Damáskios - (Damascius, Δαμάσκιος) Born in Damascus Syria (hence his name) 458 CE - died after 538 CE.

Damáskios traveled to Alexandria in the 480s, studying rhetoric at the school of Orapóllôn (Horapollo, Ὡραπόλλων), where Christians and pagans studied side-by-side. The school was, at that time, very much under the influence of Asclipiádis (Asclepiades, Ἀσκληπιάδης), the father of Orapóllôn, who was expert on the Egyptian religion and wrote on the syncretism it had with other religions. Isídôros (Isidore, Ἰσίδωρος), and Ammóhnios Ærmeiou (Ammonius Hermiae, Ἀμμώνιος ὁ Ἑρμείου) also taught at this school and became associated with Damáskios. He was also greatly influenced by Sarapíôn (Sarapio, Σαραπίων), a solitary whose life exemplified great virtue. Damáskios studied mathematics with Marínos of Næapolítis (Marinus of Neapolis, Μαρίνος ὁ Νεαπολίτης) while in Athens, as well as philosophy with the then elderly Próklos (Proclus, Πρόκλος) and Zinódotos (Zenodotus, Ζηνόδοτος). These are the last of the great philosophers of antiquity.

Damáskios was a philosopher, the last Diádokhos (Diadochus, Διάδοχὁς), the official head of the Neoplatonic Akadímeia (Academy, Ἀκαδήμεια) of Athens, succeeding Isídôros, and before it's forced closing by Justinian I (Φλάβιος Πέτρος Σαββάτιος Ἰουστινιανός) in 529 CE.

According to the historian Agathías (Ἀγαθίας Σχολαστικός), Damáskios then fled to Ktisiphóhn (Ctesiphon, Κτησιφῶν), the capitol of the Persian Empire, seeking refuge with the Sassanid King Khosrau I (Chrosroes I, Anushirwan the Just) under whose protection he was able to establish the Academy in Harrân (known as ῾Ελληνὀπολις meaning "Greek city") in northern Mesopotamia, although these details are unclear. Platonic philosophy flourished into the tenth or eleventh centuries CE in these areas. [1]

Damáskios composed a number of philosophical works including On First Principles (ἀπορίαι καὶ λύσεις περὶ τῶν πρώτων ἀρχῶν) and commentaries of the Platôn's Παρμενίδης (Parmenides), Φαίδων (Phaedo), and Φίληβος (Philebus); as well as a number of lost works.

Damáskios also wrote Philosophós Istoría (Philosophical History, Φιλοσοφός Ιστορία) which contains much biographical information on the later philosophers such as Isídôros, Marínos, Iæroklís (Hierocles, Ίεροκλῆς), Thæosǽvios (Theosebius, Θεοσέβιος), Próklos, and many others, as well as accounts of the final days when Ællinismόs (Hellenismos, Ἑλληνισμός) could be taught (somewhat) publicly. The text documents the struggles of the last Hellenes practising their religion and pagan persecutions, both in Alexandria and Athens. In these final years, as our religion was destroyed and driven underground, Damáskios laments:

"Already the mysteries of philosophy were turned into objects of mirth and great laughter by some of those people whose ears are shattered and perception destroyed, says Damascius about the fact that some people divulged (ed. under coercion) the mysteries of philosophy." [2]

In On First Principles Damáskios discusses three Orphic theogonies: the Eudemian Theogony, the Hieronyman Theogony, and the Rhapsodic Theogony. It is of the theogony of Iæróhnymos (Hieronymus, Ἱερώνυμος), where Damáskios writes very clearly of the two kozmogonic substances, Earth (Yi, Γῆ) and Water (Ýthôr, Ὕδωρ), and the Unutterable Principle (Ἄρρητος Ἀρχή):

"“But that (Orphic theology) delivered by Hieronymus and Hellanicus is as follows. According to them water and matter were the first productions, from which earth was secretly drawn forth: so that water and earth are established as the two first principles; the latter of these having a dispersed subsistence; but the former conglutinating and connecting the latter. They are silent however concerning the principle prior to these two, as being ineffable: for as there are no illuminations about him, his arcane and ineffable nature is from hence sufficiently evinced." [3]

Damáskios is known, however, not so much for his works as for having reorganized the Neoplatonic school after the death of Proklos. He re-established the study of Plátôn (Plato, Πλάτων), Aristotǽlis (Aristotle, Ἀριστοτέλης), and the Khaldaikós Khrizmós (Chaldean Oracles, Χαλδαϊκός Χρησμός) as the focal points of the school. [1]


[1] Summarized from Neoplatonism by Pauliina Remes, 2008, University of California Press (Berkeley & Los Angeles, USA), p. 29-30.

[2] Φιλόσοφος Ιστορία Δαμασκίου I.58.A, trans. Polymnia Athanassiadi 1999 in Damascius: The Philosophical History 1999 Apamea Cultural Association [Athens Greece], Oxbow Books [Oxford UK], and The David Brown Book Co. [Oakville CT USA] p. 163.

[3] Damáskios, presenting the view of Hieronymus of Rhodes or Hellanicus, Princ. 123c bis {i. 317-19 R.}; = Orphic fragment 54 (trans. Thomas Taylor, 1824).

The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

Introduction to the Thæí (the Gods): The Nature of the Gods.

How do we know there are Gods? Experiencing Gods.

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The story of the birth of the Gods: Orphic Theogony.

We know the various qualities and characteristics of the Gods based on metaphorical stories: Mythology.

Dictionary of terms related to ancient Greek mythology: Glossary of Hellenic Mythology.

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