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The Gods in Plato, Plotinus, Epicurus

  • A. H. Armstrong (a1)

The two tractates forming the treatise of Plotinus, called rather misleadingly, to the modern mind, ‘On Providence’, have attracted attention mainly because of the remarkable stress laid in them on the doctrine of the Logos, which marks an interesting development of Plotinus' latest thought and brings the treatise into an apparently close relation to other systems with which the philosophy of Plotinus has little in common. I do not, however, in this article wish to discuss the Logos doctrine of these tractates, but rather to compare certain other aspects of the thought of the treatise with their probable sources in the work of earlier thinkers, and in particular to draw attention to a curious and unexpected parallelism of thought in one passage. I think that conclusions of some interest for the history of Greek thought in general can be drawn from such a comparison.

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page 190 note 1 Enn. III. 2–3; IIερί IIροѵοίας.

page 190 note 2 E.g. 2 ch. ise: 40–5, with Epictetus , Enchdridion 17. The whole of this chapter is strongly Stoic. Cp. also Epictet . Diss. I. 25. 29. 2.2.4 with Sen . Epist. 116, 21. 3. 2. 712 with Sen De Provid. 2. 9. 34 with Stoicorum vet. Fragm. III. 334. 25 Chrysippus.

page 190 note 3 982–985B, 986c, 991E. Though the emphasis on mathematics in this dialogue is characteristically Platonic-Pythagorean, the insistence on the order of the heavens is thoroughly in accord with later thought.

page 190 note 4 For the world-order in the Stoics cp. Diog. Laert. VII. 87–89. For its close connection with the exaltation of the star-divinities, which brings it into relation with the conception of the world-order in the Epinomis and Laws XII. 966E ff., see St. vet. Fragm. II. 645. 528, Manilius V. 723 ff., etc. It must be noted, however, that there is an important difference between the attitude of the Stoics to the cosmos, and especially to the divine element in it, and that of their contemporaries. As I hope to show later, the Epicureans (and to some extent Plotinus) follow as regards τό θείοѵ what may be called the most distinctively Hellenic tradition, that which reaches its highest development in Book A of Aristotle's Metaphysics; that is, they stress the utter detachment of the divinity from human life, its indifference to our affairs, its self-absorption. In the Stoics, on the contrary, we meet both a passionate belief in the regulation of human affairs in detail by the divine providence and a passionate devotion to the divine cosmos. In both, to some extent, they follow the Plato of the Timaeus and the Laws, and the teachings of the Epinomis, but there seems to be a genuinely new spirit and emphasis, probably of Oriental origin (cp. Bréhier Hist, de la Philosophic I, p. 297; Bidez , Cité du Monde et cite du Soleil chez les Stoïciens, especially pp. 254257).

page 191 note 1 Letter to Menoeceus, 134.

page 191 note 2 II. 3.

page 191 note 3 To Herodotus, 39.

page 191 note 4 To Menoeceus, 133–4. See commentary Bailey's, Epicurus, p. 341.

page 191 note 5 47E–48A.

page 191 note 6 αστατοѵ, whereas Necessity is only άѵνπεύθυѵоѵ, Menoec. 133.

page 191 note 7 Cp. Plato, Laws 889c.

page 191 note 8 See the valuable discussion by Cornford in Plato's Cosmology, pp. 165–177.

page 191 note 9 Ar. Phys. B 8. 198b.

page 191 note 10 Cornford, l.c.

page 191 note 11 Cornford, p. 171.

page 191 note 12 In Plato , Laws X 888E a popular and fashionable doctrine is mentioned according to which all things come about τα μέѵ ϕύσεɩ, τα δέ Τέϰѵη, τα δέ δία τύϰηѵ, which certainly looks like a distinction between, ϕύσɩς τύϰη. On the other hand, in Plato's more detailed description of the doctrine, 88gA ff., the two seem to be regarded again as practically synonymous. On chance and necessity in the Atomists see Cornford, pp. 169–170; Bailey , Greek Atomists and Epicurus, p. 122.

page 192 note 1 Cp. Bidez , Écolcs Chaldéennes, vol. offert à Capart J., pp. 6568. Cité du Soldi, pp. 262–267 (Ann. de l'Inst. de Philologie et d'Hist. Orientates, T. III. 1935.)

page 192 note 2 I should prefer to read έϒϒελѵτος (Bailey) or δɩαελѵτος (Usener) rather than Kühn's άѵελόѵτος (which does not fit the context) in Menoec. 133. 7.

page 192 note 3 To Herodotus, 45; To Pythocles, 88. The distinction between τό πѵ (including the void) and τό ὃλοѵ, which is equivalent to όκόσμος, is Stoic. St. vet. Fragm. II. 522525. But for Epicurus τοπѵ discharges the function of ‘background of regularity’ performed by κόσμος in the Stoics.

page 192 note 4 Notably I. 8; II. 4, 16.

page 192 note 5 Cp. II. 9; VI. 4–5; VI. 7, etc.

page 192 note 6 It seems to be explicitly denied in III. 3, 4; note especially the words ό λόϒης δέ λεϒέσθω εϰεɩѵ καί τόѵ λόϒος αѷ έѵ αύτѱ τής ѷλης, etc.; but cp. ch. 5, line 21 ff.

page 192 note 7 E.g. III. 2, 14; cp. II. 9, 13.

page 192 note 8 III. 2. 17, 18.

page 192 note 9 Introduction to the treatise, Budé Plotinus, vol. III, pp. 22–

page 192 note 10 905D–907B

page 193 note 1 896E: ‘At least two souls…’

page 193 note 2 I do not wish to suggest that Plato ever thought for a moment that the ‘orderly’ and ‘disorderly’ elements were on anything like equal terms (this would be contrary to all the evidence), but only that the universal order not something necessary and automatic. The forces of good do not have it all their own way. Cp. Cornford , op. cit. p. 209.

page 193 note 3 III. 2. 8–9.

page 193 note 4 III. 2. 8.

page 193 note 5 Cp. II. 9. 7 (simile of the tortoise and the dance).

page 193 note 6 Cp, also ch. 13.

page 193 note 7 2. 3.

page 193 note 8 2. 8.

page 193 note 9 II. 3. 5, 7; IV. 26, 42.

page 193 note 10 Cp. Cornford on the Demiurge of the Timtieus, op. cit. pp. 34–39 The suggestion on p. 39 of a close relation between the Aristotelian conception of ϕύσɩς and the Demiurge would bring Plato closer to Plotinus; but, as Cornford says, it must remain only a suggestion.

page 193 note 11 III. 2. 1.

page 193 note 12 III. 8. 3–4.

page 193 note 13 III. 3. 3; VI. 7. 12, etc.

page 193 note 14 III. 2. 9.

page 194 note 1 For Stoic parallels to this cp. St. vet. Fragm III. 606–610.

page 194 note 2 III. 2. 13.

page 194 note 3 IV. 4. 26. 40–44.

page 194 note 4 Ein neuer Brief Epikurs, Jensen C.. Berlin (Weidmann), 1933.

page 194 note 5 Jensen , Text. coll. I. 1: 20, 26 ff., p. 15; see benevoalso p. 78.

page 194 note 6 III., To Menoeceus, 12. 4.

page 194 note 7 I do not, obviously, wish to suggest that this view implies any lack of ϕɩλαѵθρωπία theoretical or practical. It simply involves the irremediable inferiority of the unphilosophical. Even Plotinus, who goes further, only says that the wicked have no claim on the good, not that it is not fitting for the philosopher to practise benevoalsolence. His own life contradicted this last assumption; cp. Porphyry's Life, ch. 9.

page 195 note 1 Jensen , Text. col. I., 1617, p. 15; cp. pp. 80–81 on Epicurus' estimate of his own position.

page 195 note 2 Porphyry, Life of Plotinus, ch. 10.

page 195 note 3 Cp. Diog. Laert. X. 120.

page 195 note 4 Lucr. V. 51. cp. I. 66; Diog. Oinoand. V. 14, cp. Jensen, p. 81.

page 195 note 5 Cp. the oracle of Apollo in ch. 22 of Porphyry's Life.

page 195 note 6 E.g. III. 2. 1.

page 195 note 7 This earlier phase of the infiltration of Oriental influences into Greek thought which led to the close connection of Astronomy with Theology in the Academy must be distinguished from the later, passionate and dominating devotion to the Divine Providence, especially manifested in the order of the heavens, which came in with Zeno of Citium (cp. Cleanthes , St. vet. Fragm I. 527, 537; Epict. Diss. I. 6. 23, I. 16. 10. 1, IV. 10. 14, etc.); the difference perhaps more one of tone and emphasis than of doctrine; cp. Bidez, op. cit., esp. pp. 293–294.

page 195 note 8 Cp. Julian's objection to the doctrines of Baptismal Regeneration and Penance. Caesares, 336 A-B.

page 196 note 1 It is impossible here to discuss the differences between Christianity and the pagan worldview. sketched above. I would only suggest that they may be seen at their most fundamental (a) by considering the Christian doctrines of the love of God for man and the free gift of grace and (b) by comparing the benevolence of the philosophers with that ‘folly of the Cross’, or inversion of the world's values, which leads the Christian saint to see Christ more clearly in the beggar, the leper, or the fool than in the Philosopher-King himself; and makes him leave the company of the righteous and intelligent to pursue with passionate love the salvation of some highly undesirable sinner.

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