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Title: The Platonism of Walter Pater
Author: Lee, Adam S.
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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After graduating from the Literae Humaniores course, which after the mid-nineteenth century came to revolve around Plato’s Republic, Walter Pater’s (1839-1894) professional duties spanning thirty years at Oxford were those of a philosophy teacher and lecturer of Plato. This thesis examines Pater’s deep engagement with Platonism in his work, from his earliest known piece, “Diaphaneitè” (1864), to his final book, Plato and Platonism (1893), treating both his criticism and fiction, including his studies on myth. Plato is an ideal philosopher, critic, and artist to Pater, exemplifying a literary craftsman who blends genres with the highest authority. Platonism is a point of contact with several of Pater’s contemporaries, such as Arnold and Wilde, from which we can take new measure of their critical relationships regarding aestheticism and Decadence. Pater’s idea of aesthetic education takes Platonism for its model, which heightens one’s awareness of reality in the recognition of form and matter. Platonism also provides a framework for critical encounters with figures across history, such as Wordsworth, Michelangelo and Pico della Mirandola in The Renaissance (1873), Marcus Aurelius and Apuleius in Marius the Epicurean (1885), and Montaigne and Giordano Bruno in Gaston de Latour (1896). In the manner Platonism holds that soul or mind is the essence of a person, Pater’s criticism, evident even in his fiction, seeks the mind of the author, so that his writing enacts Platonic love. Through close reading, we highlight his many references to Plato, identify Platonic subjects and themes, and explore etymological nuances in the very selection of his words, which often reveals a Platonic tendency of refinement towards immateriality, from seen to unseen beauty. As a teacher and an author Pater helped shape Oxonian Platonism, and through his writing we examine how Platonism informs his philosophy of aesthetics, history, myth, epistemology, ethics, language, and style.
Supervisor: Evangelista, Stefano Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Art ; English and Old English literature ; Intellectual History ; Hellenic (Classical Greek) literature ; Ancient philosophy ; Christianity and Christian spirituality ; Walter Pater ; Plato ; Platonism ; nineteenth-century Oxford ; aesthetics