From persona to systema: Heumann’s Dethronement of Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus and the Biographical Model for Writing the History of Philosophy

  • Leo Catana
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas Archives internationales d'histoire des idées book series (ARCH, volume 227)


This chapter outlines the historical context of the eighteenth-century German reinterpretation of ancient Platonism. It does so by pointing out the intersection of four disciplines in that century, namely history, philology, theology and history of philosophy. One key figure in that context was Christoph August Heumann (1681–1764), a German Lutheran theologian, philologist and philosopher. Heumann rejected the biographical tradition as a legitimate medium for writing the history of philosophy, since he thought that this tradition had failed to root out fables and to assess in a philosophical manner the philosophical systems elaborated by the past philosopher(s) it portrayed. He used Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus to exemplify these characteristics, which he claimed were inherent in the biographical tradition. Moreover, this chapter comprises an edition of Heumann’s 1715 review of Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus; Heumann’s review, written in German, is accompanied by an English translation.


Biographical tradition methodology for the history of philosophy Plotinus Porphyry Luther Thomasius Heumann Brucker Pietism 


  1. Albrecht, Michael. 1994. Eklektik. Eine Begriffsgeschichte mit Hinweisen auf die Philosophie- und Wissenschaftsgeschichte. Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt.Google Scholar
  2. Allgemeine deutsche Biographie. 56 vols. Leipzig, 1875–1912.Google Scholar
  3. Ariew, Roger. 1992. Descartes and Scholasticism: The Intellectual Background to Descartes’s Thought. In The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. J. Cottingham, 58–90. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  4. Baker, Patrick (ed.). 2017. Biography, Historiography, and Modes of Philosophizing: The Tradition of Collective Biography in Early Modern Europe. Leiden.Google Scholar
  5. Bayle, Pierre. 1722. Plotin. In P. Bayle, Dictionnaire historique et critique, 2nd rev. ed., 3 vols with continuous pagination. Rotterdam, 1722, III: 2454–2457.Google Scholar
  6. Berschin, Walter, and Herwig Görgemanns. 1996–2003. Biographie. In Der neue Pauly: Enzyklopädie der Antike, eds H. Cancik and H. Schneider, 16 vols, II: 682–689. Stuttgart.Google Scholar
  7. Braun, Lucien. 1973. Histoire de l’histoire de la philosophie. Paris.Google Scholar
  8. Brisson, Luc. 1982. Notices sur les noms propres. In Porphyre, La vie de Plotin, ed. L. Brisson et al., 2 vols, I: 49–142. Paris, 1982–1992.Google Scholar
  9. Brisson, Luc. 1992. Plotin et la magie. In Porphyre, La vie de Plotin, ed. L. Brisson et al., 2 vols, II: 465–475. Paris, 1982–1992.Google Scholar
  10. Brucker, Johann Jacob. 1742–1767. Historia critica philosophiae a mundi incunabulis ad nostram usque aetatem deducta, 5 vols. Leipzig, 1742–1744. Appendix, 1 vol., Leipzig, 1767.Google Scholar
  11. Bücher, Friedrich Christian. 1699. Plato mysticus in pietista redivivus. Das ist Pietistiche Übereinstmmung mit der Heydnischen Phiosophia Platonis und seiner Nachfolger. Danzig.Google Scholar
  12. Casaubon, Meric. 1656. A Treatise Concerning Enthusiasme, as It Is an Effect of Nature: But Is Mistaken by Many for Either Divine Inspiration, or Diabolicall Possession. London.Google Scholar
  13. Catana, Leo. 2008. The Historiographical Concept ‘System of Philosophy’: Its Origin, Nature, Influence and Legitimacy. Leiden and Boston.Google Scholar
  14. Celenza, Christopher. 2005. Lorenzo Valla and the Traditions and Transmissions of Philosophy. Journal of the History of Ideas 66.4: 483–506.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cellarius, Salomon. 1701. Origines et antiquitates medicae post praematurum illius excessum emendatiores auctioresque editae. Jena.Google Scholar
  16. Celsus, Aulus Cornelius 1713. De medicina libri octo brevioribus Rob. Constantini, Is. Casauboni aliorumque scholiis ac locis parallelis illustrati. Edited by Theodoor Jansson Almeloveen. Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  17. Condren, Conal; Gaukroger, Stephen; and Ian Hunter (eds). 2006. The Philosopher in Early Modern Europe: The Nature of a Contested Identity. Cambridge.Google Scholar
  18. Condren, Conal, and Ian Hunter (eds). 2008. The Persona of the Philosopher in the Eighteenth Century. Special issue of Intellectual History Review 18.3.Google Scholar
  19. Cottingham, John. 1993. A New Start? Cartesian Metaphysics and the Emergence of Modern Philosophy’. In The Rise of Modern Philosophy. The Tensions between the New and Traditional Philosophies from Machiavelli to Leibniz, ed. T. Sorell, 145–166. Oxford.Google Scholar
  20. Cousin, Victor. 1841. Cours de l’histoire de la philosophie. Paris.Google Scholar
  21. Dale, Anton van. 1683. Dissertationes de oraculis ethnicorum. Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  22. Diogenes Laertius. 1925. Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, 2 vols. Greek text with English translation, trans. R. D. Hicks. Cambridge, Mass., and London.Google Scholar
  23. Ebeling, Florian. 2007. The Secret History of Hermes Trismegistus: Hermeticism from Ancient to Modern Times. Foreword J. Assmann, Eng. trans. D. Lorton. Ithaca.Google Scholar
  24. Edwards, Mark. 1997. Simon Magus, the Bad Samaritan. In Portraits, eds M. J. Edwards and S. Swain, 69–91.Google Scholar
  25. Exner, Caspar. 1689. Quietismus Sacer, Das ist: Die Gott wolgefällige Seelen-Ruhe/ oder Sabbath in Gott. Budissin.Google Scholar
  26. Fabricius, Johann Albert. 1708–1728. Bibliotheca graeca, 14 vols. Hamburg.Google Scholar
  27. Frazier, Alison K. 2013. Biography as a Genre of Moral Philosophy. In Rethinking Virtue, Reforming Society. New Directions in Renaissance Ethics, c. 1350-c. 1650, eds D. Lines and S. Ebbersmeyer, 215–240. Turnhout.Google Scholar
  28. Freudenberg, Matthias. 2001. Heumann, Christoph August. In Biographisches-Bibliographisches Kirchenlexicon, XVIII: 614–635. Herzberg.Google Scholar
  29. Fyfe, W. Hamilton, and W. Rhys Roberts. 1991. Introduction. In Aristotle, Poetics. Longinus, On the Sublime. Demetrius, On Style, ed. and trans. S. Halliwell, W. H. Fyfe, D. Russell, D. C. Innes and W. R. Roberts, xiii-xxiv. Harvard, MA, 1991.Google Scholar
  30. Garber, Daniel. 1988. Descartes, the Aristotelian, and the Revolution that did Not Happen in 1637. Monist 71.6: 471–486.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gigante, Marcello. 1998. Ambrogio Traversari interprete di Diogene Laerzio. In Ambrogio Traversari nel VI centenario della nascita, ed. G. C. Garfagnini, 367–459. Florence.Google Scholar
  32. Glawe, Walther. 1912. Die Hellenisierung des Christentums: In der Geschichte der Theologie von Luther bis auf die Gegenwart. Berlin.Google Scholar
  33. Goulet, Richard. 1982. L’Oracle d’Apollon dans la Vie de Plotin. In Porphyry. La vie de Plotin, ed. L. Brisson et al., 2 vols, I: 369–413. Paris, 1982–1992.Google Scholar
  34. Grmek, Mirko D. 1992. Les maladies et la mort de Plotin. In Porphyry, La vie de Plotin, ed. L. Brisson et al., 2 vols, II: 335–353. Paris, 1982–1992.Google Scholar
  35. Haakonssen, Knud. 2004. The Idea of Early Modern Philosophy. In Teaching New Histories of Philosophy, ed. J. B. Schneewind, 99–121. Princeton, New Jersey.Google Scholar
  36. Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life. Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, ed. and intro. A. I. Davidson, Eng. trans. M. Chase. Oxford and New York.Google Scholar
  37. Halfwassen, Jens. 1999. Hegel und der spätantike Neuplatonismus: Untersuchungen zur Metaphysik des Einen und des Nous in Hegels spekulativer und geschichtlicher Deutung. Bonn.Google Scholar
  38. Hansch, Michael Gottlieb. 1716. Diatriba de enthusiasmo platonico, preface G. W. Leibniz. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  39. Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich. 1959. Vorlesungen über die Geschichte der Philosophie, 3 vols., ed. L. Michelet [1st ed. 1833–1836], in G. W. F. Hegel, Sämtliche Werke. Jubiläumsausgabe in zwanzig Bänden, ed. H. Glockner, vol. XVII–XX. Stuttgart.Google Scholar
  40. Heumann, Christoph August. 1715–1716a. Einleitung zur historia philosophica. Acta philosophorum 1.1 (1715): 1–103 [chapter 1–3]; 1.2 (1715): 179–236 [chapter 4], 246–314 [chapter 5]; 1.4 (1716): 567–670 [chapter 6]; 1.3 (1715): 381–462 [chapter 7].Google Scholar
  41. Heumann, Christoph August 1715a. Vorbericht. Acta philosophorum 1.1: A2r–A5r.Google Scholar
  42. Heumann, Christoph August 1715b. VI. Das Leben Plotini vom Porphyrio beschrieben. Acta philosophorum 1.1: 138–159.Google Scholar
  43. Heumann, Christoph August 1715c. V. Diogenes Laertius De vitis philosophorum. Acta philosophorum 1.2: 321–367.Google Scholar
  44. Heumann, Christoph August 1715d. II. Eintheilung der historiae philosophicae. Acta philosophorum 1.3: 462–472.Google Scholar
  45. Heumann, Christoph August 1716b. II. Von der Platonischen Weiber-Gemeinschafft. Acta philosophorum 1.5: 809–848.Google Scholar
  46. Heyd, Michael. 1995. “Be Sober and Reasonable”. The Critique of Enthusiasm in the Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries. Leiden, New York and Köln.Google Scholar
  47. Hsia, R. Po-chia. 1989. Social Discipline in the Reformation, Central Europe 1550–1750. London.Google Scholar
  48. Israel, Jonathan. 2006. Enlightenment Contested. Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670–1752. Oxford.Google Scholar
  49. Justin, Marcus Junianius. 1683. Historiae Philippicae ex recensione Joannis Georgii Graevii cum eiusdem castigationibus. Leiden.Google Scholar
  50. Kahle, Manuela. 2017. ‘Spoliating Diogenes Laertius: Giannozzo Manetti’s Use(s) of the Lives of the Philosophers’, in Biography, Historiography, and Modes of Philosophizing, ed. P. Baker, 39–57. Leiden.Google Scholar
  51. Karamanolis, George. 2004. Transformations of Plato’s Ethics: Platonist Interpretations of Plato’s Ethics from Antiochus to Porphyry. Rhizai 1: 73–105.Google Scholar
  52. Lehmann-Brauns, Sicco. 2004. Weisheit in der Weltgeschichte: Philosophiegeschichte zwischen Barock und Aufklärung. Tübingen.Google Scholar
  53. Long, Herbert S. 1972. Introduction. In Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers: Books 1–5, Eng. trans. R. D. Hicks, xvii–xviii. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  54. Longo, Mario. 2011. The Theory of historia philosophica. In Models of the History of Philosophy. Dordrecht, 1993-. Vol. 2: From the Cartesian Age to Brucker. Eds G. Piaia and G. Santinello, Eng. trans. H. Siddons and G. Weston, 387–432. Dordrecht. This is a revised and updated edition of Storia delle storie generali della filosofia, editor-in-chief G. Santinello, 5 vols in 7 parts, II. Brescia, 1979–1981; Rome and Padua, 1988–2004.Google Scholar
  55. Maternus, Julius Firmicus. 1992–1997. Mathesis, ed. P. Monat. 3 vols. Paris.Google Scholar
  56. Meinhardt, Helmuth. 1984. Neuplatonismus. In Historisches Wörterbuch der Philosophie, ed. J. Ritter, 13 vols, VI (1984): cols 754–756. Basel and Stuttgart, 1971–2007.Google Scholar
  57. [Mill, James.] 1809. The Works of Plato. Edinburgh Review 14: 187–211.Google Scholar
  58. Mosheim, Johann Lorenz von. 1725. De turbata per recentiores Platonicos ecclesia. Helmstadt.Google Scholar
  59. Mühlpfordt, Günter. 1989. Ein kryptoradikaler Thomasianer: C. A. Heumann, der Thomasius von Göttingen. In Christian Thomasius, 1655–1728: Interpretationen zu Werk und Wirkung: Mit einer Bibliographie der neueren Thomasius-Literatur, ed. W. Schneiders, 305–334. Hamburg.Google Scholar
  60. Mulsow, Martin. 1997. Eine “Rettung” des Servet und der Ophiten? Der junge Mosheim und die häretische Tradition. In Johann Lorenz Mosheim (1693–1755): Theologie im Spannungsfeld von Philosophie, Philologie und Geschichte, eds M. Mulsow, R. Häfner, F. Neumann and H. Zedelmaier, 45–92. Wiesbaden.Google Scholar
  61. Neschke, Ada. 1992. Le degré zéro de la philosophie platonicienne: Platon dans l’Historia critica philosophiae de J. J. Brucker (1742). Revue de Metaphysique et de morale 97: 377–400.Google Scholar
  62. Neue deutsche Biographie, 25 vols. Berlin, 1953-.Google Scholar
  63. Nikolaidis, Anastasios G. 2014. Morality, Characterization and Individuality. In A Companion to Plutarch, ed. M. Beck, 350–372. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester.Google Scholar
  64. O’Brien, Denis. 1982. Une bibliographie analytique des editions, traductions et commentaires de la Vie de Plotin, 1492–1980. In Porphyre, La vie de Plotin, ed. L. Brisson et al., 2 vols, I: 143–186. Paris, 1982–1992.Google Scholar
  65. O’Meara, Dominique J. 2003. Platonopolis: Platonic Political Philosophy in Late Antiquity. Oxford.Google Scholar
  66. Peschke, Erhard (ed.). 1981. Streitschriften / August Hermann Francke. Berlin.Google Scholar
  67. Petersen, Erik. 1998. Intellectum liberare: Johann Albert Fabricius: En humanist i Europa. Copenhagen.Google Scholar
  68. Pico della Mirandola, Giovanni. 1557. Opera Omnia. Basel, 1557. Facsimile reprint with an introduction by C. Vasoli, 3 vols. Hildesheim, 2005.Google Scholar
  69. Plotinus. 1580. Operum philosophicorum omnium libri LIV in sex enneades distributi, Greek and Latin text, ed., tr. and comm. M. Ficino. Basel, 1580. Anastatic reprint with an intro. S. Toussaint: Enghien-les-Bains, 2008.Google Scholar
  70. Plotinus. 1835. Opera omnia. Porphyrii Liber de vita Plotini cum Marsilii Ficini commentariis et eiusdem interpretatione castigata, ed. F. Creuzer, annotations to the text recorded by D. Wyttenbach, critical apparatus provided by G. H. Moser, 3 vols. Oxford.Google Scholar
  71. Plotinus. 1951–1973. Opera, eds P. Henry and H.-R. Schwyzer, 3 vols. Paris.Google Scholar
  72. Plotinus. 1964–1982. Opera, eds P. Henry and H.-R. Schwyzer, 3 vols. Oxford. Unless otherwise indicated, I refer to this edition of the Enneads.Google Scholar
  73. Plutarch. 1968a. De liberis educandis. In Plutarch, Moralia, 16 vols, ed. and Eng. trans. F. Cole Babbitt, W. C. Helmbold, P. H. de Lacy and B. Einarson, I: 4–68. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  74. Plutarch. 1964–1980. Vitae parallelae, ed. C. Lindskog and K. Ziegler, 7 vols. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  75. Plutarch. 1968b–1998. Moralia, eds. and trans. F. C. Babbitt et al., 16 vols. Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  76. Porphyry. 1580. Plotini vita, eiusque librorum series, in Plotinus. Operum philosophicorum omnium libri LIV in sex enneades distributi. Greek and Latin text. Ed., Latin trans. and comm. M. Ficino. Basel, 1580. Facsimile reprint with intro. S. Toussaint, β1r–γ4r. Enghien-les-Bains, 2008. I cite this edition as “Porphyry, Plotini vita (1580)”.Google Scholar
  77. Porphyry. 1711. Plotini vita, eiusque librorum series. Latin trans. M. Ficino, notes by J. A. Fabricius, in Bibliotheca graeca, ed. J. A. Fabricius, 14 vols, IV (1711): 91–147. Hamburg, 1708–1728. I cite this edition as “Porphyry, Plotini vita (1711).”Google Scholar
  78. Porphyry. 1823. Auxiliaries to the Perception of Intelligible Natures [= Sententiae], in Porphyry, Select Works, trans. T. Taylor, 201–238. London.Google Scholar
  79. Porphyry. 1964. Vita Plotini, in Plotinus, Opera, eds P. Henry and H.-R. Schwyzer, 3 vols, I (1964): 1–38. Oxford, 1964–1982. I cite this edition unless otherwise indicated.Google Scholar
  80. Porphyry. 1992. La vie de Plotin, Greek and French text, and notes, in Porphyre, La vie de Plotin, ed. L. Brisson et al., 2 vols, II: 131–229. Paris, 1982–1992. I cite this edition as “Porphyry, La vie de Plotin”.Google Scholar
  81. Porphyry. 2005. Sentences, 2 vols. Greek, French and English text, intro. and comm. L. Brisson, French trans. L. Brisson, Eng. trans. J. Dillon. Paris.Google Scholar
  82. Ricklin, Thomas (ed.). 2006. Exempla docent. Les exempla philosophiques de l’Antiquité à la Renaissance. Paris.Google Scholar
  83. Schmidt-Biggemann, Wilhelm. 1997. Platonismus, Kirchen- und Ketzergeschichte: Mosheims dogmatisch-historische Kategorien. In Johann Lorenz Mosheim (1693–1755): Theologie im Spannungsfeld von Philosophie, Philologie und Geschichte, eds M. Mulsow, R. Häfner, F. Neumann and H. Zedelmaier, 193–210. Wiesbaden.Google Scholar
  84. Schneider, Ulrich Johannes. 1997. Zum Sektenproblem der Kirchengeschichte. In Johann Lorenz Mosheim (1693–1755): Theologie im Spannungsfeld von Philosophie, Philologie und Geschichte, eds M. Mulsow, R. Häfner, F. Neumann and H. Zedelmaier, 147–191. Wiesbaden.Google Scholar
  85. Schniewind, Alexandrine. 2003. Lʼéthique du sage chez Plotin: Le paradigme du Spoudaios. Paris.Google Scholar
  86. Smith, Andrew. 1974. Porphyryʼs Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: A Study in post-Plotinian Neoplatonism. The Hague.Google Scholar
  87. Smith, Andrew. (ed.). 2005. The Philosopher and Society in Late Antiquity: Essays in Honour of Peter Brown. Swansea.Google Scholar
  88. Spener, Philipp Jakob. 1700. Vorrede. In Balthasar Köpke, Sapientia Dei: In Mysterio Crucis Christi Abscondita: Die wahre Theologia Mystica Oder Ascetica, Aller Gläubigen [A. und N. Test.: Aus I. Corinth. II. v. 6. 7. Entgegen gesetzet Der falschen aus der Heydnischen Philosophia Platonis und seiner Nachfolger]. Halle.Google Scholar
  89. Suidae Lexicon. 1928–1938. ed. A. Adler. 5 vols. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  90. Thomasius, Christian. 1712. De origine ac progressu processus inquisitorii contra sagas. Halle.Google Scholar
  91. Tigerstedt, Eugene Napoleon. 1974. The Decline and Fall of the Neoplatonic Interpretation of Plato. An Outline and some Observations. Helsinki and Helsingfors.Google Scholar
  92. Tigerstedt, Eugene Napoleon. 1977. Interpreting Plato. Stockholm.Google Scholar
  93. Van Hoof, Lieve. 2010. Plutarch’s Practical Ethics: The Social Dynamics of Philosophy. Oxford.Google Scholar
  94. Van Hoof, Lieve. 2014. Practical Ethics. In A Companion to Plutarch, ed. M. Beck, 135–148. Malden, MA; Oxford; Chichester.Google Scholar
  95. Vossius, Gerhard Johann. 1658. De philosophia et philosophorum sectis, Libri II. The Hague.Google Scholar
  96. Walch, Johann Georg. 1726a. Philosophisches Lexicon. 2 vols with continuous pagination. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  97. Walch, Johann Georg. 1726b. Freyheyt zu gedencken. In Walch, Philosophisches Lexicon, 2 vols with continuous pagination, I: 1004–1029. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  98. Walch, Johann Georg. 1726c. Geist. In Walch, Philosophisches Lexicon, 2 vols with continuous pagination, I: 1118–1134. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  99. Walch, Johann Georg. 1726d. Hexerey. In Walch, Philosophisches Lexicon, 2 vols with continuous pagination, I: 1413–1448. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  100. Walch, Johann Georg. 1726e. Vorurtheil. In Walch, Philosophisches Lexicon, 2 vols with continuous pagination, II: 2794–2798. Leipzig.Google Scholar
  101. Woltereck, Cph. 1709. Electa rei nummariae, sive selectae dissertationes de rarioribus nummis antiquis tam Graecis, quam Latinis. Hamburg.Google Scholar
  102. Zambelli, Paola. 2007. White Magic, Black Magic in the European Renaissance. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leo Catana
    • 1
  1. 1.Division of Philosophy, Faculty of HumanitiesUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagenDenmark

Personalised recommendations