The Context and Contents of Priscianus of Lydia's Solutionum ad Chosroem

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The Context and Contents of Priscianus of Lydia's Solutionum ad Chosroem

ABSTRACT: Priscianus of Lydia’s Solutionum ad Chosroem is a series of answers to questions asked at a philosophical debate held at the Sasanian court c. 530 CE. Priscianus of Lydia was one of seven non-Christian philosophers from the Byzantine Empire who journeyed to the Sasanian Empire to take part in the debate. Long overlooked in the history of philosophy, Priscianus of Lydia’s text represents a branch of Neoplatonism that survived for centuries uninfluenced by the official Christianization of the Roman Empire. Priscianus of Lydia was one of the last remaining representatives of non-Christian Neoplatonism in Late Antiquity. Solutionum ad Chosroem provides a record of the world of Neoplatonism shortly before it disappeared under a tide of officially Christian philosophy and theology. I discusses the context of Priscianus’ work and its relation to activities in the Byzantine Empire, such as Emperor Justinian’s suppression of paganism and the closing of the Academy in Athens in 529 CE. I also discuss the specific contents of the Solutionum ad Chosroem, including questions on first principles, generation, natural history, and the relationship between the soul and the body.

The Neoplatonic philosopher Priscianus of Lydia would have had an unremarkable career had he not been mentioned by the early Byzantine historian Agathias as one of seven Hellenic (non-Christian) philosophers who journeyed to the Sasanian court at Seleucia-Ctesiphon early in the reign of the Byzantine emperor Justinian (527-565).(1) These philosophers felt compelled to leave the Byzantine Empire because "they did not share the view of God prevailing among the Romans and thought that the Persian state was far better."(2) Although the Hellenic philosophers decided to return to Byzantine territory after a relatively brief sojourn at the Sasanian court, the philosophers did participate in at least one debate on philosophical questions attended by the shah himself and some higher ranking members of the Zoroastrian clergy. Priscianus of Lydia's contribution to this debate, Solutionum ad Chosroem, has survived in an edition edited by Ingram Bywater in 1886 and now difficult of access.(3) Before considering the specific contents of Priscianus' surviving work, an examination of the historical context in which the work was written is necessary.

The Context of Priscianus of Lydia's Solutionum ad Chosroem

Agathias states that Priscianus and the other Hellenic philosophers travelled to the Sasanian Empire partly for religious reasons. Being pagans in an increasingly officially Christian empire had rendered their teaching positions more and more vulnerable.
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