Damascius (/dəˈmæʃəs/; Greek: Δαμάσκιος, c. 458 – after 538), known as "the last of the Neoplatonists," was the last scholarch of the School of Athens. He was one of the pagan philosophers persecuted by Emperor Justinian I in the early 6th century AD, and was forced for a time to seek refuge in the Persian court, before being allowed back into the Byzantine Empire. His surviving works consist of three commentaries on the works of Plato, and a metaphysical text entitled Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles.

Greek: Δαμάσκιος

NationalityByzantine Empire
Sasanian Empire
Years active458-533


Damascius was born in Damascus in Syria, whence he derived his name: his Syrian name is unknown. In his early youth he went to Alexandria, where he spent twelve years partly as a pupil of Theon, a rhetorician, and partly as a professor of rhetoric. He was then convinced by his teacher Isidore to shift his focus to philosophy and science, and studied under Hermias and his sons, Ammonius and Heliodorus. Later on in life he migrated to Athens and continued his studies under Marinus, the mathematician, Zenodotus, and Isidore, the dialectician. He became a close friend of Isidore, succeeded him as head of the School of Athens in ca. 515, and wrote his biography, part of which is preserved in the Bibliotheca of Photius.[1] In Athens he met Severianus of Damascus.

In 529, Justinian I closed the school, and Damascius with six of his colleagues sought an asylum, probably in 532, at the court of Khosrau I of Persia. They found the conditions intolerable, and when the following year Justinian and Khosrau concluded a peace treaty, it was provided that the philosophers should be allowed to return.[2] It is believed that Damascius returned to Alexandria and there devoted himself to the writing of his works.[1]

Among the disciples of Damascius the most important are Simplicius, the celebrated commentator on Aristotle, Epictetus, and Eulamius. He dedicated his Life of Isidore to his disciple Theodora. We have no further particulars of the life of Damascius; we only know that he did not found any new school, and thus Neoplatonist philosophy ended its external existence.

The Life of Isidore exemplifies and celebrates the master's ascent through a Neoplatonic scale of perfection which culminates in the divine virtues of theoresis and theurgy.[3] Its literary genre and celebrative purpose are common with other philosophic writings like Iamblichus in the Pythagorean Life, Porphyry in his Life of Plotinus (his master), Marinus in the Life of Proclus.[3]


His chief treatise is entitled Difficulties and Solutions of First Principles (ἀπορίαι καὶ λύσεις περὶ τῶν πρώτων ἀρχῶν). It examines the nature and attributes of God and the human soul. This examination is, in two respects, in striking contrast to that of certain other Neoplatonist writers. It is conspicuously free from Oriental mysticism, and it contains no polemic against Christianity, to the doctrines of which, in fact, there is no allusion. Hence the charge of impiety which Photius brings against him. In this treatise Damascius inquires into the first principle of all things, which he finds to be an unfathomable and unspeakable divine depth, being all in one, but undivided. His main result is that God is infinite, and as such, incomprehensible; that his attributes of goodness, knowledge and power are credited to him only by inference from their effects; that this inference is logically valid and sufficient for human thought. He insists throughout on the unity and the indivisibility of God.[1] This work is, moreover, of great importance for the history of philosophy, because of the great number of accounts which it contains concerning former philosophers.

The rest of Damascius's writings are for the most part commentaries on works of Aristotle and Plato. Surviving commentaries include:

  • Commentary on Plato's Parmenides.
  • Commentary on Plato's Phaedo. This work has been erroneously ascribed to Olympiodorus of Alexandria.[4]
  • Commentary on Plato's Philebus. Also erroneously ascribed to Olympiodorus.[4]

Lost or fragmentary works include:

  • Commentaries on Plato's Timaeus, First Alcibiades, and other dialogues.
  • Commentaries on Aristotle's De Caelo, and other works. The writings of Damascius on Time, Space, and Number, cited by Simplicius in his commentary on Aristotle's Physica,[5] are perhaps parts of his commentaries on Aristotle's writings.
  • Life of Isidore. Damascius's biography of his teacher Isidore (perhaps a part of the philosophos historia attributed to Damascius by the Suda), of which Photius[6] preserved a considerable fragment. It is considered the source containing most details about the life of Ammonius Hermiae,[7] and is also a primary source for the life of Hypatia. Incorporating material from both the Suda and Photius, a reconstructed text was translated into English by Polymnia Athanassiadi and published in 1999 as Damascius. The Philosophical History.[8]
  • Logoi Paradoxoi, in 4 books, of which Photius[9] gives an account and specifies the respective titles of the books.

Damascius and the Corpus DionysiacumEdit

Starting from an article published in 2006, Byzantine philologist Carlo Maria Mazzucchi has argued that Damascius was the author of the Pseudo-Dionysian corpus, the "last counter-offensive of the pagan" (l'ultima controffensiva del paganesimo).[10] Mazzucchi's theory, which faced some criticism,[11][12] was later improved with more arguments.[13][14][15][16]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c   One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Damascius". Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 783–784.
  2. ^ Agathias, Scholast. ii. 30
  3. ^ a b Dominic J. O'Meara (January 1, 2006). Patterns of Perfection in Damascius. Life of Isidore (pdf). Phronesis A journal for Ancient Philosophy. Vol. 51. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 75. doi:10.1163/156852806775435161. ISSN 0031-8868. JSTOR 4182795. OCLC 441201011. Retrieved May 18, 2021 – via researchgate.net. {{cite book}}: External link in |via= (help)
  4. ^ a b Giovanni Reale, John R. Catan, 1989, A History of Ancient Philosophy: The Schools of the Imperial Age, page 546. SUNY Press.
  5. ^ Simplicius, fol. 189, b., 153, a., 183, b.
  6. ^ Photius, Cod. 242, comp. 181; in volume 6 of the edition by Rene Henry.
  7. ^ "Ammonius". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  8. ^ Polymnia Athanassiadi (ed.), Damascius. The Philosophical History. Athens: Apamea Cultural Association, 1999. Pp. 403. ISBN 960-85325-2-3.BMCR review
  9. ^ Photius, Cod. 130
  10. ^ Mazzucchi, Carlo Maria (2006). "Damascio, autore del Corpus Dionysiacum, e il dialogo ΠΕΡΙ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΗΣ ΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΗ" [Damascius, author of the Corpus Dionysiacum, and the dialogue ΠΕΡΙ ΠΟΛΙΤΙΚΗΣ ΕΠΙΣΤΗΜΗ]. Aevum (in Italian). 80 (2): 299–334 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ Mazzucchi 2013, p. 249–250.
  12. ^ E.g. Fiori, Emiliano Bronislaw (2008). In Adamantius (in Italian). 14: 670–673; Napoli, Valerio (2008). Ἐπέκεινα τοῦ ἑνὸς. Il principio totalmente ineffabile tra dialettica ed esegesi in Damascio. Catania – Napoli: CUECM – Officina di Studi Medievali: 124, n. 217; and Curiello, Gioacchino (2013). "Pseudo-Dionysius and Damascius, an impossible identification". In Dionysius. N.s. XXXI: 101–116.
  13. ^ Mazzucchi, Carlo Maria (2013). "Iterum de Damascio Areopagita" [Again on Damascius the Aeropagite]. Aevum (in Latin). 87 (1): 249–266 – via JSTOR.
  14. ^ Mazzucchi, Carlo Maria (2014). "John of Scythopolis' marginal commentary on the Corpus Dionysiacum". Trends in Classics. 6 (1): 170–175. doi:10.1515/tc-2014-0009 – via De Gruyter Online Journals.
  15. ^ Mazzucchi, Carlo Maria (2017). "Impudens societas, sive Iohannes Scythopolitanus conscius Aeropagiticae fraudi" [An insolent coven, or: John of Scythopolis being aware of the Aeropagite fraud]. Aevum (in Latin). 91 (2): 289–294 – via JSTOR.
  16. ^ Mazzucchi, Carlo Maria (2020). "Aeropagitica nova" [News on the Aeropagite]. Aevum (in Latin). 94 (1): 209–214. doi:10.26350/000193_000069.


  • Polymnia Athanassiadi, Persecution and Response in late Paganism. The evidence of Damascius. In: Journal of Hellenic Studies 113 (1993), pp. 1–29.
  • Polymnia Athanassiadi (editor and translator), Damascius. The Philosophical History. Athens: Apamea Cultural Association, 1999.
  • Cosmin Andron, Damascius on Knowledge and its Object. In: Rhizai 1 (2004) pp. 107–124
  • Sebastian R. P. Gertz, Death and Immortality in Late Neoplatonism: Studies on the Ancient Commentaries on Plato's Phaedo, Leiden: Brill, 2011.
  • Sebastian R. P. Gertz, "From ‘Immortal’ to ‘Imperishable’: Damascius on the Final Argument in Plato’s Phaedo". In: Ancient Readings of Plato’s Phaedo (Leiden: 2015), 240–55.
  • Raban von Haehling, Damascius und die heidnische Opposition im 5. Jahrhundert nach Christus. In: Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 23 (1980), pp. 82–85.
  • Udo Hartmann, Geist im Exil. Römische Philosophen am Hof der Sasaniden. In: Udo Hartmann/Andreas Luther/Monika Schuol (eds.), Grenzüberschreitungen. Formen des Kontakts zwischen Orient und Okzident im Altertum. Stuttgart 2002, pp. 123–160.
  • Androniki Kalogiratou, The Portrayal of Socrates by Damascius. In: Phronimon: Journal of the South African Society for Greek Philosophy and the Humanities 7 (1) 2006, pp. 45–54.
  • Androniki Kalogiratou, Theology in Philosophy: The Case of the Late Antique Neoplatonist Damascius. In Skepsis: A Journal for Philosophy and Interdisciplinary Research XVIII, i-ii, 2007, pp. 58–79.
  • Robert Lamberton, "Damascius. The Philosophical History" (book review), Bryn Mawr Classical Review, January 1, 2000.
  • John R. Martindale, John Morris, The Prosopography of the Later Roman Empire II. Cambridge 1980, pp. 342f.
  • Carlo Maria Mazzucchi, Damascio, Autore del Corpus Dionysiacum, e il dialogo Περι Πολιτικης Επιστημης. In: Aevum: Rassegna di scienze storiche linguistiche e filologiche 80, Nº 2 (2006), pp. 299–334.
  • Carlo Maria Mazzucchi, Iterum de Damascio Areopagita. In: Aevum: Rassegna di scienze storiche linguistiche e filologiche 87, Nº 1 (2013), pp. 249–265.
  • Sara Ahbel-Rappe, Scepticism in the sixth century? Damascius’ 'Doubts and Solutions Concerning First Principles,' Journal of the History of Philosophy 36 (1998), pp. 337–363.
  • Sara Ahbel-Rappe, Damascius' Problems and Solutions Regarding First Principles, (New York, 2010) (OUP USA American Academy of Religion - Texts & Translation).
  • Marilena Vlad, Damascius et l’ineffable. Récit de l’impossible discours (Paris, Vrin, 2019)