Philosopher, Scholar (c.490 – c. 560)
One of the last Neoplatonic philosophers during the advent of Christianity in the Roman Empire, Simplicius of Cilicia was one of the most important commentators on the works of Aristotle, who sought to bridge together the differences between Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy.
Originally from Anatolia, Simplicius travelled to Alexandria, where he was educated by philosopher Ammonius Hermiae. He settled in Athens where upon joining the Academy, he became a scholar and worked closely with his teacher Damascius, then Headmaster of the Academy until 529, when Emperor Justinian ordered the closure of all schools of philosophy. This forced all of the remaining Neoplatonists to flee to the court of the Persian King Khosrow, where philosophy had found refuge and was allowed to flourish. Following a peace treaty between the Persian king and the Byzantine Emperor, Simplicius returned to Athens, where he continued and finalised his works.
Of greatest significance are Simplicius’ Commentaries. These include commentaries on Epictetus‘ Enchyridion, on Euclid’s Elements, numerous works of Plato, and specifically on Timaeus as well as many of Aristotle’s treatises for instance De Caelo, Physics and De Anima. Simplicius also quotes numerous excerpts from the works of other important scientists namely Eudemus,Eudoxus, Sosigenes, Geminus and Poseidonius, thanks to which we have evidence of their existence and their contribution.
As a Neoplatonic philosopher himself, Simplicius did not restrict himself into providing a plain explanation of Aristotle’s teachings, but rather, he attempted to find a common line between Platonism and Aristotelianism. He disagreed with his fellow predecessor Plotinus in that there is no spirituality in the works of Aristotle as there are in Plato’s and seeks to find the metaphysical aspect that is common in both philosophies. As such, all of Simplicius’ surviving commentaries are original critiques made by himself, which, however, he never endorsed as being fully correct, as he accepted the fact that there is always another level of interpretation to the texts, left to be discovered by other readers.
One can conclude from the writings of Simplicius that he possessed great knowledge on both Platonic and Aristotelian philosphy. His works, characterized by modesty, provide unique explanations to the works of master philosophers and this helped pave the way for future philosophers, who built on what Simplicius and the other Neoplatonists wrote.
- O’ Connor, JJ, Robertson, E.F. Simplicius. School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, Scotland. mathshistory.st-andrews.ac.uk. Web.
- K.N. Simplicius. Helios New Encyclopaedic Dictionary. Passas, I, Athens: 1946. Print.
- Σιμπλίκιος. Η Εγκυκλοπαίδεια του Πλάτωνα. n1.intelibility.com. Web.