesis, then, what we are speaking of is a natural dialectic of the Soul, which takes its own expressions into account, no matter how faulty or incomplete they may appear in retrospect, and weaves them into a cosmic tapestry of noetic images. Porphyry of Tyre ca.

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In addition to writing an introductory summary of his master's theories the treatise entitled Launching-Points to the Realm of Mind , Porphyry also composed the famous Isagoge , an introduction to the Categories of Aristotle, which came to exercise an immense influence on Mediaeval Scholasticism. The extent of Porphyry's investigative interests exceeded that of his teacher, and his so-called "scientific" works, which survive to this day, include a treatise on music On Prosody , and two studies of the astronomical and astrological theories of Claudius Ptolemy ca.

He wrote biographies of Pythagoras and Plotinus, and edited and compiled the latter's essays into six books, each containing nine treatises, giving them the title Enneads. Unlike Plotinus, Porphyry was interested primarily in the practical aspect of salvific striving, and the manner in which the soul could most effectively bring about its transference to ever higher realms of existence.

This doctrine may owe its genesis to Porphyry's supposed early adherence to Christianity, as attested by the historian Socrates, and suggested by St. Augustine cf. Copleston , p. If Porphyry had, at some point, been a Christian, this would account for his belief in the soul's objective relation to the divine Mind -- an idea shared by Origen, whom Porphyry knew as a youth cf.

Eusebius, The History of the Church , p. Iamblichus of Apamea d. In this regard, Iamblichus can be said to have either severely misunderstood, or neglected to even attempt to understand, Plotinus on the important doctrine of contemplation see above. This view led Iamblichus to posit a Supreme One even higher than the One of Plotinus, which generates the Intellectual Cosmos, and yet remains beyond all predication and determinacy.

Iamblichus also made a tripartite division of Soul, positing a cosmic or All-Soul, and two lesser souls, corresponding to the rational and irrational faculties, respectively. This somewhat gratuitous skewing of the Plotinian noetic realm also led Iamblichus to posit an array of intermediate spiritual beings between the lower souls and the intelligible realm -- daemons , the souls of heroes, and angels of all sorts. By placing so much distance between the earthly soul and the intelligible realm, Iamblichus made it difficult for the would-be philosopher to gain an intuitive knowledge of the higher Soul, although he insisted that everyone possesses such knowledge, coupled with an innate desire for the Good.

In place of the vivid dialectic of Plotinus, Iamblichus established the practice of theurgy theourgia , which he insists does not draw the gods down to man, but rather renders humankind, "who through generation are born subject to passion, pure and unchangeable" On the Mysteries I. Whereas "likeness to God" had meant, for Plotinus, a recollection and perfection of one's own divine nature which is, in the last analysis, identical to nous ; cf. Porphyry, Life of Plotinus 10 -- returns to philosophy with a vengeance.

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Iamblichus is best known for his lengthy treatise On the Mysteries. Like Porphyry, he also wrote a biography of Pythagoras. In his introduction to the philosophy of Plotinus, entitled Launching-Points to the Realm of Mind , Porphyry remarks that the inclination of the incorporeal Soul toward corporeality "constitutes a second nature [the irrational soul], which unites with the body" Launching-Points 18 [1].

This remark is supposedly a commentary on Ennead IV.

Oh no, there's been an error

While it is true that Plotinus often speaks of the individual soul as being independent of the highest Soul, he does this for illustrative purposes, in order to show how far into forgetfulness the soul that has become enamored of its act may fall. Yet Plotinus insists time and again that the individual soul and the All-Soul are one cf. Furthermore, the individual soul, which comes to unite with corporeality, governs and controls the body, making possible discursive knowledge as well as sense-perception. So what led Porphyry to make such an interpretative error, if error it was?

It is quite possible that Porphyry had arrived at his own conclusions about the Soul, and tried to square his own theory with what Plotinus actually taught. One clue to the reason for the 'misunderstanding' may possibly lie in Porphyry's early involvement with Christianity. While Porphyry himself never tells us that he had been a Christian, Augustine speaks of him as if he were an apostate, and the historian Socrates states outright that Porphyry had once been of the Christian faith, telling us that he left the fold in disgust after being assaulted by a rowdy band of Christians in Caesarea Copleston , p.

In any case, it is certain that he was acquainted with Plotinus' older contemporary, the Christian Origen, and that he had been exposed to Christian doctrine. Indeed, his own spirited attack on Christianity "Fifteen Arguments Against the Christians," now preserved only in fragments shows him to have possessed a wide knowledge of Holy Scripture, remarkable for a 'pagan' philosopher of that era. Porphyry's exposure to Christian doctrine, then, would have left him with a view of salvation quite different from that of Plotinus, who seems never to have paid Christianity much mind.

The best evidence we have for this explanation is Porphyry's own theory of salvation -- and it is remarkably similar to what we find in Origen! Porphyry's salvation theory is dependent, like Origen's, on a notion of the soul's objective relation to God, and its consequent striving, not to actualize its own divine potentiality, but to attain a level of virtue that makes it capable of partaking fully of the divine essence.

This is accomplished through the exercise of virtue, which sets the soul on a gradual course of progress toward the highest Good. Porphyry, Letter to Marcella Note that Porphyry stops the soul's ascent at nous , and presumably holds that the 'saved' soul will eternally contemplate the infinite power of the One. If Porphyry's concern had been with the preservation of personality, then this explanation makes some sense. However, it is more likely that the true reason for Porphyry's rejection of the radically 'hubristic' theory at least to pietistic pagans of the nature of the individual soul held by Plotinus was a result of his intention to restore dignity to the traditional religion of the Greeks which had come under attack not only by Plotinus, but by Christians as well.

Evidence of such a program resides in Porphyry's allegorical interpretations of Homer and traditional cultic practice, as well as his possibly apologetic work on Philosophy from Oracles now lost. Compared to Plotinus, then, Porphyry was quite the conservative, concerned as he was with maintaining the ancient view of humankind's relatively humble position in the cosmic hierarchy, over against Plotinus' view that the soul is a god, owing little more than a passing nod to its 'noble brethren' in the heavens.

One of the results of Porphyry's conservative position toward traditional religious practice and belief was the 'return' to the doctrine that the stars and planets are capable of affecting and ordering human life. Plotinus argued that since the individual soul is one with the All-Soul, it is in essence a co-creator of the Cosmos, and therefore not really subject to the laws governing the Cosmos -- for the soul is the source and agent of those laws!

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  • Therefore, a belief in astrology was, for Plotinus, absurd, since if the soul turned to beings dependent upon its own law -- i. Furthermore, as we have seen, Plotinian salvation was instantly available to the soul, if only it would turn its mind to "essential being" see above ; because of this, Plotinus saw no reason to bring the stars and planets into the picture.

    For Porphyry, however, who believed that the soul must gradually work toward salvation, a knowledge of the operations of the heavenly bodies and their relation to humankind would have been an important tool in gaining ever higher levels of virtue.

    In fact, Porphyry seems to have held the view that the soul receives certain "powers" from each of the planets -- right judgment from Saturn, proper exercise of the will from Jupiter, impulse from Mars, opinion and imagination from the Sun, and what else? Hegel, p. This theoretical knowledge of the powers of the planets, then, would have made the more practical knowledge of astrology quite useful and meaningful for an individual soul seeking to know itself as such.

    The usefulness of astrology for Porphyry, in this regard, probably resided in its ability to permit an individual, through an analysis of his birth chart, to know which planet -- and therefore which "power" -- exercised the dominant influence on his life. The art of astrology, it must be remembered, was in wide practice in the Hellenistic world, and Plotinus' rejection of it was an exception that was by no means the rule.

    Plotinus' views on astrology apparently found few adherents, even among Platonists, for we see not only Porphyry, but also to an extent Iamblichus and even Proclus declaring its value -- the latter being responsible for a paraphrase of Claudius Ptolemy's astrological compendium known as the Tetrabiblos or sometimes simply as The Astronomy.

    In addition to penning a commentary on Ptolemy's tome, Porphyry also wrote his own Introduction to Astronomy by which is apparently meant "Astrology," the modern distinction not holding in Hellenistic times. Unfortunately, this work no longer survives intact. The philosophy of Plotinus was highly discursive, meaning that it operated on the assumption that the highest meaning, the most profound truth even a so-called mystical truth is translatable, necessarily, into language; and furthermore, that any and every experience only attains its full value as meaning when it has reached expression in the form of language.

    This idea, of course, placed the One always beyond the discursive understanding of the human soul, since the One was proclaimed, by Plotinus, to be not only beyond discursive knowledge, but also the very source and possibility of such knowledge. According to Plotinus, then, any time the individual soul expresses a certain truth in language, this very act is representative of the power of the One.

    This notion of the simultaneous intimate proximity of the One to the soul, and, paradoxically, its extreme transcendence and ineffability, is possible only within the confines of a purely subjective and introspective philosophy like that of Plotinus; and since such a philosophy, by its very nature, cannot appeal to common, external perceptions, it is destined to remain the sole provenance of the sensitive and enlightened few. Porphyry did not want to admit this, and so he found himself seeking, as St. Augustine tells us, "a universal way universalem viam for the liberation of the soul" City of God This did not imply, for Porphyry, a wholesale rejection of the Plotinian dialectic in favor of a more esoteric process of salvation; but it did lead Porphyry see above to look to astrology as a means of orienting the soul toward its place in the cosmos, and thereby allowing it to achieve the desired salvation in the most efficacious manner possible.

    Iamblichus, on the other hand, rejected even Porphyry's approach, in favor of a path toward the divinity that is more worthy of priests hieratikoi than philosophers; for Iamblichus believed that not only the One, but all the gods and demi-gods, exceed and transcend the individual soul, making it necessary for the soul seeking salvation to call upon the superior beings to aid it in its progress.

    This is accomplished, Iamblichus tells us, by "the perfective operation of unspeakable acts erga correctly performed These ritualistic acts, and the 'logic' underlying them, Iamblichus terms "theurgy" theourgia. These theurgic acts are necessary, for Iamblichus, because he is convinced that philosophy, which is based solely upon thought ennoia -- and thought, we must remember, is always an accomplishment of the individual mind, and hence discursive -- is unable to reach that which is beyond thought.

    The practice of theurgy, then, becomes a way for the soul to experience the presence of the divinity, instead of merely thinking or conceptualizing the godhead. Porphyry took issue with this view, in his Letter to Anebo , which is really a criticism of the ideas of his pupil, Iamblichus, where he stated that, since theurgy is a physical process, it cannot possibly translate into a spiritual effect.

    Iamblichus' On the Mysteries was written as a reply to Porphyry's criticisms, but the defense of the pupil did not succeed in vanquishing the persistent attacks of the master. While both Porphyry and Iamblichus recognized, to a lesser and greater extent, respectively, the limitations of the Plotinian dialectic, Porphyry held firm to the idea that since the divinity is immaterial it can only be grasped in a noetic fashion -- i.

    On the Mysteries I. According to the schema of Plotinian dialectic, the 'stance' of the individual soul is the sole source of truth certainty, being a judging faculty dependent always upon the higher Soul. From the perspective of one who believes that the soul is immersed in Nature, instead of recognizing, as Plotinus did, the soul's status as an intimate governor of Nature which is the Soul's own act , dialectic may very well appear as a solipsistic and therefore faulty attempt on the part of an individual mind to know its reality by imposing conceptual structures and strictures upon the phenomena that constitute this reality.

    Iamblichus believed that since every individual soul is immersed in the 'bodily element,' no soul is capable of understanding the divine nature through the pure exercise of human reason -- for reason itself, at the level of the human soul-body composite, is tainted by the changeable nature of matter, and therefore incapable of rising to that perfect knowledge that is beyond all change cp. Plato, Phaedrus e. Dialectic, then, as the soul's attempt to know reality, is seen by Iamblichus as an attempt by an already fallen being to lead itself up out of the very locus of its own forgetfulness.

    Now Iamblichus does not completely reject dialectical reason; he simply requests that it be tempered by an appeal to intermediate divinities, who will aid the fallen soul in its ascent back towards the Supreme Good. Return to Book Page. The Concept of place in late Neoplatonism: texts with translation, introduction and notes by Shmuel Sambursky ,.

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