THE SECOND-CENTURY BACKGROUND

After Eudorus we can identify at least three Platonists of the first century ce with strong Pythagorean interests. Thrasyllus (who is responsible for the ‘tetralogic’ arrangement of Plato’s dialogues), his shadowy associate (or predecessor) Dercyllides, and Ammonius, the teacher of Plutarch (and possibly the son of Thrasyllus), also come from Alexandria. In the second half of the century stands the ‘aggressive Pythagorean’, Moderatus of Gades. He is called a ‘Pythagorean’ by Plutarch, but he could easily be seen as part of a general Pythagoreanizing Platonism, and is taken for an intellectual ancestor of Plotinus by Porphyry (Life of Plotinus, 20. 74—6, 21. 4—8).

Between the first and second centuries, Plutarch of Chaeroneia displays a typically Pythagorean interest in numerical mysticism and mathematics, not to mention a strong dualism. From the same era we have Theon of Smyrna’s ‘concise and summary exposition’ of Plato’s mathematical material. The second century itself brings an intensification of interest in Pythagoras, with the important figures of Nicomachus of Gerasa (and his less well-known comrade, Cronius) and Numenius of Apamea. This pair constitute the major influences on the third-century Pythagoreanism we see in Ammonius Saccas and Plotinus. The steadily increasing importance of Pythagorean thinking which they represent stands directly behind Philostratus’ account of Apollonius.

Nicomachus of Gerasa seems to have been active in the first half of the second century. He was particularly interested in mathematics and the applications of numerical symbolism in ethics and physics. His standing in this field may be judged from the eulogy bestowed on him by Iamblichus, who republished his Introduction to Arithmetic as the fourth book of his own series, On Pythagoreanism. For Iamblichus (who was himself a rhetorician as well as a philosopher), Nicomachus was distinguished both for his fidelity to Pythagoras and for the high quality of his writing. Both he and Porphyry used Nicomachus’ account of Pythagoras.

Numenius of Apamea in Syria should probably be placed in the second half of the century. His large output had a great influence on the later Platonists whose writings contain his fragments. He is famous for his interest in Judaism, and is praised by Origen for ‘tropologizing’—that is, allegorizing—the stories of Moses, the prophets, and even Jesus (‘without giving his name’). Sympathetic interest, however, does not mean belief, and we have been warned not to push Numenius too far (or at all). On the other hand, Numenius’ appeal to the harmony between Plato’s views of God and the sayings and doings of the Brahmins, Jews, Magi, and Egyptians (fr. ia, des Places) reminds us of Iamblichus’ stress on the value of ancient Chaldaean and Egyptian revelation in On the Mysteries. Porphyry also, as has been noted, found it entirely natural to cite the wisdom of Chaldaeans, Egyptians, Indians, Jews, Phoenicians, and Persians, and used it to good effect—for example, in On Abstinence(especially in the fourth book). Iamblichus goes even further than his teacher in portraying the Chaldaeans and Egyptians as repositories of a learning more ancient than that of the Greeks in general and of Plato in particular. Thus it is quite possible that Numenius’ presentation of Plato as an ‘atticizing Moses’ (Clement, Stromateis, I. 150. 4 = Numenius fr. 8 ad fin., des Places) represents more than casual syncrisis, and offers a clue to his adherence to Pythagoras, the one Greek philosopher whose wisdom was reckoned to owe so much to the non-Greek civilizations of the East. There is no need to promote Numenius as a representative of ‘Semitic’ culture (and his actual knowledge of Judaism has rightly been cut down to size). But it is also too cautious to deny to him any regional outlook.

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