XX. OPINION OF LONGINUS, THE GREAT CRITIC, ABOUT PLOTINOS .
I have made this rather long quotation only to show what was thought of Plotinos by the greatest critic of our days, the man who had examined all the works of his time. At first Longinus had scorned Plotinos, be cause he had relied on the reports of people ignorant (of philosophy). Moreover, Longinus supposed that the copy of the works of Plotinos he had received from Amelius was defective, because he was not yet accus tomed to the style of Plotinos. Nevertheless, if any one had the works of Plotinos in their purity, it was certainly Amelius, who possessed a copy made upon the originals themselves. I will further add what was written by Longinus about Plotinos, Amelius, and the other philosophers of his time, so that the reader may better appreciate this great critic s high opinion of them. This book, directed against Plotinos and Gen- tilianus Amelius, is entitled "Of the Limit (of Good and Evil?)" and begins as follows:
There were, O Marcellus Orontius many philosophers in our time, and especially in the first years of our childhood for it is useless to complain of their rarity at the present; but when I was still a youth, there were still a rather goodly number of men cele brated as philosophers. I was fortunate enough to get acquainted with all of them, because I traveled early with our parents in many countries. Visiting many nations and towns, I entered into personal rela tions with such of these men as were still alive. Among these philosophers, some committed their teachings to writings, with the purpose of being useful to posterity, while others thought that it was sufficient for them to explain their opinions to their disciples. Among the former are the Platonists Euclides, Democritus (who wrote Commentaries on the Alcibiades, on the Phaedo , and on the Metaphysics of Aristotle ), Proclinus, who dwelt in the Troad, Plotinos and his disciple Gentil- ianus Amelius, who are at present teaching at Rome; the Stoics Themistocles, Phebion, and both Annius and Medius, who were much talked of only recently, and the Peripatetician Heliodorus of Alexandria. Among those who did not write their teachings are the Platon - ists Ammonius (Saccas) and (the pagan) Origen , who lived with him for a long while, and who excelled among the philosophers of that period; also Theodotus and Eubulus, who taught at Athens. Of course, they did write a little; Origen, for instance, wrote about "The Guardian Spirits"; and Eubulus wrote Com mentaries on the Philebus , and on the Gorgias, and "Observations on Arsitotle s Objections against Plato s Republic ." However, these works are not con siderable enough to rank their authors among those who have seriously treated of philosophy; for these little works were by them written only incidentally, and they did not make writing their principal occupation. The Stoics Herminus, Lysimachus,f Athenaeus and Musonius (author of "Memorable Events," translated in Greek by Claudius Pollio), who lived at Athens. The Peripateticians Ammonius and Ptolemy, who were the most learned of their contemporaries, especially Ammonius, whose erudition was unequalled, none of these philosophers wrote any important work; they limited themselves to writing poems, or festal orations, which have been preserved in spite of them. I doubt very much that they wished to be known by posterity merely by books so small (and unrepresentative), since they had neglected to acquaint us with their teach ings in more significant works. Among those who have left written works, some have done no more than gather or transcribe what has been left to us from the ancient (philosophers) ; among these are Euclides, Democritus and Proclinus. Others limited themselves to recalling some details extracted from ancient histories, and they tried to compose books with the same materials as their predecessors, as did Annius, Medius, and Phebio; the latter one trying to make himself famous by style, rather than by thought. To these we might add Helio- dorus, who has put in his writings nothing that had not been said by the ancients, without adding any philo sophical explanation. But Plotinos and Gentilianus Amelius, have shown that they really made a pro fession of being writers, both by the great number of questions they treated, and by the originality of their doctrines. Plotinos explained the principles of Py thagoras and Plato more clearly than his predecessors; for neither Numenius, nor Cronius, nor Moderatus, nor Thrasyllus, come anywhere near the precision of Plotinos when they touch on the same topics. Amelius tried to follow in his footsteps, and adopted the greater part of his ideas; but differs from him in the verbosity of his demonstrations, and the diffusion of his style. The writings of these two men alone deserve special consideration; for what is the use of criticizing the works of imitators; had we not better study the authors whose works they copied, without any additions, either in essential points, or in argumentation, doing no more than choosing out the best? This has been our method of procedure in our controversy with Gentilianus Amelius s strictures on justice, in Plato’s works; and in my examination of Plotinos s books on the Ideas. So when our mutual friends Basil of Tyre, ( Porphyry I ) , who has written much on the lines of Plotinos, having even preferred the teachings of Plotinos to my own (as he had been my pupil), undertook to demonstrate that Plotinos s views about the Ideas were better than my own, I have fully refuted his contentions, proving that he was wrong in changing his views on the subject. Besides, I have criticized several opinions of Gentilianus Amelius and Plotinos, as for instance in the "Letter to Amelius" which is long enough to form a whole book. I wrote it to answer a letter sent me from Rome by Amelius, which was entitled "The Characteristics of the Philosophy of Plotinos." I, however, limited myself to entitling my little work, "A Letter to Amelius."