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Ammonius, Origen, and Plotinus: Exploring an Enigma

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[Corrigenda: There are a few blunders in this episode. First of all, we say that Origen never cites Clement of Alexandria by name. This is wrong; he does so quite a bit. God knows where we got that from. Secondly, we misrepresent Guy Stroumsa’s trip to Mar Saba to see the Letter to Theodore MS: he did make the trip and did see the MS, but not in the company of Morton Smith. Apologies.]

We love riddles. Now, the particular historical riddle expounded in this special episode won’t be for everyone, but for the hardcore lovers of late-antique esotericism, the problem of whether or not Origen the esoteric Christian philosopher was the same guy as Origen, Plotinus’ fellow-student of Ammonius Saccas, is a deeply juicy question. Thus this special episode discussing the main evidence.

As it emerges in the discussion of said evidence, said evidence is so vexing, so baffling, so finely-tuned to create controversy for ever, that it can only have been made that way by design.

Featuring the return of Rupert and Steve.

Works Cited in this Episode:


On Ammonius ‘Sakkas’:

  • Nickname: Ammianus Marcellinus 22.16: Saccas Ammonius Plotini magister; Theodoret, Cur. 6.60-73. Cf. Suda, s.v. Origenes.
  • Porphyry says Ammonius, the teacher of Origen, was raised a Christian but later recanted, which Eusebius denies: H.E: 6.19.10: τῷ τε γὰρ Ὠριγένει τὰ τῆς κατὰ Χριστὸν διδασκαλίας ἐκ προγόνων ἐσῴζετο, ὡς καὶ τὰ τῆς πρόσθεν ἱστορίας ἐδήλου, τῷ τε Ἀμμωνίῳ τὰ τῆς ἐνθέου φιλοσοφίας ἀκέραια καὶ ἀδιάπτωτα καὶ μέχρις ἐσχάτης τοῦ βίου διέμενεν τελευτῆς, ὥς που καὶ οἱ τἀνδρὸς εἰς ἔτι νῦν μαρτυροῦσι πόνοι, δἰ ὧν κατέλιπε συγγραμμάτων παρὰ τοῖς πλείστοις εὐδοκιμοῦντος, ὥσπερ οὖν καὶ ὁ ἐπιγεγραμμένος Περὶ τῆς Μωυσέως καὶ Ἰησοῦ συμφωνίας καὶ ὅσοι ἄλλοι παρὰ τοῖς φιλοκάλοις εὕρηνται.
  • Ammonius Sakkas interested in harmonising Plato and Aristotle: Hierocles of Alexandria, De providentia, ap. Photius Bibl. 214, esp. 172a, 173a.

Longinus on Origen:

  • A Platonist who wrote little except the On Daimones (ap. Porph. Plot. 20, 36 ff.).
  • Two Ammonii, one a Platonist (mentioned alongside the name Origen) and one a Peripatetic: ap. Porph. Plot. 20.


  • Origen the hated Christian wrote lots of stuff: ap. Eus. HE. 6,19,5.
  • Origen, Plotinus’ fellow student, composed only two writings (Plot. 3, 30-32). His work That the King is the only Maker, appeared either under the emperor Gallienus or, as some would have it, dedicated to the emperor Gallienus (ἐπὶ Γαλιήνου).
  • Origen the Christian’s teacher, Ammonius, ‘attained the greatest proficiency in philosophy of any in our day’. Porph. ap. Euseb. H.E. 6.19.6.
  • Ammonius, Plotinus’ teacher, wrote nothing: Plot. 20.25-9 and 36-47.
  • The emperor Gallienus confers with Plotinus about founding Platonopolis: Plot. 12.
  • Cf. Plot. 14 and 20 for other Origen refs.


  • Henri Crouzel. Origene et la philosophie. Paris, 1962.
  • Dörrie 1955, see below.
  • Mark Julian Edwards. Origen Against Plato. Ashgate, Aldershot, 2002, we cite pp. 54-55.
  • Freudenthal, Paulys Realencyclopädie der classischen Altertumwissenschaft Band I,2, Ammonius 14.
  • Pierre Nautin. Origene. Sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris, 1977, we cite pp. 200-201.
  • Schwyzer 1983 (see below). We cite p. 22.
  • Henricus Valesius. Eusebii Pamphili, Socratis scholastici … &c. Christian Gerlach & Simon Beckenstein, Moguntiae (Mainz), 1672. We cite the notes to 6,19,6.

Recommended Reading:

Two Ammonii, Two Origens:

  • H. Dörrie. Ammonios, der Lehrer Plotins. Hermes, 83:439–77, 1955 [two Ammonii the only way of accounting for all the evidence].
  • Mark Edwards. Ammonius, Teacher of Origen. The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 44(2):169–81, 199 [argues that O. the Christian was taught by the Peripatetic Ammonius mentioned by Longinus ap. Porph. Plot.].

One Ammonius, Two Origens (this is by far the majority position or undefended assumption. We give a few representative examples of the many flavours this formulation can take, but there are very many more):

  • Armstrong. Plotinus: Enneads. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2003. Greek text based on Henry & Schwyzer (1951-73), with translation and introduction by A.H. Armstrong. 7 vols., n. 1 to Vol. I, pp. 10-11.
  • Hans-Rudolph Schwyzer. Ammonios Sakkas, der Lehrer Plotins. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen, 1983.
  • K.O. Weber. Origenes der Neuplatoniker. Zetemata, 27, 1962.

One Ammonius, One Origen:

  • Ilaria L.E. Ramelli. Origen and the Platonic Tradition. Religions, 8(21), 2017.
  • Idem. Origen, Patristic Philosophy, and Christian Platonism: Re-Thinking the Christianisation of Hellenism. Vigiliæ Christianæ, 63(3):217–63, 2009.