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Porphyry, Universal Soul and the Arabic Plotinus

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 October 2008

Cristina D'Ancona Costa
Affiliation:
Universita degli Studi di Padova, Dipartimento di Filosofia, Piazza Capitaniato 3, 35139 Padova, Italy

Abstract

Scholars working in the field of Graeco-Arabic Neoplatonism often discuss the role Porphyry, the editor of Plotinus, must be credited with in the formation of the Arabic Plotinian corpus. A note in this corpus apparently suggests that Porphyry provided a commentary to the so-called Theology of Aristotle, i.e., parts of some treatises of Enneads IV-VI. Consequently, Porphyry has been considered as responsible for the (sometimes relevant) doctrinal shifts which affect the Arabic Plotinian paraphrase with respect to the original text. This article aims at submitting this hypothesis to trial on a specific doctrinal point where Porphyry parts company with Plotinus: the relationship between the Demiurgic Intellect and World Soul. The ancient doxographical sources testify that Porphyry, in his conviction to be in agreement with Plotinus, in fact parted company with him in so far as he merged the World Soul into the Demiurgic Intellect, while Plotinus always kept them apart. There are in the Enneads some baffling passages where the role of Intellect as the Demiurge of the sensible world is not clearly distinguishable from the role of World Soul. Notwithstanding that, these passages in the Arabic paraphrase do not bear any trace of the characteristically Porphyrian merging of World Soul into Intellect. The Arabic paraphrase of Plotinus’ writings never confuses Intellect and World Soul, as Porphyry did. This fact seems to disprove, at least on this point, the hypothesis of Porphyry's intervention as the explanation for the doctrinal differences between the original Plotinus’ text and its Arabic tradition.

Parmi les spécialistes de la transmission gréco-arabe des ouvrages néoplatoniciens, on a beaucoup discuté à propos du rôle qu’il faut reconnaître à Porphyre, l’éditeur des traités de Plotin, dans la formation du corpus plotinien arabe. Une indication dans ce corpus semble en effet suggérer que Porphyre aurait été l’auteur d’un “commentaire” de la dite Théologie d’Aristote, à savoir, des extraits des Ennéades IV à VI. Certaines différences doctrinales importantes qui séparent les textes plotiniens transmis en arabe de leur original grec ont été par conséquent mises sur le compte de Porphyre. Cet article met à I’épreuve cette hypothèse sur un point de doctrine où Porphyre se détache de Plotin, c’est-à-dire la position respective de l’Intellect démiurgique et de l’Âme cosmique. Les sources doxographiques anciennes nous informent que Porphyre, croyant suivre Plotin, s’en détacha en fait en faisant coïncider ces deux principes, que Plotin garda pourtant distincts. En effet, il y a des passages dans les Ennéades qui prêtent à équivoque, puisqueles fonctions de l’Intellect en tant que démiurge du cosmos visible ne sont pas clairement séparables de celles de l’Âme universelle. Et pourtant la paraphrase arabe de ces passages ne contient pas la moindre trace de la position caracteristique de Porphyre: la paraphrase arabe ne confond jamais l’Intellect démiurgique et 1’Âme universelle, comme le fait Porphyre. L’hypothése d’une influence des doctrines spécifiquement porphyriennes sur la paraphrase arabe des traités plotiniens se heurte par là à une difficulté sérieuse, du moins sur ce point spécifique.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1999

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