Hierocles of Alexandria (Neoplatonist)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hierocles of Alexandria was a late ancient Greek philosopher of the Neoplatonic direction. He lived in the first half of the 5th century.


Hierocles was a student of Plutarch of Athens , so he studied in Athens . He later taught in his hometown of Alexandria , where he was particularly concerned with the interpretation of Plato's writings. He was held in high regard by his students there. Otherwise little is known from his life except for an episode told by the philosopher Damascius : Hierocles went to Constantinople , where he came into conflict with the authorities for unknown reasons. He was charged, convicted, whipped and temporarily banished to an unknown location. It is likely that the offense was a violation of the prohibition of non-Christian religious practices. He later returned to Alexandria from exile. He was acquainted with the historian Olympiodorus of Thebes .

A page from a manuscript written in 925 containing Hierocles' commentary on the golden verses . Vienna, Austrian National Library , Cod. Phil. Gr. 314, fol. 61r


Apparently Hierocles wrote only two works: a detailed commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses , which has been preserved in its entirety, and a fragmentary text On Providence and the Home Poor , which he dedicated to Olympiodorus. Photios offers an overview and extracts from the latter work .

About Providence and the Heimarmene dealt with much more than the title implies, for Hierocles dealt in it - starting from the core theme of Providence - with a number of philosophical questions and offered a representation of the history of philosophy, from Orpheus and Homer to his own teacher Plutarch from Athens. He wanted to show from a Neoplatonic point of view that all the important thinkers before and after Plato (including Orpheus and Homer, whom he regarded as philosophers and theologians, respectively) had unanimously represented the basic ideas of Platonism . He attributed the same basis to the oriental wisdom tradition ( Chaldean oracles ). He emphatically defended the thesis of the agreement between Plato and Aristotle . He tried to refute contrary views and the views of the Stoics and Epicureans , he attributed contradictions between the traditional positions of the authorities to later falsification of their teachings. Among the post-Platonic philosophers he assigned a key role to Ammonios Sakkas ; he had cleared the true Platonic-Aristotelian doctrine of falsifications and transmitted it to his students and later generations in its original, pure and uniform form.

In the commentary on the Golden Verses, Hierocles turns out to be a New Pythagorean. Like other late antique Neo-Platonists and Neo-Pythagoreans, he was convinced that there was no difference between the teachings of Pythagoras and those of Plato. He viewed the Golden Verses as a comprehensive introduction to the study of this universal philosophy.


In the past it was believed that Hierocles took up Christian ideas and sought a synthesis of Platonism and Christianity. According to the current state of research, it can be assumed that, like the Athenian Neoplatonists, in whose circle he received his training, he was and remained a consistent follower of the old religion and rejected Christianity. Hierocles was strongly influenced by the Neoplatonist Iamblichus of Chalkis . The earlier widespread view that Hierocles represented a specifically Alexandrian Platonism, which in metaphysics differed significantly from the teachings of the Athens Neoplatonists, is outdated.

Hierocles divides philosophy into three parts. Starting from the traditional division into practical and “theoretical” ( contemplative ) philosophy, he divides the practical into a civil area ( politikón ) and an initiation- related area ( telestikón ). All three should serve the purification of the soul. The contemplative philosophy has the task of purifying the rational soul through knowledge of truth, the bourgeois (social) philosophy is supposed to purify the irrational soul through the exercise of virtue and the initiation-related the soul vehicle. For Hierocles, the soul vehicle is a spiritual "light-like body" that he regards as immortal. It ensures the connection of the rational soul with the physical body, which it breathes life into when the soul enters it.

Like other Neo-Platonists, Hierocles assumes that the One is at the top of the hierarchy of beings. Below the one he assumes a creator of the world ( demiurge ), whom he also calls Zeus and equates with the Pythagorean Tetraktys . In contrast to a view held in Middle Platonism , he is of the opinion that the creation of the physical world did not take place on the basis of a pre-existing matter, but that the material substrate is also part of an eternal creation process. He describes the demiurge as the creator of the entire visible and invisible world order. Immediately below the demiurge he classifies the immortal gods, who - like everything immortal - owe their existence to the demiurge, but were not created in time. Among the gods is the class of heroes or (benign) demons, and beneath this is that of men. Gods, heroes and men are the three classes of the rational souls; every individual is invariably belonging to his class.

The irrational soul realm is for Hierocles - just like the irrational life of animals and plants - ephemeral and not created directly by the demiurge, but merely an insignificant image of what has been created by the demiurge. The immortal rational soul of man, on the other hand, can be redeemed; she frees herself from the material body and returns to her heavenly home. This is the area also inhabited by heroes who have never entered material bodies. This is where Hierocles' teaching differs from that of Plotinus , according to which the soul can rise still further and unite with the One.


  • Friedrich Wilhelm Köhler (Ed.): Hieroclis in aureum Pythagoreorum carmen commentarius. Teubner, Stuttgart 1974, ISBN 3-519-01410-6 (critical edition of the commentary on the Golden Verses)


  • Friedrich Wilhelm Köhler (translator): Hierokles: Commentary on the Pythagorean golden poem. Teubner, Stuttgart 1983, ISBN 3-519-04042-5
  • Hermann S. Schibli: Hierocles of Alexandria. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-19-924921-0 , pp. 327-362 (English translation of the fragments of On Providence and the Home Poor with commentary)


Overview representations

Overall presentations and investigations

  • Ilsetraut Hadot: Studies on the Neoplatonist Hierocles. American Philosophical Society, Philadelphia 2004, ISBN 0-87169-941-9
  • Hermann S. Schibli: Hierocles of Alexandria. Oxford University Press, Oxford 2002, ISBN 0-19-924921-0 (standard representation; contains an annotated English translation of the works)

Web links


  1. ^ Hermann S. Schibli: Hierocles of Alexandria , Oxford 2002, pp. 35-40.
  2. This emerges from information from Photios, Bibliotheke , codex 214; see Hermann S. Schibli: Hierocles of Alexandria , Oxford 2002, p. 3.
  3. ^ Photios, Libraries , codex 214 and codex 251.
  4. Hermann S. Schibli: Hierocles of Alexandria , Oxford 2002, pp. 26-29; Dominic J. O'Meara: Pythagoras Revived , Oxford 1989, pp. 112f.
  5. Theo Kobusch : Studies on the Philosophy of Hierokles von Alexandrien , Munich 1976.
  6. ^ Hermann S. Schibli: Hierocles of Alexandria , Oxford 2002, pp. VIII – IX, 31–41.