Death and Immortality in Late Neoplatonism

Studies on the Ancient Commentaries on Plato's Phaedo


The belief in the immortality of the soul has been described as one of the “twin pillars of Platonism” and is famously defended by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo. The ancient commentaries on the dialogue by Olympiodorus and Damascius offer a unique perspective on the reception of this belief in the Platonic tradition. Through a detailed discussion of topics such as suicide, the life of the philosopher and arguments for immortality, this study demonstrates the commentators’ serious engagement with problems in Plato’s text as well as the dialogue's importance to Neoplatonic ethics. The book will be of interest to students of Plato and the Platonic tradition, and to those working on ancient ethics and psychology.
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Biographical Note

Sebastian R. P. Gertz, Ph.D. (2010) in Classics, University of Cambridge, is a Research Associate to the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project at King's College London. He has published on Greek Neoplatonism and the ancient commentary tradition.

Review Quote

" This is an excellent book which makes a great contribution not only to the literature on the commentary tradition of the Phaedo , but also to the study of Neoplatonic commentaries and the way in which such commentaries should be read. Sarah Klitenic Wear, Bryn Mawr Classical Review 8.5.2012. " Gertz has done many services in this volume, and it is likely not an exaggeration to hold his work as a model approach to dealing with the Neoplatonic commentary genre and its difficulties of interpretation." Dennis Clark, The International Journal of the Platonic 8:1 (2014), pp. 107-109. " A huge amount of scholarship has evidently gone into producing this volume, and the result is a book that makes a significant contribution to research in this area and that most certainly delivers on its goal of helping us to see the Phaedo through late Neoplatonic spectacles." G. Fay Edwards, Philosophical Review 123:2 (2014), pp. 231-234. " This book should be on the reading list of all who study the nature of soul in Plato, the place of the Phaedo in the Neoplatonic curriculum, Plato’s theory of recollection and the forms in souls, Plato’s myths, transmission patterns among Neoplatonic commentators, and ethical issues such as philosophical purification, suicide, the relationship between civic and contemplative virtues, providence, and others." Donka D. Markus, Ancient Philosophy 33:2 (2013), pp. 464-469.

Table of contents

Introduction 1. Nature and purpose of the present study 2. Olympiodorus and Damascius: two philosophical personalities 2.1. Olympiodorus 2.2. Damascius 3. Interpreting the Phaedo: the centrality of the skopo¢j 3.1. Finding the skopo¢j 3.2. Applying the skopo¢j Chapter One Olympiodorus on suicide 1. Philosophy as mele¢th qana¢tou and the prohibition of suicide 2. Two kinds of death and separation 3. Two ways of arguing against suicide 4. Olympiodorus’ three arguments 5. The esoteric doctrine 6. The philosophical argument 7. The case for suicide 8. Olympiodorus’ conclusion Chapter Two Politics and purification in Socrates’ second defence (Phd. 63b-69e) 1. Introduction 1.1. The civic virtues and the statesman 1.2. Old puzzles 2. The civic context(s) of Plato’s Phaedo 3. The discourses on purification 4. The virtues 5. Conclusion: The rapture of virtues Chapter Three Syrianus and Damascius: two interpretations of the argument from opposites in Plato’s Phaedo (Phd. 69e-72d) 1. Introduction 00 2. The background to Syrianus and Damascius 3. Syrianus 3.1. Syrianus’ interpretation of the argument from opposites in outline 3.2. Syrianus’ approach to particular problems with the argument 3.3. How much does the argument from opposites prove? 4. Damascius: s%¢zetai o¥ lo¢goj? 4.1. Damascius’ critique of Syrianus 4.2. Damascius’ own version of the argument 5. Conclusion Chapter Four Memory, forgetfulness and recollection in the Phaedo Commentaries 1. Introduction 2. What does the argument prove? 3. What is recollection, and how does it work? 4. What forms are recollected, and why do we need forms at all? 5. Two puzzles about memory and recollection Chapter Five The affinity argument in Plato’s Phaedo 1. Introduction 2. Alcinous, Plotinus and Porphyry 3. Iamblichus 4. Proclus’ analysis of the argument 5. Damascius’ critique of Proclus 6. Three objections to the argument 7. Two Platonic problems Chapter Six The final argument in Plato’s Phaedo 1. The ‘second voyage’ 2. The final argument 3. Strato’s criticisms and their impact 4. Refuting Strato 000 5. Damascius’ new analysis 6. Concluding evaluation 7. A final note on the argument for immortality in Proclus’ Elements of Theology Chapter Seven Immortality and afterlife in the Phaedo myth 1. Preliminaries 2. The afterlife journey: Phd. 107c-108c 3. Which earth is the ‘true earth’? 4. The underground rivers in Damascius and Olympiodorus 5. Epilogue General conclusions Bibliography


All those interested in Plato, the Neoplatonic tradition (particularly Proclus, Olympiodorus and Damascius), ancient commentaries, the intellectual history of Late Antiquity, and ancient psychology and ethics.