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Platonic School, or the “Old Akadéme,” in contrast with the later or Neo-Platonic School of Alexandria.
Neo-platonism. Lit., “The new Platonism” or Platonic School. An eclectic pantheistic school of philosophy founded in Alexandria by Ammonius Saccas, of which his disciple Plotinus was the head (A.D. 189-270). It sought to reconcile Platonic teachings and the Aristotelean system with oriental Theosophy. Its chief occupation was pure spiritual philosophy, metaphysics and mysticism. Theurgy was introduced towards its later years. It was the ultimate effort of high intelligences to check the ever-increasing ignorant superstition and blind faith of the times; the last product of Greek philosophy, which was finally crushed and put to death by brute force.
Alexandrian School (of Philosophers). This famous school arose in Alexandria (Egypt) which was for several centuries the great seat of learning and philosophy. Famous for its library, which bears the name of “Alexandrian,” founded by Ptolemy Soter, who died in 283 B.C., at the very beginning of his reign; that library which once boasted of 700,000 rolls or volumes (Aulus Gellius); for its museum, the first real academy of sciences and arts; for its world-famous scholars, such as Euclid (the father of scientific geometry), Apollonius of Perga (the author of the still extant work on conic sections), Nicomachus (the arithmetician); astronomers, natural philosophers, anatomists such as Herophilus and Erasistratus, physicians, musicians, artists, etc., etc.; it became still more famous for its Eclectic, or the New Platonic school, founded in 193 A.D., by Ammonius Saccas, whose disciples were Origen, Plotinus, and many others now famous in history. The most celebrated schools of Gnostics had their origin in Alexandria. Philo Judæus Josephus, lamblichus, Porphyry, Clement of Alexandria, Eratosthenes the astronomer, Hypatia the virgin philosopher, and numberless other stars of second magnitude, all belonged at various times to these great schools, and helped to make Alexandria one of the most justly renowned seats of learning that the world has ever produced.
Eclectic Philosophy. One of the names given to the Neo-Platonic school of Alexandria.
Philaletheans (Gr.). Lit., “the lovers of truth”; the name is given to the Alexandrian Neo-Platonists, also called Analogeticists and Theosophists. The school was founded by Ammonius Saccas early in the third century, and lasted until the fifth. The greatest philosophers and sages of the day belonged to it.
Analogeticists. The disciples of Ammonius Saccas, so called because of their practice of interpreting all sacred legends, myths and mysteries by a principle of analogy and correspondence, which is now found in the Kabbalistic system, and pre-eminently so in the Schools of Esoteric Philosophy, in the East.
Theurgist. The first school of practical theurgy (from theos, god, and ergon work,) in the Christian period, was founded by Iamblichus among certain Alexandrian Platonists. The priests, however, who were attached to the temples of Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia and Greece, and whose business it was to evoke the gods during the celebration of the Mysteries, were known by this name, or its equivalent in other tongues, from the earliest archaic period. . . . The Neo-platonists of the school of Iamblichus were called theurgists, for they performed the so-called “ceremonial magic,” and evoked the simulacra or the images of the ancient heroes, “gods,” and daimonia (daimovia, divine, spiritual entities). In the rare cases when the presence of a tangible and visible “spirit” was required, the theurgist had to furnish the weird apparition with a portion of his own flesh and blood—he had to perform the thepœa or the “creation of gods,” by a mysterious process well known to the old, and perhaps some of the modern, Tântrikas and initiated Brahmans of India. Such is what is said in the Book of Evocations of the pagodas. It shows the perfect identity of rites and ceremonial between the oldest Brahmanic theurgy and that of the Alexandrian Platonists.
Ammonius Saccas. A great and good philosopher who lived in Alexandria between the second and third centuries of our era, and who was the founder of the Neo-Platonic School of Philaletheians or “lovers of truth.” He was of poor birth and born of Christian parents, but endowed with such prominent, almost divine, goodness as to be called Theodidaktos, the “god-taught.” He honoured that which was good in Christianity, but broke with it and the churches very early, being unable to find in it any superiority over the older religions.
Plotinus. The noblest, highest and grandest of all the Neo-Platonists after the founder of the school, Ammonius Saccas. He was the most enthusiastic of the Philaletheans or “lovers of truth,” whose aim was to found a religion on a system of intellectual abstraction, which is true Theosophy, or the whole substance of Neo-Platonism. If we are to believe Porphyry, Plotinus has never disclosed either his birth-place or connexions, his native land or his race. Till the age of twenty-eight he had never found teacher or teaching which would suit him or answer his aspirations. Then he happened to hear Ammonius Saccas, from which day he continued to attend his school. At thirty-nine he accompanied the Emperor Gordian to Persia and India with the object of learning their philosophy. He died at the age of sixty-six after writing fifty-four books on philosophy. So modest was he that it is said he “blushed to think he had a body.” He reached Samâdhi (highest ecstasy or “re-union with God” the divine Ego) several times during his life. As said by a biographer, “so far did his contempt for his bodily organs go, that he refused to use a remedy, regarding it as unworthy of a man to use means of this kind.” Again we read, “as he died, a dragon (or serpent) that had been under his bed, glided through a hole in the wall and disappeared”—a fact suggestive for the student of symbolism. He taught a doctrine identical with that of the Vedantins, namely, that the Spirit-Soul emanating from the One deific principle was, after its pilgrimage, re-united to It.
Porphyry, or Porphyrius. A Neo-Platonist and a most distinguished writer, only second to Plotinus as a teacher and philosopher. He was born before the middle of the third century A.D., at Tyre, since he called himself a Tyrian and is supposed to have belonged to a Jewish family. Though himself thoroughly Hellenized and a Pagan, his name Melek (a king) does seem to indicate that he had Semitic blood in his veins. Modern critics very justly consider him the most practically philosophical, and the soberest, of all the Neo-Platonists. A distinguished writer, he was specially famous for his controversy with Iamblichus regarding the evils attendant upon the practice of Theurgy. He was, however, finally converted to the views of his opponent. A natural-born mystic, he followed, as did his master Plotinus, the pure Indian Râj-Yoga training, which leads to the union of the Soul with the Over-Soul or Higher Self (Buddhi-Manas). He complains, however, that, all his efforts notwithstanding, he did not reach this state of ecstacy before he was sixty, while Plotinus was a proficient in it. This was so, probably because while his teacher held physical life and body in the greatest contempt, limiting philosophical research to those regions where life and thought become eternal and divine, Porphyry devoted his whole time to considerations of the hearing of philosophy on practical life. . . . Of all the Neo-Platonists, Porphyry approached the nearest to real Theosophy as now taught by the Eastern secret school. . . .
Iamblichus (Gr.). A great Theurgist, mystic, and writer of the third and fourth centuries, a Neo-Platonist and philosopher, born at Chalcis in Cœle-Syria. Correct biographies of him have never existed because of the hatred of the Christians; but that which has been gathered of his life in isolated fragments from works by impartial pagan and independent writers shows how excellent and holy was his moral character, and how great his learning. He may be called the founder of theurgic magic among the Neo-Platonists and the reviver of the practical mysteries outside of temple or fane. His school was at first distinct from that of Plotinus and Porphyry, who were strongly against ceremonial magic and practical theurgy as dangerous, though later he convinced Porphyry of its advisability on some occasions, and both master and pupil firmly believed in theurgy and magic, of which the former is principally the highest and most efficient mode of communication with one’s Higher Ego, through the medium of one’s astral body. . . . Iamblichus wrote many books but only a few of his works are extant, such as his “Egyptian Mysteries” and a treatise “On Dæmons,” in which he speaks very severely against any intercourse with them. He was a biographer of Pythagoras and deeply versed in the system of the latter, and was also learned in the Chaldean Mysteries. . . . There is much of the theosophical in his teachings, and his works on the various kinds of dæmons (Elementals) are a well of esoteric knowledge for the student. His austerities, purity of life and earnestness were great. . . .
Hypatia (Gr.). The girl-philosopher, who lived at Alexandria during the fifth century, and taught many a famous man—among others Bishop Synesius. She was the daughter of the mathematician Theon, and became famous for her learning. Falling a martyr to the fiendish conspiracy of Theophilos, Bishop of Alexandria, and his nephew Cyril, she was foully murdered by their order. With her death fell the Neo Platonic School.
Proclus (Gr.). A Greek writer and mystic philosopher, known as a Commentator of Plato, and surnamed the Diadochus. He lived in the fifth century, and died, aged 75, at Athens A.D. 485. His last ardent disciple and follower and the translator of his works was Thomas Taylor of Norwich . . .
—H. P. Blavatsky, Theosophical Glossary
- Iamblichus on The Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians
- Iamblichus’s Life of Pythagoras
- Iamblichus’s Life of Pythagoras, or Pythagoric Life
- Marinus’s Life of Proclus, or “Concerning Felicity”
- Plotinus, The Enneads [1:1-9]
- Plotinus, The Enneads [2:1-9]
- Plotinus, The Enneads [3:1-9]
- Plotinus, The Enneads [4:1-9]
- Plotinus, The Enneads [5:1-9]
- Plotinus, The Enneads [6:1-9]
- Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Food
- Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus, and Order of His Writings
- Porphyry’s Life of Pythagoras
- Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato
- Proclus, On the Theology of Plato
- Proclus, The Elements of Theology
- Pythagoric Sentences, from the Protreptics of Iamblichus
- The Pythagoric Symbols, with the Explanations of Iamblichus
Selected Articles, Commentaries, etc.
- Alexandria and Her Schools
- Ammonius Saccas
- From Plato to the Neoplatonists
- Hypatia: The Last of the Neoplatonists
- Iamblichus on The Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians
- Iamblichus: The Egyptian Mysteries
- Introduction to Proclus, On the Theology of Plato
- On the Theology of Plato, a Seventh Book
See also: The Writings of Thomas Taylor