Episode 78: Inter philosophos occultorum curiosior: Numenius of Apamea

Numenius of Apamea is a tantalising figure in the history of esotericism: we have just enough of his writings – preserved in fragments by Christians and also reconstructible with great difficulty and danger from the writings of later philosophers –to give us some idea of what kind of philosopher he was. The picture which emerges is of a philosopher searching for wisdom in a perennial tradition of truth, of which Plato was only a part, and which is to be found expressed esoterically in all manner of interesting cultural locations.

In this episode we discuss the shaping of this tradition in Numenius’ works, and the related methodologies of esoteric reading we find deployed for the purposes of excavating these truths. In the following episode we look at the truths themselves, a highly apophatic Platonist metaphysics which brings us squarely into the thought-world of Late Platonism, Platonising Gnosticism, and the Hermetica. Come for the esoteric reading- and writing-practices, stay for the esoteric wisdom.

Works Cited in this Episode:

All fragments cited follow the ordering of Petty 2012.


  • Clement of Alexandria: Earliest known citation of Numenius: Stromateis I.22.150.4.
  • Eusebius: ‘For what is Plato but Moses speaking Greek?’: P.E. XI.10.12-14=fr. 8.
  • Lydus: Numenius the Roman: De mensibus ΙV.80, p. 132.11–12 Wünsch.
  • Macrobius: On Numenius’ ‘occultism’ and betrayal of the Eleusinian goddesses: Comm. in. somn, Scip. I, 2, 19= fr. 55 Petty.
  • Numenius: Seen in antiquity as a follower of Plato: Porphyry, Plot. 14.12; Eusebius, P.E. XI.21.7; Proclus In Tim. III p. 33, 30- p. 34, 1; 34, 6 Diehl; one of the ‘leading Platonists’ (τῶν Πλατονικῶν οἱ κορυφαῖοι): In R. II, 11. As a Pythagorean: Origen, Cels. I.15, VI.51, V.38 frr. 1b–1c, 53; Longinus ap. Porph. Plot. 20; Porphyry, Ad Gaurum 34.20–35.2, fr. 36: Calcidius, In Tim. 297.8 Waszink, fr. 52.2. On the harmonising of Plato, Pythagoras, and the wise nations: Fr. 1=Euseb. P.E. IX, 7, 1.
  • Origen: Numenius tells an allegorical story about Jesus, without naming him, and interprets the prophets and Moses: Frr. 1c and 10=Cels. IV.51.1. On Moses: ‘And I know also the works of Numenius the Pythagorean who in many places in his writings sets forth the words of Moses and the prophets, and not unconvincingly allegorises them, as in the so-called Epops, and in Concerning Number, and in the book Concerning Place. And in the third book Concerning the Good / he sets out a story about Jesus also, without mentioning his name, and allegorizes it. Whether successfully or unsuccessfully it remains for another time to say. He also sets out the story abut Moses and Jannes and Jambres.’
  • Porphyry: Numenius read in Plotinus’ seminar: Plot. 14.12. Debates over how indebted Plotinus was to Numenius: ibid. 18.2–3, 17.1–23.
  • Proclus: Numenius as ‘stitching the Platonic sayings to astrological lore and this to the teachings of the mysteries’: In R. II, 26-130 Kroll=fr. 35.


  • John Dillon. The Middle Platonists: A Study of Platonism 80 BC to AD 220. Duckworth, London, 1977 [we cite p. 363].
  • Gregory Shaw. ‘Foreword’ in Petty 2012 [we cite pp. i-ii].

For Straussian esoteric writing, see e.g:

  • Leo Strauss. ‘Exoteric Teaching’. Interpretation, 14(1):51–59, Jan. 1986.
  • Ibid. Persecution and the Art of Writing. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1988.

Recommended Reading:

  • E. R. Dodds. ‘Numenius and Ammonius’. volume 5 of Entretiens sur l’antiquité classique, pages 2–61. Fondation Hardt, Vandoevres/Géneve, 1960.
  • M. Edwards. ‘Numenius, Pherecydes and the Cave of the Nymphs’. CQ, New Series, 40(1):258–262, 1990.
  • M. Edwards. ‘Numenius’. In L. Gerson, editor, The Cambridge History of Philosophy in Late Antiquity, volume 1, pages 115–25. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010.
  • M. Frede. ‘Numenius’. ANRW, 36(2):1034–1075, 1987.
  • J. Holzhausen. ‘Eine Anmerkung zum Verhältnis von Numenios und Plotin’. Hermes, 120:250–55, 1992.
  • E.A. Leemans. Studie over de Wijsgeer Numenius van Apamea met Uitgave
    der Fragmenten. Mémoires de la Classe des Lettres. Academie Royale de Belgique, Brussels, 1937.
  • R. Petty. Fragments of Numenius of Apamea. Number VII in Platonic Texts and Translations. Prometheus Trust, Hockley, 2012.
  • É. Des Places, editor. Numenius: Fragments. Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 1973.
  • Peter Van Nuffelen. ‘Rethinking the Gods: Philosophical Reading of Religion in the Post-Hellenistic Period’. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2011.
  • Robert M. van den Berg. ‘God the Creator, God the Creation: Numenius’ Interpretation of Genesis 1:2 (frg. 30)’. In George H. van Kooten, editor, The Creation of Heaven and Earth: Re-interpretations of Genesis in the Context of Judaism, Ancient Philosophy, Christianity, and Modern Physics, pages 109–23. Brill, Leiden, 2005.
  • Richard Wallis. ‘Soul and Nous in Plotinus, Numenius, and Gnosticism’. In R. Wallis and J. Bregman, editors, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, pages 461–482. State University of New York Press, Albany, NY, 1992.
  • J. Whittaker. ‘Moses Atticizing’. Phoenix, 21:196–201, 1969.


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