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Taylor: Prefácio G.R.S. Mead

sexta-feira 25 de março de 2022


In presenting to the public a new edition of Thomas Taylor  ’s " Select Works of Plotinus   " it will not be out of place to show cause for what may be considered by many a somewhat temerous proceeding. What has the present English-reading public to do with Plotinus   ; what still further has it to do with the translations of Thomas Taylor   ?

In the following paragraphs I hope to show that the temper of the public mind of today, with regard to the problems of religion and philosophy, is very similar to that of the times of Plotinus  . The public interest in the philosophy of mysticism and theosophical speculation has so largely developed during the last twenty years that a demand for books treating of Neoplatonism and kindred subjects is steadily increasing.

Now of Neoplatonism Plotinus   was the coryphaeus, if not the founder. What Plato   was to Socrates  , Plotinus   was to his master, Ammonius   Saccas. Neither Socrates   nor Ammonius   committed anything to writing ; Plato   and Plotinus   were the great expounders of the tenets of their respective schools, and, as far as we can judge, far transcended their teachers in brilliancy of genius. Therefore, to the student of Neoplatonism, the works of Plotinus   are the most indispensable document, and the basis of the whole system. Just as no Platonic philosopher transcended the genius of Plato  , so no Neoplatonic philosopher surpassed the genius of Plotinus  .

The " Enneads   " of Plotinus   are, as Harnack says, "the primary and classical document of Neoplatonism;" of that document there is no translation in the English language. There are complete translations in Latin, French, and German, but English scholarship has till now entirely neglected Plotinus  , who, so far from being inferior to his great master Plato  , was thought to be a reincarnation of his genius. (" Ita ejus similis judicatus est, ut . . . in hoc illerevixisse putandus sit."— St. Augustine  , " De Civitate Dei," VIII. 12.) A glance at the Bibliography at the end of this Preface will show the reader that though French and German scholars have laboured in this field with marked industry and success, English scholarship has left the pioneer work of Thomas Taylor   (in the concluding years of the past century and the opening years of the present) entirely unsupported. Taylor devoted upwards of fifty years of unremitting toil to the restoration of Greek philosophy, especially that of Plato   and the Neopla-tonists. In the midst of great opposition and adverse criticism he laboured on single-handed. As Th. M. Johnson, the editor of " The Platonist," and an enthusiastic admirer of Taylor, says, in the preface to his translation of three treatises of Plotinus   :

" This wonderful genius and profound philosopher devoted his whole life to the elucidation and propagation of the Platonic philosophy. By his arduous labours modern times became acquainted with many of the works of Plotinus  , Porphyry  , Proclus  , etc. Since Taylor’s time something has been known of Plotinus  , but he is still to many a mere name."

Taylor was a pioneer, and of pioneers we do not demand the building of government roads. It is true that the perfected scholarship of our own times demands a higher standard of translation than Taylor presents; but what was true of his critics then, is true of his critics to-day: though they may know more Greek, he knew more Plato  . The present translation nevertheless is quite faithful enough for all ordinary purposes. Taylor was more than a scholar, he was a philosopher in the Platonic sense of the word; and the translations of Taylor are still in great request, and command so high a price in the second-hand market that slender purses cannot procure them. The expense and labour of preparing a complete translation of the " Enneads  ," however, is too great a risk without first testing the public interest by a new edition of the only partial translation of any size which we possess. A new edition of Taylor’s " Select Works of Plotinus   " is, therefore, presented to the public in the hope that it may pave the way to a complete translation of the works of the greatest of the Neoplatonists. That the signs of the times presage an ever-growing interest in such subjects, and that it is of great importance to learn what solution one of the most penetrating minds of antiquity had to offer of problems in religion and philosophy that are insistently pressing upon us today, will be seen from the following considerations.