Late Antiquity

As we move into late antiquity, the podcast looks at the build-up to Plotinus and the tradition known as "Neoplatonism," when Aristotle and Plato became the basis for a new synthesis of ancient thought. Major philosophical themes include the nature of the First Principle, the nature of mind and soul, and the eternity of the world. We also start to see pagan thought interacting with the religions of Judaism and Christianity. Interviews with Jan Opsomer, Serafina Cuomo, James Wilberding, Anne Sheppard, Dominic O'Meara and Richard Sorabji.

The book version of these podcasts is available from Oxford University Press.

Further Reading

• U. Coope, Freedom and Responsibility in Neoplatonic Thought (Oxford: 2020).

• J.M. Dillon and L.P. Gerson, Neoplatonic Philosophy: Introductory Readings (Indianapolis: 2004).

• A. Falcon (ed.), Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Aristotle in Antiquity (Leiden: 2016).

• L. Gerson (ed.), The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity, 2 vols (Cambridge: 2010).

• P. Remes, Neoplatonism (Stocksfield: 2008).

• P. Remes and S. Slaveva-Griffin (eds), The Routledge Handbook of Neoplatonism (London: Routledge, 2014).

• A. Smith, Philosophy in Late Antiquity (London: 2004).

• R. Sorabji, The Philosophy of the Commentators, 200-600 AD: a Sourcebook, 3 vols (London: 2004).

• R. Sorabji (ed.), Aristotle Re-Interpreted: New Findings on Seven Hundred Years of the Ancient Commentators (London: 2016).

• M. Tuominen, The Ancient Commentators on Plato and Aristotle (Stocksfield: 2009).

Episodes 77 - 100: Late Antiquity

77 - Caesarian Section: Philosophy in the Roman Empire

Posted on 22 April 2012

Peter introduces philosophy in late antiquity, when Aristotelianism and Platonism made a comeback, and pagan philosophy developed alongside Judaism and Christianity.

78 - Middle Men: the Platonic Revival

Posted on 29 April 2012

Pioneering thinkers Eudorus, Alcinous, and Numenius fuse Pythagoreanism with Platonism and pave the way for Plotinus.

79 - To the Lighthouse: Philo of Alexandria

Posted on 6 May 2012

We put the Philo in philosophy this week, as Philo of Alexandria reads the Bible through the lens of Middle Platonism.

80 - Delphic Utterances: Plutarch

Posted on 13 May 2012

Plutarch, a major figure of early Imperial literature, was also a Platonist philosopher. He gives us insight into Platonism before Plotinus, and also the letter E.

81 - Jan Opsomer on Middle Platonism

Posted on 20 May 2012

Jan Opsomer helps Peter to understand principles, Plato interpretation, and Plutarch in a wide-ranging discussion of Middle Platonism.

82 - Lost and Found: Aristotelianism after Aristotle

Posted on 27 May 2012

Peter looks at the history of Aristotelianism up the time of the Roman Empire and the beginning of commentaries on Aristotle's works.

83 - Not Written in Stone: Alexander of Aphrodisias

Posted on 3 June 2012

Alexander of Aphrodisias writes the greatest ancient commentaries on Aristotle and tries to demolish the Stoic teaching on fate.

84 - Silver Tongues in Golden Mouths: Rhetoric and Ancient Philosophy

Posted on 10 June 2012

Peter looks at the interaction between rhetoric and philosophy in the Roman Empire, discussing authors like Quintilian, Lucian and Themistius.

85 - Sky Writing: Astronomy, Astrology, and Philosophy

Posted on 17 June 2012

Ptolemy uses philosophy in the service of studying the stars, while philosophers of all persuasions evaluate the widespread practice of astrology.

86 - Serafina Cuomo on Ancient Mathematics

Posted on 24 June 2012

How did the mathematics of figures like Euclid and Archimides relate to ancient philosophy? Peter finds out in an interview with Serafina Cuomo.

87 - A God is My Co-Pilot: the Life and Works of Plotinus

Posted on 1 July 2012

Peter introduces Plotinus, the greatest philosopher of late antiquity and the founder of Neoplatonism.

88 - Simplicity Itself: Plotinus on the One and Intellect

Posted on 8 July 2012

Plotinus posits an absolutely transcendent first principle, the One. What is it (or isn’t it), and how does it relate to Intellect?

89 - On the Horizon: Plotinus on Soul

Posted on 15 July 2012

For Plotinus, Soul is on the border between the physical and intelligible realms. Can he convince us to identify ourselves with its highest part?

90 - A Decorated Corpse: Plotinus on Matter and Evil

Posted on 22 July 2012

Plotinus struggles to explain the presence of suffering, evil and ugliness in a world caused by purely good principles – and tells us what role we should play in that world.

91 - James Wilberding on Nature and Neoplatonism

Posted on 25 August 2012

James Wilberding joins Peter to show that contrary to what is often claimed, Neoplatonists did make contributions to the philosophy of nature. Topics include Plotinus on the cosmos and Porphyry on embryology.

92 - King of Animals: Porphyry

Posted on 2 September 2012

Porphyry fuses Platonism with Aristotelianism, exploring Aristotle’s logic and Plotinus’ philosophy. He also finds time to argue for vegetarianism.

93 - Pythagorean Theorems: Iamblichus

Posted on 9 September 2012

Iamblichus fuses Platonism with pagan religious conviction and sets the agenda for Neoplatonism in generations to come.

94 - The Platonic Successor: Proclus

Posted on 16 September 2012

Proclus’ system, presented in original works and in commentaries on Plato and Euclid, integrates Neoplatonic philosophy with pagan religious belief and practice.

95 - Anne Sheppard on Ancient Aesthetics

Posted on 23 September 2012

Anne Sheppard discusses ancient aesthetics, touching on poetry, visual art and music in thinkers from Plato to Proclus.

96 - Dominic O'Meara on Neoplatonism

Posted on 30 September 2012

Dominic O'Meara speaks with Peter about political philosophy and mathematics in Neoplatonism.

97 - A Tale of Two Cities: The Last Pagan Philosophers

Posted on 7 October 2012

Neoplatonism had a long-standing association with traditional Greek religion. How did philosophers respond when Christians gained ascendancy?

98 - For a Limited Time Only: John Philoponus

Posted on 14 October 2012

John Philoponus refutes Aristotle’s and Proclus’ arguments for the eternity of the universe, and develops new ideas in physics.

99 - Richard Sorabji on the Commentators

Posted on 21 October 2012

Sir Richard Sorabji, founder of the Ancient Commentators Project, joins Peter to discuss the history of ancient commentary on Aristotle.

100 - Michael Trapp and Caroline Humfress on Ancient Culture and Philosophy

Posted on 28 October 2012

A special double interview with Caroline Humfress (Birkbeck College London) and Michael Trapp (King's College London) celebrates reaching 100 episodes by looking at the cultural status of philosophy in the ancient world.