Oddcast episode

Peter Adamson on the Arabic Proclus

We are delighted to speak with Peter Adamson on the story of how Proclus became Arabic, became Aristotle, and went on to inform monotheist speculative metaphysics throughout the middle ages.

Among topics discussed:

  • We introduce the Baghdadī translation movement,
  • The Proclean text(s) arising from that circle, in the form of various redactions or reworkings of Proclus’ Elements of Theology,
  • Some hypotheses as to how the Arabic Proclus text came to travel under the name of Aristotle,
  • The ways in which Proclus’ text has been made more ‘monotheist’ by the translators and excerpters,
  • Proclus’ text as an important source for emanationist ideas in Islam going forward,
  • And some examples of this, from the tenth-century thinker al-‘Āmarī, who integrates Qur’anic attributes of god like the Pen and the Tablet with Proclean/Plotinian metaphysics, to the Isma‘ilī Platonist synthesis. We also discuss the Harmony of the Two Philosophers, ascribed to al-Farabī, take a refreshing meander in the fields of Plethon and Ficino’s Platonist syntheses, and discuss Aquinas’ commentary on the Book of Causes.

Interview Bio:

Peter Adamson is Professor of Late Ancient and Arabic Philosophy at the LMU in Munich, and co-director, with Prof Christof Rapp and Prof Oliver Primavesi, of the Munich School of Ancient Philosophy. He hosts the History of Philosophy [without any Gaps] Podcast.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Ibn Sīna doubts the Aristotelean credentials of the ‘Theology of Aristotle’: Insaf (Fair Judgment). See Dmitri Gutas, Avicenna and the Aristotelian Tradition: Introduction to Reading Avicenna’s Philosophical Works (Leiden: 1988, 2nd revised ed. 2014).

Thomas Aquinas announces to the world that ‘Aristotle’ is actually Proclus: An English version of the Angelic Doctor’s Liber de causis commentary is Vincent A. Guagliardo, Charles R. Hess, and Richard C. Taylor, editors and translators. St Thomas Aquinas: Commentary on the Book of Causes. Number 1 in Thomas Aquinas in Translation. Catholic University of America Press, Washington, DC, 1996.

For Proclus’ Commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses, surviving only in Arabic, see Neil Linley. Ibn aṭ-Ṭayyib: Proclus’ Commentary on the Pythagorean Golden Verses. Number 10 in Arethusa Monographs. State University of New York Press, Buffalo, NY, 1984.


Philoponus’ response to Proclus on the eternity of the world in English: Philoponus, Against Proclus on the Eternity of the World, trans. M. Share and J. Wilberding, 4 vols (London: 2005, 2005, 2006, 2010).

Christina D’Ancona: see D’Ancona 1995 below.

Gerhard Endress establishes that the Arabic Proclus came from the Kindī circle at Baghdad: See Endress 1973 below.

Elvira Wakelnig, edition and translation of al-‘Āmarī: Elvira Wakelnig. Feder, Tafel, Mensch: Al-‘Āmirīs kitab al-fuṣul fī l-ma`ālim al-ilahīya und die arabische Proklos-rezeption im 10 jh. Number LXVII in Islamic Theology, Theology and Science, Texts and Studies. Brill, Leiden/Boston, MA, 2006.

Fritz Zimmermann explains how a Kindian ‘metaphysics file’ evolved into the various pseudo-Aristotelean Arabic philosophic texts: see Zimmermann 1986 below.

Recommended Reading:

SHWEP Episode 39 on the Esoteric Aristotle Part II (July 2018).

P. Adamson, The Arabic Plotinus: a Philosophical Study of the “Theology of Aristotle” (London: Duckworth, 2002). Reprinted by Gorgias Press, 2017.

P. Adamson, “Plotinus Arabus and Proclus Arabus in the Harmony of the Two Philosophers Ascribed to al-Fārābī,” in D. Calma (ed.), Reading Proclus and the Book of Causes, vol.2 (Leiden: Brill, 2021), 184-99.

C. D’Ancona, Recherches sur le Liber de Causis (Paris: J. Vrin, 1995).

G. Endress, Proclus Arabus. Zwanzig Abschnitte aus der Institutio theologica in arabischer Übersetzung (Wiesbaden: Imprimerie Catholique, 1973).

F.W. Zimmermann, “The Origins of the So-Called Theology of Aristotle,” in J. Kraye et al. (eds), Warburg Institute Surveys and texts XI: Pseudo-Aristotle in the Middle Ages (London, Warburg Institute, 1986) pp. 110-240.


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