Main CategoriesWestern Mysticism and PhilosophyNeoplatonism and Greek Philosophy Plotinus: The Enneads

Plotinus: The Enneads

Product no.: 0-943914-55-8
The originator of Neo-Platonism, Plotinus (AD 205-270) was the star pupil, along with the great Church father Origen, of a self-taught philosopher Ammonius in Alexandria.

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Publisher's Synopsis
Plotinus taught that there is a supreme, totally transcendent One, containing no division, multiplicity or distinction; beyond all categories of being and non-being. His One "cannot be any existing thing", nor is it merely the sum of all things [compare the Stoic doctrine of disbelief in non-material existence], but "is prior to all existents". Plotinus identified his One with the concept of Good and the principle of Beauty. His One concept encompassed thinker and object (of thought alike dyad). Even the self-contemplating intelligence (the noesis of the nous) must contain duality. "Once you have uttered The Good, add no further thought: by any addition, and in proportion to that addition, you introduce a deficiency."

This book is simply the most exalted translation of one of the finest products of the human mind. Stephen MacKenna, however, worked on only the first of the four editions that bear his name. The subsequent three editions include increasing numbers of changes made by B.S. Page and incorporated indistinguishably into the text. The vast majority of Page’s changes are unquestionably improvements, and the fourth edition is deservedly most scholars’ text of choice for the MacKenna translation of Plotinus.

With the MacKenna translation out of print, we decided not only to re-issue it but also to show what we consider some of the more significant—and debatable—differences between the original and fourth editions. In some cases we ultimately agree with Page, but think MacKenna’s original thought worthy of consideration. In many others we firmly believe that MacKenna’s translation is not only more profound but also more attuned with the Plotinian “grand insight.”  

In most of the passages involving what we consider debatable differences between MacKenna and Page, we also show how the same ideas are handled by other major translators and interpreters: A.H. Armstrong, Thomas Taylor, K.S. Guthrie, and, occasionally, John Deck. We run the fourth edition as our main text. The reader may profitably ignore, on first reading, the vertical bars and tiny superscripts defining passages for which endnotes are to be found at the end of each tractate.

Reviews

"For the rapture of its wild genius, MacKenna's Plotinus is the most inspiring and instructive single volume in my library... a source of the deepest ideas the mind can think, it is also a bible of beauty."     ~James Hillman

"This truly great book is the source of much that is most precious in the whole Western spiritual tradition."     ~Jacob Needleman

"Mr. MacKenna's inspired translation, occasionally corrected by B.S. Page, of this sublime masterwork - the pinnacle of Greek transcendent thought which led inexorably to Augustine's paradoxical epiphany of an anthropomorphic One, or Singularity; the personal God manifesting within a triune matrix, the Godhead - remains one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed upon the English-speaking world."      ~Mandala Books

Excerpt

"The Soul exists in revolution around God to whom it clings in love, holding itself to the utmost of its power near to Him as the Being on which all depends; and since it cannot coincide with God it circles about Him.

In the Timaeus, the creating God bestows the essential of the Soul, but it is the divinities moving in the kosmos [the stars] that infuse the powerful affections holding from Necessity our impulse and our desire, our sense of pleasure and of pain - and that lower phase of the Soul in which such experiences originate. By this statement our personality is bound up with the stars, whence our Soul [as total of Principle and affections] takes shape; and we are set under necessity at our very entrance into the world: our temperament will be of the stars' ordering, and so, therefore, the actions which derive from temperament, and all the experiences of a nature shaped to impressions.

Our task, then, is to work for our liberation from this sphere, severing ourselves from all that has gathered about us; the total man is to be something better than a body ensouled - the bodily element dominant with a trace of Soul running through it and a resultant life-course mainly of the body - for in such a combination all is, in fact, bodily. There is another life, emancipated, whose quality is progression towards the higher realm, towards the good and divine, towards that Principle which no one possesses except by deliberate usage but so may appropriate, becoming, each personally, the higher, the beautiful, the Godlike, and living, remote, in and by It - unless one choose to go bereaved of that higher Soul and therefore, to live fate-bound, no longer profiting, merely, by the significance of the sidereal system but becoming as it were a part sunken in it and dragged along with the whole thus adopted."

Biography

Porphyry believed Plotinus was sixty-six years old when he died in the second year of the reign of the emperor Claudius II, and estimated the year of his teacher's birth as around 205. Plotinus disliked "being in the body", so he never discussed his ancestry, or his place or date of birth. Eunapius however reports that he was born in Lyco or Lycopolis in Egypt.

He took up the study of philosophy at the age of twenty-seven, around the year 232, and went to Alexandria to study. Plotinus was dissatisfied with every teacher he met until a friend suggested he go to Ammonius Saccas. Upon hearing Ammonius lecture, he declared to his friend, "this was the man I was looking for," and began to study intently under this teacher.

Plotinus spent the next eleven years in Alexandria until his 38th year, when he decided to investigate the philosophical teachings of the Persians and the Indians. As a result he left Alexandria and joined the army of Gordian III as it marched on Persia. However, on Gordian's death he found himself abandoned in a hostile land, and with difficulty found his way back to safety in Antioch.

At the age of forty, during the reign of Philip the Arab, he came to Rome, where he lived for most of the remainder of his life. He attracted a number of students in that city. His innermost circle included Porphyry, Gentilianus Amelius of Tuscany, the Senator Castricius Firmus, and Eustochius of Alexandria - a doctor who devoted himself to learning from Plotinus and attended to him until his death.

Author Plotinus
Translator MacKenna, Stephen
Cotranslator Page, B.S.
Book Type Hardcover
Page Count 747 pp.
Publisher Larson Publications 1992
Gold Medal

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  Gold Medal Essential Reading

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