An Alexandrian Neoplatonic philosopher of the late fifth century, from an Egyptian family that owned an ancestral estate at Phenebythis in the nome of Panopolis. He is mentioned in three primary sources: Damascius’ Life of Isidorus, composed in the early sixth century, offers information about his role as a pagan religious figure; the Syriac Life of Severus, written by Zachariah of Mitylene, numbers him as one of six Neoplatonists connected with an outbreak of religious violence near Alexandria in 485; a papyrus letter composed in Greek by Flavius Horapollon and found at Kom Ishqaw.
The letter has been translated and studied by J. Maspero, who demonstrated that Asclepiades was the father of HORAPOLLON, the author of the letter. In it, he was praised by his son as a famous professor who spent a lifetime teaching at the Alexandrian Museum.
Asclepiades was both a Neoplatonic philosopher and an Egyptian priest. Damascius’ commentary On First Principles (ed. Ruelle, chap. 125) states that he and his brother Heraiscus were Egyptians who employed Egyptian mythology as a medium for philosophical speculation. A few fragments from the Life of Isidorus allude to Asclepiades’ priestly activity. He is said to have been more learned in Egyptian wisdom than his brother. He was constantly surrounded by Egypt’s sacred books and wrote hymns on Egypt’s gods, a book on Egypt’s history, and a treatise on the harmony of all theological matters.
He was devoted to the “care of the gods,” a phrase that Damascius uses for priestly temple ritual. One fragment says that on Heraiscus’ death, Asclepiades tended to his brother’s funeral rites and prepared to hand over to the priests the customary funeral objects, including the bandages of Osiris in which the body was to be wrapped, a notation indicating that ancient Egyptian rites of burial were still being approximated as late as the fifth century.
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- Maspero, J. “Horapollon et la fin du paganisme égyptien.” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 2 (1914):163-95.
- Otto, W. Priester und Tempel im hellenistischen Ägypten, 2 vols. Leipzig, 1905.
- Remendon, R. “L’Egypte et la suprème résistance au christianisme, (Ve-VIIe siècles).” Bulletin de l’Institut français d’Archéologie orientale 51 (1952):63-78.
STEWART L. KARREN