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Plotinus on Beauty and Love: A Neoplatonic Reading Plato’s Symposium


Admission requirements

This class can be taken in fulfilment of the requirements of both the MA and the Research MA program in Classics and Ancient Civilizations (track Classics), with differential requirements.
Required knowledge to take this course: (ancient) Greek (suffient reading knowledge of ancient Greek, e.g. school exam Greek; BA-course ‘Grieks voor iedereen’).

Admission requirements for other students:

  • a BA degree in Classics obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands. Moreover, students with an international degree have to contact the coordinator of studies to check admissibility.

  • A BA degree in Philosophy obtained from a university in the Netherlands, or a comparable qualification obtained from a university outside the Netherlands and suffient reading knowledge of ancient Greek (e.g. school exam Greek; BA-course ‘Grieks voor iedereen’). You need not be able to translate Plotinus yourself, but you should be comfortable working with a bilingual (i.e. Greek-English) edition of the text.

If you are interested in taking this course, but are not sure whether you fulfill the entry requirements, please, contact the instructor.


Plotinus on Beauty and Love: A Neoplatonic reading Plato’s Symposium

We typically think of Plotinus as the founder of the Neoplatonic movement. He himself, however, claimed to be nothing but an exegete of Plato. The former perspective on Plotinus does not necessarily exclude the latter. It is precisely through his creative interpretation of Plato’s texts that Plotinus arrives at a new and influential version of Plato’s philosophy. In this seminar we will study Plotinus’s innovative readings of Plato’s Symposium, the dialogue dedicated to love (erôs) and beauty. The first part of the seminar will consist of an introduction to Plotinus’s thought. In the second part of the seminar we’ll be reading Plotinus Enn. I.6 (On Beauty) and Enn. III.5 (On Eros) along with relevant passages from Plato’s Symposium. On Beauty, Plotinus’s study of the nature of beauty, may be read both as an expression of Plotinus’s aesthetics and as a so-called “spiritual exercise” that guides the reader towards the famous Neopatonic mystical experience of unification with the ultimate divine principle, the One. In On Love, Plotinus draws a distinction between a more mundane and a more spiritual form of love, which will play an important role in Renaissance thought and art. We will conclude our seminar by taking a brief look at the reception of Plotinus’s philosophy of love by the philosopher Ficino (in his On Love or Commentary on Plato’s Symposium) and by painters like Botticelli and Titian.

Course objectives

  • The student acquires an in-depth understanding of Plotinus’s philosophy and his thinking about Beauty and love in particular.

  • The student is trained to analyse a complex ancient philosophical text and the pertaining modern scholarly literature.

  • The student is trained to present a complex ancient philosophical text orally in English in a clear manner.

  • The student is trained in writing an argumentive paper for which he/she him/herself develops the research question, finds relevant and more advanced philosophical literature intended for researchers in the field, and provide a critical analysis of the material.

The requirements for MA and ResMA Classics students are differentiated. The paper of an MA student will present text, translation and commentary of an assigned passage. The paper of a ResMA student will take the form of a scholarly article that presents the innovative and well-argued interpretation of a relevant aspect of Plotinus’s philosophy.

Philosophy students may study the assigned texts in translation. They will, after consultation with the instructor, write a paper on a relevant topic of their own choice.

This research seminar contributes to the achievement of learning outcomes 4a and 4c (to give and write a clear and well-argued oral and written presentation on a research topic in accordance with academic standards) of the study programme Classics and Ancient Civilizations.


Visit MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment method


  • Presentation (25%)

  • Final paper (75%)

Class preparation and attendance are required and are conditions for submission of the paper.


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average.


The resit covers the following exam components: revised version of the final paper (75%).
The grade for the other exam component (presentation) remains in place.

Class participation, attendance, and the oral presentation is a mandatory requirement for taking the resit.

Inspection and feedback

Presentation: directly after presentation
Paper: written feedback/and or by appointment

Reading list

D.J. O’Meara, Plotinus: An Introduction to the Enneads, OUP (Oxford) 1995.

Reader with selected passages [ReaderOnline]


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte en Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Dr. R.M. van den Berg


Not applicable.