Forms, Souls, and Embryos : Neoplatonists on Human Reproduction book cover
1st Edition

Forms, Souls, and Embryos
Neoplatonists on Human Reproduction

ISBN 9780367874742
Published December 12, 2019 by Routledge
242 Pages


USD $49.95

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Book Description

Forms, Souls, and Embryos allows readers coming from different backgrounds to appreciate the depth and originality with which the Neoplatonists engaged with and responded to a number of philosophical questions central to human reproduction, including: What is the causal explanation of the embryo’s formation? How and to what extent are Platonic Forms involved?  In what sense is a fetus ‘alive,’ and when does it become a human being?   Where does the embryo’s soul come from, and how is it connected to its body? This is the first full-length study in English of this fascinating subject, and is a must-read for anyone interested in Neoplatonism or the history of  medicine and embryology.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: The Embryological Background

General Background: Four Key Issues in Ancient Embryology

Embryology in Plato

Chapter 2: The Metaphysical Background

Metaphysical Models in Embryology

The Biological Development of the Theory of Forms

Chapter 3: Neoplatonic Embryology: The Core Theory

The One-Seed Theory

The Origin and Nature of the Seed

The Maternal Actualization of the Seed

Other External Factors in the Formation of the Offspring

Appendix to Chapter 3: Eclectic Theories

The Commentary on the Hippocratic On the Nature of the Child by John of Alexandria

Theophilus Protospatharius’ On the Construction of the Human Being

Pseudo-Galen’s De Spermate

Pseudo-Iamblichus’ Theology of Arithmetic

Pseudo-Galen’s Whether What is Carried in the Womb is a Living Thing

The Commentary on Aristotle’s On the Generation of Animals by Michael of Ephesus

Michael’s Interpretation of Aristotle’s Embryology

Michael’s Interpretation of Plato’s Embryology

Chapter 4: Formation and Animation of the Embryo

The Order of the Embryo’s Formation

The Animation of the Embryo

Chapter 5: The Problem of Teratogenesis



Index Locorum

Subject Index

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James Wilberding is Professor of Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at Ruhr University, Bochum (Germany). Previously he was a lecturer in Classics at Newcastle University (UK) and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Williams College (USA).


"Wilberding’s Forms, Souls, and Embryos is a pioneering work. It explores the uncharted territory of late ancient philosophy’s growing interest in medicine and biology. Its distinguished achievement lies in discovering a new world for future research – the metaphysical foundation of the key concepts of conception and the origin of life, as presented in Neoplatonism, the school which carried the vitality of ancient thought into the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Wilberding’s conclusion that the Neoplatonic attribution of causal significance to both sexes in biological generation does not constitute as quiet a revolution as it seems originally, is equally valid for the achievement of his book itself."

- Dr. Svetla Slaveva-Griffin, Florida State University, USA


"This is a fascinating book, well worth reading if you have any interest in Platonic philosophy or ancient philosophy more generally ... It is time that we took more notice of philosophical engagement with embryological theory from the earliest thinkers to the early modern period. Wilberding’s book is a major advance in scholarship in this area and will surely open up substantial avenues for further research. The typescript is immaculate; there are comprehensive notes, an excellent bibliography and index locorum. In short, this book in outstanding in content, style and presentation."

- Sophia M. Connell, University of Cambridge, UK, in the Bryn Mawr Classica Review