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PHIL 0015 / RELI 0015 Late Antique Thought

This course introduces students to some of the most important thinkers and debates of Late Antiquity (roughly 200 to 800 A.D.), which is regarded as the watershed between the Ancient World and the European Middle Ages. In philosophy one of the most important developments since the time of Plato and Aristotle took place with the rise of Neo-Platonism. In the religious/social sphere the growth of Christianity and its institution as the religion of the Empire coincided with the disappearance of the religion of pre-Christian Rome and the political decline of the Empire. These events helped to generate wide-ranging debates, among Christians and between Christians and non-Christians. With the disintegration of ancient culture, the writings of thinkers such as Augustine, Basil, Boethius, Cassiodorus and Isidore were to play in important part in the preservation of ancient learning, as was the development of monasticism.


Set texts:

Plotinus, Enneads
Porphyry, Isagoge
Creed, Canons and Synodal Letter of the First Council of Nicaea
Athanasius, Life of Antony, Discourses against the Arians
Basil the Great , Address to young men on reading Greek literature
Ambrose, Epistles 17, 18 & 57
Augustine, City of God
Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy
Isidore of Seville, Etymologies
Pseudo-Dionysius, The Divine Names


Sample topics:

1.    Church fathers, heresiarchs and the development of conciliar thought
2.    The christian/pagan debate: Ambrose, Symmachus and the Altar of Victory
3.    The development of neo-platonism: Plotinus and Porphyry
4.    Athanasius, Arius and the Council of Nicaea
5.    Augustine and the two cities
6.    Predestination and freedom: Augustine and Pelagius
7.    ‘Despoiling the Egyptians’: Augustine, Boethius and the ‘christianising’ of ancient thought
8.    Cassiodorus, Isidore of Seville and the preservation of ancient learning
9.    Pseudo-Dionysius and the development of apophatic/negative theology

You never know what you'll find
One afternoon, I left St. Michael's Hall with the desire for a cookie and thought I'd pick one up before heading back to the Bodleian. The shop around...
Gabrielle Linnell, Spring Semester 2012, Wellesley College