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The Philosophical Allegoresis of Plato and Scripture in Numenius, Origen and Amelius

Ilaria Ramelli



Philosophical allegoresis (that is, the allegorical exegesis of authoritative texts and traditions) was first used systematically by the Stoics, from the Old Stoa onwards, starting from Zeno, Cleanthes, and especially Chrysippus (who not only practiced, but also theorised allegoresis), down to imperial Stoics such as Annaeus Cornutus and Chaeremon of Alexandria, who exerted a great deal of influence on the Christian Platonists Clement and Origen of Alexandria.

In Stoicism, allegoresis was applied to authoritative texts Homer, other ancient poets, and traditions and revealed the presence of philosophical truths therein. In particular, when applied to religious texts, allegoresis revealed that  theology and physics are coextensive. This was a tenet of Stoicism, an immanentistic system. When Middle Platonists took over allegorical hermeneutics, they did so in a different metaphysical framework. Thus, the method was similar, but what it revealed, within a profoundly metaphysical framework, was different. Middle and Neoplatonists allegorised Homer, like the Stoics, but primarily their main authoritative text: Plato’s dialogues.

Among imperial Platonists, indeed, most were committed to the allegoresis of Plato’s dialogues and especially his myths; others, like Philo, were committed to the allegoresis of the Septuagint, which represented his own authoritative text; never, Philo, like Origen later, allegorised Scripture through the lens of Platonism (and, from the ethical but not metaphysical viewpoint, of Stoicism). This difference has a religious explanation: the former were ‘pagan’ Platonists, and Philo a Jewish Platonist—but ‘pagan’ Platonists did not lack religiously authoritative texts either, besides Plato: consider, for instance, the Chaldean Oracles (therefore we cannot simplistically contrast, as some do, ‘pagan’ Platonists faithful to Plato with Jewish or Christian Platonists faithful to the Bible). There were also Christian Platonists who exclusively allegorised Scripture, their own primary authoritative text. However, some imperial Platonists were committed to the allegoresis of both Plato and the Jewish-Christian Bible, for instance Numenius of Apamea, the above-mentioned Origen, Amelius, and later Calcidius. In this case, there was no tripartition according to religious allegiance, since Numenius and Amelius were ‘pagan’ (a ‘pagan’ Middle Platonist and Neopythagorean and a ‘pagan’ Neoplatonist respectively), and yet allegorised Scripture (I suspect, in the case of Amelius, even in light of Origen’s exegesis of the Johannine Prologue, as some intriguing hints indicate), and Origen and Calcidius were Christian Platonists, and yet the latter allegorised Plato’s Timaeus, and the former allegorised not only Scripture, but also Plato, especially the myths of Poros, Penia, and Eros and the fall of the soul in Against Celsus and in the lost Commentary on Genesis (as he himself attests in Against Celsus), as well as the Timaeus, including the Atlantis myth, and the Republic, including the myth of Er, elsewhere (if, as I deem possible and perhaps even probable, Proclus’ accounts of Origen’s allegoresis of Plato refer to our Origen).

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Allegory Poetics and Symbol in Neoplatonic Texts

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