Category: Plato in 80 entries

The Neoplatonic School of Athens

From the late fourth until the early sixth century A.D. Platonic philosophy thrived in primarily two cities: Athens and Alexandria.

The founder of the Neoplatonic School of Athens is considered to have been Plutarch of Athens (c.350-432) whose entire work, basically commentaries on Plato and Aristotle, has been lost. Plutarch’s disciple and successor as head of the school was Syrianus (?-c.437) from whom we possess a philosophical commentary on books Β, Γ, Μ and N of Aristotle’s Metaphysics as well as two technical treatises on rhetoric. However, the great philosophical figure of Athens in the fifth century was Proclus (412-485), a prominent disciple and successor of Syrianus, whose tireless literary production has survived to a considerable extent. Proclus was succeeded by Marinus (c. 440-?) from whose pen we possess an hagiological biography of his teacher. Subsequently head of the school became Isidorus (c.450-c.520), an enthusiastic man with little confidence in the power of reason. His work is wholly lost. He was succeeded by Damascius (c.462-540) from whom extensive texts survive to date. He was the last official representative (or diadochus = successor) of a long philosophical tradition that liked to consider itself the direct historical descendent of Plato’s Academy. The School of Athens was forcefully closed down in 529 with a decree by the emperor Justinian which prohibited the teaching of philosophy.

In contradistinction to the Neoplatonic School of Alexandria, which was basically devoted to the study of Aristotle and rhetoric, the School of Athens focused on metaphysics, theology and ontology. Some prominent features of the school include: the welcoming of the Chaldaean Oracles as sacred scriptures of Platonism, the acceptance of so-called “henads” (= unities) as immediate and supra-noetic products of the transcendent One, the multiplication of intermediary metaphysical stages that would allow for the smooth transition across the three distinct levels of intelligible reality (One, Intellect, Soul), and the emphasis on the tripartite but essentially dynamic structure of Being.

Author: Spyridon Rangos
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