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Noetic Triads and Lost Palimpsests: Introducing the Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides

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[Corrigendum: I mistakenly state that the hyparxis, noēsis. zōē triad appears in Plato’s Sophist. Nope. Always check the original. What we do have in that Sophist-passage (cited below) is a passage that could very easily give rise to speculations about noetic triads.]

The anonymous commentary on Plato’s Parmenides is what is known in the scientific study of late antique thought as ‘a doozy’. It is a highly-abstruse, dense reading of sections from the first and second hypotheses of Plato’s tortuous dialogue the Parmenides. The Anonymous reads the Parmenides as a metaphysical text, one which describes the procession of reality from the first One of the dialogue to the second One of the dialogue, reading Plato’s hypotheses as descriptions of the primal universal realities, the One and the Nous – in other words, we seem at first glance to be in Plotinian territory.

But hang on a second. The second One of the Anonymous is characterised by a triadic interrelation of activities: hyparxis (existence), noēsis, and zōē (life). That’s not very Plotinian; in fact, this hyparxis word is found a lot in later Platonists like Proclus, but not at all in Plotinus. We do find it, however, in the Sethian Platonising Gnostic texts Zostrianos, Allogenes, and Three Steles of Seth. And at least two of these were being read in Plotinus’ circle, and Plotinus actually takes the time to attack specific doctrines from them.

What is going on?

Before we can answer that question, we need to explore this text in a bit more detail, and nerd out about noetic triads, which is what we do in this episode.

Works Cited in this Episode:


  • The Anonymous XIV 16-26 = p. 618 Kroll: καὶ τὸ νοοῦν καὶ τὸ νοούμενον ὑπάρξει, τὸ δὲ νοοῦν, ἢν ὁ νοῦ[ς μετε]ξ[έλθῃ] ἀπὸ τῆς ὑπαρξέως εἰς τὸ νοοῦν, ἵνα ἐπανέλθῃ εἰς τὸ νοητὸν καὶ ἑαυτὸν ἴδῃ, ἐστὶν ζωή.
  • Plato, Sophist 248e-249a: ὡς ἀληθῶς κίνησιν καὶ ζωὴν καὶ ψυχὴν καὶ φρόνησιν ἦ ῥᾳδίως πεισθησόμεθα τῷ παντελῶς ὄντι μὴ παρεῖναι, μηδὲ ζῆν αὐτὸ μηδὲ φρονεῖν, ἀλλὰ σεμνὸν καὶ ἅγιον, νοῦν οὐκ ἔχον, ἀκίνητον ἑστὸς εἶναι;
  • Porphyry on the Gnostic treatises in circulation in Plotty’s school: Plot. 16.
  • Proclus: The different schools of interpreting the Parmenides of Plato: In Parm. I 641–643. See Steel (2002), 38–41 for discussion. For the text of Proclus’s Parmenides-commentary, see Carlos Steel, editor. Procli In Platonis Parmenidem commentaria. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 2007-2009. Porphyry’s noetic triad: In Tim. III, 64, 8 ff.


  • Clark 2018 (see below): we cite pp. 356-7.
  • Dodds suggests Moderatus and Eudorus as possible origins for a theological reading of the Parmenides: E. R. Dodds. The Parmenides of Plato and the Neoplatonic One. CQ, 22:129–142, 1928.
  • John Turner on ‘Platonizing Sethian Treatises’: see e.g. J.D. Turner. Sethian Gnosticism and the Platonic Tradition. Presses Université Laval/Éditions Peeters, Montreal/Louvain-Paris, 2001.

Recommended Reading:

The first critical edition of the Anonymous was published by Wilhelm Kroll in 1892, based on the extraordinary find of a palimpsest-text in a MS (Wilhelm Kroll. Ein neuplatonischer Parmenidescommentar in einem Turiner Palimpsest. Rheinisches Museum für Philologie, 47:599–627, 1892).  Subsequent editions emerged from Hadot (1968 see below, pp. 2.61–113), Linguiti (1995, see below, text, translation, commentary pp. 3.63–202), and Bechtle (1999 see below, pp. 17–65).

  • G. Bechtle. The Anonymous Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides. P. Haupt Verlag, Bern, 1999.
  • Dennis Clark. The Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides. In Harold Tarrant, Danielle A. Layne, Dirk Baltzly, and François Renaud, editors, Brill’s Companion to the Reception of Plato in Antiquity, volume 13 of Brill’s Companions to Classical Reception, pages 351–65. Brill, Leiden/Boston, MA, 2018.
  • Kevin Corrigan. Platonism and Gnosticism: The Anonymous Commentary on the Parmenides: Middle- or Neoplatonic? In J.D. Turner and R. Majercik, editors, Gnosticism and Later Platonism, pages 141–177. Society for Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2001.
  • Pierre Hadot. Être, vie, pensée chez Plotin et avant Plotin. In Les Sources de Plotin: Entretiens Hardt V, pages 107–4. Fondation Hardt, Géneve, 1960.
  • Idem. Porphyre et Victorinus. Études Augustiniennes, Paris, 1968.
  • A. Linguiti. Commentarium in Platonis “Parmenidem”. Testi e lessico nei papiri di cultura greca e latina. Olschki, Firenze, 1995.
  • Ruth Majercik. The Existence-Life-Intellect Triad in Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. CQ, 42(2):475–488, 1992.
  • C. Steel. Une histoire de l’interprétation du Parménide dans l’Antiquité. In M. Barbanti and F. Romano, editors, Il Parmenide di Platone e la sua tradizione. Atti del III Colloquio Internazionale del Centro di Ricerca sul Neoplatonismo: Università Degli Studi di Catania, 31 Maggio-2 Giugno 2001, pages 11–40. Catania, 2002.
  • John D. Turner and Kevin Corrigan, editors. Plato’s Parmenides and its Heritage, Volume I: History and Interpretation from the Old Academy to Later Platonism and Gnosticism. Number 2 in Writings from the Greco-Roman World Supplement Series. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2010a.
  • Idem, editors. Plato’s Parmenides and its Heritage, Volume II: Its Reception in Neoplatonic, Jewish, and Christian Texts. Number 3 in Writings from the Greco-Roman World Supplement Series. Society of Biblical Literature, Atlanta, GA, 2010b [Both books full of a huge number of useful essays].