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270 The Jewish Quarterly Review.
DOMNINUS, A JEWISH PHILOSOPHER OF
This essay will deal with a personage whose name has heen
kept in darkness for 1500 years, and concerning whom
there is a risk that he might sink in oblivion. Many know
him not; those who know him do not appreciate him;
those who appreciate him, appreciate him not as a Jew.
I have undertaken to make him known and appreciated
according to his worth, but specially to reclaim him and
give him a place in Jewish history and science.
1. Life of Domninus. — He is mentioned by Hesychius and
Suidas in the article dofivivos, by the former briefly, by the
latter more fully. We get some little information concern-
ing him from Marinus in the biography of Proclus. 1 We
have, therefore, but three sources for our information, of
which Suidas is the most important.
Suidas (ed. Bernhardy, I, 1432) begins as follows : —
" Domninus, by race a Syrian, of Laodicea, or Larissa, a
town in Syria, a disciple of Syrian, a cotemporary of
Proclus. Thus it is stated by Damascius." 2
The same account is given by Hesychius (ed. Flach, p.
60), who, however, puts immediately after the name the
words <pi\6cro(f)o<; %vpo<;. Marinus (ed. Boissonade), cap. 26,
also states that Syrian was the teacher of Domninus, who
1 Marinus was a native of Flavia Neapolis, in Palestine, disciple of
Proclus, and his successor to the Chair of Philosophy at Athens in 485
A.D. One of his pupils was Agapius.
2 Ao/ivTvoc, 2vpoG ro yivog, airb re AaoSiKilag icai Aapiaurig iroXfiae "2vpiag,
fiaOtjT-iiQ ^vpiavov Kal tov UpoKXov ovp$oiTi)Tr)Q, tag 0(j« Aapaaicwc.
Damascius was a pupil of Marinus and his successor at Athens ; vide
Photius, Myriobiblion (ed. Eotomagi, 1653), p. 411.
Domninus, a Jewish Philosopher of Antiquity. 271
hailed from Syria. 1 Hesychius states, in addition, that
the philosopher Gesius was a pupil of Domninus. 2
These data are sufficient to determine the age in which
Domninus lived. Syrian died in 450 A.D., Proclus was
born in 412 and died in 485. Marinus, the disciple of
Proclus, flourished about 480 ; 3 but Marinus speaks of
Domninus as though deceased, and consequently he could
not have been alive about 480. We know, further, that
Domninus attained a high age (Suidas styles him yrjpaios),
and his birth could, accordingly, not be fixed later than 400.
Domninus lived, therefore, between 400 and 480 A.D. We
know very little about his life. We shall find, later on,
that he once stayed at Athens, in company with Plutarch
the philosopher, and that he was there seized with a violent
illness. Whether he was the head of the Neo-Platonic
school at Athens, it is impossible to decide; Marinus speaks
of him as though he succeeded Syrian in the direction of
this school, 4 but there are cogent reasons for doubting the
accuracy of that statement. 5 It is nevertheless certain that
he was surrounded by pupils. Suidas mentions the fact
that he rejected a certain pupil named Asklepiodotos. 6
Proclus calls Domninus his companion. 7
2. The Religion of Domninus. — Suidas forms no favourable
opinion of him. " In his mode of life," he says, " he was
not so remarkable as to deserve the title of philosopher," 8
and in justification of his opinion he narrates the following
anecdote: " It happened in Athens that iEsculapius proposed
1 Cf. Zeller, PhilosopMe der ffrieehen, 2nd edit., Leipzig, 1868. Vol. III.
PI. 2, p. 691.
2 Sub voce T'tatoQ, p. 40 ed. Flach ; vide below.
3 Vide E. Munk, Geschichte d. griechischen, Prosa (2nd ed., Berlin, 1863).
Vol. II., pp. 477 and 485.
* Proclus, Op. 26, .... ic rijc Svpiag 0iXoero0y xal dtaSoxy Aofivivif.
6 Zeller, as above.
6 At the end of the article. I do not know why Zeller makes no men-
tion of this fact.
7 Proclus in Tim. 34 B. craif>og. Cf . Zeller, loco lecto, note 3.
6 i]V Si oi/Si Tr\v Zu>vr)v aicpoc, olov dXi)9<3j fiXoaocpov titriiv.
272 The Jewish Quarterly Review.
one and the same cure to Plutarch, the Athenian, and to
Domninus, the Syrian ; the latter was subject to frequent
attacks of spitting of blood, so much so that he was named
after this disease (?). I am unacquainted with the former's
malady ; the cure consisted in their eating much pork.
While Plutarch did not keep to this prescription, though
there was nothing in his religion to forbid it Domninus,
on the other hand, following the dream in contradiction to
his law (which is in vogue among the Syrians), and caring
nothing for Plutarch's example, ate of this flesh both on
this occasion and subsequently. It is said that if he omitted
to partake of it for but a single day, he had a fresh attack
of his illness, until he again stuffed himself with it." x
It is not difficult at first sight to understand that a
Syrian, to whom the prohibition not to eat pork was a
national one, could only have been a Jew. It is well
known that Jews are often styled Syrians by both Greek
and Latin authors. The refusal to eat pork is in itself
no clear evidence that the person must have been a Jew,
for we have reliable accounts which state that other races,
besides the Jewish, abstained from pork; 3 but Suidas
speaks of a national law which prohibits the eating of
swine's flesh, and such a law is known to Judaism alone,
whilst among other people it is but a voluntary act of
Plutarch, being a heathen, could have partaken of swine's
flesh, but he did not do so, while Domninus the Jew
1 6 yap 'AQrivriotv 'AencXj]7ri6e Ttjv avrfiv ictaiv ixPII'V^ci HXovrdpx^
T£ Tifi 'A9rivai(i> Kai Tiji 'Svpif Aoftvivy. TovTiff fiiv alp' airo7TTvovTi iro\-
\<&i£ icai tovto <pipovTi t!jq voaov to ovopa, iKiiv<f Si ouk olSa 6, rt vtvoaij-
Kon. fi Sk taaig r)V ipiriTrXaoQai xoipelwv Kpiaiv. 'O niv Si UXovrapxoe ow«
i)V Iir^ero rije roiavrtiz vyieiae Kairot ovk ovot)£ avrtf irapavopov Kara ra
irarpia . . . AopvTvot; Si oh Kara Qhpiv weiirflffc r<jj bviipif, Oipiv roTf Xipotf
nrdrpwv, ovSi TrapaSeiypan Tip TlXovrapxy XP1 or< *M< J " ) C> ^<paye Ton eat ijaOuv
ad t&v Kpitov. Xiytrai wov, piav ti SikXu7riv t)pipav aytvaroq, iiriTtdsaSai
TO iraQr/pa TrdvrtoQ, iidq avtitXi)ot)r).
2 Midrash Koheleth Rabbah on I. 8 (p. 8a, ed. Wilna) K3? 1T\]b, etc.
Vide Blau in the Hungarian periodical Magyar-Zsido-Szemle, XL, 286.
Domninus, a Jewish Philosopher of Antiquity. 273
followed the advice of iEsculapius in preference to the
dictates of his religion. Suidas, therefore, lays stress upon
this weakness of his as sufficient reason to deny him the
title of philosopher, whilst society ridiculed him and
invented the story about him that he had ever after to feed
himself with the flesh of swine. But, further, Plutarch
himself refers in unmistakable language to the Jewish faith
of Domninus, inasmuch as he enquires of the god iEscula-
pius whether he would prescribe for the Jew also as medi-
cine the flesh of swine. 1 But there is really no necessity
for inferring indirectly what was the faith professed by
Domninus, for Hesychius states clearly that Domninus was
a Jew. 2
In the course of this article we shall touch upon a few
further details, which only become intelligible upon the
supposition that they have reference to Judaism.
3. The Works of Domninus. — Suidas entertains no high opi-
nion of the scientific labours of Domninus: "In mathematics
he was well grounded ; in other branches of learning all
too superficial. Hence the cause of his having perverted
many of Plato's teachings. 5 We thus leam incidentally what
Hesychius clearly states, that Domninus adhered to the
1 <J Sivirora ityi\, ri Si av 7rpoairai,aQ 'lovSaiqt vouovvti ravrtfv H\v voaov.
1 S. t. remos (p. 40, ed. Flach). The passage is as follows (Domnus
and Domninus are, of course, one and the same) : — rio-tog, iaTpoao$i<m'i£,
UtTpdiog ri> yevoc, Iwl Zqvbivog. KaOfAwv Si Ao/ivov rbv iavrov SiSaaicaXov,
'lovSaiov bvTa Kai roiig iraipovc eig iavrbv ixiraaTtjadfitt^OQ bXiyov irdvrag,
iravTaxy hyvmpifyro Kai fiiya cXkoij €l%tv. ovtoq Ka9iiip9utat rix^fiv tarpiov
Ka9' iavrbv wavruv. As from these words it appears that this Gesius
played an important part in the life of Domninus, we will add here
another characteristic of this person according to Photius, Sibliotheca,
p. 325: Magnum honorem Gesius consecutus est, non solum quod arte
medica valeret et docendo et operando, sed etiam ob omnem aliam erudi-
tionem, Dialecticis sese instruens.
* 'Ev ftiv role fiaBi]ua<nv 'ucavbg avr\p, iv Si toIq SXXoiq fiXoaotpr/pamv
iwiiroXaiorepog (the text is not quite correct in this place), dw Kai iroXXek
rSiv TiXdrwvos oikiioic SoZaoiiaoiv f&rpityt. We must observe that from
oikhov SoZaopa may be deduced that by birth and education Domninus
belonged to quite a different circle, i.e., he was a Jew.
274 The Jewish Quarterly Review.
philosophy of Plato. 1 On account of his perversion of the
Platonic philosophy, he was attacked by Proclus in a special
work, whereupon Domninus published his views in a col-
lected form in the work KaOapTiicrj rmv BoyiutTcov ITXaTfovo9
(The Teachings of Plato purified). 2 This work is lost.
A Manual of Mathematics (e'v^eipiStov), with Domninus, or
Domnius of Larissa, a philosopher, as author, is occasionally
quoted, and is still extant in MS. As regards name, place
and tendency, our Domninus might have been the author ;
but this book is generally ascribed to the renowned Helio-
dorus, who also came from Larissa. 3
Marinus relates that shortly before his death, Syrian
commissioned his pupils, Proclus and Domninus, to write a
commentary upon the Orphic hymns or the oracles (\ojla).
Domninus chose the former, Proclus the latter, but nothing
came of the project. 4 We therefore possess not a single
work written by Domninus.
4. Theurgic Science in the Neo-Platonic School. — The Orient
was always the classic ground for crass superstition and
witchcraft, and it appears that this craft of ancient Baby-
lon and Chaldaea was continued by the Neo-Platonic school
under the cloak of a branch of science. These philosophers,
whom we meet in the immediate company of Domninus,
were all much occupied with such theurgic sciences. It is
positively asserted of Plutarch, for instance, that he was
quite a master in the science ; that, in fact, in his case it
was a sort of heritage. 8 The same we find in the instance,
too, of Proclus, the fellow-student of Domninus. Proclus
sets about his work with Chaldaic formulae of prayer
(cruo-Tao-ft)?), i.e., with prayers, the object of which is to pro-
pitiate the Godhead on man's behalf; with Formulae of
Oaths (iiTV)(iai), and with ineffable magic wheels (a<f>e<yKTOi,
1 S. v. Domninus, iypa\pt Kara tSiv tov UXarinvof; ioiaa/xuTdiv.
2 Suidas, in the passage quoted.
3 Vide Pauly's Real Encyclop., II., p. 1223.
4 Proel, cp. 26. Zeller, III., pt. 2, p. 691, note 2.
5 Zeller, p. 677, note 1.
Domninus, a Jewish Philosopher of Antiquity. 275
arpo^akot)} Proclus had adopted these things while in
the house of Plutarch. Both the pronunciation (etf<£a>v?;<rt?)
and the mode of application (of those magic wheels) he had
acquired from Asklepigeneia, the daughter of Plutarch ; she
was, in fact, the only one who had received these things
by tradition from the great Nestor, in addition to all kinds
of theurgic arts which she acquired from her father. 2
Who does not perceive in all this a relation to Judaism ?
A reference to the mystic prayers and the secret theory of
the chariot (TO31B nwvti) ? And an Ineffable Name ! Can
this be aught else but the Tetragrammaton, the ineffable
name of God in Hebrew ? Even the term " Chaldaic," as
applied to prayers, probably means " Hebrew," or such as were
composed for and by Jews. It is true that the Greeks also
had their mysteries, and the whole might, if pressed, refer
to Greek conditions; but the personages included in this
environment are so imbued with the Jewish spirit, 3 that
we feel constrained to judge their mode and aspects of life
from the Jewish point of view.
But this is certain beyond doubt, that in Domninus' circle
theurgic arts were practised. And although Domninus is
not directly mentioned as having practised such arts, yet
his Syrian descent leaves no doubt in our mind that he
must have been addicted to them even more than his Greek
friends ; as a proof, his very cure, as we saw above, was
the result of a dream. Domninus must, therefore, be re-
garded as the type of a Greek Jew towards the end of the
fifth century, and his life has, accordingly, a real historical
5. A Speaking -Machine in Ancient Times.— To understand
aright the life of Domninus and his circle, we must have a
1 Marinus, Proclus, op. 28. Zeller, p. 678, note 1.
2 Marinus, Proclus, op. 28.
3 Domninus was a Jew, his pupil G-esius came from Petra, in Idumasa.
Marinus, the biographer, came from Plavia Keapolis, in Palestine ; the
name of Syrian may not be accidental. Plutarch resided with Domninus
the Jew, and Proolus resided at the house of Plutarch.
276 The Jewish Quarterly Review.
knowledge of a marvellous arrangement which existed in
olden times, viz., the speaking-machine. It sounds strange,
but it is nevertheless true, that a sort of telephone or
phonograph dates from antiquity.
The work of a Syrian philosopher, Oinomaos, 1 Ilepl
Kvviafiov, is also cited by the title Kvvb<; avro^xovia? What
does this mean ? " The very voice of the dog."
Crusius has set it down that in ancient times there existed
an apparatus which, at the request of its owner, began to
speak automatically. According to Lucian, in specially
important cases, a scientific apparatus was set in motion in
the oracle of iEsculapius, presided over by the false prophet
Alexander. Such oracles (avrotywvm fiavreveaOai) were quite
current. This matter becomes as clear as we could wish it
when we take into account what Suidas relates under the
head of Domninus. After he, accordingly, relates that Plu-
tarch had refused to eat the flesh of swine, as had been
ordered him by iEsculapius for the cure of his sickness, he
continues as follows: "He (Plutarch) arose from his slum-
bers, supported himself on his bed with his fists and stared
at the figure of iEsculapius (for it happened that he slept
in the court of the temple), and exclaimed : ' Lord ! what
would thou prescribe for a Jew if he had such an illness ?
Wouldst thou bid him to gorge himself with pcrkV Where-
upon the figure spoke, and, lo, JEsculapius furthermore
suffered another most sonorous expression to proceed from
it, giving a remedy for the disease." 3
Considering that this speaking-machine is first mentioned
by Oinomaos, the Palestinian, and was employed by persons
in Athens who formed, as it were, a Jewish circle, we may
infer that the speaking-machine was well known to, perhaps
even invented by, Jews. At least Cumont (Alexandre
1 Also in the Talmud DID^K.
2 All these details are collected by Crusius in the Bheinisches Museum.,
New Series, vol. XLIV., p. 309.
3 Taiira tliriv o & 'AoKkqirtoQ a&TiKa airb tov aya^paroQ l/JtinXiaraTOV
Si) ma $96yyov irepav iiwiypni\iaTO depcnriiav rip iraOu.
Domninus, a Jewish Philosopher of Antiquity. 277
d'Abonotichos, p. 27) is of opinion that it was no Greek
invention, but Oriental (Syrian or Egyptian).
To the lover of history the sketch which is here presented
of the life of Domninus, drawn as it is from ancient sources,
will not be less pleasing because even when pieced together
from materials of varied style and sources, the result is but