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The Parmenides of Plato and the Origin of the Neoplatonic ‘One’

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 February 2009


The last phase of Greek philosophy has until recently been less intelligently studied than any other, and in our understanding of its development there are still lamentable lacunae. Three errors in particular have in the past prevented a proper appreciation of Plotinus' place in the history of philosophy. The first was the failure to distinguish Neoplatonism from Platonism: this vitiates the work of many early exponents from Ficinus down to Kirchner. The second was the belief that the Neoplatonists, being ‘mystics,’ were necessarily incomprehensible to the plain man or even to the plain philosopher. To have encouraged the persistence of this superstition in the nineteenth century is the least pardonable of Creuzer's many sins. The third was the chronological confusion involved in the ascription to Saint Paul's contemporary of the works of the pretended Dionysius Areopagita, which contain a fully-developed Neoplatonic theology. Though the fraud had been exposed by Scaliger, these writings continued down to the beginning of the nineteenth century (and in certain clerical circles down to our own day) to be used as evidence that the ‘Nsoplatonic trinity’ was an inferior imitation of the Christian one. When this false trail was at length abandoned the fashion for orientalizing explanations persisted in another guise: to the earliest historians of Neoplatonism, Simon and Vacherot, the school of Plotinus was (in defiance of geographical facts) ‘the school of Alexandria,’ and its inspiration was mainly Egyptian. Vacherot says of Neoplatonism that it is ‘essentially and radically oriental, having nothing of Greek thought but its language and procedure.’ Few would be found to-day to subscribe to so sweeping a pronouncement; but the existence of an important oriental element in Plotinus' thought is still affirmed by many French and German writers.

Research Article
Copyright © The Classical Association 1928

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page 129 note 1 Cf. e.g. Jahrbuch für Philosophic u. Spekulative Theologie, XII. 483–94; XIII. 82–106.

page 129 note 2 Porph. Vit. Plot. I: οὒτε περ το γένους αὐτο διηγεῖσθαι ἠνείχετο οτε περ τν γονέων οὒτε περ τς πατριδος. Further on (ibid., 10) Porphyry twice designates as τν Αίγύπτιον the priest in whose company Plotinus visited the Iseum. Since this description serves to distinguish the priest from Plotinus, we may ifer that Porphyry certainly did not regard his master as an Egyptian by blood, and probably did not think of him as an Egyptian in any sense. In face of this nega- tive testimony of his closest disciple, how much weight are we justified in attaching to the evidence of a hagiographer like Eunapius, who was not born until three-quarters of a century after Plotinus' death? Under the influence of the fourth-century belief in Egypt as the home of all wisdom, and in the absence of all positive information to the contrary, nothing could be more natural than that the fact of Plotinus' early studies at Alexandria should give rise to the legend of his Egyptian birth. The value of the further statement that he was born at Lyco seemed doubtful even to Eunapius (Αυκώ ταύτην νομάζουσι καίτοι γε ό θεσπέσιος ϕιλόσοϕος Πορϕύριος τοτο οὐκ νέγραψε, μαθητής τε αὐτο γεγενσθαι λέγων, κα συνεσχολακέναι τν βίον ἃπαντα ἢ τν πλεῖστον τούτου [actually only for six years], Vit. phil. 455).

page 130 note 1 ibid. 3 and 10.

page 130 note 2 Enn. V. viii. 6.

page 130 note 3 Cochez, J. (in Rev. Néo-Scolastique XVIII. [1911] 328–40Google Scholar, and Mélanges d'Histoire offerts à Ch. Moeller I. 85–101) claims to have proved this. He is followed by Cumont, F. in Monuments Piot XXV. 77sqq.Google Scholar; but the weakness of their case has been effectively exposed by Peterson, Erik in his review of Cumont's paper, Theol. Literaturzeitung (1925), No. 21, 485–7Google Scholar. In this connexion . MrNock, A. D. has called my attention to Theo Smyrn. Expos. rer. math. 14. 18 sqq.Google Scholar, Hiller, where an elaborate parallelism between the Platonic philosophy and the mysteries is built on Plato, , Phd. 69dGoogle Scholar and Phdr. 250c. Such metaphors are common from Plato onwards: e.g. Chrysippus calls discourses about the gods τελεταί (Vet. St. Fr. II. 1008, Arnim).

page 130 note 4 Up to the present we seem to have lilttle or no evidence that before they were touched to intellectual life by contact with Greek culture the peoples of the Near East achieved anything deserving the name of abstract thought; their thinking hardly existed outside the myths which embodied it (see Th. Hopfner, , Orient u. Griechische Philosophie, pp. 27 sqq.Google Scholar; Naville, , Religion des anciens Égyptiens, p. 93)Google Scholar. Nor is anything really analogous to the close reasoning and intellectual subtlety of Plotinus to be found even in hybrid products like the works of Philo, the Hermetica, and the de Mysteriis, which are generally recogniazed as combining, in whatever proportion, the results of oriental myth-making with elements derived from Greek philosophy.

page 131 note 1 Op. cit., p. 70.

page 131 note 2 Stob [Aetius, ] Ecl. I. 2. 29Google Scholar [58H].

page 131 note 3 Phil. der Griech. III3. 427.

page 131 note 4 Ibid. 435.

page 131 note 5 Philos. Monatsheft XXIV. (1888), p. 186Google Scholar.

page 132 note 1 The Neopythagorean identification of God with the supreme monad is mentioned by Philo only to be amended: τέτακται οῧν δ θεύς κατ τό ἓν κα τἠν μονάδα, μλλον δ μονς κατŰ τν ἓνα θεόν πς γάρ ριθμός νεώτερος κόσμου,μλλον δ μονς κατŰ τν ἓνα θεόν πς γάρ ριθμός νεώτερος κόσμου ὠς κα χρόνος, δ θες πρεσβύτε ρος κόσμου κα δημιουργός (Leg. Alleg. II. 1, 3). So also Clement of Alexandria, Pred I. 8. 71Google Scholar, tells us that God is ἔν [not τ ἓν] κα πέκεινα το νς κα ὑπρ αὐτήν μονάδα. Both Philo and Clement were of course deeply influenced by Neopythagorean speculation, of which Alexandria had long been a centre; but in this matter they were determined to go one better than the heathen. Philo's god must similarly be κρείττων ἤ αὐτ τ γαθόν (De opif. mundi 2, 8), although in the same breath he is identified with νος; and τ ὃν must be γαθο κρεῖττον κα νς είλικρινέστερον κα μονάδος ρχεγονώτερον (Vit. contempl. I, 2; Cf. Praem. et poen. 6, 40). Any attempt to extract a coherent system from Philo seems to me foredoomed to failure; his eclectiscism is that of the jackdaw rather than the philosopher.

page 132 note 2 Numenius ap. Euseb, . Prep. Ev. XI. 22Google Scholar; Alcinous (Albinus, ), Didascalicus, c. 10Google Scholar.

page 132 note 3 Some MSS. of Eusebius do make Numenius speak once of τ ἔν (loc. cit., κμελετσαι μάθημα, τί έστι τό ἒν). But the reading τ ὃν has better authority, and is supported by Plato, , Rep. 524E525AGoogle Scholar.

page 133 note 1 Cf. Enn. V. v. 9, οὐδενός ἃν ποστατοῖ (τ ἓν).

page 133 note 2 V. i. 8 fin.

page 133 note 3 Procl. in Tim. I. 13.n 15 sq, Diehl; Proleg. Plat. Phil. 26.

page 133 note 4 Theol. Plat. I. 7.

page 134 note 1 See Proclus, in Parm. 1052–64Google Scholar, Cousin.

page 134 note 2 135C sqq.: 137B.

page 134 note 3 Harm. El. II., p. 30, Meidb, .Google Scholar; cf. Ar. Mtaph. 1091b 13.

page 134 note 4 Proc. Arist. Soc., N. S. XVIII., p. 632.

page 134 note 5 Plato: The Man and his Work, p. 370.

page 135 note 1 See Praechter, K. in Genethliakon Robert, pp. 120 sqqGoogle Scholar.

page 135 note 2 See in particular the interesting recent book of M. Jean Wahl, É sur le Parménide.

page 135 note 3 In Parm., p 635, Cousin, Google Scholar; cf. Theol. Plat. I. 8sqq.

page 135 note 4 Isag., c. 3; cf. c. 6, and Didascalicus, c. 4 (p. 155fin., Hermann, )Google Scholar.

page 135 note 5 ‘On the Interpretation of Plato's Parmenides,’ Mind, 1896 7, 1903.

page 135 note 6 Adv. Phys. II. 281–2.

page 135 note 7 Philos. d. Mittl. Stoa. 403–39.

page 136 note 1 Apud Simplic, . in Phys. 181. 10·30, especially 27 sqq.Google Scholar: ώς μν ρχ τ ἔν, ὡς δ στοιχεῖα τ ἓν κα ριστος δυάς, ρχα ἃμϕω ἔν ὂντα πάλιν κα δλον ὃτι ἃλλο μέν στιν ἓν ρχ τν πάντων, ἄλλο δ ἓν τ τ δυάδι ντικείμενον ὃ κα μονάδα καλοσιν. The words occur in a Verbatim citation from Eudorus.

page 136 note 2 In Tim. 54D [ I. 176. 9 sqq., Diehl ]:προηγεται, γρ τἔν πσης ναντιώσεως ώς καἰ οἱ IIνθαγόρειοί ϕασιν. λλ ππἰ καἱ μετ τἠν μίαν αiγιαν ή δνς τν ρϰν νεϕάνη, καἰ ν τα$$v$$ταις μονς κρεɩττων τς δνάδος. … Cf. Smyrn, Theo. Exp.Rer. Math. 19. 12sqq.Google Scholar, Hiller; Damascius, . de princip. 86. 20 sqq.Google Scholar, Ruelle [115, Kopp]; and for what seems to be a different way of putting essentially the same view, Numenius ap. Chalcid, . in Tim., c. 293Google Scholar, Mullach, , and , ps.-Alexanderin Metaph. 800. 32, Bonitz (quoted below, p. 138)Google Scholar.

page 136 note 3 In Metaph. 925b 27 sqq.: και ἒτι προ τν δ$$v$$ορϰν τν νιαɩαν αίτίν προέταττον πρταττον, ἢν' Aρϰαίνετος ['Aρϰύτας ci. Boeckh] μν αɩτἱαν πρ αἰτἱας ε$$T$$;ναί ϕησι, Φιλόλαος δ τν πάντων ρϰν ε$$i$$;ναι διισϰνρξεται Bροτῖνος δ ὡς νο παντός κα οὐσɭας δụνμει και πρεσβείᾳ ὑπερέϰει. Cf. 935b 13 sqq.

page 136 note 4 Arist, . Metaph. A 6Google Scholar. 987b 25.

page 136 note 5 Sc. öτι σώματος κα ἂποιός στιν.

page 136 note 6 ϰώρισε Zeller: Fort. ϰορήγησε.

page 136 note 7 In Phys. A 7, 230. 34 sqq., Diels.

page 136 note 8 Hist. de l'École d'Alex. I. 309.

page 136 note 9 III3. 126. 2. In the fourth edition the passage is treated more summarily, and some modifications are introduced (III. ii. 143. 1; cf. 130. 5).

page 137 note 1 In Farm. 1064: τν τετάρτην περɭ τννλων … τν δ πμπτν περɭ ὓλης. Earlier writers had found the same topics in other hypotheses (ibid. 1052–9).

page 138 note 1 312E.

page 138 note 2 Expos, , rer. math. 19. 15Google Scholar, Hiller, Theon 18. 3–9 + 19. 8–9, 12–13, reproduces almost word for word a fragment of Moderatus preserved by Stobaeus, , Ecl. I. i. 8 [I8H]Google Scholar; while the continuation in Theon 19. 13–20. 11 is an expansion of the next sententia in Stobaeus, , Ecl. I. i. 9Google Scholar. This second sententia is δσποτος in our MSS. of Stobaeus, but Theon must have found the two juxtaposed; and while he may possibly have come upon them in some doxographical writer afterwards used by Stobaeus, it is simplest to suppose with Wachsmuth that he read both of them in Moderatus—presumably in his work περ τριθμν (Porph, . vit. Pyth. 48)Google Scholar.

page 138 note 3 The continuation of Simplicius' citation from Porphyry runs as follows (231. 1224): π τατης ἒοικε, ϕησι. τς ποσότητος IIλάτων τ πλείω νματα κατηγορσαι ‘πανδεϰ’ κα νείδεονλέγεν καί ‘ρατον’ καί ‘πορώτατα το νοητο μετειληϕέναι’ αὐτν καί ‘λογισμῷ νθῳ μόλις ληπτ ήν’ καί πν τ τοτοις μϕερές. αὓτη δ ποσότης, ϕησί, καί ταθτοτὺ ‘ε$$i$$;δος’ τ κατα στέρησιντο νιαίου νοούμενον το πάντας τοὺς λόγους τν ντων ν αυτῷ περιειληϕότος παραδεɭγματά στι τς τν σωμάτων ἤλης, ἢν κα αὐτν ποσὺν κα τοὺς IIυθαγορείους κα τν IIλάτωνα καλεῖν ἔλεγεν, οὐ τ ὡς εῖδος ποσόν, λλ τ κατ στέρησιν κτλ. (The remainder of the quotation describes the nature ὓλη on orthodox Neoplatonic lines.) Here the repeated (ϕησί seems to mark the introduction of Porphyry's comments on Moderatus' conception of intelligible ποσότης; while ἔλεγεν takes us back to the statement attributed to Moderatus at the beginning of the passage. The words in inverted commas are from the Timaeus (51A, B; 52B).

page 138 note 4 142B-E: ἕν εί ἔστιν. ἆρα ο$$i$$; όν τε αὐτ ε$$i$$;ναι μέν.οὐσίας δ μ μετέϰειν; … τό τε γρ ἕν τ ὂν εɭ ἴσϰει καἲ τ ὂν τ ἕν. ὥστε άνάγκη δυ' ε γιγνμενον μηδέποτε ἓν ε$$i$$;ναι. Cf. Chalcidius in Tim., c. 293, Mullach: ‘(Numenius ait) nonnullos Pythagoreos … putasse dici etiam illam indeterminatam et immensam duitatem ab una singularitate institutam, recedente a natura sua singularitate et in duitatis habitum migranre.’

page 139 note 1 Ap. Chalcid. in Tim., c. 293, Mullach.

page 139 note 2 Cod. 249, 438b 17, Bekker.

page 139 note 3 Metaph. 988a 10–11 (Aristotle reporting Plato's view): τ γρ ε$$i$$;δη το γ στιν α$$i$$;τια τοίς, τοῖς δ είδσιν τ ἓν. Alexander, (in Metaph. 58Google Scholar. 31–59. 8, Hayduck) tells us, on the authority of Aspasius, that Eudorus and Euarmostus read here τοῖς δ' είδόσι τ ἓν κα$$i$$ τὓλ: and he had himself found this reading in some copies. The effect of the alteration (which may have been suggested by an accidental dittography of the opening words of the next sentence, κα τ$$i$$ς ὓλη) was to introduce into Aristotle's account of Plato's system the Neopythagorean and Neoplatonic monism; cf. Eudorus, apud Simplicium in Pkys. 181. 10, quoted above, p. 8Google Scholar, n. 1. Harmonizing appears to have been Eudorus' passion, for his ethic, like that of Antiochus, is a blend of Platonic and Stoic (Zeller III. i4. 634).

page 139 note 4 Porph, . vit. Plot. 14Google Scholar.

page 139 note 5 Ibid. 20. Moderatus figures also in the list of authors studied in the school of Plotinus' great contemporary, Origen the Christian (Porph. ap. Euseb, . Hist. Eccles. VI. 19Google Scholar. 8. Evidently his was still a name of some significance even in the third century.

page 140 note 1 Since we know that Plotinus had read Numenius, and there is some reason to think that Numenius had read Philo and Valentinus (Norden, , Agnostos Theos, p. 109)Google Scholar, the possibility that one or both of the last-named writers exercised some indirect influence on Plotinus ought not to be ignored; but it will not account for all the facts without a great deal of forcing. That Plotinus himself could take either Philo or Valentinus seriously as an authority I find it hard to believe in the light of such passages as Ennead II. ix. 6.

page 140 note 2 Ap. Stob. Ecl. I. i. 29 [58H].

page 140 note 3 Metaph. N 5, 1092a. 11–15.

page 140 note 4 Ibid. Z 2. 1028b 21. The mention ofΨυϰή shows that the doctrine has a general cosmological application, and does not aim merely at distinguishing arithmetic from geometry. The ριθμοί are for Speusippus what the Forms are for Plotinus.

page 140 note 5 I find that the same view is suggested by Immisch, O., Agatharchidea (Sitzungsberichte Heidelberger Akad. der Wiss., Philos.-Hist. Klasse, 1919, Abh. 7), p. 37Google Scholar.

page 140 note 6 The common view, that they were both, appears to be self-refuting; at any rate, it flies in the face of all historical analogy.

page 140 note 7 Geffcken, J., Der Ausgang des Griechisch-Römischen Heidentums, p. 47Google Scholar.

page 141 note 1 Theaet. 176B. The development of the thought was doubtless influenced by the Stoic doctrine that the ήγεμονικόν in man is of one stuff with the ήγεμονικόν in the universe; cf. lamblichus ap. Stob, . Ecl. I. xlix. 37Google Scholar [886H], where the similarity between the Plotinian and the Stoic view is pointed out.

page 141 note 2 References in Kroll, J., Lehren des Hermes Trismegistos, pp. 22 sq.Google Scholar, and Nock, , Sallustius, p. xcix, n. 10Google Scholar.

page 142 note 1 Porph, . vit. Plot. 10 finGoogle Scholar.

page 142 note 2 Leisegang, H., Der Heilige Geist, I. i. 163 sqqGoogle Scholar.

page 142 note 3 The very fact that Plotinus compares his ecstasy with the state of οί ένθουσιντες κα κτοϰοι γενόμενοι (V. iii. 14) should make it evident that the two conditions are distinct. To Philo, on the other hand, ecstasy means ή ἕθεος κατοκωϰή τε κα μανία (quis rer. div. heres 53, 264).

page 142 note 4 E.g. Enn, VI. ix. n: ἥξει (ψυϰἠοὒκείς ἄλλο, άλλ εις αντήν οὐκ ν ἄλλῳ οὖσα ν οὐδενί δτιν αλλ' ν αὑτῇ τ δ' ν αὑτῇ μνῃ κα οὐκ ν τῷ ὅντι ν κείνῳ. Wholly different in spirit is Philo's teaching, with its insistence on τν ν πσι το γενητο οὐδνειαν (de somn. I. 60). For Philo human and divine nature are mutually exclusive: ὃταν μν γρ ϕς τ θεῖον πιλάμψῃ, δῠεται τό νθρώπινον, ὂκαέεῖνο δύηται, τοτapos;

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