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The Neoplatonic Socrates

The Neoplatonic Socrates

EDITED BY Danielle A. Layne
Harold Tarrant
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    The Neoplatonic Socrates
    Book Description:

    Today the name Socrates invokes a powerful idealization of wisdom and nobility that would surprise many of his contemporaries, who excoriated the philosopher for corrupting youth. The problem of who Socrates "really" was-the true history of his activities and beliefs-has long been thought insoluble, and most recent Socratic studies have instead focused on reconstructing his legacy and tracing his ideas through other philosophical traditions. But this scholarship has neglected to examine closely a period of philosophy that has much to reveal about what Socrates stood for and how he taught: the Neoplatonic tradition of the first six centuries C.E., which at times decried or denied his importance yet relied on his methods.

    InThe Neoplatonic Socrates, leading scholars in classics and philosophy address this gap by examining Neoplatonic attitudes toward the Socratic method, Socratic love, Socrates's divine mission and moral example, and the much-debated issue of moral rectitude. Collectively, they demonstrate the importance of Socrates for the majority of Neoplatonists, a point that has often been questioned owing to the comparative neglect of surviving commentaries on theAlcibiades,Gorgias,Phaedo, andPhaedrus, in favor of dialogues dealing explicitly with metaphysical issues. Supplemented with a contextualizing introduction and a substantial appendix detailing where evidence for Socrates can be found in the extant literature,The Neoplatonic Socratesmakes a clear case for the significant place Socrates held in the education and philosophy of late antiquity.

    Contributors:Crystal Addey, James M. Ambury, John F. Finamore, Michael Griffin, Marilynn Lawrence, Danielle A. Layne, Christina-Panagiota Manolea, François Renaud, Geert Roskam, Harold Tarrant.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-1000-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. 1-20)
    Danielle A. Layne and Harold Tarrant

    In one of the most romantic dialogues of his corpus, Plato depicts Socrates walking barefoot in the waters of the Ilissus, coyly tormented by a seemingly benign conundrum: “Who am I, and what are my intentions?” Turning to the handsome Phaedrus and admitting his real difficulty with his lack of self-knowledge, Socrates famously wonders whether he resembles “a monster more complicated and more furious than Typhon or a gentler and simpler creature, to whom a divine and quiet lot is given by nature.”² Unable to solve the problem immediately, Socrates spends the afternoon conversing with the boy on the nature...

  4. CHAPTER 1 Socratic Love in Neoplatonism
    (pp. 21-35)
    Geert Roskam

    In his famous speech at the end of Plato’sSymposium,Alcibiades aptly expresses his feelings of perplexity concerning Socrates. He complains that it is far from easy to recount in detail the latter’s singularity (ὰτοπίαν)¹ and assures his listeners that Socrates in outward appearance may look like an ugly satyr but in actuality has inside himself divine images of pure gold.² This duplicitous characterization fits in very well with Alcibiades’ own character (and with his drunken condition) but also perfectly suits the figure of Socrates and his notorious ambivalence. The opposition between outward ugliness and inner beauty is only one...

  5. CHAPTER 2 Plutarch and Apuleius on Socrates’ Daimonion
    (pp. 36-50)
    John F. Finamore

    The topic of the nature of Socrates’ daimonion found renewed interest in the Middle Platonic period. We are fortunate to possess two works from this period on Socrates’ personal daimon by Plutarch (c. 46–120 CE) and Apuleius (c. 125– c 180 CE).¹ Plato tells us that Socrates listened to a daimon, which he describes as a sort of voice that prevents Socrates from performing certain actions.² In this chapter, I wish to examine how these Middle Platonic philosophers interpreted Socrates’ divine sign and in what context they made their investigation.

    First, however, we should consider the difference between the...

  6. CHAPTER 3 The Daimonion of Socrates: Daimones and Divination in Neoplatonism
    (pp. 51-72)
    Crystal Addey

    Socrates stands as a figurehead in the history of Western philosophy and is often perceived as the champion of reason and rationality. Within the history of modern classical and philosophical scholarship, Socrates has been perceived as the paragon of rationality and reason, the founder of both rational enquiry and the Western philosophical tradition.¹ Within the parameters of such a perspective, the Socratic method of elenchus (question-and-answer cross-examination) is held to be one of the most relevant elements of the Socratic heritage and is often assessed asthemajor contribution of Socratic discourse to Western thought, rivaled only by his contributions...

  7. CHAPTER 4 Socrates in the Neoplatonic Psychology of Hermias
    (pp. 73-79)
    Christina-Panagiota Manolea

    In this chapter I focus on the portrait of Socrates found in selected passages of Hermias’sin Phaedrum commentary.Despite the fact that the work in question appears to comprise a series of lectures given by Syrianus, the head of the Neoplatonic School of Athens from 432 to 437 CE, the manuscript tradition nevertheless attributes thein Phaedrumto Syrianus’s student Hermias of Alexandria, who studied in Athens alongside Proclus.¹ As we shall see, Hermias (or, rather, his master Syrianus) considered Socrates to be a unique human being with an important pedagogical mission to accomplish. The following passages concerning Socrates...

  8. CHAPTER 5 The Character of Socrates and the Good of Dialogue Form: Neoplatonic Hermeneutics
    (pp. 80-96)
    Danielle A. Layne

    The answer to the question “Who is Socrates for the Neoplatonists?” must begin with a detailed understanding of how the Neoplatonists interpreted the dialogues of Plato and the characters presented in them. Primarily, it requires us to revisit a question that haunts almost all secondary literature on Plato: Why dialogue form? Why the use of characters, for example Socrates and Timaeus, and not one’s own authoritative voice? Further, why the need for extensive preludes to the main subject of the dialogue, the elaborate references to settings like the public market and the gymnasium, or the seemingly subtle plots either within...

  9. CHAPTER 6 Hypostasizing Socrates
    (pp. 97-108)
    Michael Griffin

    In this chapter, I would like to explore a defining feature of later Neoplatonist treatments of the Platonic Socrates, namely, the representation of Socrates as a hypostasis within the rich ontological and epistemological hierarchy of later Neoplatonism. This allegory of Socrates appears to be a common inheritance of both Athenian and Alexandrian exegesis of Plato, and its roots can be traced back at least to Iamblichus. It is tightly intertwined, as I will suggest, both with Iambli chus’s Platonic curriculum (see Table 2)¹ and with his broader exegetical practices and pedagogical ideas about how Plato ought to be taught.²


  10. CHAPTER 7 Socratic Character: Proclus on the Function of Erotic Intellect
    (pp. 109-117)
    James M. Ambury

    In this chapter I attend to the analysis of Socrates’ character in Proclus’sCommentary on the First Alcibiades of Plato.While Proclus comments extensively on Socrates’ arguments, he is also clear that Socrates’ character is equally instructive for Alcibiades. Proclus’s view is profoundly Neoplatonic in the sense that it understands Socrates as more than an intellectualist concerned with propositional truth. Instead, we find that Socrates strives for a nondiscursive pedagogy that aims at bringing his interlocutor to self-knowledge, understood broadly in the Neoplatonic tradition as knowledge of the self as soul.¹ As such, Proclus differs from many modern commentators who...

  11. CHAPTER 8 The Elenctic Strategies of Socrates: The Alcibiades I and the Commentary of Olympiodorus
    (pp. 118-126)
    François Renaud

    In this chapter I examine the conditions and strategies for Socrates’ elenctic practice in the first part of theAlcibiadesI (106c–119a), the part of the dialogue that Olympiodorus specifically designates “elenctic.” This part is naturally divided into two primary segments: (i) the supposed origin of Alcibiades’ knowledge (the multitude);¹ and (ii) the question of knowing whether what is just and what is advantageous are identical or different.² Socrates will succeed in obtaining the young man’s admission of double ignorance, while the latter will blame himself for failing to heed his tutor, Pericles.³ What, then, are the conditions that...

  12. CHAPTER 9 Akrasia and Enkrateia in Simplicius’s Commentary on Epictetus’s Encheiridion
    (pp. 127-142)
    Marilynn Lawrence

    Is it possible to knowingly err? In other words, can someone possessing knowledge of correct action willingly chose otherwise? Socrates did not think so, or at least that is how his position is characterized in theProtagoras. Making sense of this argument has been labeled by contemporary Socratic scholars as the problem ofakrasia.¹ In this niche of Socratic philosophy, Socrates’ denial of akrasia and Aristotle’s response to it in theNicomachean Ethicshave been well discussed, producing numerous interpretations of the argument that no one willingly chooses to do what he or she knows to be an error...

  13. CHAPTER 10 The Many-Voiced Socrates: Neoplatonist Sensitivity to Socrates’ Change of Register
    (pp. 143-162)
    Harold Tarrant

    It is not unnatural for the readers of some Neoplatonic texts to arrive at the conclusion that Neoplatonists had little idea of how one might set about distinguishing Socrates from Plato. Plenty of references to Socrates’ position in the Neoplatonic commentaries leave one asking whether they meant anything different from Plato’s position. One may also suspect that Socrates himself was seen as far inferior to Plato, not least because the two “perfect” dialogues, with which the commentators’ Platonic curriculum finished, employed protagonists whose theological competence was clearly considered superior to that of Socrates. There is, however, another side to the...

    (pp. 163-166)
    Danielle A. Layne and Harold Tarrant

    As we said in the Introduction, this volume is specifically aimed at tackling “the idea that the Neoplatonists neglected the Socratic element of Plato’s dialogues.” What it could not do, indeed could never hope to do in the light of the sheer quantity of evidence, is give a complete account of Socrates in later Platonism. Partly for this reason, the ensuing Appendix offers a much more comprehensive account of the evidence and directs the reader toward further lines of inquiry. Some of the chapters have been particularly concerned to show the importance of one or more Socratic themes or influences...

  15. APPENDIX: The Reception of Socrates in Late Antiquity: Authors, Texts, and Notable References
    (pp. 167-178)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 179-228)
    (pp. 229-244)
  18. List of Contributors
    (pp. 245-248)
    (pp. 249-252)
    (pp. 253-254)
    (pp. 255-258)