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The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity
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Contents


Page 1 of 2


  • 1 - The late Roman Empire from the Antonines to Constantine
    pp 13-24
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Late antique philosophy grew out of the mé'lange of cultures and traditions flourishing during the Augustan pax Romana. It took its quintessential attributes in the pressures besetting the late Roman Empire, and it quietly came to an end when the Mediterranean no longer linked but divided the shores it washed, becoming a barrier separating the Islamic Abbasids, the Byzantines and the Frankish empire. According to the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, when the long period of republican civil strife found its resolution in the principate of Augustus, 'old dissensions' and 'national' boundaries disappeared, and ideas then spread easily throughout an empire at peace. Eusebius was referring to Christianity, of course. Numenius, Apuleius' contemporary, even more vividly represents philosophical trends under the Antonines. The failure of the persecution to turn Romans against Christianity shifted power away from the group favouring sacrifice, and provided favourable conditions, not only for the rise of Constantine, but for the empire's acceptance of Christian rule.
  • 2 - The transmission of ancient wisdom: texts, doxographies, libraries
    pp 25-38
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The teaching of philosophy was built around the study of authoritative texts and creative philosophical activity started to take the form of exegesis. This stance had important precedents in the Stoics' attitude towards Zeno, and especially in the way Epicureans treated Epicurus' writings, but from that time onwards it became ever more prominent among Aristotelians and Platonists. Apart from the doxographical sections, the principal stratum of Diogenes' work is constituted by the biographical tradition. Much of the later doxographical material ultimately goes back to Aristotle's surveys, and to the works composed by his disciples, some of which were specifically aimed at a methodical presentation of earlier views in various fields. In Damascius' interpretation, Eudemus' collection is evidence for the agreement of archaic sages and thus transmits elements of the same ancient wisdom that can be recovered by an inspired but also philologically attentive reading of Plato's authoritative text.
  • 3 - Cicero and the New Academy
    pp 39-62
  • View abstract

    Summary

    If one follows the presentation that Cicero gives in Lucullus, which expresses the view of the New Academy, although it is not always possible for us to trace which exact sources Cicero is using with the requisite precision, the history of the Academy can be summarized. By identifying himself as someone whose philosophical position and development can be compared to that of Antiochus, Cicero ceases, at least for a few moments, to be the Roman who wishes merely to instruct his compatriots, and he treats the problem of the adherence to a particular philosophical doctrine as one which concerns him personally. This chapter addresses three difficulties Cicero faced in text Catulus or Academica Priora I and Lucullus or Academica Priora II for the first version; Libri Academici I, Academica Posteriora I, or Varro for the second version: the circumstances of composition, the role of the characters and the theses presented in the text, and the relation between gnoseology and doxography.
  • 4 - Platonism before Plotinus
    pp 63-99
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter deals with the development of Platonism from the late first century BCE to the end of the second century CE. The principal figures in rough chronological order, were Eudorus, Thrasyllus, anon. Commentary on the Theaetetus, Plutarch of Chaeronea, Theon, Taurus, Albinus, Nicostratus, Atticus, Severus, Harpocration, and Alcinous. The Platonism of the two to three centuries before Plotinus is traditionally known as 'Middle Platonism'. The writings of these Platonists fell into a variety of categories, one of which was the Platonic 'commentary'. The most important text for Platonism is the text of Plato himself. Some works had clearly remained quite well known throughout the Hellenistic period, including Timaeus, Phaedo and Republic. However, the Hellenistic scholar Aristophanes of Byzantium had arranged only fifteen works when he sought to shape the corpus, along dramatic lines, into trilogies. The Timaeus has always dominated any picture of Platonic physics.
  • 5 - The Second Sophistic
    pp 100-114
  • View abstract

    Summary

    According to Philostratus in his Vitae sophistarum, the Second Sophistic 'sketched the types of poor and rich men, princes and tyrants, and handled arguments in speeches for which history leads the way'. Thus Philostratus applies the term to a style of rhetorical performance, which, he writes, was invented by the fourth-century Athenian orator Aeschines. Generally the Second Sophistic is construed as a historical period ranging from 50 to 250 CE, roughly covering the time period when this rhetorical style was popular in nearly every part of the mid-Empire. Most of those authors familiar with Plato in the Second Sophistic looked to the philosopher as a literary model. In the early first century, Philo of Alexandria was responsible for adding essential support to the Christian incorporation of Plato: the ideological connection between Moses and Plato. The tradition of the Platonic rhetor would live on after the Second Sophistic in both Plotinus' Platonism and in the work of the Christian writers.
  • 6 - Numenius of Apamea
    pp 115-125
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Numenius of Apamea is a thinker whom we know only from the reports of later witnesses who were anything but dispassionate historians of philosophy. Pythagorean is the most common epithet for Numenius. From the first book On the Good, Eusebius transcribes an arresting simile, which may, as its position in the arrangement of des Places implies, have served as an exordium to the main argument. Numenius can be reconciled with Plato if his cosmogony is interpreted as the playful or symbolic exhibition of an evergreen paradox. Numenius may be an eccentric Platonist, but it would be more eccentric still to call him anything other than a Platonist. Numenius seems not to have anticipated the Later Platonic postulate of a First Cause higher than intellect and being, but his fusion of metaphysics and psychology shows that he, like Plotinus, regarded the deliverance of the soul from its worldly attachments and the purification of the mind from error as inseparable goals.
  • 7 - Stoicism
    pp 126-139
  • View abstract

    Summary

    This chapter focuses on Stoicism as it developed between the time of Antiochus and the third century CE. At the end of the Hellenistic era Stoicism could be and was seen in two quite different relationships to the two schools, Platonism and Aristotelianism, which would play the largest role in the development of later ancient philosophy. In the years after the closure of the central school at Athens, Stoicism of course lived on. from the second century BCE onwards Stoic philosophers intensified their interaction with Platonists and Aristotelians in a way that enriched the intellectual life of the school. Four philosophers deserve particular attention as indicators of the level and type of engagement with Stoicism in the period: Platonist Plutarch of Chaeronea, Alexander of Aphrodisias, philosophical doctor Galen, and Alcinous. Plutarch, Galen and Alexander take aim at Stoic doctrines and argue against Stoic opponents, both contemporary and historical, Alcinous is perhaps more representative of philosophical teachers in his day.
  • 8 - Peripatetics
    pp 140-160
  • View abstract

    Summary

    It has become increasingly clear that debates among Peripatetics in our period are significant not only as the background against which later Platonists were subsequently to read Aristotle's works, but also in highlighting issues in the interpretation of Aristotle for contemporary scholarship. Aristotle's immediate colleagues and successors in the Lyceum in the fourth and third centuries BCE were 'Peripatetics' in the sense that they contributed to and continued Aristotle's approach to inquiry, without accepting all of Aristotle's views or devoting attention equally to all the areas with which he himself was concerned. The new interest in Aristotle's esoteric works from Andronicus onwards was expressed in the form of debates about the details of their interpretation. It is only very recently in the history of Aristotelian studies that attention has focused on the zoological works and the type of reading adopted by Alexander has been challenged.
  • 9 - The Chaldaean Oracles
    pp 161-173
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The doctrines and rituals presented by the Oracles were vital to those who called themselves theurgists. These include cosmogonical, metaphysical and theological information, and instructions for rituals that would help the theurgists to learn more about the cosmos and the gods, and to purify their souls, eventually causing them to rise to the heavens. Philosophically, the doctrines are heavily indebted to Middle Platonism. The Chaldaean metaphysical hierarchy is a variation of the Middle-Platonic schema. It is necessary to consider a host of other, minor deities who, having a special role in magic and ritual, are placed within and are essential to the Chaldaean philosophical structure. These divinities include Eros, Iynges and the Connectors. In the ritual system of the theurgists once can see a determination to put into effect what were, for other Middle Platonists, philosophical concepts only to be thought about. The Oracles had a long life in Late Platonism.
  • 10 - Gnosticism
    pp 174-196
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Christian contact with the Sethian Gnostics must have occurred rather early, for by 125 CE one finds Basilides of Alexandria expounding a sophisticated and completely Christian Gnostic theological system. His younger contemporary, Valentinus, likewise developed a wholly Christian Gnostic theology, which reached a high level of sophistication in the work of his pupil Ptolemaeus. One of the first things to strike a reader of Gnostic literature is the vast number of metaphysical entities. One such is the Apocryphon of John that is an early example of what may be called classic Sethian Gnosticism. The Christian philosopher and earliest commentator on early Christian writings Basilides of Alexandria was, in the words of Hegel, 'one of the most distinguished Gnostics'. Ptolemy was described by St Irenaeus as 'the blossom of Valentinus' school'. The last mention of late-antique Gnosticism is to be found in a seventh-century Christian canon prohibiting certain sects, of which that of the Valentinians is mentioned by name.
  • 11 - Ptolemy
    pp 197-209
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Klaudios Ptolemaios, or Ptolemy, is known today mainly for his contributions to astronomy and astrology. According to Ptolemy, only the mathematician produces knowledge and attains a virtuous state. Ptolemy's extant corpus contains only one text that is devoid of mathematics: On the Kritērion and Hēgemonikon. In this short epistemological treatise, Ptolemy outlines his criterion of truth, examines the soul's relation to the body, and determines which parts of the body and soul are the commanding parts. Ptolemy gives his most detailed accounts of the human soul in On the Kritērion and Harmonics 3.5. In On the Kritērion, he describes three faculties of the soul: the faculty of thought, the faculty of sense perception and the faculty of impulse, which, in turn, consists of two parts: the appetitive and emotive. Ptolemy's ethical system is heavily influenced by Platonism, but it strays from the Platonic formulation of what knowledge is and how virtue is attained.
  • 12 - Galen
    pp 210-232
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Galen conceived of philosophy not as an intellectual exercise, but as a way of life; and this attitude was also in tune with the eclecticism of his times. In medicine and philosophy, Galen disavowed school allegiances, likening them to slavery; and while he adopts and adapts elements from the leading schools of the time, Stoic, Epicurean, Peripatetic and Platonist, he is no mere intellectual magpie, flitting randomly from one source to another. While philosophy and medicine are intimately linked, it would be a mistake to suppose that for him philosophy invariably plays a purely instrumental, subsidiary role. This chapter focuses on this complex and multi-faceted picture organized around Galen's attitude and contributions to the three canonical parts of the discipline. The three canonical branches of philosophy are logic, physics, and ethics. Galen also wrote numerous particular tracts on logical issues, as well as several volumes of commentary on Aristotle, the Stoics and others, none of which survive either.
  • 13 - Philo of Alexandria
    pp 235-257
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Even though the Church Fathers know him as Philo Judaeus, modern scholars generally refer to him as Philo of Alexandria, to distinguish him from various pagan Greek authors of the same name. Philo's bolder philosophical reformulations of Jewish religious tradition are partially veiled by a haze of studied ambiguity. Although the understanding of Judaism reflected in Philo's works is mediated through biblical exegesis, there is much in his exposition that radically revises the traditional meaning of that sacred text despite continuous efforts on his part to disguise this fact. A philosopher's theory of creation inevitably reflects his fundamental approach to the nature of the real and thus provides a crucial key for the unlocking of his world view. This chapter discusses two types of mosaic prophecy: ecstatic and noetic. A brief phenomenological comparison of some of the mystical motifs in Philo and the great Sufi theosophist Ibn 'Arabi allows one to appreciate the dimensions of Philo's strong mystical tendencies.
  • 14 - Justin Martyr
    pp 258-269
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Justin continued to present himself as a philosopher after his conversion to Christianity, and to see himself as engaged in a common pursuit with other philosophers. This is evident in the audacity of his addressing himself to the emperor and his adopted sons, Marcus Aurelius and Lucius, in the First Apology. There are only a few passages in Justin's works that contain a sustained discussion of philosophical topics. The most important of these is in the opening chapters of the Dialogue with Trypho where, after a brief initial discussion with Trypho about philosophy, Justin outlines his own philosophical education, and his encounter with 'an old man' who engages him in a dialogue about philosophy, a dialogue which is considerably more Socratic in tone than the Dialogue with Trypho itself. The Apologies contain discussions on fate and free will, and on the relationship between the teachings of philosophers such as Socrates and Christianity. The existence of God is axiomatic for Justin.
  • 15 - Clement of Alexandria
    pp 270-282
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Eusebius gives a list of Clement's works. Like the Platonists, Clement's Gnostic studies philosophy in order, starting with ethics, then physics, then theology or metaphysics. Clement's position as catechist in Alexandria and his association with precursors of Plotinus such as Origen and Ammonius Saccas hint at the possibility that Plotinus and post-Plotinian Platonists took inspiration from the Christian School at Alexandria started by Pantaenus. Clement's true 'Christian Gnostic' who, by initiation into the great mysteries, achieves total unification with the Divine, already anticipates Plotinus. Arguably, Clement's most important work is his epistemological inquiry into the roles of faith and intellectual knowledge in the ideal human life. Clement's account of soul looks remarkably Aristotelian. Clement's reflections on the place of philosophy in human life, and in the search for truth, are fundamental. Clement develops a range of original and challenging lines of thought in his attempt to secure the dependence of Christian theology on intellectually respectable work in philosophy.
  • 16 - Origen
    pp 283-298
  • View abstract

    Summary

    From the evidence of Porphyry, drawn from Against the Christians and included by Eusebius immediately before Origen's letter, it is clear that his philosophy teacher was the Platonist Ammonius Saccas. Origen himself explained the relationship which should pertain between philosophy and Christianity in a letter to his disciple Gregory: just as geometry, music, grammar, rhetoric and astronomy are considered auxiliary to philosophy, so philosophy is an aid to Christianity. One of the positive effects of Origen's use of philosophy is that he has contributed to our knowledge of the writings and theories of earlier philosophers especially in the Contra Celsum. Hence, one can identify two basic philosophical worlds: Stoicism; and Platonism. In Origen's time Gnosticism opposed the revelation of a higher God to that of a lower, who speaks through Jewish Scripture. Two texts sum up the character of Origen's work, showing distinct degrees of his ongoing integration of theology and exegesis: On First Principles and the Commentary on John.
  • 17 - Plotinus
    pp 301-324
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Plotinus was assisted by Amelius and Porphyry in dealing with the criticisms of him coming from Greece and with the more subversive threat to some members of the school represented by Gnosticism. The author suggests the movement of thought whereby Plotinus came upon and explored some of the ideas characteristic of his philosophy. The brief sketch of Plotinus' theory of first principles raises many questions, some of which are discussed. One of these questions concerns the sense and way in which Intellect is constituted from the One, Soul from Intellect, and the world from Soul. In later Platonism, however, the formalism of scholastic structures and the recourse to other means of ascent, such as theurgy, considerably reshaped Plotinus' approach. The way for the soul to reach the Good in Christian theology would follow other paths than those afforded by the study of Plato and the practices of pagan religion.
  • 18 - Porphyry and his school
    pp 325-357
  • View abstract

    Summary

    The ancient tradition of Porphyry's 'change of views' and even 'vacillation' on a number of issues is cited in support. Porphyry's Platonic commentaries must have been relatively diffuse compared with the single-minded approach of Iamblichus and Proclus. The total transcendence of the One is arguably one of the most innovative of Plotinus' ideas and one not without its difficulties, as is confirmed by the constant attention paid to it by later Platonists. The tripartite soul has, claims Porphyry, primarily an ethical role and then proceeds to add the traditional Aristotelian list of soul faculties as an interpretation of Plato's more general view. Porphyry's interest in the physical world is primarily from the metaphysical perspective with its concern for principles. Porphyry's commentaries not only firmly rooted the logical works of Aristotle in the curriculum of the Platonic schools but provided an important source of information and exegesis on which Iamblichus and Proclus would later draw.
  • 19 - Iamblichus of Chalcis and his school
    pp 358-374
  • View abstract

    Summary

    Iamblichus' philosophical position is essentially an elaboration of the Platonic system propounded by Plotinus, though strongly influenced by such sources as the Pythagorean pseudepigrapha and the Chaldaean Oracles. At any rate, it is plain that for the Athenian School the most significant figure among their immediate predecessors was Iamblichus, both for his adoption of theurgy and for the greatly increased elaboration of his metaphysical scheme, which seemed to them to do justice to the true complexity of the intelligible world. The role of theurgical theory and practice in the thought of Iamblichus has been rather played down, as having, been in the past given too prominent a role in his philosophy, but it cannot at the same time be denied that Iamblichus himself accorded quite a prominent role to the practice of rituals in ensuring the efficacy of philosophical speculation; and this after all reminds us that, for later Platonists, Platonism was a religion as well as a philosophical system.
  • 20 - Philosophy in a Christian empire: from the great persecution to Theodosius I
    pp 376-396
  • View abstract

    Summary

    A striking difference between the porphyry portraits of the senior tetrarchs and the marble head of Constantine, the latter statue's clean-shaven face evokes portraits of Trajan, optimus princeps, and the first emperor, Augustus. The distinction between the porphyry and marble portraits points to another salient aspect of the fourth century, the alternation between periods of religious peace and conflict. Constantine's achievement of sole power as Christian emperor changed everything and nothing. His accession is, indeed, treated as a watershed by those who overlook the rapprochement between Christianity and Platonism in the late third century and who view Diocletian's persecution as the culmination of a sustained anti-Christian policy rather than an aberration. After Constantius' death, Julian moved quickly to put his own imprint on Roman power. Receiving reinforcements from Gratian, Theodosius' first task was to deal militarily with the Visigothic problem. In the East, Theodosius too became increasingly hostile toward traditional cult.

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