1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Damascius

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DAMASCIUS, the last of the Neoplatonists, was born in Damascus about A.D. 480. In his early youth he went to Alexandria, where he spent twelve years partly as a pupil of Theon, a rhetorician, and partly as a professor of rhetoric. He then turned to philosophy and science, and studied under Hermeias and his sons, Ammonius and Heliodorus. Later on in life he migrated to Athens and continued his studies under Marinus, the mathematician, Zenodotus, and Isidore, the dialectician. He became a close friend of Isidore, succeeded him as head of the school in Athens, and wrote his biography, part of which is preserved in the Bibliotheca of Photius (see appendix to the Didot edition of Diogenes Laërtius). In 529 Justinian closed the school, and Damascius with six of his colleagues sought an asylum, probably in 532, at the court of Chosroes I., king of Persia. They found the conditions intolerable, and in 533, in a treaty between Justinian and Chosroes, it was provided that they should be allowed to return. It is believed that Damascius settled in Alexandria and there devoted himself to the writing of his works. The date of his death is not known.

His chief treatise is entitled Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles (Ἀπορίαι καὶ χύσεις περὶ τῶν πρώτων ἀρχῶν). It examines into the nature and attributes of God and the human soul. This examination is, in two respects, in striking contrast to that of certain other Neoplatonist writers. It is conspicuously free from that Oriental mysticism which stultifies so much of the later pagan philosophy of Europe. Secondly, it contains no polemic against Christianity, to the doctrines of which, in fact, there is no allusion. Hence the charge of impiety which Photius brings against him. His main result is that God is infinite, and as such, incomprehensible; that his attributes of goodness, knowledge and power are credited to him only by inference from their effects; that this inference is logically valid and sufficient for human thought. He insists throughout on the unity and the indivisibility of God, whereas Plotinus and Porphyry had admitted not only a Trinity, but even an Ennead (nine-fold personality).

Interesting as Damascius is in himself, he is still more interesting as the last in the long succession of Greek philosophers. (See Neoplatonism.)

Bibliography.—The Ἀπορίαι was partly edited by J. Kopp (1826), and in full by C. E. Ruelle (Paris, 1889). French trans. by Chaignet (1898). See T. Whittaker, The Neo-platonists (Cambridge, 1901); E. Zeller, History of Greek Philosophy; C. E. Ruelle, Le Philosophe Damascius (1861); Ch. Levêque, “Damascius” (Journal des savants, February 1891). See also works quoted under Neoplatonism and Alexandrian School.