Life

(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)

Plotinus (ploh-TI-nuhs) was educated in Alexandria. His mentor was Ammonius Saccas until 242 c.e., when he joined the emperor Gordian III’s Persian expedition to learn the wisdom of the Persians and Indians. By 244 c.e., he had returned to Rome, where he established a Neoplatonic school of philosophy. It was respected by high officials in the government. His attempt to found a city, Platonopolis in Campania, though initially supported by the emperor Gallienus, was never realized. He opened his home to orphans and was reported to possess keen powers of discerning the hearts of people.

Plotinus was one of the greatest original thinkers of late antiquity, whose erudite lectures on Neoplatonic themes drew a number of gifted philosophers to his school, among whom was the great polymath and anti-Christian propagandist Porphyry of Tyre. The latter systematically arranged Plotinus’s lectures into six books, each containing nine chapters, titled Enneads (c. 256-270; The Enneads, 1918). His Life of Plotinus (n.d.; translation, 1917) gives invaluable data about the great thinker.

Plotinus was a mystic who claimed to have experienced ecstatic union with the Supreme Principle, the One, several times in his life. According to his metaphysical theory of a hierarchy of reality, all lower orders of existent things emanate or process from the One, including intellect, soul, and humans. The goal of his philosophy was to purify the soul so that it could escape material reality and successfully make its ascent to the One.