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Start Date

23rd Mar 2018 3:30pm


Room 346, Humanities Building, Sandy Bay campus

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ALL WELCOME. For enquiries, please contact Humanities Admin Team

Banner for humanities showcase_23 Mar_18

Professor Dirk Baltzly

“Commentary writing and deification: the project of pagan Platonism in late antiquity”  

The sheer volume of writings that have come down to us from Platonist philosophers of the period 300-600 CE dwarfs the surviving works of all previous periods, including the works of Plato and Aristotle (4th c. BCE). However, the secondary literature dedicated to even the few remaining scraps of the Pre-Socratic philosophers dwarfs the work on late antique Platonism. The expenditure of scholarly effort is inversely proportional to the surviving source material. Where the later Platonists have been studied, it has often been for the sake of any light their works might shed on “real philosophers” like Plato and Aristotle. In general, modern interpreters have struggled to see any point to the endless pages of commentary they produced on the works of Plato and Aristotle – pages that seem to swing between scholastic wrangling over minutia and wildly implausible allegorising. This talk hypothesizes a context within which the Platonists’ massive commentary-writing makes a certain kind of sense. It invites members of the audience to use these Platonists’ personal and cultural projects as an occasion for reflection on what Humanities scholars are now doing when we write.

Dr Graeme Miles

“The Achilles of Proclus”

In addition to their teaching of Plato, late-antique Platonists were deeply concerned with the interpretation of poetry and its effects on the human psyche. To take a single example: in his Commentary on Plato’s Republic, Proclus discusses on several occasions the character of Homer’s Achilles. When one assembles these readings an intriguing tension emerges between two separate appraisals. Achilles appears generally as an example of the political virtues, that is, of the virtues which are required to live a good life as an embodied soul in relation to others, but as no higher than this. Proclus regards him, understandably, as an ideal active man rather than a proto-philosopher. On one occasion, however, discussing Achilles’ sacrifice of Trojan youths at the pyre of Patroclus, he argues that Achilles performs a ritual similar to an important (though largely mysterious) theurgic one, apathanatismos, which aimed in some sense at immortalisation. Achilles becomes, in this remarkable passage, a forerunner of the ritual processes which Proclus himself holds most dear.

Though Proclus’ Iliadic readings, in the fifth and sixth essays of his commentary, are made in the context of his defence of Homeric poetry against Socrates’ criticisms, and as part of a wider attempt to reconcile Plato and Homer as inspired texts, Proclus develops his Achilles beyond the requirements of the immediate argumentative circumstances. This set of readings of Achilles demonstrates that Proclus, far from being purely an allegorical reader of Homer, was also concerned with issues of cultural and religious history and with the ethics of epic characters.