Olympiodorus and Damascius on the Philosopher’s Practice of Dying in Plato’s Phaedo

Peitho 5 (1):177-198 (2014)
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This paper presents Olympiodorus’ and Damascius’ explanations of the philosopher’s practice of dying in Plato’s Phaedo. It also includes a presentation of Ammonius’ exegesis of the practice of death. The Neoplatonic commentators discern two kinds of death, the bodily or physical death and the voluntary death. Olympiodorus suggests that bodily death is only an image of voluntary death and cannot be recognized as an original death, because original death presupposes the preparation for death and the constant effort for the purification of the soul during the philosopher’s life-time. Only preparation for death and purification can ensure the complete separation of the soul from the body. Relative to this distinction is that between apothnēskein and tethnanai; these infinitives denote the dual meaning of death: death as an event or a process and death as a state. Our study examines thoroughly the subtle distinctions made by Olympiodorus and Damascius and offers a comparative analysis of the two definitions of death as well as that of purification. It reaches the conclusion that apothnēskein is a necessary condition of tethnanai, i.e. of a definitive release and parting of the soul from the body. On the other hand, the process of eventual purification, a notion which betrays the religious character of purification, can be identified with apothnēskein, which is the practice of dying by the true philosopher. Finally, our study also emphasizes and explains the difference between the voluntary philosophical death and the voluntary unphilosophical suicide; the latter guaranteeing only bodily or physical death.



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