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The Use of Allegory in Late Neoplatonic Psychagogy

James Ambury

Kings College Penn


This paper excavates the psychotransformative use of allegory from the Neoplatonic commentaries on the Alcibiades I. Of the 10 Platonic works read in the first cycle of the Neoplatonic curriculum, the Alcibiades I occupied the first position because it is the dialogue in which Socrates urges his interlocutor to follow the famous Delphic command, ‘know thyself.’ Proclus and Olympiodorus, as committed teachers who followed this highly original reading order of Plato’s dialogues, held that the Alcibiades I contained the entirety of Plato’s philosophy as if it were a seed that, if properly cultivated, would lead their students to the love of wisdom. They thus read the dialogue as an archaeological point of projection that prepared the soul to ascend to the realm of intelligible being. Close attention to their commentaries demonstrates that they viewed Socrates as a psychagogue whose primary task is not merely refutation of definitions or even rigorous analysis of selfhood. Rather, his principal goal is to transform Alcibiades into a philosopher, to turn him away from the crude desiderata offered by his many suitors and instead toward an embrace of a unified vision of truth capable of satisfying the deepest longings of the human soul.

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Allegory Poetics and Symbol in Neoplatonic Texts

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