The Nature of the Scholia on Plato’s Phaedrus

In: Phronesis
Author: Simon Fortier1
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  • 1 Département de Philosophie, Université de Liège, Place du 20-Août, 7, 4000 Liège, Belgium
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While we know that the interpretation of the ‘soul’s pilot’ (Phaedrus 247c7-8) found in Hermias’ Scholia on Plato’s Phaedrus differs considerably from that of Syrianus and Proclus, this difference has not shifted the prevailing opinion that the Scholia are a faithful transcript of Syrianus’ lectures on the Phaedrus. I argue, however, that the difference over the soul’s pilot is only the first in a series of elements which are difficult, if not impossible, to ascribe to Syrianus. This, I believe, is compelling evidence that the Scholia contain the ideas of both Syrianus and Hermias.


While we know that the interpretation of the ‘soul’s pilot’ (Phaedrus 247c7-8) found in Hermias’ Scholia on Plato’s Phaedrus differs considerably from that of Syrianus and Proclus, this difference has not shifted the prevailing opinion that the Scholia are a faithful transcript of Syrianus’ lectures on the Phaedrus. I argue, however, that the difference over the soul’s pilot is only the first in a series of elements which are difficult, if not impossible, to ascribe to Syrianus. This, I believe, is compelling evidence that the Scholia contain the ideas of both Syrianus and Hermias.

1 Introduction

Syrianus, head of the Neoplatonic School of Athens,1 taught the Phaedrus to his students Hermias and Proclus sometime in the mid-430s CE.2 We know this thanks to several exchanges between the students and their teacher preserved in Hermias’ Scholia on Plato’s Phaedrus. These exchanges seem to indicate that the Scholia are derived, at least in part, from Hermias’ lecture notes. There is, however, a disagreement over just how derivative they really are.

While it is widely held that the Scholia represent ‘a more or less faithful reproduction’ of Syrianus’ lectures,3 at least two scholars have defended the thesis that the Scholia contain both the teachings of Syrianus and the ideas of Hermias himself.4 As they have argued, the attempt to establish the Syrianine provenance of not just some, but all the contents of the Scholia, which seems necessary to prove the total dependence of Hermias upon his master, ‘has so far yielded scarce fruit’.5

Yet it is not simply for want of evidence that they have rejected the prevailing opinion on the authorship of the Scholia. These scholars have also adduced a positive proof of their own position in the form of a divergence between the Scholia and Syrianus’ Commentary on the Metaphysics over the identity of the so-called ‘soul’s pilot’ (Phdr. 247c7-8) which alone observes the ‘Being that truly is’ (247c7). While the Scholia, apparently following Iamblichus, declare this pilot to be our highest faculty, ‘the one of the soul’, Syrianus, in his Commentary on the Metaphysics, instead holds that the pilot is an intellect, an interpretation also championed by Proclus.6

This evidence, however, has been met with skepticism.7 Syrianus may, after all, simply have altered his interpretation of the pilot over time, or taught different interpretations in different contexts. Moreover, even if the Scholia are not an exact transcript, Hermias’ contribution may have consisted in nothing more than supplementing his lecture notes with material gleaned from earlier commentators, as Asclepius is assumed to have done in his commentary on the Metaphysics.8

The stakes of this debate are high. Syrianus was one of the most important thinkers of Late Antiquity, and yet, of his numerous philosophical works, we now possess only a partial commentary on the Metaphysics and (perhaps) two commentaries on the rhetorical treatises of Hermogenes of Tarsus.9 There is thus an understandable desire to treat the Scholia as an accurate reflection of Syrianus’ teachings on a major Platonic dialogue. Nonetheless, one must keep in mind that the ‘faithful reproduction’ thesis is the more radical of the two competing theories regarding the nature of the Scholia, and it presupposes that, if not all, at least nearly all the contents of the Scholia are ἀπὸ φῶνης Συριάνου. If, therefore, any reasonable doubt can be cast upon the Syrianine provenance of an important section of the Scholia, then we have good reason to question Hermias’ faithfulness as a reportator.

Although the difference over the interpretation of the soul’s pilot has failed to shake the received opinion on the nature of the Scholia, I believe that there is further evidence to consider. As I will argue, the difference over the pilot is only the first in a series of elements in the scholia on Phaedrus 247c6-d1 which are difficult, if not impossible, to ascribe to Syrianus. Indeed, the most plausible explanation is that these scholia contain the work not only of Syrianus, but of Hermias as well, and that the Scholia are therefore not a mere transcript.

2 The Text of Phaedrus 247c6-d1

The passage concerning the soul’s pilot, 247c6-d1, appears in modern editions of the Phaedrus as follows:

ἡ γὰρ ἀχρώµατός τε καὶ ἀσχηµάτιστος καὶ ἀναφὴς οὐσία ὄντως οὖσα, ψυχῆς κυβερνήτῃ µόνῳ θεατὴ νῷ, περὶ ἣν τὸ τῆς ἀληθοῦς ἐπιστήµης γένος, τοῦτον ἔχει τὸν τόπον.

For the colourless, shapeless, intangible Being that truly is, observable only by the soul’s pilot, intellect, with which the class of true science is concerned, holds this place.

Were Iamblichus or Hermias to have had this text before them, one might imagine them hard pressed to defend their interpretation of the pilot. Yet this lemma, a notorious locus corruptus, was variously read throughout Antiquity. For example, the entire manuscript tradition contains at least one significant error (θεατῇ for θεατή), while in our best manuscript of the Phaedrus, Codex Clarkianus 39 (B), the passage reads as follows: ἡ γὰρ ἀχρώµατός τε καὶ ἀσχηµάτιστος καὶ ἀναφὴς οὐσία ὄντως ψυχῇ οὖσα κυβερνήτῃ µόνῳ θεατῇ νῷ (‘For the Being that truly is both colourless and shapeless and truly intangible by soul, observable only to the pilot, the intellect’). It is difficult to say when this particular reading first emerged, but it is likely that it and others diverging from our own were already in circulation during the Imperial period.10

The members of the School of Athens, however, including Syrianus, Proclus, Damascius, and Hermias, appear to have read this sentence exactly as we do today, except that the latter did not read the crucial νῷ.11 As we shall see below, Hermias was clearly aware that other interpreters read a νῷ after θεατή. However, as the texts of Plato were in a far more fluid state at the end of Antiquity than they are today, the Neoplatonic commentators were obliged to be as much philologists as philosophers (although relying on philosophical intuition rather than any textual science for their emendations). If even contemporary scholars feel compelled to ask whether the dative νῷ was not ‘added to our manuscript tradition at some stage in antiquity to clarify just what Plato was referring to’,12 i.e. to make explicit what seems to be the implicit referent of the pilot, then one can hardly blame an ancient commentator such as Hermias for ignoring it in the name of what he took to be a more coherent philosophical interpretation. In sum, the textual difficulties of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 cannot in themselves explain the dissent between Hermias and his colleagues. The apple of discord was first and foremost philosophical.

3 Syrianus and Proclus on Phaedrus 247c6-d1

3.1 The ‘Being That Truly Is’

Proclus tells us that Syrianus, while retaining the uranography proposed by earlier Platonists in his Accord between Orpheus, Pythagoras, Plato, and the Chaldean Oracles, broke with his predecessors over the symbolism of the various places mentioned in the palinode (Theo. Plat. 4.23, p. 69.12-15). As opposed to Theodore of Asine, who apparently held the ‘heaven’ of the Phaedrus to be the First principle (69.16), or Iamblichus, who ‘established the great heaven as a certain order (τάξις) of intelligible gods’ (68.18-20) and ‘supposed in a rather indefinite way that the heaven is after the First’ (69.26-7), Syrianus taught, at least as far as Proclus was concerned, ‘the truth’ (70.10-11) regarding the vault below heaven, heaven, and the region beyond heaven.

This truth is evidently what Proclus himself presents in the Platonic Theology, namely, that these three places represent the highest orders of the intellective (νοεροί) gods, to which he refers as the intelligible-intellectives (νοητοὶ καὶ νοεροί).13 The highest of these intelligible-intellective orders are, in turn, represented by the region beyond heaven, which Plato describes apophatically as ‘colourless, shapeless, and intangible’ and cataphatically as the ‘Being that truly is’, which is ‘observable only by the soul’s pilot’ and ‘around which is the class of true science’.14 The ‘Being that truly is’ therefore represents for Proclus the most universal of three intermediary orders of divine, intelligible beings. These intelligible-intellective orders are the first of the Forms that ‘perfectly transcend our knowing’,15 and the highest amongst them are situated just below the ‘primary intelligibles’ (those of the level of One-Being [ἓν ὄν]).16

This interpretation of the ‘Being that truly is’ was undoubtedly inherited from Syrianus, for it is found in the Scholia as well. Hermias not only makes an identical assertion regarding Plato’s apophatic and cataphatic descriptions of the ‘Being that truly is’,17 but also holds (at least initially) that the ‘Being that truly is’ exists at the level of One and Being, rather than at the level of One-Being alongside the primary intelligibles.18 He confirms this interpretation of the ‘Being that truly is’ when, in the scholium on ‘the class of true science’, he equates the region beyond heaven with the Orphic ‘Nights’,19 and describes their place in the order of procession as follows (In Phdr. 159.4-8 Lucarini and Moreschini = scholium II.33, par. 4):20

The One is the first principle; Phanes, which is the same as the limit of intelligible gods, but the transcendent principle of intellective gods (for the Nights are principles to which the principle is attached); Zeus, who is the king of hypercosmic gods, is the limit of properly intellective gods; Helios, who is king of the sensible world.

The Orphic Nights therefore symbolize for Hermias the upper limit of the intellective gods, just as they do for Proclus,21 who in fact offers a parallel description of the order of procession in his Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus.22 At the origin of these Orphic descriptions of the highest triad of intelligible-intellective gods is, again, undoubtedly Syrianus, as Proclus tells us that ‘our master (sc. Syrianus) also thinks that we should divide this triad (sc. the highest triad of intelligible-intellective gods) into three monads and shows this while making use of the Orphic theologies’.23

3.2 ‘The Soul’s Pilot’

Concerning the soul’s pilot, Syrianus, in his Commentary on the Metaphysics (4.30-3) states that:

the simplest and truly intelligible substances … cannot be defined or demonstrated but are contemplated only by a direct intuition (ἐπιβολῇ) as he [Aristotle] often states, saying ‘intellect either touched or not’ [see Metaph. 1051b24, 1072b24], and as does the divine Plato, saying ‘observable only by the soul’s pilot, intellect’ [Phdr. 247c7-8].

With his assertion that the ‘soul’s pilot’ is an intellect that contemplates the ‘Being that truly is’ by means of a ‘direct intuition’ (ἐπιβολή), Syrianus, at least in this commentary, adopted a reading akin to that of Proclus, who held that the ‘soul’s pilot’ is a ‘particular intellect’ (µερικὸς νοῦς).24

Although part of a long tradition of reflection on the Aristotelian active intellect, the ‘particular intellect’ is a concept specific to Athenian Neoplatonism. According to Proclus’ triadic model of participation, there exists not only an unparticipated Intellect, but also various types of participated intellects, as well as intellects by participation. According to Proclus’ most developed classification, there are three different types of participated intellect (Theo. Plat. 3.5, p. 19.16-24):

If one wishes to contemplate the intellective orders (νοερὰς διακοσµήσεις), some of these impose order upon the universal souls and the more divine beings in the cosmos … others upon the souls of the superior genera, and are participated directly (προσεχῶς) by those who command amongst these genera, and in a derivative manner (δευτέρως) by the more particular beings; and thirdly there are those set over particular souls, and their power is diminished insofar as their participation is more diversified and composite than that of the intellects which precede them.

The last of these three types, the participated intellect set over particular, human souls, seems to correspond to what is described here, in Proclus’ fullest account of the particular intellect (In Ti. i. 245.13-25):25

The particular intellect is established directly above our essence, guiding it and perfecting it, being that to which we turn when we have been purified through philosophy and have connected our own intellective power to the intellection of this intellect … What this particular intellect is and how it is not unique for a single particular soul and how it is not participated in directly by particular souls, but through the mediation of angelic and daemonic souls who are always active in accordance with that intellect and through whom particular souls too sometimes share in the intellective light, these questions have been thoroughly examined at considerable length elsewhere. For the present let it be understood to this extent, namely, that the entire particular intellect is directly participated by other, daemonic souls, but it also illumines our souls, whenever we turn towards it and we make the λόγος in us intellective.

To this description, we might add that the particular intellect is particular insofar as its intelligible content and its manner of intellecting this content is particular rather than universal.26 Nevertheless, like all ‘real’ intellects,27 it knows its intelligible content ‘holistically (ἀθρόως)’,28 and through this content, however particular it may be, it knows the entire intelligible cosmos,29 including its ultimate intelligible object, the highest of the intelligible-intellective Forms.30

Proclus asserts that he was not the first to identify the soul’s pilot with the particular intellect, writing that: ‘in the Phaedrus, Socrates says that it is the particular intellect which contemplates the region beyond heaven, for this is the soul’s pilot, as it is rightly said by our predecessors.’31 As neither Iamblichus nor Theodore of Asine made this identification,32 by ‘predecessors’, Proclus must be referring to his teachers at the School of Athens, perhaps to Plutarch, but most certainly to Syrianus.33 We may therefore describe not only the interpretation of the ‘Being that truly is’ found in the Platonic Theology, but also this identification of the pilot with a particular intellect, as the ‘Syriano-Proclean’ interpretation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1.

3.3 ‘The Class of True Science’ and the Assimilation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 and Timaeus 28a1-4

Not only did Proclus attend his master’s lectures on the Phaedrus, but he and Syrianus also co-authored a series of ‘researches on the divinely inspired intuitions of Socrates in the Phaedrus’.34 It would therefore come as little surprise should Proclus have adopted Syrianus’ interpretation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 wholesale. Nevertheless, there are two major aspects of Proclus’ interpretation of this passage for which there is no clear indication of a Syrianine precedent, namely, Proclus’ identification of ‘the class of true science’ with the human intellect and his assimilation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 and Timaeus 28a1-4.

As ‘the soul’s pilot’, the particular intellect is closely associated by Proclus with what Plato calls ‘the class of true science’, which is said to be ‘about’ the ‘Being that truly is’. Proclus in fact writes (Theo. Plat. 4.13, p. 43.14-23):

Plato says that ‘the class of true science’ is established around this [i.e. the Being that truly is]. Indeed, these two things ascend to the contemplation of this Being: the intellect, which is the ‘soul’s pilot’ (i.e. the particular intellect established above the souls, leading them towards the paternal harbour), and the ‘true science’, which is the perfection of the soul (ψυχῆς οὖσα τελειότης). This ‘true science’ therefore operates around this [i.e. the Being that truly is], since it dances around Being transitively (περιχορεύουσα τὸ ὂν µεταβατικῶς), while the intellect contemplates it, since it uses a simple intellection.

To discover the nature of this ‘true science’, we must turn to Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus, specifically to his interpretation of the ‘intellection together with λόγος’ mentioned in Timaeus 27d6-28a4:

What is the Being that always is (τὸ ὂν ἀεί), and has no part in becoming, and what is it that becomes, but never is? That which is grasped by intellection together with λόγος (νοήσει µετὰ λόγου) is the Being which is always self-identical, while on the other hand the object of opinion together with irrational sensation is that which becomes and passes away but never truly is.35

According to Proclus, ‘the Being that always is’ is synonymous with the ‘Being that truly is’ and refers to ‘all that eternally is, beginning with the nature of Living-Being-in-Itself—for this is eternity in a primary sense—and ending with the particular intellects’.36 This Being is grasped by ‘intellection together with λόγος’, an expression which Proclus takes to refer to the intellection of a particular intellect joined together with the intellection of our intellective λόγος, when said intellect ‘illumines our souls’ through the intermediary of angelic and daemonic souls.37

The λόγος is, for Proclus, ‘the summit of the soul’ (In Ti. i. 246.28-31), that which makes use of our other cognitive powers (254.29-255.3). In the case of intellection, however, it is ‘not that intellection is its instrument, and [λόγος] what uses it … but that intellection is the light of λόγος, perfecting it and leading it upwards and illuminating the cognitive power in it’ (255.4-9). This illumination occurs, as Proclus writes, ‘whenever we turn towards [the particular intellect] and we make the λόγος in us completely intellective’ (245.24-5) and when the soul begins ‘to move itself around the intelligible’ (247.4-5). In other words, when we make our λόγος intellective by turning the soul away from imagination, opinion, and ‘variegated and indeterminate knowledge’ (247.11-12), and towards the particular intellect directly above us, we can receive an illumination from this particular intellect. This illumination functions as an intellect that we can directly participate,38 and through it our λόγος is able to exercise intellection. This, however, appears to be only the initial level of our intellective capacity, for the soul can subsequently ‘join [its intellective] activity to the intellection of this [particular] intellect’ and ‘intellect with it the Being that always is’ (247.13-15). ‘In fact,’ Proclus tells us (244.28-9):

it is precisely then that the intellection of the soul becomes more holistic (ἀθροωτέρα), and comes closer to the eternal realities, so that it too grasps the intelligible together with the [particular] intellect and acts like a lesser light together with a greater one, since the λόγος in us insinuates itself into the intellection of the [particular] intellect, the intelligible is grasped by intellection together with λόγος. For our λόγος grasps the intelligible together with intellection, whereas the intellection of the [particular] intellect always both is and sees the intelligible, but it connects the λόγος to the intelligible, when the λόγος has taken on the form of an intellect (νοοειδής).

The ‘intellection together with λόγος’ that grasps ‘the Being that always is’ therefore refers to ‘an activity that is at once single and double, as there is both sameness and differentiation in the intellections’ (247.15-17). In other words, it refers to the combined activity of two simultaneous intellections, each of a different nature: (1) the intellection of the particular intellect, which ‘is the object of knowledge particularly, but also sees the universals through the particular’ (247.17-25), and (2) that of our intellective λόγος, which is ‘transitive (µεταβατική)’ (244.17), i.e. it ‘moves from one thing to another (µεταβαίνων ἀπ’ ἄλλων ἐπ’ ἄλλα)’ (246.8),39 and sees the wholes ‘particularly and not holistically (ἀθρόως)’ (244.29-30). When these two intellections act together, it is, as Proclus says, ‘like a lesser light together with a greater one’. In other words, we see the intelligibles more holistically when we see them together with the particular intellect. This transitive intellection of our λόγος is further described by Proclus as a ‘dance’ around the intelligible (248.1-6):

Perhaps he [Plato] also wishes to indicate that the λόγος, circling round the intelligible, exercising its activity and movement just as around a central point, thus contemplates it, since intellection knows the intelligible intransitively (ἀµεταβάτως) and indivisibly, whereas the λόγος dances around (περιχορεύοντος) the essence of the intelligible in a circle and unravels the substantial unity of all things in the intelligible.

Thus, we see that the above description of ‘the class of true science’ from the Platonic Theology corresponds exactly to that of our intellective λόγος in the exegesis of ‘intellection together with λόγος’ in the Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus. Just as ‘the class of true science’ is said to ascend to contemplate Being with the ‘soul’s pilot’, so too does our intellective λόγος intellect this Being together with the particular intellect. ‘The class of true science’ is also said to be ‘the perfection of the soul’, and Proclus tells us several times that the soul is perfected through its participation in intellect.40 Finally, the transitive dance of ‘the class of true science’ around Being described in the Platonic Theology corresponds to that of our soul’s intellective λόγος around ‘the essence of the intelligible’.

And, were these parallels not proof enough, Proclus also openly assimilates the ‘intellection together with λόγος’ of the Timaeus to the vision of the soul’s pilot and ‘the class of true science’ in the Phaedrus (245.25-31):

And just as in the Phaedrus he [Plato] called this [particular] intellect the ‘soul’s pilot’ and declared that it alone intellects the ‘Being [that truly is]’, but [said] that the soul intellects together with this [particular] intellect when it is ‘nourished with intellect and science’ [Phdr. 247d2], in the same way here [i.e. Ti. 28a1-4] too he states that intellection is prior to the soul and that this is the only real intellection, but that this intellection is participated in by the soul when its λόγος acts intellectively (νοερῶς).

It is therefore clear that the two intellections described by ‘intellection together with λόγος’ of the Timaeus are, for Proclus, synonymous with the two things which he says ascend to contemplate the ‘Being that truly is’ in the Phaedrus: the ‘soul’s pilot’ is a particular intellect, and the ‘the class of true science’ must be our intellective λόγος.

Although they may be said to share in the vision of the ‘Being that truly is’, Proclus nevertheless holds that neither our intellective λόγος, nor even a particular intellect, can directly grasp this Being. They can, however, indirectly grasp it by means of lesser intelligibles within themselves, be they either the particular, intellective Forms of a particular intellect, or the images of these intellective Forms contained within the human soul (247.27-248.1):

But how is the ‘Being that truly is’ grasped by the particular intellect or by the λόγος? For this is something that is even more remarkable. For surely, even if the intelligible in itself cannot be grasped by the intellect and the λόγος, because it is superior to all comprehension and has grasped all things transcendently, nevertheless, the intellect, in having its own intelligible object, by means of this grasps the whole [of the intelligible] as well, while the λόγος, by means of the intellect with which it is coupled, receives conceptions (ἐννοίας) of the [intelligible] beings and thus by means of these is said to grasp the [intelligible] Being.

Syrianus, in his Metaphysics commentary, also subscribes to this idea that the more universal Forms may be indirectly contemplated through more particular instantiations within ourselves.41 Furthermore, while he does not specifically mention this as the means by which we may know the ‘Being that truly is’, so much is implied by his identification of the soul’s pilot with the intellect. For if the pilot is an intellect, then the only way in which we can participate in its intellective vision, according to both Syrianus and Proclus’ understanding of human intellection, is by intellecting our own intelligible content.

3.4 The Syriano-Proclean and Proclean Interpretations

In sum, despite the loss of his various commentaries on the dialogue, Proclus’ interpretation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 is fairly clear thanks to what we know of his interpretation of the lemma ‘intellection together with λόγος’ from the Timaeus.42 According to him, Phaedrus 247c6-d1 refers to how our λόγος (i.e. ‘the class of true science’), when illuminated by a particular intellect (i.e. our soul’s pilot), intellects together with this intellect certain more universal intelligibles by means of more particular instantiations of them within itself.

There is solid evidence that Syrianus and Proclus agreed on both (a) the nature of the ‘Being that truly is’ and (b) the identification of the ‘soul’s pilot’ with a particular intellect. It is, however, uncertain whether they also agreed on (c) the identification of ‘the class of true science’ with the intellective λόγος or (d) the assimilation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 and Timaeus 28a1-4. We may therefore refer to (a) and (b) as the Syriano-Proclean interpretation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1, while reserving the more cautious title of the ‘Proclean’ interpretation for (a) through (d).

4 Hermias on Phaedrus 247c6-d1

Hermias was well-placed to adopt the Syriano-Proclean interpretation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1. As we saw above, he understood the ‘Being that truly is’ just as Syrianus and Proclus did. He was also a partisan of the Syriano-Proclean ‘indirect’ model of human contemplation, asserting that we ‘recollect as through images the intelligible Forms’.43 Nevertheless, he chose to adopt Iamblichus’ interpretation of the soul’s pilot (In Phdr. 157.6-11= scholium II.32):

The divine Iamblichus understood the one of the soul to be the pilot, while the charioteer, the intellect of the soul; but ‘observable’ does not mean that the pilot directly intuits (ἐπιβάλλει) this intelligible according to difference but that it unites with it and truly has the benefit of it; for this reveals that the pilot [is] more perfect than the charioteer and the horses; for the one of the soul is disposed by nature to unite with the gods.

Moreover, Hermias not only adopted this earlier interpretation of the soul’s pilot, but also appears to reject the Syriano-Proclean and Proclean interpretations (In Phdr. 158.10-159.1 = scholium II.33, paras. 2-3):

As there are two ways to speak concerning each thing, either concerning its essence (οὐσίας) and its, so to speak, substance (ὑποκειµένου), or concerning its criterion (κριτηρίου), Plato used both. Just as, of course, in the Timaeus [28a1-4], on the one hand, ‘what is the Being that always is, and has no part in becoming, and what is it that becomes, but never is’, is explained from [the perspective of] the substance of things, while on the other hand, ‘that which is grasped by intellection together with λόγος … while on the other hand the object of opinion together with irrational sensation’, from the criteria concerning these and [from] the cognitive and apprehensive dispositions; and thus he constructs it here. For ‘colorless, shapeless, and intangible Being that truly is’ is the explanation of the substantive thing, [as it is] on the one hand, the One, and on the other, Being, as we said (for it is One-Being); but ‘the soul’s pilot alone’ is [an explanation] of its criterion; and ‘the class of true science’ embraces both together.

He [Plato] has rightly added to [the word] ‘pilot’ [the word] ‘alone’; for in the Timaeus, since he spoke in a general way (ὁλοσχερῶς) about all the intelligible, he says that ‘[it] is grasped by intellection together with λόγος’; here, however, since the passage (ὁ λόγος) is about the properly highest of the intelligibles (κυρίως ἀκροτάτων νοητῶν), he says ‘observable by the soul’s pilot alone’; for the one of the soul can unite with the highest intelligibles. For even if its active intellect, established above it, always contemplates the [intelligible] beings, this is still nothing for our soul; for it [i.e. the active intellect] is ours when we are turned to it; but the ὕπαρξις of the soul, which is its one, is then truly inspired when it sees ‘the field of truth’ [Phdr. 248b6].

In this passage, drawn from his scholium on ‘the class of true science’, Hermias addresses two of the key features of the Proclean and Syriano-Proclean interpretations of Phaedrus 247c6-d1, namely, the assimilation of this passage and Timaeus 28a1-4 and the identification of the soul’s pilot with a particular intellect.

Hermias begins by underscoring the parallels between Timaeus 28a1-4 and Phaedrus 247c6-d1, but concludes that the two lemmata treat of fundamentally different subjects. In each lemma, Plato describes something from the perspective of its substance and its ‘criterion (κριτήριον)’, i.e. the organ of measure specific to that thing.44 As we have seen, according to Proclus, the ‘Being that truly is’ is synonymous with ‘the Being that always is’, and its criterion is ‘intellection together with λόγος’, or ‘the soul’s pilot’ together with ‘the class of true science’. According to Hermias, however, both the substances and criteria described in the Timaeus passage differ from those described in the Phaedrus.

In support of his position, Hermias points to Plato’s use of the adjective ‘alone’ to qualify the pilot’s vision, which he evidently takes as implying that there is no second entity which shares in the pilot’s vision. He then explains the fundamental difference that he sees between Timaeus 28a1-4 and Phaedrus 247c6-d1. While Plato speaks of the intelligibles at Timaeus 28a1-4 in only a general way (i.e. by using the expression ‘the Being that always is’) and could therefore assert that they are grasped by ‘intellection together with λόγος’, this is not the case at Phaedrus 247c6-d1. In the Phaedrus passage, Plato refers specifically to what Hermias calls ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’, and therefore describes their criterion as ‘the soul’s pilot alone’.

That Hermias should refer to the object of the soul’s pilot as ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’ is puzzling. Proclus, while he is willing to say that the region beyond heaven ‘is like an intellective amongst the primary intelligibles’,45 only speaks of the primary intelligibles as being ‘properly intelligibles (κυρίως νοητά)’.46 Hermias, however, defends the Syriano-Proclean understanding of the ‘Being that truly is’ both before (In Phdr. 154.25-157.1) and after (159.4-8) declaring that Phaedrus 247c6-d1 concerns ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’. How are we to reconcile these statements? We will return to this crucial problem below.

After having dismissed the equivalence of the vision of the pilot and ‘intellection together with λόγος’, Hermias goes on to reject a key feature of the Syriano-Proclean interpretation, namely, the identification of the soul’s pilot with a particular intellect. He states that, while the active intellect established above us (i.e. a particular intellect) does indeed enjoy a perpetual contemplation of certain intelligible beings, ‘this is still nothing for our soul; for it (i.e. the active intellect) is ours when we are turned to it’.

If we consider these statements in light of the clause that immediately follows them, concerning the ὕπαρξις of the soul, it seems likely that Hermias is here asserting that, while we do sometimes share in the intellective vision of the active intellect, this is not what Plato is describing at Phaedrus 247c7-d1. Instead, when we arrive at the ‘field of truth’ (i.e. at the region beyond heaven), another of our powers, superior to our intellect, is activated, which allows us to directly grasp the divine Forms. This is the one of the soul, which Hermias describes as follows (In Phdr. 88.26-89.16 = scholium II.2):

There is another [part] beyond this [i.e. the potential intellect], which is the highest part of the entire soul and the most unified, which wills the Good of all things and always gives itself over to the gods, and precisely what these very gods want, this [one] is ready to cause it; and [it is] that which is called the one of the soul and bears the appearance of the supra-essential one, uniting the entire soul … Therefore, the enthusiasm of the gods belongs firstly, properly, truly to this one of the soul, which is beyond rational thought and beyond the intellect in it, the very one that at another time seems latent and asleep.

Like the soul’s intellective power, the one of the soul is normally latent (89.15-16), and is only activated by an inspiration proceeding from a higher being (in the one’s case, a god), which indeed occurs when the soul beholds the region beyond heaven. It is thus sporadic, like our form of intellection, but allows us to grasp what the latter cannot.

The equivalence that Hermias sees between the ὕπαρξις and the one of the soul, as well as his description of the functioning of the one of the soul is likely pure Syrianus, as we find the same theories in the writings of Proclus.47 For Proclus, however, (as was likely also the case for Syrianus, given his interpretation of the soul’s pilot) the one of the soul and the soul’s other supra-intellective faculties are concerned with the primary intelligibles, which are not the object of Phaedrus 247c6-d1.48 Proclus holds there to be a very real difference between the way in which we grasp the intelligible-intellective gods and the primary intelligibles. The region beyond heaven, as he writes, ‘is said to nourish [the soul] through intellection and activity’, while the primary intelligibles ‘are said to nourish [the soul] by means of unification and silence’.49 In other words, we know the highest of the intelligible-intellective gods by means of intellection, while the primary intelligibles are known only by means of unification.

Hermias, by contrast, makes the pilot the one of the soul and declares that this passage concerns ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’, i.e. the primary intelligibles. He therefore appears to retain the Syrianine teaching on the nature of the one of soul, yet disagrees with Syrianus and Proclus over when this faculty becomes active.

In keeping with his interpretation of the pilot, Hermias does not understand ‘the class of true science’ as the soul’s λόγος made intellective. He instead writes as follows of this lemma (In Phdr. 157.18-158.4 = scholium II.33, par. 1):

He [Plato] does not mean the truth according to agreement, but the one whose being (τὸ εἶναι) and essence (οὐσίαν) are in agreement with the truth, and this is its being (τὸ εἶναι), the truth … Therefore, what encompasses all truth in a unitary manner (ἑνιαίως), the theologian [i.e. Orpheus] calls ‘the art of divination’, while Plato calls it ‘the class of science’, which comprehends all [forms of] science in itself in a unitary manner.

Hermias therefore holds that the being and essence of the class of science in question is truth and that this class encompasses all forms of truth and science within itself in a unitary manner. Furthermore, as we saw above, he holds that this class ‘embraces both [the substance and the criterion] together’.

These descriptions of ‘the class of true science’ are reminiscent not only of Hermias’, but also of Proclus’ and Syrianus’ descriptions of the Form of Science mentioned at Phaedrus 247d7. For Hermias, this Form encompasses all things divinely (i.e. in a unitary manner) (In Phdr. 160.31-161.3) and ‘produces in all things knowing and truth’ (161.5), while Proclus and Syrianus joined this Form of Knowledge to the Form of Truth.50 Proclus even goes so far as to call this Science ‘Truth-in-itself’.51 What is more, this Form of Science is effectively both substance and criterion, insofar as it is both a ‘Being that truly is’ and contains all possible criteria by which things may be known. It therefore seems likely that Hermias understood ‘the class of true science’ as an allusion to the Form of Science mentioned two sentences below in the Phaedrus.

5 Hermias on Phaedrus 247d1-6

The sentence immediately following Phaedrus 247c6-d1 will also influence how one interprets the image of the pilot:52

So because the unmixed (ἀκήρατος) διάνοια of a god is nourished by intellect and science, and [the διάνοια] of every soul that is to receive what is fitting, in time looking upon Being, it feels adoration, and when contemplating true reality, it is easily nourished and feels joyous, until the revolution carries it around in full circle to the originating point.

Proclus, like Hermias,53 did not read this lemma as we do. Both read ‘so because the unmixed διάνοια of a god is nourished by intellect and science’ instead of our ‘so because the διάνοια of a god is nourished by unmixed intellect and science (ἅτ’ οὖν θεοῦ διάνοια νῷ τε καὶ ἐπιστήµῃ ἀκηράτῳ τρεφοµένη)’. Whatever its origin, this reading of the text gave itself over to an easy assimilation with the Timaeus. While the gods are said here in the Phaedrus to have an ‘unmixed διάνοια’, Proclus understands the Timaeus to designate them by analogy as ‘the unmixed (τὰ ἀκήρατα)’ genera of souls.54 Thus Proclus, tying the two passages together, refers to the divine and daemonic souls which contemplate the region beyond heaven as the ‘unmixed souls’.55

Although it is unclear how Proclus understood ‘the διάνοια of a god’, thanks to his allusion to this passage, as cited above,56 as well as his description of our intellective λόγος as ‘the summit of [our] διάνοια’,57 it is fairly clear how he interpreted ‘[the διάνοια] of every soul’. He likely understood this διάνοια, being ‘nourished by the intellect and by unmixed knowledge’, as a reference to our λόγος becoming intellective and grasping the ‘Being that truly is’ together with the particular intellect.

In his scholium on the ‘soul’s pilot’, Hermias seems to suggest that someone could, or did, object to the Iamblichean interpretation of the pilot on the basis of these lines, writing that (In Phdr. 157.11-16 = scholium II.32):

It is not an objection to him [i.e. Iamblichus] if a certain someone may say that Plato says, ‘so because the unmixed διάνοια of a god is nourished by intellect and knowledge.’ To this it will be replied that each is nourished properly: διάνοια epistemologically and discursively (διανοητικῶς), intellect intellectively, and the one of the soul divinely.

Hermias’ reply to his objectors is ambiguous. Is he arguing that, since διάνοια is nourished epistemologically and discursively while intellect is nourished intellectively, the διάνοια mentioned here, which is said to be ‘nourished by intellect’, cannot be διάνοια properly speaking? Or is he instead arguing that this objection does not affect the Iamblichean interpretation of the pilot as the one of the soul because the two passages are referring to two different faculties, each nourished in a different way? One might imagine that he would clarify his position during his principal exegesis of Phaedrus 247d1-6. Instead, we read the following (In Phdr. 159.16-25 = scholium II.34):

But this ‘διάνοια of a god’, were we, on the one hand, to understand this as διάνοια properly speaking, he [Plato] may mean the διάνοια which is dependent on a god, just as we are so often accustomed to call the body dependent on a god a ‘god’; if, on the other hand, we understand this as ‘god’ properly speaking, then it is clear that we will understand this as ‘διάνοια’ loosely speaking, just as he spoke elsewhere of the ‘reasoning (λογισµόν)’ of a god [Ti. 30b4]. And ‘unmixed’ [is said] since [the διάνοια of a god is] without the proper harm (βλάβης) set over encosmic beings and remains unbowed with regard to the secondary; for out of unmixed genera (ἀκηράτων … γενῶν) Timaeus creates the divine souls [Ti. 41d6-7], but ours not entirely out of unmixed.

Here we find no mention of the nourishment of the soul’s faculties. Instead, Hermias points out that with the expression ‘διάνοια of a god’, Plato must be using either the word ‘διάνοια’ or the word ‘god’ equivocally: either ‘god’ is used here to designate by metonymy ‘the διάνοια which is dependent on a god’, or ‘διάνοια’ is used loosely in place of intellect. A god, in Hermias’ eyes, evidently cannot share in διάνοια as we do.

This second explanation of Phaedrus 247d1-6 seems to owe much to Syrianus, for Proclus too argues that the term ‘reasoning (λογισµόν)’ is used equivocally when applied to the Demiurge (In Ti. i. 399.18-28) and, as we just saw, assimilates the unmixed genera of the Timaeus to the unmixed διάνοια of the Phaedrus. It therefore appears that Hermias offers two different interpretations of the lemma ‘the unmixed διάνοια of a god is nourished by intellect and science’: one, in scholium II.34, undoubtedly of Syrianine provenance, and another, in scholium II.32, which has no parallel in Proclus.

6 The Interpretations of Phaedrus 248a1-5

The final lemma whose interpretation is directly bound up with that of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 is Phaedrus 248a1-5:58

Of the other souls [i.e. the human souls], the one which follows a god best and has come to resemble him most raises the head of its charioteer into the region outside, and is carried round with the revolution, disturbed by its horses and scarcely catching sight of the Beings.

Both Proclus and Hermias seem, surprisingly, to have the same interpretation of 248a1-5. While Proclus takes the soul’s charioteer to be ‘the highest element in us’, a metaphor for the soul’s λόγος,59 Hermias identifies it as ‘the intellective part of the soul’.60 As for the ‘head’ of our soul’s charioteer, that which pierces into the region beyond heaven, Proclus describes it as that which is hypercosmic in us, and allows us to transcend the physical cosmos and connect to the intellect,61 while Hermias writes that it is the soul’s ‘highest and most intellective [part], having unitarily all of its intellective potential’.

Proclus evidently understood Phaedrus 247c6-d1 and 248a1-5 to be referring to the same activity. The charioteer lifting its head into the region beyond heaven is thus, for him, an image of our λόγος being illuminated by a particular intellect and indirectly intellecting (together with this intellect) the intelligible-intellective Forms.

Although Hermias does not spell out specifically how he reconciled Phaedrus 247c6-d1 and 248a1-5, he does at least state in scholium II.36 that, when the charioteer lifts its head into the region beyond heaven, it ‘sees (ἰδεῖν) some of the [intelligible] beings’.62 This seems to indicate that Hermias held that our soul intellectively grasps at least some of the beings within the region beyond heaven. This statement, and Hermias’ treatment of Phaedrus 248a1-5 in general, is problematic for the faithful reproduction thesis. Since Hermias, at least at certain points, retains the Syrianine interpretation of the ‘Being that truly is’ in the region beyond heaven and holds Phaedrus 247c6-d1 to refer to the way in which human souls come to know this Being, his interpretative options for Phaedrus 248a1-5 are limited.

He may argue either (a) that the head of the charioteer and the soul’s pilot ‘see’ the same intelligible objects in the region beyond heaven, or (b) that they each have their own specific objects. If Hermias defended (a), then there seems to be a glaring contradiction in the Scholia, as he earlier (in scholium II.32) argued that the ‘observable’ at Phaedrus 247c7 ‘does not mean that the pilot directly intuits this intelligible according to difference but that it unites with it and truly has the benefit of it’. If he accepted (b), however, he makes no effort to elaborate on the crucial difference and in fact employs language that seems to indicate the contrary. Should the Scholia therefore be a mere transcript of Syrianus’ lessons, this would reflect rather poorly on either the coherence of Syrianus’ exegesis, or the accuracy of Hermias’ notes.

7 The Nature of the Scholia (I)

As we have seen, Hermias, after defending a clearly Syriano-Proclean reading of the ‘Being that truly is’, not only asserts an interpretation of the soul’s pilot which is at odds with the Syriano-Proclean interpretation, but also criticizes one of its major premises, namely, the identification of the soul’s pilot with a particular intellect. Moreover, he also criticizes an additional aspect of the Proclean interpretation, namely, the assimilation of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 and Timaeus 28a1-4. That Hermias should have singled out these ideas for criticism at random is hard to believe. He clearly knew of the Syriano-Proclean and Proclean interpretations of Phaedrus 247c6-d1,63 and rejected important aspects of both.

This conclusion casts serious doubt on the thesis that the Scholia are a faithful reproduction of Syrianus’ lectures. To retain this thesis, we would be obliged to assume that Syrianus not only made an impressive volte-face on the interpretation of the pilot, adopting in a short space of time precisely the position he had criticized in the Scholia, but that he also specifically criticized a key aspect of the interpretation that Proclus would later adopt.

Such a reversal on the identity of the pilot is, of course, not impossible, nor is it impossible that Proclus should have adopted a position criticized by Syrianus. Perhaps, one might argue, sometime after Syrianus’ lessons on the Phaedrus, when he and Proclus were writing their above-mentioned ‘researches’ on the same dialogue, the twenty-two- or twenty-three-year-old student convinced his master to adopt the very positions that he had earlier dismissed.

Yet, whatever the plausibility of this narrative, there remains the problem of the dissonant and even conflicting interpretations within the Scholia themselves. First, there is Hermias’ seeming confusion over the nature of the ‘Being that truly is’. After initially affirming the Syriano-Proclean interpretation in the scholium on the ‘Being that truly is’ itself (II.31), Hermias asserts in the scholium on ‘the class of true science’ (II.33) that Phaedrus 247c6-d1 concerns ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’, only later to conclude the same scholium with a reaffirmation of the Syriano-proclean interpretation. Secondly, there are Hermias’ two different explanations in scholia II.32 and II.34 of ‘the unmixed διάνοια of a god is nourished by intellect and science’. Finally, there is the seeming inconsistency between Hermias’ explanations of Phaedrus 247c6-d1 in scholia II.32-3 and of 248a1-5 in scholium II.36.

These inconsistencies cannot be explained away as a change of heart, nor even as a change of context. While Syrianus, like Proclus and other commentators, was undoubtedly willing to use a given Platonic passage in several different ways depending on what he was commenting, there were limits to exegetical flexibility.

As the Scholia show, Proclus and Hermias were not shy about interrupting their master when they found that his explanations did not accord with his earlier teachings. For example, during the explanation of the four types of divine madness, Proclus asked the following question:64

How can it be … that although we are always ranking the telestic madness above all our other practices and saying that it is superior to human philosophy itself, we are now making it less powerful than the prophetic and the erotic madness?

Understanding the soul’s pilot to be the one of the soul as opposed to the particular intellect has important consequences for the Syriano-Proclean architecture of reality and the soul’s path towards unification with the gods. Were Syrianus to have veered from his earlier interpretations of the soul’s pilot, there would have been questions. Hermias, however, records not a murmur from the students, which suggests that this was not a case of the master playing fast and loose with his exegesis.

The most plausible explanation of these inconsistencies, which would also account for the presence of the Iamblichean interpretation of the pilot and the critique of the Syriano-Proclean and Proclean readings of Phaedrus 247c6-d1, is therefore that the scholia on ‘the soul’s pilot’ (II.32) and ‘the class of true science’ (II.33) contain the thoughts of someone other than Syrianus, namely, Hermias.

8 Hermias’ Intervention

While the scholia on the ‘Being that truly is’ (II.31), ‘the unmixed διάνοια of a god’ (II.34), and ‘the other souls’ (II.36) appear to be composed of Hermias’ notes from Syrianus’ lectures, the short scholium on ‘the soul’s pilot’ (II.32) seems to be entirely the work of Hermias. The scholium on ‘the class of true science’ (II.33), on the other hand, likely contains a mixture of both Hermias and Syrianus.

Distinguishing the Hermian from the Syrianine elements in scholium II.33 is a delicate task, but not an impossible one. The scholium may be divided into four distinct sections, as Lucarini and Moreschini (2012) saw when they made their paragraph divisions. The first section (scholium II.33, par. 1, cited above) attempts to show that the Orphic poems also teach of what Plato calls ‘the class of true science’, followed by a brief exegesis of the ‘place’ in the lemma ‘holds this place’ (Phaedrus 247c8-d1). The second and third sections (scholium II.33, par. 2-3, cited above) contain the critiques of the Syriano-Proclean and Proclean interpretations, while the fourth (scholium II.33, par. 4, cited above) offers an overview of the order of procession in Orphic terms.

While the final paragraph of scholium II.33, the Orphic overview of the order of procession, reflects the teachings of Syrianus, the first three paragraphs, containing the critiques of rival positions and the assertion concerning ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’, seem to be composed largely of the ideas of Hermias. This scholium’s final paragraph, detailing how ‘the higher principles illuminate the light of truth in the lower’ (In Phdr. 159.2-3), may in fact be all that remains of Syrianus’ original exegesis of ‘the class of true science’. Yet, if this is the case, why would Hermias have retained this paragraph if its teaching on the ‘Being that truly is’ (i.e. the Orphic Nights) contradicted his own theory that this Being represented ‘the properly highest of the intelligibles’?

9 The Nature of the Scholia (II)

9.1 An Unfinished Work

When Bielmeier (1930, 30) dismissively referred to the Scholia as ‘a student’s lecture notes slightly revised after leaving school’, he was perhaps not entirely incorrect. The Scholia give the distinct impression of being a brouillon, something far less polished than even the ἀπὸ φῶνης commentaries of Damascius and Olympiodorus. This initial impression is only further strengthened by the inconsistencies we have come across. It is therefore reasonable, I would suggest, to regard the Scholia as a work in progress, a mixture of course notes and personal reflections representing the early stages in a commentary’s development.65

The final paragraph of the scholium on ‘the class of true science’ (II.33) was therefore likely part of the original Syrianine commentary on that lemma, something which Hermias may have wished to keep, but never got around to modifying so that it would reflect his own position. The same would hold for the different explanations of ‘the unmixed διάνοια of a god’. Hermias offered his own interpretation of the lemma in the scholium on the pilot (II.32), but he had not yet gotten around to modifying Syrianus’ interpretation, preserved in scholium II.34, in consequence.

9.2 From Scholia to ὑποµνήµατα

The practice of a student using his teacher’s oral lessons as the basis for his own commentaries was not without precedent at the School of Athens. Marinus, for example, relates how Plutarch, while teaching the Phaedo to the young Proclus, encouraged his pupil to copy down his oral explanations so that, in his words, ‘once these scholia are finished (συµπληρωθέντων αὐτῷ τῶν σχολίων), there will also be notes (ὑποµνήµατα) on the Phaedo attributed to Proclus’ (Vita Proc. 12, p. 15.13-15 Saffrey and Segonds).

The way in which Marinus has Plutarch describe this arrangement is revealing. Proclus’ scholia, although based on Plutarch’s lessons, would be considered ὑποµνήµατα on the Phaedo by Proclus himself when finished.66 The Scholia on Plato’s Phaedrus, I believe, are evidence that Plutarch’s arrangement with Proclus was not unique. This work seems to bear the same relation to Syrianus’ lectures on the Phaedrus as Proclus’ scholia would have borne to Plutarch’s lessons on the Phaedo. Hermias, having taken detailed notes during his master’s lessons, was in the process of completing them in order to arrive at his own ὑποµνήµατα on the Phaedrus. Why he never succeeded, or why only this early stage of his work has come down to us, is unclear.

10 Hermias and Iamblichus

It appears that Hermias favoured an Iamblichean-inspired reading of Phaedrus 247c6-d1, according to which the region beyond heaven represented the primary intelligibles. These intelligibles transcend us to such a degree that they are simply beyond the scope of intellection and can therefore only be known by us through the one of the soul. This position may seem no more than a slight reworking of the Syriano-Proclean reading of the Phaedrus, which simply transposes the region beyond heaven from the intellective gods to the intelligibles. Such a transposition would, however, have important consequences, not the least of which would be an abandonment of the orderly mapping of the Syriano-proclean reading of the second hypothesis of the Parmenides onto the dialogues, as we find in the Platonic Theology.

An ‘Iamblichean-inspired’ position, however, does not imply a slavishly Iamblichean position. The critique of the Syriano-Proclean and Proclean interpretations and the defence of Iamblichus’ reading of the soul’s pilot, for example, evidently post-date Iamblichus. What is more, Hermias’ interpretation of ‘the Being that always is’ from Timaeus 27d6 directly contradicts what we know of Iamblichus’ interpretation of that lemma. While Hermias argues that Plato is here speaking of Being only ‘in a general way’, Proclus tells us that Iamblichus, on the contrary, insisted that this lemma referred to the highest order of the intelligibles.67 Hermias therefore did not simply cut and paste an Iamblichean interpretation of the Phaedrus into his lecture notes but, as Proclus so often does, sought the earlier commentator’s support for his own position.

11 Conclusions

We may draw at least two important conclusions from this study. First, the Scholia cannot be treated as even a ‘more or less faithful’ transcript of Syrianus’ lectures. As it appears that Hermias was willing to introduce his own positions amid his course notes, we can no longer be certain of the provenance of those teachings from the Scholia that do not have clear Proclean parallels, of which there are many. We may therefore safely claim, at most, that parts of the Scholia are derived from a transcript of Syrianus’ lectures. Secondly, we may now say with some certainty that Hermias, far from being a dunce or uninterested in philosophical nuance,68 was an original thinker, willing to challenge both his master and Proclus over the interpretation of what was, for them, one of the most important passages in the entire Platonic corpus.69


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According to his biographer, Marinus, Proclus did not begin studying Plato with Syrianus until after the death of the previous scholarch (or ‘successor’, in the terminology of the School), Plutarch of Athens. We may therefore assume that Syrianus was scholarch at the time of his lessons on the Phaedrus. On the date of Plutarch’s death, see Luna and Segonds 2012, 1080.


Marinus tells us that Proclus, born in 412, arrived at the School of Athens at around the age of nineteen, studied under Plutarch for two years, then studied Aristotle exclusively under Syrianus for somewhat less than two years before beginning to study Plato. Syrianus later died when Proclus was only twenty-five (in 437). Syrianus’ lectures on the Phaedrus were therefore undoubtedly given sometime after 433. On this chronology, see Endress, Luna and Segonds 2012, 1548-9.


Manolea 2013, 158. Moreschini 1992, 452 in fact refers to this as the ‘communis opinio’, which is hardly an exaggeration given the long list of scholars who have either openly defended or tacitly accepted this thesis, including: Praechter 1912; Gelzer 1966, 22; Saffrey and Westerink 1968-1997: iv, pp. xxix-xxxvii and vi, pp. xx-xxviii; Wallis 1972, 141, 144; Dillon 1973, 63; Sheppard 1980, 13, 20; O’Meara 1989, 124-8; Westerink 1990, p. x n. 1; Saffrey 1992, 42; Cardullo 1995, 28; Van den Berg 1997, 159; Manolea 2004, 47-58; 2009, 501; Wear 2011, 206 n. 12.


Moreschini 1992; 2009; Bernard 1997, 13-19.


Moreschini 2009, 520. All translations are my own unless otherwise indicated.


For textual references, see further below.


E.g. Menn 2012, 45 n. 3; Luna 2016, 689-91.


As Bielmeier 1930, 33 writes: ‘Hermias, industrious compiler that he was, conscientiously copied out his authors of reference, especially Iamblichus, but showed not the least critical acumen to compensate for this.’ I say ‘assumed’ because we are today no more certain regarding the real nature of Asclepius’ contribution to the Metaphysics commentary than was Cardullo nearly two decades ago (see Cardullo 2002, 512-13).


On the attribution of these commentaries to Syrianus, see Luna 2016, 702-3.


Plotinus, for instance, as Tarán 1969 has argued, seems to have understood this sentence in yet another manner. Taking ψυχῆς to depend on οὐσία rather than κυβερνήτῃ, he may have read the sentence as follows: ‘the Being of the soul is colourless, shapeless and intangible; it is truly observable only to the pilot, the intellect.’ Whether this was an ideological emendation or not, understanding the Soul to be the individual intellect’s object of contemplation may very well have played a hand in shaping Plotinus’ thoughts on contemplation.


See Syrianus, In Metaph. 4.32 Kroll; Proclus, In Alc. 77.10 Segonds; Theo. Plat. 4.6, p. 22.21; 4.13, p. 43.17 Saffrey and Westerink; Damascius, De princ. i. 293.14 Combès and Westerink (cf., however, iii. 121.18-21, where he does not include the νῷ). Following Dillon 1973, 253, Bernard 1997, 17-18 and Finamore 2017 argue that Hermias and Iamblichus read θεατῇ rather than our θεατή. This hypothesis is called into question by Moreschini 2009, 521, and dismissed entirely by Lucarini and Moreschini 2012 (see the note in the critical apparatus concerning Hermias, In Phdr. 157.8).


Dillon 1989, 54.


As Proclus writes (Theo. Plat. 4.1, p. 6.10-12): ‘amongst the intellective [gods], some are intelligible and intellective, i.e. those which while thinking are thought, according to the Oracle, while others are only intellective.’


Theo. Plat. 4.11-13, pp. 35.11-43.22. I here translate the lemma according to Proclus’ understanding of it, which we will examine in detail below.


In Prm. iv. 945.2-3 Steel = 945.3-4 Luna and Segonds.


Theo. Plat. 4.6, p. 23.11 and 16-20; 4.13, p. 42.18-23. On the difference between the primary intelligibles and the intelligible-intellectives, see 4.3, pp. 16.1-17.14. For an outline of the different types of Forms according to Proclus, see In Prm. iii. 803.5-804.26 Steel = 803.6-804.34 Luna and Segonds; iv. 969.9-971.7 Steel = 969.10-971.9 Luna and Segonds. According to his reading of the Parmenides, Proclus holds that the order of procession from the first principle may be conceived of as the gradual estrangement of One and Being. The primary intelligibles may therefore be described as One-Being, while at the level of the intelligible-intellectives, One and Being have become sufficiently estranged that their distinction becomes actual (Theo. Plat. 4.27, pp. 79.15-80.6).


In Phdr. 154.25-157.1.


In Phdr. 157.2-5. See also Saffrey and Westerink 1968-1997, iv.6. 23 n. 3.


On the Nights, see also In Phdr. 152.35-153.2.


I will identify not only the page and line numbers of certain passages, but also the scholium from which they are drawn, as the division of the scholia will play an important part in my argument.


See e.g. In Ti. iii. 88.16-21; 90.1-6 Diehl. On Proclus’ use of Orphism in general, and of the correspondence he sees between the Nights and the region beyond heaven in particular, see Brisson 1987.


In Ti. iii. 82.31-83.7.


Theo. Plat. 4.16, p. 48.19-22.


See e.g. Theo. Plat. 4.6, pp. 22.24-23.4; 4.10, p. 31.23-5; 4.13, p. 43.14-22; In Alc. 77.10-11; In Ti. i. 245.26-7.


If the participated intellect described in the previous passage from the Platonic Theology as being set over human souls is a participated intellect rather than an intellect by participation, as its place alongside the intellects of gods and the ‘commanding’ daemons would seem to indicate, then, like the particular intellect described here, it is not directly participated in by the human souls over which it presides. Its primary participants must instead be certain non-divine yet perpetually intellective souls. The ideal candidates would be those ‘more particular beings’ that are said to only indirectly participate intellect (2), for as they appear to be lesser daemonic souls, then they still must perpetually participate an intellect. This, once again, corresponds to the particular intellect described here, which is directly participated by certain daemonic souls.


In Ti. i. 244.11-29. On particular vs. universal intelligibles, see e.g. Institutio Theologica §177, p. 156.1-24 Dodds.


See Inst. §64, p. 62.6-7, where Proclus distinguishes between ‘real’ intellects, like the unparticipated and participated intellects, which are self-perfecting substances, and intellective perfections, i.e. intellects by participation.


In Ti. i. 244.26-30. See also e.g. Theo. Plat. 3.27, p. 94.5-10.


On this idea, see Inst. §167, pp. 144.22-146.15, and further below.


Theo. Plat. 4.6, pp. 22.17-23.4.


Theo. Plat. 4.6, p. 22.21-2.


On Iamblichus, see below. As for Theodore, Proclus tells us that his interpretation ignored the entire section on the region beyond heaven (Theo. Plat. 4.23, p. 69.16-25).


Of the two, Syrianus is the only one known to have taught the Phaedrus to Proclus.


In Prm. iv. 944.15-16 Steel = 944.16-18 Luna and Segonds.


While keeping the pagination of Rivaud 1925, I here translate the text as transmitted in In Ti. (see i. 227.5-5; 240.13-16) and as understood by Proclus. On Proclus’ understanding, see In Ti. i. 227.6-234.3; 240.28-241.30; Festugière 1966-1968, ii. 73 n. 1.


In Ti. i. 231.20-3. The Neoplatonists refer to the ‘complete Living Being’ of Ti. 31b1 as the ‘Living-Being-in-Itself (αὐτοζῷον)’. See also In Ti. i. 234.13-235.1.


In Ti. i. 245.24. On the intermediary role of daemonic souls in this illumination, see e.g. In Ti. i. 245.19-20; iii. 269.15-270.16; In Alc. 76.20-78.6; MacIsaac 2011. Proclus does, however, use the expression ‘intellection together with λόγος’ at one point (In Prm. iv. 951.12-15 Steel = 951.12-18 Luna and Segonds) in a loose sense to refer to the activity of our intellective λόγος alone.


On an illumination of the particular intellect functioning as an intellect for us, see e.g. In Alc. 65.11-15; 65.20-66.6; 246.18-247.2; Segonds 1985-6, ii. 294 n. 5.


It is interesting to note that Proclus’ ultimate textual support for this description of psychic intellection as transitive is the Phaedrus, specifically 246b8-c1: see Theo. Plat. 1.19, p. 93.9-12.


See e.g. Theo. Plat. 3.6, p. 21.26-7; In Prm. iv. 853.19-20 Steel = 853.23-4 Luna and Segonds; In Alc. 65.17-21.


E.g. In Metaph. 4.5-11; 24.19-24; 83.7-11.


On Proclus’ lost commentaries on the Phaedrus, see Endress, Luna and Segonds 2012, 1573.


In Phdr. 179.4-5.


Proclus, following Syrianus, offers a different, but not fundamentally incompatible analysis of the structure of Ti. 28a1-4 at In Ti. i. 240.17-241.31. For Proclus on the notion of criterion, see i. 254.19-255.26.


Theo. Plat. 4.10, p. 32.20-3. Although Saffrey and Westerink (1968-1997, iv. 32 n. 3) argue that this is likely a lapsus calami, Hoffmann 2017, 900-1 offers a convincing argument as to why we may take it as is.


In Prm. iv. 905.26-7 Steel = 905.33 Luna and Segonds.


On the equivalence of the ὕπαρξις and the one of the soul for Proclus, see e.g. In Alc. 247.8-248.3.


For recent discussions of the various supra-intellective faculties found in Proclus’ writings, see Lankila 2010; Chlup 2012, 163-8.


Theo. Plat. 4.6, p. 24.3-12. See Hoffmann 2017, 906 n. 175.


In Prm. iv. 944.6-16 Steel = 944.6-17 Luna and Segonds.


Theo. Plat. 4.14, pp. 43.24-44.1.


Phdr. 247d1-6. I translate here the text as Proclus and Hermias read it.


In Phdr. 157.12-14; 159.22-5.


At Ti. 41d6-7, human souls are said to be ‘no longer unmixed as before (ἀκήρατα δὲ οὐκέτι κατὰ ταὐτὰ ὡσαύτως)’, and Proclus (In Ti. iii. 258.15-259.1) extrapolates from this that the divine souls previously created by the Demiurge must be ‘the unmixed’ (τὰ ἀκήρατα) genera of souls.


In Ti. iii. 304.14; Theo. Plat. 4.14, p. 44.8-10.


‘In the Phaedrus he [Plato] … [said] that the soul intellects together with this intellect [sc. the particular intellect] when it is nourished with intellect and knowledge’ (In Ti. i. 245.26-8).


In Ti. i. 246.21-2.


Trans. Rowe, slightly modified.


In Ti. ii. 308.22-3.


In Phdr. 130.4-5.


Proclus, In Ti. ii. 105.30-2; Hermias, In Phdr. 165.1-2.


Phdr. 248a1-5; In Phdr. 164.26.


Pace Moreschini 2009, 521.


In Phdr. 96.28-31 (trans. Sheppard modified).


If I am correct, then the Scholia could represent a goldmine for those wishing to study the production of commentaries at the School of Athens.


On this transition from scholia to ὑποµνήµατα, see Lambrez 1987, 5-6. On the preliminary nature of ὑποµνήµατα and their difference from final form of a work, συγγράµµατα, see Dorandi 2000, 83-99.


In Ti. i. 230.5-8.


Damascius’ insinuations (Vita Isidori fr. 120 Zintzen) concerning Hermias’ philosophical prowess, or lack thereof, are one of the principal pieces of evidence put forward by those who wish to make him nothing more than Syrianus’ reportator. See e.g. Manolea 2004, 48-50.


I should like to thank Saskia Aerts, Marc-Antoine Gavray, Alain Lernould, Tim Riggs, and the anonymous reviewer for Phronesis for their comments and suggestions on this paper at various stages of its development. This work has been supported by a Marie-Curie postdoctoral fellowship, co-funded by the Université de Liège and the European Union.

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