Simplicius of Cilicia
Simplicius of Cilicia ( Greek: Σιμπλίκιος; c. 470 – c. 560), a disciple of Ammonius Hermiae and of Damascius, was one of the last of the Greek Neoplatonists and polymaths, and an important commentator on Aristotle. A native of Cilicia, he was active in the Academy at Athens, under the leadership of Damascius, when it was closed forever in 529 by the Christian emperor Justinian.
Simplicius’ learned commentaries on Aristotle's De caelo (“On the Heavens”), Physics, De anima (“On the Soul”), and Categories not only provided thoughtful insight into Aristotelian teachings, but preserved valuable fragments of the works of older philosophers as well as of his immediate predecessors. He attempted to demonstrate that most Greek philosophers, including some of the Presocratics, could be found to be in agreement with NeoPlatonism. A man of great learning, Simplicius made conscientious efforts to obtain reliable documents and to verify the historical accuracy of his information. His commentary on Aristotle’s Physics is a valuable source for the history of mathematics, containing lengthy quotations from lost works such as Eudemus' History of Geometry.
Simplicius was born in the second half of the fifth century in Cilicia, in southern Anatolia, which had been a Roman province from the first century B.C.E. He is known to have studied philosophy at the school of Ammonius Hermiae in Alexandria. Ammonius had been a pupil of Proclus, and Eutocius dedicated his commentary on Book I of Archimedes' On the sphere and cylinder to him. Ammonius devoted most of his life to writing commentaries on Aristotle; later Simplicius himself wrote extensive commentaries on Aristotle. From Alexandria, Simplicius went to Athens and studied under Damascius, who had developed the NeoPlatonist ideas of Proclus in Problems and Solutions about the First Principles.
Around 520, Damascius had become head of Plato's Academy. In 529 the Christian emperor Justinian closed the Academy, along with all the other pagan schools, forever. In 531 or 532, Damascius, Simplicius, Priscianus and four other members of the Academy, resolved to seek the protection of Khosrau I, king of Persia, whose armies were engaged in battle with Justinian’s troops along the Euphrates River. Khosrow was a patron of culture and gave the Greek philosophers a warm welcome. However, they found it difficult to endure continued residence amongst the Persians, whom they considered barbarians. In 532, when the Treaty of Eternal Peace between Khosrow and Justinian was ratified, Khosrow expressly stipulated that the seven philosophers should be allowed "to return to their own homes, and to live henceforward in the enjoyment of liberty of conscience" (Agathias, 30, 31). Agathias, a Byzantine poet and contemporary historian, writing after Justinian’s death, said that the treaty guaranteed that the philosophers were not to be compelled to accept anything against their personal conviction, and they were never to be prevented from living according to their own philosophical doctrine. Life might not have been as easy for Simplicius after his return to Athens as Agathias suggested, but there is evidence that he remained in Athens for the rest of his life, writing but not lecturing. His works were written, not as spoken discourses, but as careful reflections on the writings of Aristotle.
Thought and Works
Simplicius witnessed the closing of the Academy in Athens by the Christian emperor Justinian, after almost nine hundred years of unbroken philosophical tradition. A devout pagan, he tried to defend traditional Greek religion and philosophy against the inroads of Christianity. He was not an original thinker, but his remarks were thoughtful and intelligent and his learning was prodigious. His commentaries on Aristotle were based on the accumulated scientific and philosophical developments of the ancient Greek philosophers, and were full of quotations and references which preserved fragments from the works of thinkers such as Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, Eudemus and the Stoics which were otherwise lost. He not only clarified the teachings of Aristotle, but provided references and explanations that illustrate the ways in which these doctrines were interpreted and criticized in antiquity. Simplicius attempted to demonstrate that most Greek philosophers, including some of the Presocratics, could be found to be in agreement with NeoPlatonism. His commentaries influenced the interpretation of Aristotle’s philosophy during the Middle Ages, when it became incorporated into the theologies of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
His commentaries are invaluable to students of Greek philosophy, as they contain so many fragments of the older philosophers as well as of his immediate predecessors. Simplicius acknowledged his debt to other philosophers, especially to Alexander, Iamblichus, and Porphyry, and always presented his commentaries as nothing more than introductions to the works of greater masters. His conscientious efforts to obtain reliable documents and to verify the historical accuracy of his information adds to the value of his contributions.
The earliest of his surviving works is thought to be his commentary on Epictetus's Enchiridion, which might have been written while Simplicius was still in Alexandria, but was more probably written in Persia around 532. It preceded his first commentary on Aristotle, which was on De Caelo. In addition to these and his commentaries on Aristotle's Physics, De anima (“On the Soul”), and Categories, a treatise on quadratures is extant.
Simplicius’ commentaries on Aristotle’s De Caelo and Physics are particularly valuable for the history of mathematics. The commentary on De Caelo , quoting passages from Eudemus's History of Astronomy which are taken second-hand from the writings of Sosigenes (second century C.E.), gives a detailed account of the concentric spheres of Eudoxus and relates the modifications to the theory made later by Callippus. The commentary on Aristotle's Physics quotes at length from Eudemus's History of Geometry, which has since been lost. Simplicius repeats Eudemus’ description of Antiphon's attempts to square the circle, and also the way in which Hippocrates squared certain lunes. Simplicius’ commentary on Physics, also preserves important fragments from Geminus's summary of Posidonius's Meteorologica.
A surviving Arabic translation of Simplicius’ commentary on Euclid's Elements does not contain an attempt at a proof of the parallel postulate by Simplicius himself, but there is evidence that Simplicius did attempt such a proof. Apparently his attempted proof was taken up by Arabic mathematicians, who criticized it and then included it in a new proof of their own which has been preserved in Arabic manuscripts.
Blumenthal, H. J., and A. C. Lloyd. 1982. Soul and the structure of being in late neoplatonism: Syrianus, Proclus, and Simplicius: papers and discussions of a colloquium held at Liverpool, 15-16 April 1982. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press. ISBN 0853234043
Simplicius, and R. J. Hankinson. 2006. On Aristotle's "On the heavens 1.10-12". [The ancient commentators on Aristotle]. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801442168
Simplicius, Frans A. J. de Haas, and Barrie Fleet. 2001. On Aristotle's "Categories 5-6." Ancient commentators on Aristotle. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801438381
Simplicius, and David Konstan. 1989. Simplicius on Aristotle's Physics 6. [Ancient commentators on Aristotle]. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801422388
Simplicius, and C. Hagen. 1994. On Aristotle's Physics 7. [Ancient commentators on Aristotle]. Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801429927
Simplicius, J. O. Urmson, and Peter Lautner. 1995. On Aristotle's On the soul 1.1-2.4. [Ancient commentators on Aristotle]. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801431603
Simplicius, Charles Brittain, and Tad Brennan. 2002. On Epictetus' "Handbook 1-26." Ancient commentators on Aristotle. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801439043
Simplicius, J. O. Urmson, Lucas Siorvanes, and Simplicius. 1992. Corollaries on place and time. [Ancient commentators on Aristotle]. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0801427134
This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.
Simplicius MacTutor Biography, School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St Andrews, Scotland.
Commentators on Aristotle Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
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