The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy, 347-274 B.C.

The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy, 347-274 B.C.

The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy, 347-274 B.C.

The Heirs of Plato: A Study of the Old Academy, 347-274 B.C.

Synopsis

The Heirs of Plato is the first book exclusively devoted to an in-depth study of the various directions in philosophy taken by Plato's followers in the first seventy years or so following his death in 347 BC--the period generally known as 'The Old Academy'. Speusippus, Xenocrates, and Polemon, the three successive heads of the Academy in this period, though personally devoted to the memory of Plato, were independent philosophers in their own right, and felt free to develop his heritage in individual directions. Dillon's clear and accessible book fills a significant gap in our understanding of Plato's immediate philosophical influence, and will be of great value to scholars and historians of ancient philosophy.

Excerpt

When Plato died, full of years, in 347 bc, he left behind him, not only a body of philosophical writings the like of which had never been seen before (or indeed, in respect of their peculiar quality, since), but also a remarkable organization, the 'Academy' (though just how much of an organized institution it was is something that will have to be discussed in our first chapter), and a devoted, though independent-minded, body of disciples. This book is an attempt to recreate something of the atmosphere of the seventy years or so following on the Master's death, and the intellectual paths taken by his chief disciples. It is a period which, though formative in the history of Platonism, has suffered from a remarkable degree of neglect down the centuries.

This, though regrettable, is not entirely surprising. Many a prudent scholar would say, with much justification, that, desirable as it would be to unravel the obscurities of what has been known conventionally, since at least the later Hellenistic era, as the Old Academy, the evidence is just not there. The more controversial claim would also be made in many quarters that, even if it were, these figures, Speusippus, Xenocrates, Polemo, and their associates, are not of a distinction that merits much attention. The real philosophical action in this period was taking place across town, in the Lyceum of Aristotle, Theophrastus, and their associates.

Both these claims I am concerned to controvert. It will be the thesis of this book that, between them, Speusippus and Xenocrates set the agenda for what was to become, over the succeeding centuries, the intellectual tradition which we call Platonism (Xenocrates initiating the mainstream of 'Middle Platonism', Speusippus, with some of his more daring speculations, stimulating certain developments in 'Neopythagoreanism', which proved fruitful for the 'Neoplatonism'

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