Socrates’ Debt to Asclepius: Physicians and Philosophers with Asclepian Souls in Late Antiquity

In: Numen
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This article examines the development of the aspect of health in late Neoplatonic ontology as originated in Proclus and illustrated in Marinus’ Life of Proclus and Damascius’ Life of Isidore. In light of the steadily growing Neoplatonic interest in the philosophic value of the body and the widely spreading presence of the new and only Savior, Proclus looks closer at the Demiurge’s cosmological activity in the universe to discern its health-instituting nature based upon which he builds a health register distinguishing between Demiurgic and Asclepian health. The former maintains the orderly balance in the universe; the latter restores the individual’s health. Between the two kinds of health extends a healing ontological “chain” unfolding from the Demiurge through Apollo, Asclepius, and the healing heroes, ending in certain individual souls, which are endowed with special healing powers, i.e., Asclepian souls. Two examples of such souls are Proclus himself, as portrayed in his biography by Marinus, and one Iacobus Psychristus, as documented in Damascius’ Life of Isidore. The fact that one is a philosopher and the other is a physician captures the symbiotic relation of philosophy and medicine in late antiquity.

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