Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.10.33

Gerald Bechtle, Iamblichus, Aspekte seiner Philosophie und Wissenschaftskonzeption: Studien zum späteren Platonismus.   Sankt Augustin:  Academia Verlag, 2006.  Pp. vii, 173.  ISBN 3-89665-390-3.  €24.50.  

Reviewed by John Dillon, Trinity College Dublin (
Word count: 969 words

This welcome collection of essays, by a scholar who is rapidly becoming one of the major younger authorities on later Platonism, consists of seven papers, all in German, save for the third, which is in French, on a series of topics wholly or partly to do with the Neoplatonist philosopher Iamblichus. The titles of the papers are as follows:

I. Das Böse in Platonismus: Überlegungen zur Position Iamblichus';
II. Über die Mittelstellung und Einheit des Seelisch-Mathematischen im späteren Platonismus (mit besonderer Berücksichtingung des Syrianus);
III. Les prolégomènes dans la littérature antique;
IV. Die wissenschaftlichen Methoden und ihre Grundlegung in Iamblichus' De communi mathematica scientia;
V. Dihairesis, Definition, Analysis, Synthesis: Betrachtungen zu Iamblichus' Skopos-Lehre und der Interpretation des platonischen Sophistes (253d1-e6);
VI. Bemerkungen zur Identität des Demiurgen im späteren Platonismus;
VII. Göttliche Henaden und platonischer Parmenides. Lösung eines Missverstandnisses?

These are followed by an index of passages quoted, but not, unfortunately, of anything else.

The first essay deals primarily with Iamblichus' theory of evil, as set out in a section of the De Mysteriis (Book IV 6-7 and 10) and in De communi mathematica scientia, ch. 4, setting it in contrast with that of Plotinus and Porphyry antecedently, and showing how Iamblichus anticipates Proclus after him. In the second, Bechtle (hereafter B.) demonstrates that, despite appearances, there is no real distinction between the status of mathematics in the thought of Iamblichus and Syrianus, and in that of Proclus. The 'Pythagorean' view of mathematics, as being co-extensive with higher reality, though entertained by Iamblichus in the DCMS, is not after all adopted by him (or by Syrianus); they are both too Platonist for that. It remains in the middle stratum of reality, at the level of soul, as it is for Proclus.

The third essay is really a review article (of Jaap Mansfeld's Prolegomena Mathematica1998), the purpose of which is introduce certain salutary modifications into Mansfeld's classifications of introductory topics, from the perspective, once again, of Iamblichus' DCMS. B. makes many useful points, while remaining respectful of Mansfeld's great achievement.

Essays 4 and 5 may be taken together, as both concerning Iamblichus' philosophical methods. The first draws primarily on the DCMS, on which B. is currently working. He takes first Alcinous' account of the procedures of division, definition, analysis and induction, particularly in chs. 4-6 of the Didaskalikos, as a background to I.'s exposition of these methods in the DCMS, and then focuses on chs. 11, 20 and 29 in particular, to show how, in I.'s view, such procedures at the level of mathematics provide an excellent preliminary to dialectic, as well as being fully adequate for the sphere of mathematics. He notes once again the influence of I. on Syrianus and Proclus in this area, while observing also differences of nuance.

In Essay 5 (at 40 pages, almost a small monograph) B. turns to a consideration of I's interpretation of Plato's Sophist, connecting that in turn with his use of the quartet of Division, Definition, Analysis and Synthesis. What he uncovers here is something that I find most stimulating, though I think that he could have carried it a bit further. One odd thing we know about I.'s interpretation of the Sophist is that he maintained that its subject-matter was 'the sublunary, or genesiourgic, Demiurge'. This being, represented by the Sophist, receives souls descending from above into bodies and enmeshes them in a web of illusion, from which the only escape, in the direction of True Being, is by the practice of dialectic and its various techniques. B. discerns that the passage Soph. 253d-e, whose rather tortured phraseology the Neoplatonists took as setting out the four dialectical methods above-mentioned, would be a key part of I.'s (and later Proclus') exegesis of the dialogue, and sees DCMS ch. 20 and Proclus, In Parm. 648, 7-651, 9 as reflections of that. I find that thoroughly persuasive.

This is followed in turn by Essay 6, a brief study of the identity of the Demiurge in later Platonism, which once again turns to the scholiastic testimony on the subject-matter of the Sophist (= Iambl. In Soph. Fr. 1 Dillon), and links that up with, first, the Politicus, which I. considered to have as its subject the heavenly Demiurge, and then with the Timaeus, where we have to do with the Father of the Demiurges. This is pretty bizarre Neoplatonic territory, but B. treads through it very deftly.

Lastly, we have a most useful disquisition on the notorious later Neoplatonist doctrine of divine henads, with special reference to the situating of the henads in the hypotheses of the Parmenides. I. is criticised by Proclus for placing them in the first hypothesis, along with the totally transcendent One, whereas Syrianus (and by implication he himself) would situate them in the second. I am glad that B. agrees with me, against Saffrey and Westerink, that I. did indeed have a doctrine of henads, though he seems more disturbed than he need be (as were S. and W.) by the fact that I. is prepared to refer to them as 'objects of intellection' (noeta).

However, this simply signifies for him that they are the 'participated' element of the realm of the One, serving as unitary archetypes of the Forms, and ultimately of all lower levels of unity as well. They are indeed an aspect of the realm of the One, and as such I. presumably thought that he could fit them into the first hypothesis, despite all its negativity.

This, then, is a most stimulating collection of essays, which leads one to look forward greatly to the appearance of the author's forthcoming edition of the De communi mathematica scientia, of which he has made such excellent use here. There is indeed much of interest to be derived from that work, and Bechtle is the man to expound it.

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