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J.-F. Pradeau, L'imitation du principe

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  • Cosmin I. Andron
    From: BMCR 2004.04.22 Jean-Franc,ois Pradeau, L imitation du principe. Plotin et la participation. Histoire des doctrines de l antiquite/ classique, XXX.
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 12, 2004
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      From: BMCR 2004.04.22

      Jean-Franc,ois Pradeau, L'imitation du principe. Plotin et la
      participation. Histoire des doctrines de l'antiquite/ classique, XXX.
      Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2003. Pp. 185. ISBN
      2-7116-1615-0. EUR 25.00 (pb).

      Reviewed by Eugene V. Afonasin, Novosibirsk State University, Russia
      Word count: 778 words

      In his exceptionally learned monograph Jean-Franc,ois Pradeau -- a
      well-known French researcher and translator of the Enneads of Plotinus
      -- addresses an interesting question, somewhat underrepresented in the
      Plotinian scholarship -- what the concept of participation (methexis)
      means exactly.

      The basic hypothesis of the study is formulated in the introduction,
      entitled "La participation comme imitation" (pp. 9-17). It is said here
      that the present study examines the aspects, features and concrete
      instances of the Neoplatonic reception of the works of Plato in order
      to demonstrate the extent to which the motif of imitation (mimesis)
      plays the determinative role in the formation of the concept of

      The subject matter is organized into four chapters, dedicated,
      respectively, to the predecessors of Plotinus and a short summary of
      his concepts (pp. 19-56), "The images of the principle" (pp. 57-80),
      the concepts of Return and Assimilation (pp. 81-104), and, finally,
      Contemplation and Resemblance (pp. 105-148).

      Of the middle-Platonic predecessors of Plotinus special attention is
      given to Alcinous (an otherwise unknown author of the Handbook of
      Platonism)[[1]] and Numenius of Apamea.[[2]] While the Handbook is an
      example of 'standard' school Platonism, Numenius with his
      neo-Pythagorean affinity allows us to perceive another side of the
      Platonic tradition. The Middle Platonists had formulated a number of
      questions, concerning the status of Demiurge, creation, time, matter
      etc., and answered them in the ways significant for understanding the
      development of Platonic doctrine in the philosophy of Plotinus and
      later Neoplatonism. Pradeau's discussion of Numenius is especially
      interesting in the context of the present study. The remaining sections
      of the first chapter outline the fundamentals of Plotinian thought: his
      interpretation of the 'Parmenides', the first principles, the unity of
      reality, and finally the concepts of imitation as participation.

      The second chapter ('Les images du principe') is divided into three
      sections. The first section is entitled 'Les figures de la procession'
      (pp. 58f.). In the treatise 11 (V 2) "The origin and the order of the
      beings following on the first" (1, 1-3) Plotinus posits a paradoxical
      hypothesis, which controls the rest of his ontological constructs: "The
      One is all things and no one of them; in effect, the source of all
      things is not all things; and yet it is all things in a transcendental
      sense -- all things, so to speak, having run back to it: or, more
      correctly, not all as yet are within it, they will be."[[3]]

      'From such a unity as we have declared the One to be, how does anything
      at all come into substantial existence, any multiplicity, dyad, or
      number?' -- asks Plotinus. The process of generating successive
      hypostases is illustrated on the basis of a long passage from 10 [V 1]
      6, 6-53 (pp. 60f.). The passage is remarkable, since the process of
      generation is presented here by means of eight different metaphors --
      production, generation, imitation, illumination, rational information,
      movement, activity, and love for the better (e/lan erotique). Analyzing
      these problems, Pradeau then proceeds with "Les apories de la
      ge/ne/ration et de l'illumination" (pp. 65f.), while the third section
      of the chapter is devoted to the Soul and entitled: "De l'image a\
      l'imitation: l'a^me et la participation" (pp. 69f.).

      The following chapters discuss the issue from the ontological,
      epistemological and ethical points of view. Chapter 3, concerned with
      the concepts of Return and Assimilation is also subdivided into three
      sections, entitled, respectively, "The reflection of the principle"
      (pp. 82f.), "Participer, dans la measure du possible" (pp. 89f.), and
      "La simulation du principe" (p. 97). The fourth chapter, "Contempler et
      se rendre semblable" (pp. 105f.) separately treats the following
      topics: "Le trace du principe" (pp. 110f.), "Purification, assimilation
      et contemplation" (pp. 114f.), "L'imitation et les songes" (pp. 123f.),
      and "L'apologie de l'inde/termination" (pp. 128f.). As everywhere in
      the work the main concern of Pradeau here is to isolate the exact
      terminological formulations in Plotinus and to trace them back to his

      In his final section, 'Reflection and Projection' (pp. 150-154),
      Pradeau draws some conclusions and also approaches briefly the problem
      of two matters in Plotinus (Traite/ 12 (II 4)).

      The book ends with Appendices (namely, the titles of Plotinian traits
      and their order), a selected bibliography and indices of passages
      quoted, names and Greek terms. A table of corresponding numeration of
      the traits of the Enneads (in the chronological order, on the one hand,
      and according to Porphyrian arrangement, on the other) is useful, but
      rather badly formatted.

      I believe that the book is a serious advance in study of one of the
      most difficult problem of Plotinian scholarship, is very well written
      and produced, and can certainly be recommended to everyone interested
      in Plotinus and classical philosophy in general.


      1. The choice of the authors is quite natural, since very little has
      survived intact from this period. I should probably remind the readers
      that the work called 'Didaskalikos' and usually dated to the middle of
      the second century A.D. is a handbook or a summary of Platonism,
      written (or, rather, compiled) by a philosopher whose name (judging
      solely from the manuscripts) was Alcinous. The nineteenth century
      German scholar J. Freudenthal suggested that instead of 'Alcinous' we
      should read 'Albinus'. As a result for almost a century the Handbook
      has been considered a work of Albinus, the philosopher of the second
      century and teacher of Galen. This identification is now generally
      abandoned thanks to the important studies and critical edition of the
      work by John Whittaker (1990), who has proven that Freudenthal's
      rejection of the manuscript authority was unfounded. There is an
      English translation of the Handbook by John Dillon (Oxford: Clarendon
      Press, 1993).

      2. A collection of fragments of this mysterious Neo-Pythagorean
      philosopher from Apamea can be found in E/. des Places' Bude/ edition
      (1973); while for an excellent survey of his life and work cf. John
      Dillons' 'The Middle Platonists' (Cornell UP, 1996, second revised
      edition), pp. 361-379, 448-49 (Afterword); and Michael Frede's article
      in ANRW II 36:2 (1034-75).

      3. I use MacKenna-Page translation. J.-F. Pradeau has been working,
      in collaboration with Luc Brisson, on a new translation of the Enneads,
      organized in chronological order (two volumes, containing treatises 1
      to 23 published to date). The new edition will certainly be a
      remarkable achievement. Extensive quotations throughout the book are
      given in the author's own translation. I might also add that the book
      will probably be of special interest to philologists rather then

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