New book: 'Death and Immortality in Late Neoplatonism'

Death and Immortality in Late Neoplatonism: Studies on the Ancient Commentaries on Plato’s Phaedo’ (Brill:2011)

Author: Sebastian GertzSummary

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.

Table of contents


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 skopos
3.1. Finding the skopos
3.2. Applying the skopos

Chapter One: Olympiodorus on suicide

1. Philosophy as meletê thanatou 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
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: sôzetai ho logos?
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
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


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