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Plotinus is regarded by many
modern philosophers as one of the founders of Neoplatonism. Like Origen, Plotinus
was ethnically Greek and was influenced by the philosopher Ammonius of Saccas,
his instructor for eleven years. He was also a friend of the philosopher Porphyry
(c. 234- c. 305), who wrote that Plotinus was born around 205 but never mentioned
where or described the origins of his family. Eunapius, writing in the fifth
century, suggested that Plotinus was born somewhere in Egypt, but this cannot
be confirmed. It seems fairly clear, however, that his primary language was
Greek, and his training, Hellenic. After studying with Ammonius, Plotinus moved
to Rome, where he fell into the company of the senatorial classes. He earned
a reputation for being frugal and honest and was made the guardian of many
of the children of deceased senators. It is said that he executed his duties
with honor and kindness. Families brought their disputes to him, and his judgments
never contracted the enmity of either party. In 242, Plotinus accompanied Emperor
Gordian III's disastrous expedition to Persia in order to better understand
Eastern thought, but he had to flee when the emperor was murdered by his own
troops in Mesopotamia. On returning to Rome, Plotinus established a school
of Neoplatonism and encouraged open discussion of philosophical issues. It
was said that when a dilemma arose, he would not break up the discussion until
some resolution had been achieved.
Plotinus is primarily remembered for his teachings, which were collected by
Porphyry into a volume called the Enneads. This work gives Plotinus's
accounts of the religions and cults of his age. He was interested in the occult
but only in a detached and speculative way. He was indifferent to traditional
paganism but critical of the Gnostic Christian heretics who preached the mystical
dualism of the divine, which he regarded as antiphilosophical, un-Greek, and
emotional superstition. His own religious beliefs inclined toward the idea
that one could achieve a spiritual union with the good (understood as the Platonic
idea of a perfect realm of the ideal) through philosophic reflection. Plotinus's
considerable influence on Christianity came primarily through figures such
as Saint Augustine (354-430) and Dionysius, the Pseudo-Areopagite (c. 500).
After contracting what modern authorities have classified as a type of disfiguring
tuberculosis or leprosy, Plotinus retired to a country villa belonging to a
friend. He died there in 270.
Works by the Author
Plotinus. The Essence of Plotinus. Translated by Stephen Mackenna.
Compiled by Grace Turnbull. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1948.
Plotinus. Enneads of Plotinus. Translated by Stephen Mackenna. Boston:
Charles T. Branford, 1916.
Plotinus. Selections from Plotinus. Translated by John S. Kieffer.
The Classics of the St. John's Program.
Plotinus. The Enneads. 2d ed. Translated by Stephen Mackenna. Edited
by B.S. Page. New York: Pantheon Books, Inc.
The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The
Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.