Podcast episode

Episode 134: Introducing Iamblichus of Chalcis

[Thanks to Livius.org for the above image from the Apamea Museum.]

Iamblichus of Chalcis (c. 240-c. 326) was a late-antique Platonist philosopher, but a Platonist philosopher of such an idiosyncratic bent that to call him a Platonist hardly seems to do him justice. He was deeply influential on the later tradition of polytheist philosophy going into the late empire, and served as a rallying-point for the traditionally-religious intellectuals who sought to oppose the encroachments of Christianity. His metaphysics combine a stated position of Platonic literalism with all the wild and luxuriant growth that we associate with texts like the Chaldæan Oracles and even with truly rampant metaphysical flora as found in the Sethian plēroma. He thought that human beings needed to free themselves from the material kosmos in part through rituals which looked suspiciously like sorcery to his contemporaries, but his justifications for these rituals went on to be perhaps the single-most influential apologies for addressative ritual in late antiquity and beyond. Among his students he seems to have been accorded a reputation for divine power more familiar from stories of Christian saints, Rabbinic teachers, or Sufi saints than from the annals of classical philosophy.

In this episode we run through what can likely be reconstructed of his life and teaching activity and of his extensive oeuvre.

Works Cited in this Episode:


Iamblichus. Noble ancestry: Eunap. 457. First studied with Anatolius and then “attached himself to Porphyry” (Πορφυρίῳ προσθεὶς ἑαυτόν): Eunap. 457. He ‘heard’ Porphyry: De anima 375.24-25. Iamblichus set up his school at Daphne: Malalas Chronographia XII.312.11–12. Dillon 1987, pp. 869–70 (see below) admits that Malalas may be right, but still opts on probabilities for Apamea.


  • Dillon 2009 (see below), p. 13. ‘… From the status of a third-rate magician to that of, perhaps, a philosopher of the second rank’: p. i. List of Iamblichus’ works: pp. 18-25.
  • Aaron P. Johnson. Religion and Identity in Porphyry of Tyre: The Limits of Hellenism in Late Antiquity. The University Press, Cambridge, 2013, p. 21.
  • Pauliina Remes. Neoplatonism. Acumen, Stocksfield, 2008., p. 23.
  • Gregory Shaw. Theurgy and the Soul: The Neoplatonism of Iamblichus. Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, PA, 1995.

Recommended Reading:

Eunapius’ Lives of the Sophists exists only in a single manuscript. The first modern edition is Boissonade (Paris 1822). Wright (Wilmer Cave Wright. Philostratus and Eunapius: The Lives of the Sophists. William Heinemann/Putnam, London/New York, NY, 1922) remains superbly useful both on account of its excellent critical qualities (it is an edition of the text in its own right), its useful English translation, and the deep knowledge of late antique thought displayed by the editor/translator. Giangrande (G. Giangrande, editor. Eunapii vitae sophistarum. Rome, 1956) is a more modern edition.

Note on citing Iamblichus’ De mysteriis/Response to Porphyry:

This work has a somewhat complicated publication-history. In older scholarship we find references like De myst. 269: this 269 is a ‘Parthey page’, referencing the page numbers of Parthey’s edition (Berlin: F. Nicolai 1857), which did not consult all the MSS, and which is otherwise long out-of-date. The most influential modern edition was Des Places (Paris: Les Belles Lettres 1966), now updated by Saffrey and Segonds  (Paris: Les Belles Lettres 2018): both keep the by-now-standard Parthey pages in the margins, but also employ the division into Books and Sections originated by Scutellius (1556). These look like this: e.g. De myst. III.4 or III 4. As with the Budé editions generally, Saffrey and Segonds give line numbers based entirely on their own mise-en-page, so these are only useful for consulting their edition. Thus, the most thorough way of citing the De mysteriis can give us the rather long-winded e.g. I.20.63.15 (that is, Book I, Section 20 Scutellius, page 63 Parthey, line 15 Saffrey-Segonds).

For the podcast we are consulting Saffrey-Segonds 2018, and generally only bothering to cite the Scutellius Book and Section; if you want line numbers or Parthey pages, find them yourself. For the whole story of the text, editions, and so forth of the De mysteriis, see Martin Sicherl. Die Handschriften, Ausgaben und Übersetzungen von Iamblichos De Mysteriis: Eine kritisch-historische Studie. Akademie Verlag, Berlin, 1957.

Also of general use:

  • J. Bidez. Le philosophe Iamblique et son école. REG, 27:29–40, 1919.
  • Alan Cameron. The Date of Iamblichus’ Birth. Hermes, 96:374–76, 1969.
  • Hans Daiber. Neuplatonische Pythagorica in arabischem Gewande. Der Kommentar des Iamblichus zu den Carmina aurea. Ein verlorener griechischer Text in arabischer Überlieferung. Amsterdam, 1995.
  • B.. Dalsgaard Larsen. Jamblique de Chalcis: Exégète et philosophe. Universitetsforlaget, Aarhus, 1972.
  • J. Dillon. Iamblichus of Calchis. ANRW, 2(36.2):862–909, 1987.
  • Idem, editor. Iamblichi Chalcidensis in Platonis dialogos commentariorum fragmenta. Prometheus Trust, Westbury, 2nd edition, 2009 (reprint of ditto. Brill, Leiden, 1973).
  • John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell, editors. Iamblichus: On the Pythagorean Way of Life. Scholars Press, Atlanta, GA, 1991c.
  • M. J. Edwards. Neoplatonic Saints: the Lives of Plotinus and Proclus by their Students. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, 2000.
  • John Finamore. Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul. Scholars Press, Chico, CA, 1985.
  • John F. Finnamore and John M. Dillon, editors. Iamblichus: De anima. Greek text edited with and English translation by John F. Finnamore and John M. Dillon. Brill, Leiden, 2002.
  • H.-D. Saffrey. Neoplatonic Spirituality: from Iamblichus to Proclus and Damascius. In A. H. Armstrong, editor, Classical Mediterranean Spirituality, pages 250–266. SCM Press, 1986.
  • Henri-Dominique Saffrey, Alain-Philippe Segonds, and Adrien Lecerf. Jamblique: Réponse à Porphyre (De mysteriis). Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2018, pp. xxxiii-lix on Iamblichus’ life and work.


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