Parmenides Publishing

Titles by Barrie Fleet


On the Immortality of the Soul

Translation, with an Introduction, and Commentary


Series Edited by
John M. Dillon and Andrew Smith

March 2016
349 pages • 5 x 7.5 • Paperback

AndrewSmithBarrie Fleet
is affiliated Lecturer and former Fellow and Director of Studies in Classics at Corpus Christi College, University of Cambridge. He is the author of Plotinus: Ennead III.6 On the Impassivity of the Bodiless (Oxford, 1995), Plotinus: Ennead IV.8 On the Descent of the Soul Into Bodies (Parmenides, 2012), and three volumes in the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle Series edited by Richard Sorabji (Cornell/Duckworth): Simplicius: On Aristotle Physics 2 (1997), Simplicius: On Aristotle Categories 5 & 6, with Frans de Haas (2001), and Simplicius: On Aristotle Categories 7 & 8 (2002).

Ennead IV.7 is a very early treatise (second according to Porphyry’s chronological table), and unlike the many treatises devoted to attempts at untangling various issues Plotinus found problematic in Plato’s thinking, this one presents the teachings of the other main schools current in Plotinus’ day: the Stoics, Epicureans, Pythagoreans, and Peripatetics, all of whom presented soul as something material or as contingent upon material soul, and so as being neither truly immortal nor imperishable.

It includes observations on many mainly Stoic doctrines on perception, memory, sensation, thought, virtue, powers of material bodies, mixture and reproduction (Chapters 1–83); on Pythagorean attunement (84); and on Peripatetic entelechy (85). In Chapters 9–10 Plotinus presents, in broad terms, Plato’s doctrines on soul’s immortality—mainly that of the individual soul, but a fortiori that of the soul of the cosmos. These chapters offer some of Plotinus’ most powerful prose.
He is not concerned to prove the soul’s immortality—that was an uncontroversial tenet of Platonism, to be taken for granted. In this treatise Plotinus is laying down the in­disputable foundations for his later writings.

Plotinus was a Platonist, committed to expounding the doctrines put forward by Plato some seven centuries earlier. He was born and educated in Egypt, where he studied the teachings of Plato under the guidance of Ammonius Saccas. He came to Rome in 244 CE and built up a circle of followers devoted to studying Plato through Plato's own works and those of philosophers, both Platonist and non-Platonist, of the intervening centuries. From his fiftieth year Plotinus himself wrote down, in Greek, the findings of the seminars, and these writings were later edited by one of his pupils, Porphyry, and published in six groups of nine treatises entitled the Enneads (from the Greek word for nine – ennea).

“This volume contains the good translation and helpful commentary characteristic of the series, while the text tackled is one of the most accessible for those who have not previously studied Plotinus. The commentary takes special pains to treat the essay as a genuine work of philosophy and to set it against the earlier history of Greek (and especially Stoic) psychology. It would make an excellent final text for a course on post-Aristotelian philosophy.”

—Harold Tarrant, Professor Emeritus
School of Humanities and Social ScienceUniversity of Newcastle, Australia

“This early treatise of Plotinus on the immortality of the soul, one of the twin pillars of Platonism, is rich with arguments against the variety of materialist and reductionist theories of soul in antiquity. Fleet’s fluent and accessible translation is accompanied by extensive notes, which offer sound guidance to the complex doctrinal contexts within which Plotinus lived and thought.”

—John Bussanich, Professor of Philosophy
University of New Mexico

“The translation is fluid and accessible to readers without knowledge of Greek, while the commentary elucidates thoroughly the argumentative structure of the text and its philosophical significance, both in the confines of Plotinus’ philosophy itself, as well as in the broader context of ancient philosophy. Anyone interested in the (Neo-)Platonic theory of the soul and its engagement with rival anthropological conceptions will benefit from this volume.”

—Matthias Vorwerk, Associate Professor of Philosophy
The Catholic University of America

“With experience and erudition, Fleet translates and comments on Plotinus’ seminar discussion of the signature Platonic subject of soul’s immortality in the context of its diverse philosophical tradition in antiquity. Here the newcomer to late ancient philosophy will find a clear sketch of the big picture of Plotinus’ view on the soul, while the seasoned reader will be treated to many new details and insights.”

—Svetla Slaveva-Griffin, Associate Professor of Classics
Florida State University

“Fleet offers a new, clear, and readable translation and an extensive and detailed commentary of Plotinus’ On the Immortality of the Soul. His commentary shows us a Plotinus in active dialogue with earlier philosophical doctrines including those of Plato and Aristotle and especially the Stoics. Useful for scholars and students alike.”
—Dr. Wiebke-Marie Stock, University of Bonn, Germany