Thursday, April 10, 2014

Introduction to Iamblichus' Exhortation to Philosophy

On May 2, D. S. Hutchinson and I will make a keynote presentation to the Canadian Colloquium for Ancient Philosophy at the University of British Columbia. The abstract follows:

An Introduction to Iamblichus' Exhortation to Philosophy 

The Exhortation to Philosophy of Iamblichus, composed in Apamea (in ancient Syria) in the early 4th c. AD, was a new kind of philosophical book, the first ‘textbook’ of ancient philosophy. Together with the other titles in his Pythagorean sequence, this book of Iamblichus is the first book of philosophy known to have been constructed by its author in chapters. It is also the first known book of philosophy whose sole purpose was to display citations from past philosophical writings by incorporating them into its own literary texture and commenting on them. In both respects it resembles a modern philosophy textbook. It is a difficult but very rewarding work.
In this talk we present an English translation of this work (nearly complete work-in-progress of ours), and demonstrate the structure, texture, capitulation, chapter headings, and literary devices of the work as a whole, starting with chapter I. Then we show in concrete terms how texts of Plato were cited, sometimes with alteration, in chapters XIII-XIX, quickly reviewing the conclusions of our 2005 OSAP article “Authenticating Aristotle’s Protrepticus”. We follow up now and confirm this analysis by studying ch. III, where Iamblichus cites from the Pythagorean Golden Verses.
At this point, we apply this analysis to chapters VI-XII, where the bulk of the evidence lies for Aristotle’s Protrepticus, as we showed in our OSAP article. Then we share our reconstruction-in-progress of the Protrepticus, showing the relationship between cover text and source text, as well as showing how we enlarged the evidence base by drawing in evidence from other chapters in another work of Iamblichus.
Now we return from Aristotle’s work to the Exhortation of Iamblichus. We briefly discuss the remaining chapters of his book, glancing at chapter II (gnomic maxims of unknown provenance), chapter IV (citations from the On Wisdom of Archytas of Tarentum, or ps.-Archytas), and chapter V (citations from Plato and then from a lost work of Aristotle).
We focus our closing comments on chapter XX, where Iamblichus has stitched together many citations from an important early author on education and political philosophy, originally identified in 1889 as Antiphon, but officially referred to as ‘Anonymous Iamblichi’. Many other attributions have been made, including the one most plausible to us, Protagoras of Abdera; but rather than try to solve that old open question, our plan is to establish a new basis of evidence. With our greater experience of the voice and literary texture of Iamblichus, we can now see that the old fragment collection in Diels/Kranz, on the basis of which all scholarship has proceeded, was not analyzed sufficiently and was over-inclusive: rather than there being 7 fragments, there are more like 25 fragments, with many intervening comments on the part of Iamblichus lodged (up to now) within ‘fragments’ of the Anonymous author, a confusion of data in the evidence base that may have tangled the scholarly discussion. We have also identified one further citation from this fascinating author, whose voice and lines of thought deserve to be better known.