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Seminar Ancient Philosophy: The Good, the Bad, the Beautiful: the Aesthetics, Ethics, and Metaphysics of Plotinus


Admission requirements

This course is open to MA and research MA students in Classics and Ancient Civilisations (specialisation Classics).


Plotinus’ aesthetics, the study of Beauty, are among one of the most attractive elements of his philosophy. Taking his lead from Plato (e.g. the Symposium and the Phaedrus), he develops a highly original account of Beauty and the nature of art that was to become highly influential in the Renaissance and beyond. His aesthetics, though, cannot be treated in separation from his ethics and metaphysics. For Plotinus, the source of Beauty coincides with the ultimate metaphysical principle of everything, the Good. Hence moral goodness is a form of beauty, just as moral badness is a form of ugliness. In this course we shall start with Porphyry’s Life of Plotinus and next turn to an in-depth study of Plotinus treatises On Beauty (Enn. I 6 and V.8) and their opposite, the treatise On Evil (I.8). We shall deal with such issues as Plotinus’ philosophical method (how does he philosophize?), his relation to his predecessors (how does he deal with Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and others?), and his actual ideas on Beauty and Evil (what exactly are they? how do they relate to his metaphysics? what role do Beauty and Evil play in his ethics?)

Prescribed text:

A.H. Armstrong, Plotinus: Porphyry on Plotinus, Ennead 1, Loeb Classical Library (no. 440), Cambridge.

Course objectives

  • In depth introduction into the philosophy of Plotinus.

  • Training in the analysis of Greek philosophical texts and the relevant scholarly literature.

  • Training in the oral and written presentation of the results of scholarly research.


See timetables Classics and Ancient Civilizations.

Mode of instruction


Course Load

Total: 10 ec / 280 hours:

Written paper: 5 ec / 140 hours
Oral presentation: 3 ec / 84 hours
Greek pensum: 2 ec / 56 hours

Assessment method

  • Participation: 10%

  • Oral exam: 20%

  • Oral presentation: 30%

  • Paper: 40%

Pass mark: a weighted score of 6.0 or higher. A candidate who fails the pass mark retakes one or more parts as directed by the instructor.

Attendance is compulsory; students who fail more than one session without valid reason will be excluded from the course.


In this course we make use of Blackboard (distribution of course materials; communication with participants).

Reading list

A.H. Armstrong, Plotinus: Porphyry on Plotinus, Ennead 1, Loeb Classical Library (no. 440), Cambridge.
A reading list will be supplied at the beginning of the course.


Students are required to register for this course via uSis, the course registration system of Leiden University. General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.


Dr. R.M. van den Berg


The course will be taught in Dutch or English, depending on the first language of participating students.