A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology

Smith, William

A Dictionary of Greek and Roman biography and mythology. William Smith, LLD, ed. 1890

(Δαμάσκιος), the Syrian (ὁ Σύρος), of Damascus, whence he derived his name, the last of the renowned teachers of the Neo-Platonic philosophy at Athens, was born towards the end of the fifth century of the Christian era. His national Syrian name is unknown. He repaired at an early period to Alexandria, where he first studied rhetoric under the rhetorician Theon, and mathematics and philosophy under Ammonius, the son of Hermeas [see p. 146a.], and Isidorus. From Alexandria Damascius went to Athens, where Neo-Platonism existed in its setting glory under Marinus and Zenodotus, the successors of the celebrated Proclus. He became a disciple of both, and afterwards their successor (whence his surname of ὁ διάδοχος), and he was the last who taught in the cathedra of Platonic philosophy at Athens; for in the year 529 the emperor Justinian closed the heathen schools of philosophy at Athens, and most of the philosophers, and among them Damascius, emigrated to king Chosroes of Persia. At a later time (533), however, Damascius appears to have returned to the West, since Chosroes had stipulated in a treaty of peace that the religion and philosophy of the heathen votaries of the Platonic philosophy should be tolerated by the Byzantine emperor. (Brucker, Hist. Philosoph. ii. p. 345; Agathias, Scholast. ii. p. 49, &c., p. 67, &c.) We have no further particulars of the life of Damascius; we only know that he did not, after his return, found any school either at Athens or at any other place, and that thus the heathen philosophy ended with its external existence. But the Neo-Platonic ideas from the school of Proclus were preserved in the Christian church down to the later times of the middle ages.