Plato’s geography: Damascius’ interpretation of the Phaedo myth

Carlos Steel

in Neoplatonism and the Philosophy of Nature

Published in print April 2012 | ISBN: 9780199693719
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191739019 | DOI:
Plato’s geography: Damascius’ interpretation of the Phaedo myth

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This chapter shows how Proclus and Damascius approached the myth of the Phaedo as a scientific text, with particular attention paid to their attempts to understand and support Plato’s remarks about four traditional problems regarding the Earth’s size, shape, stability and position. Although Plato makes assertions about the Earth’s occupying the middle position in the cosmos and being spherical, Damascius supplies an assortment of missing arguments. These range from astronomical arguments familiar from Ptolemy and Cleomedes, and physical and metaphysical arguments that have their source in the Timaeus and other staples of Platonism. When it comes to the size of the Earth, Damascius and Proclus acknowledge the disagreement between Plato on the one hand and Aristotle (who had astronomers such as Erastothenes on his side) on the other, and literally fight an uphill battle for their school’s founder by urging us to reconsider whether the mountain peaks we see are not to be taken as indications of the true size of the Earth’s surface. But it is perhaps Plato’s treatment of the Earth’s stability that most forcefully establishes his affiliation with the cosmological tradition. For here he produces an argument that resonates very strongly with arguments found in Anaximander (and Parmenides) and that was vigorously criticized by Aristotle. Here again, later Platonists are once more compelled to take a new look at the text and re-evaluate Plato’s relation to his predecessors as well as to his successor Aristotle.

Keywords: Phaedo; Proclus; Damascius; Earth; geography; myth

Chapter.  13204 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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