Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2017.11.46 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2017.11.46

Sarah Klitenic Wear, Plotinus on Beauty and Reality: A Reader for Enneads I.6 and V.1.   Mundelein, IL:  Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2017.  Pp. li, 302.  ISBN 9780865168428.  $29.00 (pb).  

Reviewed by Benedikt Krämer​, Westfälische Wilhelms-universität, Münster​ (

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The book under review is a reader for two of Plotinus’ most important and most famous treatises, Ennead I.6 and V.1. The target readership of Sarah Klitenic Wear’s book are “students of Classics, philosophy, and theology with a year of introductory Greek grammar under their belt” (p. ix), for whom Wear wants to make Plotinus’ work accessible in his own language. From the intermediate student’s point of view this book is surely a welcome enterprise, since even in antiquity Plotinus was well known for being verborum parcus. His style of language is often elliptical, sometimes dark, and it challenges advanced scholars, too. Beside the Greek text and Wear’s commentary the reader will find a good deal of introductory and additional material in this volume.

Wear’s book is divided into three sections. The introduction (pp. xv-li) includes two short paragraphs about Plotinus’ life and his philosophical influences, but focuses on the metaphysical system of the Enneads, which is presented in a top-down approach starting from the One and ending with matter (pp. xvii-xxxviii). The reader will find concise summaries after each step through the levels of reality and some useful, clearly arranged tables. The author rightly stresses the importance of Plotinus’ so called “double act” doctrine with regard to the constitution of reality, for Plotinus addresses this theory in several passages of Enn. V.1 and presupposes it in Enn. I.6. Plotinus takes each principle to possess a primary activity of its essence (energeia tēs ousias) and to produce an image (eidōlon, eikōn) deprived of power and being as its secondary activity (energeia ek tēs ousias). By means of Wear’s approach, the reader will gain the right impression of the dynamic relations connecting the individual remaining, unfolding and reverting levels of reality. A marginal note: dealing with Plotinus’ doctrine of the One, the author holds that intellection (noēsis) can grasp the One (p. xix). I tend to consider this statement as rather ‘un-Plotinian’ as far as ordinary noēsis—as distinguished from the loving intellect’s faculty, which is not nous (VI.7.35)—is concerned (cf. e.g. I.7.1.19, 20 and V.3.13.2, 3 for the One’s transcendence above intellection). Since Wear’s book is labelled “Plotinus on Beauty and Reality”, the reader might be disappointed not to find a separate introductory chapter which deals with the topic of beauty.

The next section (pp. 1-230) is the main part of the book, where Wear presents the text of Ennead I.6 (pp. 1-97) and V.1 (pp. 99-230) from Henry / Schwyzer’s editio minor, together with her commentary. The text is slightly revised (p. xlv); in the case of the hotly debated passages V.1.6.18 and V.1.7.6, for example, Wear sides convincingly with the editors who argue against the reflexive αὑτό from H-S2 and prefer αὐτό. The Greek text of Wear’s reader is conveniently accompanied by same- and facing-page notes. Each chapter of the two treatises is preceded by a short summary, which helps the reader to follow Plotinus’ line of thought. The commentary covers grammatical and philosophical issues, but focuses justifiably on grammatical problems. The commentary on philosophical issues provides useful references, primarily to the main sources of Plotinus’ texts (Plato, Aristotle), but also to further important pre- and post-Plotinian works and parallel passages in the Enneads. Throughout her commentary on grammatical problems, Wear shows sensitivity towards the problems which are likely to occur to intermediate students translating Plotinus or ancient Greek texts in general, i.e. difficult forms, idioms, omission of copulative εἶναι, crasis, and the use of particles are explained.

I would like to make the following remarks and suggest some emendations: As far as I can see H-S’s addenda ad textum from tomus III of the editio minor (pp. 304-25) have not been taken into account, although they are of major importance at least in the case of two passages from Enn. V.1 (cf. H-S2 tomus III p. 324 for the addenda et corrigenda ad Enn V.1). So the adopted ἑστῶσα (V.1.2.18) is not a masculine accusative perfect participle, as Wear states (p. 119) (it should indeed be!), but an error typographicus for ἑστῶτα. Furthermore it is not true that πάλιν αὖ (V.1.9.9) is an idiom meaning “contrariwise” or “no longer” (p. 202). The passage does indeed require a negation, but it derives from elsewhere: the version of the text provided by Henry / Schwyzer has accidentally omitted οὐ (it is supposed to run: πάλιν αὖ οὐ τὸ κ.τ.λ. not πάλιν αὖ τὸ κ.τ.λ.). I turn to the grammatical notes: The remark on Enn. I.6.3.28 (p. 36) was, I guess, supposed to say “οὐ: with the participle μετέχον has a causal force” (not: “conditional force”), for the author rightly translates “since”. In the remark on αἰδῶ (I.6.5.15) the substantive is unintentionally referred to as adjective (p. 48), while the misleading remark on ἐκθρέψαντος (V.1.3.14)—“(<ἐκτρέχω)” instead of (<ἐκτρέφω)—seems to be misspelled (p. 133). This problem reoccurs in App. 4 (see p. 284), where ἐκτρέχω is rendered ‘to raise’. γεννήμασι (p. 96, Enn. I.6.9.37) is not dative plural aorist participle deriving from γίγνομαι, but a dative plural substantive (τὸ γέννημα). To my mind the masculine participle ὤν (V.1.2.25) should be understood as modifying οὐρανός and takes σῶμα as the predicate nominative instead of modifying the neuter substantive σῶμα (p. 120). For the sake of completeness, we might add that ἐτίθετο (V.1.8.17) must be taken to be the middle voice of the verb instead of the active voice (p. 196), and likewise ἡγεῖσθαι must be the present infinitive instead of the aorist infinitive (p. 234). Finally the note on erexerunt (text: App. 2, p. 256) needs an emendation from “<exeo” to “<erigo”.

The main part of the book is followed by a third section consisting of five appendices. The first three appendices are intended to provide further information for the understanding of Plotinus’ sources, his life and the (Latin) reception of Ennead I.6. They contain Diotima’s speech from Plato’s Symposium (App. 1), Augustine’s vision at Ostia from the Confessiones (App. 2), which are both presented in the manner of Plotinus’ treatises I.6 and V.1 (text and commentary), and a translation (MacKenna) of Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus (App. 3). Finally, two word lists applying to the main section are added (App. 4: “Technical Philosophical Vocabulary” from I.6 and V.1, App. 5: a more general “Plotinus Word List”, also focussing on Enn. I.6 and V.1).

Some inaccuracies can be detected in Appendices 4 and 5. They concern the meaning of some words (even if, according to the information on p. 287, words in the word list “are defined as they occur in situ”) and minor errors like wrong genitive forms and accents, e.g. (I give a selection): ἀποθνῄσκω is given transitive force (‘to put to death’); ἀνάγω is rendered ‘to go’, which may hold for I.6.9.7 (without being completely adequate), but not for V.1.10.28 and other passages, where the verb is used transitively; the lemma δῆλος gives only masculine and neuter endings of the adjective; incorrect genitive forms are δόξα, -ας and ἴχνος, -εως; examples for wrong or missing accents are θέα, -ᾶς, θεατής, -ου).

All in all, despite the few critical remarks above I have no doubt that Wear’s target readership will benefit strongly from this book, so that it may in fact contribute to fulfil her hope to see the students being “transformed by the wonders of Plotinus” (p. ix).

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