Plato's Underground: An Exercise in the History of Philosophy

By Greg Moses


If we need a place to start, it should be Alexandria.

The city takes its name from Alexander, who only named one city.

But when I start at Alexandria I don't mean to call attention to Alexander.

He died young anyway.

By starting with Alexandria, I hope to begin at a vortex.

If we look to the Fresian Journal, we can see how Alexandria is treated in traditional fashion as a relatively anonymous hub of Hellenistic Philosophy.

The period of Hellenistic Philosophy is said to begin after the naming of Alexandria.

And the susequent age of thought known as Late Antiquity is said to be elegantly represented by Plotinus.

As the Fresian Journal stipulates, Plotinus was an Egyptian-born mystic.

If we accentuate two facts, first, that Hellenistic Philosophy begins with the naming of Alexandria and, second, that the philosophy of Late Antiquity can be represented by an Egyptian-born mystic, then we may prepare our initial appreciation for the centrality of Alexandria.

We would only want to add that Plotinus got his higher education in Alexandria.

After college, so to speak, Plotinus joined an ambitious military operation that did not succeed in conquering the world.

He was sent running to Athens, then Rome, where he always kept strict orders that his image not be reproduced in a statue.

But the point to be made is that two of the great ages of Western Philosophy, spanning nearly a millennium of thought, are marked prominently at both ends by Alexandria.

Therefore, for the purposes of this exercise in the history of philosophy, we shall begin with Alexandria.

Pre-Alexandrian Philosophy

In prevailing exercises in the history of philosophy, the pre-Alexandrian period is treated as a Greek period, with very little contextual considerations given to Egypt or other Arabic sources.

We began with Alexandria partly in a deliberate attempt to insist upon Egyptian-Arabic centrality in the history of philosophy.

For thousands of years prior to the emergence of Greek philosophy, Egypt sustained a sophisticated system of knowledge and education.

When Plato himself tells the great story of Atlantis, he is careful to pay tribute to the long-standing Greek reliance on Egypt as their center of higher learning.

Only since Champolion's decoding of hieroglyphics in the early 19th Century have scholars been able to work on Egyptian philosophy.

The results of Egyptian scholarship are still very fresh compared to the standing that Greek philosophy has enjoyed.

There is certainly nothing quite like Plato anywhere in the Egyptian record.

But if we begin to inquire deeper into the context of Plato's emergence, we find interesting things in the area of the world that has not yet been named Alexandria.

Fortunately, I already have written a page or two about that.