chapter  7
18 Pages

Neoplatonism and the Arts

Neoplatonism is the name given by modern historians to a succession of teachers and pupils who do not in all respects hold the same philosophy. That no false doctrines can be ascribed to Plato, and that the source of all existence, though ineffable, cannot be less than perfectly one or consummately good, are tenets held in common; so, too, was the familiar conception of philosophy as the pursuit of the archetypal and essential, a turning from shadows to the thing itself. But whereas Plotinus turns away – forgetting to eat, neglecting to write – from everything that goes proxy in this nether world for the contemplation of the highest entities, his pupil and biographer Porphyry reasoned, on the contrary, that if all becoming is but the likeness of being, it should be possible for the disciplined intellect to discover vestiges of eternity in a static image no less than in a living one, in a sculpture as readily as in book. It was not in the apparatus of religion but in the abuse of it, in sacrifice and ritual invocation, that he saw evidence of blasphemy and imposture; the rejoinder that his Letter to Anebo drew from Iamblichus is not, as we shall see, a manifesto for unlimited superstition, and is typically Platonic in its aversion to visual trumpery, whether the artist be a daemon or a mage.