This dissertation examines the transformation of philosophers into priests and demonstrates that the fusion of philosophy with religion was a complex literary and philosophical process that ultimately responded to metaphysical and epistemological questions raised by Plato himself. I focus on the period between the first and early fourth centuries CE, when Platonic philosophers such as Plutarch, Numenius, and Iamblichus began to energize the role that religion played in the philosopher’s search for the truth. In their texts, these authors gradually and increasingly adopted the persona of priests, which changed not only the textual presentation of philosophy, but also the very substance of that philosophy.
The first two chapters study Iamblichus, who, in the De Mysteriis, adopted the persona of an Egyptian priest in order to answer Porphyry’s objections to his programmatic fusion of Plato with theurgy, a set of rituals derived from the “Chaldeans.” I argue that Iamblichus’ main philosophical divergence from the Platonic tradition was related to his epistemological view that knowledge of the Good is possible, but attainable only through the grace of the gods.
The third chapter turns to Plutarch, whose textual identity was primarily defined by his dual role as Platonic philosopher and priest of Apollo at Delphi. I specifically examine his Delphic Dialogues and his Isis and Osiris to show that Plutarch viewed his role as priest at Delphi as a means to incite the shrine’s visitors to philosophy, and that both the religious rituals performed and the mysterious truths revealed there presented their participants with the unique opportunity to study them philosophically.
The fourth chapter looks at centuries between Plutarch and Iamblichus by focusing on one transformative figure in particular: Numenius of Apameia. Numenius was a second-century Platonist, who called for a complete cleansing of the impurities of the Platonic tradition. I argue that Numenius represented the formative exemplar of Platonists who readily admitted that Plato’s inconclusiveness presented a challenge to the philosopher in search of wisdom. Because “Plato’s doctrines” were so obscured by the dialogue form, his successors actually subverted Platonic doctrine. His goal was to arrive at the true dogma of Plato, but this required divine aid and an appeal to other traditions, a claim that formed the fundamental basis for Iamblichus.
The conclusion studies Plato himself, focusing in particular on two priestly figures, Diotima and Euthyphro, in order to show that while Plato did allow for priestly figures in philosophy, he did problematize the role that they played in the philosophical search for wisdom. I conclude that Iamblichus explicitly resolved both Plato’s and the Platonic tradition’s implicit ambivalence about whether knowledge is possible by invoking the help of the gods as the end, not the beginning of the philosopher’s search; that Iamblichus took direct aim at Plutarch and his mode of exegesis and was authorized to do so by the Platonic tradition itself; and that during the centuries in question, Plato and the Platonic texts had become apologetic tools for everyone.