Neoplatonist philosopher who was active in Athens and mainly in Alexandria in the 5th century AD. His Commentary on the Phaedrus, which records the teaching of Syrianus, is the only surviving ancient Commentary on this Platonic dialogue.

Life

Hermias was born in Alexandria, where he later took up the public chair of philosophy (see The Neoplatonic school of Alexandria). He studied alongside Proclus under Syrianus in Athens at the time when the latter was Platonic successor. Considering that Syrianus died in 437, Hermias’ birth must be placed around 410/415. He married Aedesia, a relative of Syrianus, whom the latter had originally betrothed to Proclus. From his marriage to Aedesia two sons were born, Ammonius, who was to take up the chair of philosophy in Alexandria, and Heliodorus, also a philosopher. Since Aedesia managed to transfer the right of public provision of which her husband was beneficiary to her still young children, it is conjectured that Hermias died relatively young, in around 450/455.

The Platonic successor Damascius minimizes Hermias’ dialectical skill and profundity of philosophical understanding, but nevertheless praises his truly virtuous life, in which mildness and justice dominated (see primary sources).

Writings and Influence

Hermias is the author of the only surviving ancient commentary on Plato's Phaedrus, entitled Commentary on Plato’s Phaedrus by Hermias the philosopher. The dialogue is explained in Neoplatonic terms as a dialogue on ‘beauty in all its forms’ (and not as a dialogue ‘on the soul’ or ‘on love’, as earlier grammarians or philosophers had argued), which is not identical with the essence but with the activity of love in the world and in the worldly souls; through this activity, according to the Commentary, everything is reduced to the Beautiful itself (τὸ καλόν). However, the contents of the Commentary on the Phaedrus do not really belong to Hermias, since the text consists in a transcript of Syrianus’ lectures; this transcript also records, illustrating thus the ancient teaching practice, Hermias’ aporiae, as well as the aporiae of Hermias’ hetairos, Proclus.

Ammonius also mentions his father’s view on the perfection of the second- and third-figure syllogism, contained possibly in a non-extant commentary by Hermias on Aristotle’s Prior Analytics. It seems that in this respect, too, Hermias followed the interpretation of Syrianus.

Although Hermias’ teaching output is not preserved, it can be reasonably assumed that this Alexandrian philosopher passed on to his birthplace the interpretative line of the Neoplatonic school of Athens, such as it was handed down to him by Syrianus.

PRIMARY SOURCES
Damascius, Life of Isidore, ed. C. Zintzen, in Damascii vitae Isidori reliquiae (Hildesheim 1967), fragment 122.2-6:                                                                                                                                           "In his discourses and arguments he was poorer than he ought to be, but he was so well versed in virtue that neither Momus could find fault with him, nor Envy hate him; so much mildness and such justice were in the man." Damascius, Life of Isidore, ed. C. Zintzen, in Damascii vitae Isidori reliquiae (Hildesheim 1967), fragment 122.2-6: "In his discourses and arguments he was poorer than he ought to be, but he was so well versed in virtue that neither Momus could find fault with him, nor Envy hate him; so much mildness and such justice were in the man."
Author: Pantelis Golitsis
  • Westerink, L. GSorabji, R. ed. . Aristotle Transformed. The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence. Ithaca, 1990.
  • Bielmeier, A. Die neuplatonische Phaidrosinterpretation. Ihr Werdegang und ihre Eigenart. Paderborn, 1930.
  • Couvreur, P. ed. Hermiae Alexandrini in Platonis Phaedrum Scholia . Paris, 1901.
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