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The Corpus Areopagiticum as a Crypto-Pagan Project


Tuomo Lankila

Universities of Helsinki and JyväskyläNone
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Summing up current discussion this article presents a detailed critique of Carlo Maria Mazzucchi’s suggestion that Damascius, the last head of the pagan Neoplatonist school of Athens, was the author of the enigmatic Pseudo-Dionysian corpus. Mazzuchi’s approach grasps better the probable context of the emergence of the Dionysian Corpus than mainstream interpretation, which accepts the author’s overt claim of Christianity, resorts too easily to rather twisted theories of pseudonymic writing and overrates the autonomy of the Corpus Areopagiticum in relation to Proclus. Contrary to the opinions that dismiss speculation about the identity of the writer as meaningless in the absence of new data this article considers such attempts necessary and useful. The article agrees with Carlo Maria Mazzucchi’s general thesis that the Corpus was a creation of pagan philosophers in the Neoplatonic academy of Athens after Proclus. However, it argues that Mazzucchi misjudged the perspective regarding the future that prevailed in the Athenian school and in particular Damascius’ willingness to accept a compromise with Christianity at the cost of polytheism as articulated in Proclus’ theology of the classes of the gods. As a result a more credible version of the crypto-pagan hypothesis could be developed, namely to see the Corpus Dionysiacum as a purely instrumental stratagem aiming to protect Proclus’ works in order to resurrect more easily the polytheistic religion in better times, which according to the Neoplatonists’ cyclic view of history were destined to return one day.
How to Cite: Lankila, T., (2011). The Corpus Areopagiticum as a Crypto-Pagan Project. Journal for Late Antique Religion and Culture. 5, pp.14–40. DOI:
Published on 15 Dec 2011.
Peer Reviewed


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