Parmenides Publishing

Titles by Sebastian Gertz


Against the Gnostics

Translation, with an Introduction, and Commentary


Series Edited by
John M. Dillon and Andrew Smith

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March 2017
338 pages • 5 x 7.5 • Paperback

Sebastian_GertzSebastian Gertz
is Supernumerary Teaching Fellow in Philosophy at St John’s College, Oxford. He has worked as Assistant Editor with the Ancient Commentators on Aristotle project at King’s College London, and completed his PhD thesis on the ancient commentaries on Plato’s Phaedo at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge in 2010. It was published under the title Death and Immortality in Late Neoplatonism by Brill in 2011. His main area of research is Ancient Philosophy, and particularly Neoplatonism.

How was the universe created, and what is our place within it? These are the questions at the heart of Plotinus’ Against the Gnostics. For the Gnostics, the universe came into being as a result of the soul’s fall from intelligible reality—it is the evil outcome of a botched creation. Plotinus challenges this, and insists that the soul’s creation of the world is the necessary consequence of its contemplation of the ideal forms. While the Gnostics claim to despise the visible universe, Plotinus argues that such contempt displays their ignorance of the higher realities of which the cosmos is a beautiful image.

Against the Gnostics is a polemical text. It aims to show the superiority of Plotinus’ philosophy over that of his Gnostic rivals, and poses unique challenges: Plotinus nowhere identifies his opponents by name, he does not set out their doctrines in any great detail, and his arguments are frequently elliptical. The detailed commentary provides a guide through these difficulties, making Plotinus’ meandering train of thought in this important treatise accessible to the reader.

Introduction to the Treatise (PDF excerpt)

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).

“A model of clarity and scholarly judiciousness. Although this treatise marks the culmination of Plotinus’ remonstrations with the literature of his Gnostic friends, the introduction makes it clear that it is in fact directed, not to the Gnostics themselves, but to those of his students sympathetic with their views, and is part and parcel of a career-long dialogue with Gnostic thinkers and practitioners. Gertz’s translation is lucid, and the commentary not only clearly explains difficulties in the Greek text for the non-Greek reader, but also clarifies the course of Plotinus’ argument.”
óJohn Turner, Professor of Religious Studies, Classics, and History University of Nebraska-Lincoln

“Gertz captures with precision and eloquence the Neoplatonist’s meticulous attempt to defend Platonism from Gnostic interpretation and appropriation. As the locus classicus for Plotinus’ refusal to concede to the onto-cosmological pessimism of the Gnostics, this text highlights the Neoplatonist’s argumentative skills as he relentlessly undermines their fundamental disdain for the cosmos, and the body in general. A must for scholars in the field of Gnosticism and later Greek philosophy.”

óDanielle A. Layne, Assistant Professor of Philosophy Gonzaga University

“This treatise is about much more than Plotinus’ refutation of the Gnostics—it is his case that a proper understanding of emanation and of the highest principles forces us to respect the sensible world as the best possible imitation of the intelligible world. Gertz’s judicious analysis makes the full depth of Plotinus’ thought accessible to a wider audience without getting bogged down in historical and philological minutiae.”

Prof. Dr. James Wilberding
Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Institut für Philosophie

“Plotinus’ Treatise 33 offers the most detailed evidence of the philosophical debate between Pagans and Christians within the framework of a Platonic school at the beginning of the Christian era. I rejoice at Gertz’s new translation and commentary which make connections both with the gnostic thought present in the indirect heresiological sources and in the direct sources, particularly in the new treatises discovered in 1945. The study of this debate in light of these new sources will bring a new appreciation of the importance of exchanges between philosophical schools and religious currents for the formation of philosophical thought in late antiquity.”

—Dr. Luciana Gabriela Soares Santoprete
Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Institut für Philosophie, Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung