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About the Philosophical Curriculum

The doorway towards Eternal Wisdom. Progression is Limitless… Engraving from the ‘Amphitheater of the Eternal Wisdom’, by Heinrich Khunrath-Published in 1609 in Hanau, Germany.


Today’s classical sharing from the Blue House of Hygeia is about the Philosophical Curriculum in two parts:

Part I

‘It is very interesting to notice that Simplicius, disciple of Damascius, the last head of the school of philosophy of Athens, dedicates a full commentary on Epictetus’ ‘Manual’, as it is out of the usual frame of the late neo-platonists curriculum of studies, that consisted in two parts:

The first one was considered a preparation to the philosophy of Plato, and consisted in the reading of a defined number of treatises from Aristotle, and the second part, more advanced, was devoted to the ‘canonical’ selection of platonic dialogues. This program of studies was the result of the harmonization of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, and at the same time the subordination of the doctrines of Aristotle to those of Plato that came into practice in neo-platonism starting with Porphyry.’

‘The neo-platonists considered necessary that the student purifies his way of life before starting the proper philosophical studies. Where to find suitable content for a early teaching of elementary ethics?

Simplicius indicates a list of potent material fitting such requirement:

The Pythagorean sentences like the ‘golden verses’, another neo-platonist, Hierocles’ commentaries of these ‘golden verses’, followed by the works of Isocrates, the discourses of Demonicus and Nicocles, all characteristic of being collections of short sentences and finally, Epictetus’ ‘Manual’ as carefully crafted by Arrian from his own master’s ‘collected works’, the ‘Discourses’.’

Part II

Now, from the introduction of Iamblicus’s ‘Answer to Porphyry’ (De Mysteriis), Henri Dominique Saffrey, in his introduction to his new translation of the text, presents Iamblicus’ views about the ‘philosophic curriculum’:

‘It is again to him that we owe the definition of a pedagogical order for the reading and teaching of Plato’s Dialogues:

Alcibiades, Gorgias, Phaedon, where we find the elements of Ethic, Cratylus and Theatetus that provide the basics of Logic, Sophist and Statesman, where one can extract Plato’s Physics, Phaedrus and the Symposium that introduces us to Theology. (Logic apart, we can recognize Porphyry’s order for Plotinus’ treatises !); the climax bringing us to the Good, Philebus, and all was entirely repeated in the two dialogues that outline Plato’s philosophy, the Timaeus for natural sciences and the Parmenides for theology.

This working order did not only have a pedagogical motive, but it trail blazed the path that the disciple was to undertake. Iamblicus knew how to give upon these dialogues commentaries, based on Porphyry’s model, that were exegetic lessons; but Iamblicus’ commentaries often differ from Porphyry’s and more or less did oppose them: The fragments that are preserved are his commentaries upon the Alcibiades, the Phaedon, the Sophist, the Philebus, and especially the Timaeus and the Parmenides, as found quoted within Proclus’ or Damascius’ own commentaries of the same, where Iamblicus is a constant direct source.

By the consistency of his teaching and his spiritual loftiness, Iamblicus was starting to create the tradition, that all the later Platonist will continue and refine: Philosophy ‘s apex lies in the second part of Plato’s Parmenides, taken as a theological treatise.’


Part I: Ilsetraut and Pierre Hadot, ‘Apprendre a philosopher dans l’Antiquite – L’enseignement du ‘Manuel d’Epictete’ et son commentaire neo-platonicien’, Paris, 2004. Part II : From pages XLVIII and XLIX of the introduction. Iamblicus, a new French translation of the ‘Answer to Porphyry’ (De Mysteriis). Editions des Belles Lettres. Paris,2018.
About the Philosophical Curriculum

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