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Storytime: Reading Eunapius of Sardis’ Lives of Philosophers and Sophists

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We explore some of the amazing (indeed, miraculous) oral histories of Iamblichus, of Iamblichean philosophy, and of Iamblichus’ successors retold by Eunapius of Sardis in his Lives of Philosophers and Sophists. Included are Plotinus and Porphyry, a major section on Iamblichus, and the lives and exploits of Iamblichus’ students Ædesius of Cappadocia, Sopater of Syria, Eustathius of Cappadocia, and Eustathius’ wife Sosipatra, a female holy-woman of the first water who quite overshadows her husband.

Schools and lineages are formed and compete for students and prestige (or for knowledge of the eternal truth), we discuss our first major female philosopher, and the foundations of reality crumble as the encroachments of imperial Christianity rock the polytheist world.

Works Cited in this Episode:


  • Asclepius: the ‘apocalypse of Egypt’, foretelling the downfall of Egyptian religion at the hands of unclean foreigners, and concomitant destruction of the universal order: 24-26 Nock/Festugière.
  • Iamblichus: Porphyry changed his mind about stuff: De anima 6 Dillon/Finamore: are the souls present in the noetic world? ‘… as for Porphyry, he is in two minds on the subject, now dissociating himself violently from this view, now adopting it as the doctrine handed down from above.’
  • Plato’s Timæus on the ‘home star’ of each soul, which will be the soul’s destination upon death: 42b4.
  • Porphyry on his suicidal period: Plot. 11.


  • J. Bidez. Vie de Porphyre. Teubner, 1913.
  • Aaron P. Johnson. Religion and Identity in Porphyry of Tyre: The Limits of Hellenism in Late Antiquity. The University Press, Cambridge, 2013.
  • Wilmer Cave Wright. Philostratus and Eunapius: The Lives of the Sophists. William Heinemann/Putnam, London/New York, NY, 1922. Listeners might be interested in a new book specifically about Wright (we have not read it, and so cannot recommend it or otherwise): David Neal Greenwood. Steely-Eyed Athena: Wilmer Cave Wright and the Advent of Female Classicists. Cambridge Philological Society, 2022.

Recommended Reading:

  • Nicholas Banner. Philosophic Silence and the ’One’ in Plotinus. The University Press, Cambridge, 2018.
  • P. Brown. The World of Late Antiquity. Thames and Hudson, London, 1971, pp. 96-103.
  • Patricia Cox. Biography in Late Antiquity: A Quest for the Holy Man. University of California Press, London/Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA, 1983.
  • G. Fowden. The Pagan Holy Man In Late Antique Society. JHS, 102:33–59, 1982.
  • Idem. From Empire to Commonwealth: The Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1993.
  • Edward J. Watts. City and School in Late Antique Athens and Alexandria. University of California Press, Berkeley/Los Angeles, CA/London, 2006.