Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.16 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.16

Marie-Luise Lakmann, Platonici minores: 1. Jh.v.Chr. – 2. Jh.n.Chr. Prosopographie. Fragmente und Testimonien mit deutscher Übersetzung. Philosophia antiqua, 145.   Leiden; Boston:  Brill, 2017.  Pp. 824.  ISBN 9789004315334.  $236.00.  

Reviewed by Andrea Falcon, Concordia University, Montreal (

The book under review offers prosopographical information, combined with a collection of all the extant information (fragments, testimonies, and epigraphical evidence), for 88 figures whose activity, mostly in the form of teaching or writing, can be dated to the period from the first century BC to the end of the second century AD. These figures all found in Plato their center of gravity: they wrote about his works, or taught his doctrines, or demonstrated in some other way proximity to his philosophy.

The full list of criteria for inclusion in the volume is spelled out at the beginning of the volume (19-26). I will return to those criteria in due course. First, however, it is worth explaining how useful this volume will be to historians interested in the formation and development of Platonism. The period from the beginning of the first century BC to the end of the second century AD is a time of transition, and for this reason it is arguably one of the most interesting in the history of the ancient world. This is evident in changes within the Platonic tradition, since it is during this time that we witness the transition from Academic skepticism to dogmatic Platonism. However, this transition did not happen overnight and did not result in a single position shared by everyone who was recognized as a follower of Plato. Quite the opposite: the evidence we have suggests that it was a gradual process that gave rise to the existence of more or less independent attempts to build a philosophical tradition that was anchored in Plato’s writings but also integrated elements taken from Aristotle’s philosophy or produced through contact with the Pythagorean tradition. Moreover, since the main philosophical schools of the Hellenistic era continued to exist into this new period, the philosophical agenda of the time was shaped, at least in part, by concerns that can be traced back to the Hellenistic age. As a result, the rise of Platonism in the post-Hellenistic period is a phenomenon of enormous complexity whose outcome was not inevitable, let alone predetermined. While the form of Platonism that became the dominant philosophical outlook of late antiquity has its roots in the period, it was emphatically not a foregone conclusion. For all these reasons, it seems to me that if we want to arrive at a full understanding of what we call, for a lack of better expression, “Middle Platonism,” we cannot take any shortcuts but have to look at all the information that has reached us. This includes data about people we may regard as minor figures in the history of Platonism—as we do, without any doubt, in the case of a few of the individuals for whom the extant evidence is collected in this volume.

With these introductory remarks in place, I return to the volume under review. The distinction between Platonici minores and Platonici maiores, namely the decision to consider a certain individual a minor or a major figure in the history of Platonism, is inevitably a matter of dispute.

In our volume, the decision is largely a function of the amount of information at our disposal, which is not necessarily a reliable indication of the greatness of a philosopher or the influence of a teacher. On the one hand, authors whose works have reached us (e.g. Alcinous, Albinus, Apuleius of Madaura, Plutarch of Cheronea), or philosophers for whom we have a sizable number of fragments or testimonies (including Antiochus of Ascalon, Eudorus of Alexandria, Numenius of Apamea, and Atticus), are not included in this collection. This seems to be a reasonable choice even if, at least in the case of Eudorus of Alexandria (first century BC), we still need a collection of the extant evidence that takes into account the most recent research. 1 On the other hand, information about a few noted individuals whose activity can be dated to the second century AD, and for whom we already have a collection of testimonies (Gaius, Calvenus Taurus, Lucius, Nicostratus of Athens, Severus, and Harpocration) has found its way into this collection. 2 But the great interest, and indeed merit, of the volume under review lies in the fact that this information, which is routinely recalled and analyzed, is surrounded and enriched by information about the life and activity of a number of other individuals who are not equally well known or appreciated.

Having all this information collected and translated in one place helps us see how rich, complex, and indeed various, the Platonic tradition is in the period between the first century BC and the second century AD. It can also refine our understanding of the main developments within this tradition. An example may illustrate my last point. Let us consider the extant evidence for Offelius Laetus, who is described as a Platonic philosopher (Platonikos philosophos) in an inscription found in his home town of Ephesus and as a theologian and a redivivus Plato in an inscription from the Parthenon in Athens. In both inscriptions, a connection is also made with the teaching of Pythagoras. There is scholarly consensus, duly registered in our volume, that this philosopher is the same person as the Laetus that Plutarch of Cheronea mentions twice in his Quaestiones naturales. In a recent, learned article (not yet available when the volume under review was published), Jan Opsomer argues that this person is the same as the “Ofilius medicus” that Pliny lists as one of his sources at the outset of Nat. hist. 28 and is the author of a work on the Phoenician matters (Phoenikika) cited by Tatian (apud Eusebius, PE 10.11.11-12). 3 I cannot enter into the details of Opsomer’s argument here, but what emerges from his study is a rich and complex intellectual profile of someone who is described (and, presumably, described himself) a Platonic philosopher. Apparently, Offelius Laetus had a keen interest in Plato and Pythagoras, was engaged in natural philosophy, wrote on theological and mythological matters, and had a penchant for ancient, non-Greek wisdom. His interests are arguably comparable to those of Plutarch of Cheronea, except that Offelius was active at a much earlier date (first century AD). Of course, the question that remains to be answered is whether Offelius is the tip of an iceberg or rather a forerunner, ahead of his time. Still, the little we know about this arguably minor figure in the Platonic tradition is very valuable and adds something to our appreciation of the larger picture. It is also quite suggestive that Offelius Laetus is the first person for whom we have unambiguous evidence of the use of epithet “Platonic philosopher” to indicate philosophical affiliation. 4 Studies like that by Opsomer are very important for our understanding of the main developments within the Platonic tradition in the post-Hellenistic age. They will be much easier now that a great deal of evidence about supposedly minor figures of the Platonic tradition is available in a single volume.

I return now to the criteria for inclusion adopted in the volume. Aside from the requirement that the philosopher be a “minor” Platonist, the most questionable is the criterion requiring that both teachers and students of noted figures active in the Platonic tradition be included in the volume. Its application brings about some odd results. I am surprised, in particular, to see that Ariston of Alexandria and Cratippus of Pergamon are listed in the volume as Platonici minores. Their inclusion is apparently justified because we know from Philodemus’ Index of Academic Philosophers that Antiochus’ school was taken over by his brother Aristus, and that the latter had several students, including Ariston of Alexandria and Cratippus of Pergamum (Index of Academic Philosophers 35.2-17). However, in the same passage, Philodemus tells us that both defected and became Peripatetic philosophers. Furthermore, all the extant evidence about these two figures is unanimous in describing them as Peripatetic philosophers (Peripatetikoi). In fact, their defection from the Academy is traditionally taken to be evidence of the appeal that Aristotle’s philosophy, and indeed his writings, began to exercise in the first century BC. I do not want to enter into a discussion of the significance of the information preserved by Philodemus, or the role that these two rather obscure figures played in the Peripatetic tradition of the first century BC. What matters here is that it is rather odd that either of them is included in this collection, but especially Cratippus, whom Cicero describes as the leading Peripatetic philosophers of his time (De divinatione 1.5 and Timaeus 2), listed among the Platonici minores. Of course, what is odd is not that their defection is registered in the volume, since this defection is a significant fact for the development of the Platonic tradition in the first century BC: What is odd is rather that the extant evidence for their activity as Peripatetic philosophers is collected in a volume concerned with Platonism.

This criticism does not mean to take anything away from what is good and commendable about the volume as a whole. The volume provides the reader with many pieces of information that are otherwise scattered across several, often obscure, sources. This fact alone justifies its publication. The prosopographical entries are clear, succinct, and informative. The bibliography at the end of each entry is up-to-date and extensive. As such, it gives a very good orientation to a reader who is interested in learning more about each of these minor figures and learning how the information we have for each of them has been used in the scholarly debates. Of course, the second part of the book, where the Greek and Latin texts are collected, with a facing German translation, is the most important.

The book ends with an overview of the exponents of the Platonic tradition who are not considered in the volume (the so-called Platonici maiores). Last but not least, an integrated list of Platonici minoresand Platonici maiores, divided by century, can be found at the outset of the volume (27-31).

In sum, this volume is a very solid piece of scholarship and a most welcome addition to the fast-growing literature on post-Hellenistic philosophy. It is a very helpful tool that can be used by anyone who has an interest in the formation and development of the Platonic tradition in the post-Hellenistic world.


1.   Given the scholarly consensus on how original and influential his particular form of Platonism was, such a collection of fragments is arguably one of the main desiderata in the study of first century BC philosophy. Right now, the evidence for Eudorus is collected in C. Mazzarelli, “Raccolta e interpretazione delle testimonianze e dei frammenti,” Rivista di storia della filosofia neoscolastica 76 (1985): 197-209.
2.   A. Gioè, Filosofi medioplatonici del II secolo d.C. Testimonianze e frammenti. Napoli. Bibliopolis 2012.
3.   J. Opsomer, “Ofellius Laetus, Platonist: Natural History and Alien Wisdom in the First century CE,” in Y. Z. Liebersohn, I. Ludlam, A: Edelheit (eds.), For a Skeptical Peripatetic: Festschrift in honor of John Glucker. Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin 2017: 250-263.
4.   Demetrius of Alexandria (the father of Cleopatra VII Philopator, simply known as Cleopatra) is described as a Platonic philosopher. But the use of the epithet in this case is open to different interpretations.

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