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Conference 2018 Program

 

FRIDAY, 29th JUNE

 

Keynote Address by Sara Itoku Ahbel-Rappe

Being the Dialogue: Buddhist interrogations

of the Socratic Persona

 

In this address, I will create a dialogue between the Socratic persona in Plato's dialogues and figurations of the Buddha or Buddhist philosophy in Sanskrit, Pali, and contemporary Zen Buddhism. This approach captures my own practice of Buddhism for the past forty years together with a lifelong engagement with the Platonic tradition. In the talk, I discuss how Buddhist practice has influenced my reading of the figure of Socrates and offer some examples of this reading, including interpretations of the Apology, Parmenides, Theaetetus, Charmides, and Republic.

Sara Itodu Ahbel-Rappe is Professor of Greek and Latin at the University of Michigan. Her publications include Reading Neoplatonism(2000), Socrates: A Guide for the Perplexed (2009), a translation of Damascius’ Doubts and Solutions Concerning First Principles (2010) and Socratic Wisdom, Platonic Knowledge (2018).

SATURDAY, 30th JUNE

1st Session

 

‘Living Assent to a Current of Uninterrupted Vitality’: finding tradition at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts - Dr Emily Pott

 

Recent definitions of ‘tradition’ by such diverse thinkers as Thomas Merton, Kathleen Raine, Gustav Mahler, and the Lithuanian philosopher G. Beresnevičius reveal that the word holds, within itself, a contradiction. Tradition, as they see it, is historical, contemporary and eternal. It is both of its time and timeless, both immutable and endlessly reforming. This phenomenon of permanence and change coexisting is the basis of the work of the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. Artists who study at the School in London and at our centres across the globe are grappling with this contradiction in their own work from day to day and over the years. In this illustrated talk, I will share some of the struggles faced by our students today in their work to reconnect with, reclaim, and reinvigorate past traditions. Furthermore, I will speak about the work of some who have had to search even further to piece together a ‘tradition’ for their own work without the help of a particular art form to reference. I will consider their efforts to create a model for artistic practice that is cognisant of tradition when a physical model of a particular tradition is no longer visible. By sharing their challenges and some of the ways they have faced these challenges, it is hoped that something can be added to the discussion of tradition.

Dr Emily Pott is the Director of Research Programmes at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts where she supervises artists who use their creative work to research the Traditional Arts today. Her own doctoral research looked at the original ornamentation of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (691 CE) considering it as both representative of previous art forms and meanings, and as the nascence of Islamic art. 

 

Traditions of Craftsmanship and Geometry in Contemporary Artistic Studio Practice - Dr Katya Nosyreva

 

The names of the medieval craftsmen who created the monuments of classical Islamic art which have come down to us are for the most part forgotten. There remain intriguing traces of the medieval Islamic craft guilds, organisations which, in some cases, through a master-disciple relationship aimed at integrating practical and spiritual instruction into a single way of life. Seeking inspiration from the example of the craft-guilds and the historical links between these guilds and sufi orders, Dr Katya Nosyreva examines her creative practice with the aim of finding the place of her own work vis ŕ vis these traditions. She asks how contemporary artistic practice can combine both theoretical and practical knowledge and at the same time be rooted within a spiritual framework. How the exploration of the heritage of sacred Islamic architecture and written documents, such as manuals and scrolls on practical geometry, can inform one’s creative practice and contribute to to the renewal of a living visual tradition.

Dr Katya Nosyreva reflects on these questions through the lens of her artistic work and engagement with the art and craft of traditional geometry. Geometry is the structure through which different design elements can be created and related to one another, but is also a visual language communicating meanings linked to the higher order of things and a harmonious understanding of the universe to the viewer. The presentation will explore her artwork side by side with the insights gained in the process of engaging with traditional Islamic forms. This relationship can be understood as supplying a source of dialogue between traditional design methods and her own work, with geometry acting as the common language between the two, in order to find a way that is true both to tradition and to her own practice as a studio-based artist.

Dr Katya Nosyreva is an artist working primarily in the field of ceramics, and a researcher focusing on traditional geometry. She graduated from the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts, London, with a PhD entitled “The Unknown Craftsman and the Invisible Guild: Exploring Spiritual Principles Underlying Traditional Visual Arts.” She frequently teaches and continues to explore the theory and practice of traditional geometry in her studio work. 

2nd Session

 

Alchemical kairos. Associating alchemy with philosophy and religion on terminological issues - Dr. Apostolos N. Stavelas

From the antiquity and thereafter, and in several occasions, the notion of kairos as employed in alchemical texts has a special significance as for the outcomes anticipated via the procedures an alchemist or a mystic selects to assume. Apart from this, the very same engagement of kairos is a verification of two associations in terminology: first, between alchemy and philosophy; secondly, between alchemy and the language of religious texts. As for the first one, it is well known that ancient Pythagoreans thought kairos as one of the most vital laws of the universe; kairos was said to piece together the dualistic ways of the entire universe; the Pre-Socratic philosopher Empedocles associated kairos with the principle of opposites and harmony. In the philosophy of classical Greece, the term met several applications both in the typical philosophical tradition of Aristotle and his commentators and in the philosophical variations and schools of thought that followed his time. Within this framework emerged a main group of references to kairos in the writings of Zosimos of Panopolis. For him, the whole of alchemy depends upon the kairos. His theory is that chemical processes do not always happen of themselves, but only at the astrologically right moment. As for the affiliation via the notion of kairos between alchemy and the sacred as also –and more inclusivelly speaking– the religious texts, one cannot neglect either the famous 3rd chapter of Ἐκκλησιαστής as offered in the translation of the Seventy (Septuagint) or the approach of the Apostolic Alchemy as for the purification process of the Apostolic anointing, for which the kairos time requires a kairos person and for which the Apostolic mandates are of a kairos time and for a kairos people.

Dr. Apostolos N. Stavelas is a researcher of the Research Centre on Greek Philosophy at the Academy of Athens. His fields of study are Neohellenic Philosophy, Classical Philosophy of Language and works currently on a research project on the notion of Kairos. He is a graduate of the National & Kapodistrian University of Athens, of the Democritus University of Thrace, as also of the University of Glasgow.

 

Marcus Aurelius on Society as a Single Organism

Dr. Menahem Lewis Luz

 

In Marcus Aurelius' philosophical journal, the global cooperation of society surfaces as a cardinal principle. Not only are actions to be made on behalf of society (Med. I. 17.6), but the very nature of action must be in accord with that of the rational and socially cooperative beings (V.29). On a higher level, the rationality of the universe itself is based on social cooperation of its parts (30). These rules apply to society and the cosmos as a harmonious unity. Aurelius' special understanding of the global "community" and cooperation is thus doubly fascinating. His role as emperor of the entire Roman world gives his thoughts a deeper and more immediate context. Several times, he refers to the metaphor of the world as a living animal whose organs play an inter-connected role throughout society just as do two sets of teeth or hands or feet (III.4.2). In his parable of society as a tree, a branch cut off from another cannot fail to be cut off from the whole plant (Xi 8) thus, a man cut off from another separates himself from society and from natural discourse. Global society is thus a living being moving towards a common goal of what is good for us all. Our rationality is part of our common guiding principle controlling each soul (vi.36) and the guiding principle is not merely a psychological one, but a principle of morality, controlling humanity individually as well as its entirety on a cosmological level. The cosmos is thus conceived as a single city (IV.4.1) wherein correct thinking and deeds are held in common/corporate for the good of us all (IV.33).

If we turn to the modern understanding of globalization we often find that our own aims are more restricted if not partisan. The good of individual is lost while the good of the organization often takes precedence over that of the global community.

Dr. Menahem Lewis Luz taught ancient philosophy and classical literature in the University of Haifa (1973-2013). His PhD was study of the collection of Spurious Dialogues appended to the end of Plato's canon (Jerusalem, 1980). He later published a Hebrew annotated translation of Aristotle's De Anima (1989) and is preparing a Hebrew translation of Metaphysics i-ii. He has written widely on Plato, the Socratics and the Cynics as well as on the late Neoplatonic tradition of Proclus and Marinus.

 

The Revival of Epicurean Philosophy in Modern Greece

Dr Elias Tempelis

 

In Greece the “Friends of Epicurean Philosophy” founded the “Garden of Salonica” (2007) and the “Garden of Athens” (2009) in a form of a living experience aiming at defending the rights to life, freedom and happiness through the systematic study and promotion of Epicurus’ philosophy and science. Up to now, five “Gardens” have been founded in Greek cities with about 50 active members altogether. This is a rather unique instance of revival of an ancient philosophical theory in this country. Their activities are open to the public and include regular weekly and annual meetings, lectures, publication of books and shorter studies, while their webpages (e.g. www.epicuros.gr) are continuously enriched with extensive information about all aspects of Epicurean philosophy. Since 2011 eight annual Panhellenic Symposia of Epicurean Philosophy have been organized at Gargettus (Gerakas nowadays), a town in the neighbourhood of Athens, where Epicurus originated from. Every year about 250-450 people from all over Greece attend each conference, which is greeted by friends of Epicurus from Europe, USA and Australia. Remarkably, historians of philosophy and other scientists in addition to lay people participate in these conferences, while friends of Epicurean philosophy attend also other national and international scientific conferences. Based on discussions with some members of the Epicurean “Gardens” in modern Greece, this paper attempts a critical evaluation of this movement. Furthermore, it focuses on what it means to live within an ancient philosophical tradition in modern times and it examines how conscious acceptance of the Epicurean philosophy within the particular tradition enhances both this tradition itself and the living philosophy of its Friends. Finally, the paper presents the way its Friends, who aim at a serious study and revival of an ancient philosophical theory, hand on their understanding of Epicurean philosophy to amateur and professional philosophers in our own generations.

Dr Elias Tempelis is Associate Professor of Greek Philosophy at the Hellenic Naval Academy and tutor at the Hellenic Open University. He graduated from University College London with a PhD entitled The School of Ammonius, Son of Hermias, on Knowledge of the Divine.

 

3rd Session

Revitalising the Liberal Tradition - Dr Paul Fagan

Those living in the West have inherited a tradition of Liberalism, and through this many have flourished. Unfortunately, the tradition is now often, and not without reason, blamed for many problems: such as global inequality, climate change, and polluted oceans. Furthermore, in many liberal democracies, a younger generation exists who do not now expect to enjoy the materialism of previous generations.

One may think that it is time for a change. The problem is that liberalism has proved to be both resilient and tenacious for over two hundred years and is likely to continue. Hence, if change is desired, and liberalism is persistent, and a capricious revolution is to be avoided, then improvement is required.

Here it is suggested that an improving form of governance is necessary; it is possible that current governance has been placed in the hands of too few persons, often with vested interests, and they have been tardy in both rejecting the established tradition’s shortcomings and changing for the better. This malaise could be addressed by introducing ideas, with their origins in ancient Greece. The following pairing may prove useful:

Instituting an educational process that promotes the highest ethical standards and encourages the formation of critical minds.

Instituting a form of democracy where a greater proportion of the populace take part in governing and are integral to the political processes.

Overall, a citizenship that is politically engaged and acts out of a sense of duty should emerge. Moreover, the citizenship would be educated to be capable of recognising and anticipating problems, and deciding upon solutions. This foundation may be headed by an assembly of voters that would regularly vote in referenda. Hence, it should be possible to bequeath a fairer and more rational variant of the liberal tradition to forthcoming generations.

Dr Paul Fagan is a panel member for Ask a Philosopher and a contributor to the Springer Encyclopedia of Territorial rights. His interests include any areas where philosophy may be applied to solving problems that we experience in the present. He graduated from the University of Hull with a PhD entitled Who Owns Renewable Energy? An Argument for Independent Ownership

 

Giovanni Gentile and the Risorgimento: A Case of the Reinvention of Tradition - Flaminia Incecchi

This paper seeks to examine Gentile’s reinvention of the Risorgimento intellectual tradition. At the outset of the 20th Century, the idealist philosophical tradition that informed Italy’s Unification had been largely forgotten: the intellectual landscape was dominated by positivism, and widely ignored the intellectual currents that had been prominent until then. One figure will challenge this wide spread tendency: Giovanni Gentile. In re-engaging, and re-interpreting the Risorgimento canon, Gentile not only revived its tradition, but projected it in the future - thereby giving it a novel scope in accordance to the political and intellectual needs of his era. More specifically, Gentile dragged the Risorgimento tradition out of the oblivion in which it laid, and tried to reinvent its spirit, as to make Italy’s future a continuation of the Risorgimento. This paper begins by providing readers a snapshot of the philosophical currents of the Risorgimento. These were profoundly oriented towards locating an Italian tradition in order to devise a political future and vocation for the nascent state. After providing this conceptual map, the paper briefly sketches the Italian post- Risorgimento philosophical panorama, which will show the lack of engagement with that tradition. The subsequent section explores how Gentile re-elaborated the intellectual tradition of the Risorgimento. The thesis of this paper is that the revival of tradition, as shown by the case of Gentile and the Risorgimento, can be seen as a re-interpretation of roots to devise novel conceptual paradigms, which in spite of their rootedness in the past, can still provide avenues of new discussions. In showing this, we learn, as Gentile suggests, that every history is contemporary history, in that it is more telling of our time than its own.

Flaminia Incecchi is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the University of St Andrews. She is working on a dissertation entitled “The Aesthetics of War in the Thought of Giovanni Gentile and Carl Schmitt”. Her research aims at shedding light on the controversial figure of Gentile, and aims at establishing a conversation between Gentile and Schmitt. In doing so, she relies on several disciplines: history of ideas, aesthetics, political thought, and philosophy.

 

4th Session

 

A proposal for the recovery and reconstruction of Hellenistic culture as a complete system of traditional knowledge - Melko Rašica

Traditional systems of knowledge have certain characteristics in common which distinguish them from the modern rationalistic world view. Firstly, they are integrated systems of knowledge which understand reality as layered, comprising different levels of existence. Secondly, they provide a basis of concepts and technical vocabulary which serves to integrate the different ontological levels and the different domains of knowledge. Human beings are understood as reflecting the same structure being made up of the same layers. The purpose of this knowledge is essentially twofold: firstly to understand external nature, and how to live in harmony with it; secondly, to understand one's internal nature, primarily the mind, and learn how to manage it, this for the purpose of living a happy life, personal development and spiritual evolution. These are matters about which the modern rationalistic worldview has little to say, so that traditional systems of knowledge are still very relevant and this makes their preservation and recovery important, especially for the benefit of future generations. They constitute the common heritage of humanity.

Hellenistic culture can be understood as a complete system of traditional knowledge in which philosophy, especially Neoplatonism, provides the intellectual and spiritual basis and which itself formed the basis for Christian and Islamic cultures. As a result, many aspects of Hellenistic culture have been preserved not only trough texts, but as living tradition, especially within Orthodox Christianity and Sufism. This provides an opportunity for a recovery and reconstruction of the system, much like putting together a mosaic, a process which the writer of this paper has been involved with for a long time on a personal basis. As an illustration, there is a discussion of the close connection between medicine and spiritual practice in Neoplatonism, Patristic theology and Vedanta, and especially through the anthropology and cosmology which form the theoretical basis of both.

Melko Rašica holds degrees in cultural anthropology, philosophy and theology, and is currently writing a dissertation at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on the influence of Philosophical theurgy on Christian liturgy. His interests include traditional systems of knowledge, spiritual practice, cosmology, anthropology, medicine and music in the Graeco-Arabic and Indian traditions. He has an Ayurvedic and Yoga practice in the Netherlands.

 

A Hare Krishna’s take on the good life

Shivanand Sharma

In this brief paper, I want to sketch a Hare Krishna’s perspective on the good life. By Hare Krishna I mean specifically the bhakti-yoga tradition made popular in the Western world by the revolutionary efforts of the distinguished Vedic scholar and teacher A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The bhakti-yoga tradition is grounded in the ancient text known as Bhagavad-gita, a magnum opus of Vedic philosophy, and so I propose to confine my presentation to this text alone. The Bhagavad-gita develops a sophisticated philosophy that bears comparison with other great philosophical traditions, and in this paper I wish to draw some comparisons with the Aristotelian treatment of ethics in particular. This is because Aristotle shares a common goal with the Bhagavadgita.

Like the Bhagavad-gita, Aristotle is concerned not just with any good, but rather with the highest good; that good which is desirable in and of itself, and in relation to which all other goods are subservient. And as with the Bhagavad-gita, Aristotle’s bold conception of the highest good demands reasoned justification. It is no surprise then that the two take similar systematic approaches to rationalising the highest good, beginning with a principled account of human nature. But the two also diverge in important ways, most notably in their target of what constitutes the good life. My purpose in this essay then is to present the Hare Krishna take on the good life by highlighting some of the similarities and differences that can be drawn in comparison with the Aristotelian account.

Shivanand Sharma is a Chartered Enterprise Risk Actuary and is currently pursuing a Masters from the University of Birmingham in Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. He also served as a full-time monk for two years at the London branch of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), and currently oversees ISKCON’s budding Krishna West project in London.

 

13th THOMAS TAYLOR LECTURE

 

Presence and Absence in Platonic Dialogues and our relation to philosophic tradition

Tim Addey

 

Plato constantly plays upon themes of presence and absence in his dialogues: is this a technique to overcome the shortcomings of written philosophy? Does it encourage us to be more intensely present with the truths he is exploring? Perhaps it presents us with a profound insight into our own changing condition – our own presence and absence from our self – and our subsequent fluctuating relationship to the traditions with which we may choose to align ourselves. And what of the absence of Plato himself from his dialogues: does this mean that he is more able to be present with those who are following his tradition?

Whatever tradition we follow - whether formally or informally, consciously or unconsciously, with discipline or haphazardly - we must come to terms with a range of presences and absences as part of the puzzle of the human condition: in this talk I hope to investigate ways of embracing both what is present and what is absent.

Tim Addey is the chairperson of the Prometheus Trust, the editor of the Thomas Taylor Series, the director of its education program, and the author of several books on the Platonic tradition.

 

 SUNDAY, 1st JULY

 

5th Session

 

The Hellenistic of Logicomix - Silvia Giurgiu

 

In this paper I want to approach the graphic novel Logicomix from the point of view of the Hellenistic tradition of the two Greek authors. Christos Papadimitriou and Alecos Papadatos wrote a graphic story having as central plot the modern turns of mathematical logic and “the quest for truth”. The characters are real philosophers or rather their real (living) ideas, since the authors warn us that for good (narrative, logic, artistic or scientific) reasons they had changed some of the facts. They actually open a list of such inaccuracies and invite us to search for more, just for the fun. Thus it is also an interactive book.

Tracing the Greek elements of these comics, we can gain a new perspective on the book’s structure and fundamental concepts. I will track the Hellenistic of Logicomix at three levels. Firstly, there is the thematic approach. The frame story having as characters the authors themselves speaks about some rehearsals for Orestiada too. The comments and the connections these characters are making gives them the role of the chorus and the unexpected happy end turn the story they are creating into a modern version of the Greek tragedy. The second level of Hellenism deals with the second story whose narrator is Bertrand Russell. His public speech on the importance of logic for the real life big problems reminds us of the Socratic style. Finally, at the third level we have the vocabulary. I will use both Greek original and English version and I will try comment on how the key concepts of modern logic (the Greek translation of these concepts) rely or not on the ancient Greek philosophical tradition.

Silvia Giurgiu is a high school teacher of Philosophy in Romania and lecturer of Romanian as a foreign language at Democritus University of Thrace (Greece). She graduated from the “Babes-Bolyai” University of Cluj (Romania) with a PhD entitled Post-Kantian autonomist aesthetics as applied ethics; ethical substratum of purist literary criticism in the 20th century.

 

The power, allure and risk of inter-subjective fields - Stuart Dunbar 

What does the behaviour of people in modern day cults tell us about philosophical traditions? Cults typically form around power structures that develop naturally in groups of people committed to a shared spiritual or philosophical worldview. I was a member of spiritual community for 15 years. I want to share some of my own experience of the powerful forces that are generated when people come together in a common commitment to a philosophical narrative. We believe deep down that we always think for ourselves, but how much are we thinking just as we have been taught? We think we could never cross certain boundaries in our behaviour, but in fact, given the right conditions, we can be influenced to do so. Powerful social phenomena like those evinced in cults reveal how frighteningly susceptible our minds, values and intentions are to the influence of the philosophical narrative that supports our social context. Obviously, we need our social context; we cannot develop as individuals without it. But how exactly does that social context support our development and when does it become destructive? 

Stuart Dunbar has been a student with the Prometheus Trust for the past 3 years. He received a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1985 with a concentration in modern philosophy and since then has pursued his study of philosophy through various academic and non-academic forums. His current interests are in the philosophy of mind, developmental psychology, and Platonism. 

 

Civilization, Self-knowledge, and Cosmopolitanism – an Essay

Dr. Deepa Majumdar

The teleological cunning of history that manoeuvres the destiny of a civilization may seem contrary to the individual and her quest for self-knowledge. Where the former is outward, collective, seemingly beyond our control – the latter is inward, individuated, and subject to free will. Yet, the two link hands in ways that are invisible and profound. To understand this, one must heed the moral purpose of spatio-temporal cosmopolitanism. Unlike selfish diversity, which fails to gather the many into a one, unselfish cosmopolitanism enables the individual to transcend her ego and progress in the direction of self-knowledge. Radiating the light of conscience – the “I” blossoms through the “we” carved by cosmopolitan friendship.

Anything but insular, civilizations are porous – inhaling and exhaling other civilizations as part of their inherent struggle towards contemplative fruition and wisdom. If upon the slaughter-bench of history, they clash through trade and war, then they uplift one another through friendship, inspiration, humanitarianism, and hospitality. When one civilization is in spiritual crisis, others rush in to salvage and resuscitate. Is there a teleological-contemplative purpose to such historical manoeuvres? This purpose lies perhaps in the ascent (collective and individual) from the particular to the universal – where the many melt into a discrete one and the individual reaches the safe shore of Nirvana.

Civilizations sustain and nourish the individual across space and time. If the embryonic “I” needs the womb of the civilization to draw from until it matures enough to draw from within, then the civilization draws its life-breath from the spiritual riches of the individual.

The purpose of this essay is to contemplate the subtle filaments that tie the ascent of the civilization to that of the individual, through quiet cosmopolitanism – all this in the context of our dire historical moment.

Dr. Deepa Majumdar is a professor of philosophy at Purdue University Northwest. She specializes in the philosophy of Plotinus and Advaita Vedānta. Besides comparative mysticism, her research interests include Gandhian thought, post-colonialism, feminism, philosophy of economics and philosophy of technology. She writes philosophical poetry and essays.

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6th Session

 

Tradition: It’s origin, purpose and opposition - Dr Robert Bolton

I consider whether tradition should be taken to mean “sacred tradition,” because of its role as a superhuman wisdom which alone seems to be able to guide our thought between the extremes of coagulation and dissolution, or of sclerosis and aimless freedom, both typical of the purely human. Mankind inherits a primal and universal intuition of the difference between the world of phenomenal flux and a world of permanent reality which causes it without being part of it. Traditions train successive generations to discriminate between the Two Ways, based on the above. I refer to Parmenides as a founder-figure of philosophy and tradition, with his “Way of Truth” and “Way of Seeming.” Plato’s philosophy is a very clear example of this kind of thought, with its own “two worlds” conception, where they intermingle without fusion. 

Instead of being opposed to reason and individuality, tradition cultivates them much more than anti-traditional cultures do. This appears from the fact that the recent decline of individualism in our society does not bring with it any restoration of tradition, whence the need to understand how and why science and modern culture are able to counteract it. Without tradition, democracy reduces truth and value to what people want to say they are; science takes over the metaphysician’s discrimination between appearance and reality, only to turn it into the discovery of subtle appearances behind gross ones, allowing no alternative reality to that of the phenomenal; thus real metaphysics, and thereby tradition, is excluded by a parody of metaphysics.

 The role of the herd instinct is considered in connection with this situation, both within tradition and in cultures opposed to it, and I discuss the warning signs of the approach of a pseudo-tradition which would work in exactly the opposite way to real tradition.

Dr Robert Bolton’s education was originally scientific, in chemistry and physics, but he studied Plato's philosophy in his spare time. He went to Exeter University and took postgraduate degrees in philosophy, and subsequently was the author of several books, including The Order of the Ages, Self and Spirit and Person, Soul and Identity: Philosophy and the Real Self. He has also been a regular contributor to Sacred Web.

 

‘You are invited to join a Neoplatonic student community’: the role of late antique philosophic biographies in constructing community

Rosalind Pulvermacher

In late antiquity, there arose a tradition for eminent students of Platonic philosophy to write the biography of their teachers. Twentieth century discussion of late antique biography has typically proceeded in terms of ‘the search for origins’ and of identifying genre, with Plutarch and Suetonius being taken as normative. A more recent trend has concentrated on classifying the characteristics of the protagonist as indicative of whether he should be viewed as a sage or as a divine holy man. This paper argues that these biographies are ‘performative’ texts which function to perpetuate the teaching after the death of the teacher, but offer very different strategies to achieve this aim. The focus will be primarily Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus from the third century and Marinus’s late fifth century account of Proclus.

Both Porphyry and Marinus needed to respond to Plato’s problematization of the status of reading and writing, since teaching can properly only happen in personal questioning encounter between teacher and pupil. Porphyry’s strategy is to involve us (the readers) in a network of communicative relationships with teacher and students and critics and also with a variety of texts, culminating in the compilation of the Enneads. He engages us in editorial ‘work in progress’, thereby situating us within a continuing Plotinian community.

Marinus’s more nuanced scenario of induction into philosophic community has gone unremarked. He provides a series of discrete narrative vignettes to illustrate the production of texts as a function of the relationship between teacher and student, particularly in the early formative stages, and concludes with Proclus’s warning about the harmfulness of texts when encountered outside such a relationship. Marinus’s account is itself performative in occupying a place of introductory mediation between ourselves and Proclus.

Rosalind Pulvermacher gained a degree in classics and then worked for many years in commercial IT and government bureaucracies. She is now happily free to pursue her continuing interest in ancient thought. and is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.

 

 

7th session – Round Table

 

Tradition: the seed in the husk?

 

Every living thing on this earth must undergo processes of renewal – the snake must shed her skin, the husk broken to release the living seed, each cell of the body replaced as time goes by. And traditions? How does each maintain its living core while shedding its outer layer? The extremes of change – too much or too little – undermine traditions: how are we to tread the narrow path between the two? This session will run from 2.15 to 3.15 and we hope that this will be an opportunity to discuss this and other ideas generated by the conference from papers and informal chats between our participants.