Plotinus, the Roman philosopher (c. 204-270 CE) who is widely regarded as the founder of Neoplatonism, was also the creator of numerous myths, images, and metaphors. They have influenced both secular philosophers and Christian and Muslim theologians, but have frequently been dismissed by modern scholars as merely ornamental. In this book, distinguished philosopher Stephen R. L. Clark shows that they form a vital set of spiritual exercises by which individuals can achieve one of Plotinus’s most important goals: self-transformation through contemplation.
Clark examines a variety of Plotinus’s myths and metaphors within the cultural and philosophical context of his time, asking probing questions about their contemplative effects. What is it, for example, to “think away the spatiality” of material things? What state of mind is Plotinus recommending when he speaks of love, or drunkenness, or nakedness? What star-like consciousness is intended when he declares that we were once stars or are stars eternally? What does it mean to say that the soul goes around God? And how are we supposed to “bring the god in us back to the god in all”? Through these rich images and structures, Clark casts Plotinus as a philosopher deeply concerned with philosophy as a way of life.
About the Author
Stephen R. L. Clark is professor emeritus at the University of Liverpool and has also taught at the University of Oxford and the University of Glasgow. He is the author of many books, most recently Understanding Faith, Philosophical Futures, and Ancient Mediterranean Philosophy.
“This is a bold work that applies a new approach to the interpretation of the thought of the founder of Neoplatonism. . . . [A] highly intelligent, learned, and beautifully written work, which constitutes an important contribution to Plotinian scholarship and to philosophy in general.”
"[Clark] produces a picture of Plotinus's intellectual and spiritual world that is not only strikingly attractive and convincing, but in many respects quite unlike the conventional pictures of Neoplatonism that recur with dreary predictability in countless works of philosophy, theology, and intellectual history."
— David Bentley Hart
"[T]he fruit of Clark's project begun in 2004 with Panayiota Vassilopoulu to investigate the dynamic character of Plotinus's use of images and metaphors...a worthy and potentially very fruitful project attuned to both the late antique practice of reading philosophical texts performatively–one engages in philosophy by grappling with and interpreting the text of a great philosopher—and the general Platonic understanding of philosophical education as turning the student's soul into the light so that it might see the really real."
"Students of Plotinus and those interested in the broader Platonic tradition must read it."
— Gerard O’Daly
"Clark’s Plotinus is as expansive, creative, and generous as his other works in the area of ancient Mediterranean philosophy, and philosophy generally. . . . A feature of the book is the wide-ranging use of the literature drawn from all sources, a deep sense of the historical tradition in which Plotinus situates himself and, as observed earlier, a great attentiveness to placing Plotinus in the whole which was the Mediterranean world: Pagan and Christian, Roman and Greek, Egyptian and Asiatic. This book is therefore a mine of information, and of imaginative reconstruction, which will enlighten the reader endlessly."
"This book is highly enjoyable. Clark’s volume itself functions as a spiritual guide to reading Plotinus; it poses Plotinian images in a nontraditional way that forces us, the readers, to adjust the lens through which we read. This is the true genius of the study. Clark changes the reader’s “underlying mind-set” (his term). His book is the tool by which we learn to read Plotinus in a dynamic way that transforms our very selves."
"Clark's feeling for Plotinus's theism makes this book much more than a scholarly monograph. For what he intuits, perhaps better than anyone else I have read, is the humanity of that theism and its accessibility to consciousness at every level and every perspective. Clark makes us aware of our own awareness, the relativity of where we find ourselves, the impossibility of imagining a world composed of lifeless matter, or one in which beauty exists only in the eye of the beholder."