Description & Aims

“Between Athens & Alexandria” studies the relationship between the Neoplatonic Schools of Athens and Alexandria as well as the Alexandrian origins of Neoplatonism, with a special focus on later Neoplatonic developments on, and criticisms to, Plotinus (204/5-270).

Are the Schools of Athens and Alexandria essentially distinct, as the traditional view suggests, or can their differences be reduced to the organisation of teaching? To what extent does the attitude towards theurgy (originally flourishing in the Neoplatonic School of Syria founded by Iamblichus of Chalcis) define the orientation of the Schools? Can the harmonization of Plato and Aristotle “bridge the gap” between Athens and Alexandria?

The driving research hypothesis of the project is that the Neoplatonic Schools of Athens and Alexandria are essentially one School adapting itself to the different environments of the two cities. The view according to which the attitude towards theurgy constitutes the main difference between Athenian Neoplatonism, traditionally considered as following Iamblichus’ purportedly anti-intellectualist lead, and Alexandrian Neoplatonism, often regarded as “Porphyrian”, is put into question. Porphyry (c. 234-305) and Iamblichus (c. 245-325), and their respective followers in the 4th century, seem to have more in common than has been thought until now. Porphyrian and Iamblichaean trends are present in both Athens and Alexandria. Plotinus’ synthesis of Platonism with Aristotelian and Stoic elements is dynamic, and continues to incorporate innovation into tradition beyond the boundaries of Antiquity, and even of philosophy itself.

Focusing on Athens and Alexandria, the project aims at investigating the wider network of late antique Neoplatonic Schools in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as this network’s legacy in the Arabic and Byzantine worlds. Studying late ancient Neoplatonism from the point of its Byzantine and Arabic receptions may reveal a much more unitary picture of the final phase of ancient philosophy than previous reconstructions suggest.

The project is hosted by the Institute for Mediterranean Studies of the Foundation for Research and Technology Hellas (IMS-FORTH) in collaboration with the Alexandria Center for Hellenistic Studies (ACHS) of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. It is supported by the A. S. Onassis Foundation.