Plotinus (205-270)

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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.

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