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Title: Apuleius' Plato : the role of biography in the exegesis of philosophy
Author: Fletcher, R. O. F.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis examines the role played by the genre of biography in exegetical modes of philosophical teaching. In a thematic reading of the unique literary corpus of the second century C.E. Platonist Apuleius, it considers how this author’s sustained project of philosophical popularisation is transmitted through biographical representations of the philosopher. Apuleius’ self-fashioned philosopher persona, his extended biography of Plato, and his exemplary treatment of the Platonic figure of Socrates, are each set to initiate his audience into philosophy as a way of life, while his rhetorical brand of Platonism conducts its philosophical mission via philosophy as a genre of life writing. Chapter One reads a key text from the collection of Apuleius’ excerpted Carthaginian orations (Florida 18) as presenting the developing portrait of the speaker’s philosopher persona, articulated through a series of stages. Between the limits of the speaker’s opening identification as a philosopher and the projected philosophical education of his Carthaginian audience, this text instigates an autobiographical discussion of pedagogic reciprocity, dramatically triangulated between the speaker’s educational debts to both Athens and Carthage, in a succession of biographical cameos starring renowned figures from the Greek philosophical tradition (Protagoras and Thales). Chapter Two shows how the mediating role for biography in the rhetorical construction of the philosopher persona explored in the previous chapter is central to Apuleius’ configurations of Plato in the Vita that prefaces his handbook of Platonism, De Platone. Reading the Platonic Vita as congruent with biographical sketches of a range of philosophical figures in the Florida, this chapter explores how Apuleius inscribes the dramatic emergence of Plato the philosopher, as he moves to incorporate the gamut of valorised philosophical position into his own brand of Platonism. Chapter Three returns the Platonic Vita to its context in De Platone, as preface to the two books of Platonic physics and ethics that follow. With the Vita as the distinguishing feature that marks out this text from its closest Greek equivalent (Alcinous’ Didaskalikos), this chapter accounts for the role of biography in dictating the mode and ambit of the exegesis of dogmatic Platonism, as the Vita not only dictates the exegetical mode of this text, but also weights in with contributions to the finer points of Platonic doctrine. Chapter Four reads Apuleius’ spectacular work De deo Socratis, as it embodies Apuleius’ investment in the biographical incorporation of Platonic ideas. The personal god of Socrates (his daimonion) provides the deliberately chosen site for controversial discussion of the potential scope for Platonic teaching beyond Plato, for the theory of demonology, so popular in Apuleius’ own time, puts heavy pressure on exegetical commentary to re-conceive and update the doctrinal dramaturgy written into the fabric of Socrates’ life.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available