restricted access III: Plotinian Neoplatonism
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Plotinian Neoplatonism A. PLOTINUS Language and Literature Though the history of Neoplatonism starts, properly speaking, with Plotinus (205-70),l what we have called the Neoplatonic reading of Homer had its sources in habits of thought developed long before the third century and found full expression not in Plotinus himself but in Porphyry and then in the later Neoplatonists. Plotinus never mentions the name of Homer2 and is very little concerned with interpretation of texts and myths from the poets. In the relatively sparse echoes of Homer and of other poetry in the Enneads, he does, however, make it clear that his knowledge of literature was substantial and his sensitivity to poetic language and imagery very great.3 He likewise shows evidence of many of the attitudes that were to emerge more clearly in Porphyry and in the later Neoplatonists, including a willingness to see in the myths of the 1. Plotinus himself does not distinguish between his own thought and earlier Platonism, but the absence of major Platonic thinkers in the period immediately preceding his own, combined with his evident originality and the clear differences between Plotinian Platonism and the thought transmitted in the dialogues of Plato, make the term "Neoplatonism" a useful tool. Whatever the debts of the Neoplatonic reading of Homer to the Old Academy and to "Middle Platonism," it would be misleading to qualify simply as "Platonist" a tradition of textual interpretation of which there is scarcely a trace in Plato. 2. He designates Homer at three points, using the expression 6 TTOITJT^S once (Enn. and twice referring vaguely to 01 -rro(.r\rai where the context makes it clear that Homer is meant (Enn.; 3. See Vincenzo Cilento, "Mito e poesia nelle Enneadi di Plotino," the most important study of this aspect of Plotinus, but also note Jean Pepin, "Plotin et les Ill 84 HOMER THE THEOLOGIAN early poets complex structures of meaning expressing a reality far removed from the superficialsense.4 A summary of Plotinus's thought lies far beyond the scope of this study, and so, a fortiori, does an examination of the sources of that thought.5 It should be noted, however, that no internal evidence will lead us to the sources of Plotinus's attitude toward Homer, for the simple reason that Plotinus mentions by name no thinker more recent than Epicurus . Whatever the importance of preclassicaland classical commentators in the early development of the idea of the structure and meaningof the poems that we see elaborated among the Neoplatonists, the critical stages of that development are postclassicaland fall within the period of over 500years to which Plotinus does not acknowledge any debts.6 Porphyry supplements our knowledge of the proximalinfluences on Plotinus, however, mentioning his period of study at Alexandria, along with Erennius and Origen, under the mysterious Ammonius Saccas7 and offering a list of some of the authors Plotinus had read aloud for discussion during his lectures: Severus, Cronius, Numenius, Gaius, Atticus , Aspasius, Alexander,and Adrastus.8 The last three are designated Peripatetics and the first four names belong to second-century Platonists and Pythagoreans. The striking name is, of course, that of Numenius, and we know further from Porphyry that Plotinus's doctrines, at least to outsiders, seemed so close to those of Numenius that he was accused of plagiarism, with the result that Ameliuswrote a treatise defending Plotinus against the charge.9 Finally, Porphyry quotes Longinus's opinion that Plotinus "submitted the Pythagorean and Platonic principles, so it seems, to a clearer explanation than those before him, for not even the writings of Numenius, mythes." To Pepin goes the credit for first systematically calling attention to the extensive, if secondary, role of allegorized myth in the Enneads. 4. On Plotinus remembered as a thinker who understood the myths symbolically , see Paul Henry, Plotin et I'occident, pp. 197-98. 5. The most useful modern general studies are those of A. H. Armstrong, The Architectureof the Intelligible Universe in the Philosophy of Plotinus, and "Plotinus " in CHLGEMP, as well as J. M. Rist, Plotinus: The Road to Reality. R. T. Wallis provides a valuable concise summary (Neoplatonism, ch. 3). 6. Epicurus died ca. 270 B.C. All of Plotinus's writings belong to the 2503 and z6os of our era. 7. Porph. Vit. Plot. 3 (and cf. 14); on Ammonius, see Dodds, "Numenius and Ammonius," pp. 24-32. 8. Porph. Vit. Plot. 14; on these...