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Open Access Between Matter and Body Mass (γκος) in the Sentences of Porphyry

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Between Matter and Body Mass (γκος) in the Sentences of Porphyry

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In the Corpus Hippocraticum and in tragedy, γκος is difficult to translate, for it corresponds to a very primitive notion, intuitively implying a confusion between two aspects that were gradually distinguished: 1) a thing’s bulk or extension, and 2) an appreciation, as a function of its bulk and its extension, of the load represented by this thing, or its weight. This explains why the term usually designates something that has a certain mass. As an indefinite quantity of formless matter, this is probably a notion which was used by medio-Platonists, strongly influenced by Stoicism, to understand matter the Timaeus. In Plotinus’ polemic against the Stoics, γκος, which refers to a magnitude with resistance bereft of qualities, is thus situated at a level intermediate between matter (λη), bereft of all determination, and the body (σμα), which is endowed with magnitude and qualities. In the Sentences, Porphyry uses the term γκος 30 times in its technical sense, almost as often as Plotinus in the whole of the Enneads. This is probably because he felt uncomfortable with Plotinus’ notion of matter bereft of all determination, including magnitude.

Affiliations: 1: CNRS Paris (Villejuif), Email: lbrisson@agalma.net

In the Corpus Hippocraticum and in tragedy, γκος is difficult to translate, for it corresponds to a very primitive notion, intuitively implying a confusion between two aspects that were gradually distinguished: 1) a thing’s bulk or extension, and 2) an appreciation, as a function of its bulk and its extension, of the load represented by this thing, or its weight. This explains why the term usually designates something that has a certain mass. As an indefinite quantity of formless matter, this is probably a notion which was used by medio-Platonists, strongly influenced by Stoicism, to understand matter the Timaeus. In Plotinus’ polemic against the Stoics, γκος, which refers to a magnitude with resistance bereft of qualities, is thus situated at a level intermediate between matter (λη), bereft of all determination, and the body (σμα), which is endowed with magnitude and qualities. In the Sentences, Porphyry uses the term γκος 30 times in its technical sense, almost as often as Plotinus in the whole of the Enneads. This is probably because he felt uncomfortable with Plotinus’ notion of matter bereft of all determination, including magnitude.

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2010-04-01
2016-12-08

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