In D. Wolfsdorf (ed.), Early Greek Ethics. Oxford, UK: pp. 262-92 (2020)

Phillip Sidney Horky
Durham University
In 1889, the German philologist Friedrich Blass isolated a section of Chapter 20 from Iamblichus’ Exhortation to Philosophy (mid- or late 3rd Century CE) as an extract from a lost sophistic or philosophical treatise from the late 5th Century BCE. In this article, I introduce the text, which is now known as 'Anonymus Iamblichi' (or 'the anonymous work preserved in Iamblichus') by appeal to its two main contexts (source preservation and original historical composition), translate and discuss all eight surviving fragments in their entirety, and provide some closing remarks about its importance to this history of democratic thought. The text itself presents a series of very carefully interwoven arguments concerning the three “parts” of excellence (ἀρετή) – wisdom, courage, and eloquence – and their successful application in society. In the course of presenting this case, Anonymus Iamblichi comments on the conditions under which one should learn to be excellent (Fragments 1-2) and the ends to which one should direct one’s excellence (Fragments 3-4); he provides an anthropological discussion of the weaknesses of human psychology and its effects on the good man (Fragments 5-6) and an hypothetical thought experiment concerning the “Superman” (which naturally solicits comparison with Nietzsche’s übermensch) and his inability to overcome the multitude in a lawless state (Fragments 6 and 8); and a positive defense of law and justice, reflecting a pro-democratic philosophical perspective (Fragments 7-8) – a rara avis indeed in ancient philosophy.
Keywords Virtue  Sophists  Plato  Socrates  Socratics  Nietzsche  Democracy  Iamblichus  Democritus  Protagoras
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