ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

90. The School of Athens. Proclus. Simplicius. -- Aristotle reigned as uncontested master at the school of Athens; it was there also that the most complete blending of Aristotelian dialectics with the mystic theosophy of the Neo-Platonists was finally effected. PROCLUS (410-485) is the most influential and characteristic representative of Athenian Neo-Platonism. He includes in his encyclopedia of Neo-Platonism (Stoicheiôis theologikê and Eis tên Platônos theologian) all the topics discussed up to his time, -- pantheistic metaphysics, mysticism, asceticism, divination, theology. Possessed of a systematic mind, and at the same time a fruitful writer, endowed with a striking talent for assimilation though powerless to create, Proclus embodies as it were in himself all the successive phases of the evolution of Neo-Platonism.

Triadic evolution is the vital idea in his philosophy. Every productive principle (monê) generates (proodos) a product which finally returns (epistrophê) into the bosom of the producing agent. For the term produced, although distinct from that which produces it, is only the continuation of this latter, and is consequently endowed with a fatal impulse to become absorbed in it again. This dynamic monism is the law of the world: the universal order is only its application. From the indeterminate One springs the nous (Plotinus), but this emanation is possible only because of certain intermediary unities (autoteleis henades) which Proclus makes personal gods (Iamblichus). In the nous he distinguishes three spheres, each of which he subdivides into groups of three and of seven, so as to form collections suitable for the pagan Pantheon. Matter is a direct product of one of the triads of the nous and not, as Plotinus taught, a final outflow from the World-Soul. Upon this system of metaphysics Proclus engrafts a mystic psychology; its basic principles being the ecstatic illumination of the soul by God and the deification of the soul by (polytheistic) religious practices (Plotinus and Iamblichus).

DAMASCIUS -- a disciple of Ammonius of Alexandria -- gave the Athenian school, about 520-530, a tendency in the direction of the dreamings of Iamblichus. Finally we come to the last notable personage of this pagan generation of philosophers, Simplicius, the fourth and last of the great Greek commentators of Aristotle.

SIMPLICIUS, a disciple of Ammonius and of Damascius, is the author of a voluminous commentary, several portions of which have come down to us. His commentaries are personal. He professes the greatest respect for Plato. He has left us many fragments and items of information, which are of the greatest possible utility for the elucidation of the teachings of his predecessors.

When the pagan spirit of the teaching at Athens could be no longer reconciled with the convictions of the majority of the hearers, now become Christians, the emperor Justinian, by his famous decree of 529 A.D., ordered the school to be closed. It is to this date historians refer the celebrated exodus from Athens of a group of incensed philosophers -- Damascius and Simplicius were of the number -- into the kingdom of a "barbarian" prince who sympathized with the spirit of the Grecian civilization. Their sojourn at the Persian court of Chozroës Nuschirwan was of short duration. Home-sickness drove them back to Grecian realms when the king of Persia concluded a treaty of peace with Justinian in 553. The school of Athens, however, remained closed for good; its old masters drifted apart and continued their labours in the obscurity of private life. It was mostly after 529 that Simplicius wrote the commentaries which are preserved to us from his hand.

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