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Ancient World Seminar: Bert van den Berg (Leiden) – "Fighting Plato's Violent Readers: Neoplatonic Literary Criticism and anti-Christian Polemics"

When:Mo 16-11-2015 16:15 - 17:30
Where:Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies (Oude Boteringestraat 38), room 130
Click to view a larger version. Poster design by Caroline van Toor.
Click to view a larger version. Poster design by Caroline van Toor.


The pagan Platonic philosophers of late Antiquity, the so-called Neoplatonists, regarded the unstoppable rise of Christianity from the 3th century onwards as a major crisis. Among other things, they much resented the appropriation of Plato by Christian intellectuals. They tried to disqualify such Christian readings of Plato by arguing that the Christians were morally bad people and that such people make bad readers of Plato who do violence to his sacred texts. The Christians, so the argument went, by rejecting the Greek gods of old, had thereby rejected Greek culture altogether, including sophistication in literary matters. Hence, Neoplatonic attacks on Christian readings of Plato are in part cast in terms of contemporary literary criticism, be it that these acquire a new, philosophical dimension. In my talk, I shall illustrate this aspect of the polemics between pagan and Christian readers of Plato with examples from Plotinus’ Against the Gnostics, Proclus’ Commentary on the Timaeus, and the reply to the latter by the Christian philosopher John Philoponus.

Dr. Bert van den Berg has been a lecturer in ancient philosophy and NWO researcher at the Leiden University department of Classics since 2001, where he also finished his PhD on Poclus’ Hymns in 2000. He spent the interceding year as a research associate at King’s College in London and postdoctoral fellow at Trinity College, Dublin. His research focuses on the philosophy of late antiquity (Neoplatonism, the philosophy of the commentators) and that of Proclus in particular. He is especially interested in Neoplatonic ethics, religious practice & theology, linguistic theories & literary criticism and their intersections. His current project The Neoplatonists on Moral Education studies the theory and practice of moral education in the (Neo)Platonic tradition.