Bryn Mawr Classical Review 01.02.13


A. C. Lloyd, The Anatomy of Neoplatonism. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. Pp. x, 198. ISBN 0-19-824229-8.


Reviewed by James J. O'Donnell, The University of Pennsylvania.

The study of ancient philosophy often struggles to bridge the gap of cultures between philosophy professors and classics professors. While the latter are brought up in a tradition where study of the texts is accompanied by attention to cultural and social history, to say nothing of the biography of the author, the former take a more austere approach that confines itself to the texts and their interpretation in a specific tradition of logical discourse. Classicists too often improvise on "the Greek spirit," while philosophers break out into riffs of Polish notation. It is a pleasure to find a book that bridges that gap elegantly; and it is important to signal the book to classicists, who might on first glance think it alien to their interests. For the outward form of the book clearly marks it for the philosophical student. Few devotees of The Greeks and the Irrational will take to their easy chair with a book whose first three chapters are "Attitudes to Logic", "Porphyrian Semantics", and "Quasi-Genera and the Collapse of Substance and Attribute." The classicist who dotes on Plotinus and notices that the first section of that last chapter is "P-series as quasi-genera" may very well not make it out of the library with the book. But persistence is in order. Lloyd is a well-known connoisseur of all that is Neoplatonic and his expertise in the matters of chronology and underlying cultural history may be taken for granted. But he has in this book an interesting case to make, and he makes it well. Briefly, he holds that the traditional, "soft" construction of Neoplatonism as a mystical philosophy about procession and return, gives inadequate attention to the "hard" underpinnings of the tradition, whose importance Lloyd is at pains to demonstrate. According to him, the particular shape and direction of the more accessible Neoplatonic doctrines can only be fully understood if approached from the technical logical and epistemological disciplines with which the late Platonists themselves began their training and on which they concentrated more of their attention than the modern reader is likely to have to spare for such apparent "technicalities." The book does end with attention to the mystic side of Neoplatonism, but that concluding chapter is refreshing and original, coming at the culmination of the unusual exploration that Lloyd has to offer. (He is also particularly good on distinguishing opinions among the Neoplatonists from Plotinus to Proclus.) The technicalities of the book are still there, and some will be slowed by them; but the fruit of persistence in this case is real, and the new view of Neoplatonism that the book offers is one that is worth having.