An alternative theory of
Numenius of Apamea
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Numenius of Apamea
The following summary of Numenius is sourced from a Stanford University article on pythagoreanism:
Numenius is regularly described as a Pythagorean by the sources that cite his fragments such as Eusebius (e.g. Fr. 1, 4b, 5 etc. Des Places). He presents himself as returning to the teaching of Plato and the early Academy. That teaching is in turn presented as deriving from Pythagoras. Plato is described as “not better than the great Pythagoras but perhaps not inferior to him either” (Fr. 24 Des Places). For Numenius a true philosopher adheres to the teaching of his master, and he wrote a polemical treatise, directed particularly at the skeptical New Academy, with the title On the Revolution of the Academics against Plato (Fr. 24 Des Places). Numenius presents the Pythagorean philosophy to which Plato adhered as ultimately based on a still earlier philosophy, which can be found in Eastern thinkers such as the Magi, Brahmans, Egyptian priests and the Hebrews (Fr. 1 Des Places). Thus, Numenius was reported to have asked “What else is Plato than Moses speaking Greek?” (Fr. 8 Des Places).
Numenius presents his own doctrine of matter, which is clearly developed out of Plato's Timaeus, as the work of Pythagoras (Fr. 52 Des Places). Matter in its disorganized state is identified with the indefinite dyad. Numenius argues that for Pythagoras the dyad was a principle independent of the monad; later thinkers, who tried to derive the dyad from the monad (he does not name names but Eudorus, Moderatus and the Pythagorean system described by Alexander Polyhistor fit the description), were thus departing from the original teaching. In emphasizing that the monad and dyad are independent principles, Numenius is indeed closer to the Pythagorean table of opposites described by Aristotle and to Plato's unwritten doctrines. Since it is in motion, disorganized matter must have a soul, so that the world and the things in it have two souls, one evil derived from matter and one good derived from reason. Numenius avoids complete dualism in that reason does have ultimate dominion over matter, thus making the world as good as possible, given the existence of the recalcitrant matter.
The monad, which is opposed to the indefinite dyad, is just one of three gods for Numenius (Fr. 11 Des Places), who here follows Moderatus to a degree. The first god is equated with the good, is simple, at rest and associates only with itself. The second god is the demiurge, who by organizing matter divides himself so that a third god arises, who is either identified with the organized cosmos or its animating principle, the world soul (Dillon 1977, 366-372). Numenius is famous for the striking images by means of which he elucidated his philosophy, such as the comparison of the helmsman, who steers his ship by looking at the heavens, to the demiurge, who steers matter by looking to the first god (Fr. 18 Des Places). Numenius' argument that there is a first god above the demiurge is paralleled by a passage in another treatise, which shows connections to Neopythagorean metaphysics, The Chaldaean Oracles (Majercik 1989), which were published by Julian the Theurgist, during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD) and thus at about the same time as Numenius was active. It is hard to know which way the influence went (Dillon 1977, 363).
He seems to have taken Pythagoras as his highest authority, while at the same time he chiefly follows Plato. He calls the latter an "Atticizing Moses." His chief divergence from Plato is the distinction between the "first god" and the "demiurge." This is probably due to the influence of the Valentinian Gnostics and the Jewish-Alexandrian philosophers (especially Philo and his theory of the Logos). According to Proclus (Comment. in Timaeum, 93), Numenius held that there was a kind of trinity of gods, the members of which he designated as "father," "maker," and "that which is made," i.e. the world. The first is the supreme deity or pure intelligence, the second the creator of the world, the third the world. His works were highly esteemed by the Neoplatonists, and Amelius is said to have composed nearly two books of commentaries upon them.
Fragments of his treatises on the points of divergence between the Academicians and Plato, on the Good (in which according to Origen, Contra Celsum, iv. 51, he makes allusion to Jesus Christ), and on the mystical sayings in Plato, are preserved in the Praeparatio Evangelica of Eusebius. The fragments are collected in F. G. Mullach, Frag. Phil. Gram. iii.; see also F. Thedinga, De Numenio philosopho Platonico (Bonn, 1875); Ritter and Preller, Hist. Phil. Graecae (ed. E. Wellmann, 1898), 624-7; T. Whittaker, The Neo-Platonists (1901), E.-A. Leemans, Studie over den Wijsgeer Numenius van Apamea met Uitgave der Fragmenten, Brussels 1937, and E. Des Places, Numénius, Fragments, Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 1973.